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May. 25th, 2015

What with the long weekend, and a long drive with my wife (who drove), I managed to finish another novel, this being Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Another humorous item by the author, and a bit irreverent, I found it to be a pretty good read. It deals mostly with the years between Jesus' birth and his final days. I can't wait to crack the next book by this author.


# 24 Jodi Taylor: Just one Damned Thing After Another.
A historical research institute, where historians use time machines to observe the history as it happens. At least that is how it is supposed to go. But things quickly get complicated. I have enjoyed it, but could not quite decide what genre it was supposed to be. Too bloody for lighthearted fantasy. Too humorous for serious stuff. Cant quite explain why, but I found that annoying.

# 25 Guy Adams: The Breath of God (Sherlock Holmes)
I really liked that one. It held true to the original style and characters. The story itself had interesting twists and I was happy to see that everything did in fact have rational explanation in the end.

# 26-28 Margaret Weis: The Star of the Guardians Trilogy.
I came across the first book by accident. Then I was simultaneously repelled and attracted by how closely modeled on Star Wars everything was. A very recognisable cast of characters to start with. However, as things progressed the story became more and more different and riveting in itself. And I absolutely love Derek Sagan and lady Maigrey.

# 29 Joanne M. Harris: The Gospel of Loki.
The Norse Myths told from the Trickster's point of view. Humorous and entertaining.

# 30 Robyn Cadwallader: The Anchoress.
A novel about a young girl who decides to become an anchoress, to live out her life in an enclosure, praying for the villagers and her patron. As the novel progresses, we understand more about her reasons for such a drastic decision. She also tries to understand how to make such life her own. A very touching and enthralling read.

# 31 Margaret Weis: The Ghost Legion
The final book in the Star of the Guardians series. Perhaps even the best of them, although I am not a big fan of the metaphysical plain. A good ending. Probably. Can't stop wishing for a different one.

May. 24th, 2015

As it was something of a restful day, yesterday, I got a couple of books done:

First was Unsinkable Mister Brown another novel ostensibly based on the real life of an American working on cruise ships. Amusing, possibly not as good as previous books by the same author.

Then, Osprey Vanguard #25: German Armoured Cars and Reconnaissance Half-Tracks 1939 - 45, a mostly forgettable book from them. The photos were fair, the plates less so, and the text was fair.

Book 19- The Diary of Anne Frank

19. The Diary of Anne Frank. This is actually not just the diary, but includes biographies, background, photos, maps and other details- totaling more than 700 pages. The diary part included Anne Frank's initial writings, her own revisions, and the best-known German translation. It was neat seeing the differences among the three versions, even if it was a bit confusing at times. What can you say about a journal that has been read by millions? Something that has touched so many people? Anne Frank was a somewhat ordinary girl (albeit with a considerable talent for writing, which improved as she matured) in extraordinarily horrifying circumstances. My experience with her story beforehand was limited to seeing a movie, reading a play script in high school and seeing two staged versions based on an updated (and much improved) version of that first script. Of course, nothing beats reading the actual source material. I found myself a bit shocked at the liberties taken, although I'm not unsympathetic. It's not easy cramming more than two years into two or so hours. One thing I had always wondered about is what they would have done if the plumbing went out- eight people living with one bathroom would be tricky enough. Compromised plumbing did, indeed, happen on a couple occasions. It was fascinating to watch Anne's writing style, her attitudes and reflections- many quite profound- mature as the diaries went on. It's also impossible to read this book without a tinge of sorrow, since you know the final outcome of the Annex residents. You always have to wonder "what if...?" What if they could have remained hidden even just three more weeks? What would have happened to the families after the liberation? Would we know them as well as we do now? I can see why this is often assigned in school- and it should be. Yes, there are some "controversial" subjects, such as talk about sex and menstruation. But Anne's voice is a voice many preteens and teens can relate to. Certainly, we are not at war and don't have to live in hiding as she did. But while she does discuss in her diaries what is going on outside the Annex, she also talks about her difficult relationship with her mother, her quarrels with Mr. and Mrs. van Pels, her slowly budding romance with Peter, her love of movies, and her love of freedom and ideas. This would be a good book to pair with Hidden Like Anne Frank, which I read earlier this year.

Currently reading: 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion, by Harriet Worsley, and Mark Twain's Guide to Diet, Exercise, Beauty, Fashion, Investment, Romance, Health and Happiness, collected and edited by Mark Dawidziak.

#52: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

The only thing worse than being a witch is living with one.

Camellia’s adopted mother wants Cam to grow up to be just like her. Problem is, Mom’s a seriously wicked witch.

Cam’s used to stopping the witch’s crazy schemes for world domination. But when the witch summons a demon, he gets loose—and into Devon, the cute new boy at school.

Now Cam’s suddenly got bigger problems than passing Algebra. Her friends are getting zombiefied. Their dragon is tired of hiding in the RV garage. For being a shy boy-band boy, Devon is sure kissing a bunch of girls. And a phoenix hidden in the school is going to explode on the night of the Halloween Dance.

To stop the demon before he destroys Devon’s soul, Cam might have to try a spell of her own. But if she’s willing to work spells like the witch...will that mean she’s wicked too?

This book had me from the first lines:
"I was mucking out the dragon's garage when the witch's text popped up on my phone. BRING ME A BIRD."

Connolly has written a YA book that is genuinely funny, witty, and bright. She captures teenage angst without making it annoying. Cam is easy to relate to. She's being raised by a witch but she doesn't want to have anything to do with magic, except for the chore she loves: tending to the dragon in the garage. When the new boy in the neighborhood ends up possessed by a demon (whoops), Cam does everything she can to save his soul while simultaneously studying for her algebra exam.

