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Book #33: Odd Man Out by F.L. Green



Number of pages: 256

An old book, and with a very unusual format, being split into two distinct parts.

In the first part, a gang (known as "The Organisation") carries out a botched robbery, during which the gang's leader, Johnny, kills an innocent victim. The gang ends up scattered; some arrested, some killed, and the narrative switches between viewpoints, with all the gang's members featuring heavily except Johnny.

Then, the second part is all about Johnny's fortunes, being taken in by various people, including - later on - a character called Lukey who is also an artist and wants to draw Johnny's portrait. We are told quite early on that Johnny is also dying.

While the narrative felt a bit too long-winded at times, I was interested by the way that, as well as showing multiple points of view, the book turned all of the gang's members, particularly Johnny, into loveable rogues, and the authority characters into dislikeable characters. Johnny's story seems to be ultimately about redemption and about seeking acceptance from society. Some of the characters who take him in contemptate turning him over to the authorities, but I found myself very quickly hoping they wouldn't. I was reminded just a bit of Jean Valjean's story in Les Miserables.

I found the narrative structure a bit unusual, especially since I got the impression that both individual parts roughly took place over the same time period, but overall was glad I read this. The ending was something that I would never have predicted; it was completely unexpected, but overall felt right for the characters.

Next book: Your Verdict on the Empty Tomb (Val Grieve)

Book 15 - 2016

Book 15: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne – 330 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later. Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne. Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on 30th July 2016. 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.

Thoughts:
I must be in the minority here, but I enjoyed this book. I’ve heard all the claims about it being like fanfiction, destroying everything the originals set out, blah, blah, blah, I even had a fight with my brother’s gay best friend over the anti-feminist approach to Hermione (which seemed a very odd conversation) but I can’t deny that I simply enjoyed it. Maybe its because I grew up reading fanfiction (and this is good fanfiction in my opinion – there was no insertion of oneself into the story, for one!), maybe its because I’m a fan, but not such a fan that I’m so invested that anything new will upset me in some way, maybe it’s the writer in me, who sees material as belonging to the author and not to the fans (however much they might feel otherwise), maybe its simply because I haven’t read Harry Potter in ages and it was really nice to hang out with the characters! Oh well, whatever! I enjoyed it. I didn’t always like Harry or his approach to parenting – but what example did he have? I really enjoyed hanging out with Hermione and Ron (not sure on the race bend there in the play – Hermione will always be Emma Watson for me, but whatever!), and loved that Hermione was Minister of Magic. Loved Ginny, loved Draco! I would read it again, and I’d see the play, and I won’t apologise for the pleasure this book gave me. To each their own.


15 / 50 books. 30% done!


3696 / 15000 pages. 25% done!

Currently reading:
-        My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages
-        Griffith Review 51: Fixing the System edited by Julianne Schultz and Anne Tiernan – 326 pages
-        High Five by Janet Evanovich – 336 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
-        An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – 228 pages

Books 13 & 14 - 2016

Book 13: Reengineering the University: How to be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious by William F. Massy – 280 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Higher education expert William F. Massy's decades as a professor, senior university officer, and consultant have left him with a passionate belief in the need for reform in America's traditional universities. In Reengineering the University, he addresses widespread concerns that higher education's costs are too high, learning falls short of objectives, disruptive technology and education models are mounting serious challenges to traditional institutions, and administrators and faculty are too often unwilling or unable to change. An expert microeconomist, Massy approaches the challenge of reform in a genuinely new way by applying rigorous economic principles, informed by financial data and other evidence, to explain the forces at work on universities and the flaws in the academic business model. Ultimately, he argues that computer models that draw on data from college transaction systems can help both administrators and faculty address problems of educational performance and cost analysis, manage the complexity of planning and budgeting systems, and monitor the progress of reform in nonintrusive and constructive ways. Written for institutional leaders, faculty, board members, and policymakers who bear responsibility for initiating and carrying through on reform in traditional colleges and universities, Reengineering the University shows how, working together, administrators and faculty can improve education, research, and affordability by keeping a close eye on both academic values and the bottom line.

Thoughts:
I work in a university and a copy of this book was given to our CFO by the head of a company that specializes in course and program costing for the higher education sector (which is my job at my university!). He gave me the book to read, and it took ages (its very dry!) but it was a worthwhile read for someone in my position. I learnt a lot about what is happening in the sector and what needs to be improved on and extracted from the sector to make it better. This book highlights that the hardest sell is generally going to be the academic side of the organization, which I’d already worked out, but it also highlights how to tweak such changes to really drive the benefits for the academics, and to ensure that changes made are not merely aimed at reducing cost (something that universities, to my mind, are not about!). I have tried to take many of the lessons I learnt from this book and introduce them into my work, and share them with my colleagues, to varying levels of success. If you weren’t in the sector, this book would likely be boring – it’s far too detailed for anyone but someone in the sector trying to improve the sector – but for those of us who are affected by the quickly evolving higher education landscape (both domestically and internationally), I personally think this is a very valuable read!


13 / 50 books. 26% done!


3009 / 15000 pages. 20% done!

Book 14: Theories of International Relations: Fifth Edition edited by Scott Burchill and Andrew Linklater – 357 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
The fully updated and revised fifth edition of this widely-used text provides a comprehensive survey of leading perspectives in the field. Updated throughout to take account of major events and developments, such as the Arab Spring, it also includes new material on neo-realism and neo-liberalism, postcolonialism and cosmopolitanism.

Thoughts:
This book was the prescribed text for a course I did last year for my International Relations Masters. It’s very readable for a text book, so needless to say, I read it, and quite enjoyed it. It gives a good summary of a variety of theories – I found the strong focus on the international relations aspect very helpful, so as not to confuse in my head these theories in their sociological context (where relevant!). I have come back to this book a variety of times while writing subsequent assignments (I was particularly glad I had read this book, and studied the related subject, when I started my International Relations courses for the recently completed semester, which expected me to have a solid grasp of the concepts set out in this book). I am also pleased that my decision to read the complete book, rather than just the prescribed chapters, paid off, as I topped the class! A very valuable read!


14 / 50 books. 28% done!


3366 / 15000 pages. 22% done!

Currently reading:
-        My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages
-        Griffith Review 51: Fixing the System edited by Julianne Schultz and Anne Tiernan – 326 pages
-        Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne – 330 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
-        High Five by Janet Evanovich – 336 pages

Book 30: Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

Wow. Just finished this one this evening. Where do I even begin? Ok, I start with this: Shusterman's novel is amazing. I admit I was a little skeptical of the premise at first, but my reservations were quickly addressed. The premise seems simple on the surface. Humanity has conquered death. There's no more disease. No more pain. Nanotech has taken care of all that ugliness and mess. Still, there's one little problem: population control. To keep humans from overwhelming the planet's resources, select individuals called Scythes, are trained and tasked with randomly keeping the population in check. Scythes are seen almost as gods, with their ability to not just take life, but to grant temporary immunity from being gleaned. It looks good on the surface, at least at first. However, as two apprentice Scythes find out, immortality and the high ideals set by the first Scythes have not eliminated petty politics and power grabs in the current day. Much of the story concentrates on the teen apprentices, Citra and Rowan, who were chosen by a senior Scythe as potential candidates. Neither teen wants to be a Scythe but find themselves drawn into this strange, elite society. There are a lot of twists and turns; just when I think I know where the story is going, I'm surprised. I'd save this for high school and older because the story's premise is rather disturbing, and there's a segment towards the end that is just blood-curdling. But Shusterman has created an intriguing world with fantastic characters. I'm glad this is going to be a series and can hardly wait for the next book. Also, kudos for the cover design. The simple colors and the optical illusion is just perfect for this story.

