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The Scarlet Plague, by Jack London

An old man tells his grandsons about the world before the Red Death depopulated it.

The Scarlet Plague

London Magazine, 1912, approximately 20,000 words.. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.

An old man, James Howard Smith, walks along deserted railway tracks, long since unused and overgrown; beside him a young, feral boy helps him along. It has been 60 years since the great Red Death wiped out mankind, and the handful of survivors from all walks of life have established their own civilization and their own hierarchy in a savage world. Art, science, and all learning has been lost, and the young descendants of the healthy know nothing of the world that was—nothing but myths and make-believe. The old man is the only one who can convey the wonders of that bygone age, and the horrors of the plague that brought about its end. What future lies in store for the remnants of mankind can only be surmised—their ignorance, barbarity, and ruthlessness the only hopes they have?

Did you know Jack London wrote a post-apocalyptic novel? I didn't!

My complete list of book reviews.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

A laid-back dog from California has to survive in Alaska.

The Call of the Wild

Macmillan, 1903, approximately 32,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.

Buck, a sturdy crossbreed canine (half St. Bernard, half Shepard), is a dog born to luxury and raised in a sheltered Californian home. But then he is kidnapped and sold to be a sled dog in the harsh and frozen Yukon Territory. Passed from master to master, Buck embarks on an extraordinary journey, proving his unbreakable spirit...

First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London's masterpiece. Based on London's experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.

It's really a barbarian epic starring a dog.

My complete list of book reviews.

Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Reading like a writer who is Francine Prose and likes books that Francine Prose likes.

Reading Like a Writer

Harper Perennial, 2006, 273 pages

In her entertaining and edifying New York Times bestseller, acclaimed author Francine Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters to discover why their work has endured. Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart - to take pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot's Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue and to Flannery O'Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail. And, most important, Prose cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which all literature is crafted.

Genre fiction? What's that? Who reads that shit?

My complete list of book reviews.

Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell

The novella that spawned The Thing,

Who Goes There?

Astounding Science Fiction, 1938, 168 pages

Who Goes There?, the novella that formed the basis of the film The Thing, is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient body of a crash-landed alien.

Paranoia will destroy ya, but murderous shapechanging aliens will kill you faster.

My complete list of book reviews.

Damocles, by S. G. Redling

A first contact novel, starring a linguist, that does not suck.


47North, 2013, 350 pages

When Earth is rocked by evidence that extraterrestrials may have seeded human DNA throughout the universe, a one-way expedition into deep space is mounted to uncover the truth. What linguist Meg Dupris and her crewmates aboard the Earth ship Damocles discover on Didet - a planet bathed in the near-eternal daylight of seven suns - is a humanoid race with a different language, a different look, and a surprisingly similar society. But here, it's the "Earthers" who are the extraterrestrial invaders, and it's up to Meg - a woman haunted by tragedy and obsessed with the power of communication - to find the key to establishing trust between the natives and the newcomers. In Loul Pell, a young Dideto male thrust into the forefront of the historic event, Meg finds an unexpected kindred spirit, and undertakes an extraordinary journey of discovery, friendship, and life-altering knowledge. Told from both sides of a monumental encounter, Damocles is a compelling novel about man's first contact with an extraterrestrial race.

Apparently comic book geeks and conspiracy theory journalists are universal.

My complete list of book reviews.

Fluency, by Jennifer Foehner Wells

NASA discovered an alien spaceship in the asteroid belt in the 1960s. Fifty years later, they send a bunch of idiots to investigate it.


Self-Published, 2014, 283 pages

NASA discovered the alien ship lurking in the asteroid belt in the 1960s. They kept the Target under intense surveillance for decades, letting the public believe they were exploring the solar system, while they worked feverishly to refine the technology needed to reach it.

The ship itself remained silent, drifting.

Dr. Jane Holloway is content documenting nearly-extinct languages and had never contemplated becoming an astronaut. But when NASA recruits her to join a team of military scientists for an expedition to the Target, it's an adventure she can't refuse.

The ship isn't vacant, as they presumed.

