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First off, let me apologize to any new members who had to wait for their posts to be released from the moderation queue...LJ failed to alert me that they were featuring this community in the Spotlight, so I was unprepared for the influx! The queue is clear now, so anyone who posted who wasn't seeing their post, should see it now.

Having said that, welcome to all the new members! I invite you to please review the community info found here prior to your first post. Pretty much everything you could want to know about the community and its guidelines can be found there.

Happy reading!

Book #43: 10:04 by Ben Lerner

Number of pages: 244

The title of this novel is taken from Back to the Future, a movie that the book’s narrator is obsessed with and references constantly; the relevance being that it is the exact time that the lightning strike occurs in the film’s climactic scene.

The book’s narrator is a man who appears have a major obsessive compulsive disorder, and goes into enormous levels of detail about everything. This will include references the precise time when he does something, and describing in meticulous detail what materials an object he is holding is made from. He appears to have imaginary conversations at times.

The most curious thing I found about this book though, was that the narrator is never mentioned by name; my guess was always that he was a fictionalised version of the book’s author, Ben Lerner.

The main plot involves the narrator being asked by his friend Alex if he will donate sperm so that she can become pregnant, and tells of the events that lead up to him donating his sperm. However, this is more a novel about his life, because it goes off on a lot of tangents and has many sub-plots that have nothing to do with this.

This was quite a hard book, for a couple of reasons.

First off, there was the language used, because the narrator would often use a phrase that was very long-winded, or he’d use a long word to describe something. The narrative is definitely not straightforward and at times reminded me of the language used in parts of “I Love Dick”, which I also read recently.

Secondly, the book is very idiosyncratic. While it is written mainly in the first person, the whole second chapter is written in the third person; there were a couple of brief moments later on where this happened too and even a section near the end written in the future tense regarding what the narrator expects to happen on a bus journey. At times, the narrative will include a long story-within-a-story told to the narrator by one of the side characters. As I got towards the end, it occurred to me that this book wasn’t so much as about the central character as it was all about the people around him.

Despite what I’ve said, I ended up enjoying this book; the writing style was very humourous, and I found it compelling and kept wanting to know what would happen next.

This doesn’t feel like a conventional novel at all, but it is very well worth trying.

Next book: Great Northern? (Arthur Ransome)

Books 36 and 37

36. The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, by Anna Akhmatova, Judith Hemschemeyer (Translator), Roberta Reeder (Editor). This fulfills the challenge for reading a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.There are love poems in this anthology (and I probably should mention here that what I wrote was merely Vol. 1 of the collection), but many poems are Akhmatova's reflections on her growing up during the Russian Revolution, her distaste for Communism and her faith. To call Akhmatova prolific would be indulging in understatement. Her writing is spare; she uses many allegories in her writing but I found it fairly easy to follow. The forwards by Hemschemeyer and Reeder are definitely worth the time to read for better understanding. My Russian is crude at best; I could pick up a word here and there but am in no position to judge the quality of the translations. Still, from the descriptions of Akhmatova's writing style and from what (very) little I could glean from the Russian, the translations seemed to translate the spirit of this Russian icon well. I usually don't read end notes, but these, too, are worth checking out. This was a challenging read, but I'm glad I selected this book as my final one needed for this year's Book Riot Read Harder challenge.

37. Faith Ed, by by Linda K. Wertheimer. Wertheimer took several years and crossed the country to tackle a sticky issue: teaching religion in the nation's public schools. By teaching, I mean teaching religion in the context of world and national history, and the impact of religion on the shaping of history. This is an issue many districts shy from, and understandably. Aside from abuse or embezzlement, few topics will generate more bad press - deservedly or not- than religion in the classroom, particularly Islam. She illustrates the controversies that have arisen when something goes awry or, more frequently, there is a misunderstanding that gets blown up. But her book also illustrates why, even though its a challenging subject, it is more critical than ever to objectively teach about at least the main world religions. A common theme I saw is that the students, for the most part, got it. It's the adults that need work. But understanding and finding commonalities rather than harping on the differences is the first step in maintaining peace. Kudos to Wertheimer for taking on such a subject, and presenting it in a level way.

Currently reading: In the President's Secret Service, by Ronald Kessler, and The Art and Politics of Thomas Nast, by Morton Keller.
Another week, another few more books.

First was Usagi Yojimbo #31: The Hell Screen; I love Stan Sakai's comic series though I don't buy the comic books. I patiently await the collected stories/graphic novels. I still find them very readable. For those not in the know, these comics are tales about a rabbit who is a skillful samurai now ronin in a fictional Japan. They are all excellent, and beautifully rendered. Very much worth reading.

Next was Dark Serpent by Paul Doherty, a mystery novelist with a huge variety of series that he's written. This is one set in the England of Edward II in which a French privateer is laying waste to English shipping while a series of murders among the recently ousted Templars disturbs the peace. Pretty good read.

Finally, there is Osprey Campaign #48: Salamanca 1812: Wellington Crushes Marmont, a critical battle in the British battle against Napoleon. Solid information.

And so it goes...

Book 77

Italian Summer (Mina's Adventures, #3)Italian Summer by Maria Grazia Swan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one I got when it was free on Amazon. I wouldn’t qualify it as a mystery really, maybe more suspense. Is there a category for when the main character whines the entire book? This is a 2.5 star read for me but I upped it since I came in on book 3. Maybe I would have liked it better if I had read the first two and it’s not badly written. I just didn’t care for Mina much.

Mina has returned to her grandmother’s village in Italy to a) visit with Grandma’s grave, b) to get over losing Diego, a love interest from book 2 and c) trying to reconnect with her older sister’s past after learning after Paolo’s murder that she was in fact Mina’s mother. She’s staying at a professor’s house while he’s out of town and becomes instantly friendly with the older landlady, Emilia who had been a lawyer and friend of Mina’s grandmother.

