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Happy reading!
I read a load of books this last week.

First was Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. I've heard good things about this author before, and I intend to read a couple more of them, but this book was given to me as a gift from my wife, so I pushed it up to read right away, and liked it very much. The author picks and chooses a variety of topics within the domain of the American military, each one quirky and fascinating. Well worth reading. I expect that I'll drag another book of hers out to read soon.

Next was Osprey Raid #29: The Hunt for Pancho Villa: The Columbus Raid and Pershing's Punitive Expedition 1916 – 17. You know, the border between the United States of America and Mexico has always been rather porous. Heck, when most of the West was still Mexico, the invasion of folks looking for their financial success was US citizens taking jobs from Mexicans. In this book, a whole American army invades northern Mexico hunting Villa and his troops. I found this one particularly fascinating to read, therefore.

Then, Gamemastering Secrets, an RPG book discussing tips and tricks for better game running. I've run RPGs for a long time, though not in the last year, but I intend to get back into it soon, so I'm going to be reading several books on the subject just to brush up and give good gaming. This one heavily expanded on specific games that I've never played, but it did give me a number of interesting ideas for future play.

Next, Bread: A Global History gives some details on the long association of bread with civilization, with a variety of breads that not only cover loaves, but also flatbreads and so forth. Moderately interesting. The last twenty or thirty pages are filled with recipes, for those who might be seeking such.

Following that I read Osprey Vanguard #11: US 2nd Armored Division 1940 – 45, a book that was fairly easy to read. The plates weren't much, the photos fairly standard, the text gets the points across but weren't all that terrific. Not bad, not excellent.

Next, Croaked: More Tales of the Firefly Witch, a book that essentially isn't available. Alex Bledsoe wrote a number of stories about a witch, living in the South, who is blind, except during the time of year when fireflies appear; when they are around she can see. Honestly, these stories (and this is a very short story collection) are very good reads, and I really like the characters. Unfortunately, the publisher went belly-up, and you can't find the books anywhere. Feh. I've liked the two things I've read now, but there's several others that I just can't find. Too bad...

Then, Osprey Vanguard #15: The Sherman Tank in British Service 1942 – 45 which really does pare down the history of the Sherman to just its use in the armed forces of the United Kingdom, not US, not Canada, not Israel. It's kind of nice to see them keep it to just that small subset; it allows more detail overall. I liked it.

Next was the book Osprey Vanguard #17: The Stuart Light Tank Series, not quite so pared down as was the previous book, and so it felt ... lighter? Anyway, not bad, but not the best.

I followed that book with Osprey Vanguard #18: The Panzerkampfwagen IV. In a rather odd conversation with a friend not long ago, I asked him if he had a favorite tank from WWII (yeah, I know, really odd conversation), and he mentioned this one. It was the workhorse tank for the Germans from early in the war until the end...and apparently the last time the tanks were used in combat was in a Syrian-Israeli conflict. Given that they were pretty well-engineered, you can understand their continued use until outright destroyed.

And that's that for this week...

Book 41

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 317
Summary: What if you aren't the Chosen One? The one who's supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you're like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

My thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )

Satirical novel set in 1994, at a time when there was a lot of conflict in Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia was in the process of being split up. The main characters are a group of students who are determined to get into Bosnia and perform a play that they think will stop the war. The main character and narrator is a character called Andrew, who also has an ulterior motive of sleeping with one of his female friends.

I am familiar with Jesse Armstrong's work on British TV shows, and that was what convinced me to read it; I was prepared for the type of dark, edgy humour that was used in this novel. I wasn't too surprised to see a lot of humour used about the war itself, and a lot of the novel involves the main characters travelling through increasingly dangerous war zones. There is one memorable sequence where Andrew gets stuck on a minefield.

I got the impression that reviews of this were somewhat lukewarm, and I didn't think this was a brilliant novel, not as good as some of Armstrong's TV work, but it was still readable and enjoyable. The plot wasn't really much more than a bunch of characters going to perform a play and then returning home, and a lot of descriptions of what it was like to travel through war zones, while the characters didn't really seem to develop much. There were a lot of moments when the characters launched into long-winded political debates, which only got really entertaining when it became apparent that even they didn't really understand the point of the conflict. There were also some good moments revolving around British awkwardness.

It's worth a read; a lot of the humour is very highbrow, and it really depends on how much you like political humour or how much you understand about the conflict that took place in Europe in the 1990s.

Next book: The X-Files: Ground Zero by Kevin J. Anderson

Book 93

Borrowing Death (Charlotte Brody Mysteries, #2)Borrowing Death by Cathy Pegau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won a copy from a Goodreads Giveaway which in no way influenced my review. I have a love of historical mysteries and this one had a little something extra, set in Alaska around 1917. Charlotte Brody came to Cordova Alaska I assume in book one (this is #2) because of her brother who is a doctor there. During her first go around as a sleuth she partnered up fairly well with Deputy James Eddington as they have a good working relationship which seems to be turning into something more.

In this one, Charlotte, busy working as a journalist for the local paper stirs up trouble by taking on the Temperance League, pointing out the growing crime rates in dry counties (as the 18th amendment isn’t a thing yet). She’s quickly distracted from that by a fire at the local hardware store. Mr. Fiske, the owner is found inside, dead but not from the flames. Charlotte learns from her closest female friend in town, Brigit, the local madam (I do have to wonder what her brother, the deputy and her boss think of this as it’s not really addressed) that Fiske liked to step out with her girls and that his wife had a lover.

Convinced she needs to find out the truth, Charlotte starts looking for Caroline Fiske’s lover and has to wonder if the local arsonist James was hunting is behind this or is this something different? She believes it’s something different. Charlotte is also distracted by her budding romance with James which is complicated by her coming off a bad relationship back east (that resulted in an abortion so keep that in mind if that bothers you. There is a lot about dealing with the aftermath and a woman’s right to choose which seems to have bothered a few readers who think they have the right to tell others what should happen with their bodies) and his ending marriage that she knew nothing about.

Also in the mix is a young girl, Rebecca whose mother was the Fiskes’s maid before she died and Rebecca’s older brother who has been in trouble with the law and has a chip on his shoulder. They’re mixed race, White and Native which means no end of prejudice for them to fight. Charlotte doesn’t want to see the girl, who is bright and ambitious, be forced out of school because she has to work to stay alive.

I really enjoyed the characters and the story but I was disappointed by the ending. Still I’m looking forward to more.

