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The Elementals, by Michael McDowell

A creepy Southern Gothic haunted house story from the golden age of horror.

The Elementals

Avon Books, 1981, 292 pages

After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama's Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses loom over the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several terrible and unexplained deaths years earlier - and is now ready to kill again....

A haunted house story unlike any other, Michael McDowell's The Elementals (1981) was one of the finest novels to come out of the horror publishing explosion of the 1970s and '80s. Though best known for his screenplays for Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, McDowell is now being rediscovered as one of the best modern horror writers and a master of Southern Gothic literature.

Another house that's gonna get ya.

My complete list of book reviews.
Perhaps Michael Lewis's greatest strength as an author is his ability to tell the reader something he or she doesn't know and would never guess. He finds his gems of intellectual curiosities in the most unexpected places, whether it be in sabermetrics, high frequency trading or the most vulnerable spot in a football team's offensive line. In his most recent work, The Fifth Risk, Lewis looks at a number of underappreciated departments and agencies in the United States Federal Government, and the disastrous consequences that might flow from the current administration's inability to appreciate the value of these offices.

The issue Lewis explores is not an ideological one. It is not one of right vs. left, conservatives vs. liberals or Republicans vs. Democrats. Rather, the divergence is between those in government service who are there for some noble purpose that looks out for the greater good, and those in powerful economic positions whose primary concern is self-interest and making as much money as possible. As the author states more succinctly, the struggle is "between the people who are in it for the mission and the people who are in it for the money."

One might think that a book about the inner workings of the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) might be a snoozefest, but this is not the case when the story teller is Michael Lewis. Lewis goes from the macro to the micro as he describes the lives of a number of brilliant civil servants, each devoted to a greater purpose beyond their own career or financial enrichment. He uses their experience and vision to show how the much maligned and underappreciated civil service works to better the lives of many Americans caught in the undertow of the growing gap between rich and poor.

For example, many think of the Department of Agriculture as being concerned only with farms and farmers. But it also oversees the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches, and provides weather and other information which provides information to grow crops optimally. Lewis explores how the Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly and how census and other data collected by the government in tremendously valuable in all sorts of scientific advancements. The Commerce Department is also responsible for the NOAA, whose advances in weather tracking have saved the lives of those who live in regions affected by tornadoes and other hostile weather phenomena. Public sharing of that information is now being threatened by those in the private sector who want to make money charging for weather information gathered at taxpayers' expense, rather than making this information freely available, and who have the political connections to make this happen. Lewis notes that since the new administration has taken over, mountains of data previously available to the public on government websites, has been removed and how those in tornado zones and other at-risk regions are now in greater danger because of the influence of private sector weather services having influence with the new government so as to make such information available, but only for a fee.

Many think of the Department of Energy as being only concerned with oil. But as Lewis points out, this is a minor part of that department's responsibility. Government funding from that department, and not private lenders, has financed many of the greatest technological advancements of our generation and has done so profitably. That funding is now at risk and Lewis warns that this may stifle creativity in technological advancement. The Department of Energy also manages international nuclear risk as well as cleanup of nuclear waste at home. Cuts to the department will mean that there will probably not be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do, or to head off future problems from past nuclear development, all because private sector interests are demanding less government regulation. Lewis notes an overall effort to purge from government any acknowledgement of the risks of climate change and global warming.

Lewis provides an eye-opening account of the dangers of an inadequate transition of government, as well as from some of the short-sighted and selfishly-motivated policies and appointments made by the Trump administration. This book offers a valuable education about some of the unknown and unappreciated risks that flow from disrespect and contempt for science and data analysis. The author's telling the stories of the lives and passions of individual public servants concerned about these issues puts a human face on the points he is trying to make.

The book's only failing is in its lack of an epilogue or summary to tie these stories together and underscore the warnings that Lewis is giving. In spite of this, The Fifth Risk packs a lot in a concise (219 pages) package. It is told in the author's enjoyable conversational style, like listening to a friend over a cup of coffee. In the process, he makes it clear that there is much to be lost if the trend continues to allow science and information gathering and analysis to be suppressed in favor of the interests of privileged private sector greed.

The Idea of the Labyrinth

The Idea of the Labyrinth: from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages by Penelope Reed Doob

An analysis not so much of labyrinths -- though she discusses the ancient treatment of them -- as what was thought about them. For instance, a labyrinth can be a symbol of marvelous artistry, or even of creation itself. On the other hand, it can be an inextricable condition -- invariably a symbol of something bad, such as sin or error (which, in its original meaning was "wandering astray"). Or again, it can be an impenetrable condition -- usually bad, sometimes good, as a symbol of learning and so finally arriving at the center.

