Saturday, December 31, 2016


Niceville was another weird one, but ended up being a great additional to my recent catalog of paranormal books. I'm thinking about many of the books I've read this year, which are all listed in "the books" tab at the top of the page. Niceville is a character driven crime or mystery story with a little bit of weirdness kind of creeping around the edges. In fact, the book probably would have read just as well without the weirdness, the paranormal bit was really just another sub-plot, that just as easily could have been jilted love, or spousal abuse. And both of those sub-plots were in there anyways.

Niceville is not so nice. Obviously the title name of this imaginary southern town, close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, is tongue-in-cheek, and is what drew me to the book in the first place. No one names a book Niceville, and then writes about how nice it is. It also happens, that Niceville is the first in the Niceville Trilogy. I bought this book used, but the book jacket nor the notes inside mention it being part of a trilogy, maybe Carsten Stroud didn't know that when it was published. But then, I'm not sure what goes on the book jacket is up to the author in most cases.

There is a huge cast of characters, and we get bits of the story from the viewpoint of many of them, all living their own lives, and up to their own deeds and thoughts, until their stories all begin to knit together. Its a story-telling technique we've all seen before, and takes some research in the form of cranking through the first hundred pages or so, until you've learned enough about these characters to see the patterns emerge. Being the first of a trilogy presumably means we won't have to do this again, and can take what we've learned into the next two books.

I'm not sure there is a main character or characters, I get the feeling this is cast driven thing, more like Game of Thrones. Everyone in Niceville seems to have a story, so I won't be surprised if some or all of these characters show up in the next books, altho I expect that some may not, and some new ones will probably appear as well. I'm not really expecting the dead ones to show up again, but who knows, there is that paranormal twist I mentioned right? To say nothing of the possibilities of stories from an earlier time period, which I guess is also possible.

Stroud's writing style seems aggressive, short. Staccato is a good term for it. His dialog is not as loose and slangy as Elmore Leonard's, but he does tell a lot of the story with the dialog like Leonard, which I like. I did notice that he used the same simile within a half dozen pages at one point, which struck me as odd, but maybe I missed the point of it. felt like a mistake in the text to me. meyh, what do I know

I'll keep my eye out for the next installment, but I'm not burning down the house to get my hands on it. It was entertaining, and I did find myself spending more time reading than I normally do, but then I've been sick all week, and laying in bed, soo...

the dispossessed

I'm trying to get down my thoughts on all of the books I've finished in recent weeks, but haven't had the time with the holidays, and being sick during the holiday week.

Merry Christmas to all, and Happy New Year!

I still have a number of books from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle on my reading list, but I haven't seen them at my library and haven't had the time to bother asking for them to be delivered. This one however, I found in the library's book sale, apparently weeded from the collection. The Dispossessed is another of Le Guin's looks at society and its norms via SciFi. She has a knack for disassembling societal problems, winnowing them down to their core, and then rebuilding them in an artificial form so that she can examine them more clearly. In this case, she's created a twin world; two planets that revolve around each other--each the others' moon--one green and lush, the other dry and barren.

The green world, Urras, is much like ours, and 175 years ago, a band of dissidents who believe in freedom, and self rule, leave their home to colonize the dry world, Anarres, and build a new world of self rule, collective anarchy. Its a thought provoking look at pure social communism, with no centralized government, no rules, no currency, no ownership, and no laws, built around the believe that in order to be completely free, everyone must do exactly what they want, by agreeing as a society that part of what they want is to help and support one another. A collective anarchy.

After 175 years of this planet-wide experiment, Le Guin looks in at how a society like this might be faring, and compares and contrasts it with the world the anarchists left, and no longer have any contact with. The original colonists, and their children are long dead, and generations of people have been born and raised in this experimental society, completely untouched and uninfluenced by the governments and currencies of their home world.

One scientist from dry, isolated Anarres, decides that perhaps its time to re-connect with the people of Urras, and share what he has learned; the new science that he has developed. But Shevek finds that sharing and giving don't have the same meaning in a society based on currency and centralized governmental control. He also finds that having a new idea, which is normally celebrated in his own society, can be threatening, when that new idea includes reaching outside of that long closed society. Threatening to the isolationism that many on Anarres believe insulates them from the evils of Urras.

If you aren't interested in this type of outside look at anarchy, and what society means, this may not be for you, but if you can get past the preaching which underlies the story, the story itself is an interesting look at different ways of life. And some pretty hippy-dip space-time theory, which or may not, in some form, be actually pretty close to true.

Le Guin is still kickin' it at 87. She has recently released a collection of novellas entitled The Found and the Lost.

By the way, The Dispossessed is part of a series called the Hainish Cycle, but the order of this series of books, is a little loose, and from the way it sounds, not really critical. FictFact has it listed this way, why I'm not sure, as it seems to be in opposition to the advice from Le Guin herself on what order to read them in, if that is important to you in this case. For her advice, go here and search for the phrase "in what order should I read" or the word "Hainish."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

everlasting nory

The Everlasting Story of Nory is an odd little book by Nicholson Baker. I picked this volume up at the book sale at a library I visited to do some work between meetings. I don't know a lot about Nicholson Baker, but from what I've read, he tends to focus on stream of consciousness storyline involving adults. Not the case here.

Eleanor (Nory) Winslow, is a nine year old American girl, whose family has recently moved to England. Nory tells her story of assimilating into English school culture, how she feels about bullies, and their victims, mixed in with her remembrances of life and friends in America. It seems as though Baker has tried to channel a 9-year-old girl when authoring this, so there are misspellings, tangential meanderings, and a fair number of tortured idioms throughout. Nory tells the story of her first year in her new school, how she made her way, what she had to put up with, and describes the differences between where she used to live, and where she now lives, all from her quirky, story-telling way.