The whole mystery comes from Emilia who thinks Lordana Lanza, a former schoolmate of Mina’s murdered her brother Vittorio for the family money. It barely gets investigated in the whole book. The bulk of the book is the return of Diego, who seems to be a spy or something like it. He’s looking for a woman he’s known, Alex, whose cross Mina now has via Emilia who got it from a gypsy client. (yeah huge coincidence there).

We have tons of Mina angsting about her sister/mother’s death (understandable), whining about how neither California or Italy feels like home, whining endlessly about how much she loves Diego but can’t handle his job what keeps taking him away from her, and Mina’s ridiculous level of jealousy as she leaps to conclusions about what Alex means to Diego the moment she learns Alex is female. She’s even jealous of Emilia and mistrustful on one page and friendly on the other (to the point both she and Emilia comment on it).

I liked Emilia and her cat, Fufa. I wish I could say this truly had an Italian feel but other than the Italian phrases, I wouldn’t have known I was meant to be in Italy. It fails to set that scene. Maybe I felt let down because I am not a fan of romantic suspense and you can’t call it a mystery when there’s no investigation and the killer is exactly who you were told it was from the moment it was first mentioned.

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Book 76

The 1895 Murder (Sebastian McCabe-Jeff Cody, #3)The 1895 Murder by Dan Andriacco

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this mystery from the author at the Ohiana Book fest. It’s the third in the series (as he didn’t have the first two in stock) and usually with mysteries you can come in and follow. For the most part, that was true but the backstory was Jeff (our first person point of view character) is working on wedding planning with Lynda. We don’t get to see her much as a person in this, more of extension of Jeff as she clashes with her celebrity mother. Her parents are long divorced but Dad is in town too, forcing Jeff into the Shamrock Inn B&B until the wedding so Dad has someplace to stay.

Sebastian McCabe, Jeff’s brother in law, friend and Sherlock to Jeff’s Watson was tasked with adapting his beloved Sherlock stories for the newly restored stage and he’s starring as Mycroft. Jeff and Lynda are in attendance when a murder happens just outside.

Bill Kirtland was staying at the B&B with Jeff who got to know him briefly and he was in the army with Polly (now Sister Mary Margret Malone) and dated her for a few years before she ended up a religious sister. Now he’s dead and Justin, a young man Triple M -as Jeff calls Polly – has been trying to rehabilitate. He’s been in jail before after getting drunk and shooting up an empty school bus. He takes off and the bulk of the book is spent looking for Justin.

Polly doesn’t see police chief, Oscar’s, theory that Justin was jealous of Bill’s attentions toward Polly as a reason to kill him, as credible (and yeah it would be a stretch) so she has Jeff and McCabe hunting down clues.

As a mystery it worked pretty well though the beginning is a bit slow and a bit clunky. I did like Jeff in spite of a bit too much inner thoughts that went into chauvinism territory or including things I don’t care for (like the number of times he said ‘she’s be pretty if she smiled, gah, I hate that). I’d read more in the series.

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Book 75

White Sand Volume 1 (White Sand, #1)White Sand Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this via Netgalley, so thanks to them. Unfortunately I think this may be the last graphic novel I try to get through them as I’ve had nothing but trouble with them (which is a pity as they have so many I’d love to try for). Between glitches where the words aren’t there and only pictures, to copyrights written so boldly over every picture you can’t read it to the fact that my device hates them which was the problem here (I could barely read it because it was so blurry and pixelated (which I see others reading this via netgalley had the same issue) and it was so slow to advance).

My technical issues aside, let me get into the meat of this. The back cover called White Sand a “crucial unpublished chapter in Brandon Sanderson’s sprawling Cosmere universe.” I called it underwhelming. For one it really felt like it was part of a story I hadn’t read and should have (in a way most of Sanderson’s books don’t. I do confess I’m not a fan of tying all your various series into one universe). I suppose it also felt underwhelming because there isn’t anyone particularly likable in this and it’s rather political which I’m so not in the mood for give the current climate.

This is Sanderson’s first novel that didn’t get published and in ways it shows. Kenton is a want-to-be Sand Masterell in Dayside, a sand-ridden desert. His father is the overlord of all the sand mages and thinks very little of them. Kenton (and his brothers) are part Darksider and seemingly almost completely without sand mastery. Kenton’s father wants to assign him a low rank (and you can not move up) but Kenton refuses to accept it, trying to get a higher rank.

Just as he forces his father’s hand and receives it ironically, the sand masterells are betrayed and attacked by a group of religious fanatics leaving very few of them alive. As Kenton tries to find more of his kind he’s met up with a group of Darksiders on a cultural exchange including a royal Khriss who is there following her lover’s quest for the sand mages of myth (so how far away IS Darkside that they don’t know what every Daysider does? And how uncomfortable is it that Darksiders are Black and Daysiders, White? I don’t think that’s what Darksider means but man, I would have named it anything else….)

It takes halfway into this to learn that the sand mages are a ‘profession’ that is one of seven allowable ones by some council and are about to be voted out and exiled for being an arrogant drain on society and Kenton’s new quest (which we assume will dovetail with Khriss’s) is to give them a reason to keep the mages which will be hard as they don’t believe there is a threat from this religious group (which seems bigger than they realize) and on top of that there is a police like force also in the mix and they hate the sand mages too.

Honestly I didn’t care for any of these characters. Kenton seems whiny and self absorbed and the rest aren’t established enough to get a handle on. Khriss comes across much like Kenton. Both seem intelligent at least. It’s very well drawn though. However the white sand on white clothing coloration made the first half of this brutal to try to visually process. This definitely isn’t my favorite in Sanderson’s Cosmere Universe and I’d probably only read more if I could get it at the library.