Some of the comparisons seem a bit strained, but it's full of interesting stuff.

A Soldier of Poloda, by Lee Strong

An authorized sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs' planetary romance, Beyond the Farthest Star.

A Soldier of Poloda

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., 2017, 326 pages

Like fellow Earthman, Tangor from the story Beyond the Farthest Star, American OSS officer Thomas Randolph is mysteriously teleported to a foreign planet where he lands in the center of a 100-year war that mirrors the Allied Powers’ struggle against Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.

Unlike Tangor, Randolph – now Tomas Ran – finds himself behind enemy lines where he gains a first-hand view of the inner workings of the corrupt Kapar empire. Will Tomas, using his OSS skills, be able to devise a plan to escape with the beautiful Unisan prisoner, Loris Kiri, that will allow them to join her countrymen in their struggle against the Kapars?

American novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs debuted the world of Poloda in the pulp story Beyond the Farthest Star in 1940 just as Hitler’s Nazis marched across Europe and the Imperial Japanese extended their reach across the South Pacific. Burroughs’ youthful idealism regarding the nobility of America’s previous war efforts had given way to a mature perspective of the savagery of combat that stains every battlefield. Burroughs’ deeply-held views are reflected in this tale about a planet ravaged by 100 years of conflict as the nation of Unis devotes its entire existence to the struggle of freedom against tyranny.

Author Lee Strong created this second adventure on the planet Poloda, which lies beyond the Globular Cluster NGC 7006 ‘ 450,000 light years away from earth. Join Tomas Ran as he explores Poloda, battles Kapars, and finds love Beyond the Farthest Star.

Pulpy adventure that shows its (imitated) age.

My complete list of book reviews.

Somewhere in the Night

Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City by Nicholas Christopher

More a lyric discussion than serious analysis, with personal opinion freely mixed -- discussion of all sorts of elements of film noir from the lighting to the use of money, to the labyrinthine cities. Femmes fatale, millionaires, boxers, vets, and other characters. Crime, generally organized. The use of color when it came in.
The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring by Ruth Sanderson

A retelling of a classic fairy tale, if less known nowadays, with a few tweaks.  Alexi acquires a magical golden horse who gives him good advice, but the tsar resents the only Alexi can ride her.  When Alexi finds a firebird's feather and gives the tsar it, the tsar starts with demanding the firebird itself.

Gloriously illustrated.
A fictionalized autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

I, Claudius

1934, 468 pages

Here is one of the best historical novels ever written. Lame, stammering Claudius, once a major embarrassment to the imperial family and now emperor of Rome, writes an eyewitness account of the reign of the first four Caesars: the noble Augustus and his cunning wife, Livia; the reptilian Tiberius; the monstrous Caligula; and finally old Claudius himself and his wife, Messalina. Filled with poisonings, betrayal, and shocking excesses, I Claudius is history that rivals the most exciting contemporary fiction.

Falling between Caligula and Nero, how could he not look good by contrast?

My complete list of book reviews.
Renowned author Doris Kearns Goodwin has written best-selling biographies of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, the last-named of which she worked for and helped to write his autobiography. In her most recent work Leadership in Turbulent Times, she compares and contrasts the leadership qualities and styles of the four iconic chief executives, in a comprehensive examination of how each of the four prepared for and confronted the challenges that each were faced with as president and how each developed and implemented his vision of a better America as president.

The book is divided into three sections which contain alternating chapters on each of the four in chronological order of their presidencies. The first section, entitled "Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership" looks at the paths each of the four men took to rise to positions of leadership, in some cases from humble beginnings, in others aided by wealth and family connections. In the second section "Adversity and Growth", she examines the early political career of her four subjects and how each overcame some personal challenge to rise to national prominence. In Lincoln's case it was his rise from poverty and his struggles with depression. Theodore Roosevelt overcame poor health as a child and the deaths of his beloved mother and his wife on the same day. A formerly robust Franklin Roosevelt was stricken with polio at a time when it was presumed that a "cripple" had no political future. For Johnson, the author concedes that some of the challenges were less daunting (a loss in a senate race) but she examines how this and a subsequent heart attack subjectively presented formidable obstacles for the ambitious Texan.

The third section of the book details how each confronted the challenging issues of their times and examines some of the qualities that each possessed in order to face those challenges. The challenges are especially apparent in the cases of Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt who came into office at a time when the nation was in big trouble (secession in Lincoln's case, the Great Depression for FDR) while for TR and Johnson, leadership was a matter of implementing their respective visions of a better life for those less fortunate in their nation. For Theodore Roosevelt, Goodwin examines his expansion of the powers of the presidency as a means of caring for the working class and for the less fortunate through his "Square Deal" while Johnson achieved considerable progress in the advancement of civil rights and in bringing about his vision of the "Great Society." The book concludes with an epilogue which examines the final days of the four, two of whom died in office and two who had different forms of "retirement."

