Thursday, December 24, 2015

quicksilver

I've read a bunch of Neal Stephenson's books, and if there's one thing I know, its that I'll never know what I'm going to get. 

I happened to pick up a copy of The Confusion at the on-going book sale at my library; I've picked up a bunch of books this way, and because they're so cheap (pay what you can afford) I don't spend a whole lot of time pre-reading, or even poring over the dust jacket in most cases. So I guess it makes sense that when I got this book home, and then finally pulled it out to read it, I discovered when reading the frontmatter that it is indeed the second book in a trilogy The Baroque Cycle. Cut to a year or so later (or about a month ago, depending on your perspective) and I finally decide to take book one, Quicksilver, out of the library.

So, is this book SciFi? Information technology based fiction? Pseudo-historical, other-worldly, soft SF? No, its historical fiction, with some scientific leanings.

The story focuses on Europe in the time of Louis XIV, for the most part. The story spans quite a few  decades, from about 1680 to 1730, or so. So far. And there is a fair amount of recounting the historical background of the present era as well. The focus, as far as I can tell, seems to revolve around the smaller characters, who may have done their parts to move the larger geo-political forces around them, and the storyline is followed through their divers viewpoints. see what I did there, with the old-timey spelling of diverse, yeah Stephenson does crap like that throughout. not a big fan of the technique myself So, the scientific bent--even a little code breaking, with nods to the 'original' Cryptonomicon, supposedly written by John Wilkins, an Anglican clergyman and natural philosopher from the period, and the basis for Stephenson's SF novel of the same name--mainly revolves around the members of the Royal Society and their scientific pursuits during the period.

So, there's a lot going on in this story. If I had any negative comment, it would be that its took a little while to get rolling. Now that I'm well into the second book, its pretty clear that the slow build-up is a function of how complex the story is. There are a lot of players, and the names can be as difficult to keep track of as The Silmarillion or The Count of Monte Cristo. Two of my favorites, by the way.

This looks like its going to be a good one. Good so far, and more to come.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

absence of light

An Absence of Light is a mid-nineties crime novel that I picked up at my library's ongoing book sale. I haven't read anything by this author before but the story telling is tight. Almost too tight. David Lindsey seems too careful about what he tells you. This seems especially true about the female characters. If I had to guess I'd say author has a high regard for some women and not as much for others; and they seem to be split by type. They may be frumpy or plain or elegant. They may be sexy or the girl next door. But he always describes their small habits and tics; what they wear and how the move; the looks on their faces and the fall of their hair.

The men? Yeah, not so much.

So how was it? Well, if you get past the distinctly male POV it was pretty good. The ending was a little weak and reminded me a few movies I've seen, that kind of withered away at the end. Lindsey does throw us a bone after all, but a share of the meat would been good too.

After all the bones are for the dogs, right?


Am I looking back at 1995 with the eyes of 2015? Sure. Is that fair? Maybe not, but it is a reality that books do last longer than the era in which they are written. I think that gives a window to look into the past and react as we see fit.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

jonathan strange and mr. norrell

This book is a big boy. And I'm happy to say that Susanna Clarke was able to close this story on a big upswing in action. I was a little worried; I thought the first half was a little slow. According to the book's website, Neil Gaiman wrote "... after 800 pages my only regret was that it wasn't twice the length."Well, I'm not sure I agree with that. Overall, I thought it was pretty good, but 200 pages could have been cut and it still would have been a good read.

Its seems to be a trend, which I assume follows on the heels of Game of Thrones, to turn books into TV shows rather than movies. The same is true for Strange and Norrell who have recently brought their powdered wigs to a BBC program. I assume it can be found here in the States. I bet its entertaining; there is plenty of room for period costumes, old-timely English accents, and magical special effect on the telly. What, what?

The second half of the book is reasonably well populated with intrigue, romance, magic, anger and spite, mystery, and madness. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, get some! Its been around long enough that its pretty easy to find at the liberry.

Friday, October 16, 2015

strange and norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been around for a few years but I haven't read it until now. I'm sure I've seen it, especially when it came out; its distinctive white-on-black book jacket, formidable size, and intriguing title. I saw it again just recently while browsing the titles in a tiny library in western Massachusetts, and I took a look through. Seems like my kind of book, so the next time I visited my own library, I picked it up.

Formidable is right! This beast is 782 pages and I'm about half way through it at this point. Susanna Clarke has taken it upon herself to write a 'historic' novel about the re-invigoration of English magic at the time of the Napoleonic wars, in the style of the era. What this means is that each of the chapters is titled, the story is carefully conceived, and told in that slow, deliberative style the seems well suited to you people of comfortable means, who may sit in a parlour and read to one another for a few hours each day to pass the time between tea and dinner whilst the servants busy about, out of sight

Think serial, a la The Count of Monte Cristo.

Just not as exciting.

I'm hopeful that second part of this tome has some action. It's been a little thin thus far, but I can see the chess pieces being set about the board, so there is plenty of opportunity for it. Let's bring it home Susanna!

More to come.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

love you more

Love You More is a suspense novel written by Lisa Gardener, whom I've never read before. My wife gave me this one and told me it was good. Love You More is ruthless in its suspense, having given away some of the background on this crime mystery in the prologue, we follow along as the police try to piece together the crime and the motive without the benefit we have of that critical prologian* information. And the closer the cops get to the truth, the more we realize that we don't have all the information needed to solve this crime after all.

