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Happy reading!
Summary:
Proof that we're living in the best of all possible worlds: THERE'S GONNA BE A SQUIRREL GIRL GRAPHIC NOVEL! It's a stand-alone adventure that's both great for new Squirrel Girl readers, and also for people who ALREADY know about how she can talk to squirrels and also punch really well! Behold: a story so HUGE it demanded a graphic novel! A story so NUTS that it incorporates BOTH senses of that word (insanity AND the weird hard fruit thingies) (they're fruits, did you know that?) (I didn't until I looked them up just now, so looks like we're all learning science from this solicit text for a comic book!) Squirrel Girl has defeated Thanos, Galactus, and Doctor Doom. TWICE. But in this all-new graphic novel, she'll encounter her most dangerous, most powerful, most unbeatable enemy yet: HERSELF. Specifically, an evil duplicate made possible through mad science (both computer and regular) as well as some Bad Decisions. In other words, SQUIRREL GIRL BEATS UP THE MARVEL UNIVERSE! YES. I CAN'T WAIT, AND I'M THE GUY WRITING IT.

One of my sisters-in-law gifted me with this new Squirrel Girl book for my birthday. My to-read pile be darned! I had to read this book next.

I gifted my son with a Squirrel Girl graphic novel for Christmas, and I read it first and thought it was a delight. This new stand-alone volume obviously jumps forward in the timeline--there were new characters I hadn't met yet--but it was very easy to get into the book. Squirrel Girl is such a fun, relatable superhero--she's curvy, devoted to her friends, and defeats a lot of big bad guys through kindness and compromise. Here, though, Squirrel Girl is duplicated by a nefarious machine, and with a wink and a nod to old tropes, her double ends up going super-villain. It's a fun read. Almost every page has fine print at the bottom with some commentary from her squirrel Tippy. The art is fantastic, and the Deadpool hero/villain cards cracked me up. This book only reaffirms that I'm a Squirrel Girl fan girl.

Book 7

Haunted in Death (In Death, #22.5)Haunted in Death by J.D. Robb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I didn’t know what to expect when I found this audio book in a library sale and saw it was only three discs long but claimed to be unabridged. I thought maybe it was one of the first ones it was so short but logging into GR, I see it was a Halloween novella. It was fun and very different from the usual near-future SF that informs the Eve Dallas In Death series. It’s about a ghost with a true haunting feel. Naturally it’s not Eve believing in the ghost but rather the more supersitious Peabody and Roarke embracing the stereotypical Irish belief in the supernatural.

It begins with Number Twelve, a famous CBGB-like club that has been ‘cursed’ for decades bringing the owners nothing but trouble. The newest owner, something of a music producer wanna be who wanted to reclaim the club and reopen it, is found dead along with the possible grave of a 60’s music star inside its walls. It is said she haunts the place accounting for the bad luck in the place.

Eve has no time for haunts and is rather annoyed Peabody and Roarke do. She has two mysteries to solve, one nearly eight decades old. The mystery was a lot of fun and in some ways its a little more enjoyable than others because there’s not the Roarke/Eve let’s fight then screw set up that’s in literally every book, nor Eve angsting about her past nor Roarke buying nearly everything to help the investigation and it was a nice break not to have those things.



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#3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

After having had a slow week for book completion, I followed that with a blazingly fast week. More specifically, I spent most of the day on Sunday reading, and I finished a number of books that day.

Anyway, here they were:

First book that I finished was a compilation of columns written by the Chicagoan Mike Royko, called Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends. The pieces set the scene of Chicago in the early 70s, the Nixon years as it were. In this one, it's after the riots at the Democratic National Convention, and the elder Daley and his crew have years yet to be in power. I found the book pretty fascinating and funny. Royko was best known for writing the book Boss which is about Chicago under the first Mayor Daley. If you're from Chicago, this book is well worth reading. If you're not, the columns are still interesting for the style.

Next was Hobby Games: The 100 Best, a series of columns written by gamers and game designers about a list of famed games. I've played or collected maybe twenty-five of these, and I'm sure that the columns are supposed to persuade me to pursue the others, but in all honesty they didn't have that effect on me. Still, it was fun to see the write-ups of the games I know, and heck, some of the columns were written by people I know, so that was fun in a very different way. Mostly aimed at gamers.

Then we have Osprey Fortress #49: The Spanish Main 1492 – 1800. If you're interested in pirate lore, this is a good resource for describing the places that they would raid. I found it engaging, especially in light of certain campaign games that my friends envisioned running in the past using Wooden Ships and Iron Men rules. Not bad at all.

Next was Delilah Dirk and the Easy Mark. I've read another Delilah Dirk item online, and recently purchased the second book of the saga for reading, but this one is a short piece where Ms. Dirk's associate is manipulated by a cat. If you like the graphic novels of this series, this is an amusing interlude. If not, don't bother finding this online.

Then, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson, as opposed to the book of the same name by a different author that I read several weeks back. In that one, a company of dwarves dungeon delve while in this one, a rogue recruits a young man into a legion of adventurers who practice their skills together. In all honesty I found both books engaging for different reasons. The book I just finished appears to for the moment stand alone, while the book I read previously already has a followup novel which I'm pursuing. Good for gamers or fantasy enthusiasts.

Next book that I finished was Osprey Men-At-Arms #49: The Coldstream Guards, a book about the second regiment of the British Guards Brigade. One of the oldest regiments still active in the British military, this book was a quick overview up until the 1970s. I bet there's been some more action for them since...

Then, Osprey New Vanguard #24: Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank 1979 – 1998, a book I found a bit technical for my taste.

Next was then Osprey Raid #43: Kill Rommel!: Operation Flipper 1941. Most of the Raid series deals with successes, though not all, and this one fits into that description. Too bad, no?

