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Happy reading!

Sep. 3rd, 2015

As we open a new month, I finished reading a couple of shorter works.

First was Pirates to Pyramids: Las Vegas Taxi Tales which is a collection of stories, some from the author's first hand observation, some from what he was told by his passengers, and some that are from the history of Las Vegas. Short, sweet, and to the point, the book does a pretty good job of informing and entertaining. Amusing if you care to learn a bit about Las Vegas.

Then, I had searched Harry Turtledove's Wikipedia page, and I found a list of his shorter works which were to my surprise downloadable from various sources. So I went on a downloading rampage, but didn't immediately read them. This is one of the first that I found, called The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging in which a class of middle school students talks to a woman about her experiences in WWII. As you would expect from Turtledove, an expert in alternate histories, there's a twist. It's a short story, so a very fast read, and worth it.

August 2015 reading

August 2015 reading:

35. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner (384 pages)
Thomas finds himself in a box, lifted toward the Glade, with no memories otherwise. Beyond the Glade lies a maze, filled with Grievers waiting to kill or force an unlucky victim into the Changing, if they're lucky. Soon after Thomas arrives, though, something changes; an unscheduled person is brought up from the Box. A girl. And that's just the beginning, because the Maze is ending, and there may be no way out. I was engrossed by this, and finished it in one sitting.

36. Endgame, by Nancy Garden (304 pages)
This book was emotionally difficult as a read, in part because I could identify with Gray, as someone who grew up being bullied, sometimes to the extreme, with no support or protection from the school or teachers. This book is raw and honest and the format of the book makes it that much moreso. I cried, a lot, while reading this book.

37. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (313 pages)
I may be emotionally compromised for days, but I loved this book. I loved the characters, and was especially enamored of Hazel, a quirky and well-read 16-year-old who is also very aware of her mortality due to the cancer which has almost killed her multiple times. Her world-view, and her ideas on leaving scars and the impact of her existence hurting those around her with her eventual death fascinated me. There were so many things I loved about this, especially the beautiful descriptions--the bleached rose-petal "snow," for instance. And the banter between Hazel and Augustus throughout felt very true to life. I will be looking for more of John Green's books, though it's possible this, like the fictional book referenced in these pages, is the best of his work.

38. Escape from Memory, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (224 pages)
Kira is just a normal girl who moved from California to a small town in Ohio when she was very young--or so she thought, until she was hypnotized by friends at a sleepover and very different memories come to the surface. Little does she know that asking her mother about them will trigger a series of events and nothing will ever be the same again. Fun book to read, but I felt I wanted more.

39. Teardrop, by Lauren Kate (441 pages)
Eureka has lost her mother to a rogue wave that almost took her life as well, and it's left her in a deep depression and ostracized from her small Louisiana town. A boy named Ander wanders into her life, seeming familiar for reasons she can't identify. She inherits items she doesn't understand from her mother, and her childhood friend abruptly changes into someone she barely recognizes. It seems destiny is coming for her. Occasionally dragged a bit, but overall was a good read. Looking forward to reading the second in the series.

40. I am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore (440 pages)
Four lives with a secret; he is one of the few surviving members of his planet, Lorien, waiting for his Legacy powers to develop so he and the others can take their home back and punish its destroyers. In the meantime, he is on Earth, hiding his powers and from the evil which seeks to destroy Lorien's only hopes. He and his keeper, Henri, must start over with new identities after the scar indicating Number Three has been killed appears on his leg, and they wind up in the small town of Paradise, Ohio--just in time for his Legacies to start appearing. Finally, "John Smith" feels at home, but it's not meant to be permanent, just as he and his kind can't hide their differences forever. But he's about to find he's not alone. Enjoyable summer read, and want to read the next.

41. Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher (442 pages)
Finn woke up three years ago with no memory in the depths of Incarceron, known as Cellborn and Starseer because he has fits and remembers the stars. Claudia's father is Warden of Incarceron, and her life is decided for her; she will marry a terrible man and become Queen at her father's bidding. Fate is about to bring them crashing together. Dragged a bit at the beginning, but picked up quickly. I like the interesting philosophical ideas hinted at within too. Added intrigue.


August pages: 2,548

Pages to date: 13,235

Progress: 41/52


August 2015 comics/manga reading:

134. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 21, by Hiromu Arakawa (183 pages)
135. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 22, by Hiromu Arakawa (179 pages)
136. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 23, by Hiromu Arakawa (191 pages)
137. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 24, by Hiromu Arakawa (187 pages)
138. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 25, by Hiromu Arakawa (187 pages)
139. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 26, by Hiromu Arakawa (193 pages)
140. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 27, by Hiromu Arakawa (220 pages)
141. Crossed: Volume 4, by Garth Ennis (240 pages)
142. Star Trek: Countdown, by Roberto Orci (98 pages)
143. Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness, by Roberto Orci (104 pages)
144. Caliban, by Garth Ennis (176 pages)
145. Captain Marvel, Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (136 pages)
146. Revival: Volume 4, by Tim Seeley (128 pages)
147. Rocket Raccoon: Volume 1, by Skottie Young (136 pages)
148. Case Closed: Volume 42, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
149. Case Closed: Volume 43, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
150. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel (232 pages)
151. The Dresden Files: Fool Moon Volume 2, by Mark Powers (120 pages)
152. Thor: Volume 1, Goddess of Thunder, by Jason Aaron (136 pages)
153. Black Butler: Volume 20, by Yana Toboso (178 pages)
154. Suicide Squad: Volume 2, by Adam Glass (192 pages)
155. Case Closed: Volume 44, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
156. Scalped: Volume 8, by Jason Aaron (192 pages)
157. Kamisama Kiss, by Julietta Suzuki (200 pages)

August pages: 4,208

Pages to date: 28,305

Progress: 157/365
Book 84: And the Mountains Echoed.
Author: Khaled Hosseini, 2013.
Genre: Period Fiction/Contemporary. Family Drama.
Other Details: ebook. 416 pages.

So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one...

Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari - as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named - is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their heads touching, their limbs tangled.

One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

As with Khaled Hosseini's other two novels this proved a beautifully written and powerful tale. Its format explores various interlinked lives over generations. While this seemed a less political novel it still explores similar themes as in his other two novels including the culture and recent history of Afghanistan.