It's a tightly woven and compelling story, told by a writer who clearly knows a fair amount about police procedures and believes in a strong female lead. In fact, the lead quickly takes on the role of the reluctant hero, and even makes us wonder at times if we're routing for the wrong team. As I said, there's a lot going on here and Gardener does a good job of meting out the info, switching back and forth from third person narrative to first person in the case of the protagonist. Nicely done.


* Yeah, I made that word up.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

chindi

It been a while since I've read science fiction, it used to be the bulk of my reading when I was a teen, so I was in the library thinking of what to get and I came across the SciFi section and decided to pick something up. I don't know Jack McDevitt, and frankly I was a little worried that this would turn out to be a horror story, but I was pleasantly surprised. chindi is what I would call old school SciFi, tracking a space adventure with a group of explorers in a kind of Odyssey retelling. Jason and his Argonauts are replaced by Priscilla 'Hutch' Hutchins and a group of amateur adventurers who are set on making first contact with intelligent alien life and have hired Hutch to captain their ship.

Hutch is similar to Jason, in that Jason leads, or captains, the Argonauts on their adventures, but the Argonauts are not just a crew. They aren't the invisible minions of say, the crew of the Nautilus, the Argonauts are somebodys. They have their own histories, and they make their own adventures. Hutch is in a similar position, she's the captain, but also the hired help, so her role as leader is tenuous at best, and when the crew wants to answer the Siren call, the best she can do is advise against it. don't. stop. danger.

This is where the tension lies in the story. As a good person, you can only help those who'll help themselves. And when they don't... you do your best to rescue their asses.

chindi is a great odyssey story, and a fantastic 'wouldn't-it -be-great-if' story. Well written, easy and fun to read. And you can't help smiling a little (in your horror) when you say, Oo, that's gonna leave a mark.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

assassination bureau

The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. is an unfinished Jack London novel, completed by Robert Fish, using London's notes. In the hard cover I read, London completed 122 pages of the 179 page total. London's notes about the conclusion of the story are located in the end matter of the book. Its interesting to see them after reading Fish's ending, I have a feeling that Fish did a better job than to simply follow London's notes to closely. I get the feeling that London didn't finish this story because he wasn't real clear on how to end it. Fish basically iginores most of what London jotted down and created a pretty good ending on his own for the most part.

The Assassination Bureau was made into an English movie in 1969 starring Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, and Telly Savalas. Don't think I've ever seen that, but I found it while looking for a James McAvoy/Angelina Jolie movie with a similar theme that I thought might have been inspired by this book. Wanted isn't inspired by this book however, rather its based on a Mark Millar comics series of the same name. But who knows, maybe Millar was inspired by London?

The story follows the story of the founder of the Assassination Bureau, his niece, and her lover. These three make an odd triangle and the high-jinks soon ensues. The story revolves around whether or not the idea behind the Assassination Bureau is a net good or net bad for the world and society. The discussion becomes pretty philisophical, and I think that's really to point. Once London got to the point where he had established his view in teh dialog, I'm not sure he knew where to go from there.

An interesting literary bit of history, but little more than that in the end.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

eclipse

I

Perched high above in velvet lair,
With stars like diamonds in her hair.
Glimm'ring dew drops, in hallowed lace,
Shimmer and shine about her face.

Her raiment dusky, luminous gray;
Edged with azure in light of day.
Delicate jacquard embroidered gown.
Our hope, and sight, when sun is down

Ever in eons; evermore!
A sign of love in ageless yore.
Longing pursuit of fiery mate,
Locked within our earth's embrace.

Glory, surely, in thy mien,
From oceans blue and forests green.
Ever there is turned her gaze,
But thoughts of Brightness fill her days.

Blissful is earth in his rapture,
Vies ever her love to capture.
But by our earth, her heart's not won,
Mate of her soul's within the sun.

Ever, anon, love pirouettes,
Just out of reach, and soon begets,
Tumult of fury, jealous rage,
Blinding earth for age upon age.

A plan is hatched in tortured mind,
Result of temper less than kind.
Reckless is he whom love has scorned.
Prudent thought now fettered and shorn.

"Attack!" he cries, with sundering seas,
"Lasting darkness, for thine and thee!"
Blackened veil o'er her face then crept.
In ageless exile then, she wept.

Only after foul deed was done,
Did she her warlike armor don.
Raiment gray was replaced in flood,
With wrathful, churning, tempest blood.

Silent screaming her battle cry,
Enraging champions from on high.
Fiercely they lit about her face,
Demanding redress for disgrace.

Her darkness trumpets their advance.
About her crown, formations dance.
If her honor they can't restore,
Gauntlet is thrown. They march to war.

II

Slowly moves the war of sky
In time not meant for men.
Fleeting crashes the tumults cry,
As men's eyes perceive heaven.

A thousand years within a day the mighty warriors lean.
A thousand more outside our time, with weapons yet unseen.
A moment more--the earth resigns--in black night calls "Parlay!"
A treaty drawn. A wrong redressed. Her face has won the day.

From her countenance, grudgingly,
The shadow slides away.
Retreating sad, but lovingly,
Earth has lost the day.

When battle gear has served its need
Blood then fades to gray.
Earth weeps now in insatiable greed,
Though she agrees to stay.

In dusky raiment again she's donned
More brilliant than afore.
Love's sparkling light upon her mons,
From he whom she adores.

Hung high above, in velvet lair
With diamonds in her crown.
Naught else on earth or in the air
More lovely than her gown.

Wisps of dew create hallowed lace,
Whilst stars shine about her face.
Glorious lantern in night's sky,
Who's love for sun will never die.

Verily now her vict'ry won,
Glory restored, her liege the sun.
With inert cruelty she now taunts
Her scorned lover, who's dreams she haunts.

