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Number of pages: 272

This is the first in a long series of murder mystery novels and short stories that have been written since the early 1990s; I decided to read this because it was adapted as a TV pilot a few years ago in Britain and some of the subsequent stories were turned into episodes for a series this year.

The novel opens with Agatha Raisin moving from London to a Cotswolds village and not exactly being too popular with the locals. She decides to cheat at a quiche making contest by submitting a quiche she bought at a local delicatessan.

However, when the judge decides to finish Agatha's quiche he ends up dead, the reason being that the quiche was poisoned and Agatha is immediately a murder suspect, at least until it becomes obvious that she can't bake. However, she takes it upon herself to turn detective and find out who the killer is, despite constant warnings and threats for her to back off. It turns out that a lot of villagers had a motive, mostly due to the victim's string of love affairs.

This was a relatively easy read, once the main character had been fully introduced and I liked the fact that the drama of the story was mixed with light-hearted, humourous moments. I liked the vivid description of the main character in chapter one. The book was very good also at providing red herrings.

It was an enjoyable book and I am interested in reading some of the later titles.

Next book: Fantastic Beasts & How to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

Books #83-84

Book #83 was "The Conference of the Birds" by Farid ud-din Attar, 12th century mystic Sufi poetry. I've included books of poetry in my 50 reads per year before, but this is the first year since I started tracking in 2006 that I read more than one book of poetry. This book takes the form of a journey, with many parables illustrating spiritual ideas throughout. All the birds gather together to talk about who will be their king, and make the hoopoe the leader of their quest. They decide to go on a pilgrimage to see the Simmorgh. Before they leave, many of the birds have misgivings and excuses why they can't go, and the hoopoe counters each one, with little anecdotes that illustrate the moral. Then, he describes the way they will travel, through 7 valleys, and, again, each idea is illustrated with parables. There was WAY more sex, including homosexuality, in this than I would have expected, along with scatological humor, like the anecdote about the proud sheikh humbled by his donkey's fart. I read the Penguin Classics translation by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, and the introduction and end notes provide some guides to making sense of the poem by explaining some of the concepts from Sufism that suffuse the book as well as little bios of the historical figures he mentions. This wasn't a quick or easy read, but it wasn't super-difficult. I was amused and I'm glad I read it.

Book #84 was "One Kick" by Chelsea Cain. I think I ran across this on a "Best Books of 2014" list and was intrigued by the premise. Kick Lannigan was once a missing girl, kidnapped and exploited, and after she gets rescued, she makes herself tough, learning martial arts and how to handle weapons. On the anniversary of her rescue, she is approached by a mysterious man named Bishop who wants her to help him solve another missing child case that could have links to Kick's past. When people talk about a book you have a hard time putting down, this is the sort of book they're talking about, from the adrenaline buzz of the very first pages all the way through the climax. Kick is wounded and messed up, but you're cheering for her all the way through. It's my understanding this is the first in a series featuring Kick, and I'm definitely going to be reading more by this author.

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


Former speaker of the House and current Donald Trump guru Newt Gingrich also collaborated with William R Forstchen on some speculative alternative histories.  We've already looked at one trilogy, in which Robert E. Lee gets himself trapped in Maryland after winning at Gettysburg, and at a vision of Pearl Harbor in which Admiral Yamamoto orders the third strike on the tank farms.

That was the first of what I understood to be a trilogy, similar to the alternate end to the Southern Rebellion, but it appears as though they stopped with Days of Infamy.  For the 75th observance of the Day of Infamy, a brief Book Review No. 23.  Let's say that Admiral Yamamoto lets his force run wild with the carriers not accounted for (something he was inclined to do anyway, as he had advised his political masters in Tokyo that United States production would begin to tell in six months to a year) and Admiral Halsey does what Admiral Halsey does, and a few ships that lasted until later in the war go to Davy Jones.  Some of the ideas that occurred to both sides as the war went on emerge quickly.  I wonder if some of the characters are descendants of characters who were at Gettysburg or Frederick.

But without that third book, there will be a lot of what ifs for the reader to contemplate.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books 130-131

The Hues Volume 2: ScarlettThe Hues Volume 2: Scarlett by Alex Heberling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm lucky. I got to talk to Ms. Heberling at Tsubasacon this year when I got this volume and was able to tell her I appreciate that someone is out there doing graphic novels that are female-positive, body image positive and diverse. In this SF graphic novel most of the characters we're following are young women of varying body types (and the overweight ones aren't there just to whine about their weight like you see so often with characters with weight issues) and skin colors.

The story picks up a few weeks after the alien invasion has decimated Columbus OH (I'm betting the area I lived in was the first to go...) and humanity is picking up the pieces. There are hints that the rest of the country is trying to help, or at least we do see armed air resistance that didn't go well. Sami's house has become a refuge and survivors are making their way to it. One couple we get to follow for some time are an interracial gay couple. (in fact the whole last chapter puts almost every character somewhere in the QUILTBAG).

Lauren, however has left the group and is on her own exploring the ruins but we're not entirely sure why. All the girls are growing in their powers, though overall the story doesn't advance too much in this slim volume. It does, however, remain very interesting and the art is very nice. I'll be looking forward to more.

View all my reviews

The Hidden Doors (Explorer, #3)The Hidden Doors by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this third installment of the Explorer series more than I did the second. The story selection and art worked better for me. Like all anthologies there are stories of varying strengths and the theme this time is of course hidden doors.

There are doors in the psyche, hidden in trees, in the back of warehouses. Some lead to adventure and others to self awareness. One of the most effective ones for me was the very simply drawn and colored Luis 2.0 by Jen Wang where a young boy learns thru his hidden door that he can change his appearance and remove the things that embarrass him but is he really truly himself. Faith Erin Hicks's Two Person Door was also one of my favorites, with its impoverished characters and again with the theme of self awareness.

