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Imagine a Place and Imagine a World by Sarah L. Thomson, Rob Gonsalves

Another two books of tromp l'oeil transitions between one thing and the next. Topiary birds and green flying birds.  Underwater becoming the shore.  Autumn leaves to butterflies.  Rocks in a lake becoming buildings in a fog. . . .


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The origin of the lengthy Oz series -- a series that soon showed that demanding the author continue is not always wise -- but since they are at the beginning, the series is still going strong.

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The Croning, by Laird Barron

The Children of Old Leech love us... like sweet buttery toffee.

The Croning

Night Shade Books, 2012, 320 pages

Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight. Black magic, weird cults and worse things loom in the shadows. The Children of Old Leech have been with us from time immemorial. And they love us...

Donald Miller, geologist and academic, has walked along the edge of a chasm for most of his nearly eighty years, leading a charmed life between endearing absent-mindedness and sanity-shattering realization. Now, all things must converge. Donald will discover the dark secrets along the edges, unearthing savage truths about his wife Michelle, their adult twins, and all he knows and trusts. For Donald is about to stumble on the secret...

...of The Croning.

Grim and gruesome horror from a talented author.

Also by Laird Barron: My review of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

My complete list of book reviews.

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

the classic children's book of the boy imagining himself to the title location and becoming king before his return.

The pictures suit the tale perfectly.

The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

Butcher has ventured into steampunkish high fantasy, though their power crystals get more play than their stem engines.  I like this better than Dresden Files. It is definitely a series; the action of this book is resolved, but the next conflict is thoroughly set up.
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North and South

Reading this novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, I couldn’t help but compare it to “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Both of them deal with a conflict of values concerning capitalism, both have a romantic plotline intertwined with the philosophical plotline, and both have proud main characters.

But I think Gaskell has a better understanding of human psychology, despite the weird ending. It is a common flaw in romance novels to keep up the tension until so late in the game that I find the successful resolution of their relationships awkward. Yet over all Gaskell’s main characters are believable combinations of virtues and flaws, while Rand’s are paragons of her concepts of good and evil.

Ayn Rand had divided her fictional world into rational, atheist, capitalists on one side and everyone else on the other, and definitely takes sides. Gaskell’s novel has three sides, the energetic capitalists, the cultivated old money, and the hard working poor, and tries to be fair to all three, with both praise worthy and blame worthy people in all three groups. She tries to show how the three sides could settle their differences and work well together, and that as long as they are in conflict no one will have their happy endings, while Ayn Rand just barely remembers to have workers who are more than extras in her movie.
A memoir by someone raised within the Church of Scientology, and how she eventually Blew.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

Harper Collins, 2013, 402 pages

Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, was raised as a Scientologist but left the controversial religion in 2005. In Beyond Belief, she shares her true story of life inside the upper ranks of the sect, details her experiences as a member Sea Org - the church's highest ministry - speaks of her "disconnection" from family outside of the organization, and tells the story of her ultimate escape.

In this tell-all memoir, Jenna Miscavige Hill, a prominent critic of Scientology who now helps others leave the organization, offers an insider's profile of the beliefs, rituals, and secrets of the religion that has captured the fascination of millions, including some of Hollywood's brightest stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

When you're raised in a bubble, you don't know what 'normal' looks like.

Verdict: Beyond Belief is an interesting inside look at a cult that still manages to exist, largely funded by rich celebrities like Tom Cruise. Jenna Miscavige Hill's story is not really very compelling beyond that inside look, but I'm glad she was able to tell it. For a more in-depth look at Scientology, I recommend Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion. 7/10.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: First and Fifth Editions by Edward FitzGerald

The famous translation.  It can be interesting to compare the editions' differences.

Short poems tending to love of wine, cynicism, <I>carpe diem</I> and fatalism.  Can be very beautiful.

Prince Prigio

Prince Prigio by Andrew Lang

A lightsome comic fairy tale retelling.

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Originally posted by authornwolf at Book Review: Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
Four sleuths and four alleged murderers convened at a dinner party.  None of them knew each other personally.  But, their host Mr. Shaitana knew dark secrets about the four alleged murderers.  Hours later, Mr. Shaitana was found dead with the knife left in his body. 

Each alleged murderer had a motive for making sure Mr. Shaitana kept his or her secret, making any one of them the culprit. Furthermore, each of them had an equal opportunity to murder Mr. Shaitana.  However, motive and determining who was most likely to execute the crime were irrelevant to exposing the murderer.  Instead, the four sleuths, Hercule Poirot included, had to learn who had enough gall to kill Mr. Shaitana while three other bridge players in close proximity vied for a wining hand.  Determining who bore that psychological composition required delving into the incriminating pasts of each alleged criminal.  The inquiries revealed stunning revelations, plus characteristics that made each suspect more likely to have murdered again.

Overall, the plot carries enough plot and suspense to keep readers guessing who murdered Mr. Shaitana.  More than ever, Christie explored human psychology to illustrate how crimes are committed in a similar fashion.


Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith

Hoodoo is the name of the hero -- and narrator -- of this story. He's living with his grandmother, but one day while helping his cousin Zeke at the store where he works, a stranger comes. Looking for the One That Did the Deed.
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Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey

Humanity is fleeing Earth's solar system, and the Belters don't like it.

Nemesis Games

Orbit, 2015, 544 pages

A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land-rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.

Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.

And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.

Book five of the Expanse series continues upping the ante.

Verdict: Nemesis Games is very much part of a series — you need to know what went before, and not much is tied up in this book so you'll need to read on to follow what happens next. I am still enjoying the Expanse series and following it faithfully. This wasn't my favorite book of the series, but it wasn't a let-down either. 7/10.

Also by James S.A. Corey: My reviews of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, and Cibola Burn.

My complete list of book reviews.


Imagine a Night and Imagine a Day by Sarah L. Thomson, Rob Gonsalves

Two picture books.

The text, I'm afraid, is flat-footed and too closely connected to the paintings.

However, the paintings themselves are marvels of tromp l'oeil transitions between one thing and the next. Like a sand castle -- or is it a castle? A tree house that is also a real one. . . a couple in each seemed uninspired to me, but most work well.
A victim of bullies makes friends with a vampire. People gonna die.

Let the Right One In

Thomas Dunne Books, 2004, 472 pages

Set in 1983, Let Me In is the horrific tale of Oskar and Eli. It begins with the grizzly discovery of the body of a teenage boy, emptied of blood. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last - revenge for all the bad things the bullies at school do to him, day after day.

While Oskar is fascinated by the murder, it is not the most important thing in his life. A new girl has moved in next door - a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s cube before, but who can solve it at once. They become friends. Then something more. But there is something wrong with her, something odd. And she only comes out at night....

Gory, icky, sleazy, and atmospheric.

Verdict: A very good vampire story that can hold its own with the best of Stephen King, Let the Right One In is distinctly Swedish, yet doesn't lose much in the Americanized film version. Recommended if you like vampires who are a little ambiguous, but still quite dark, and you can handle a high gore quotient. The book and both of the movies deserve to be horror classics. 9/10.

My complete list of book reviews.

Killer Within, by Jeff Gunhus

A hot FBI agent plays cat and mouse with a serial killer.

Killer Within

Thomas & Mercer, 2014, 272 pages

Serial killer Arnie Milhouse may be ready to end his thirteen-year killing spree, but he wants one last victim before leaving Annapolis - and the sexy new photographer in town promises to be his most satisfying score yet. He develops plans to seduce the mysterious Allison by luring her out to sea aboard his luxury catamaran for a secluded weekend he won't forget...and one she won't survive.

But Arnie's latest mark is more than just another pretty face. Allison McNeil has her own secret agenda, and enough insider information to connect Arnie's long string of seemingly unrelated murders. But hunting down serial killers is more than just a hobby for Allison: she's ready to face down her personal demons and take down this vicious predator once and for all.

Decent thriller with an unconvincing villain.

Verdict: Killer Within is a decent beach or airplane read, with mediocre writing and a few overly-worn cliches. 6/10.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

“The Sorrow of War” was banned by the Vietnamese government, for as far as I can tell showing the Vietnamese resistance as people instead of as action heroes. What soldiers don’t have complaints about their superior officers or doubts if it is all worth it?

It shows remarkably little of what is called here “The American War,” focusing mostly on three other periods of the main character’s life: Kien’s high school love with Phuong, his duties and disappointments immediately after the war (including removing bodies from a jungle believed to be haunted by ghosts of fallen warriors), and his struggles to write about it causing him to have the same reputation as a crazy old writer as his father had as a painter. The effect of showing us all this before showing us the war drives home the emotional costs of being in battle or just surviving bombing that show up towards the end of the novel. It also allows the author to climax the novel with the worst events.

Phuong is more idealized than Kien, which is bound to happen in a novel from his point of view. In America they would have been homecoming king and queen, but in post-WWII Vietnam they are the focus of jealousy from students and discouragement from teachers, as love is seen as a distraction from duty to Party, country, etc. Phuong wants to sleep with him before he joins the army, but Kien chickens out. When the war comes, it transforms them both into “fallen” versions of their younger selves. I put “fallen” in quotes because they were pushed; they didn’t jump.

Phuong comes across to me as too idealistic in a way I’ve seen in some American women; needing to fit relationships into their Platonic categories. Meanwhile, Kien always has trouble crossing the Rubicon. He comes right up to love but can’t quite fulfill it. He comes right up to wisdom but can’t quite apply it. He comes right up to artistic inspiration but can’t quite finish it. The book is well written enough that you feel his pain while he struggles with, and for, all three.

Galactic Patrol

Galactic Patrol by E.E. "Doc" Smith

A classic of the space opera genre, perhaps the defining type.  Originally published as a serial, which shows in its rather episodic structure.  Like overthrowing a tyrannical race when you're on run for your life with vital information. . . .