A thousand, thousand years he'll grieve,
And about the sun a tapestry weave,
With endless streams of love's lost tears,
In avarice dance throughout the years.

-- --

I wrote this is October 2004 for the lunar eclipse then. Originally posted on Lit.org. Seemed like a good time to re-post. Enjoy the eclipse tonight everyone!

Monday, September 21, 2015

secondhand souls

I get a kick out of Christopher Moore. I've read a bunch of his books since my little sister gave me a copy of Lamb a number of years ago. But I haven't read everything. And that fact just bit me in the ass while reading his latest: Secondhand Souls. Why? Because it's a sequel to an earlier novel that predates my interest in Moore's work, namely A Dirty Job.

So do you have to have read A Dirty Job in order to enjoy this one? No, would it be more enjoyable if you did? I don't know. see above Would I recommend reading the first one first? you're really not paying attention here, are you? listen, I can't do this by myself

Christopher Moore is delight to read. You can read me gush about him in my previous book reviews, which you'll find links to in the body of this review if you're interested, but I'll spare you that pleasure now. As far as this story goes, it's a little creepy--macabre even--but in a funny way.* Moore has taken an interesting view of death and its machinations, it's very workings, which he has absurdly assigned to men, as if the whole enterprise was outsourced to private contractors, to save tax money or something. Almost as if God said, hey I gave you the Garden of Eden and you screwed it up, now we got this whole death thing, why don't you just take care of that yourself.

Who comes up with stuff like that? Okay, there are probably plenty of crazed lunatics and under-medicated conspiracy-theorists that come up with crap like that every day, but what kind of maniac turns it into a novel?

That's right. My hero.

Oh, and before we go, does the book jacket with the creepy skeleton-faced girl glow-in-the-dark and creep you out even more when you shut off your bedside lamp the first night you read this? Of course it does.

Read this book.

Yes, yes, read the other one first. I thought we covered that
 



* Funny 'ha-ha' or funny 'strange?' Yeah, both.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

fifth gospel

I didn't read Ian Caldwell's last book, The Rule of Four, but it apparently did very well. I tried to look it up in my library, but they only have one copy, and it was out. Presumably because that reader wanted to do what I wanted to do after finding his new book on the shelf; read the first one. But I checked with the librarian and there was no information about this book being a follow up or sequel to The Rule of Four.

Caldwell's latest book is called The Fifth Gospel, and it has apparently taken him something like 10 years to write. I think his previous publisher may have even given up on him, but this effort seems like it may have been worth the wait. I enjoyed it.

Caldwell takes a close look at the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, from a very interesting perspective; through the eyes of an Eastern Catholic priest, a religion that bridges the gap between the two faiths, which split about 1000 years ago. Our Eastern (or Greek Catholic) protagonist is the son of a Eastern Catholic father--this faith allows their priests to marry--and is a priest himself. His brother, also a priest, broke from the family tradition and has become a Roman Catholic Priest.

The kicker is; they grew up and continue live in Vatican City, during the last years of John Paul II tenure as Pope.

At its core, this is a story of intrigue within Vatican City, and a mystery revolving around the split and current efforts to reunify the churches, ancient relics, and what it means to be Greek Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic, and how some of the higher ups in each of these traditions may still sting from the split a thousand years ago.

Its about family, brothers, marriage, love, church politics, friendship, faith, loyalty and betrayal, lost and redemption. And you know... murder.

This story swirls with activity, cloak and dagger, mystery about the churches and their histories, and is sprinkled with the fun and interest of what a day in the life of an inhabitant of one of the smallest countries in the world may be like. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Read this book.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

water knife

Paolo Bacigalupi's new book is called The Water Knife and I read this one while I was on vacation last week, just after reading Cloud Atlas. I was thinking about this story while I was writing about Cloud Atlas because they share some elements, so they made great back-to-back reads.

Bacigalupi's last book was also set in a future that isn't as warm and fuzzy as our current era, but it is certainly a possible future if we aren't more careful about global warming and natural resource management. Message received Paolo.

I wasn't sure what I was going to be reading about, as I didn't even read the jacket when I picked this up. I recognized the writer's name from The Wind-up Girl from a few years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Water Knife didn't disappoint. I didn't put this one down very much and finished it pretty quickly.

Bacigalupi looks at the potential future of the western states after the water crisis has gotten so bad that states rights and water rights begin to trump federal mandates and the west gets wild again. Just like his last book, Bacigalupi has clearly spent some time thinking through his scenarios from all the angles so that the story he's built doesn't have any holes. From the violence people are willing to commit to get or just maintain their water supply, to the government mismanagement, to the day-to-day people who don't look at waste water the same any more, the desert takes on a new meaning, and the tragedy of an artificial desert oasis like Las Vegas or Phoenix takes on an ominous, if not perverse, aspect.

This book walks a careful line between novel and soft SciFi. My advice? Keep an eye on Paolo Bacigalupi. And read this book.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

cloud atlas

Cloud Atlas is probably fairly well known as a movie--I'm sure I've seen bits of it but after reading the book I'm sure I didn't see the movie. I'm also not sure how you'd make a movie from this story but I can see how some of the confusing parts might be simplified with the addition of visual clues.

Cloud Atlas is almost a short story collection, held together by more than a common theme. It's more of a story arc--maybe story loop is s better term--that runs though time connecting up various characters from each along the way. Characters that can almost feel these other characters from afar.

