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.

* 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.


Monday, May 22, 2017

rule of four

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

darker shade of magic

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

madame rose

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

And I think perhaps you should.

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

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

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

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

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

mr. fox

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

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

Mrs. Fox is not amused.

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

burning page

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

masked city

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

two words for public libraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then where would we be?

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

invisible library

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017


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

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

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

lions and lambs: revised

yeah, lamb skull. poor little guy.
Unfortunately, New England weather has not cooperated this year, and March, IS NOT, going out like a lamb. Nor did any of the days betwixt and between the proverbial lion and lamb, resemble any of the tamer animals, lovingly chosen to represent the normal damp, muddy, sunny, or breezy days of the Marches of yore.

Its was lions every day.

So I've revised the 'lion to lamb' calendar, so its a little closer to what we've had this year.

March 1 - Lion
March 2 - Lion
March 3 - Lion
March 4 - Lion
March 5 - Lion
March 6 - Lion
March 7 - Lion
March 8 - Lion
March 9 - Lion
March 10 - Lion
March 11 - Lion
March 12 - Lion
March 13 - Lion
March 14 - Lion. Blizzard. Nice.
March 15 - Lion
March 16 - Lion
March 17 - Lion
March 18 - Lion
March 19 - Lion
March 20 - Lion, with a first day of spring banner on. And snow.
March 21 - Lion
March 22 - Lion
March 23 - Lion
March 24 - Lion
March 25 - Lion
March 26 - Lion
March 27 - Lion
March 28 - Lion
March 29 - Lion
March 30 - Lion
March 31 - Lion, with a snow storm, that will last until tomorrow (April 1st!)

The March 31st lion is all fat and happy from devouring the poor little lamb, and it looks like it'll be around for a little while longer, just to kick our collective, freezing, behinds.

Cold? I took the average daily temperatures recorded in Boston for the month, and averaged those for the month of March. Know what I got? 34.29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here's hoping for next year!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Esau is your typical action-adventure story, with a Speculative Fiction slant. Its got some loosey-goosey science (cue sexy scientist, looking to publish her break out paper) and some action-adventure, in the form of Himalayan mountain climbing (cue sexy mountain climber, and sometimes bed mate of sexy scientist.)

You get it. Its fast, its fun, its action, its adventure. Its like bubble gum: tasty, easy to chew, doesn’t take a lot of effort.

So, sexy mountain climber (SMC) goes for a hike in the mountains, and suffers a tragedy, and after returning, seeks solace with sexy scientist (SS) and has doubts about whether or not he still has what it takes to be the SMC he has always been. Whilst suffering from said tragedy, SMC happens upon a scientific oddity in the mountains, that he believes SS would like. SS indeed likes, and proposes a scientific excursion to site of SMCs tragedy.

Cue drama and doubt, mixed with determination, and excitement.

Philip Kerr’s name looked familiar, but a quick glance at his previously published works in the front matter of this book did not foster the same feelings of familiarity. So another quick look on his Goodreads page indicates that Kerr has written 30 something books, and I have indeed read Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton, which was pretty good. I don’t see it listed here in the blog, so I must have read it a while ago.

I bought this book used at the Westborough Library book sale for a dollar, or something, so it worked out great.

Monday, March 20, 2017

melancholy whores

Memories of My Melancholy Whores might be a novella, but I guess that depends on how you feel about the term. Is this book a long short story, or a short novel? This is definitely a stand-alone story, in a beautifully bound Borzoi Book by Knopf, written by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Edith Grossman.

This story is about and old man, written by and old man. So you might expect that some of that old man's dreams may leak over into the other. And that's exactly what this story is; the last best dream of a lonely old man.

I don't know Gabriel García Márquez, so I don't pretend to know what he feels about being older, and I have no idea whether he's similar to the character in this story or not. lets assume, not What I can tell you is, this book is both softly sad, and sometimes sweet.

The main character is a proud, accomplished, but ultimately lonely man, who never had time, or maybe never made the time, for love and instead satisfied his urges by visiting prostitutes or maybe even worse, having sex with women and just treating them like prostitutes. For his 90th birthday, he decides that maybe he should revisit his younger, rakish days, and visit a prostitute. So he calls an old madam and asks for a virgin. The old madam finds him a 14 year old girl, who sews buttons at the local factory to help support her family.