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3: The Reluctant Empress

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 3: The Reluctant Empress
3 THE RELUCTANT EMPRESS Brigitte Hamann (Germany, 1982)

A biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi (1854-1898)

I have been to both Vienna and Munich on different holidays, and each time the presence of the beautiful and mysterious empress was mentioned by museums and tour guides. Of course, there're also the cheesy movies I watched when I was a kid. I decided it was time for me to know a little more about her, beyond the myth.

This biography is fantastic. I discovered an intelligent woman who hated life at court. Prone to depression, she found solace in traveling, riding horses, an writing poetry. Moreover, her her love of Hungary and the Hungarian people strongly influenced the fateful creation of Austria-Hungary as a joint monarchy.

Hamann does a great job at acknowledging the intelligence of the Empress, as well as her tragic selfishness, and makes this biography one of the best I've read.



Playtime: A Mutts Treasury by Patrick McDonnell

Another year, another treasury.

Mooch and Earl visit a hibernating bear and a farm. And, of course, the seashore. Crabby and his wife visit a marriage counselor because he's being so considerate -- he's not the crab she married. Mooch poses as the All Known Sphinx and has his book club. Earl enjoys a kiddie pool.

The Rebirth of Wonder

The Rebirth of Wonder by Lawrence Watt-Evans

A short novel and a very unusual contemporary fantasy.
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Eight suspects gathered in a room for one last chance at confessing to the murder of Roger Ackroyd.  No one confessed.  Each of them had a motive for murder.  Some of them had placed themselves in a financial quagmire.  Some of them stood to inherit a significant sum.  One of them blackmailed the woman Mr. Ackroyd loved and was about to be exposed.  But, only one of the suspects would kill to keep a secret.

At the insistence of Flora Ackroyd, whose step-father was murdered, Hercule Poirot agreed to solve the case.  With the help of local physician, James Sheppard, Poirot uncovered shameful but useful secrets.  Moreover, Poirot proved how even supposedly insignificant details, such as time and the placement of objects helped identify a desperate killer plus solve other mysteries.

Overall, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is constantly intriguing with new revelations in each chapter.  Christie showed how common sense organized clues when solving complex mysteries.
After moving into her house at Viper’s Point, Mrs. Rachel Argyle changed the name to Sunny Point.  However, changing the name did not protect Mrs. Argyle from domestic chaos, which caused her death.  One of her adoptive sons Jacko was tried and convicted for her murder.  He died in prison.  His remaining family accepted his conviction, and tranquility prevailed at Sunny Point.

An unexpected visit from Dr. Arthur Calgary, who proved that Jacko was innocent, destroyed the complacency.  Once again, the Argyle household worried about who among them murdered their matriarch in her home office.  The turmoil even strains relations among the household, as each member has a motive for murdering Mrs. Argyle.  Some of the family have their own theories.  Some of them suspect their own relations.  Some are reluctant to divulge their suspicions.  One of them makes too many of his own inquiries.  Dr. Calgary is aware of the pain his revelation brought to the inhabitants of Sunny Point.  Yet, he remains determined to have justice served on the real murderer.  Meanwhile, Dr. Calgary is unprepared for the web of secrets; deception; ingratitude; and, bitterness at Sunny Point exposed by his inquiries.

While serving justice is a noble endeavor, the ramifications of that quest may have ramifications for those who are innocent.  Nevertheless, as Christie demonstrates, accomplishing noblest task is worthwhile for all involved.

Son of the Black Sword

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

A tale of the far future -- in high fantasy.  (indeed the far future is read between the lines.)

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Nguyen Huy Thiep

I finished reading “The General Retires,” a collection of Nguyen Huy Thiep’s short fiction. If it has any ideological theme, it would be the Buddhist idea that life is suffering. Everyone is suffering except for a few detached sages that are never the main characters, from poverty, from bullies, from inner demons, broken hearts… much like Russian literature, come to think of it.

And there isn’t any escape from suffering, no happy endings in the Western mold. You live until you die. A lot of these stories take place in the countryside or involve rural characters moving into the city, much like Nguyen himself. In one of them a city relative sends home a hunting rifle of such quality that the main character goes hunting for monkeys leading to a sequence of events that could either be horrific, funny, or both depending upon the inclination of whoever turns it into a movie.

He writes almost strictly from a male point of view in this collection, with the women as the Other, but he doesn’t write them as demons or angels, even if some of the male characters see them as such. For Thiep, they are mostly suffering, too.

The focus on rural life can give a Western reader a feeling that the stories are historical because the technology is old fashioned, but suddenly will pop up references to the modern world like Chernobyl or the wider world like a would be rapist (and all around gangster) making fun of the main character who defended the woman by comparing him to Don Quixote defending Dulcinea. That story, “The Woodcutters,” had the widest variance between what woman were, the oppressed gender, and how some men saw them, as devils. The inability to see reality for what it is could also be from Buddhist influence.

