Friday, December 29, 2017

house of spies

House of Spies is another installment of the Gabriel Allon adventures, by Daniel Silva. My wife is a fan, and she bought this one in hardcover, so I grabbed it now that she is finished with it. This is a follow-up to Black Widow, which I read in September, just after she bought that one along with this one. After reading Black Widow, I needed to take a break from Silva; Widow seemed a little too heavy-handed for me. I'm happy to report that that is not the case with this one.

There are a couple of interesting tidbits in this story that I think are worth pointing out, and I don't think rise to the level of spoilers. If you'd rather not read anything about the content, you can skip to the next paragraph. Silva appears to have predicted Trump's statement about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. I don't follow politics enough to know if Trump said as much on the campaign trail or not, but there you have it. Second, Silva has also indicated that Israel--and possibly other countries--who work in conjunction with the US on counter-terrorism and counter-espionage projects, sometimes allow the US to take credit for the work that they or other countries may have done. This may be a plot twist only, or it may be Silva's personal belief or suspicion about the way things are done in the spy business. and American politics

Allon seems like a busy guy, and it appears that he continues to have trouble delegating as much as he should, perhaps, but that is a character trait we've come to understand about him. There are a few situations in this story that I had a hard time suspending disbelief over, and I think that it has come up in Allon stories before, namely, putting civilians in harms way. This device allows for some pretty dramatic situations, but I can't believe that an intelligence service would allows these situations to occur.

Overall House of Spies was fun and fast moving, and I'd rate it right up there with the rest of the series, and a little better than the last installment.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

seabiscuit

This paperback copy of Seabiscuit was given to me and my wife by a librarian who we both worked with on one of our projects. I was going through the book sale shelf at her library and didn't find anything, which she noticed, so she took me to the back to look through the boxes of books she had for the book sale. Seabiscuit came with her recommendation.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend was published in 2001, written by Laura Hillenbrand. I've had this one on the shelf for a while, and I just haven't gotten to it. Non-fiction is not my first choice, but I do enjoy the well written ones, and Hillenbrand delivered.

My knowledge of Seabiscuit as a racehorse is pretty limited to pop culture references, like Bugs Bunny cartoons, and old movies, where the name of the horse is used to refer to a great winning horse.* Things I didn't know about Seabiscuit, could fill a book, so that's what Hillenbrand did. I had no idea the country was so completely taken with this horse. Seabicuit had more inches of newspaper print nationwide than Roosevelt did! Its crazy. People piled onto trains, known as the Seabiscuit Express just to get to the track to see him run.

The story of his owner, trainer, and jockey is where the story really comes together. I explained to my wife as I read, that's its not really a story about the horse, although there is a lot to tell. What makes the story so interesting is the story of how these three men took a horse that many were ready to give up on, and turned him into the winning-est horse of the late 1930s. Its no wonder they made a movie from this story; the characters are larger than life.

You don't need to be a horse racing fan to enjoy this one. Good job Laura Hillenbrand.

Read this book.


* In "Confederate Honey" the narrator states that this story takes place in Kentucky in the year 1861 B. Sea. (Before Seabiscuit.) They don't play this one on TV, the racism is atrocious.
 

Friday, November 3, 2017

count of monte cristo ii

What a monster of a novel! Nearly 1500 pages of Victorian era melodrama. yeah, bring it on!

Alexandre Dumas, nice work, my pal.* You'd think by now, I'd have read everything this man has written, but alas. I guess I'll have to get busy. Dumas, often titled, père (father)--to distinguish him from his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils (son) who was also a writer--was a prolific writer, who often wrote serially, for publication in the newspaper. Its amazing to me that he could write this way, without an opportunity to re-visit earlier plot points, or edit at all, after it made its way out into the world.

I've read The Three Musketeers, but there are 3 sequels to that book alone, including The Man in the Iron Mask. I'm going to have to read that at some point. I just read that another novel was discovered in 2005, called The Knight of Sainte-Hermine; the English title is The Last Cavalier.

Near the end of the story, Monte Cristo says that he, like Satan, once thought himself equal to God, in that he could assume God's responsibilities to punish the wicked on earth. A presumption he eventually regrets, but I don't think he felt bad that he passed out the ass-kicking, I think it was the presumption that bothered him. That and a twinge of guilt for the innocents that got in the way.

As I said in an earlier post, this is, by far, the best story about revenge there is. Monte Cristo is high with it, along with the other substances his place in society made available to him, as my 9th grade teacher alluded to. Monte Cristo is cold, aloof and exacting in his revenge. But we see the tender, sorry side of him as well. Dumas walks that line very carefully with his character so we don't just dismiss him as a psychopath. When Monte Cristo grits his teeth and says to himself, they're going to pay for what they did to me and my family, we grit right along with him.

And its Monte Cristo's money that allows him to do what he does. He has so much, his fortune is almost a secondary character in the story; it plays a supporting roll, whose support never wavers for a moment.