Seriously Wicked came out just a few weeks ago. I wanted to be sure to read it before I passed it along to my niece as a birthday gift. I'll do that now, gladly. For all the dark themes it skirts, it's still a joy-filled book, and I hope it can brighten my niece's day, too. If she's like me, it'll take a mere day to zoom through. I didn't want to put the book down!

Book #22: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

Number of pages: 224

When I was young I got given the complete Chronicles of Narnia box set as a present. Because I wasn't quite such a dedicated reader in those days, it took me quite a few years to reach this, the final book in the series.

Reading it again, and understanding how the books are all Christian allegories, it is fairly easy to tell that this represents the book of Revelation.

The opening of this book is somewhat unconventional. Whereas nearly all the books in the series open with children in our world usually facing some sort of personal trial, before ending up in Narnia, this one starts off in Narnia and introduces two talking animals; Shift the ape and Puzzle the donkey. It is fairly easy to work out very quickly that Shift is one of the main villains of the story.

Shift and Puzzle discover a dead lion at the bottom of a pool and Shift promptly comes up with the idea that Puzzle should put on the lion's skin and pretend to be Aslan, the Jesus character of the Narnia series.

The book then introduces King Tirian, who commits a murder at the end of the second chapter in a fit of rage; it is one of the more brutal moments in the Narnia series, and feels unusually shocking for a kids' book. Tirian is promptly arrested and bought before Shift, who is now declaring himself "Aslan's mouthpiece", and bringing out Puzzle in the lion's skin, claiming him to be Aslan. He promptly orders King Tirian to be tied up.

It is not until about a quarter of the way into the story that any familiar characters show up, as Eustace and Jill, previously seen in The Silver Chair are transported into Narnia. We also see Peter, Edmund, Lucy and also Diggory and Polly from The Magician's Nephew, but at first they appear only briefly when Tirian is somehow transported to our world in what he believes to be a dream. They appear again towards the end, but more on that later. The character Susan, who featured in previous books, does not appear, and is said to be no longer interested in Narnia, evidently representing someone who has abandoned their faith. Eustace and Jill are said to have been on a train, where they were going to meet the others; it was all part of a plan to use Uncle Andrew's magic rings (from The Magician's Nephew again), when there was a sudden jolt that they thought at first was a train crash, only to find themselves in Narnia.

The one thing I did notice when re-reading was that the loyal characters were known as "The seven friends of Narnia". The number seven is of particular significance in the Bible - as one of the church leaders I've met has told me, it is seen as a "perfect number". In the book of Revelation, there are seven lampstands representing seven churches.

The whole story is leading towards, as you can probably guess from the title, one final battle that represents Armageddon, and ends up in a complex three-way conflict. Reading the book, I started to see if I could work out who everyone represented, and I guessed that Shift was either one of the false prophets mentioned in the New Testament, or more likely the "Beast out of the earth" mentioned in Revelation 13, whose number is 666.

There is another character who appears briefly in a couple of chapters - Tash, who takes the form of some sort of human/bird hybrid, and is probably the character in the series most likely to give kids nightmares. He possibly represents the Devil, or possibly is some sort of embodiment of God's wrath.

The story starts to feel like the darkest in the whole series, as the situation for the Narnians becomes hopeless, as the Calormenes start invading, and Aslan is nowhere in sight. The book's main threats are actually eliminated about three quarters of the way in, but this doesn't feel in any way abrupt. This makes way for the final segment of the tale, which you shouldn't read about if you've not read the book yet.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Diggory and Polly appear again, but they are dressed as Kings and Queens; Eustace and Jill are magically dressed the same time, and the book indicates that they appear different. Re-reading this, it occurred to me that this probably represents the "resurrection body" that the Bible refers to.

At this point, Aslan himself shows up, and starts leading them into his kingdom as Narnia starts to fade away and the stars fall from the sky. Anyone familiar with the Bible will recognise this as a representation of the second coming of Jesus and the new creation. The last four chapters all revolve around the journey into Aslan's kingdom, and on the last page comes the book's final twist.

Aslan reveals that the moment Eustace and Jill arrived in Narnia, they were dead. In fact the train really did crash and both of them, and Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Diggory and Polly were killed. When I first read the book, I was completely blown away by this. As I re-read this, I saw various hints at this; as well as the assumption that the train had crashed, Peter mentions that he thought the train was going too fast, and Jill wonders what would happen if they died in Narnia.

Overall, I loved this book and it made for a fitting finale to the Narnia series.

Next book: Bible Delight (Christopher Ash)

Books #23-24

Book #23 was "Memoirs of a Survivor" by Doris Lessing. This is sometimes referred to as "feminist science fiction." I'd call it speculative fiction, or near-future dystopia, or maybe a mashup of fantasy and spec fic. The story takes place in near-future England, where society is slowly collapsing, gangs of violent young people move through the streets and the availability of running water and electricity is spotty. During this time, the main character opens the door to find a man delivering a 12-year-old girl, Emily, and her pet (a cat-like dog or a dog-like cat named Hugo) and telling the main character the girl is her responsibility now. As she tries to keep her little created family safe during the chaos, she sometimes drifts off into reveries where she can pass, like a ghost, through the walls of her apartment and into another reality where she sees many disjointed scenes, some of them of Emily's past. The book is thoroughly strange and definitely has the feel of a dream, though with a little bit more of a plot than most dreams have. I wasn't sure what to make of it for the first 15 or 20 pages but I ended up getting sucked in and really liking it. I'd like to read more by Lessing.

