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Timothy Snyder's histories of politically motivated genocides in the steppes attempt to tell the stories of the people whose lives were disrupted or ended in the service of some Greater Good, at the same time that he attempts to provide an intellectual framework for what happened, and why there?  The title refers to a question he asks toward the end of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, the subject of Book Review No. 10.  The fourth man in question is the individual who, after the Second World War ends, assists a refugee Jew.  Three previous Gentiles had turned the refugee away.
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The warning, from page 342.  "We share Hitler's planet and several of his preoccupations; we have changed less than we think.  We like our living space, we fantasize about destroying governments, we denigrate science, we dream of catastrophe."

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books 18 through 20

18. Life Expenctancy, by Dean Koontz. Really enjoyed this novel. Koontz has this knack for making you laugh out loud one moment, then recoil in horror the next. He has this talent for these dark quips and strange twists. Those who like combining dark humor with a thriller will love this. In the story, Jimmy Tock is an unassuming pastry chef, with little self-confidence except when it comes to his culinary skills. But his birth is eventful to say the least. Part of it involves his grandfather, who dies the same day he is born, in the same hospital. Moments before dying, the grandfather makes several predictions about Jimmy, which are accurate. He also foresees five incredibly dark, tragic days in his grandson's life. The other eventful circumstances would involve too many spoilers, but let's just say they wind up impacting the rest of Jimmy's life in unexpected ways.

19. City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris. This completes my Book Riot challenge for reading a story set in the Middle East. This is the second book in a series set in Saudi Arabia. The two central characters are Nayir Sharqi, a conservative desert guide, and forensic scientist Katya Hijazi. This unlikely duo again wind up working together on a case after a young woman is found horribly mutilated, and with her neck broken. After some digging, Katya discovers the dead woman was an aspiring filmmaker. One project included conversations with prostitutes and the condition of women's lives in general. This alone had caused conflicts. However, Leila also had been working on a far more contentious topic when she was killed. I had really enjoyed Finding Nouf, the first book, and this is an excellent encore. Ferraris paints a fascinating picture of Saudi Arabia - both the country's deep flaws and its beauty and variety of people and cultures (and views). The dead Leila is a fascinating character; without giving too much away, she has her shortcomings as well as her strengths. The rollercoaster relationship between the independent Katya and the deeply pious Nayir has been interesting to watch, and I'm glad the book didn't resolve things to tidily. There are actually several mysteries at work here, and I had no idea how things were going to resolve, and my guesses were generally wrong. Excellent mystery, all in all. I'll have to check out the other books in this series.

20. George, by Alex Gino. This fulfills the Book Riot challenge for reading a book about a person who is transgender. This is aimed at older grade school (third through sixth grade). I finished it in one day. The story centers on George. Everyone sees George as a boy, but George never saw herself that way. She keeps her thoughts hidden until her teacher announces her class will stage Charlotte's Web- and George really wants to play Charlotte. George's teacher reject the idea, but Kelly, George's best friend hatches a plan to make her dream come true - both in playing the role, and in having people see her the way she sees herself. This is a fairly balanced book; the outlook may be a good deal more rosy than in real life. But given that this book aims at education, understanding and promoting tolerance, I don't see this as a flaw.

Currently reading: Novel Without a Name, by by Dương Thu Hương, Nina McPherson (Translator), Phan Huy Đường (Translator).

Books #25-26

Book #25 was "Tartuffe," a play by the 17th century French author Moliere, translated and with introduction by Richard Wilbur. I've been adding a few "classics to catch up on" to my reading list (cribbed from "The New Lifetime Reading Plan" - you can see the reading list here), and this comedic play in rhymed verse from 1669 was on the list. In it, Orgon, the head of a household, has been taken in by the conman Tartuffe, who plays on Orgon's religious leanings by pretending to be a poor but pious mystic. Tartuffe gets installed in Orgon's household and is even set to be married to Orgon's daughter, and Orgon won't listen to any criticism of his pet holy man until he witnesses with his own eyes Tartuffe flirting with Orgon's wife. I read the play in one day and found it enjoyable. I'd like to see it performed or done as radio play or something similar.

Book #26 was "Bicycle Diaries" by David Byrne, yes, that David Byrne, the one from Talking Heads. He has been a bicycle enthusiast for many years and brings his bike with him around the world so he can tour cities from that vantage point. The book was formed from his blog entries, though re-shaped for the book. The first chapter is a compilation of his thoughts about various American Cities, and then each chapter after that is a big world city, from Buenos Aires to London to Istanbul. He obviously talks about the bikeability of each city, but largely, the book is about thoughtful urban planning. Along the way, you get his thoughts on world music, art and industrial design, the psychology of personal narrative, and more. I read a NY Times book review, and the reviewer was surprised that Byrne comes off as a "normal guy" since much of his musical career and persona is so kooky. But his "everyman" observations were just what I liked best about this book. Additionally, with books like this, I find that the parts about the past or present are strong but projections for the future are sometimes weak, but the last few pages about the future of public transport were pretty insightful and interesting. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone interested in Byrne and his music, touring by bicycle, or urban planning & design.

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


When the housing bubble popped, a lot of canonical planned-use developments heavily skewed to sport-utes and culs-de-sac stopped expanding.  That's a mixed blessing for me, as Cold Spring Shops headquarters exists because a local builder was willing to talk with me about crazy ideas like a basement under the garage, a wide stairway on a straight line from the garage downstairs, and a bookshelf the entire expanse of a wall.  As long as the sport-utes were rolling in from Naperville with people ready to sign up for the one interior plan disguised with four different exteriors, and the lenders were lending money, that wasn't happening.

