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Welcome new members!

First off, let me apologize to any new members who had to wait for their posts to be released from the moderation queue...LJ failed to alert me that they were featuring this community in the Spotlight, so I was unprepared for the influx! The queue is clear now, so anyone who posted who wasn't seeing their post, should see it now.

Having said that, welcome to all the new members! I invite you to please review the community info found here prior to your first post. Pretty much everything you could want to know about the community and its guidelines can be found there.

Happy reading!

Book 1

1. The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
Pages: 404
Blurb: November 1920. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead 'at the world's edge' in the raw Alaskan wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before.
The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. Mabel surprises herself by throwing a snowball at her husband; then, in a moment of tenderness, the two build a snowman - or rather a snow girl - together. The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can't quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure - a child? - running through the spruce trees in the dawn light. And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property?
Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairytale from which it takes it's inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic - the story of a couple who take a child into their hearts, all the while knowing they can never truly call her their own.
Thoughts: This book was a recommendation from a colleague at work. We had been discussing our love of a book that really sets a scene and is atmospheric and she said this one was a definite must-read. She was not wrong - I loved this book. This is a debut novel and the book is a proof copy so it had some rough edges but that didn't matter. The story is beautiful and really unexpected and Ivey's scene setting is magnificent. I've never really been able to picture 'proper' Alaska, but this book sets the scene perfectly. I'm also not normally a fan of fantasy, but this just doesn't feel like your typical fantasy novel. A really good first read of the year!


Isabel and Martin, a young couple in a Texas border town, get married on the Day of the Dead. They don’t think much of this coincidence until Martin’s estranged father Omar shows up at the reception, and it turns out the family didn’t even know he had died. While Omar and Isabel bond, Martin and the rest of the family want nothing to do with him. Later Martin’s young cousin arrives from Mexico and moves in with them. This may sound a little like Coco meets El Norte, but the spiritual visitations are treated in a matter-of-fact way that makes perfect sense within the story. There’s also a separate timeline from the 1980s about Omar’s trip across the border with his pregnant young wife, told effectively in alternating chapters. This is a moving, harrowing, and timely story about family, grief, home, and belonging. I especially liked the way the author portrayed the quiet moments between siblings, couples, parents, friends. Read 7-12 January, 2019. Fulfills Litsy Booked2019 reading challenge prompt: related to a podcast, and here’s a link to an interview with the author. https://www.readingwomenpodcast.com/blog/interview-with-natalia-sylvester

Books 3-4

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co., #3)The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This should have been a five star read but there are a couple of reasons it wasn't. I still love the idea that only children can see the dangerous ghosts that are plaguing the British countryside (though if the whole world faces the same we don't know about it. That is one thing about the Lockwood & Co universe is that it seems almost out of time and place. It's post WII but that's about all I can say). It gives legitimacy as to why in the world kids are doing something this dangerous. And have no doubt it is dangerous. Ghosts in this universe can kill with a touch.

There's a huge upsurge in activity in Chelsea but since Lockwood & Co is only a three person agency they've been excluded from helping with it when nearly every other agency, even bad ones, have been called in. That leaves them handling almost every other case, stretching them thing. It opens with one case where Lucy makes a mistake but they manage it but when she comes back from vacation Lockwood has hired Holly, a new girl to help and naturally they don't get on.

Holly, however, gets them a case with a wealthy unpleasant woman that takes up the second quarter of the book. Lucy's ability to talk to ghosts is getting stronger and she wants to do that rather than just destroy them outright. This time it costs them and Lockwood is hurt. However this opens the doors for them to get in with the big dogs because they now have a wealthy patron.

Luckily the fighting with Kipps and company is kept to a minimum (that annoys me) and George, being able to see patterns others can't, plus having mad research skills, has found a pattern but no one outside the Lockwood group believes him but Kipps so the last quarter is them working together. Also at some point toward the beginning we learn the search of the locked room in Lockwood's house.

It was almost a five star read but it wasn't because of Lucy who is our pov character. Don't get me wrong, I really like Lucy. Her motivation to listen to the ghosts in spite of the danger is really interesting. However, she messes up several times badly and that bugs me because it seems every book Lucy messes up again but the two guys never do. I could rationalize it as they're kids and kids do have bad judgment sometimes but still... And then her antagonistic attitude toward Holly seems tired. On one hand it would be nice to see ladies not be so damn catty on the other, (and I hate to say it being a woman myself) it's how I see it work far too often in the real world. Yes it changes by the end but still. It felt like Holly was there to threaten Lucy's non-relationship (but really should be a relationship) with Lockwood but it never really manifests. Still I am looking forward to the next one even though the open ended bit of this bugged me.

View all my reviews

Radiant, Vol. 1Radiant, Vol. 1 by Tony Valente

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are some interesting ideas in this, like the premises. Evil creatures fall from the sky called Nemeses and they spread a corruption. If you survive it, you have 'magical' abilities and are able to fight the monsters. However, the rest of the villagers will tend to think of you as a monster too so instead of seeing saviors they see people to mistrust.

Seth is a young wizard who's never actually seen a nemeses but is sure he's going to be great at fighting them in that overconfident screaming shonen manga boy-hero style. And there is my problem. This manga is well drawn but it's so overly familiar. Even with an interesting premise it seems so overly familiar and honestly I'm at my limit with screamy shonen boys. It's never been my favorite trope to start with.

Seth's so over enthusiastic he beats up a bunch of cows thinking they're nemeses, irritates a village, irritates his mentor, Alma (who I liked) but then a real nemeses shows up along with a weird quartet of so-called heroes. Unsurprisingly this leaves us with a few dozen pages of fight scenes where we learn Seth's super power and in the end he's sent off to Alma's teacher.

I got this from the library so I might see more that way but I can say I didn't like it quite enough to buy it. I didn't really like Seth because of the screaming silliness but he changed a bit by the end so maybe there's hope.