Currently reading: Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism, by John Norris, and The Revenge of Analog, by David Sax.
Tags: 50bookchallenge, fantasy, fiction, young adult

Books 60-62

Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 14 (Noragami: Stray God, #14)Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 14 by Adachitoka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


According to Goodreads the volume name is Aftermath which is perfect. That’s exactly what this is, the aftermath of the things Yato’s ‘father’ did last volume. Hiyori’s family is all but destroyed and we get to meet her older brother and her grandmother as the family tries to recover. Yato, much to Hiyori (and Yukine)’s heart ache has distanced himself from Hiyori trying to save her from Father’s wrath. Yato has been taking jobs for a young man that will have unexpected consequences.

Bishamonten and Kazuma are also having a terrible time thanks to Father. The Stray has warned Yukine to be wary of Kazume (which sets up seeds of doubt in him). Kazuma and Bishamonten begin to fall apart as Father’s spells cause the chaos he intended by showing the god’s secret (the day of the shiki’s death which they can not handle seeing) to Bishamonten’s shiki and Kazuma is going to find Father no matter what, no matter who he has to go through.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this manga is heart wrenching. I could see it having an unhappy ending and that feeling perfectly right (even though I hope not) and it’s beautifully drawn. The writing/drawing duo that make up the creative team know what they’re doing. This is excellent.



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デビルズライン 3 [Devil's Line 3] (Devils' Line, #3)デビルズライン 3 [Devil's Line 3] by Ryo Hanada

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Anzai can’t bring himself to believe Hans Lee that human blood can heal a ‘devil’ in spite of the evidence of his own body. Still, Hans is a convincing young man and he and Anzai settle into an uneasy alliance. Anzai seems better equipped to understand what a powder keg that tidbit is.

The rest of it (and it seemed short as far as a volume is concerned) deals with the Machiavellian power plays of the organization that seems to be fomenting a war between the devils and the humans, including the assassination of some of the devils. The transgendered one who might be a witness at a place Anzai knows is targeted.

It’s still interesting but the story seems to be inching along. There was a side story at the end to help fluff up the page count because like I said, this is a bit on the short side. I’m enjoying it but the story’s pacing needs a bit of work.



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School-Live!, Vol. 1 (Gakkou Gurashi!, #1)School-Live!, Vol. 1 by Norimitsu Kaihou

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I got this one from Loot Crate Anime and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have bought it for myself as I am not a zombie fan (literally my least favorite urban fantasy sub group). It’s more like a 2.5 read. It has some interesting ideas but the world building is seriously lacking (keeping in mind I’ve also not seen the anime which was apparently huge last year).

It took me a little while to figure out what was going on (in spite of the back cover blurb). We have the School Living Club which until the first chapter we don’t realize isn’t just a school club because we’re seeing things through the eyes of Yuki (which the back cover calls ‘ever optimistic which isn’t really the case). She and two other girls (the shovel loving Kurumi and the big sister type Yuuri, according toe the blurb), along with the club leader, Megumi Sakura are in the club. Yuki isn’t just optimistic and a poor student (and not tremendously bright) she seems to be in complete denial, seeing the ruined classrooms (which we don’t see as ruined until the last panels of the first chapter) and zombies as if they were whole and the zombies as students still going to school. We don’t know why she’s delusional (though it’s hinted something’s happened to her causing a psychotic break apparently).

It took me longer (in spite of Sakura being in a dress and not a school uniform) to figure out Sakura was a teacher because she’s drawn looking the same age as the girls. I’m not sure if it’s a thing in Japan that schools have ‘stores’ in them or is that part of the barely there world building but it seemed weird to me that they could go ‘shopping’ and that there are zombies in the school itself because we’re not shown how the girls have fortified their roof top gardens or the classroom they’re living in. I can see the zombies outside the school but inside? Why aren’t they just outside the bedroom door then?

The girls don’t go anywhere by themselves at least. Yuuri and Kurumi don’t have much personality other than they’re very protective of Yuki. That and Kurumi loves killing zombies with a shovel as the shovel killed the most men in the trenches of WWI (according to her). I don’t know what their goal is (other than survival). I don’t know they ended up in this position or if there are other survivors. I’m sure as we go we’ll learn more but it seems like it’s in a vacuum. I’m not sure I’d get more of this unless a library has it.



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Number of pages: 231

Dr. K.P. Yohannan is the founder and international director of Gospel for Asia.

This book is partly an autobiography where he tells of how he started off preaching in America, before realising that he should be preaching the Gospel in Asia.

But a lot of the book is also about why it is important to preach the Gospel and share it with disadvantaged communities, and some of it was quite powerful.

But I had mixed feelings because a lot of the book was about finance and the difficulty of getting funds for mission work. I'd have liked to have heard more about his first-hand experiences.

Next book: Odd Man Out (F.L. Green)

Book 59

(Un)Masked(Un)Masked by Anyta Sunday

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is another one that’s hard to rate and hard to review without ruining everything. It was more like a 3.5 but I rounded up because of the curse. The story revolves around three young men at the edge of disaster and homelessness really. Gristle (Graham Thistle) and Jay are best friends, close as brothers, both involved in theater and living in a crappy apartment Jay calls the ‘hovel,’ sharing a bed but aren’t lovers. They’re trying to get a play on Tory Street’s theater (something Jay hasn’t the heart to tell Gristle he failed to manage) and we don’t really know much about their ‘day jobs’ other than Jay wants Gristle to stop his (so you can pretty much guess what it is).

Jay finds a young busker playing an accordian in a haunting (obviously non-polka) way on the streets of Wellington, New Zealand. The young man, Lethe, who hides his face with hoodies and actual masks for reasons Jay can’t fathom and yet he’s entranced by this busker. Slowly he and Lethe get to know each other though strange things happen around him.

As they begin to fall for one another, Lethe admits he’s been cursed, his whole family in fact by a supernatural creature, Thoth (though I was disappointed that in spite of the name he had nothing to do with Egypt) who is rather irritated that Lethe will be the last of his line, being gay. I don’t want to spoil anything here but I did like the curse. It was creative and done in a very interesting way which for me helped to offset a few places that were a bit draggy.

Then something big and bad happens (which is all the further I’m going with that so not to spoil it). It changes everything and puts them into a desperate and despairing position, leaving Jay frantic to lift Lethe’s curse at any cost.

I did like them and their dynamics. While occasionally I felt like the story was going over the same ground a second time, overall I enjoyed it very much. It is quite bittersweet though and not entirely happy for all (though it does have a HEA). My one real complaint is that the villain, Thoth, is pretty one dimensional, though that is partly because of the pov this is told in. Still, it was an interesting story and my first from Anyta Sunday (I’ve read others from Andrew) and I liked it enough to go looking for more.