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty by Sarah Gibb

Another story retold and illustrated by Gibb.  In the pastels/silhouette form that she does.  I don't think it worked quite as well here as in Beauty and the Beast -- though perhaps I was not quite as happy with the retelling, and also I dislike little winged fairies. But still a quite respectable telling for a youngster.

Review: The Fallen Kings Cycle

Originally posted by littl3x at Review: The Fallen Kings Cycle


The Fallen Kings Cycle is a series of two books written by Gaile Z Martin. The first is titled, Sworn, which sets up the

conflict and the second is Dread, which continues the story on to its resolution.

Before I begin the general review, I must mention that Fallen Kings is a sequel to a four part series, Chronicles of the Necromancer, which I haven't read.However, Fallen Kings, read well enough to stand alone, as the background of each of the characters is thoroughly explained and the events of the previous series are given a brief overview.

The genre is Fantasy. Although I wouldn't call them high fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien, but it is epic in scope and reminiscent of the Belgarion and Codex Alera. However, the word built by Martin differs sharply. There are no elves, dwarves, halflings, or living fauna. Instead, outside of humans the only magical creatures to be found are vampires, called vayash moru, and wearwolves, called vyrkin, who can switch forms at will. There are also ghosts and living gods, who play a very important role in the story.

The plot is simple enough. After a long struggle for the Crown (which is summarized in the beginning and detailed in the Chronicles), the new Summoner-King Martris Drayke and his bride Kiara (who is also the heir apparent of her own nation) must now rebuild a broken kingdom beset by war and famine. The other nations of the Five Winter Kingdoms, their neighboring countries and allies, are also facing various disasters. In that time of weakness, a mysterious nation from across the Northern Sea decides to take advantage of the situation and attack them all at once. They must band together and form alliances to beat back the aggressors and survive.

The pros: I liked the world she made. It was cohesive and real. The Winter Kingdoms are alive, with their own cultures and histories. Some of the history we get to learn about through the narrative, and spans thousands of years. The writing itself is sophisticated and to the point. It describes the world vividly without becoming labored in the narrative.

The cons: Some of the points of the plot seemed too thickly laid. There were certain conversations which went over points already covered by other people in the book several times. The entirety of the first book is spent going on about how something is coming but no one knows exactly what except that it is probably an attack from the North.  This particular plot point is rehashed at least three times, and it wasn't the only plot point that was repeated various times. I know that she had three countries with similar phenomena and people were trying to figure it out, but she could have cut the dialogue. After all, the reader already knows all of that and would like to move on with the story.

The villains were not unmasked until the middle of the second book. We never get to know them personally, or even a description, until the very last battle, and so the climax seems shallow. The enemy generals, one who is named, are never described. As a reader who likes a good villain, I found this deeply disappointing. Especially since the perspective was written in third person. Who commanded the fleet? Was the king or queen of the kingdom bullied by the Summoner into fighting, or was the Summoner hired by an ambitious monarch? We will never know.

And then there is the improbable fact that in a world where ghosts are commonplace and where mediums are hired as prostitutes, that zombies would be a bridge too far. I'm sorry, we know we can talk to grandma but her corpse walking? Now that's completely out of the question.

But besides those minor quibbles, I found the books very entertaining. If the library ever has the Chronicles available, I will definitely been picking them up.

4 out of 5 x's


Books Read October 2015 (Books 94-106)

Below is a summary of my October reading with links to longer reviews in my journal.

Book 94: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, 2014. 323 pages. Unconventional mystery with dementia theme. Review here.
Book 95: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota, 2015. 480 pages. Story of economic migrants in England. Review here.
Book 96: The Girl in Spider's Web (Millennium Trilogy #4) by David Lagercrantz, 2015. Translated from the Swedish by George Goulding. 431 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (16 hrs, 46 mns). Read by Saul Reichlin. Continuation of acclaimed series by new author. Little hesitant though worth reading. Review here.
Book 97: Satin Island by Tom McCarthy, 2015. 173 pages. Musings of a corporate anthropologist. Review here.
Book 98: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, 2015. 304 pages. Tale of four brothers in 1990s Nigeria. Review here.
Book 99: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara , 2015. 734 pages. Relates the fortunes of four NYC room-mates. Disturbing content. Review here.
Book 100: Unnatural Issue (Elemental Masters #7) by Mercedes Lackey, 2011. 400 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (13 hrs, 19 mins). Read by Kate Reading. Set at outset of Great War and loosely based on 'Donkeyskin' and similar tales. Review here.
Book 101: Dead Weight (Lizzy Gardner #2) by T. R. Ragan, 2011. 312 pages. Second in this series featuring a kick-ass private eye.
Book 102: The Blissfully Dead (D.I. Lennon #2) by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, 2015. 418 pages Thrilling London-based police procedural. Reviews of Books 101 and 102.
Book 103: The Shattered Court (The Four Arts #1) by . J. Scott, 2015. 336 pages. Promising start to fantasy series. Review here.
Book 104: The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30) by Terry Pratchett, 2003. 404 pages. First in Tiffany Aching sequence. Review here.
Book 105: Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements, 2013. 348 pages. Unabridged Audiobook. (8 hrs, 33 mns) Read by Jane Collingwood. Brighton-based chick-lit.
Book 106: Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden #1) by Charlaine Harris, 1990. 202 pages. Early cosy mystery by Harris. Reviews of Books 105 and 106.
What makes Sarah Vowell such an interesting author, aside from her sharp, witty and sarcastic humor, is her remarkable ability to take history away from the elite, pedantic, library-like atmosphere where it is discussed in hushed and obsequious tones, and remind us that it belongs to all of us. In her most recent book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, she takes a fresh look at the 18th century French teenager who left his home in France like a grounded kid breaking curfew and traveled to the United States to become George Washington's most trusted officer and surrogate son.

