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Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice

Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice by Richard Valantasis

An array of documents. Many Christian, including hymns, sermons, acts of martyrs and other accounts, but also Manichean, with hymns and a service, pagan, such as a spell tablet invoking Osiris to recapture a husband's attentions, Julian the Apostate arguing against Christianity, claiming that Solomon worshipped other gods because he was wise, an aretalogy of Isis listing her virtues, and a Mithradic liturgy, and various other things, such as Talmudic tales, and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. A number were taken from incomplete documents, so the lacunae pile up, and some of the commentary begs the question a bit.

An Easy Death, by Charlaine Harris

A gunslinger in an alternate America with magic bangs a hot Russian mage.


An Easy Death

Saga Press, 2018, 336 pages



After the assassination of FDR in the 1930s, the US collapses and is picked off by the UK, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. We find ourselves in the Southwestern states, now known as Texoma. It is here that the gunnie Lizbeth Rose tries to piece out a life, running security on runs from Texoma across the border to Mexico, where work and prospects are stronger.

When two Russian magicians come looking for a man named Alex Karkarov, they hire Lizbeth to find him or his family, but there are problems: The man they're looking for is dead, but he has a daughter they now need to find, as an ever-growing set of sorcerers and gunnies do not want them to succeed. It's a good thing Lizbeth is a deadly gunfighter; too bad she hates sorcerers, even the ones on whom she has to learn to rely.

Number-one New York Times best-seller Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, True Blood, Midnight Crossroad) returns to fantasy in a taut thriller set in a US where magic is an acknowledged truth, but disreputable.


Fuzzing the lines between Western/Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance.




My complete list of book reviews.
Eddie Dominguez is a former Boston Police Department officer who served with distinction in the drug squad of his own police force as well as part of an FBI task force. He also worked as a liaison officer in his city with Major League Baseball. When congressional hearings into steroid abuse in baseball generated the Mitchell Report, it shone a spotlight on the rampant abuse of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. The report recommended that MLB create an investigative unit that would work with law enforcement to address the problem and make the worst offenders accountable for their conduct. When asked to join MLB’s new Department of Investigations (DOI), Dominguez was initially skeptical about leaving his police job, just four years away from a full pension. But assured by a trusted colleague that this was his dream job, Dominguez took a leap of faith to become a “baseball cop.” Baseball Cop is a tell-all account of of the author's frustrating experiences as a member of the DOI.

BaseballCop.jpg

In this powerful narrative that is part autobiography and part expose, Dominguez tells the story of how the DOI’s mandate to clean up the game was really a sham, and how the powers that be in MLB impeded and obstructed any real investigative work for fear of tarnishing the image of the game, concerned that exposure of too much scandal would injure the game’s financial bottom line. According to the author, while MLB management and labor supported the appearance of being tough on PED use, the reality was that of a structure that protects cheating players and makes detecting PED use nearly impossible.

Dominguez is especially scathing in his description of how current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and his predecessor Bud Selig obstructed the DOI from cooperating with law enforcement agencies and how Dominguez was repeatedly ordered by Manfred to “stand down” when investigations threatened to expose scandals in the game, such as rampant fraud in the signing of international ball players from Latin American nations, gambling, and human trafficking in young international players and extortion of their families.

Dominguez describes the investigation and subsequent proceeding that led to the exposure of PED abuse by superstar Alex Rodriguez as well as an up close and personal profile of A-Rod's drug dealer, as well as many of the other shady characters in the world of PED trafficking. His examination of this case points out many of the injustices resulting from the anemic penalties handed out to offenders, whose crimes do pay in the long run. He exposes a skewed value system in which the bad guys profit, while the good guys face persecution and loss of their livelihood as a "reward" for their efforts to catch the drug paddlers.

Amidst this powerful exposure of what’s wrong with big league baseball, Dominguez weaves in the story of his own fascinating life, from his family’s escape from Castro’s Cuba, his days as a rookie cop, his close encounter with the bearded dictator (and his friendship with Castro’s son), and his personal battle with a form of cancer which has a low survival rate.

Reading this book will shatter any images one might have about the purity of the game of baseball. It is a sad story for the corruption that it exposes. But it is also a great story for reminding the reader that there are still good people in the world for whom principle trumps greed and expediency.

Religions of China in Practice

Religions of China in Practice by Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Primary source from China. Includes discussion of whether the Buddha is eternal or has ceased, a long discussion of where haunts come from and how to deal with them (for an unburied child, it's not bury the child), an autobiographical account of an emperor's sacrifice, a list of exactly how you can count up your merits, a discussion of how to save ghosts in the hells, and more.

The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin

A man with the power to reify reality really needs a new shrink.


The Lathe of Heaven

Scribner, 1971, 184 pages



A classic science fiction novel by one of the greatest writers of the genre, set in a future world where one man's dreams control the fate of humanity.

In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George's dreams for his own purposes.

The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity's self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. It is a classic of the science fiction genre.


A passive protagonist's passive tale of omnipotence.

Also by Ursula K. Le Guin: My reviews of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness.




