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Number of pages: 352

The seventh book in the Swallows and Amazons series focuses solely on the Swallows (John, Susan, Titty and Roger), although Nancy, Peggy, Dick and Dorothea are all mentioned briefly.

The story opens with the Swallows taking another boat trip, supervised by a sea captain called Jim, to make sure they don't sail out of the harbour. Of course, the title is an obvious clue to what is going to happen...

Jim has to sail to shore to get supplies, and he never returns (his apparent disappearance is explained later in the book), and the boat is somehow swept out to sea with the kids on board; the storyline provides the greatest amount of peril yet in the series, and mostly revolves around the Swallows attempting to steer the ship back to land on stormy waters. During the story, there are also a few references to their absentee father, which will of course become relevant later on.

I noticed this was the first book to have chapters told from the point of view of the secondary characters, with one episode revolving around their mother and younger sister Bridget (I think Bridget has her first speaking lines in this book) as they wonder where the kids have got to, unaware of the trouble they are in.

Overall, despite the absence of Nancy and Peggy, who I always found to be some of the more entertaining characters, I quite enjoyed this book, and towards the end it started feeling like nothing that I'd read so far in the Swallows and Amazons novels. I have the next book, Secret Water on my shelves and intend to read it very soon.

Next book: The Adventure of the Six Napoleons and Other Cases by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My first book for the year was the third and final installment in Cixin Liu's "Three-Body Problem" trilogy, "Death's End." I enjoyed all three books in the series, but this was probably the weakeast of the three. Fortunately, it was still an interesting read, and some of the weakness derived from Liu's ambition to write a truly epic series that spans the universe and all of time to boot! I'll take an ambitious novel with some weak spots over a slick novel that doesn't take any chances. In this third book in the series, the Trisolarans have the upper hand and humanity is in deep trouble. The story follows Cheng Xin, a rocket scientist from our era, who is revived from artificial hibernation half a century in the future and who becomes a major player in several incidents between humans and Trisolarans. A special project of the government dreamed up shortly after the Trisolaran threat was first discovered has been forgotten but comes into play in the near future. It's hard to sum up the plot without giving away major spoilers, so I'll just say that I appreciated Liu's attempt to tackle a story on this grand a scale even when I feel he doesn't always succeed. This trilogy is well worth reading as a look into how other cultures "do" science fiction.

Book #2 was "Brat Farrar" by Josephine Tey. I've read two of Tey's other novels ("The Franchise Affair" and "The Daughter of Time") and really liked them. Her writing is deceptively simple but dazzling in that simplicity, and she doesn't give two figs about the normal conventions of mystery writing, which make her novels awfully fun. In this novel, an orphan named "Brat" Farrar runs into a man who mistakes him for Simon Ashby. When the stranger realizes that Brat is the doppleganger of Simon, a young man who is shortly to inherit a fortune, he talks Brat into pretending to be Simon's brother Patrick. Patrick was presumed a suicide at age 13 after the children's parents died, but his body was never found. In return for being coached in Patrick's mannerisms and family history, Brat will give the stranger a cut of the inheritance. Brat decides to give the deception a go less for the money and more for the challenge of trying to pull it off, but develops deeply mixed feelings after he is treated warmly and kindly by all the Ashbys except Simon, who is the only one still suspicious of Brat's claim to be the long-lost brother. I really enjoyed this book a great deal and will be reading more by Tey.

My goals for 2017 are:
-Read at least 50 books
-Read at least 4 books from a list of "classics" that's culled from The Lifetime Reading Plan
-Make nonfiction at least 30 percent of books read this year
-Read at least 12 books by non-white authors
-Read at least 2 books by disabled authors
-Read at least 4 books by LGBT authors
-Keep my gender ratio of authors close to 50/50
-Investigate some reading challenges and use them to add books to my "to read" list

Books 12 & 13

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very much love Flavia because how could I not love a teenaged girl who loves chemistry and forensics? Me who has a degree in chemistry and can't get enough of forensics. This one brings Flavia back from Canada, thankfully. I missed Dogger and the rest so I'm so glad to see them all again. Bishop's Lacey is a town chocked full of characters and I prefer Flavia among them.

But this is not a happy homecoming (nor truly a happy book). There is no one to greet Flavia as she returns home just before Christmas as her father has contracted pneumonia and everyone is at the hospital with him. Frustrated that her father's doctor is now refusing the family entry because her father is doing so poorly, Flavia tries to find something to occupy her time.

Naturally that leads her to find a body of a man tied upside down inside his house but not all is as it seems to be. Somehow this links back to the death of a popular children's book author years ago as Flavia goes back and forth to London (something a girl could do in the 1950s without her parents being arrested for child neglect).

Trying to forget her fear over her father, Flavia digs deep into the mystery with occasion, quiet assistance from Dogger and more active assistance from one of her former Canadian teachers who has returned home to London. Her sisters are less heinous in this because, mostly they're barely in it.

Just as the last three books, this one ends with something that means sweeping changes for the next book in the series which I'm very much looking forward to this coming fall (when it's scheduled to be out).

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文豪ストレイドッグス 1 [Bungō Stray Dogs 1]文豪ストレイドッグス 1 [Bungō Stray Dogs 1] by Kafka Asagiri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a rare thing, me seeing the anime before the manga. Well only part of the anime (the perils of living rural with crap internet) but the opening of both stick pretty close which is cool. This would be even cooler if I knew the Japanese authors that make up the characters. From what I know, they are famous authors reimagined here with magical abilities and are part of a team of detectives handling supernatural crimes but it would probably have more impact if I knew more about the authors.

The story centers on a young orphan, Atsushi Nakajima, who had been thrown out of his orphanage. He found himself at the river, debating starving to death or turning robber when he sees a man fall from the bridge. Atsushi rescues him and that begins a strange new journey.

Osamu Dazai, the man he rescued, is a suicide affinicado, always looking for new ways to off himself (unsuccessfully obviously). He's not particularly thankful but he is curious about Atsushi and a giant tiger that's been seen in the river area, which is what Dazai was there tracking in the first place.

Atsushi is caught up by Dazai and the stern, no nonsense Kunikida, fed and learn of the magic in this world, these powers, a power he shares in. Before he knows it he's part of the group and out fighting crime and at the same time being in the center of it as the mafia wants him and his ability, leaving us at a cliffhanger.

I really enjoyed this and the characters with one major exception, the reason I didn't give it five stars. I do not like Naomi and Junichiro Tanizaki, or should I say I don't like her. She is constantly trying to get into her brother's pants. It's too early to know if a) they're actually siblings as opposed to step siblings b) if they'll even be there long term. What I do know is that I've stopped reading a couple other manga for this because it was so front and center. I dealt with too many patients who were the damaged by incest to read it being played as either amusing or sexy. Hopefully this part of the manga will be gone soon. Otherwise I loved this and the art.

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2017 - Book 1

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - JK Rowling
Pages: 766
Blurb: Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors' attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord's return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the Dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort's savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time.
Thoughts: I've been slogging through this since Christmas so I am very pleased to finally have it finished. Enjoyable, but did feel like it went on a bit. Think I'll be taking a bit of a break (again) from Harry Potter to try and read a few more books before tackling the last two.

