Sunday, July 10, 2016


So, its The Silmarillion again, eh?

I looked back and found that its only been three years or so since I read this last time. I also see that I read The Hobbit a few months earlier as well, but I didn't go on to read The Lord of the Rings then. It may be ten years or so since I've read them, but that probably has a lot to do with the movies that were made recently. So maybe I'll read them again, now that enough time has gone by that I don't see Legolas and Aragorn memes everyday on the internets.

I've read that Tolkien wanted to create a mythology for England, in the grand traditions of Greek, Roman, Asian, and Norse mythologies. Tall order, but I think he may have done it; and its in The Silmarillion that we can see this more so than in The Lord of the Rings. What smacks more of a mythology that an origin story after all? Buts its more than that; Quenta Silmarillion is the history of Middle-earth, and specifically the story of the Silmarils, whereas the book begins with Ainulindale and Valaquenta: 'The Music of the Ainur' and 'The Account of the Valar', respectively. These two chapters are short, but packed with information about the beginnings of the world. They are, together, like the narration at the beginning of a Shakespeare tragedy; they set the groundwork for the sorrow (and the joy, and triumph) that follows the formation of this new world from out of the void.

So I'm about half way through this re-read, and I had to put some notes down about it, having just finished 'Of Turin Turambar.' One of the most crushingly sad tales in this book. Not daunted by that description? Then there's more for you in the 2007 volume titled The Children of Hurin. The tale in The Silmarillion is just an abbreviated version of all that befalls Hurin's family once Morgoth actively pursues cursing him and his kin for standing up to him and siding with the elves.

More to come!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

life of fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, was a book sale purchase at a library I visited recently to do some work between meetings, rather than return to my office for an hour, only to turn around and drive back to within 5 miles of where I was. I picked up a few books at that sale, more than I usually do at my own library, only because I look at the offerings so often at my library, many of them are the same. I think it may also be true that the same small group of people donate books to the library book sale, and their tastes are well represented there, and may not always align with my own. chick lit is fine, now and again, but romance novels are a bridge too far

A.J. is a bookstore owner on a small island off the coast of my own Massachusetts. Its not quite Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, but its close enough to either to make it clear that’s what the author is talking about. maybe elizabeth islands? its even quieter there A.J. is a smart guy, he just hasn’t had the best of luck. The story follows A.J. through his ups and downs, and while they aren’t earth shattering to us as readers, I’m sure these changes are dramatic enough for A.J.

What makes Fikry’s story interesting enough to warrant a book about it, even one which refers to his life as ‘storied’, is the unlikeliness of more than one of these things happening to the same person, especially when that person lives on a small island off the New England coast. Even more unlikely is how these events all seem to be connected somehow.

Zevin has crafted a sweet, tightly knit, and interesting story about a quiet, book-loving, thoughtful man. But its just good, not great. I’m not sure I know whats missing, but I did find myself reading a few minutes extra to find out what happens next, so it was an enjoyable read, just one that I ultimately didn’t find what I was looking for in.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Remember Willow?

It was a George Lucas (Executive Producer, idea man) movie from 1988 staring Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood, and Val Kilmer as Madmartigan. It was directed by Ron Howard; one of the few Howard movies that bombed.

So why, you might ask yourself, would anyone go to the trouble of making this into a book? And maybe a better question, you might ask, is why did you read it?

Well, you might remember the last book I tried to read. It was a bust, and I was pretty desperate for something to read, but quick. You know that feeling when you take a swig of apple cider directly from the bottle in the fridge, only to discover that its apple cider vinegar? Yeah, that feeling, of needing something immediate, to scour the bad taste from your tongue (brain.) Willow just happened to turn up in the spring cleaning we were doing to prepare for my oldest child's graduation party.

Wayland Drew authored this adaptation, based on the screenplay by Bob Dolman.

I finished it...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen. where's the cover art phil?

Didn't finish it; let's get that out of the way right up front.

I'm not saying it stinks, but what I am saying is that it reads like an unedited ramble. I took a quick look for other reviews to see if I'm crazy. I don't usually do this, I'm not really interested in what others think when I write about a book I've read, but I didn't read this one--not all of it anyways, I ended up reading a bit more than half before giving up in frustration. The New York Times reviewer, Mark Sarvas, called this book meta-Fiction, and went on to say: "As God tests the endurance and faith of the Israelites, Cohen will test the ­commitment of his readers." Amen, brother.

