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Book #41: The Trigger by Tim Butcher

Hunting the assassin who bought the world to war.

Number of pages: 363

In 1914, Gavrilo Mile Princip, a member of the assassin group the Black Hand Gang, shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand, ruler of what was then known as Austria-Hungary. This led to a series of events that resulted in the outbreak of World War I.

In this comprehensive book, Tim Butcher presents a full profile of Princip, with a portrait of his childhood and his upbringing and how he came to become an assassin, and I found it fascinating.

What I liked most was that Butcher researched this a lot, and much of the book tells of how he did his research, much of which involved him travelling to the places where Princip lived and speaking to people who knew more about the man himself. My favourite anecdote was about how he almost got banned from Facebook for sending unsolicited messages to several people he believed to be Princip's descendants.

I like how the book became partly a historical essay and partly a travel memoir, and given the subject matter, I was surprised to see that there was some humour used at points; the overall feel of the book reminded me of Laurent Binet's HHhH from a few years ago.

I remember learning about the outbreak of the World War I when I was younger, but never in this much detail. Some of the political bits were a bit overly complex, but there were some fascinating facts that I didn't know, such as how many of Princip's siblings died very young and how he went to assassinate the Archduke as part of a large group of people, but most of the other men gave up after a number of failed attempts.

I thought this was a great book, and much more engaging than a straightforward biography.

Next book: What Katy Did (Susan Coolidge)

Book 42

Title: Cold Days
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: part 14 of "The Dresden Files", follows Ghost Story
Pages: 614
Summary: After being murdered and then brought back to life, Harry Dresden soon realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Her word is his command. And her first command is the seemingly impossible: kill an immortal. Worse still, there is a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could mean the deaths of millions.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent an apocalypse, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound infinite powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own

His soul.

My thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )

Book 22 - This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

This is a sweet story with lovely drawings, evocative of growing up and summertime. One can almost smell the creosote on the dock and hear the crickets in the woods. There are touching and poignant moments as well as humor; the latter is often supplied by the friend Windy, who was my favorite character. I'm still very much just dabbling only in the comics/graphic novels arena -- and only because of the Read Harder Challenge -- but nonetheless I definitely enjoyed this one.
The noted humorist's account of his 1866 trip to Hawaii at a time when the island were more for the native than the tourists.

This book was shorter than I expected at 84 pages, with more padding after that consisting of many black and white pictures of Hawaii and important people mentioned in Twain's letters. Twain's writing still makes for an easy, witty read. Some of his more racist observations made me wince yet they remain important within the context of his period.

Twain visited Hawaii at such an interesting time. The native population had been decimated--as he himself observes at one point, a population of 400,000 to 55,000 in 80 years, and more than enough cats for all--and foreign whites were coming in to trade. Sugarcane plantations were just being established. Most relevant to my research needs was his travel to the Big Island, where he offered blithe commentary on Captain Cook's fate and was suitably awed by Kilauea. The foreword by A. Grove Day points out that Twain padded some details--as there was no eruption of Twain's description otherwise chronicles during that time--but that was all part of Twain's storytelling verve.
Co-founder of the legendary Brother Juniper’s Bakery, author of ten landmark bread books, and distinguished instructor at the world’s largest culinary academy, Peter Reinhart has been a leader in America’s artisanal bread movement for more than thirty years. Never one to be content with yesterday’s baking triumph, however, Peter continues to refine his recipes and techniques in his never-ending quest for extraordinary bread.

In this new edition of the award-winning and best-selling The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter shares bread breakthroughs arising from his study in France’s famed boulangeries and the always-enlightening time spent in the culinary college kitchen with his students. Peer over Peter’s shoulder as he learns from Paris’s most esteemed bakers, like Lionel Poilâne and Phillippe Gosselin, whose pain à l’ancienne has revolutionized the art of baguette making. Then stand alongside his students in the kitchen as Peter teaches the classic twelve stages of building bread, his clear instructions accompanied by more than 100 step-by-step photographs.