Maybe this is written with a view to (or from) a different era, but pig-child-molester is a phase that comes to mind. But this is literature, so I'll put that away for now, and try to look at this from an artistic point of view. I suppose the girl represents his lost youth, and folly when it comes to love. Because now, he finds that--even though he never touches the girl, other than a little kissing of her body its just art, its just art, its just art--he finds that he can finally begin to feel what it would have been like to love as a young man.

What follows is a crazed obsession, and while the writing is interesting, and the translation reads well, I'm just not sure what else I'm supposed to feel. I mean, I guess its nice that the old duffer finally gets to feel, but I'm not sure why it couldn't have been an 18 or 19 year old woman. Still vulgar, but not horrific. Again, maybe its a cultural thing, and this certainly could have been set back in the day. They do talk about newspapers as a going concern, so it could have been 50 years ago in Spain or Mexico (I don't recall.) Was this kind of thing socially acceptable then?

They made a movie in 2011, based on this 2004 book! In the movie, the girl is 20. I don't think it would (could!) have been made if she wasn't. Another interesting tidbit, the flower on the book jacket was added to the American edition, to cover up the exposed breast of the model. Like it wasn't bad enough, dude.

Friday, March 17, 2017


I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and forgot to write about it. I was about halfway through before I realized that was reading an abridged version. After finishing, I might be glad it was abridged. A little too repetitive, if that's the right word. Seems like every time it looked like La Esmeralda is going to catch a break, she falls back into it. And that seems to be the case with all of the main characters. ah! oooh... ah! oooh... ah! oooh. like a hundred times

Written by Victor Hugo in 1831; translation by Lowell Bair in 1958. This is an old Bantam paperback that has been kicking around for a while. Looks like the type of book that was handed out to high school students in the 70s by the millions.

I'm not sure what was abridged out of this story, but it certainly seemed like there was plenty of fat left. This could have been a wildly successful novella, but then maybe the fault lies in the translation; what do I know.

La Esmeralda is a young gypsy girl, living in Paris, in the 1400s. She can be found dancing with her trained pet goat in the plaza before the Notre Dame cathedral, where she has caught the eye of a holy man (who should know better) and his adopted foundling son, Quasimodo,* who lives and works at Notre Dame as the bell ringer.

There are thieves, kidnappings, hangings and public torture, uprisings, alchemy, stabbings, weddings, unfaithfulness, corruption, malfeasance, knavery, assault, insanity, loss, blasphemy, unrequited love, obsession, and... repeat.

So I guess you could read it, if you have to. If you do, and you read a different translation, I'd love to hear about it.

*  Quasimodo gets his name from the day he was found: Quasimodo Sunday, or the Octave of Easter. It comes from the first two words (in Latin) of the prayer for the day: "Quasi modo..." which means, basically, "like this."

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Sam Jones is apparently a recurring character in Lauren Henderson's books. There are a series of Sam Jones mystery novels, set in England. that's where Henderson is from This novel--and the main protagonist--is  hip, witty, tough, and sexy. Sam Jones, like many in her imagined line of work, fall into crime scenes, especially murder, at an alarming rate. If Jones and her contemporaries really did see as many murders as they do, I think the police would be watching them a little more closely. If you're on holiday, and you see Jones, Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, or anyone else like that coming up the boardwalk, make tracks! Your chances are grim.

Jones is a sculptor, who happens to be between sculptures right now, and is doing a stint on a TV show, standing in for an actress, whose character is actually based on Jones. So Jones does the standing in when it comes time to do some welding, grinding, cutting, and various other studio busy work. Then she trains up the star to hold the tools properly for the close ups. Nice gig. 

Oh, and she's also banging a movie star.

The writing is quick, fun, and doesn't give too much away. Its not your typical whodunit, where all of the evidence is presented throughout the story, and then crushingly revealed in the third act, making the reader feel like a dolt, albeit a satisfied one. All in all, Chained was pretty good. If you're into this sort of thing, there are a bunch of these out there.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

king in the tree

The King in the Tree: Three Novellas is a collection of short stories by Steven Millhauser; the last of the three lends its name to the collection.

If there is theme or thread that ties the three stories together it has to be that they are based on older stories or myths; re-told in a way the makes them both more immediate and more relevant. More importantly, perhaps, is that they all include complicated love triangle, or other polygon, as I describe below.

