Monday, May 22, 2017

rule of four

The Rule of Four appears to be the first book by Ian Caldwell, which he co-authored with Dustin Thomason. The info on the book jacket indicates that they wrote this over a number of years, in their twenties. I read his more current book last year, and that was terrific. I tried to find this book at the library then, but it was out. The reviews on this book were pretty good, and the publisher was then touting it as DaVinci Code-like. not really

Caldwell and Thomas have developed a really interesting story revolving around a mysterious 500 year old book called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,* which is the subject of a Princeton senior's research paper. The story, told from the perspective of the researcher's roommate, spins a tale that goes back to his own father's obsession with the same book, and was the spark that united the two roommates to begin with. The researcher, Paul, recognized his future roommate's name from the dedication in his father book; Thomas Corelli Sullivan. [Paul: Are you that Tom? I'm a big fan of your father! Tom: Yeah, I am. But, he's dead. And that book is whack, right?]†

By the time Paul and Tom are seniors, they have two more pals, Gil and Charlie, and all four are fast friends and roommates. Paul has been cracking on Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for 4 years now, and has finally begun to make some headway. His interest in the story is what brought him to Princeton, where Vincent Taft is a scholar on the book, and an old adversary of Tom's father. The two started out as friends before Tom was born, but soon argued over the book, and ended up hating each other. Another guy who was also into the book, and was friends with both Sullivan and Taft also shows up as a patron for young Paul. Everyone is trying to get in on the action as Paul, with some help from Tom, starts to uncover some of the book's secrets.

So its intrigue, mystery, whodunits, back-stabbery, and bumbling campus police; uselessly yelling 'stop right there!' about 20 times throughout the book. The title appears to come from math, rather than the Supreme Court.

It was okay. They took a long time to write it, and it still ended up being a little jerky and fragmented feeling. You don't need to read it prior to The Fifth Gospel, its unrelated. in fact, you don't need to read it at all

* Translates as: "The Strife of Love in a Dream." 
† That's not a direct quote. More of a synopsis.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

darker shade of magic

I recently saw that V.E. Schwab has released the third book in her Shades of Magic series. I ended up reading the second book a little while ago, inadvertently. When I found out, I was a little grumpy about it, and then decided to wait for the rest of it before going back to the first book: A Darker Shade of Magic.

I guess I probably should have looked very carefully at the third book in the library to see if there is more coming, but I didn't do that, and I've already returned this book and picked up the third, so I'm afraid its too late for me. stay tuned, and I'll let you know when I finish number three

Darker Shade is where this story begins, and I found myself saying, 'ah, now I get it' or something similar, every time I ran into something I was expected to understand when I read the second book. Schwab has created a universe that has some depth and breadth to it. In a vein similar to Narnia and others, where there are alternative worlds one can get to, if only ones knows how. Schwab takes us to alternate versions of our own London, which seems to be a kind of city-based magical axis, about which the multiverse turns. I mean, why not London, right? Each of the worlds has the magical London at its center, but it is the capital city of differing countries, with very different cultures and languages in each world, some clearly more magical than our own--depressingly referred to as Grey London. They all seem to be based in the late feudal era, including our own, so, you know, swords and crap. schwing

Most of the action takes place in Red London, where the magical volume knob is turned up to 9. just for reference, 10 would be Wonderland, of Alice fame, with singing flowers, and opium smoking caterpillars There are some special and rare spell-casting types, called Antari, that only come along once in a blue moon (no, there is no actual blue moon in the story, at least not yet) and these folks are the only ones capable of passing between worlds. One of these, the mysterious Kell, is passing through on a diplomatic mission to our own Grey London, when he crosses paths with thief named Delilah Bard. Lila just happens to be looking for a fresh start, and even though its against the rules to bring even items across the boundaries between worlds, Lila ends up making the trip.

Schwab has done a good job of creating a fun, intriguing, and exciting story. I'm looking forward to finishing up in the third book (I hope!)

