Sole Survivors

Final Girls by Riley Sager. Random House, 2017. 9781101985380. 339 pages.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom

Quincy Carpenter trusts almost no one, and why should she? Ten years ago, she was the lone survivor of a brutal massacre during a weekend camping trip with five college friends. (A patient from the nearby insane asylum had escaped and all hell broke loose.) Quinn was saved by Sheriff Detective Franklin Cooper (Coop) and she has since felt extremely indebted to him. Quinn’s faith in Coop does put stress on her relationship with her almost-fiancé, Jeff, because he is the only other person Quincy can totally trust.

There are two other so-called “final girls” who also survived nightmarish massacres, Samantha and Lisa. Because a tabloid television show wanted the three to talk about their experiences, they shared email addresses. Through the years, Lisa and Quincy have grown closer through email. So when Lisa sends a frantic email to Quincy hours before her alleged suicide, Quincy is freaked out

Shortly after Lisa’s death, Samantha shows up on Quinn’s doorstep, and that’s when things get really weird. Quinn and Jeff both have their suspicions about Sam and her motives because she has kept off the grid. Is Sam really there to be friends with Quinn because of their horrific pasts? Or does she have other motives?

This is a terrifying story that moves between the present and the bloody weekend massacre ten years ago. This is one of those stories where you won’t know who to trust, where you will question everyone’s motives until the very last page.

Look It Up, Fuzzball

You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia by Jack Lynch. Bloombury Press, 2016. 9780802777522. 464pp.

In twenty-five chapters Jack Lynch, a Professor of English at Rutgers University, describes fifty seminal reference works throughout the ages. For example, chapter six describes the centuries-long impact of Avicenna’s (ibn Sina’s) million-word, encyclopedic and authoritative The Canon of Medicine then contrasts it with the Anglo-Saxon Bald’s Leechcraft which, in a more practical 32,000 words, gave Roman prescriptions (and included substitutes readily available to Britons).

Lynch knows that reference works are not static, despite presenting some that are literally carved in stone or baked into clay. As of publication Grey’s Anatomy was in its 40th edition, and Lynch says no text nor drawings from the original remain in the current version. That stalwart desk reference for physical science, The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, is in its 95th edition and going strong, although its author, the Chemical Rubber Corporation, hasn’t sold any rubber or chemicals in decades. (Lynch always tries to encapsulate the publication history of each of the reference works he highlights, right down to the page count and the weight!)

Lynch buffers these chapters with shorter sections in which he discusses trends in the genre, like the transition from scrolls to books. Most amusing is “Ghosts and Montweazels” in which Lynch discusses accidental and deliberate errors. Publishers and compilers commonly err as to the scope and scale of their projects; century-long efforts are not unknown. Some works even have revisions before they’re completed.

Great dictionaries and encyclopedias that defined languages and even nations are covered, but Lynch gives science and technology its due. Chapter 10 discusses those aides to computation and description, Henry Briggs’ Arithmetica Logarithmica and Johannes Kepler’s Tabalae Rudolphinae. “We are left with the strange paradox that mathematical tables were rendered entirely obsolete by the computer, although tables were the main reason computers were invented,” Lynch writes.

There are also reference books that are just plain fun. Lynch briefs us on a select group of games rule books and sports record books. He also writes about a sex manual which was in print for centuries, and a 1761 directory of London sex workers! If you’re wondering how to keep all these references organized, Lynch describes the efforts of the great catalogers to bring order and utility to the world’s libraries. (Yes, library catalogs are reference works.) He also reveals how his own home bookshelf is arranged.

Lynch confesses the printed reference work may be in need of a eulogy. Everything is moving online. If it’s a eulogy he’s written, it’s a great one.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest review!


Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic, 2016. 9780545540612.

Guest review by Robert in San Diego.

The Allende-Delmer family is moving away from sunny southern California (and their favorite regional fast food chain) to Bahia de la Luna, a fog-shrouded coastal northern California town. Older sister Cat knows she’s leaving her friends (including boyfriend Ari) not just because her Dad’s got a new job there, but because the moist salt air will help her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis.

