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Book #9: Secret Water by Arthur Ransome



Number of pages: 422

The eighth book in the Swallows and Amazons series opens with the Swallows going to camp on an island, which feels similar to other titles, with one crucial difference, being that for the first time they take younger sister Bridget, previously very much a secondary character, on their adventure with them. Bridget also brings along Sinbad, the kitten introduced in the previous book. The characters are largely the same as they were in the previous books, and I still found John to be annoying because half the time he seems to be saying "Shut up" to younger brother Roger (Roger was always my favourite character, and John just always comes across as the bossy older brother who wants to be in control).

In this book, there is an early indication that the island is inhabited by savages, which at first made me think there was going to be a more Robinson Crusoe-style adventure, and the savages' presence is made felt at first by the appearance of a mysterious totem pole in the Swallows' camp.

While the subject of savages might sound a bit strong for a kids' novel, once you remember that this story is set just off the English coast, and that you realise that all the "savages" are in fact kids playing a game, this doesn't seem particularly sinister at all, despite the fact that Bridget becomes obsessed with becoming a human sacrifice. The kids end up meeting one of the "savages" (also known as the Eels) quite early on, a boy called Don (or "The Mastodon"), a character who is mostly portrayed as likeable despite the kids' suspicions of him.

I'm not sure if the book would be allowed to be written as a kids' book now, not because of the plot involving references to cannibalism, but because of the fact that at one point all of the kids decide to become "blood brothers" with The Mastodon by mixing their blood with each others'. It's probably something that seemed fine when this was written, but with all the modern concerns about AIDs its probably not something that any parent would want their kids to copy.

Aside from the threat of savages, who end up not being particularly scary at all, there are a couple of moments of real peril for the characters that provide most of the tension and excitement; you'll probably guess what the first moment of danger will be, as it is signposted a few chapters beforehand.

At first I was annoyed; the Amazons, Nancy and Peggy, did not appear in the previous title, and it looked at first that they would be absent from this one, although they were still mentioned. I was quite thankful when about a third of the way into the story, they did show up, and it was really good to have both of them taking part in the adventure. As for the new characters, The Mastodon was the only one I was bothered about, though I'm not sure that any of them are likely to appear in future titles. The story did feel a bit more episodic than previous books, but I found this enjoyable enough that I wanted to keep reading.

Next book: The X-Files: Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson

Book One

I'm new to this challenge so I will simply jump right in and join the fun at book number one, "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman.

Books 18 & 19

Murder 101 (Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus, #22)Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I won this from Goodreads which in no way influenced my review. I’ve read this series in spurts and fits and definitely out of order over the years and I’m always leery when a detective has ‘retired’ but the author keeps telling his/her story. This one, however, didn’t need any worrying over. It was very good. Peter Decker and his wife Rina have moved to New York to be closer to their kids (of which there are several from previous marriages and adoptions etc). He has retired from the LAPD and is now working in a small upstate police force. Peter has been saddled with a newbie, Tyler McAdams who is a Harvard grad that is supposed to be going to Harvard law but joined the force to tick off his very wealthy, very unpleasant father. Tyler is an obnoxious elitist at best.

They get what seems like their normal small town crimes, stained glass windows, actual Tiffany glass, being stolen from a wealthy mausoleum. As they start investigating it, with the help of a family member (a son in law who owns a jewelry/antique store in the city and is very versed in Tiffany), they realize that the panes weren’t just stolen but also faked and replaced which leads them to the nearby five sister colleges one of which is an art school.

Soon, one art student is dead along with her partner and Decker isn’t sure that a couple panes of glass are worth killing over. As he pulls on the threads of the case, and slowly gets Tyler to act more like a human being, he learns that there might be a link to Soviet Russia and stolen art. Tyler begins to shape up as a detective just about the time things go sideways and he and Decker (along with Rina) are in serious trouble.

As long as it is, it’s still a quick and enjoyable read. The characters are fully fleshed and it’s nice to see Jewish characters involved in their faith without it being stereotypes or there merely to make a point about anti-Semitism. I have mixed feelings about the end though. However, it’s a good mystery and an enjoyable series.



View all my reviews


The Sleeper and the SpindleThe Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I had high hopes for this illustrated fairy tale. I like Mr. Gaiman’s work on the whole but this one was just sort of there. I liked the twist at the end a lot. Maybe I’m burned out on the retold fairytale theme. So what did I like? The art is wonderful. It captures the flavor well. I like that Prince Charming has been written out and the women are self rescuing...sort of but on the other hand, I’m flat out tired of stories being rewritten to give women something to do other than being objects to rescue. Give me NEW stories with strong women and leave the fairy tales as the classics they are. I guess you’d qualify that as an unpopular opinion.


The queen, close to being married, gets word from three dwarves of a neighboring queendom where everyone has been asleep for seventy years but suddenly it’s spreading, the sleeping spell. She decides to put off her wedding and goes to investigate with the three dwarves. There are a few logic jumps, one of which it took a moment to realize he’s conflating two fairy tales here, sleeping beauty (the main retelling) and our queen was formerly Snow White. Another was how everyone could be asleep for seven decades and covered in cobwebs but food is still spoiling and maggoty. Um, yeah no.

There is a lesbian kiss but I'm not even sure I'd call it that. Yes Snow kisses Beauty but there's no romance, no nothing really. You get the sense she did it to end the curse and nothing more so if you were hoping this was a queer retelling you're going to be disappointed.

The queen is such an aloof character that I didn’t really care if she succeeded or not. It was the old woman in the tower, whom of course we all think is the evil witch who ends up being the more interesting character. Overall I’m glad I read it but I’m more glad I got it from the library. I’m more forgiving when I don’t have to pay for something.



View all my reviews

AUGMENTING THE POWER OF MEN.

Once upon a time, steel was a metal hard-won, from iron that itself might be coaxed a few drops at a time from a simple blast furnace, or extracted at great hazard through the muscle power of iron puddlers, then to be converted into small bunches of steel in crucibles that took a lot of hand labor in hot conditions to handle properly.