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Not too many books this week.

First of all, I read a short piece of work from Allen Steele called Sanctuary. It deals with humans and interstellar colonization in a very interesting way.

Then there was Osprey Weapon #39: Mauser Military Rifles; a very common weapon in the first half of the 20th Century. I didn't find it nearly as interesting as I have other books of this series.

And that's it.

Number of pages: 264

This was an e-book that I read over the course of several months; F.O.G. is an acronym here for "Favour of God".

As with other books by Mike Evans I've used, the book uses examples from the Bible for ways in which Christians should live, mostly using the attitude of Jesus. The subjects include "radical" forgiveness and humility.

As with some of his other books too, Evans touches upon the fact that he was abused as a child by his father, and here shows the Christ-like manner with which he approached his father as an adult (and it's very different from that most people would expect). The book mentions politics too, with several references to modern-day terrorism; there is a gripping story about his narrow escape from a terror attack near the end.

I found this book enjoyable myself, and it was useful for me that every point was cross-referenced to a Biblical example.

Next book: 10:04 (Ben Lerner)
Its an older book its about a really young witch named Rose who has a tattoo of a rose on her hand and anytime she uses her powers the rose will grow up her arm and when it reaches her neck shes at full power...anouther part i remember is she has 2 bodyguards ans one of em is missing an arm and anytime they are in a battle a phantom arm will grow there so he can hold 2 axes to protect rose...the last part i remember is theu came up to like a dark forest filled with spiders and they have a queen but the queen is human and her spiders are under threat of being burned alive so she lets them go into hwr whomb....if anyones knows what hook im talking bout PLEASE let me know!!!!! Thank you.
Its an older book its about a really young witch named Rose who has a tattoo of a rose on her hand and anytime she uses her powers the rose will grow up her arm and when it reaches her neck shes at full power...anouther part i remember is she has 2 bodyguards ans one of em is missing an arm and anytime they are in a battle a phantom arm will grow there so he can hold 2 axes to protect rose...the last part i remember is theu came up to like a dark forest filled with spiders and they have a queen but the queen is human and her spiders are under threat of being burned alive so she lets them go into hwr whomb....if anyones knows what hook im talking bout PLEASE let me know!!!!! Thank you.
Its an older book its about a really young witch named Rose who has a tattoo of a rose on her hand and anytime she uses her powers the rose will grow up her arm and when it reaches her neck shes at full power...anouther part i remember is she has 2 bodyguards ans one of em is missing an arm and anytime they are in a battle a phantom arm will grow there so he can hold 2 axes to protect rose...the last part i remember is theu came up to like a dark forest filled with spiders and they have a queen but the queen is human and her spiders are under threat of being burned alive so she lets them go into hwr whomb....if anyones knows what hook im talking bout PLEASE let me know!!!!! Thank you.

Books 73-74

InvictusInvictus by Ryan Graudin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested this from Netgalley and received it (thank you, and it in no way influenced my review). I wasn’t sure I should have requested it. As much as I like Doctor Who I’m often not a fan of time travel stories and even less fond of stories where the protagonist is a thief. I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this. It would have been a five star read without the last chapter. I really disliked the final ending.

Empra is a time traveler with an organization that records ‘datastreams’ taking great care not to interact too much but she’s thrown that out the window, falling pregnant to a gladiator who is about to die in battle as the story opens. Empra lingers just long enough for her water to burst and their son is born outside of time inside the time machine.

We jump to Farway’s story some eighteen years later. His mother is missing in time and he arrogantly strides into his final exam in time travel academy only to fail because someone altered the exam. His response? To take the first job offer afterward: become a time traveling thief ‘rescuing’ items from tragic events. I paused here hard. I knew this was the choice from the blurb so that wasn’t the reason for my pause. It took me a while to realize it was because I’ve been in that place, facing an altered test to keep my kind from passing (lady doctors, and that state was caught at it the next year).

Once Farway and his team (His cousin Imogen, the ship’s pilot Gram and Farway’s girlfriend, Priya, the medic) go for something on the Titanic and meet up with another time traveler who out manuevers them at every turn. Eliot is an interesting young lady with tons of secrets including one big one that I don’t want to spoil in the review. Let’s leave it at the Fade will end all life and Far, Eliot and the others must stop it.

It’s a far more complicated story than that with well fleshed out characters. It addressed things about time travel in a believable way. The emotions were well captured for all the characters (each of which we have chapters dedicated to their point of view). I really liked all the characters, though I reject the idea that only these circumstances would have ended up with them as friends/significant others (which was my problem with the final chapter). I did want a little more world building, especially with Priya. She seems to be a full fledged doctor at eighteen. Is she a genius? Is schooling different? What does Gram really do with the numbers (i.e. it very soft pedaled the physics which I was okay with but I was never entirely clear what Gram did). It was these few things that dropped a star off my review. Still, I highly recommend this one.

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The Festivus MiracleThe Festivus Miracle by Kim Fielding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a super cute novella set in a Nebraska law school. It’s the fall finals right before the holiday break. Tony is an upper level law student from a family of lawyers stretching back to the Civil War but he is not passionate about the law. He is, however, in love with cooking. Eddie is a first year law student bundle of energy who is passionate about the law.

As they get to know each other over a dinner Tony’s cooked, there are glaring differences between the two young men. Tony’s family is affluent but cold. For example his parents left him behind to jet off to Cabo for the holidays. Eddie is definitely more lower middle class with a large warm family whose members belong to so many different religious groups they decided to claim Seinfeld’s Festivus celebration for their own.

The story is cute, fun and heartwarming. Yes, the I love yous are a bit quick (to the point even Tony questions it) but what can you do in a story this short? If you want a sweet holiday read this delivers.