It appears that Nicholson Baker has a pretty dedicated following, so if you're a Baker fan, you may enjoy this, but without knowing any more about him, I'm not sure I'd recommend this book as a starting point.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

fallen angel

Fallen Angel reminded me of The Bridges of Madison County. It's romantic. It's comes at a time of transition in the protagonist's life. There's a little mystery involved.

Its also completely absurd.

There is a certain amount of 'suspension of disbelieve' that a reader needs to bring to every book I read sci fi for pete's sake but Snyder asks us to go one further when he asks us to believe that people will act as he indicates in this one.

In this case, our guy is kind of a jerk. Left his childhood home in Maine to escape the life his parents--mostly his father--made for him, and scrabbles around in different jobs for years til he ends up representing talent in Hollywood. you know, that old trope of washing dishes until your a movie producer Now he finds himself at forty with nothing to show for it but a small pile of money, and then...drama.

So his earlier life reaches out for him and he ends up back in Maine rediscovering what he had run from all those years ago.

And it's Christmastime.

I picked this one up at the library book sale without knowing much about it, but I was surprised. The Christmas bit was a surprise too. It's not a terrific book, just sort of sweet and season appropriate. Don J. Snyder has apparently done this kind of thing before, I just haven't read them. If you liked Bridges, then this one is probably worth a read, otherwise don't bother. Or you can just check out the Hallmark made for TV movie, which probably ran at Christmastime. on the lifetime channel

yeah I made my little notes red and green on purpose

Thursday, December 8, 2016

gathering of shadows

It would have been really nice if it was more clearly indicated (read: indicated at all) on the book jacket that this is NOT the first book in a series. It became clear that something was up about 100 pages in, maybe earlier. By 200 pages, I was pretty cranky that I was clearly reading a sequel. As it turns out, A Gathering of Shadows in the second in a trilogy by V.E. Schwab. Schwab's other titles were listed in her credits, including a special note that the only other adult fiction she had published was something called Vicious. That is clearly not the case, the first book in the series* is titled A Darker Shade Of Magic.

So yeah, thanks Tor Books! imagine the preceding literally dripping with sarcasm

Anyhoo. That being said, this was a fun book. And the glimpses back at what happened in the first book, seemed to indicate that that book was probably fun too. Schwab has created a universe where magic is the norm, and presumably runs parallel to own our (less magical) world. This is a trope that we've seen before, from Narnia, to superhero comics, but its still got some legs.

There are a few main characters, that readers of the first volume will recognize, I'm sure. And I'm also guessing that there are some new characters here as well. Schwab does a nice job of bouncing them off one another as they try to come to some kind of understanding about each others' needs and wants, and how they fit into each others' lives.** This is the kind of stuff I would expect to see in some of this author's YA writing, so I'm not too surprised to see it here.

Notwithstanding my ire at Tor Books, and their obvious omission of part 2 in the series, or something similar, I will probably look for the first book, and if that's good I'll watch for part 3, due out in February according to the fictfact page I linked to above.

* The title of the series is 'Shades of Magic.'

** Corrected 17 Dec 2016. Check out Compound Possession.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


The Survivor is the 14th installment in the Mitch Rapp series written by Vince Flynn.* My wife asked me to pick this book up for her at the library while I was there but they didn't have it, and the librarian couldn't find it either. After doing some research on line, I found out that this was planned as the next in the series, but Vince Flynn didn't finish the manuscript before he died in June 2013.

According to Emily Bestler, who has this long title: Senior Vice President, Editor-In-Chief Emily Bestler Books, an imprint of Atria Books at Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster classified the then forthcoming Survivor book as postponed indefinitely, until they could look into it with Vince's family etc. The eventual solution was to turn to Kyle Mills to finish Flynn's manuscript, and they also contracted with him to write two more Mitch Rapp novels. This change of author credit may be why I had trouble finding this book at the library. My wife ended up buying it in paperback.

I've read a few of these if I remember correctly. But its been a while, the Mitch Rapp character didn't ring a bell with me. It could be that my wife has read all of them and I just see these titles around the house. Like a lot of series, there is a fair amount of spill over from previous stories into this one, so it assumes some prior knowledge of some of the basic facts from the previous books. After checking, I read the last one, so some of the character names did sound familiar, even if I don't remember them as characters.

Mitch Rapp works as a heavy for the CIA. He's your standard, slightly tortured, hard-to-kill bad ass, super spy. He puts a small team together, and does his best to play catch up on a huge--and widening--international plot to bring down the CIA, perpetrated by some bad hombres.** I found the bad guys to be a little TV-typical, and the action to be well scripted, but mostly predictable. It is what makes these books so fun and relaxing to read, however. I found myself spending extra time reading, just to see what would happen. Now, is that me really hanging on the edge of my seat to see what will happen next, or am I really on the edge of my seat waiting to see if I'm right about how it will end? Does it matter? I don't think it does. This isn't fine literature we're talking about, this is just fun.

And fun it is. Best wishes to Vince Flynn's friends and loved ones, and good luck to Kyle Mills as he takes on the mantle.

* Just to clarify, what I mean here is that Vince Flynn wrote all of the earlier Mitch Rapp Books. Kyle Mills has taken over where Flynn left off. 

** Is it okay to say that, when you're making fun of people who say stuff like that? I hope so.

Friday, November 18, 2016

thirteenth tale

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel is by Diane Setterfield. This was Setterfield's first book, as far as I can tell, and her second was released 7 years later in 2013. I wonder if this means what I think it does, namely; that she began writing later in her life, and that she spends a fair amount of time writing and re-writing. I'm guessing about the re-writing, but that's based on how well this book was plotted, and how well she maintained the tension, and mystery in the story. And when I finally did figure it out, it was only when Setterfield wanted me too.