It is apparent that Goodwin is closest to Johnson and she references her time working for him. She presents as fair in her assessment of her former boss, giving praise for his skillful handling of Congress in bringing about long-overdue progress in the field of civil rights, and criticism for his failure in Vietnam.

For those who had read the author's previous works, this will be a refresher, focusing on the most interesting parts of these subjects' lives. For those who have not read Team of Rivals, the Bully Pulpit, No Ordinary Time, or Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, this book provides an excellent encapsulation of four unique figures in American history. What many may find lacking is a summary of the important leadership qualities that can be wrung from these lives, although these lessons are there to be found by the discerning reader and student of history.

Murder Most Foul

Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination by Karen Halttunen

A study of the change in literature from the Puritan execution sermons -- which treated it as extreme sin, but nevertheless the logical outgrowth of habitual sins that just about everyone has, and downplayed both the crime itself and the immediate motive -- to the Gothic treatment, which went far more into individual motives, the gory and morbid details of the crime, and the treatment of murderers as alien monsters.  Various themes, such as murder within familes.


Revision by Kit Reed

A how-to-write book.

Some encouragement to revise. Some techniques to use, from the first draft through the sorts of questions, style, dialog, story structure. Chiefly aimed at the very beginning author, I think.

Little Red Rodent Hood

Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon

The return of Princess Harriet!  Wielding her sword, saving the day, sometimes even listening to her friend Prince Wilbur's good advice!

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The Making of a Counter Culture

The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition by Theodore Roszak

Half way between primary source and secondary source -- written in the 1960s, but by a professor.

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Creating Characters

Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain

All sorts of useful techniques.  Working back from events to suitable character.  The difference between motives and purposes, and the need for them.  Humor.  Background.  And more

The Biograph Girl by William J. Mann

More than 95% of what i read is fiction, mostly mysteries & sci-fi, the non-fiction included behind the scenes of tv shows & movies as well as biographies. Not sure if that includes my textbooks from school. Some of those might have been fictitious, or at least somewhat confused.
I find that I prefer some mix of fiction in with the fact, historical fiction; the Phillipa Gregory Tutor series & the like. that's what drew me to this novel. There was an actual "biograph girl" Florence Lawrence who was the first female movie star & one of the first victims of movie star fame as well. When after being away from the movies for a few years, she found parts hard to come by. Reduced to being an extra at MGM, she killed herself at the age of 52.
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Bob Woodward is an iconic investigative journalist and associate editor with the Washington Post who became famous for his 1974 expose of the Nixon White House entitled All the President's Men (co-authored with his friend and colleague Carl Bernstein), which detailed their investigative reporting which broke the Watergate scandal and led to the downfall of a President. In the intervening years he had written many other best-selling books about Presidents and their administrations. In his new best-seller Fear: Trump in the White House, Woodward once again utilizes his ability to amass an impressive array of sources to give the reader a front-row seat to the most private and intimate policy discussions between the President and his senior advisers and cabinet members, discussions so frank that it is as if Woodward had the Oval Office bugged. The book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews had with senior members of the White House Staff.

As many might expect, Woodward portrays an unflattering picture of the 45th President as someone who is impulsive, narcissistic, and disorganized, having a short attention-span, and who is unwilling to share the limelight or admit mistakes. The book maintains that on many occasions, subordinates sabotage Trump's impulsive decisions, ones which lack consideration of their long-term negative implications. This is not to suggest that the book is at its core motivated by "anti-Trump" considerations. There are a number of areas in which Woodward is actually supportive of the President, for example in his criticism of former FBI Director James Comey for his clumsy effort to intimidate Trump in a J. Edgar Hoover-like manner over an incident alleging activities with Russian prostitutes that is likely a made-up story. Woodward's sources also suggest that the President and his lawyers have been extremely forthcoming in providing information to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in his investigation of the Trump White House. He is unable to locate any credible evidence of wrongdoing on the the part of the President in connection with alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Many of the positions taken by Trump are ones which might otherwise be supportable, if not for the President's personality. They are at least concerning issues on which reasonable people can hold opposing views. For example, according to Woodward, the President would like to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and other venues around the world and end American's role as the world's policeman. On this he is at odds with his generals and national security advisors who warn that doing so would make the nation unsafe. In the age old historic battle of protectionism vs. free trade, Trump is against the globalist perspective, while all but a few of his economic advisers strongly disagree. It is ironic that many of the people who mobilize protests against the president likely share many of his opinions on many of these issues.