My complete list of book reviews.
In After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon, former presidential adviser Kasey Pipes tells the story of how President Richard Milhous Nixon left the office of the Presidency in disgrace, vilified and mocked by virtually everyone, and how, over the next two decades, the former political pariah was able to transition himself into becoming a respected and admired elder statesman, eulogized by former friends and foes alike. At Nixon's funeral, then incumbent President Bill Clinton told his audience, "may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close." Pipes describes how Nixon transformed himself and his image from a the emotionally and physically fragile man who resigned from the Presidency in disgrace, into becoming the most respected foreign policy analyst of his time, one that every president from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton turned to for advice on how to conduct themselves on the world stage.



Pipes enjoyed unprecedented access to Nixon's post-presidential papers and records in the preparation of this book, with permission granted by the Nixon family. Undoubtedly, Pipes is sympathetic towards Nixon and displays great admiration for his subject. This is not to suggest that the picture presented of the former president is entirely a positive one. Pipes' description of Nixon immediately following his resignation paints a portrait of a broken, despondent, depressed and pathetic figure, consumed by the hopelessness of his situation, painfully aware of the magnitude of his fall from grace. He is also not hesitant to describe Nixon's latter years when his mind began to lose some of its former sharpness. For the most part however, the book present an image of Richard Nixon as the smartest guy in the room when it comes to all matter concerning foreign affairs.

The book describes how Nixon was incrementally able to recover and restore his reputation as a major player in American politics and on the world stage, especially as a leading authority on relations with the Soviet Union and with China. Pipes describes all of the major events of Nixon's retirement from the former President's perspective. These include Nixon's pardon granted by President Gerald Ford (as well as Nixon's unwillingness to directly admit any personal wrongdoing), Nixon's interviews with David Frost, his authorship of nine books including an autobiography, his diplomatic missions to China, the Soviet Union and to the Middle East, and the advice sought from and given by him to all of the subsequent presidents in his lifetime. The author also tells of Nixon's reconciliation with the two men he defeated for the presidency: Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The former called Nixon from his hospital bed near the end of his life, and the latter attended Nixon's funeral and spoke kindly of his former adversary. Pipes describes how Nixon methodically planned his "comeback", to the point where even his former enemies in the media declared that Nixon was "back".

It is difficult to discern to what degree Pipes' conservative pedigree influences his objectivity in telling the story of Nixon's post-presidency, though there are certainly elements of this. For example, in describing the Nixon-Frost interviews, Pipes avoids any mention or comment of Nixon's most famous utterance that "when the President does it, it's not illegal." He also makes the observation several times that historians tend to have a liberal bias, but it is unclear whether he is doing so to suggest himself as an objective exception, or to justify tipping the scales to the right to offset this bias. Regardless, Pipes references an impressive collection of source material to tell the story of Nixon's careful and well thought out plan to make his opinions on foreign relations relevant again. He also does a very good job in following the advice given to him by iconic biographer David McCullough that "it does no injury to history to make it readable." The book is enjoyable to read both for the story it tells and the engaging style in which that story is told. It is a fascinating read that will be enjoyable to all but those incapable of suppressing their contempt for the 37th President.

Religions of Japan in Practice

Religions of Japan in Practice by George J. Tanabe Jr.

An overview of many texts written in Japan. Heavily Buddhist and on the intellectual side. A variety, including a marriage ceremony, a pamphlet guide to the Yasukuni Shrine (featuring Poppo the Wise Pigeon to answer questions), history about the adoption of Buddhism and arguments about whether disasters were caused by worshipping the Buddha or failure to worship him, and hagiography.

The Unicorn in the Barn

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn

A boy, our narrator, discovers a girl putting up "No Trespassing" signs on his family's land -- he tells her that her mother had not bought that part. Then he goes up into a treehouse and sees a unicorn, limping.

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Replay, by Ken Grimwood

What would you do if you kept dying and reliving your life over and over again?


Replay

William Morrow, 1986, 311 pages



In 1988, 43-year-old Jeff Winston died of a heart attack. But then he awoke, and it was 1963; Jeff was 18 all over again, his memory of the next two decades intact. This time around, Jeff would gain all the power and wealth he never had before. This time around he'd know how to do it right. Until next time.


The novel that preceded "Groundhog Day."




My complete list of book reviews.

Circe, by Madeline Miller

The sorceress Circe gets the epic tale she deserves.


Circe

Little, Brown and Company, 2018, 393 pages



In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring, like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur; Daedalus and his doomed son, Icarus; the murderous Medea; and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and pause-resisting suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, and love and loss as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.


The gods are dicks, and so are men.



My complete list of book reviews.

Changeling

Changeling by William Ritter

It's listed The Oddmire book 1, but it's a standalone story.

It briefly recounts how the magical world and the human worlds got separated, and the wall between them broken, and how a Thing got out.

Then to the main story. The goblin Kull brings a changeling, despite orders, so he can take a human baby. Then, having put the changeling in the cradle, he's prevented from snatching the human baby, and the changeling changed so well that he can't tell which one is which.

Neither can the humans, down to the baby's mother. So, they decide the goblin won't be able to hide its nature too long, and wait. Except that boys are mischievous too. . . .