View all my reviews

Book 1 & 2

Dark Shadows: Angelique's DescentDark Shadows: Angelique's Descent by Lara Parker

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There were problems with this cultural appropriation wise. First off, this is from the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows (NOT the Johnny Depp movie) and I'm not sure the words cultural appropriation were even put together back then. The book was written in the early 90s and cultural appropriation still wasn't much of a concern. Back in the 60s Angelique (very blonde and blue eyed, the author of this was the actress who played her) was a witch and the soap opera writers just grabbed any kind of magic they could including giving Josette and Angelique a history of coming from Martinique and Angelique knew some voo doo.

You see where I'm going with this. Parker at least gives Angelique a bit of African blood but this book could have been so much more interesting than it was. One downplaying the whole voo doo thing might have been wiser. Instead we get 200+ pages of Angelique from age 9ish to about 14ish. Where her abusive father makes her something of a living voo doo goddess (and while Living Gods are a thing I'm not sure they are in voo doo) and since this is in the 1700s Colonial period, we have lots and lots of abused slaves. Instead of downplaying the voo doo and slavery it wallows in it.

Finally we see Angelique as Josette's maid, plagued by the devil/dark spirit promising her she was his and she would never love but Angelique has fallen for Barnabas Collins. I'll be honest, I was a wee kid when this was on the TV and I can remember the 1990s remake better. I know there was the whole Barnabas/Angelique/Josette love triangle thing and Angelique being responsible for the curse that made Barnabas a vampire (which really was a cool idea for a soap opera)

THe last 100 or so pages we're at Collinswood in Maine and how it all goes wrong. There are some intercutting with modern day Barnabas now 'human' thanks to Julie's serum and they're reading all about this as Angelique's diary.

It was overly long, very soap opera purple prose but that was fitting the show. I just wish we hadn't had SO much of the young Angelique, voo doo goddess/slavery stuff. It really didn't serve the story well.

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Dark ParadiseDark Paradise by Tami Hoag

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I nearly gave this a second. Frankly that it was a romance award nominee I feel like I gave it one star to make a point. We need to stop awarding creepy ass behavior as being 'romantic'. This is what you need to know about this one. Marilee Jennings is an ex-court reporter who goes to Montana to meet up with her best friend only to be told by Mr. Creep that her friend has been murdered and he offers almost immediately to have sex with her since he'd been having sex with her friend (he's trying to drive her away and that would have drove me away). He's verbally abusive and physically intimidating. Marilee is rightfully afraid.

But this isn't the villain. This is the love interest even though at subsequent meetings he's still abusive. They hate each other. THey screw. It's the best sex evah! The author tries to make him have reasons for his bad behavior but really deep down he's a good guy.

No, just no. This has to stop. This isn't romance. This is gas lighting and abuse. Even by the standards of the early 90s when this was written, this should never have been nominated as a romance award winner. It's horrible. I like Hoag normally but this behavior needs to stop being held up as a good man. It's not. It's a red flag and women should run fast and far, not fall into bed with it.

View all my reviews

Book #5: Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas

Number of pages: 226

This book is part memoir, and part historical essay, about lighthouses around the British Isles. The found the book quite densely-written, with some unusual words that most people probably wouldn't even know the meaning of, but I found it compelling.

My favourite parts of the book were when the author described his own visits to the lighthouses that are mentioned, describing what is was like to enter them and I enjoyed the vivid picture that was painted of what they looked like inside. One of the best chapters was about how the author spent a week living at Fastnet Lighthouse, which describes his experiences on the lighthouse (which includes wanting to help out with chores even though his hosts insisted he didn't have to), interspliced with stories about the lighthouse's construction.

I noticed that towards the end, the narrative did almost turn into a lament about how most lighthouses are now automated and do not have lighthouse keepers living inside; I kept finding myself picturing the scene where Homer Simpson runs up the lighthouse, hoping to make friends with the lighthouse keeper, only to find nobody there.

This is quite a niche subject, but if you're into historic buildings (it is easy to tell the writer is fascinated with them) and architecture, this is definitely worth reading.

Next book: Have You Eaten Grandma? (Giles Brandreth)

Book #2 - The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

When half of the Los Angeles Bomb Squad is killed in a large explosion, the Police Chief recruits the former commander (now in charge of a private security company) to take charge of the squad and investigate this new threat. It soon becomes apparent that he’s not dealing with an ordinary bomb maker, and a dangerous cat-and-mouse game is underway. Meanwhile the commander gets involved with a member of the squad, which causes … complications. There's a LOT of information about bomb making, but it generally added to the story. This was January’s selection for mystery book club at the library, and we all enjoyed it as an interesting page turner. Not part of a series. Read 3-5 January, 2019.

Number of pages: 192

This novel centres around one of Agatha Christie's two most famous creations, Detective Hercule Poirot, who starts receiving goading letters from a killer who is committing seemingly motiveless murders.

However, one thing is unusual about the murders, and that is that they are based on names, specifically people with alliterative names and towns that begin with the same letter, starting with A.

I watched the BBC adaptation recently, which was why I read the book, and this made it a bit easier to understand. Most of the book is told from the point of view of Captain Arthur Hastings, who follows Poirot around almost everywhere, although some chapters are told in the third person as they describe events that Hastings does not witness.

I had forgotten the real motive for the killings, so it came as a surprise to me at the end; I enjoyed reading the book, and I liked the plot twists that caused the whole mystery to make more sense.

Next book: Seashaken Houses (Tom Nancollas)

Number of pages: 228

Most people are familiar with the Biblical story of Jonah, and how he was swallowed by the whale after fleeing from his duty to go to evangelise Ninevah.

Fewer people know about the final chapter of Jonah, and when I first read it I was a bit startled by what happened. So, Jonah repented and went to Ninevah to preach to them, resulting in everyone in Ninevah repenting of their sin, then God spared them. However, instead of being happy, Jonah got angry at God because of the mercy he had on the Ninevites.