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Number of pages: 384

The seventh Thursday Next book makes reference to the fact that on a few occasions throughout the storyline, Thursday is suddenly replaced by a replicant version of herself who has all Thursday's memories and believes herself to be the original, only to eventually be killed. This is an under-used plot device, despite the title, but nevertheless I agree with the ratings on Goodreads that say that this is better than the previous two books in the series.

The book opens with Thursday having to retire from her job and become a librarian. This does mean that book jumping, so common in previous titles, is hardly mentioned here. There are a number of plot threads running throughout the story.

First off, the villainous Aornis Hades is still trying to get revenge on Thursday for her actions in previous books, and it is mostly through creating a fake daughter for her (actually a mindworm), something that was mentioned in previous books.

Secondly, Thursday learns that Swindon is soon to become the target of the latest in a series of divine smitings, based inevitably on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. I'm not entirely sure what Jasper Fforde's position on Theology is; I suspect its similar to the stances taken by Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams.

Then, a third plot thread pays homage to Minority Report, as Thursday's son Friday is given a "destiny letter", stating that at the end of the week, he will kill another student in his class, although he has no idea why.

The main plot threads of the book, plus references to "Dark Reading Matter", which will presumably be more relevant in the eighth book, named "Dark Reading Matter", make this title darker than the ones that came before it, but this book still has plenty of comedy elements and surreal moments, just like what made me start enjoying the series in the first place. My favourite chapter was early on and involved Thursday trying to convince her psychiatrist that she was crazy. There were some great throwaway jokes involving smitings, such as the ethics of using people who had been turned into pillars of salt to grit the roads, and the notion that the Tunguska blast of 1908 was a "practice smiting".

Overall, I was glad that I stuck through the series through a few titles that got a bit too clever for their own good, and hope to read the next book soon, assuming that it has now been published.

Next book: Revolution in World Missions (K.P. Yohannan)

Books 27-29

27. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. What a treat of a novel! I finished it in about a week, drinking in the story as greedily as the young protagonist drank in the moon as a baby. I knew I'd enjoy it when I recalled that Barnhill had also written The Witch's Boy, which I also liked. This novel is even better. The world created in this novel is so well fleshed-out and so magical, and the characters are wonderfully done. Even the two villains have their sympathetic moments (and considering the horrendous actions that the two villains are culpable of, that's quite a feat). In the story, Xan, an elderly witch, has taken to rescuing babies abandoned near a village where she lives. One year, however, she accidentally feeds one child moonlight, which enmagicks the infant girl. Xan decides to raise the young child herself, with the help of an ancient swamp monster and a tiny dragon. The girl's powers become enormous, and, in an effort to protect the little girl, Luna, the witch casts a spell- which winds up having unintended consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from that village starts questioning the policy of sacrificing an infant to the witch in the wood, and eventually declares that he will kill the witch. The converging paths lead to a multitude of discoveries for many characters. I loved the character of Xan, especially. She's powerful but has her own weaknesses- but those weaknesses stem from her love of her friends and especially for Luna, and from her good, kind heart. It's hard to miss the lesson about blindly following orders and the consequences of not questioning - and reaching out. However, the reader isn't beat over the head with this. All in all, a great read for preteens and up.

28. Inch By Inch, the Garden Song, by David Mallett, pictures by Ora Eitan. My mom found this book for me. I have always been fond of this song since I learned it in grade school, and this picture book, with it's simple and colorful illustrations, is quite charming. The illustrations fit in with the lyrics of this song, popularized by John Denver. The illustrations feel lighthearted and whimsical, almost abstract in their simplicity. For those who do not know this song, the music score is included in the back page. I can see a parent singing this song as he or she turned the pages.

29. Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan. Wow, what a powerful book. The author used old sales records and plantation documents to create this story. One in particular, from an estate sale in 1828, serves as the backbone of this story- actually, a series of connected stories. From a few words, Bryan creates a picture of what these long-ago slaves might have thought, dreamed of and hoped for. Each person gets two pages- the first, which outlines the facts about their lives, includes a simple portrait placed over clippings of news articles, slave sales and other cold, unfeeling print. The next page, which goes over the person's dreams and aspirations, jump with color and texture. This picture book is beautifully done; I think a younger child can appreciate the stories, and an older child the sadness. Yes, the book made me feel rather sad. What Bryan offers about these 11 people who worked as slaves is mostly conjecture. All we really know are their names, ages and how much they were deemed to be worth by an appraiser. They were listed in the same columns as the cattle, the horse and other property. We will never truly know who these people really are, because back then they were regarded as property. Still, Bryan's work is a nice, touching tribute, giving humanity to those who had no voice in their futures.

Currently reading: Mary McGrory, the First Queen of Journalism, by John Norris, and Scythe, by Neal Shusterman.

Book 58

The Krytos Trap (Star Wars: X-Wing, #3)The Krytos Trap by Michael A. Stackpole

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I know I’ve had this book for twenty years without reading it (because I remember it being on the shelf of a townhouse I had that long ago). If I read the other two in the series it was back then and this got put in a box when I moved and put in a basement for decades. Honestly it could have stayed there. This didn’t even get remotely interesting until nearly 200 pages in.

This book is a hot mess, with dozens of characters, only a few of which a Star Wars fan will recognize and with three different story-lines at the least. Some of it probably started with the book before this one and the titular plot introduces an idea that isn’t present in the source material, humans being top and non-humans being second class citizens (seemingly based on the idea that stormtroopers are at least humanoid). The Krytos virus was engineered to kill non-humans (with a glaring misunderstanding on how genetic engineered viruses would work as if all non-humans have the same gene humans don’t) and it’s tearing the rebellion apart because they aren’t doing enough to stop the virus and that the bacta (that medical goo they had Luke in in the second movie) is being smuggled contaminated or some such. It was so seriously boring that I didn’t pay much attention.

In the background we have a trial for treason against Wedge Antilles’s friend and member of Wedge’s rogue squadron (Wedge and the squadron are the focus of this series), Tycho Celchu who’s accused of betraying the rebellion, being a dupe of Iceheart (after she tortured him trying to make him her puppet) and for killing Corran Horn who saw him colluding with an Imperial spy. Unfortunately this is a paint by numbers court scene that we’ve been seeing on TV for decades where the prosecutor trips up our heroes to make the obviously innocent defendant look even more guilty right down to us knowing that the very judgmental (and tiny) Corran Horn is alive in Iceheart’s prison suffering her tortures as she tries with him what he thinks she succeeded with Tycho.

It finally picks up a bit as we near the 200 page mark. By then all the politics are forgotten and the titular plot has fallen by the wayside and the focus is on Wedge and Corran. It got much more readable then but there isn’t a single twist. Everything happens as expected (except maybe the revelation of a spy that we weren’t even really looking for). Then suddenly Stackpole seems to remember the whole virus plot and wraps it up in an unbelievable paragraph that complete mitigates any tension that might have had as a plot. I doubt there are many people out there looking for this series after all this time but if you are, there are better things to read.



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This week's reading remains a bit less than previous, but it was enjoyable for the most part.

First was a graphic novel/non-fiction piece called Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D. It deals with the invention of, and the subsequent battles over the game Dungeons & Dragons in a comic book style. Not bad at all.