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Number of pages: 272

This is a book I read many years ago; I decided to read it again after watching the play that is showing in London's West End.

The first thing that is noticeable about this book when you open it is that the chapter numbering only includes prime numbers. As explained, this is because the book's teenage narrator, Christopher, has a fascination with prime numbers. Christopher also has Asperger's Syndrome, which makes it very hard for him to understand, or communicate with, other people.

The story opens with Christopher finding that someone has killed his neighbour's dog, Wellington; shortly into the book, he encounters a police officer, but ends up hitting the officer because he doesn't like being touched, and arrested. Christopher then decides, against his father's orders to leave things alone, to turn detective and find out who killed Wellington.

At the same time however, Christopher is informed that his mother has died in hospital; this has a greater effect later on in the story, mostly when...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Christopher learns two things that turn his world upside-down.

First off, his mother isn't really dead; it turns out that she ran off with a neighbour and went to live in London. He finds this out through a series of letters that his father hid from him.

Secondly, when his father finds Christopher with the letters, he admits that he killed Wellington in a fit of rage, leaving his son afraid to live with him.

Christopher's narration is very well written, particularly as he explains all of his obsessive habits (such as his hatred of the colours yellow and brown), and occasionally goes off on tangents where he talks about his understanding of specific topics. The book also has a huge number of diagrams, mostly showing how Christopher visualises his environment.

I liked the fact that this book ends up not just being a story about finding out who killed a dog, and the best-written segment comes when Christopher ventures alone into London and finds things completely overwhelming. The book depicts the chaos of the tube and the behaviour of commuters in vivid detail.

I was really glad that I read this again; I think this is one of the best modern novels around.

Next book: The Girls (Emma Cline)
A couple of weeks reading to review.

As I had been, I was reading an Osprey book each time I finished a chapter of another book, so the first book I read was Osprey Elite #34: Afrikakorps 1941 – 43. As an older Osprey book, the plates aren't particularly great. However the text is pretty good.

Next was Osprey Fortress #69: The Berlin Wall and the Intra-German Border 1961 - 89 which details the whole structure of the border defenses, not just in Berlin. Interesting read.

Then I finished Osprey Men-At-Arms #70: The US Army 1941 – 45, once again an older book in the series which discusses the uniforms and gear of various units in the US Army in a variety of environments. Of mild interest.

Next one up was Osprey New Vanguard #36: Jagdpanzer 38 'Hetzer' 1944 - 1945 which was a tank destroyer of the latter part of World War II in Europe in the German forces. This was a pretty good book.

The next book after that was Osprey Vanguard #40: US Light Tanks 1944 – 84, a discussion of lighter armored vehicles some of which were failures.

Then, Osprey Warrior #54: Confederate Cavalryman 1861 – 65 which goes into details of the life of such troops during the American Civil War. Pretty good.

Osprey Weapon #14: The M16 was the next book. I recall there being a controversy about the weapon's reliability during the Vietnam War, though now it's one of the most common assault weapons in the world.

Finally, there was Price of Duty by Dale Brown, a rather frightening techno-thriller set in Eastern Europe in what must be a bit into the future. I can only hope we make some or all of the technology depicted...

And that's the week!

Book 71-72

You Cannoli Die Once (Italian Restaurant Mystery, #1)You Cannoli Die Once by Shelley Costa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I met the author at the Ohioana book fest and thought this mystery sounded fun. I enjoyed it mostly but there were things that kept me from liking it as well as I wanted. Eve Angelotto works at the family Italian restaurant after an injury sidelined her dancing career. She’s the main chef and walks into the place one morning to find her grandmother’s boyfriend dead ontop of some opera collectibles. Naturally the police suspect Maria Pia (Nonna to Eve) is the killer and Eve takes it on herself to clear Nonna’s name. Here was one of my first problems. We see no reason to suspect that the police aren’t doing their due diligence, or incompetent or anything really. They aren’t very well drawn.

Eve with the help of a lawyer friend and her large family begin to peel back the layers of the victim’s life and he was not who he seemed to be. The mystery wasn’t bad but there were things that bothered me, like how easily the lawyer breaks the law. I wanted way less of the attempted rom-com because a) it made Eve look clueless and it distracted from the romance. I just didn’t think it worked and while I understand the pressure an Italian grandmother can bring to marry, Eve’s desperateness to find a man irked me.

Nonna was something of a...handful, is the nicest way I can say it. Maybe she reminded me too much of my own Italian grandma who was a hard woman some ways so there was that. I wished there was less of the romance and more on character development. How did she get hurt? Why come back? There could have been more there. Would I read another? Yes, I think so but hopefully Eve will gain a clue or two in the future.

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Deathwish (Cal Leandros, #4)Deathwish by Rob Thurman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I let a shocking five years go by since the last book. I tore through the first three but needed a break then lost this in my huge TBR pile. What as shame because I do enjoy Cal and Nik’s story. It’s more of a 3.5 read for me but it kept me well entertained on the plane. One of the things I really like about this, as opposed to some of the other urban fantasies I read is that while it may be a year between books, it’s not a year in the story. The first four books take place in a matter of weeks. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of repeat bad guys and the first three books, and this one too, are all about the Auphe, the demonic heritage Cal carries in his blood. My first thought was please let this be the end to the auphe storyline.

In this Cal and Nik are once again faced with the Auphe hunting Cal down and every time Cal uses his magic, he gets closer to being Auphe, to the point that he’s realized they’re now all females after him and that this utter destruction of the Auphe last book were all male. And it takes him WAY longer to figure out what this means for him than it should (Okay he can be dense but still).