Woodward takes Trump to task for some of his more indefensible positions and actions, such as his refusal to refute his criticism of both white supremacists at Charlottesville, as well as those who protested their activities (in which Trump said that both were equally at fault). He also calls out the President for his recklessness in courting nuclear war by his childish twitter war with North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un.

This book, like many other Woodward offerings, is amazing for its rich supply of source information. A number of private discussions between the president and his chiefs of staff, leading cabinet members and cabinet level officials, and top military advisers are described in conversational detail. Featuring prominently in the book are former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, former economic adviser Gary Cohn, lawyer John Dowd and Senator Lindsay Graham. It is especially astounding that somehow Woodward has access to solicitor-client discussions between Trump and his lawyers, which if accurate (and Woodward assures us that they are), raise questions about potential and serious breaches of lawyer-client confidentiality. The detail provided in the book about meetings on national security issues are also concerning in that if this level of detail is accessible to reporters, what secrets are kept from foreign governments?

Writing a book about perhaps the most polarizing president in history makes objectivity an impossible task. Trump supporters are apt to write off any criticism as "fake news" while Trump haters are out for blood and likely to magnify any transgressions or flaws, rather than see them in their proper perspective. For the reader interested in seeing current events through as future history (and therefore concerned about the absence of bias or agenda on the part of the narrator), Woodward comes as close as possible to presenting an objective picture of life in the White House. He gives the reader a good sense of what is overblown and what we should be concerned about. In this day and age of twitter wars and cyber-incivility, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment.

2,000 to 10,000

2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron

Aaron with potentially useful tips on writing.  How to write faster in particular.  Editing.  Idea development.  And the lack of the writer police.

Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

Very big important literary author writes 800 pages about penises.

Gravity's Rainbow

Penguin, 1973, 776 pages

Winner of the 1973 National Book Award, Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the 20th century as Joyce's Ulysses was to the first. Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force.

So much penis. And excrement. And drugs. And penis. Lots of penis.

Also by Thomas Pynchon: My reviews of The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Tale of Tsar Saltan

The Tale of Tsar Saltan by Alexander Pushkin, illustrated by Gennady Spirin

A classic fairy tale of a tsar who marries a young woman after overhearing what she and her sisters would do if they married him.  And the resulting jealousy of her sisters, for a tale involving a swan, a barrel, a hawk, a gnat, and more.

Good illustrations.

Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime

Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes

The third book in the Russia series. More history than the Old Regime, more study of society than Revolution. Covers the period from the Civil Wars to the death of Lenin. The problem of culture -- the "proletarian" writers who actively suppressed all others in the name of Revolution and produced no work that survives. The anti-religious movement -- the confiscation of consecrated vessels from the Russian Orthodox Church on the pretext of feeding the hungry -- the Jewish Communists attacking Judaism with particular fervor, such that non-Jewish Communists were told to emulate them in attack Christianity (without the desired effect of making the Orthodox think that they were not particularly anti-Orthodox). Famine. Comparisons with Fascism and Nazism. And more.

Mage Fall

Mage Fall by Jonathan Moeller

Cloak Games book 12. And The End. Serious spoilers ahead.

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The Passion Conversation

I realized I had some old reviews on a thumb drive and here's one from the business book library at work.

A big issue for small and big businesses alike is marketing and The Passion Conversation is a breezy course in word of mouth marketing. To be honest, it seems like most of the business books I have read and reviewed are breezy in some way - the books seem to serve some sort of marketing purpose for the company behind them - but they all have their gems that you are free to choose or reject.

Word of mouth marketing is a powerful and cheap tool that any individual or organization can use to market their services online or offline. You probably know people who are so enthusiastic about something that they can go on and on about it or that you go to when you need advice. These sorts of people have tipped the scale from being a consumer to an advocate and you will want to find or create them. The book uses a few examples to illustrate how that we when we love something or hate something, we share our experience with others. I was surprised to read that people share offline differently than when they share online - they have different reasons. Sharing offline is far more engaging because of tones and gestures. I remember the time my friend's enthusiasm for a cold laminator was so infectious that I almost bought one myself :-D When I had a bad customer service experience with Dream Payments, a now defunct mobile point of sale system, I told all my arty friends and littered the web with reviews :-D When I purchased the new Square reader from Staples, I even told the cashier about the lousy experience. "That's my free advice, anyway!" I said.