Then came the Bessemer converter to remove some carbon from the iron, perhaps with a proper heat of steel as the end product, the open-hearth reverberatory furnace, a scaling-up of the puddler's furnace, to obtain a more precise steeling of the iron.  To make that steel on a larger scale required greater inputs of iron, and to reduce ores in the quantities envisioned meant improvements in logistics and in blast furnace practice.

Put all these things together and you have Kenneth J. Kobus's City of Steel: How Pittsburgh Became the World's Steelmaking Capital During the Carnegie Era, our Book Review No. 4.  Mr Kobus worked in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, and was intrigued enough by what he saw to dig into archives and corporate records and put together a story of the accumulation of small advantages accompanied by occasional Aha! moments that converted steelmaking from a hot, dangerous, artisanal business to a hot, less dangerous, industrial activity.

And for all the Popular Perspective of the Gilded Age steel works being a dark, satanic place, the reality of technical change is one of providing safer working conditions in which fewer men can produce tonnages the old-time puddlers and crucible handlers would find inconceivable.  And the safer working conditions turned out to be more productive working conditions as well.  For instance, in the early Bessemer and open hearth plants, furnace tapping and ingot teeming took place in the same pit.  Rearrange the plant and put in travelling cranes to move the larger ladles, now the teeming doesn't have to stop each time a furnace is tapped.  Likewise, the early iron furnaces had to be charged by hand, one wheelbarrow at a time, through an open top.  And yes, all sorts of toxic gases came out of that open top.  Work out a skip hoist and an air lock that can handle the weight of the charge, and one hazard to the furnaceman's health is mitigated.  Then figure out how to transport molten iron from blast furnace to open hearth, rather than casting pigs to reheat in a cupola furnace before charging that iron into the converter.  Also, improve the rolling machinery, in order that achieving the final shape of the steel doesn't require strong men working in close proximity to hot steel to muscle it into shape.  One steelworker characterized the conditions as "working aside of hell ahead of time," whether with the cupolas, in the tapping and teeming pit, or alongside the rolling mills.

Thus, yes, Andrew Carnegie and his financiers made a lot of money.  But their gains coexisted with improvements in working conditions and compensation in the mills, in the quality and quantity of steel available for final consumption, and in the energy intensity of the business.  (And the improvements go on.)

In part, Pittsburgh (and the western slope of the Alleghenies generally) emerged as the center of the steel trade because of existing ironmaking technologies and nearby coal deposits, although ultimately the competitive advantage would go to a plant with a deep water port, such as near Chicago or Cleveland.  But that's a story for a different line of research.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

WHEN ELITE CONSENSUS FAILS.

If, emulating Hayek, we contemplate a Fatal Conceit, then there must be a time for morbidity and mortality to render futile what the Wise Experts aspire to do.  And when the signs of decline set in, suggests John Judis, they might manifest themselves among the people as a populist insurgency.  Thus comes his The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics.  It's a Columbia Global Report, and yet a readable, tightly argued product for Book Review No. 3.

There are many manifestations of populism, some from the left, and some from the right, but when the Political Consensus breaks down, and the usual medicine of a Realignment Election doesn't keep enough of the Consensus in place, then comes an insurgency.  But the term "populism" misleads, in that often there is a vanguard, or perhaps a Pied Piper, and in the United States, the last two Pied Pipers were named Sanders and Trump.  And Mr Judis submitted his book for publication after one Hillary Clinton had won the Democrat nomination and she looked to be a lock for the presidency.

Gets wonky from here ...Collapse )
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is doubling down on the country being governed by stupid people, and the legacy press carrying water for the hegemons.  But he's saying "lying press."  That's more likely to be the "political earthquake [to overturn] neoliberalism and realign the parties" Mr Judis contemplates.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

#23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

I finished quite a few more books this last week probably because I had slowly worked several books up to be in striking distance of completion over the last month. Anyway, the following:

First was Osprey Fortress #52: The Fortifications of Gibraltar 1068 – 1945 which I found fascinating. A tiny piece of real estate in a strategic position, nearly impregnable with a long history. I'd recommend this one to anyone interested in military history.

Next was Osprey Men-At-Arms #51: Spanish Armies of the Napoleonic Wars, quite a bit older piece of work with lesser artwork and somewhat boring text. Not horrible, not really bad.

Then, The Dungeoneers: Blackfog Island, the first sequel to a book I read recently with others planned. Odd, a bit fun for those who are into RPGs. Enjoyable.

Next one I read then was Osprey Men-At-Arms #53: Rommel's Desert Army, once again an older Osprey with better text than the previous work but the plates aren't up to later standards. Good data on the Axis forces in North Africa.

Following that I finished Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz, part of a series I've been slowly reading over some time. The books are written from the point-of-view of Isabel Spellman, a private investigator who works in the family business, and much of the book deals with her investigating almost everything except for the case in front of her. I've really enjoyed these books but there's only one more left in the canon so I think I'm likely to get to it in the next three months or so and finish it off. I find them a fun read.

Finally there was Osprey New Vanguard #26: German Light Panzers 1932 – 42 a book about the tanks that were a major part of the original Blitzkrieg, running into Poland and France. Solid work.

Book 6- The Comeback, by Terry Pluto

6. The Comeback, by Terry Pluto. I'm not much of a sports person but I do believe in trying to read on a variety of different topics. Terry Pluto is thorough, concise and easy to follow. I've read several of his books now and always look forward to reading his newest. This one was especially fun to read because it details an event I honestly never thought I'd see in my lifetime- a national championship trophy. The Cavs won it all, against incredible odds, in 2016. I wouldn't be surprised if there was already a movie script in the works. Pluto states he had been working on this novel for a while, and it must have been rewarding to end it the way he could. He starts with the departure of LeBron James (infamously known as The Decision). He goes through the struggles of the Cavs in the next four years, the return of James, the injury-plagued 2015 championship games and the sweet success of the 2016 victory. Pluto includes scores of interviews and articles from players, coaches and even has a chapter dedicated to fan's reactions during Game 7. I'm sure Cavs fans will want to get this book so they can relive the joy of breaking the 52-year drought of national championships with the sports trinity of pro football, baseball and basketball.