Friday, May 5, 2017

madame rose

Madame Rose - Belgian Style Wild Ale, by Goose Island Beer Co. of Chicago, IL, is not something that I would have gone out and purchased for myself, without knowing a little more about it, so I'm sharing my thoughts on this heady brew so that you'll feel more comfortable about picking up your own bottle.

And I think perhaps you should.

This fine bottle of oak aged wild ale was a gift of the fine folks out in Erving, MA on the occasion of my office's 20th anniversary party, held last week. Thanks to Barbara and Steve who came to help us celebrate, and carried this fine bottle (along with a nice book I'm looking forward to reading, complete with some bookmarks!)

Clicky-click on the picture of the label to expanderize mon frere! Its says that this is a 2016 release, wild ale, aged in wine barrels with cherries. Crazy, right? The rear label states that this was bottled a year ago, yesterday, and has an ABV of 6.7%, along with a suggestion to enjoy in a wide mouth glass (which we are), a warning that it contains wheat (good to know) and that it can be bottle-aged for up to 5 years (fat chance.) We all enjoyed a little of this here to end out the week, and the first sip was taken in a toast to Erving, and their successful town meeting on Wednesday night. Here are my thoughts on this beer:

Rich amber, honey color with a foamy, full, cream colored head. Active carbonation, that tickles the nose, similar to a natural sparkling water. The aromas are extremely bright: citrus, caramel, and jam, with background notes of the sea. The taste is very tangy; lemony in its intensity, lemon pith, steeped fruit, and tart syrupy quality. Smooth and sparkly on the tongue, but after further tastings, the carbonation drops off. The finish is long, slightly bitter and tart, with a soft oak and smoke taste that lingers pleasantly.

Update: After 15 or 20 minutes, after the oak and smoke fades, I was left with the taste of cherries. That deep, tannin laden taste of the red-black cherry skins. It just keeps on giving.

Thanks again to the folks in Erving, and congratulations to you all!

mr. fox

Mr. Fox is a (mid-century) modern fairy tale, written by English writer, Helen Oyeyemi. This one had some similarities to another recent book I read, but if anything, was even more surreal. Oyeyemi got the mid-century feel down cold. From the male-female relationships to the decor and the clothing; all subtly hinted at, but right on as far as I could see. It had the snap of 60s television or movies. And then, it just stepped off the edge.

Mr. Fox is a writer, and his muse, Mary Foxe, is a figment he's had for years, but has become so real, that Mr. Fox is beginning to see and talk to her the way a 4 year old may do with their imaginary friend. 

Mrs. Fox is not amused.

Mary Foxe has returned to visit Mr. Fox, in his study, after years of separation. Mary is concerned that Mr. Fox is increasingly misogynistic in his writing, or has maybe always been so, and as his muse, she feels obligated to lead him on a better path. What follows is a series of fables that Fox and Foxe write for one another, or together, or with the other's inspiration, in an effort to find a way forward. These short stories, fables and tales, are interspersed with increasingly strained scenes featuring Mr. & Mrs. Fox, and the 'other woman.'

Its not always clear whose voice the narrative is in, and I'm not sure it really matters, as the lives of this couple and their third wheel spin toward the future. The tales tell us as much about the protagonists as the main body of the text does, but in ways that aren't typically available to writers and readers.

This was fun to read, odd, entertaining, and ultimately, delightful. I'll keep my eye out for Ms.
Oyeyemi's work in the future.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

burning page

The Burning Page is installment three in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. So this is it, its a waiting game from here on out. Books 4 and 5 are in the works.

The Burning Page brings back Irene's nemesis. He's the bad hombre that all stories like this need; one part selfish, one part smarter-than-you, one part disenfranchised, and two parts evil. You know the guy.

This time, our baddie has it in for not just Irene but the Library itself. And its up to Irene to stop him. We're led to believe that the higher ups in the library are actively working to prevent Baddie McBadguy from taking over the whole multiverse, and presumably they're pretty kickass themselves--having trained our Irene to kick some ass her own bad self--but what exactly they're up to, and how effective it might have been before Irene opens up the proverbial can o' whoop-ass, we're never really sure.