So why has this been described as meta-? This is a book by Joshua Cohen about a writer named Joshua Cohen, who is ghost writing the autobiography of some tech, super-nerd named... wait for it... Joshua Cohen.

Its also meta- because Cohen has inserted whole tracts of the book--chapter after chapter--that reads like an unedited transcript of the recorded interviews between Joshua Cohen and Joshua Cohen, with the main body of the text the disjointed speaking voice of Joshua Cohen, whom he calls the Principal, with the occasional interjection, comment or question by Joshua Cohen [bracketed [for clarity?]] I mean: incomplete sentences, nerdy made-up slang words, improper use of

yeah, like that

Like I said, I'm not saying it stinks.

But I'm not saying that it doesn't, either.

But don't listen to me, remember, I didn't finish it.*

* this is the first book I haven't finished in as long as I can remember. Its been at least twenty years or more. I think I put Fahrenheit 451 a few years ago because it was too depressing at that point and I planned to pick it back up.I won't be giving this book another go.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

book of life

The Book of Life is the third in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. The first, called A Discovery of Witches, and the second, Shadow of Night, were both good, and this one is a well thought out wrap-up to the trilogy, but it does look like Harkness has left the door open for a follow-up, if that's what she decides to do. I don't have a good sense for how popular this trilogy is, but it looks like is has the tools to be popular, and if there is anything that is keeping it from exploding in the teen market, its probably how smart these books are.

I mentioned in one of the early book's reviews that Harkness cut her teeth on scholarly writing and has number of non-fiction, history books published. She has taken advantage of her research and history skills to lay down a wonderfully complex and fact-based historical backstory for this trilogy. This is peppered with little influences that some of the stories character's have had on history as we know it; its a fun and playful way to help tie the story to the history we understand, and helps to give the story a plausibility by making the reader say, oh yeah, I knew that, and it was this person that influenced it. If this was overdone, it would have been hokey, but it was done with a light touch.

Seems to me that Deborah Harkness has done a fine job or placing herself squarely in the fiction market, in what seems to me to be a very popular genre.

I'll keep my eye peeled for her next book.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

shadow of night

The second installment in the All Souls Trilogy is Shadow of Night. Its a big undertaking for an author that's new to fiction, it seems to me, but what do I know. Deborah Harkness seems to know what she's doing, and she certainly has plenty of writing under her belt at this point given the scholarly work she has previously published.

Lots of times I find that the second or middle book in a trilogy ends up being a link, or filler between the beginning and the end of a long story arc; as a stand-alone book in these cases, they're sometimes a little weak. Not so with this one. Shadow takes the two main protagonists to a completely new place. The reasons for being there are obvious by the end of the first volume, but I was surprised at how much this diversion ended up being critical to the overall story-line. It wasn't just blab on the way to the story ending, but seemed critical to the overall narrative. So, good on you Deborah Harkness.

Harkness takes a different tack on witches and vampires in this trilogy, and part of the re-envisioning comes (I think) from her historical research background. She re-imagines witches and vampires as potential historical fact, seen through the lens of history and the accompanying hysteria early Judeo-Christian Europe felt about anything that seemed to lean in the direction of sin. Maybe there were people that were good with herbs and medicines, and maybe folks didn't understand them, were frightened by their knowledge, and assumed they were in league with the devil. Seems like a sensible motto: kill the smart ones. No wonder we had the Dark Ages.

I've had fun with this trilogy thus far. I'm hoping the professor can bring it home in the final installment.

Monday, April 18, 2016

discovery of witches

This book is from a few years ago. I discovered the third book at one of the libraries I'm working on--if I get there early, or if they aren't ready for me, I sometimes have few minutes to take a look at the new books. I don't usually spend a lot of time with the book jacket, I just try to get a feel for a book, so I didn't realize it was part of trilogy: the All Souls Trilogy written by Deborah Harkness. I took a picture of the third book, and when I looked it up in my library, I found the trilogy.

Harkness is a little different than your average witch/vampire book author; she comes at this from a very successful, non-fiction historical writing, by all accounts. Harkness teaches history at the University of Southern California, and has won a number of awards for her historical writing. She has also done pretty well in the past with a wine blog. According to her bio she has also lived or worked in many of the places that figure large in this book as settings. They say write what you know, sounds like good advice. The main protagonist in this story is a historical writer doing research in libraries for her new book. Books, libraries, writing, history, collegiate life, scholarship, mitochondrial DNA, and wine all figure into the story. Harkness is definitely writing what she knows and it shows. A Discovery of Witches shows a depth not often found in stories in this genre, based on my limited experience. Good on you Deborah Harkness.