The next book I finished reading was Earth, Air, Fire and Custard, a comic fantasy novel by the British author Tom Holt. This carries forward from the previous couple of novels about the magical corporation in Britain in a rather strange and somewhat offputting fashion. For me the book was a bit of a hard slog compared to other novels this gentleman has written. I'll be picking up and starting another of his novels moderately soon, but if it's this hard to get into, I may dump it quickly.

Finally, Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey was recommended to me years ago; the tale of a wizard who'd been transported to Hell alive and managed to return for his vengeance. Fast and fun read. There's several more books in this saga and I'll be looking to read the second one soon.

Have a good week!

Book 57

Agony of the Leaves (A Tea Shop Mystery, #13)Agony of the Leaves by Laura Childs

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This is a series I want to love (and obviously many do as this is the 13th in a series) but I just can’t warm to Theodosia. She’s rather abrasive and the story had things that were unbelievable (not even including the idea that Hayley can cook for dozens by herself in one tiny kitchen or can’t even plan the quiche to come out in time for lunch orders) and has one of my unforgivable sins. I love tea and tea shops. I don’t love Theodosia but this fit a couple of my reading challenges. Really wish I could give out half stars because this is about 2.5 stars for me.

This time at a charity event for the aquarium Theo finds her ex, Parker, dead in one of the tanks. She insists it’s murder and a reluctant Detective Tidwell doesn’t believe her until the medical examiner agrees with her (though he is nowhere near as incompetent nor as anti-Theo as Theo seems to think. In fact he shares way more with her than he should but she remains ever ungrateful for it.)

Theo learns that Parker had originally left her his restaurant but changed his will to leave it to his new girlfriend (cutting out his brother, a thread that was totally dropped) and that he was trying to expand into Savannah and into the Aquarium but was shut out via sleazy dealings. So what does she do? She somehow looks up Mr Manship (the man Parker was supposed to be dealing with in Savannah and who she’s been warned has a dubious reputation) and finds a home address and has the audacity to drive there unannounced. She’s redirected to his restaurant and for some reason this man, who doesn’t know her from Adam tells her all about it. If someone did that to me, I’d tell them to get off my property. It just seemed unbelievable and lazy.

Naturally as she investigates someone tries to scare her off and she doesn’t report it, not that someone repeatedly rammed her car and then contrived another attack on her and her aunt. She was run off the road into a swampy bit of land for one. Her car has to be damaged. My insurance wanted a police report when a coworker backed into me. And yet she doesn’t report this to anyone. To me that’s an unforgivable sin. No normal person is going to blow off two attacks (one that left someone hospitalized) and not tell the semi-friendly detective.

The ending was just ridiculous. Tidwell’s like ‘ this person wasn’t even on our radar.’ Yeah thanks for the villain being someone we barely saw. I figured out why this was happening but the over the top melodramatic ending was terrible (and so convenient that once again the villain doesn’t take two seconds to make sure the person they’re shooting at is dead.)

I’m going to have to give up on this series. The few I’ve read have proven this is not for me.



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Number of pages: 318

I decided to re-read this book after many years. Its a satirical novel based on society in the early 20th century, revolving around the fortunes of Lily Bart, who accumulates a lot of gambling debts and looks to solve her problems by marrying a bachelor, with her main love interest being a character called Lawrence Selden.

However, things go wrong for her when she is accused of having an affair with a married man, and she starts to fall down the social ladder.

I found this to be quite a hard book when I first read it, and the re-read was no different. The narrative style made me think of "The Great Gatsby", another difficult book that I read recently. The book feels quite long-winded and overly descriptive at times, although when I got into it, I found myself caring a lot for Lily and what happened to her, and her relationship with Selden, and whether they could possibly have a future together.

Overall, I was glad to have read it again, but it's a book that I felt I had to read very carefully to make sure I digested everything that was happening. In case you're thinking of trying this as a blind read, it's not an especially cheerful book; be prepared for a very sad ending.

Next book: The Woman Who Died a Lot (Jasper Fforde)

Book 55

Live to See Tomorrow (Catherine Ling, #3)Live to See Tomorrow by Iris Johansen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I picked this up as an audiobook for a trip and I didn’t know it wasn’t a stand alone. I figured that out quickly but you didn’t really need to read the rest of them to understand this. It was hard to rate. Based on the first part of the novel I would have rated it around a 4 star read, the middle a three and the end a one. Also this one has telepathy/psychic abilities as a major part of it so if you don’t like that (I love it personally) then you will be bitterly disappointed.

It opens with Catherine Ling, CIA agent, finishing one assignment before meeting up with her mentor, Hu Chang in Hong Kong, along with her son, Luke, who had been kidnapped at age 2 and raised by a violent criminal as a child soldier, until she recently rescued him. Mother and son are still getting to know him. She wants him to have a happy teenage-hood but Luke is seriously damaged goods. Before she gets to have time to spend, she’s made aware of another case in Tibet to rescue Erin Sullivan, a reporter/humanitarian who’s been kidnapped by Kadmus, the head of a criminal organization who wants her as a tool to reach Cameron, who he believes can lead him to Shambala and to ultimate power. She reluctantly leaves Luke with Hu Chang and goes to rescue Erin.

In Tibet, Catherine is an able agent, a very tough heroine and I really liked her. She’s competent, she gets to Erin quickly but to her surprise she’s also beginning to ‘dream’ of meeting a man, Richard Cameron but it’s not a dream. He’s a powerful telepathy and the ‘guardian’ of the Tibetan mountains. He helps guide them through Kadmus’s traps and out of the mountains. I truly enjoyed this part.

To Catherine’s horror, once she tries to get Erin out of the mountains, she meets up with Hu Chang who has brought Luke with him. He’s like eleven or twelve and they let this damaged kid call all the shots even when he does some really bad things (She’s too afraid to discipline him because he’s had such a bad childhood and doesn’t want to ‘lose him,’) Worse, her criticisms of Cameron hiding out and letting Erin be tortured hit home and Cameron is there to help. Catherine’s handlers want her to take a new assignment, leaving Erin alone but Catherine knows that Kadmus is going to come after Erin and her (she’s right)

My enjoyment started to slide here. Cameron and Luke (and to a lesser degree, Hu Chang) are SO overprotective of Catherine like she’s a damsel in distress that it’s ridiculous. You can’t have a bad ass heroine in the first third of the book and then take it away to a degree in the rest of the book and that’s what we have here until the end. Coupling with that disappointment is Cameron and Catherine’s ‘romance.’ She is attracted to him but doesn’t want a relationship. He claims he’s never wanted a woman so much. Okay fine. But he uses his mental abilities to project scenarios into her mind, manipulates her, says stuff like she’s going to be his one way or another. I liked him until then. It lent such a dubious consent to the whole thing (and the sex scenes went on forever, so boring). It’s the 21st century. Shouldn’t we women be able to demand better than alphahole love interests who tell women they’re going to submit to him one way or another? (I’ve DNFed other books from this author for similar ‘romantic’ subplots).

Honestly I might even have stopped at that point if not on the trip so I listened on. They all go to San Francisco to help hide Erin (with a high end courtesan that apparently both Cameron and Hu Chang know). And the end of this was just so damned stupid. Kadmus constantly calls her and tells her what he’s going to do and then does it. He could have completely destroyed Catherine, Luke and Erin if he kept his mouth shut. This man has been in charge of a criminal organization since the Viet Nam war and he’s this dumb? And again none of the men trust Catherine to do her job so it really ended on a sour note for me. I’m not sure I’d seek out more.