This was a library reading group selection. We had wanted to read it for about 18 months but it was so in demand that it took until now to be able to reserve it. Everyone in the group was impressed with it and those who had not read the other Hosseini novels now plan to. It is an excellent novel for such groups as it provides a number of topics for discussion as well as being a satisfying read.

The novel has won a number of literary awards including being the Goodreads Choice of the Year 2014. It is well deserved.

Author's page for And the Mountains Echoed - includes background material, discussion questions and excerpt
Summary:
Already the alpha pair of Denver's werewolf pack, Kitty and Ben now plan to tie the knot human-style by eloping to Vegas. Kitty is looking forward to sipping fru-fru drinks by the pool and doing her popular radio show on live TV, but her hotel is stocked with werewolf-hating bounty hunters. Elsewhere on the Strip an old-school magician might be wielding the real thing; the vampire community is harboring a dark secret; and the irresistible star of a suspicious animal act is determined to seduce Kitty. Sin City has never been so wild, and this werewolf has never had to fight harder to save not only her wedding, but her very life.

This feel like the weakest book in the series to me. Not only did it delve into some uncomfortable situations (it skirted with the potential of rape but didn't take things too far), but the whole wedding delay subplot was so trope-filled it was irritating. The end redeemed things a good deal, and I still hope to continue the series when I get the chance. I really enjoy Kitty as a character, which still surprises me because I really don't fancy werewolves and vampires. Vaughn's writing and worldbuilding is just that good.
Summary:
Chainmail Bikini is an anthology of comics by and about female gamers! 40 cartoonists have contributed comics about the games they’re passionate about—from video games to table-top role-playing to collectible card games. The comics in Chainmail Bikini explore the real-life impact of entering a fantasy world, how games can connect us with each other and teach us about ourselves.

I supported the Kickstarter for this, and I was happy to have the final result arrive this week. It took me a little over an hour to read, and I found it thoughtful, engaging, and laugh-out-loud amusing at times. The focus is on women gamers, and there are also several strips that delve into gender identity; the universal theme is a sense of belonging through gaming, whether it's Pokemon, AD&D, or LARPing. Since it has over 40 contributors, there's a lot of variety and diversity; that meant that even if some artwork of subject matter didn't grab me, that would likely change with the next comic.

Some of my favorite sections were "She's the Backbone of This Facility" by Laura Lannes (a thoughtful analysis of Portal 2's feminist themes), "Achievement Unlocked" by Jade F. Lee, "Here Comes a New Challenger" by Kinoko Evans, and "Hermia" by Miranda Harmon (*sniff*). When you support a Kickstarter, you're never quite sure how the end product will turn out, but I think this is excellent. Sure, I wish some of my own influential games had been shown more (Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior/Quest series), but at the same time, I was charmed to see how games like Pokemon and Animal Crossing influenced this generation of artists.
Book 83: Of Monsters and Madness.
Author: Jessica Verday, 2014, revised 2015.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Horror. Gothic Melodrama.
Other Details: ebook. 307 pages.

Summoned to her father's Philadelphia house in 1826 after her mother's death, seventeen year-old Annabel Lee's whole life is about to change. Here, she can't wear pants and practice medicine like she used to in Siam. The new city she's supposed to call home is full of dark secrets and strange curiosities — a world she has trouble navigating. Until she meets her father's assistants.

There is Allan—darkly handsome and gentle natured, he dabbles in writing stories when he's not helping with medical advancements in her father's laboratory, and Edgar—who bears an uncanny resemblance to Allan, but is everything Allan is not. Cruel, selfish, and determined to see his own gruesome fantasies brought to life.
- synopsis from author's website.

The original edition of this novel had a cliffhanger ending and a second book, Of Phantoms and Fury, was scheduled for publication when Verday's publisher folded. As a result she revised aspects of the original and incorporated the material intended for the second book. Therefore, this revised edition contained the entire story.

Verday has mashed up a number of 19th Century tales with an early time in Edgar Allan Poe's life that is less known to produce this tale that ticks all the boxes in terms of Gothic tropes. It is quite melodramatic and while not great literature and fairly predictable proved a fun read.

I would direct any readers of the earlier version of the story to visit Verday's website for details of the amended version. I do suspect the revised edition was longer than the page count given above, likely closer to 450 pages given its size on Kindle.
Summary:
Kitty's radio show is as popular as ever and she has a boyfriend who actually seems to understand her. Can she finally settle down to a normal life? Not if this is just the calm before the storm. When her mother falls ill, Kitty rushes back to Denver--and right back to the abusive pack of werewolves she escaped a year ago. To make matters worse, a war is brewing between the city's two oldest vampires, threatening the whole supernatural community. Though she wants to stay neutral, Kitty is again drawn into a world of politics and violence. To protect her family, her lover, and herself, she'll have to choose sides. And maybe become what she hates--a killer.

After reading a dense nonfiction book, I needed something light and fluffy, so I continued with the Kitty series. It was just what I needed. I blazed through in a day. I don't want to get into details, as this is a later book in the series, but it was action-packed and engaging. I appreciated the emotional turmoil that Kitty goes through as she confronts an unexpected problem with her body; it struck me as very realistic.

I'm continuing with the next book in the series since I have it handy.

Aug. 31st, 2015

I managed to get a fair amount of reading done this weekend, including the following:

Osprey New Vanguard #11: Kriegsmarine Coastal Forces which details a number of different ship types used by the Germans during WWII. Moderately interesting, if you're a fan of naval affairs.

Then, Lee at the Alamo by Harry Turtledove, which is an alternate history tale in which Robert E. Lee is forced to take a different path while acting for the Union in Texas before Lincoln becomes the President. I found it a very good read, and thought-provoking. A novella that I purchased online.

Finally, Osprey New Vanguard #6: T-72: Main Battle Tank 1974 - 1993 which discusses the tank type that was the main weapon of the Iraqis at the time of Desert Storm. Lots of technical detail.

Book 94

Drug & Drop, Volume 2Drug & Drop, Volume 2 by CLAMP

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The things you learn reading reviews like that this is under yet another hiatus. Let's hope it's not another decade like last time. And obviously judging by some of the others who are going bonkers over this, it must tie into other CLAMP universes (which I have to say I hate when they do that. It's just not my thing).

I was bored with the opening arc with Kazahaya and this little angel-like creature, Kohaku but in the later chapters it made much more sense. Without spoiling things let's just say almost everyone's backstory is out in the open. We finally know who/what Kakei and Saiga are and why the drug store exists. Rikuo is still mostly a mystery and he has turned up gravely injured upsetting Kazahaya (who was a bit overwhelmed when Saiga finally removed his dark glasses).

