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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.

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Happy reading!

Book 116- 117

Red Hot Murder (Angie Amalfi, #13)Red Hot Murder by Joanne Pence

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

To be fair, maybe I would have liked it more had I read earlier books but I doubt it. Honestly, Angie is a very annoying character. She and her detective fiancée, Paavo, are in Arizona where he's originally from to meet the man who raised him and to meet a childhood friend, while Angie scouts of potential wedding venues. However, the childhood friend has been found dead, the lodge they are staying in doesn't seem to want them (not to mention the original owner is also dead and the deaths might be connected) and the new owners are looking to a) inherit b) a way to run Angie off and if they can't c) get her to help out as a cook in an upcoming town wide party.

I found Angie to be TSTL in too many cases, like telling her fiancé she can ride a horse when she can't (and nearly gets hurt). She follows a man she thinks doesn't like her out into the desert to some isolated cave. And those are just a couple of non-spoilery examples.

I got tired of her running around talking about all her designer (and highly expensive) clothing (though it was vaguely amusing that the incompentant policeman was fascinated by her fashion sense and oh, I really dislike cozies with dumb cops).

But I think what annoyed me most was that Angie was actually annoyed that no one would tell her things she thought they should so she could gather clues. Keep in mind these people are literal strangers to her. WHY would they confide in her? Again, it made her look stupid and spoiled especially when she has a melted down and is very rude to a popular local person because no one will tell her their secrets. I about stopped reading there and probably should have.

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Spellcast  (Maggie Graham #1)Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of my favorite books of the year. I really identified with Maggie in some ways (heck I've even been in or stage managed some of these plays and feel the same way about Carousel). Maggie has hit rock bottom in many ways, being downsized from her 'help center' job in NYC (I'm not even sure how anyone could live even in a shoebox apt like hers doing that work in that place, having also lived there myself).

Maggie runs away to Vermont (good choice) and stumbles across The Barn, a theater and spontaneously decides to audition. As the layers peel away we learn Maggie has acted before and her runaway father had been a small time actor as well. However, there is something unusual about this theater and all the people there in, Alex the musical director, Reinhart the stage manager, Helen and Janet who run the hotel that houses many of the actors, for free, Hal and his husband Lee who also work part time at the theater.

And then there's Rowan the enigmatic director, who casts people in the summer stock plays on the basis of what he thinks they need (i.e. what they can take away from it and use in their life). There is something special and different about Rowan (I did figure it out pretty early on but that took away none of the joy).

It's a love story, a story about families and losses. I loved it. It was magical in all the right ways. The ending was a bit too bittersweet for me but otherwise I really enjoyed it. I didn't want it to end and I didn't want to leave this theater.

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Book 115

Angel: After The Fall Vol.6Angel: After The Fall Vol.6 by Brian Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boy that third star seems almost generous. If I had been collecting this as it came out monthly I might have stopped. It's like the last volume with Kelly Armstrong didn't exist. This thing is by Brian Lynch, the original author (basically volumes 1-4) and the original artists who do a better job than they did in volumes 1-4, less muddy, colored better too.

To be fair, some of this isn't bad. Some of it is plain old fashioned bad story telling. But this thing is all over the damn place. Let's unpack it a bit.

Chapter one - We find out how Gunn gets out of the hospital, now that we're back in LA's proper plane and he's no longer a vampire. The art here isn't bad but man Gunn looks like a pouty woman, a naked one too. His mental dialogue with himself is also all over the place, despondent and unpleasant until Illyria puts in an appearance and that's the last we see of them for the rest of the hefty volume.

Chapter two is... why is it in Angel? This is a Drusilla story written by Juilet Landau which is cool and it's mostly good (there needed to be a bit more editing to make it more coherent because some of it was out there and not just Dru out there). I love Dru and I love the idea that Juilet wrote this but it seems odd it was shoehorned into Angel's comic book.