When the twins are about to turn thirteen, Kull writes them a letter -- he can't speak to them by law -- and tells them the changeling has to come to the forest, or both the changeling and all the other goblins will die. No human must come. So, of course, Cole and Tinn go, leaving a note for their mother. . . .

It involves the last tale of when goblins sent a changeling, a witch in the woods, a hinkypunk with a candle, raspberry tarts, the mother's reaction to that note, bones, a map that Tinn mislays, and more.

Buddhism in Practice

Buddhism in Practice by Donald S. Lopez Jr.

A collection of texts from all over Asia. All written by the practitioners, except for annals written by a historian.

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Writing about incumbent Presidents has always been a polarizing subject, since the times when the rabidly partisan editor James Callender maligned George Washington, claiming that the first President had "debauched and deceived" the nation by self-promotion. Things haven't gotten much better since, and it is virtually impossible for readers to know how much of any contemporary historical accounts of the current presidency are fact and how much are polarized spin. Michael Wolff's recent book Siege: Trump Under Fire may be more fact than fiction, or it may be the reverse. But what is clear is that his follow up to his earlier book about the Trump Presidency, Fire and Fury, is disappointing in that it sacrifices a historical chronicling of some of the most interesting issues confronting the current administration, opting instead for salacious gossip that paints a picture of a president completely devoid of any redeeming qualities or intelligence whatsoever. This may be completely fair or Wolff may be serving as the James Callender to those of a different ideology. Readers will never really know.



The Trump Presidency has had some very interesting events that will bear further scrutiny for future presidential historians. These include the controversial confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, important meetings with powerful foreign leaders Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un, the government shutdown over funding of a border wall between the United States and Mexico, detention and separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border, the mid-term elections and the significance to possible impeachment proceedings and the Muller investigation into possible Presidential wrongdoing. All of these are interesting stories that deserve greater historical chronicling than are provided in this book. Many of the relevant details of these events are glossed over in this book, in favor of a dumbing down of the story into something akin to a sitcom about "s--t my president says".

The book appears to have two central themes. The first is a focus on anecdotes of presidential craziness. Rightly or wrongly, Wolff tries to convey the impression that the current presidency is unfocused, haphazard, and centered on a chief executive with a narcissistic personality disorder. Where there is enough evidence to support the contention that there is more than a kernel of truth to much of this impression, the book ignores a more objective analysis of the position of those concerned about how to address the issues of border security, the impact of illegal immigration on the economy, and the declining middle class. Issues take a back seat to presidential personality. Is this the fault of the subject or of those who report about him? The fault likely lies on both sides, but whatever proportion is justified, analysis and discussion of important issues are getting overlooked and forgotten.

The second theme running throughout the book is the influence that Steve Bannon, who is undoubtedly the source of much of the author's information, has on the book. It is as much a book about what Bannon thinks as it is about the President.

On the positive side, the book does touch on all of the aspects of the recent period of the Trump Presidency that will be relevant to future historians. But it fails to recount those issues in sufficient detail of what is of significance about them, and there is too much over-simplification of them. For example, in its chapter on the Kavanaugh nomination, it glosses over what took place in the actual hearings and gives little consideration to what Kavanaugh's opponents and his defenders were saying about how to address accusations of serious misconduct at a later time. The book does present a picture of how systemic dysfunction follows when there is too great a focus on the personality of a President, as opposed to the President's goals and vision for the nation. These stories seem important to Wolff only as a springboard for gossipy tales.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the book is that it calls on voters to examine what price they are willing to pay to shake up the political establishment for the sake of badly needed change, and to evaluate whether or not the experiment of electing a politically inexperienced power-driven chief executive is accomplishing the changes that they hoped for when they marked their ballots.

Afro-American Folktales

Afro-American Folktales by Roger D. Abrahams

A collection of folktales, from the West Indies as well as the United States.

A lot of beast tales, including some recognizable variants on fairy tale types-- some fairy tales, not too many. Heavy on trickster tales. Some distinctly bawdy.

Bluff, by Michael Kardos

A magician turns into a card shark.


Bluff

Grove Atlantic, 2018, 280 pages



At 27, magician Natalie Webb is already a has-been. A card-trick prodigy, she started touring at 17, took first place at the World of Magic competition at 18, and never reached such heights again. Shunned by the magic world after a disastrous liaison with an older magician, she now lives alone with her pigeons and a pile of overdue bills in a New Jersey apartment. In a desperate ploy to make extra cash, she follows up on an old offer to write a feature magazine article - on the art of cheating at cards.

But when she meets the perfect subject for her article, what begins as a journalistic gamble brings into question everything Natalie thinks she knows about her talent, and herself. Natalie is dazzled by the poker cheat's sleight of hand and soon finds herself facing a proposition that could radically alter her fortune - to help pull off a $1.5 million magic trick that, if done successfully, no one will ever even suspect happened.

With Kardos raising the stakes chapter after chapter, Bluff is a breathtaking work of suspense from a writer at the top of his game.


Poker, magic tricks, card sharking, and double-crosses all the way to the end.




My complete list of book reviews.

Religions of India in Practice

Religions of India in Practice by Donald S. Lopez Jr.

A survey of texts about practices. From documents and also recorded oral information. Buddhism gets brushed on, because the series has another volume about it, but there is a wide diversity of the other religions -- Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, a few Christian.