Timothy Keller's book focuses largely on the final chapter, but draws some striking parallels between the first and second halves of the book of Jonah that I had not thought of before. I also was struck by how the book compared Jonah's attitude to both sons in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, which I'd never thought of before.

The most significant chapters of this book are towards the end when the reader is told how to apply the book of Jonah to our own lives.

I enjoyed this book a lot; it was easy to read, and got me thinking about a lot of things that hadn't occurred to me before, including a few comments on Jonah's own motives. A recommended read.

Next book: The ABC Murders (Agatha Christie)
This is a small collection of essays from a former president of Yale and the seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball. The writing is occasionally overblown, a little dated, sometimes repetitive (to be expected from a disparate collection of writings from different times for different purposes), but overall charming and delightful. It's apparent that he loved the game, and it's apparent that he was also a professor of comparative literature. Edited by David Halbertstam. Read 2-3 January, 2019. Fulfills Litsy Booked2019 reading challenge prompt: reminds me of my happy place.

I previously reviewed this book here: https://gavluvsga.livejournal.com/2012/06/23/

Number of pages: 300

I never found this one as easy as the previous two books in the series, and had forgotten most of what happened. The fact that in the previous book the characters were told not to attempt landings on Europa meant it was inevitable that someone would do exactly that, albeit under construction from a crew member hijacking the ship, for reasons that were not exactly clear.

The plot largely centres around the crew of the ship that ends up stranded on a lake in Europa, and does seem very slow-moving; I got the sense that not a lot really happened in this book, but once again I found Arthur C. Clarke's writing compelling enough, despite the fact that, as with the previous novel in the series, a lot of the narrative involved recapping on previous events and setting out how civilisation had advanced since the time of 2010: Odyssey Two. I liked the concept of the "South African Revolution", though I suspect that was in it because the book was written in 1987, during the time of Apartheid.

It was good to re-read this, and I think I got a bit more out of it with this reading.

Next book: The Prodigal Prophet (Timothy Keller)

My year(s) in books [cross posted]

It was a pretty good year for reading, I think. My original goal was 60 books, which I raised to 66 after I joined a new book club and then adjusted to 64 when I just couldn’t anymore with some reading challenge prompts. One of these was a reread from many years ago that definitely counts toward the total. Those 64 books were by 61 different authors, with around 50 of them new-to-me authors. There were 42 female authors and fifteen authors of color. The most widely read genre was mystery, which is no surprise. Five of the books were translated. Two books were from the Great American Read list: one intentionally and one incidentally. The oldest book was published in 1872, and the newest one was published in October. I read a book about hiking trails in my state, and I read books set in every other continent but Antarctica, as well as a few other-worldly realms. Furthermore, I volunteered at the National Book Festival, attended a book signing, obtained library cards from neighboring counties, thoroughly scrubbed and catalogued my TBR list, and went from an occasional to a regular visitor at the local indie bookstore.

My favorites for the year were Sunburn, Circe, and a backlist non-fiction book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. I also bailed on a few books, but I couldn’t tell you how many. Once they’re gone I don’t track them anymore. Of the books that I finished, Pretty Girls was my least favorite, and according to Goodreads it was also the longest book I read in 2018. Go figure!

For this year my reading goal is 75 books. I’m aiming for a nice blend of book club selections, new releases, old TBR veterans, audiobooks, items from my personal shelves, books set in places I plan to visit, next books in series, and the dreaded reading challenge prompts. This year I’m going to make a more deliberate effort to read just one book at a time. I’ve thought that having multiple books going has helped me reach a higher number, but it’s also resulted in too many partially read books taunting me from the “currently reading” shelf. This is part of a broader “resolution” this year to get sh*t done.

Number of pages: 251

Another Harry Potter re-read; I've seen this one slammed online as the worst in the series, but can't really see why.

Reading the first few chapters reminded me why I initially found Dobby annoying, because when he first appears he gets Harry into trouble, which results in the Dursleys confining him to his room, until Ron and his brothers come to the rescue.

Gilderoy Lockhart and his narcissism provide most of the book's comedy moments, and I was surprised at all the things I'd forgotten, including the creepy voice that Harry keeps hearing throughout the book, leading to the revelation that he's a parseltongue (building on the reptile house incident from the first book).

I really liked the mystery that got set up in this book with characters being found petrified, and when I first read the book I did not guess the truth.

Next book: 2061: Odyssey Three (Arthur C. Clarke)

Book 7 - 2017

Book 7: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – 470 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:

Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all ... or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control.


When Liane Moriarty first came out, I read every book she wrote (this was years ago). At some point, I either forgot about her, or missed that she’d realised like five more books and gone international (I always liked the fact that all her books were authentically Australian without ramming the Australian-ness down your throat like so many Aussie authors do). I can’t remember if I’d heard about the Big Little Lies TV show before or after I bought this book, but I actually didn’t read it till my Mum did. Driving to the beach, Mum read the first chapter to me in the car. We laughed so much - we’d never heard something so authentic to our own experiences at an Australian school. Mum finished the book before me, and then as I worked my way through it, trying desperately to work out just what had happened, she did something uncharacteristic - refused to spoil it for me! That in of itself was a testament to Moriarty’s storytelling! Anyway, long story short, I loved this book. And I know the TV series is lauded (and I certainly enjoyed it), but the book is better (I also hate that they had to make it American - the aforementioned Australian-ness is part of its charm - it kind of feels like taking the English out of Harry Potter!). Funny, poignant, real, it deals with a number of really big issues in a very human way. In this case, the hype is deserved! A must-read.

7 / 50 books. 14% done!

2135 / 15000 pages. 14% done!

Currently reading:

  • My Life by Bill Clinton – 957 pages

  • Griffith Review 51: Fixing the System edited by Julianne Schultz and Anne Tiernan – 326 pages

  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli – 106 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

  • Dragon Soul by Derek Padula – 1945 pages

Books 91 - 100.