Diana Bishop is spending her time in the library these days, researching alchemy for her new book, and thinking about a scholarly presentation she needs to make in a few months, when she stumbles across something in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford, something that hasn't been seen for 150 years. Suddenly, she has a lot more attention that she'd planned on, and from the types of people she didn't expect to run into at the library. She pretty quickly realize that she's opened up a major can of worms, and... we're off.

Harkness's sense and understanding of history, the research required to do what her protagonist does, and the background to this fantastic story are effortlessly painted in. That first-hand understanding is what I think, gives this story its formidable sense of depth and place. The science, magic, wine discussion, and secret society slant fill the picture in nicely. This is a wild romp, and its got some of the same elements we've seen in other stories of this ilk, but its smarter. Reminds me a little of David Mitchell's take. I'd put this is the same read-alike category.

I'm looking forward to picking up the next installment tomorrow.

Friday, April 15, 2016

strange library

The Strange Library. With a title like that, how could I not pick this one up. I've read a few of Murakami's books and while this has some similarities, it's really a thing all its own; more of an art project than a novella. I'm curious about what this book looks like in the original Japanese version. you know what, using the magic of the interwebs I'm going to see if I can do that virtually right now. Boom. *

The form of the book from the artwork and design of the top to bottom overlapping front cover captures the imagination immediately. A quick flip through the heavy pages, printed in a large typeface font, and illustrated full pages tells us that we're in for a wild ride.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that this is one strange library that our young protagonist has stepped into, but I wasn't prepared for furries, labyrinths, spirits, and cannibalism. That's a lot to squeeze into a little novella like this. I'm not sure how he did it but I think the larger question is: what does it mean?

Before I blab what I think, I'll say that I don't think my speculations represent spoilers either, but if you'd rather not hear what I think I'd skip to the next paragraph. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about what Murakami was trying to say while I read--it only took an hour or so to read this--but since then I've been wondering. Maybe libraries represent education, learning, and/or empirical data vs. spiritual understanding. Perhaps that's why a spirit arrives; to provide guidance. The kind of guidance book larnin' alone can't give us. If so, is that why cannibalism? Our minds being filled with information only to sate the consumption demands put upon us by other, similarly 'educated' people? Or maybe the lesson is: we should be careful what we choose to learn so that we aren't being programmed against our will. A call to think for ourselves. Even when it comes to thinking about WHAT we think about. Not sure if that's it or not, but these seem like interesting questions in any case. yeah, that was me patting me on the back for being so deep

So I would read this book if I were you. If you see it in the library, you could just find a comfy spot and read it right there. and Then get something else Murakami wrote and take it home.

* Originally titled Toshokan kitan and published in six arts in 1982 in a periodical, and later published as a complete novella titled Fushigi na toshokan, according to this Murakami translation blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

saturn run

I picked this book up in a library I'm working on a month or so ago. I knew it was science fiction, and had a pretty good idea it was about a trip to Saturn. I had no idea that it would so many similarities to Seveneves. Let me be clear, its not the same story, they are completely different, but they both have a hard science approach, and deal with people working in space in long-term, difficult conditions. It ended up being a great follow-up book. I'd say they fall into the 'also like' category for anyone who enjoyed either. that means go get the other one, and read it. go on.

John Sandford has a lot of books published, and a lot of them have the word 'Prey' in the title, so I assume its some kind of series. Ctein, who has co-author status on this book, is more an unknown. He seems to be Sandford's science go to guy, and ended up being much more involved in both helping to crank the science, and help inform the storyline. His credits include writing as well, so I'm sure it was a team effort. And having someone who can help run orbit injection simulation software and help vision future interplanetary-capable engines has got to be handy.

Saturn Run is a fun, exciting sci fi adventure. Its got  a hard science core, and an engaging story with a series of sub-plots and intrigues, from geopolitics, to sexual tension. There are some well crafted characters here to, that show some real depth and complexity. Sanford and Ctein do a good job of spelling out the science and explaining its implications in a very simple way so that allows the story to move forward. I can see that Sandford has done really well with the Prey books, but I, for one, would like to see more of this from him and Ctein.