I don't think I'm out of line when I say that I think Monte Cristo may be the best Dumas wrote, and I think Dumas may even agree with me. He named his home, outside of Paris, the château de Monte-Cristo, which has been restored and is now open to the public. clicky-click on the link. the place looks amazing Lastly, I think its worth pointing out that Dumas was not given a burial fitting of his talent, probably because of the color of his skin. In 2002, French President, Jacques Chirac, directed his body be moved from the cemetery at Villers-Cotterets to the Pantheon of Paris.




* You too, Auguste Maquet, who apparently helped plot and ghost write much of what Dumas produced.




Saturday, October 14, 2017

le comte de monte cristo i

The cover of my pilfered copy
O, sweet, sweet vengeance.

But that will have to wait for now... I'm not quite at the half way point of The Count of Monte Cristo, one of my all-time favorite books. This must be the third, or perhaps the fourth time I've read it, but its been over 10 years since the last time, so while I remember the story, the details are what really make this story a pleasure to read.

Alexandre Dumas wrote and published The Count of Monte Cristo as a newspaper serial, beginning in 1844, the year he published the Three Musketeers. One can imagine folks eagerly awaiting the next installment, taking turns reading them privately, or perhaps aloud to one another, as other forms of entertainment for work-a-day families and the wealthy alike, were limited. The long form novel, rich in detail, action, and intrigue is just the kind of thing that kept Dumas's readers enraptured during the long months it would take to receive and read the entire story.

My first experience with The Count of Monte Cristo was as a class assignment in the 9th grade. Mr. A___ assigned the book, and we all got a copy of the paperback. In order to introduce us to it, he described the book as full of sex, drugs and violence. Cheers erupted from the classroom. Nice work Mr. A.

I, however, did not read the book. I wasn't a reader. But occasionally, Mr. A would read from the book aloud during class. Looking back, I think he understood that this was very likely how many people enjoyed it originally, and it also helped us to bang out a chapter or so without actually having to read. The other thing it did, as least for me, was interest me in the story. Something that I have done with my own children. Again nice work Mr. A. What did me in, was the final exam on the story. It was either essay questions, or multiple choice, which I failed miserably. Not having read the book, I was not in a position to know the answers, but I found myself wanting to. This is the second time this happened to me; the first being the previous year, when my 8th grade English class read The Hobbit. So I did what worked for me so well the previous year, I failed to return the book at the end of the year, and read it over the summer. Those two stolen books made me a reader. I'm not sorry, its the best money my school department ever spent.

A closer look at the image of the cover of my 1978-9 copy indicates that the book I originally read, and then probably read again a few years later, was abridged. That's not the case with the tome I'm pounding through now.

Back to le Comte, who has just recently returned to Paris...




Saturday, September 30, 2017

woman in cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 was an exciting read. I picked it up at the hospital gift shop when a visit lasted longer than I thought it would, and I finished the book I brought. Ruth Ware is an English author with just a few titles to her name, but it looks like she has a future here.

Laura Blacklock has hit the jackpot: her boss is on maternity leave, and she gets a gig for her travel magazine's spot on the maiden voyage of a super-luxury, small, and exclusive yacht. 10 cabins only, small crew, fancy food and drinks, chefs, suites with private balconies... you get the picture.

The rich bigwig who owns the thing has invited a combination of high end travel media types--which is why Laura's magazine has a spot--and a small collection of potential investors, to come along on the maiden voyage into the north sea, with a hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis. 

But Laura comes to the trip with a little extra baggage, her apartment was recently broken into while she was home, and she has an anxiety problem. Which she sometimes treats with an extra drinky-drink. So after diner and a few drinks, she is startled awake in the middle of the night by a scream, and a heavy splash from the balcony next door.

But there is no one staying in cabin 10.

So mystery.

WiFi and telephone is out (maiden voyage, issues not worked out) so we've got an isolated group of suspects, and not everyone is convinced that anything has even happened.

Flavors of "Gaslight," Murder on the Orient Express, and And Then There Were None abound in this high tension mystery. Everyone seems like a suspect and Laura's anxiety amps up the tension throughout. Nicely done Ruth Ware.

Friday, September 29, 2017

east


My oldest read this book ten years or so ago, while in middle school. It was apparently a favorite then, so it was time for a re-read. I got the chance afterward, along with a glowing recommendation. How could I say no?



East is a YA novel based on a Norse myth, which may grow out of, or be related to, the story of Eros and Psyche, and/or the Beauty and the Beast fable. In this case, our heroine, Rose, is taken by a talking polar bear, and adventures and misadventures, quickly ensue.



This book was a page turner, and although its beefy, the text is large, and the chapters are small. All the hallmarks of what YA readers want. The story moved forward quickly, and the author’s technique of telling the tale in the voices of many of the characters, kept the story lively and interesting. Knowing that you’re working with a tale that is already well known, probably removes some of the worry about where to go next, but this does not seem like a simple re-telling to me. Pattou even throws in a Viking-like character named Thor to hearken back to the story’s roots.