But it is Kazahaya we learn most about. We learn more about his twin sister Kei as well, how they were raised, how crazy/isolated it was and the affect it had on his sister and for that matter why Kazahaya ran off in the first place.

So the story is moving into something bigger than the episodic fic that characterized the original four volumes of Legal Drug. The art has gotten odd...proportions are better than they were but Kazahaya gets more effeminate the more we see him. I'm fine with gender fluidity but I'm not exactly sure that's what's intended here. I also feel like this is heading toward an ending for the series. I suspect there maybe a showdown between Kei and Rikuo (or that might be wishful thinking on my part). Either way I still enjoy it. Sigh, now to go google that hiatus...



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Book 81: Walking by Night )Joe Plantagenet #5).
Author: Kate Ellis, 2015.
Genre: Crime. Police Procedural. Ghosts/Haunting.
Other Details: Hardback. 224 pages.

Taking a short cut beneath the ruined abbey in the centre of the historic North Yorkshire city of Eborby, a teenage girl on her way home from a night out reports stumbling across a body. She also claims to have seen a mysterious nun-like figure watching her from the shadows. But during the subsequent search, no body is found. Due to the girl’s inebriated state and troubled history, the police are sceptical of her story. Only Detective Inspector Joe Plantagenet is inclined to believe her. Then a woman is reported missing, and Joe finds himself caught up in a complex investigation involving a production of The Devils at the local Playhouse. Could the play, with its shocking religious and sexual violence, have something to do with the woman’s disappearance? And is there really a connection with the tragic death of a young nun at the site many centuries before? As Joe is about to discover, nothing is as it first appears. - synopsis from author's website.

I do so enjoy Kate Ellis' work and especially this series that has just a touch of the supernatural about it in the form of ghosts and haunted buildings. This proved a very easy read with a few twists to spice things up. My only quibble was that it was rather short and so read very quickly. More of Joe P. please, Ms. Ellis!

Book 82: Redemption Department Q #3.
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen, 2009. Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken, 2013.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Police Procedural. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: ebook. 640 pages.

Two boys, brothers, wake tied and bound in a boathouse by the sea. Their kidnapper has gone, but soon he will return. Their bonds are inescapable. But there is a bottle and tar to seal it. Paper and a splinter for writing; blood for ink. A message begging for help. In Copenhagen's cold cases division Carl Mørck has received a bottle. It holds an old and decayed message, written in blood. It is a cry for help from two boys. Is it real? Who are they and why weren't they reported missing? Can they possibly still be alive? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

It has been a few years since I read Book 2 in this series. I certainly feel the series has grown even stronger assisted by the group of misfits that make up Department Q. This cold case was very chilling and it developed in a way that kept me riveted.
Summary:
A groundbreaking book that upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance, understanding, and full participation in society for people who think differently.

What is autism: a devastating developmental disorder, a lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more—and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Going back to the earliest days of autism research and chronicling the brave and lonely journey of autistic people and their families through the decades, Silberman provides long-sought solutions to the autism puzzle, while mapping out a path for our society toward a more humane world in which people with learning differences and those who love them have access to the resources they need to live happier, healthier, more secure, and more meaningful lives.

Along the way, he reveals the untold story of Hans Asperger, the father of Asperger’s syndrome, whose “little professors” were targeted by the darkest social-engineering experiment in human history; exposes the covert campaign by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner to suppress knowledge of the autism spectrum for fifty years; and casts light on the growing movement of "neurodiversity" activists seeking respect, support, technological innovation, accommodations in the workplace and in education, and the right to self-determination for those with cognitive differences.


I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program, and I'm very glad I did. As the mother of an autistic child, the subject matter of autism is very personal for me.

NeuroTribes was educational and affirming. I was genuinely astonished at how enjoyable the book was, long-winded though it is at times (my early reviewer copy is just under 500 pages). Silberman writes about subjects that are horrible, but they are necessary matters to address: Hans Asperger's insights made within the context of Nazi-controlled Austria, the institutionalization of children (often labeled imbeciles and/or schizoid), and the abusive nature of many "therapies" in the past fifty years, up to the present day. There's also the vital topic of the vaccines-cause-autism debacle, which he saves for near the end. However, the book is not all grim and dire. There's wonderful brightness through the middle of the book as he addresses the importance of science fiction, fandom, and the internet within the autistic community. There is even a section on the movie Rain Man and how that changed public perception. The end of the book is extremely positive as it shows how autistics are now empowered, and that many of them are fully capable of finding their own place in the world.

I love Silberman's approach to this. Honestly, I cheered aloud. I have really been appalled by the stance of Autism Speaks and the emphasis on finding a source or cure for autism, rather than on how to serve the kids AND adults who need help now. The overall message of the book is that there is no autism epidemic. Autism has always existed. That different manner of thought has been essential to our survival as a species. Only now, it is diagnosed in a very specific way, and autistics are not hidden from society.

If you have any interest in the history of autism research, I really, really recommend this. It's a challenging read at times, but it's also full of hope and potential. I look at my son and I see that hope and potential, too.

Books 39 & 40 - 2014

Book 39: Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor – 258 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Over the last fifteen years children's spending power has mushroomed to an estimated USD30 billion in direct purchases and another USD600 billion of influence over parental purchases. Advertising and marketing has exploded alongside expenditures and now totals more than USD12 billion a year. Ads targeted at children are virtually everywhere - in schools, museums and on the internet - and strategies for capturing the child wallet have become ever more sophisticated. Marketers are intruding into a child's most private space, organizing stealthy peer-to-peer viral marketing efforts, and using high tech scientific research methodologies. Together, these trends have led to a pervasive commercialisation of childhood in the West. By eighteen months babies can recognize logos, by two they ask for products by brand name. During their nursery school years children will request an average of twenty-five products a day, by the time they enter primary school the average child can identify 200 logos and children between the ages of six and twelve spend more time shopping than reading, attending youth groups, playing outdoors or spending time in household conversation. On the basis of first-hand research inside the advertising industry, BORN TO BUY lays bare the research, messages and marketing strategies being used to target children, and assesses the impact of those efforts.