91. King - Letter From Birmingham Jail/The Three Dimensions Of A Complete Life
He really could write. One black rights, one religion text, quick read.

92. Ta Hsueh & Chung Yung (The Highest Order Of Cultivation & On The Practice Of The Mean (English translation)
Two of the great-four of Confucian writing. I think the first book was my favorite, and the translation was good.

93. Pope Francis & Spadaro - Open To God, Open To The World (English translation)
A view on what happens when the Pope goes traveling: conversations, answering questions; something for everyone.

94. Miranda & Sun - Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks For Me & You
This book is a good friend who always believes in you, wants the best for you, and is always in awe of you being you. Quick reads that inspire.

95. Clayton - Chronicle Of The Pharaohs: The Reign-By-Reign Record Of The Rulers & Dynasties Of Ancient Egypt
Some infromation may have come up after this book was written, but this still gives you a good view to how things rose, were great, and fell - just like with other great countries like this, then and now.

96. Garcia & Miralles - Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long & Happy Life (English translation)
More than just about ikigai; things connected to it, and about a certain Okinawan village also.

97. Majzlik - A Vegan Taste Of India
A bunch of good recipes, though you really do miss having photos here (there is none).

98. Ford - Theology: A Very Short Introduction
It might be a light skim, but you do get a view into it. Christianity used as the example-religion, apples as another (*lol*).

99. Flintoff - How To Change The World
You might think you're too little, and can't change enough, but this might give you courage and certainly some ideas (see list at the end of this book).

100. Norwich - Byzantium: The Early Centuries
Impressive and thorough view into the earlier times of the empire; I will continue reading this trilogy...

Book 134

Last book of the year!

The Devil AspectThe Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. I very much enjoyed this historical mystery set in Czechoslovakia in 1935 (so the rise of the Nazis makes for some ugly background music for this tale, adding yet another threat). Prague and Slavic folklore are almost like actual characters in this story with the latter playing a huge role in how everything plays out.

Doctor Viktor Kosarek is a young Jungian psychiatrist on a search for what he's calling 'the devil's aspect' something he believes is behind some of the worst in humanity. He's been hired by an asylum housed in an ancient castle steeped in bloodshed and evil, reputed to be on a hellmouth. Viktor believes that by sedating the violent mentally ill to the point of near-death he'll be able to access this aspect (having been led to the field by finding his mother hanging in the forest, a suicide, after his sister's drowning death).

He's been given 'the devil's six', six of the most violent, most warped killers (many of them serial in a time where the words serial killer hadn't been coined yet) and much of the text is given over to the six and his sessions with them, and he is assisted by Judita, a former med student now transcriptionist (after a nervous breakdown). She is Jewish and naturally is very fearful, wanting to flee to America (as there are Nazi sympathizers on staff).

A second plot dovetails with this. A serial killer, Leather Apron, is running around Prague, murdering and dissecting women. Smolak, the detective, is frantically trying to solve the case where the killer seems to be drawing inspiration from Jack the Ripper. He has a clue that leads to the asylum as well. Viktor has cause to fear that his friend who is in a downward spiral might be behind it.

In both cases, there is a hint that Beng (Rom for the devil) or Mr. Hobbs (the devil's aspect) could be an actual entity and the way the Slavic mythos is woven in is just marvelous. There were twists I didn't see coming and I almost went to five stars for this but it was a bit draggy in the middle. All the characters, Viktor, Judita, Smolak and the devil's six are all so well drawn they felt real. It's a toss up which is scarier, the serial killer or the spread of Nazism.

I'll definitely be looking for more from this author.

View all my reviews

15 - 18 Ending the year on a crime high

15. Decline of the English Murder - George Orwell
Pages: 118
Blurb: In these timeless and witty essays George Orwell explores the English love of reading about a good murder in the papers (and laments the passing of the heyday of the 'perfect' crime involving class, race and poisoning), as well as unfolding his trenchant views on everything from boys' weeklies and naughty seaside postcards to being arrested in the East End.
Thoughts: I'd been wanting to read this since it was mentioned on a programme by Dr Lucy Worsley and was excited to spot it in Waterstones. A thoroughly entertaining read!

16. The Santa Klaus Murder - Mavis Dorel Hay
Pages: 288
Blurb: Aunt Mildred declared that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gatherings at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered - by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus - with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos. Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond's death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive. Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, and the Chief Constable of Haulmshire, who begins his investigations by saying that he knows the family too well and that is his difficulty, wishes before long that he understood them better. In the midst of mistrust, suspicion and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus, but two. The Santa Klaus Murder is a classic country-house mystery that is now being made available to readers for the first time since its original publication in 1936.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this Christmas cosy. I do enjoy a book where I don't instantly get the murderer and it was only as the characters realised who had done it that I too had figured it out. Very well written, with really good characters.

17. A Maigret Christmas and other stories - Georges Simenon
Pages: 217
Blurb: It is Christmas in Paris, but beneath the sparkling lights and glittering decorations lie sinister deeds and dark secrets...
This collection brings together three of Simenon's most enjoyable Christmas tales, newly translated, featuring Inspector Maigret and other characters from the Maigret novels. In 'A Maigret Christmas', the Inspector receives two unexpected visitors on Christmas Day, who lead him on the trail of a mysterious intruder dressed in red and white. In 'Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook', the sound of alarms over Paris send the police on a cat and mouse chase across the city. And 'The Little Restaurant in Les Ternes (A Christmas Story for Grown-Ups)' tells of a cynical woman who is moved to an unexpected act of festive charity in a nightclub - one that surprises even her...
Thoughts: This was my first time reading Maigret and I was pleasantly surprised. Very easy to read, with really good scene setting of Paris. Think I will try some more Maigret in future.

