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A heroic fantasy by an award-winning author about a young woman who is trained in the art of the sinister hand of magic, but at what price?

On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel makes the choice to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. But this is not the devil you know. This is a being who deals fairly with immense—but not unlimited—power, who offers opportunities to people who want to make a deal, and makes sure they always get what they deserve. But his land is a wild west that needs a human touch, and that’s where Izzy comes in. Inadvertently trained by him to see the clues in and manipulations of human desire, Izzy is raised to be his left hand and travel the circuitous road through the territory. As we all know, where there is magic there is power and chaos…and death.

I have seen this labeled as a Weird Western, and I understand why: it's definitely not a historical old west tale. It's alternate history that endows the middle of America with a sort of mystical sentience. The feel is folkloric. There is action, but it's not a thriller. It steadily moves in a way that is fascinating and soothing.

Silver on the Road is a coming of age story of sorts for Isobel. She's a good heroine; a good person, period, who asked for a job and had no idea what she was granted. At times, her whining on that subject gets a little old, but I think that's my biggest gripe. Also, I really appreciated that this wasn't a romance at all. Mind you, I enjoy a good romance subplot, but it is something of a trope.

Gilman's worldbuilding is phenomenal. I loved exploring the road with Isobel and learning about crossroads, owls, snakes, and the feel of the land. It's a very... loving take on the very meaning of land and home.
Book 109: The Falcon at the Portal (Amelia Peabody #11).
Author: Elizabeth Peters, 1999.
Genre: Adventure. Historical Mystery. Egyptology.
Other Details: ebook. 468 pages. Unabridged Audio (15 hrs, 13 mins). Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.

(Excavation season 1911-12) David is accused of forging antiquities, and the Emerson clan springs into action to help clear his name. The romantic tension between Ramses and Nefret finally comes to a head, a body is discovered at Emerson's excavation site, and the obnoxious cousin Percy reappears. Again, narrated in the initimitable Amelia style, with excerpts from Manuscript H and letters from Nefret. - synopsis from author's website.

Without giving any spoilers I will say that in this novel in the series an ongoing arc for certain characters came to a climax. At first this made me so happy and then a few minutes later there was a twist that had me saying "oh no, no!'. From there things went from bad to worse and I had a lot of trouble leaving my car as I was so anxious to know what happened next. Of course, all this tension was mixed in with the central mystery, which was also highly engaging.

Again this was my audiobook in the car for a number of weeks and I read the corresponding pages on my Kindle at the end of the week. As usual Rosenblat did an amazing job with the various characters. I love her narration.

Realising that some of the later books are set during earlier years, I have taken the decision to continue reading in publication order rather than chronological order.

Book 124

Silver on the RoadSilver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I won this in a Goodreads giveaway but that did not influence my review in any way. I don't read a lot of 'weird west' stuff but this one sounded so interesting I had to throw my hat in the ring to win it. I'm glad I did. I vacillated between 4 and 5 stars on this one but what the heck give it five and call it 4.5 here.

I suppose since the protagonist is 16 this qualifies as 'young adult' but it doesn't read like one. For one there's no love triangle. Heck there's zero romance and that was a nice change of pace. No, this reads like a folktale.

Isobel is what I like to see in a strong female protagonist (i.e. non-abrasive/bitchy which is all too often used for 'strong'). She's smart and independent though she isn't too proud to ask for help when needed. She was raised in Flood, in the western Territory. In this alternative universe pretty much everything east of the Mississippi is 'civilized' and devoid of any strong magic. Everything west is wild magic, plagued by magicians (The advice Izzy is given about them is to just run, if that gives you an idea about them) who are mad for power and just plain mad and it's all governed by her Boss, the devil (he's not quite Lucifer though some may think so).

Isobel has been with The Boss since early childhood indentured to him by her parents. At sixteen she is a woman and free. He will give her whatever she wants but Izzy can't imagine a world outside of Flood (which thanks to the cover I thought was the south west but is probably more like Kansas or some other midwest state) She wants to be the Devil's one like Marie, the Devil's right hand. But he doesn't need another right hand. Ignoring warnings by other people the devil owns, Izzy signs up to be the Left Hand, the final word, the sharp knife.

To her surprise and dread, Isobel finds herself ordered out of Flood. She will be the devil's hand outside in the territory, on the road. The only guidance he gives her is a deal he struck with Gabriel Kasun, a rider on the road. Gabriel will train Isobel to be a rider, to learn how to survive on the road and we're never sure what the devil promised him other than 'peace' (There is something different about Gabriel but we won't learn about it in this volume).

The first bit of the book (which has no chapters, just parts) is her and Gabriel learning about each other and Isobel learning to live on the road. I liked that it didn't shy away from the problems a female would have monthly out riding the range. But as Gabriel trains her things begin to happen, people dying, whole towns disappearing.

They realize this is why the devil has sent her out there but he did not tell her one word about what she is supposed to do or how. The more disturbances they uncover the more the devil's sigil appears on her hand. It seems to serve as a warning but still, she has no idea what she's doing. All she knows is she has to stop whatever this is.

And I don't want to give away any more of the plot. Instead let me say that both Isobel and Gabriel are interesting and likable characters. I liked that there wasn't any sexual tension between them as he's twice her age though for that time period it would have been commonplace for a sixteen year old to be paired up with a man in his thirties. Gabriel is a patient teacher and he treats Isobel with respect.

Isobel is fascinating and I liked that she is a strong independent woman (and I'm assuming by her name, Hispanic though in this the Spanish can be problematic, keeping in mind America and Spain/Mexico were still hammering out the borders). I also liked that these things are just casually woven into the story. Too often any more we see strong female characters waving flags screaming look at me! Aren't I strong? Aren't I diverse? This doesn't talk the talk. It walks it quietly and believably.