Thoughts:
I studied sociology at part of Bachelor of Arts and I have always been fascinated by the way people behave as result of the influence of the media. This book looks at the way the media sells to children and how insidious this has become. It’s a little old now, but still distinctly relevant. Being U.S. centric, there was a lot of stuff I wasn’t actually aware of, and it became quickly apparent to me how much more entrenched capitalism is in education in the U.S. than it is in Australia. I already have my worries about the Australian education system, having seen its deterioration between myself at school in the 90s/00s and my sister at school between the 00s/10s, and books such as this give me much less faith for a better standard in other countries (particularly around the concept of ‘critical thinking’, an apparent dying concept). There’s some new research in this book done by the author, specifically for the book, and a lot of discussion around pre-existing research that outlines just how sketchy the lines are around when it is right and wrong to use children as a money grabber. I personally don’t believe in screening media from children, as I think it leads to a generation of kids who don’t really live in reality.  Having said that, I think knowing information such as is presented in this book, is a really good first step to understanding what parents/teachers/guardians etc need to teach their children in order to arm them to see the marketing from the reality. An interesting read.


39 / 50 books. 78% done!


13550 / 15000 pages. 90% done!

Book 40: Bones are Forever by Kathy Reichs – 283 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
A woman calling herself Amy Roberts checks into a Montreal hospital complaining of uncontrolled bleeding. Doctors see evidence of a recent birth, but before they can act, Roberts disappears. Dispatched to the address she gave at the hospital, police discover bloody towels outside in a Dumpster. Fearing the worst, they call Temperance Brennan to investigate. In a run-down apartment Tempe makes a ghastly discovery: the decomposing bodies of three infants. According to the landlord, a woman named Alma Rogers lives there. Then a man shows up looking for Alva Rodriguez. Are Amy Roberts, Alma Rogers, and Alva Rodriguez the same person? Did she kill her own babies? And where is she now? Heading up the investigation is Tempe's old flame, homicide detective Andrew Ryan. His counterpart from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is sergeant Ollie Hasty, who happens to have a little history with Tempe himself, which she regrets. This unlikely trio follows the woman's trail, first to Edmonton and then to Yellowknife, a remote diamond-mining city deep in the Northwest Territories. What they find in Yellowknife is more sinister than they ever could have imagined

Thoughts:
This was a pretty good Bones book, and I really enjoyed learning about Yellowknife. I will say that the one thing that keeps me reading these books is rarely the mysteries, but rather Tempe and Ryan’s interactions, which are tumultuous one book and romantic the next. Tempe comes across like a lot of my female friends: ready to jump to a conclusion of doom every time Ryan is in a bad mood even if it has nothing to do with her. Nonetheless, the actual murder mystery behind this book was quite interesting, and the whole story with the babies, and the involvement of diamond mining was really quite sad. It was also really interesting to learn a bit about diamond mining, as I knew quite a few of the references made in the book, coming from a background in auditing where the majority of our clients were mining companies (I live in a very large mining state – Queensland – here in Australia). Overall, not a ground breaking book (pun intended!) but definitely a decent read.


40 / 50 books. 80% done!


13833 / 15000 pages. 92% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Queen of Zombie Hearts by Gena Showalter – 442 pages
-        Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter – 263 pages
-        Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg – 198 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

Book 93

The No. 1 Ladies" Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies" Detective Agency #1)The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This is a solid 2.5 for me. Yes, I know this is a very well loved series but it didn't do it for me. I think in part that was due to broken expectations. This series has been part of my mystery club for years but it really isn't a mystery. It's more the day to day life of the main character, Precious Mma Ramotswe. In fact several of the opening chapters are from her father's point of view which bored me. The story isn't told completely linearly either.

But eventually, Mma Ramotswe inherits her father's estate, sells off his cattle and uses the money to buy a house and set up her shop as a detective, hoping to help people with their problems. I have to say that in reality the little cases she does deal with in this, cheating spouses, workman's comp fraud, car theft etc. are probably more realistic than most private eye novels. However, that doesn't make them particularly interesting.

I also didn't feel like I knew Mma Ramotswe well either. She's bright. She's independent. She's fat. (yes much is made of all three of these things). She had a very bad marriage and has a grim view of men in general though she does have several male friends who help her, especially Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, a local mechanic. She likes to read. So I guess I DO know a lot about Mma Ramotswe but it still felt somehow remote. Maybe that's due to the fact she prefers to be called by her last name.

There is really only one overriding mystery that starts about halfway through where a young boy has gone missing and is thought to have been killed for witch craft. But mostly we flit around to a handful of small cases and to her houses and business.

There is something that did really bother me and it's that other than Mma Ramotswe's many male friends all the other men are depicted as well kinda crappy. I will confess what I know about Botswana and its culture could dance on the head of a pin. The author was a law professor there so one would hope there is some accuracy to this. However, it still felt oddly slanted. It's very pro-women but it does seem that it's very locked into traditional roles. Women keep house and have kids and the men expect to be taken care of hand and foot, including fathers and cousins etc. That was one of the cases, a long missing father's return and him expecting to do no work and sit around drinking all day while the woman does everything. There's even a line about every woman in Botswana having been a victim of a man. I have no way of knowing how accurate this was of Botswanan men from almost twenty years ago now and I do like that the women have the author's sympathy. Still, there is something about this that bugged me mostly because Mma Ramotswe assumed every man is more or less a cheating listless loser (and was right).

I guess this bordered too close to being more contemporary fiction than mystery to interest me. I respect the success of the series but it's just not for me.




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Aug. 28th, 2015

I'm making a real effort at finishing some books this last several days.

First was American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. My wife and I are transplanted Chicagoans living in the Greater Los Angeles Area, where the pizzas aren't the best in the nation, so reading this was a bit bittersweet. The author isn't fond of deep dish or stuffed pizza, though he does chronicle his tastings. He deals with going back to the Old Country to try their pizzas, the pizzas of the Northeast, and his favorite pizzeria in the country. They sound delicious. One curious point: he quotes another food critic that the crust counts five times what the toppings do. I guess I've never really had good crust, because for me it's always been the toppings. Oh, well.

Then I finished Working for Bigfoot, a short story collection by Jim Butcher of several tales that fit into the Dresden series. I really like that series anyway, but these tales are fun. I believe the title says it all, and I refuse to give spoilers. Just...fun reading...

Books 91-92

Pawn Takes Rook (Checkmate, #1)Pawn Takes Rook by Lex Chase

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Pawn take Rook is a lot of fun. I’m really enjoying this new surge of Superhero fiction. I haven't seen that since George R.R. Martin's Wildcards series way back when. Pawn, Hogarth Dawson, is on the fringes of the superhero world. He wants to be a member of the Power Alliance and he used to date their leader Captain Chivalry who is deep in the closet.