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Horns by Joe Hill

book 69:  Horns by Joe Hill

I guess Horns would still be considered a horror novel, although it's not really scary...more psychological.  Basically, this guy, who was previously accused of murdering the love of his life, has a mental breakdown, gets drunk along with a lapse of memory, and wakes up to find horns growing out of his forehead which give him supernatural powers of persuasion, and some other talents of devilry.  It's mostly a story of revenge, forgiveness, and redemption.  I've heard they made a movie out of it featuring Daniel Ratcliff, but being mostly cut off from the media, I didn't know about it and had already bought this book within the year it came out, I believe.
Overall, I think it is pretty good.  I was disappointed at first because I am always hoping for a story that will scare the pants off me, and then I was hoping for a good violent supernatural revenge novel, because I am feeling a bit resentful about some things right now.  One of the early flashbacks was a little long for me, but once I accepted that it was going to be more of a thinking novel than I originally thought, I got over it, knowing it was necessary for the character building.  But, the characters are well-fleshed, and I liked the questions of morality and hypocrisy, as well as the occasional gratuitous acts of revenge or human nature, that sometimes don't turn out how you want them to.

Book 92

Magic Fell (The Mages" Guild Trilogy, #1)Magic Fell by Andi Van

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love fantasy and this had a lot of really good elements to it. It opens with a mother giving up everything to stop a power-mad king then fast forwards several decades. Her ploy was only partially successful. Magic has been outlawed and the king's descendants will put any magic user to death.

Our point of view character is Tasis, a half human half elf (which opens him up to prejudice as does his androgynous appearance) who is in the middle of a tragedy of his own. His only friend is Zaree who is like a sister to him. She's part of a warrior sect with secrets of her own. Tasis's problems are compounded by the fact he is a budding magic user and the king is very aware of it. He and Zaree are forced to go on the run.

The other point of view character is the elf, Kelwin who is on mission of his own, basically leaving his mentor to find his way in the world beyond the safety of his home. Naturally soon he and Tasis (and Zaree) are thrown together and they learn Tasis is part of something bigger than he knows. Together with the familiar (in the form of a cat) K'yerin they try to find an island of myth which isn't so mythical. They might just be the ones to bring magic back to the world, reestablish the lost guild and stop the magic-hating king.

I enjoyed the story and the characters. Tasis does need saving a bit often but he is just a teenager and just coming into his power so that's forgivable. This is a series and it does it in the way I like, yes it sets up the next one but the main story arc of the first book has a conclusion (I'm not a fan of the very open ending so this works for me). I'm looking forward to the next one.

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Books #53-54

Book #53 was "Lock In" by John Scalzi. I love a good genre mashup, and this combination of murder mystery and sci-fi really worked for me. In the near future, a flu-like plague has swept the globe. Some people die from it, while others seem mostly unaffected. A small percentage experience full paralysis but unaffected mental function, resulting in "lock in," called Haden's Syndrome. The world throws lots of money at research toward a cure and adaptive devices, so that it's not uncommon to see androids, called "threeps," housing the personalities of the paralyzed "locked in." Some of the people who survived the plague have also had their brains subtly rewired so that they are capable of "carrying" a locked in person's conciousness in their bodies, called "intergrators". The story starts with Chris Shane, a locked in survivor of Haden's syndrome, starting his new job as an FBI agent with a case that involves one man dead and another man, an integrator, covered in blood but not remembering what had happened. Chris Shane and his able-bodied partner must solve the mystery. I've always heard Scalzi was a good writer, but the plots of his other novels haven't grabbed me, so this is my first, but I'll likely read more by this author. I've also met him in person at local conventions and he is one of the good guys, so I'm happy to support his writing career!

Book #54 was "Broken Harbor" by Tana French, the fourth in her Dublin Murder Squad detective novel series. French takes a secondary from one book and makes him or her the main character in the next book. So, in the last book, the main character was undercover agent Frank Mackey, who went head-to-head with an old rival, Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy. Scorcher Kennedy becomes the main character in Broken Harbor, and to French's credit, while Kennedy is a blowhard who is difficult to like, she humanizes him in this novel by giving him a complicated family life and a case that messes with his head. A terrible attack has taken place at an abandoned housing development called Broken Harbor, with two children and a man dead and the mother of the family in critical condition at the hospital. At first, things seem cut and dried, but the more evidence that Kennedy and his newbie partner Richie find, the more complicated and nonsensical everything seems. French's novels all tend to have a theme, but they're usually subtle and artfully done. The theme of this one - that you can do everything right and still have things go off the rails - is a bit heavy-handed. That's really my only criticism. She does an admirable job of humanizing Kennedy, making you feel sympathetic toward his partner, Richie, and making your heart ache for the family of victims. I've saw a reviewer make a comment along the lines that French's novels are really literary fiction disguised as detective novels, and I have to agree. She's an author to keep an eye on.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )
"As children, we learned early that the clouds were dangerous. Turns out the city wasn't all that much safer."

After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in this stirring companion to Fran Wilde's Updraft.

When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers—but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.

In Cloudbound, with the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Naton, Kirit's wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way—sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.

But what he finds down-tier is more secrets—and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City.

In the sky-high city of living bone, to fall beneath the clouds is to be lost forever. But Nat Densira finds more in the grey expanse than he ever expected. To survive, he must let go of everything he believes.

Cloudbound continues to explore the world Wilde established in Updraft: a setting where living towers of bone pierce the sky, where travel is done by wing, and where it is difficult to decide whether humans or flying-invisible-tentacle-beasts are the worst monsters. Here, the threat is decidedly more human. With the leadership of the Spire fractured, the City enters civil war as politics escalate to outright violence.

This book changes narrators to look through Naton's eyes. He doesn't offer as dynamic a character as Kirit, though Kirit was so impulsive, so frenetic, that she could be difficult relate to at times as well. I found Nat's voice grew on me as I came to regard him as a kind of Everyman with a cool, even outlook on events. The action flows well as Nat, Kirit, and their motley companions are forced into the clouds to survive. I regarded it as a solid book at that point... and then came the ending and huge, huge revelations that made this already-awesome world all the more stunning.

Book 91

Potato Surprise: A Brimstone PrequelPotato Surprise: A Brimstone Prequel by Angel Martinez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lot of fun and definitely made me want to look up the rest of the series. The snark is strong in this one. Shax, a demon prince, and his companion, Vernin have stolen a ship and managed to end up on the far side of the galaxy with no real idea how to get home, provided they had a home to get back to. Armed with their wits and the ship's drag queen AI, they try to make their way by taking on cargo and flirting with outright piracy. Their first cargo is neat, jewel-like creatures that Shax takes a liking to.

