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 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.

 

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.