Last of 2016 part 2

24. White Nights - Ann Cleaves
Pages: 392
Blurb: At first sight, the hanging body seems to be a straightforward case of suicide. Shetland detective Jimmy Perez recognizes the victim - a stranger with amnesia who had disrupted a local party the night before his death.
Soon Perez realizes that this was no desperate act off anguish, but the work of a cold and calculating killer. And the small Biddista community is determined to keep its secrets. Then another body is found...
Perez knows he must break the cycle before another death occurs. But this is a crazy time of year when night blurs into day and nothing is quite as it seems...
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. Full of twists and turns, I just couldn't put it down when I was reading it (of course, the fact Jimmy Perez is played by Douglas Henshall in the TV series and is how I picture Jimmy, in no way was why I kept reading). The Shetland series is definitely becoming one of my favourite book series and I hope if someone is reading over my shoulder he may remember that.

25. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
Pages: 320
Blurb: Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…
Thoughts: Christ this book has become quite the phenomenon hasn't it? I was lent this by a new colleague who said "you have to let me know if you figured it out, I just didn't see it coming". After what felt like a slow start, boy did it get going. Did I see it coming? Yes, about halfway through - I guess I just read too many mysteries. It was a really good book, deserving of the hype. Was it the first book of its kind though? I soon discovered it wasn't...

26. Lasting Damage - Sophie Hannah
Pages: 440
Blurb: It's 1.15 a.m. Connie Bowskill should be asleep. Instead, she's logging on to a property website in search of a particular house: 11 Bentley Grove, Cambridge. She knows it's for sale; she saw the estate agent's board in the front garden less than six hours ago.
Soon Connie is clicking on the 'Virtual Tour' button, keen to see the inside of 11 Bentley Grove and put her mind at rest once and for all. She finds herself looking at a scene from a nightmare: in the living room, in the middle of the carpet, there's a woman lying face down in a huge pool of blood. In shock, Connie wakes her husband Kit. But when Kit sits down at the computer to take a look, he sees no dead body, only a pristine beige carpet in a perfectly ordinary room . . .
Thoughts: Now this really took me by surprise. At first I was dying for something to happen and then BOOM did it kick in. This story is similar to Hawkins' book but it leaves a few unanswered questions at the end. If you like a thriller where you just don't quite know what's going on, this is highly recommended.

27. Bridget Jones's Baby
Pages: 240 (7979)
Blurb: 8.45 P.M. Realise there have been so many times in my life when have fantasised about going to a scan with Mark or Daniel: just not both at the same time.
Before motherhood, before marriage, Bridget, with biological clock ticking very, very loudly, finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at the eleventh hour: a joyful pregnancy which is dominated, however, by a crucial but terribly awkward question – who is the father? Mark Darcy: honourable, decent, notable human rights lawyer? Or Daniel Cleaver: charming, witty, notable fuckwit?
9.45 P.M. It’s like they’re two halves of the perfect man, who’ll spend the rest of their lives each wanting to outdo the other one. And now it’s all enacting itself in my stomach.
In this gloriously funny, touching story of baby-deadline panic, maternal bliss, and social, professional, technological, culinary and childbirth chaos, Bridget Jones – global phenomenon and the world’s favourite Singleton – is back with a bump.
Thoughts: Dull, predictable - the film is 1000 times better.

Last of 2016 part 1

21. Ordeal by Innocence
Pages: 227
Blurb: Dr. Arthur Calgary takes a ferry across the Rubicon River to Sunny Point, the home of the Argyle family.
A year before, the matriarch of the family was murdered and a son, Jack, was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Throughout the trial Jack had maintained his innocence, claiming he was hitchhiking on the night of the murder and he had been picked up by a middle-aged man in a dark car. Unable to locate this mystery man the police viewed Jack’s as a lie. Calgary was the stranger in question, but he arrives to late for Jack – who succumbs to pneumonia after serving just six months of his sentence.
Feeling a sense of duty to the Argyles, Calgary is surprised when his revelation has a disturbing effect on the family – it means one of the family is a murderer…
Thoughts: I actually rather enjoyed this book, still being surprised by how the story unfolded, despite having seen an adaptation of the novel. Christie has woven some wonderfully complex characters in this novel, covering the whole spectrum of human quirks. A very good read.

22. Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie
Pages: 215
Blurb: At a Hallowe’en party, Joyce – a hostile thirteen-year-old – boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no-one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.
That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the ‘evil presence’. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer…
Thoughts: I read this around Halloween, a classic Poirot which does exactly as it says on the tin.

23. A Murder is Announced - Agatha Christie
Pages: 246 (6587)
Blurb: The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which reads: ‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.’
A childish practical joke? Or a hoax intended to scare poor Letitia Blacklock? Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when, without warning, the lights go out…
Thoughts: Again, a classic Christie which is well worth a read.

#14, 15

Work was busy this week, so not as much reading got done.

One book that I finished was Osprey Campaign #33: Aspern & Wagram 1809: Mighty Clash of Empires, a campaign that Napoleon didn't exactly win to his chagrin. Fairly well-written book.

The other was another in a series of novels set in Imperial Rome, various mysteries, this was the next most recent, Trade Secrets. These books by David Wishart have generally been enjoyable, and this one certainly is. I've already picked up the next (and most recent) book in the series to be read.

Book 6 - 2016

Book 6: Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich – 300 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Stephanie Plum, the brassy babe in the powder blue Buick, is back, and she's having a bad hair day - for the whole month of January. She's been given the unpopular task of finding Mo Bedemier Trenton's most beloved citizen, arrested for carrying concealed, gone no-show for his court appearance. And to make matters worse, she's got Lula, a former hooker turned file clerk - now a wannabe bounty hunter - at her side, sticking like glue. Lula's big and blonde and black, and itching to get the chance to lock up a crook in the trunk of her car. Morelli, the New Jersey vice cop with the slow-burning smile that undermines a girl's stronger resolve is being polite. So what does this mean? Has he found a new love? Or is he manipulating Steph, using her in his police investigation, counting on her unmanageable curiosity and competitive Jersey attitude? Once again, the entire One for the Money crew is in action, including Ranger and Grandma Mazur, searching for Mo, tripping down a trail littered with dead drug dealers, leading Stephanie to suspect Mo has traded his ice-cream scoop for a vigilante gun. Cursed with a disastrous new hair color and an increasing sense that it's really time to get a new job, Stephanie spirals and tumbles through Three to Get Deadly with all the wisecracks and pace her fans have come to expect.

Three books in and these stories are starting to establish a pattern. Stephanie fumbles her way through the mystery of the week, Ranger is sexy, Morelli is sexy, Grandma Mazur is crazy, and Lula actually seems to be remotely competent at the whole bounty hunter thing even if she is a bit trigger happy. This one features a relative (they seem to pop up every couple of books) and a link to a case Joe is working on (also seems to pop up regularly). Stephanie makes a fool of herself, seems to learn little from previous escapades, and somehow earns the admiration of all but her parents (who are probably the only people in Trenton with their heads screwed on right). I like these stories, and they are fairly quick reads, but I sometimes wonder if there is going to be anything resembling solid character progression. Will Stephanie end up with Joe, or will she pursue Ranger? Will she actually pick one or dance between them both? Will anyone ever realize Lula is a better bounty hunter? Will someone find Stephanie a real job? Given there are like 23 of these books thus far, I gather not, and I’ll keep reading in the same way I keep reading the Temperance Brennan books – they are quick reads with readable plots even if they are ultimately formulaic.

6 / 50 books. 12% done!

1441 / 15000 pages. 10% done!

Currently reading:
-        Wrath of Aphrodite by Bess T. Chappas – 207 pages
-        My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages
-        The Presidents of the United States of America by Frank Freidel – 88 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
-        Four to Score by Janet Evanovich – 311 pages

Books 10 & 11

Doctor Who: The American AdventuresDoctor Who: The American Adventures by Justin Richards

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy via netgalley (and the publisher), which didn't influence my review, though for some reason NetGalley had it listed as a graphic novel (which it is not. It's an anthology). The cover led me to believe it would be Capaldi's Doctor. However, honestly, this could have been any of them and he is traveling alone (which I would have liked to hear more of an internal dialogue about since he doesn't often do it). It was hard to see who wrote them but they had Justin Richards hidden away on the publisher's page inside the book (and here on GR) so I'm assuming these shorts are all from one person.