On to the next week's reading!
Summary:
Before the oil boom and rise of Hollywood brought today's renowned landmarks to downtown Los Angeles, an entirely different and often forgotten high Victorian city existed. Prior to Union Station, there was the impressive Romanesque Arcade Station of the Southern Pacific line in the 1880s. Before UCLA, the Gothic Revival State Normal School stood in place of today's Los Angeles Public Library. Elsewhere the city held Victorian pleasure gardens, amusement piers and even an ostrich farm, all lost to time and the rapid modernization of a new century. Local author Charles Epting reveals Los Angeles's unknown past at the turn of the twentieth century through the prominent citizens, events and major architectural styles that propelled the growth of a nascent city.

I read this book for research and zipped through it in under an hour. I knew it was short when I bought it, but I was still frustrated at the lack of content. What I wanted most: maps. I wanted a sense of how Los Angeles grew through the late 19th century. The writing is good and the existing content is interesting, I just wanted more of it. Some parts felt like summarized portions from Kevin Starr's Americans and the California Dream, and I was glad to see it cited as a source at the end.

Book 6

The Chardonnay Charade (Wine Country Mysteries #2)The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This one is a library find that I really wanted to like as I like mysteries and I like wine and the whole production side of it. I hadn't read the first book but that didn't matter much in terms of understanding the characters. I didn't like this as nearly as much as would have liked to because Lucie (the point of view character) and her wine making partner, Quinn come across as rather stubborn and abrasive, neither of which is endearing to me. Also the romance didn't work for me (I found it more distracting than anything) and I didn't like the ending at all.

Still, I liked enough of it that I'd probably go to the library to find another in the series. It opens with Lucie and Quinn battling a late frost that will destroy their grapes and blaming each other for the position they're in (and doing it so petulantly as they do almost every talk about the winery you want to slap them). Lucie wants to cleave a little too tightly to the ways of the past and Quinn wants to chuck the past in the bucket and move on. Also one of the things they did in the winery was to use a dangerous chemical which was left out against regs which is used to kill Georgia Greenwood who is a politician who would work to shut down local wineries (she was at the winery for some sort of party), giving Lucie motive to kill her. She's also the philandering wife of the doctor who saved Lucie's life (She was in a major car accident that left her with a disabled foot).

Naturally Lucie wants to prove neither she, Quinn nor Ross, Georgia's husband murdered Georgia and sets out to find the killer. To make matters worse, Ross has found a letter about some Confederate general linking him to Lincoln's assassination which makes everyone including Lucie set against him. (Another way to make me dislike a character, her defense of people fighting hard to keep slavery alive. Yeah, that's me being a Northener I guess). Added to this is Ross's suave British friend who is setting up a winery right next to Lucie's, might be poaching Quinn from Lucie all the while romancing Lucie. And the topper is Lucie's teenaged sister who is hanging out with the bad kids developing a drinking problem.

It was a bit blatantly obvious where this mystery was going to end which made it all the more annoying because there weren't really good reasons for this particular character to be acting so nuts by the end. That's what really bothered me. Like I said I might read another but it would definitely be a 'from the library' read and not something I'd run out to buy.



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Summary:
“The Hawaiian Archipelago” is a great eyewitness account of Hawaii in 1863, by one of the era's most intrepid travelers, after it had been impacted by its collision with the American and European powers but while it was still a robust independent Kingdom and before its forced assimilation into the USA. Isabella Bird visited the Sandwich Islands in 1871, when she was forty. Her letters home to her sister Henrietta have a remarkable freshness and spontaneity, and reveal the transformation of a Victorian invalid into a fearless horsewoman and enthusiastic mountain-climber, who thought nothing of riding for miles soaked with rain and fording terrifyingly swollen rivers. She undertook a thirteen-hour unaccompanied trek to the summit of the extinct volcano of Mauna Kea, revelling in the security with which she was able to travel and camp out without guides or companions. At the end of her stay she was able to make the perilous ascent to the summit of Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world, camping for the night on the edge of the crater, at nearly 14,000 feet. Isabella Bird's travel writing is a wonderful look at the world at the turn of the last century. Her writing is fluid and clear and her insights into people and places are gentile but pointed. In “The Hawaiian Archipelago,” Isabella Bird is at her best, giving the reader a fascinating and insightful taste of the old Hawaii.

I have read numerous other books on Hawaii, and Bird's book is often quoted. I decided it would be wise for me to go to the source and read her actual travelogue.

Works from the 19th century can be difficult to read due to dense, repetitive prose and the repulsive attitudes of the time. Bird is a woman of her period, yes, and her biases are pretty clear up front, but she is a complex, fascinating person who would be remarkable even in our time. This is a woman who, because of her "nervous condition," was advised to indulge in open air travel. Therefore, she traveled around the world by herself multiple times. Her six months in the Sandwich Island (aka Hawaii) immediately followed an adventure in New Zealand. I found her prose surprisingly easy to read and quite enjoyable. She is a white woman of privilege, yes, but her outlook on the "heathen natives" evolves substantially in her time on the islands. She falls in love with the place and the people, and trusts them absolutely. She shocks people wherever she goes. She's a white woman, traveling by herself most of the time, sitting astride on a Mexican saddle and riding through absolute wilderness of the Big Island in 1871. She seizes various opportunities--things I sure wouldn't do. A man she just met invites her to climb up Mauna Loa to see the eruption? Off she goes! She is not averse to sleeping on the ground with her saddle as her pillow. Bird learns passable Hawaiian and eats as the locals do, mastering two-finger poi and appreciating whatever her hosts will share (though she accepts the fleas grudgingly).