It is a remarkable story that Vowell intersperses with vignettes of her own experiences researching the book, and in the process she explains to the reader the importance of the amazing young Frenchman in today's world, both in how he has been remembered and how he has been forgotten. The book chronicles Lafayette's amazing life, but it is much more than just a linear biography. It explains what was happening in the United States from the beginning to the end of the Revolution, it introduces the reader to the leading figures of the revolution, it explains some of the war's more prominent battles, and it brilliantly explores the roller-coaster like relationship between the United States and France. The book contains a myriad of interesting digressions, including the author's meeting with a Lafayette reenactor and Bruce Springsteen's connection to the Revolutionary war.

Do not mistake this book for history lite. History fun, yes. History lite, no. Vowell's meanderings actually lead somewhere. She unearths many interesting factoids than even the most ardent history reader may be unaware of. These include an interesting take by George Washington on religious tolerance in a letter to the congregation of a synagogue ("It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights... Happily the government of the United States gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.") Washington must have foreseen internet comment boards when he said "In a free and republican government you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or more properly without thinking".

If you like to read history, like intelligent writing, but also like your reading to be fun, Sarah Vowell hits the trifecta with her latest book. This was both a pleasure and a treasure to read and I highly recommend it.

The Consolation of Philosophy

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

An old book. Boethius, in prison, writes a dialogue with Philosophy, in which she recounts to him the many consolations that reflection and philosophy can bring him. For instance, his losses are not of goods of his own, but of Fortune's, and it would be better to remember they aren't his all the time, for otherwise he will suffer when Fortune is changeable and so changes.

Meditations on Middle Earth

Meditations on Middle Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien by Karen Haber

A series of essays on Tolkien.

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Looking for some adventure story recs?

One of my favourite books has always been Treasure Island. I love the thrill of the adventure that Jim Hawkins has with another amazing character in Long John Silver. Since reading Treasure Island I've gone on to read Kidnapped and Catriona both by Robert Louis Stevenson and really enjoyed them.
I'm also a big fan of Tolkien.
I also recently read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AVI which re-sparked by love of a good adventure and was wondering if anyone could recommend me some adventure fiction.

Thank you.

The Treason of Isengard

The Treason of Isengard by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien

The continuing analysis of the writing process.

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As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying by G.K. Chesterton

A collection of his essays.   Rather random at that.  Advice about writing mysteries, or as they were termed, shockers. Discussion of wedding ceremonies. Metaphors. Silly language in newspapers.

Can be a surprise when an essay is easily dated by its topical references to politics -- this was published in the 1930s.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, where she ministers to many of those marginalized by society. She is also heavily tattooed, uses profanity liberally, weight trains and is a recovering alcoholic and a former stand-up comedian. In short, she's not your parents' preacher and there is nothing stereotypical about her. In Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, she uses her own life experiences, both personally, and through the members of her congregation, to demonstrate the relevance of Christian teaching in the lives of ordinary people today. In a wonderful story-telling style, she explains how many people have it all wrong in what they imagine the purpose of a spiritual connection to be. The goal isn't to make everyone become perfect people, but rather to find connection, purpose and meaning in their lives while accepting and embracing the fact that we're all flawed imperfect beings. In an age when cable channels are full of showy preachers telling their audience to lead more perfect lives or face damnation, her message is a nice change.

Bolz-Weber introduces us to a number of people in her life who encounter a multitude of life's most challenging situations that would test the patience of any saint. These include parishioners with terminal illness, complete strangers who have lost children to suicide, children struggling with cutting and other issues, victims of gun violence, and even members of the clergy fighting their own demons. Bolz-Weber shows how many of these people are able to learn and live the message of forgiveness, grace and love and to rise from the ashes of their loss, misery and imperfection. But what is even more fascinating is how, for her, these people are tremendous teachers of lessons in life and in how to minister to the afflicted. It is very educational to see how the minister is herself affected, and how her humanity and her own imperfections frequently turn weakness into strength.