One can use The Passion Conversation with co-workers or any type of group where you are trying to reach consensus. After all, your co-workers are your internal customers. If you don’t love people, if you don't love what they do or what drives them, you won't get very far.

The book is rounded out with several before and after stories and how the company was able to grow or change. The company that wrote the book and facilitated the change is called Brains on Fire, which shouldn't be confused with the movie, Brain on Fire :-D

The Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes

His second Russian book. after Russia Under the Old Regime.

This is a history book. Where as Old Regime included some historical data about causes and changes, but was chiefly about Russian social structure, this is about the events, from 1905 to 1917, that formed and shaped the Russian Revolution, through World War I and to the murder of the Imperial family. All sorts of things from the "dry terror" whereby any dissent was driven out of intelligentsia circles before the Revoultion to the Bolshevists informing the United States as they asked for aid that they would go on agitating to overthrow the government, to the way the lie of "War Communism" was touted only when it was clear that their efforts had failed, and they tried to blame it on the war effort.

The Fall of Gondolin

The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien

I don't think this is as good as Beren and Luthien. This is not so much a flaw in the compilation as a lack in the original material. His last stab at the story was the most dramatic, but stopped when Tuor reached Gondolin.

Kings and Wizards

Kings and Wizards by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio

Book 4 of The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne. Do not try this one alone without the earlier books -- though they do give the account of what has gone before and the character list

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After leaving the Presidency in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt was gone but never forgotten in the world of Presidential politics. Even after his failed bid for re-election as President in 1912, first as a Republican, and, after failing to secure his former party's nomination, as a third-party Progressive or "Bull Moose" party candidate, being politically irrelevant was not in Roosevelt's DNA. Though his name was never on a ballot for president after that, the years between the election of Woodrow Wilson as President and Roosevelt's death in 1919 were some of the most eventful of his life. In his usual delightfully inimitable manner of making history even more interesting, outstanding author David Pietrusza once again allows the reader a front row seat to fascinating times in his excellent new book TR's Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, the Great War and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy.

The last stanza of Roosevelt's life was as energized, as exhilarating and as fast-paced as any in the life of the man from Oyster Bay. A Great War had began in Europe and across the Atlantic, Americans were divided on what to make of this epic conflict. Those with ties to the British and other allied nations called for America to come their aid, especially as German U-boats began sinking passenger liners and merchant ships with resulting American casualties. Others preached pacifism, isolationism, and in the case of the vast German-American and Irish-American populations (or the "hyphenated-Americans" as Roosevelt called them), hostility to the Allied powers. Allied nations lobbied Americans for support, while Germany concocted ways to keep the United States otherwise occupied. The US prospered economically as wartime increased demand for American goods and money. While there was no strong consensus or over-riding opinion, everyone had something to say about the war. Roosevelt, the former "Rough-rider" who loved to be addressed not as a former president, but by his old military rank of Colonel, railed against the Wilson administration for its lack of military preparedness and for its timid and feeble responses to the problems of the day with its "weasel words."

Pietrusza tells the story of Roosevelt's battle for military preparedness, as well as his efforts to unseat Wilson as president in the 1916 election, despite the residual resentment over his splitting of the Republican party four years earlier which led to Wilson's election. The author capably describes his subject's unsuccessful efforts to lasso the 1916 Republican presidential nomination for himself, while keeping progressives in the fold.

Following Wilson's re-election and the nation's entry into the war as a combatant on the side of the allies, Pietrusza describes the old warrior Roosevelt's efforts to get himself "over there" as a military commander, and his encouragement of his four sons to serve in the contest, with the accompanying anxiety, tension and lamentable results. He also details Roosevelt's plans to retake the White House in 1920.

One of Pietrusza's many strengths as a writer is his ability to convey to the reader a clear picture of his subject's personality, making us feel as if we have an understanding of who the complex and multifaceted Roosevelt really was, as if we know TR intimately. His description of Roosevelt's last days and the detail of his suffering and incapacity is exceptionally set out. Saving the best for last, the author concludes with a unique yet well-considered theory about Roosevelt's last days, one which Pietrusza acknowledges to be nothing more than speculation, submitted for the reader to consider and do with what he or she will. It is delicious food for thought and is a fitting dessert to a delectable historical biography.

In light of David Pietrusza's past successes as an author writing about presidential history, one wonders what he will do next and how he can possibly top (or even equal) his previous work. That is something to wonder about in the context of his next book. In TR's Last War, he once again lives up to his literary gold standard of making the history of past presidents come to life in a manner that engages and delights his readers.

Russia Under the Old Regime

Russia Under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes

An intensive but fascinating look at the political and social structure of Russia.