Setterfield seems like a reader to me, a trait which is reflected in her protagonist, with whom she shares not only a love of reading, but specifically, a love of older English Romance tales, with a Gothic tilt; think Jane Eyre. And that's how this spooky, mysterious novel feels to me as well. It was a great follow-on for the recent books I've read, especially The Supernatural Enhancements. Setterfield sets a wonderful tone from the very beginning of the book, as she introduces the young, quiet, bookworm of a woman, who lives upstairs from her father's bookshop, and has felt something missing from her live for as long as she can remember. Her relationship with this loss, is almost a comfort to her as she does her researches into the old books in her father's shop, and tries to bring the old authors back into to the light. Wondering all the while whether or not these long-dead authors felt a wisp of acknowledgement, when she opened their forgotten writings.

Her researches capture the attention of a very popular but aging British author who invites the young woman to her mansion so that she can finally tell her life story. The tale of Vida Winter's long and interesting life is slowly spun out, and gets spookier and stranger as time goes along. So strange that the young author goes off to do some investigating of her own, and the story just gets stranger The history of Winter's family includes sudden deaths, possible murder, metal illness, physical abuse, illegitimate births, neglect, a crumbling family estate, mysterious happenings, and you know... a ghost or two.

I enjoyed this one very much and I'll be looking for Setterfield's second novel: Bellman & Black. Read this book.

[edited for English and grammar: 1 Jan 2017. If you see something, say something.]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

nerax north 2016

NERAX North is the smaller, quieter cousin of the original NERAX (New England Real Ale eXhibition.) The NERAX used to be held in Somerville, very close to where I worked, in Davis Square, at the Dilboy Post of the DAV. A few years after our office moved to Union Square, so did the NERAX; bouncing from the American Legion, which was convenient, to Aeronaut Brewery, more about them in a moment which was ridiculously-conveniently, next door. Then NERAX moved to somewhere in South Boston, and because it sometimes takes an hour to drive 5 miles from Somerville to South Boston during Friday Rush Hour, I gave up NERAX for lost.

The first time I attended NERAX North, was last year, and even though I did try some fine beers, and did take some notes as I normally do, AND had the pleasure of bringing my newly turned 21 daughter for the first time, I never put my notes into a blog post for some reason. Last year NERAX North was held at the Barking Dog Ale House, in Haverhill, where, I understand it had been held for a number of years. This year, we were at the Knights of Columbus on Washington Square, in Salem. I was again joined by my daughter; we sampled quarter pints in a room that was about half full, and sported a smaller number of beers (I think) than last year. There was food there, but we didn't try it, and I'm not sure who was catering. They had a number of dishes that you might see at a wedding buffet; things like chicken Marsala and rice pilaf. Looked good.

No lines, no waiting, so we didn't have time to pore over the program as I have done in the past, standing in line for an hour. We walked in and checked the board and Aeronaut was right up there near the top, as all of the nights samplings are noted alphabetically. Lets get to it!

Hop Hop and Away - Aeronaut Brewing Co., Somerville, Mass., USA (ABV 4.8%)
I've had a number of brews at Aeronaut, including some very early, experimental beers, that and the lower alcohol level was all it took to convince me to start here. I put my nose deep into this glass and it filled my head with aromatic fruit, Alessia said it first: Peaches. Peaches and the oil that squirts from the skin of red grapefruit. Pale, cloudy yellow with a wispy head that was gone after the first sip. The taste was crisp, and softly bitter, which left the mouth a lingering dry. The finish was super clean and bright with notes of chalk, stone, and minerals. Delicious, and a great way to start.

Robust Porter - Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH, USA (ABV 6.2%)
Rich coffee brown color, with a syrupy, sticky consistency and a creamy, pale brown head. Molasses, wet tree bark and light leather on the nose. Dried fruits and fruit cake notes after a few more sniffs. This one is complex. Velvety mouth feel, eggnog, and that molasses comes through right away. A malty sweetness balances nicely with a background hop bitterness. Smoke lingers.

That - Teme Valley Brewery, Knightwick, Worcestershire, England (ABV 4.1%)
Pronounced TEM, I'm told. Sounds like Tim, with an E. "You wanna' try That?" the barkeep asks with a smile, "Lots of jokes about That, tonight," he adds when my smile isn't as large as he'd hoped. "Enjoy that," he ends, turning to help Alessia, who is still deciding. This one is very light on the nose, but what wafts up out of the glass is a yeasty stank, almost. Its so light, its not unpleasant but one gets the impression that some of those yeast strains weren't invited, they've just been in the brewery for 200 hundred years. But the first sip is surprising: I think its violets. Caramel yellow with a very light head, just a bit of creaminess from the carbonation. There is a nice balance of malt and hops, and a little basement aroma sourness. Hops are complex with a slight dark chocolate edge.

Reanu Keeves - Far From the Tree Cider, Salem, Mass., USA (ABV 5.5%)
We had to try it, just because of the name. Alessia asked for a sip, which we both tried. Alessia almost spit it out. I asked the barmaid to pour it out for us. It had an off smell, lemonade color, strong lemon flavor. Think Easy-Off (where are the apples?) After you swallow, whats left? Salt! I know, right?

Whammy Bar 2 - Clown Shoes Brewing, Burlington, Mass., USA (ABV 6.5%)
Pie! and berries on the nose. Alessia said blueberries when she smelled it, I'll buy that. Thin and light honey color, with a yellow, bubbly head. Malty and rich. Mint scented paste we used to use at the Lynnhurst Elementary school. Flavors dissipate on the palate with a clean, hop bitterness, and an herbal dry finish.
Green Beacons - Brecon Brewing, Brecon, Powys, Wales (ABV 4.3%)
Lightly carbonated, medium color pale ale. Slightly sour nose: feet and cranberries. Sharp, clean, and really dry. White, lacy head and tangy yeast on the back of the tongue. Tree fruit finish.