And the cover bugged me (not necessarily the author’s fault). The woman on the cover doesn’t even look particularly Asian (I suppose Catherine could be biracial but the cover art doesn’t even look biracial).



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Books 25 and 26

25. Some Assembly Required, by Arin Andrews. This fulfills the challenge for reading a YA or middle grade book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+. This is a moving autobiography by a young man who describes growing up feeling alienated by his own body, even from an early age, and his journey into transitioning from female to male. I would recommend this for high school age, either for those who may be experiencing the same conflicts, or those whose friends or family is transgender. I know it answered many of my questions; I only know a handful of people who are transgender (at least that I know of), and only two of them tolerably well. This is not something I, as someone who is comfortable being female, can relate to, but I'm glad I picked up this book because I think I can understand my friends' struggles at least a little better. There's laughter, there's sadness, there's many coming-of-age situations that anyone - transgender or cisgender (until this book I had no idea what that meant) - can relate to. I'm sure this is a book that will be challenged a good deal in libraries, particularly school libraries, for the main topic and for the frank talk about the surgeries and other sex-related issues. This is an important book, however, so I hope the challenges are met with a firm resistance.

26. Infamous Scribblers, by Eric Burns. I've long held that with the Internet giving everyone the equivalent of a cheap printing press, we have not seen a decay in news coverage and journalism. Rather, the internet hit the reset button, and everything old is new again. This book solidifies this view. Despair of the talking heads, pundits, half-truths and outright likes now? We have nothing on our Founding Fathers. Not saying we don't need to improve but the amount of vitriol that blazed from the first Colonial-era newspapers made my jaw drop at times. There was no such thing as fair, balanced reporting- indeed, the first newspaper editors wore their opinions and leanings like a badge of honor. Several, including Samuel Adams and James Callender, were not above making up their own truths for what they saw as the greater good. After the Revolutionary War, most (if not all) papers were either firm Federalist supporters or staunch Republican. This is a longer book but the pages flew by. It is both educational and entertaining. You will never see the Founding Fathers the same way. Burns portrays them here, their many warts and all. History buffs should definitely find a copy.

Currently reading: Still slowly working my way through The Hamilton Papers. Also have several books waiting for me at the library.
I was too busy last weekend to find time to post, and the weekdays just slip away, so let's try to catch up today...

A while back, a friend posted a recommendation for a graphic novel which I managed to scare up, called Orc Stain set in a world overrun by orcs. I found it fairly amusing and a quick read.

After that, I finished reading Osprey Fortress #27: French Fortresses in North America 1535 – 1763: Quebec, Montreal, Louisbourg and New Orleans. Now, my education as a child in Wisconsin mostly taught me that the colonization of North America by Europeans was done by the work of the English, with a bit of Spanish influence as well. Somehow they never really discussed the French all that much. This book reminds me of how extensive the French presence really was. Pretty good.

Next, I read Osprey Men-At-Arms #65: The Royal Navy 1790 – 1970 which honestly is too big a bite to reasonably chew in this small format. Not the best Osprey that I've ever read.

Then I started to catch up on the Lewrie series of books by finishing A Hard, Cruel Shore, another Napoleonic sea story. Not as exciting as some of the earlier books, but the protagonist is working his way up the Navy List and is no longer in frigates. Apparently the new book of the series was released Tuesday, so I'm only a little behind. I will continue to read these, though I'm not sure where the author is going with it (which might be a good thing...).

Finally I finished reading Osprey New Vanguard #34: Sturmartillerie & Panzerjager 1939 – 45. If you don't read German, basically the book deals with German assault guns (essentially tanks that gave direct support to the infantry) and tank destroyers (tanks that are defensive in nature, heavily armed but not particularly agile). In truth I found the book really clarified this whole topic for me, so this is a good one!

Have a good week of reading!

Book 55

Crime and Poetry (Magical Bookshop, #1)Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is one I picked up and had signed by the author at the Ohioana book festival. I was a bit iffy at first as Violet (the protagonist) is summoned back to Cascade Springs by her grandmother Daisy under a pretty heinous lie and she is far more forgiving than I would have been. Violet had left her hometown right after high school and hasn’t returned in twelve years because of something bad that happened then (which brought her to the police’s attention). Frankly I wouldn’t have been around long enough to see my grandmother be accused of murder if she had pulled that crap on me, especially since Violet is struggling to finish her dissertation for her ph.d. in literature (so really Daisy couldn’t have waited until then?)

After that rough beginning I did end up liking both Violet and Daisy, they are well rounded complex characters, though it would be better if Violet could stop squeaking (if I had the ebook I would have done a word search for them there were so many times). What I liked best is this cozy missed doing two things I absolutely hate in cozies: 1. the cop who is either hateful/ incompetent and wants the protagonist to stop. 2.The amateur detective keeps things from friends and authorities that no normal person would. Violet keeps Chief David Rainwater in the loop.

Cascade Springs sounds like a nice place, a short distance from Niagara Falls in New York and it has natural springs which is part of a subplot. Rainwater’s people (the Seneca) believe the springs a sacred. The village wants free access to the water. Grant, one of Violet’s former friends (she dated his brother, Nathan) runs a water company that wants to bottle and sell it. Daisy also believes in the magical properties of the springs which for generations that has been used to water the tree that grows inside the book shop, Charming Books. The book store isn’t just charming in how cute and quaint it is. The books choose the readers and have a habit of opening to passages (in this case Dickinson poetry) to help guide people. Daisy wants her to take over as caretaker of the store which Violet doesn’t want to do because a) she wants to finish her degree (and who can blame her) b) she doesn’t believe in magic c) she has such bad memories of this town between her mother’s early cancer death and the terrible thing that happened her senior year.

She probably would have taken off if Benedict Raisin, Daisy’s boyfriend and carriage driver hadn’t been murdered with Daisy’s scarf and his carriage parked outside her shop. Officer Wheaton, one of Rainwater’s subordinates and bully tries to arrest Daisy for it (more than once) but he’s the only one, outside of Benedict’s good for nothing daughter who was cut out of his will, who thinks Daisy could be a killer.

Violet can’t stand the thought of leaving Daisy to face this alone so she stays to her own detriment (as far as her thesis adviser is concerned). In spite of liking David Rainwater (and being attracted to him) her earlier run ins with the police as a teen leaves her distrustful of them which leads her to help solve the case. She has to contend with both Grant and especially Nathan (now mayor ) sniffing around in spite of Grant being engaged to a girl-child type, Sadie, who owns a vintage clothing story. Nathan and Grant same off a bit creepy and it’s not really a love triangle between her Nathan and David (thankfully) and given her lukewarm reception to Nathan it probably won’t be in future volumes (fingers crossed). In fact there’s just a touch of romance. It is very much not the focus of this and I’m grateful for that.

I really enjoyed this cozy, one of the best I’ve read all year. Looking forward to more.



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Book 54

The Eterna Files (Eterna Files, #1)The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I had the pleasure of meeting the author at both the Ohioana book festival and the Steampunk Spectacle in Cincinnati and had it autographed which in no way influenced my review. It’s a good gas light story set in the Victorian era, split between America and England with a lot of the inherent rivarlry playing a role.