For my research purposes, her descriptions of Hilo and Kilauea are fabulous. She obviously loves plant life, and goes into detail about the plants around her, mentioning the Latin names if she can.

Bird's book is in public domain and available from various small publishers. I wish my copy had been typeset a bit differently, but it didn't strain my eyes and the binding is fine. I wouldn't mind reading more of Bird's books--she was quite a bestseller in the late 19th century--as she has really gained my respect.

Book 5

Jackaby (Jackaby, #1)Jackaby by William Ritter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This one is very much Sherlock meets the creatures of myth. To say Jackaby is Sherlockian is an understatement. Sometimes he's almost painfully so (and so blatantly so that Abigail comments on it). But in this case he's not seeing all the little mundane clues (if anything Abigail is better than he is). Jackaby sees creatures from folklore, trolls, banshees etc and he investigates cases involving the supernatural.

Abigail Rook, however, is our point of view character. Abigail is from England and her father was a professor/adventurer and fairly well to do. Her mother a proper Victorian lady who isn't prepared for the late 1800s and her daughter's bid for freedom. Abigail is very much a strong independent girl. She makes off with her boarding school tuition money looking for adventure on the continent but digging dinosaurs isn't all she imagined it would be. She was heading home, somewhat defeated but ended up on a ship to America thanks to her shoddy German skills.

She tries to find a more conventional job but has no luck. She answers a strange job ad 'Assistant Wanted - 8$ per week - Must be literate and possess a keen intellect. Strong stomach preferred. Inquire at 926 Augur Lane. Do Not Stare at the Frog.' To her surprise, the detective in question is young Jackaby, whom she had met previously. Abigail already knows he's an odd duck but needs the job and she thinks it will be the grand adventure she's been searching for.

In that, she's not wrong. Quickly they are wrapped up in a case where a man's chest has been ripped open but all his blood is gone. Inspector Marlowe doesn't want Jackaby around and even less wanted by Commissioner Swift, head of the police and polio victim. Abigail and Jackaby find one ally, the young detective Charlie Cane who seems to be a bit odd himself and very handsome as far as Abigail is concerned.

Soon she's caught up in the wail of a banshee, of a third floor in Jackaby's house that is actually an outdoor pond by some magic and a duck who was his former assistant, not to mention the ghost who used to own the house. They have to stop a serial killer who is content to a) let them take the blame for his murders or b) kill them if they become a problem.

While I did rather see the end coming, it was still great fun. I really liked Abigail. She's intelligent but does have some sense about her abilities as a small woman fighting a huge monster (doesn't mean she doesn't try though). She is a character I would like to know more about. Jackaby fares slightly less well in only that we don't get inside his head (this is first person for those of whom it matters to. I will never understand the hatred of first person pov). We don't know much about Jackaby other than he too is highly intelligent and demanding. He seems angry that others can't see the supernatural like he can even though he knows that he might be unique. We know he's paid well but sometimes in less than useful ways (like chests of clothing or silver tea sets). We have no idea about his family or how he got into this. There are a lot of questions about Jackaby that go unanswered in this book. That just makes me want to read the rest more.



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Book 4

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness




I knew this book would be trouble from the moment I picked it up when I visited Powell’s bookstore (and you can’t go into an iconic book store without buying something). It’s a middle grade book that has won multiple awards and that usually seems to mean someone is going to die in it. So let me sum up the plot in two sentences. Conor’s mother has terminal cancer. His grief has caused a monster to come walking.

To add to the angst, the novel was the brain child of Siobhan Dowd who herself died of breast cancer and Patrick Ness wrote the story in her honor. It’s beautifully, atmospherically illustrated by Jim Kay (in black and white) Both Ness and Kay won awards for it.

It is a punch to the gut sort of story, its emotional impact tremendous even though you see it coming, even if Conor lies to himself about it. The monster comes to his bedroom as 12:07, while Conor’s mother is still well enough to be at home with him, but growing ever weaker. The monster reminds me of the Greenman. The monster wants to exchange stories with Conor but Conor’s story is one he doesn’t want to tell, would rather die than tell. He does, however, not fear the monster, even latches on to him in the belief that the monster has a magic to save his mother.

As the story weaves on, we see Conor for what he really is. He’s no longer a young man with friends. He’s the Boy Whose Mom Has Cancer. He’s become invisible. The teachers excuse all his bad behavior and bad grades because of it and the other kids avoid him. It gets worse when his mother is hospitalized and he has to go live with his grandmother, who in her own words ‘don’t get on well with him,’ and keeps her house as a shrine to the past. Worse, his father comes (he now lives in the States with his new wife and his new family and his wife resents every second he spends with Conor, something I will never understand no matter how many times I see this in real life.) but his inability to connect with Conor or make time for him, only deepens his son’s sadness.

Conor has to face his feelings about his mother’s illness and his bitter hope that there will be a chemo that can save her and also deal with what the monster really is and why he’s come walking.

It is a brutal story in its every day qualities, the honesty of which is deals with a young man facing the loss of a parent, the change in his friendships and the ugliness over the fact that this is just fuel for the bully at school. It feels very real and it will make you cry. It is not a story what you walk away from feeling good but it feels very important. I’m glad that I read this one in spite of how poignantly sad it is.



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Book #3: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby



Number of pages: 245

This book opens with its main character and narrator, Rob, listing his top five relationship breakups, addressing the character Laura, who has just broken up with him, mocking her because her name isn't even on the list. The opening chapter of the book is all Rob talking about his previous relationships and why they ended, before the main story has Rob addressing the reader directly and talking about his life following his break-up with Laura.

This is quite a different type of book to most romantic novels, and although Laura does mention that there is a chance they will get back together, it doesn't really feel like that, particularly as she quickly moves on and finds another boyfriend, while Rob spends some of the book attempting to contact his former girlfriends to find what went wrong.