A crime brings Hogarth into Rook's path, i.e. Garth is being mugged and Rook takes out the muggers before the cost of his powers renders him unconscious. Garth can’t just leave Rook lying in the street and takes him home. There begins their relationship. Memphis Rook puts me in mind more of the gritty Watchmen sort of metahuman. He has an impressive power set and it has kept him young. So he's been around for a while. Garth’s affiliation with the super humans is long too. His grandfather was counted among them once upon a time. And it seems like many people have super abilities but some aren’t as super as others. Garth can kitbash while allows him to affect and change mechanical/computer based things.

As Garth and Rook go out superheroing and getting to know each other, their relationship builds. There is a lot of snark and action. I had fun with this. Looking forward to future adventures. It’s a quick funny read.




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Except the Dying (Detective Murdoch, #1)Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I went into this backwards of my usual pattern. Usually I fall in love with a mystery series, watch it get adapted into a TV show and hate what they did with my beloved characters (Looking at you Bones and Rizzoli & Isles). But this time I've watched several seasons of The Murdoch Mysteries before coming across the book series. I expected the book to be very different. I figured that it might not have the strong female characters on the show or the steampunk-esque forensic acumen Murdoch possesses. And I was right though it's hard to judge how accurate the TV series is by just one book (that's shockingly nearly 20 years old already).

But none of that really matters. It doesn't change the fact that this was good, very good. It reminded me of Anne Perry in the early days. I did get a chuckle over the fact that both Murdoch and Crabtree are tall, over six foot and the actors are less than average in heights. Be that as it may, Murdoch was still an intriguing character. Crabtree doesn't say much and Brackenreid is probably the most changed from the series as he's rather lazy and would rather arrest the easy suspect rather than do the work.

Murdoch lives with the Kitchens and tries to help them as they have few boarders thanks to Mr. Kitchen's tuberculosis. He gets called out on the case where a young maid has been found frozen to death. She is also naked. The autopsy proves she had been dosed with opium and she was pregnant. Murdoch quickly finds the two prostitutes he believes stole Therese's, the maid, clothing and might have seen more than they're telling.

The case bounces between the poorer side of town and the wealthy. Therese was the maid of a wealthy doctor's wife. Everyone in that household has a secret Donalda Rhodes, Therese's boss, felt close to the girl but she too has secrets as does her husband and her son, Owen and even her other servants.

Murdoch has to unravel ball after ball of lies even as the killer is erasing possible witnesses. His personality shines through as he does. He's also at a disadvantage because he is a Roman Catholic in a very protestant city in a time that sort of thing truly mattered. He might as well have been a Satanist as far as some of them are concerned. Therese shared his faith so that helps spur him on.

The ending is satisfying. I'm going to look for more of these books.




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Steampunk takes on Southeast Asia in this anthology

The stories in this collection merge technological wonder with the everyday. Children upgrade their fighting spiders with armor, and toymakers create punchcard-driven marionettes. Large fish lumber across the skies, while boat people find a new home on the edge of a different dimension. Technology and tradition meld as the people adapt to the changing forces of their world. The Sea Is Ours is an exciting new anthology that features stories infused with the spirits of Southeast Asia’s diverse peoples, legends, and geography.


An early copy of the book was sent to me via NetGalley. It won't be released until November 1st 2015.

The Sea Is Ours is a refreshing steampunk anthology. The settings are fascinating, from cramped cities to rural villages to airborne whales, and the voices were most profound at all. So much steampunk is from an English or American vantage point, and even if it doesn't glorify the imperial perspective, it can still become a stale setting. I loved reading stories that drew from the Philippines, Malaysia, and other locations across such a wide swath of the world that is too ignored in the genre. Some focused on the industrial side of steampunk, such as the mechanized fighting spiders in Robert Low's "Spider Here," while others drew on mythology such as Alessa Hinlo's "The Last Aswang." There is fabulous representation here--hooray for strong, independent women!

I really hope this anthology inspires more diversity in steampunk anthologies--more from southeast Asia, and so many other places (Hawaii? South America? Australia? Please!). Kudos to Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng for assembling such a fun book!

Book 80: The Offering by Desiree Bombenon

Book 80: The Offering (Jake and Amanda Bannon #1).
Author: Desiree Bombenon, 2012.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Mystery
Other Details: ebook. 202 pages.

Jake and Amanda Bannon had planned to unplug in Oahu for a much-needed vacation, but the mai tais will have to wait. They have a kidnapping to solve. Jake's got a winning smile and a head for business strategy. His wife, Amanda, has a quick wit and a knack for sensing things before they happen. The Bannons may look like the perfect picture of a power couple, but when Jake and Amanda hang up their smart phones for a week of R and R in Hawaii, they never expect to get caught in the adventure of their lives. - synopsis from author's website.

I received this book via Net Gallery in exchange for an honest review. The author is clearly an accomplished business woman from the details in her 'About the Author'. However, unlike most writers, she did not mention her interest in or experience of writing. It felt a curious omission and led to the impression, given that she is half of a power couple herself, that there was an element of wish fulfilment as she inserted her avatar into the middle of an adventure. Of course, many writers do but it came as an afterthought when reading her biography.

The premise of a jet setting professional couple solving mysteries with the assistance of a little psychic ability appealed. The climax of the novel was also nail biting in its intensity. Part of the plot involved voodoo, which was another reason I was interested in reading it along with the gift/curse of clairvoyance, which had the ring of a real experience of dealing with the fallout. If not personal experience maybe a relation or friend. I always appreciate when topics like this are handled sensitively.

My problem was with the earlier portions in which the writing tended to meander all over the place. This included the beginning where there was a long introduction to the Bannons before the actual case was introduced. Having read many crime thrillers over the years I find that it is more effective to hook the reader in the early stage with the crime or a threat rather than a lot of background. At times during the narrative there would be asides that served to break the tension. I was surprised an editor or beta reader had not pointed this out.

The second book in the series is due this week and I have an advance copy, which I may give it a try as the premise again sounds interesting.

Book 79: Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

Book 79: Die Again (Rizzoli and Isles #11).
Author: Tess Gerritsen, 2014.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Forensic.
Other Details: ebook. 352 pages.

When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.
- synopsis from author's website.