Book #24 was "Moral Disorder," a collection of inter-related short stories by Margaret Atwood, in audiobook form. This is another book where it's hard to know what to say, because I felt it was flawed but there were a lot of things I liked about it. Atwood's prose is marvelous, as usual, but most of the stories have very little in the way of plot, though most of them have a dramatic tension to them that keeps you reading (or listening, in my case). All the stories relate to the same family, which is pretty obviously modeled at least a little on Atwood's own family, over the course of the main character Nell's childhood into old age. My favorite story was "White Horse," and in general, I really liked the stories where animals or nature played a role. My next favorite was probably "Entitites," as that one actually did feel like a complete short story and not just a slice of life. I'd only recommend this collection to hard-core Atwood fans, but if you're new to her as an author, start with something else like "A Handmaid's Tale" or "Oryx and Crake."

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

2015 Books #7-8

7. Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, 347 pages, Fantasy, 2013 (Craft Sequence, Book 2).

Returning to the world of the Craft series, but not the characters of the first book, Max Gladstone introduces us to Dresediel Lex, land of the Quechal people. With a god structure similar to the Aztecs/Mayans, the Quechal used to sacrifice blood, pulling the hearts of their victims using obsidian blades on altars of stone. But now their world is bound by Craft and contracts, as the King in Red formed Concerns to handle the needs of the people that their gods once took care of. But there are those who wish to bring back the old ways of worship, bring back what old gods they can, awake the twin Serpents, and rid their world of the Craftsmen and their foreign ways. I absolutely loved this book, with learning more of this world, and for the complexity of the conspiracies against the current regime.

8. Festive in Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 389 pages, Mystery, 2014 (In Death, Book 39).

It is almost Christmas time in the year 2061, and Lt. Eve Dallas has to roll out of a warm bed to take the case of Trey Zeigler, personal trainer, who was killed in his apartment, the murderer leaving a knife in his chest and the message “Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!! Ho Ho Ho!”. The call is made by none other than Trina, the hair and body person Eve has been forced to use for the society events her husband takes her to; she discovered the body along with Trey’s ex, in the midst of a prank to get back at him for how badly he used said ex. Turns out the victim used and demeaned just about everyone he had contact with. But he’s Eve’s, and no matter how much she loathes him, he will get justice. Eventually. It was nice to see the whole gang get together and celebrate the holidays.

Book 3: In an Antique Land - Amitav Ghosh

A really great book, though hard to categorize! It's partly a history of a slave mentioned in a 12th-century letter, an ordinary person spared from the anonimity that history usually accords to people in such roles. The other side of the book is a narration of Amitav Ghosh's time spent living in rural Egypt as a part of his research. The book is a very nice read, and Ghosh does a great job of holding together his historical research & episodes from life in Egypt in a way that demonstrates the stakes of the history he is creating, one which really focuses on the connections between people, the effects of colonization and development, and the preservation of the past. I ended up liking this one a lot - the writing is vivid and the subject matter is interesting. Plus I really appreciate his approach to narrative, where he is able to pull to light significant historical insights through his juxtaposition of these two stories.

All my reviews.

Book #21: Real Lives by D.J. Carswell

Number of pages: 150

You are on a train; you look at the people around you. Someone hides behind a newspaper. Another dozes; a young man nods to the beat from his iPod. A baby cries further along the carriage and a table of football fans celebrate an away victory over a few cans of lager. Someone's mobile goes off; a student sits next to you sending a text message. Eavesdropping on the conversations you catch soundbites from those around you. Who exactly are they, you wonder?

This is the introductory text on the back of Dorothy Carswell's book, the second I have read by her now. Each chapter tells a story of how a different person became a Christian.

The most gripping chapter was the longest one, which tells of how a compulsive gambler struggled with changes in his life and eventually became a preacher. Other stories included an athlete from Jamaica who struggled with being a victim of racial abuse, and another person who was ready to commit suicide when they visited a church. I liked the fact that Carswell also included her own story.

Overall, a very enlightening book and it made me feel encouraged.

Next book: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
Book 48: 666 Park Avenue (666 Park Avenue #1).
Author: Gabriella Pierce, 2011.
Genre: Paranormal Romance. Witchcraft.
Other Details: Paperback. 320 pages.

Welcome to New York City where the socialites are hiding some dark secrets ... Ever since the fabulously wealthy Malcolm Doran walked into her life and swept her off her feet, Jane Boyle has been living a fairy tale. When he proposes, Jane can't believe her luck and decides to leave her Paris-based job as a fledgling architect and make a new start with Malcolm in New York.

But when Malcolm introduces Jane to the esteemed Doran clan, one of Manhattan's most feared and revered families, Jane's fairy tale takes a darker turn. Now Jane must struggle with newfound magical abilities and the threat of those who will stop at nothing to get them. 666 Park Avenue - enter at your peril.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I have had this paperback for some time and after reading the more literary works for the Baileys Prize shortlist I was in mood for some witchy fun. 666 Park Avenue delivered with a very engaging story of witchcraft in New York high society. It balanced just enough humour with its darker elements.

I had watched the short-lived TV series based on the novel when broadcast and realised that the source material was very different in a positive way. Pity they could not have made a television series closer to this novel.

As this is the opening act in a trilogy I cannot comment on the overall plot but felt it was a promising beginning, which encouraged me to read on and purchase the other two novels on Kindle.
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the wildly successful and beloved Back to the Future trilogy, just in time for the 30th anniversary

Long before Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled through time in a flying DeLorean, director Robert Zemeckis, and his friend and writing partner Bob Gale, worked tirelessly to break into the industry with a hit. During their journey to realize their dream, they encountered unprecedented challenges and regularly took the difficult way out.