However, their cargo in politically loaded and several groups are happy to kill them and take the cargo for themselves. Shax and Vernin have to avoid both criminals and galactic cops and try to figure out what to do with the cargo, not to mention how to keep themselves alive.

There's a great bunch of action, none of which that overstays the point of interest and the sex scenes are relatively short and hot, adding to the story rather than bogging it down. There's a nice helping of humor too. I'm looking forward to more.

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Beautiful and brilliant, Kendra Donovan is a rising star at the FBI. Yet her path to professional success hits a speed bump during a disastrous raid where half her team is murdered, a mole in the FBI is uncovered and she herself is severely wounded. As soon as she recovers, she goes rogue and travels to England to assassinate the man responsible for the deaths of her teammates.

While fleeing from an unexpected assassin herself, Kendra escapes into a stairwell that promises sanctuary but when she stumbles out again, she is in the same place - Aldrich Castle - but in a different time: 1815, to be exact.

Mistaken for a lady's maid hired to help with weekend guests, Kendra is forced to quickly adapt to the time period until she can figure out how she got there; and, more importantly, how to get back home. However, after the body of a young girl is found on the extensive grounds of the county estate, she starts to feel there's some purpose to her bizarre circumstances. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra must use her wits alone in order to unmask a cunning madman.

This book was mentioned a few months ago in a bookriot podcast and was also featured during a recent Great Library Read. For the most part, I found both the time travel and the murder mystery elements to be satisfying. Kendra naturally has issues adjusting to the various implications of her new situation, and along the way she makes interesting asides to herself about parallels between the two time periods (for example, the house party as the 1800s' equivalent of match.com). I was most amused, however, by an innocent remark that is nearly her undoing, but to say more would be a spoiler. Apparently this is the first in the series. While I would like to spend more "time" with this character, I hope the plot twist does not suffer with repetition. This particular story can definitely stand on its own in any case.

Book #37: Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome

Number of pages: 475

The second sequel to Swallows and Amazons feels very different from its predecessors. It opens by introducing the eponymous Peter Duck. While in Swallowdale, this was the name of an imaginary friend, now Peter Duck is a real-life sailor, who tells the children a story of how he saw pirates burying gold on Crab Island.

It isn't long before all of the children seen in the previous novels set sail with Peter Duck and also Captain Flint to go in search of treasure. While this sounds a bit like the plot to the first book, real pirates - led by Black Jake - and a mysterious red-haired boy, are added.

A lot of the action takes place at sea, at the heroes realise quite early on that Black Jake is pursuing them to Crab Island, and the pirates in this book do form a significant threat, and this leads to some scenes that are (for a children's book) quite intense.

I enjoyed getting to revisit the characters from the first two books again, and liked the fact that the plot managed to feel almost completely original, and it was enjoyable wondering if the red-haired boy would turn out to be good or bad.

I am enjoying reading through this series a lot. While I did pick up a copy of the eighth novel, Secret Water recently, I want to read them in the correct order, so am hoping to read the fourth, Winter Holiday soon.

Next book: Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals (Jesse Armstrong)

Who's counting?

I've lost track of how many books I've read since my last posting of recent reads.

BUT, I did finish three recently, so here they are:

Star Wars:  Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zhan.
This paperback edition also has the short story “Fool’s Bargain” – which describes one of the many battles the 501st (Empire of the Hand) gets into, and shows just WHY the 501st is considered the Stormtrooper elite!  Very good read, makes me want more from the stormtrooper’s point of view.
(Chronogoically, this is the last book by Mr. Zhan, the man who brought Thrawn to life - but it is not his last Star Wars book).

Scott Westfield’s Behemoth.  (Illustrated by Keith Thompson).
This book, the second in the Leviathan series, was interesting, but not as entertaining as it’s predecessor, which also featured Deryn Sharp (a commoner, disgused as a boy), and Prince Aleksander (on the run for his life).
Not a bad young-adult novel, where the world is divided between those who understand and work with machinery, and those who prefer fabricated beasties.  The historical connection - setting this in Europe before the land is dominated and torn apart  by World War I - helps give it a fun storyline twist.

Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Honestly, this one made my brain hurt.    So glad it was short.
It made not one like of sense – and I quickly got the feeling that to take this book seriously would drive anyone insane, so I tried looking at it from a satirical viewpoint.
Didn’t help much, and I suspect that I missed most of what was (probably) supposed to be comedy and strange humor due to not understanding more than half of what was written.
The weirdest thing about this book?  The fad, the interest, and the success of forty-two.

book 90

Vampire Vacation (The V V Inn, #1)Vampire Vacation by C.J. Ellisson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway which didn’t influence my review. I wavered between giving this two or three stars but in the end rounded up as it wasn’t badly written per se but more just not my thing in some ways. I read a lot of erotica and to me there are two broad sub categories of erotica, a plot heavy story with a few good, hot scenes and the other being tons of sex and almost no plot. I favor the first and this was definitely the second. It borders on what fan ficcers would call PWP.

To be fair it started with some plot. Vivian (whose real name is Dria which took a moment to realize) is an old vampire who runs a vampire hotel in Alaska (all that darkness) which is less a hotel and more of sexual fetish club and Dria does a lot of running around dressed like a dominatrix and then telling men to leave her alone because she’s happily married (way to send mixed signals as a nominal hostess here). She is married to a human, Rafe whose life is extended by occasionally drinking her blood and part of their group is a werewolf as well but not as a sexual partner.

Anyhow Dria finds a dead man in one hotel room. She, the wolf and her husband dispose of the body and start interrogating the guests and doing a bad job of it. She’s aware she’s doing a bad job. She has a habit of ‘acting on instinct.’ You’ll see her thinking that every time she does something stupid or rude or nonsensical.

Then the investigation gets sidetracked by her desire to make sure her guests are having a good time. i.e. are sexing it up. She tries to help Olivia to attract the vampire, Antonio by using another vampire to make him jealous so Antonio will swing into action and claim her (shudders, and just plain yuck. That is NOT romantic to me, or smart) and did I mention she has all the rooms wired for video and sound to help protect the humans who are the snacks (as the vampires don’t need to kill). Yeah at one point she and her husband use that as porn for their own love making.