Those with a bias against organized religion may initially experience some resistance with this book. Bolz-Weber makes it clear that she doesn't care what people believe, or even if they believe, and her attitude in this regard will help make this book more appealing to those who are put off by its "churchy-ness." Bolz-Webber is a devout Lutheran but not a practicing guilt tripper. Whether one is a member of a Christian church, a non-practicing believer, or a compassionate agnostic, it's hard not to be moved by many of the stories that the author shares about the people who are flawed, imperfect individuals who manage to confront their challenges with unanticipated strength and grace. In the process they also help their pastor to overcome her own imperfections and character defects and become a better person.

Have a box of tissue handy when you read this book and prepare for waterworks. This book is sweet, thought-provoking, funny and moving. And if you're on any sort of spiritual journey of your own, it will also be educational and self-affirming.


SandRider by Angie Sage

The next book in the Todhunter series.  So to speak.  Tod herself does not appear for quite a bit.  Indeed, in the first portion, the returning characters are the evil wizard, and Spit Fyre.

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Spinning Starlight

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis

Liddi is home alone when, owing to not following her usual schedule, she realizes that armed men are breaking into the mansion.  She flees.  And learns that her eight older brothers, all extraordinary inventors, can not be contacted, and have not been in contact for several days.

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Impure Blood

Impure Blood by Nadja Baer and Nathan Lueth. Volumes 1, 2, and 3

Compendiums of the webcomic.

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The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

A very proper English butler reminisces, belatedly.

The Remains of the Day

Faber & Faber, 1988, 245 pages

The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world in postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving "a great gentleman". But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington's "greatness" and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

He is the very model of a modern majordomo.
Verdict: Exquisitely written and as English as English can be, Remains of the Day won the Man Booker Prize in 1989. Beneath the surface of this polite little period piece about a fading world of English manor houses is a complex character drama and a moral fable. 9/10.

Also by Kazuo Ishiguro: My review of Never Let Me Go.

My complete list of book reviews.
The great thing about reading history written in the exceptionally enjoyable style of author David Pietrusza is that we the readers learn so many things that we didn't know before. This is certainly the case in Pietrusza's latest work 1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR in which Pietrusza traces the background of the two men who would be most prominent during the second world war, culminating in an in depth accounting of the year 1932, one which would lead to both men attaining the presidency (in Hitler's case the Reich Chancellery) of their respective nations.

It was a time when, as reporter Dorothy Thompson had observed, "post-war Europe was finished and pre-war Europe had begun." Ditto for America, Pietrusza adds. It is a fascinating time for historians to study, but it must have been a very stressful and frightening time for those who had to endure it. In Germany, citizens were living through the aftermath of the first great war, and the devastating economic results not only of the war, but also of the Treaty of Versailles and the nation's reparation obligations. It was a time when politics were a mess, much more so than typically. Political allegiances were splintered along the political spectrum like light through a prism as hopelessness and despair caused the disenchanted masses to turn to whatever political direction suggested rescue from their fears. Fascism had taken root in Italy. It was a time when political strife meant more than just angry words and insults, as violence became commonplace within many political movements. Angry Germans looked for a target for their rage and many found one in the wealthy Jewish class. Through it all, octogenarian Chancellor Paul Hindenburg struggled to keep the country from crashing down on itself. Pietrusza generally has a remarkable ability to provide the reader with an understanding of complicated historical situations, and he very capably explains how Adolph Hitler, an Austrian-born misfit came to become a powerful Svengali-like figure to the masses and ultimately one of history's greatest monsters.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the prosperity of the 1920s gave way to the Great Depression as economic catastrophe struck the nation. Through it all, President Herbert Hoover transformed from the Great Humanitarian and the Great Engineer to a man out of his depth both in tending to the nation's ills, and in instilling confidence in and empathizing with an embattled people. Once again Pietrusza provides the reader with an understanding of how, against all odds, polio-stricken Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man seen by many as a political lightweight, rose to prominence and popularity to capture the support of his party and ultimately the presidency.

Normally Pietrusza is able to ingest a fair amount of levity and amusement into his books, but this task is much more challenging, given the subject matter of this book. It must have been a mentally exhaustive exercise for the author to research and write this book, especially given the volume of treachery and human misery that is part and parcel of the Nazi rise to power, not to mention the struggle for those living through the depression. The author continues to draw from his well-stocked cupboards of things most people didn't know before and many of these are strewn throughout this book. These include Winston Churchill's presence in New York at the time of the stock market crash, Hitler's disturbing relationship with his teenage niece (and her subsequent suicide), the animosity between FDR and Al Smith, Hoover's authorization of a Watergate-like break in of Democratic headquarters, and Eleanor Roosevelt's close relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. I found his description of the 1932 bonus march incident especially interesting, and much more considered than usual accounts which generally place the blame on General Douglas MacArthur. Not so fast, says the author.