What was fun was Mitchell's shifts in style and language according to the time and place these segments occur, from the past out into the dystopian future. A future that I think helped lay the groundwork for The Bone Clocks. A future that I can see similarities in in Paolo Bacagalupi's work, incidentally. What I think they share is a keen awareness of the state we are currently in and they both are forecasting bleak futures of our own making. 30 years ago dystopian futures were made of nuclear winters or planetary subjugation by aliens. A younger breed of writers sees environmental disaster as our undoing. These two see more specific losses at the hands of corporate mismanagement of the environment and our natural resources.  Death by mega-corp, now with 100% less calories. I made a little joke

Cloud Atlas is an engaging blend of novel and soft-SF. It's not a lazy read, it takes some attention and I like that. A friend who's also read it suggested I see the movie now, so I'll look for it at the library.

I borrowed a few books fro the library for vacation this past week, so I have one or two more books coming up soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

wicked

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I didn't read this when it was all the rage, and I may not have read it all if a copy hadn't showed up in the library book sale. I'm glad it did; this book was great. Funny, exciting, well thought out, and really entertaining.

The Wizard of Oz is such a huge part of pop culture now, that I wasn't sure where there was to go with a story like this, and then go on and write more of them. There are a few more of these stories Maguire wrote as follow ups to this, right? I think I heard on the radio some time in the last year or so that he's written the last one. Its called Get me out of here! or something,* which makes it pretty clear that he needs to write something else before he hangs himself.

What I loved about this story is how Maguire took the bombast from the movie and used it as a stepping off point. The characters are larger than life, and just packed with personality and personality traits--no one does, or thinks, anything thing small. They are all either in or out, and when they're in, they're in all the way. He also put a lot of thought into the little idiosyncrasies in the film, and gave them real, fully flushed-out reasons for being. They're so convincing that I found myself saying, oh, that's why.

Maguire also looks at what the definition of good and evil is; and what it means to different people. The right vs. wrong, good vs. evil plot line in the movie is taken apart and put back together through the eyes of various people in the story, and it quickly became evident that its not so black and white.

Illustrated by Douglas Smith.

Read this book.


* Its called Out of Oz

Sunday, August 9, 2015

bone clocks

The Bone Clocks is a novel by David Mitchell, the guy who wrote Cloud Atlas. I say that like I read Cloud Atlas, but I didn't. I think I saw the movie however, or maybe parts of it. This book was in the quick picks section at my library and it looked like it was right up my alley. Yeah, it was.

I liked this book from the first page, and I enjoyed right through. I stayed up at night reading; I stopped what I was doing on the weekends and took this book and a coffee out to the yard; I lingered over breakfast for too long each morning. I'm not a fast reader, and this is a dense book.

What I especially liked about it, is the in depth examinations of the characters. Many writers would give a few paragraphs, or even a few lines to set up a character and then plow ahead with the storyline, infilling bits about the character as they go. Good writers show us what the character is like, rather than tell us. Mitchell shows us by taking the time to write the story from each character's perspective, and through their eyes we see the multiple facets of the story as well as get a much better feel for that characters themselves, and in the end its what the story is about; these people.

There is a Fantastic aspect to this story, but its not overwhelming. Its the axis about which the plot revolves, but its just the axis, and not the entire storyline. Mitchell has take the time to think about what life would be like in a world like the one he's created, and we get to inhabit it with him. It runs parallel to are, and maybe just 20 feet to the left of us. Its like many stories of this ilk that imagine another world, or even a secret society within our own, that moves along with us without our knowledge. I'll keep my eye out for more David Mitchell.

Read this book.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

miso soup

In the Miso Soup is the book I picked up at the library thinking that it was by Haruki Murakami, but its not. It was right next to his work on the shelf because this author is named Ryu Murakami. After reading Haruki, I was ready for something different but I was surprised in ways I wasn't expecting. Ryu is pretty well known for his thrillers and horror writing, I was in the Soup alright.

First off, some similarities to After Dark: this story also takes place in an urban Japanese center, over a very short time period (two days vs. one), this story is also character driven, also with two main characters, who ended up doing and seeing lots of different things in the city in a very short time. In both stories, the city night and its people swirl around the two main characters, and create a shimmering and brightly lit, or dull, grey backdrop.

Where Miso departs happened pretty quickly as one of the two begins to suspect that the other may be up to no good.

That's an understatement.

Miso is fast, jarring, creepy, violent, a little crazed, and very readable. As the tension builds in the story, the tension between the two characters builds as well. Its as if they are both stuck on a ride and they can't get off. I don't know that I would have picked this one out but I ended up glad that I read it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

skim

This is one of the pile of books I picked up from the library to take on vacation with me a few weeks ago. I have a little backlog of books that I've finished that I need to get my thoughts down about, before they fade away. I've had Skim on my list for a while. I originally wrote it down after hearing about it somewhere and thinking my daughter may enjoy it. She had already read it, and did enjoy it, so I left it on my list.

Skim is a graphic novel. The cover says "Words by Mariko Tamaki, Drawings by Jillian Tamaki." I understand that these two are cousins, and that this is their first venture. Nice work.

It had been so long, I had forgotten what I had heard about this book, and when I saw the cover art, I was reminded of old Japanese paintings of samurai and thought that maybe it was a historic novel. No. Its a story of a confused teen, dealing with the day-to-day life of being on the outside looking in. Skim--a not-so-nice nickname for the main character, Kim--follows her through the effort she has to constantly put forth just to deal with the crap that being outside of the cool group at school puts on a middle school girl. Skim is just slightly outside the norms: shes a little Asian, a little overweight, a little romantically experimental, a little quiet, and a little lonely.