A disembodied voice rumbles inside Jane's head, "You are home."

Jane fights the growing doubts of her colleagues as she attempts to decipher what the alien wants from her. As the derelict ship devolves into chaos and the crew gets cut off from their escape route, Jane must decide if she can trust the alien's help to survive.

A linguist exploring a Big Dumb Object should have been awesome. Instead: consternated, probing purrs.

My complete list of book reviews.

Awake in the Night Land

Awake in the Night Land by John C. Wright

This is a sequel by other hands, being based in the setting of William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land. However, I can assure you that it stands alone.
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Living the Dream

Living the Dream: A Mutts Treasury by Patrick McDonnell

Another of the yearly collections.

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Crusade, by Taylor Anderson

It's Midway, Aubrey-Maturin, and Battlestar Galactica put together.


Roc, 2008, 400 pages

Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy, along with the men and women of the USS Walker, have chosen sides in a war not of their making. They have allied with the Lemurians - a mammalian race whose peaceful existence is under attack from the warlike, reptilian Grik.

The Lemurians are vastly outnumbered and ignorant of warfare, and even the guns and technology of Walker cannot turn the tide of battle. Luckily, they are not alone. Reddy finally finds Mahan, the other destroyer that passed through the rift. Together, the two American ships will teach the Lemurians to fight and stand against the bloodthirsty Grik - or so they think.

For there is another vessel that does not belong on these strange seas - the massive Japanese battle cruiser Amagi, the very ship that Walker was fleeing from when the rift took them. Like Mahan, it followed them through. And now Amagi is in the hands of the Grik.

The second book is even better, though it looks like it's going to be a long haul.

Also by Taylor Anderson: My review of Into the Storm.

My complete list of book reviews.

Selected Literary Essays

Selected Literary Essays by C.S. Lewis

Exactly what it says.  Be forewarned that this is the professional, professor side of his writing.
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Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

An anti-Heinleinian military SF novel for SF fans who don't actually like the military or Heinlein.

Old Man's War

Tor, 2005, 320 pages

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army. The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding. Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.

Go to strange new planets, meet interesting, exotic aliens, and kill them. (SPOILERS)

My complete list of book reviews.

Commedia Dell'arte

Commedia Dell'arte: An Actor's Handbook by John Rudlin

I'm not the target audience for this book, never having gotten into acting.  But I still found it interesting.

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last of the Coloured Fairy Books

There were only twelve, and so with this I conclude my reviews of Andrew Lang's Coloured Fairy Books.
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The Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker

The terraforming and settling of Mars in an alternate history.

The Empress of Mars

Tor, 2007, 304 pages

When the British Arean Company founded its Martian colony, it welcomed any settlers it could get. Outcasts, misfits, and dreamers emigrated in droves to undertake the grueling task of terraforming the cold red planet - only to be abandoned when the BAC discovered it couldn't turn a profit on Mars.

This is the story of Mary Griffith, a determined woman with three daughters, who opened the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge. It's also the story of Manco Inca, whose attempt to terraform Mars brought a new goddess vividly to life; of Stanford Crosley, con man extraordinaire; of Ottorino Vespucci, space cowboy and romantic hero; of the Clan Morrigan; of the denizens of the Martian Motel, and of the machinations of another company entirely - all of whom contribute to the downfall of the BAC and the founding of a new world. But Mary and her struggles and triumphs are at the center of it all, in her bar, the Empress of Mars.

Based on the Hugo-nominated novella of the same name, this is a rollicking novel of action, planetary romance, and high adventure.

A worthy heir to Burroughs, Bova, Bradbury, and Robinson.

My complete list of book reviews.

Books Read November 2014 (Books 196-211)

Here is a summary of my November reading with links to longer reviews in my journal.