There are inscriptions for the dedication of temples, and stories told at the women's gathering for the honoring of the sacred basil plant (an oral tradition, such that many daughters-in-law have to relearn it when they marry, because their mother-in-law does it differently than in their natal household). Writings about the disputes over whether being a householder or a ascetic is better. Hymn. Personal poems of devotion. Directions on how to act in a temple (without a hint of the significance of the actions). Tales of peoples' lives where this god or that one did something -- I was personally particularly taken to recognize two of them as fairy tale types.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

A multigenerational epic about a Korean family in Japan.


Pachinko

Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 489 pages



Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.


A literary Korean soap opera.




My complete list of book reviews.

A Crown of Wishes

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

After The Star-Touched Queen -- different main characters but benefits from being read in order.

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The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

In a series, but a complete stand-alone story.

Maya, because of her terrifying horoscope, is fated to never marry and be cursed by all her father's wives for any bad luck. Though her sister Gauri does love her and the tales she tells, of wonders like the Night Bazaar.
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Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

The Last Starfighter flies with Battlestar Galactica.


Skyward

Delacorte Press, 2018, 510 pages



Spensa's world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what's left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa's dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father's - a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa's chances of attending flight school at slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.


Sanderson pulls off a remarkably good YA SF novel.

Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, Steelheart, The Way of Kings, and Warbreaker.




My complete list of book reviews.

The Golden Peaches of Samarkand

The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T'ang Exotics by Edward H. Schafer

A discussion of foreign things brought to T'ang as tribute and in trade, and attitudes toward them.

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Aru Shah and the Song of Death

Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi

Pandava Quartet book 2

Spoilers ahead for the first, especially as it picks up after the cliff-hanger.

With a zombie breakout in a magical market and a quarrel about who is a thief. The boy Aidan established to Brynne that Aru was not the thief, there was a shapeshifter involved. Alas, the higher-ups did not agree, and it was the bow of Kamadeva, god of love, and its misuse is causing the Heartless, which they had mistaken for zombies.

It involves untold stories, what Aidan wants from Kamadeva, dogs of nightmares, Oreos, many accounts of gods doing wrong things, the threat of losing their memories of each other, a Otherworldly mall, some very dangerous cows, someone not giving them a lot of help, and more.

Imajica, by Clive Barker

The Earth is one of five Dominions, and a wizard wants to Reconcile them, which may or may not be apocalyptic.


Imajica

HarperCollins, 1991, 824 pages



Imajica is an epic beyond compare: vast in conception, obsessively detailed in execution, and apocalyptic in its resolution. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie "oh" pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie "oh" pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.


A weird, sprawling epic of parallel worlds, bizarre creatures, unpronouncable names, and really bad sex.




My complete list of book reviews.

Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies

Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Moss Roberts

A bit inaccurately named. Many legends and anecdotes, generally with magic or ghosts or other uncanny business, quite a few without. Many moral tales, many tales of Taoist masters, tales of fools or tricksters.

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Three of Aru's schoolmates discover she lives at the museum and come to scorn her and the statues of Indian gods there, and bait her into lighting the lamp she knows is cursed.

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description of wishful drinking:

Finally, after four hit novels, Carrie Fisher comes clean (well, sort of ) with the crazy truth that is her life in her first-ever memoir. In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of 'Hollywood in-breeding,' come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.

Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It's an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty -- Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher -- homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.


description of shockaholic:

This rollicking follow-up to Carrie Fisher's' New York Times bestselling memoir and Tony Award- and Emmy Award-nominated, one-woman Broadway show Wishful Drinking is packed with madcap memories from her star-studded life: her friendships with Michael Jackson and her once-upon-a-very-brief-time stepmother, Elizabeth Taylor; her dates (and brawls) with senators; and her love affair with electroconvulsive therapy. But it's also a tender chronicle of her rollercoaster relationship with her father, Eddie Fisher, whose unconventional approach to life -- to say nothing of parenting -- sometimes drove Carrie to the brink, but also taught her about the nature of family, and love.


Wishful Drinking is the better of the two. It's kind of hard to describe why.

Maybe because the first one is like Fisher saying "Here's my messed-up life & how it shaped me" and the second one is more like "You didn't get enough in the first book? Well, here's some of the crap I held back." Plus even more creative cursing than the first one.

The best part of Shockaholic, IMHO, is her verbal sparing with the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Who apparently was a major jackass. Especially when he drank.

In Memoriam: Suzette Haden Elgin

I'm a bit late (she passed away in 2015), but Suzette Haden Elgin was a well-known if never best-selling author in the science fiction community. She was notable for writing feminist SF (her novel about a dystopian patriarchy, Native Tongue, came out a year before The Handmaid's Tale), xenolinguistics (she was a Professor of Linguistics, and a conlanger, and created a complete "women's language" that still has a small community of devotees today), and creating the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Fellow LiveJournal old-timers will remember her as ozarque.

Suzette Haden Elgin

My retrospective and thoughts about her books here.

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Understanding Conflict

Understanding Conflict: (and What It Really Means) by Janice Hardy

A how-to-write book.