On top the Auphe hunting them down for mating rights, Nik’s vampire girlfriend first gets them a job protecting her ex, the vampire Seamus and then something from her past resurfaces bringing a deadly supernatural from South America with her. So Cal, Nik, Promise and Robin have to fight a war on two fronts which puts them in a bad position to say the least.

The good parts: the brotherly bond and snark (Fans of Dean and Sam would probably like this), Robin the pervy Puck, two decently plotted villains.

The less good parts: I hated the ending of the Promise subplot because this could have easily ended far less darkly than it did. It felt gratuitous. The endless angst over Cal being half Auphe and Nik not always being able to protect him. Seriously, you could have a deadly drinking game with this book. Every time Nik or Cal angst over Cal’s half Auphe side, take a drink. Every time Nik or Cal whine about how crappy a mother Sophia was take a drink (take a second if they call her a whore), take a drink every time Nik calls Cal lazy or Cal calls Nik a Buddhist bad ass, or when Cal worries he’ll go Auphe and kill some one or Nik is called a super warrior. You get the picture. This book would literally be 50 pages less if not more if that had been trimmed. Subtle this book ain’t. Still I’m looking forward to the next one. Did I get my wish about no more Auphe? Read and find out.

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Book #39: Work by Joseph Heller

Number of pages: 77

This is one of a series of "Vintage Minis" published by Penguin Books.

As I understand it, each one is an extract from a longer novel by a well-known author, this one being from Something Happened. I think it jumped off the shelf for me because I really enjoyed some of Heller's other works, particularly his most well-known book, Catch-22.

The book is narrated by a character called Bob Slocum, and is set around the office that he works in. Reading this extract, I was able to spot Heller's distinctive style from the start:

In the office in which I work there are five people of whom I'm afraid. Each of these people is afraid for four people (excluding overlaps), for a total of twenty, and each of these twenty people is afraid of six people, making a total of one hundred and twenty people who are feared by at least one person.

This book gave me a good feel for what the book is about, and that a lot of it is about Slocum's own internal thoughts, and the complexities of office politics. A lot of the extract is about his relationship with another character called Andy Kagle, whose welfare he seems to worry about (Kagle is set out as someone on the verge of getting the sack), but who he also gets frustrated about (in one scene he sees Kagle and talks about his overwhelming desires to viciously attack him). The novel's darkly satirical tone, with its references to suicide is similar to Catch-22, and - since I work in an office myself - it all felt just very real, mostly the portrayal of the office as a very cut-throat world, and how everyone fears for their job security. Also...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

The extract in this book ended with Slocum being told that he was going to get Kagle's job (Kagle inevitably about to be sacked), but he can't tell anyone else at this point, and that leads to him having to lie to Kagle. Since it is evident that Slocum is the only person Kagle trusts, I was intrigued to know how this would eventually affect their friendship.

Reading this convinced me that I should read "Something Happened" in its entirety, not daunted by its 550 plus page length (apparently). I've now bought the whole book on my Kindle, and plan to read it soon.

Next book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)


There's more to the Rust Belt story than the loss of Big Steel and Big Automotive and Big Tires in the big cities such as Akron, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown. Get off the interstates, and the tales of loss are everywhere.

One such story takes place in Lancaster, Ohio.  Brian Alexander's Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town, Book Review No. 19,  looks at what happens as Lancaster Glass and Anchor-Hocking (the Pyrex folks) restructure and move headquarters out of town and outsource production to China.  (How can a management mess things up that badly?  Glass is a weight-losing, low-value-to-weight fragile proposition, and the loss and damage from trans-Pacific shipment alone ought to undo any cheap labor advantages.)

Thus, the middle managers who supported local civic activities, from churches to the P.T.A. to the summer music festival move out, and the suits and academicians from Columbus who treat Lancaster as a bedroom suburb don't take much interest in civic life, and the mediating institutions crumble.

Meanwhile, the eighty-six-proof anaesthetic crutches of the senior executives give way to the more potent, if less lawful, painkillers that become the gateway drug for the various opiates.  There has to be something more at work in the emergence of painkillers as initiative killers than simple cultural rot ... possibly that's a topic for future inquiry?  Mr Alexander concludes his book with some reflections on whether downscale middle America is more sinned against or sinning: that being the fashion in the run-up to the general election.

The "1% Economy?"  Not so much.  There is still a strain in punditry that sees Reaganite deregulation or Friedmanian open markets as the Root of All Evil, and the maintained hypothesis of Glass House is that businesses set free to increase shareholder value shattered the glass plants of Lancaster.  I'm not persuaded.  "Shareholder value," particularly in the quarterly report form, is simply another business fad, the same way conglomeration was a half century ago, and Total Quality Management a quarter century ago.  Businesses have to be mugged by reality sometimes, and one of these years the geniuses in suits will figure out that stripping cash out of boring businesses to support the Latest Big Thing doesn't end well.  Just ask Bangor Punta (if you can find them) or LTV (still looking) or whatever that integrated travel firm United Airlines thought itself to be was.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


Years ago, the Book of the Month Club offered Father Andrew Greeley's The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood as an alternate selection, and its blurb suggested there might be something contemporary, involving gentrification and counterterrorism.  So I bought it, and it somehow stayed unopened but not stashed away for the move, and I figured that after recently finishing The Bishop and the Missing L Train, a compare-and-contrast might be in order.  Thus Book Review No. 18.

Auxiliary Bishop John Blackwood Ryan is still the consulting detective, Sean Cardinal Cronin is still the Archbishop of Chicago (to keep the titles straight, a parish is an area, usually geographic, from which a church draws its congregants: this is a Big Deal in Chicago; a diocese is a collection of parishes assigned to the stewardship of a bishop; per corollary, an archdiocese is a collection of dioceses assigned to the leadership of an archbishop, who does not have to be a cardinal; and some dioceses and most archdioceses are too large to be shepherded by one bishop; thus the auxiliary bishops), there are still four high schoolers called Megan staffing the cathedral rectory, although there has been some turnover among them, and chocolate malteds are still the courtship beverage of choice.