Currently reading: Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig.
Summary:
Novelettes
"Toppers" by Jason Sanford
"Patience Lake" by Matthew Claxton
"President John F. Kennedy, Astronaut" by Sarah McDonald

Short Stories
"Wakers" by Sean Monaghan
"The Mutants Men Don't See" by James Alan Gardner
"Kit: Some Assembly Required" by Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz
"Kairos" by Sieren Damsgaard Ernst

Poetry
"On the Death of Classical Physics" by Michael Meyerhofer
"Your Clone Excels at You" by Robert Frazier
"SETI" by Andrew Paul Wood
"The Martian Air Merchants" by Ken Poyner


Asimov's Volume 40, No. 8 (#487) August 2016
Sheila Williams, editor
Cover art by Kinuko Craft


I received this issue at WorldCon in Kansas City this past August, and found it to be overall enjoyable. A few of my favorites were Jason Sanford's novelette "Toppers" with its strange New York City shrouded in killer fog and the short stories "Wakers" by Sean Monaghan (brutal, intense scifi) and "The Mutants Men Don't See" by James Alan Gardner (a fresh take on superheroes featuring a great mom-protagonist).


Number of pages: 401

Laura Barnett's novel opens in 1958 with a chance meeting between the two main characters, Jim - an arts student - and Eva - an aspiring writer.

However, the story takes a Sliding Doors-type twist and shows three different parallel universe versions of what happens next.

So, in Version 1, Jim and Eva get married and appear to be living happily ever after.

In Version 2, they miss each other and continue with their lives; Eva marries a character called David and Jim eventually marries Helena, although they do end up randomly meeting each other.

In Version 3, they do meet but Eva ruins things by not showing up at a date, and they both marry the same people as in Version 2.

I liked the way that the book switched between the three different versions of reality to show how their lives panned out throughout the 20th century, and up to 2014, at times showing alternative versions of the same event. I had to get used to the narrative style, which was mostly in the present tense except when something was in flashback, when it switched to the past tense. I often get annoyed when a serious book for adults is written in the present tense, but I managed okay with this. Jim and Eva were characters that I cared about a lot, even when they made very stupid mistakes, and I wondered which, if any, of the three storylines would lead to a happy ending.

I also enjoyed how the book traced their careers and how they achieved their dreams related to painting and writing, and reading about the different children they had in different versions of the story.

As it happens...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

They all do.

My instinct was that in Version 1, things were going too smoothly, and that they would split up and things would not end well. My suspicions seemed right when they mentioned Jim having a one-night stand, and later on Eva doing the same thing, and later finding that Jim had an affair, leading to an ugly divorce.

In Version 2, both characters split from their partners and end up in second marriages, so it did seem unlikely that they would get together, especially as in this one they were least familiar with each other.

In Version 3 they split up from their partners, but end up with each other towards the end, so it felt like the most optimistic.

In the end, both versions lead to them together at a funeral, with Eva forgiving Jim in Version 1, and Jim agreeing to go off with Eva in Version 2, while in Version 3 they are already happily together. The three different parallel versions dovetail together into the finale that tells of them approaching the end of their lives.



This was a book that I'd meant to read for ages, and I was glad I did.

Next book: Secret Water (Arthur Ransome)

A FLOCK OF BLACK SWANS.

That's the story line of George Packer's The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, our Book Review No 2.  The thesis of the book advances the logic of saecular decline and fall, although that idea does not explicitly appear anywhere in its pages.

If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding.  You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape -- the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools.  And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition -- ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere.  When the norms that made the old institutions normal began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone.  The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.
Unwinding follows a number of people from 1978 through to about 2012.  Some of these people are famous, some of them obscure, a number of them actually living in the Carolina Piedmont or trying to hold body and soul together in the Mahoning Valley or going from rich on paper to underwater on their mortgages in Florida, while in Silicon Valley, the new technology masters of the universe, not exactly organized money, prosper alongside expanding pockets of poverty just the other side of the expressway.  And in Washington, the expanded opportunities for women to participate in the labor force enhance the opportunities for family rent-seeking, with one half of the power couple in government service and the other half lobbying or working for the press corps or in a university.

Perhaps the strength of the work is that it simply relates the stories, and leaves the policy implications, the quest for stylized facts, the formulation of testable hypotheses to others.  Likewise, the deconstruction of The America That Worked(TM) is simply the background against which these people, for better or for worse -- and for many, it is unrelentingly worse -- make do.  The identification of causes and the identification of consequences are also left to others.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books 7 & 8 - 2016

Book 7: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – 220 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In is a massive cultural phenomenon and its title has become an instant catchphrase for empowering women. The book soared to the top of bestseller lists internationally, igniting global conversations about women and ambition. Sandberg packed theatres, dominated opinion pages, appeared on every major television show and on the cover of Time magazine, and sparked ferocious debate about women and leadership. Ask most women whether they have the right to equality at work and the answer will be a resounding yes, but ask the same women whether they'd feel confident asking for a raise, a promotion, or equal pay, and some reticence creeps in. The statistics, although an improvement on previous decades, are certainly not in women's favour - of 197 heads of state, only twenty-two are women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally, and in the world of big business, a meagre eighteen of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg - Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business - draws on her own experience of working in some of the world's most successful businesses and looks at what women can do to help themselves, and make the small changes in their life that can effect change on a more universal scale.