You’ll put newfound knowledge into practice with fifty master formulas for such classic breads as rustic ciabatta, hearty pain de campagne, old-school New York bagels, and the book’s Holy Grail—Peter’s version of the famed pain à l’ancienne, as well as three all-new formulas. En route, Peter distills hard science, advanced techniques, and food history into a remarkably accessible and engaging resource that is as rich and multitextured as the loaves you’ll turn out. In this revised edition, he adds metrics and temperature conversion charts, incorporates comprehensive baker’s percentages into the recipes, and updates methods throughout. This is original food writing at its most captivating, teaching at its most inspired and inspiring—and the rewards are some of the best breads under the sun.

I received this early copy through Netgalley.

For about five years now, I have baked my own sandwich bread each week, along with my own pizza dough, rolls, and most any bready goods. This book changed how I think about bread and offered me numerous, delicious recipes, too.

The first portion of the book is on the science of bread baking. This is a fairly complex thing--as any baker will failed loaves can attest to--where yeast, fermentation, temperature, and ratios all play vital rolls. I appreciated Reinhart's attitude; he's not one of those cooks who says you must do everything a certain way. He lays the facts out there, saying you need these elements to make bread work, but play around with it, see what works for you.

I did just that as I tested three recipes from his book: cinnamon raisin bread, white sandwich bread, and poor man's brioche. (One note on the ebook edition: it seriously garbled the recipes, skewing lines and ingredients in a way that required writing them down to interpret the data; I sincerely hope this is fixed in the final edition of the ebook.)

The cinnamon raisin bread produced two loaves, so I did two variations as shown in the book: one with a swirl, and one without. Both turned out to be delicious, though the swirled one not only looked prettier when sliced but had a better rise.

The white bread and brioche both produced enough dough for two small loaves each, but I opted to make each as a larger loaf while using about 1/3 of the dough to make rolls. I also modified the directions and used my bread machine to mix the dough, then did the second rise in the kitchen and baked them in the oven. The results were spectacular. Both recipes produced tender, delicious bread that worked well sliced for sandwiches and as rolls. My husband ate all the brioche rolls in one sitting and begged me to do a full batch of brioche rolls. I want to do that soon--and try the two richer recipes for brioche as well.

I loved this cookbook. It's no wonder the original has been declared a classic, warranting this 15th anniversary edition.
In a totalitarian state, sometimes the only thing you can do with the official line is quote it in an ironic way.  So it was with Luftwaffe pilots being assured by headquarters that the Royal Air Force was finished.  In Tim Clayton and Phil Craig's Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, a book written as companion to a PBS series (the PBS online store is a typical liberal cock-up, there's no quick link to the videos, if any) that aired a few years ago, that's one of the vignettes.  I'll keep Book Review No. 19 as short as a dogfight: this is a collection of recollections from participants in the scrap, many of whom were still living at the time the series was recorded.  I recall the closing line of the series as something like "they couldn't win, but they chose not to lose."  That's the mindset of many of the people interviewed: no matter how hard the Hun hit them, they would not fold.  But in not folding, they won.  Before the summer of 1940, whatever the Führer commanded, someone would bear, often in great pain.  But from the summer on, those threats began to become less credible, and on occasion, there'd be a British raid on Berlin or some other German target, the first rumblings of what was to come.

Authors Clayton and Craig steer clear of the high strategy.  They note that it's unlikely a successful German air campaign would have lead to an invasion of the British Isles, for reasons noted here.  (As if Rhine barges were going to get across the Channel in anything resembling an orderly fashion, but I digress.) Was a Stuka as good as an SBD at bombing ships?  But the SBD was most effective against aircraft carriers.  On the other hand, had Britain sued for a separate peace, how many more fire hoses would be forthcoming from the United States?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


With V-J Day fresh in our memories, perhaps this is a good time to return to the Fifty Book Challenge. Book Review No. 18 is Walter R. Borneman's The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King -- The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War At Sea.  The post's title borrows from a chapter title -- apparently interservice rivalries do not go away, even if total war against powers that pose an existential threat is in progress.  And fighting total war, as a reader will see, is not without moral challenges, even among a command authority committed to victory.