Its not the first time these tropes have been examined, but Skim does it with a thoughtfulness and respect for Skim's right to think and feel as an individual. Skim takes us into how Skim feels, what she dreams of, with glimpses at her diary entries, and follows her closely so that we can feel her disappointments, anguish, and frustrations as the things that seem to happen so effortlessly for others, continually pass her by.

Impressive.

Friday, July 31, 2015

after dark

After Dark is a novel by Haruki Murakami, whose work was suggested by my daughter. After reading this, I went to the library and took out a few more from Murakami to take on vacation. Turns out that I picked one off the shelf by another writer with a similar name, AND one from Haruki Murakami from the quick pick table, but quick pick is limited to two weeks with new renewal so I didn't get to that one. Maybe next time.

After Dark is a short, taunt novel which follows two characters who meet after recognizing one another as having mutual acquaintances, and end up spending parts of one long night together in the city.

With side trips to surrealism-town.

After dark reads like any hip, urban, character driven novel, but it seems a little sharper to me. I think that may be the altered perspective, but Murakami doesn't waste word either. And then--inexplicably--there are these chapters that slide away from the main plot to sub-plots, which are tied to the story, they just sort of... slide off the edge.

An' I'm all, wha?

But Murakami brings it all back, and the ending is satisfying, but leaves me knowing that the author has told me more than just a story. Given me more than just some interesting character studies of urban Japanese youth. More than just a glimpse at Japanese counter-culture.

What exactly, I'm not that sure. I'm not much of a deep reader I guess. I do know when I've been entertained, however. And I'm sure there are places you can read a review that will spell all that out for you; here its more about notes to myself about what I've read in the past, mainly so I don't buy the same book at a used book sale too often.

After Dark was translated by Jay Rubin.

Read this book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

serpent of venice

Christopher Moore is a hoot. Funny, irreverent, smart, and dedicated to producing a great, wild story. I get the feeling that underneath his comic interior, he worries about the details of his books. The plotting, the characters, the continuity, all of it. He may even be a little neurotic at heart. He's the Woody Allen of Shakespearean, historic comedy novels. yeah, I said it

The Serpent of Venice: A Novel, by Christopher Moore returns us to the adventures of Pocket, the harlequin clad protagonist from Fool. I get the feeling when reading, that Pocket most nearly speaks as Moore wishes that he--or any of us--could; with absolute impunity to power.

The Serpent, as it sounds, is a riff on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, with some other Shakespearean characters and plots thrown in to keep it interesting, along with some Edgar Allan Poe. Why, you might ask, does this story include not only multiple Shakespeare plays, but a dash of Poe, from a completely different era, as well? Why not?

Moore's willingness to look beyond the boundaries of a single inspiration, and combine these multiple sources with a storyline of his own devising is what, I think, sets him apart from other writers in the genre. Tom Robbins is the only other I can think of that I enjoy as much. Robbins doesn't seem to suffer like Moore does, but he has his own problems.

Read this book.

Friday, July 3, 2015

the heist

My wife is an endless source of joy. Not least of her wonders is her ability to crank through a novel in record time, so I almost always have stream of recently read books around to choose from, and she loves the spy novel. Because of this, I've read a bunch of Daniel Silva's books about Gabriel Allon, the hardened but thoughtful agent of Israel's secret service.

I haven't read everything in the Gabriel Allon series, but I have read a few of them. Silva doesn't shrink from using his novels as a soapbox to poke his finger in the eye of what he sees as the bad things in this world, and if anything, he seems to be poking a little harder as he gets older. Not only does the Syrian regime get some pretty heavy poking, but he's also thrown some others in there for good measure including Russia's burgeoning tsar. I get the feeling he'll get some more attention in an upcoming story (poke)

Silva takes us on a familiar romp. The story arc he favors has Allon reaching operational climax at about the mid-point of the book, so you know thing won't go as planned. The never do. Allon is first one to tell us that. What works so well is that well laid plans should work; seem like they will work, but then something unexpected happens and then its time to regroup and replan.

It was a fun one.

Monday, June 22, 2015

island of the day before

I have a love-hate relationship with Umberto Eco.

I just finished his The Island of the Day Before and I still can't tell if he is insane or a genius. I keep reading his stuff, and then I keep telling myself "Never again!" and then I find something that seems so intriguing and I'm sucked in again. He reminds me of Italo Calvino, only not as much fun. But his thinking seems to float out there in the ether like Calvino's but I'm not sure if he really wants to write novels; I don't think he does. I think he has a huge, over-arching super-theory and he chips away at it in the various forms of art and expression he works in, from non-fiction, to fiction, to museum shows.

The Island follows the unfortunate (fortunate?) travails of Roberto della Griva, from his sudden lurch into manhood in war to his education in the salons of Paris to his travels to the South Seas. As we follow Roberto through the arc of his life, we are educated along with him about the science and beliefs of the day, from how to speak to women to how the determine that the world is indeed round. Although, whether or not it orbits the Sun or vice versa is still, as they say, up in the air.

Eco throws everything he can think of at our poor unsuspecting Roberto, and Roberto is not sure what to do with it all, and we're never quite sure if he ever will. Eco has composed a tale that is supposedly taken from the not-so-recently discovered notes of Roberto, and then tried to reconstruct his tale, as if from history. This give the author ample opportunity to speak directly to the reader in his role as narrator, where he often will use said opportunity to express he opinion as well. And because this is fiction, is there really any line between the two? It reminded me of the structure of The Princess Bride.

As in, "What the hell am I reading?"

And I'll probably do it again. Damn you Umberto Eco.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

metamorphoses

I'm pretty sure I picked up this copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses when I was in Italy. I'm not sure about that but it has a funny price sticker on it and I have spent a fair number of my vacations in and around Ovid's hometown, Sulmona, in the Aquila region, in the eastern Alpines mountains west of Rome.