As the title suggests, it's a collection of the Doctor's adventures in America but honestly some of them were rather anemic. The anthology wasn't bad per se but not many of them stood out. It's relatively short and a quick read.

All That Glitters was interesting, sort of steampunky weird west feel to it.

Off the Trail went on a tad long but had an interesting idea of settlers going west meeting aliens ala Cowboys vs Aliens.

Ghosts of New York and the haunted subway construction was easily my favorite.

Taking the Plunge wasn't half bad, a little something wicked happening at a Florida amusement park.

Spectator Sport featured tours to past battlefields so you can imagine the Doctor wasn't thrilled and the last Base of Operations seemed a bit easily resolved after aliens take over a WWII military base.

For me this is about what I've come to expect of TV tie in books, mildly entertaining but not particularly memorable.

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Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening (Collected Editions)Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I originally received this from NetGalley (thank you) but had SO much trouble with the software required to read graphic novels that I gave up and bought it. I struggled to rate this and I rated it more on how well I thought it was written and drawn vs how much I liked it, which was a little less. It's a bit too dystopian for me (I'm over dystopias entirely really).

There is no argument on what to rate the art. That's a five. The art is lush and downright gorgeous for all its dark subject matter. It does a lot with a muted color palette. The cover has a rather steampunk feel but there are really only a few panels inside that seem steampunky. This is more straight up fantasy which I love.

I didn't, however, love the main character or even like her. However, I'm not sure we're meant to like Maika Halfwolf. She is in the middle of a long war that's quieted but ready to burst forth again and her people, the strange, half animalistic arcanics aren't likely to fare well. She's the product of war and as mistrustful, violent and unpleasant as you'd expect her to be. She's not particularly likeable but she IS very believable. I'd believe this hard young woman far more than a Pollyana.

Maika has allowed herself to be auctioned off as a slave to the witch-nuns who rule the human world, trying to find out information about herself and the monstrous thing inside her. If she rescues some of her kind in the process then fine but it isn't her main goal. She's too closed off emotionally to care (and later someone takes her to task for being selfish in her goals as it puts others at risk).

After Maika goes on the run with only some answer, even more questions and the monster-old god growing inside her, she learns she might not have friends anywhere, not even among her own kind.

It's hard to sum up the story. Do I want to see more? Yes, I think I do because it IS well written and beautifully drawn. But it is also dark and violent (and there is some nudity for those who think graphic novels equates to little kid stuff, think again. Maika's favorite word is fuck.). If you're looking for strong women, look no further. I think there's like 2 men in the entire thing and one of them, for the brief time we saw him, might be the nicest person in this thing because none of these women are nice. They are aggressive, power hungry and ruthless, the whole lot of them, except maybe the little fox girl, Kippa, and only because she is a child.

This is not going to be everyone's cup of tea because of how dark and violent it is but if you like fantasy soaked in blood, you'll probably enjoy this.

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Book #4: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Number of pages: 452

This novel features a book-within-a-book, presented as a novel written by the fictional Alan Conway, and opening with a prologue by his fictional publisher, Sue Ryeland. Conway is even given his own fictional backstory in the "About the Author" section.

The story itself is a murder mystery, supposedly the ninth and last in a series set in the 1950s about a detective called Atticus Pünd, who is said quite early on in the book to be dying. Conway's story opens with a maid falling down a flight of stairs to her death in suspicious circumstances. However, Atticus declines to investigate at first as there is no evidence that this was a murder, finally taking an interest when the maid's employer is beheaded.

As with all murder mystery novels, there is a long list of suspects, all with good motives for murder, although as the story approaches its climax, things get really interesting.

Suddenly there is a break from Alan Conway's story, as the novel suddenly focuses on Sue Ryeland, who has been proof reading the story. Most of this book's second half is told in first person narrative from Sue's point of view, as she addresses a mystery of her own, and notices several surprising parallels with the events of Alan Conway's new book, as well as noticing hidden messages that weren't immediately obvious.

I personally thought this book was a novel idea, as both Alan Conway's story and the events that happen to Sue Ryeland make for compelling reading. The book-within-a-book could have been just a standard murder mystery, but the writing style made me want to keep reading more, and I found it to be a very easy book to get into, like other novels I've read by Anthony Horowitz, and I found myself very keen to find out who the murderer was in the Atticus Pünd story, and to find out the answer to the mystery that Sue ends up having to solve. I also liked the fact that Sue's narrative gave a large amount of background to the fictional author.

I ended up finding Atticus Pünd to be such a compelling character that I'd love it if Anthony Horowitz were to write the previous eight titles mentioned in this book under the pseudonym of Alan Conway; it seems like too good an opportunity to pass up, although considering what I ended up learning about the origin of the character's name (it's rude), I'm not certain this would definitely happen.

I have enjoyed the previous Anthony Horowitz novels that I read, and I loved this too; I loved the way that he tried a completely experimental format, and succeeded.

Next book: We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (Arthur Ransome)

50 Book Challenge 2016

Originally posted by hasfartogo at 50 Book Challenge 2016
50 Book Challenge 2016

A Rare Interest in Corpses by Ann Granger. 2006. The beginning of a Victorian murder mystery series with Lizzie Martin and Inspector Benjamin Ross. In 1864 Lizzie Martin moves to London to became a ladies companion to her deceased godfather's second wife. The previous ladies companion Madeleine Hexham had left unexpectedly a month before only to turn up dead. A tolerable read for long winter nights. I would not mind reading more of these books.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Paper back edition 1998. A personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster of 1996 when a dozen climbers died over the course of the climbing season, 8 from two different climbing groups in the month of May alone. It's a heart wrenching story of simple mistakes making a difficult situation worse as each hour passes. It's the partial basis of the movie Everest that came out last year. Got this at a library book swap.

The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by Sir James George Frazer. Original Publication 1922. Published 1985. This is not an easy book to read with it repetitive examples, it's racism, and it's academic style. But it you are looking for a book on the early studies of world religions and the origins of common seasonal folk practices and customs, this is the book for you.

Hurry Up and Wait: An Inside Look at Life as a Canadian Military Wife by Dianne Collier. 1994. This a a self published book by military wives for military wives and civilians to better understand the Canadian military lifestyle up till the mid-1990's. It was very informative and amusing but a bit sad at times.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombie by Jane Austen and Seth Graham-Smith. 1813 for original publication and 2015 edition for Zombie edition. The book kept most of the plot intact but i found some of the sadistic glee that certain characters get horrible ends and comeuppances a bit off putting. Otherwise an easy enough read.

Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayoa Miyazaki and Isao Takahata by Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc. 2009. A good listing and description of the movies by these masters of anime movies before they formed Studio Ghibli, at Studio Ghibli took off, and some of the smaller works they have done.

Anime A History by Jonathan Clements. Originally published 2013. Reprinted 2015. While written as a Phd thesis for the British Film Instute, this book is still readable by the general public. It gives an amazing amount of detail on the history of anime from it's early days to the present. A must read for anime fans or media studies students.

The Rough Guide to Anime: Japan's Finest from Ghibli to Gankutsuo by Simon Richmond. 2009. For anyone who wants to get a concise history of anime and it's affect on Japanese and world culture.