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Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear

A British lady PI in inter-war England.

Maisie Dobbs

Penguin, 2003, 309 pages

The debut of one of literature's favorite sleuths! Maisie Dobbs isn't just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence - and the patronage of her benevolent employers - she works her way into college at Cambridge. After the War I and her service as a nurse, Maisie hangs out her shingle back at home: M. DOBBS, TRADE AND PERSONAL INVESTIGATIONS.

But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

A little cozy.

My complete list of book reviews.

Arcadia, by Iain Pears

If one of the Inklings wrote Cloud Atlas


Faber & Faber, 2015, 608 pages

Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future - or the past?

In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor, Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten's cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his own - and may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.

Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?

Rarely has an authorial self-insertion been so literal.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Reavers Of Skaith

The Reavers Of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

The Book of Skaith, volume 3. Serious spoilers ahead.

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The Hounds of Skaith

The Hounds of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

Second volume of The Book of Skaith. Serious spoilers ahead.

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The Ginger Star

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett

The Book of Skaith, book 1.

Stark learns that his foster father Ashton vanished on the planet Skaith. Despite Ashton's official position, nothing can be done. But Stark can do much on his own.
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White Fang, by Jack London

A savage half-breed conquers his tribe, is enslaved and tamed by the white man, and falls in love with a real bitch.

White Fang

, 1905, 224 pages

In the desolate, frozen northwest of Canada, a lone wolf fights a heroic daily fight for life in the wild. But after he is captured and cruelly abused by men, he becomes a force of pure rage. Only one man sees inside the killer to his intelligence and nobility. But can his kindness touch White Fang?

The Conan of wolf-dogs!

Also by Jack London: My reviews of The Call of the Wild and The Scarlet Plague.

My complete list of book reviews.
The life and Presidency of Woodrow Wilson has been the subject of a number of very thorough and well-considered scholarly biographies in recent times, with the most notable probably being those by John Milton Cooper Jr in 2009 and Scott Berg in 2013. Patricia O'Toole continues this pattern with her 2018 work The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made. It is an outstanding account of the life and presidential activity of the 28th President of the United States that is well-researched and deeply and brilliantly analytical. The book draws from a number of contemporary historical sources including the diaries and autobiographies of many of the key players in the Wilson administration, in Wilsonian Washington, on the world stage and in Wilson's very small and close-knit inner circle.


The author presents a picture of a Chief Executive who was so thoroughly convinced of the rightness of his own decisions and world view to the exclusion of everyone else, save for those whose advice matched what Wilson was thinking. At times this was an asset, but more often this was a great hindrance, especially near the end of Wilson's presidency, when his judgement was severely impaired by the of a series of strokes. As the author points out, his stubbornness and insistence that his was the only opinion that mattered likely denied Wilson his biggest prizes, ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and American membership into the League of Nations.

O'Toole portrays Wilson as a "moralist", a leader driven by a rigid if imperfect moral compass. Any notion that the author intends to serve as apologist for Wilson's more offensive policies and positions is quickly dispelled. She is quick to expose Wilson's moral shortcomings that are apparent in his racist civil service segregation policies and his curtailment of free speech, especially speech critical of the president. The author is exceptionally fair in her criticisms of her subject, letting Wilson's actions speak for themselves. Wilson's posing as a champion of democracy, while shutting out all opinions but his own, his thin skin and refusal to consider points of view that conflict with his own, and his surrounding himself with advisors who would not challenge him, show the hypocrisy and contradiction that Wilson was made of. The point is clearly illustrated as Wilson sacrificed the interests of smaller nations during treaty negotiations because doing so was an expedient means to getting his way. O'Toole cleverly finds many elegant and eloquent ways of describing Wilson's petulance.

The author concludes with an excellent analysis of how Wilson's foreign policy goals may have been well-intentioned, especially when viewed in hindsight. It was Wilson's egocentric personality, exacerbated by the effects of his stroke, which made Wilson a flawed moralist. This is an excellent work, both for its insightful look at Wilson himself and for its big picture analysis of how subsequent US foreign policy was shaped by Wilson and how it has effected the world today. Even at 493 pages, it holds the reader's interest without sacrificing any of its historical integrity or analytical brilliance.

Every Man a Menace, by Patrick Hoffman

Drug deals gone bad, skipping between various doomed characters.