Book 196: The Paper Magician (Paper Magician Trilogy #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg, 2014. 226 pages. Good story, poor setting. Review here.
Book 197: The Case of the Missing Books (Mobile Library Mystery #1) by Ian Sansom , 2005. 335 pages. Comic tale set in Northern Ireland. Review here.
Book 198: The Ripple Effect (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-Shorts #7) by Malorie Blackman, 2013. 55 pages. The Seventh Doctor and Ace encounter peace-loving Daleks.
Book 199: Spore (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-Shorts #8) by Alex Scarrow, 2013. 40 pages.The Eight Doctor deals with alien pathogen. Reviews of Books 198 and 199.
Book 200: The Doll Maker (Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne #8) by Richard Montanari, 2014. 464 pages. Another in this dark series of police procedurals. Review here,
Book 201: The Mummy Case (Amelia Peabody #3) by Elizabeth Peters, 1985. 415 pages/Unabridged audiobook (11 hrs, 56 mins). Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. Mystery slightly marred by annoying precocious child. Review here.
Book 202: The Butcher of Smithfield (Thomas Chaloner #3) by Susanna Gregory, 2008. 512 pages. 17th Century newspapers are at centre of this historical thriller, Review here.
Book 203: A Cruise to Die For (Alix London #2) by Charlotte and Aaron Elkins, 2013. 256 pages. Alix encounters murder and mystery on luxury Greek cruise. Review here.
Book 204: The Monogram Murders (Hercule Poirot Series) by Sophie Hannah, 2014. 374 pages. Rather disappointing return for Poirot. Review here.
Book 205: The Quickening by Julie Myerson, 2013. 274 pages. Ghost story in tropical setting. Review here.
Book 206: The Beast of Babylon (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-Shorts #9) by Charlie Higson, 2013. 40 pages. One of the best in this series featuring the Ninth Doctor.
Book 207: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-Shorts #10) by Derek Landy, 2013. 54 pages. The Tenth Doctor and Martha have a literary adventure. Reviews of Books 206 and 207.
Book 208: Mini Shopaholic (Shopaholic #6) by Sophie Kinsella, 2010. 433 pages. Unabridged audiobook (14 hrs, 23 mins). Read by Emily Gray. Review here.
Book 209: The Absolutist. by John Boyne, 2011 321 pages. WWI drama. Review here.
Book 210: Simple Genius (King and Maxwell #3) by David Baldacci, 2007. 433 pages. Another in this excellent series of political thrillers.
Book 211: The Sandman (Joona Linna #4) by Lars Kepler, 2012. Translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, 2014. 496 pages. Superb Nordic Noir. Reviews of Books 210 and 211.

Amy Falls Down, by Jincy Willett

A brilliantly funny stand-alone sequel that will appeal to all serious book-lovers.

Amy Falls Down

Thomas Dunne Books, 2013, 336 pages

Amy Gallup is an aging novelist and writing instructor living in Escondido, California, with her dog, Alphonse. Since recent unsettling events, she has made some progress. While she still has writer's block, she doesn't suffer from it. She's still a hermit, but she has allowed some of her class members into her life. She is no longer numb, angry, and sardonic: she is merely numb and bemused, which is as close to happy as she plans to get. Amy is calm.

So, when on New Year's morning she shuffles out to her backyard garden to plant a Norfolk pine, she is wholly unprepared for what happens next. Amy falls down. A simple accident, as a result of which something happens, and then something else, and then a number of different things, all as unpredictable as an eight-ball break. At first the changes are small, but as these small events carom off one another, Amy's life changes in ways that range from ridiculous to frightening to profound. This most reluctant of adventurers is dragged and propelled by train, plane, and automobile through an outlandish series of antic media events on her way to becoming - to her horror - a kind of celebrity. And along the way, as the numbness begins to wear off, she comes up against something she has avoided all her life: her future, that "sleeping monster, not to be poked."

Amy Falls Down explores, through the experience of one character, the role that accident plays in all our lives. "You turn a corner and beasts break into arias, gunfire erupts, waking a hundred families, starting a hundred different conversations. You crack your head open and three thousand miles away a stranger with Asperger's jump-starts your career." We are all like Amy. We are all wholly unprepared for what happens next. Also, there is a basset hound.

If you are a 'Bookish' person, you will love this book.