18. Portrait of a Murderer: A Christmas Crime Story - Anne Meredith
Pages: 238
Blurb: Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931. Thus begins a classic crime novel published in 1933, a riveting portrait of the psychology of a murderer. Each December, Adrian Gray invites his extended family to stay at his lonely house, Kings Poplars. None of Gray's six surviving children is fond of him; several have cause to wish him dead. The family gathers on Christmas Eve - and by the following morning, their wish has been granted. This fascinating and unusual novel tells the story of what happened that dark Christmas night; and what the murderer did next.
Thoughts: I wasn't sure what to make of this at first. The narrative styles change in each chapter which can take a bit of getting used to. I also had a panic justice would not be served (I do like my justice) but was very relieved all was sorted. Beware if you read this - there is some (not so unexpected) anti-semitism which should infuriate you.

Total pages this year: 6081

Hopefully next year less abandoned books and more books read!

December 2018 reading - books 61 to 64

61. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamonda Ngozi Adichie – powerful story about a young girl growing up in Nigeria in comfort and privilege that comes with a high price of enduring her father’s rage over matters of discipline and religion – amazing debut novel
62. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith – third book in the Cormoran Strike series – this time it’s personal as someone from his past is murdering young girls and sending his assistant various body parts – there are also interesting developments in the personal arena
63. The Dry by Jane Harper – a federal police agent returns to his remote hometown in Australia after twenty years to attend his friend’s funeral and gets drawn into investigating whether he really killed himself and his family – there are dangerous secrets from the past … and scary spiders – set in the midst of a devastating drought that is almost another character in the story
64. Irving’s Delight by Art Buchwald – a rather silly but short story about a catnapping and a Super Bowl commercial


Book 132-133

Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1)Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up working backwards, seeing the TV show first. They are, of course, rather different but that said I enjoyed this too. I wasn't sure I was going to because the first few chapters are a bit rough. Once we really get into it, it smooths out and Phryne shines.

This has three parallel stories that eventually dovetail a bit. 1. Phryne has come to Australia to help find out how a wealthy young lady is doing at the behest of her family back in the UK (Phryne is also rather new to being wealthy, having been dirt poor but all the other heirs to the family title and money had passed and suddenly her parents and herself were launched into prominence. ) 2. She comes across a young woman out for revenge after losing her position as a maid and for things done to her and her friend by the family's lecherous son. It leads her to an illegal abortion clinic where the 'doctor' is butchering (and raping) the women, many dying. She gets a dying girl to her friend Doctor MacMillian's clinic so this story line introduces us to Mac, Dot and Bert & Cec and the last story line is about two Russian dancers, Sasha and his lesbian sister (she makes a pass at Phryne and she was okay with it, a bit surprising for being published in the 80s) and their grandmother (great aunt? I've forgotten) who are after their family jewels and the cocaine king whose drugs killed their mother.

The stories are well woven and the characters well drawn, well Phryne more than the others. I remember the stories from the show but I will say the resolution of Sasha's story (the titular cocaine one) to be better and far more believable on the TV than in the book. It was a bit racy and a bit silly.

While I preferred the TV show (probably because I saw it first) but I would definitely pick up more.

View all my reviews

Murder in the Hearse Degree (Hitchcock Sewell Mysteries, #4)Murder in the Hearse Degree by Tim Cockey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Might even be a 2.5 read for me because there is a lot of objectifying of women in this as part of the 'humor.' It's an interesting, Hitch being an undertaker but we don't see him doing much work and being the fourth in the series (but my first) I'm not sure why he divorced his wife (but remains friends with her) but he is quick to jump in bed with others.

The mystery begins with a woman he loved coming back into town with her two kids in tow after her nanny has disappeared and her husband on the brink of being indicted for breaking the law (as a lawyer). She knows Hitch has solved cases (presumably with his friend who is a PI) and wants him to find the nanny.

Once the nanny turns up pregnant but dead, and the police quick to call it a suicide, Hitch is out to prove otherwise.

As mysteries go, it was good but I'm not sure I liked the characters enough to read another.

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Book 131

Wicked Prey (Lucas Davenport, #19)Wicked Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this one to be a hot mess, dull and predictable. It feels like the series has gone on too long or maybe it was because it was so political that I couldn't give a damn about. It was more than just the people trying to buy Republican votes getting violently ripped off (off page the crew hit the Democratic vote buyers and I didn't care about that either). It was mostly we spent WAY too much time in the head of various bad guys. We have the people robbing the vote for money people, we have the person who is using the robbers, we have another bad guy out to punish Lucas, there's a terrorist out to shoot the Republican candidates when they're in town stumping.

And we have more of that than we do of Lucas in the beginning. We also have his daughter Letty being threatened by the guy out for Lucas's blood (he blames him for putting him in a wheelchair). All of these bits are often only a page or less so you're jumping all over the place. I about tossed this thing across the room when Letty is threatened and she decides Lucas will kill the guy so she can't tell her adopted dad about this and will sort it out herself.

This was far less of a mystery than a suspense book and I prefer the former. I used to like this series but if this had been my introduction into it I would never have read further.

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Book #58: Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz

Number of pages: 283

This is the first in a series of five young adult titles, which I managed to get all of in one bundle a few months ago.

The central character is a teenager called Matt Freeman, who has a similar background to Harry Potter; his parents are dead, and he lives with his Aunt, and he has apparent psychic powers.

The book starts with Matt and his friends being caught breaking and entering in a warehouse; Matt's friend stabs the security guard and blames Matt. After the incident, Matt's aunt refuses to look after him any more, so he is sent to a foster home under the care of Jane Deverill, who immediately appears sinister. In the first scene where she appears, she gets mugged, but soon after the mugger is found dead, having apparently stabbed himself.

When Matt gets to Jane's home, he is bitten by her cat and passes out, only to wake up in the middle of a scene reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby. When he tries to escape from his foster home, he can't, and it seems that the whole village is involved in some sort of dark conspiracy.

This was a good opening story, giving a taste of what is likely to happen in later books, introducing the mysterious "Nexus", who appear to be benevolent (although not definitely, and they do seem similar to Harry Potter's Ministry of Magic). For a young adult book, I was suprised at how dark this got at times, and it seemed to have some moments where it became very graphic, including a murder scene that could have been out of one of J.K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike novels. The book is a lot less kid-friendly than the Harry Potter series.