The Rough Guide to Manga by Jason S. Yadao. 2009. For anyone who wants to learn about Japanese manga. A bit of history, some examples of genres, and how it has been exported to the rest of the world.

Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics by Paul Gravett. 2004. A big book with lots of graphic samples of popular and obscure manga. Not for children, maybe mature teens as they are some graphic and sensitive stories.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore with a New Afterword. 2015. How does Wonder Woman the character tie in with the fight for women's right to vote and to get birth control. This book brings the rather convoluted family life of Marston's family history and how it affected the creation of this iconic character. Highly recommended if for fans of Wonder Woman, 20th Century American History buffs, and feminists.

A Lyncanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture edited by Charlotte F. Otten. 1986. A mixture of different mixture of medical records, legal cases, and religious speculations on and about werewolves in Western culture. A very academic book only for people interested in how cultures over time dealt with lycanthropy.

Gestures: TIF Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. Revised and Expanded Edition. Roger E. Axtell. 1997. A basic book about how different body gestures can and would get you in trouble overseas and sometimes at home too. A good read if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself when you go on that trip overseas.

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. Color by Jordie Bellaire. 2016. This is a good adventure story set in a pseudo Asiatic country where a city in a critical geographic point is constantly taken over every 30 years for it's commercial strategic location. Looking forward to more books and will look for others by this writer/artist.

One Thousand Years of Manga by Brigitte Koyama-Richard. 2007. This book was published in France as well which explains the choices of manga popular in France more than North America. It's a good read that examines the long history of ancient visual arts as related to present day manga. Lot's of manga both common and rare.

Life Among The Savages/ Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson. 1998 Special Edition. Most people know Shirley Jackson for her suspense and horror fiction. These stories are about her personal life living in a small town, the wife of a university professor with 4 children, a number of pets, and the barely controlled chaos in the late 1950s and early 1960s in New England.

Amulet 07: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi. 2016. Our story gets deeper into the back history of Elf King while Emily's Amulet keeps chipping away at her resistance.

Persopolis: The Story of A Childhood. Marjane Satrapi. 2003 This graphic novel is a personal account of growing up in Iran during it's revolution from under the Shah to the current government system. Sometimes funny, often sad, and rarely boring, it's a must read for everyone with any interest in the Middle East, especially Iran.

Cat's Pawn by Leslie Gadallah. 1987. “Homesick ans stranded on an alien world, he wasn't looking for trouble – but big trouble was for him...” Bill Anderson is stuck on Orion where the sentient felinoids take him in after pirates kidnap him, his shipmates, and their ambassador Talan. After his recovery, he goes the local space part and falls into trouble that leads to complicated inter-spatial politics between the
Orions, Humans, and the creepy Kaz.

Cat's Gambit by Leslie Gadallah. 1990. “Even the dreaded Kazi Empire had its Achlles heee ... if someone was unlucky enough to find it.” Ayyah, Talan's daughter has a crazy idea and manages to drag in human pilot MacDonald and Dellardar Oll the Lleveci warrior into a possible suicide mission to get to the Kazi Empire' heart.

Inuyashiki 2. Hiroya Oku. English translation of manga 2015. Hiro Shishigami and Inuyashiki Ichiro have both been hit by an extraterestial object that reconstructs them to the best of it's knowledge – with some extras added. Inuyashiki Ichiro is an old friendless salary man whose family barely cares for him. Hiro Shishigami is a high school student who lives with his single mother. Both have been granted powers and both take different paths in using them.

The Mammoth Book of 20th Century Ghost Stories. Edited by Peter Haining. 1998. This a collection of 30 short ghost stories from Henry James to Ruth Rendell. Some hits, some misses, varied styles for the fan of things that haunt us all, preferably between the pages.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett.Tiffany Aching feels trouble brewing in her boot on The Chalk and things get more complicated when the fairies begin to stir and a death and an addition changes the status quo among the Witches.

How to be a Villain Evil Laughs, Secret Liars Master Plans and More by Neil Zawacki with illustrations by James Dignan. 2003. A comic primer on the various villain archetypes and what kind of henchmen and lairs they need to succeed at villainy.

Halo: La Chute de Reach by Eric Nylund and translated into French by Fabrice Joly. 2013 It's a Halo novel about the early days of Spartan program and Master Chief.

Halo: Les Floods by William C. Dietz and translated by Fabrice Joly. 2004. After heavy losses in the first book and an unexpected jump into unknown space, and discover Halo and it's very dangerous secrets.

Halo: Operation First Strike by Eric Nylund and translated into French by Fabrice Joly. 2005.The conclusion of the Halo novels, Master Chief returns to where it all began for him and the Spartans, to find a weapon to beat the Covenant. Or die trying. I was amazed how fast my French reading skills came back with this trio of novels.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. 2016. After moving to Bahia de la Luna for Maya's health, she has cystic fibrosis, Cat and Maya discover there is something very different about this town -there are ghosts in the town. Cat is scared and Maya is fascinated And when the Day of Dead Festival quickly coming up, Cat has to face her fears, for her sake and her sister's. This is a really well done graphic novel everyone should either read or own.

Use What You Have Decorating by Lauri Ward. 1998. Use what you have in your home to a better effect in every room. Lot's of before and after pictures with room plan diagrams. Some basic rules of thumb for furniture placement, how to hide or alter awkward heating/cooling systems, and how to arrange art better.

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman. 1991. On a distant world where the physical forces of Erna have been harnessed by human colonists as magic, Damien Vryce a priest, Senzei "Zen" Reese an assistant, and Gerrald Tarrant an agent for The Hunter (the local master of The Forest) take the violated Adept Ciana to the Rahklands to get her memories and soul back from her assailants but find a bigger danger there than they expected.

Life Among The Savages and Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson. 1953 and 1956. These are the collected essays of Shirley Jackson about the entertaining travails of her family and pets in a New England in the 40s and 50s of the United States. A good read to contrast with her darker stories. (Counting this as two books as they were published that way originally.)

Shadows Edge by Brent Weeks. 2008. Kylar Stern rejects the assassin's life after the death of his master Durzo and his best friend Logan dead. But news that Logan may be alive and need of rescue forces him to choose his new family versus the biggest hit of his life.

Beyong Shadows by Brent Weeks. 2008. In the third and final book of The Night Angel trilogy, Kylar Stern has to assassinate a godess and finds out the true cost of his resurrection ability.

Scott Pilgrim 1-6 by Brian Lee O'Malley. Graphic novels about an unemployed slacker who has love life problems and is a band that seems to be going nowhere fast. More in depth than the movie but still very enjoyable.

Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly. 2015. Kymera wakes with no memories of her previous life but she has a purpose – to save the girls of the town of Bryre. She must do it at night since her appearance is monstrous. But as she visits the town, her curiosity about the people, the town, make her break the cardinal rule of not to talk to people with catastrophic results.

The Way of the Traitor by Laura Joh Rowland. 1997. “A volatile, corrupt city threatened by foreign invasion and run by an iron-fisted government, Nagasaki is the last place Sano Ichiro wants to be, Unfortunately, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People has been banished there by a wicked adversary in the shogun's court.” Good enough mystery with some interesting historical depth of Japans relations with the Europeans in the 16th century.

When True Night Falls by C.S. Friedman. 1993. Damien Vryce, Gerrald Tarrant, and Hesseth the rakh female cross the ocean to find the fate of the five expeditions that went to the eastern continent to search for the source of the evil mind behind the manipulations of the rakh into monsters.

Not my best year but I had a huge life changes in August.