Oh and that comes after there’s been another attack and someone has cut the power to the hotel (okay all they know is the power is out and she had just been offering herself up to be whipped by a guest so the guest could learn how the BDSM toys work…um apparently no one here has ever seen a horror flick and don’t know those who have sex in the middle of the crisis die first). I mean that really almost made me stop reading because not only is it creepy it’s dumb especially since Dria thinks it’s a vampire she once turned over to the Tribunal when she was an enforcer (i.e. how the vampires police themselves in this world). And she thinks he’s here for revenge.

Did I mention she was also sent a newly turned vampire, Asa, who was turned during his military service in the Middle East and instead of working with him or explaining how things work in her domain she starts attacking and screaming at him to force him to join her seethe (a vampire family) or die. I have no idea what this was handled that way but honestly Dria doesn’t strike me as intelligent but she is a bit of a Mary Sue so there’s that.

The last third is the best part of the book. We’re past the endless sex scenes and everyone is hunting the killer, that means all the vampires, a werewolf and the human servants. That was well done and exciting.
Honestly if the middle and all the sex had been trimmed somewhat this would have been a stronger story. It gets lost in the middle. Also there is some formatting weirdness where the mental conversations which are italicized were not so it was confusing.

View all my reviews

16 - 20: History and Crime

16. The Mystery of the Blue Train - Agatha Christie
Pages: 248
Blurb: Since the beginning of history, jewels have exercised a harmful spell. Murder and violence have followed in their wake. So with the famous Heart of Fire ruby. It passes into the possession of the beautiful American woman, Ruth Kettering, and doom follows swift upon it. Whose hand was is that struck her down? Were the jewels the motive for the murder, or were they only taken as a blind? What part did the beautiful foreign dancer play? These are some of the questions that have to be answered, and the story tells also how these strange and dramatic happenings affect the life of a quiet English girl who has felt convinced that "nothing exiting will ever happen to me." She uses very nearly those words to a chance acquaintance on the Blue Train - a little man with an egg-shaped head and fierce moustaches whose answer is curious and unexpected. But even Hercule Poirot, for it is he, does not guess how soon he will be called upon to unravel a complicated and intricate crime when the Blue Train steams into Nice the following morning and it is discovered that murder has been done.
Thoughts: I rather liked this book, it was typical Christie and a nice simple read.

17. Emma - Jane Austen
Pages: 373
Blurb: Jane Austen teased readers with the idea of a 'heroine whom no one but myself will much like', but Emma is irresistible. 'Handsome, clever, and rich', Emma is also an 'imaginist', 'on fire with speculation and foresight'. She sees the signs of romance all around her, but thinks she will never be married.
Her matchmaking maps out relationships that Jane Austen ironically tweaks into a clearer perspective. Judgement and imagination are matched in games the reader too can enjoy, and the end is a triumph of understanding.
Thoughts: This was a re-read from nearly 10 years ago when I was at Sixth Form. I thought I'd give it another go as I hated it - Emma was just so irritating. 10 years older and slightly wiser I still found her really bloody irritating. I enjoyed the book slightly more a second time around but it's not one I'll be revisiting again in a hurry.

Hickory Dickory Dock
Pages: 200
Blurb: Hercule Poirot frowned.
"Miss Lemon," he said.
"Yes, M Poirot?"
"There are three mistakes in this letter."
His voice held incredulity. For Miss Lemon, that hideous and efficient woman, never made mistakes.
And so Hercule Poirot launched into another of his memorable cases to extricate Miss Lemon's sister, who ran a students' hostel in Hickory Road, from her troubles. The series of thefts there which had so upset Miss Lemon intrigued M Poirot because of the complete incongruity of the missing articles; he was fascinated and uneasy. Unfortunately his worst fears were fulfilled.
But by putting first things first and by peeling off layers of irrelevance one by one, Poirot was able to perceive, when it occurred, the inevitable mistake that betrays a murderer. At one point Inspector Sharp was inclined to apply to his own dictum "No one is as clever as they think they are." But generalisations do not apply to the master mind and Hercule Poirot - and Agatha Christie - has achieved another masterpiece of detection.
Thoughts: Again a pleasant read, still continuing to prefer the Poirots to the Marples.

Hitler's Last Days: An Eye-witness Account - Gerhardt Boldt
Pages: 188
Blurb: In the last months of the Second World War, Gerhardt Boldt, a young cavalry officer serving on the Russian Front, found himself seconded to Gehlen's military intelligence staff in Berlin. Summoned to daily briefing sessions with the Fuhrer, his Generals and closest associates - in particular Bormann, Goering and Goebbels - Boldt had a unique opportunity of observing at close quarters the leading members of the Nazi hierarchy. His description of the atmosphere, first in the semi-ruined Chancellery and then in the claustrophobic surroundings of the Fuhrerbunker, conveys a chilling impression of destruction - of the collapse of the entire Nazi system no less than the disintegration of its creator's personality. This book was written immediately after the war and expanded for this edition. Gerhardt Boldt trained as a cavalry officer having been dismissed from the Hitler Youth for insubordination. During the war he served on both the Western and Eastern fronts, was wounded several times and decorated twice. After the war he returned to his home town of Lubeck where he had a wines and spirits business. He was technical advisor to the film, 'Hitler: The Last Ten Days', for which this book was a major source, starring Sir Alec Guinness.
Thoughts: I was in a Nazi mood and had been meaning to read this book for a while. Of all the 'I was there' books, I think this is my favourite. Boldt is refreshingly honest and incredibly knowledgeable. You feel his disdain and regret for the regime the whole way through, definitely showing that his remorse was genuine (better than Traudl Junge, her book annoyed me). I think it helps that Boldt was never really into the idea of being a Nazi, but felt the passion and pride of fighting for his country. This was also written just a year after the war, far earlier than many other memoirs and far less reflective. A highly recommended read.

20. The Tudor Princess - Darcey Bonnette
Pages: 324 (5899)
Blurb: From childhood, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. As the daughter of Henry VII, Margaret is married to James IV, becoming Queen of Scotland.
Despite her doubts, Margaret falls in love with her new home. But she has rivals, and whilst James is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. It's clear that providing an heir cannot guarantee Margaret's safety, and when she attracts the attentions of the ambitious Earl of Angus, Scotland is brought to the brink of anarchy.
Beset by betrayal, secret alliances and the desires of her own heart, Margaret has one overriding ambition: to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost.
Thoughts: The issue having a degree in History and reading historical fiction is your accuracy and b/s alarm goes off a lot. I know the author makes it clear it is fiction, but my God is it melodramatic! You should feel sorry for Margaret but instead you end up detesting her whiny, impulsive and selfish nature - probably the exact opposite of Bonnette's aim with the book. Bonnette tars Henry VIII from the tender age of eight as being the selfish brute we all know - something most historians would say was utter rubbish. This really felt like a trashy read based very loosely on historical fact. It will be going straight into a book swap for someone else to read.