For the first time ever, the story of how these two young filmmakers struck lightning is being told by those who witnessed it. We Don’t Need Roads includes original interviews with Zemeckis, Gale, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Huey Lewis, and over fifty others who contributed to one of the most popular and profitable film trilogies of all time.

With a focus not only on the movies, but also the lasting impact of the franchise and its fandom, We Don’t Need Roads is the ultimate read for anyone who has ever wanted to ride a Hoverboard, hang from the top of a clock tower, travel through the space-time continuum, or find out what really happened to Eric Stoltz after the first six weeks of filming. So, why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here – and start reading! We Don’t Need Roads is your density.

I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

If you grew up on the Back to the Future trilogy, you must read this book. I'm usually pretty slow to read through nonfiction books, but I blazed through this in a couple days. It reads as fast as a novel and is absolutely fascinating.

Much of the book focuses on the first movie: the background of "the Bobs," Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and the dilemma with the leading man. They wanted Michael J. Fox but he was engaged with Family Ties, so they went with Eric Stoltz. He was a fabulous actor but not suited for Marty; he was a method actor who insisted that he be called "Marty" on the set and played the role as stiff and serious. By the time they realized this and desperately sought out Fox, they were able to finagle things to cast him and history was made.

The book overflows with interviews with many of the cast members, including Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd. I was utterly fascinated by the truth behind the famed hoverboard scene in Part II: that a stuntwoman almost died. Sure enough, I watched that scene again last night, and you can see the reflection of a body falling thirty feet to the concrete.

I found it very appropriate that immediately after I finished this book, I went on Facebook and found that Christopher Lloyd reprised his role as Doc for a Lego commercial. Back to the Future has such huge cultural significance for my entire generation and for me personally. I truly enjoyed finding out more of the truth behind the trilogy.
Evoking the same small town charm with the same great eye for character, the co-author of Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society finds her own voice in this debut novel about a young debutante working for the Federal Writer's Project whose arrival in Macedonia, West Virginia changes the course of history for a prominent family who has been sitting on a secret for decades. The Romeyn family is a fixture in the town, their identity tied to its knotty history. Layla enters their lives and lights a match to the family veneer and a truth comes to light that will change each of their lives forever.

Barrows was one of the co-writers of Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society, an absolutely charming book that reached worldwide acclaim. That's an awfully high bar to set with a debut. Her solo debut, The Truth According to Us is strong and charming in its own way, though not the equal of the first book. Again--I sympathize, because the standard is so high.

The new book is set in West Virginia during the Great Depression and follows numerous characters: 11-year-old Willa Romeyn, whose intelligence and curiosity are bound to get her in trouble; her aunt Jottie, who has raised her rakish brother's two children and largely shut herself off from the outside world after a tragedy almost two decades before; and Layla, a newcomer to town, a disowned socialite and now an employee of the WPA with an assignment to write the small town's history.

I found the first few chapters confusing because of the shifting perspectives and sheer number of Romeyns, but soon enough the book gripped me. It's not an action-filled book, but all the same, there is a lot of tension between the characters and the sense that things will soon explode like a powder keg. The city itself is a fantastic character, as its highfalutin residents want the history white-washed. Layla grew on me greatly as she shed the last vestments of her former high lifestyle and became determined to tell the true history, Indian massacres, sordid preachers and all. I loved Willa. She has that southern strength like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and by the end I really wanted to give her a hug. Her father... well. Barrows is an excellent character writer. She manages to make even the most selfish people into sympathetic villains... even if I still want to slap them.

This is a strong book, and I can definitely see it as a hit of the summer and a book club favorite.
To save her mother's life, Clary must travel to the City of Glass, the ancestral home of the Shadowhunters - never mind that entering the city without permission is against the Law, and breaking the Law could mean death. To make things worse, she learns that Jace does not want her there, and Simon has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters, who are deeply suspicious of a vampire who can withstand sunlight.

As Clary uncovers more about her family's past, she finds an ally in mysterious Shadowhunter Sebastian. With Valentine mustering the full force of his power to destroy all Shadowhunters forever, their only chance to defeat him is to fight alongside their eternal enemies. But can Downworlders and Shadowhunters put aside their hatred to work together? While Jace realizes exactly how much he's willing to risk for Clary, can she harness her newfound powers to help save the Glass City - whatever the cost?

I barreled through the first two books in the series a couple years ago and then got distracted by other things. The entire series is now available in my library's e-book lending service, and that proved more palatable than lugging around a 500+ page physical book. Anyway, I enjoyed it. There was less of the annoying teenage romantic angst than in the earlier books (relatively speaking), and unlike some other YA series the adult characters have some dimension. I think transferring the action to the Shadowhunter city of Alicante was also a useful change of pace.

This entry seems to wrap up a significant part of the storyline and reads like the last book in a series; HOWEVER ... there are (at least) three more books!

Tiny Lady Gets Ready; Little Cat Wolves

Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed (audiobook)
As I listened to this collection of advice columns, I was surprised to realize how many of them I'd read when they were published - I thought of Dear Sugar as a very occasional visit. And yet. I'd read so many of these before. I very much enjoyed hearing them in Strayed's own voice, too. Some of them were very hard to listen to. Some of them made me cry. And some of them made me feel warm and fuzzy and fortunate to be alive. And those three sets have hella Venn diagram overlap. Also when I was googling the link to the (defunct) Dear Sugar column, I found out Strayed and Steve Almond (a previous Sugar) are doing a podcast now. I am intrigued.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, by Linda Williams
Cute Halloween story. Not notable among the slew of very splendid kids' books I've been reading, but it was fun. And I like that the little old lady was the hero of the tale.