The first, Revenge, reads like something one might find in Esquire magazine. Its mainly a monologue, told by a middle age woman, to another woman who is viewing her house, which is currently for sale. As the narrator takes her guest on a tour of the home, she points out the things, the places, and the memories she shared there with her late husband. This one is a passive-aggressive crusher.

The second novella is titled, An Adventure of Don Juan, and it tells the story of the famous romancer and rogue, who strikes up a friendship with an Englishman visiting Venice, just as Don Juan begins to tire of the city, and he follows the Englishman and his family--a pretty wife, and her spinster sister--back to their estate in the English countryside, for an extended stay. Don Juan finds himself taken by the relaxed and homely feel of his stay, and quickly falls into a routine, of late mornings walks in the grounds, interesting conversation his his host, who is a gentleman scientist, and a bit of a dreamer, and chats with the wife and her sister.

The sister appears, at first, to be natural prey for the rakish Spaniard, but she is curiously aloof, while the wife, seems somewhat willing. A strange and stage-set-mythology stained love triangle (quadrilateral? rhombus?) soon erupts, bringing this story to a startling end.

The title novella, The King in the Tree, is a retelling of the Tristan and Isolde myth (often grouped together with the Arthurian Legends.) Tristan is a faithful and brave knight, and the nephew of the King (King Mark of Cornwall is not named in the novella, that I can recall), but he has, it appears at first, to have fallen in love with the King's young, Irish wife, Isolde. The King suspects something is up, but he trusts his wife, and he especially trusts his nephew. This telling examines what the breakdown of trust can do to a person, and how they rail against their misgivings, as much as the pain of what they know must be true.

I didn't love these stories but something about them sucked me in. The King was actually the long and repetitive, but I found that I could wait to see what would come next.

I wouldn't go out of my way but if you like the short story and especially if you like a myth retold, this one may be for you.

[I bought my copy without a book jacket... somewhere. I liked the above cover image best.]

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

lions and lambs

Did my own artwork this year
Ah March!

The most freezing month of the year? Doesn't sound right, but that's what we just had. It was 70 on my birthday in February, now we're just bouncing back from 9 degrees a few days ago.

I'm a little late this year--today is actually Moose--but I can attest to the lions, tigers and bears this year.

So maybe you're used to this by now: If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, the other days must also have animality. So we need a scale, so you can see how lionish or lambish we are on a particular day.

Seem like Moose to you today?

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

March 1 - Lion: Of course. Its in like a lion, right?
March 2 - Tiger: Up to 11-feet, and nearly 700 pounds!
March 3 - Bear: Oh my! Definitely polar bear this year.
March 4 - Shark: Everyone knows that shark week is not really a thing, right?
March 5 - Wolf: The Timber variety. They're coming back, baby!
March 6 - Bull: One word: Pamplona.
March 7 - Moose: Brake for moose, it could save your life.
March 8 - Eagle: Don't leave your pets outside... or your chickens.
March 9 - Scorpion: Step on it before it steps on you.
March 10 - Dingo: No, its not a stray dog.
March 11 - Hawk: Not hawkish. That's for scared people, pretending to be strong.
March 12 - Lynx: No honey, that's not a tom cat, don't feed it.
March 13 - Bat: Wanna put on your Batman suit, party on!
March 14 - Monkey: They're cute but can also throw poop! HBD Coleen!
March 15 - Snake: The Ides of March. Snakes are known for wisdom, and treachery.
March 16 - Ox: Hard working in a plodding kind of way.
March 17 - Elephant: Wise, big, powerful... gray.
March 18 - Raven: Nevermore.
March 19 - Stag: Power and compassion. Might make a good patronus.
March 20 - Crab: This one can sneak up on you. First day of spring!
March 21 - Goat: Stubborn and tough going.
March 22 - Horse: Strong and reliable. Sometimes crappy on the back end.
March 23 - Pig: Smart but messy; wear your boots today.
March 24 - Dog: Friendly and good-natured; take a walk.
March 25 - Dolphin: Fun and wet; bring an umbrella.
March 26 - Rooster: Get up early and wake tehe neighbors.
March 27 - Turtle: Muddy, but adorable; boots again.
March 28 - Toad: Similar to turtle, but a little squishier.
March 29 - Robin: I guess you could wear your Robin costume today. You cosplay nut!
March 30 - Rabbit: Roasted with rosemary and potatoes! HBD Kelton!
March 31 - Lamb: Mmm... arrosticini. Smells like spring!