Book 40

Title: The Lost Fleet: Valiant
Author: Jack Campbell
Series: part four of "The Lost Fleet", follows Courageous
Pages: 284
Summary: Deep within Syndicate World space, the Alliance fleet continues its dangerous journey home under the command of Captain John "Black Jack" Geary - revived after a century spent in suspended animation. Geary's victories over the enemy have earned him both the respect - and the envy - of his fellow officers.

"Black Jack" Geary has made many risky decisions as commander, but ordering the Alliance fleet back to the Lakota Star System, where it had nearly been destroyed by the Syndics, has his officers questioning his sanity. It's a desperate gamble that may buy Geary just enough time to prepare for the Syndics' inevitable return - and give the fleet a fighting chance of survival.

But even as he struggles to stay one step ahead of the enemy, Geary must face conspirators within his own fleet - an unknown number of officers who want a change of command. And Geary knows that his fleet must stand together or the Syndic forces will tear them apart . . .

My thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )


It was a much busier week that just passed, so fewer books done.

First was The Peacock's Cry, not so much a book as a short re-introduction into one of Paul Doherty's series, this one being set in England after the death of King Edward I. Murder mystery, short and sweet. Apparently, Doherty is going back to this series after previously retiring the character, and this was a chance for him to stretch his writing muscles. Pretty good read.

Next, Osprey Men-At-Arms #18: George Washington's Army. As I've said before in reading some of these early Osprey books, the plates aren't much. However, the text is pretty good, discussing the trials of the American side in building their revolutionary army.

Finally, there's Osprey New Vanguard #17: KV – 1 & 2: Heavy Tanks 1939 – 1945. You see, when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, they unexpectedly ran into much better tanks than they'd bargained for. The KV-1 tank was better protected and withstood the firepower of many tanks the Wehrmacht had in inventory. Better tactics prevailed, but this was a sign of how things weren't going to be a pushover for them. This book details all aspects of this particular tank type throughout the Second World War.

And that's it for right now...

Book 89

X Dames (The Lucy Ripken Mysteries, #3)X Dames by J.J. Henderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this one because I needed an X for the alphabet challenge. I wasn't familiar with this mystery series and it was the first I've read with my new Kindle app. I liked that it told you where you were so I knew that there is literally no mystery until 53% in. So as a contemporary story it's 3 stars but as a mystery, it doesn't even rate.

I'm not even sure what Lucy does (that could be because this is book 3 and I haven't read the first two) but she's embroiled in a battle over her rent controlled apartment with her horrible landlord (this becomes a plot point for the last third of the novel which has literally nothing to do with the rest of it) and has a treasure hunting friend Harry. Another friend, Trish calls her up and offers her a job out in CA which she is afraid to take because the landlord will throw her out (I’m not sure how you can do that if someone is off on vacation and/or work)

Anyhow Lucy is to help write the so-called script for a reality TV show about hard core female surfers competing with each other weekly, the titular X-dames (a play on X-games). Much of the first half is about the wealthy playboy backing this project, and the sexcapades and drug use of the surfers. We don't even get out on the water until literally 50% in and finally someone dies and the mystery starts.

And ends nearly as fast because it doesn't take Lucy long to figure out the who/how/why and if you get annoyed by villains who get away with it then be prepared to be annoyed (at least until karma settles the score).

It wasn't badly written but when I read a mystery I want to see a mystery, not something vaguely mysterious half way through a book.

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Number of pages: 320

This is the biography of Nate Saint, a Missionary who travelled around by plane, who was murdered in 1956 by a native tribe who he wanted to convert to Christianity.

I found the book to be very detailed and comprehensive, with accounts of Saint's early life, which give clues as to what his influences were, and which also includes extracts from letters and reports that he wrote.

What I mainly took away from this book was how the church reacted to his death; instead of being discouraged, it spurred them on to increase their ministry, which just demonstrates how nothing on earth can stop something happening if it is God's plan.

I hadn't heard of Nate Saint when I read this, but I found this to be be a very enjoyable read, and a great tale of peserverance and boldness in the face of adversary.

Next book: Peter Duck (Arthur Ransome)

Books #51-52

Book #51 was "Bossypants" by Tina Fey, as an audiobook read by the author. I mainly listened to this because I thought Tina Fey was funny as the Weekend Update anchor on Saturday Night live, and she didn't disappoint. Some actors and comedians are funny on film but can't write funny, but luckily that's not the case here. It helps that Tina reads her own book, and it's very funny. She talks about growing up as a theater kid, getting into standup, getting onto SNL and pitching "30 Rock." The title comes from people asking her how she feels about being the boss, something they rarely ask powerful men in Hollywood. I really liked it and recommend it.

Book #52 was "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker. The book, set in 1899, starts with a man asking a wizard to build him a golem (magical servants made of clay) to be his wife. He dies on the passage to America, leaving his golem adrift in New York City. There, she meets another magical creature from a different direction, a Jinni who has been trapped in mortal form. Though an unlikely pair, they form a friendship and end up having to fight a common enemy. The book is ostensibly about magical creatures in America, but it's really more about what it means to be human. The writing is very simple and not flashy, but I really came to care about the characters and loved this book, a first novel for Wecker. Recommended highly.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )
When Samuel, a lonely linguistics lecturer, wakes up on New Year’s Day, he is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing more than passive verbs and un-italicized moments—until an unexpected visitor slips into his Barcelona apartment and refuses to leave. The appearance of Mishima, a stray, brindle-furred cat, leads Samuel from the comforts of his favorite books, foreign films, and classical music to places he’s never been (next door) and to people he might never have met (his neighbor Titus, with whom he’s never exchanged a word). Even better, Mishima leads him back to the mysterious Gabriela, whom he thought he’d lost long before.

This book hit many of my sweet spots -- a language professor, a stray cat, and Spain -- and it was also the perfect palate cleanser after the sad conclusion of Broken Harbor. The main character is one of those "young old men" who gets set in his way far too early in life, and over the course of the story he learns to be more spontaneous and less judgmental. Though he's infuriatingly fussy, he's also endearing and sweet in his own way. He meets new people who range from charming to outlandish, and he also modifies his interactions with his small family (who don't know quite what to make of this transformation). Meanwhile, the cat who started Samuel on his journey is the appropriate mix of outgoing and aloof. =^.^=

Book 88

Journey on a StairwellJourney on a Stairwell by William L. Grimes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met the author at a book fair at Empire books in Huntington and had I known there was a haunted dental practice in that area I might have made the trip. Of course, as with any true haunting stories, whether or not you believe it is a personal thing.