Edith Pattou does a good job. This was fun.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

atrix wolfe

The Book of Atrix Wolfe is a fantasy novel by Patricia McKillip, whom I don’t think I’ve read before. All in all, this book has an interesting story, and the way the fable is written—slipping in and out of what I assume is Faerie—is pretty well done, once I got the hang of how it was being described. Prior to that point, it just seemed to get dreamy and surreal. In some cases, it was because someone was, in fact, dreaming, and in other cases it really was Faerie. But how to tell the difference? Or, is there a difference? Perhaps not. Sometimes its just oak leaves blowing in the wind.

Atrix Wolfe is a mage, who takes on the shape of a white wolf sometimes, to make his way about, or to hunt, or to just hang with the wolves. Wolfe can also take the form of just about anything, from water to oak leaves, and tends to in a pinch, but is probably most comfortable as the white wolf. Maybe even more comfortable than in his human form. He’s also the most powerful mage anyone in this small kingdom seems to know, or has even heard of. 

He also has a bit of a temper, and maybe a lack of patience. Not a great combo for a dude who can do just about anything from capturing the moon, to rustling some oak leaves.

Talis is the king’s younger brother, born on the night his mother and father were killed in a terrible battle. His older brother has assumed up his father’s crown, and did his best to raise Talis as the second in line for the throne. As part of the young prince’s education, the king has sent his younger brother to a mountaintop retreat to learn magic from the mages. All except Atrix Wolfe, who has not been seen or heard of since the terrible battle that killed the former king and queen, and left the current king and prince as orphans. While away, Talis learns only basic magical skills, such as lifting a small object, of making the leaves of an oak twirl in the wind.

On his last day of mage sleep-away camp, Talis does two things: climbs nearly to the top of the mountain where the mage’s retreat is, crawling through snowy crags, and drifts of oak leaves, eventually catching a glimpse of a wolf; and then whilst playing hide and seek, discovers an untitled book of simple spells, which he asks the headmaster if he can borrow.

Then destiny happens. 

And more oak leaves

I have few minor points about this book, but they’re not really worth mentioning. oak leaves If you’re a fan of faerie stories, you’ll probably enjoy this one. This probably falls into the YA category, if it matters, even if its touted as adult fantasy fiction.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

wyverns

I recently read Terry Pratchett's The World of Poo, which included a short segment about a wyvern, including an illustration. no, that's not it I've run into wyverns in my reading in the past, but it got me thinking: Wyverns are similar to dragons, but we don't see them often. They don't seem to be as well known a beast as a dragon. Until more recent times, wyverns were nearly interchangeable with their dragon cousins, in British heraldry, for example, but seem to have fallen out of favor. Perhaps as literacy has taken over for iconography, and heraldic symbolism has become less important, folks simply forgot about wyverns. But we haven't forgotten dragons. What is it about dragons that captures our imagination, more than wyverns?
Wyverns appear, to this observer, to be a much more likely anatomical form that their four-legged dragon counterparts. Wyverns have two legs and two wings, like a bird. Seems odd right? Dragons--western dragons anyway--have four legs, and two wings. Which seems to make more sense. 
A wyvern is built like this bird: two legs, and two wings
But when you compare these beasts to others in the animal world, its actually the dragon that's odd. Most animals have four limbs. A wyvern has four limbs too, but a dragon has six limbs: four legs and two wings. What else has that? Nothing, that's what. 

A dragon is built like nothing else: four legs, and two wings
Is there really nothing else built like a dragon? An insect perhaps? They have six legs, right? But flying insects have six legs and two or four wings, for total of eight or ten limbs!* And antennae, and exoskeletons, so... probably not a good archetype. 
Know what else does have four limbs plus two wings? Flying horses, griffins... and angels. Maybe it's because this anatomical form is so alien to us, is why we've chosen it for our most popular mythical creatures. 

And maybe that why most of us don't know what a wyvern is. Maybe it's oddness just isn't odd enough for us.



We need crazy, just as much as crazy needs us. Wyverns just aren't as crazy as they need to be.

* like octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

norse mythology

Neil Gaiman seems to have a wide and varied output of stuff, not least of which is books. I probably know him best as the author of Coraline, though I've never read it, nor have I seen the movie. Parenthetically, he's had other stories made into movies as well. This effort, however, is more traditional, and its not the first time Gaiman has taken on the retelling of myths. One gets the feeling that they are an important part of his research and inspiration for his original works.

Norse Mythology went to number one on best seller lists in a number of English speaking countries as soon as it came out, in February. I missed that, but then I'm not really following new books all that closely in general. The newer stuff I read is normally on display at my library, or at one of the many libraries I visit. I found this copy in the Quick Picks section at my library. I can see why this book would have been so popular when it came out, Gaiman is a well known writer, and the timing is right. The Lord of the Rings movies are reasonably recent, as are the Thor movies, and Game of Thrones seems to have taken over a large segment of the world's population.

For me, I'm interested in the mythology itself, and there isn't much of it left. Unlike the Greek and Roman myths, much of the Norse mythology was oral in tradition, and if Snorri Sturluson didn't hear it, and write it down, then there weren't a lot of other opportunities for its preservation. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more stories that I hadn't already heard in this book, although, the tales included were beautifully written, albeit in a clipped, hard language, reminiscent of Vikings, perhaps.