The small cast of characters, including Farron (who I'll leave as something for the readers to uncover for themselves) are really interesting. I am definitely looking forward to the next book. So what were my quibbles that I considered giving this one less star for?

There is some repetition in this. Many many times we have Isobel lamenting that the devil told her nothing about what she was to do. Okay, that one I can understand though after the nth time hearing it, it's like okay I get it. Some of the descriptions also get repetitive like Farron's smile of too many teeth or Isobel being shorter than a certain pain in the ass Spanish friar. But these are minor things. This is a very good book. It doesn't have a lot of action in it per se but it reads as if it does.

However, the ending was...anti-climatic? Something. I guess it just wasn't what I expected and I'm not sure I entirely bought it or liked it when Isobel finally had to deal with the problem. I guess I expected it to be splashier. Still, over all I highly recommend this one.

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Book 122-123

Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 3 (Noragami, #3)Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 3 by Adachi Toka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series continues to get even better. There isn't a ton of action in it (though there is some) but there is plenty of emotional and character growth. After the disastrous battle with Bishamon, Yato and Yukine distance themselves from Hiyori. At first she’s okay with this because she learned that Yato had killed Shinki (Bishamon’s) and she doesn’t know what to make of that.

But eventually she worries. She finds Yato in rough shape still trying to help people (bullied high school kids providing a lot of fodder for the god). Yukine is still behaving badly and this ‘stings’ Yato. Hiyori understands that this causes Yato pain. However, he’s determined to ‘temper’ Yukine into a weapon. Yukine is actually rather hard to like but troubled kids often are. It’s a vicious circle really.

We’re also introduced to two interesting characters, one in Bishamon’s camp who owes Yato (But I won’t spoil that) and ‘Stray,’ who is a shinki with writing all over her body. She was once Yato’s shinki and seems to be the one who killed Bishamon’s shinki. Not to mention she’s quietly menacing and a bit deranged. We learn from one of the other gods (when Yukine tries to jump ship) that a god ‘writes’ the name on a shinki and to be free the god must erase that name. If two gods write on a shinki (or in Stray’s case) many, the shinki becomes less shiny, an undesirable weapon who can’t be trusted because s/he serves many masters (so what does it say about a god willing to do it?)

Hiyori soon learns it could be worse than she knows, that Yato hasn’t recovered from being blighted. Kofuku and Daikoku, who are supposed to help her, won’t get near Yato, telling her Yato is dying because of the things Yukine has done. They want Yato to punish or destroy Yukine. Yato has other plans and Hiyori finds herself in a battle for Yukine’s soul and Yato’s life.

It’s very well drawn and the storyline is interesting. I’m looking forward to more. Yukine's history would be interesting to know. Yato hints that Yukine has daddy issues. Wondering if his father killed Yukine in the first place now.

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The Janson Equation (Paul Janson, #4)The Janson Equation by Douglas Corleone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More like 2.5. I guess I'm not really the political thriller type nor did I know this was #4 not that it seemed to matter. It felt like we had the thriller checklist here: former government operative turned private after realizing the government made him a killer, check; female operative (younger) following in his footsteps and in love with him so we can make either of them do stupid things no normal person would do in that situation, check; teenaged hacker who has half the plot threads at his or her fingertips, check; some convoluted political gambit to start a war, check.

Basically Paul Janson is called in to find a senator's son in Seoul Korea. Gregory Wyckhoff is being charged with his girlfriend's death but of course he's innocent. He's also a hacktivist on the run. Janson and Kincaid (i.e. the female agent/love interest) take on what should have been a simple case.

All too soon both of them are in up to their eyeballs with targets on their back. Their former black ops bosses are in on this and they seem to be trying to start the next Korean war and from there WWIII. We have a thirteen year old girl hacker who is a huge help and is in as much danger as they are. We have Janson sneaking into north Korea and Kincaid being stalked but a north Korean assassin. And of course we have tons of pro-American, North Korean/commies suck sort of stuff (though admittedly the North Korean regime is frightening).

We know of course Janson will end up saving the day. But I have to say the ending just did not work for me at all. Consider this to be spoilery.

Okay 1. what assassin sits around and lets his prey talk and talk and talk especially when the assassin is badly injured and has instantly attacked everyone immediately every other time. So why let Janson talk?

2. Janson has the devil's own time sneaking into North Korea (which seemed rather unbelievable to begin with) but then he goes back in with another ally in a move that seems impossible (i.e. he needs to speak to the leaders, does that seem likely?)

3. Even if I buy Janson's convoluted plan to get back into North Korea and get them to listen to him (which I don't) this whole thing seems too 'big' somehow, too much for one man to deal with which okay we get that in spy stuff but this seemed WAY too big

I didn't particularly find any of the characters compelling. Maybe if I saw it as a movie it might be better but honestly this didn't do that much for me.

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Book 108: The No. 9 Bus To Utopia.
Author: David Bramwell, 2014.
Genre: Memoir. Travel. New Age.
Other Details: ebook. 288 pages.

After his partner left him for someone, ‘younger but more mature’, David set himself a life-changing task: to be a more sharing, loving person. As a man with a taste for the exotic however, this was never going to be resolved by a weekend course in Mindfulness. Instead he embarked on a global adventure to learn how to live with others. He visited an anarchist community in Denmark, a futuristic city in the desert and found paradise in a Californian retreat, dreamt up by Aldous Huxley. Most fantastic if all was Damanhur in the Italian Alps, with an underground temple the size of St Paul’s Cathedral, and a ‘fully functioning time machine’.

Along the way, David’s quest raise issues that best many of us. Why is depression rife amongst those who have wealth and freedom? Is getting what you want really utopia? And could alternative communities teach us a better way to live in both our relationships and our modern cities?
0 synopsis from author's website.

This quest by the author brought back many memories for me of the years I spent exploring New Age philosophies and the Human Potential Movement. It was interesting to read of his visits to these communities many of which were new to me. I certainly found it an interesting memoir.