Publius Ovidius Naso, as he was known in Latin, or Ovidio to the Italians, was born in March, 43 BCE and died in exile in the year 17 or 18, so he was writing at around the same time as Virgil and Horace.

Metamorphoses is a series of related stories of the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, naiads and monsters, who all go through a dramatic physical change or alteration. The theme is a popular one in the Greek and Roman myths, but I had no idea there were so many examples; which begs the question, how many of these stories did Ovid make up himself? there are something like 250 separate stories in this epic poem, and each one includes a metamorphosis! So Ovid's a busy guy. And he was pretty sure that this poem was going to make him famous. He even states near the end that people will be saying his name in thousands of years. point; Ovid

Its pretty well known that authors from this era 'borrowed' from one another and from whereever else they liked. Many of the tales Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses are indeed told by Virgil. But what he is known for is his sense of humor, but after reading this translation by A.D. Melville, I've concluded that either the jokes must be pretty subtle, Ovid must just be humorous compared to his contemporaries (which I haven't read), or Melville didn't do a great job translating the humor. imagine, a classics scholar without a good sense of humor. weird

There is a 20-odd page introduction by E.J. Kenney, and 8 pages of translator's notes in the front matter, along with the table of contents and a Historical Sketch of Ovid. Kenney also prepared the notes to the text. These are highlighted in the text of the poem with asterisks. Find as asterisk go to the 100 pages of notes at the back and hunt for your note by book and line number! There are 15 books, and the lines aren't numbered, just a note at the top of each page noting what numbers it contains. I'm sure if you're a scholar, having a system that doesn't intrude on the flow of the poem is nice, but if you need to read the notes, they're a little hard to manage. Talk about stopping up the flow. The only way to read like this is to read a whole story, and then go read the applicable notes and try to recall where they were. I think footnotes would be fine.

After a quick look around, I think I may look up David R. Slavitt's The Metamorphoses of Ovid which is touted as freely translated by this American poet. According to Eric McMillan, Slavitt's version is supposed to be "Thoroughly enjoyable." saying that "Slavitt manages to capture the sweep of the stories while getting in all the little jokes and aides." Looks like I should have done a little research first. McMillan calls Melville's translation "quite dull." doh!



Thursday, April 2, 2015

retreat

Retreat is a miniature print made by Dan Chiaccio, a talented artist and friend of my daughter. Its bookmark sized, but its too nice to actually use as a book marker.

Retreat - Daniel Chiaccio, copper etching on Stonehenge paper, 1 7/8 x 5 1/4-inches, image size.

According to the Etsy profile, Chiaccio is a recent graduate from the New Hampshire Institute of Art,  who majored in illustration, with a minor in printmaking. Check out his stuff here.

I'm delighted to have it, and as I said, I love how it is the size of bookmark, but way to nice to stick in a book. Thanks to Dan and to my wonderful daughter, Alessia.

I've super-sized the image so you can see the detail. The more you look, the more you'll find. There are secret little items tucked away here and there that speak back to childhood and the simple things that made childhood so much fun.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

cell

I'm getting low on reading material, so I gave Cell, by Robin Cook a go.

Myeh.

Almost as soon as I started reading, I could see where it was going and had a pretty good idea how it would end. I was pretty close on both counts. What I really had a problem with is the main character, George something. Sorry, Dr. George something. Dr. George is getting the creeping suspicion that something may be up with a new medical device/system that is all the rage and is currently in trials. His suspicion revolves around the fact that everyone he meets who is involved in the medical trial dies.

And that gets Dr. George thinking: Hmmm.... Maybe something is up?

Ya think?

But what really gets me is that George tries to maintain his objectivity. We keep hearing about how Dr. George thinks this new system is swell, and how it may revolutionize medicine. And this is AFTER he has begun to seriously question whether or not its killing people! Including his friends! And Loved Ones! shouldn't be hasty

I think I read Coma back in the late 70s, early 80s when it was all the rage, and the made a movie based on it. Naked coma patients hanging from wires. All very titillating and spooky. But not that good, if I recall.

Cell is a sleeper. see what I did there




Sunday, March 8, 2015

s

So I read--or experienced--S by Doug Dorst. A concept for a book-like entertainment... thing, created by the director/producer J.J. Abrams.

S, which is like nothing else in the book store, is also packaged differently than most books. One will occasionally find a book shrink wrapped; typically to preserve its content from the damage caused by thumbing at the store, or to prevent damage to young and impressionable minds due to its racy content. S is shrink wrapped because its cover quick, look to the left is not the actual cover of the book. Nor is it a book jacket, or even one of those cool boxes called a slipcase, that you slide your book into, altho its probably most similar to the last one there. It is, more exactly, the packaging. Inside the packaging is the actual book. I'm not sure if you, dear reader, will consider some of the following spoilers, exactly, but I am about to discuss what is inside the package... ssshhhh The book itself is not called S, but The Ship of Theseus.

Herein begins the experience. See, The Ship of Theseus is not a real book, but a fully formed reproduction of a non-existent hardcover book from 1949, written by a non-existent author, complete with discoloration and foxing from age, stickers and stamps indicating that it belongs to a collegiate library. Again, non-existent library in a non-existent school. But within the margins of this book are hand-written notes, written by two people, who use these marginalia to communicate with one another. Among other things, they discuss the author of the book, who is the object of scholarly research for his literary efforts, and his politics.