Clara Templeton, as a young girl made an off hand comment to Mrs. Lincoln after the assassination of her husband about people living forever and from that the US government has tried to find a way using science and magic to achieve this: the eterna project. Queen Victoria, thinking this would be the best thing for ruling families keeping their power, has started her own covert group, headed up by the skeptic, Harold Spire who’d rather be hunting killers than dealing with psychics, ex-spies and other paranormal nonsense (that he doesn’t believe in). The only one he seems to handle easily, if reluctantly, is Rose.

Clara is still part of the Eterna project. Her ability is she can see ghosts, even though being around too much paranormal energy causes her seizures. Something has gone very wrong. The Eterna project literally blew up in her team’s faces, killing them all including her lover. She wants to end the project fearing what it’s become and how badly it could be misused.

Much of the novel is a back and forth between the two teams with a lot of darkness moving in the background as someone is manipulating them both. Not everything is resolved by the end (this is a series) but a lot of threads are followed. I really liked the characters, especially Clara and Rose. It’s good to see strong, intelligent women. Harold is also quite good. I’m looking forward to seeing more.



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May 2017 reading

May 2017 reading:

21. Kicking It, edited by Faith Hunter and Kalayna Price (349 pages)
With urban fantasy short stories centered around footwear, this anthology features some writers I've read, and some new ones to look into. Quite enjoyable.

22. Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton (267 pages)
This is a memoir focusing on Wil Wheaton's journey away and back to loving Star Trek. I loved how he was honest about his anxieties, and I could absolutely relate. I also enjoyed his exploration of his growth. I started this figuring I'd read a couple chapters before bed. At 4am I finished it. Awesome read.

23. A Dog's Journey, by W. Bruce Cameron (336 pages)
I picked this up from the library without realizing it was a sequel, and I already know I want to go back and read the first. Buddy meets Clarity and saves her life twice, bonding with her before she is taken away, before he gets cancer and dies... and when she comes back as Molly and finds Clarity again, she knows her purpose. This had me sobbing in places. Such a good book.

May pages: 952

Pages to date: 7,088

Progress: 23/52


May 2017 comics/manga reading:

29. The Invisibles: Volume 1, by Grant Morrison (224 pages)
30. Benkei in New York, by Jinpachi Mori and Jiro Taniguchi (224 pages)
31. DMZ: Volume 1, by Brian Wood (126 pages)
32. What Did You Eat Yesterday?: Volume 9, by Fumi Yoshinaga (180 pages)
33. Saturn Apartments: Volume 2, by Hisae Iwaoka (192 pages)
34. Y: The Last Man: Volume 3, by Brian K. Vaughan (168 pages)
35. Ghostbusters: Volume 3, by Erik Burnham (124 pages)
36. Oddly Normal: Book 1, by Otis Frampton (128 pages)
37. The Massive: Volume 2, by Brian Wood (152 pages)
38. Library Wars: Volume 8, by Kiiro Yumi (200 pages)
39. Video Girl Ai: Volume 2, by Masazuka Katsura (200 pages)
40. Saga: Volume 7, by Brian K. Vaughan (152 pages)

May pages: 2,070

Pages to date: 7,138

Progress: 40/150

Book 53

One Tequila (Althea Rose Mystery, #1)One Tequila by Tricia O'Malley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I know I picked this up for free from a mystery site (thanks to the author for making it free) and I knew it was a ‘love kissed’ one but sadly in this case that meant love triangle, a very tiring one which was the only down side to the novel: a large unresolved triangle but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Althea Rose is a psychic whose mom is a well known psychic. She runs a shop, the Luna Rose, with her best friend, Luna, a white witch. They’re also good friends with, Beau, a gay bartender who wants to get his own restaurant for Tequila Key (a sleepy key off the Florida coast) and with Trace, the man Thea scuba dives with. Beau introduces her and Luna to Cash and his business partner and immediately Cash is asking Thea out and Luna goes out with the partner.

In short order the partner is dead, Luna is suspected of doing it by a rather terrible sheriff and Thea isn’t sure if Cash is completely innocent but she wants him to be. But the onion in the ointment here is suddenly Trace is in her face screaming about ‘why not him?’ meanwhile he’s never asked her out which was so annoying.

She’s soon over her head but she has her psychic powers, Luna’s magic (it’s not Harry Potter but it’s real enough) and that of her voodoo practicing friends and that magic is really the key to solving the mystery. I did enjoy the characters except for Thea’s penchant for screaming at people she thinks are hiding stuff and Trace’s approach to romancing Thea. Loved Thea’s Boston Terrier. It’s a cute enough mystery and I’d read another but I’d hope the love triangle gets resolved sooner rather than later.



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SUMMONING THE ECHOES.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of Winston Churchill's "We shall fight " speech, which is as good a reason as any to devote Book Review No. 12 to John Kelly's Never Surrender: Winston Churchill and Britain's Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940.  I've dealt with this epoch of history previously: the book is a recent contribution to the history loosely from Munich to the beginning of the Blitz.

One passage, somewhere early in the book. strikes me as relevant to our current politics.  It contrasts Winston Churchill's stance with that taken by the process-worshippers of Neville Chamberlain's government and the French high command.  Mr Churchill, the book suggests, called on Britons to summon the spirit of Agincourt and Trafalgar: the establishment of the era, offered a muddle that might or might not have worked out.

Let's view Virginia Postrel's recent America Is Awash in the Wrong Kinds of Stories in that light.
Sadly, the big stories competing for dominance today are demoralizing ones. They have more in common with the Lost Cause than with the New South or the Silk Road. One, told by the president of the United States, is that the country used to be great but allowed its greatness to be eroded by foreigners and cosmopolitan elites. It is that story, more than any specific policy agenda, that connects Donald Trump to authoritarian rulers — because it is with versions of that story that so many authoritarian regimes begin. The story of diabolical foreigners and perfidious fellow citizens is, at its core, a fable attacking liberal values. It misleadingly divides the nation into patriots and traitors, the latter defined as anyone who bucks the party line.

The competing left-wing story, against which many Trump voters reacted, isn’t much better. It portrays the American story as nothing more than a series of injustices in which every seeming accomplishment hides some terrible wrong and the country’s very existence is a crime against humanity. What begins as a valid historical corrective, like Landrieu’s speech, evolves into a corrosive nihilism. A culture cannot long survive self-hatred.
That's not wrong, and yet it might be too strong.  Perhaps Mr Trump was summoning the echoes of Valley Forge and Shiloh and Midway and the Ardennes, and Mrs Clinton was ... calling for more of the transnational muddle.  Certainly we can view Mr Obama's doubts about "American exceptionalism" in that light.

Sometimes the circumstances call for a rogue elephant (a line that frequently comes up with respect to Mr Churchill.)  But are those circumstances germane to ours?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


Number of pages: 256

This book is the first Discworld novel that Terry Pratchett wrote for a young adult audience, and it is also a completely stand-alone adventure, about a band of rats led by the eponymous Maurice, who can talk and also go from town to town conning humans.

My first thought was that the story was going to be based on Fagin and his band of pickpockets in "Oliver Twist", but this story makes more conspicuous references to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, as we learn that the group has a young human companion, Keith, who leads them out of town playing his pipes, pretending that he is ridding them of a plague of rats.