Book 9

Yuletide SlayingYuletide Slaying by Paty Jager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won this in an author giveaway which in no way influenced my review. This is my first book in the series (though it's the 7th in the series) but I didn't feel lost in any way. I will say if you're coming to this because of the Christmasy title in hopes of a lot of holiday goodness, you might be disappointed. It opens and closes with holiday themed material but the bulk of the story the setting is more winter than holiday (which was fine by me but some people get irritated if they think it's one thing and it's something else).

It opens with Shandra (a Native American artist) helping out with a charity that Ryan's (her cop boyfriend) mother is involved in. Her Newfoundlander/Border collie mix, Sheba (and boy don't I want to see this dog in person) is pulling a sleigh of kid's toys for the charity. Only Sheba and the sleigh get away from her and when she finally finds them, Sheba has been superficially stabbed and there's a dead marshal in her sleigh.

All too soon there's another death and they realize this relates back to Ryan's time as an undercover cop in Chicago. The gang he had infiltrated is after him and those he loves. Naturally this means Shandra and his family are in the cross hairs and Shandra can't help getting involved trying to find the assassin after him.

Though I figured out the who (I read far too many mysteries I think), I still very much enjoyed this. I liked Shandra as a character (and her deceased grandmother who appears to her in dreams with information/visions because I like that sort of thing). In cozies, the way to make them work for me is this exact set up, the amateur detective is on good terms with/involved with an actual cop (as opposed to the type where the cop is either against the detective or too dumb to figure out anything). So I enjoyed the dynamics between Shandra and Ryan, though I thought the aren't you married yet stuff coming from literally everyone was a touch heavy handed.

A few things didn't work for me like Ryan not knowing what Shandra meant by the guy acted like a rapper doing the thug life stuff and had to have it explained by another cop. But that was minor. I want to go back and find more in this series.

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#11, 12, 13

A few more books finished this week, with progress on more that I'm likely to finish in the upcoming days.

The first book that I finished reading was a graphic novel of a title that started online called Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling. The protagonist is a woman in the Napoleonic era who's quite the adventuress; in this one she's fighting to clear her name. Amusing.

The next one I read was The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Now this one is a book of which I first became aware when I first signed up for LiveJournal, lo these many years ago. Several of the folks who had similar interests to mine commented on this author and this book specifically, and so I picked up a copy. I just had never gotten around to reading it. Finally, I've done so, and it was a fun read! The book is written about a British woman who is an investigator in a form of literary police protecting the integrity of various English works. It's hard to describe, and the alternate world takes some getting used to. Worth it, though.

Finally, there was Osprey Raid #44: Carlson's Marine Raiders: Makin Island 1942, one which wasn't much of a success though interesting in the use of submarines to bring the troops to the island. Not as good a book as some that I've read in this series.

Book 8

A Most Curious Murder (Little Library Mystery #1)A Most Curious Murder by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one has a lot of things I liked and a lot I didn't. I think there was a bit too much shoveled into this as far as Jenny's love life was concerned and it took away from the mystery a bit. Also Jenny whined a bit much for me. Jenny has returned to her mom's house in Michigan after Jenny's marriage imploded and her husband ran off to another country with a younger woman and Jenny dumped him. Yet she hasn't told her mother about the divorce (which tells me a lot). Jenny isn't happy about being back home in her childhood bedroom and having her first love, Johnny still in town. She and Johnny were once thinking marriage until he knocked Angel up just out of high school and Jenny isn't ready to see him again and less ready to see he's become a creepy drunk who runs around on his pregnant wife.

The story opens with the destruction of her mother's Little Library which had been made by her deceased father. As she tries to clean up, she meets her Mom's neighbor, Zoe who is a little person obsessed with fairies and Alice in Wonderful. Zoe also happens to be an author and in a feud with her other neighbor. Before long he's dead and Zoe is blamed and Jenny tries to help (though it's hard to see why in the beginning as Jenny doesn't seem very fond of Zoe in the beginning which was a problem for me). And the next death is also laid at Zoe's feet and she only has Jenny and Tony, a former cop turned carpenter who is fixing the little library to help her.

Honestly Tony didn't come across well as a former cop. I expected a bit more of him. We got less of that and more of him as a love interest for Jenny (see what I mean about it being a bit too much). I would read the next one in the series (which hopefully by then the love stuff would be just dealing with Tony and not sifting through 2 other guys and hopefully Jenny will be less depressed).

I would like to see more character development or at least description of the characters. I wanted to know if Zoe was pituitary or achrondroplasic so I could picture her. We had more descriptions of her fairies than we did of the people.

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Sometimes what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.

Kitty and Ben fled where What Happens in Vegas / Stays in Vegas, thinking they were finished with the dangers there, but the sadistic cult of lycanthropes and their vampire priestess have laid a curse on Kitty in revenge for her disrupting their rituals. Starting at the next full moon, danger and destruction in the form of fire strikes Denver and Kitty's Pack.

With the help of a group of TV paranormal investigators - one of whom has real psychic abilities - to help her get to the bottom of the curse that's been laid on her. Rick, the Master vampire of Denver, believes a deeper plot lies behind the curse, and he and Kitty argue about whether or not to accept the help of a vampire named Roman, who arrives a little too conveniently in the nick of time with an offer of aid.

Unable to rely on Rick, and unwilling to accept Roman's offer of help for a price, Kitty and her band of allies, including Vegas magician Odysseus Grant and Kitty's own radio audience, mount a trap for the supernatural being behind the curse, a destructive force summoned by the vengeful cult, a supernatural being that none of them ever thought to face.

Slowly working my way through this series. I should do so faster, because I'm enjoying every book even though I'm not really a fan of werewolves and vampires. Vaughn's writing is engaging and she does a wonderful job of building up layers with each book. This volume brings in some paranormal investigators who turn out to be surprisingly legit--and some nasty new villains that keep the suspense high.
Proof that we're living in the best of all possible worlds: THERE'S GONNA BE A SQUIRREL GIRL GRAPHIC NOVEL! It's a stand-alone adventure that's both great for new Squirrel Girl readers, and also for people who ALREADY know about how she can talk to squirrels and also punch really well! Behold: a story so HUGE it demanded a graphic novel! A story so NUTS that it incorporates BOTH senses of that word (insanity AND the weird hard fruit thingies) (they're fruits, did you know that?) (I didn't until I looked them up just now, so looks like we're all learning science from this solicit text for a comic book!) Squirrel Girl has defeated Thanos, Galactus, and Doctor Doom. TWICE. But in this all-new graphic novel, she'll encounter her most dangerous, most powerful, most unbeatable enemy yet: HERSELF. Specifically, an evil duplicate made possible through mad science (both computer and regular) as well as some Bad Decisions. In other words, SQUIRREL GIRL BEATS UP THE MARVEL UNIVERSE! YES. I CAN'T WAIT, AND I'M THE GUY WRITING IT.

One of my sisters-in-law gifted me with this new Squirrel Girl book for my birthday. My to-read pile be darned! I had to read this book next.

I gifted my son with a Squirrel Girl graphic novel for Christmas, and I read it first and thought it was a delight. This new stand-alone volume obviously jumps forward in the timeline--there were new characters I hadn't met yet--but it was very easy to get into the book. Squirrel Girl is such a fun, relatable superhero--she's curvy, devoted to her friends, and defeats a lot of big bad guys through kindness and compromise. Here, though, Squirrel Girl is duplicated by a nefarious machine, and with a wink and a nod to old tropes, her double ends up going super-villain. It's a fun read. Almost every page has fine print at the bottom with some commentary from her squirrel Tippy. The art is fantastic, and the Deadpool hero/villain cards cracked me up. This book only reaffirms that I'm a Squirrel Girl fan girl.