And the next two are just...kinda BAD. To be fair, Chapter three had it's moments. The team, Angel, Kate, Connor and Groo are at a comi-con to get a real magical sword and end up at a viewing of the Angel: Last Angel in Hell movie which is simply so bad Angel can barely look at the Nicolas Cage look alike playing him (in love with a gender bent Spike). And we end up with a spell that causes everyone to become who they are cosplaying.

That could be fun. Parts of it was, especially since they meet Spike at this thing and he and Angel dress up as each other to avoid being noticed by the bad guys only to have Spike turn into Angel (the bad movie Angel) BUT instead of Kate and Connor we have some character from the Spike comics in this (who I don't know and don't care to) who added absolutely nothing. It would have been so much more amusing to have Kate and Connor witnessing Spike as Angel and Angel's mortification but those two are completely forgotten. Literally they're in two panels and forgotten. Now that is just bad storytelling. So thanks for handing the funny lines to some stranger.

Chapter Four was pointless. One star all the way. I'd have wanted my money back for those comic issues. It's nothing but the bad Angel movie. That got old fast.

I only have one more volume of the graphic novel set to read and honestly with this erratic quality and slapdash story telling I can see why there wasn't more than there was. sigh.

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Number of pages: 252

This is a book that I've read several times, and which I previously reviewed here: https://gavluvsga.livejournal.com/1108402.html

I wanted to re-read the whole series because I was worried I was just rushing through them and missing details, so I was being extra-careful to read this book as slowly and carefully as I could.

I still enjoy this book a lot; it's a little unconventional, with the central character, David Bowman, not appearing until part 3, but I love the huge amount of imagery that Arthur C. Clarke puts in this book, particuarly during the last few chapters that tell the famous "star gate" sequence from the film.

The book was written at the same time as the film, and although it doesn't make anything clearer, I still think it's the best of the four Odyssey books.

Next book: God Knows (Joseph Heller)


I've had M. K. Beran's Pathology of the Elites: How the Arrogant Classes Plan to Run Your Life in the stack of read but not reviewed books for some time.  His recent "Yale Law School Devours Its Own" prompted me to fish it out and get Book Review No. 27 into pixel form.

I'll keep it brief, as it covers familiar territory.  He refers to the "Castle People" where Angelo Codevilla would refer to the Chautauqua Class, or where Charles Murray would appeal to a "cognitive elite," or where Doug "Lumpy Rutherford" Schoen would see "Agora People" as Mad as Hell, and where Kurt Schlichter would have Kaden provoking the Militant Normals.

Mr Beran gets to his conclusion by an interesting road, invoking Emerson and Arendt and Obama and Lincoln and Trilling and Isaiah Berlin along the way.  (A twisting road will get you to Warsaw but you won't get bored.)

Turn to page xi.  "Even now, when they dominate the cultural heights, they are conscious only of a magnificent generosity of intention.  This is the pathology of the elites."  Yes, to the anointed, vision always excuses poor performance.

Poor performance there will be.  Onward to page 244.
The newly ascendant castle people [this book appeared shortly after Barack Obama's first inauguration -- ed.] are closer in their politics to the New Deal mandarins than they are to the [discredited -- ed.] financial wizards of the last two decades.  But however egalitarian their rhetoric, the new castle elites, like their predecessors, will almost certainly conform to the proprieties of castledom.  They will set themselves up in gaudy châteaus in prosperous suburbs, will send their children to private schools done up in revived Gothic, will not probably refuse invitations to appear in America's stud book, the Social Register.
It won't turn out well, because the aesthetic preferences of the Castle now include the impulses of Bettering the Agora Culture, or else.  Page 256.
In socializing away man's "anti-social" tendencies, the masters of the new social mystique nurtured not independent citizens, but passive conformists who would more easily acquiesce in the social-planning mandate.