It all began a few decades ago when Dr Grimes bought an old duplex and began rennovating it into his dental office. Strange things began happening early one, loud banging sounds, pushing and heavy foot falls. This entity would end up being called 'The Big Guy,' but the one that really got the author interested and invested in the hauntings was the young, sickly girl in the stairwell. She so captivated his imagination, he used his favorite creative outlet and painted her portrait (as seen on the cover).

Over the years, he and his staff kept a ghost journal and had many psychics in to investigate the place and at least one TV ghost hunting crew but it began with a patient who knew about the family in the 20s-30s who owned the place and that a little girl had died in the upstairs of what she thought was an illness.

I will say that the author did his best to investigate the house and the families in it. He found some reasons for the girl's haunting and the Big Guy but there were several other haunts in the place as well. The author speculated that this house was in a thin place, over a portal, if you believe that sort of thing.

The story is well told. It's very conservational as if you were sitting down and talking about it (I would have liked to do that, to be honest) and the history of the house and its haunts is told in layers. I

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Books #49-50

This is the earliest in a given year that I've gotten to 50 books since I started tracking in 2006! I have a summer job that permits me to read when it's slow, and it's fairly typical for me to read 80-120 pages on a slow shift, and I'm also listening to more audiobooks this summer.

Book #49 was "The Dark Forest" by Cixin Liu, the second in the Chinese sci-fi trilogy "The Three-Body Problem." In the first book, Earth learns that aliens from an unstable planet that humans dub "Trisolaris" are coming to Earth to find a more hospitable home. Humanity breaks up into factions who advocate giving up and helping the aliens, fighting back, or fleeing. In the second books, the aliens are still on their way, and this fact has altered human society and progress. Those planning to fight the aliens learn that while the aliens seem to know everything happening on Earth, they can't see into human minds. So a "Wallfacer" project is implemented, where 4 men are chosen to come up with plans to save earth, and are authorized to use many resources and to lie and confuse the public about their real plans and motives in order to keep the aliens in the dark as well. The faction that has deified the aliens and wants to help them create an opposing program, the Wallbreaker program, to try to discover what the Wallfacers are hiding. One of the main characters is Luo Ji, a Wallfacer who doesn't understand why he's been chosen to be in the program, and yet he comes up with one of humanity's most powerful plans, and the Trisolarans know he is a threat and constantly come up with plans to try to kill him. I am really enjoying the series and am looking forward to the third one coming out in English in September.

Book #50 was "The Ride Together: A Brother and Sister's Memoir of Autism in the Family" by Paul Karasik (author/illustrator) and Judy Karasik (author). The format of this book is really interesting: it is told in alternate chapters by a brother and sister, with the sister using a more traditional prose memoir writing style, and the brother doing his chapters in comics style. The book tells the story of growing up with their profoundly autistic brother David, who is obsessed with old Superman shows and "performs" them (and other shows, including the news) on a daily schedule, becoming upset and slightly violent when he's thrown off his schedule. I really liked this story a lot, even though it has many sad moments, from a fire that kills two disabled people to the revelation that the group home that the family thought was so good for David turns out to have allegations of sexual and physical abuse brought against it. In general, I've been trying to read books BY disabled authors, rather than books about disability by able-bodied people, because they bring a different sensibility to it. For instance, the brother and sister more than once refer to David's brain as being "broken" in some way, a phrase I almost never see autistic people using about themselves. However, it's full of warmth, love and humor, and, overall, I really liked this book a lot and recommend it.

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

book 87

Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Looking at other reviews there seems to be no middle of the road with this one so I'll be different and take that middle road. I didn't hate this but I didn't love it either. I would love to see it live, however. With reading a play, of course, you don't get the emotional impact or description that some people love. You just have some sparse stage directions.

I also think enjoyment of this depends on who you're reading this for. If you're a Ron or a Ginny fan you're probably going to be disappointed. Their parts are small and disappointing in many ways (for me, Ron's job as an adult seems nearly insulting. Apparently he's stepping in for his fallen brother rather than any of the plans he talked to Harry about in days gone by). Harry, Hermoine and Draco have the largest parts in the adult range and I hate to say it, Harry is more of a prat than Draco in this. From the dust jacket you see they were going for PTSD but they fell short of convincing me of that.

The two children in question (because really either child could be the titular cursed child) are Albus Severus Potter (and all of Harry and Ginny's kids' names are a memorial, James, Lilly and Albus) and Scorpius Malfoy.

Honestly Scorpius is the one I liked in this. Albus is too whiny and self centered (Scorpius even calls him on it). Scorpius is as self-effacing and kind as his father was a self important spoiled jackass.

Without giving away too much plot, Harry and Albus aren't connecting because Albus isn't very good with magic, hates Hogswarts and hates the whole Harry Potter legacy. He feels like a spare as his older brother James is the perfect heir to the Potter name. 90% of Albus's issues are all in his own head which makes him less sympathetic to me. And the kind, reassuring Harry we saw a the end of the last book is absent here. Harry is busy being a stern father and says some cruel, stupid things to Albus.

He and his cousin, Rose (Ron and Hermoine's kid) seem to be of the same age and are on the train together and just like the beginning of the series finds the only empty car having one person, Scorpius Malfoy and Rose is a complete bitch to him and to Albus when he decides he wants to sit and talk to Scorpius who is really a sweet geeky kid who knows no one likes him because of the Malfoy Death Eater legacy.

Worse, there are rumors that Scorpius's ailing mother slept with Voldemort and he's her kid (via the use of a time turner to make this happen) and Scorpius is very aware of what people think of him and tries not to let it get to him (the exact opposite of woe is me Albus). Albus's worst fears are realized when he's sorted into Slytherin but it's not so bad because he has Scorpius.

They become fast friends and Albus promptly leads Scorpius into terrible trouble. Without spoiling it, let's just say time travel is involved (in fact the plot is rather hackneyed with the whole go back in time and recreate a terrible present for all involved). And I think the 'surprise' villain and how they relate to Voldemort will really irritate some people. It did me a little because it felt lazy (much of the plot feels lazy).