For Peat's Sake Imperial Stout - Paper City Brewey, Holyoke, Mass., USA (ABV 9.5%)
We had a fire in the yard last night, when I went out there this morning, it had rained and the fire pit had water in it. The coals were cool and soaked through... on the nose. Brown-black and leggy with a thin, bubbly head. Looks like the last sip of coke. Sweet, crusty smoked pork with lemon and rosemary, but just the crust. Burned caramel sweetness with the tang of burnt ends. You know that taste when you smoke a bunch of different things together, and then they all have a similar, nondescript flavor? Yeah, like that. Mild bitterness of hops is slayed by black smoke. Take this one in sips only, and maybe only after a rich meal when your palate has been tamped down and you need something to break through. Complex roasted fruits and vegetable notes. An interesting way to end the night.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

clockwork three

The Clockwork Three is the first book by Matthew J. Kirby, who describes himself in the backmatter bio as a school psychologist, who was encouraged by his wife to get back into writing. Clockwork is his first endeavor. So that worked out pretty good for Kirby; since this book was published in 2010, Kirby has written a handful of additional young adult books, and now lists himself as a former school psychologist.

Clockwork follows the trials of three young people in what seems like the mid- to late-1800s, in an unnamed American city, that could be New York. Kirby notes in the backmatter that this story was inspired by a boy who was kidnapped from Italy and sold into slavery as a busker in New York, who eventually escaped from his padrone, and testified against him, which led to the outlawing of padroni and the freedom of the kids enslaved by them.

So this kid is the inspiration for one of the trio. The second is a girl who had to leave school and go to work to support her family after her father suffered a stroke and could no longer work. The third is an apprentice clock maker, rescued from an 'orphanage' which was really a sweatshop using child labor to manufacture fabric. So you can see that these three teens have come from similar, difficult backgrounds, they meet one another individually, within a few days, and soon strike up friendships, and then discover they all know one another. They quickly band together to help each other overcome their diversity, in ways that are frankly impossible for any kid to dream of.

I think is basically what sets this book apart as the work of a novice: Cinderella stories are fun to read, and its fun to suspend disbelieve for the duration. But asking us to believe that three separate kids can meet, put their heads together for a few days, outsmart all of the mean and evil adults in their lives, disobey, lie to, fail to trust, and even steal from, their fairy godmothers (the good people that suddenly appear in their lives) and then be not only forgiven, but each is transformed into the metaphorical princess for their trouble, is asking a little too much. But I guess this story is for middle schoolers.

The writing is a little telly rather than showy, which makes it read a little flat, but if you have a tween that likes this kind of thing, they may enjoy it.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


The Supernatural Enhancements is from a younger author from Spain who, according to his bio on the book jacket, writes in Spanish, Catalan, and English. What that means for me is I get to read an author with a different viewpoint than the typical Amerocentric one I typically read, whose prose isn't colored by translation.

Edgar Cantero does have a different viewpoint. The Enhancements is written like a reconstruction of a series of events, via a combination of diary entries, handwritten notes, transcripts of audio and video recordings, and various other reprints of documents from receipts to newspaper clippings. This strange series of events centers around the mysterious death of a wealthy, young bachelor who appears to have leapt from the third story window of his family home, Axton House, in Virginia, just as his father did years before.

The unlikely investigators in this case are the long-lost second-cousin of the defenestrated eccentric bachelor, and his young Irish girlfriend.

The second cousin, named only A., is surprised when lawyers contact him in England to let him know that, one, he has a second cousin in America, two, that he has apparently killed himself and, three, that he has left everything--Axton House, all its contents, and a pile of loot--to him. Only recently graduated and wondering what to do with his life, twenty-something A. now finds himself independently wealthy, and the owner of a mansion with so many rooms that he and his extremely young girlfriend, Niamh,* can't keep track of them all, never mind the hedge maze on the grounds, or the butler who seems to have disappeared shortly after his employer's unexplained death.

There are puzzles, secret codes, ghostly whisperings, code names, vivid nightmares, break-ins, ass kickings, rescued pets, safes behind paintings, a two-story library schwing and green hair.

I'm going to be looking for Cantero's other books, and I predict that someone will smarten up and make this into a movie.

In the meantime, read (study? research?) this book.

Then add a comment telling me how much you liked it.

* That's an Irish name friend, apparently its pronounced nee+iv, or neev. Or that's as close as yer likely to git around these parts.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

max tivoli

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is the book upon which the movie 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' is based. I recall seeing portions of that movie but I haven't seen the whole thing. You folks that have can judge for yourselves, but I think the book has substantial some differences.

Max has a strange condition, which makes his young life difficult, and as he gets older, he has hopes that things will get easier; and they do, for a while. Max is in love, and has been so his whole life. The object of his affection goes from tortuously close, to fleetingly present, to completely gone from his early life, with surprising speed.

From that point on, Alice Levy becomes the sun about which Max spirals for the rest of his life. Sometimes closer, sometimes further away, but he always feels her pull. She is grand, ethereal, loving, and utterly unsympathetic to his obsession.

Max is caught in a gravitational tug of war between the sun on one side and his illness, on the other. His illness robs him of the temporal anchor the rest of us have, leaving him un-moored, in a constant free fall, about Alice. He is also torn between that love, and an aching, nearly debilitating self-pity.

The plot gives Andrew Sean Greer a unique opportunity to look at some interesting human traits: what it means to be in love, how we relate to one another as we move through time, what it means to be a person, and interestingly, a look at the old adage 'youth is wasted on the young.' Perhaps youth is wasted on the young, but I'm not sure the alternative works out all that well. I saw parallels to the sadness of the elves in Tolkien's stories in Greer's portrait of Max Tivoli.

Read this book.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

version control

Version Control appears to be the second novel from Dexter Palmer; I didn't read the first one. 
Version Control is SciFi which takes place just 20 or 30 years into the future. Philip is a super-smart scientist, who has been cranking away on his causality violation device--don't call it a time machine!--for years now. So this is a long term project, and once the machine is up and running, Dr. Phil spends more years testing his machine to determine if its working. You pop something in there (a robot), it whips back in time, shoots back to the same instant it left, and then you check to see if there's been a causality violation. Seems simple, right?