Verdict: I am convinced Jincy Willett is a quiet and underappreciated genius, and Amy Falls Down, while no more exciting plot-wise than its title indicates, is a true "literary" novel in the sense of being intelligently, unabashedly well-written — but meant to entertain, not to win awards and get praise from all the right people. 10/10.

Also by Jincy Willett: My review of The Writing Class.

My complete list of book reviews.

more Coloured Fairy Books

Another installment, of the next four books. Continuing to far farther than the first books did for tales.

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Dec. 2nd, 2014

The full title of this book is: The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry – Love, Laughter and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School. The cooking school in question is, of course, Le Cordon Bleu.

This is a memoir written by a journalist, Kathleen Flinn. It is an account of the time she spent at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, learning to cook.

It was a long held dream and one that she had set aside for years in favour of getting on with life and her career. She had settled into a job that she wasn’t all that passionate about and she stayed… until the day she lost her job.

Instead of looking for another job, she decided to take advantage of her unemployment to follow her dream. She enrolled herself at Le Cordon Bleu,packed her bags and moved to Paris.

This is a record of her time in Paris where she was joined by her (then) boyfriend, Mike Klosar, her experiences at the school, the whole business of learning to cook, dealing with the pressure of the kind of precision that French cooking demands and so on.

Through the course of this book Katheen and Mike got engaged and married. She also met some fascinating people and made a few very good friends.

It is clear that she had an interesting time in Paris and she writes about it all rather well. This is a food memoir, but it is about a lot of things besides food, so there is something for everyone here.

The book comes with a recipe at the end of each chapter. This is a trend in food writing that I don’t particularly care for. I think recipes should be left to cook books, but perhaps there are other readers who will disagree with me.

I like memoirs and this book was no exception. But I did have one complaint. Everyone in the book is is painted vividly, particularly Mike. But Kathleen herself remains a shadow.

She is always the observer. Even when she is taking about times when she is excited or upset about something, the narrative is detached, like she’s observing herself from the outside.

I enjoyed the book, but I wish there had been more of the author in it.

“Notes” is far more than it implies, as Eliot has two overarching themes. The first is that religion and culture are inseparable, and the second is the relationship between regional, national, and world cultures. Eliot believes that a world culture is the only basis of peace, but probably impossible because of the lack of a world religion. His definition of a healthy culture seems to be a shared system of beliefs that allow both mutual understanding and vibrant disagreement at the same time. This is not unlike the great theological debates of the High Middle Ages, Christianity’s most confident time, when Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Abelard, Albert the Great, and other philosophers flowered.

He wrote these “Notes” in the 1940s, with Nazis fresh in memory and in the shadow of Stalinist Russia. Sometimes he seems elitist and dated, other times full of timeless wisdom, and always writing very well. His chapter on education is presented almost as an afterthought but has actually held up the best over the years. His appendix on the poetic nature of the English language and the mutual influences European cultures have had upon each other is also inspiring (and written for a German audience).

“To the unconscious level we constantly tend to revert, as we find consciousness an excessive burden; and the tendency towards reversion may explain the powerful attraction which totalitarian philosophy and practice can exert upon humanity. Totalitarianism appeals to the desire to return to the womb.”

In lesser words, group think is for babies who don’t have the courage to think for themselves.

“Aesthetic sensibility must be extended into spiritual perception, and spiritual perception must be extended into aesthetic sensibility and discipline taste before we are qualified to pass judgment upon decadence or diabolism or nihilism in art. To judge a work of art by artistic or religious standards, to judge a religion by religious or artistic standards should come in the end to the same thing, though it is an end at which no individual can arrive.”

Eliot’s Christianity is as unapologetic as his poetry, and it is heartening to know that even an Eliot struggles with the relationship between his art and his belief.

“We know that good manners, without education, intellect, or sensibility to the arts, tends towards mere automatism; that learning without good manners or sensibility is pedantry; that intellectual ability without the more human attributes is admirably only in the same way as the brilliance of a child chess prodigy; and that the arts without intellectual context are vanity…we must not expect any one person to be accomplished in all of them… we are driving in the end to find it in the pattern of the society as a whole.”