What has always fascinated me about the old myths is how human the gods were, and in this book, the Norse gods are even more so than even the Greeks and Romans. They're fallible, drunken, stupid, boorish, proud, even susceptible to aging, physical harm, and death. Even though I knew many (but not all) of these stories, it was great fun to read them, and follow the story arc through time. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Read this book.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

loving a woman

This small paperback book of poetry was given to me by my wife more than 20 years ago. She marked the poems she wanted me to read in particular with small bookmarks, which are still in my copy. This time around, I read through the whole collection. Its only 75 pages or so. It didn't take long. Many of Robert Bly's poems are short; just a stanza or two.

I'm not sure I'm smart enough to know what two worlds Bly speaks of when he talks about Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, but if I had to guess, I'd say they are the modern world, and the natural world, and as you can imagine, sometimes the two overlap. Often, Bly speaks of love, and sex, and caring through the anthropomorphism of animals and natural objects. And the subject matter seems to often stray to himself and his wife, with whom it appears, he has had a long, but sometimes rocky relationship, which seems always to return to love.

Bly's poems are sparse, subtle, evocative, and tinged with rawness of feeling, and underlain with animal lust in all its natural glory. Bly lays it all out there in his poems, and their honesty is compelling. The language is both simple, and complex: the vocabulary is very accessible--Bly isn't digging through the thesaurus for just the right word--but the meanings, how the words are used, seems to slip and shift as I read.

It was a lot of fun to come back to this one, and relive the feelings I had when I first read these poems, as I also looked at them, and my relationship with my wife, with the perspective of the intervening years.

Read this book.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

black widow

My wife bought the two most recent Danial Silva books, in his Gabriel Allon series; Black Widow is the first of them, number 16 in the series, which I've just finished. I'll probably read some other things before I get to number 17. This one was a little preachy for me. Silva, its seems to me, is using his position as a popular writer to warn the world about the impending doom that international terrorism can bring, and to critique the western response to the threat, as short sighted, politically, or even personally motivated, and very likely to make things worse.

That is not an opinion that I disagree with, exactly, its just that I'm not sure what the solution is. Terrorists that have no fear of death used to be viewed as rare, and born of mental illness. The terrorists the world is currently dealing with are not mentally ill, they are as sane as we are, and appear to be fighting for what they believe in, much as we do. I'm not apologizing, or even sympathizing, what I am saying is that thinking of terrorists as crazed thugs, moves us further away from understanding. And maybe, therefore, away from potential solutions.

Black Widow appears to be Silva's idea about how to combat the threat. Infiltrate. And destroy from within. In fact, that may actually be going on, how would we know. For all of our useless 24 hour coverage, we only hear the same things repeated over an over, slightly repackaged, in order to fill the time between the commercials. Real things happen all around us, and we have no idea. Silva, and many others, believe that the group trying to take over Syria, were given the opportunity to do so by the American led invasion. The war created the vacuum of power that allowed this group, and groups like them to grow.

That may be true, but it also may be unknowable. Silva seems to have taken it personally that his voice, and voices like him, haven't been heeded. And his anger, or at least his disgust, seems to be bleeding through into his writing. I wouldn't say that Gabriel Allon takes a backseat to the author's punditry, but Silva does seem to be less invisible in this episode than I have noticed in the past.

Not as procedural as some of the other novels, which I have enjoyed, but for diehard fans, this episode is another solid chapter in the overall story arc.



world of poo

When I first saw this small hardcover at the library I thought it may be a retelling of The Hundred Acre Wood tales, but a closer look at the title would have told me that Winnie's baser, homophonic namesake is the true celebrant in this farcical storybook tale. 

When Geoffrey visits his grandmother in Ankh-Morpork he decides to take advantage of her tolerance for odd hobbies and some space offered in the tool shed in the garden to expand on his burgeoning collection of poo. In fact, many adults he meets not only tolerate, but rather support his efforts to create an expansive poo museum in his grandmother's back garden, and he soon has samples in glass jars of monkey, hippo, various birds, even gargoyle and wyvern poo don't prove too difficult for him to procure, with a little help from grandmother's friends and acquaintances. 

Miss Felicity Beedle's: The World of Poo, by Terry Pratchett is apparently a volume in his Discworld series,* which I am unfamiliar with. Maybe it refers to a world where (or when) the common belief is (or was) that the world was flat. The time period seems like the late 1800s; a little late for flat worlders but then there are wyverns† at the zoo.

Children's book for grownups? This was in the adults collection at my library, so I guess so. It was a quick read and the illustrations are great, with hidden humor throughout. Have fun!
 
 
 
* a quick look on the internets shows that discworld is pretty complicated
† got to thinking about wyverns, going to write a post about them.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

night school

Lee Child is at it again. My wife picked up two recent Jack Reacher novels, burned through both of them pretty quick, then suggested I read them too.

I have a little bit of a backlog of books that I've read now, and so by the time I get this posted some time will have probably gone by and I'll be reading (or have read) the next one.* This one is called Night School. And I get the impression this title is for lack of anything else, as it doesn't really give too much of a hint about the content of this one.