Only, its not so simple. The super-scientist, and his super-whiz-kid team, all assume that there will be some weird stuff going on, but they're not quite sure how weird, and maybe more importantly, what kind of weird.

Palmer has come up with a story hook that pretty interesting, but its a little smothered in the day-to-day lives of the people who populate the story. Philip's wife Rebecca is the main character of the story, and she seems a little bored of the whole thing. I hear ya, sister Dr. Love isn't around as much anymore, and its seems like he's fallen in love with his lab, his project, or whatever. Becca spends her time worrying about their son, Sean, but not so mush that she doesn't have time to knock back a few drinks now and again. And again.

This book took a while to read, because I had to pound trough it. Good, idea, weak implementation. 

That could be a description of Dr. Phil's time machine, or of Dexter Palmer's latest book, but which is it? who cares

Friday, October 7, 2016

another goes tonight

Another One Goes Tonight is a book I recently took from the library, read, returned and then promptly forgot about. Hence, the late-to-the-party thoughts on this book. I actually read this one at the end of September, between A Christmas Carol and Version Control.*

Peter Diamond is a recurring character in Peter Lovesey crime novels, number 16 in the series according to fictfact. Lovesey is a British author, and so Diamond is a British detective. He has a small team working with him in this story, who have basically gone off the reservation to investigate a potential crime--or crimes--which Diamond believes may have been perpetrated by a comatose victim he's only recently discovered, and may have actually saved through his own efforts.

The plot is pretty twisty, as mystery stories go, and Lovesey does a pretty good job of staying ahead for the reader, and keeping them guessing. I can see why this series has been successful for him, but at the end of the day, it was a little slow for me. 

* I changed the posting time and date of this post to October 7, 2016 even though I'm posting this on November 10, when I actually remembered the title of this book

Monday, September 26, 2016

christmas carol

Its been a while since I've read me some Charles Dickens, and I've never read A Christmas Carol before, so I decided to give this one a go. Its been on my shelf for years; is a good looking hardcover published by Reader's Digest in 1988. The title of the volume is actually A Christmas Carol and Other Stories, and includes two other short stories: The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. This site describes a copy of this hard cover for sale this way:

No DJ. burgundy leatherette bound HB spine with large gilt stamped titling and boards a bright green leatherette with intricate frame surrounding titles. Sharply cornered with tightly bound interior textblock.
According to Abe Books glossary of book terms:
DJ = Dust Jacket, HB spine = Half bound, and sharply cornered refers to the corners of the covers no being bent or blunted.

I don't think I've ever read A Christmas Carol because I've seen so many versions, from old black and white movies, to cartoons, to 'Scrooged,' with Bill Murray, to school plays. The story holds up; its wonderfully written, the pacing and the set up are great. There's just enough to let you know how much of a heel Scrooge is before he gets his intervention. Dickens also gives us just enough horror to keep the story spine chilling without going over the top and spoiling what is clearly intended to be a Christmas story. This one is worth the price of admission.

In fact don't bother with the other two. Between them, The Cricket is a better story, The Chimes just stinks. Its a mess, from beginning to end.

Friday, September 9, 2016

gone girl

I assume that everyone knows that this book was made into a movie, with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, as the husband and the Gone Girl in question, respectively. I didn't see this movie.

I'm pretty sure I picked this book up at my library's ongoing book sale, and its been sitting on my shelf for over a year, waiting form me to remember it was there. Well, I just did, and ended up reading this in about a week. that's quick for me y'all I then recommended it to my beautiful wife, and she cranked it out in about 2 days. The reason I recommended it is easy: its a mystery/intrigue/crime novel, written unlike anything else I've read.

There's not much I can say without revealing too much--altho I'm willing to bet that if you're interested, there are others that don't mind giving all but the ending away in their review--but I will say that I was hooked from the second chapter. The Dunnes have a seemly wonderful relationship, from the exterior. Not too uncommon in life, or in fiction. But what is interesting is how Gillian Flynn tells the story of their relationship as a kind of evidence gathering, prompted by the recent disappearance of Mrs. Dunne.

Flynn's style is sharp and modern. The story is well thought out and intricately plotted, and her characters are real in the way we can feel the emotion that pours out of them. As I said, I flew through this book, finding ways to read here and there, and putting other things off, until I finished. big difference from one the last ones

Read this book, and then recommend it to someone else who likes a good read.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

thirteenth child

I'm not sure where I picked up this copy of The Thirteenth Child, but I'm guessing it was the library book sale. This is the first in a trilogy called Frontier Magic by Patricia C. Wrede. I'm pretty sure this falls into the YA category; it was a fast read, and our heroine is a young woman. At least she is by the end of the story. A large portion of this book followed the young Francine--known as Eff--from her early life in Pennsylvania town, to her new how in a frontier town of an alternate 1860s America. An America where magic is commonplace, and in fact most folks need it, or believe they do, in order to deal with the magical wildlife around them.

Eff lives with the stigma of being a thirteenth child, but she is also the twin sister of the seventh son of a seventh son, which sort of makes up for that. But only in some ways. Eff has to find her own way, without the natural benefits her twin brother enjoys. But her bother does love her, and comes to her aid if ever anyone gives her trouble because of her birth order.

By the last third of the book or so, Eff has become a young woman of 18, and has lengthened the hem of her skirts, and begun to put her hair up. I would guess that the remaining books in the trilogy will focus on her at about this age. And I also expect that her romantic impulses, and an emerging magical quality of her own, which both began to blossom by the end of this book, will continue as the main plot points.