The Admirals focuses on the lives of the fleet admirals and their interactions with civilian authority and their colleagues in the Navy and the other services.  If you're interested in the specifics of, for example Midway, read this or this or this; or the complexities of Leyte Gulf,  see this or this or read this or this.

Who, then, are these admirals, each of whom now has a building bearing his name at Annapolis?

Read more...Collapse )What have we learned?  I'll give Admiral Leahy (page 452) the last word, and the deep word.

Acknowledging the transformation in the nation's armed forces, Leahy declared, "Today we have the biggest and most powerful navy in the world, more powerful than any other two navies in existence.... But," he cautioned, "we must not depend on this strength and this power alone."  America's true strength and the secret weapon that really won the war, he concluded, "came from our basic virtues as a freedom-loving nation."

We ignore that truth at our peril.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
From a work standpoint, it was a pretty tough week, so not so many books done.

First was Osprey Campaign #17: Chickamauga: The River of Death. You know, it's hard for me to get past my prejudice about studying the American Civil War. As I kid, I was appalled at the South having tried to split away from our magnificent nation; older, I still found the South's stance on slavery as indefensible, so reading most books on the war...upset me? This book is no different in its way. However, if I could manage to view it dispassionately, it's a good description of the campaign. So, if you're looking for information on the topic, here's an option.

Next was Osprey Elite #31: US Army Airborne 1940 – 90, a pretty wide subject. The book deals with the formation of the units, their training, and the differences as the Twentieth Century continued. Not bad.

Finally, I read Champagne: A Global History. Books of this series varying pretty widely in quality. This was one of the better ones. It not only deals with the wines of France of the region, but sparkling wines in general, and a number of the regions worldwide that offer them. I thought this book was solid for a quick read about this tipple.

I expect a bit more available reading time next week, though probably not this weekend...

Number of pages: 455

Set in 1976, this book opens with a woman drowning while swimming in England's Lake District; it transpires that there have been a large number of drownings in the area during this particular summer.

However, this plot element really just sets up the story and becomes relevant later on, as the main story focuses on the character Meriel, and agony aunt who is married to the vile and abusive Cameron, though she is clearly having an affair with a younger man, Seb.

Meriel very obviously hates Cameron, who she is trapped in a loveless marriage with, and takes her anger out using her "night book", in which she fantasises about killing Cameron in brutal ways.

The book takes a big turning point shortly before the halfway point that changes the direction of the narrative completely...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

After Meriel deliberately throws Cameron's watch into a lake and he dives in to get it, he drowns, becoming the latest in the series of deaths that has taken place. The rest of the story revolves around the aftermath of this, and it seems inevitable that Cameron will go to jail for this, especially following the discovery of the night book, which convinces the authorities that it must have all been premeditated.

The book does at least end up with some moral commentary, with characters debating on whether Meriel should be punished, or whether Cameron deserved what he got because he was so obnoxious.

I thought the book started off quite well, with the 1976 setting coming across through mostly discussions of the political situation; Cameron is obviously a dislikeable character, though I wasn't sure what I was expected to think of Meriel and Seb. The book seemed to be a strange mixture of thriller and erotica.

While the book does have a plot that resembles something Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud of, the narrative did seem to run out of steam towards the end. I could tell exactly where the book was headed, and the final third was just about characters trying to figure out what the reader already knew, so it did feel a bit too long-winded, especially when the book effectively replayed what happened in old scenes, just for the benefit of anyone who had forgotten.

Overall, not a great book, but I also found it very easy to read, and a lot of the dialogue was enjoyable enough for me to keep reading.