I think this paragraph says a lot about the sort of people Eliot had to spend too much of his time with: pedants, prodigies, and the vain. Not that these are his friends, but he’s obviously tired of single-minded or thoughtless individuals he met in his circles. But he’s also right… it brings to my mind the famous Paulian scriptures about the relationship between faith, hope, and love. Virtues need each other’s support.

“I have suggested elsewhere that a growing weakness of our culture has been the increasing isolation of elites from each other, so that the political, the philosophical, the artistic, the scientific, are separated to the great loss of each of them, not merely through the arrest of any general circulation of ideas, but through the lack of these contacts and mutual influences at a less conscious level, which are perhaps even more important than ideas.”

I think the real divide today is between the political elites and the elites he mentioned above. Our political class has learned how to win political battles, but are woefully ill-informed about the truths of what they are fighting over.

Coloured Fairy Books

Another installment.
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The Minotaur works as a line cook in a North Carolina steakhouse.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

Picador, 2000, 313 pages

Five thousand years out of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love.

Southern litfic by way of Ovid.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Blue Fairy Book

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

This is the one I personally owned as a child.  As the very first, it is chock-full of the standard issue, top-20 pop charts tales -- among others.  Heavily from Norwegian, French, and German sources.
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The River of Dancing Gods, by Jack L. Chalker

An iron-thewed barbarian trucker and a half-naked half-elf navigate the Rules of a fantasy world.

The River of Dancing Gods

Del Rey Fantasy, 1984, 263 pages

Joe and Marge, minutes away from death, are rescued and brought from Earth to the magical world of Husaquahr by the wizard Throckmorton P. Ruddygore to battle the forces of Hell itself!

Jack Chalker is like a slightly less adolescent Piers Anthony.

My complete list of book reviews.

Discworld books

Two by Terry Pratchett. Spoilers for the first three Rincewind and the first Death books ahead.

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Nine short stories from a new horror master: gritty, grotty, grimdark, with words like bloody knives.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

Night Shade Books, 2013, 280 pages

Over the course of two award-winning collections and a critically acclaimed novel, The Croning, Laird Barron has arisen as one of the strongest and most original literary voices in modern horror and the dark fantastic. Melding supernatural horror with hardboiled noir, espionage, and a scientific backbone, Barron's stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year's best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards.

Barron returns with his third collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Collecting interlinking tales of sublime cosmic horror, including "Blackwood's Baby", "The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven", and "The Men from Porlock", The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All delivers enough spine-chilling horror to satisfy even the most jaded reader.

Not H.P. Lovecraft. Not Stephen King.

My complete list of book reviews.

Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

The first in a comtemporary fantasy series -- not enough time in the city to qualify as urban.  Owen, our narrator, is working his tail off as an accountant beneath a horrible boss, when one day he works late.  The boss turns into a wolf and tries to eat him.

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Blindsight - Peter Watts

Two months have past since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since—until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who should we send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn’t want to meet?

Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder and a biologist so spliced with machinery that he can’t feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find—but you’d give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them...

(Summary from Amazon page.)

Review on my journal. The book is available for download on Watts' site, in various formats.

The Red Fairy Book

The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

How I read these books when I was a child. . . .
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Burn Baby Burn, by James Maxey

Supervillains save the world in a novel that almost achieves comic book scale.

Burn Baby Burn

Self-Published, 2011, 212 pages

Sundancer is a militant radical who channels the heat and light of the sun, capable of melting steel and vaporizing anyone who stands in her way. Pit Geek is seemingly immortal, able to survive any injury, but haunted by fragmented memories. Together, these supervillains launch a crime spree bold enough to threaten the world's economy.

To stop them, the government authorizes a new band of superheroes known as the Covenant to hunt down the menaces. Sundancer and Pit must learn to rely on one another as never before if they're to escape the heroes that hound them. When they finally run out of places to hide, can mankind survive the conflagration when Sundancer unleashes the full force of her solar powers?

Robots and Monkeys make everything better.