Unlike the last volume I did really like most of these stories and it was a fun read.

View all my reviews

Book 129

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12)A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had serious mixed feelings about this book. First off, as I always say with this series, if you don't like an omni point of view with some serious head hopping, don't bother. Honestly this is book 12 and it's not a place to jump in if you've never read this series because it assumes you have.

I wasn't all that impressed with the last couple of books and Gamache was retired as of last book so I wasn't sure what was going to happen with this one but I knew I was hoping it wouldn't center heavily on Jean-Guy (it doesn't). I nearly took this back to the library but it was the only book I had with me over Thanksgiving so I stuck it out. Actually 100 pages in, it gets far less boring.

Gamache has taken over the Surete's academy now that he's retired and has dug out all the corruption in the police force. However, the academy is not only still corrupt but it's also churning out cops who are more brutal than anything else and he wants to stop it (I'm curious if Canada is having the same issues with police brutality as America). He knows that Serge Leduc (The Duke as students call him) is corrupt and building this new academy complex is the feather in his corrupt cap. Gamache makes some seriously weird hirings in the hopes of rooting out the corruption and we're also following four cadets, Leduc's special little cadre, HuiFen (Chinese female), Jacques (something of a Quebecois bully who loathes Gamache as a coward), Nathaniel (gay Anglo) and Amelia (Goth chick).

In fact quite a bit of the beginning is about Amelia, seeing her living a marginalized life and very angry (pierced, tattooed and a dubious fit for the academy) giving out blowjobs for heroin until the day she sees Isabella Lacoste on TV and is rather star struck and decides to try out for the force. Much angst is given to whether or not Gamache should allow her in.

The side plot is a map found walled up in a home in Three Pines, a map Gamache uses as a training exercise with the above mentioned four and then becomes part of the murder plot once Leduc is found shot with his own revolver (illegal in Canada, the gun that is and murder too of course). Isabella and Jean-Guy are called in to investigate and Gamache invites in impartial overseer from the RCMP who suspects Gamache is the killer (well not at first but quickly) spending much time trying to prove it.

Honestly, it did feel overly long in many places, very circular and repetitive in others. If we cut out how many times we have to hear Gamache's history with BreBouf and Leduc and that map and Amelia's angst we'd be 100 pages shorter. The mystery was interesting (though it does stretch the imagination that after 12 books we suddenly learn Three Pines doesn't officially exist and isn't on any maps). Amelia felt...half done. We never learn the source of her anger and estrangement (which seems out of place when you get to the end of this). She's strong in the beginning, unlikeable really but there but then the focus shifts from her.

I'm wondering if this is finally the last book. Ms Penny revealed in her author's notes that her husband is fighting dementia and this book nearly didn't get written. So I can see her wanting to spend time with him. Also honestly I think this makes a good stopping point for the series. Gamache is retired. Hopefully we're not going to be seeing a half dozen murders at the academy. I suppose we could get the stories shifted onto Isabella (I wouldn't mind that) or Jean-Guy (at least he was bearable in this one and not so rigid and prejudiced as he has been in the past) or even the new cadets with any of the above using Gamache as a mentor. But seriously, this makes for a good end to the series and maybe that's where it should end.

View all my reviews



In Conservative Insurgency, Kurt Schlichter contemplates how eight years of Hillary Clinton excess leads to a restoration of constitutional principles, relatively peacefully.  But that doesn't give him much opportunity to write an action thriller with police chases and insurgency and counterinsurgency tactics or Tom Clancy stuff.  So he wrote People's Republic, in which an unspecified number of years of Hillary Clinton excess leads to a messy

Book Review No. 22 suggests it's an opportunity for the Tom Clancy stuff, plus a chance to have some fun at the expense of "a bunch of useless college professors, untalented artists, moronic movie stars, and San Francisco chardonnay sippers who think they can personally run every aspect of a country when they know absolutely nothing."  That's from chapter 14, read it yourself to find out who said it.  Or perhaps there's a more substantive message: the only thing more hazardous to dispossessed communities of color than a professional police force is a politically reliable police force, that goes Chekist when Comrade Nyetnyev says so.
Read more...Collapse )Perhaps, though, with Mr Trump winning, the talk of a separation, amicable or not, will originate on the coasts.  I hope it's all in fun.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

While I completely understand the concerns others have mentioned in their reviews of this, for my part I enjoyed the return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The word that comes to mind is interesting -- it was an interesting story, and it was interesting to see these characters again (and some new ones) in a different light. Perhaps, however, it would work better to see the production instead of reading the script, at least in this particular case. Be that as it may, along with the latest movie installment, I think I'm sated with the wizarding world for the time being.

This fulfilled the "read a play" task for the Read Harder Challenge. In the meantime, however, I decided not to stress myself about completing the challenge this year, so that's just an aside now. I probably would have read it in any case.

Number of pages: 96

This book felt like it was aimed at younger readers, but I still found that it provided useful advice on what friendship really means and how a true friend will behave towards you.

There was some content that I found challenging, such as how I should expect criticism and rebuke from my friends, something that I've been inclined to respond to in the past by getting angry and defensive.

The book also made some good points about how not to ruin your friendships with gossip, and how you can't expect to have too many true friends, and how no friendship can leave you completely satisfied.

This is a Christian book, so there were many cross references to the Bible (mostly Proverbs), as well as a good message at the end about how only friendship with Jesus can leave you fully satisfied.