They did the best the could with that old time travel step on a butterfly chestnut and with one less than likeable character. The best part was when it was just Scorpius in the frame.

I'm glad I read it. I want to see it live but it definitely lacks the charm of the original series.

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It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift – back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, A Darker Shade of Magic. I loved the idea of different worlds who overlap in one place, London, and otherwise are vastly different in their cultures and magic. Kell, one of the rare people born with mastery of all forms and magic and the ability to traverse worlds, was a fantastic hero to follow. Delilah Bard, from Gray London (our world), appealed to me less, but her banter and chemistry with Kell was wonderful.

This second book was more of a struggle for me. Many of the elements I loved in the first book weren't really here. There was very little travel between worlds, as the action remained in Red London and was largely interpersonal drama. The greater issue for me, though, was that Delilah began to grate on me because of her extreme compulsive, reckless actions. She also actively avoided Kell, so they were scarcely together; I think his presence helped to mellow her a lot in the first book. The stakes are lower here--the big bad guy is working off screen and comes in near the end--and the book is long.

To make it clear, the writing is strong. The characters are vivid (aggravating though Delilah may be). It's a good book and I had no issue reading through it, though it made me impatient at times. It's easy to see why this book has been a bestseller and why it has--and will continue to have--such strong buzz.

Book 39

Title: The Black Stallion and Satan
Auhor: Walter Farley
Series: part five of "The Black Stallion" series, follows The Island Stallion
Pages: 185
Summary: Although Satan has won the Triple Crown, Alec Ramsay still misses the Black. The upcoming International is the perfect opportunity for the inevitable race between the Black and his colt, Satan, but unexpected events put the horses in the path of a raging forest fire. Suddenly, the horses aren't racing for a cup ... they are racing for their lives!

My thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )

The book of the much-hyped, and very well-received play that continues Harry Potter's story many years after the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Number of pages: 350

I'm guessing that most people know by now that Harry did not die at the end of the last book, so I don't need to worry about that being a spoiler. This play seems to continue immediately from the final scene of Deathly Hallows with Harry's children going on the Hogwarts Express, with young Albus Severus Potter going into his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry.

It is evident quite early on that Albus does not get on especially well with his father, as he constantly remarks that he did not choose to be the son of the world-famous Harry Potter. I won't give away any further plot details, except to say that the storyline owes a large debt to Back to the Future, and that it largely centres on the climactic events of the fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I love the way that the characters are portrayed, in a manner that feels completely faithful to the novels, and the play features some amazing (and also sinister) dream sequences and recreations of moments from Goblet of Fire and the debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Sorceror's Stone if you're from the US). There were a few bits where it became a bit too complex and I had to go back and read a few pages, but overall it was really good, with some great plot twists, as the story showed how badly things could go wrong if you changed the course of past events. Although the ending felt slightly anticlimatic, one particular character surprised me a lot, and went through a lot of development, in the final act.

I haven't seen the play acted on stage yet, and apparently there is a website that gives reasons not to read the book of the play first. I am looking forward to seeing it and can't wait to see how some moments are executed on stage (particularly scenes involving polyjuice potions).

Next book: Jungle Pilot (Russell T. Hitt with Stephen F. Saint)

Books 22-24

22. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. This one completes my challenge for reading a book about politics. WOW. What can I say that probably hasn’t been said already? It took me most of the summer to read this biography on one of our Founding Fathers, but it was worth it. I’ve heard the storytelling tone described as Dickensonian, especially in describing Hamilton’s early days in the British West Indies. This is apt.
Of course, I became interested in Chernow’s biography when I became hooked on the Broadway musical Hamilton. The musical takes a lot of its inspiration, even some song titles, from this biography, and it was neat for me to read passages and think “OK, I recognize this scene,” or “so that’s the inspiration behind those particular lyrics!”
But back to the novel (I can digress forever on the musical, which I will be seeing very soon!). I really want to check out more of Chernow’s biographies now. I don’t recall the last time I was actually sad when I had finished the last page of a book; probably the seventh book of Harry Potter. I certainly don’t recall that ever happening with a nonfiction book. I tend to be drawn to nonfiction, and love to learn about history, but I was actually a bit blue when I finished this one. It was such a captivating read, on such a fascinating man living through a singularly epic time: the founding of a new country. Chernow has a great gift for not only storytelling, but connecting the dots. Actions early in Hamilton’s life have a deep impact on his thought process and actions later in life, and Chernow points that out without bludgeoning the reader.
I also loved his last chapter, which was dedicated to Elizabeth (Eliza) Hamilton. What an amazing woman, whose own legacy to continue her husband’s work and her own charitable causes cannot be overstated.
Chernow’s treatment of our Founding Father’s is fairly balanced; Hamilton especially is seen, warts and all. I am thinking of reading something on Thomas Jefferson; after reading this book I have to wonder (and I’m not the only one) why Jefferson is lionized so much. Jefferson was a smart man, but at best could be horribly myopic when it came to the future. He also was a walking mass of contradictions. At any rate, I felt Chernow was thorough without delving too much into minutia.
I know many people will feel daunted by the length (it’s 731 “reading” pages, with a lot of index, notes, etc. in the back). It is long, and it is a dense book. You can’t just fly through it. But again, it’s worth the read. It’s a well-told story about a fascinating person in this nation’s history, a person who, until the past couple years, never really got the spotlight he deserved. I mean, this man created our banking system, Wall Street, the coast guard and was one of George Washington’s most trusted advisors. He wrote copious amounts of reports, letters and pamphlets, in an era of the quill and scroll.

23. Little Shop of Horrors, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. This will complete my challenge for reading a play script. Since I’m handling props for an upcoming show, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’ve seen this play before a couple of times, so this was a fairly quick read. I still prefer the movie ending, but it’s a weird, wacky play with a lot of fun songs and memorable characters. The most known character, of course, is Audrey II, a carnivorous plant not just content with Miracle-Gro. No, Audrey II’s tastes are more sanguinary. At any rate, I was reading it from a props perspective, and it makes me appreciate how much is needed for a musical such as this.