I haven't read all of the Reacher series, and I certainly haven't read them in order, but it appears that 'in order' may now be in question. If I'm not mistaken, this story was written and published later than some others, but does not fall 'after' in the overall timeline. Seems as though Child is going back into the timeline, and filling in some of the blanks. At the beginning of this story, Reacher is just back from a mission in the Balkans. This story may even represent a mission Reacher spoke about in an earlier story, and the Balkans mission may have also been an earlier book, but I'm not enough of a fan to know either of those things. But maybe the internet is; lets look.

Well, I looked, and it seems like this book is more of a prequel to the entire series. It may have been referred to in conversation, or some old file in an earlier (later?) book, but I don't find any reference to it.

Looks to me like, Child has taken this step back to keep Reacher from turning into that "Murder She Wrote" lady, who just seems to be minding her own business, and they someone is strangled with piano wire in the back of a New England, seaside curio shop she's visiting. Every week. she's like the fourth horsewoman of the apocalypse, or somethin'. it ain't right

So this was pretty good, but not great. A little slow in spots, and I guess I'm a little more used to the Reacher of the later novels, who usually works alone, and isn't as hemmed in by superiors and rules. That being said, I'm not quite sure how he can get away with executing someone, just for being a bad dude.

If you're a Reacher fan, you're going to read it anyway, if you aren't then, this is probably not the place to start.


* Update: It has been a week or two since I wrote this in draft form, after revising it for posting, I can confirm that I didn't go on to read the next one in the series. I've been reading some other things.

 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

eros

Eros is perhaps what Alexander von Brücken feels about Sofie as he tells his life story to a young writer, as he lay dying, in his mansion outside Berlin. 

Obsession is a better word. Or maybe stalker is more apt.  

Von Brücken tells his story, beginning with his childhood, as the son of a wealthy manufacturer during World War II. VB wants a record of his love after he is gone, to insure that it is 'real.' Proof that it really happened; that the story survives him even if nothing else does.  

What the young author hears over his 8 day stay with this reclusive, eccentric billionaire is a history of joy, loss, yearning, love, sickness, politics, war, revolution, obsession, and death. Each day VB gets sicker, even as the workmen build his tomb in the garden outside the mansion, working day and night to complete it before the old man dies.   

It's a detailed look into what a man will do for love. How he can let it consume him, grind him down. VB seems to punish himself with it. It's also a story about how personal wealth and influence can be used (and abused) to accomplish things that most people can't. All this overlaid on the tapestry of WWII and it's aftermath in Germany.   

I read translations to get a different perspective than I normally do with American (and other English language) writing. And in that regard, this book didn't fail me. It was, however a little slow and tedious. Not least because if the fabricated VB weren't a very wealthy man, no one would hear his story. And regardless of his wealth making it available, no one really cares. Perhaps that is also one of Herr Helmut Krausser's points. 

Translation by Mike Mitchell.

Monday, September 11, 2017

the break

Pierto Grossi is an Italian writer and while this story could have been set anywhere, it feels Italian. That characters feel Italian. The culture does as well. 

Dino is not a talkative man. Not really an expressive man either but he is a thoughtful man. The Break, at its heart, is a story of change and how we deal with it. Some consider change a loss, regardless of what the change is. Even if many consider these changes progress. And that is a sentiment I found personally when I visited Italy, especially in the small towns, like the town Dino lives in with his wife Sofia, and works in as a stone paving mason. 

The writing takes its cues from, or at least reflects the character of, Dino and others like him. It's sparse, even terse. Grossi writes the minimum required to get his point across, and leaves some of the thinking to us. There are few places in the book where the translator, Howard Curtis, may have missed the mark, and based on my poor understanding of Italian I think it may be as simple as a misunderstanding of the way a particular word of phrase is used in Italian. I know that some words and concepts are difficult to translate but some of the terms and phrases--just a few--struck me as odd.

Grossi's last book won some awards so I'll have to keep my out for it. This is not an action packed, story driven book. It's an study of a man and how he deals with life and what it throws at him. It was a quick read though. If that's the kind of thing you're into, I'd recommend this one.

I read this a few weeks ago. I'm still catching up from my vacation in August!

Friday, September 8, 2017

time and again

Time and Again is a time travel adventure story from the 70s. I guess I'd call this soft SF. I'm not sure this one holds up, but maybe it's just the innocent quality it has. Time travel via the hippy era makes for a pretty touchy-feely trip, to say more risks a spoiler. 

Our man, Simon 'Si' Morley, is recruited by a super-secret, government funded, scientific organization looking into time travel technology based on the theory that because the past has indeed passed, its sort of still there, so we should be able to get to it somehow, and then, because the present represents the limit of the time that has passed, you should also be able to get back to the present once you're finished in the past. 

Simple, right? Oh, and future hasn't passed yet, so... yeah, no luck.