But the economic environment is changing, and Fortune's Leigh Gallagher envisions The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving, and here comes Book Review No. 9.  The book touches on a lot of Strong Towns themes including the inadequacy of the tax base, the over-reliance on cars, and the anomie (although that idea goes back to the late 1950s in cultural studies.)  Ms Gallagher acknowledges the influence of Strong Towns thinking in her writing, there's an interview here.

For policy purposes, the end may not yet be here.  Consider a dissenting perspective from Joel Kotkin at Forbes.  "It’s time to put an end to the urban legend of the impending death of America’s suburbs." There are weaker suburbs and stronger suburbs and migration patterns reveal a preference for stronger suburbs, or perhaps for opportunities to live among other functional people. "So when millennials move they seem likely to not move to the nice old suburbs, or the deteriorating one, but those more far-flung suburban communities that offer larger and more affordable housing, good schools, parks and lower crime rates."  Sounds like an evolutionary stable strategy to me.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


Grandmaster Garry Kasparov has become a spokesman for civil society and one of Vladimir Putin's most visible critics.  In Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, he documents the emergence of the latest prison-house of nations.  I'll keep Book Review No. 8 short.  The title presents his thesis, the text provides the details.

One observation might be worth study for extension to other parts of the world.  That is, Yugoslavia began to come apart after Josip Broz Tito died, with ethnic cleansing and other echoes of World War II surfacing (perhaps the first major cracks in the Pax Americana?)

Nobody, either in the Atlantic Alliance, or the Warsaw Pact, actively sought regime change in Yugoslavia.  The strongman dies, and no successor is able to keep the country together.  The generalization to other parts of the world -- would Iraq or Libya or Syria be better off without external encouragement of regime change? -- is left as an exercise.

There's a part of the Yugoslavia story that Grandmaster Kasparov does not take on that's also relevant for understanding international relations.  The Atlantic Alliance's intervention, during the waning days of the Clinton Administration, supposedly to protect Moslems from the Orthodox, did not secure much goodwill with the jihadis plotting in Afghanistan.  It destroyed any goodwill that might have been developing between the Atlantic Alliance and Russia.  Tchaikovsky's Marche Slav, after all, honors a Russian alliance with Serbia, and whose side did Russia take in 1914.  Is it any accident, dear reader, that a Russian nationalist would ascend to the Russian presidency in 1999?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 24

Title: Zwielicht
Author: Anne Bishop
Series: part four of "The Black Jewels"
Pages: 524
Summary: Jaenelle Angelline, die mächtiste Hexe in der Geschichte der Dunkelheit, hat den einst verfeindeten Territorien von Terreille und Hayll endlich Frieden gebracht. Doch der Preis dafür ist hoch, denn nur langsam erholt sich die Auserwählte von dem Kampf, der ihr nahezu alle magischen Kräfte geraubt hat. Und nicht alle alten Feinde sind besiegt. Als ein Aschlag Jaenelles Leben bedroht, muss sich Daemon Sadi entscheiden: Nur wenn er sich erneut seiner gefährlichen, dunklen Seite stellt, kann er seine Geliebte retten...

My thoughts:
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Books #23-24

Book #23 was "Nappy Edges," poems by Ntozake Shange. I read her first volume of poetry, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf" a year or two ago and enjoyed it, so when I ran across this second book of poetry on a "free stuff" table at a convention, I snapped it up. I've been reading it three or four poems a day for a few weeks, often reading them out loud to myself. I admit that I found the first section hard going. She's calling it poetry but they're really more essays about poetry and writing, and happen to be written in poetic stanzas. After that, though, I really liked many of the poems in the collection. Some of my favorites were "wow... yr just like a man!", "night letter #3", "the old men", "who is setting these priorities?", "on becoming successful", "serious lessons learned", "with no immediate cause", "the suspect is black & in his early 20's", "cross oceans into my heart", and "my father is a retired magician". Her best poems make me flinch or laugh out loud. There are a few techniques she uses really well, and my favorite two were a sort of repetition of phrases like in a blues song or a hymn, and another is taking you through a poem in one sort of mood or feeling and then turning it on its head a little bit in the very last line or two, suprising the reader with the ending. I'm glad I read this and mean to include more poetry in my yearly reading lists.

Book #24 was "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke. I finished it in two days and liked it a lot. It's somewhat flawed, in my opinion, but I enjoy Clarke's writing. I generally like character-driven sci fi more than "idea" stories, and Clarke tends to be an idea man. But he created some sympathetic characters to help propel you through his stories. The story starts with "Overlords" coming to earth and forcing mankind to become more peaceful and evolved. Humans worry that this supervision will put an end to human development and creativity. While I found the whole plotline with mankind "evolving" psychic powers to be a little silly, I did like the repeated thematic elements around man's insatiable curiosity. This is a classic for a reason!
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May. 21st, 2016

It's been several days since I last posted my reading matter, and in the interim I've finished several books.

The first one was The Herald of Hell, a Paul Doherty mystery set in London during the Wars of the Roses. Heavy on description, this is part of a series and honestly much of the interplay is based on books several back in the saga. Not quite as good as other books in the series.

Next was Osprey Men-At-Arms #9: Blucher's Army 1813 – 1815...I'm starting to read some of these from the earliest books of the series, and the art isn't as good as in the later books. This one gives some strong detail on why the Prussians of this period were more effective than in earlier decades in the Napoleonic Wars so it's not bad for this series. More recent books are better.

Then, Kings and Emperors, another of Dewie Lambdin's series of Napoleonic sea stories. The ship is attached to Gibraltar at the start of Wellington's fighting in the Iberian Peninsula against the French forces. The author couldn't resist letting the protagonist go ashore and participate in a land battle. I like the Lewrie series very much, but this one isn't his best book. There's another one out since this one was released, and I expect to get to it fairly soon, but if it's not better than K&E, then it may be time to move on.