What is conflict, how it relates to tension, how it differs from character arc (which you may not need), the importance of goal and motives for everyone, obstacles and whether they move the story forward -- and more.
Robert Reich is an economist and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkley. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997 and was a member of President-elect Barack Obama's economic transition advisory board. Dr. Reich presents himself as a voice of reason in these highly polarized political times, with one of his signature issues being a deep concern over the growing gap between rich and poor and the rise of income disparity. He once again addresses this subject, though from a different angle, in his 2018 book The Common Good. In the book, Dr. Reich makes the case that there has been an alarming shift in the public attitude from one of working for the benefit of the populace as a whole, to one of personal gain and gratification, a win-at-all-cost,"what's in it for me?" mentality. He makes the case that there is an urgent need to change this way of thinking and return to the philosophy espoused in John F. Kennedy's famous statement about asking not what the nation can do for the individual, but what the individual can do for the greater good.



Dr. Reich addresses his subject over 184 pages in three parts. In the first part he attempts to define what is meant by the "common good", focusing on the example of vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli, who justified raising the price of the essential medication Daraprim from $13.50 to over $750 per pill overnight, by claiming that his duty to maximize profit for his company's shareholders was more important than any moral obligation to those requiring the medication. Reich goes on to discuss the societal transition from public good to private gain in many fields, including politics, education, sports, and in the corporate world, noting how the focus has changed from one of concern for the good of society as a whole, to a self-centered focus on making as much money as possible, while staying one step ahead of arrest.

In the second part of the book, Dr. Reich attempts a historical analysis of how this transition occurred, citing four events in particular as giving substantial impetus for this chance in societal character. In the final section, he proposes a number of remedies to get society back on the right track, including changes in education, appropriate honor and shaming, vigilance against distortion of news and information distribution, and a commitment to and a plan requiring public service, much like the military draft that was once in place. The most convincing part of the book is in Dr. Reich's analysis of current corporate leadership. He notes that there had once been the view that corporate leadership took in a multitude of interests besides shareholders: employees and their families, unions, consumers, and the environment. He notes how this has changed to the point where attention by CEOs to anything other than the financial bottom line is not only highly discouraged, but in fact punished.

Much of this book is an attack on President Donald Trump, citing him as a central example of how the common good has been sacrificed in favor of selfish gain at the expense of civility and integrity. These portions will delight the President's detractors, while causing his supporters to write off the rest of the book as partisan rhetoric. On the one hand, it is understandable how the author may wish to illustrate some of his points by using examples of the win-at-all-costs philosophy committed by leadership at this level. On the other hand, it is problematic for the author to get his message of abandoning partisan interest in favor of the common good and the need for unity on this issue by participating in the political polarization, alienating a large segment of the population, and giving them a reason to dismiss his important message as poorly-veiled partisanship. Readers will have to objectively discern for themselves the correctness of this approach.

The central message of this book is an important one, not only at a political and corporate level, but at an individual level. At its core, this book asks us how much we as individuals are willing to put aside our individual "what's in it for me" approach in favor of one that is rooted in a "love thy neighbor" philosophy. It is one thing for all of us to point fingers at politicians and corporations for being selfish and driven by personal profit. But are we as individuals willing to engage in such a paradigm shift when doing so means that our own personal wealth may be adversely affected? Dr. Reich deserves high marks for making us think about such an important question so vital to our future and that of coming generations.

Transpecial, by Jennifer Povey

First contact, and humans fired first.


Transpecial

Musa Books, 2013, 238 pages



A ship has vanished in the dark, in the very outer reaches of Earth's solar system. Alien invaders sweep through the void, destroying outposts and threatening humanity. The truth is known only to a few: We fired first. We fired on aliens whose very appearance and body language sent all humans into a flying rage. All but a few. Now a brilliant, autistic woman from Mars and an alien diplomat seek peace...while some on both sides desire only conflict. Suza McRae and Haniyar must bridge the gap between their species, or risk a war that will destroy everything and everyone in its path.


Lots of ideas, could have been a SF classic, but it's a really rough first novel.




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Carthage Must Be Destroyed

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles

A history of Carthage. Insofar as it can be reconstructed.

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Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words by Jeremy Mynott

What ancient Greeks and Romans thought about birds. Arranged by topics.

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The Presidents Adams, father and son, were each incumbents who were defeated in their bid for re-election by a populist opponent purporting to espouse "democracy", while in reality sowing the seeds of strong partisanship that would evolve into the political polarization that we know so well today. In their recent work The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality, the authors Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein trace the history of the famous father and son Chief Executives in a manner than only two classical academics would, with lengthy analytical prose of Goldilocks proportions: sometimes too superficial, sometimes too deep and sometimes just right.

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John Adams was the second President of the United States, and is sometimes described as a "party of one". Though nominally a Federalist, he was rejected both by Thomas Jefferson's Republican faction, as well as by Alexander Hamilton's wing of the Federalists, as he tried to steer a course between monarchy and the mayhem of populist rule. Labelled as an aristocrat and an elitist, the strong-willed and strongly principled Massachusetts lawyer and diplomat was respected for his service to his nation, but never loved by the populace. His son would share many of his father's experiences as well as his political beliefs, though he was clearly his own man. But he too would fall to defeat at the hands of a populist challenger and would also be assailed by demagogue tactics that sought to label him derisively, like his father, as an elitist and an effete, out of touch pedant.