I liked the way that this book ends by setting up what will probably the plot line for the whole series, and I am excited to see how it develops.

Next book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)

Number of pages: 484

This was the first Irvine Welsh book I read, many years ago, when it had its original title of Porno; since then it has been re-titled to match the second Trainspotting film.

The book has most of the central characters from Trainspotting, with chapters told from alternating points of view. Initially it is all about Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson and another character, Nikki, who I don't think was in the films, but who makes friends with Diane. The first chapters have Sick Boy living in London, but he soon moves back to Edinburgh to take over a pub that he has inherited. Eventually though, other original characters - Renton, Spud and Begbie - show up. Begbie is more violent and obnoxious than in the first book.

The book is as difficult as ever because of the brogue in which it is written (particularly Spude and Begbie's chapters), although some of the characters get given similar titles on all parts that are from their viewpoint, so it is eary to guess who is speaking (Sick Boy's chapters all start with "Scam" and Renton's start with "Whores of Amsterdam").

Although the second movie was apparently based on this book, I was struck by how much the movie differed from the book.

[Spoilers for Trainspotting and T2 Trainspotting]

Although the book, like the film, starts with Renton having conned Sick Boy and Begbie out of the takings from their drug dealing expedition in London and Begbie in prison, many details near the start are changed.

First off, whereas the film had Begbie attacking the prison psychologist and escaping, the book has him finishing his prison sentence and being release. Also, while the film had Renton arriving back in Edinburgh and saving Spud (who was said to be still addicted to drugs) and being attacked by Sick Boy, the book has him living in Amsterdam where he has fled to. Eventually, Sick Boy tracks him down and stalks him to his house. Spud did not appear to be addicted to drugs in the book, and indeed drugs did not play a major role in the plot.

A lot of the film was also about Begbie trying to get revenge on Renton, and attempting to kill him, only to be subdued by the other characters and returned to the prison. In the book, the two characters hardly meet, although they come close about half way through. When they finally see each other (very close to the end), Begbie runs across the road to presumably attack Renton and is hit by a car, only waking from his coma at the end of the book.

Also, Renton ends up scamming Sick Boy once again and escaping; it's possible that the latest book in the series, Dead Man's Trousers will have picked up these plot threads and continued them. I was left wondering if I was supposed to even like Renton (despite him scamming his friend, he was described as being concerned for Begbie, after he ends up injured).

The book also had a plot involving Sick Boy shooting a pornographic movie, funded through an anti-drugs campaign; none of this was included in the movie, but it does result in some very graphic depictions of sex scenes.

Although the book was just as difficult to read as Trainspotting and Skagboys, I found the writing compelling. I loved how Irvine Welsh took specific scenes and told them from one character's point of view, and then in the very next chapter told them again but from another character's point of view. Another of my favourite bits involved Renton getting a taxi across town and being so paranoid about Begbie, "seeing" him three times through the window. It was a bit weird reading it and realising that they almost completely changed it for the film, but I was glad I gave it another chance.

Next book: Raven's Gate (Anthony Horowitz)

Book 129-130

Generation V (Generation V, #1)Generation V by M.L. Brennan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for vampire stories so I wanted to love this. I didn't quite but I did find it fun. It lost a star because the beginning is pretty slow and full of info dump that at least is done well enough comparing our protagonist, Fortitude "Fort" Scott to his family. They're vampires but he's not quite 'transitioned' into being a full vampire like his mother and his brother Chivalry and sister Prudence (who is a stone cold bitch. Chivalry at least likes Fort even if he doesn't understand him).

Brennan gets full points for coming up with some very different takes on the vampire lure and I don't want to spoil that here since that's a big chunk of the plot points. Let's leave it as it's not the usual get bit and turn type. These vampires are only long lived, not immortal and their reproduction is the other reason I was on the fence with this story. Without spoiling anything, let me just say it's very different but it's SO complicated and difficult I'm not sure how the first vampires ever figured it out. It's one of those it sounds good on paper but the reality of it seems unlikely.

Anyhow Fort is living on his own in Rhode Island, barely surviving as a film theory major turned barista with a roomy who won't pay rent and a girlfriend who wants an open relationship (as far as her sex life is concerned, not necessarily Fort's). He is called home to meet a new vampire from Europe which is a big deal because they are so rare (outside of Fort's family there's like only three other vamps in all of America). This new vampire is there to learn how Fort's mom is so 'fertile' (She has one kid a century it seems, Prudence from the Revolution, Chivalry from the Civil war and Fort is young being modern day). Not only is Fort unhappy to be there (He hates his sister for killing his adopted family) but he's very unhappy when he learns that the new vampire is a pedophile and no one, including his family will stop him.

So Fort decides he will especially after the newcomer kidnaps two young sisters. His mother has assigned him a bodyguard, a kitsune, Suzume and that's when the story really picks up. Suzume is a lot of fun but even she doesn't want to go up against a full fledged vampire. Fort is going to do this one way or the other even if it kills him.

I did like the characters and like I said, once Fort has his bad guy in sight and Suzume joins the cast, the pacing picks up. I liked this world and would like to read more of this one.

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Maritime Mysteries: And the Ghosts Who Surround UsMaritime Mysteries: And the Ghosts Who Surround Us by Bill Jessome

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the last decade, it's become a thing for me to collect local haunted books when I travel and this is one of the ones I picked up this year in my tour of the Canadian maritimes. I have a preference for the newer style true hauntings, i.e. some real investigation has been done. This is not that book. This is more of a collection of local lore and oral tradition and there is nothing wrong with that.

It's well written and sometimes we get more than one version of the story. Some are your typical haunted hitchhiker or spurned lover sort of thing that are ubiquitous but others are very different. I enjoyed the book. It's broken into the different types of hauntings (churches, rural etc). I'm glad I picked it up.