So I guess the secret is: don't look to hard. Pay no attention the man behind the curtain, and you'll have a grand time.

Cogman is not writing the great American novel here. This is YA-SF-BG* we're talking about here, so lets have some fun. 

spoiler ahead, y'all So, overall thoughts: book three and no movement, or not much movement, on romantic entanglements, exciting, and a little trippy, fun to read. I guess it is also telling to note that I have no idea when the next volumes come out, and I'm sure I could try and look that up, but really, I'm not sure I care that much. I'm sure I'll pick them up when they do come out, but I'm not Burning for it, as it were.


* YA = Young Adult, SF = Spectulative/Science Fiction, BG = Bubble gum

Thursday, April 20, 2017

masked city

The Masked City is book 2 in the Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman, so yes, contrary to what I said last week, I did run right out and get the next two installments in this series, knowing that the next two won't be out for a while.

I think Cogman has come up with a great heroine for young people, even if her character descriptions are a little light. I'm pretty sure Irene is medium height, medium build, with medium brown hair (medium length.) Her sidekick Kai, is a little more visible, with dark hair, piercing eyes, and really handsome and dapper. That's about all you get. Its funny, this is not something I typically notice, so it must be that everyone describes their characters in enough detail that I don't notice, and move on. I tend to think in pictures and I just don't have enough to go on. Genevieve Cogman, I'm looking at you

The majority of this story takes place in an otherworldly Venice, inhabited by some really shady folks, and a group called the Ten something or other, who are extra shady. So shady, that they hardly show up in the story at all. A lot of the folks in this Venice wear masks. The world itself is sort of masked from the rest of reality, and the bad guys behind the bad deeds which ultimately brought Irene to this place, are unknowns, and therefore metaphorically masked. So its a triple entendre.*

This story is fun and light, and overall a good follow up to the first one. It is episodic, so you don't need to read them in order if you'd rather not, but like anything else, they are chronologically organized, so it may make it easier on you to read them as they were released. Its fun to see Irene & Co. unmaskify the place, kick a little ass, and generally take care of business.

I was quickly on to the next installment, my thoughts about which, will follow shortly.

* Once there, they needed to find someplace that ended up being hidden. Its Masks within Masks, within Masks, a la Inception.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

two words for public libraries

My office recently hosted a  library visioning round table discussion on the future of libraries. The topic: Library as Place.

The Wordle (at left) grows from a simple question we asked our participants:* What are two words you think of, when you think of the future of libraries? Community, Flexibility, and Opportunity were the big winners, but all of those other words are great too! This simple question comes from a summary paper of a conference at the Library of Congress in 2014, whose participants were also looking into the future of the library. Some of the participants seemed disappointed that they didn't come up with original words, but I think the fact that a few words were repeated is terrific, and shows that within the library service industry, its pretty clear which direction we're heading. Just looks at some of the other terms that came up: Diverse, Adaptable, Transformational, Evolving. Those are good words!

The overall discussion centered on what public libraries are doing to fill the role of Third Place in the lives of their patrons and users. Whether its for more formal, structured learning and programs, or more casual, drop-in use, the idea that libraries serve in this capacity more and more is a trend that seems to be increasing, even as libraries continue to shed the outdated model of a 'warehouse for books.' It seems pretty clear to those of us who use public libraries, that their need is just as central and vital to the education of the citizenry, even as the services they offer grows and expands to meet the needs of our increasingly interconnected, digitized, and virtual society. And that's really where the magic is: libraries provide that real space, with real human connections, in a world that is increasingly moving away from these types of connections. People want--and I believe, need--these connections, and are looking to the library as one place to get them.