Knowing how well Pietrusza writes and how good his previous year-in-review themed books have been (1920: The Year of Six Presidents, 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America and 1960 - LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies), the bar was set quite high for the author by those of us who awaited the release of this book. But the author once again lives up to his exemplary standards. In his latest work, David Pietrusza yet again displays his ability to analyze, distill, explain and supplement history's most fascinating years and its most fascinating personalities, and in the process he gives those of us who love to read history another excellent and enjoyable literary experience.

To paraphrase the myopic cartoon character Mr. Magoo, "David Pietrusza, you've done it again!"

2: Life During Wartime

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 2: Life During Wartime
2 LIFE DURING WARTIME Lucius Shepard (US, 1986)

Soldier David Mingolla is stuck in the Guatemalan jungle, at the center of a complex war.

Like many other Sci-Fi novels of the 80s, Life during Wartime is inspired by the Vietnam War.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sheperd's writing, and from a stylistic point of view, the confusion in which he throws his reader. This is typically the kind of Sci-Fi I'm interested in, less concerned with technical details and world building, and more focused on human psychology.

Unfortumately, Shepard lost me early on in the novel, and I found myself keeping reading more for the style and the atmosphere, than the story I failed to understand. The complexities of the war simply proved too intricate for me.


Morphology of the Folktale

Morphology of the Folktale by Vladimir Propp

An incredibly academic analysis of fairy tales.  If you're not merely interested in fairy tales but also variants and things like that, you are very likely to like it.

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Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade

Nicole Galland’s “Crossed” is a well-researched novel with an unlikely main character. It begins in 1202, but the hero is annoyed at everything in that time we would be, so obviously is annoyed rather a lot. It gets, well, annoying.

Fortunately the more historically valid characters are interesting as people try making moral/self-interested/honorable decisions within a 13th Century Christian context. Those three goals really are the stars by which each character attempts to triangulate their decisions. By moral I mean following the teachings of Christian and by honorable I mean living up to the Germanic warrior code. Self-interested is rather self-explanatory, but there are political and economic versions of it.

The entire Crusade is famously derailed by the need to pay the merchants of Venice for use of their ships, getting side tracked into fighting Venice’s battles against other Christians for them. Not a single Muslim is harmed in the prosecution of this Crusade, but Constantinople is sacked.

So if you can put up with the main character long enough, the book pays off as you get more interested in everyone else.

1: Dublin

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 1: Dublin
1 DUBLIN Edward Rutherford (England, 2003)
(Also published as THE PRINCES OF IRELAND)

This is the  first installment in Rutherford's Dublin Saga.

Spanning across centuries, Dublin tells the story of early Irish history, from the High Kings to the beginning of England's tragic meddling in the island's affairs.

This book - along with London by the same author - was given to me for my birthday before I moved to Ireland.
This was my first time reading a Rutherford, but I can tell he puts a lot of reasearch into a book. The writing is very simple and straightforward, nothing special, but the stories are valuable history lessons. I particularly enjoyed the focus on religion, its developments and changes.
Rutherford demonstrates an excellent understanding of Celtic mythology, which he uses in a more historically plausible manner throughout the book.
I definitely look forward to reading more his books.


To Set a Watchman

I hadn’t intended to read what will probably be remembered as Harper Lee’s other novel, but Dad had a copy so what the heck.

I think once the dust has settled, “Go Set a Watchman” will be seen as an interesting book from an anthropological stance, a way of looking into the mindset of intellectual American Southerners in a particular time of history.

The structure is interesting. The author divided it into various parts but there really are only three: making the main characters likeable, giving you good reasons not to like most of them, and then trying to explain why you should like them anyway. The third part failed to be as convincing as Lee apparently intended (having been warned of the dubious parts about race issues, the most shocking part for me was when Scout was slapped by her uncle and Lee seemed to think that would bring her heroine around; nothing like adding a measured dose of male dominance to a novel about race), but the first two were an interesting illustration of how a person could react to having illusions about family and community ripped away. Scout had never realized what a bubble she had lived in, a bubble created by Atticus and we all know about from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That was, for me the realistic part of the novel.

We just didn’t know that Atticus would be fighting a two front war, one against individual acts of racism and one against the expansion of federal powers intended to push back systematic racism. Today Atticus might have been one of the conservatives who would vote for Colin Powell or Ben Carson for President and yet be against policies that would help more African Americans achieve their success.

I did feel a little sorry for Hank Clinton. He was right on one important point: in such a narrow minded town it really would have been career suicide for someone of his precarious social position to stand up for civil rights. What Hank didn’t realize, or apparently Lee, was that it only proved all the more that his neighbors were wrong. What Hank sees as justification for his actions is really further condemnation of his society.