Wrede isn't writing the Great American Novel here, so I don't expect all of the characters and sub-plots to be fully developed, but I did feel like some things just weren't important enough to explain, and I was left guessing for myself. I took a look to see if my library has the second and third volumes; they don't. The second volume is available via inter-library loan, but the third volume isn't available in any of the libraries in network. That makes me think that this trilogy isn't all that popular, so I don't think I'm going to bother.

Monday, August 29, 2016

treason of isengard

The Treason of Isengard is the second in a series of four books, collectively know as The History of The Lord of the Rings, which is part of a larger series of 12 volumes, known as The History of Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien gives authorship to his father, and claims only editorship for himself. This is typical of these works that he has complied and edited using his father's papers and notes, from The Silmarillion to these books. It may be true that he is editing his father's work, but he has done much more than that in these books as far as I can see. This, much like the first volume I read a few years ago, is a very detailed work of literary analysis and commentary on how the LotR was written, and how the story developed over time, as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, edited, re-wrote, and re-wrote again, constantly outlining, drafting, brainstorming and then writing again. Every new idea he had, created more and more re-editing work to tie the new and developing storyline back into what he had already written in previous chapters.

Christopher Tolkien has undertaken an astronomical project and researching, organizing and analyzing his father's manuscripts. Most of the writing is on unnumbered, often loose-leafed sheets, scraps, envelopes, and in this book, he describes a large section written on used examination booklets, blue covers and all. Most of the writing is done every quickly in pencil, often in a kind of shorthand, with unfinished words, and then written over in pen directly over the pencil. Sometimes, he went back and erased the pencil so the original writing is lost, or he slipped in papers or strips with edits, drew pictures, editing, adding and crossing out as he went, and then went back and edited again later. Once he was satisfied, he'd then copy out a fair copy in pen in neat handwriting. Often, this copying out was actually done by Christopher Tolkien, who at one point in this book, called himself his father's amanuensis. That's something I don't remember reading before, although I do remember reading that he penned some of the maps based on his father's sketching, and he actually discussed that quite a bit in this book. As amanuensis, Christopher Tolkien is indeed in a rare position to research and interpret his father's writing, being accustomed to reading his writing, and interpreting his shorthand.

This book follows on from the first in the series, and a large part of it is actually dedicated to the completion of the Fellowship. The Two Towers is also examined, and it appears that most of that volume was included in this book, but I won't know for sure until I read the next one. But I'll probably take a break from Tolkien for a while. Its been a long ride, and this book is extremely dense.

If you're a diehard Tolkien fan, AND you're interested in the nitty-gritty of writing, then this book might be for you. Its well written, informative, and exhaustive in its depth. If you're not interested in these things, then I'd skip this one.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

return of the king

The Return of the King is the last volume of The Lord of the Rings. I've already read a large portion of this book, when I read the Appendices ahead of time. Of the three volumes, the first is the largest by far. The last is also large, but there are a lot of pages in the appendices; The Return is about the same size as The Towers.

As a closer, Tolkien crushed it with The Return of the King. This is especially obvious when you read about how he got there (which is what I'm reading right now.) There are so many other ideas he had as he wrote this novel, and while I think many think he took too long to write it, the slow thoughtful process is what resulted in the wonderful story we have now.*

While The Two Towers followed two different story tracks in two separate books, The Return brings the storyline (and the fellowship) back together in a lot of ways. Each member of the fellowship also experiences growth as the story progresses. It would have been easy to have supporting characters that act as straight men, or foils to help the author answer questions the readers may have, or to simply add depth (or entourage) to the story, but Tolkien didn't do that, there are no wasted characters here.**

The ring is a bad thing, its pretty clear. What to do with it is the central theme of the book. What do we do with evil when we encounter it? Bury it, overcome it, or destroy it? Each of these options is examined, but also examined are the consequences of each, including the unintended consequences. What if--this book asks--evil things end up spawning wonderful things, should those things be destroyed with the evil if uncoupling them proves impossible?

That's a hard question. And its ultimately what differentiates The Lord of the Rings from other books in this genre. In every era of Middle-earth, since its making, there has been an evil, brought from without, and balanced by a power for good, set firmly against it. At the end of the third era, when that final bit of the original seed of evil is finally rooted out, so also ends the power that was set against it. Which leaves men alone; inheritors of the fourth age, and all the rest of time, with nothing but mythologies, and the intangible but lasting effects of that original evil, to remind us.

Its not just the sorrow of the elves that pangs, its our own as well.

Read this book.

* There are those who think--and I was one of them years ago--that if Tolkien had written quicker, he would have gotten to more of the stories that he contemplated writing. I read somewhere that Tolkien considered The Lord of the Rings the 'end' of the story, essentially, and there was also a beginning story and a middle story (or stories) that could be told.† Many of these stories were ultimately released in The Silmarillion, and various other books Christopher Tolkien edited and published, such as Unfinished Tales, but if we had his father for longer, perhaps he would have completed these stories himself. I guess that's true, but I don't wish that he'd hurried through the LOTR. If he had, we wouldn't love it the way we do, and perhaps wouldn't care if he'd had the chance to finish the other stories he thought about, if they weren't going to be as good as this book ultimately is.

**Those of you that want to argue about Bombadil can do it outside, before I turn the hose on you. I'm talking about the members of the fellowship, who all have a roll to play, big or small. And each character is fully formed. And no I'm not sure how both he and Treebeard can both be first and oldest. Maybe one's first and the other is oldest; does that fix it? 

†  Please don't. Peter Jackson, I'm looking at you.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

two towers

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers includes books three and four of the six books that make up The Lord of the Rings. Its fun to re-read old favorites because I find new things in the story that didn't necessarily appear the first or even the second time through. I won't get into specifics about those things, both to avoid spoilers, and because many of those things are just a feeling or a sense that I don't remember in previous readings.