Little Mouse Gets Ready, by Jeff Smith
The artwork in this is so very clean that I can picture 4 or 5 different spreads from the book as I wrote this. It didn't really feel like a Jeff Smith book (same guy that wrote Bone) until the ending. Which was great.

The Cat, by Jutta Richter
A short and odd story about a girl and a cat. Although it is mostly text, the images stayed with me more than the text did.

Wolves, by Emily Gravett
So very very much fun, this book! Exactly the kind of scary-andbut-amusing that I loved as a kid, with the attention to detail of Roald Dahl or Joan Aiken, only in a very simply-plotted picture book for kids. <3.

Open This Little Book, by Jesse Klausmeier
I was delighted by this book. As in I sat there and reread it 4 or 5 times in succession. If I were still a little kid I would've literally been clapping my hands with glee. I came close, even now. I made birdmojo read it, and he made a joke about changing it just to get a rise out of me, and even though I knew he was deliberately provoking me, I STILL got indignant. Because this is one of those books that is perfect exactly as it is. Oh, I should tell you something about it. It's a whole bunch of stories tucked inside each other, and each story is in its own progressively smaller book... though ti gets a bit more complex. And every story is both a splendid example, but also slightly mocking, a particular type of somewhat old-fashioned children's book that I read many of as a kid. So, you know, EEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Book 60

Legacies (Shadow Grail, #1)Legacies by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember the last Lackey book I read. I was picking up my parents from their 25th anniversary. I'm approximately two weeks shy of it being their big 50th so it's been awhile. I will say that this doesn't get high marks on originality but over all I liked it well enough. Of course there will be Harry Potter comparisons drawn since both have schools of magic (just as there were between Harry and his forerunner, Tim Hunter from DC/Vertigo's Books of Magic).

Spirit White just went through the worst thing a teen can: the loss of her entire family in a car accident and she herself nearly died (someone has a warped idea of how long physical therapy will take, just saying. Nowhere near this short). Spirit finds herself sprung from the rehab hospital and shuttled in to Oakhurst with another young orphan, Loch. Unlike her and her hippie parents, he is from money but they get on well.

Oakhurst is part orphanage and part magical training school. Loch and Spirit meet a few new friends, Muirin the illusionist, Addie, the water witch heiress and Burke, the combat mage. Loch turns out to be able to find his way anywhere and know things by touching them. Spirit's magic never comes (at least not in this book). Oakhurst is highly competitive and doesn't encourage friendships. In fact it seems to want them isolated and is definitely isolated from the wider world being in the middle of Montana and off the web.

As Spirit tries to adjust to life without her baby sister, Phoenix and her parents, and slowly getting the idea that there is a whole world out there that is filled with enemy witches (who probably killed her parents and a lot of the other kids parents), she and the others become aware that kids are going missing. Now why Muirin, Addie and Burke never noticed before (since a few of them have been there a while and Spirit should have noticed Burke lost his family and his family home in exactly the same way she did but this doesn't seem to impact her) can only be explained by 'it wasn't one of my friends so who cares.'

But Muirin's boyfriend (sort of) is the one to go and then another friend at Halloween and this gets their attention. It didn't take much to figure out what was going on (but obviously if my parents are celebrating 50 years together you can guess I'm a lot older than the target audience so I've seen this before a hundred times). I recognized the Wild Hunt right off.

Naturally like in most YA's the adults are useless so the kids have to stop it. No one over thirty can be trusted after all and in this case who could blame them. Kids have been disappearing for forty years from this place. The group has a deadline. They have to figure out what is going on and stop it before the winter solstice.

Overall, it's enjoyable but like I said, not tremendously original. what really bugged me was the end. I liked what they did with the Wild Hunt and how they dealt with it but the aftermath had me rolling my eyes. For one there are too many loose ends not tied up (guess that's for future books in the series) and the adults just don't seem to care. That really reminded me of Harry Potter to be honest. Oh look there are FORTY years worth of disappearing kids tithed to the Wild Hunt and even recorded as such but when the kids tell Dr. Ambroisius he goes 'fifty points to Gryffyndor.' Okay not really. He doesn't demerit any points for being outside after curfew and that's it. That drives me nuts about YAs. Often the adults have to be either oblivious or criminally negligent or just plain gone. In this they're all three. Oh well.

View all my reviews

Number of pages: 864

William Makepeace Thackeray's darkly comic novel is mostly about the anti-heroine Becky Sharp and her efforts to climb the social ladder. Becky is very different from most female lead characters in classic novels in that she really is quite selfish, and I got the impression at times that she wasn't meant to be a likeable character. The book also revolves around various other characters, such as Amelia, Captain Dobbin and the vile Marquis of Steyne.

Most of my knowledge of the book came from the 1998 BBC adaptation, and I found the book quite hard going at times, mostly because it was a bit long-winded, with a lot of long sections without dialogue. However, I found myself liking Thackeray's quirky writing style, particularly the way that he constantly addresses the reader. While sometimes it was hard to engage with what was happening, some of the chapters were very enjoyable, particularly the vivid portrayal of the battle of Waterloo.

The book was a mixture of comedy, romance and tragedy, and it seemed to get a good balance between the three. It is quite a long book, but at the end I was satisfied and glad that I had kept going with it.

Next book: Real Lives (D.J. Carswell)
Book 47: The Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey #11).
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers, 1934.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Golden Age Detective.
Other Details: ebook. 422 pages.