The authors do a superb job of exploring and explaining the relationship between these two intellectual and political giants and how they shaped their careers and their ideologies. The second and sixth Presidents carried on a lifetime correspondence that is ably canvassed and mined by the authors. The letters exchanged between the two provide some of the best insight into many of the more mystifying aspects of their respective presidencies and political careers, including the younger Adams' defection from the Federalists and each man's reluctance to respond in kind when their political opponents were turning presidential elections into popularity contests.

The book's failing is its inconsistency. Parts provide too much detail, especially in aspects of their lives that are less relevant to history, such as which books and other works each man read, with accompanying speculation about how such might have shaped the political decisions each made. Parts of the book offer too little information, particularly on some substantial issues during each man's presidency. Very little is also said about the younger Adams' outstanding career as one of the nation's leading Secretaries of State. Parts of the book are too unctuous or fawning. For example, the authors fail to take the elder Adams to task for his role in the Alien and Sedition Acts, which ended up being used as a tool to silence political enemies. Nor is any criticism offered of John Quincy's failure to realize that he needed congressional support to make his policies reality.

The worst parts of the book are the authors' own speculations and their overly academic and pedantic analysis, especially in the book's 30 page introduction and in its concluding chapter (pretentiously named "exordium" and "ad consummandum" respectively). Much of the book's nearly 500 pages are unnecessarily verbose ramblings that dilute other parts of the book in which the authors tell the story of the Adams presidents brilliantly.

It is difficult to decide whether or not to recommend this book given these inconsistencies in style and substance. For those with a deep interest in John Adams and John Quincy Adams, it offers an comprehensive, if partially incomplete, analysis of each man. For those with more of a Joe Friday approach to history, wanting "just the facts", there are better accounts of their lives and of their presidencies to be found.

Cloak of Dragons

Cloak of Dragons by Jonathan Moeller

Nadia is back, in a new series. Spoilers ahead for the first.

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Yiddish Folktales

Yiddish Folktales by Beatrice Weinreich

A collection of nonsense tales, parables, fairy tales, tales about crafty tricksters and plain old fools, and legends -- particularly legends. A wide variety.

I was particularly interested in the fairy tales. There's a Kind and Unkind Girls variety that plays out normally; a Love Like Salt tale where Sorele finds herself at a rabbi's house, not a royal court; an East of the Sun, West of the Moon variant where it's the son who sets out to find his father, not the bride her bridegroom; a Master and Pupil where he marries the sorcerer's daughter, and a number more.

Fade

Fade by Daniel Humphreys

First book, but while it has obvious sequel hooks, it stands alone.

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The Art of Dragon Magazine

The Art of Dragon Magazine: 30 Years of the World's Greatest Fantasy Art

An interesting collection of fantasy art. Tends to the dramatic. Much of it good to excellent. Some themes to organize it, but it's an art showcase, so it was not chosen to illustrate points.

Infinite, by Jeremy Robinson

Inception meets Passenger.


Infinite

Breakneck Media, 2017, 400 pages



Searching for a new home....

The Galahad, a faster-than-light spacecraft, carries 50 scientists and engineers on a mission to prepare Kepler 452b, Earth's nearest habitable neighbor at 1400 light years away. With Earth no longer habitable and the Mars colony slowly failing, they are humanity's best hope.

After 10 years in a failed cryogenic bed - body asleep, mind awake - William Chanokh's torture comes to an end as the fog clears, the hatch opens, and his friend and fellow hacker, Tom, greets him...by stabbing a screwdriver into his heart. This is the first time William dies.

It is not the last.

When he wakes from death, William discovers that all but one crew member - Capria Dixon - is either dead at Tom's hands, or has escaped to the surface of Kepler 452b. This dire situation is made worse when Tom attacks again - and is killed. Driven mad by a rare reaction to extended cryo-sleep, Tom hacked the Galahad's navigation system and locked the ship on a faster-than-light journey through the universe, destination: nowhere. Ever.

Mysteriously immortal, William is taken on a journey with no end, where he encounters solitary desperation, strange and violent lifeforms, a forbidden love, and the nature of reality itself.

...he discovers the infinite.

Jeremy Robinson, the master of fast-paced and highly original stories seamlessly blending elements of horror, science fiction, and thrillers, tackles his most ambitious subject matter to date: reality itself. An amalgam of the works of J.J. Abrams and Ridley Scott, Infinite is a bold science fiction novel exploring the vastness of space and a man's desire to exist, find love, and alter the course of his life.


Tries to be mind-bendy, but it's just a light SF romp.




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Changeling, by Molly Harper

A YA fantasy that is charming despite being a predictable, derivative assembly of cliches and jejune worldbuilding.


Changeling

NYLA, 2018, 271 pages



If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor....

But Snipes aren’t supposed to have magical powers...and the existence of a magical Snipe threatens the world order dictated during the Guardians’ Restoration years ago. If she wants to keep her family safe and protect her own skin, Sarah must figure out how to fit into posh Guardian society, master her newfound magical powers, and discover the truth about how an ordinary girl can become magical.