Next was Osprey New Vanguard #9: T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941 - 1945, a fairly technical book about a tank that was key to the Soviet forces not collapsing completely when the Germans invaded in WWII.

Then, Wrath of the Furies. Steven Saylor has a series of novels set in Ancient Rome about Gordianus the Finder, who deals in solving mysteries. This series is solidly good. However, Gordianus got pretty old, and so Saylor started writing prequels, when the Finder as a young man traveled the lands that Rome influenced or conquered in that time; this book is about him trying to help his old tutor when an enemy king is planning something to break the power of Rome in the Eastern Mediterranean. Very good read.

Finally, a Kindle file, James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for his Father which is a short piece on the history of the fictional character's birth, i.e. Ian Fleming's work on it as well as the battles in Hollywood over who did what to bring him to the silver screen. Moderately interesting, especially for film historians.

Books #21-22

Book #21 was "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. I can see why McEwan is praised and nominated for awards for his writing. The events of this book all hinge on one day in 1935, when Briony, imaginative 13-year-old baby of the family, sees her sister flirting with the char-lady's son and interprets it as something sinister, leading to more misunderstandings later in the day that change everybody's life forever. That one pivotal day takes up about half the book, and the other half of the book shows how several people's lives unravel over the next decade, which includes the outbreak of World War II. The descriptive passages and the inisight into human motivation and how our perceptions change with time are all very elegantly done, and help propel you through the book, even though not much dramatic happens for about the first third of the book. I really loved this and will be seeking out more by the author.

Book #22 was "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin. This is a classic YA mystery novel published in 1978, and it continues to be reprinted today. When I was working at a literacy nonprofit last year, they still carried it on their shelves for teenagers. The book is really a nice bit of brain candy, but it stands the test of time as entertainment. Sam Westing calls together 16 heirs and makes them solve the mystery of his murder in order to decide who will inherit his multi-million dollar fortune. The plot may sound somewhat familiar, but Raskin was one of the first to use the structure and others have copied her since. I really loved that the cast of characters was diverse and that one of the central characters is a 13-year-old girl who goes by the nickname "Turtle" who is obsessed with the stockmarket and kicks people in the shins when they cross her. I wouldn't call this fine literature, but it was definitely a lot of kooky fun, and the audiobook reader, Jeff Woodman, did a great job.

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


The great hope of leftist vanguards of all stripes is that they will have the great good fortune to be alive during the Final Collapse of Capitalism.  The dynamics are simple enough.  "Marx, of course, is the chronicler of technical progress making possible the production of stuff in such abundance that the workers would have insufficient buying power to buy it, because the private owners of the means of production accumulate wealth out of the difference between the prices of the products they sell and the subsistence wages they pay."  The ending seems foreordained.

Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself, The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

And yet the Long Depression that accompanied the Gilded Age didn't bring it.

The Great Depression didn't bring it.

Two decades of bursting bubbles and Great Reset haven't yet brought it.

But David M. Kotz, in The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism, today's Book Review No. 7, thinks about how to bring it.  Think a shorter Capital, starting with the market-friendly reforms that accompanied the failures of the Great Society and the European welfare states rather than with the primitive accumulation, and, after a look at the internal contradictions unleashed by those reforms, it concludes with suggestions about what comes next.  We're past the simple dialectic in which a socialism replaces capitalism.  Page 181: "The social structure of accumulation theory argues that every structural crisis is followed by major institutional restructuring."  (There are books that can be written about what sorts of restructurings are futile reforms and what revolutionary transformations are sectarian, but Mr Kotz, mercifully, doesn't go there.)

He concludes, however, with the observation that This Time It's Different.  Not quite integument-bursts-asunder different, but different enough that people might be receptive to "social democratic capitalism" (it differs from "Western Europe" but read the book) or to "democratic participatory planned socialism" (the details are fuzzy; there are emergence possibilities I grapple with here) as possibilities.  Mr Kotz concludes, likely correctly, that the getting there "cannot be predicted."

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Number of pages: 338

There's a very sad story behind this novel.

When John Kennedy Toole initially wrote it, it did not get the recognition it deserved, and he eventually committed suicide - aged just 32 - in 1969. Luckily, the novel ended up being published posthumously, and I was glad I found it in a bookshop, having read all about it and wanting to read it.

The central character, Ignatius Reilly, is - at face value - a very dislikable character. He is a 30 year old, narcissistic, work-shy, antisocial mummy's boy, who does not get on with anyone, and looks down upon others, including his own mother, who is appears to be mooching off, until early in the book when she insists that he get a job. He struck me as very similar in personality to Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory".

When we first meet Ignatius, he has a confrontation with a patrolman, which gets out of hand because of his tendency to get lippy with everyone, and his complete lack of empathy. The scene ends with his mother rescuing him, and the patrolman getting into trouble over the incident.

What follows is a story all about Ignatius causing problems at work, starting rebellions, and eating the hot dogs that he is supposed to be selling, as well as - later on in the book - briefly getting involved in politics. You can sense that the relationship between Ignatius and his mother is spiralling out of control, but you can't really tell exactly where the story is going, as it occasionally goes off on tangents about other inhabitants of the small town in which the novel is set, including the luckless Patrolman who tried to arrest him, who is constantly humiliated by his sergeant.

Perhaps the best insight into Ignatius' mind is when he writes his journal entries, or reads correspondence from the unseen Myrna. Most notably, you can see that Ignatius despises the attempts by Myrna and his mother to look out for him, and just thinks that they are against him. When reading this, I wondered if Ignatius was supposed to have Asperger's syndrome, which makes people difficult with social interactions and can often cause a lack of empathy with others, although there are also hints that he might in fact be mentally ill. Amazingly, I found myself caring for him later in the book, despite his obnoxious behaviour towards everyone.