As the agora shepherd gives way to the postagora social worker and guidance counselor, as the civic focal point ceases to transmit civic culture, the cruder democratic personality ... comes to the fore, and the castle once again becomes a threat to the community. For where agora culture has disintegrated, there is very little to prevent the castle elites from having their way. ... The citizen who, as a result of the paternal policy of the social state, is more acted upon than acting inclines to a fatal passivity.
That passivity is submission to the nudging or governance otherwise by Wise Experts.  Wise Experts, dear reader, are people who think they can ride emergence, or they are otherwise immune to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

That usually doesn't turn out so well.  (Gosh, in my search for posts about Wise Experts, I turned up a lot of posts that might suggest Castle Lords make poor shepherds!)

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 113-114

PiperPiper by Jay Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not into fairytale retellings to be honest. I'm so over the glut of those. That said this had a cover that really caught my eye. The art in this is just lovely which is key for me in graphic novels. I'm getting more and more unforgiving of bad art so this was a breath of fresh air.

It's unsurprisingly a retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin which may, in fact, have roots in fact. The point of view character isn't the Piper but rather a young woman, Maggie who has been shunned by the town because she's deaf (she can read lips). In a fun twist, she and her elderly aunt take the townspeople and twist their stories into some familiar fairy tales.

The heart of the story remains unchanged. The town is overrun by rats and the local rat catcher is unable to handle it. The Piper promises to free the town of the rats (keeping in mind that in this time period, rats posed serious harm especially of infection) and just like in the tale, the towns elders refuse to pay him and he makes off with the children.

The new part of the story is, of course, Maggie and her attraction to the Piper who isn't off put by her disability. However, he has true darkness in his heart and is very much a black and white thinker. Maggie has to chose her home and doing what she thinks is right or follow her heart and her piper.

It's not a happy story at the heart of it nor is it light but you wouldn't think a retelling of a fairy tale about dozens of kids going missing would be. I really enjoyed it.

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Angel: After The Fall Vol.5 (Angel: Aftermath)Angel: After The Fall Vol.5 by Kelley Armstrong

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this starts a new arc with a new author and artists. I was a little surprised to see the amount of bad reviews. I didn't think it was nearly as bad as some. On the other hand, I didn't think it was great either. Now compared to the whole 'in hell' arc this is much more straight forward and instead of trying to work in a cast of thousands, Armstrong centers the story on Angel with Connor and Kate (and to a lesser degree, Gwen), a little too much in some ways since we're not even sure where Spike, Illyria and Gunn technically are. What I liked about the story is that it hung together well and wasn't a muddy mess like the in hell arc up to this point. What I didn't like, was it didn't have much humor in it which is a bit of a trademark of the series so...

And honestly I didn't really care for a) that Angel is now sort of a celebrity since everyone remembers being in hell and how he saved them (not how Connor or the others were pretty instrumental and honestly Connor and Spike had done more in many ways than Angel which had been bothering me about the other arc), b) actual Angels. (Not a spoiler, it's in the blurb) . In spite of mentions of heaven and hell and of course demons, Whedon's work is rather secular. Real angels takes it over that line. While the story isn't religiousy I would much rather have had any other villain/hero (and the angels are sort of both in this) than them.

I completely disagree and yet still agree with the complaints about the art. No, it's not awful, especially compared to the previous volumes where it was muddy and in many cases left me wondering if the artists knew what humans looked like. In this case the art is clean and crisp and actually nice (hence the disagree with many other reviewers) on the other hand, it's superhero art. It would be at home in the Justice League or the X-Men. It is all wrong for Angel. I definitely agree with that. Heck half the time I couldn't tell who was who. Is that Connor of Ghost!Cordelia? Why does Kate have superheroine Boobs of Doom? How does she defy gravity with those things and remain upright? (Seriously if they hadn't said it was Kate I would never have known). So great comic book art, completely wrong for this series. Sigh.

Other things to like about this, Connor and Angel getting along. Kate, just Kate. I was always disappointed that Kate was written out.

