Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Septimus Heap, Book Two: Flyte, by Angie Sage, was a pretty good follow up to Magyk. My son and I finished it last night. I had to go back and look because it seems like its been a long time since we read the first book. Check it out, it was the end of January. I think the reason is because he didn't enjoy it as much as the first one, and certainly not as much as the Nicholas Flamel series we were reading before. He just didn't ask me to read to him as often.

So Septimus, of course, figures large in this story, but what made the first story sweet, was lacking in this episode. It was more young kids, having adventures, doing magic (sorry, Magyk) growing up, learning new things, and narrowly avoiding various and sundry horrible deaths. Good, clean fun, certainly, but we've done this in the first book. There were some new things, I'm not complaining, some things were fun, and interesting, but neither of us felt compelled to pick up the book and keep reading.

Many of the characters from the first book return in Flyte, but not all, and some have much smaller parts than they did, but I have a feeling they may be back in later stories. Septimus has some new friends too, which adds some depth. A year has gone by since the last episode, and so life has changed for Septimus and his friends; they're a year older, more mature, and their responsibilities, in many cases, have increased to keep pace with their age. I assume this yearly progression will continue into the other stories, and we'll watch Septimus and his friends grow up, and have more adult adventures as they get older, similar to Harry Potter's story arc.

The next episode is Book Three: Physik, I imagine that we'll pick it up at the library at some point, but I don't think we're in a big hurry. Maybe we'll read something else in the meantime.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

nerax 2010

What? No books? That's right baby, all play and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.

Last night, three of us traipsed off to the 14th annual New England Real Ale Exhibition at the George Dilboy VFW Post #529, in Somerville, put on each year by CASC (Cask-Conditioned Ale Support Campaign). This year, the four day exhibition has over 80 firkins of Real Ale, from England, Scotland, Wales, America, and one from Germany, which kicked before I got a chance to try it. All the beers are cask-conditioned, served by gravity or hand-pump, are naturally carbonated, and have live yeast in in the cask. The NERAX focuses on these Real Ales for the freshness and complexity of favors, and most are session beer with low alcohol content, so you can have a few without falling over.

Advanced tickets was the way to go. For other people. We waited in line. While in line, one of the organizers told us that the British Consul General came to the closed Brewer's Session earlier in the day, and made a speech, looking dapper in his perfect suit, and presumable tippled a bit himself. The guy who told us about it was pretty psyched.

It was $15 to get in this year and $5 for a glass deposit, which I surrendered upon leaving so I could take the glass with me. Its a 20-ounce Imperial (Nonic) pint glass, nicely screened with the NERAX logo, and marked for quarter and half pints along the side. I drank half pints of the ale I tried, although I didn't finish them all. Here's how it went for me:

Long Hammer IPA - Red Hook, Portsmouth, New Hampshire (ABV 6.5%)
You can get this ale in a bottle, and even on tap, even on tap at Cataqua Public House--which is in the Portsmouth brewery!--and it doesn't taste this good. (The Pub also serves a couple of cask conditioned brews, but Long Hammer was not on the offing when I was there.) Clean and citrusy on the nose, light and slightly cloudy in color, with a thin, wispy head, grapefruit start, light carbonation, wet and full mouthfeel, lingering bitter hop finish. Not as good as two years ago, but a great start for the night.

Old Engine Oil - Harviestoun, Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland (ABV 4.5%)
Strong molases aroma with yeasty background, light bitterness, smokey chocolate hops with hints of leather. Weak flavors overall, with a slight sourness, thin, airy head which left the glass very clean, strong brown-black color, and a fast finish.

Bargee - Elland Brewery, Elland, West Yorkshire, England (ABV 3.8%)
Powerful rising bread smell, sourdough bread flavor, thin, frothy head, creamy mouthfeel, amber color, slightly cloudy. All-in-all, not my favorite. I think the sourness was too much for me, it was a little like eating raw bread dough. I didn't finish this one.

Black Fly Stout - Gritty McDuff's, Portland, Maine (ABV 4.8%)
Scents of snow, malty, full and flavorful, light smokiness, brown-black color with a thin head that completely evaporated as it sat in my pocket while we chatted, I didn't love this beer, but I finished it. It had warmed in my pocket, and it was good warm, earthy, roasted finish.