Also by James Maxey: My review of Nobody Gets the Girl.

My complete list of book reviews.

Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden vs. a taxonomy of werewolves.

Fool Moon

Roc, 2000, 401 pages

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is Chicago's only openly practicing wizard. He is also dead broke. His vast knowledge and magical skills are unfortunately matched by his talent for making powerful enemies and alienating friends. With little more than his integrity left, he accepts an offer of work from Lt. Karin Murphy of Chicago's Special Investigations Unit. He wants to redeem himself in Murphy's eyes and make enough money to quiet his rumbling stomach.

Soon he finds himself pinned between trigger-happy FBI agents, shape-shifiting motorcycle gang members, a threatened mobster boss, and an heir to an ancient curse along with his primal fiance. Throw in environmental activists and a pair of young werewolves in love and you have something of Fool Moon.

The second book is neither better than nor worse than the first.

Also by Jim Butcher: My review of Storm Front.

My complete list of book reviews.

"Dawn" by Octavia Butler

"Dawn" is one of the most chilling SF novels I've ever read. After humanity almost wipes itself out with a nuclear war (the book published in 1987) some aliens come along and pick up the survivors. The plan is to keep humans asleep until they can fix the Earth and then train them for life in the wild.

The catch is the aliens are masters of genetics and plan on mixing humanity and their own genetics to create a new species. They have done this again and again in their long history of interstellar travel, and see it as normal behavior. They are powerful, patient, and passive-aggressive. Butler does an amazing job of keeping their point of view consistent, keeping the aliens convinced they are right in manipulating humans, notably the heroine, into obedience.

IT's so well thought out I felt quite envious.

The Raven Ring

The Raven Ring by Patricia C. Wrede

A tale of a fantasy land.  When a family of the hill folk Cihlar get word of the death of the mother of the family, the daughter Eleret sets out to retrieve her belongings.  Wouldn't be right, otherwise.

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Darkship Thieves, by Sarah A. Hoyt

A Heinleinian woman hooks up with a space highwayman, leads a rebellion, looks great in heels.

Darkship Thieves

Baen, 2010, 384 pages

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don't ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father's space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger--who turned out to be one of her father's bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime - if she managed to survive.

Heinleinian fanfiction, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

My complete list of book reviews.

Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle

Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio

Agatha returns in another novelization.  It starts off smoothly enough, a new beginning despite the the volumes that have gone before, but be forewarned it does end on a cliff-hanger.

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The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel

The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The sequel to The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. Lots of spoilers ahead.

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Harrowing the Dragon

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

A collection of short stories.  Arranged chronologically, which was, perhaps, not wise because some of the earlier ones are weak.

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PathFinder by Angie Sage

With the Septimus Heap series done, Sage has changed the main characters in the TodHunter Moon.  That is, Alice TodHunter Moon.  Spoilers ahead for Septimus. . .

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Castle Rackrent, by Maria Edgeworth

An early satirical "Big House" novel about 18th century Ireland.

Castle Rackrent

Originally published in 1800, approximately 45,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.

For the information of the IGNORANT English reader, a few notes have been subjoined by the editor, and he had it once in contemplation to translate the language of Thady into plain English; but Thady's idiom is incapable of translation, and, besides, the authenticity of his story would have been more exposed to doubt if it were not told in his own characteristic manner. Several years ago he related to the editor the history of the Rackrent family, and it was with some difficulty that he was persuaded to have it committed to writing; however, his feelings for 'THE HONOUR OF THE FAMILY,' as he expressed himself, prevailed over his habitual laziness, and he at length completed the narrative which is now laid before the public.

"An Hibernian tale taken from facts, and from the manners of the Irish Squires, before the year 1782."

I read this book for the books1001 challenge.

My complete list of book reviews.