I've also read volume 1 of The History of The Lord of the Rings [part of the larger series; The History of Middle Earth, which has something like 12 volumes.] I read the first volume years ago and I'm currently reading the second, so more on that later, but I will say here is that Tolkien spent years drafting, spit balling, brain storming, outlining, and revising the LOTR. The final story is extremely complex, cross referenced, and maybe most importantly, underlain by a backstory so thoroughly wrought that the book reads almost like a history of real events that may have taken place in our own history or one very similar to our own.

Warning: What follows includes some information from the story, which some may not want to read, if you're trying to know nothing of the storyline beforehand.

Book 3 follows the adventures of a portion of the fellowship, across Rohan and eventually to the tower of Orthanc. Book 4 catches us up on the travels of the ring after the breaking of the fellowship, which takes Frodo to the second of the two towers, in Minus Morgul.* This method of tracking different parts of the story exclusively makes it a little harder to keep track of what is happening consecutively elsewhere in the story, but it does a great job of building suspense and keeping the reader engaged.

The Two Towers doesn't just move the story forward, it includes major plot drivers in the overall struggle between our heroes and the evil they're fighting against.

Yeah, read this book. Its one of my favorites.

* I've never been completely sure which two towers the title referred to, and apparently Tolkien was a little unsure on the subject after having come up with the title. He later settled on Orthanc and Minus Morgul, and even did a drawing for the cover, which is now used on certain re-prints. yeah, that's the one I used, even though that's not what my copy looks like

Saturday, August 20, 2016


I'm still playing catch-up from my vacation; I read a few books while I was away and I haven't written about them all yet. One of the things I did do is finish The Hobbit, and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. This is about the first one.

The Fellowship of the Ring is the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, and it contains the first two books. There are six books in all; often broken down into three volumes,* other times, contained in a single volume. The last time I read it, I read a single volume copy. Its a little cumbersome in size, and is slightly different in very minor ways from the three volume version. There are no synopses** necessary in the single volume, as there are at the beginnings of the second and third volumes. When reading the separate volumes, there is no easy access to the Appendices, which are included at the end of the third volume only. And there is also no easy access to the introductory matter, which is included at the front of the first volume.

If you're strict about spoilers, be forewarned that I'm about to mention some elements of the storyline, but there won't be any dramatic reveals of information.

Fellowship begins by catching us up on what Bilbo Baggins has been up to since his adventures chronicled in the Red Book, titled: There and Back Again, better know as The Hobbit. Bilbo's adventures have left him rather well off, and quite comfortable. His old friend, Gandalf the Grey continues to visit him, being concerned as ever with the doings in the Shire, the small, quiet country tucked away on the East-West road, on the way to the Havens. But in the years since their adventure to the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf has been concerned about a quietly rising menace in the world, and it takes a number of years before things actually begin to move in ways that raise his concerns, for not only the Shire, but for all free peoples, everywhere.

Fellowship tells the story of how those feelings of dread finally break upon the sleepy Shire, and Gandalf, and his hobbit friends find themselves in terrible danger, seemingly far beyond their ability to cope with, but as Gandalf has always asserted, hobbits are made of far tougher stuff than their outward appearance may convey.

The wise have determined that by power alone, they can not overcome this evil. It now falls to the hobbits, and a fellowship representing the other free peoples of Middle-earth, to take it upon themselves to do what they can to save Middle-earth from the rising evil in the east.

Of course you should read this book. This is just the first volume of course, and when you're done, you should put it on your shelf so you can read it again. and don't say, I saw the movies. if you saw the movies you don't know the lotr

*  Don't call it a trilogy, Tolkien was pretty clear about that, its a single novel broken down into three parts.
** The synopsis in the second volume, actually includes information that didn't yet occur in the story. It actually takes place in the first part of the second volume. If its your first time through, you may want to skip the synopses all together (for this reason alone!) If you're planning to read all three volumes straight through, you probably won't need any reminders.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Yes, I've read The Hobbit again.

Its been about 3 1/2 years since I read it. It was probably just before The Hobbit movie came out. I had heard, as most probably did, that the movie would be broken into 3 parts, presumably to cash in on the franchise. What could they possible cram in there to fatten (bloat) this story to three movies, we all wondered? Well, junk is what they crammed it full of. It was good to read it then, before the movies, so it would be more in mind. I hadn't really re-read any of the stories for a while. The Lord of the Rings movies came out about 10 years earlier 2000 to 2003, or so. Whereas, The Hobbit(ish) movies came out in 2012-2014.

So lets get back to the real The Hobbit. Without any Legolas (or his flipping girlfriend!) or Radagast and his stupid rabbit sled. surpised we didn't squeeze Alatar and Pallando in there Pete. feeling blue?

Tolkien's first foray into Middle-earth, is essentially a children's story, or what we might call today a young adult story, but that's just because we coddle our children now, and try to protect them from scary stories. You've all seen copies of fairy tales with the scary bits taken out, right? This is not that story.

The Hobbit or There and Back Again, follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who leaves his snug little home, in the village of Hobbiton, without out a hat or a handkerchief, to go on an adventure to the Lonely Mountain, with a group of dwarves he's never met, and an old wizard, whom he has met. This story is at its heart, a reluctant hero story in the same vein as those described by Joseph Campbell. Bilbo doesn't want to be a hero, but he can't resist the temptation put upon him by Gandalf.Its his Tookish side coming through, he tells himself. Maybe that's true, and maybe it isn't, in any case, Bilbo has left the life he knows, and has stepped into the very songs he is so fond of.

But why did Gandalf choose a hobbit? Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and even Aragorn, have the gift of foresight, to varying degrees, but exactly what they see and how it will end is a mystery to even them. In Bilbo's case, Gandalf simply saw that Bilbo would have a roll to play before the end. What end was unclear, but it gets back to Tolkien's unshakable belief in God. C.S. Lewis was his friend and contemporary, and both of their stories were ties back to their believes in the end. Tolkien was just better at separating his believes from his storylines than Lewis was. Not sure? Just look at The Silmarillion. And then look at Gandalf's saying to Bilbo, something like: I think you [Bilbo] were meant to find it [the Ring,] and that is a very encouraging thought.