This was a reading group selection and I was looking forward to the meeting to discuss this book but bad weather prevented going to the meeting, which is some distance away. However, a week later I was able to meet up with a group member for coffee and she reported that it was fairly well liked. Everyone, myself included, was very intrigued by Damanhur.

Nov. 13th, 2015

A couple of days back I finished reading (or, perhaps skimming would be more accurate. I didn't try memorizing the recipes) the book, Tiki Drinks: Tropical Cocktails for the Modern Bar. A good friend has set up a tiki bar on his sun deck, and I was stimulated to learn more about the typical drinks of such a commercial establishment. I found it to be a pretty good guide, with the added bonus of color plates to show you what the appearance of your tipples should be when finished. Fun.
The fate of mankind has nothing to do with mankind…

Always holding themselves aloft from the affairs of mortals, Los Nefilim have thrived for eons. But with the Spanish Civil War looming, their fragile independence is shaken by the machinations of angels and daimons…and a half-breed caught in-between.

For although Diago Alvarez has pledged his loyalty to Los Nefilim, there are many who don't trust his daimonic blood. And with the re-emergence of his father—a Nefil who sold his soul to a daimon—the fear is Diago will soon follow the same path.

Yet even as Diago tries to prove his allegiance, events conspire that only fuel the other Nefilim's suspicions—including the fact that every mortal Diago has known in Barcelona is being brutally murdered.

The second novella in T. Frohock's Los Nefilim series, Without Light or Guide continues Diago's journey through a world he was born into, yet doesn't quite understand.

This second novella in the series develops more in the world of angel versus demon against a backdrop of 1930s Spain. I adore the dark fantasy elements--it gets downright creeptastic at times--but I especially love the fond relationship between Diago and his partner, Miquel, and Diago's young son. I can't help but want a happy ending for the family but I'm so very afraid for them.

Little Golden Books: books 142-148

book 142:  Four Little Kittens by Kathleen N. Daly

I had this one when I was little, so I guess it is a re-read, although it has been a LONG time.  It's still cute and sweet and a bit sniffly for me. :)  It must have made a big impression on me because every picture triggers an emotion.

book 143:  The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

I have read the poem, and enjoyed it, many times, but I hadn't seen the Little Golden Book version.  Rich illustrations, and I noticed for the first time that they were married by "the Turkey who lives on the hill".  Some religious commentary by Mr. Lear? ;)

book 144:  Walt Disney's Peter Pan by Eugene Bradley Coco

Guts the Disney film and takes out the awkward moments that (I thought) made the movie worth watching.  Save yourself for the real thing.  Mr. Barrie's novel Peter and Wendy (among other variations of title) is, I think, the best or at least one of the top few books when it comes to really capturing what it is to be a little boy.

book 145:  Walt Disney's Mickey and the Beanstalk by Dina Anastasio

I had to have either seen a cartoon version of this or had a record of it or something.  I can "hear" the magic harp singing when I see her picture.  Otherwise, a very simplified, standard telling of the fairy tale.

book 146:  Disney's Pooh's Grand Adventure:  The Search for Christopher Robin by Justine Korman

Has most of the favorite characters and deals with the concept that you are more than you think you are, so don't sell yourself short.  As is usually the case, the original author's, in this case A. A. Milne's, work is richer.

book 147:  Walt Disney's Bambi by Felix Salten

I never read the full novel by Salten that Disney's version of Bambi was taken from, but this book was a faithful if foreshortened telling of the movie.

book 148:  Walt Disney's Bambi:  Friends of the Forest by Walt Disney Productions

Bambi visits a lake and gets to meet animals that live around a lake...and save Thumper from a "mean" fox.  I felt a little snarky when the Owl was giving Thumper advice.  Thumper would totally have been owl food.


Books 32 & 33

32. Anita Blake Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures (vol. 1) by Laurell K. Hamilton w/ Ritchie & Booth – this was a graphic novel adaptation that my coworker gave me several years ago that sat on my shelf until the bookriot.com Read Harder Challenge came along and included a graphic novel task – I knew nothing about this series and had never read a graphic novel before, and I have to say it’s not my cup of tea, but that’s a matter of my personal taste and not the quality of the story or the adaptation

33. Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx – this fulfilled two tasks on the Read Harder Challenge and also a state from the Literary Roadmap – it includes “Brokeback Mountain” which turned out to be one of my favorites among the other short stories – other standouts included “Pair of Spurs” which is about an accursed tractor and “The Blood Bay” which also features a healthy dose of irony – overall, however, these stories were a bit bleak and cynical to me – the impression I got was of a harsh but beautiful landscape where life is difficult and marital fidelity is elusive at best

Books #49-50

Wow, this is the earliest I've reached 50 books for the year since 2009. I suspect my end total will be between 54 and 56 this year since I have a couple more books in process.

Book #49 was "Three Parts Dead" by Max Gladstone, as an audiobook. This is Gladstone's first novel, and I absolutely loved it, even though fantasy isn't my favorite genre. He does a magnificent job with building a strange and wonderful world that - while it relies on *some* fantasy tropes - feels very different and unique from anything else I've read. His character development is good, his prose is clean and lean, and his plotting is top-notch. I did see some things coming from a long way away, but he also threw in some surprises and did a great job of introducing a few innocuous details early in the book that have much bigger significance in the end. In this world, Craftsmen and Craftswomen draw energy from the stars and the moon to shape their world, while others follow living gods that take up residence in various cities. The novel takes place several decades after "The God Wars" in which craftspeople and god-believers go to war. Tara Abernathy is thrown out of magic school and left to her own devices. She gets hired on a trial basis by Ms. Kavarian, a powerful craftswoman, and they travel to the city of Alt Coulumb to investigate the death of the city's god, Kos Ever-burning. Helped by a young cleric named Abelard, Tara takes on her first big craft case while Ms. K goes head-to-head with Tara's former professor and nemesis, who is fighting the other side of the legal case. It's difficult to explain how magic and deity work together or against each other in this novel - you just have to read to see. I loved this so much and plan to read the others in the series.