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Number of pages: 223

I've decided to re-read the entire Harry Potter series after several years. The only thing that surprises me is that when I first picked up this book I read the first seven chapters, put it down again and didn't attempt to read it again for about a year, it took me that long to get into this.

Reading it again, I enjoyed spotting plot elements that were explained better in later books like the episode with the snake in the reptile house. This does feel very much like an introductory book to the series, with the first half of the book gradually bringing in characters and explaining Harry's backstory - they don't even reach Hogwarts until almost the half-way point, at which point the whole plot involving the Philosopher's Stone starts to unfold.

J.K. Rowling also did a good job of completely subverting her readers' expections - and I might not need to do this any more, but just in case...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

When I first read this book, I thought Snape was some nefarious villain, as I'm sure everyone else did, so the revelation that the person behind all the trouble was Quirrel (and Voldemort) did come as a surprse to me.

Reading it all again after seeing the film of the book, the big confrontation in the final chapter felt a bit anticlimactic, but apart from that I really enjoyed re-reading this.

Book #56: Good News, Great Joy by William Taylor

Number of pages: 37

This was a shorter book, all about the meaning of Christmas. Its another book that felt like it was more for people not too familiar with the message of Christmas, but I enjoyed reading through it and found it very comprehensible.

Next book: T2: Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh)

November 2018 reading - books 54 to 60

54. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan – a young slave boy in 1840s Barbados flees with the plantation owner’s brother and has adventures on three continents – interesting story set in unexpected areas but increasingly strains credulity as the book progresses – still worthwhile for its underlying themes about slavery and privilege
55. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson – Harry Potter meets Agatha Christie – dual timeline murder mystery at a school for extraordinary students – many amusing references to nerd culture – first in a series and ends on a cliffhanger - and speaking of ...
56. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – a rich young socialite is killed during a cruise on the Nile – it seems like an open-and-shut case until Hercule Poirot unravels the truth – definitely a story from a different time with rich people problems and some casual racism – contains the usual Christie-esque logic and plotting
57. The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans – short little one-sitting book about a young family who learn “the true meaning of Christmas” from an elderly woman who takes them into her home
58. Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews – someone is playing pranks at various churches during the busy Christmas season rendering them unavailable for many holiday activities so that our protagonist has to work miracles to reschedule all the meetings, rehearsals, and the like – it’s merely a perplexing annoyance until someone is found dead in the basement of one of the churches – firmly in the category of cozy mystery with interesting characters and setting as well as a solid plot
59. Circe by Madeline Miller – the daughter of the Titan Helios is banished to a deserted island by vengeful Olympians - she hones her witchcraft and has encounters with Odysseus, Jason, and other figures from Greek mythology – compelling account of the life of a “bit player” in other stories – well-deserved winner of Goodreads best fantasy of 2018
60. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – second book in Cormoran Strike series – a mercurial writer disappears and is later found dead in a manner that mirrors events in his latest book – it’s fun to watch the continuing development of the two main characters collectively and individually but the murder itself is hella weird and gross

Book 128

Wisp of a Thing (Tufa, #2)Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't realize this was part two of a series but it reads like a stand alone so that didn't matter much. I wanted to like it more than I did. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't bad. It just had some things that I couldn't get past. I liked the set up a lot. Rob Quillen is a musician with a strong interest in the bluegrass sort of music. He was on a reality show, one of the American Idol types and his girlfriend was killed coming out to be with him for the show's final.

Grief stricken, Rob is wandering aimless and ends up in the wilds of Appalachia Tennessee in pursuit of a song written in stone that someone told him would cure heart ache which he has in spades feeling responsible for his girlfriend's death. He's immediately met with suspicion and prejudice by the dark haired, somewhat Native American looking Tufa who are supposedly the caretakers of the song. They're used to White people coming in and stealing their culture but Rob looks like one of them (he's part southeast Asian).

And that's problem number one for me. Literally every character comments on how much Rob looks like a Tufa but they can tell he isn't (I figured out what the Tufa were long before the reveal). After the tenth time it felt like fingernails on a chalkboard. Okay we get it, he's dark like they are.

Rob's path crosses with Bliss Overby's, the regent of the Tufa and EMS worker who is shocked when Rob can see things only the Tufa should be able to see. And that includes Bliss's cursed sister, the titular wisp. While I liked Rob and Bliss, the rest of these characters left me rather cold. I had issues with the fact that the Tufa accept assault and sexual enslavement so long as it's not a Tufa on the receiving end. It's hard to get into a story where you dislike half the characters and some of the misogynistic stuff isn't just at the hands of the villains (which is strange since really Bliss is a strong female character).

I liked the storyline and Rob's quest. However the whole sort of romance in this is creepy and weird and the end just didn't work for me at all. I would read more in this series I think but while lyrically written it didn't just click with me.

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Books 81 - 90.

81. Levitin - The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In The Age Of Information Overload
Did not finish. This book promises much, and does give some tips on becoming organized, but the author's opinions and frequent digression into examples, etc. made it worth stopping early. Borrow first.

82. Clemens - The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook: 50 Vegan 'Rooster Sauce' Recipes That Pack A Punch
There's also one for those eating meat. If you love the sauce, this book is great, and includes desserts and even drink or two.

83. Beckett - Sister Wendy's Bible Treasury: Stories & Wisdom Through The Eyes Of Great Painters
Her part of the book is smaller than the (shortened) Bible texts, but the painting *are* beautiful.

84. D.Brown - Inferno
If you want to read a Dan Brown book, but less involved with religious stuff, and more in well-flowing plot, this one works. Helps a little if you're a Dante fan. Knowing the ending beforehand made me more motivated to read it, to be honest XD A good ride.

85. Orwell - Animal Farm
I was a little hesitant to read this, but finally did, and it was intense and sad. The donkey reminded me of a more-confident Eeyore, a true survivor with realistic expectations (so he was my favorite character).