When his sexton finds a corpse in the wrong grave, the rector of Fenchurch St Paul asks Lord Peter Wimsey to find out who the dead man was and how he came to be there. The lore of bell-ringing and a brilliantly-evoked village in the remote fens of East Anglia are the unforgettable background to a story of an old unsolved crime and its violent unravelling twenty years later. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The novel opens with Lord Peter Wimsey having a minor car accident on his way to celebrate the New Year. While his car is recovered and mended he and his valet, Bunter, are welcomed into the home of the local Rector. Given he has some experience with bell-ringing, Lord Peter is recruited as a substitute for a ill parishioner to take part in a nine-hour New Year's Eve bell-ringing. He and Bunter continue on their way a day or so later. However, when the corpse mentioned above is discovered a few months later, Lord Peter is asked to assist in uncovering the mystery alongside the local police.

This is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel that I have read though I was aware of the reputation of Dorothy L. Sayers and this series. It was selected by one of my reading groups as we wished to compare an example of the Golden Age of Detectives with two examples of modern detective fiction.

I certainly found it very enjoyable with plenty of twists before the mystery was solved. I did feel that given this was one of the later novels in the series that the character of Lord Peter was very well developed and while this works as a stand alone, I wished we had selected one of the earlier ones for that development. I may well read the early ones as they are available on Kindle. Unconventional and quite compelling, I can see why these novels have proved so popular over the years and remain highly readable 80 years on.

As a couple of group members were still reading we could not discuss 'whodunit' but did discuss other aspects such as Sayers attention to detail and her excellent sense of place in her depiction of the East Anglia Fens and the lore of bell-ringing throughout the pages.

May. 19th, 2015

Continuing in the previous vein, I finished reading the D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide yesterday, in preparation for running a game. It's a rulebook, not a novel, and maybe shouldn't count here?
The Laramie Project, and The Laramie Project 10 Years Later, by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. I've had the pleasure of seeing The Laramie Project twice, but it was still nice to have an opportunity to read the script. Wow, what an incredible piece. After the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, Kaufman and a group of others from the Tectonic Theater project trekked to the community to interview the residents there about the case, which garnered international attention. The play is a result of those interviews, and the cover the spectrum of voices. It's a moving theatrical piece, handled with sensitivity, on issues that raise controversy and even ire today.

I was not aware that Kaufman and several members of the theater group went back to Laramie during the 10th year anniversary of the murder to do followup interviews, which include interviews with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who are both serving two consecutive life sentences for the murder. This play concentrates on the changes within the 10-year span- both in Laramie and in the progress of passing hate crime legislation. Again, an excellent play.

Currently reading: The Diary of Anne Frank

#48: Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Tim has worked with over 100 different authors from top best sellers such as Hugh Howey, Daniel Pink, Charles Duhigg, Chip and Dan Heath, Ramit Sethi and Pamela Slim to authors just get started on their first writing project. He has worked with authors across all fiction and non-fiction genres. Along with his client work, he has studied many other successful authors to learn what works and what doesn't.

The result is Your First 1000 Copies where he walks you through the Connection System, a plan that every author can immediately start using. The plan looks like this:

Permission - How to open up communication with your readers where you can reliably engage them and invite them to be involved.
Content - How to use content to engage with current readers and connect with new ones.
Outreach - How to ethically and politely introduce yourself to new readers.
Sell - How all of these steps can naturally lead to book sales without being pushy or annoying
Track - How to use modern online tools to see what's working and what's not working, and how to make decisions based on data.

This is a system that any author can immediately put in place to start building their platform. Whether you're a seasoned author looking to step into the new publishing landscape, or you're a brand new author, Your First 1000 Copies will give you the tools to connect with readers and sell more books.

I have seen this book recommended by multiple writers that I respect. This book is short, but Grahl's approach is thoughtful, flexible, and makes senses. He doesn't believe in heavy-handed marketing. It's all about inviting a relationship with the reader and respecting that relationship. Much of his emphasis is on newsletters. I confess that I am ambivalent on that point because I've seen many newsletters that are not successful, and it's made me wary of starting a newsletter of my own. However, I might go forward with an attempt after reading this book.
I ended up enjoying this so much more than I thought I would! The premise is a married couple, Charlotte & Edward, decide to invite two of their friends, a military captain and a schoolgirl, to their castle to live. This introduction of new parties breaks the ties that bind the marriage together and causes their affective bonds to reform in new ways. All of this is overlaid with their communal efforts to shape the castle grounds into a landscape garden/nature park.

It's a short book, and most of the entertainment (for me, at least) comes from the overly-exeuberant sentimentality of Edward, the typical Strum & Drang protagonist. It's also raises a lot of questions about the concept of "attraction" - if we take even somewhat literally the magnetic metaphor, what are the consequences for the concept of free will? Particularly since, even if we can control our own actions, we cannot control the actions of the people around us and cannot always predict how we will react to a change in circumstance. It's easy to compare the time & money the characters spend on improving and mastering the landscape around them to the increasing chaos in their personal lives. However, the novel also raises the question of whether complete self-mastery is necessarily the most worthy goal.

As I said, this was a pretty enjoyable read for me - the interpersonal drama, the scientific metaphors, and the constantly shifting circumstances made it fun read. One caution is that I've heard some translations of the work are not as good as others, so that might be worth looking into for folks who aren't reading it in German.

See all my reviews here.
Book 46: A Spool of Blue Thread .
Author: Anne Tyler, 2015.
Genre: Contemporary. Family Drama.
Other Details: Hardback. 368 pages.