"The Satyricon" by Petronius, translation and commentaries by Sarah Ruden. I'm trying to get to some classic books I haven't yet read, and I decided to to go back really, really far this year. I read and really enjoyed "Gilgamesh" earlier this year, and I also found "The Satyricon" highly enjoyable. This is considered one of the first-ever prose novels (as opposed to long tales in verse, like "The Odyssey"), and it's dated to circa first century AD Rome. It's unique in that it is told from the viewpoint of the average man on the street, rather than from the aristocracy. Encolpius and his servant/lover Giton and Encolpius's friend and former lover Ascyltus go on a variety of bawdy adventures, making love to men and women along the way, getting involved in crazy orgies, an over-the-top dinner party, a dispute over stolen property and a shipwreck. This book was hilarious and not at all boring. Ruden's commentary, with titles like "Who was Petronius Anyway?" or "Ancient Roman Views on Sexuality," were extremely helpful in figuring out the societal context of the protagonists' adventures. The book is fragmentary, and only a few sections remain, but it's an interesting look at working-class Rome in the 1st century. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a fun, sexy classic.

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

#110: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chucke Wendig

Journey to The Force Awakens.

The second Death Star is destroyed. The Emperor and his powerful enforcer, Darth Vader, are rumored to be dead. The Galactic Empire is in chaos.

Across the galaxy, some systems celebrate, while in others Imperial factions tighten their grip. Optimism and fear reign side by side.

And while the Rebel Alliance engages the fractured forces of the Empire, a lone Rebel scout uncovers a secret Imperial meeting…

I started reading this well aware of the controversy and the one-star review campaign against. Some people hate the first-person POV and short punchy sentences, other hate it simply because it's the new Star Wars canon, and there are other who loathe it because it has the audacity to mention gay people in the Star Wars universe. Which... utterly confounds me when we're talking about so many alien species and worlds and cultures and certainly types of sexuality we cannot even comprehend. Why/how could they all be heterosexual? But anyway.

I started reading, looking for the controversy. I finished the book in two days--it reads fast because wow, is it packed with action. It really feels like a Star Wars book and it has me even more hyped for the new movie (please don't suck, please don't suck). But as for the elements that were so offensive... I'm befuddled. There are a couple of mentions of folks with same-sex partners or an interest in such. That's it. Just casual and utterly real things. No bludgeonings-by-rainbow on every page, no raunchy scenes. I will say the one thing that DID really jolt me was mention of venereal disease. I guess, in keeping with other reviews, I should give this one star and scream at Chuck for ruining Star Wars by giving everyone the clap.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable book and introduces fantastic characters--I loved seeing a mother and son, both competent in their own ways, and of course there is Mr. Bones, the B1 battle droid who is actually good at his job. There is one chapter that starts with him returning with the announcement, 'I PERFORMED VIOLENCE' and I busted out laughing.

Well done, Chuck. If this is how you destroy America and Star Wars, then keep on destroying. I'll keep buying.


The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

book 141:  The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Berlin Stories is composed of two related novels written by Christopher Isherwood during the 1930's set in post WWI and pre WWII Berlin:  The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin.  Both stories are named as novels, but considering the subject matter and that Isherwood himself appears as a character in both, I am not sure how much is fictionalized versus autobiographical.  The Last of Mr. Norris is more like a typical novel in which it follows Isherwood's relationship with a character, Mr. Norris, from first to last meeting.  Goodbye to Berlin feels more like a photoalbum, with snapshots of events and especially characters who may not relate to one another in any other way than all touching Isherwood's life and living in that tumultuous time in Berlin.  Some may recognize Isherwood's work in the character Sally Bowles (from Goodbye to Berlin) of I Am a Camera (played by Julie Harris) and Cabaret (played by Liza Minelli) movie fame.  I really liked Isherwood's writing style.  I felt swallowed by the stories even though it was about a place and time and people I know nothing about and really have no reference experience to help imagine.  With Mr. Norris I found myself anticipating the manueverings of a complex, sometimes likeable, probably not very good man in the extremes of his high life exploits and desperate schemes.  Goodbye to Berlin visits in turn the bars and cabarets to find sexpot Sally Bowles, an island retreat where the boundaries or non-sexual male love and jealousy are played out, the extreme poverty of the Nowaks who fit six in a converted attic and survive through subsistance until most of the family unravels when mother is taken away to a sanitarium as a temporary respite from her worsening tuberculosis, and the self-made wealthy Jewish family Landauer who live day-to-day knowing that riches are transitory and accepting the inevitability of their destruction and necessary rebirth in their individual private ways.  These things would be enough to carry many thoughtful novels, but these foreground images are stars flickering in an roiling sometimes overwhelming background of Berlin stricken with poverty after defeat and sanctions from WWI, with seething hatreds of the lower classes who find it increasing difficult to survive and are easy targets for the dual and violently contradicting political movements of Communism and Nazism.  The rise of Hitler is discussed as part of the background, and I think it is more powerful for it because it is the closest I've come to being able to see how someting like that could have happened.  Reading the books, I felt carried in a desperate world of agonizing poverty (economic, cultural, whatever) looking for some avenue to escape the suffering whether through debauchery, violent politics, or through acceptance of a scapegoat for their troubles.  I'm not sure how I felt reading about naive characters realizing the horrors that were still to come.  I think Isherwood had an inkling, and that's why he said "Goodbye".