The book tells a very simple story, but felt a bit hard to follow at times, because of the way that it went off on a few tangents, and the fact that a lot of the narrative is told through lengthy conversations, letters and journal entries. You can also tell that it was written in the 1960s, because of the occasional racist and homophobic slurs, as well as the paranoia about communism that runs throughout the narrative.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book; it is sad that this did not get recognised until many years after the death of its writer, but it is definitely one that I would recommend to others.

Next book: Red or Dead (David Peace)


Barbara Miner's Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City begins with the Milwaukee Braves winning a World Series and ends with the Madison protests prior to the attempted recall of Republican governor Scott Walker.

The history overlaps some with my own.  I started kindergarten in 1959, and was in a class that was bussed intact (not because of integration, as later became the case, but because there were more students in my neighborhood school than there were classrooms.)  Later I attended a new high school that featured a planetarium and the "superior ability" classes offering college-prep plus.

I finished in 1971.  The city, the high school, and the Milwaukee Public Schools, all came apart sometime after.  Ms Miner documents all the ways Milwaukee changed: the immigration from the black South and the Third World, the flight of the factories and the once-unionized jobs to the black South and the Third World, the flight of the white ethnics (primarily Polish and German extraction) to the suburban counties.

It's not that the policy activists -- Ms Miner is clearly sympathetic to the recall movement, and to the advocates of school integration or diversity or however you want to frame it -- didn't protest and agitate and elect.  It's not that the school administrators didn't try everything -- you'll read about intact bussing and integration and open enrollment and magnet schools and voucher schools and charter schools and for all I know schools of smelt -- and yet Milwaukee "collapsed" badly during the 1980s and didn't recover.

And yet, Book Review No. 6 suggests the Lessons from the Heartland are incomplete.  We end with the usual suspects occupying the Capitol, and yet the governor survived the recall election, and won re-election two years later, and the Milwaukee Public Schools are no better, and the work of evaluating the policy experiments remains for other writers to do.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 50

The Killing ClubThe Killing Club by Marcie Walsh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Might be bordering on 2.5 but it wasn't bad. I didn't know it was a soap opera tie in when I picked it up in a library sale. So for a TV tie-in it wasn't bad but man some of the names/relationships were cringe worthy.

Detective Sergeant Jamie Ferrara of the Gloria Police Department is a homicide detective and her boss is also her fiance (I'm pretty sure that doesn't fly in a real police department but okay whatever, this is small town NJ...) She stumbles upon a house fire that claims the life of Ben Tymozs a friend of hers. Soon after another friend of her, Pudge (see what I mean about the names) insists it was no accident. Ben had written this death up back in high school in the killing club. Okay Pudge wrote it for him.

So the titular killing club was designed only for Gloria Hart high school's outsiders. That was a rule. You couldn't be in the cool club and they spent their time devising the perfect murders of people they didn't like. Seems a creepy and odd past time for people like Jamie who went on to be a cop like her father before her and Connie who became a Catholic priest with the eye on the next promotion up. Jamie was even the secretary who wrote up the Death Book. Also in their group was Amanda, Grant, Debbie Lyle and a few others.

Lyle was the saddest as he committed suicide in high school by drowning in the river, presumably because he was gay. Pudge is so insistent that Ben's death was a murder Jamie looks into it and he seems to be right. In fact other killing club members start turning up dead. Pudge goes off to play detective and he and Amanda drops hints it has to do with Lyle, one of them even suggesting Lyle faked his own death.

It has all the twists and turns you'd expect from something based on a Soap. Of course Jamie might be looking to cheat on Rod with Grant (though Rod is so boring and one-note I can see why). It's a perfectly good popcorn mystery but nothing I really need to see if there are more of.

View all my reviews

#43: Runtime by S.B. Divya

The Minerva Sierra Challenge is a grueling spectacle, the cyborg's Tour de France. Rich thrill-seekers with corporate sponsorships, extensive support teams, and top-of-the-line exoskeletal and internal augmentations pit themselves against the elements in a day-long race across the Sierra Nevada.

Marmeg Guinto doesn’t have funding, and she doesn’t have support. She cobbled her gear together from parts she found in rich people’s garbage and spent the money her mother wanted her to use for nursing school to enter the race. But the Minerva Challenge is the only chance she has at a better life for herself and her younger brothers, and she’s ready to risk it all.

Runtime is S. B. Divya's exciting science fiction debut.

I received a signed copy of this novella from the author during Nebula Weekend.

Divya's novella is fine scifi: an underdog tale of a cross-country runner with an exoskeleton built out of scrap parts. Marmeg is a heroine you can truly root for, someone who works with black market goods out of necessity to survive, but keeps her eyes on the prize of college and a better life beyond. The world-building here is really something. This is a future America with frequent body modifications and an unsettling yet realistic caste system; many things are merely implied, and I can't help but want Divya to write more works in this setting. Then there is the race itself, where Marmeg confronts the brutality of nature and her fellow competitors... and everything leads to an ending that is complicated and oh so right.

This is a novella to keep in mind when I vote for the Hugos and Nebulas next year.


Book 49

Broken (The Extrahuman Union, #1)Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In full disclosure, I won a copy of Broken via a Goodreads Giveaway but that hasn't influenced my opinion in any way. I don't think I read all the way to the bottom of the blurb or I might not have put in for it as I'm not really a fan of dystopias. That said, this was very good and if I liked dystopias I would have really enjoyed it even more.

Michael is one of the 'extrahumans.' He can see the future but only if he's making eye contact with the person in question. He can see many possible futures at once but it's enough to get him into place to receive a baby from a desperate mother who then throws her life away. Michael knows Ian will do one of two things, he either gets to Valen, an earth colony and becomes a benevolent leader or he is raised by the new President Pellitan and his new fascist world government which is currently clawing away the remnants of the last world government and very violently at that. This particular Ian will be a monstrous leader. Michael, there fore is desperate to get baby Ian to Valen.