But Cardinal Cronin turns out to be scion of a family locked in a rivalry with Joseph Kennedy, and his father wanted to do Rumrunner Joe one better getting both a cardinal and a president: so far, no president.  Bishop Ryan's father is a prominent Chicago litigator, whose disorderly files provide information germane to the mystery at hand.  We meet Declan O'Donnell, from a long line of Irish cops, whose father is a practitioner of the fine art of "slagging."  (If you won't be around to slag your boy, name him Sue.  Go look it up.)  He's got the makings of a fine field spook, plus his involvement with a beach volleyball player from the State's Attorney's office provides the love story.  Then there's Marshal O'Boyle, Marshal Burns, who has a current commercial interest in ruining his adoptive father's business, and if he knew the back story of his adoption, he might have more murderous motives. Stir in assorted Irish mystics, and people who have the second sight, and cast the runes, er ogam script.

The Old Neighborhood refers to that section of Chicago just east of Oak Park, which regulars call "Austin."  Oak Park is going upscale.  Chicago just east of city limits is next, and the ambitious plans of developers, and the parish priest, who has a novel way of financing a new school, set off a few tensions between the haves, have-nots, and aspire-to-mores.  And in the days just after the Twin Towers came down, rogue government operatives get into the act.  Rogue government operatives we have always had with us, even -- especially -- before Normandy and then the Manhattan Project settled world affairs for a while.  But I must stop this review now, before I give the game away.  I will tell you the story communicates less optimism about the world than Missing L Train did.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #38: I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

Number of pages: 277

I had read a lot about this new cult novel, including about the Amazon Prime series starring Kevin Bacon, that I felt I had to give it a go. Although, as Joan Hawkins notes in the afterword, "Novel" is perhaps not the right word to give to this very most-modern title.

The story is set in the 1990s and involves a (presumably fictional) version of author Chris Kraus and her husband Sylvere, meeting the eponymous Dick, who invites them back to stay over at his house. By morning, Dick is gone, but Chris slowly becomes obsessed with him to the point of stalking.

The book is not written in a traditional format, but mostly takes the form of a series of letters, mostly written from Chris to Dick, although there are some conversations in screenplay format and diary entries. I liked Joan Hawkins' description of the reader as a voyeur, as it does feel like you're reading intimate details of a real couples' love life. The letters set out events that have happened to the characters, but mostly talk at great length about Chris' thoughts, and even her very explicit sexual fantasies. The writing format made this quite a hard book to read, particularly as the letters become increasingly long-winded, and they even include essays about subjects including culture, philosophy and even schizophrenia.

I could see why this book has achieved cult status, but it didn't really feel like my style of book. I think maybe it's a book that female readers could enjoy more. It's a book worth trying just for its unusual style, but don't expect it to be an easy read.

Next book: Work (Joseph Heller)

Book 35

35. On A Burning Deck: The Road to Akron, by Tom Jones. I received a proof copy through work. This book fulfills the requirement for reading a book from a micropress (this is self-published). It is Vol. 1 of (I believe) 2. The author interviewed his grandparents about their experiences growing up in rural Kentucky and in migrating to Akron to take advantage of the plethora of rubber factory jobs. The result is a fascinating glimpse of history seldom, if ever seen: life from the point of view of the not-so famous. Tom Jones combines historical notes and news clippings with transcripts from his interviews with his grandparents, particularly Haskell Jones. The latter, who would serve as police chief and on city council, had an incredibly sharp memory. The resulting book is a treasure for anyone wanting to learn more about Akron's rubber age. More than half of the first volume deals more with Kentucky; I imagine the second book will deal more with the family history in the Akron area. The second part of the book gets a bit disjointed at times but this is an engaging read. Pouring over the transcripts gives a taste of actually listening to Haskell, and it's easy to envision listening to him on a porch, lemonade in hand. And what an interesting, eventful life both he and his wife Florence led! I'm glad the author and the foresight to get these wonderful accounts. I hope I can get the second book too, which is supposed to come out at the end of the year.

Currently reading: The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (Vol. 1), with Judith Hemschemeyer (Translator) and Roberta Reeder (Editor)


Book #37: Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler

Number of pages: 263

This was a book that took my interest a few months ago as I was browsing in a shop.

The narrator, Joseph Vadassy, is holidaying in France when he is arrested on the basis that he is believed to be a spy (the story seems to be set shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War). The accusation is based on the fact that Vadassy's camera was used to take photographs of a restricted area.

Vadassy pleads his innocence, and is released on bail, but realises that he has been framed by a real spy, who is staying in the same hotel as him. The rest of the book revolves around his attempts to unmask the real culprit, and there are several suspects, all of whom he has become aqcuainted with, including the hotel owner and several guests.

One thing I noticed was that Vadassy's narration often goes into great detail about his thoughts and feelings, which gave me a good sense of being inside his head as he contemptlated whether or not a particular character may be the person who framed him. The first chapter has him setting out very quickly that he was arrested, before setting the scene and giving all the details about how he ended up under arrest.

I noticed that occasionally the narrative did go into extended flashbacks told by the people who Vadassy suspects of having framed him, always to give their own backstory (it is always unexpected and strange) and prove that they are not the spy.

I enjoyed this book a lot; Vadassy was an engaging character, and the narrative was quite an easy one to read, and I kept wanting to find out who the real spy was. Most of the side characters in the book were also written very well, particularly the English Major who Vadassy is suspicious of. The book got very exciting towards the end as the real spy was revealed, so I wasn't disappointed.