'It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon’ This is the way Tabby Whit shank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Tabby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whit shanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we also see played out our own hopes and fears, rivalries and tensions – the essential nature of family life.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Prior to taking part in this year's reading group to shadow the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction I had not been aware of Anne Tyler though quite a few members of the group were familiar with her work and praised her highly. Still I admit up front that this kind of drama focused on family is not really a genre that I read seek out.

Still, I found the novel well written and a number of the anecdotal tales about members of the family and the house itself were quite engaging though others left me rather unmoved. My overall impression was that the novel was quite uneven and just ended as if she did not know where else to go at that point.

I did not really feel this was a real contender for the Prize and those in the group familiar with Tyler's writing said it was not one of her best. I know there is a wide readership for this kind of novel but really was not my cup of tea.

Books 33 & 34 - 2014

Book 33: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Ninth: The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket – 286 pages

Description from
Everybody loves a carnival! Who can fail to delight in the colourful people, the unworldly spectacle, the fabulous freaks? A carnival is a place for good family fun - as long as one has a family, that is. For the Baudelaire orphans, their time at the carnival turns out to be yet another episode in a now unbearable series of unfortunate events. In fact, in this appalling ninth instalment in Lemony Snicket′s serial, the siblings must confront a terrible lie, a caravan, and Chabo the wolf baby. With millions of readers worldwide, and the Baudelaire′s fate turning from unpleasant to unseemly, it is clear that Lemony Snicket has taken nearly all the fun out of children′s books.

The ninth Series of Unfortunate Events book forces the Baudelaire children to start to question whether they are as bad as the terrible Count Olaf as they take drastic measures to try to hide from their enemy, as well as gain information about their potentially still alive parents. The children are forced to dress up in disguise and work in a carnival right under Olaf’s nose. But there is someone in the Carnival who might just be able to help them. Bad guys are good guys and good guys are bad guys and anyone can turn seems to be the enduring story of the Baudelaire’s children tragic childhood. The ending of this one is quite sad and a little scary – I feel these books are getting less and less kid-level. Either way, I’m increasingly finding myself getting into them now.

33 / 50 books. 66% done!

11759 / 15000 pages. 78% done!

Book 34: Sex Drive: In pursuit of female desire by Dr Bella Ellwood-Clayton – 312 pages

Description from
For many women an active sex life is on the bottom of their 'to do' list. Is women's sexual desire in the Western world at an all time low? Australia's most popular sexual anthropologist investigates.

Despite this book’s title, it is far from titillating (despite the many comments I got when it came up on my facebook while I was reading it). My interpretation was that this book was supposed to look at why women apparently don’t want sex. It did do that, but perhaps not quite in the sociological/anthropological mindset I was expecting. It’s less about gender studies and more about what drugs to not take if one is feeling a little less than spicy. I found it really dull, and personally wouldn’t recommend it unless you were specifically looking at the issue from the prescribing of drugs perspective.

34 / 50 books. 68% done!

12071 / 15000 pages. 80% done!

Currently reading:
-        Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton – 596 pages
-        Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs – 331 pages
-        The Queen of Zombie Hearts by Gena Showalter – 442 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
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages
Enormous Smallness, by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
The narration and the artwork combine to give a really stunning portrait of e.e. cumming's life - best suited for an 8- or 9-year-old kid, I think.

Silly Sally, by Audrey Wood
A fun, slight, exuberant book for littler kids. The art is the best part.

Forever Friends, by Carin Berger
The art is the best part of this littler kids' book, sweet and odd.

Wombat Walkabout, by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
An absolutely splendid and engaging prey vs. predator story, with art that matches it. <3.

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes, by Daniel L. Everett
This was kind of dry and linguistics-professor-y by times, but you know? Guy is a linguistics professor, so that is ok. The story parts were fascinating and the linguistics parts were pretty neat too.

Copper, by Kazuo Kibuishi
I started reading this months ago! It is very very good and inextricably wound up for me as "one of my friend N's favorite books", which just made it better.

Yay, You!, by Sandra Boynton
Charming paen to taking the next step, for grown ups. Is not as good as her kids' books, I don't think.

Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag, by Maira Kalman
Idiosyncratic and beautiful alphabet book, all illustrations based on objects from the Cooper Hewitt. Like almost any Maira Kalman books, there were a few pages I was tempted to put up on the walls.
Meet Denver, a man raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana in the 1960s; a man who escaped, hopping a train to wander, homeless, for eighteen years on the streets of Dallas, Texas. No longer a slave, Denver's life was still hopeless—until God moved. First came a godly woman who prayed, listened, and obeyed. And then came her husband, Ron, an international arts dealer at home in a world of Armani-suited millionaires. And then they all came together.

But slavery takes many forms. Deborah discovers that she has cancer. In the face of possible death, she charges her husband to rescue Denver. Who will be saved, and who will be lost? What is the future for these unlikely three? What is God doing?

This book is told in alternate chapters from Denver's and Ron's points of view. Ron is a little bit of a snob and occasionally a jerk, so his chapters were sometimes tedious. Denver, on the other hand, is tough and street-wise, and his chapters were raw and painful. As the book progressed away from their respective youths and into the story of how they met and worked together at the homeless shelter, it got more interesting and accessible. Through the intervention (aka nagging) of Ron's wife Deborah, the two men form an uneasy friendship that deepens into true friendship through shared experiences and crises. Overall, I found the story touching and uplifting without becoming maudlin or sappy.