Book 121

Bleach―ブリーチ― [Burīchi] 63 (Bleach, #63)Bleach―ブリーチ― [Burīchi] 63 by Tite Kubo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was pretty much outrightly dull. It feels like the storyline has gotten completely away from the mangaka and is just meandering everywhere. I know this is the final arc and it feels like Tite is having trouble letting go because none of this really advanced the story much.

It can be divided into two parts with a short bridge, and the bridge is about the only important thing.

The first part is one long battle with a guy dressed like a Mexican wrestler (complete with a creepy fan) whose name I can't remember because it was that unimportant. Basically after he kicks some butt he's there to give the new and improved Renji something to do. Okay fine, Renji is one of my favorites but still. Also it didn't help that this guy is in tights with a star embossed speedo that kept getting bigger and bigger when he powered up until he had grapefruit balls hanging between his legs. That I remember.

Then there was a short bit with Uryu that fills us in on the leader of the Quincies to give him more menace. Doesn't really make much sense but whatever. It's the closet thing you're going to get to plot in this.

Then we have Rukia (and later her brother) coming up against a Marilyn Manson look a like in a spiked Hannibal Lecter mouthguard. The only good thing is we get to see Rukia reclaim some of her lost toughness. One of my biggest disappointments with this series is Rukia started out strong but for 80% of it she gets cast as a weaker female.

But the best part of this was with the Mexican wrestler dude. Once again we had a Soul Reaper spouting off how his bankai works (like literally EVERY character good or evil does in this series) and the wrestler guy took a simple precaution to avoid being hurt because the idiot TOLD him how it works. Snort.

Yeah I'll finish this series thanks to the library but I'm really disappointed in this last unending arc. And oh, Ichigo fans, he's not even in this volume.

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If you grew up in Fresno, California, there are people and places you will never forget: Al Radka. Christmas Tree Lane. Fulton Street before it was the Fulton Mall. Harpain s Dairy. The Sunnyside Drive-In. Dean and Don and The Breakfast Club. Gottschalks. The Tower District and so many more parts of Old Fresno, some still with us and some long forgotten. Fresno Growing Up: A City Comes of Age 1945-1985 is the first book to tell the story of Fresno during the times we remember, when the city was growing up fast and so were we. Fresno Growing Up documents the Fresno experience and Fresno popular culture during its dramatic postwar period, when the city abruptly shifted from a small town to the fastest growing city in the United States. Surveying the businesses, restaurants, movie houses, malls, personalities, sports, bands, and fads that made Fresno fun from the forties to the eighties, Fresno Growing Up is a nostalgic look back at both the city s adolescence and our own."

I'm so glad that this book was featured on Scalzi's Big Idea! I'm a born and raised Hanford girl, so for me Fresno was always "the big city." I enjoyed reading this book and seeing how the city transitioned and how many familiar landmarks came to be, but I am really curious as to what my mom will think. This will be part of her Christmas. She lived all around the valley as she grew up, including several places in and around Fresno, so the pictures and stories will really resonate with her. I imagine this will be a fun book for her to pull out for friends and family. Hooray for well-done local history books!

Nov. 10th, 2015

And a couple more:

First was These Are the Voyages: TOS: Season Three, the latest volume of this heavily-researched series discussing the nuts and bolts of the production of the original Star Trek television series. It goes deeply into the archives of memos and notes to give a different take on what was going on at Paramount. Interesting.

Then, Osprey Weapon #40: The Gatling Gun which goes into detail on the development and use of this weapon. Slightly more technical than I was looking for, and less documentation about its use in combat than I would have liked. Not bad overall.

3: The Reluctant Empress

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 3: The Reluctant Empress
3 THE RELUCTANT EMPRESS Brigitte Hamann (Germany, 1982)

A biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi (1854-1898)

I have been to both Vienna and Munich on different holidays, and each time the presence of the beautiful and mysterious empress was mentioned by museums and tour guides. Of course, there're also the cheesy movies I watched when I was a kid. I decided it was time for me to know a little more about her, beyond the myth.

This biography is fantastic. I discovered an intelligent woman who hated life at court. Prone to depression, she found solace in traveling, riding horses, an writing poetry. Moreover, her her love of Hungary and the Hungarian people strongly influenced the fateful creation of Austria-Hungary as a joint monarchy.

Hamann does a great job at acknowledging the intelligence of the Empress, as well as her tragic selfishness, and makes this biography one of the best I've read.


#108: The Devil Soldier by Caleb Carr

s/t: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China
A courageous leader who became the first American mandarin, Frederick Townsend Ward won crucial victories for the Emperor of China during the Taiping Rebellion, history's bloodiest civil war. Carr's skills as historian and storyteller come to the fore in this thrilling account of the kind of adventurer the world no longer sees. Photographs.

My reaction to this is mixed. First of all, that subtitle "The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China" is horribly cringe-worthy and misleading, and is contradicted by the explanation within the book. The publisher should not have used such a sensational subtitle.

The events here are absolutely fascinating: the true historical escapades of an American man who ventures to China as a freelance soldier, battled the rebellious pseudo-Christian Taipings on behalf of the Manchu government, and died in battle. Frederick Townsend Ward sounds like a truly intriguing fellow. The problem is, almost all the information about him has been destroyed. His family correspondence was purposely destroyed by his sister-in-law (gah!) and his shrine, grave, and written material in China was destroyed in waves through revolutions, the Japanese invasion, and then the Communist government. Carr still created a fascinating narrative, but it does often read as tedious with unavoidable gaps of data. The Chinese names used are a different transliteration than I am used to, so that made it more frustrated to keep track of who was who, and there are a lot of names thrown in here of Chinese, British and French soldiers, and Americans. At several points I debated whether to continue reading, but I kept on because I wanted to find out how events played out. I did make a few notes for my research interests, too.