Next book: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (M.C. Beaton)
This was not as big a week for reading as some others have been recently. Here's what I read:

First, it was Osprey Weapon #21: MG 34 and MG 42 Machine Guns, a weapon system so highly regarded that they spawned a swarm of imitations still in use. Not a bad read.

Next, I read Osprey Weapon #22: The Sten Gun, the cheap, easily produced WWII weapon that's iconic for commando operations of the war. Again, not bad.

Then it was Wolves Eat Dogs the fifth of the Arkady Renko mysteries by Martin Cruz Smith. I read the first book of this series, Gorky Park at the behest of my paternal grandfather decades ago because he felt that the book really gave the appropriate feel for the life of those in the Soviet Union at the time depicted. I've enjoyed each book since, and there's more to read as I'm not presently caught up. This one brings the protagonist to Chernobyl for a very strange investigation. The series is worth a read.

Finally, another Osprey, this one being Osprey Weapon #25: The Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun; a theme this week of automatic weaponry, no? Not a bad piece of work, either.

Book #61: Far from True by Linwood Barclay

Number of pages: 517

The second book in Linwood Barclay's Promise Falls trilogy opens with two characters attempting to sneak their friend into a drive-in cinema. However, there was no way I would have guessed how the story would continue, as the characters promptly witness the cinema screen collapsing, killing four guests. This is another act by the unknown person committing hostile acts connected to the number 23 (the cinema screen comes down at 11:23pm, or 23:23 in 24-hour time), who is now turning to terrorism.

From this point, several plot strands start, with the main one (at least according to the plot synopsis) concerns one of the victims, who is found by his daughter to have had a secret love den in his house, from which it transpires he was a swinger, and that he also kept a large number of homemade porn DVDs, one of which has gone missing.

This plot makes the book feel like erotic fiction at times, but the novel also continues the mystery connected with the number 23, introduces the fact that there is apparently a serial killer at work, and adds a storyline about the character of Sam Worthington being blackmailed by her ex-husband, who is attempting to regain custody of their son. The plot also involves subjects such as rape, corrupt politicians and the very current issue of Islamophobia.

The story has a similar format to the original, as it switches between third person and first person narrative, which this time is from the point of view of private investigator Cal Weaver.

I overall enjoyed this book, despite having to try and follow a lot of subplots; it seemed to go at a quicker pace than the first book. While there were the usual plot twists, with most things not being as they first appeared, everything did make sense in the end. While a lot of the storylines felt separate to the first novel, you shouldn't skip ahead to this one, since it contains several plot spoilers for what has gone before. Having seen that the trilogy's final book is named "The Twenty Three", I am excited to find out what the relevance of the number is and who is behind it.

Next book: True Friendship - Vaughan Roberts

Books #81-82

Book #81 was "California" by Edan Lepucki, as an audiobook. I think I ran across this on a "best books of the year" list, and later found out that Stephen Colbert had plugged it and helped make it very popular. Some people have criticized it, saying it would never have become a bestseller if not for Colbert, but I think it mostly deserves it. Frieda and Calvin are living in a near-future U.S. where the environment has gone to hell, the economy is collapsing, big cities have devolved into chaos, the rich have built walled communities, and terrorist groups have staged violence to protest the growing inequality. Frieda and Calvin decide Los Angeles is too dangerous and have moved out to the country to live off the land. Things go reasonably well for them for about two years, but then Frieda begins to suspect she is pregnant, and becomes anxious about the thought of giving birth and raising a child alone in the wilderness. The couple sets out to see if a nearby community of others who live off the land will be welcoming. The community is thriving on a model different from the rich, walled communities and seems ideal in many ways, but it is harboring dark secrets. I won't say more because it would include major spoilers. I didn't think this book was perfect, and it left a lot of loose threads at the end, but I did really like it. It's less a near-future dystopia and more a meditation on marriage and the secrets people keep, even from the ones that we love most. I listened to this as an audiobook read by Emma Galvin, and, sadly, I didn't love her as the reader. I like the timbre of her voice, but the cadence was off. She pauses in weird places where I'm sure there wasn't a comma in the text, which has her coming off as a female Capt. Kirk at times. I'd recommend this as a paper book instead of listening to the audiobook if you're picky about your audiobook readers.

Book #82 was "Foucault's Pendulum" by Umberto Eco. I'd read his earlier novel, "The Name of the Rose," many years ago and always meant to read more by this Italian author. He died earlier this year so I bumped up this novel on my "to read" list and am glad that I did. The premise of the novel is that the protagonist and his friends at a publishing house in Milan start specializing in authors writing on occult and obscure topics, and the three begin to make a game out of creating their own conspiracy theory that they call "The Plan" by mish-mashing cabala with Rosicrucianism and mystical strains of Islam, witchcraft, Knights Templar and other bits of arcane knowledge. They think of it as a joke, but they realize someone is taking their Plan seriously when people start to go missing. This book is over 600 pages, but it took me three weeks to read it for reasons beyond the page count. In the first 16 pages, I already had an entire page of notes of vocabulary words, phrases, people and places to look up. The man's novels are NOT easy reads, but I didn't mind it. Sometimes I want a challenging read. I enjoyed this and plan to read more by Eco.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )
Leverage meets Jasper Fforde in this new series of novellas from the fan-favorite author of Geekomancy.

Fantasy. Mystery. Science Fiction. We know these genres from TV and comics and more, but in Genrenauts, each genre is also a world unto itself, populated with archetypal characters and filled with the tropes we all know and love.

When a story goes-off track, you send in the Genrenauts. This team of narrative specialists travels across dimensions to find, evaluate, and fix broken stories, lest the ripples manifest as violence and upheaval in our own world.