The touchy-feely part comes in here. The past is more accessible around, and among older things. no, not grandma This seems to grow out of that feeling one has when visiting old buildings and sites, that haven't been updated or renovated. Visitors feel more connected to the past in places like this; history seems more present. I think that small feeling we all have when visiting and old castle, the coliseum, or the House of Seven Gables, is what this book is based on.

Occasionally, the suspension of my disbelief is tested, when author Jack Finney seems to break, or at least stretch, the rules of his fanciful method of time travel, to suit the story arc. 

This book is illustrated, reportedly by the protagonist, as evidence of his travels, but the illustrations are vastly varied, and for the most part look like old photographs, or images from vintage greeting cards, with the story altered around them to explain how they came to be. In some cases, whole adventures appear to have bee written into the story to suit a good image the author happened upon. 

There was a few take-away stories about early New York that I was especially delighted with; things I didn't know. My favorite concerns the Statue of Liberty

If I've peaked your interest about these historical Easter eggs, then have at it. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

fifth angel

The Fifth Angel stunk.

Stink, stank, stunk.

The whole premise seems to be based on this thought: Man, child molesters/abusers really burn me up. I wish I could kick some ass, and you know, get away with it.

Tim Green dreams up a main character, who I pretty quickly assume is his avatar in this weird little snuff novel. Protagonist has had it pretty bad, his daughter was kidnapped, raped and abused for a week or something and the bad guy got off with a few years, and is now out of the slammer, and our guy's daughter is still in a mental hospital, and can't stand to see anyone, including dad. Our man is divorced, because the ex-wife blames him for not picking the daughter up on time. Busy with work, our lawyer man is.

Yeah, did you pick up on that? He's got it bad, poor him. Why isn't he spending his time trying to help his daughter? Worrying about how SHE feels? Ridiculous.

So, taking what he has learned being a kick ass lawyer, our guy goes on a killing spree of just molesters who go off easy. Part way thru said spree, our guy meets a beautiful young woman, and starts to re-built his life and a new love. How a corporate lawyer knows so much about criminal law, is never explained.

While killing people on business trips, and one time, while on a romantic get away with his brand new girlfriend. your eyes are like... pools of chum Love nest location chosen specifically to be close to next victim.

Finally gets caught by a die hard cop, with no life, and an FBI agent, who is a crime solving genius, but is having trouble balancing her job and family life. The new girlfriend takes off horrified after the arrest, of course.

Our guy ends up serving a ridiculous sentence for the only thing they can prove, and is out in 18 months, and who is there to pick him up? The estranged girlfriend! what!

'I may never understand, she gushes, but I love you.' what!

Fade to back, with our sick, sociopathic, murdering, serial killer, cum hero (?), thinking: Maybe I can have it all. no, you can't. no one should

And I'm sure he's cured, reticent, and well adjusted, after getting it all out of his system. Right? Are you kidding me!

At one point our man is shot by one of his victims, with a shotgun, from a few feet away, in the shoulder. This is while his girlfriend is sleeping in a cabin on the other side of the lake, where he took her for some romance, right across the water from his, like, tenth victim. I'm thinking; "How is he ever going to explain a shotgun blast to the shoulder, when he gets back in bed, naked, in a few minutes? Never mind not bleed to death! I'll tell her a fell on a branch in the woods, he thinks to himself. WHAT? No one would buy that, HOW is he going to get his character out of this. This is like, the first time, they've has sex together. wow, that was great. you know what I could go for right now...

Seems impossible right? Of course it is. So what does our intrepid writer do? How does he explain this ludicrous happenstance? He doesn't.

That's right, he just skips over it. Doesn't even mention it. End of chapter. A few days later, when thinking back on it, our protagonist thinks to himself, I'm glad she believed that story. Did he even pick the pellets out of his flesh? Don't know, Tim never says.

Weasel.

Don't read this book! Or anything else this guy wrote.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

alchemist's daughter

The Alchemist's Daughter follows the life of a young woman in 17th century England who lives alone with her father--the alchemist--on a remote estate with only a husband and wife manservant and housekeeper team. 

Emilie's father is, in addition to being an alchemist, a natural philosopher and a member of the Royal Society and makes an annual visit to London for a few weeks to attend lectures, present findings and papers, etc. leaving his daughter behind, because as a female, she would be unwelcome at the Society's proceedings, irregardless of the fact that since her birth, her father has been educating his daughter as a scientist, and she is at 19, a genius. 

Emilie has her own ideas which in some cases contradict with her father's and we as readers who have the benefit of history to tell us that she is often right, but is so enamored of her father she assumes that she is mistaken. 

Katharine McMahon takes us on an interesting journey through Emilie Selden's life, but I would have liked to hear more about her accomplishments. There is also a bit of Bronte sister's influence to the story as well read romance that seemed a little bit to me, like: 'well, she can't do science, so what will she do in her spare time' Not fair, I know, but then, it isn't supposed to be I guess.

I think I read this one while on vacation. I have a small back up of books I've read, but haven't written about due to the 3 or 4 books I read while away a few weeks ago.