Thoughts:
I have spent more meetings than I care to count being the only woman in the room, and I’ve been told more than once that I am too bossy. I’ve been rejected for jobs purely because I’m female, given my qualifications were the equivalent of my male competition, and I’ve been told even by other women to expect to not get jobs because of my gender. My career is important to me, so I’m often on the look out for advice from more successful women on how to cope with the challenges of being female in the modern workplace. Sandberg is an exemplary example of a successful woman, so I sought out her book with much interest. Not long after I read this book, I had a conversation with the CFO I work for on his thoughts on the book, and it gave me a different interpretation to ponder. Personally, I thought Sandberg made some valid points that I’ve taken with me and think of when dealing with problems at work, and regarding my career. But I didn’t agree with all of them, and that’s okay too. My CFO thought Sandberg focused too much on telling women to behavior like men, and that both genders should bring their own unique talents to the workplace. I’m not sure I got that from the book, but it made me think a little more about some of Sandberg’s points, particularly the ones I disagreed with. Moreover, Sandberg’s advice is based on her own experiences, and she herself acknowledges how fortunate she has been in working with some of her mentors. The challenges of the workplace are quite different between Australia and the U.S. and I wont deny being jealous of Sandberg’s opportunities. This obviously doesn’t change the fact that Sandberg also worked hard and probably deserved the opportunities she was given – more that the same access simply doesn’t exist in Australia (having said that, I’ll take our annual leave benefits any day of the week!). Ultimately, this book is a fascinating insight into one woman’s experience, and while most certainly not a bible on how to be a woman in the workplace, it provides some good advice to take on board as appropriate. Definitely worth a read!


7 / 50 books. 14% done!


1661 / 15000 pages. 11% done!

Book 8: The First Ladies of the United States of America by Margaret Brown Klapthor and Allida M. Black – 93 pages

Description from Goodreads.com:
Published to accompany the book Presidents of the United States of America is, of course, a book on the First Ladies. It provides considered insight into the lives of the First Ladies, drawing on portraits from the White House Historical Association's collection.

Thoughts:
When I went to America in 2015, I visited Little Rock, Arkansas, and thus was able to make a trip to Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library (which was very cool!). While there I picked up some tourist books about the presidents and first ladies of the United States. For whatever reason, I read this one first. It was a quite an interesting read, especially given I wasn’t aware that sisters, nieces and daughters had acted in the role of quasi First Lady, as seems to be happening at the moment with Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka. Also interesting to see the evolving role of the First Lady from hostess to taking a more active role in policy. Not overly detailed, but a good starting point for anyone interested in American politics.


8 / 50 books. 16% done!


1754 / 15000 pages. 12% done!

Currently reading:
-        Wrath of Aphrodite by Bess T. Chappas – 207 pages
-        My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages
-        Four to Score by Janet Evanovich – 311 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        Reengineering the University: How to be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious by William F. Massy – 280 pages

Books 4 and 5

4. Valley of the Shadow, by Ralph Peters. I'm using this one as my war category for the 2017 Book Riot challenge. Wasn't sure about this one at first; there are so many viewpoints this story is told from, which was a bit jarring in the beginning. But Peters is a master storyteller, and once I caught on to the various voices, I was quickly sucked into the story. Within a few chapters, I could generally identify whose point of view was being told without seeing the name. Now that is expert writing! Valley of the Shadow is a novelized take on the waning years of the Civil War, from the failed attempt of the Confederate army to seize Washington D.C. to the battles of Cedar Creek. As I mentioned, the story is told from many points of view, both Union and Confederate, and what is refreshing is that it is from historic figures that are not generally found in the history books or, if they are mentioned, are barely more than footnotes. There's the young and pious Confederate George Nichols, the foul-mouthed, foul-tempered Confederate General Jubal Early, the short but fiery Philip Sheridan, the level-headed "Rud" Hayes (who would go on to become the 19th president of the United States) and more. Many more. It's a lengthy read, but well worth it. Included are an explanation of military terms, plus several battle maps at the beginning of the chapters. Civil War and history buffs should check this one out.

5. Reporting Vietnam, by Milton J. Bates. This will fulfill the category of reading a book that takes place more than 5,000 miles from here, for the 2017 Book Riot challenge. Reporting Vietnam is one of the harder books I've read, and not just because it is more than 800 pages. It's a compilation of stories, mostly from war correspondents covering the Vietnam War. This is actually volume 2 of a two-part series, and covers the end of the war and some of the aftermath. Some of the stories deal with the controversies on the homefront (of course May 4 at Kent State is covered) but the bulk of it are stories in Vietnam, from the cities to the front lines. Just about every view one can think of -- from President Lyndon B. Johnson to American officers to Vietnamese officers, to those fighting for North Vietnam, to the soldiers on the front line, to Vietnamese civilians, to those supporting the war, to those against the war effort. There's even a column from Sen. John McCain and his experience as a POW. Probably the most moving were the dispatches from Michael Kerr, who was embedded with one unit. The stories pull no punches, and offer a first-hand account of the despair, tragedy and controversy this war produced. For those researching this time period, Reporting Vietnam is an invaluable resource.

Currently reading: The Comeback, by Terry Pluto.

Book 17

ノラガミ 12 [Noragami 12] (Noragami: Stray God, #12)ノラガミ 12 [Noragami 12] by Adachitoka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I love this manga more every volume. The story deepens as we go and this volume was like a cheese grater to the heart and right from the opening scene were Yato is called before his father in his new form, the young Fujisaki who had been trying to hook up with Hiyori (and lets Yato know it). It also gives us a scene that's more complex than it seems (just look at how comfortable Hiyori is with Yato that she can sit there fresh from a shower in just a towel and talk to him).

And the stray isn't about to let Yato off easy either for dumping her. In spite of Father, she wants to destroy Yukine and Yato's bond with Hiyori (who now knows there is a secret the god's know, the secret of how their shiki died).

Midway we are given a beautifully drawn scene with Hiyori falling asleep with Yato and her lifeline 'tail' wrapping around them. This contact lets her into his dreaming mind and his past. What we see there...well I'm not going to spoil that but it is tragic, violent and so sad in his child-like innocence warped as it is by Father.