Next book: The Trigger (Tim Butcher)

Books #55-56

Book #55 was "The Buddha of Suburbia" by Hanif Kureishi. I knew this author primarily as a screenwriter and have seen 2 movies based on his screenplays, "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" and "My Beautiful Laundrette," the latter being one of my all-time favorite films. When I ran across this book on a free book table, I knew I needed to pick it up. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a teenager/young 20-something named Karim growing up as a mixed-race person (British mother, Indian father) in England, coming of age, and watching his father leave his traditional English job and marriage behind to become a Buddhist guru and living with a lover, Eva. It does have something of a plot arc but is very episodic, and very funny in places. It's also quite sexy as Karim has love affairs with both women and men throughout the novel. He acts in plays and becomes the assistant for a rock star for a little while, all while trying to figure out what to do with his life. I enjoyed it.

Book #56 was "Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury. I've seen the movie and absolutely adored it - great cast, very atmospheric and spooky. The book is excellent. Bradbury's powers of description are magnificent, and the book has an eerie and fable-like quality to it. You get more into the characters' heads in the novel than in the movie, which is a bonus. The tale starts when Will and Jim, two 13-year-old boys who live next to each other and have been friends all their lives, see a mysterious, dark carnival pull into town the week before Halloween. The carnival is tempting and enticing, but seeems to wreak havoc on the town residents. The boys and Will's father set out to break the carnival's spell on the town. I loved this book and am reminding myself that I've always liked Bradbury's writing (I've read another novel and book of short stories by him, as well as a nonfiction book about the art of writing) and should seek out more of it.
The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

#82: Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmstead

“Impressive . . . Readers will be inspired by Olmsted's intensity and clarity, and floored by how far some counterfeiters go to fool consumers and some historic food institutions go to protect their products and their names. Olmsted’s sharp language will hopefully put fires under counterfeiters everywhere . . . With the guiding hand of a good friend and prose that keeps the reader’s eye moving, Olmsted insists that readers ‘shop better and cook more.’” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

You’ve seen the headlines: Parmesan cheese made from wood pulp. Lobster rolls containing no lobster at all. Extra-virgin olive oil that isn’t. Fake foods are in our supermarkets, our restaurants, and our kitchen cabinets. Award-winning food journalist and travel writer Larry Olmsted exposes this pervasive and dangerous fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting Americans.

Real Food/Fake Food brings readers into the unregulated food industry, revealing that this shocking deception extends from high-end foods like olive oil, wine, and Kobe beef to everyday staples such as coffee, honey, juice, and cheese. It’s a massive bait and switch where counterfeiting is rampant and where the consumer ultimately pays the price.

But Olmsted does more than show us what foods to avoid. A bona fide gourmand, he travels to the sources of the real stuff, to help us recognize what to look for, eat, and savor: genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy, fresh-caught grouper from Florida, authentic port from Portugal. Real foods that are grown, raised, produced, and prepared with care by masters of their craft.

Part cautionary tale, part culinary crusade, Real Food/Fake Food is addictively readable, mouth-wateringly enjoyable, and utterly relevant. Larry Olmsted convinces us why real food matters.

I received this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Olmstead presents a disturbing, thoughtful analysis of the proliferation of Fake Food in the American food industry. Many of these stories are ones that flickered through mainstream news headlines in recent years, such as Parmesan not really being the cheese it should be and the way grocery store beef is engineered to look better on the label. He gets deeply into the issue of terrior--the ingredient of place as part of a food's deliciousness--noteworthy in products like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Champagne. The United States tries to enforce basic safety standards with food, but it makes a muddle of things as far as quality. Products like extra virgin olive oil are not checked to make sure they are actually olive oil, while generic food name legal rulings for things like Champagne mean that cheap, horrible knock-offs can use a term without any of the quality assurances of the real wine from Champagne itself.

The book is truly eye-opening. I felt the constant need to stop family members and say, 'Did you know...' and elaborate on what I had just read. As a cheese lover, I felt edified by his chapters on Parmigiano-Reggiano and the growing production of artisan cheeses (many of which successfully market their own kinds of cheese instead of piggy-backing on a famous name and muddling it). The chapter on seafood was outright disturbing and will entirely change how I study--and trust--the labels on packaged foods and menus. The portions on wine and the beef industry were also good. ... Well, heck, the whole book is fascinating, down to the bits at the end on honey and maple.