Wounded Genrenaut Mallery York returns to active duty just in time for the team to be deployed to the Rom-Com region of the Romance world. There, everyone is beautiful, office workers can afford palatial midtown apartments, and hearts are won and broken on every corner.

But before they can fix the broken love story, they have to find it. Mallery takes the lead, bringing her expertise to bear and leading Leah to wonder whether there’s a space for her on the team now that Mallery is back.

The team scours dating sites, cocktail bars, and jogging paths looking for the right pair of lovers to reconnect before time runs out and the ripples from the story breach lay waste to romance back on Earth.

Though the third in the series, this episode a great jumping-on point for new readers!

I'm reading through the Genrenauts omnibus, but reviewing each novella on its own as well. I read them all as early drafts, and now I get to enjoy the polished versions.

I am not really a fan of romantic comedies. They seem so contrived, to me more unreal than fantasies with magic and dragons. That said, I love how Underwood utilizes and twists rom-com tropes in this adventure. His Genrenauts leave our world (Prime) and travel to genre-themed story worlds, where off-kilter events cause ripple effects on Earth. In this case, something is seriously wrong in Romance--where happily-ever-afters are a requirement. This episode fully introduces Mallery, a member of the Genrenauts team who has been out with injuries, and her chemistry with lead character Leah really zings.

It's really fun to see how Underwood pays homage to genre tropes. Here, his characters in the Romance version of New York City rent an ultra swanky apartment for almost nothing, and have the ability to summon a cab within a matter of seconds. The food is also spectacular beyond belief. It makes for an amusing romp--a light, fast read, which was exactly what I needed as I fought a migraine!



Book Review No. 21 is Wesley Lowery's They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement.  Mr Lowery is one of the reporters who was detained by Ferguson, Missouri police while using his laptop computer to file a story in a McDonald's that local officials wanted cleared of loiterers.  And thus did his beat become the coverage of stories of the protests that followed police shootings of black people in a variety of cities.

The story, and the reporter, and the national mood, all might induce a writer to polemical fits.  They Can't Kill Us All does anything but that: we begin with straightforward reporting: the analysis, if that's even the right word, doesn't begin until the reader is a hundred pages in.  And that, ultimately, is straightforward.  From page 190:  "For most of the year after Michael Brown's death, my reporting focused on policing policy -- tactics, training, best practices, and reform -- with race serving as an ever-present subplot.  My goal was and is to pull back the veil over a profession that had become among the least accessible and least transparent corners of government."  The protests after the police shootings?  Might it simply be people pushed too far, for too long?  Page 195: "Who is a perfect victim?  Michael Brown?  Kajeme Powell?  Eric Garner?  Sandra Bland?  Freddie Gray?  Young activists reframed the question: Does it matter?"

The social science?  Left to others.  Police behaving as an occupying army?  That's one perception.  It's also an opportunity for further research.  Financially strapped suburbs shaking poor people down with all sorts of niggling fines (a Strong Towns theme)?  Hinted at, not of immediate relevance to the story.  Maryland, particularly Baltimore,  being ruined by Democrats?  See page 141, but don't read too much into it.

Understand this much, dear reader: what began with abolition and continued with voting rights is not yet done.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 128

Exit the Milkman (Professor Peter Shandy Mystery #10)Exit the Milkman by Charlotte MacLeod

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It’s rare that I give anything this low of a rating, mostly because if I hate a book this much I just don’t finish it. In this case, I remember really liking MacLeod’s books when I was younger. Also I needed an E for one reading challenge and has the same job as me for another challenge (i.e. professor) so I plodded along and plod is the right word. This wasn’t just overly wordy and dull, I’m pretty sure the writing convention of not needing anything more than ‘said’ or ‘replied’ was made specifically for her. Her characters are always ejaculating and a dozen other ridiculous descriptors for speech.

The plot is relatively simple. Professor Jim Feldster, head of the bovine portion of the college’s farm-Ag program has gone missing and given his shrew of a wife no one seems too surprised or even concerned. However, when he’s found and suspected of being the prodigal son of a rich cattle family things get weird and his wife gets dead. More time is spent on whether or not he’s actually a millionaire, and now head of the family after his brother’s recent passing than on finding out who killed his wife.

If that was all there was to it, I’d probably have given it two stars and been done with it but this plot needs dissecting and examining because the only explanation I have for this ever getting published is that MacLeod was an award winning author and this is like book ten of the series. So I’m just going to spoil it (okay it’s a 20 year old book so that might be over stating it but yes I’m giving away the plot because I simply need to talk about it).

SpoilersCollapse )


November 2016 reading

November 2016 reading:

57. Skinwalker, by Faith Hunter (320 pages)
Jane Yellowrock is a skinwalker, a supernatural creature who can shift into any other creature by tapping their DNA. She also knows, despite having no memory before she walked out of the woods naked at about age 12, that she is different from other skinwalkers--she has a Beast she shares her body with, and whose form she normally takes. She has spent her life tracking down and destroying rogue vampires, and she's surprised to get a job from the vampire society of New Orleans to take down one of their own, who has not only gone rogue but has started targeting other vampires. Little does she know, there's more to this than she could imagine, and it will bring bits of her past floating to the surface. I really enjoyed the pacing of this book.

58. Staying Dead, by Laura Anne Gilman (411 pages)
Wren is a Retriever, a Talent whose magic is best for retrieving (or stealing) objects for clients. She works with Sergei, her partner, and maintains a working relationship with the fatae to effectively complete her job. Her current job involves retrieving a cornerstone that was stolen from a building. Of course, the client has omitted important details, the Mage Council is involved and hiding their involvement, and other forces are centering in on Wren and Sergei. I wasn't overly fond of the narrative style. Interesting enough story and world, though.