So really for me, the benefit of reading “Go Set a Watchman” is as a study in moral and intellectual compromises. We all make them, and many times when we live in them it is like navigating a foggy night. Just earlier this week I was called a hypocrite because I wrote on the Internet that I was more comfortable in a Confucian/Taoist culture than a capitalist/Christian culture. I did like living in China where spending more money on books than beer made me ‘cool’ (to the graduate students who were the majority of my friends, anyway) and family values is really about family and not code for being against gay rights, yet the advantages and disadvantages of capitalism are ever present; the publishing houses that sell us trash also sell us books condemning the trash. I was posting my mild criticism of capitalism on Facebook. You can’t out run capitalism, you have to compromise with it, which can be compromising.
Historians and life partners David and Jeanne Heidler explore what it must have been like for George Washington to form the first national government in their 2015 work Washington's Circle: The Creation of the President. Central to their analysis is an intimate examination of the many relationships between the reserved and poker-faced first President and the men (and women) that he came to rely on as cabinet members, friends and confidants. The authors explore both the relationships between Washington and his "circle" and how Washington weathered political storms, challenges, betrayals and public criticisms as he steered the ship of state through uncharted waters.

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While this book focuses primarily on Washington's two terms as his nation's first president, the authors also furnish a portrait of their central subject's life prior and subsequent to his presidency. They illustrate how Washington's ability as a strong decision maker was influenced first by gathering a wealth of opinion, information and advice from those he relied on. These included the members of his cabinet, former fellow soldiers, influential members of Congress and later on his Vice-President, John Adams. But as the authors ably show, these were not fixed relationships. They evolved over time in their degree of trust and loyalty. Washington was confronted by divided opinions within his circle of advisors on such issues as neutrality vs. ties to either France or England, support or contempt for the French Revolution, a strong central government vs. states rights, how best to handle resistance to revenue collection, and the ultimate creation of political parties. Amid these challenges, Washington also faced very human issues such as health problems, family issues, sensitivity to criticism and a longing to return to his home in Mount Vernon. The authors do an excellent job of dissecting how Washington endured all of these challenges.

As interesting as Washington are the cast of supporting characters in his circle of influence. These include Vice-President John Adams, members of the first Cabinet: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox and Attorney-General Edmund Randolph. Each of these persons have interesting biographies and personalities in themselves and each conducted themselves in differing ways amid the growing pains of a new nation. The authors also explore Washington's relationship with other fascinating characters such as James Madison, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris and the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington's relationships with those closer to home are also explored, including his aide Tobias Lear, members of his family and his friend and frequent correspondent Eliza Powel. In the course of dissecting these complex connections, the authors dispel the myth that Washington was a lone wolf, and show how much of his strength came from the fact that he had such a diverse circle of those he relied on.

At times it seems that the authors take too great liberties in their speculation as to what was in Washington's mind, especially given what we are told about the stoic nature of the man. They can be forgiven for this, given the degree of research that they have undertaken, as well as their lack of any personal agenda. Often people attempt to mold Washington into someone who matches their own ideology. These authors do not appear to have any such hidden intent. What comes through in the book is their sincere desire to understand the man, both in their capacity as scholars and as persons whose gratitude for all that Washington was able to accomplish is apparent. Their passion never seems to overcome their sense of fairness and objectivity and they succeed as best as 21st century historians can in showing us what it must have been like to be around George Washington and to be George Washington as he guided a new nation through unprecedented and dangerous times.

Ronin Games

Ronin Games by Marion G. Harmon

The continuing adventures of Hope Corrigan, the superheroine known as Astra.
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Books Read September 2015 (Books 85-93)

Below is a summary of my September reading with links to longer reviews in my journal. I have held one review back awaiting a reading group meeting.

Book 85: A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, 2015. 395 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (16 hrs, 29 mins) Read by Alex Jennings. A companion piece to her Life After Life. Review here.
Book 86: The Congregation (Jake and Amanda Bannon #2) by Desiree Bombenon, 2015.262 pages. An improvement on the first in this mystery series. Review here.
Book 87: Abducted (Lizzy Gardner #1) by T. R. Ragan, 2011. 382 pages. Fast paced crime thriller. Review here.
Book 88: Reserved for the Cat (Elemental Masters #6) by Mercedes Lackey. 2007. 400 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (10 hrs, 44 mins). Read by Mirabai Galashan. Loosely based on Puss-in-Boots. Review here.
Book 89: The Scam (Fox and O'Hare #4) by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, 2015. 304 pages. Latest in this fun crime caper series. Review here.
Book 90: Arcadia by Iain Pears, 2015. 608 pages. Amazing novel that combines several genres. Review here.
Book 91: The Ape Who Guards the Balance (Amelia Peabody #10) by Elizabeth Peters, 1998. 578 pages. Unabridged Audio (15 hrs, 12 mins). Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. More excitement in Egypt for Amelia and associates. Review here.
Book 92: My Name is N by Robert Karjel, 2010. Translated from the Swedish by Nancy Pick and Robert Karjel, 2015. 352 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (10 hrs, 35 mns). Read by William Hope.
Outstanding political thriller. Review here.
Book 93: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, 2014. 704 pages. Fictional account of the 1976 attempted murder of Bob Marley and its aftermath. Review here.

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