This was our latest book club selection, and everyone liked it. We had an interesting discussion, especially about the nature and depth of Deborah's faith. Book 11 is our selection for October (and I'm leading the discussion, so I hope I remember it well enough by then!), so I will hold off on that post until then.

Book 59

The Heroic Legend of Arslan 1The Heroic Legend of Arslan 1 by Yoshiki Tanaka

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've seen snippets of earlier versions of this story and having Arakawa do the newest version was definitely something I wanted to see. I have to admit, it starts a little slowly for me. I would never have guessed this wasn't pure fantasy if not the interviews in the back (It's ancient Persia). The titular Arslan is a fourteen year old boy who is the sole (as far as I can tell) heir to his father's throne, ruling the well-off kingdom of Pars. His father seems to be a brutish king and his mother an ice queen. In fact, neither parent seems to have time for nor care about their son. He is left to be raised by his various mentors, including Vahriz who is teaching him to fight.

It's rather obvious the King and his soldiers see Arslan as soft (and unless I miss my guess Vahriz even seems to suggest that there is nothing of the king in him at all which might be true? Certainly the queen seems unimpressed with her husband). There is a telling scene where a young boy of a neighboring kingdom has been taken prisoner of war and made into a slave. Arslan sees being a slave as an honorable thing but seems to start rethinking it.

When Arslan finally goes to battle, things go sideways. What the King doesn't know and would be too arrogant to admit to is that he has been betrayed. Daryun, Vahriz's nephew and one of the best warriors tries to warn him and is nearly killed for it. He is stripped of everything but Vahriz makes him promise to look after Arslan. What no one knows is the lengths the Lusitanians (which is a name that keeps throwing me) will go to. Their god demands no god before them and Pars is of a different (or no) faith. Their god has no problems with throwing women and children of non-believers into the fires (though some of the soldiers do). To be fair, Pars and its king don't seem to balk at this much either.

Having been betrayed the king and his men don't have much of a chance. Arslan is saved a little by his own swordsmenship but mostly because Daryun is a killing machine. Daryun now has to get Arslan to safety.

What slowed this way down for me was too much battle and worse endless recitation of how many of what kind of soldiers there were and how many died and all the titles of people I didn't have a chance to get to know. It wasn't a great balance between fight scenes and storytelling and for anyone reading my manga reviews you'll know this matters a great deal to me.

That said I loved the art. Arslan and Daryun are interesting as are the two characters we see for just a few panels at the end. I will definitely get more of this. I just hope the balance between fight fight fight and actually advancing the plot will improve.

View all my reviews


Book 45: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Book 45: The Paying Guests.
Author: Sarah Waters, 2014
Genre: Period Fiction. Relationship Drama. GLBT.
Other Details: Hardback. 576 pages.

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the 'clerk class', the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
- synopsis from author's website.

The Guardian review of this novel stated of Sarah Waters that "she is not afraid to play with her readers' expectations" and also noted the dramatic key change that occurs part way through the novel. I would agree with these observations though came to it with few expectations. I found it a well observed post-Great War relationship drama that unfolds in the close atmosphere of the South London house. Then came the 'key change', which I will not say too much about apart from the fact that it transformed the novel from the above slow-paced drama into a page-turner worthy of any modern thriller.

Up to that point I had been somewhat under-whelmed by this book and while it is not my favourite for the Baileys Prize I felt it was well written and very compelling. The setting, as with all of Waters' novels, was faultless. The issues raised were important ones and I would think this novel will prove a favourite with reading groups. One that is best read without reading too much in advance about the plot.

Book 58

Kitty Litter KillerKitty Litter Killer by Candice Speare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I grabbed this from the library because I needed a K for my alphabet challenge and it sounded cute. It's more like a 2.5 read. It's probably a little better than my own personal enjoyment but honestly I didn't connect with the characters at all (also this is book 3 but that doesn't really matter much). I didn't notice it was a Heartsong (i.e. Christian inspirational) until half way through but I think the author forgot that too because God wasn't getting credit for everything until about that point. Don't get me wrong. I'm not bashing on religion here. I read mysteries with priests, monks, nuns, rabbis etc but for me there needs to be a balance between faith and mysteries and a lot of times the 'inspirational' ones have it too far to one side for me. That said mostly it wasn't bad in this until Abbie, the prime suspect started saying her ex's abusive behavior was a punishment from God for not helping Phillip to find God. I about threw the book at that point but luckily the main character was quick to shut that down.

Trish is a mother of three or four (I think one is her husband's by an earlier marriage) who has two very domineering women in her life, her mother and her mother in law. Apparently Max (her husband) comes from mom and she doesn't and she thinks her MiL dislikes her because of it...apparently for years since she has somewhat older kids. Her best friend, Abbie, an author, is getting married in two weeks to Eric, a detective when Phillip her ex (and another cop) returns to town, argues with her in public and gets killed.

Naturally Abbie is the prime suspect and even more naturally Trish doesn't think the state cop detective put on the case because of conflicts of interest with the local cops is capable of seeing past Abbie as a suspect. We have the normal pressures to stay out of it by the family except Mom who is running around 'helping' by alienating everyone.

As for the titular kitty litter and kitty, Trish's well to do mom wants to get Sammie, Trish's little girl a cat. Rather than being cute and fun, the cats barely play a role (but a pivotal one at the end) and does nothing more than to reinforce negative stereotypes about cats which I didn't appreciate much (They're sneaky, they're not loveable etc).

It's not a bad read. The mystery was pretty obvious and I was a bit annoyed that everyone seemed more concerned about the murdered man (who hadn't been very nice) once they realized he had converted to the Lord. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to find more of this. It's not really my cup of tea.

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