No single world adequately describes Bahia de la Luna. Nearby neighbor boy Carlos is self employed as a ghost tour guide. The whole town takes their ghosts seriously, especially when the dead come back in their proper shapes (not their usual drifting formless shades) for the annual Dia de los Muertos party!

Cat’s nonplussed when her first new friend at her new school confesses the really cute boy she dances with has been dead for about a century. Cat doesn’t want to meet the disembodied locals. Maya, on the other hand, wants to meet ghosts. No matter how positive her outlook is (and she is very positive), she has a pressing need to know what happens when people die. The ghosts try to take some breath from Maya, not knowing she needs all she’s got. This leads to a hospital trip. The ghosts regret their error, but that mistake reinforces Cat’s defensive tendency towards her sister.

That’s not the only regret. Cat and Maya’s Mom regrets the estrangement between herself as a teen and her own mother. “I never even learned to speak fluent Spanish.” Even one of the ghosts, who Cat briefly thinks might be her grandmother, sadly confesses “No hay familia.” (“I don’t have a family.”)
Estrangement and its resolutions are the theme of Ghosts. The devoted sisters have a falling out when the almost entirely housebound Maya learns Cat hasn’t even mentioned her to Cat’s new friends. Cat and Carlos, on the outs after Maya’s hospital trip, make up thanks to traditional Mexican pastries. And Maya does finally get to question a ghost.

How to tell if your cat is trying to kill you but your pit bull isn’t.

The American Pit Bull Terrier (An Owner’s Guide to a Happy, Healthy Pet) by Jacqueline O’Neil. Howell Book House, 1995. 9780876053836

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom

I am the proud owner of a shelter rescue dog named Murphy. Because Murphy is a Heinz 57 variety mutt with predominant pit bull, beagle, and basset hound features, he is very striking. As my seven-year-old niece, Hadley, says in her raspy Bette Davis-like lisp, “I wuv Moophy; he looks like a tiguh and I want to kith him.”

My husband is actually the one who found Murphy on our local shelter’s website. Murphy was listed as a “basset mix.” But when we were introduced to the dog, we realized the he definitely had some pit bull in his genetics. We had been told (wrongly) that pit bulls were angry, fighting dogs that would attack, maim, and even kill. But we realized early on that the only way Murphy would victimize someone would be to cuddle with them too much. Since adopting him we have proudly called ourselves Murphy’s Mom and Dad (hence, my pseudonym). My husband and I have become more educated and aware about pit bulls, and I even support local rescue groups whose objective is to find homes for pits. I decided to review this book by Jacqueline O’Neil because, honestly, I judged the book by the smiling, beautiful dog on its cover. When I realized this was an owner’s guide to raising a healthy dog, I was instantly smitten. It’s a great resource teaching the proper ways to take care of pit bulls and what makes the breed unique, plus info on the origins of the breed. And I found out pit bulls are mated with other breeds more than any kind of dog, which explains Murphy’s origins. (There are other books in the series about other breeds.)

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by The Oatmeal. Andrews McMeel, 2012. 9781449410247
I am one of those who don’t really read graphic novels much, much to Gene’s and others’ chagrin. But when I saw this one I laughed out loud. Being a former cat mom, I know Mully (my late tuxedo feline) loved me and only me; he would pounce on guys that came over and bite their toes. I guess this was his way of protecting me or weeding out the weak? Mully eventually warmed up to my husband Neale after we had been dating for a while. It was great seeing the two guys in my life get along, finally.