I remember not enjoying this book on my first read through, but this time I really enjoyed it; it is a very funny book, and Rob is a very likeable character, despite the fact that he seems to be full of self-loathing. Because much of the novel revolves around Rob working in a music store, there are also a lot of references to music and songs, as the characters discuss favourite bands and tracks.

I found myself gripped by this novel this time; although a lot of the book is just characters talking to each other, Nick Hornby's dialogue was enough to draw me in and keep me reading.

Next book: Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz)

Book 3

When Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr, #11)When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In spite of being the 11th book in the series, the Sebastian/Hero mysteries are not getting long in the tooth which I love. This one is a bit different from the rest of the series as we're not in London so that means several usual characters, Gibson, Jarvis etc aren't in this. Even Tom, Sebastian's tiger, has a very muted role.

Sebastian, Hero and their infant son, Simon, have taken a trip to the countryside where Jamie Knox grew up. They're there to give something of Jamie's to his grandmother following his death and of course to see if they can track down Sebastian's true father. Jamie had a sister who also looks just like him and Sebastian (as does a barkeep in town, so whoever dad was, he sure got around) but she's in no mood to help Sebastian.

Quickly a young woman dies. Emma Chance was an amazing artist doing something strange, traveling alone because even young widows like herself didn't do that in the early 1800s. Emma's death would have been written off as a suicide if not for the fact the young new lawkeeper in town knew Sebastian was there and knew his reputation.

As Sebastian (and to a lesser degree, Hero) investigates, he learns Emma is not all she seems. To make matters worse, Napoleon's brother, Lucien is in town and it is Lucien's son who finds the body. Was Emma a spy sent by Napoleon to keep an eye on Lucien? Was she a spy sent by Jarvis to do the same? Did Lucien kill her? Or is she simply on a quest that dovetails with Sebastian's own: to find her birth rite? These are all things Sebastian has to consider.

Worse, there have been other suicides by young women in the family way (and you don't even want to know what they did with suicides back then) and Sebastian and Hero begin to wonder were any of them really suicides or is there a killer on the loose using the typical small town notion of 'that sort of thing only happens in cities' to cover his tracks.

Sebastian and Hero both remain well rounded, engaging characters and I'm enjoying them even more now as a couple than I did in earlier books when Sebastian's first love was still haunting the pages and honestly kind of creeping me out. I'm glad that character is (for now) gone. I do hope, however, that his parentage will either be resolved soon or take a back seat because it's the sort of thing that can wear thin quickly. Now I have to wait for the next one. Sigh



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#3, The Duel, by Judith St. George

Squeezed in one more book this weekend:

3. The Duel, by Judith St. George. I personally think Ron Chernow's biography is the gold standard for information related to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. However, for those wanting to find out more information on the nation's colorful and dynamic first treasury secretary and his rival Aaron Burr, but are daunted at the prospect of reading Chernow's 700+ page work, The Duel is an excellent alternative. Here, St. George concentrates solely on the startlingly similar lives Hamilton and Burr, whose place in history would be forever cemented by their infamous duel. I was able to finish this in one evening. It's well paced, and there is a nice bibliogrphy at the end. The Duel covers the basic highlights of the lives of the two men, and compares their similarities and notes how often their paths crossed, knowingly and unknowingly. All in all, a good read for either those wanting to find out more about Hamilton or Burr, or those needing a quick refresher.

Books 1 and 2

1. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. This fulfills the challenge for debut novel (could also fit the LGBTQ+ romance novel category). Simon Spier, a junior at his local high school, is fun character. The story is told through his eyes, and in many ways it's a fairly traditional coming-of-age tale. Simon is torn between not wanting things to change, yet slowly acknowledging that things have to progress eventually. The bulk of the story centers on Simon being blackmailed by another student, the awkward Marty, Marty wants to hook up with a girl he has a crush on, Abby, who happens to be a good friend of Simon's. Simon is afraid that if he doesn't help, Marty will expose Simon and his secret correspondence for the past few months, whom Simon only knows as bluegreen. Life becomes a juggling act as Simon reluctantly helps Marty while trying to figure out who bluegreen is (other than a fellow junior at his school). All in all, I really enjoyed this. For the most part, there are no villains (only a handful of bigoted students who largely remain unnamed). I figured out who bluegreen was about halfway through; if I have a nit, the author may have tipped her hand a bit too early with a rather large clue about midway. The humor is great; Simon has a wry, sense of humor and keen observations except when he is being oblivious. His turns of phrase are hilarious and I loved the email exchanges between himself and bluegreen. The exchanges are heartfelt and believable.

2. The Dark Crystal, by A.C.H. Smith. This fulfills the category for reading a book I've read before (could also be used for fantasy). The Dark Crystal is a novelization of the Jim Henson movie. The movie was one of my favorites as a child; heck, it's still a favorite. I read the novel either in late grade school or middle school and was able to find it again on Amazon a couple years ago. It expands on the world of the movie and adds details, such as the names of the individual UrRu and Skeksis. Fans of the movie may want to get their hands on this, if they haven't already. It really helps flesh out the character of Jen, the Gelfling protagonist who was raised by the UrRu after his family was killed by the sinister Skeksis and their Garthim warriors. It adds details such as words in the various languages used, particularly the Skeksis. At least one scene (the funeral of the Skeksis emperor), which was cut from the main release, is included here. I enjoyed it as much now as I did then, perhaps even more.

Currently reading: Valley of the Shadow, by Ralph Peters (for the war novel category), and The Hamilton Papers: Original Documents from the Broadway Musical (because I'm a complete Hamilton addict).