The most pressing need from the library's point of view, is getting that message out to the segment of the populace that still views the library as they did when they were kids. Public libraries are notoriously bad at self-promotion and marketing. Given their budget constraints, and the expertise of the folks running the place, its no wonder that marketing is not something they excel at. Its just not in their wheelhouse, and the budget isn't there to hire the professional help they need to get the message out.

So we meet, we talk, we share, and we attempt to get a ground swell rising. What is the best way to share all of the wonderful things libraries can do? Some of the suggestions from our participants included interesting ways to bring the public into their space, hopefully including some that wouldn't normally come to the library. Ideas included:

Volunteer Fair - All of the local groups that need volunteers set up tables, and potential volunteers shop around for a cause they'd like to help.
Technology Fair - Tables where you can learn about various on-line databases the library offers, along with STEAM, audio/video editing, maker, telescopes, Girls Who Code, and other things available at the library.
Indoor Green Market - At the library, even a baby animal petting zoo in a plastic lined pen!
Town Government Fair - Tables for each department, staffed by town workers who explain what they do and how you can get services.

These programs, and so many others; from programmable robot dance contests, to simple brochures at the desk titled "I Didn't Know You Had That!" are helping to chip away at the old notions many still hold about what their library is, and what it could be. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Our public libraries are what we make them, and if we don't do it, no one else will.

Then where would we be?

* My personal thanks to all of the wonderful folks who came out last week to the Lunenburg Public Library last week. We had a great discussion, and I learned a lot. And thanks to Lunenburg for hosting us!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

invisible library

I knew that The Invisible Library was a series before I took it out of the library, tho I didn't know that when I first saw the book on display at another library. When I picked this one off the shelf, there were two more sitting there, so I thought; I'm all set, here they all are.


According to Genevieve Cogman's website, volume 4 is in its final edit, and number 5 is in the works. So, my loose, half formed plan more of a good intention, really of not starting a series until its finished, has again, fallen apart. I'm sure authors, and especially publishers would rather I not feel that way, but with so much to read, I figure that I can wait. I think this thinking has caught on with television series; folks wait until a season is complete, and then just freebase the entire season in one sitting with a jumbo bag of cheetos.

Frankly, I can see the traction necessary in the first volume for a larger episodic series, rather than a single story arc, written as a trilogy, for example. I liked it. Its fun, easy to read, has a lot going on, and is carefully crafted so it hangs together nicely. This is Cogman's first novel, but she has worked as a freelance writer on role playing games, so I can see how those skills would translate to a larger storyline, with multiple characters and factions, all of which need to be kept track of, and slowly revealed as relating to the same story. That is not to say that this reads like a video game transcript, but there are some similarities in the general make up of the players, from the Library itself, to mysterious groups like The Iron Brotherhood.

Cogman doesn't spend a lot of time on physical description of her characters, altho details sometimes pop up. Its pretty clear that two of the women in the story are attractive, based on some anecdotal evidence. One is described as looking good enough in both a catsuit, and a gown, to turn heads, and another is propositioned almost immediately by a young man described as handsome. Circumstantial at best.

I think I read this in two days, but after finding out that there is still more work to do, I probably won't run out to the library to get volumes two and three. Amazon lists these books as volumes 2 and 3 of 4, not 5, as I mentioned Cogman's website said, so there may have been some mission creep in the writing OR some cash cow milking going on.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Conversion is, according to Katherine Howe's description in the backmatter of this book, a mash-up of a case of conversion disorder that had recently hit the news, and her re-reading of The Crucible in a class she was teaching. She has woven together the story of the Salem witch trials with a modern outbreak of conversion disorder suffered by a number of high school students.

The stories aren't connected so much as they are strung along in tandem so that the reader can draw their own parallels and conclusions. And if it sounds like I'm giving away a little more of the plot lines than I usually do, its only because everyone knows the Salem witch trails, and I don't think anyone will be surprised to hear how that ends.

I guess this falls into the teen lit category. It was a fast read, and there were some fun parts, but I didn't love it. There was some insight into how high school girls behave, especially around each another, that rang true to me.