59. Cry Wolf, by Patricia Briggs (294 pages)
Anna has been rescued from a bad pack situation, learned she was a valued Omega werewolf, and has had Charles, the son of the Marrok, insist she is is mate. Now she's about to be thrown into a world she knows little about--a world where she has value, but also one more dangerous than she can imagine. Good read.

60. Hunting Ground, by Patricia Briggs (286 pages)
With Bran planning to bring the US were population out of the closet, international were populations have gotten involved--and someone has ulterior motives. Charles insists Bran let him handle it, but it puts him--and Anna--in danger. Good read.

61. Speaking in Bones, by Kathy Reichs (336 pages)
A websleuth contacts Brennan about a missing person and a cold case set of remains she thinks are linked. Though she doesn't put much truck in it, Brennan feels compelled to look into it, and finds herself once again down the rabbit hole on a dangerous case. Still not making good decisions; surprised she's alive after this one.

62. Spice and Wolf: Volume 11, Side Colors II, by Isuna Hasekura (192 pages)
Three short stories: Holo and Lawrence solve a remote village's problems. Holo and Lawrence take an ill-fated and silly detour. We learn Eve's past and what led her to be the merchant she is. Really good.

November pages: 1,839

Pages to date: 18,813

Progress: 62/52

November 2016 comics/manga reading:

186. Library Wars: Love and War: Volume 4, by Kiiro Yumi (208 pages)
187. Saga: Volume 6, by Brian K. Vaughan (152 pages)
188. Bride of the Water God, by Mi-Kyung Yun (168 pages)
189. Arata The Legend: Volume 24, by Yuu Watase (200 pages)

November pages: 728

Pages to date: 30,996

Progress: 189/200
Read Harder Challenge Task #12: Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

"This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I'm Gabe. Welcome to my show."

My birth name is Elizabeth, but I'm a guy. Gabe. My parents think I've gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I'm right. I've been a boy my whole life.

When you think about it, I'm like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side--not heard as often, but just as good.

It's time to let my B side play.

On balance I really enjoyed this book. There were a few issues that seemed to resolve a little too quickly, but for the most part I found it charming and sweet. I particularly liked the radio show and the older DJ who's an unofficial mentor to the main character.

It's in part a "typical" teenager coming-of-age story, as Gabe/Elizabeth navigates high school graduation and career plans, unexpected romantic feelings for a friend, and parents who just don't understand. At the same time, the main character is also dealing with the very real concern about where and how to use the bathroom and other issues that have never really crossed my mind as a cis-gender person. Be advised there is some violence.

Books 32-35

32. The Agency, by Y.S. Lee. This book meets the requirement for reading the first book in a series by an author of color. The first installment, A Spy in the House, introduces the reader to Mary Quinn, a young woman who was saved from certain death and placed into a select boarding school as a child. When Quinn turns 17, she is told that the school is a front for a network of spies -- trained women who infiltrate society to uncover criminal activity. Quinn eagerly joins their ranks and finds herself in the household of a wealthy merchant whom the Agency suspects has been committing insurance fraud. The story is told both from Mary's point of view and James, who has his own reasons for keeping an eye on the merchant's family. Wasn't sure I'd like that approach initially, but Lee pulled it off. What I really liked was the double mystery. Not only does Mary (and the reader) have to piece together what is happening with the ships, but Mary also is on a hunt to discover her own roots. This was a fun, enjoyable read, although some elements require a suspension of belief (the author does stress this is more fiction than historical fiction). Also, admittedly, I guessed whodunit about halfway through the book. I'm curious about the other books in the series now.

33. The Midwife's Tale, by Sam Thomas. This book meets the requirement for reading a historical fiction novel set before 1900. The first installment of this mystery series is set in 1644 in the city of York, towards the end of England's civil war. the central character, Bridget Hodgson,is a genteel widow who serves as one of the city's midwives. Her status as a gentlewoman and a respected midwife allows her to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle despite the civil war that threatens to tear apart the city - both from within and outside. But Hodgson soon finds herself embroiled in another dilemma: Esther, one of her closest friends, is accused of murdering her husband and faces death by burning. Bridget doesn't feel Esther is capable of such an act and begins to take matters into her own hands, with the help of her new servant Martha Hawkins, a young woman with her own share of secrets. This was, all in all, a well-researched novel with a good deal of period detail and a great mystery.I had no idea who the guilty party was until the reveal. More importantly, Bridget is one of the most intriguing heroines I've ever seen. She is a woman of honor and charitable, but she does have her shortcomings and prejudices.Bridget can be generous, but can also be rather cruel to those she thinks have sinned. Even when a young woman is "in trouble" through no fault of her own, her general feeling is one of pity... but.... Bridget is certainly a product of her time, but I wonder if she will slowly soften her rigid code, especially with Martha.

34. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book meets the requirements for reading a nonfiction book on feminist themes. Adichie has written a quick, insightful book on why feminism should not be considered a bad word. Unfortunately, all too often the word feminism has negative connotations. She relates her experiences with misogyny - both subtle and overt- during her years growing up in Nigeria, and living here in the United States. The language of marginalizing women can easily be overlooked because it is so ingrained in society, and the author points out examples of this. Adichie also points out how stereotypes hurt not only women, but men as well. When men are expected and required to act in what can be equally restricting ways, a man's real personality can be lost to the alter of misguided social mores.