24. Murder in Spokane, by Mark Fuhrman. If you can get past who the author is (and the infamous case he was a big part of is mentioned briefly a couple of times), this is actually a good read. It is a bit dated, but it’s an interesting perspective that reads like a whodunit at times. When several bodies of prostitutes start turning up in the mid and late 90s, the local law enforcement in Spokane (and other areas) find themselves looking at a serial killer case. Much of the story concerns the investigation (and what Fuhrman lists as the many, many mistakes made in said investigation). If Fuhrman’s statements can be taken at face value (a cursory check didn’t reveal anything contradictory) then there were a lot of appalling mistakes made by law enforcement, and perhaps as many as nine lives were needlessly lost. Leaving crime scenes overnight. Not following up on tips. Lack of communication and cooperation with other enforcement agencies. In the end, Robert Lee Yates is known to have killed at least 13 female prostitutes, most of them also drug addicts, and probably killed more. It’s sad because you see this a good deal with serial killer cases. With a few exceptions, the victims tend to be marginalized, so no one really notices – or cares – when they turn up dead. Indeed, I guess Fuhrman’s wife was talking to a Spokane resident, who flat out said who cared about a few drug-addicted prostitutes, and perhaps the killer was doing the area a favor. Ouch. I have to wonder if this was a part of the reason for the lackadaisical attitude on the part of law enforcement and the community when it came to these crimes. The Yates case reminds me of the more recent Anthony Sowell case here.

Currently reading: Speaking of Murder, by Les Roberts, and Hamilton, the Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.
A cookbook of recipes inspired by the Outlander characters—a culinary retelling of Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling series.

Readers and cooks time-travel from Outlander through A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and along the way encounter authentic recipes, modern interpretations, and creative dishes that are both doable and delicious!

Claire’s first lonely bowl of “Mrs. Fitz’s Porridge” in Castle Leoch

“Roast Beast for a Wedding Feast” after her hasty marriage to Highlander James Fraser

A comforting batch of “Mrs. Bug’s Buttermilk Drop Biscuits” at their home on Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina.

I received this cookbook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

This is a cookbook that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. First of all, it's a cookbook with a diverse selection of recipes for food and drink, and many of them are period recipes written in a way to be accessible to the 21st century cook. For example, Drunken Mock-Turtle Soup uses oxtail along with a bottle of sherry. Baking soda and powder, 19th century inventions, are in bread recipes to allow for a good rise. Excerpts from the series accompany most of the recipes; an exception being Diana Gabaldon's personal recipe for Cheese Enchiladas. Most recipes feature a photograph, and the shots are quite well done.

I'm not a big Outlander fan; I have only read the first book. I don't mind spoilers in the slightest, though, and I quite enjoyed the excerpts with the recipes. They really showed Gabaldon's skill in scant paragraphs. I can imagine that hardcore fans will get a lot out of this book--it could well provoke a series re-read--and it would certainly be fun to host viewing parties for the TV show while dining on recipes from this book.

I have only had time to test one recipe so far, but it was wonderful. Ginger-Nut Biscuits, on page 274-275, ended up just as depicted in the picture: broad, cakey cookies with a lovely sugar-crackle top and a fresh ginger flavor within. This one is definitely worth making again! I made note of 10 recipes I want to try, including Crowdie cheese, millionaire shortbread, and two for scones.

The one complaint I have is the font used for the page numbers. The font is very curly. I kept confusing 1 and 4. This is a small issue, true, but an aggravation when you're trying to write down recipes by page number only to find out later that several are incorrect.
As the city that produces the most selium - that precious gas that elevates airships and powers strange magic - Hond Steading is a jewel worth stealing. To shore up the city's defenses, Detan promises his aunt that he'll recover Nouli, the infamous engineer who built the century gates that protect the imperial capital of Valathea. But Nouli is imprisoned on the Remnant Isles, an impervious island prison run by the empire, and it's Detan's fault.

Detan doesn't dare approach Nouli himself, so his companions volunteer to get themselves locked up to make contact with Nouli and convince him to help. Now Detan has to break them all out of prison, and he's going to need the help of a half-mad doppel to do it.

I received this from the publisher via NetGalley. The book will be released in October 2016.

Steal the Sky was one of my favorite books last year, a steampunk mash-up of lovable rogues and magic with a Firefly-like vibe. Therefore, I was really excited to get to read the sequel early. It lived up to my expectations. One caveat: do read Steal the Sky first! O'Keefe has created an incredibly complex world, and she jumps straight into the action in Break the Chains.

Detan and his posse dive into dangerous mischief. In order to protect his home, Detan needs an engineer who is locked up on an island prison. Therefore, the companions are split up: the honorable Ripka and Enard infiltrate the prison to find the engineer, while Detan seeks out the doppel Pelkaia and her stolen airship (which he stole first) to get her assistance to retrieve everyone else from jail. Of course, nothing goes according to plan. I found Ripka's plot particularly fascinating--it was a sort of steampunk Orange is the New Black, with rival prisoner factions, abundant corruption, and magic. The action is fast-paced throughout, building up to a conclusion that made me wail in despair because of a cliffhanger ending. Alas! I must now impatiently wait for the next book, but I have a hunch it will be well worth the wait.
More books to detail:

The first book I finished since I last posted was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two which I was gifted by friends for my birthday. As I'd heard, it was a quick read. The conflict made me uncomfortable, and for the most part, I've realized that I hate time travel stories, and this one is heavily dependent on time travel. OTOH, it really wasn't a bad read. If you enjoyed the Harry Potter series of books, you'll probably like this one.

Next was Osprey Fortress #82: Scottish Baronial Castles 1250 – 1450 which was mildly interesting.

Then, Osprey Fortress #92: Strongholds of the Picts: The Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland. I can't pinpoint why, but I found this book to be more interesting than the previous one, even though geographically they deal with similar areas. Maybe I'm more into the Roman period than Medieval? I'm not sure...

Next, Osprey Elite #26: Tank War – Central Front: NATO vs. Warsaw Pact. Were all the tankers in Germany elite? Hard to say. Considering that Osprey's Elite series is now into the 200s, it gives you a vague idea how out-of-date this book is. Many of the Warsaw Pact nations listed here are now in NATO, for example. In addition, the tanks they discuss are years out-of-date. Still, historically it gives a fairly clear picture of what NATO faced in the 80s. Pretty good read.

Then, Osprey Campaign #297: The Gempei War 1180 – 85: The Great Samuria Civil War which I found to be a solid discussion of what happened and why.

Next, The Book of Fires by Paul Doherty from his Brother Athelstan series; I think I might have read this one out of order. Anyway, London is all a-tizzy due to several murders using Greek Fire, a horrible way to die...

Then and last for this post, Osprey Fortress #35: British Fortifications in Zululand 1879. Among the discussions are Roarke's Drift, and their defenses that allowed them to fight off the Zulu attackers. Not bad.



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