Monday, August 14, 2017

wake of vultures

Wake of Vultures is the first of the The Shadow series by Lila Bowen, a pen name for Delilah Dawson, which sounds like the secret identity of a superhero. Not sure why its not written in her name.

Nettie Lonesome is pretty kick-ass. Orphaned under mysterious circumstances, and raised by the old west equivalent of foster parents--the kind that don't care about you, and treat you like a slave--Nettie uses her affinity for animals to eventually get a job at a nearby ranch, which allows her to leave her abusive home, and finally begin a life for herself. 

What she finds when she leaves is more than she bargained for--beginning with the man she meets the very night she leaves home.  And he ain't right. 

Soon after, Nettie finds that there are lots of folks who ain't quite right. Some good and some bad, but she also finds that there is something special about her too. Something that a shapeshifting brother and sister team agree to help her discover. 

You know, while trying to conquer and evil being that has been stealing children since before she was born. 

Nettie herself is a kind of mystery, she's not quite sure where she comes from, is pretty sure she's half black, and half native American, dresses in men's clothes, and typically passes as male (it keeps the questions to a minimum) and is pretty flexible about which sex she's attracted to.

Wake of Vultures is set in an alternative universe old west, mainly in and around Texas, it just isn't called Texas, its called Durango, in the Federal Republic of America. And there are plenty of monsters to go around. It wasn't great, but I'll read the second one and see where it goes.



Friday, August 4, 2017

domino i

I'm breaking this review into two parts for convenience, mainly because this book was dragging so badly that I decided to give up on it for a while and read something more fast-paced during my vacation. I spent the last two weeks at the beach, I'm happy to report, and I brought a handful of books to read, but Domino just wasn't doing it for me.

Domino is a novel written by Ross King, who is more famous for his non-fiction books, such as Brunelleschi's Dome. my personal favorite of his I have this vague memory of another fiction book by King, which I think is Ex-Libris. I read it a number of years ago, and its not included on this blog. I do, however, remember enjoying Ex-Libris, which is historical fiction, in a similar vein to Domino. Maybe by the time I get to the end of this book, I'll change my mind, and some of the things that have been nagging at me about it will be resolved.

Its taken a little bit to figure out the format of this tale. It is, as I've said, an historical fiction tale, told from the point-of-view (POV) of a young and impressionable painter named George Cautley, who meets a woman shortly after traveling to London to find/make his fortune. Lady Beauclair is above his station, but has a vague and probably checkered past. After agreeing to paint Lady Beauclair's portrait, mainly, we are led to believe, due to his infatuation with her, Cautley is slowly being told the history of another man--a now retired castrato singer from Italy, named Tristano, whom Cautley met briefly at the same party where he first met Lady Beauclair.

Lady Beauclair, in turn tells portions of her story second-hand, from the point-of-view of Tristano, when he was a younger man. Parts of Tristano's story include histories of others, told from their POV.

So here is a little POV tree to explain the Inception-like, story-within-a-story compartmentalization of this novel.

Ross King
-- George Cautley
--- Lady Beauclair
---- Tristano
----- Characters from Tristano's past and/or other characters from Beauclair's past.

The hard part, is keeping track of when the dialog is between Cautley and Beauclair, Beauclair and Tristano, (from Beauclair's POV), Tristano and character's from his past or character's from his present (from Tristano's POV) of between characters in either Tristano or Beauclair's pasts, from either of their POVs, respectively.

King uses quotes, within quotes, and in the deeper branches of the POV tree, he uses dashes at the beginnings of the dialog paragraphs, and forgoes quote marks all together.

There is also at least one mystery character, whose place in the narrative is still uncertain in my mind. I have about a hundred pages to go. The word Domino is from the French for a mask or disguise, which many of the characters wear at various points. This proxy of obscuration should have been more of a clue.

In the meantime I read one other book, and started a second on vacation. Reviews on those will come up first, and then I'll get back to Domino.

Friday, July 7, 2017

diamond age

Neal, Neal, Neal. You've done it again my man. 

The Diamond Age; Or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is an older book from Neal Stephenson, in the same vein as Snow Crash. Whether or not this narrative takes place in the same, or merely a similar universe, isn't really important to the story.* It does seem to take place slightly further in the future. Technology (read: internet) has nullified the need for centralized geopolitical governments as we know them and world is populated by claves of typically like-minded people who live how they best see fit and guard their borders--and conduct their business--via nanotechnology. It buzzes through the air like smog and courses in their bloodstream. 

But change is coming. What form that change will take and how the people who strive for, and against that change, and how it might effect the societies that may be impacted by it, is where the story lies. Like many of Stephenson's stories, one of the main characters is a young woman, who as a girl derived certain benefits from her illustrated primer. 

The story is well paced, carefully plotted, and even though the prose is jargon rich, the human story shine through and the SciFinese falls away into the background. 

Stephenson has written a prototypical hero story a la Joseph Campbell, and as Campbell postulated in his book, we'll read it again and again. And provided it's well written, we'll enjoy it every time. 

Read this book.


* FictFact.com puts this book in a series with Snow Crash and some others.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

girlfriend 44

Mark Barrowcliffe is a funny guy. I guess he's also written some Viking style fantasy fiction under a pen name, and I think he also writes a column, or has written for magazines or something in the past.