35. To Kill a Mockingbird, adapted by Christopher Sergel. This adaptation will be staged by one of our local theaters early next year, and I'm co-designing props for it. So, I thought I'd check out the script for research purposes. I'm also re-reading the novel (I read it in grade school). I believe another theater did this particular adaptation a few years ago as well. It's a good adaptation of this classic novel. Sergel gets the important elements in while keeping the play at a manageable length. True, much has been cut; there's no schoolroom scenes, the items found in the knothole of the tree have been pared down to two and many secondary characters were either cut or combined. But given that the novel is more than 300 pages, that is to be expected. The important development elements and the themes are intact. What's interesting is that while the action in the novel is seen through Scout's eyes, the play is more of an omniscient view. The occasional narrator is actually the Finch's good-hearted neighbor Miss Maudie, who succinctly ties up any loose ends and parses out bits of important information. Looking forward to working on this production!

Currently reading: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Private Doubt, Public Dilemma: Religion and Science Since Jefferson and Darwin, By Keith Stewart Thomson

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

book 75:  Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

This is a reread for me, and I enjoyed it as much this time as the first. :)  This is the second book in The Farseer fantasy trilogy, which is the first trilogy in a series of trilogies set in the same world but focused on different characters in that world.  I was assigned the first book in the third trilogy for a book club, and I just don't like reading things out of order.  Plus, it had been a while since I read the first trilogy.  Anyway, it's not as deep as Game of Thrones, but it is a bit like that in that in addition to fighting and magic, there is a lot of plotting, politics, and court intrigue.  Hrm...I feel like I have reviewed this before, so sorry if I have.  I have gotten behind in my reviews.  Well, I like this series for the well-rounded characters, the main one being a bastard of an ex king-in-waiting who is trained as the royal assassin and viewed as a threat to the crown from the youngest prince who is trying to take the whole shebang for himself.  Add in raiders with the ability to detach the emotions from their victims and release them back into their communities as a kind of thinking zombie, in addition to powers of the mind that allow communication and sometimes manipulation of humans and animals, and a lot can happen to one young boy in unusual circumstances.  I see what I did...I reviewed the first book previously.  In this second volume, Fitz the bastard tries to protect his ailing king, pregnant queen-in-waiting, and faltering kingdom while the new king-in-waiting goes on a quest to find mythical beings to help save them from the raiders.  Young Prince Regal takes the opportunity of the king-in-waiting's absence to basically take over and try to kill off all his enemies, including Fitz.


Book #60: Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

Number of pages: 382

The sixth title in the Swallows and Amazons series sees the welcome return of all the original characters, who were absent in the previous novel, Coot Club. This novel abandons the usual sailing theme and is based on the American gold rush, with the main characters attempting to discover gold.

The title comes from the fact that the book also features the characters using homing pigeons to send messages back home, although this does feel secondary to the main plot before becoming vital to the plot near the end.

There is also a new adversary, known only as "Squashy Hat", who seems determined to get his hands on any gold that the children find, although throughout most of the book he merely appears in the distance as the children watch all his movements, and I suspected they would end up putting aside their differences.

Having all of the regular characters back was good as this meant more of my favourite character, Roger, the youngest, whose naivety usually causes him to come out with the best lines. He's a character who seems unappreciated by his older siblings, very noticeable in the first half of the book, before he really proves his worth. There was also an enjoyable underground adventure that made me think of King Solomon's Mines.

The only real problem I had with this book was that I know nothing about the process of panning for gold or charcoal burning, so when the kids were trying to (as I understand it) extract gold from rocks, I just had to accept this chemistry lesson the book was giving me, and there seemed to be a lot of this in the second half.

But the story did at least have a neat twist that amused me.

Next book: Far From True (Linwood Barclay)
Necromancer Eric Carter's problems keep getting bigger.

Bad enough he's the unwilling husband to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte, but now her ex, the Aztec King of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli has come back and it turns out that Carter and he are swapping places. As Mictlantecuhtli breaks loose of his prison of jade Carter is slowly turning to stone.

To make matters worse both gods are trying to get Carter to assassinate the other, but only one of them can be telling him the truth. And whichever god is left standing Carter's likely to suffer the consequences.

Carter's solution? Kill them both.

If he wants to get out of this situation with his soul intact he'll have to go to Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead, and take down a couple of death gods while facing down the worst the place has to offer him: his own sins.

Blackmoore's Eric Carter series is necromancy noir, with the two previous books set mostly in Los Angeles. Therefore, it was only fitting that I read the latest book while skirting the LA area on a day-long road trip.

There was a long wait between the second and third books in this series, but wow, Blackmoore made it all worthwhile. This novel is intense, gory, and grim, and provides a perfect ending for the trilogy. Eric Carter is a callous man, but that's a necessary survival technique for a man who is a magnet for all things ghostly and foul. The events of the previous books resulted in his marriage to Santa Muerte--and there was no honeymoon. Carter's working on a tight deadline to end his unholy matrimony, as his body is changing in a decidedly unpleasant way. The action of the book ventures from Los Angeles and into Mexico, and to Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead. Blackmoore did his research--and cites sources in a note--and his book feels fresh compared to other dark urban fantasy books.
In a tale inspired by Tupinamba mythology, Gerard, Arany and Cabwassu are forced to face the immortal twins Ariconte and Tamendonarre in order to save Oludara.