The art is lovely, the story is truly developing into one of the finer ones I've read in years and I have read a metric ton of manga. I'm enjoying the story so much I just bought two seasons of the anime sight unseen and given the cost of that, it should tell you how I feel about this series. Go read it.



View all my reviews

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THE YAZIDIS?

We'll return to the School of Tom Clancy for Book Review No. 1 in 2017.  This time it's Mark Greaney's True Faith and Allegiance, and it's much more compelling than Grant Blackwood's Duty and Honor, which merited a perfunctory, disappointed review toward the end of 2016.  I'm not the only Clancy enthusiast to note differences in performance among the matriculants of his school, and a number of even more unhappy readers of Duty were looking forward to True Faith.
Possible spoilers ...Collapse )There are a few more plot twists, plus, possibly, the introduction of additional cast members, but I've disclosed more than enough for today.  Happy reading.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books #5-6

Book #5 was "Heap House," the first in the Iremonger trilogy by Edward Carey. This is a fun, illustrated YA novel set in an alternative reality/fantasy London. The Iremonger family lives in Heap House, a mansion made of refuse and surrounded by monstrous "Heaps" of trash from London. Each Iremonger is given a "birth object," ranging from a button to a bathtub plug to a lady's shoe. Lucy Pennant arrives at the house as a new servant and encounters Clod, an Iremonger who can hear the voices of the objects. Together, they begin to unravel the dark secrets of Heap House and the Iremonger family. The book was a lot of fun but I'll warn others that it does end on a cliff-hanger, so you're likely not going to be satisfied unless you read the whole trilogy. I found this to be quirky and fun, and the illustrations definitely add a lot to the kooky-but-menacing atmosphere the novel creates.

Book #6 was "Air" by Geoff Ryman. I've read two of Ryman's previous novels ("Was" and "The Child Garden") and loved them, and this one was also excellent. Mae lives in a remote village in a fictional Asian country in the near future when it's announced that a new technology called "Air" will be made available to the whole world, and will start with a test that basically broadcasts the internet into everyone's head. The test goes disastrously wrong and people end up hurt or dead. Mae is nearly driven crazy by it, but eventually she figures out that she has to prepare her village for this new technology. She has to fight both the country's bureaucracy and the superstition and suspicion of her fellow villagers to show them how the new technology will destroy their old way of living but might also possibly bring good, new things into their lives. There's one bit of biological absurdity in the book that made it hard for me to suspend disbelief throughout, but luckily it didn't detract from the overall loveliness of the book. You'll be rooting for Mae to succeed despite adversity. Highly recommended.

The other books I've read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 16

The Ghost and the Lady, Book 1The Ghost and the Lady, Book 1 by Kazuhiro Fujita

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I struggled with what to rate this as parts of it are very different and interesting and parts were annoying as heck. I found this on a best manga of 2016 list and I didn't think the art was nearly as good as the reviewer did. It's very detailed but I was disturbed by Grey's oft-Gumby like appearance (yes, yes I know he's a ghost).

It opens with the Madame Curator of the Black Museum (sort of the X-Files museum of Scotland Yard in at the turn of the 20th century) and she meets the infamous Grey Ghost of Drury Lane. Grey has haunted the royal theater there for years, the spirit of a professional duelist.

He tells her the story of how he went from enjoying theater to being the potential killer in his own drama when a young woman asks him to kill her. He finds her too intriguing to kill directly but promises to kill her once she 'falls into complete despair.' (and that's one of the annoying parts, he's usually sensible then suddenly goes over the top when he wants her to despair. I hate that over the top cliche).

The young lady turns out be the wealthy Florence Nightingale, yes that Florence, the lady of the Lamp. If you've never read her story, it's one worth reading. The author has done a fair amount of historical research, I'll give it that. One of the reasons Florence is despairing is she can see these monstrous ghosts attached to people, eidolons. Grey explains that every human has them and they bring out/feed on bad emotions and bad behaviors. They cause many of our conflicts.

Florence has a huge conflict with her parents. She is a wealthy Victorian girl meant for marriage and improving the family name. She believes God has spoken to her, to find her calling and she believes that is helping the sick and injured. She even attended a school for nursing on the continent but in England and in many other places, nurses at this time were literally camp followers and whores, good for mostly just cleaning up the squalid hospitals and feeding/bathing patients. In the real world Florence transformed nursing into what it has become today at high cost to her.

In the manga, we follow Florence and Grey as she takes her first faltering steps into making nursing a respectable and useful career. Grey is there both protecting her from others (so he can kill her later) and bearing witness to her deeds as she saves a horrible hospital from itself and later following her to the Crimean war.

However, as Florence can see the eidolons, she is particularly vulnerable to them and they are constantly shredding her. And this is literally the most annoying part of the entire volume. Every time she's confronted and begins to falter a little, her vulnerability is shown by drawing her naked and tearing her nude body apart. It seems exploitive rather than a good metaphor. And it happens A lot.

As I said above, the author has obviously done a ton of research historically (several footnotes throughout, though how much of that was in the original and how much is from the English translation team I'm not sure). Kudos for weaving D'Eon du Beaumont into the story (though her breasts are a bit much especially when I already knew D'Eon's secret).

I would like to see more. Oh and this manga is one of the hard cover double (or maybe even triple) volumes.





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#21, 22

This week I didn't finish quite as many books. One thing or another conspired to keep me from spending as much time with my Nook or my books so...

Anyway, the first one was Deadly Election by Lindsey Davis. This is an offshoot of her Falco series; that character has retired for political reasons from continuing as an informer in Imperial Rome, but his adopted daughter continues in a complex mystery started by a dead body unidentified found in a strongbox for sale. Good piece of work as I expect from this author.

The second book was Osprey Fortress #10: The Maginot Line 1928 – 45, the defenses upon which the German Army of WWII was expected to beat itself to death; they maneuvered around it instead, wasting a vast amount of French taxes. Sad.