Next book: I Love Dick (Chris Kraus)


They're something I've been pushing, seemingly forever, and perhaps Our President's defiance of those norms is getting Deep Thinkers who previously honored the norms in the breach to rediscover their value.  But the rot has been coming for a long time, and Charlotte Hays's When Did White Trash Become the New Normal?: A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question is a hilarious exploration of inquiry into the nature and the causes of the rot.  (The perfect summer relief to offer as Book Review No. 17, particularly after a dark and stormy night last night, to be precise.)  It has to be hilarious, as "standards of decency are now culturally insensitive."  And yet, the book illustrates all the ways that goes wrong.  "Why Obesity, Tattoos, and Velveeta(R) Prove That Arnold Toynbee Was Right."  About celebrating the downscale -- the $64 word is antinomianism -- as being a signifier of the rot, that is.  There are also recipes.  And anyone who specifies yellow mustard as the quintessential White Trash condiment is spot on.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 70

The Viscount's SonThe Viscount's Son by Aderyn Wood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella had an interesting set up. Emma is a book conservatory/historian who's set up a blog (she's a newbie to the idea) to discuss and translate a sixteenth century diary by someone named N.C. So the novella flip flops between Emma's blog and NC's diary. She was happy to have something to break up the monotony of inputting death registries for soldiers in the Middle Ages and her partner thinks the diary is a fake. Emma doesn't believe so.

It's quickly obvious why he thought the diary was a joke because NC, the bastard son of a Viscount, is a soldier who's fallen for a gypsy woman and just as obviously she's a vampire and is likely to make NC one too.

I have to say what happens in the modern day runs on some pretty predictable rails and the writing is a bit passive in places but still, it's entertaining enough and short. It does have an open end and there is a sequel. I had fun with it.

View all my reviews


Immediately after the election, Berkeley law professor Joan C. Williams wrote "What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class" for Harvard Business Review, suggesting that her Democrat buddies cool it with the condescension.  She more recently suggested that New York Times readers pipe down.

There's a collection of these short essays in White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, Book Review No. 16.

Think of it as privilege-checking for the privileged.  Sample questions (all of these are essay titles):  Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals But Admire the Rich?  (Spoiler alert: it's the condescension.  Don't be stupid about being smart.)  "Why Doesn't the Working Class Get With It and Go to College?"  (We could mention a shelf of books on the ways in which higher education, particularly the subprime party schools, fail to serve youngsters of modest means.)  "Don't They Understand that Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back?"  (Jobs can neither be created or destroyed, only changed in form.)  "Why Don't the People Who Benefit Most from Government Help Seem to Appreciate It?"  (Because they have to deal with condescending principals and snippy motor vehicles bureaucrats?)

Yes, I'm teasing with the last one, but it might come down to Professor Walsh is still thinking of Government as One Size Fits All, Tailored by Wise Experts in Washington City, while the services the locals benefit from are locally sourced and funded by local taxes.

So pick it up and read it, dear reader, particularly if you're disposed to condescend to people who lack your credentials or your vocabulary.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


Nor are all changes for the better, argues Robert D. Kaplan in Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World, tonight's Book Review No. 15.

It's become a thing of late for pundits and public intellectuals to go on anthropological excursions into the Flyover.  We've documented a number of these things, particularly since the surprise outcome of the national elections.

Mr. Kaplan, however, is an old hinterland hand, both in the States and abroad, and his vision tends to the tragic.  That's not necessarily the case as he earns the Rockies. That is a reference to his truckdriver father's experience with road trips, and it's not wholly wrong, there being a thousand miles of prairie and plain and plateau and seven-layer salad before the Front Range looms in the windshield.  Now imagine crossing all that open space in a prairie schooner.  But you have to appreciate an explorer who treats his in-car navigation as the enemy, "because it steers me only onto the interstates."  He ignores it.  Along the way he discovers the true source of American intellectual strength.  "The Big Ten is the capstone of a vast social, economic, and political process that, again, stares right at us, even as we don't notice it."  (Rockies: 74)  In Illinois, it's a different sort of player with railroads, in this case the flood-loading of land barges of grain hoppers.  "I know that it is the immensity of the continent that required the development of more powerful locomotives than in other parts of the world, something which, in turn, enabled the development of long-distance engines for our warships, so that the strength of our navy is directly related to the size of the dry-land continent and the rail lines spanning it."  (Rockies 77.)  And coastal types can eat their bread and pump their gasohol into their hybrid cars without ever contemplating how it gets there.  As far as those engines, well, the Electro-Motive 567 series diesel powered World War II passenger and freight trains, destroyer escorts, PT boats, and submarines alike.  And thus, cross-country, where a pattern emerges of the thinner people living in the more upscale areas, and where a lot of the citizenry are, in presidential terms, Jacksonians (a stance less common among the political class.)  Then in San Diego come the current warships, a "stabilizing presence" in his view.  But not enough of a power to function as tools of empire, conventionally understood.  All the same, those tools must be used wisely.  For in Mr Kaplan's view, the United States comprise a continental empire, one that -- as the settlers earning the Rockies and beyond learned -- must be frugal with their assets.