I know almost nothing about South American mythology, so it was wonderful to explore Tupinamba folklore through this 16th-century set novelette. It had a fun adventure-genre feel, with friendship, shape-shifting, and a fox that I absolutely adored.
"The Cat Bell" by Ester M. Friesner
"The Farmboy" by Albert E. Cowdrey
"The Vindicator" by Matthew Hughes
"Passelande" by Robert Reed

Short Stories
"Between Going and Staying" by Lilliam Rivera
"The Place of Bones" by Gardner Dozois
"Lord Elgin at the Acropolis" by Minsoo Kang
"Special Collections" by Kurt Fawver
"A Fine Balance" by Charlotte Ashley
"The Rhyme Man" by James Beamon
"Merry Christmas from All of Us to All of You" by Sandra McDonald

Volume 131, No. 5&6 #728, November/December 2016
Edited by C.C. Finlay
Cover art by Kristin Kest

I encountered a number of good stories and two works that I absolutely adored: "The Cat Bell" by Esther M. Friesner and "Special Collections" by Kurt Fawver. I added those two to my awards consideration list.
Pomona, a gifted hedge-witch of advancing years in fair Illyria, is walking about her own business when she spies a fairy gentleman trapped in a secret garden. Vertumnus, King Oberon’s emissary to the Duke, has been taken captive by proud Titania, and a war is in the offing... unless Pomona can prevent it.

Monstrous Little Voices is a collection of five short novellas, a single long tale set in Shakespeare’s fantasy world of fairies, wizards and potions, in honour of the four-hundredth anniversary of the Bard’s death.

This Shakespeare-inspired novella has the proper period feel but is a breezy, fun read. Pomona the witch stumbles into a fae plot involving a missing changeling ambassador. It's wonderful to see an older woman as a heroine and romantic lead.
In the third book of Lexie Dunne’s action-packed Superheroes Anonymous series, Hostage Girl returns once again to save the world.

Gail Godwin—once so famous for being kidnapped by supervillains, the media still calls her Hostage Girl—is done with superheroes and their shadowy schemes. She’s got a cute boyfriend, a great roommate, and she’s even returned to her old job. For the first time in years, life is exactly what she wants it to be.

But when a figure from her past resurfaces, he brings with him a plague that changes the game for every superhero and villain out there. Now Gail must team up with both friend and foe to help save the world she thought she had left behind.

This is a fantastic, fun addition to the series about super-powered Hostage Girl and a wide assortment of super heroes and supervillains. The mad scientist who endowed Gail (aka Hostage Girl) with her powers turns out to be alive and held hostage by new villains—and he's created a new concoction that can neutralize superpowers. The stakes are high as Gail and her friends rush to save the day. I especially enjoyed the running gag of Gail versus her so-called nemesis, and the way it's handled at the end is a hoot.


Even though this was a busy week due to the holiday, I still got a fair amount of reading done.

Firstly, I finished reading Osprey Weapon #8: The AK-47: Kalashnikov-series Assault Rifles. This particular weapon has outstripped any similar gun produced by the US and in terms of its use, it's made a difference in many wars. Although the book is fairly technical, there was a certain amount of discussion of the weapon's geopolitical importance. Thus, a pretty good read.

Next I read Osprey Elite #38: The NVA and Viet Cong, speaking of geopolitical effect... Not bad.

Then, Wine: A Global History; wine is a topic that doesn't take well in a short discussion. There's so much to the history and present situation of wine on the world's stage that this book had to ignore for space's sake. Not horrible, not great, therefore.

Next, Osprey Men-At-Arms #32: United States Marine Corps; this book is so old, the US was still fighting the Vietnam War, and the author admitted that the Corps had much to do yet there. As with many older Osprey books, the plates aren't nearly as good as they will become later.

Then I finished Osprey New Vanguard #22: Panther Variants 1942 – 1945, in which they discuss all the optional setups that the Panther tank chassis was used. Mildly interesting.

Next it was Osprey Vanguard #24: Soviet Heavy Tanks. Going back and forth between the Vanguard and New Vanguard series leads to this. This book is similar to others that I've read recently, though to be honest it does have some photos that I hadn't seen before. Not bad.

Up next was Groucho Marx, Master Detective: A Mystery, the first book of a series of novels by Ron Goulart, who I first encountered as an SF writer of short stories in that genre. A young woman dies as a supposed suicide, Groucho doesn't believe that and he enlists the help of a radio scriptwriter in trying to untangle the knots of the mystery. Pretty solid read and I will be continuing to read the series.

Then, Don't Stop Me Now by Jeremy Clarkson, the fellow who used to be associated with the BBC TV show, Top Gear. This is a series of older essays of automotive interest, but he's got quite a turn of phrase, so I enjoyed reading these. He's got others, and one of them is now added to my to-be-read pile.

Following that it was Osprey Warrior #57: French Napoleonic Infantryman 1803 - 15, about the troops who nearly conquered Europe, not to mention Egypt (although wasn't that earlier than 1803?). Anyway, not a bad read.

Then, Osprey Weapon #19: The Webley Service Revolver. If you've ever seen photos of British officers leading their men into combat in WWI, or maybe if you've seen the movie Zulu, you'll have seen them wielding this weapon. Excellent stopping power.

And that's that for this week.


I'll return to my efforts to post fifty book reports by year's end by returning to a familiar topic. Book Review No. 20 is a recent academic history of the American Civil War, A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War, by Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh.

Read more...Collapse )I close with some observations about the conventions of chronicling wars.  For some reason, Genl Pierre Gustave Toutaint Beauregard often gets referred to as "the Creole."  I'm not sure why.  (One could refer to him as "the Underachiever," but that could equally well refer to Braxton Bragg or George McClellan.)  Now Messrs Murray and Hsieh add another appellation, Genl Sheridan becomes "the Irishman."  That strikes me as a more common ethnicity among the officer corps.