As we read the "book" we also peer into the private correspondence of the two margin writers as they get to know each other and the mysterious author of the book. What they discover, and what we soon discover, is that the author's radicalism may still be alive today. What that means for the two note writers is what drives the experience forward. S is three or maybe four stories all running in series. The question is: how, or even if, these stories could be tied together.

Its not really a book, but a book is certainly part of it. If I were to try and deconstruct where the idea for this 'book' comes from, I would guess that it came from Abrams holding a book in his hand, maybe with some old forgotten marginal notes in it, and thinking to himself. This. This, is why we need traditional, analog books. This, the tactile, hands-on and hand-annotated 'real' thing can't just be a thing of the past. How much Abrams did to help with the actual writing, I don't know, but he isn't listed as a co-author. As a project, it is beautifully executed. If the effort wasn't put into the details, this project would have felt cheap and imitation. They did a nice job. Ironically, I don't think it will make a good library book. The reason for that should be obvious when you see it.





Monday, March 2, 2015

in like a lion...

Maybe you've seen the news. Maybe you live in New England like I do. If so, you, like me, are probably wondering; is it March? Doesn't seem like March. Doesn't seem like Spring pops in about three weeks. All I see is lions. Its like that old saying about what holds up the world.

Its lions, all the way down.

White Lion image: by Woxy, used without permission

So here's what I think: If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, the other days must also have animality. So we need a scale, so you can see how lionish or lambish we are on a particular day. This year, I got really close to changing the list so that its lion every day. or at least for the next two weeks or so But this is information--new knowledge--that you can use to plan your day, your week, your weekend, even the whole month!

What's the best day to wear your Velcro monkey tail to work?* What's the best part about goat?** Is there really dolphin in tuna?*** How're you going to know these things without the lion-to-lamb list?

Here's how it stacks up this year. yes, its the same every year, that's why we call it a tradition.

March 1 - Lion: This one's a given. This year, its a white lion. And he weighs about 2 1/2 weeks.
March 2 - Tiger: Up to 11-feet, and nearly 700 pounds!
March 3 - Bear: Oh my! Black, Brown, but probably Polar. And hungry.
March 4 - Shark: Just remember Jaws 4.
March 5 - Wolf: The Timber variety. With the white, winter coat.
March 6 - Bull: One word: Pamplona.
March 7 - Moose: Brake for moose, it could save your life.
March 8 - Eagle: Don't leave your pets outside... or your children. Or your grammy... she weights like 42 pounds.
March 9 - Scorpion: Step on it before it steps on you.
March 10 - Dingo: No, its not a stray dog.
March 11 - Hawk: Not Riverhawk, that's UMass Lowell.
March 12 - Lynx: Its like a house cat. That kills and eats things. That weigh 42 pounds. Yeah, like Grammy.
March 13 - Bat: If you just get near one its a full rabies series. In your belly.
March 14 - Monkey: They pinch! With their feet! HBD Coleen! Maybe this should be Monkey Pi Day!****
March 15 - Snake: The Ides of March. Snakes are known for wisdom, and treachery.
March 16 - Ox: Hard working in a plodding kind of way.
March 17 - Elephant: Wise, big, powerful... gray.
March 18 - Raven: Nevermore.
March 19 - Stag: Power and compassion. Might make a good patronus.
March 20 - Crab: This one can sneak up on you. First day of spring!
March 21 - Goat: Stubborn and tough going.
March 22 - Horse: Strong and reliable.
March 23 - Pig: Smart but messy; wear your boots today.
March 24 - Dog: Friendly and good-natured; take a walk.
March 25 - Dolphin: Fun and wet; bring an umbrella.
March 26 - Rooster: Proud strutter. Crow at the sun! Wear your new socks!
March 27 - Turtle: Muddy, but adorable; boots again.
March 28 - Toad: They're not just for (witch's) breakfast anymore.
March 29 - Robin: The red breast is kind or orangey, no
March 30 - Rabbit: How can you be scared of rabbits? HBD Kelton!
March 31 - Lamb: Mmm... arrosticini. Smells like spring!

According to one source I read "This phrase has its origins with the constellations Leo, the Lion, and Aries, the ram or lamb. It has to do with the relative positions of these constellations in the sky at the beginning and end of the month." Yeah, Aries, the lamb, that must be it. Somebody is thinking too hard. I think the origins of something like this are pretty self-evident.

We have had over 8-feet of snow in Massachusetts this year. It snowed 2-inches yesterday (the first of March), and little today, and another storm is due beginning tomorrow night. And it hasn't been above freezing for more than a few days since January, so most of the snow that fell in late January, is still here.

Spring? Lambs? Yeah, I'm ready.


* Never.
** The shanks.  Chevon is delicious!
*** I don't know man! Focus! 
**** Pi Day is typically on 3/14, but this year its special, especially at about half-past nine: 3.14.15 9:27:54. That's pi to 9 decimal places, nerds!


Monday, February 2, 2015

hand tools

Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings is a beautiful soft cover book written and illustrated by Aldren A. Watson in 1982. This is now my go-to guide for hand tools. Watson is clearly a lifelong user and fan of hand tools and in this book he has poured out all of what he knows, illustrated clearly and concisely with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations of the tools, their parts, their use, and even care and sharpening. The appendixes even include measured drawings and instructions for building your own jigs, wooden hand tools, a work bench (including a version that folds up in a closet for the apartment dwellers) and patterns for replacement handles.