However, this book has the characters ending up in trouble at the hands of rat catchers and the threat of another piper who seems likely to want to do something nasty to the rats. Things start taking a turn for the bizarre when...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

It becomes apparent that the rat catchers are trying to create a "rat king", although I didn't quite understand how they were doing this, which would eventually result in particularly unpleasant plague of vermin. As I read it, the concept just sounded like The Human Centipede.



As I read this book, I noticed obvious changes to the writing style, to make the book appropriate for a younger audience, so there was none of the mild swearing found in the adult books; instead, there were lots of references to rats "widdling".

I did notice that this book felt unusually dark at times both for a young adult book and for a discworld novel, and the tone often felt more serious, and more similar to the two adult titles that followed this one, "Night Watch" and "Monstrous Regiment".

I found the character of Maurice to be an enjoyable enough character to read about, certainly one who merited appearing in further titles, though I got the impression that he was possibly meant as some sort of anti-hero character, mostly because he led a band of rats, but also liked to EAT rats (like cats do). There was also some satire in this book, which only started to develop properly towards the end, with references to how rats should be given equal rights to humans, evidently an allegory to the civil rights movement.

Also, the fact that this was a stand-alone book meant that it didn't feel that much like Discworld, because there were no familiar characters, until near the end when Death made an appearance, accompanied the the Death of Rats. Death's scene is probably the best moment in the book, and revolves entirely over the concept of cats having nine lives. Apart from that, the only Discworld elements were brief references to wizards and guilds.

The end of the book seems to be leaving the way clear for a possible sequel, but as far as I'm aware, none was ever written, as the other five young adult Discworld novels all seem to be about the character Tiffany Aching; I'm guessing Pratchett must have liked the character so much that he decided to focus on her.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this as much as some of the older Discworld titles, but it was definitely more readable than some of the later books in the series.

Next book: The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)

"SOMEHOW WE STILL WON THE WAR."

Naval aviator N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss may have contributed the final memoir of the Battle of Midway in his relatively recent Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway, which Captain Kleiss, in collaboration with Timothy and Laura Orr, finished shortly before his death at the age of 100.  Lieutenant Kleiss was attached to Scouting Squadron Six, dive-bombers based on Enterprise, and he was present at strikes on Kaga, Hiryu, Tanikaze, and Mikuma.  It's only proper to offer Book Review No. 11 on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the strikes on Kaga and Hiryu.

That "somehow" refers to Lieutenant Kleiss's subsequent experiences as dive-bomber instructor (he also, in those less credential-obsessed days, taught high school mathematics) and consultant on weapon systems.  At Midway itself, there was no somehow: the dive-bomber crews were well-prepared; all hands knew something big was up, and it's the memoir's listing of shipmates who didn't survive, and tribute to the torpedo plane pilots, who under most circumstances would be flying with small gravity bombs but went with torpedo loads on 4 June, that makes for the most gripping reading.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #28: Brick Lane by Monica Ali



Number of pages: 511

This book opens with its central character, Nazneen, moving from East Pakistan to London in an arranged marriage to a man called Chanu. The book becomes a novel about culture shock and racial tension as she adapts to life in England; I got the sense quite early on that Nazneen didn't really get along with Chanu, so it wasn't too surprising when she ended up having an affair with a man named Karim.

I'd read this many years ago, but hadn't really got on with it that well the first time, so thought I'd give it another shot. Most of the narrative takes place in 2001, so I wasn't surprised when the 9/11 bombings got mentioned (this is especially significant because Nazneen and Chanu are Muslim).

The narrative is also broken up in places by letters received by Nanzeen from her sister living back home, all of which are written in a way that suggests that the writer has only a very loose grip on the English language.

The book does feel quite hard at first; the plot seems to move quite slowly, and the narrative involves a lot of talking; it was one of those books where I feel that I have to pay attention to every single bit of dialogue in case I miss something. The narrative style made me think of Jane Austen, only with a lot of politics and the occasional swear word, but the setting in multicultural London also put me in mind of Zadie Smith.

Overall, this is a good story which is, as writer Monica Ali notes, all about a woman gaining her independance, something that is effectively summed up in the last few paragraphs of the novel. It didn't occur to me as I read it, but in the newspaper interview with Monica Ali that featured at the end of my copy, she did mention that Nanzeen hardly speaks for a large portion of the novel, so the reader ends up inside her head. I also liked the way that Chanu wasn't entirely demonised, and that he was also written in a way that appeared sympathetic, despite the fact that he also spouted some very bigoted views.

Overall, I was glad I gave this another go, as I enjoyed the social commentary that it provided.

Next book: The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (Terry Pratchett)

Book 52

Broken MirrorBroken Mirror by Cody Sisco

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Thanks to Netgalley for making this available. I didn’t see the Goodreads blurb which was a bit more in depth as I didn’t know it was alternative history and cyberpunk neither of which are my genres. I might have skipped it had I known. That said, I did like it and if I were more of a fan of those genres I might have really loved it.

In this alternative history, the Civil War ended with the death of Mrs. Lincoln, not Abe and they decided in the rebuilding period that skin color didn’t matter (we should be so lucky) but on the other hand, there was no strong United States, instead it’s a fractured country of regions that may or may not get along. Our main protagonist Victor Eastmore, lives in the California area and his grandfather was instrumental in curing cancer and he’s working on a neurological condition Mirror Resonance Syndrome, i.e. the titular Broken Mirror. It’s like a cross between high function autism, synesthesia and absence seizures.

Victor is a Broken Mirror but to his horror, his grandfather shuts down their hospital and research and soon after he’s dead. Victor believes his beloved grandfather was murdered. Not only does no one believe him, including his family, his grandmother wants him arrested and institutionalized. Here’s the main plot of the novel: how horrible it is to stigmatize mental illness and to rise above it. Of course, in order to end something, that means it has to exist and boy does it ever in this. The whole background of the novel is about how horribly these neuro-atypical ‘broken mirrors’ are treated even Victor who is wealthy and from a respected family. In fact he’s facing being reclassified and locked away (a system born of a massacre waged by one person with this syndrome, it would be like one mass shooting by a schizophrenic resulting in all people with schizophrenia being brought in several times a year to pass a test or be locked away).

With his condition, Victor is starting this investigation into his grandfather’s death behind the eight ball. All he has for help is a data egg from his grandfather that won’t open, his ex-girlfriend Elena who’s back in his life, his former friend Ozie a brain hacker he lost touch with and Tosh, a Native American friend of his grandfather Victor has never met. The problem is everyone has their own agenda (including his boss and his Aunt Circe) and Victor is manipulated at every turn.

It was a bit slow to start and only a small part of the mystery is solved by the end. I did like Victor. He makes for a sympathetic character. Once the story really gets moving, it rolls on well. I just wish the rest of the characters were a bit more likeable. I rather wished Victor would have dumped them all and run off on his own. One thing did bug me: It was listed as LGBTQIA and honestly there is almost none of that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need the character to be in a relationship as that’s just a part of who they are but all we had here was literally one sentence saying Victor is bisexual. I’m fine with him being in a committed (sort of) heterosexual relationship but he doesn’t even correct Tosh when he says Victor obviously likes girls (even though Tosh is the one he told he was bi). Maybe there’ll be more on the spectrum in further novels but if you’re picking this up hoping for a hot gay relationship, you’re going to be very disappointed. That’s not this novel. In fact, I would have put Victor under asexual.