The novel opens with a journal entry written some six years before the events described above. These entries continue interspersed with the chapters set in present day Boston and eventually tie into the present day case.

It has been a while since I read Book 10 in this series and I was pleased to find that Tess Gerritsen had lost none of her skill in writing this kind of forensic crime thriller. I do love this series and felt that this was one of the best. Its theme of big cats and Africa especially appealed to me. Certainly the case kept me guessing.

I could have easily read it in a single day but forced myself to take it slow in order to savour the experience. I do hope that Tess Gerritsen is working on another in this excellent series.
book 59: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good Omens is about the end of the world and what would happen if a certain angel and a certain demon decided that they kind of liked mucking about on earth and sort of work together to try and thwart and abort the process. Also, what would happen if the antichrist was accidentally switched at birth and raised in rural England? It's silly but thoughtful British humor, as is expected by these authors (although I mostly have to take other people's word for it as this is my first novel by either of them, having only read Sandman by Gaiman before). It was a fun read. I think I liked Christopher Moore's Lamb a little better, if I consider the genre of thoughtful, irreverent, humorous Christian mythology. But, there were still plenty of giggles and things to consider.

Books 89 & 90

No. 6: The Manga, Volume 09 (No. 6: The Manga, #9)No. 6: The Manga, Volume 09 by Atsuko Asano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


No. 6 volume nine ends the series and it's hard to review of course without spoiling the ending. I will say that it is happier than I expected but a little too easy too. There will be a few mild spoilers in this since I just can't avoid them.

It opens with Shion, Dogskeeper and Rikiga desperately trying to find Rat medical help before he bleeds out and they do manage to find a doctor to help. As seen in the last volume, the correctional facility is burning and the walls around No 6 are falling. The citizens, upstanding and otherwise, are being gunned down.

Yomin is trying to foment rebellion but Shion manages to stop them. We learn the truth behind No. 6 and Rat's true destiny. Shion's too.

That's where it is a bit too easy. The threat ends too easily and the clean up of what’s left of the town is also too easy. But it is happy except for one thing. It's a tough one for the shippers but it is open ended. I know this was adapted from a novel. Now I wish I could read those myself. I'm not sure if there is more or if we'd ever see if there is. I'll just say I loved this series. It's beautifully drawn and well told. Shion and Rat are wonderful characters.




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The Other Side of MidnightThe Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Now this is how historical mysteries should be written. I felt immersed in the 1920s. The writing was atmospheric. I do have to say that like most of St James's historical mysteries this is both a standalone and thick with the paranormal.

Ellie is the Fantastique like her mother before her, a psychic who can see the dead and find lost objects. However in the last years of her mother's life, Mom was debunked by James from The New Society group who does psychic research. Ellie now only does lost objects and refuses to talk to ghosts. That is until George Sutter darkens her door. His sister, Gloria, was murdered at a séance and throw into a pond but before attending the séance Gloria had left a note 'tell Ellie to find me,' as if she knew these were her last days.

And she probably did because like Ellie, Gloria was a true psychic. Against her better judgment, Ellie does it. After all she and Gloria had been good friends before their falling out. Gloria was one of the few true psychics in the world, the only one Ellie knew outside of herself and her mother, a kindred spirit. And while Ellie was a strong, independent woman she was far more traditional. Gloria was the epitome of a London Flapper, a complete hedonist, drinking and partying all night, taking lovers where she would.

Ellie is left trying to figure out why Gloria broke her own rules about going to a house to do a séance instead of doing it in her own flat and why she didn't tell Davies, the harsh unpleasant woman who was her de facto manager (and potentially wannabe lover depending on how you want to read it). Why did Gloria take a job suggested by Fitzroy a wealthy wastrel who used to be Gloria's lover? What role did Ramona, a fake psychic play in this since she too was there? And is it possible Gloria's estranged brother George works for MI5?

As Ellie works her way through all this, she meets back up with James from the New Society. She has such conflicted feelings about him. James ruined her mother and her by extension in the process of doing his job as an investigator. On the other hand, she knows she lusts for him, is half in love with him. His skills as an investigator would come in handy.

The story weaves the past and present back and forth into an interesting tapestry. I almost gave it five stars but I thought the end was a bit weak, one of those you didn't quite have enough to solve it. Also, ghosts play a huge part in the ending. Still, I enjoyed this one.




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11 and 12

11. The Kenneth Williams Diaries - Kenneth Williams,edited by Russell Davies
Pages: 801
Blurb: For more than forty years Kenneth Williams, the much-loved actor, broadcaster and comedian, kept a journal whose existence he occasionally used as a threat ('You'll be in my diary!') but whose contents he tantalisingly kept almost completely to himself. After his death in 1988, rumours that the diaries might one day be published sent a shiver of anticipation and dread through the theatrical world. What would they reveal about friends and colleagues? What would they also disclose of the darker, lonelier side which people widely suspected lay behind Williams's outrageous public persona?
Now Russell Davies has edited over four million words of the diaries into a single volume which will not only be the most talked-about and long-awaited theatrical book sine the The Orton Diaries but which brings to light as complex and tormented a personality as has ever been revealed by any diary.
Central to Kenneth Williams's character were the deep contradictions of his sexuality. A byword for flamboyant 'camp',he dreaded personal commitment so much that he fought, not always successfully, to remain celibate all his life and guarded his privacy to an almost pathological degree. The tension this caused is a recurring theme, as are his obsessive hypochondria and frequent suicidal depressions.
Devastatingly honest about himself, he is equally uninhibited in his verdicts on his fellow-man. In his descriptions of Tony Hancock, Maggie Smith, Noel Coward, Joe Orton, Stanley Baxter, Sid James and countless others, his waspish sense of humour, love of anecdote and ear for dialogue are given full rein. In his Diaries, Kenneth Williams succeeded in creating one of the most scandalously entertaining and ultimately tragic self-portraits ever penned.
Thoughts: This book has taken me the best part of nine months to read - it is a beast in size. I got this while at university as I am a massive Carry On fan and know this is one of the trickiest books to find. Williams has always fascinated me and I was desperate to find out more about him.
I'm still not sure how I feel about his diaries. I know people describe it as funny, but the laughs were very few and far between. I learned a lot of surprising things about him - he was a staunch Tory, very racist yet also very liberal but extremely religious. Williams was full of contradictions. I feel that his wide use of vernacular was a mask to alienate people away from him, which ultimately back-fired as he was hugely popular.
Yup, still not sure how I feel on this.

12. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling
Pages: 223 (4567)
Blurb: Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy - until he is rescued by an owl, taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The Reason: HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD!
Thoughts: Let's get the admission over with - I am three days away from turning 26 and this is the first time I have read Harry Potter. I'll admit it, I was one of those kids who avoided what was popular (that included Pokemon cards, also of this era) and staunchly refused to read Harry Potter. Also not being a huge fan of fantasy involving witches and weird creatures, I also gave it a miss. Not until watching a few of the films did I decide to finally give in and read the book.
The book is a lovely, pleasant read and I am glad I am old enough to appreciate it in it's entirety. Very glad the boyfriend has moved in and I can continue reading the full set!

#84: Updraft by Fran Wilde

Summary:
Library Journal Starred Review
Library Journal Debut of the Month
Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
Publisher's Weekly Fall 2015 SF, Fantasy & Horror Top 10

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn't destroyed outright.


This is a coming-of-age tale that is completely fresh and new because of the utter brilliance of the setting: towers made of bone and a society that relies on constructed wings for survival in the homes among the clouds. The politics are dark, the secrets deep. Kirit is a headstrong young woman who cares nothing for convention, and her agency and attitude make her a strong heroine. This book is fantastic (and a very appropriate one to read when traveling by plane, as I did).

Book #38: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad



Number of pages: 455

First off, I have never found Joseph Conrad's books particularly easy to read, and this was no exception.

The story starts with a ship capsizing at sea, and in the ensuing court hearing, the eponymous Lord Jim is found guilty of cowardice and desertion. The second half of the book involves Jim, accompanied by another character, Marlow, leaves his old life behind and travels across the world, eventually settling in an Indonesian community where he takes a wife.

The narrative style of this book was quite unconventional, as most of it is in the form of Marlow narrating the events to others, as the book approaches a violent finale. The problem I had with this book was that it was quite long-winded, and more focussed on descriptions of the characters than events, so the pacing felt very slow at times.

The thing I liked best about the book was Joseph Conrad's ability at vividly describing the environments that the characters were in. I was at times not really sure whose side I was meant to be on, and perhaps not surprisingly, the book seemed a bit racist at times, with the way the Indonesians were portrayed (this does seem typical of Joseph Conrad's books, though).

Parts of the story, particularly near the end, reminded me of Conrad's other book, Heart of Darkness.

Next book: Bag of Bones (Stephen King)

Books 33 and 34

33. The Last Empress, by Anchee Min. I'm not sure how much of this book is history and how much is speculation and interpretation, but what I do know is that it was hard to put The Last Empress down. The story, told in first person, is about Empress Tzu-Hsi (Empress Orchid, or the Dowager Empress). This is a sequel to Empress Orchid, and takes place after the death of Tzu-Hsi's husband Emperor Hsien Feng. The empress finds herself trying to educate her son Tung Chih, the emperor's only heir, into assuming a role of leadership during a stife-filled period of China's history. Unfortunately, Tung Chih is not only an incompetent leader but dies young. Tzu-Hsi's adopted son, her nephew Guang-hsu, is only a slight improvement. Tzu-Hsi finds herself battling both adversaries and differing factions within China, and from the western countries and Japan looking to seize control of the crumbling empire. I get the impression from what little I've read that Tzu-Hsi is, even now, considered a controversial character (she certainly was a lightening rod for controversy when she was alive). Loved the layers, the descriptions and the symbolism. I can see this made into a movie (if it hasn't been already). All in all, I really enjoyed this. Will have to add Empress Orchid to my reading list now (yeah, nothing like reading the sequel first; ah well, this book stands well on its own).

34. Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (edited by Pamela Smith Hill). I had to wait several months to get this from the library, but it was worth it. This was a fascinating read for me. I grew up reading (and re-reading, and re-re-reading) the Little House books. This book includes a draft of the autobiography of famous author Laura Ingalls Wilder. The autobiographical material is, perhaps, about 100 pages or so. Much of the book includes a history of how the books (both Pioneer Girl and the fictionalized Little House series) got their start, and annotations throughout the autobiography (some pages are nothing but annotations). Indeed, the annotations are almost overwhelming, but worth the read. If you have time, I recommend reading the autobiography, then going back through and skimming the autobiography for context and reading the copious amounts of notes and history that go with it. Pioneer Girl is darker than the Little House series; in it, Wilder describes the loss of her baby brother, a frightening incident with a drunken man and the many illnesses that struck. One thing that really jumped out at me is how young she was when she was asked to teach. I knew she had been a teacher, but thought she had been in her early 20s. She MIGHT have been as young as 15 (the annotations point out in this section, as well as several others, where historical events don't necessarily jive with Wilder's recollections), and was no older than 18 when she first headed a classroom. Wow. I can't even imagine. Fans of the series should appreciate this novel, and while it deals with some darker themes, preteens may enjoy it as well, if they aren't overwhelmed by the plethora of historic detail. Also loved all the photos and illustrations throughout- those were a nice touch.
Book 78: Seeing a Large Cat (Amelia Peabody #9).
Author: Elizabeth Peters. 1997.
Genre: Adventure. Historical Mystery. Egyptology.
Other Details: ebook. 435 pages. Unabridged Audio (14 hrs, 24 mins). Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.

It's 1903 in Cairo, and Amelia dreams of a large Egyptian cat, a sign of good luck. But the luck turns when she and Emerson, who are set to dig in the Valley of the Kings, receive an ominous warning: "Stay away from tomb Twenty-A!" More trouble brews as Ramses and Nefret, unknown to their parents, begin to sneak about to help an American who believes she's being stalked. When tomb Twenty-A reveals a mummy wearing silk unmentionables, Amelia is trapped in a labyrinth of murder, passion and deceit. - synopsis from th Amelia Peabody website.

I love this series and with Ramses now a teenager his contribution to the narrative has been introduced in the form of extracts from a manuscript that provides an account of his activities away from his parents, usually accompanied by Nefret and David. To think I really disliked Ramses when he first was first introduced.

This was another very interesting mystery with some fascinating supporting characters. Sadly the death of one character - a beloved feline one off screen - did make me sad.

As always Barbara Rosenblat did a wonderful job of narrating the story.
Book 77: Watch the Lady (Tudor Trilogy #3) .
Author: Elizabeth Fremantle, 2015.
Genre: Historical Fiction. England Elizabethan period.
Other Details: Hardback. 496 pages.