The book is organized by tool types. Each tool is described in detail, with cut away drawings of the innards, and its workings so the tool owner fully understands the tool and how it functions. Watson explains, and often illustrates the variations found in the tool, what the different options and adjustments are good for and then goes on to describe how the tool is used. These descriptions are full of examples, and advice ton the best ways to work, often with illustrated techniques, tips, and time savers along the way. For example, in the discussion about a spirit level there is a great tip for leveling a wooden table that doesn't include cutting the legs or using a matchbook. Fantastic!

If you are just starting out with woodworking tools, or if you've been using them for years, like I have, this book has something (many things!) for you. If you've been outfitting your shop with the latest power tools you see on The New Yankee Workshop and shows like it, you may want to take look at this book and see what hand tools can do, often times with less effort, less set-up time, less sawdust, and better results.

Aldren Watson was a professional illustrator, woodworker, print maker and book binder. He died just a little while ago, in 2013 at 95.

Read this book. And then set it in your workshop for reference.

airframe

I don't think I've read a Michael Crichton novel since Andromeda Strain, and I'm pretty sure that was in high school. Crichton has been really popular in his long career and lots of his books have been made into movies, including, Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Terminal Man, Timeline, and Jurassic Park.

Airframe was originally published in 1995, but still holds up pretty well. There are some things that twang or the nineties, but those are pretty easy to overlook. Airframe moves fast and is easy to read. I found myself very quickly understanding the man characters and the personalities that drove the story, but the intrigue and mystery was pretty well laid out too. One of the things I especially liked is when the protagonist got to a point where she thought she understood what was really going on, I did too. I felt like both she and I were pretty sure, but what was fun was, if she was right, what was she going to do with the information? Even though I feel like I figured it out, I was still surprised by the ending. Nicely done.

I think I'll have to look up some more of Crichton at the library, or keep an eye out at the book sales. We have a copy of Prey around the house somewhere, but my wife said she didn't like it. I'll have to ask her again. Airframe was a fun one.  I sat down to read the last 100 pages this weekend, which I don't often do. I especially enjoyed the detail of what goes into building and maintaining a commercial plane.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

empty chair

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are back in the thick of it, this time out of their familiar New York, and away in a small town in North Carolina. Rhyme is in the city nearby for treatment when the  sheriff from said small town arrives asking for help with a kidnapping/murder case. In one of the unnecessary twist that aggravate me in serials, the sheriff happens to be the cousin of a cop in New York, who also is a close friend of Rhyme and Sachs.

As if the one time this small town has a kidnapping and murder, which is also too difficult for them to solve alone, is also the time that the world renown Lincoln Rhyme AND his assistant happen to be 20 minutes away, with 2 or 3 days to kill before treatment, isn't coincident enough; the sheriff is the crap town is also the first cousin of a New York cop that drinks coffee with Sachs and Rhyme every day.

Amazing.

Aside from that, this was a good story. There were some interesting twists and turns that I didn't see coming, along with a few I did. There was little bit of a double meaning of the title, The Empty Chair, but I don't recall the details. Jeffrey Deaver has these characters pretty well down at this point and like a lot of recurring characters in serial novels, they are like old acquaintances at this point. The relationship between Sachs and Rhyme is a little tortured, and I don't read enough of the books in this series (never mind, in any kind of order) to really understand it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

fallen angel

Gabriel Allon of Israeli intelligence is working at the Vatican, restoring one of Caravaggio’s paintings, when tragedy strikes. Guys like Allon tend to be in the right place at the wrong time.

Daniel Silva takes another whack with his Israeli super-spy, and this one doesn't disappoint either. I haven't paid much attention to order in which these stories were written but I noticed that this story did include some things that were alluded to in another story I read, so I assume this one comes later in the overall story arc. If you're concerned about that kind of thing, there is a great site out there to help you stay up to date called FictFact. yer welcome

Silva may have gotten a dreamy about the possibilities for Israel with this one. Maybe hopeful is a better word. But when you're writing a novel about a fictionalized version of Israel, why not realize your dreams, if only a little. Don't worry, Silva doesn't erase the reality of what Israel is and what it has to deal with, but some of the events that occur, if they ever did in reality, would be game-changers indeed.

I just read another Gabriel Allon book, and I said in that that Allon has to walk a line between becoming too personally involved and maintaining his distance so that he can do his job without becoming emotionally trapped. What I realized reading this one, is that he already is trapped. What he does for a living is restore paintings. The reason he restores paintings is because he can't find it in himself to create new works because of what he has to do to protect his country. His duty has taken nearly everything from him. He knows that. He has tried to retire countless times, but he is still compelled to help. That drive is the engine that moves this series forward.

The Fallen Angel in this case, is only the beginning. But the title could just as well be about Allon.





Friday, January 2, 2015

pagan babies

I'm going to miss Elmore Leonard.

I did a little web search as part of this review and came across a list of 10 essential Elmore Leonard books, and surprise, I haven't read any of them. So as a consolation prize for those of us saddened by his loss, Leonard has left a huge pile of work for us to read. He may be gone, but he's left a huge part of himself in the written word.

I've said it before; Leonard tells a story like he's telling a story. That is, the way he would tell a story verbally. Leaning against your kitchen counter, having a drink while you cook. Just shooting the breeze. That's what makes his technique so immediate, easy to read, easy to absorb. He's confiding in his readers, telling them a story that he knows the details of. Sharing it.

Pagan Babies refers to the orphans of Rwanda, where Terry Dunn serves as a priest, ministering to the converts in a small village. Fr. Dunn doesn't appear to take his duties too seriously, but that may be because of the atrocities he has witnessed during the Hutu on Tutsi genocide. But the mission is out of money, and Fr. Dunn makes a trip back to America to raise some additional funds, but his murky past is also waiting for him. A past that does care if he is a priest.