But that will be harder to do than say. Michael is telling people he's eighteen though he's much younger. He isn't much of a fighter but he knows of someone who is, Silverwyng, another extrahuman. She used to fly with Sky Ranger (sort of superman type but he's very naive and currently the pawn of the fascist murderous government.). Michael finds her but now she goes by the name Broken because she can no longer fly. She can still heal very fast, impossible to kill (puts me in mind of Wolverine and Deadpool). Also most of her memories are broken and she's homeless. She doesn't see any reason to help Michael at first but she signs on eventually.

Together they try to get out of New York, to the off-world shuttle in Jersey but the government is rounding up anyone from the previous government and is either imprisoning or killing them. It's trying to use the citizens to help in this, leaving Michael and Broken very few options. They do have some allies along the way, like Monica, with whom Michael can see a long future with provided they survive at all. Most of his futures Michael knows he dies at the hands of the Thin Man.

And the Thin Man isn't far behind him and he's holding Sky Ranger's leash.

Like many dystopics, this is bleak without much hope to go on. But there is some. Michael, Broken and Monica are Ian (and Earth's) only hope. If they succeed, an earth-alien alliance will be made and peace will follow. If the Thin Man gets Ian, the brutal totalitarian government goes on.

The author makes some brave, startling choices in this narrative. It's good enough to make me want to read on, though it being dystopic makes me pause. If you like dystopic fiction with strong characters (both female and male) you'll enjoy this.

View all my reviews
Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.

Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Micheal Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.

Poignant, diverse, and enthralling: this new volume in the Magical Menagerie series evokes the majesty of sirens, from the traditional deep sea variety of Greek mythology to those that entice sailors of deep space to ones who scan modern dating sites with wistful hopes for a good match. I could not stop reading.

Book 48

Hidden: EvilsHidden: Evils by Jo Tannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one hit a lot of my buttons, mystery, supernatural beings and magic. Even without the author's note I would have known what the villains of the piece were and I don't want to spoil too much of that. I will say however, they're inspired from a truly creepy non-European folklore, so kudos.

Sebastian is a male mid-wife, a short handsome man dedicated to helping women through the some times dangerous yet wondrous process of giving birth. Orphaned he grew up with aunts (and just wait til you meet them in the last third of the book. They're a blast, I loved them). He is part of a clan and his abilities, some of with extend into the preternatural align with what he does for a living. He lives alone with a pack of dogs and his friend (who is from a similar clan), Susan wants to see him happy. She gives him a gentle nudge toward Dr Anthony Craig, one of the ob/gyns Sebastian works with.

Sebastian and Anthony do hit it off but their path to happiness isn't bump free (and wouldn't be half as interesting if it was). Something is hurting, even killing pregnant women and taking their babies. Sebastian has some ideas what is going on and is tracking it with his aunts and Susan. He isn't sure how ever how to explain the strange circumstances, such as several women going into preeclampsia at once, to Anthony who didn't grow up with a belief in the supernatural like Sebastian did.

Several things are handled really well in respect to Anthony. There's a good balance between scientific incredulity when faced with the supernatural and believing in it when he sees it. Also the medical parts of this are well done and believable.

I don't want to say too much about what the creatures are that Sebastian, Anthony & Susan must fight because that would spoil it. Let me just say that they are creepy and that their battles against them are some of my favorite parts.

Sebastian and Anthony are very likable characters. I especially liked Sebastian and I loved Susan and the Aunts. They're great fun. I enjoyed this story very much.

In full disclosure, I received an ARC of this for review from the publisher.

Book 23

Title: Ms. Mavel Vol 2
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Adrian Alphona, Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa
Series: Part two of "Ms. Marvel", follows Mr. Marvel Vol. 1
Pages: 232
Summary: Being a super hero is complicated. So is being a teenage girl. Who'd want to be a teenage girl super hero? Kamala Khan, that's who! And Ms. Marvel is about to find out what complicated really means. First, feelings run high at the Valentine's Day dance thanks to the mischief of Loki. Then things really get heated courtesy of Kamran. Family friend. Childhood nose-picker. Dreamboat? He's a highly eligible bachelor now, and he and Kamala are getting close - or at least as close as her big brother will allow. But when Kamran learns Kamala's secret, he shows his intentions are far from honorable - in fact, they're downright Inhuman! As her first crush becomes her greatest enemy, her world starts to collapse around her - literally. Because the entire Marvel Universe is entering its Last Days, and everything is descending into chaos. Her family needs her. Jersey City needs her. But how does one girl fight the end of everything? Maybe her idol, Captain Marvel, has the answers! Plus: Before all of reality unravels, there's time for a pair of Ms. Marvel team-ups featuring the Amazing, Spectacular, Sensational Spider-Man and your Friendly Neighborhood Agent Coulson!

My thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )

Book 47

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

It's always hard to review the last in a series without giving it all away. Let's just say I'm very happy with how it ended (and Ronan's closing lines that suggest these characters could be back for more down the road.) I think a lot of the shippers will be very happy but if I have any quibbles (and I do) it might be with the execution of the ships.

I admit it, I'm probably upping the star count just a bit but when I think of all the series I've read lately and how much crap I've waded through, it deserves that last star. I did find the pacing of this one a bit uneven and there is a lot of strange stuff, including new characters (several of them) which seemed an odd choice, especially Henry Cheng. Oh yeah he's been around here and there but he seemed to get nearly as much 'screen time' as several of the others. Luckily he's a likeable character. The pacing issues for me were more evident at the beginning and ending (which is odd usually it's the middle that gets muddy). It's a bit slow to go and the ending is chaotic. In fact there's almost no looking for Glendower til the last third. There is also this repetitive device being used which will either work for you or irritate the crap out of you.