I'm also participating in the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder challenge
This is a collection of letters written by a woman to her mother about her seven weeks in Hawaii, published in 1920. I found it as a free ebook available through the New York Public Library.

Most of Crawford's time is spent around Honolulu, but she also visits the Big Island and describes Hilo and Kilauea. Her account is not as exhaustive as the one by Charles Maus Taylor Jr, but I greatly preferred her attitude. Whereas Taylor journeyed through perilous circumstances and expected utter servitude from those around him, Crawford utterly delights in her visit and she wishes to understand the native people. At one point, she becomes mournful as she hears Hawaiian singers and frets "their music is the requiem of a decaying people." This perspective can be grating, too, but I still found her empathy preferable to Taylor's domineering perspective on his trip some twenty years before.

Crawford's photographs are quite lovely throughout. I found it fascinating that she formed a friendship with the famous surfer Duke Kahanamoku at Waikiki. This is a fast read at only 112 pages.

#2

So much keeping me busy! I had little time to read what with one thing or another, so this week's post includes only Osprey Elite #44: Security Forces in Northern Ireland 1969 – 92 which dovetails nicely with that Simon Winchester book I read late last year. The book pays minimal attention to the history per se, but does go into the equipage of British and Irish forces involved in the events. Not bad.


Number of pages: 189

I read this book many years ago, but didn't get on too well with it; I thought this might be the case again when re-reading it, and it is definitely not an easy book, as it is densely-written, and you have to really pay attention to it and read between the lines a lot.

It took about half of the book to really get into the storyline, but once I did I found myself enjoying this story of how Jay Gatsby became obsessed with Daisy, hoping to win her heart in spite of her being married to the obnoxious Tom Buchanan (it does become evident that this is a completely loveless marriage).

The narrative style is unusual, written in the first person by someone who knew Gatsby (narrating apparently two years after the book's events) and the other characters, but who just observes what is happening to everyone else, while having no impact on the main plot. I noticed too that the novel started off as a romance-based story, but ended up as a story all about violence and revenge.

I enjoyed the book overall, but I feel like it's a book that I would need to study to really understand it; I get the impression that F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to make a few points about 1920s America (when this book is set) that I completely missed.

Next book: High Fidelity (Nick Hornby)

Book 2

B.U.G. (Charlie Jones #1)B.U.G. by T.J. Slee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I got this one for free off an author promotion after a friend's suggestion. I'm not actually a giant fan of spy thrillers. That said this one was pretty well written and I might have rated it slightly higher if not for the last 30% of the book.

I don't get to read a lot of stuff set in Australia for some reason and definitely not about their Spooks so that was different. I did like Charlie Jones, the main protagonist. Charlie is a spy who gets tangled up with a Kurdish traffic cop hiding out in Australia who might be the key to finding out what happened to an American Delta Force soldier whose brother (also a spook) is in Oz looking for him. So are Islamic terrorists among others.

Charlie has a knack for getting hurt and for calling up a Catholic priest to confess almost daily (there's a whole story behind that I don't want to spoil). Karn, an exotic dancer, seems to be the love interest though the relationship has more bumps than it does anything resembling functionality.

The trail leads Charlie all the way to the mining town of Coober Pedy and to even more shady characters.

Honestly I didn't care that much for the ending but it does work with this.

What bothered me about this is the twist and I don't want to spoil that but at the 70% mark the story reveals something that I hadn't expected (okay there will be minor spoilers so...). Charlie is...I don't want to say unreliable narrator. It's more like Charlie is a deceptive narrator, hiding something major by exclusion and to get that far into the book and have it revealed wasn't a 'wow, isn't that fun' moment for me. It was more like a poke in the eye irritating as hell moment, especially when a) you realize the Catholic Priest was there to deepen Charlie's deception and b) once it was revealed you get hit over the head with this hidden tidbit from then to the end.

That said, I would probably read another in the series.



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Summary:
A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She's a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don't call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn't understand what's under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding -- at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin... if the monsters along the way don't kill her first.


This dark weird western is an incredibly well-written and fast read, once it gets going, but it's also a difficult read. Bowen doesn't shy away from the racism and sexism of the old west in her re-styled historical fantasy setting of western Texas. Her heroine is a teenage girl of black and Native American heritage who has essentially been treated as a slave by her 'adoptive parents.' Nettie is a very relatable character, even through her rage and bluster, because you can't help but want her to discover her own self worth and a place to belong. She's on a hard journey, though. After she kills a strange being in self-defense, she finds that monsters exist all around her, and she's soon forced on a quest to kill a creature that is the very stuff of nightmares.

If literature that includes rape and near-rape is a trigger for you, you should be able that the book is very blunt about the threat of such events. There were several assaults in the story that I found difficult to read, but in the end, I appreciated how Bowen handled the situations.

The book ends with a cliffhanger--quite literally--so I'm glad I already have the second book as part of a 2-in-1 galley. I am left wanting to know more about this twisted western fantasy world.
Summary:
Irina’s family has come to the countryside to escape the summer heat of St. Petersburg, but she discovers a new worker has been hired to maintain her family’s aviary, a one-armed man who poses an intriguing mystery.

Evgeny is hiding from a witch. With the help of his younger sister, he’d survived the witch’s curse, but in the aftermath, he was left with only one arm, eyes that appear inhuman, and an ability to see the truth in others’ souls.

Will he ever be safe from the witch again?


This novella is a pure delight. It's based on a well-known fairy tale, but it was so subtlety incorporated that I didn't realize which tale until it became quite clear at the end. The setting of 19th century Russia is well-used and quite fascinating. Cheney is masterful at writing realistic banter and relationships, and that is especially evident here. Yes, it's a romance, and yes, you know things will likely end in a happily ever after, but the journey to that end is full of surprises.