Finally, I'd like to see chronicles of war come up with a better locution for describing small encounters.  Consider this description of James Wilson's spring 1865 offensive into Mississippi and Alabama, which tore up much of the ironmaking capacity around Birmingham and would have been the news story of the week but for Lee's surrender and Lincoln's murder.  "At a cost of only ninety-nine men killed, 598 wounded, and twenty-eight missing, they had destroyed 'seven iron works, seven foundries, two rolling mills, seven collieries, 13 large factories ...'."  It's true, 99 dead doesn't rise to the level of a "demonstration" at Gettysburg, let alone to a Cold Harbor or Fredericksburg.

And yet war is cruelty, as Genl Sherman would have it, and you do not refine it by putting "only" in front of a body count.

By all means, though, if you want to get a good exposure to the military side of the Civil War, with efforts to place the events leading to it and the evolution of U.S. military practice since, buy the book.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Number of pages: 291

Kevin J Anderson's second X-Files novel features Mulder and Scully in search of a young archaeologist at the site of a former Mayan civilisation. It feels like a book that will involve aliens, but in this case the book also includes ancient Mayan Gods and feathered serpents, so that it feels like an original idea not directly connected to the usual extra-terrestrials that appear in the X-Files mythology.

The first two thirds of the story built up the tension to an exciting climax, which is as heavy on politics as on science fiction elements, as other parties including the military and illegal artefact smugglers start causing trouble.

I quite enjoyed this book upon rereading, and enjoyed all of the callbacks to episodes of the TV show as well as references to the show's own backstory (mostly involving Mulder's sister). As with Anderson's previous book, the characterisation of Mulder and Scully felt spot on.

While some of the climactic scenes make me think now of elements from the first movie spin off, "Fight the Future" (released after this book was written), there was a great moment near the end that I had forgotten about. This is definitely one of my favourite X-Files novels.

Next book: Pigeon Post (Arthur Ransome)
Read Harder Challenge Task #30: Read a book about religion (fiction or non-fiction)

Father Gregory Boyle’s sparkling parables about kinship and the sacredness of life are drawn from twenty years working with gangs in LA.

This book is as simple and as complicated as the blurb excerpt above: parables about kinship and the sacredness of life. There are moments of clarity and levity, and there are moments of absolute heartbreak. The stories are loosely separated into various themes and told in a non-linear fashion. This aspect was slightly frustrating at times, but for the most part I appreciated the author's simple descriptions of his work without trying to make it into a larger narrative. The straightforward message that God loves ALL God's children stands on its own. The chapter about compassion is particularly moving, and the stories themselves are well written and flow together smoothly.

This was a recent book club selection, and we had an interesting discussion about persevering in the face of adversity and community responsibility, among other things.
This book is duct tape for the mouth of every artist's inner critic. Silencing that stifling voice once and for all, this salve for creatives introduces ten truths they must face in order to defeat self-doubt. Each encouraging chapter deconstructs a pivotal moment on the path to success—fear of the blank page, the dangers of jealousy, sharing work with others—and explains how to navigate roadblock. Packed with helpful anecdotes, thoughts from successful creatives, and practical exercises gleaned from Danielle Krysa's years of working with professional and aspiring artists—plus riotously apt illustrations from art world darling Martha Rich—this book arms readers with the most essential tool for their toolbox: the confidence they need to get down to business and make good work.

I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk is a blunt yet pleasant self-help book for anyone in the creative arts. Krysa writes as someone who has personally experienced artistic blocks--in fact, giving up on art entirely due to a professor's harsh criticism--and the whole book has a vibe of a friend taking your hand to talk sense into you.

The book itself is well-made and would work well on a coffee table. It's hardcover, with a front cover that is enough by itself to make a person smile. The design inside is, again, friendly. Pages are not filled with text and there are frequent, colorful illustrations. It's a fast read because there do tend to just be a couple paragraphs to a page--the blank space is soothing, but the author also encourages people to use the space to make notes. There are a few areas where there are activities or questions, but it's not hardcore in that way.

As an author with a loud inner critic, I found the book encouraging without being obnoxious as some books like this are. I'd consider getting this for author friends who were struggling through Imposter Syndrome and other similar afflictions.

Book 3 - 2016

Book 3: Guernica by Dave Boling – 368 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
An extraordinary epic of love, family, and war set in the Basque town of Guernica before, during, and after its destruction by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. In 1935, Miguel Navarro finds himself in conflict with the Spanish Civil Guard and flees the Basque fishing village of Lekeitio to make a new start in Guernica, the centre of Basque culture and tradition. Once there, he finds more than just a new life -- he finds someone to live for. Miren Ansotegui is the charismatic and graceful dancer he meets and the two discover a love they believe nothing can destroy ...Rich in the history of the region, the Red Baron, the Luftwaffe and even Picasso make appearances in Guernica as the fate of the Navarro family is traced through the early decades of the twentieth century.

Chatting to a friend of mine at work one day, she mentioned this book and how much she liked it. She purchased it off the internet and then leant it to me to read. Amusingly, after I’d read it, and returned it to her, she found her original copy and consequently gave me the new copy she’d purchased. Anyway, I really had no idea what to expect, and probably for the first 150 pages I was kind of bored. The book felt like it took a long time to get started and make its clear point, but once it got there, I did actually really enjoy it and it has an ending that is deeply moving. The diversity of the characters and their interactions is really good, though at times it was difficult to work out how they connected to the core story. In addition, I knew nothing about the conflict the book is centered about so it was a good learning experience. Ultimately, not a book I would have picked up myself, but a good read nonetheless.

3 / 50 books. 6% done!

874 / 15000 pages. 6% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Martian by Andy Weir – 369 pages
-        Wrath of Aphrodite by Bess T. Chappas – 207 pages
-        The First Ladies of the United States of America by Margaret Brown Klapthor and Allida M. Black – 93 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
-        My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages



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