The daughter of the Queen’s nemesis, Penelope Devereux, arrives at court blithely unaware of its pitfalls and finds herself in love with one man, yet married off to another. Bestowed with beauty and charm she and her brother, The Earl of Essex, are drawn quickly into the aging Queen’s favour. But Penelope is saddled with a husband who loathes her and chooses to strike out, risking her reputation to seek satisfaction elsewhere. But life at the heart of the court is not only characterised by the highs and lows of romance, there are formidable factions at work who would like to see the Devereux family brought down. It seems The Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen but as his influence grows so his enemies gather and it is Penelope who must draw on all her political savvy to prevent the unthinkable from happening. - synopsis from author's website.

This novel is historical fiction at its finest. It is clear that Elizabeth Fremantle has done extensive research into the period as well as her main subjects. Her author's note made it clear where she had speculated and her reasons for this. I did appreciate this kind of candour.

I knew only a little about the Essex rebellion or the circle of family and friends around Penelope and her brother so this was illuminating as well as a gripping story about the politics and intrigues of Elizabeth I's court. As with Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth comes across as a very mercurial personality with deep insecurities that manifest as jealousy and paranoia.

I now plan to read her first novel as well to keep an eye out for future works by this excellent author.

Books #39-40

Book #39 was "Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math" by Daniel Tammet. I love books about the history of math or books about math theory that are written for the average person, and this is a wonderful addition to that genre. Tammet is an autistic savant who has written two previous books about being autistic; I haven't read them but I'd be tempted to after reading this book because he's an elegant and intriguing writer. This book is a collection of essays about math and how he sees math in everyday situations. He writes about how numbers crop up in literature, such as Shakespeare's obsession with zero (a "cypher" in Shakespearian texts) and about the history of mathematical ideas. I chuckled over the essay about trying to make a working behavioral model of his mother so he could try to understand her better. His insights into how cultural differences affect the way people use and think about numbers was interesting, too. I think the most outstanding chapter is the one where he recounts reciting the digits of pi for over 5 hours, setting a European record in 2004. It sounds like it should be boring but it isn't - his prose is lyrical and it's wonderful to get a glimpse of how his mind works. Loved this book and recommend it whole-heartedly.

Book #40 was "The Bellini Madonna" by Elizabeth Lowry. I don't even remember where I got the recommendation for this book and it's been in my "to read" list for a while. Our narrator, Thomas Lynch, is a promiscuous lothario who gets kicked out of his college professorship for having affairs with students of both sexes. He's an art expert specializing in the artist Bellini, and so he goes on a hunt for a lost Bellini based on some rumors to distract himself from his troubles. He gets mixed up with an English and Italian family that may or may not be hiding the Bellini and then finds an old diary that gives him some clues about what might have happened to the painting. He sets out to do whatever it takes to get the Bellini, including seducing the women of the house if necessary, but ends up being manipulated by them instead. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book at first. Our main character isn't always easy to like, and he is so blinded by his own assumptions that he doesn't see some obvious things staring him in the face. I did end up enjoying the book quite a bit, though, and liked that the author did her research about Bellini and his friend Durer, the poet Robert Browning, who ends up being featured in the diary, and other period details. I've read criticisms of the book, and people tend to love it or hate it. Some can't relate to any of the characters (as I said, I had a hard time with our viewpoint character as well), while others found the pace too slow. Others criticized Lynch's flowery prose, but it felt right for the subject matter and for the character as portrayed. This is Lowry's debut novel, and I'd be interested to see where she goes next.

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

Aug. 21st, 2015

Reading goes on a bit at a time. It occured to me this morning that one thing that I'd read online was more or less a book, so I added it today, see below.

First of all, I finished reading The Spook Who Spoke Again by Lindsey Davis, a novella that I got from Barnes & Noble. This is part of her series of novels, mysteries set in Imperial Rome, the Falco series. However, it's written from the point-of-view of a boy of eleven, rather than the original protagonist. It's a funny read, as various high-jinks occur. especially good if you've been reading the original series.

Next was Osprey Fortress #33: Special Forces Camps in Vietnam 1961 – 70. It brought back memories of older friends' photos brought back from their service in Southeast Asia.

Then, finally, some several weeks ago, I finished reading online The Adventures of Drake & McTrowell: London, Where it All Began, a steampunk serial written by David Drake and Katherine L. Morse; they alternate chapters in a fashion intended to stimulate each other. It's a fun light read; they apparently do sell the saga as a series of books, but you can find it online if you look.
Book 76: The Wizard of London (Elemental Masters #5).
Author: Mercedes Lackey, 2005.
Genre: Historical Fantasy. Re-told Fairy Tale.
Other Details: ebook. 388 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (11 hrs, 44 mins) Read by Michelle Ford.

The Harton School for Boys and Girls, run by Isabelle and Frederick Harton, is one of the few schools that takes students whose magic doesn't pertain to the elements, and who are, therefore, frequently ignored by the Elemental Masters. Such unheeded gifts include clairvoyance, telepathy, and the very rare ability to truly communicate with the dead. Sarah Jane's parents, missionary healers in Africa, send the 12-year-old to Harton, and she is happy there, especially after she befriends Nan, a street urchin. After an attempt is made on Sarah and Nan's lives, it is clear that a powerful Elemental Master wants one or both girls dead. Isabelle Harton must seek the aid of the Elemental Masters of London, though the Masters' Circle is led by Lord Alderscroft, who once cruelly jilted her. - synopsis from author's website.

This tale in the series is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen.

Again I enjoyed this very much as it provided background on David, Lord Alderscroft, who has been a supporting character in other books in the series. Unlike the last book this was very vague on when it was set aside from the fact that it was during Queen Victoria's reign and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was in existence making it likely mid 1890s. Aleister Crowley is also mentioned and his involvement in the London occult scene was a bit later as was his notoriety. Still one could argue this is an alternative history or that Mercedes Lackey research into the real life occultists of the period was not that detailed.

Again Mercedes Lackey does seem to misstep on the actual climate of England. Snow is rare especially in urban areas whereas I think she assumes we have the same kind of weather as North America. The ending also felt a little rushed. Still aside from these minor points it was a fun tale with some quite tense moments and a little Shakespearean cameo that proved a delightful surprise.

Aug. 17th, 2015

To finish off the recent readings, I read another piece by Charles Stross that should have been a couple of books ago in the saga, Down on the Farm which is a short story set in the Laundry universe. A bit confusing; not up the the novels' standards.

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