Book 1

Quantum Tangle (Targon Tales)Quantum Tangle by Chris Reher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I got this from a multi-author book giveaway and it was a really fun find. I used to gobble up Sci-Fi then it all went so militaristic which isn't my cup of tea. This is a very unusual take on first contact. Sethran Kada wakes up with a headache and finds out his star ship The Dutchman has a hitchhiker. To his horror, the hitchhiker is in his head, using the wet wiring pilots have to control their ships.

Khoe is a sub-space entity made of particles with the ability to side step most computer security systems and has a quick intellect. She is searching for the 'sire' of her people who was somehow taken by a traveler through the subspace the ships slide through from one point in space to another.

Seth quickly learns to appreciate Khoe but realizes they are in deep trouble as her people aren't being taken by accident. There is a group that are trying to use these sub space entities as a weapon. Now very close (perhaps inseparable) from Khoe, Seth sets out to help her with the assistance of his rather naive friend, a scientist who wants to turn spy, Caelyn.

I really liked the characters, Seth, Khoe and Caelyn though a bit more character development was needed. Seth's shadowy background might have been a bit too shadowy, ditto the world building. There is an Air Command and rebels that seem to be against the Command's totalitarianism but there are complete outsiders like Caelyn's people. I realize now that this is part of a bigger universe but is meant as a stand alone so that needed a bit more work. For that matter even though Caelyn was a minor character I still wanted to know why he wanted to be a spy other than it was convenient for the storyline.

I did enjoy this though. It was a very different take on first contact. I'd be interested in seeing more in this universe.



View all my reviews

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I found this book available for free online through the New York Public Library. For my research needs, it was an absolute delight. Taylor describes, in exhausting detail, the full scope of his world travels, departing from Philadelphia by train, by ship from San Francisco to Honolulu, for an extended stay, and then an event longer stay in Japan. His detailed treks across the Big Island were exactly what I needed for my notes. However, his laborious efforts to record everything makes for a tedious read when he's in Japan, as his days because a monotonous log of his driving his poor rickshaw drivers hard through cataclysmic flooding so that he may stay on his predetermined schedule.

Which leads me into another necessary issue: this is a work to be regarded within the context of the times, because wow, is it steeped in white privilege and racism. This is evident from page 1 and his observations of southern blacks, and continues through his adventures in Hawaii and Japan. None of this is a surprise, but it still made me cringe as I read. It was rather nice to see him judged in such a way when he was the odd white man traversing Japan.

If you're curious about Hawaii and Japan in the late 1890s, this is well worth the read.


Number of pages: 109

This book is another spin-off from the world of Harry Potter, forming a collection of five short stories that appear to be inspired by the Brothers Grimm.

They are presented as fairy stories for witches and wizards, all of which involve witchcraft and magic powers, although at times the storylines get incredibly dark. The third story, "The Wizard's Hairy Heart", for example, has a particularly gruesome ending.

The fifth story, "The Tale of the Three Brothers" should be familiar to all Potter fans, because this has been rewritten, word-for-word, from the final book in the main series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (minus the interruptions from Harry, Hermione and Ron). As far as I'm aware, this is the only one of the five that featured in any of the original books.

What was really enjoyable about this was that each story was accompanied by notes from Albus Dumbledore, mostly about the reactions to the stories within the fictional world of Harry Potter, mostly involving the fictional politics of J.K. Rowling's world and the relationships between wizards and muggles. I got the sense that J.K. may have been inspired at times by the real-life witch hunts that took place in Medieval Britain.

This is a very short book, so was easy to read, and is definitely recommended for any Potter fanatics.

Next book:The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

2016

1. The Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, ed. by George Mann
2. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Promise, by David Stuart Davies
3. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Albino's Treasure, by Stuart Douglas
4. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy, by William Seil
5. Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings, by Lindsay Faye
6. The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz
7. Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz
8. Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine, by James Lovegrove
9. The Railway Detective, by Edward Marston
10. Anatomy of Evil, by Will Thomas
11. The Ripper Affair, by Lilith Saintcrow
12. Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper, by David Barnett
13. Four and Twenty Blackbirds, by Cherie Priest
14. Wings to the Kingdom, by Cherie Priest
15. Not Flesh Nor Feathers, by Cherie Priest
16. Hellboy: Unnatural Selection, by Tim Lebbon
17. Hellboy: On Earth As It Is In Hell, by Brian Hodge
18. Hellboy: The God Machine, by Tom Sniegoski
19. The Kif Strike Back, by C.J. Cherryh
20. Chanur's Homecoming, by C.J. Cherryh
21. Chanur's Legacy, by C.J. Cherryh
22. Homelands, by R.A. Salvatore
23. Exile, by R.A. Salvatore
24. Sojourn, by R.A. Salvatore
25. The Secret of Abdu El-Yezdi, by Mark Hodder
26. The Return of the Discontinued Man, by Mark Hodder
27. The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats, by Mark Hodder
28. The Voyage of the Space Beagle, by A.E. van Vogt
29. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
30. The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
31. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
32. The Stars Are Ours, by Andre Norton
33. Solar Lottery, by Philip K. Dick
34. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
35. Star Born, by Andre Norton
36. The Time Traders, by Andre Norton
37. Time Out of Joint, by Philip K. Dick
38. The Man Who Japed, by Philip K. Dick
39. Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut
40. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
41. Sargasso of Space, by Andre Norton
42. The World Jones Made, by Philip K. Dick
43. Flesh, by Philip Jose Farmer
44. The Lovers, by Philip Jose Farmer
45. The Drowned World, by J.G. Ballard
46. The Game-Players of Titan, by Philip K. Dick
47. Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick
48. Make Room! Make Room!, by Harry Harrison
49. the Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer, by Philip K. Dick
50. Galactic Pot-Healer, by Philip K. Dick
51. Clans of the Alphane Moon, by Philip K. Dick
52. Thorns, by Robert Silverberg

#1

Just after celebrating the ball dropping, I finished reading Osprey Campaign #32: Antietam 1862: The Civil War's Bloodiest Day. Once again, the American Civil War is the topic of the book which I always find uncomfortable...I mean, how could the populace feel so bad about the President that we elected? Anyway, this discusses the build-up and skirmishes that lead to the battle. So there.