I guess it is. What I find amazing, is that Tolkien didn't have the LOTR is mind when he wrote The Hobbit, and originally, the ring was no big deal. Christopher Tolkien's analysis of the history of the LOTR is pretty clear, when Tolkien started it, he wasn't sure where his characters were going, or what the danger was that was driving them. He had written the sequel to The Hobbit all the way to Rivendell before the ring struck him as a catalyst that he could use.

Read this book. Right Now. And then read it again and again.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

lotr appendixes

This is not the first time that I've read Tolkien's middle-earth stories. The first time I was in the 8th grade; The Hobbit was assigned for a semester in English class.

I didn't read it.

I wasn't much of a reader at that point, but occasionally the teacher would read aloud to us in class. Typically on Fridays, on when he didn't have a lesson plan. Not only did I love hearing someone read to me, so that I didn't have to read myself I enjoyed the story. But not so much that I would read it myself. That is, until the final exam; I struggled through the final exam because I didn't know the answers to the question being asked, but in this case, I found that I wished that I did. So I ended up reading The Hobbit that summer. it may or may not have been the copy I was supposed to return

My Uncle Steve saw me reading it, or heard that I was, and told me about The Lord of the Rings, and then lent me the three volume paperback set that he had. And I read those too. It I had to guess, I would say that I probably looked at the front matter and back matter in the book, but I probably didn't read it. I did read it the next time I read the books, and that was probably when I was in college or just after.

The second time through, I also read The Silmarillion, but I don't recall if I read it before or after. I think it was after The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I gave them a go again, starting with The Hobbit, reading them to me kids. I don't think we made it all the way through, but I don't remember.

So that 10-15 years ago, or so, and I haven't read them again since, mainly due to the movies coming out. I figured the story would get all muddled with the inconsistencies from the movies. Given how hard Tolkien worked, even after the books were published, to correct minor problems and get the storyline just right, its surprising how different Peter Jackson and company decided to make the movies. I did read the hobbit and the silmarillion in the last couple of years tho

This time through, I've done it differently. I began with The Silmarillion, and then went directly to the Appendices and Index at the back of The Return of the King and read those. This then is a review of the Appendices and the Index, and how it relates to The Silmarillion

In fact, I'm going to recommend to you that this is the way to read the middle-earth stories:
  1. The Silmarillion
  2. Appendices, at the back of the The Return of the King 
  3. The Hobbit 
  4. The Lord of the Rings.
  5. Unfinished Tales, Volumes 1 and 2, etc., thereafter. 
Now, I'm not saying that this is the right way, and any other way is wrong. that's exactly what I'm saying You can read these stories in any order you like. What I will say is that the Appendices make more sense, and are more helpful when read immediately after The Silmarillion, and reading the Appendices first gives a better understanding of the backstory before you read it, and importantly, at least in my case, I often found that it was a little anti-climatic to read the Appendices after I finished the book. It wasn't so much of a chore this way, so I think I got more out of it. There is also information in there about what happens after the story ends, so if you haven't read the series before, there may be some spoilers in there, so be careful.

This recommendation is for experienced readers of the Middle-earth stories only.

There are 6 Appendices: A includes the history of the kings and rulers of the various countries and regions of Middle-Earth, mainly in the third age, B is a chronology which is handy because of the way the story is told, somewhat disjointedly, it clarifies what happened when, C includes hobbbit family trees, D is about calendars, and how they relate, E is about the writing, spelling and pronunciation, and F is about the languages used by the various races in the third age.

Yes, both appendixes and appendices is correct. The latter is used in the LOTR. The latter is also more typical when referring to books or documents.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

notes from the beach

Greenhead fly: used without permission from Yankee Mag
After discussing what a group of flying insects is called (swarm) we got to talking about how some groups of animals have names more specific to the species; a Crash of Rhinoceros or a Murder of Crows, for example. So we tried to think of what group of greenhead flies my be called. So I came up with a Sickness of Flies. Later in conversation, the word plague came up in a different context and I suggested that it could also be a group of flies. I then went to look it up, assuming that it may already be established. I found on Wikipedia that it is a Business of Flies. I get it, they're buzzing busily away, but I don't think 'business' gets at the unwholesomeness of them.

A little while later I got to thinking that greenheads may be closer to horseflies see below so I looked for a suitable horse related word. Herd, haras, or stable didn't seem to work--although a variation of the second option, a Harass of Horseflies does have some promise. I however went to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for what I needed. There are various interpretations but the one I chose is one of the names attributed to the first horseman on the white horse, which gives me: a Pestilence of Horseflies.

So I did a little reading and greenheads are, in fact, a type of horsefly. They populate salt marshes, just like the huge tract of land directly behind the house we're staying in, and they are looking for a blood meal so that they can continue to lay eggs (200 eggs or so at a time!) I say continue to lay eggs, because its just the females that bite, and they only bite after they lay their first batch of eggs. Prior to that: vegetarian. They feed on nectar, etc.

Two last points: the season is apparently mid-July to mid-August (bully for us) and, they prefer to tear you open so that the can lap up the freely flowing blood, rather than poke you like a mosquito. Their mouthparts are so delicate that you don't feel them rip open your skin until they vomit up some digestive juices and anticoagulant onto the wound, which your body recognizes as foreign, and reacts with pain. That's why you're already bleeding when you swat at them.

Edit: Just to be clear, I may not in fact have been the person that actually came up with each of these brilliant ideas, I assume that it was a group effort, for which I am simply taking the credit. 

They say that history is made by the victors, but it may be that history is actually made by the people who write it down.


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.