Let's see what next week holds!

Book 15

Zero-G (Zero-G #1)Zero-G by William Shatner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2.5 star read. Sadly I wanted to love this but didn’t. I’m a fan of Mr. Shatner and I love SF and mysteries which the blurb leads you to believe this is but this book had some issues that just bogged it down. One of the biggest problems is all the unnecessary background information, especially in the beginning. There’s one character who’s piloting a shuttle and we see him for a few lines but we’re given his whole military history. However, the most aggriegous example is Kristine. Literally for ther first seventy pages of this book, it’s about Sam Lord, the main pov character and head of what is basically the FBI of the space station and Kristine, a twenty-something paid escort of Colonel Franco. Some of it is to introduce us to this space station and it’s people, Franco, Lord and Ziv, the CHAI (a mostly robot cyborg Mossad agent) and Adsila, Lord’s second in command, a Cherokee pan-gender (they can undergo sequential hermaphrodism, i.e. switch sex but there isn’t much understanding on how this actually works and no explanation of how we managed to incorporate that into our DNA). But at the end of the day, Kristine is utterly unimportant and I felt annoyed. I think it was meant to be like James Bond where you see the end of one adventure at the beginning of the movie which works in a movie but seventy pages of text? Not so much.

The other problem is the love of acronyms. Every few pages there were more of them. I also had issues with it being near SF (as in if Sam Lord is 80 something in this novel, I’d be about 95), and I just don’t see us having space stations and the ability to change our gender in the next forty years but I could live with that if the characters felt better developed. Lord is very obviously Shatner. He’s an 80 something badass (with no explanation of how he’s in such amazing shape) who loves women (we get a bit of ‘age is just a number’ when he’s interested in Kristine, though relationships don’t matter much in this) and loves horseback riding. You can see they tried with Adsila but there didn’t seem to be much research beyond the most superficial into Cherokee culture. Some of the gender stuff came off creepy, especially since one whole part of it was for her to sleep with the enemy. Eye roll.

The plot is rather simple. Dr. May has created what should have been an interesting bit of neutrino use which of course someone has stolen and weaponized. They have to find out who stole it and stop it as it’s already destroyed most of Japan and a chunk of the Rockies.

It was slower than it needed to be. The series had potential but it didn’t realize it.



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Summary:
Still popular nearly a century after its original publication, W.D. Westervelt's Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes, is well written and well-paced. Especially enjoyable are the tales the exploits of Pele and her sister Hiiaka with mortals such as the handsome chiefs Kahawali and Lohiau, and the explosive love affair with the pig-god Kamapuaa. The powerful conflicts between Pele and Poliahu, the snow goddess, and Hiiaka and the many moo, or supernatural water creatures, are recounted with the rhythm and suspense befitting the best drama.

I have read numerous books on Hawaii mythology and history from the turn of the last century, and I've become jaded to the biased viewpoints of the time. I was delighted and surprised to find this book, available as a free download from the New York Public Library, was well-written, articulate, and academic in its approach to traditional Hawaiian stories and the science of geology. Indeed, the forward was written by T.A. Jaggar Jr, who the Volcanoes National Park museum is now named for. That raised my esteem right from the start.

The book keeps a tight focus on Pele, stories about Hawaiian volcanoes, and the actual scientific research then beginning on Kilauea. (At the time of the book's publication, MIT's volcano observatory had been in operation for five years.) This is a book written for a more discerning audience than the usual early 20th century mythology books with their trite references to 'poor primitives'; this book keeps a respectful tone throughout, and I get the sense that Westervelt was as fascinated by the land and its legends as I have been.
and Some Other Things I Haven't Told You



I enjoyed reading the autobiography of Kunal Nayyar (Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory a lot. I found much of the writing was very quirky, and humorous (particularly the endnotes), and I found the book to be very readable. Not surprisingly, it mostly tells of how he struggled to become an actor, with a series of disappointments coming from not being cast (at one point 40 students including him are after parts in a play with only 38 roles; he ends up as one of just two students who missed out).

I enjoyed in particular the anecdotes about growing up in India, Kunal's family and Indian traditions, although the biggest surprise for me was that Kunal Nayyar was born in Hounslow, South-West London. I also enjoyed how the narrative did not always follow a chronological sequence (at the start it goes from a story about Kunal's childhood to a story about something that happened on the set of The Big Bang Theory). I also liked the way that between the main chapters, there were some personal philosophies, lists (including 13 things learned from being on The Big Bang Theory) and even notes written on aeroplane napkins.

I was surprised by how short this book was, but overall this was a satisfying read.

Next book: The Versions of Us (Laura Barnett)


Number of pages: 326

Compilation of Sherlock Holmes short stories taken from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Some of the stories were ones I had read before, while others were new to me. I quite enjoyed the story of the six Napoleons, in which someone starts smashing busts of Napoleon, and I liked the way that some of the stories references previous ones in the compilation, so whoever decided which ones to put in this book was definitely thinking carefully.

The hardest story for me was The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, which effectively took the form of a flashback within and flashback, within a flashback, with Dr. Watson telling of a story Sherlock told him, which eventually led him to a letter that provided the answer to the mystery through a flashback sequence.

I have two more similar compilations that I am going to read soon.

Next book: Yes, My Accent is Real: A Memoir (Kunal Nayyar)

Books #3-4

Book #3 was "Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored" by Mary Gabriel. I always found Woodhull to be a fascinating character and had heard good things about this biography of her, specifically. Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for president (with Frederick Douglass as her running mate). She was the first woman to address the U.S. Congress and to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street. She also came from a fairly shady family and was a spiritualist. What separates her from other feminists of the time was that her focus wasn't solely on winning the right to vote but largely to lessen the misery of both men and women by making it easier for women to marry for love and to divorce if the marriage was abusive or just highly unhappy. Her unconventional views on romantic love got her maligned as a prostitute and con woman, but, just like today, she was often punished by society not so much for sinning as for pointing out the sins and hypocracies of others. I felt Mary Gabriel provided a balanced and nuanced view of a woman who was far from perfect but also passionate about social reform and helping the downtrodden. I liked that she lets the original source material speak for itself and quotes newspaper articles by and about her and Victoria's own speeches at length. Highly recommended.