Books 21 - 32.

21.Toole - A Confederacy Of Dunces
Rather funny, even when I'm not a 'LOL' kind of person :)

22.Barber - Yo!Sushi: The Japanese Cookbook
Read this before a London trip. Visited this restaurant chain at least twice - delicious!

23.Umar - How To Pray: A Step-By-Step Guide To Prayer In Islam
To make my understanding clearer.

24.Crouch - Dark Matter
Clearly suitable for a tv screen; a bit underwhelming yet worth it very much.

25.Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
Tough job, but with some note-making able to make sense of it. I wonder if William S. Burroughs was an influence to some bits?

26.Bridges - Exposition Of Psalms 119
Slim but slow-reading experience.

27.Tracy - Master Your Time Master You Life: The Breakthrough System To Get More Results, Faster, In Every Area Of Your Life (borrowed)
Clearly not a book to keep, but still got good notes out of it.

28.Black - A Princess In Calico
The message of this book may irritate some, clearly Christian message.

29.Reps (compil.) - Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection Of Zen & Pre-Zen Writings (English translation)(borrowed)
Worth reading, yet not for keeping.

30.Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente - Changing For Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program For Overcoming Bad Habits & Moving Your Life Positively Forward
Simple, with much room to make it your own, yet clear and supportive - so don't let its plain looks fool you. Recommended. :)

31.Mbonu - Fashion School Survival Guide
Good even for non-school clothes creatives, and even I got something out of it. Quick and fun.

32.The KJV Bible (Cambridge)
Lots of fun in finding out the meaning of some words (I used NABRE Bible to search for this).

*rewind whirr*

2016: A year of books

Every year I do a summary of my year of reviews. This year I made some charts so the info would be easier to take in at a glance.

Total books read for the year: 57 (goal: 50).



The really odd thing about this year was my number of abandoned books. What the heck happened this year?


Graphic novels were basically unchanged.



How much I liked the books. Scale: Loved/Liked/Okay/Disliked/Hated.



As seems traditional, I made a mistake numbering my books during the year. There are two #34s.

57 books with a link to each review and a short quote from my review.Collapse )

74 abandoned books, with a link to each review and a short quote from my review.Collapse )

4 graphic novels, with a link to each review and a short quote from my review.Collapse )

Hopefully 2017 will be another great year of reading! With fewer abandoned books. (It would be hard to have more!)

Crossposted from my personal account.

Book #89 and year-end wrap-up

My final book of the year, #89, was "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes. Mayes lives a high-profile rushed life in Los Angeles, but after the dissolution of her long marriage, she and her new boyfriend decide to buy an Italian villa and restore it to use as a summer/vacation home. She tells about the remodeling process, the history of the Tuscan country-side, and the best peasant dishes she learns to make. It has been compared to "A Year in Provence," and there are superficial similarities, but Mayes book is heavy on sensual descriptions that surely must spring from her years as a published poet. I really enjoyed the sensual delights of this book, full of tasty recipes and descriptions of sun-soaked Italian olive terraces while reading it at the start of Michigan's long, cold winter. If you like books that give you insight into life in another country, accompanied by recipes, you might like this book a great deal. Don't judge the book based solely on the movie adaptation, either -- I haven't seen it, but it's my understanding they forced a romance subplot that isn't in the book and it looks kinda cheesy.

This is the most books I've read in a year since I started tracking on LiveJournal in 2006 (though I was reading similar amounts, if not more, when I was in my teens). I had a summer job that allowed me to read when things were slow, so that was a huge contributor to this year's total.

My reading goals were stated in January of this year: My goals for 2016 are simply to read at least 50 books and to read for pleasure. I have typically set quotas for how many books by POC authors or disabled authors or LGBT authors, etc. I do still plan to read diversely, but I want to give myself a year of pretty much reading whatever strikes my fancy at the time, to read purely for pleasure.

That is part of the reason that my percentage of nonfiction was down a bit this year, but I still read quite diversely this year. I've had a book of poetry as one of my 50 before, but this was the first year since 2006 that I had two books of poetry on my list for the year, for instance.

Other statistics:
Female authors: 45 (approx. 50 percent) This total counts an essay collection with men, women and non-binary authors as well as a novella with one male author and one female author
LGBT authors: 9 (10 percent)
POC authors: 16 (18 percent)
Disabled authors: 3 (3 percent) Plus one book about disability not by a disabled author .
Audiobooks: 22 (25 percent) I used to limit myself to no more than 20 percent audiobooks, but considering I would have read well over 50 books even if I subtracted out all my audiobooks this year, I am ok with this total!
Nonfiction: 24 (27 percent) I normally shoot for around 1/3 nonfiction, but 27 percent wasn't too far off. I am not beating myself up about this.
Poetry: 2 (2 percent)
Classics: 7 (8 percent)
Re-reads: 1 (I'm fairly certain, though not 100 percent, that I read the Jose Farmer collection when I was in high school)

My favorite nonfiction reads of 2016:
1. On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family - Lisa See
2. My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir - Noelle Hancock
3. Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life - Harriet McBryde Johnson
4. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex- Mary Roach
5. Bicycle Diaries - David Byrne
6. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard
7. Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence - John Hockenberry
8. Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity [collected essays]- ed. Matt (Matilda) Bernstein Sycamore

My favorite fiction reads of 2016:
1. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
2. House of Sand and Fog - Andre Dubus III
3. The Summer Prince - Alaya Dawn Johnson
4. Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem
5. The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
6. Lock In - John Scalzi
7. Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
8. Ash - Malinda Lo
9. The Comfort of Strangers - Ian McEwan
10. Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
11. One Kick - Chelsea Cain
12. Will Grayson, Will Grayson - David Levithan and John Green

Favorite series:
-The Radch/Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie
-The Raven Boys four-book series by Maggie Stiefvater. I can't stop raving about this series. It was seriously SO good. My favorite of the four was the second in the series, "The Dream Thieves."
-Tana French's Dublin detectives novels. Each one is different but all are of high quality.