Book 7

Haunted in Death (In Death, #22.5)Haunted in Death by J.D. Robb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect when I found this audio book in a library sale and saw it was only three discs long but claimed to be unabridged. I thought maybe it was one of the first ones it was so short but logging into GR, I see it was a Halloween novella. It was fun and very different from the usual near-future SF that informs the Eve Dallas In Death series. It’s about a ghost with a true haunting feel. Naturally it’s not Eve believing in the ghost but rather the more supersitious Peabody and Roarke embracing the stereotypical Irish belief in the supernatural.

It begins with Number Twelve, a famous CBGB-like club that has been ‘cursed’ for decades bringing the owners nothing but trouble. The newest owner, something of a music producer wanna be who wanted to reclaim the club and reopen it, is found dead along with the possible grave of a 60’s music star inside its walls. It is said she haunts the place accounting for the bad luck in the place.

Eve has no time for haunts and is rather annoyed Peabody and Roarke do. She has two mysteries to solve, one nearly eight decades old. The mystery was a lot of fun and in some ways its a little more enjoyable than others because there’s not the Roarke/Eve let’s fight then screw set up that’s in literally every book, nor Eve angsting about her past nor Roarke buying nearly everything to help the investigation and it was a nice break not to have those things.

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#3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

After having had a slow week for book completion, I followed that with a blazingly fast week. More specifically, I spent most of the day on Sunday reading, and I finished a number of books that day.

Anyway, here they were:

First book that I finished was a compilation of columns written by the Chicagoan Mike Royko, called Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends. The pieces set the scene of Chicago in the early 70s, the Nixon years as it were. In this one, it's after the riots at the Democratic National Convention, and the elder Daley and his crew have years yet to be in power. I found the book pretty fascinating and funny. Royko was best known for writing the book Boss which is about Chicago under the first Mayor Daley. If you're from Chicago, this book is well worth reading. If you're not, the columns are still interesting for the style.

Next was Hobby Games: The 100 Best, a series of columns written by gamers and game designers about a list of famed games. I've played or collected maybe twenty-five of these, and I'm sure that the columns are supposed to persuade me to pursue the others, but in all honesty they didn't have that effect on me. Still, it was fun to see the write-ups of the games I know, and heck, some of the columns were written by people I know, so that was fun in a very different way. Mostly aimed at gamers.

Then we have Osprey Fortress #49: The Spanish Main 1492 – 1800. If you're interested in pirate lore, this is a good resource for describing the places that they would raid. I found it engaging, especially in light of certain campaign games that my friends envisioned running in the past using Wooden Ships and Iron Men rules. Not bad at all.

Next was Delilah Dirk and the Easy Mark. I've read another Delilah Dirk item online, and recently purchased the second book of the saga for reading, but this one is a short piece where Ms. Dirk's associate is manipulated by a cat. If you like the graphic novels of this series, this is an amusing interlude. If not, don't bother finding this online.

Then, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson, as opposed to the book of the same name by a different author that I read several weeks back. In that one, a company of dwarves dungeon delve while in this one, a rogue recruits a young man into a legion of adventurers who practice their skills together. In all honesty I found both books engaging for different reasons. The book I just finished appears to for the moment stand alone, while the book I read previously already has a followup novel which I'm pursuing. Good for gamers or fantasy enthusiasts.

Next book that I finished was Osprey Men-At-Arms #49: The Coldstream Guards, a book about the second regiment of the British Guards Brigade. One of the oldest regiments still active in the British military, this book was a quick overview up until the 1970s. I bet there's been some more action for them since...

Then, Osprey New Vanguard #24: Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank 1979 – 1998, a book I found a bit technical for my taste.

Next was then Osprey Raid #43: Kill Rommel!: Operation Flipper 1941. Most of the Raid series deals with successes, though not all, and this one fits into that description. Too bad, no?

On to the next week's reading!
Before the oil boom and rise of Hollywood brought today's renowned landmarks to downtown Los Angeles, an entirely different and often forgotten high Victorian city existed. Prior to Union Station, there was the impressive Romanesque Arcade Station of the Southern Pacific line in the 1880s. Before UCLA, the Gothic Revival State Normal School stood in place of today's Los Angeles Public Library. Elsewhere the city held Victorian pleasure gardens, amusement piers and even an ostrich farm, all lost to time and the rapid modernization of a new century. Local author Charles Epting reveals Los Angeles's unknown past at the turn of the twentieth century through the prominent citizens, events and major architectural styles that propelled the growth of a nascent city.

I read this book for research and zipped through it in under an hour. I knew it was short when I bought it, but I was still frustrated at the lack of content. What I wanted most: maps. I wanted a sense of how Los Angeles grew through the late 19th century. The writing is good and the existing content is interesting, I just wanted more of it. Some parts felt like summarized portions from Kevin Starr's Americans and the California Dream, and I was glad to see it cited as a source at the end.

Book 6

The Chardonnay Charade (Wine Country Mysteries #2)The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one is a library find that I really wanted to like as I like mysteries and I like wine and the whole production side of it. I hadn't read the first book but that didn't matter much in terms of understanding the characters. I didn't like this as nearly as much as would have liked to because Lucie (the point of view character) and her wine making partner, Quinn come across as rather stubborn and abrasive, neither of which is endearing to me. Also the romance didn't work for me (I found it more distracting than anything) and I didn't like the ending at all.

Still, I liked enough of it that I'd probably go to the library to find another in the series. It opens with Lucie and Quinn battling a late frost that will destroy their grapes and blaming each other for the position they're in (and doing it so petulantly as they do almost every talk about the winery you want to slap them). Lucie wants to cleave a little too tightly to the ways of the past and Quinn wants to chuck the past in the bucket and move on. Also one of the things they did in the winery was to use a dangerous chemical which was left out against regs which is used to kill Georgia Greenwood who is a politician who would work to shut down local wineries (she was at the winery for some sort of party), giving Lucie motive to kill her. She's also the philandering wife of the doctor who saved Lucie's life (She was in a major car accident that left her with a disabled foot).

Naturally Lucie wants to prove neither she, Quinn nor Ross, Georgia's husband murdered Georgia and sets out to find the killer. To make matters worse, Ross has found a letter about some Confederate general linking him to Lincoln's assassination which makes everyone including Lucie set against him. (Another way to make me dislike a character, her defense of people fighting hard to keep slavery alive. Yeah, that's me being a Northener I guess). Added to this is Ross's suave British friend who is setting up a winery right next to Lucie's, might be poaching Quinn from Lucie all the while romancing Lucie. And the topper is Lucie's teenaged sister who is hanging out with the bad kids developing a drinking problem.

It was a bit blatantly obvious where this mystery was going to end which made it all the more annoying because there weren't really good reasons for this particular character to be acting so nuts by the end. That's what really bothered me. Like I said I might read another but it would definitely be a 'from the library' read and not something I'd run out to buy.

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“The Hawaiian Archipelago” is a great eyewitness account of Hawaii in 1863, by one of the era's most intrepid travelers, after it had been impacted by its collision with the American and European powers but while it was still a robust independent Kingdom and before its forced assimilation into the USA. Isabella Bird visited the Sandwich Islands in 1871, when she was forty. Her letters home to her sister Henrietta have a remarkable freshness and spontaneity, and reveal the transformation of a Victorian invalid into a fearless horsewoman and enthusiastic mountain-climber, who thought nothing of riding for miles soaked with rain and fording terrifyingly swollen rivers. She undertook a thirteen-hour unaccompanied trek to the summit of the extinct volcano of Mauna Kea, revelling in the security with which she was able to travel and camp out without guides or companions. At the end of her stay she was able to make the perilous ascent to the summit of Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world, camping for the night on the edge of the crater, at nearly 14,000 feet. Isabella Bird's travel writing is a wonderful look at the world at the turn of the last century. Her writing is fluid and clear and her insights into people and places are gentile but pointed. In “The Hawaiian Archipelago,” Isabella Bird is at her best, giving the reader a fascinating and insightful taste of the old Hawaii.