Every Man a Menace

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016, 288 pages

San Francisco is about to receive the biggest delivery of MDMA to hit the West Coast in years. Raymond Gaspar, just out of prison, is sent to the city to check in on the increasingly erratic dealer expected to take care of distribution. In Miami, the man responsible for getting the drugs across the Pacific has just met the girl of his dreams - a woman who can't seem to keep her story straight. And thousands of miles away in Bangkok, someone farther up the supply chain is about to make a phone call that will put all their lives at risk. Stretching from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia to the Golden Gate of San Francisco, Every Man a Menace offers an unflinching account of the making, moving, and selling of the drug known as Molly - pure happiness sold by the brick, brought to market by bloodshed and betrayal.

Mediocre multiple-POV crime thriller about drug dealing.

My complete list of book reviews.

Tyrant's Throne, by Sebastien de Castell

In the epic conclusion, people die and gods ex machina.

Tyrant's Throne

Jo Fletcher Books, 2017, 608 pages

How do you kill a Saint?

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.

The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumors are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy.

The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.

And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

In which the author pulls a few more fiats out of his arse.

Also by Sebastien de Castell: My reviews of Traitor's Blade, Knight's Shadow, and Saint's Blood.

My complete list of book reviews.

Good Deeds Gone Unpunished

Good Deeds Gone Unpunished by Rich Burlew

Prequel and side stories to the main plot of Order of the Stick, about the citizens of Azure City.

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Collaboration between two well-known principals can be challenging, especially when the collaborators are authors from disparate genres. In this year's highly promoted mystery novel The President is Missing, former President Bill Clinton and iconic mystery novelist James Patterson spin a tale about a fictional president trying to prevent the Armageddon of all cyber terror attacks on the United States in heroic fashion, taking a front and center role in the drama as he also tries to discover a traitor at the highest echelon of government.

The mesh of styles between Patterson, whose fictional works include the successful Alex Cross detective series, and Clinton who has written a number of treatises on major political and social problems, becomes apparent and is the likely culprit in the book's length at 512 pages. It doesn't need that length to tell the story it tells, but there are a number of digressions in the book as fictional President Jon Duncan stops to set out a Clintonian vision for a better world, free of self-serving political polarization in which all share common goals.

President Jon Duncan, the hero of the story, has much in common with Clinton and many dissimilarities. Like Clinton, he is a former governor from a southern state with a daughter who is an accomplished young woman. He is also facing impeachment. Unlike Clinton, Duncan is a recent widower, a former Army Ranger who was a Gulf War vet and POW, as well as a former professional baseball pitcher. Many of the characters in the book resemble those from Clinton World, including a pot-bellied, grey-haired, self-serving Speaker of the House that sounds a lot like Clinton's attempt at literary revenge on Newt Gingrich.

The book also incorporates a number of contemporary issues, including the lack of preparedness for cyber-terrorism and how nations like Russia and China have taken the lead in this new frontier of modern warfare. According to President Duncan, if cyber-attack was a sport, Russia would have the best offense and Israel plays defense best.

The clash of the differing worlds that the authors come from makes, at times, for a cumbersome and difficult merge. Parts of the book are tough slogging, especially early on, but the book gathers speed as zero hour approaches. Although one of the goals of the collaboration was to paint a realistic picture of what a pending mega cyber attack might look like, much of the details in the book seem unrealistic and complex problems appear to be solved too neatly, though it should not be forgotten that this is a work of fiction and not a documentary. The book contains a provocative "State of the Union" address that calls for political unity, but the appeal of which will be inspirational to some and an irritant to others. It's message that we must be rid of polarization and incivility is timely and sorely needed, but where it becomes divisive is in its definition of the principles that everyone must agree on.

Clinton and Patterson attempt to deliver a cautionary tale about America's vulnerability to cyber-terrorism, using fiction, suspense, action and thrills as the vehicles to get their message across. The finished product is not without its flaws, imperfections, and diversions. Its appeal will be affected by the reader's political mindset and biases. But at its heart is a warning about the brave new world we live in and the challenges we face in the 21st century.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman

A faithful retelling of the Grimm tale -- first edition, so it's still the mother, not a stepmother.  With some developments -- such as a war to cause the famine.  A little flat in words, and the illustrations are only so-so.
A billionaire's plot to destroy a media empire becomes a mirror in the culture wars.

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue

Portfolio, 2018, 336 pages

In 2007, a short blogpost on Valleywag, the Silicon Valley-vertical of Gawker Media, outed PayPal founder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel as gay. Thiel's sexuality had been known to close friends and family, but he didn't consider himself a public figure, and believed the information was private.

This post would be the casus belli for a meticulously plotted conspiracy that would end nearly a decade later with a $140 million dollar judgment against Gawker, its bankruptcy and with Nick Denton, Gawker's CEO and founder, out of a job. Only later would the world learn that Gawker's demise was not incidental--it had been masterminded by Thiel.