Discworld Witches

Technically these are the second and third Discworld Witch books, Equal Rites having been the first, but you don't need to have read the first.  Indeed, I think the continuity is broken between it and these.  (Rites was the third Discworld, and the world-building was not really firm.)
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Book Review: America 1844 by John Bicknell

1844 was an election year in the United States, but there was much more happening in the nation than politicking. Expansionism and a desire for a better life sent many Americans westward, to face harsh weather, rigorous travel conditions and unpredictability. New inventions were being developed that would transform and enhance Americans' way of life. Incumbent "accidental president" John Tyler maintained feint hope of holding his office. Religious evolution and tensions were occurring, complete with zealots, bigots, the devout, and the rise of new sects. New immigrants came into conflict with those espousing intense nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments. And then there was Texas and the divergence between those who wanted to annex it and those who feared the consequences of such an act. All of these factors contributed to the outcome of one of the most fascinating Presidential elections in history, and to the future that the 68 year young nation would soon experience.

In America 1844: Religious Fervor, Western Expansionism and the Presidential Election That Transformed The Nation, author John Bicknell displays a remarkable appreciation of the fact that to truly understand what elections are all about, one must look at more than just the speeches and promises of politicians and their parties. While an election is occurring, life happens, and life in 1844 was fascinating.

An apocryphal Chinese curse is said to translate as "may you live in interesting times" and 1844 was a most interesting year. Religion was at the center of much of the contemporary cultural upheaval. Preacher and Adventist forefather William Miller and his Millerites prophetically predicted that the end of the world would occur in October of 1844, a message strongly embraced by a surprising number of people. Catholics in Philadelphia faced strong and violent religious prejudice from nativists, leading to the Philadelphia Nativist Riots. Joseph Smith and the Mormons also confronted violent religious bigotry amid Smith's campaign for the presidency. John Bicknell provides the reader with an excellent understanding of these and other religious based occurrences, explaining both their specific details, and their significance to everything else that was happening in 1844.

An excellent component of this book is the author's description of exactly what western migration entailed. He does so by having the reader travel along with a number of hardy souls who made the trek west, including soldier and explorer John C. Fremont, mountain man James Clyburn, the Sager family (who experienced significant tragedy on route) and resilient teenager Moses Schallenberger. The experiences of these travelers provides the reader with a far greater appreciation of the hazards of such an onerous journey than any generic description of what it was like for those who made the trek west.

John Bicknell's brilliance as an author can be seen from how much information he is able to convey in only 257 pages. I learned a tremendous amount of information from this book and am amazed at the author's ability to convey that information so succinctly and yet so thoroughly. Bicknell also earns high marks as an analyst. His post-mortem of the failed campaign of Henry Clay in the election of 1844 is excellent, and I appreciated this book's epilogue in which the author not only fills the reader in on the subsequent lives of the major subjects of the book, but also explains why their actions in 1844 were important to how the nation unfolded in the years leading to the civil war. Most impressive for me was his profound analysis of how history might have taken a completely different path if Henry Clay had run a smarter campaign and won the election of 1844.

In this book John Bicknell proves that excellent history does not have to be voluminous and wordy to be intelligent, informative and a pleasure to read. I thoroughly enjoyed America 1844 and highly recommend it to readers with an interest in history from slight to great who appreciate good writing that entertains and informs concurrently and concisely.

Mother, by Maxim Gorky

Maxim Gorky's pioneering (boring) novel of (boring) "Socialist Realism" about a (boring) mother of the Russian revolution.


Originally published in 1906, 324 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.

Maxim Gorky, pseudonym of Alexei Maksimovich Peshkov, Soviet novelist, playwright and essayist, was a founder of social realism. Although known principally as a writer, he was closely associated with the tumultuous revolutionary period of his own country. The Mother, one of his best-known works, is the story of the radicalization of an uneducated woman that was later taken as a model for the Socialist Realist novel, and his autobiographical masterpiece.

The road to hell is paved with well-intentioned revolutions.
Verdict: Is this a book you must read before you die? I'd say as a sample of a particular period of history and the literature it produced, it has its value. This isn't a post-revolutionary Soviet novel, so it's a vivid if biased view into the time in which it was written. But as a work of literature, I would not inflict this on anyone who isn't perversely fascinated with the Bolshevik revolution. 3/10.