Anyway, The Oatmeal penned this graphic novel about the Bobcats — two of the most unlovable, raunchy, and hilarious felines on the planet. Their sole desire is to torment their human coworkers at the engineering firm where they work. Their neckties are the perfect touch for their corporate environment. Each day, the Bobs get loaded up on coffee and make the cubicle mongers stressed and miserable. It really is funny since I had no preconceived notions about the artwork or the storyline. My favorite moment was when the Bobcats got into a crowded company elevator and played “Gas Chamber.” They pressed all the buttons and then farted in the nasty way only felines can. Because I have the sense of humor of a 12 year old boy, I thought was hysterical.

The book reminded me of the movie Office Space. (If you haven’t watched it already, that is sad and unfortunate — rent it today!)

Bicycle Book Mobile

Bicycle Book Mobile, Los Gatos Library

I love finding things in the library that aren’t books, media, or web pages. Today I found the Los Gatos library’s “Chartreuse Caboose.”

It’s built with a great deal of rigid materials — I am more used to bike trailers with fabric body panels or even duffel bags strapped to a frame. However, this trailer needed to be more robust since it’s meant to haul lots of heavy books, and it also contains a WiFi hotspot. (The trailer is also a library card issuing center so it needs to be connected anyway.) A hefty, locally sourced electric assist bicycle is the prime mover for the bookmobile; Los Gatos has just enough steep hills to make hauling such a loaded trailer like this a pain without the electric help.

For extra fun for librarians, here’s the Los Gatos Library’s grant proposal to the Pacific Library Partnership. You’ll notice the care taken in showing what other sources of funding would be applied. (The grant would cover the high-end hauler, helmets, WiFi hotspot, bike tools and staff time for a year.) The custom trailer was funded by the Friends of the Los Gatos Library (whose book sales room is larger than many libraries). Further, the grant notes what resources the library already has for this project. For example, some library staff can ride their own bikes to support Chartreuse Caboose deployments, which makes better economic sense than trying to purchase (and park) an electric assist tandem.

There’s a trend in the San Francisco Bay Area for bike-based bookmobiles. Library systems for Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz County and San Francisco have adopted them recently. If your library has nearby places to visit and scant parking space, it might be something to look into.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest equipment review!

Love in Wartime

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Simon and Schuster, 2016. 9781501124372.

Eighteen-year-old Mary North, spoiled daughter of a politician, abandons her Swiss ski trip to volunteer at the outbreak of World War II — so suddenly that she’s still in ski wear when she checks in. She’s disappointed with her boring assignment as schoolteacher. But then she creates her own excitement by seducing her boss, Tom Shaw. Everything is complicated when Mary meets Tom’s handsome roommate Alistair Heath, formerly an art restorer but currently an artillery officer, just back from the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Alistair is posted to Malta, Mary takes charge of a motley class of kids returned from their evacuation from London, and the two continue their romance in lighthearted letters, not all of which reach their destinations. Alistair narrowly escapes death many times. Mary ruffles society feathers with her egalitarian notions and by accepting a black student into her class. Mary and her friend Hilda volunteer for air raid duty, and Mary drives an improvised ambulance that carries stretchers which, empty or not, are tied to its roof!

This romance is sprawling, vivid, witty, and, though it might seem messy at first, tightly plotted and carefully constructed.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest book review!

L’art de la cuisine française

Mastering the art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. 9780394721781. 684 pp.

Okay, I admit when I was younger I truly did not appreciate Julia Child or her culinary prowess. She was quite manly and had the strangest voice. I had no idea that when I was watching her on PBS I was witnessing a true chef in her element. She was one of the true pioneers of celebrity cooking shows, highly skilled and full of zest for life, who has been often imitated but never duplicated.

Now that I have gotten older, maybe a little wiser, and have married a man who loves to cook I wanted to learn more about this zany lady. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia truly hit her stride. Her love and admiration for the French and their cuisine shines through. Decadent French recipes face their English translations. The entire book is going to end up covered in my drool. (Good thing I own this particular copy!)

Julia Child was a celebrity but she never lost touch with her audience. She didn’t see the need for glitz or glamour. Who really has every fancy cooking utensil or contraption at their disposal? I just wish I had appreciated this gem of a lady when she was still alive.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom