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Books 123-137 for 2014

123. Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews. 211 pages.

Another dotty episode from the life of Meg Langslow and her bizarre family. This time Meg agrees to look after a small child “for a little while” and then his mother goes missing…

Ridiculous, but immense fun.

124. Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood. 175 pages.

Another investigation for the Hon Phryne Fisher. A young Jewish man dies mysteriously in a bookshop and the shopkeeper is arrested for the murder. Phryne is hired to prove she didn’t do it.

125. Heartless by Gail Carriger. 264 pages

4th in the Parasol Protectorate series. I thought I’d resigned myself to the ghastly travesty of Victorian British English that Carriger puts in her characters’ mouths, but it still threw me when one of them described a nearby house as being “a couple of blocks over”. Newsflash Ms Carriger - not even modern Londoners describe distances in blocks, because London simply isn’t built that way…..

But I can grit my teeth and put up with nonsense like that for the wacky characters and bizarre plots of this series - this time a heavily pregnant Alexia discovers a plot to kill the queen and much to the dismay of all around her, insists on investigating despite the imminent birth.

126. Antiques to Die For by Jane K. Cleland. 261 pages.

Third in the Josie Prescott series. A good friend of Josie’s is murdered and Josie has to help the victim’s young sister cope with the aftermath and prevent herself from becoming the next victim.

I’m quite enjoying this series. It’s not outstanding but the books are decently crafted.

127. Crazy in Paradise by Deborah Brown. 209 pages.

Madison inherits her aunt’s house and rental cottages - and a whole batch of trouble that’s not mentioned in the will….

Not sure about this one - it’s not utterly terrible, but it’s far from brilliant.

128. The Cat Who Turned On and Off by Lilian Jackson Braun. 162 pages.

Third in the series about reporter Jim Qwilleran and his siamese cats.

This time, through a misunderstanding, Qwill ends up writing a series of articles about “Junktown” - the antique shop quarter. Through the maze of old furniture and dodgy objets d’art, he begins to suspect that the recent death of one of the antique shop owners was more than the accident it was declared at the time….

Decent, solid mystery.

129. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. 294 pages.

Book 1 of the Laundry Files. H.P. Lovecraft meets Cold war spy thriller via Terry Pratchett. One of the best books I’ve read this year so far.

130. Dances With Waves by Brian Wilson. 318 pages.

Wilson’s account of his trip around the coast of Ireland in a sea kayak. Interesting =enough but it seemed to be lacking something indefinable.

131. The Gemini Factor by Thea Bennett. 169 pages.

Novelisation of a children’s drama series I vaguely remember watching when I was young. OK, but nothing to get excited about.

132. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. 208 pages.

Cas Lowell kills ghosts like his father before him. He travels the US, destroying ghosts who kill the living. But the ghost of Anna Korlov is something different to those he’s used to…

Nicely told and well plotted. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and will look out for the sequel.

133. Trail of Dead by Melissa F. Olsen. 265 pages.

Second book about Scarlett Bernard, whose abilities as a “null” temporarily turn vampires and werewolves human again.

This time there’s a crazy vampire pursuing Scarlett, but unfortunately while she’s crazy, she’s far from stupid…

Another good book in this series. Looking forward to the third one, but it’s not out until September.

134. Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews. 230 pages.

Another outing for the delightfully dotty Meg Langslow and her wacky family and friends.

This time Meg’s Mistress of Revels for the annual Caerphilly Holiday parade. Because that’s obviously going to end well….

135. The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun. 158 pages.

Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats solve another mystery after Jim is assigned to write about the gourmet scene. I’d read this one before but forgotten details of the ending.

136. The Cat Who Played Brahms by Lilian Jackson Braun. 151 pages.

This one I’d definitely not read before. The mystery is less well-defined than in previous books, but then the main function of this entry in the series is to provide a turning point in Qwilleran’s life, leaving him with an important choice to make at the end of the book.

137. The Cat Who Played Post Office by Lilian Jackson Braun. 155 pages.

This is one of those annoying stories that starts with a dramatic event and then goes back to detail the period before it happens. Otherwise a reasonable entry in this mystery series.


#51 Tasha Alexander: And Only to Deceive
I've actually heard about this book in this community, and I've really enjoyed it. As some say, "unputdownable". A thrilling narrative, and quite romantic in a Gothic way: falling in love with one's own dead husband. I found the ideas about Hector and Achilles and about Greek antiques interesting as well. Until now I have found all those uncountable amphorae boring, but now, perhaps, I'll give them another look.

#52 Carolly Erickson: Great Catherine: The Life of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (audio)
Not sure about this one. It is well written and narrated, but I felt it was lacking. The blurb says something about "dispelling some of the myths surrounding her voracious sexual appetite". I am not sure if a modern person would call it "voracious", but installing a string of ever younger men as favorites would still be considered unconventional. And I was frustrated in my struggle to understand what it was Catherine is supposed to have done politically. The author constantly goes on about her great achievements, in abstract, but does not explain them. The only one she went into detail about - the new constitution - was so idealistic, that it proved unworkable, and after a year of committees nothing happened. No reasons are given for the ever-going war with Turkey. I also did not find any explanation as to why Catherine's predecessor - Elizabeth decided that she wants her nephew to marry an obscure German princess. (OK, I did later find it elsewhere, but I was hoping for the biography to be more enlightening than that.) All in all, I think, that a good biography should combine reasonable explanation of politics with an interesting and hopefully sympathetic narrative of the person's life. This one went too much into the second.


Marketing and packaging must matter. Book Review No. 6 is Tom Clancy Support and Defend.  It's entirely the work of Clancy protege Mark Greaney, although, as it uses the cast of quasi-official Campus intelligence operatives, the marketing dodge isn't unreasonable.  I bought the book in Rockland and had it finished that evening.  Think of the story as a morality play: conscience-cowboys who leak classified material get Good People killed, and self-despising left-pacifist third-world-o-philia is a personality weakness too readily exploited by the bad guys. The action ... it's a strange world in which Russian special forces can get the jump on everyone else, and the Campus crew seems to have lost its mojo.  And with John Clark in retirement, there's nobody around to deal with the leakers properly.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Aug. 13th, 2014

And then there were three:

Last night I finished reading the last of the graphic novels by Steve Sheinkin, this one called Rabbi Harvey Vs. The Wisdom Kid; the previous books were series of short bits to illustrate various Talmudic principles, while this one was one entire tale in which the sheriff/rabbi has a showdown with a bad guy rabbi, with dueling 'drash. Fun.

Antonio Garrido: The Scribe

Posted this on amazon too. People should be warned :) I am also interested to hear if somebody actually liked it and why.

Having read all the glowing reviews for this book, when I finally started reading it, I became seriously confused. Did I get a different book!?
The story itself is not bad, although the sheer amount of Dei ex machina is bewildering. The protagonists are inconsistent beyond belief. They suddenly fall in love, suddenly start to hate, suddenly start shouting... The girl constantly sobs and bursts into tears and "unintentionally" falls asleep in men's arms. She promises to keep secrets and then decides that it is ok not too. The men with whom she deals first tell her that what she asks is impossible than after a bit of her sobbing agree to do it.
Bits of the book read like a draft. They simply outline the actions in the briefest terms.
The translation (if it is the translation) is strange as well. How can Theresa think that somebody is "in cahoots"? This is not a Wild West. The word "spinster" was not used to mean an old maid until much later. Although the phrase "their wet nurse, a spinster" left me horribly confused. I would expect the wet nurse to count's twins to have enough work on her hands not to worry about spinning wool. On the other hand, if the word spinster is used in the sense which became common in the 17th century, meaning an old maid, than how is she a wet nurse?
All in all, irritating.

Book 70

Crimson Spell, Volume 3Crimson Spell, Volume 3 by Ayano Yamane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The manga took a step I was hoping it would. It moved Vald and Havi's relationship to a new level. A good half of the manga was the battle between the two as Havi is possessed thanks to the other sorcerer. As things go really bad, Vald loses total control, morphing more fully into demon form. Even Rulca feels the need to try to battle the demo back because the familiar loves Vald as a master. (which is funny since Havi was the one who wanted him).

Halvrein, who is after Havi and the wandering swordsman arrived almost too late. Later Vald has to contend with what seems to be a more permanent change in his body thanks to the loss of control of the demon and has to face what is between him and Havi. I liked that it was out in the open since it was a little icky for me as it was.

This time there is plenty of plot and a lot less sex. Tthat is my preference in these things. The art remains beautiful. And for once, no tentacle rape.

View all my reviews

Book 152: The Humans by Matt Haig

Book 152: The Humans.
Author: Matt Haig, 2013.
Genre: Science Fiction. Comedy/Drama. Satire.
Other Details: Paperback. 294 pages.

After an 'incident' one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he's a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I found this a beautifully crafted tale of an alien who has stepped into the body and life of a Cambridge Maths professor in order to eradicate his ground-breaking work on prime numbers and to ensure that he has not advised anyone of this breakthrough.

It was a bitter-sweet tale of someone alienated from human life because he is encountering it for the first time. Matt Haig does a brilliant job of capturing Andrew-the-alien's' shift from this towards understanding and appreciating human life in all its messiness.

Overall. I felt this was a quirky, lovely novel. The Humans was chosen as one of the 20 books given away as part of World Book Night 2014.

Matt Haig's web page on ''The Humans' - includes extract and reviews.

Aug. 11th, 2014

I got ahold of another graphic novel by Steve Sheinkin, called Rabbi Harvey Rides Again, which is about a supposed sheriff and rabbi of Elk Springs, Colorado who doesn't carry a gun, but uses the wisdom from Talmudic stories and Jewish folktales to have his adventures. I found it a fun read, at least as good as the original book; there's one more that I've ordered and it should be here soon.

Books 31 & 32 - 2012

Book 31: Explore Hampton Court Palace: Souvenir Guidebook by Brett Dolman, Sebastian Edwards, Susanne Groom & Marc Meltonville – 75 pages

The book has no blurb or description elsewhere on the net – basically, its about Hampton Court Palace.

When I went to London in 2009 (a ‘stopover’ when I went to Dubai – it’s cheaper to fly Brisbane to London and stop in Dubai, then it is to just fly Brisbane to Dubai return – go figure!), I really wanted to go to Hampton Court Palace because it was the 500 year anniversary of King Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne (King Henry VIII is my favourite historical figure ever – I can’t explain why, I just love him). But we were only there three days, and my mum felt going to the Tower of London was enough. So when I moved to London temporarily in 2012, I made a beeline for Hampton Court Palace (after a second visit to Tower of London, of course!). It’s a very cool place – very beautiful, and if you’re really lucky, you will find a gentleman dressed up as Henry himself (I got a picture with him!!). This guide book provides highlights of the key attractions of this famous historical palace. I highly recommend a visit!

31 / 50 books. 62% done!

9072 / 15000 pages. 60% done!

Book 32: Eilean Donan Castle: Official Guide by The Conchra Charitable Trust – 24 pages

Description from back of book:
There is a feast of things to see at Eilean Donan. Explore the Castle, be entranced by the views and simply enjoy the experience...

This is a very, very short tourist book about Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland near Kyle of Lochalsh (important to me because my brother’s name is Kyle) and a key prop in the Highlander movies, so I’m told. It provides a very high level overview of the Castle’s history and notes the Castle’s role today, particularly its appearance in film. A nice little tourist read.

32 / 50 pages. 64% done!

9096 / 15000 pages. 61% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 313 pages
-        American Gods by Neil Gaiman – 588 pages
-        The Sexual Paradox: Troubled Boys, Gifted Girls and the Real Difference between the Sexes by Susan Pinker – 308 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
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Book 69

Specters In Coal DustSpecters In Coal Dust by Michael Knost

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I met the editor of this anthology in a booksamillion in Barboursville WV and I hate to say it, it took me a while to work this into the reading pile. I was more interested in chatting with him than paying attention to the blurb. I thought this was a collection of real hauntings but it's actually an anthology of coal mine ghosts.

That's fine. My grandfathers were miners. I've lost family members to the mines like many of the protagonists to be found in this anthology. The one thing I did have to do was read one story then go find something else because sometimes in anthologies the theme is hewned to so closely the stories begin to feel like they're all the same.

The authors in this vary wildly from the well known ones like Christopher Golden and Michael Bracken to authors who were completely new. The stories vary in quality like most anthologies but over all the quality is high. One of my favorites was a very short one about a miner using the hair of his newly dead wife as bowstrings (mostly because it was different than most) and the Shoogling Jenny with its hints of Scotland. Like I said most were good and no real clinkers.

If you have an interest in coal mining, appalachia and ghosts you might like this.

View all my reviews

Book #39: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Number of pages: 784

I was keen to read this book shortly after watching the second season of Game of Thrones, which is based on it.

Ned Stark and his fate are something that we are constantly reminded of throughout the book, and at times I thought maybe this was referenced a bit too much, although it
The title of this book comes from the main plot regarding the number of claimants to the iron throne of Westeros, following on from the first book:

In A Game of Thrones, King Robert Baratheon died, and asked his hand, Ned Stark, to be king until the heir, the obnoxious Prince Joffrey, was old enough to be king. Joffrey had other ideas, and became king anyway, having Ned Stark executed.
made sense for the story to look at the effect his death had on his widow, Catelyn Stark.

So, in this book, there is a sense that a large confrontation is going to take place, and that leads to the book’s climactic battle of Blackwater Bay, which described in vivid detail.

Like with the previous book, the story does not actually have a lot of fantasy elements, with the story focussing mainly on politics, which sets this apart from other fantasy series. The only supernatural elements here are Danaerys Targarean’s dragons and a chapter involving a supernatural shadow (and a mention of a ghost later on).

The one thing I noticed a lot more than with the first book, was that the TV series took some artistic license, mostly with the order of events, presumably for dramatic reasons and finding the best way to translate it into a ten-part serial.

In particular, I noticed that there wasn’t as much of Danaerys as I had expected, and that she hardly appeared in the first half of the book, whereas she seemed to take up a significant part of the TV show. Her dragons seemed to be less significant than they were on the show too, and her storyline (which doesn’t really seem to connect much with the others at this stage) seemed a bit harder to follow; the sequence where she enters the mysterious tower near to the end actually seemed a lot darker than it appeared on screen.

As for the other stories, I remember there was a good storyline towards the end involving Jon Snow and one of the Wildlings, which the TV series made a lot more of than it is portrayed in the book. I particularly enjoyed the sections involving Arya Stark, who spends her time pretending to be a boy and who ends up serving Tywin Lannister in Harrenhal.

Overall, I thought this book was an enjoyable sequel, which made me want to keep reading the series (as well as watching the TV show), despite the usual grittiness and unflinchingly violent scenes that make George R.R. Martin’s work a lot more adult in nature than other fantasy books I have read. The book has a good way of hinting at things that are to come, with references to “the dead walking” and one mention of the phrase, “White Walkers” (someone has explained to me what these are now). I noticed the concept of “Wargs” introduced here, which I initially found confusing, mainly because in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, a Warg is a wolf-like creature; I did find out from the DVD special features that this means a person who can spiritually inhabit the body of an animal, and from what I’ve seen of the third season so far, they play a greater part further on in the series.

One other thing I noticed was that compared to the TV series, the ending seemed a bit abrupt; it is actually a good chapter, following on from atrocities committed by the psychotic Theon Greyjoy, but I was expecting it to have the same ending as Season 2 of Game of Thrones, which was absolutely epic, and chilling. I am assuming this was more creative license on the part of the TV show, and that this was in fact from the next book: A Storm of Swords Part One: Steel and Snow.

Next book: Does God Believe in Atheists?: How past atheist and agnostic thinking shapes peoples' thinking today (John Blanchard)

Book 151: Birdman by Mo Hayder

Book 151: Birdman (Jack Caffery #1).
Author: Mo Hayder, 1999.
Genre: Police Procedural. Crime. Thriller.
Other Details: Paperback. 398 pages.

Greenwich, south-east London. Jack Caffery - young, driven, unshockable - is called to one of the most gruesome crime scenes he has ever seen. Five young women have been ritualistically murdered and dumped on wasteland near the Dome. Subsequent post-mortems reveal a singular, horrific signature linking the victims. Soon Caffery realises that he is on the trail of that most dangerous offender: a serial killer. Beset by animosity within the police force, haunted by the memory of a very personal death long ago, Caffery employs every weapon forensic science can offer to hunt him down. Because he knows that it is only a matter of time before this sadistic killer strikes again ... - synopsis from author's website.

After recently reading her latest in this series, Wolf, I dutifully returned to the beginning of the series. Birdman proved very strong stuff in terms of the level of violence and graphic details of torture and death. Actually, the descriptions were almost too much at times though I did enjoy it for the many twists and turns of the investigation.

I plan on sticking with this series as I want to follow more of Caffrey's story and see how he continues in his quest to unravel the mystery of his brother's disappearance. Strong but riveting crime fiction.

Aug. 10th, 2014

While having lunch yesterday, I finished reading a recent novel by Mike Resnick called The Doctor and the Dinosaurs that manages to mix his brand of Weird Western fiction with the true tale of the rivalry of two paleontologists that advanced said science by a hundred years in our non-fiction world. As have all the books in this series (shown through the eyes of Doc Holliday), this was an amusing read.

book 68

Penny Palabras Season One: It's Later Than You Think (TPB)Penny Palabras Season One: It's Later Than You Think by James B. Willard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this graphic novel from the author in exchange for a review, which in no way influenced my review.

I hadn't heard of this one until I saw it listed in the GR giveaways. It is always nice to see a female lead character, the titular Penny Palabras who is a senior in high school which is the least of her problems. She lives with Mom. Dad is absent (we learn more of his story later on). Penny can see ghosts but that's still not her problem. She is being stalked, for a lack of a better term, by the Straw Man. He plays pranks and haunts her dreams.She wants to kill him off.

She spends most of her time in the library getting help from the Librarian with metaphysics, parapsychology, etc etc. The Librarian takes it one step further, helping her find other people with ties to the paranormal. The straw man however is difficult to shake and worse, a devil has offered his help but as you can imagine that would not come cheap.

I liked this story a lot. The world building and what is really going on is revealed in layers, like peeling an onion. Penny, sad and flawed as she is, is an engaging character, far too young to be dealing with such things, like finding a ghost to help her (which she does). the story weaves in things with her family, especially her father, completing the arc in a satisfactory way (though this is just part one).

I really liked the storyline. The art varied for me. I like the stark black and white treatment. However, some of the proportions seemed off. It is not a pretty art style (years of reading manga has spoiled me. The style reminds me of DC Vertigo's line). I did have occasional trouble reading the font (but that might have just been me).

The one thing I could have asked for more is more menance from the straw man. Penny was very obviously terrified of him but we do't get to learn much about his 'pranks.' I would have liked to.

View all my reviews

Books 31 and 32

31. The Wave, by Susan Casey. I should point out that what I was reading was an advanced galley copy a friend and coworker was giving away (she had been weeding her bookshelves and brought in a whole bunch of books, including this one). I point this out because the one nit I had about this book might have been fixed in the final product. That said, I really enjoyed this one. I never knew a book on ocean waves could be so fascinating, but it was. Casey gets her information from numerous viewpoints, including scientists studying waves and global warming, insurance companies who must deal with the aftermath of destructive waves, and, perhaps most interestingly, surfers. That last one may sound a bit odd, but I really liked hearing about the different professional surfers, the places they go and the dangers they face. Surfing has this "beach bum" image, but I began to appreciate just how strong and athletic surfers have to be with the movie Soul Surfer. With The Wave, I began to appreciate further the rigors of surfing, as well as the many dangers. Wow, talk about your extreme sports! I have a whole new respect for surfing as a sport after reading this. It's interesting to realize that rogue waves and superwaves, which is what Casey concentrates on, defy the laws of physics- proving once again that Mother Nature scoffs at man's carefully laid rules. I think the most chilling story I read, one that just occupied my mind for a long time afterward, was the 1,740 foot wave that obliterated a coastal area in Alaska. The new World Trade Center 1 tower is only slightly taller, at 1,776 feet. It wiped out four square acres, a small city in this area. Only four people in the direct line of fire survived, and that in and of itself is a miracle. This was a fast and easy read. While there is a lot of scientific information on waves, it's easy to follow. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in natural disasters, the ocean or even on surfing.

32. The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. Full disclaimer, this is actually a reread. I stumbled across this online at the The Gutenberg Press online and decided to reread it. I love the two movies with Leslie Howard and Anthony Andrews. This book is enjoyable, if you are willing to overlook a couple plot contrivances (like the kidnapping and later release of two of the Scarlet Pimpernel's devoted followers). It was worth reading again. The book is short, well paced and just plain fun.

Currently reading: Stayin' Alive, by Jefferson Cowie, and The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
Book 149: The Fire of Merlin (The Return to Camelot #2.
Author: Donna Hosie, 2013.
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy. Arthurian Legend. Young Adult.
Other Details: ebook. 233 pages.

Seventeen-year-old Natasha Roth and her older brother, Arthur, are reunited once more with the Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately their joy is not shared by Arthur’s girlfriend, “Slurpy” Samantha, whose hatred of Natasha has not been lessened by time or distance since the Roth family relocated to London. But Natasha’s happiness is short-lived. The knights come with ill news from Logres: a magical darkness has fallen over the land. The Lady of the Lake, Nimue, is battling against her former lover, Merlin, whom she imprisoned before the enchanted sleep. He has been freed and Natasha soon discovers that her own actions the previous year unlocked more than just a gateway between the past and the present. When “Slurpy” disappears, a frantic Arthur decides they must leave the 21st century once more and return to Camelot. - synopsis from author's blog.

Thankfully Natasha appears to have grown up a little since The Search for Arthur and has curbed her jealousy to some degree. There was enough to like here though by no means is this series going to become a classic of Arthurian literature. Far too much of the plot and characterisation just doesn't seem thought out even for a fantasy. Certainly it hasn't been made clear why the son of a USA diplomat has been hailed as the returned King Arthur. Is it just because his name is Arthur and he is a blond jock? As a long time champion of the Lady of the Lake/Nimue I wasn't pleased for her to be cast as the baddie.

So despite some fun moments this just felt weak . I may continue on to Book 3 as I would like to see how things play out though some reviews of Book 3 mention it ending on another cliffhanger and this doesn't encourage me. I like a trilogy to have an ending, rather than feed into another series. Fine if its quality but not so if mediocre.

Book 150: Hostage Queen.
Author: Freda Lightfoot, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. France 16th Century.
Other Details: Hardback. 260 pages.

Marguerite de Valois, the most beautiful woman in the French Court, is the subject of great intrigue. She loves Henri of Guise, but is married off to Henry of Navarre, which (her mother hopes) will bring peace to the realm. But, within days, the streets of Paris are awash with blood, and Marguerite and her new husband are held hostage by her own family. Can they ever hope to escape alive? In a court rife with murder, jealousy and the hunger for power, it will not be an easy task . . . - synopsis from author's website.

After reading C. M. Gortner's novel about Catherine d'Medici I wanted to read a novel featuring her daughter Margot but didn't wish to read Dumas. I found this novel rather lacklustre. While some sections were fine and the author does write the love scenes very well too much of the book felt like reading non-fiction making for a rather patchy pace. Catherine is so obviously the baddie here and the ending just sort of happened. I would have appreciated an author's note rounding out Margot's history after those last sentences. While reading this novel it struck me as amazing that the people of France didn't rise up and start chopping off the heads of their aristocrats two hundred years before the French Revolution.
In the late nineteenth century, California became "the cutting edge of the American dream, " the final frontier both geographically and in the minds of the many men and women who went there to pursue their destinies. In this fascinating volume Keven Starr examines California's formative years to discover the orgins of the California dreams and the social, psychological, and symbolic impact it has had not only on Californians but on the rest of the country.

This is a book I found fascinating even though it seemed to drag on forever. I worked on it for over two weeks.

I'm a native Californian and this book taught me many new things. The content would have worked very well for the Cultural Geography of California course I took ages ago. The book was first published in 1972. I was surprised and pleased to find the content was quiet honest about many racist and cruel elements in California's past, and how that connected to the very title of the book. The quest to make California American was also often considered part of a manifest destiny against a Catholic dominion. The native peoples were enslaved. The original Mexican landholders found their legal rights ignored, their dominion overrun by squatters, their recourse limited.

The text goes into great depth on the psychology behind the Gold Rush, the founding of San Francisco, early historians of the state, Josiah Royce, John Muir, Jack London, the very self-destructive Bohemian artists and writers of San Francisco and Carmel, the "City Beautiful" movement, the founding of Stanford University, Gertrude Atherton, and the attempt to create California as a new Mediterranean. At almost 500 pages, it digs deep. I appreciated the constant use of primary sources of the period--there is a massive index and bibliography in the back--and I found out about several more books I want to read.

I knew this volume focused on northern California but I was a bit disappointed in how heavily it focused on San Francisco. I had hoped for more on the Central Valley, where I'm from. There were scattered mentions of the Mussel Slough Tragedy (a settler versus railroad face off that ended in death) and Fresno, but not much at all. Starr worked in the roles of women quite often, and the importance of early Mexican settlers like Vallejo, but the Chinese and Japanese were almost totally ignored despite their sizable representation. That really surprised me, especially with the emphasis on San Francisco.

I'll keep this on my shelf as a future reference, but I'll continue to search for better books on this time period in California.

A couple non-fiction books

I'm still several books behind the pace, and I'm in the middle of several novels, but in the meantime I finished a couple non-fiction books.

22. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan - the comedian writes about raising five young children in New York City and on the road for his career - the chapter on the family's sleeping arrangements in a small apartment is laugh-out-loud funny, as are other parts of the book, but it also gets a little repetitive and annoying towards the end of the book - a choice from my library's adult summer reading list.

23. Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans - the author was born and raised in the heart of the Bible Belt and attended college in Dayton, Tennessee, the site of the "Monkey Trial" about teaching evolution in public schools - while in college she starts to grapple with deep questions of faith and justice issues but doesn't find satisfaction from her classmates or professors - through her questions and searching she discovers a deeper and more solid faith - moving and thought-provoking but also light-hearted and uplifting.
The Secret History of Las Vegas, by Chris Abani
This book was SO good - one of my favorites of the year so far. Just enough science, just enough mystery, just enough thriller, just enough unsettling, just enough deeply weird. And luminously written.

A Wizard of Mars, by Diane Duane, read by Christina Moore(audiobook)
I am now caught up on these. This one was a bit more complicated than previous volumes, and thus a bit more difficult to follow on audio, but Christina Moore's voice is so mellifluous that I never minded skipping back a few tracks to figure out what was going on.

Disability and Passing, edited by Jeffrey A. Brune and Daniel J. Wilson
Some of these essays were splendid and some of them read like a way to add to someone's tenure file. But even the latter were passable, and I was very glad for the splendid ones. Also glad to be able to read academic writing for fun again - while I was in school, my brain would just *quit* if I tried to read something academic in my non-school time.

Dry Store Room No. 1, by Richard Fortey
This meandered way way way too much. Like listening to an elderly distractible relative who has you cornered at a family party. That said, there were some very interesting bits in here, and I have enough background in biology (both technical and "inside baseball") to enjoy the book even though it was all messy. I liked it but I can't think who I would recommend it to.

The Yalom Reader, by Irvin T. Yalom
This was neat. I skipped around a lot while I was reading it, and the book bore up to such treatment with good grace. As is often the case for me, I enjoyed the interstitial framing / introducing parts even more than the actual selections.

The Gift of Therapy, by Irvin T. Yalom
If there isn't a genre of "old people tell the rest of the world what they have decided is most important to share from their lifetime of expertise," there should be. Sometimes it works better than other times. This book and the Fortey book that I grumped about above both fall into that genre, but THIS book was splendid. Short, satisfying chapters. A bit of overlap from other writings by him, but not too much. The format was pleasantly reminiscent of a Peter Drucker book I read once, but the content was much more up my alley.

Delight, by J. B. Priestley
A marvelous little book. The binding was marvelous, the paper was marvelous, the printing was marvelous, the little ornaments separating the sections were marvelous, and many of the small sections describing various delights the author had experienced were marvelous. In the very literal sense that I often interrupted my reading to marvel at all of those things. The slight majority of the sections were merely funny, or charming, or sly, but I didn't mind. Needed some breathing room among the marvels.

Book 67

Vertigo 42 (Richard Jury, #23)Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read a Richard Jury novel in a long time (thank goodness for Mom who has kept up better than I and could remind me of Melrose Plant etc). In fact, this is not a good starter novel for the series but since it’s #23 that should be self-evident. It’s also the first Jury novel in four years so.

It’s funny because as I read this and Mom read the latest Elizabeth George novel it felt like she and Martha Grimes took the same premise and wrote their novels on it. There is a modern day killing but the story really has its roots 22 and 17 years ago. Jury is technically on vacation when he’s approached by Mr. Williamson to look into the death of his wife 17 years ago.

Tess supposedly had vertigo and fell down the steps to her death in an empty pool, the same empty pool that claimed the life of troublesome girl 22 years ago. Tess and Tom Williamson couldn’t have kids but she used their wealth and country estate to have parties for kids. One girl, known to blackmail other kids and adults, broke the rule about not going in the back yard and fell to her death. Tess was suspected of killing the girl and a few years later, she too died. Jury’s friend, Macalvie investigated it back then, not convinced that it was an accident.

As Jury starts questioning the kids, now in their thirties, to see if he can get an idea of what happened back then, a young woman dies falling from a tower folly. Since that’s not really his case, Jury leaves poking around that to Melrose while he works on the old case. And then there’s the matter of the stray dog, Stanley.

The reader has to assume that these two plot lines will dovetail somehow and naturally they will. I enjoyed this one though the stuff with the dog does seem to go on rather long on occasion (even though it will be important later). There are several points of view in the novel but mostly it’s Jury’s.

View all my reviews


Books #20-22

20. The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, 401 pages, Horror, 2009 (The Strain Trilogy, Book 1). Plot and my impressions under the cut, for those following the TV seriesCollapse )
21. The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, 308 pages, Horror, 2010 (The Strain Trilogy, Book 2). Read more...Collapse )
22. The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, 371 pages, Horror, 2011 (The Strain Trilogy, Book 3). Read more...Collapse )

#77: Wild Card by Jamie Wyman

It was bad enough that gods gambled with human souls, but Catherine Sharp’s soul just had to be won by the Greek goddess of Discord, Eris. As if working a dead-end tech support job didn’t suck the life out of her as it was. Now, Cat finds herself performing random tasks for the goddess in her free time.

But when Coyote, the Native American trickster himself, claims to have won her own soul in Mayhem’s weekly poker game, Cat wants in on the action. With five sneaky gods upping the ante, Cat needs to find a way to collect the winning chips that could save her soul.

Marius, a handsome yet irritating satyr with his own debt to Eris, might finally come in handy for something. If they play their cards right and work together, Cat and Marius may just get their freedom back. If they don’t kill each other—or fall in love—first.

I've read so much urban fantasy that I tend to be critical of it. It has to be really good and fresh to grip me. Wild Card did just that. Wyman uses the vivid backdrop of Las Vegas to depict an unusual face-off of the old trickster gods. Cat is a snarky red-head with a knack for computers, but her day job is interrupted by the whims of Eris, who owns her soul. When Cat finds that Eris has thrown Cat's soul into a card game match between trickster gods, all hell breaks loose. Literally. The gods don't simply play to win. They want to test the potential goods. That means Cat's on the run for her life, all with the help of the rakish satyr, Marius.

A lot of urban fantasies recycle the same gods and fae. I loved that Wyman brought in Maui and mythology from Hawaii, a darker take on Coyote, and I loved, loved, what she did with Loki. The romance isn't some clear-cut thing here, either. Marius comes across as a real dirt bag from the start, but he develops into a very complex and sympathetic character.

This is the sort of book that reminds me that urban fantasy can still be fresh and full of potential.

Radiant Thomas Ate Vegas; Late Girls

What Pete Ate from A to Z, by Maira Kalman
This was cute. I have a fondness for alphabet books.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything, by Maira Kalman
Now, this one was GENIUS. So good I immediately bought a copy to give to some kids I know. It's rare to find a treatment of Jefferson for kids that actually talks about him in flawed human terms. Plus the art was amazing.

Radiant Truths, edited by Jeff Sharlet
Very tasty anthology of works that are in some sense about belief, going all the way back to Walt Whitman.

Vegas, by John Gregory Dunne
This memoir was dark and depressing and full of unhappy people and yet it was somehow a light pleasant read at the same time. Not really sure how that worked - something about the author not taking himself too seriously. I appreciated it.

Girls Standing on Lawns, by Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler
An odd and puzzling book made in collaboration with MOMA. It is what the title says it is, plus some musings thereupon. I quite liked it.

Stay Up Late, by Maira Kalman and David Byrne
One of her earlier picture books, full of whizzing energy and love. It made me feel like the song was meant to have these pictures accompanying it.
A Future Arrived, by Phillip Rock
This was very much like the first two books in the trilogy (and Downton still owes this series many thanks). I wish there were more of them.

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer
A deeply odd, and compelling, children's dark fantasy novel. I'm very pleased that there ARE several more books by this author out there waiting for me.

Suburban Glamour, by Jamie McKelvie
The art on this was lovely, but the story was a bit standard as fairy stories go.

The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan
This was another superfun installment - I particularly enjoy the sideways allusions that don't get explained - but I did start to notice the formula a bit. So I'll have to make sure to space the books in this series out adequately.

American Gypsy, by Oksana Marafioti
An odd and intense book. There was a two-page scene that almost made me stop reading because it was too difficult for me. Overall, though, this memoir was captivating and deeply personal.

Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine
I gobbled this book up uncritically, very much in choir-being-preached-to mode with a side of YAY snarky science writing, but I think it would have held up nicely even if I had been more skeptical.

(PS I actually just finished my 170th book for the year today... so it may take a while for me to catch up on these posts ...)

Books #18-19

18. Gravity by Tess Gerritsen, 342 pages, Thriller, 1999 (Medical Thrillers, Book 4).

There’s an outbreak of unknown origins aboard the International Space Station, and the astronauts and their support crew back at Johnson Space Center must work around USAMRIID and the federal government to discover what was in that payload experiment and how to counteract the infection before all on the Space Station are dead. I almost got lost at the beginning, with so many characters being introduced, but it was fascinating to watch how they all wove into the main story. I’m a fan of Tess Gerritsen’s writing, and this book did not disappoint in the least!

19. Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”, 198 pages, Mystery, 2009 (Nikki Heat, Book 1).

The TV show “Castle” features writer Richard Castle as he tags along on Detective Kate Beckett’s cases. The book he writes based on her, “Heat Wave”, was a plotline in the show. And someone, somewhere, decided to make the book a reality. Detective Nikki Heat has to solve crime while dealing with a magazine writer tag-a-long, Jameson Rook. It’s like reading an episode of Castle, with the names changed. Since I like the TV show, I was amused. Not the best thing, but a nice bit of mind-candy.

July 2014 Reading

July 2014 reading:

25. The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (375 pages)
This book reminds me very much of series like Harry Potter and Erec Rex. There's a fun and dangerous world created here, and it's mesmerizing. I couldn't put it down.

26. Second Grave on the Left, by Darynda Jones (307 pages)
Charley is barely done with her first adventure when she is forced to embark on another. Again, this puts her in life-threatening danger, and not just from her case.

July pages: 682

Pages to date: 9,434

Progress: 26/52

July 2014 comics/manga reading:

288. Azumanga Daioh: Volume 2, by Kiyohiko Azuma (161 pages)
289. Claymore: Volume 4, by Norihiro Yagi (187 pages)
290. Serenity Leaves on the Wind: Issue 6, by Zack Whedon (28 pages)
291. Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne: Volume 6, by Arina Tanemura (192 pages)
292. Time Stranger Kyoko: Volume 1, by Arina Tanemura (200 pages)
293. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 9, by Hiromu Arakawa (183 pages)
294. Ooku: Volume 7, by Fumi Yoshinaga (224 pages)
295. Naruto: Volume 7, by Masashi Kishimoto (192 pages)
296. Naruto: Volume 8, by Masashi Kishimoto (192 pages)
297. GTO: Volume 2, by Tohru Fujisawa (192 pages)
298. Blood+: Volume 5, by Asuka Katsura (190 pages)
299. Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne: Volume 7, by Arina Tanemura (176 pages)
300. D.N. Angel: Volume 6, by Yukiru Sugisaki (176 pages)
301. Bleach: Volume 32, by Tite Kubo (200 pages)
302. Dengeki Daisy: Volume 8, by Kyousuke Motomi (192 pages)
303. Dengeki Daisy: Volume 9, by Kyousuke Motomi (200 pages)
304. The Wallflower: Volume 27, by Tomoko Hayakawa (176 pages)
305. Boy Princess: Volume 8, by Seyoung Kim (197 pages)
306. Skip-Beat!: Volume 7, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
307. Skip-Beat!: Volume 8, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
308. Skip-Beat!: Volume 9, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
309. Skip-Beat!: Volume 10, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
310. Skip-Beat!: Volume 11, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
311. Skip-Beat!: Volume 12, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
312. Skip-Beat!: Volume 13, by Yoshiki Nakamura (208 pages)
313. Skip-Beat!: Volume 14, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
314. Skip-Beat!: Volume 15, by Yoshiki Nakamura (210 pages)
315. Skip-Beat!: Volume 16, by Yoshiki Nakamura (210 pages)
316. Skip-Beat!: Volume 17, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
317. Skip-Beat!: Volume 18, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
318. Skip-Beat!: Volume 19, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
319. Skip-Beat!: Volume 20, by Yoshiki Nakamura (192 pages)
320. Skip-Beat!: Volume 21, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
321. Skip-Beat!: Volume 22, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
322. Skip-Beat!: Volume 23, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
323. Skip-Beat!: Volume 24, by Yoshiki Nakamura (192 pages)
324. Skip-Beat!: Volume 25, by Yoshiki Nakamura (184 pages)
325. Skip-Beat!: Volume 26, by Yoshiki Nakamura (184 pages)
326. Skip-Beat!: Volume 27, by Yoshiki Nakamura (193 pages)
327. Skip-Beat!: Volume 28, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
328. Skip-Beat!: Volume 29, by Yoshiki Nakamura (185 pages)
329. Skip-Beat!: Volume 30, by Yoshiki Nakamura (200 pages)
330. Skip-Beat!: Volume 31, by Yoshiki Nakamura (192 pages)
331. Skip-Beat!: Volume 32, by Yoshiki Nakamura (180 pages)
332. Skip-Beat!: Volume 33, by Yoshiki Nakamura (192 pages)
333. Skip-Beat!: Volume 34, by Yoshiki Nakamura (192 pages)
334. Girl Friends: Omnibus 1, by Milk Morinaga (496 pages)

July pages: 9,071

Pages to date: 66,483

Progress: 334/365
Book 148: The Shock of the Fall.
Author: Nathan Filer, 2013.
Genre: Contemporary. Coming of Age. Mental Illness.
Other Details: Paperback. 314 pages.

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’ - from UK publisher's website.

The Shock of the Fall takes the form of a memoir written by Matt Holmes, a 19-year old schizophrenic as he seeks to come to terms with his illness and the complexities of the UK mental health system. Although some reviews seem to suggest that Simon's death when Matt was young was the trigger for his mental illness, schizophrenia often presents in the adolescent years and as far as I am aware is not likely to be 'caused' by such an event. Matt though is haunted by the memory of Simon.

The Shock of the Fall didn't impress me as much as I had expected given its glowing reviews and it winning The 2013 Costa Book Award. While it is obvious that the author has had experience with 'service users', I found his depiction of a schizophrenic 19-year old somewhat patchy. Still it did have its moments even though I didn't find it as powerful as Poppy Shakespeare. I did appreciate that it highlighted the crises in the NHS mental health services that has led to the closure of facilities leaving people with mental illness feeling abandoned. In that respect I am glad that its reviews and the award has meant that many people have read it and hopefully are more aware of these important issues.


#47 Kevin Ashman: Roman - The Fall of Britannia (The Roman Chronicles).
I am sorry to say, that must be one of the worst books I've read in quite a while. The author evidently knows a lot about the Roman army and this knowledge and admiration for the efficiency of the Roman 'killing machine' is apparent. But that's about it. The protagonists are absolutely cartoonish and their attitudes are strange and not really believable. The 'true Roman' Cassus is constantly belittling and insulting his freeman Prydain and does not lift a finger to help him, and yet from time to time there is talk of the 'best friend of his childhood'. Erm...? The druids are seen by everyone (?) as a bunch of perverts, whom nobody dares to cross because they've got an army of their own. Erm...? There are many more erms, but I'll stop here.

#48 Linda Lafferty: The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire
I've enjoyed this book, which tells about Esma Sultane - a sister of the Ottoman Sultan, who tried to create a free world for women, when such freedom was unknown. However, there were a lot of loose ends and hints which never materialised.

#49 The Mammoth Book of Dickensian Whodunnits, ed. Mike Ashley
A nice collection which almost makes me want to read Dickens.

#50 Laini Taylor: Dreams of Gods and Monsters
A perfect end to a fantastic trilogy. I want more.

Books 29 and 30

29. Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs. An excellent follow-up to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The sequel picks up where Miss Peregrine left off, with Jacob, Emma, Bronwyn, Millard, Olive and the other Peculiar children on the run from their once safe island. Their teacher, Miss Peregrine, is stuck in bird form. The children make their way to London, hoping to find someone who can help their teacher regain her human form, dodging the bombs and air raids of World War II, as well as the hollowgasts and wights hunting them. It's hard to write about this book without giving spoilers, but this book was hard to put down, had a couple interesting twists and leaves the reader with a cliffhanger ending. Obviously, a third book is planned, and there was much rejoicing (by me, anyway). The tone in this book is darker as Jacob and the others confront the duel dangers of the war and the supernatural, as well as the perils of growing up.

30. Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar lee Masters. This is a collection of 244 free-form poems total, the vast majority of which are epitaphs from the deceased residents of the somewhat fictionalized small town of Spoon River. I saw a musical based on these poems ages ago and really liked it. The premise is that the dead speak to the living, the veneer of civility stripped away. They have nothing to hide anymore. Some of the poems are reflective, some are sweet, and show a contented life (Lucinda Matlock, Lois Spears and Fiddler Jones are my favorites in this category). From soldiers who died in battle to children succumbing to disease, from the lower end of society such as Daisy Fraser to banker Thomas Rhodes, there is a varied cross-section of humanity. Several poems reflect bitterness, and more than a few stories -- the Minerva Jones arc and the story of Nellie Clark especially-- are horrifically tragic. In addition to the personal stories, many of which are connected to paint a more complete picture of Spoon River Life, there is The Hill, which begins the anthology, plus The Spooniad and The Epilogue. Didn't care for the epilogue, personally. Just too bizarre after the realistic feel of the rest of the anthology. Also, I noticed most of the poems Masters added in his 1916 expansion tend to be heavily rhetorical and more standalone. All in all, though, using Spoon River Anthology would be a good, accessible way to introduce older grade school readers and teens to poetry.
Currently reading: Stayin' Alive, by Jefferson Cowie, and The Wave, by Susan Casey



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