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Books 110-112

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 1 (Library Wars: Love & War, #1)Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 1 by Kiiro Yumi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one had interesting ideas but shaky world building and a bit too much of the shojo romance for me (well it IS Shojo so...) What I liked, the idea of a group of militant librarians guarding books from censorship but this is also where the world building is super shaky. the government is majorly into censoring books but the library is independent of the government and the government agents (shades of Fahrenheit 451) often bow down to them to avoid fighting. It's like so..why? Do they have any true authority? Why hasn't the government routed them? There's just not a lot there yet so it felt weak.

Our point of view character is Iku Kasahara, a young woman who was inspired by a librarian and wants to be one of them. she is very athletic and determined (and tall, she's quite tall) Her mentor is professor Atsushi Dojo who is quite hard on her, sensing her potential. (and he's quite short, and obviously the potential love interest).

Kasahara is the first woman to get on the elite team and is partnered with a straight A student who sees no use for her. He's not keen on her being a woman and he thinks she's stupid. I was not keen on this part at all. On one hand I've been the first woman to do certain jobs (first female surgical student at a hospital where they were forced to take me) so I both know how awful it can be but on the other hand I really want to see future stories that are less on the prejudiced side.

Kasahara actually isn't that bright in some respects (not making me happy there but she tries to improve) and she's very Tsundere especially with Dojo.

I think the story has potential but it needs pushed to get there.

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僕のヒーローアカデミア 2 [Boku No Hero Academia 2] (My Hero Academia, #2)僕のヒーローアカデミア 2 [Boku No Hero Academia 2] by Kohei Horikoshi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two major things happen in this one and both center over their training sessions. The first pits MIdoriya against Bakugo, the former as a hero and the latter as a villain along with Uraraka and Ida. Bakugo goes completely out of control. I'm very surprised none of the teachers really do anything about this. He seems almost truly a villain.

The second, and more important thing is the training session at the rescue scenarios (flood, fire etc) when a huge cadre of villains attack the kids who have barely begun training and only have two professors there. Worse, the professor the villains want to kill, All Might, isn't there and the kids have to fight or die.

It is a fun manga but there are so many characters and several I don't like, such as Bakugo (who I suspect I'm not meant to like) and Mineta who is a bit of a pervert (thankfully he's toned down in the anime which otherwise follows pretty closely). I like it but I'm also glad I can get it from the library.

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The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún, Volume 3 (The Girl from the Other Side, #3)The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún, Volume 3 by Nagabe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really want to like this one more than I actually do. I find it slow. Seriously the whole volume takes just one concept and stretches it. Don't get me wrong. It is good but it's just...slow. The art is very different and the storyline is very much like a fairy tale in the best way.

Shiva is taken from Teacher, the Outsider by soldiers and her elderly aunt. But Shiva's return to the hamlet she's from isn't necessarily a joyous thing. She misses Teacher, who is worried for her but the reader gets clued in to things the girl doesn't know, dark things that I don't want to spoil.

It's an interesting story. I just wish it moved a bit faster.

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Book Review No. 26 is Clemson historian H. Roger Grant's Electric Interurbans and the American People.  I'm tempted to marvel simply that the product of an academic press (Indiana, in this instance) doesn't have a sub-title.  Yes, it has pictures, but no, it is not a Central Electric Railfans' Association style corporate history with rosters and notes on the disposition of cars.  It's closer in organization and scope to Frank Rowsome's old Trolley Car Treasury: there's the emergence of the cars, the prosperous years, the decline and fall, and the preservation, this time limited to the interurban (as opposed to the city and suburban) services.

It's the social history and political economy of the interurbans that give Grant's book its structure.  The electric car came along at an inopportune time: yes, it could overcome the inflexibility of the steam train with lighter construction, more frequent schedules, and the possibility of covering costs in more thinly settled areas.  Thus, between the electric cars and the introduction of rural telephones, rural folk could arrange the delivery of stuff or go into town for church or a social event or interact with a greater range of people or otherwise be spared the centuries-old idiocy of rural life.  Likewise, they could bring their goods to market, loading milk cans on the baggage section of the cars, or bringing the eggs into town and being home in time to make supper.