Nov. 8th, 2015

Two books so far this weekend:

First was Osprey Warrior #165: US Army Paratrooper in the Pacific Theater 1943 - 45. Now, I've read extensively about WWII since I was a pre-teen, and I knew a great deal about the use of paratroopers in the European Theater, but I'd rarely heard anything about their use by the United States in the Pacific. Therefore I delved into the book with some curiousity. It dealt with their training and equipment as well as the history of their actions in the war. Pretty good read.

Then we have The Martian by Andy Weir. I'd heard good things about the book at its time of publication, so it went onto the pile (mountain) of books to-be-read. Then the movie was released, and I figured I wanted to have read the book first, so out of the pile it was pulled. Now, it's very rare that I get a book that I don't dabble in, reading a bit, then off to another for a page, paragraph or chapter and then return. This was truthfully a book I couldn't put down...I finished reading it at about 0230 this morning, when I had intended to go to bed at midnight. Spectacular book. I can't recommend it too highly.

Book 120

The HuesThe Hues by Alex Heberling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this from the creator at Tsubasacon this year, having never seen it before. It was a very good buy. The art is good and expressive and the use of color is well done. What I really liked about this is that it gives us a story with women as the main focal heroes, and real women at that, not the gravity-defying boobs of doom sort we get in most comic books (Don't get me wrong, I love Marvel/DC heroines but geez). Women with real bodies (of varying sizes) Not only that, unlike some pro-woman storylines, this one doesn't beat you over the head with that agenda like many do.

The main character is Samhita "Sami" Raju, a young Indian-American teen living in Columbus, Ohio (whoo hoo, used to live there myself). Sami has been seeing this strange hexagram in her dreams. Then, shocking the world, this hexagram has appeared over COlumbus and the internet has gone wild. It's it a hoax, is it the rapture, is it aliens? Sami makes a vlog about it with an invite to come find her.

That's right about the time everything goes to hell. The hologram in the sky changes and the aliens arrive. They are not friendly. Running for her life after Sami has done something to stop them that she doesn't understand, she meets up with Andy Crowell, a young take charge kind of girl who can read minds. Together they try to figure out what's going on, if they can stop it, if they can even survive. It takes them across the path of Hannah Riley who can start fires and who is far more reluctant to join them.

It's a dangerous world out there now and while they have no idea where their powers come from and what all they can do, they are determined to survive. There are several more surprises in this. I like the storyline. I like the art. I'm looking forward to more.

View all my reviews

Books 4 & 5 - 2015

Book 4: Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics by Paul Street – 272 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Many Americans believe Barack Obama represents a hopeful future for America. But does he also reflect the American politics of the past? This book offers the broadest and best-informed understanding on the meaning of the "Obama phenomenon" to date. Paul Street was on the ground throughout the Iowa campaign, and his stories of the rising Obama phenomenon are poignant. Yet the author's background in American political history allows him to explore the deeper meanings of Obama's remarkable political career. He looks at Obama in relation to contemporary issues of class, race, war, and empire. He considers Obama in the context of our nation's political history, with comparisons to FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton, and other leaders. Street finds that the Obama persona, crafted by campaign consultants and filtered through dominant media trends, masks the "change" candidate's adherence to long-prevailing power structures and party doctrines. He shows how American political culture has produced misperceptions by the electorate of Obama's positions and values. Obama is no magical exception to the narrow-spectrum electoral system and ideological culture that have done so much to define and limit the American political tradition. Yet the author suggests key ways in which Obama potentially advances democratic transformation. Street makes recommendations on how citizens can productively respond to and act upon Obama's influence and the broader historical and social forces that have produced his celebrity and relevance. He also lays out a real agenda for change for the new presidential administration, one that addresses the recent failures of democratic politics.

I am studying a Masters of International Relations as part of a double Masters (at the uni I work for). I decided to do this, partly because I have always wanted to do a Masters, partly because I work at a uni and it seemed like a good idea while I was there, and partly because I am pretty passionate/interested in politics, particularly American politics, and international political relations which I think is endlessly interesting. I randomly picked up this book from the library because I was on a kick of reading books about Democratic party leaders. This book was not really what I was expecting. It is very left wing, extreme left wing, I would say, and coming from a country that has a political party that is equivalent to the Democrats, and another that is more right way than the Democrats, I read some of Street’s ideas with part-cynicism, part-interest. Firstly, it should be noted that this book was written pre-Obama become President, so there’s that. Basically, Street doesn’t believe that Obama is left wing enough. His view is essentially that Obama is aligning himself with big business, while preaching against big business in order to have his cake and eat it too. It’s an interesting view, and one I don’t necessarily disagree with. However, I personally feel that Street has missed the point that no candidate would ever make it very far if they did not perform such a balancing act, and that said balancing act is in fact performed by every politician in every liberal democracy in the world. The really interesting part is when Street starts suggesting policies he believes Obama should be pushing, policies that he believes will make America more fair, more equal, etc. The irony is that many of these policies already exist in numerous other Western democracies, including the one I live in. And the fact of the matter is they don’t necessarily work in the utopian manner which Street suggests. I personally felt that Street’s views, while valid to a degree, missed the reality that there are numerous countries outside of America that have already begun down the path he suggests and found it too wanting. It is often remarked outside of America that the country itself tends to forget there is a ‘rest of the world’ unless they are fighting a war against them (and I’m not necessarily saying I agree with this), and I found this statement true of Street’s opinion. His book falls flat to a non-American reader, purely because it demonstrates that he really has no idea about how America could learn from our Western democracies, already using some of these policies. Nonetheless, this was an interesting read, if purely from the perspective of broadening my understanding of the many voices in American politics.

4 / 50 books. 8% done!

1025 / 15000 pages. 7% done!