86. Stauch - Vegetarian Viet Nam
A well-presented and thorough cookbook, including a small guide for travelers. Goes beyond Pho and Banh Mi-sandwiches, for sure.

87. Beckett - Sister Wendy On The Art Of Christmas
88. Beckett - Sister Wendy On The Art Of Mary
89. Beckett - Sister Wendy On The Art Of Saints
Slim works of great art, found favorites in each. I think the Mary book was my favorite. Commentary on paintings, with musings of faith. She does it well.

90. Steinbeck - The Pearl
A story of the dark power of (sudden or not) wealth, and on the dark and light side of our inner selves. Slim but intense.

Book 127

Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Honestly the ending, which I won't spoil, was really a good one but the story getting there just didn't engage me as much as I would have hoped. I think maybe it went on too long. How many times could I watch Ethan on the run, get badly injured and then go on the run again?

Ethan is secrets services and is in Wayward Pines Idaho because two coworkers have gone missing there. Ethan is quickly wrapped up in trying to get out of the town and back to his family and no one seems to know who he is and no one he calls outside of the Pines is helpful. Basically the entire town is gaslighting this dude.

And that's the whole sinister plot in a nutshell. I was bored and nearly gave up but the last third was worth it. It's not that it's a badly written book but it is one that just wasn't for me.

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October 2018 reading - books 48 to 53

48. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) – first in the Cormoran Strike series – on the same day his fiancée dumps him and the temp agency serendipitously sends him his new assistant, Strike is hired to investigate the presumed suicide of a troubled celebrity – interesting series and characters – definitely not Harry Potter (but some curious echoes)
49. The Witch Elm by Tana French – not part of the Dublin Murder Squad series but it exists in the same world and an interesting change of pace showing the victim’s perspective – a “lucky” (i.e., privileged) young man is beaten nearly to death and goes to recover with his uncle at his family’s home, where eventually a skull is found inside one of the trees on the property – a very slow burn at times with occasional roller-coaster action – not necessarily my favorite but definitely thought provoking if you stick with it
50. Too Big to Miss by Sue Ann Jaffarian – a “cozy” mystery about a plus-sized, middle-aged paralegal whose friend and mentor commits suicide under very questionable circumstances – not entirely fluffy and light as it deals with size-ism, family dynamics, and other situations
51. Hike Maryland: A Guide to the Scenic Trails of the Free State by Bryan MacKay – fulfills “nature” tasks for two different reading challenges – describes about 25 hikes throughout the state in terms of difficulty, features, and other pertinent details – each description is accompanied by an essay about a relevant nature-based topic
52. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea – informative but ultimately frustrating book about how we got ourselves into this mess
53. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid – fulfills “post-colonial” task for Read Harder challenge – a young woman travels from her small Caribbean island to the United States to work as an au pair but instead watches the unraveling of the couple’s marriage

Book #54: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 325

This is the fourth of Terry Pratchett's young adult discworld novels and introduces the Wintersmith (similar to Jack Frost), who becomes smitten with Tiffany Aching.

I liked the fact that this brought back many favourite characters, including Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, the Nac Mac Feegle and Death, and noticed that this story felt a bit darker than the previous young adult titles, as it described winter slowly gripping Discworld. I think it's also the first Discworld book to be told almost entirely in Flashback, opening by describing events near the end, before explaining how things came to be.

I noticed this book used Greek/Roman mythology as its source material, because near the end...

[Spoiler I guess]

The Nac Mac Feegles embark on an Orpheus-inspired journey to the underworld to rescue the "Summer lady", whom the Wintersmith has mistaken Tiffany for. This led to one of the funniest moments in the book, when the Feegles annoyed the ferryman on the River Styx (apparently Death) with their incessant singing. I was a little surprised at the end when the Summer Lady turned quite sinister herself and told Tiffany Never to "come between" her and the Wintersmith again.

This was a really good book, and once again shows that the young adult titles were most consistent in quality than the later adult novels.

Next book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (J.K. Rowling)


I'm no fan of Thomas Friedman, spinmeister for the technocrats, peddler of policy nostrums in sound-bites, flattener of worlds.  Neither is Belén Fernández, whose The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work is part of Verso Press's Counterblast series, touted as challenges to "the apologists of Empire and Capital." The Puritan and Leveller counterblasts were short pamphlets, whilst Imperial Messenger is a book that really requires careful reading.

Book Review No. 35 will highlight the observations Ms Fernández makes about Mr Friedman's style of argument, if in fact you can call it argument.  Her book sorts a number of his columns into sections called "America," "The Arab/Muslim World," and "The Special Relationship."  Let us stipulate that the author is the sort of Third World-o-phile who takes a more sympathetic view of the antics of Moslems in general and Palestinians in particular than do I, and that she's more inclined to view the shortcomings of Latin American failed states as Made in Washington than as the fruits of the late Roman Empire and Bolivaran socialism.

Fine.  We can debate that.  We can debate that on stronger grounds than those underpinning a Thomas Friedman column.  To be blunt, there's d**n little in a Friedman column for me to rely on, should we engage in such a debate.

The preface, page xi, is a good place to start.  "Friedman's writing is characterized by a reduction of complex international phenomena to simplistic rhetoric and theorems that rarely withstand the test of reality."  In reality, a Thomas Friedman article never comes close to producing a theorem, but so it always is with argument by anecdote.  Mr Friedman's own words, introducing the concluding remarks, page 135, is a good place to finish.  "When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact checking, we have a problem."

Yup.  Fake News.  It's priceless, then, to have Mr Friedman lamenting a crisis of authority.  Ms Fernández and I would likely agree that Mr Friedman continuing to be an Honored Guest on Meet The Press is part of that crisis.  "Thomas Friedman as pope, Chuck Todd as loyal cardinal, Helene Cooper and Robert Costa managing the Index, and Danielle Pletka as Devil's Advocate."  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, turf out the wise experts!

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)



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