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

I think I can feel it one week into March; its breaking. It all going to be easy, if sometimes muddy--sailing from here on in.

Ready for Spring! Lets go!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

we should all be feminists

My oldest gave me their copy of We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, to read. Its an essay, based on a TED talk Adichi gave a while ago, published as a little soft-cover book. I read it in about an hour, maybe less.

Adichi is smart, dedicated to her cause—you can hear it in her voice—and her argument is simple, and commonsense driven. What I appreciated the most was her definition of feminism; its simply the belief that women and men should have equal rights, not just in the law, but in practice, in society. All societies.

She also understands that changing minds is difficult, and is therefor not focusing her attention on changing the way people act today, rather, she is advocating that we teach our children to be different than we are. Its a good argument.

Anyone who believes that equality will make tomorrow better for all, and decides that it may be easier for them to raise their children to be different than they are, without necessarily having to change their own behavior, may see this as a more achievable goal. Not having to give up their own prejudices and behavior may (at first) seem easier to swallow. But once they’ve agreed to this, then it may only be a matter of time before they begin to adopt these behaviors, as they guide their children, if only a little bit.

Ask your daughter to shovel snow or mow the grass. Ask your son to wash the dishes or the laundry. Speak to them both about sports, money matters, and responsibility. These strategies are simple, but give both sexes a more equal footing, and doesn’t presume that there are certain tasks, stations, or primacy better suited to one or the other.

Yeah, read this book.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

27th kingdom

The 27th Kingdom is an odd little book by English author Alice Thomas Ellis (1932-2005). I haven't read her stuff before, but its got a wonderfully English humor about it that reminds me of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," various English situation comedies, like "Are You Being Served," with a touch of Tom Robbins. That last one is just for the strange bits.

Aunt Irene (pronounced in the East European/Slavic way) is the owner of a small, historically interesting home on the outskirts of London, in the 1950s. Aunt Irene lives with her young, self-absorbed nephew, Kiril, and whatever wayward needling happens to come along. Aunt Irene simply can't say no, and so her house is often occupied by various adult, foundlings. The newest is young, lovely Valentine, sent to live with Aunt Irene by Irene's sister, the abbess of a convent in which Valentine is a postulate. The abbess believes that Valentine needs a time away from the abbey, but hasn't shared the reasons why, with her sister.

The Kingdom is absolutely driven by the dialog. There is very little narration or description. One knows very little about most things in this story if it doesn't come up in conversation. And the conversation is constant, and many times internal to Aunt Irene herself. And Aunt Irene is an odd duck, and the company she keeps is just as odd.

This book is short, fast paced, and pretty much begins partway through the story, and then seems to end partway through as well. When I finished, I felt like I had overhear the larger part of an interesting, but ultimately bizarre conversation, while riding next to some strangers on the T. Ellis writes as though she's a fly on the wall, in the house of whomever she happened to buzz in upon. It began odd, and ended even stranger.

All in all, it was fun to read.

Monday, February 6, 2017

time being

A Tale for the Time Being is a novel by Ruth Ozeki that I borrowed from my office lending library. It looks like the kind of book that would have been in someone's reading group list of books. As usual, I come to these books late because I'm picking them up used, some years after they were popular. I'm not sure how popular this book was at the time, but it certainly reads like one that would get the attention of book clubs.

I don't think I'm giving anything away when I point out that very quickly in the text, it becomes clear that the phase 'time being' is a double entendre. in fact its noted at the top of the back cover on the paperback I read As soon as I read that, the Zen of this book started kicking in. This book is as much about an interestingly disjointed trans-Pacific relationship, as it is about philosophy. Think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Yeah, like that.

Ozeki is writing her thoughts about Zen into this storyline, just as Pirsig did in his, but I think Ozeki does a better job of working the teachings into the narrative than Pirsig did in Motorcycle Maintenance. The other difference I'll point out is the story in this book is better too! Ozeki sets up a pattern of switching back and forth between two storylines, narrated by two people on different sides of the ocean. Its a one-sided relationship, and we can't help wondering what will happen next with each of these characters, and their supporting characters.