Book 5: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Twelfth: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – 353 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
After any harrowing struggle, it is nice to consider checking into a hotel for a rest. In fact, this might be just the break Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire could use after their wearying deep-sea adventure. A hotel can be a good choice for any family vacation. With so many floors, such a variety of rooms, and a curious array of guests, spending time in the safety of the right hotel can be the perfect learning environment for children of any age. A keen researcher like Klaus, an adept inventor like Violet, and a sharp-toothed culinary master like Sunny are all sure to find engaging diversions during their stay. Regardless of how they pass their time while at a hotel, the three siblings will be sure to take in all the interesting sights and sounds and write them down just in case this episode turns out to be the darkest yet in a series of unfortunate events.

Second last of the Baudelaire kids books, and things are more dire than ever. The kids have finally reached the hotel they’ve been directed to by Kit Snicket, but once again, matters don’t go to plan, and they discover that even the people they thought they could trust if only they could get back to them, are actually no more trustworthy than everyone else. The whole story culminates in a mockery of a trial and a fire that probably kills numerous people, though this is only eluded to. It’s a sad state of affairs the Baudelaire kids find themselves in as they escape the burning hotel with the worst enemy, the diabolical Count Olaf, who after everything, may only be as bad as everyone else. A depressing, if not interesting, penultimate to this series.

5 / 50 books. 10% done!

1378 / 15000 pages. 9% done!

Currently reading:
-        Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg – 198 pages
-        The Other Side of Despair: Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land by Daniel Gavron – 240 pages
-        The Rise of the Creative Class: Revisited by Richard Florida – 465 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
-        Guernica by Dave Boling – 368 pages
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, by Julia Sarcone-Roach
This was cute but predictable. The pictures outshone the story. However, the pictures were SO good that it was a delightful experience anyway.

The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison
These were mostly amazing. I like it when an essayist takes the time they need to take to show you what they want to show you. And the topics were interesting.

The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby
A sharp, funny, quick read that broke my heart and put it back together. Juby is definitely going on the "yes, please, more like this" list.

Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster, by Astrid Desbordes
A very quirky and philosophical kids' comic. It didn't generate much emotion while I was reading it - there were only a few strips that I really dug on their own merits - but once I'd read the whole thing I felt satisfied and amused. Even now, months later, thinking of this book puts a smile on my face.

Creature, by Andrew Zuckerman
Sooooooooo pretty. I'd been craving this book of animal photos for so long that when I finally bought it, I read it THE SAME DAY. <3 <3 <3.
(216, O45)

Sex Criminals, vol. 1: One Weird Trick, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
This comic (one of the Hugo nominees I read this year) irritated me about once every 10 pages. But when I wasn't irritated I was really interested. So it worked out okay. Ingenious and funny, mostly.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan
A sweet and sometimes wry book that skates on the edge of absurdity without missing a step. I have a soft spot for child prodigy narrators, as I once was one.

Nov. 6th, 2015

Most recent read:

Ancillary Mercy, third book of the series by Ann Leckie. Whiz bang ending. The book doesn't really stand alone very well, but the series is quite good. It's a wild and wooly new take on space opera. Nice.
Jasper Fforde meets Leverage. The Genrenauts travel across dimensions to the worlds where genres live, fixing off-track stories to protect our Earth.
Leah Tang just died on stage.
Not literally.
Not yet.

Leah's stand-up career isn't going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she's offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she soon discovers that literally dying on stage is a hazard of the job!

Her first job takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails, and the outlaws start to win, it's up to Leah - and the Genrenauts team - to nudge the story back on track and prevent major ripples on Earth.

But the story's hero isn't interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance...

I received an early copy of this novella through NetGalley.

I confess right from the start: I'm biased. I read this as an early draft and loved it, and I was overjoyed when Genrenauts was announced as part of a new novella series at Tor. The concept is a delightful and original mash-up of Quantum Leap and Sliders and so many other fun shows: Earth has parallel worlds that echo tropes of literary genres, and if a story on such a world goes off kilter, it impacts people on Earth. Leah is recruited straight out of her stand-up show and dropped into a bucketful of weird and unbelievable. It's a fun ride as they jaunt off to western world, where troublesome tropes do exist but are delightfully subverted by Underwood's deft plotting. I can't wait for the next installment!

Number of pages: 60

Short book speculating on whether the conflict in the Middle East can be solved.

This is actually a Christian book, although I forgot this easily because the book went into more detail about giving an, albeit quite detailed, history of all the conflict that has been taken place and why it started.

However, I wasn't that impressed by the book as it didn't exactly address the subject matter of its own title, and it settled for briefly explaining the author's view that God will save Israel as it is written in the Bible. However, the Christian angle felt very secondary to the writer's desire to set the scene in detail.

Next book: A Fork in the Road (Andre Brink)

InuYasha by Rumiko Takahashi

books 130-140:  InuYasha Volumes 7-17 by Rumiko Takahashi

I just don't have it in me to go back and review each volume right now.  If someone has a question about one of them, let me know and I will revisit.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

book 129:  Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Oh, thank goodness it's over!  I am not an enthusiastic romance reader, but several people told me this one is different.  Blarg!  Sometimes there was humorous and semi-witty dialogue between the main characters.  There was sort of a plot, if you dug for it, but the book would have had to been distilled to maybe a quarter of its length, cutting out the numerous plot-halting quagmires and pointless except for graphic titilation encounters to even hope to be good.  But then it wouldn't be a romance, would it?  Bleah.
Following the success of Lean In and Why Women Should Rule the World, the authors of the bestselling Womenomics provide an informative and practical guide to understanding the importance of confidence—and learning how to achieve it—for women of all ages and at all stages of their career.

Working women today are better educated and more well qualified than ever before. Yet men still predominate in the corporate world. In The Confidence Code, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay argue that the key reason is confidence.

Combining cutting-edge research in genetics, gender, behavior, and cognition—with examples from their own lives and those of other successful women in politics, media, and business—Kay and Shipman go beyond admonishing women to "lean in." Instead, they offer the inspiration and practical advice women need to close the gap and achieve the careers they want and deserve.