Favorite "classic" novels:
-The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
-Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

Favorite graphic novel or graphic nonfiction:
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage [mix of fiction & nonfiction/graphic novel]- Sydney Padua

The other books I read earlier this year:Collapse )
I doubt that I'll finish any more books in 2016, though who knows? It's raining today so I might. However, I have finished another book since my last post on the subject. This one is The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore, something of a Christmas story. A fun quick read, this book includes several characters from previous novels by the author.

Book #69: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe



Number of pages: 320

I read this book a while back and decided to give it another go. Shortly after starting my re-read, I looked on Goodreads and was surprised to see that everyone who read it was either giving it five stars or one star.

For me, this book was somewhere in between these two extremes; not brilliant, but not terrible either. There were a few things I forgot, such as the fact that Crusoe was not shipwrecked until a few chapters in, or the fact that the other most well-known character, Man Friday, did not show up until about two thirds of the way into the book. As a result, most of the book portrays Robinson Crusoe alone on the island, and there are several chapters that describe how he adapts to life on his own, and having to be self-sufficient. Later on in the book, there are gruesome depictions of cannibalistic tribes who Crusoe encounters on the island, which become very disturbing in places.

The book is entirely told in first-person narrative, from Crusoe's point of view, occasionally providing his own journal entries. I was surprised by the fact that there was very little dialogue, even when he eventually met Man Friday, with only descriptions of events; this made this book quite difficult to read at times.

Overall, I found this book reasonably enjoyable, but it did feel very slow-moving during the first half. I remember that the book went on for longer than I expected after his eventual escape from the island, and towards the end I started to lose interest, and I did notice that the ending felt surprisingly abrupt.

This book is worth trying, but you will need to be very patient.

Next book: The Tales of Beedle the Bard (J.K. Rowling)

Year-end reading and 2017 reading goals

Yesterday I finished Book #42 and thereby completed my goal of reading 42 books this year. Since it's for one of my book clubs, I'm going to wait until the meeting in a couple weeks before I "review" it. Meanwhile, Book #41 was A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen. This was, indeed, a short little book -- based on a commencement address -- and quite charming. Several years ago, the pastor at my church gave a sermon which incorporated excerpts from the address itself, and it was a moving sermon, as hers often were. (I know it was many years ago, because we got a new pastor in 2002!) Anyway, there's nothing earth-shattering in it. In fact, it's pretty much what one would expect from a commencement address, but it's crafted in a lovely and touching way. Basically, live life to the fullest, because you don't know what's coming around the bend. Given the recent spate of celebrity deaths, as well as family losses for a couple friends of mine, this is always useful advice.

I read this book to fulfill one of the Read Harder Challenge tasks: read a book out loud to someone else. This was one of the more "challenging" tasks for me this year, for lack of a willing "victim" in the process. I finally decided to read to mycat, but he was typically and completely uncooperative, so I read to the shelter kitties where I volunteer on an as-needed basis. Since the book is based on a commencement address, it lends itself well to being read aloud. Meanwhile, thanks to distractions and poor planning, I still left four challenge tasks unfulfilled, but I'm okay with that. Altogether I read 42 books by 39 authors, and nine of those were book club selections.

Here are the final statistics:
- 3 audiobooks
- 1 graphic novel
- 10 non-fiction/biographies
- 9 mysteries
- 5 YA/children's books

My absolute favorite for the year was People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, and I also especially liked Dewey the Library Cat by Vicki Myron and Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I didn't actively dislike anything I read this year -- though I did bail on a few things -- but the book I liked the least was The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon. Also this year I delved deeper into bookriot podcasts, and best of all I discovered Litsy and have had a lot of fun there. (My username is Susanita if you're interested.)

In 2017 I'm going to kick it up a notch and go for 52 books in the year. My primary focus will be the Litsy A to Z challenge:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfvrS47rGCty7GOX9TnkblJ2rvpbpckS366SA_wCRxv4UEV-g/viewform

I'm also going to work on the new Read Harder Challenge, but only to the extent I can work it in around the A-to-Z challenge and other books I want to read on my own. I've noticed that since I joined Goodreads and this group in a conscious effort to read more, I've accumulated a huge TBR list -- especially from book lists -- and also left a significant trail of half-finished books in my wake. To the extent possible next year, I'm going to give those books one more chance before I cut them loose; I'll also "try" to be more deliberate about adding new books to the list. We'll see how all that goes!

[cross-posted to my personal account]
We'll conclude the quest for fifty book reports in 2016 at Book Review No. 34, which is Michael Walsh's The Devil's Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West.  Yes, it's another in the theme of Higher Education Has Gone Nuts, but there's some provocative stuff dealing with Original Sin and Faustian Bargains and other religious themes.

Let's start by contemplating the circus.  Do you see the religious symbolism on this wagon?
Read more...Collapse )

I shall attempt to remain cheerful, despite 2016 being the year Ringling Barnum pensioned off their elephants.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

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