A little bit of Harry Potter, a little bit of Pretty Little Liars, a little bit of Jane Austen, a lot of silly charm.




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House of Windows, by John Langan

A weird, literary haunted house story.


House of Windows

Night Shade Books, 2009, 256 pages



When a young writer finds himself cornered by a beautiful widow in the waning hours of a late-night cocktail party, he seeks at first to escape, to return to his wife and infant son, but the tale she weaves, of her missing husband, a renowned English professor, and her lost stepson, a soldier killed on a battlefield on the other side of the world, of phantasmal visions, a family curse, and a house... the Belvedere House, a striking mansion whose features suggest a face, hidden just out of view, draws him in, capturing him. What follows is a deeply psychological ghost story of memory and malediction, loss and remorse.


Subverting two tropes: the ghost story, and the college professor who rediscovers himself by banging a hot young grad student.




My complete list of book reviews.

Tiamat's Wrath, by James S.A. Corey

Book Eight in the Expanse series.


Tiamat's Wrath

Orbit Books, 2019, 534 pages



Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father's godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father, the emperor, doesn't guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte's authoritarian regime.

Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia's eternal rule - and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose - seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough....


Upping the ante, killing off characters, dragging out the finale.

Also by James S.A. Corey: My reviews of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, Cibola Burn, Nemesis Games, Babylon's Ashes, Persepolis Rising.




My complete list of book reviews.

Ghost of a Chance

Ghost of a Chance by Dan Willis

Arcane Casebook book 2, with some connection to the earlier book.
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The Book of Feasts & Seasons

The Book of Feasts & Seasons by John C. Wright

A collection of short stories. Fantasy, SF, genre-blenders. Connected more or less loosely to holy days. Interesting ideas -- the stories are heavily philosophical.

People of the Talisman

People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett

Stark and a dying friend of his have made camp in the wilderness. The friend gives Stark a talisman to return to his native city, where he stole it.

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In Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger explores the human need for community and connection, an especially timely subject at a time in history when membership in organized groups and community organizations are declining and when social media entices many people into a solitary existence behind their keyboards, as they pretend to collect Facebook and Twitter "friends". Isolation is a major symptom of a number of social disorders, and as Junger observes, humans will endure many hardships for the sake of community. As the author explains in his introduction, this is why "for many people, war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations."



Junger looks back at the history of tribal societies, gleaning some interesting phenomena. For example, in frontier times, indigenous captives who were forced to assimilate into American society generally struggled to return to their communities, while conversely, it was common for captives who were adopted into indigenous societies to have no desire to return to their former homes. Junger examines the reasons why tribal society with its inclusive culture was the more attractive option over that in which the indigenous captives were viewed as heathen lesser beings. He also examines life for soldiers in wartime, noting that while conditions are life-threatening and dangerous, the cohesion and bond among the soldiers creates a feeling that cannot be recovered in peacetime. He gives the example of his mistaken assumption that, since his Vietnam vet father saw that war as an unjust one, his father would support Junger's decision not to sign his selective service card. The author describes his epiphany of understanding his father's admonishment and realizing the importance of being something bigger than himself that comes with service.

The author uses the aforementioned examples and many others to underscores the simple but very relevant point about the need for human being to serve the greater good and to be a part of some larger purpose. He makes the case that it is the loss of this closeness that causes many returning vets to experience high rates of PTSD and suicide. Junger argues that the difficulties experienced by these soldiers are made worse by the fact that they are leaving a place of belonging for a return to an individualist society with its culture of "every man for himself".

At 133 pages, Tribe can be read in a couple of hours, but it has a message that resonates. Even is the reader is not a veteran or a first responder to trauma, this book's insight on the importance of community and of being part of a some larger purpose in order to find meaning in order to stave off feelings of emptiness and irrelevance is one that has relevance for everyone.
Nancy Morrison has lived a fascinating life as a lawyer, a grassroots politician, a judge on two different courts, a feminist, and as a mentor. Her five decades in Canadian law have resulted in a delightful memoir, cleverly entitled Benched: Passion for Law Reform. Written it almost seventy short, sharp chapters, it chronicles the life of this interesting, accomplished and modest Canadian jurist, from her time as the daughter of a small town lawyer in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, to her career as a respected member of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Told in the conversational style of one friend talking to another, and replete with nostalgic and "groovy" photos from the past, this is an enjoyable memoir that carries the reader along a time capsule from the mid-20th century to the present, with some beneficial life lessons learned along the way.



Nancy Morrison looks back on a rich and eventful life that began in a small city in east-central Saskatchewan where her father was one of two or three lawyers in town, and at a time when the thought of women in law was unthinkable to most people and mocked and obstructed by many in the profession. Assisted by supportive and forward-thinking parents, Morrison began her journey through law school and through her early years of practicing her profession. She experienced difficulty in finding a place to practice law, rejecting the easy option of joining her father's firm. She began job hunting in what was then a male-dominated profession at a time when the prevailing assumption within the old boys club was that women were a bad hire because they all planned to leave as soon as they got pregnant. Fate smiled on Morrison when she met the dynamic Judy LaMarsh, a Federal cabinet minister in the Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson. The experience of taking over LaMarsh's law practice not only gave Morrison her baptism of fire as a lawyer, but also introduced her to the world of politics and her involvement in the first round of Trudeamania (the original 1968 version, not the 2015 2.0 edition).