Book #4 was "Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home" by Sheri Booker. Booker, a sheltered child of a police officer father and a school principal mother, begins working at a funeral home in inner-city Baltimore at age 15, shortly after her beloved Aunt Mary dies, and ends up staying there for nine years, ultimately acting as the unofficial office manager for the funeral home by the end of her stay. In the meantime, she learns about love and death, how not to cry, and the toll that holding back your tears can take. She talks about the ins and outs of the funeral business, and the rise of black-owned funeral homes. She tells humorous or scary anedotes about things that happened during her nine years at the funeral home, from a shootout at the funeral of a gang member to getting two bodies mixed up on a busy weekend. Her writing is NOT PC. There are a couple unkind cracks about fat people, and the way she talks about transgender women seems naive if not borderline offensive. However, this sort of unfiltered way of writing about her experience makes it feel like you're one of her girlfriends and she is gossipping with you over coffee about the weird things she encountered at work, and that makes it more entertaining than a book about the funeral business has a right to be. I liked this a lot and recommend it.

The other books I've read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 14

The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost StoriesThe Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I see the author every year at the Mothman Festival and I was exciting to see this one on her sales table. It's a nice fat book on haunted areas around the state of West Virginia. One of the things I really like about most of Ms Guiley's books is the amount of research that goes into them. This one was broken up into various areas (Harper's Ferry, Charleston, Huntington etc) and not only do you get details on the hauntings, she gives a mini history lesson with most of them. She also designates them as hauntings that have been investigated vs urban legend (and draws parallels to well known legends such as all the haunted hitchhiker ones) and also lists if they are on public (most of them) or private property.

If you're looking for a guide for your own ghost hunting in West Virginia, this would be a handy book to have. It's well written and fun.



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#16, 17, 18, 19, 20

Several books were nearly done, and to start the week off I finished reading Homeland by Cory Doctorow. Terrific book and terrifying. Very topical at this time in that much of the book relates to dealing with an American police state and dealing with riot control efforts stopping protest marches. Very much worth a read.

I followed that one with Osprey Elite #45: Armies of the Gulf War, when many nations came together and beat back a bully who'd invaded a tiny country on its border, Kuwait. The book deals with the major combatants discussing their armaments and equipment. Not bad.

Then it was Lawful Interception by Cory Doctorow, a short piece follow-on to Homeland that hints at ways a crowd can deal with being faced down by disciplined, trained riot police. Interesting. Timely. Good stuff.

Next was Osprey Campaign #34: Poltava 1709: Russia Comes of Age, not a battle that we hear much about in US educational systems. I found it quite interesting, though the verbiage was a little hard to slog through.

Then, Osprey Elite #51: US Army Air Force (2) which deals primarily with the equipment and uniforms of the ground crews and support staff in all regions and weathers that the USAAF fought in during WWII. I wonder (because I've yet to come across a copy) what book (1) deals with?
Summary:
Kitty Norville, Alpha werewolf and host of The Midnight Hour, a radio call-in show, is contacted by a friend at the NIH's Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology. Three Army soldiers recently returned from the war in Afghanistan are being held at Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs. They're killer werewolves—and post traumatic stress has left them unable to control their shape-shifting and unable to interact with people. Kitty agrees to see them, hoping to help by bringing them into her pack.

Meanwhile, Kitty gets sued for libel by CEO Harold Franklin after featuring Speedy Mart--his nationwide chain of 24-hour convenience stores with a reputation for attracting supernatural unpleasantness--on her show.

Very bad weather is on the horizon.


As a writer, I'm impressed by how Vaughn has developed each book in the series. She sprinkles in just the right amount of back story. Info dumps aren't an issue. Instead, each book flows quickly and can stand well on its own--more like episodes of a TV series than a book series.

Here, the action pushes along at a fast pace as two major plots converge: Kitty addresses the weirdness of Speedy Mart stores on her radio show, leading to an odd confrontation with the CEO, even as the Army pulls her in as an advisor in an effort to rehabilitate rogue werewolf-soldiers whose pack leader died, leaving them bereft and homicidal. Also, the character of Cormac plays a bigger role than he has in several books, and some surprising developments emerge. In all, a fast and good read, just as I expect in this series.
Summary:
In the seventh entry in Carrie Vaughn's bestselling Kitty Norville series, a publicity stunt turns into a fight for the popular radio talk show host's life.

Talk radio host and werewolf Kitty Norville has agreed to appear on TV's first all-supernatural reality show. She's expecting cheesy competitions and manufactured drama starring shapeshifters, vampires, and psychics. But what begins as a publicity stunt will turn into a fight for her life.

The cast members, including Kitty, arrive at the remote mountain lodge where the show is set. As soon as filming starts, violence erupts and Kitty suspects that the show is a cover for a nefarious plot. Then the cameras stop rolling, cast members start dying, and Kitty realizes she and her monster housemates are ironically the ultimate prize in a very different game. Stranded with no power, no phones, and no way to know who can be trusted, she must find a way to defeat the evil closing in . . . before it kills them all.


This is by far the darkest yet of the Kitty books, but that tension made it read all the faster. Kitty agrees to participate in a reality show about supernaturals being filmed in the deep mountain wilderness. What could possibly go wrong? It's a fast romp as the situation escalates quickly. I needed a easy, escapist read, and this book was just about perfect.