I read this book as part of the books1001 challenge.

My complete list of book reviews.


Mort by Terry Pratchett

The first of the Death books.  Death appeared before, but this is the one where he's a major character, and takes on his final personality.  (You may be surprised if you only read the earlier ones.)
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Feet of Clay

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

the third Watch novel.  Next one after Men At Arms.  And much less of a gap in Discworld than the first two -- he apparently found a lot more to stay.  Spoilers ahead for the earlier ones.  (Also there's a scene that makes sense only after Reaper Man.)

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The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

The Time Traveler's Wife, if Henry was a serial killer.

The Shining Girls

Mulholland Books, 2012, 375 pages

"The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own."

Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.

Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.

At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable - until one of his victims survives.

Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth....

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

A time-traveling serial killer stalks the one who got away.

My complete list of book reviews.

Men at Arms

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

The second Watch novel.  I note for those who read the first that Carrot changes quite a bit.  But on the whole I think the second version is better.
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“Finders Keepers” by Seamus Heaney

This is a collection of essays (1971-2001) by one of Ireland’s most beloved and respected poets. The most interesting essays are about his readings of Eliot, Dante, Auden, Yeats, Muir, Marlowe, Thomas, Burns, and Clare (that’s about half the poets he covers). He makes strong arguments for reading them, and it would be a good short cut to finding out which poets you might want to start reading, if you’re curious about poetry but don’t know where to start. He also writes about Irish history and culture, both beautifully and well. The word smithing of a poet shines clearly in his prose, but he doesn’t over do it.

The Dragon's Path, by Daniel Abraham

A low magic, epic fantasy, political potboiler - Game of Thrones without the gore and rape and incest.

The Dragon's Path

Orbit, 2011, 555 pages

All paths lead to war...

Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.

Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.

Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.

A banking whiz kid, a tragically brooding soldier, and a nerdy nobleman who is really, really going to make you regret giving him a wedgie.
Verdict: Good, solid writing, engaging characters (some more than others, but every multiple-POV novel will produce some characters who are more interesting than others), and a plot that takes a while to build up, but when it does, takes off with a bang. The Dragon's Path is a slowly developing epic in which the author seems to be taking his time laying the groundwork, but if a relatively slow-paced 550-page first volume can make me want to read book two, it's doing something right. The only reason I'm not giving it a highly recommended tag is that it is clearly a derivative genre work that doesn't really do anything different per se — it's just really good at being what it is. 9/10.

Also by Daniel Abraham (writing as James S.A. Corey): My review of Leviathan Wakes.

My complete list of book reviews.

more Frazz

Two more Frazz books, still recommended for all who like Calvin and Hobbes.
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Dancing Jax - Robin Jarvis

I tend to read a bit of Young Adult stuff, because it seems to push the boundaries more than "adult" novels. The Dancing Jax trilogy is a prime example of that. This series is so incredibly dark; there's murder, concentration camps, canabalism, and a whole lot of other things that don't really have names but are so far into Not Okay territory they can't even see the border anymore.

The story revolves around a book itself, Dancing Jax, which on the surface is a rather inane kid's fantasy book, but through nefarious powers makes most readers believe that they exist within the book, and the real world is a grey dream they must endure before they can return to their true life. The key word here is 'most'. For every few million or so people who's minds are overrun, there's one person that is imune. And it's around these 'aberants' that Dancing Jax revolves.

At first, the aberants are pitied by the Jaxers, then despised, then hunted down and killed and finally, worst of all, ignored completely. Most of these aberants are children and teenagers, although whether's that due to some inante feature of young minds or just from the YA focus of the book I can't tell. Through the story these kids grow from rather entitled brats to really quite powerful individuals. The ones that survive, that is.

Throughout the story there's some rather cutting comentary on the state of modern Western society, in all it's media-cycle, 10-seconds of fame glory. Plus some interesting notes on religion, which I felt was extremely well done (I normaly find anything religious quite hard to swallow).

I'd recommend Dancing Jax to anyone who enjoys some dark, modern fantasy and isn't faint hearted. 

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