Red Tuft - Sixpoint Brewing, Brooklyn, New York (ABV 5.0%)
Light aroma, crisp ESB snap with grapefruit skin bitterness, light hops, lemon highlights, very clean, very low carbonation, almost no head, refreshing, grapefruit finish. A nice way to end the night.

It was a fun night! If you didn't make it, you can still get over there today. Its five bucks cheaper and it runs from 12 to 7. NERAX North is this fall in Haverhill. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the things they carried i

I'm reading Tim O'Brien's book of short stories about his time in Vietnam, The Things They Carried, which was written around 1990. I say around 1990, because its a series of short stories, some of which were published separately in Esquire. This book was selected by the Public Library in Somerville, Massachusetts for their 'Somerville Reads' program this spring, which has its kick off program this Sunday evening, at Arts at the Armory, in Somerville. Tim O'Brien is actually speaking tomorrow night at the First Parish Church Meetinghouse in Harvard Square, Cambridge at 7:00, in an unrelated event.

O'Brien's stories are written in a neat, but conversational tone. His stories remind me of the ones Uncle Russell tells after dinner: simple, true, funny, brutal, and real. Russell will often nod after the punchline, saying; that was life, that's was what it was like, or, what could you do? It was war, seems to be the message, and you did what you had to, and sometimes you did what you could, just to keep going, just to break the monotony or just to stay sane.

I've told myself that its because its a series of short stories that I can go ahead and start another book from my list, The Story of Libraries, by Fred Lerner, but that's not all of it. Its because I don't want to read these stories before I go to bed. Its not the horror, these stories are funny, touching, even sweet when O'Brien talks about his buddies and his wife. Its, as O'Brien says, the 'true'-ness of the stories that's haunting, and still haunts him, enough that he exorcised them onto paper.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

the templar legacy

The Templar Legacy is the third Cotton Malone novel I've read by Steve Berry, but I think it may be the first in the series. I'm not sure how many there are, but Berry has a fair number of titles to his name, and I don't know which includes his Cotton Malone character.

Malone is a great protagonist, and a great example of the reluctant hero. As a retired US government field agent, with a background in law, Malone has the skills he needs when trouble comes knocking, and his retirement doesn't prevent trouble from coming around. And what a retirement! Malone has left it all behind; a failed marriage, his job, and America; to become a rare book seller in Copenhagen. Black lacquered wood shelves, old leather and vellum bound books, stuffed to the rafters, with a small apartment upstairs.

I know the whole Knights Templar has had (is having) a good run, but I don't think its dead yet. I mean, come on, people have been writing vampire stories for how long?* But contrary to what I thought, the Templar and their history help this story by lending an interesting historical backbone. Its actually another telling of a story of the Templar secret treasure, which cropped up in the Pyrenees in the 1950s and became a local sensation by the 60s, until local officials had to halt all unauthorized excavations in the small town it centered on, when houses began falling over. Templar treasure is a fun backstory and has a lot of latitude for Berry, and other authors and screenwriters, to play with.

I've enjoyed each of the Cotton Malone stories, and this first one didn't disappoint. It was fun, fast and entertaining. Just what the doctor order after The Whale.

*[a search for the term 'vampire' in the books category on Amazon yielded 11,414 results. 'Templar' resulted in 3,638.]

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

4h and saint patrick

Hey, its Saint Patrick's Day! O'Brien...right? The patron Saint and all that. The 4-H bookmark was the closest thing I had, but nice nonetheless. I got this marker out in western Mass at a library. It was put out by UMass Amherst Extension, and the web address they give is for the Massachusetts 4-H, which is based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

According to the web site: "Massachusetts 4-H is a youth development program open to all young people ages 5 through 18 throughout the Commonwealth. It is part of a nationwide system connected to each land-grant institution of higher education and as such, has access to a wealth of resources and curriculum." Kids learn by doing, in non-formal educational settings. Sounds good.

As far as the holiday, the stories about Patrick are a little murky, but I guess that's to be expected for something that happened around 400 CE. His story also seems to have been wound up with a bishop sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine I around 430, called Palladius. This may be due to the similarity of their names, but I'm guessing. In Latin--which was a popular language for writing around then--Saint Patrick is Sanctus Patricius. Sounds close, but maybe I'm crazy.