January 2017 reading

First I need to put a bow on 2016 with a couple addenda to my wrap-up post for the year. Another category of books I forgot to mention was translations, and I read two last year. Also the post for book 42 which I finished at the very end of the year, as promised …

Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin – a photograph of a woman on a beach in a wedding dress holding a gun behind her back brings to light a tale of murder and deceit – interesting structural concept with a good story but rather flat characters, as well as some continuity and editing issues – read it for mystery book club where the general consensus was most members liked it while recognizing the flaws

This year I’m going to try a monthly post here and see how that goes.

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – for women’s book club – chosen from the local library’s “choose civility” reading list for adults [based on a county-wide civility campaign a few years ago] – a young man investigates the murder of his neighbor’s dog and ends up uncovering some information about his family – though it’s never explicitly stated, the young man exhibits traits of a person with autism such as an aversion to being touched and difficulty perceiving emotions in others - at times funny and other times heart-breaking but ultimately with a positive ending – generated good discussion – also fulfills Read Harder Challenge task of reading a book that’s frequently challenged in your country (for “profanity and atheism”)
2. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova – brujas in Brooklyn! (don’t call them witches) – Alejandra (aka Alex) has a powerful gift that she rejects rather dramatically and in the process banishes her entire family to another realm – to retrieve them she reluctantly enlists a mysterious young man as her guide, and hijinks ensue – a real page-turner with lots of action, some snarky dialogue, and a tiny bit of romance – first in a series but it can also stand on its own – fulfills C of the Litsy A-to-Z challenge
3. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – a cranky bookseller’s life is changed when someone leaves a small child in his store for him to look after – a bit precious at times but generally charming and entertaining – many quotable lines and laugh-out-loud moments – fulfills Z of the Litsy A to Z challenge as well as Read Harder Challenge task to read a book about books
4. The God Box: Sharing My Mother’s Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go by Mary Lou Quinlan – the title pretty much says it all and that’s fine – a touching and thoughtful story that’s occasionally repetitive but never preachy – fulfills Q of the Litsy A to Z challenge
Summary:
The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice...

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind


I received this early reviewer copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

This nonfiction book is about 480 pages, with about 10% of that as citations, and it reads with the pace of a thriller. Radium Girls is enthralling, horrific, and at the same time, beautiful. The latter came as a surprise to me. I knew I little bit about the 1920s clock dial painters who were taught to lick their brushes to a fine point, and who were told that the radium used to make the dial numbers glow was completely harmless, even beneficial. They'd paint their faces and teeth with radium for fun, even as the powder covered their bodies and clothes, making them glow after they went home at night. When they started to suffer from the cumulative, nightmarish effects of radium, their companies denied any wrongdoing and tried to dismiss the young women as suffering from hysteria or moral failings like syphilis. The agonies that they endured... my gosh. Trying to eat food, and having pieces of their jaws break out through their gums. Their spines collapsing inward, their leg bones compressing, the sarcomas, the daily pain. The beauty in their story--where Moore's work truly shines (pun unintended)--is in their strength of character, their faith, how their intense love of their husbands and children inspired them to fight on, even in agony. The plight of Catherine was especially poignant. How she managed to live for months in her condition, at a mere 60 pounds, defies all medical logic.

I had only really known about the earlier radium girls in New Jersey, not the group from Ottawa, Illinois, in the 1930s. Both groups endured protracted legal battles for medical compensation for the maladies that bankrupted their families. What the Ottawa group endured was worse, in a way, because their ordeal didn't need to happen because of the earlier court cases. Actually, none of this needed to happen. It had been known since the turn of that century that radium caused terrible side effects, but instead radium was glorified as a cure-all, with radiated water and beauty products for sale. These women had to fight to make their voices heard, and many were only listened to after death: after all, the radiation in their bodies has a long half-life. Their corpses still glow, even now.

This is not an easy read. Definitely not for the squeamish. I can read a lot of gore, but sometimes the descriptions--of their medical issues, and their horrible treatment--filled me with nausea and revulsion. I read an early-release ebook version that didn't contain photographs; I imagine the final version will contain images that will make the words even more profound.

Moore's work doesn't come across as motivational porn, or profiteering. She writes from a passion for justice, and to celebrate these women and what they endured. She gives credit to the radium girl for their greater legacy: government organizations that safeguard the workplaces of millions of people, from the Manhattan Project and to modern day. This is a read that will leave you deeply troubled and frustrated, yet hopeful, too.
Summary:
“What on earth would I gain from that?” I asked him. “Risk my own neck by violating my banishment just to leave you? The sentence placed on me if I return is execution. If I’m entering the mountains again, I’d damn well better get something out of it.”

Exiled from the Silverwood and the people she loves, Mae has few illusions about ever returning to her home. But when she comes across three out-of-place strangers in her wanderings, she finds herself contemplating the unthinkable: risking death to help a deposed queen regain her throne.

And if anyone can help Mona Alastaire of Lumen Lake, it is a former Woodwalker—a ranger whose very being is intimately tied to the woods they are sworn to protect. Mae was once one of the best, and despite the potential of every tree limb to become the gibbet she’s hanged from, she not only feels a duty to aide Mona and her brothers, but also to walk beneath her beloved trees once more.

A grand quest in the tradition of great epic fantasies, filled with adventure and the sharp wit—and tongue—of a unique hero, Woodwalker is the perfect novel to start your own journey into the realm of magical fiction.


What a lovely, breezy, and surprising book! Woodwalker takes many epic fantasy tropes, like displaced royalty and dangerous quests, and twists them into something new and fun. I like to think I'm good at predicting the ends of books, but this one surprised me, and in a good way. I look forward to reading the next in the series!
Summary:
A good issue overall. My favorite pieces happened to be short stories: "Wetherfell's Reef Runics" by Marc Laidlaw (which I read, quite appropriately, in rural Hawaii) and "On the Problem of Replacement Children: Prevention, Coping, and Other Practical Strategies" by Debbie Urbanski (which was difficult for me at points because of the emotions it evoked). I was happy to "Kingship" by Mary Soon Lee as well--she's one of my favorite poets.

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