The timing was inopportune, though, as the private automobile, sometimes using the same electric technology, later with the Otto cycle engine, gave people even more freedom of movement (once the taxpayers started picking up the tab for improved roads, that is) and the private automobile provided courting couples with even more opportunities to escape eyes on the front porch as well as a safe space, if you will, for women who might otherwise be hit on on the electric cars.  Thus, although the interurbans made efforts to improve service and retain passengers, they "ran out of time."

There are probably additional research opportunities for people looking into how the extent of the market affects the division of labor.  As consumers used the cars (and later their flivvers) to comparison shop, creative destruction took place.  For instance, the merchants of Elyria, Ohio, complained that interurbans led to store closings: was that because shoppers could now discover lower prices in Lorain?  The beat goes on today.

Likewise, the contemporary light rail transportation lines have a lot in common with the lighter interurbans.  Heck, the Shaker Heights lines east of Cleveland and the Sharon Hill and Media lines west of Philadelphia are lighter interurbans.  Whether they provide "commuters and other riders alternatives to congested roadways, automobile wear-and-tear, parking costs, and gyrating fuel prices" (page 151) remains to be seen.  Perhaps, though, there will be a second interurban era.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Number of pages: 400

Laurent Binet's first book was HHhH, which told a partially fictionalised account of the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich. This one opens in 1980 with the death of French writer Roland Barthes, run over by a laundry truck.

My understanding is that this is something that really happened, but as far as I'm aware, all other events in the book are entirely fictitious, as Binet suggests that Binet was assassinated, all because of his knowledge of a "7th function of language".

The story creates a Holmes and Watson-esque partnership, with Simon Herzog and a police detective called Bayard (I'm assuming they were real people) travelling around the world to uncover the truth behind Barthes' death. Herzog does a few lengthy deductions about people and situations that were very worthy of Sherlock Holmes, who is even mentioned once in the dialogue.

The thing I found most interesting about this book was that it involved an oratory club where people duelled with speech, kind of like 8 Mile, only with sophisticated debates instead of rapping, and the people declared the losers had fingers cut off (and yes, this book is very graphic, both in terms of gory moments and sexual imagery).

I found that this book wasn't especially easy, particularly as the narrative went off on a lot of tangents, mostly through the characters having lengthy conversations that weren't necessarily related to the main plot of the story. However, I really enjoyed Laurent Binet's dialogue and thought the characters were very well-written overall. In this book, I did miss the moments from the first book when Binet broke the fourth wall and directly told the reader about his train of thought and his own research, but it may not have been necessary in this book anyway.

I was asked by a friend if he had to read HHhH first, to which I replied that it wasn't necessary, because they're completely self-contained novels, without any connections. I'd probably recommend reading that book before this one just because it is easier, but I'd definitely recommend this one too.

Next book: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Book 107-109

Angel: After the Fall, Volume 4Angel: After the Fall, Volume 4 by Brian Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And the first of the arcs is finally finished. It's muddy in both art and storyline. Part of the problem is Lynch and company tried to wrap up every character's storyline giving us fragmented stuff. This volume ties it all up and it's pretty satisfactory as far as that goes.

It would have been more tense of course if I had read this monthly because there are places and twists that would have made me sad until I could get the next volume but that falls a bit flat when you're reading the bound graphic novel.

Some characters die, some don't stay that way and it ends up some place I'm not sure I'm going to like. However, the things that got undone are likely to make me happy.