Morrison remembers her experiences as a young lawyer in three provinces (Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia), as well as her forays into the rough and tumble world of politics. This led to a life replete with fascinating experiences and good friends, as a successful lawyer, a prosecutor and Provincial Court Judge in Vancouver, and later as a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She also recalls her personal life with the enigmatic and colorful Bruno Gerussi, star of the long-running 1970s and 80s TV show The Beachcombers. Through it all, Morrison looks back on a life filled of strong friendships, great social change, sobering and serious issues, but always set on a foundation of strong ethical principles and the proper mix of compassion and social justice.

There are two threads running through the memoir that enrich the value of this book. Firstly, there are many examples of the fundamental importance of ethics. Morrison displays a solid ethical foundation in how she conducted her profession and in all other aspects of her life. This is an important lesson not only within the legal profession, but in all professions and callings. Younger professionals who may be tempted to dismiss this book off nostalgia from their parents' era would benefit from all that this book has to teach about the importance of strong ethics.

Secondly, this book offers a valuable primer on the history and importance of feminism. This is especially beneficial for those who are quick to disparage feminism as the product of meaningless political correctness. Morrison offers jarring examples from her days in the trenches acting for marginalized and victimized women at a time long before community property was an accepted concept, and in an era when domestic violence was the fodder of comedians' acts and not accorded the attention as a shameful social issue that it has eventually been recognized as. Without seeking any recognition or credit, Morrison firmly and modestly establishes her credentials as a courageous foot soldier in the battle to bring about important changes in the way we function as a society today when it comes to approaching the ideal of gender equality.

Nancy Morrison has lived a life that offers a model for all professionals, young and old. She provides an example of how to live a well-rounded life, combining professional excellence with a rich friendships and an unselfish devotion to creating a better world for those to come. That she is able to do all of this without appearing to sound boastful or self-aggrandizing adds to the enjoyment of this outstanding reading experience.
The inner jacket of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century references author Yuval Noah Harari's two previous books (Sapiens and Homo Deus), noting that the former explored the past, while the latter explored the future. The author's most recent product is said to be an exploration of the present. It's title is a trifle misleading, in that it isn't so much a primer on how to navigate the next four decades, inasmuch as it is a collection of insightful observations about the pace of change and mankind's ability to perceive and adapt to that change in a brave new world populated by algorithms, AI, "fake news", extreme income disparity and a job market that will not resemble in any way the one that previous generations have experienced and that we have come to expect.



Harari combines an engaging style of writing with a brilliant but humble and self-effacing intellect, as he tackles some very controversial subjects including religion, immigration, nationalization, social media, terrorism, secularism, education and justice. His take on religions, on nationalism and on terror will be seen as especially controversial to some, though his positions are based on logic rather than emotion or dogma. If they are the product of some hidden agenda, it is one that is very well hidden.

The author begins by noting how the world evolved into three major political paradigms, two of which (fascism and communism) history has proven to be unworkable failures. He refers to the third as "liberalism", but lest conservatives be put off by this label, what he is really talking about is democracy. Harari speculates on how the third political structure is experiencing its own problems as it encounters a changing world that is unsure how to deal with rapidly advancing technology that will leave many in the labour force behind, and that is hatching the populist rejection of many established institutions. What are we to make of this, and what will be left in its wake?

Harari doesn't teach "lessons" as his title might suggest. This isn't a book about how to navigate the rapid change that we are in the midst of experiencing. As algorithms and AI replace the great minds and are able to determine (or even shape) human trends, he doesn't offer suggestions of how to personally profit from this, what career path to follow or how to plan retirement. Instead he tries to alert the reader to the pitfalls of manipulation through past myth and story-telling, through emotional appeals and computer-generated trends, in order to remind us to think for ourselves, to discern the information we are fed and be discerning about what we are told. Harari offers a message that does not tell the reader what to think, but rather how to think for himself or herself.

The book builds to a final crescendo, and without giving away any spoilers, the final chapter is both unexpected and yet surprisingly satisfying. The world has become an extremely complex place and it would be suspicious if any author claimed to be able to have all of the answers tied up in a neat little bow. Yuval Noah Harari focuses on trying to structure an ethically based manner of thinking about these problems that is not based on dogma, manipulation of emotions, or herd mentality. It is a tall order during these times. Reading this book is a worthwhile endeavour for all independent thinkers striving to fend off an avalanche of information in an age moving faster than the speed of thought.

The Secret of Sinharat

The Secret of Sinharat by Leigh Brackett

Stark is on the run from the authorities -- gun-running -- when they catch up to him.  One, it turns out, is his foster father Ashton, who tells him of impending war, the trouble it will bring, and the possibility of escaping prison if he can foil it.  Stark agrees.

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Ivory Vikings

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

A discussion on topics suggested by the famous Lewis chessmen: medieval chess figures carved from walrus ivory.

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Feudal Society, Volume 1

Feudal Society, Volume 1 by Marc Bloch

An extensive and rather academic study of feudalism from the beginning.

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