In this book the authors [Katty Kay & Claire Shipman] seek to define confidence and identify ways for women in particular to be more confident in the business world and other areas. They interview several women in high-powered positions (government, athletics, international finance, armed forces) as well as various experts in genetics and behavioral science. They delve into sub-components of confidence, the genetics of personality, nature and nurture, the perils of perfectionism, and how to raise confident girls. They also share stories about their own confidence or lack of it. As for practical "advice," the simple and complicated idea is this: it's okay to fail. I'd tried to read "Lean In" and found it to be rather tedious, but this book is a little more accessible, albeit a bit rambling at times.
It’s not unusual to work two jobs in this day and age, but sorcerer and former triad soldier Rupert Wong’s life is more complicated than most. By day, he makes human hors d’oeuvres for a dynasty of ghouls; by night, he pushes pencils for the Ten Chinese Hells. Of course, it never seems to be enough to buy him a new car—or his restless, flesh-eating-ghost girlfriend passage from the reincarnation cycle—until opportunity comes smashing through his window.

In Kuala Lumpur, where deities from a handful of major faiths tip-toe around each other and damned souls number in the millions, it’s important to tread carefully. Now the Dragon King of the South wants to throw Rupert right in it. The ocean god’s daughter and her once-mortal husband have been murdered, leaving a single clue: bloodied feathers from the Greek furies. It’s a clue that could start a war between pantheons, and Rupert’s stuck in the middle. Success promises wealth, power and freedom, and failure... doesn’t.

This novella is a fast read due to word length and its frenetic pace. From the first page, you know it's dark, too--cannibalism jokes are aplenty, and Khaw introduces many disturbing/fascinating creatures not usually depicted in English-language fantasy. That, along with the setting of Kuala Lumpur, add to the fresh and unique feel, though at time I felt a little lost because things did push along so quickly.

I love Rupert Wong and his little asides to the reader. He's a fantastic urban fantasy protagonist, abounding with snark, in love with a living-yet-dead lady, and in way over his head with petty gods and meddlesome ghosts and beasts. I was amused from the first page (and a little grossed out, too, I admit) as he described his dinner menu plans and dealt with some nasty critters that he had accidentally inspired to unionize. That had me laughing out loud.

I have read a novel set in this same Gods & Monsters universe; Mythbreaker by Stephen Blackmoore has common elements like the intense darkness, fast pace, and heavy snark, but they each use very different settings and mythologies; both works stand on their own completely, and it's my understanding that all of the books in the series are set up that way.
Book 107: The Cabinet of Curiosities (Agent Pendergast #3).
Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. 2001.
Genre: Horror. Crime Thriller.
Other Details: ebook. 612 pages.

In the 19th century, New Yorkers flocked to collections of strange and grotesque oddities called "cabinets of curiosities." Now, in lower Manhattan, a modern apartment tower is slated to rise on the site of one of the old cabinets. Yet when the excavators break into a basement, they uncover a charnel pit of horror: the remains of thirty-six people murdered and gruesomely dismembered over 130 years ago by an unknown serial killer. In the aftermath, FBI Special Agent Pendergast and museum archaeologist Nora Kelly embark on an investigation that unearths the faint whisper of a mysterious doctor who once roamed the city, carrying out medical experiments on living human beings. But just as Nora and Pendergast begin to unravel the clues to the century-old killings, a fresh spree of murder and surgical mutilation erupts around them. . . and New York City is awash in terror. - synopsis from authors' website.

This is the first book in the series in which Agent Pendergast steps out of his supporting role to become a main character. I loved this novel with its many twists and its effective use of the cityscape both old and new of New York City as a setting for the action. This also had some fairly gruesome deaths. One note though after watching so many TV series featuring F.B.I. agents it was odd to have people refer to him as Mr. Pendergast rather than by his title.

I am looking forward to continuing this excellent series and learning more about the enigmatic Pendergast.

The Cabinet of Curiosities - contains sample chapters and deleted epilogue

Number of pages: 518

This story opens by introducing Tess Durbeyfield, who is living on a farm in rural England, and in one of her first scenes she dances with a complete stranger.

So far, this sounds like a book that is about a gentle, tranquil rural ideal - however, as the plot develops, it becomes clear that this is one of Thomas Hardy's less pleasant novels.

Early on in the book, the family's horse collapses and dies, which means that making money will be even harder as they have no means of pulling a cart. However, Tess' family learn about the existence of Alec d'Urberville, who is apparently related to them, and could therefore be a benefactor to them.

When Tess goes to see d'Urberville, he agrees on the condition that Tess works for him. Things go smoothly until it becomes clear that Alec is in love with Tess. It all culminates in one of the most shocking events of the story. While the book doesn't exactly spell it out, with the way in which the event is depicted, my understanding was that Alec rapes Tess.

This sets off the story's main point; Tess is now deflowered, and since she's no longer a virgin, any man who finds out this will not want to be married to her. Alec, on the other hand, still manages to keep his reputation. Thomas Hardy wrote the novel to draw attention to the whole social unfairness that in a situation like this, only the woman ended up being persecuted.

The story then tells of Tess moving away from home and finding work, where a man called Angel Clare is smitten with her, and constantly asks her to marry him. She refuses at first, unable to tell him why. When she finally consents and they get engaged, her mother tells her not to reveal what happened.

It is inevitable that the truth will come out and that there will be consequences, and this book is one where it does not feel like there can possibly be a happy ending. I found this book very easy to read and engaging, and the characters were mostly easy to care about. Towards the end of the book, the plot kept going in directions that I did not expect at all, throwing in all sorts of twists. The book's final segment is incredibly dark and shocking, but I found it to be a very satisfying read.

I am hoping to read Jude the Obscure (which I understand is even more brutal) too sometime.

Next book: Is Peace Possible? (Jonathan Bernis)



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