I was surprised at the number of typos in this on-sale edition of the book. I also found the recipes at the ends of chapter to be an ill fit with the other content. I would have much rather had maps to see the regions being discussed.

I highly recommend this book for American consumers. It will change how you shop and purchase food.

#81: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

In the tradition of Terry Brooks' Landover series, Piers Anthony Xanth books, and Terry Pratchett's Discword novels, scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into his debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval.

Sleight of hand…in another land

Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time.

What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.

That's how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it's only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.

Ah, what a fun, light fantasy read! Rogue Retrieval offers a delightful twist on the classic portal fantasy: a stage magician from modern day Earth is recruited to assist a corporation on their forays through a hole into a real-life fantasy world with magic. One of the heads of the operation has gone rogue, escaping into the other world, and he needs to be retrieved before he introduces dangerous technology and ideas to the other world. Mayhem ensues, of course. It's a fast read--a frolic--and feels like a wonderful set up for a series. My one gripe is that it felt like some vital information was held back for the sake of plot... but the book also manages to work in some brilliant Journey and He-Man jokes, so I won't complain too loudly.

Number of pages: 290

I read this years ago and had almost completely forgotten what happened.

Kevin J. Anderson's first X-Files fan fiction novel opens with a nuclear scientist receiving a strange message and a sample of black powder, before being mysteriously burned to a husk in an apparent freak accident, but when Mulder and Scully start investigating three more victims also die in the same manner, and none seem obviously connected.

The whole story leads them to secretive nuclear tests, and ends in an epic climactic scene.

I enjoyed Kevin J. Anderson's X-Files novels more than the older ones by Charles Grant, mostly because I like the way that he writes Mulder and Scully better and more truereading this again, I realised that while heavily political at times, it is also very thought-provoking, mostly regarding the ethical issues relating to nuclear testing, which was definitely a significant threat during the latter half of the twentieth century.

I mentioned before that I forgot what happened, and the true nature of what causes the deaths in this book is definitely something I would not have guessed. I found the climactic scenes breathtaking, just visualising the events as they were written.

Next book: The Night Book (Richard Madeley)

Gin Tama, Volume 23 by Hideaki Sorachi

book 70:  Gin Tama, Volume 23 by Hideaki Sorachi

Continuation of the comedic, samurai/ alien alternate history parody manga...

In this volume, Katsura almost escapes prison, Kagura and Shinpachi have Gin tell the backstory of a photograph found of odd jobs co-workers he had before them (and regret it), the gang exorcizes a haunted hot springs, and Hijikata is forced to stop smoking.

Sadly, this seems to be the last book volume of this manga published in the United States (or in English), so I am a bit frustrated.  I am pretty sure that I could find it online, but since I don't have home internet, it will be much more complicated for me to continue reading it.  *sigh*

Book 21 - Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a charming story of wizards and enchanted forests and friendship and feminism. A mix of fairy tale, romance, adventure, fantasy ... and at the same time with a modern feel to it. This book was mentioned during a bookriot podcast earlier this year and was also a selection for my library's adult summer reading list. Aside from some violent scenes and a little bit of steamy content, it could also be suitable for some young adult readers.

The title is very apt and covers both the literal and figurative meanings of the word.

Book 94 & 95

ノラガミ 8 [Noragami 8] (Noragami: Stray God, #8)ノラガミ 8 [Noragami 8] by Adachitoka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This manga possesses the potential to be heart breaking. In this volume, we see a lot of what went into making Yato who he is, vacillating between obnoxious and thoughtless, to tender and vulnerable. His father (if he truly is that in any real sense of the word) is a real bastard and he has a mission Yato must take with Stray (who seems to be a sister of some sort). He's been sent after the crafter of the Ayakashi with masks and names.

No one knows where he is (including Yukine, his weapon) and Yato can not get free (fearing if he's gone much longer the only person who's ever given him a shrine, Hiyori, might forget him and in this universe a forgotten god is a dead/disappeared god). Worse, all the gods have been called into a meeting about this crafter and it will be so long the shinki have been sent home (so Kazuma has been training Yukine some).

As Yato finds the crafter and speaks with him, things are poised to take an even more heart breaking turn for him.

What Yato can't know, that the reader does, is that Hiyori is back on Earth doing normal teenaged girl stuff, including living down the horrible, slutty reputation he gave her when he possessed her (which is still a huge low point for this story). She's lucky the boys who think she constantly puts out didn't try to press the issue.

Anyhow, Hiyori in doing all the normal things, including kissing a boy she likes, feels like something is missing in her life, a point driven home when she no longer recognizes Yukine. She's beginning to do what Yato fears most: forget him.

The story line and the art are very good and I can't wait to see what happens next.

View all my reviews

進撃の巨人 17 [Shingeki no Kyojin 17] (Attack on Titan, #17)進撃の巨人 17 [Shingeki no Kyojin 17] by Hajime Isayama

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmmm I probably should have reread the one before this but I'm not sure it would have made this less confusing (I swear sometimes vital pages of this manga end up on the cutting room floor). This is a bit of a pivotal volume the least of it being Eren is now able to harden (let the dick jokes begin) so naturally they plan to use him to play little Dutch boy and jam his body into the cracks of the wall and leave behind a hardened Titan shell.

The ultimate goal being to go back to Wall Maria and recover his father's research on the titans with an eye to ending them. However this is taking a toll on him (even Levi is concerned, Zoe, less so).

There was a creepy new Titan, Historia's father, and their ploy to end him catapults her into the stratosphere with the common people. She becomes their queen though she doesn't seem particularly good at it (it's been commented on a few times by the characters) but she does want to a) help the poor and displaced b) punish the crap out of the corrupt royalty/heads of state.

And then there is the confusing interludes with Kenny (Levi's ah father figure?) that mentions why the Ackermans are so hated (funny thing is, if that they were hated was mentioned before I've forgotten it) and it fills in some of Levi's past and suggests a relationship to another soldier (unaddressed in this volume)

Armin continues to grow as a character and Mikasa becomes even more of a dud. How disappointing. The art is as muddy as ever.

View all my reviews

Books 25 and 26

25. Speaking of Murder, by Les Roberts, with Dan S. Kennedy. Another fun addition to the Milan Jacovich series. Roberts again teams up with Kennedy, this time to explore the world of public speaking and motivational seminars. In this story, Milan and Kevin O'Bannion are hired on as extra security at a convention for high-profile (and some not-so high profile) motivational speakers. Of course, it doesn't take long for one of them to wind up dead, and Milan and his lady friend Tobe Blaine, a homicide detective with the Cleveland police find no shortage of suspects. I have said it before, but I love the dynamic between Milan and Tobe, although I noticed some of the exchanges seemed sharper at times. I was especially happy to see the return of Victor Gaimari, the head of Cleveland's mob. He's a fun character, one you can't decide whether to love him or hate him, and you often wind up doing both in the same book. All in all, this was another excellent mystery, with great dialogue, some good laughs and excellent action. In addition, I had no idea whodunit until the end.

26. Hamilton, the Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I read about two-thirds of this before seeing Hamilton, and finished the rest on the car ride home. If you are a fan of the musical, or curious about it, or like a good behind-the-scenes book on the making of a musical, you must get this book. It's a lovely book, filled with gorgeous full color photos and tons of information on the play. The book is set up with headlines that read like something from Hamilton's era, and the chapters include interviews with the cast (the ensemble as well as the main cast) and the creative team behind this blockbuster show. It also includes Lin-Manuel's notes and pages of early drafts, costume concepts and more. In addition, the book includes the full libretto, with Lin-Manuel's side notes on certain lines and passages sprinkled liberally throughout. Those side notes were my favorite part, and offered a peek into the thought process in forming the lyrics of this work.

Currently reading: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
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.

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