It does, however, do well on the diversity spectrum. Ozie is African, Elena Hispanic and Victor is mixed race. I liked the story and if you like cyberpunk you’ll probably enjoy it.



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Book 51

Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder MysteryTen Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery by Fred Van Lente

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I received an ARC via Netgalley and Quirk books but that in no way influenced my review. This book is an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (Otherwise known as Ten Little Indians after the nursery rhyme which, sad to say, had an even more offensive racial title back in the 30s, think N word). The plot was lifted directly from her work and it’s one most mystery readers will know even if they’ve never read Dame Christie’s book as it’s been done a thousand times (I just saw a rerun of the Murder, She Wrote version of it the other day). I wanted to read this one because it sounded fun and I know the author from some of the comic book work.

The twist this time is they’re all comedians at various stages in their careers with one connection: they all credit Dustin Walker, their host, with being their inspiration. You’re quickly introduce to the nine comics in short chapters, Steve who once was on a TV show with Walker but whose career tanked and he’s now teaching improv (and he has a dark secret that is referenced through much of the novel before being revealed), TJ who also worked on that show but went on to be a relatively big deal with another TV show (and hates Steve) and makes his Hispanic heritage a big part of who he is, Dante, an African America comic (who might not be as street as he pretends) and alcoholic with rage issues, Ollie, a prop comic who does an act Orange Baby Man (who comes across as a cross between the Blue Man group, Pee Wee Herman and Ned Flanders in his abhorrence of bad language and mean humor), Bill the Mechanic, who’s snobby and wealthy pretending to be blue collar ala Larry the Cable Guy, Janet who reminds me of Joan Rivers only more obsessed on making her vagina part of her act, Zoe who’s a bit of a stereotype: the neurotic Jewish woman, and Ruby, the Vietnamese lesbian who does podcast humor. Rounding out the 10th comic could be either Walker himself or Meredith his African-British gal Friday and comic wanna be.

Walker has lured them all to a private island, to his estate there, all of them thinking this comic legend is going to help their careers but in short order they’re shown a recording of him accusing them of crimes against comedy and of him committing suicide. Following Christie’s template, they can’t reach the outside world (no internet, no cell phone reception) and one by one they start getting picked off until well...there was none.

To be honest it wasn’t too hard to figure out who the killer was and why (that really wasn’t the point I don’t think) but it was an entertaining read. I will say that not ever character is as well drawn as the others with the ladies suffering more from this lack of depth than the men. Ruby is the best drawn of the women, an overly sensitive, overly aggressive feminist who sees men as the enemy (there’s no subtly to her feminism which, as a feminist, I found disappointing). TJ and Dante are also aggressive and very unlikeable to be honest. Actually only Ollie, in his child like innocence (child like in an arrested development sort of way) was nice and he is abused badly by the others as not being a ‘real comic’ because of his type of act (ironically he’s the richest, most successful of them). His pain at their mockery is the most real emotion in the whole novel.

And that is maybe one of the bigger failures of the novel: not a lot of emotional depth. Sometimes we’re in their heads but often there is a great narrative distance which keeps you from really engaging the reader. In fact, for some reason many of them are referred to by first and last name throughout and I found that irksome. There was one point I was very annoyed by a very obviously wrong death scene but power on. It’s actually a clue. I was a little disappointed by who was the last comic standing only because I didn’t like the character but it made sense that comic was the one to solve it.

As I said I did have an ARC so I didn’t take formatting into consideration but it was atrocious in mine so I hope it gets fixed. Also large chunks were in red and I wasn’t sure if that it was an editing left over from either adding to or maybe highlighting for removal and I’m rather hoping the latter. It was in the sections where we were getting to see parts of the comic’s acts (which were dispersed through the book) and honestly they went on rather long and oddly not that funny (at least to me. Humor is one of the hardest things to write because it’s so subjective). There are several post Trump election references as well (I’m imagining were added after the first draft as I don’t think a publishing schedule could take something from start to finish in less than five months without it really showing).



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Books 22-24

22. Boxers, by Gene Luen Yang. This fulfills the Book Riot challenge for a book about a person of color who goes on a spiritual journey. This graphic novel relates the Boxer Rebellion as a legend, told through the eyes of Little Bao, the youngest brother who winds up leading a rebellion against the foreign invaders who seek to carve up and colonize China. He and his soldiers channel the legendary gods and figures in their culture as they fight. The art is beautifully drawn, and the story nicely developed. Little Bao especially is well done; he grows through the story, and makes his share of mistakes. I admit I don't know a lot about the Boxer Rebellion so I was rather startled by the ending. I did a bit of follow-up reading on this rebellion, but it was interesting getting a Chinese take on the event.

23. Ms. Marvel, by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona. This fulfills the Book Riot challenge category for reading a superhero comic with a female lead. I really liked this one! Kamala Khan is the daughter of parents who immigrated from Pakistan. Their household is a conservative, traditional one, but Kamala, a teenager, is questioning her future. She loves the adventures she sees in comics but is shocked one evening to find herself turn into a superhero. Kamala finds it tough to adjust to her new powers and reality, and struggles to weigh her parents wishes and concerns for her with her wishing to go out and help people and, ultimately, find her own identity. This is Marvel's first Muslim superhero, and the religion and culture make up an important part of Kamala. Still, her struggles at growing up, of wanting to know how she fits in, is something every preteen and teen will relate to. What I like is that her parents are real people. Her mother is overprotective but she's not a caricature. She has good reason. And I just love the father, who often has to play peacemaker between the rebellious Kamala and her traditional mother. The illustrations are beautifully done, rich and vivid.

24. Changing Planes, by Ursula Le Guin, illustrated by Eric Beddows. This fulfills the Book Riot challenge category for reading a collection of short stories by a female author. This...was strange. I'm still on the fence as to whether I liked this collection or not. The idea certainly is an interesting one- Le Guin writes a series of related short stories about various other worlds, or planes, which can only be accessed through a certain level of stress and aggravation, most notably the type one experiences at an airport. The first chapter covers how this was discovered, and the following chapters go into the various worlds. The stories read more like allegories- you have a world where people are constantly fighting, you have a world where the rich are the spectators and the commoners are more like celebrities. You have another world where growing wings is a curse. The best stories are the ones where the author (much of this is written in the first person) is interviewing one of the residents on any one of the worlds. There are some stories which merely relate the history and describe the inhabitants, which, if nothing else, are descriptive and imaginative, but also made me think "OK, this is interesting...I guess... but why should I care??" I admit skimming some chapters towards the end because my interest really started to lag. Le Guin especially seems to be fond of birdlike people- there are at least three stories/worlds where people have avian attributes. The illustrations are interesting, not sure they add much, except parents who might be checking out the book may want to be aware that some images are not exactly suitable for younger children.

Currently reading: Infamous Scribblers, by Eric Burns.
Another week where I finished only a couple of books.

First was Osprey Warrior #69: Darby's Rangers 1942 – 45, essentially a WWII unit of some fame. Not bad, not great.

Second was Osprey Elite #4: US Army Special Forces 1952 – 84 which is a history of the decisions that led to the formation of our nation's various special forces and their use in the period described, which means mostly Vietnam. Not a bad overview.

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