Girlfriend 44 follows the escapades of a 32 year old Londoner and misogynist, named Harry. Told in first person, Harry explains why he's currently on the 44th version of a female companion, what its like to live in London as a 'lad' on the 'pull.'

Harry lives in a small apartment/house with his long-time roommate,
Gerrard, and their dog. Gerrard is similar to Harry in a lot of ways, but has his own approach to women, based in his theory of naturalness. So natural that I-shouldn't-have-to-try, if-she's-interested-she'll-let-me-know natural. Gerrard has NOT had 44 girlfriends. The naturalness extends to natural body odor vs. wasting water, soap and energy on bathing. Or washing your clothes. and still no dates?

What is funny is the constant bickering between Harry and Gerrard, and Harry's philosophy on life, which he expounds on whenever he has a moment. Harry may spin off on an observational rant in the middle of describing an intense conversation with someone. There may be a page or two of complaining about some demographic or particular type of aggravating person before you get back to where he was in his original tale.

You want to hate him; But he's just so amusing!

Read this book.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

notebooks of don rigoberto

I picked up the The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto at a library book sale. This novel by Mario Vargas Llosa—translated by Edith Grossman—is slightly surreal, and sexy enough to be called erotica. I haven’t read Mario Vargas Llosa before, but a search online about him confirms that this seems to be his style. A sort of positive or reaffirming look at the value of fantasy and a sense of adventure in adult sexual relationships.

Perhaps Don Rigoberto represents the author’s alter ego, or maybe even his avatar, as he makes his way through his notebooks each evening in his well healed home on the edge of the ocean at the outskirts of Lima. Rigoberto has sexual fantasies, but they are all about his wife. Some that they act out together.

Rigoberto is a well off, middle aged insurance company employee, who has been with the company long enough to be able to live very comfortably. He fills his house with works of art, but only a certain number. When he acquires a new piece, he has to decide which one goes to make room. This self-imposed discipline gives him pleasure, even if that pleasure is mixed with the pain of letting go of a piece of art he once chose to display in his home. 

Rigoberto also works hard on his theory of life, and uses this strict  set of rules to live by, and shows no patience for those who don't understand him. Going so far as to write letters to people that he sees as living their lives as an antithesis to his own beliefs. These letters are included complete in the text, read from Rigoberto's notebooks. He never sends them, because the recipient would be to stupid, to blind, to pigheaded to understand what he means, so he writes them to relieve himself of the pent up feelings, and doesn't send them.

The Notebooks is pretty dense, relentless, dedicated, and sexy. But it took a while to get through, and t was often difficult to tell where reality and fantasy met, but I'm sure that's the idea.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

united states of beer

First off, thanks so much to the folks in Erving, who were nice enough to bring this book for us to help celebrate my office's 20th anniversary. The book came with a wonderful bottle of beer for us all to enjoy as well.

The United States of Beer, sub-titled: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink, is by Dane Huckelbridge, and is a follow-up to his previous endeavor, Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit. I think that he learned a lot about beer, doing his research for his bourbon book, and luckily for us, he decided to turn that research into this fun little book about America's beer history.

For the uninitiated, bourbon and beer are related; The first step in making whiskey, is to make beer (without the hops) and then distill it. Beer is therefore whiskey's daddy. It also predates the development of whiskey by millennia. Seems like a good place to start any history project, but just how closely beer is intertwined in the history of this nation is remarkable. But its as simple as one of the first (of many) take-away facts from this book: 

TAKE-AWAY FACT 1: People couldn't drink the water, it wasn't clean in most of Europe. What people drank--men, women, children--is beer. All day, every day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At home, and at work.

For centuries.

Huckelbridge walks us through the history of the nation from New England, to the South, to the Mid-west, to the coast. Each of the regions begins with its history, and importantly, where the predominant immigrants come from, and the beer styles they brought with them. Huckelbridge describes the traditional European beer, and its own history, and then the version the new American make for themselves when they arrive, working with what they have.

TAKE-AWAY FACT 2: American versions of European beers were (and are) often very different from their beery ancestors, because the conditions, and ingredients in America are not the same as they were in the countries of origin. 

By the time we get to the Mid-west, America has been around for a while, and the Germanic folks who began to move into the Mid-west brought lager beers with them, and eventually the lighter, crisper Pilsner style beers. But these beers were not (NOT) the pale, yellow, watery beers that are the standard American Big Beer company products we have today. So you know what that means...

TAKE-AWAY FACT 3: American pale lager used to be deep, rich, and flavorful. We ended up with yellow, watery American beer--produced, by the way, by some of the same companies that originally produce those better beers--due to mass marketing, and cost cutting to stay in business through prohibition.

There are lots more, and obviously, the changes to the standard American lager happened slowly, and Huckelbridge walks us through it all, ending with the history of beer making on the west coast, and how a small company in San Francisco kicked off the rebirth of American microbrews in the mid 1960s.

Read this book, while drinking a beer.