It can't be easy to try and tie up the various plot threads of all the Raven boys, dead and alive (now including Henry), Blue, Maura, The Grayman, the Greenmantles, the other Lynches, Gwenllian and Artemus. That might account for some of the pacing issues. For a good part of the book, Ronan and his dreaming is central. Gansey and his 'president's men' as Henry calls them is also Central. Blue's role is muddier. I felt more like no one really knew to do with Blue through half of this.

It seems like I'm talking only about the negative and maybe that's because I don't want to give away all that was good about this and spoil it for everyone. (and there is a slight spoiler after this). And there was plenty of good. Finding Glendower went to the logical (if a bit anticlimactic) conclusion. Surely everyone knows Blue is eventually going to kiss Gansey and that was...strange. Not how I thought it would play out in many ways. It was nearly a magical kiss in the darkest sense of the word. In fact, dark is a good word for this whole book. This one borders on horror in a very good way. The other kiss in the book seemed out of the blue (no pun intended), well not for one of the participants but sort of for the recipient since the ideas of bisexuality and mutual attraction were perhaps to subtle for me (or not there at least as far as my memory can recall but you can't trust that). On the other hand, it would be an interesting partnership.

I did love this whole series. I'm sorry it's over. I didn't want to finish reading it because then it would all be over. On the other hand I had to read it because I had to know how it ended. Ironically, Gansey said the same thing about finding Glendower. And earlier when I said she tried to tie up all the plot lines, I didn't mean there was a nice neat bow at the end. A lot of characters are left unresolved. You'll see. And oh, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Stiefvater on her book tour in Cincinnati and she was funny, energetic and kind. Just saying.

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April 2016 reading

April 2016 reading:

7. Spice & Wolf: Volume 6, by Isuna Hasekura (232 pages)
Lawrence and Holo decide to go after Eve, seeking restitution, but they find that's easier said than done. Eve is wily and blocks the river with a wrecked ship, leaving them to determine their path. They also meet young Col, who joins them on their trek. Gathering rumors, Holo and Lawrence uncover a possible Church plot, which makes seeking Eve even more important.

8. Spice & Wolf: Volume 7, by Isuna Hasekura (208 pages)
This is a series of short stories. Holo is a character in the first, though not the perspective character. This may take place post-series but the timeline is unclear, and Lawrence doesn't appear. The second is a side story after Lawrence was stabbed shortly into their trip involving buying Holo's town girl outfit, from Lawrence's perspective. The third story is from Holo's perspective, and takes place during her illness after the heist pulled off with Norah the Shepherdess--and a lot of Holo is revealed in it. All were enjoyable.

April pages: 440

Pages to date: 2,197

Progress: 8/52

April 2016 comics/manga reading:

82. Revival: Volume 6, by Tim Seeley (144 pages)
83. What Did You Eat Yesterday?: Volume 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga (200 pages)
84. Case Closed: Volume 57, by Gosho Aoyama (192 pages)
85. Black Widow: Volume 3, by Nathan Edmondson (178 pages)
86. Dance in the Vampire Bund II, Scarlet Order: Volume 1, by Nozomu Tamaki (192 pages)
87. Legendary Star-Lord: Volume 2, by Sam Humphries (160 pages)
88. Guardians of Knowhere, by Brian Michael Bendis (112 pages)

April pages: 1,178

Pages to date: 16,000

Progress: 88/200
That's one of the more memorable lines from Rick Atkinson's The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe , 1944-1945, which will be Book Review No. 5.  (If I don't get to work on these reviews, it will be like digging the Panama Canal through my study.)  The observation came from a member of the Allies, observing the way U. S. logistics worked.  That is, once the logistics started working.  At the beginning of the story, the Germans were losing the war in the west faster than the Allies could win it, partially because Genl Sherman's maxim, "No army dependent on wagons can operate more than a hundred miles from its base because the teams going and coming consume the contents of their wagons" has a corollary when it's a motorized army and the gasoline is being delivered from refineries an ocean away.  And yes, the Germans of the era thought the U. S. didn't fight fair, because lots of tanks and even more artillery shells.

Thus I've finally worked my way through Mr Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy, starting with An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, reviewed here and The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, reviewed here.  As I noted in previous reviews, these are works of history, thus there are no spoilers.  (Logistics plus morale prevailed.)  There is, however, more written down, or perhaps there are vignettes that earlier authors glossed over yet add interest to the story.  A sample: before the Engineers blew up the swastika at Nürnberg's Zeppelin Field, the Army's senior rabbi conducted a memorial service on the grounds.  There are other such nuggets throughout the book, which might work equally well as an introduction to the European Theater or as an addition to a well-stocked library such as mine.

Make of you will that it took the Allies less time to win that war than it took Mr Atkinson to write his trilogy, let alone for me to finish reading and reviewing the components.

That is all.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


As the week ends, I finished a couple more books.

First was Osprey Command #24: Tokugawa Ieyasu who really stopped the ongoing wars of the daimyo in Japan four hundred years or so ago. The book deals primarily with his military work, of course, and much less with his political effect.

Then, Osprey Elite #22: World Special Forces Insignia, a book purely for uniform completeists. Something of a bore, I'm afraid.

Books 1 - 10.

1. Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
One of those 'finally read' kind (we didn't read this in school). I think reading this later in life has helped in opening the book better, at least for me. I know I would've thought differently about the story if I'd read it earlier, and perhaps reading late made the book more worth it.