I have read numerous other books on Hawaii, and Bird's book is often quoted. I decided it would be wise for me to go to the source and read her actual travelogue.

Works from the 19th century can be difficult to read due to dense, repetitive prose and the repulsive attitudes of the time. Bird is a woman of her period, yes, and her biases are pretty clear up front, but she is a complex, fascinating person who would be remarkable even in our time. This is a woman who, because of her "nervous condition," was advised to indulge in open air travel. Therefore, she traveled around the world by herself multiple times. Her six months in the Sandwich Island (aka Hawaii) immediately followed an adventure in New Zealand. I found her prose surprisingly easy to read and quite enjoyable. She is a white woman of privilege, yes, but her outlook on the "heathen natives" evolves substantially in her time on the islands. She falls in love with the place and the people, and trusts them absolutely. She shocks people wherever she goes. She's a white woman, traveling by herself most of the time, sitting astride on a Mexican saddle and riding through absolute wilderness of the Big Island in 1871. She seizes various opportunities--things I sure wouldn't do. A man she just met invites her to climb up Mauna Loa to see the eruption? Off she goes! She is not averse to sleeping on the ground with her saddle as her pillow. Bird learns passable Hawaiian and eats as the locals do, mastering two-finger poi and appreciating whatever her hosts will share (though she accepts the fleas grudgingly).

For my research purposes, her descriptions of Hilo and Kilauea are fabulous. She obviously loves plant life, and goes into detail about the plants around her, mentioning the Latin names if she can.

Bird's book is in public domain and available from various small publishers. I wish my copy had been typeset a bit differently, but it didn't strain my eyes and the binding is fine. I wouldn't mind reading more of Bird's books--she was quite a bestseller in the late 19th century--as she has really gained my respect.

Book 5

Jackaby (Jackaby, #1)Jackaby by William Ritter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is very much Sherlock meets the creatures of myth. To say Jackaby is Sherlockian is an understatement. Sometimes he's almost painfully so (and so blatantly so that Abigail comments on it). But in this case he's not seeing all the little mundane clues (if anything Abigail is better than he is). Jackaby sees creatures from folklore, trolls, banshees etc and he investigates cases involving the supernatural.

Abigail Rook, however, is our point of view character. Abigail is from England and her father was a professor/adventurer and fairly well to do. Her mother a proper Victorian lady who isn't prepared for the late 1800s and her daughter's bid for freedom. Abigail is very much a strong independent girl. She makes off with her boarding school tuition money looking for adventure on the continent but digging dinosaurs isn't all she imagined it would be. She was heading home, somewhat defeated but ended up on a ship to America thanks to her shoddy German skills.

She tries to find a more conventional job but has no luck. She answers a strange job ad 'Assistant Wanted - 8$ per week - Must be literate and possess a keen intellect. Strong stomach preferred. Inquire at 926 Augur Lane. Do Not Stare at the Frog.' To her surprise, the detective in question is young Jackaby, whom she had met previously. Abigail already knows he's an odd duck but needs the job and she thinks it will be the grand adventure she's been searching for.

In that, she's not wrong. Quickly they are wrapped up in a case where a man's chest has been ripped open but all his blood is gone. Inspector Marlowe doesn't want Jackaby around and even less wanted by Commissioner Swift, head of the police and polio victim. Abigail and Jackaby find one ally, the young detective Charlie Cane who seems to be a bit odd himself and very handsome as far as Abigail is concerned.

Soon she's caught up in the wail of a banshee, of a third floor in Jackaby's house that is actually an outdoor pond by some magic and a duck who was his former assistant, not to mention the ghost who used to own the house. They have to stop a serial killer who is content to a) let them take the blame for his murders or b) kill them if they become a problem.

While I did rather see the end coming, it was still great fun. I really liked Abigail. She's intelligent but does have some sense about her abilities as a small woman fighting a huge monster (doesn't mean she doesn't try though). She is a character I would like to know more about. Jackaby fares slightly less well in only that we don't get inside his head (this is first person for those of whom it matters to. I will never understand the hatred of first person pov). We don't know much about Jackaby other than he too is highly intelligent and demanding. He seems angry that others can't see the supernatural like he can even though he knows that he might be unique. We know he's paid well but sometimes in less than useful ways (like chests of clothing or silver tea sets). We have no idea about his family or how he got into this. There are a lot of questions about Jackaby that go unanswered in this book. That just makes me want to read the rest more.

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Book 4

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I knew this book would be trouble from the moment I picked it up when I visited Powell’s bookstore (and you can’t go into an iconic book store without buying something). It’s a middle grade book that has won multiple awards and that usually seems to mean someone is going to die in it. So let me sum up the plot in two sentences. Conor’s mother has terminal cancer. His grief has caused a monster to come walking.

To add to the angst, the novel was the brain child of Siobhan Dowd who herself died of breast cancer and Patrick Ness wrote the story in her honor. It’s beautifully, atmospherically illustrated by Jim Kay (in black and white) Both Ness and Kay won awards for it.

It is a punch to the gut sort of story, its emotional impact tremendous even though you see it coming, even if Conor lies to himself about it. The monster comes to his bedroom as 12:07, while Conor’s mother is still well enough to be at home with him, but growing ever weaker. The monster reminds me of the Greenman. The monster wants to exchange stories with Conor but Conor’s story is one he doesn’t want to tell, would rather die than tell. He does, however, not fear the monster, even latches on to him in the belief that the monster has a magic to save his mother.

As the story weaves on, we see Conor for what he really is. He’s no longer a young man with friends. He’s the Boy Whose Mom Has Cancer. He’s become invisible. The teachers excuse all his bad behavior and bad grades because of it and the other kids avoid him. It gets worse when his mother is hospitalized and he has to go live with his grandmother, who in her own words ‘don’t get on well with him,’ and keeps her house as a shrine to the past. Worse, his father comes (he now lives in the States with his new wife and his new family and his wife resents every second he spends with Conor, something I will never understand no matter how many times I see this in real life.) but his inability to connect with Conor or make time for him, only deepens his son’s sadness.

Conor has to face his feelings about his mother’s illness and his bitter hope that there will be a chemo that can save her and also deal with what the monster really is and why he’s come walking.

It is a brutal story in its every day qualities, the honesty of which is deals with a young man facing the loss of a parent, the change in his friendships and the ugliness over the fact that this is just fuel for the bully at school. It feels very real and it will make you cry. It is not a story what you walk away from feeling good but it feels very important. I’m glad that I read this one in spite of how poignantly sad it is.

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Book #3: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Number of pages: 245

This book opens with its main character and narrator, Rob, listing his top five relationship breakups, addressing the character Laura, who has just broken up with him, mocking her because her name isn't even on the list. The opening chapter of the book is all Rob talking about his previous relationships and why they ended, before the main story has Rob addressing the reader directly and talking about his life following his break-up with Laura.

This is quite a different type of book to most romantic novels, and although Laura does mention that there is a chance they will get back together, it doesn't really feel like that, particularly as she quickly moves on and finds another boyfriend, while Rob spends some of the book attempting to contact his former girlfriends to find what went wrong.