Earning the Rockies also draws heavily on the works of an earlier generation of social scientists: Bernard DeVoto, Wallace Stegner, Halford Mackinder.  Names now obscure, names perhaps in a bad odor because their perspectives don't align with contemporary aesthetics.  And yet it might not be possible to make sense of the actually existing United States without contemplating anew what they saw.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
34. The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez. This fulfills the challenge requirement for reading a book whose points of view are all from people of color. This story is told through several points of view, although the primary focus is on Alma Rivera, mother of Maribel, and Mayor, the younger son of the Toro family. The other points of view come mostly from the neighbors. The Rivera family have left their families and lives behind in Mexico to move to Delaware so Maribel can attend a special-needs school. Maribel sustained a catastrophic head injury due to an accident, and while both her parents yearn for their home town, they feel the opportunities in the United States can better help their daughter. Mayor, whose family has lived in Delaware for some time, falls for Maribel, and he comes to see himself as her protector after she is accosted by the local bully. They grow close, and Maribel starts regaining her memories and ability to do everyday tasks. Then tragedy hits. I am not a fan of spoilers, so I'll leave it at that. The stories all mesh well. The people here are all so real- they have their faults, their dreams, their biases. One smaller, but no less poignant tragedy, is to read a story from a neighbor whom the others have rudely gossiped about or have dismissed. We are all guilty of that, but it makes it no less sad. This should be required reading in the high schools. It shows so well the value of empathy without beating the reader of the head with it. There is some mild language and innuendo (two of the focal points are teens.)

Currently reading: On A Burning Deck, by Tom Jones, and The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (Vol. 1), with Judith Hemschemeyer (Translator) and Roberta Reeder (Editor).


Kurt Schlichter's Indian Country is a warning, inspired by the attempts of the self-styled resistance and the Democrat-Media-Entertainment-Academic Complex's efforts to impose their vision on the country.  "Maybe someday we will realize that the path we are currently on ends in a place that looks a lot like Kosovo...  The people there chose expedience and violence over the hard work of sustaining the rule of law."

Is that the course the United States are on? Book Review No. 14 will not offer spoilers.  I purchased the paperback edition.  Is its publication in large type with a lot of white space a statement that in future, print editions of books will have in mind the deteriorating eyes of aging Baby Boomers, as everyone younger can still pick up the words on portable screens?

Read more...Collapse )Mr Schlichter suggests that, sales and other interest permitting, there might be additional stories about this partition of the country. People's Republic has a hint that the principal character might be back at work in the failing part of the country; that the protagonists were able to block two Interstate Highways and get the leaders of Hillaryland to contemplate starvation of the cities suggests another set of possibilities.  That somehow, the nachalstvo in Chicago or on Manhattan or in Washington City or in San Francisco still have their cafes and craft beers also raises possibilities, more along the lines of Roumanians turning on the Ceaucescu clan.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
This week's reading I handled in a slightly odd way; whenever I finished a chapter in one particular book I'm still reading, I then read an Osprey book through. This lead to a lot of books finished though total pages aren't quite so impressive.

Anyway, the first one I got done was Osprey Weapon #23: The M1903 Springfield Rifle which taught me a bit about a weapon of which I knew nothing. There's going to be a lot of the Weapon series in a row here, BTW, because they've been piling up and I wanted to get through them.

Next was Osprey Weapon #29: US Combat Shotguns. Somewhere, somehow, I got the impression that shotguns were against the laws of war, but clearly they got a lot of use, starting with trench-clearing weapons in WWI to the Vietnam War and beyond, wherever it appears that US forces might be engaged in short range, closed in combat.

Then I finished Osprey Weapon #31: MP 38 and MP 40 Submachine Guns, the iconic weapon that is nearly always evident in WWII movies. Production of this was outpaced by the Sten, the Tommygun, and the following book which I read:

Osprey Weapon #33: Soviet Submachine Guns of World War II which discusses the weapons that they produced, used, and exported after the war. Interesting.

Next was Osprey Weapon #34: The Lewis Gun, the British light machine gun in use from WWI through II and beyond.

Then, Osprey Weapon #35: The MP5 Submachine Gun, leaping forward into the modern era and the chosen combat weapon of anti-terrorist units in the present.

Next was the book Osprey Weapon #37: The M14 Battle Rifle. I once had a friend who fought in Vietnam who swore by this weapon and could never get over being handed an M16 when he got overseas. The book spends some time on this controversy, which I found therefore interesting to read.

Following that was Osprey Weapon #38: The Hand Grenade, a modern weapon that goes way back, and one which has several variants, not all of which are anti-personnel. I found this book particularly interesting.

Then it was Vesuvius by Night by Lindsey Davis, a shorter piece which describes the life in Pompeii just prior to and during the eruption of the volcano. Chilling piece of work.

Then breaking free of the Osprey Weapon series for a bit, I read Osprey Campaign #47: Yorktown 1781: The World Turned Upside Down, getting a bit of background on the ground and naval maneuvers which led to the British defeat.

What a week!

Book 17 - 2016

Book 17: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – 228 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight Judge Judy - loving best friend riding shotgun - but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

This was my second John Green novel. It was…different. John Green writes different. It’s like he goes out of his way to put together the strangest combination of things into a person. I like that but – I think it represents humanity far better than the average author. Like my brother whose music taste swings from Hall & Oates, to High School Musical to Swedish heavy metal! People don’t fit into nice neat boxes, and John Green does that well. Colin is a dork, no doubt about it. So is his friend whose name escapes me. I liked his friend. I liked that he played with cultural stereotypes – see, John Green again! Colin had some problems – his parents hadn’t handled it very well, in my opinion, but that doesn’t surprise me. Colin’s theory was random – Green again, throwing some maths in to keep us on our toes. It’s readable, page-turning, even if by the end of his books I’m not really sure what ‘happened’, but for personal growth. I’m not really a personal growth kind of reader – I like stories where stuff happens, decisions are made, people move on. I guess that happens here, but it never quite feels like it. Still, I enjoy it. I enjoy the humour, and the weird characters and the randomness of it all. Like life.

17 / 50 books. 34% done!

4260 / 15000 pages. 28% done!

Currently reading:
-        My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages
-        Griffith Review 51: Fixing the System edited by Julianne Schultz and Anne Tiernan – 326 pages
-        The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – 215 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
-        Avalon High by Meg Cabot – 280 pages



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