2. C. McCarthy - The Road
Read in one day, which I think is a good idea. The mood of the book is fantastic in all its moods, and keeps being very like the author XD

3. Larsen - Hell-Week: 7 Days That Will Change Your Life (Finnish translation)
I will do the week at some point - I just need to read more of my books - and have the right moment - to be ready. However, this book got me halfway through preparation already, and listing possible changes-needed, so when I do this challenge it will be easier ;)

4. Signorile - Outing Yourself: How To Come Out As Lesbian Or Gay To Your Family, Friends & Coworkers
Slightly dated, and I don't agree with all the author's opinions, yet it remains a good decent guide for anyone needing it.

5. Zizek - Event (English translation)
Taken to be left to the library after reading; a bit too complicated to me, plus taking the subject from an angle I'm not interested in. :-/

6. St. Francis De Sales - Introduction To The Devout Life (English translation)
Very good, easy read, and a good guide to starting becoming more devout. Some old-fashioned stuff, but majority still good to anyone.

7. Zasio - The Hoarder In You: How To Live A Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life
For hoarders, those who know them, and those who aren't hoarders yet need at least some uncluttering tips in their life.

8. Wallace - Infinite Jest
9. Burn - David Foster Wallace's 'Infinite Jest': A Reader's Guide
To those wanting to read, I ABSOLUTELY suggest reading the book with the help of the guide, even if just to know the timeline of events. And I'm sure that for many the guide book could give explanations and viewpoints they might've missed. I read the book with only peeking at the timeline - so that I could form my opinions first - and could handle it that way... I did make notes so maybe that's why... it's not as tough as the thickness might suggest. Thickness means just longer read, really.

10. Nouwen - Out Of Solitude: Three Meditations On The Christian Life
This one was slim XD But seriously, the book makes for a good thinking times, and shows the value of quiet time and meditation in keeping life in balance.

Book #19: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Number of pages: 1,463

I put off reading this epic novel for years, because I didn't think I would enjoy it. It turned out, I was very wrong - after a slow start, I found myself enjoying it a lot and caring immensely for its three main characters, Jean Valjean, Cossette and Marius.

Jean Valjean is introduced as a petty criminal, and at the start of his storyline, he is (to his amazement) given shelter by a bishop, after most of the town has shunned him because of his criminal tendencies. Although he seems like he should not be a sympathetic character, he immediately becomes a loveable rogue, even when - unable to suppress his kleptomaniac tendencies - he steals the Bishop's silverware. He ends up as a character who seems to be trying to prove that he is no longer a criminal, and can be seen as a valued member of society, although he has to constantly change his identity. Every time that he seems to have vanished completely, he shows up again, and on some occasions I didn't realise a new character was in fact Jean Valjean again until the book made it really obvious.

At the start of her story, Cossette ends up being sent away to a cruel foster family, headed by the main antagonist, Thenardier. His treatment of her is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the story, particularly the portrayal of how Thenarier's daughters are spoiled, and won't even let Cossette play with their dolls.

This book is very long, and is partially padded out by diversions from the author, who sets the scene largely through essays regarding the real-life events and places that influence the plot line, from the Napoleonic wars, to the Parisian sewer system (actually more interesting than it sounds). Victor Hugo also takes a somewhat roundabout way of introducing characters; the entire first chapter is about the Bishop who takes in Jean Valjean, describing his entire life; the bishop only appears right at the start. Likewise, to introduce Cossette, the book first of all includes a chapter about four female characters who arrive in town, one of whom is Fantine, later Cossette's mother. Later in the book, Thenardier saves the life of a soldier, who later on turns out to be Marius' father.

Although the breaks in the narrative got a bit annoying at times, I found that when the main plot was moving forward, it was actually very enjoyable, very exciting at times (mostly seeing Jean Valjean escaping the clutches of his erstwhile nemesis, Javert, who starts off as a dislikeable character, before ending up as someone who I felt surprisingly sympathetic for). There were a lot of bits that were very sad, and moving, particularly towards the book's denouement.

Overall, I was glad I did take the trouble to read this novel, and may well give the musical and/or the recent movie a go as well.

Next book: A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)

Book 46

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Delilah Dirk, #1)Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spotted Delilah Dirk at a bookstore roaming around at the author's fair (see, brick and mortars do more to get books under my gaze than anything else). If you're looking for a strong female lead, you've found her. It's regency period and opens in Constantinople and actually tells the story from the view point of Erdemoglu Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant.

Selim wants nothing more than to have a few good friends, a comfy bed and to make tea. He is a fine tea brewer. The mogul who employs him is erratic to say the least, nearly ready to kill because he thinks Selim is stealing tea leaves and has the army fight for coins for the amusement of the aristocrats. Still, Selim is relatively content. But unlucky for him Delilah Dirk ends up in his mogul's prison. Delilah, as Selim learns, is a child of English privilege but has askewed that life for one of adventure. She quickly breaks out of prison and the mogul blames Selim. Delilah saves his life and Selim is swept up in her crazy life.

And crazy it is. Delilah globetrots always after the next big adventure. The staid aristocratic life she ran from bores her (and one assumes the traditional female role would have killed her). Selim feels he owes her a debt for saving her life though Delilah wants none of that. She wants a true companion not one who feels he's only there because he owes her. Still, Selim hangs on even when her flying ship (yes, it really flies) seems to actively hate him and he it.

They steal from pirates. They run from pirates. Selim has to choose between Delilah's hard life and one of comfort. He might even surprise himself.

Delilah and Selim are both very likeable characters. The art is a little odd and I loathe Delilah's outfit. It takes an otherwise empowering female lead, in the early 1800s, and puts her in what seems to be a billowing skirt, pirate boots, a keyhole boob-showing halter and a shit-ton of swaddling bandages (is this where Rey got her fashion advice? what is up with bandages as clothing?). Sigh.