I remember not enjoying this book on my first read through, but this time I really enjoyed it; it is a very funny book, and Rob is a very likeable character, despite the fact that he seems to be full of self-loathing. Because much of the novel revolves around Rob working in a music store, there are also a lot of references to music and songs, as the characters discuss favourite bands and tracks.

I found myself gripped by this novel this time; although a lot of the book is just characters talking to each other, Nick Hornby's dialogue was enough to draw me in and keep me reading.

Next book: Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz)

Book 3

When Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr, #11)When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In spite of being the 11th book in the series, the Sebastian/Hero mysteries are not getting long in the tooth which I love. This one is a bit different from the rest of the series as we're not in London so that means several usual characters, Gibson, Jarvis etc aren't in this. Even Tom, Sebastian's tiger, has a very muted role.

Sebastian, Hero and their infant son, Simon, have taken a trip to the countryside where Jamie Knox grew up. They're there to give something of Jamie's to his grandmother following his death and of course to see if they can track down Sebastian's true father. Jamie had a sister who also looks just like him and Sebastian (as does a barkeep in town, so whoever dad was, he sure got around) but she's in no mood to help Sebastian.

Quickly a young woman dies. Emma Chance was an amazing artist doing something strange, traveling alone because even young widows like herself didn't do that in the early 1800s. Emma's death would have been written off as a suicide if not for the fact the young new lawkeeper in town knew Sebastian was there and knew his reputation.

As Sebastian (and to a lesser degree, Hero) investigates, he learns Emma is not all she seems. To make matters worse, Napoleon's brother, Lucien is in town and it is Lucien's son who finds the body. Was Emma a spy sent by Napoleon to keep an eye on Lucien? Was she a spy sent by Jarvis to do the same? Did Lucien kill her? Or is she simply on a quest that dovetails with Sebastian's own: to find her birth rite? These are all things Sebastian has to consider.

Worse, there have been other suicides by young women in the family way (and you don't even want to know what they did with suicides back then) and Sebastian and Hero begin to wonder were any of them really suicides or is there a killer on the loose using the typical small town notion of 'that sort of thing only happens in cities' to cover his tracks.

Sebastian and Hero both remain well rounded, engaging characters and I'm enjoying them even more now as a couple than I did in earlier books when Sebastian's first love was still haunting the pages and honestly kind of creeping me out. I'm glad that character is (for now) gone. I do hope, however, that his parentage will either be resolved soon or take a back seat because it's the sort of thing that can wear thin quickly. Now I have to wait for the next one. Sigh

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#3, The Duel, by Judith St. George

Squeezed in one more book this weekend:

3. The Duel, by Judith St. George. I personally think Ron Chernow's biography is the gold standard for information related to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. However, for those wanting to find out more information on the nation's colorful and dynamic first treasury secretary and his rival Aaron Burr, but are daunted at the prospect of reading Chernow's 700+ page work, The Duel is an excellent alternative. Here, St. George concentrates solely on the startlingly similar lives Hamilton and Burr, whose place in history would be forever cemented by their infamous duel. I was able to finish this in one evening. It's well paced, and there is a nice bibliogrphy at the end. The Duel covers the basic highlights of the lives of the two men, and compares their similarities and notes how often their paths crossed, knowingly and unknowingly. All in all, a good read for either those wanting to find out more about Hamilton or Burr, or those needing a quick refresher.

Books 1 and 2

1. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. This fulfills the challenge for debut novel (could also fit the LGBTQ+ romance novel category). Simon Spier, a junior at his local high school, is fun character. The story is told through his eyes, and in many ways it's a fairly traditional coming-of-age tale. Simon is torn between not wanting things to change, yet slowly acknowledging that things have to progress eventually. The bulk of the story centers on Simon being blackmailed by another student, the awkward Marty, Marty wants to hook up with a girl he has a crush on, Abby, who happens to be a good friend of Simon's. Simon is afraid that if he doesn't help, Marty will expose Simon and his secret correspondence for the past few months, whom Simon only knows as bluegreen. Life becomes a juggling act as Simon reluctantly helps Marty while trying to figure out who bluegreen is (other than a fellow junior at his school). All in all, I really enjoyed this. For the most part, there are no villains (only a handful of bigoted students who largely remain unnamed). I figured out who bluegreen was about halfway through; if I have a nit, the author may have tipped her hand a bit too early with a rather large clue about midway. The humor is great; Simon has a wry, sense of humor and keen observations except when he is being oblivious. His turns of phrase are hilarious and I loved the email exchanges between himself and bluegreen. The exchanges are heartfelt and believable.

2. The Dark Crystal, by A.C.H. Smith. This fulfills the category for reading a book I've read before (could also be used for fantasy). The Dark Crystal is a novelization of the Jim Henson movie. The movie was one of my favorites as a child; heck, it's still a favorite. I read the novel either in late grade school or middle school and was able to find it again on Amazon a couple years ago. It expands on the world of the movie and adds details, such as the names of the individual UrRu and Skeksis. Fans of the movie may want to get their hands on this, if they haven't already. It really helps flesh out the character of Jen, the Gelfling protagonist who was raised by the UrRu after his family was killed by the sinister Skeksis and their Garthim warriors. It adds details such as words in the various languages used, particularly the Skeksis. At least one scene (the funeral of the Skeksis emperor), which was cut from the main release, is included here. I enjoyed it as much now as I did then, perhaps even more.

Currently reading: Valley of the Shadow, by Ralph Peters (for the war novel category), and The Hamilton Papers: Original Documents from the Broadway Musical (because I'm a complete Hamilton addict).

I'm also participating in the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder challenge
This is a collection of letters written by a woman to her mother about her seven weeks in Hawaii, published in 1920. I found it as a free ebook available through the New York Public Library.

Most of Crawford's time is spent around Honolulu, but she also visits the Big Island and describes Hilo and Kilauea. Her account is not as exhaustive as the one by Charles Maus Taylor Jr, but I greatly preferred her attitude. Whereas Taylor journeyed through perilous circumstances and expected utter servitude from those around him, Crawford utterly delights in her visit and she wishes to understand the native people. At one point, she becomes mournful as she hears Hawaiian singers and frets "their music is the requiem of a decaying people." This perspective can be grating, too, but I still found her empathy preferable to Taylor's domineering perspective on his trip some twenty years before.

Crawford's photographs are quite lovely throughout. I found it fascinating that she formed a friendship with the famous surfer Duke Kahanamoku at Waikiki. This is a fast read at only 112 pages.


So much keeping me busy! I had little time to read what with one thing or another, so this week's post includes only Osprey Elite #44: Security Forces in Northern Ireland 1969 – 92 which dovetails nicely with that Simon Winchester book I read late last year. The book pays minimal attention to the history per se, but does go into the equipage of British and Irish forces involved in the events. Not bad.

Number of pages: 189

I read this book many years ago, but didn't get on too well with it; I thought this might be the case again when re-reading it, and it is definitely not an easy book, as it is densely-written, and you have to really pay attention to it and read between the lines a lot.

It took about half of the book to really get into the storyline, but once I did I found myself enjoying this story of how Jay Gatsby became obsessed with Daisy, hoping to win her heart in spite of her being married to the obnoxious Tom Buchanan (it does become evident that this is a completely loveless marriage).

The narrative style is unusual, written in the first person by someone who knew Gatsby (narrating apparently two years after the book's events) and the other characters, but who just observes what is happening to everyone else, while having no impact on the main plot. I noticed too that the novel started off as a romance-based story, but ended up as a story all about violence and revenge.

I enjoyed the book overall, but I feel like it's a book that I would need to study to really understand it; I get the impression that F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to make a few points about 1920s America (when this book is set) that I completely missed.

Next book: High Fidelity (Nick Hornby)



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