I think Patrick, who was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave at 16, and then returned to help spread the word of Christianity to the Irish after he was ordained--he escaped and went back to his family in England--did do a lot for the cause in Ireland, but I don't think it was him that drove the snakes out. I think the sea kept the snakes from moving in.

But what the hell. Éirinn go brách! and have a Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Hats off and three cheers for The O'Brien, Conor Myles John O'Brien, Chief of the Name, 18th Baron Inchiquin and Prince of Thomond, and to his family.

Monday, March 15, 2010

dewey two

Y'all remember Dewey Right? The Dewey Decimal System is a good subject for a bookmark; you tuck it in your reading material and its available at a glance to help you find more reading material. This marker does it with a pop culture nod to Andy Warhol, and a siren call to 'Master the Art of Reading'.

It took me a few minutes to find out why this bookmark was produced by Lab Safety Supply Inc. It doesn't seem like they would have an interest in producing these things for their clients, but they have a company (subsidiary?) which they acquired in 2008, that provides equipment to schools and libraries, called Highsmith Inc. and that's where I found this one. Its one of a group of art decorated markers, that all have the same message. There are images in this set from Escher, Vermeer, Dali and Renoir, to name a few.

They look fun. I'll have to keep my eye out for them. A search for bookmarks on the Highsmith site resulted in 269 hits. I guess they make a lot of these things!

Friday, March 12, 2010

moby dick ii

I just finished Moby-Dick, and I'm glad. It's not that I didn't enjoy it; I did. It's just that it's taken sooo long. If the narrative were to be separated out from the essays, treatises and encyclopedic entries on the myriad subjects that make up whaling in the 1800s, this book would be 100 pages long, tops!

Ishmael is a lot like me I think. He's not really a whaler--or even a sailor, really--but took the job because he needed the work, had the time, and maybe most importantly, was interested in this Nantucket whaling business. The ins and outs of it enthrall him. The very detail of it, critical, he believes, to a full comprehension of the story of Ahab, and his struggle with the whale. And I think it's the whale's representation of all the difficult things in life, in very nature, that Ahab 'spits his last breath' at.

The story, woven in among the whaling lessons, like old ropes wound up with seaweed on the beach, is a powerful one. Once you dig it out. And one that I recommend reading, but only if you've got more time to read than I have.

The time that I have to read is typically about 20 minutes or so at breakfast. But that changes depending on the book I read. A fast paced book will have me stealing time at night after dinner and before I go to bed. Moby-Dick was not one of those books.

So what's next for me? The three books I have on deck (see the list at the right) will have to wait. I'm going to read a fun, and hopefully fast, book called The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

darwin martin house

This cherry of a bookmark was a gift from a co-worker who had the opportunity to visit the Martin House recently. The marker is made of solid wood, and is laser cut or etched in the field with an image of the Martin House. The field looks like cherry, and is bordered with contrasting parquetry, which may be walnut, rosewood and maple. Its sanded smooth and finished, and its about 1/16-inch thick.

The Darwin D. Martin House, at 125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, New York, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, for Darwin and Isabelle Martin, and completed in 1905, but workmen remained on site until 1907, when the work was finally completed and Wright signed off. The Martin House is one of the structures that make up the Martin House Complex, which also includes the George F. Barton House, as well as the Martin pergola, conservatory, carriage house and Gardener’s cottage.

The Martin House Complex is located within the Parkside East Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Parkside was laid out by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1876 and was part of the first public parks system in America.

Thanks to Alyson!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

its like an appendix

I've added a back page. There's the link for it in the white bar above; Its called backmatter. That's the stuff in the back of a book behind the text, or the body of the book. Table of contents, foreword, preface, etc... yeah, that's the forematter.

Backmatter is where you'd find the end notes, indexes, glossaries, and other stuff that you may find useful now and again. Same thing here, I've got some info on the blog, myself, some of the terms I use, and what I'm hoping to do here. There's a spot down at the bottom for comments, so if you think I'm missing something let me know. I see this page a work in progress, and I'll tool around with it as time goes on.

This is how I've kept myself busy the last few days, here on the blog. Don't think I've forgotten about book reviews, its just that I'm waist deep in Moby-Dick. Its been about a month! Its interesting, but I haven't been inspired to read more than about 20 minute a day. Slo-oow.