Fashion aside, this is a fun graphic novel with a couple of fun characters. It's worth checking out.

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Books #19-20

Book #19 was "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" by Mary Roach (as an audiobook). I've read "Stiff" and "Packing for Mars" by the same author, and I love the sense of humor and curiosity Roach brings to every subject she writes about. This book was just as fun as the other two, but it will implant DEEPLY weird images in your head... for instance, lab rats wearing polyester pants. As with her other areas of interest, she doesn't try to be encyclopedic about covering the topic. She divides the book up into chapters that are really almost stand-alone essays on particular sub topics. She could have gone into more detail about the history of sex research but she tends to focus most heavily on more recent findings and studies, which was fine by me. I found this book highly enjoyable, and I like the reader they used for both this book and "Packing for Mars" quite a bit. Highly recommended!

Book #20 was "The Likeness" by Tana French. I'd read her first novel, "In the Woods" and loved it, so I wanted to see what the rest of the series was like. I think it's a clever idea that she takes a secondary character from the first novel and makes her the main character in the second. From what I've read, sh=he continues in this way, with a minor character from "The Likeness" becoming the main character in the third novel (which is also on my "to read" list). The books take place in and around Dublin. In this novel, detective Cassie Maddox is called in on a special homicide case - the Murder Squad has found a dead woman who looks just like Cassie, and she is living under a pseudonym, Lexie Madison, that Cassie once used on an undercover case. The detectives decide to lie to the dead woman's housemates and friends and say she "nearly" died but recovered and send Cassie in undercover to find out who killed Lexie. The premise -- that someone unrelated just happens to look just like you -- is a bit tough to swallow, but once you do, the novel is just dripping with suspense. Is Cassie living with four nice college buddies, or is one of them a murderer? The storyline has built-in tension, and French does a fine job with it. Her prose is beautiful and character development is really well done. I love her writing and hope I like the next one in the series too!
The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 45

青の祓魔師 14 [Ao no Futsumashi 14] (Blue Exorcist, #14)青の祓魔師 14 [Ao no Futsumashi 14] by Kazue Kato

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This almost brings Izumo's story arc full circle, though it doesn't make me like her any better. She's very prickly but at least now we know some of the reasons for her to be that way.

We learn nearly as much about Bon as we do Izumo in this as the exorcists fight against Professor Gedoin's zombies. We see him as a gangly little boy working hard to become the driven young man he is now. Almost everyone gets their time to shine a little in this one and Shima's betrayal deepens even further.

Izumo's battle comes when Gedoin tries to force her to take possession of the spirit of Nine-Tail (depicted as rather evil here) in order to save her mother and sister. She doesn't want her friends help but much like Rin has to realize she cannot deal with this on her own. Nine-Tail is nearly as unsurvivable as possession by Satan is.

Gedoin has his own super villainy to do and this edition ends there. Actually for me he's the one weak spot in the whole thing. His ridiculous huge-headed form and his clownish super villain is one mustache twirl away from a silent film melodrama.

But that is minor. This remains consistently well drawn and well written. I really enjoy this manga.

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A couple of days back, I finished reading Beagles for Dummies. Now, it's not like I don't have some experience with the pups, but I saw it, and I thought that I might learn a little something. I think that the book does a fairly good job of explaining the joys and pitfalls of beagling. So there.

Book 44

Livingstone 1Livingstone 1 by Jinsei Kataoka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is a strange one probably more a 3.5 than 4 but the art is very good and the story interesting so rounding up it is.

This one, at the moment, is episodic fic with no overriding story arc. Sakuri is a rather uptight, mission-oriented, dress suited agent for Livingstone, an organization that monitors 'psycholiths,' the soul stone. They find souls in danger of straying from their set paths and try to set them right. They also clean up 'stains' left behind by tragedy. These stains can soak a soul and pull it down into the darkness.

Sakuri is capable of unraveling himself so he can read a soul (he also has a computer that has the life plots of everyone in it). He is heavily affected by the emotions he reads. He tries hard to help people.

His partner is Amano, who looks more like a kid. The back cover blurb describes him as a 'free spirit.' However, I got from him more of a sociopathic lack of empathy. Amano wants to kill them all, stop them now to save their soul and let the next life sort it out.

There is at least two attempted suicides and one accidental death in all of this. This has the potential to be a morally challenging book. Is it better to commit suicide than to live with the guilt of what you did and let it destroy your soul and its chance at the next life? Will removing the stains help? The last and longest arc has a questionable solution brought on not by the person holding the soul now but by how wonderful and old this soul is and their desire not to see it tainted.

I'm certainly going to try a little more of this, though I think it might be a challenge to pull off well. It reminds me a lot of Nightmare Inspector which had the advantage of being about dreams which could be as weird as the mangaka wanted them to be. Real life might be a tad more limiting.

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Tainted Evidence by Robert Daley

book 33:  Tainted Evidence by Robert Daley

This book...I guess you would call it a police procedural, although it deals a lot with the trial aspect of things as well.  It covers a shooting and arrest from events prior to it to after the verdict is delivered along with its fall-out.  It feels very gritty and "real" and covers a variety of perspectives about the case, which has politically and ethically charged issues above and beyond the actual crime(s) committed.  It concerns the shooting of five cops in Harlem by a black career criminal and how the lawyers use racial and economic inequities to manipulate the public and jury.  Sadly, it is still pertinent.  It took me a while to get used to the author's writing style.  He is evidently a crime journalist, so he knows his stuff.  But, the novel kind of feels like reading crime reporting at first, at least to me, and it took me a while to be able to lose myself into it.  It's also an uncomfortable story with very flawed and unlikeable characters.  I can't deny that it was well done, though, and it was certainly memorable in an uncomfortable, disturbing way.



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