Its a story of loss, change, caring, moving away and what 'home' means, bullying, nature, war, coming of age, old age, dreams, Japan, suicide, and Zen. Its got a little of everything, and is just riveting.

Ozeki dances us right out to the edge, and teases us with a universe that is larger than we may ever understand, and then grounds us by reminding us that our finger is not the moon, but that they are, still, the same. Just as a man and a wave in the ocean are.

I really enjoyed this story, as a narrative, a conversation between different peoples, and as a primer for understanding eastern philosophy. Ozeki has a keen understanding of people, and does a great job building characters that have weight and depth.

Read this book. Move others out of the way, if needs be.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

the help

The Help is a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, later adapted for a movie of the same name, in 2011, with Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, and Emma Stone as Elizabeth 'Skeeter' Phelan. I didn't see the movie, but I do remember the movie doing very well, just as the book did. The Help was one of those books that made it onto many book club reading lists at the time.

Skeeter Phelan and her friends live in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, and she and all of her white friends have maids and cooks who work for their families, clean their clothes,makes the meals, wash their sheets and take care of their children: the help. The help consists exclusively of black women, who are not allowed to shop in the white supermarket unless they are showing for their white employers, or use the white library, or in some cases use the same toilet as the white employers while they are working in their homes. A divide that is extremely difficult for these dedicated women and their families, but its a system that is so ingrained, that the don't see a way out of it.

In the era of the JFK assassination, and Martin Luther King's speech in Washington, events which slip by in the backdrop of this story of a few families, Skeeter Phelan approaches the maid of one of her friends, Aibileen Clark, and asks her to take a risk and tell her story. The two of them hatch a plot to tell the story of how black housekeepers are treated, and try to publish it anonymously in a book.

This is Stockett's first novel, and I don't think she has followed it up yet, but you can feel the dedication and research that went into this novel. My first impression, after reading a few chapters, is that this type of story seems brave for a white woman to tackle, looking at this era from both a white and a black woman's points of view, but the I realized that its just the same set of feelings in me that keep me from being open minded about who can do what, because what is more important is that its done right; or at least as good is one is able. This book is a great effort to examine the issue.

This book is tense, fun, difficult at times, and helps insure that the story stays alive, and in our thoughts.

Read this book.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Moonglow is subtitled 'A Novel' but it reads like a memoir, my guess is that its somewhere between the two; so I guess you could say its a memoir styled novel, based partly in reality. Its almost as if Michael Chabon was able to determine a little bit about his family history, and found some of it to be intriguing, but not quite exciting enough for a memoir. Then, wishing there were some more interesting facts, or at least interesting mysteries, he began to spin a tale.

Of course, I could be wrong and it could all be Bologna.

What Chabon does pull off is the intricately woven, dappled, and complicated history of an American family, and how their history makes the inheritors of that legacy what they are today, whether its actually the author's history or not, doesn't really matter.

Chabon peppers the story with 'facts' that at least seem to give the story an anchor in reality, and of course, he's told the story in first person, stepping back and forth in time from chapter to chapter, some of them in the present day, or recent past, in which he (or the narrator) is a character himself.

The story Chabon has spun, centers on the life of his maternal grandfather, a German Jew, ex-US military intelligence officer, from New Jersey, who meets his wife at temple function, where she is being held out like bait in a bear trap by gaggle of women who'd like her to meet someone else. Actually the women are dying to introduce her to Chabon's grand uncle, the newly-minted, handsome young rabbi. Due to a slight miscalculation when the two brothers enter, its Chabon's grandfather, and not the rabbi, who meets his future grandmother. And it becomes pretty clear that the rabbi brother wouldn't have stood a chance.

The story pops between their early romance, his grandmother's history in Europe and her escape from the Nazis, his grandfather's work in Germany at the end of the war, searching for Nazi rockets, and his lifelong love of rockets and space travel. There are tiny details, tics, hobbies, loves, hates, tastes, obsessions, secrets, habits, and beliefs that makes us what we are, and Chabon has built his characters brick by brick by examining these traits and how they color what people do. This reminded me of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. A family history is built on stories, and Chabon has strung this family's stories together in a way which reminds us of our own, and therefore tells the story of all of us.

I think this book showed up on a lot of must-read lists. My oldest gave this book to me as a Christmas gift; thanks honey!

Read this book.