For years, Thiel had searched endlessly for a solution to what he'd come to call the "Gawker Problem." When an unmarked envelope delivered an illegally recorded sex tape of Hogan with his best friend's wife, Gawker had seen the chance for millions of pageviews and to say the things that others were afraid to say. Thiel saw their publication of the tape as the opportunity he was looking for. He would come to pit Hogan against Gawker in a multi-year proxy war through the Florida legal system, while Gawker remained confidently convinced they would prevail as they had over so many other lawsuit--until it was too late.

The verdict would stun the world and so would Peter's ultimate unmasking as the man who had set it all in motion. Why had he done this? How had no one discovered it? What would this mean--for the First Amendment? For privacy? For culture?

In Holiday's masterful telling of this nearly unbelievable conspiracy, informed by interviews with all the key players, this case transcends the narrative of how one billionaire took down a media empire or the current state of the free press. It's a study in power, strategy, and one of the most wildly ambitious--and successful--secret plots in recent memory.

Some will cheer Gawker's destruction and others will lament it, but after reading these pages--and seeing the access the author was given--no one will deny that there is something ruthless and brilliant about Peter Thiel's shocking attempt to shake up the world.

Take a vengeful billionaire, a muck-raking media empire, and a celebrity sex tape, add GamerGate and Trump, and you get an epic story so unlikely it can only be non-fiction.

My complete list of book reviews.

Saint's Blood, by Sebastien de Castell

Gods and Saints are introduced as character classes in volume three of the series.

Saint's Blood

Jo Fletcher Books, 2016, 576 pages

How do you kill a Saint?

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.

The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumors are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy.

The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.

And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

Our heroes continuing bantering in an increasingly contrived fantasy pastiche.

Also by Sebastien de Castell: My reviews of Traitor's Blade and Knight's Shadow.

My complete list of book reviews.

Kill Creek, by Scott Thomas

A best-of-breed haunted house story.

Kill Creek

Inkshares, 2017, 416 pages

At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, is the Finch House. For years it has remained empty, overgrown, abandoned. Soon the door will be opened for the first time in decades. But something is waiting, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests....

When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country's most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won't be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt will become a fight for survival. The entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them a part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.

Authors love killing off other authors.

My complete list of book reviews.

The World Armada

The World Armada by John C. Wright

Superluminary book 3.  Spoilers ahead.
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The Space Vampires

The Space Vampires by John C. Wright

Superluminary book 2. Spoilers ahead

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The Property of Hate Volume 2

The Property of Hate Volume 2 by Sarah Jolley

The second volume. Still weird, still not complete -- spoilers ahead

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The Property of Hate Volume 1

The Property of Hate Volume 1 by Sarah Jolley

This is a weird one. (Also, still in progress here.)

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The Lords of Creation

The Lords of Creation by John C. Wright

Superluminary Book 1. Aeneas, the youngest of the family who rule -- and terraform -- the Solar System, is attacked in his room. The assassin is less of a surprise than the rescue, which ends with him on Pluto.

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I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, Vol. 1 by Kisetsu Morita

As light as you would expect from the title. Azusa dies from overwork, and is asked what she wants for her next life. Immortality, and a nice quiet life in the mountains, with a near-by village to buy things.

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The Sword Of Rhiannon

The Sword Of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett

A classic work of science fiction.

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Sanctioned Violence in Early China

Sanctioned Violence in Early China by Mark Edward Lewis

This is a study of forms of violence such as warfare, hunting, execution, sacrifice, and revenge. Rather academic in tone.

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Knight's Shadow, by Sebastien de Castell

The swords and sorcery adventure continues in a pre-Enlightenment dystopia.

Knight's Shadow

Jo Fletcher Books, 2014, 606 pages

Following his beloved debut, Traitor's Blade, Sebastien de Castell returns with volume two of his fast-paced fantasy adventure series, inspired by the swashbuckling action and witty banter of The Three Musketeers. Knight's Shadow continues the series with a thrilling and dark tale of heroism and betrayal in a country crushed under the weight of its rulers' corruption.

A few days after the horrifying murder of a duke and his family, Falcio val Mond, swordsman and First Cantor of the Greatcoats, begins a deadly pursuit to capture the killer. But Falcio soon discovers his own life is in mortal danger from a poison administered as a final act of revenge by one of his deadliest enemies. As chaos and civil war begin to overtake the country, Falcio has precious little time left to stop those determined to destroy his homeland.

In book two, the crapsack world gets grimdarker.

Also by Sebastien de Castell: My review of Traitor's Blade.

My complete list of book reviews.

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