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My Hero Academia, Vol. 1 (My Hero Academia, #1)My Hero Academia, Vol. 1 by Kohei Horikoshi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my students, knowing how much I love anime and manga recommended this one (and in an unusual twist I started with the anime). While it doesn't really move far from the superhero genre, it's still very entertaining. 80% of the world in the last several generations have developed 'quirks' i.e. super powers. Most don't amount to much but those with great quirks end up superheroes or, of course, super villains.

Rather small in size (I thought he was more like 12 not 15) Izuku Midoriya wants nothing more than to be like his hero, All Might but he's in the unevolved 20%. He's quirkless but that doesn't stop him from dreaming. Meanwhile his childhood friend (now his bully) Kacchan has developed a powerful quirk, lording it over everyone especially Midoriya who he calls Deku (someone who can't do anything), furious that Deku wants to be a hero and go to the best school in the country just like him.

After meeting All Might, Midoriya is disheartened but an act of heroism on his part convinces All Might to take him under his wing and brings him into a great secret, one that makes Midoriya's dreams of going to the academy a reality.

The art is nice and the storyline is fine, mostly because of the characters who are engaging. That said there are SO many characters that you could get easily overwhelmed.

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Hope Never DiesHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a love hate relationship with real person mysteries. I keep reading them but I rarely like them. However, this is a first, me reading one where the real person sleuth are still alive, in this case Biden and Obama. I have to confess I didn't like this nearly as much as my friends who recommended it, took me forever to get thru it (okay a week but for me that's long when you realize one of my friends knocked it out in two hours). It was fun but really I wasn't that interested in it. The humor didn't work for me I guess.

It opens with Biden being butt hurt that after leaving the White House, Obama has moved on to do all these cool things while he's just sitting around the house getting older. Obama never calls, never writes and Biden spends a good deal of time whining about this throughout the book.

But when Obama does show back up it's to tell Biden that one of the train conductors Biden knows - as an avid user of that particular public transit - has been killed and for some reason he had a map to the Biden's home. Convinced the man has been murdered, Biden tries to solve the murder with hit and miss help from Obama.

As a mystery it works for the most part but really there are a few TSTL moments for Biden that really bothered me like (mild spoiler) walking into a biker club house or the ridiculous Hollywood ending. I'd be curious to know what Biden himself thinks of this.

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September 2018 reading - books 43 to 47

43. The Muse by Jessie Burton – a famous painting shows up in London in 1967 after having disappeared during the chaos of the Spanish Civil War … but who actually painted it? – interesting story that probably relied a little too much on the dual timeline structure to build intrigue – I expected to love it based on the Spanish setting but only liked it and in fact took several months and many check-outs to finish it
44. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman – a mixed race, painfully shy teenager with a self-absorbed hot mess of a mother hopes her fortunes will change when she leaves for art school – her dreams are crushed when her application is rejected, so she struggles to find Plan B for her life – sweet and charming story with a very endearing main character
45. The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – an old woman looks back on her life and especially on the time she spent with the son of her family’s Japanese gardener – told in the author’s trademark non-linear style but with minimal magical realism – touching story about family, secrets, and acceptance
46. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – a nerdy high school teacher helps his pretty neighbor when her ex-husband dies during a visit – interesting game of cat-and-mouse ensues and builds to an unexpected climax
47. Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin – my favorite non-fiction read of the year – the author was working as a journalist and becoming dissatisfied with her life when she answered a Craigslist ad for a carpenter’s assistant – nice mix of personal memoir, information about the carpentry trade and her learning curve, and a love note to the city of Boston


Book Review No. 25 is Amir Aczel's Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem.  The book is short, readable, and full of all sorts of mathematics lore, although "unlocking the secret" is still left to the reader as an exercise.  (The exercise is below the jump.)
Have a sharp pencil handy! ...Collapse )
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

book 106

Angel: After the Fall, Volume 3Angel: After the Fall, Volume 3 by Brian Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let's do the best part of this first, the art galley. There is some outstanding pictures here like Nick Runge's Wesley or John Romita's Angel/Angelus pencil sketch. Alex Garner's illustration of Connor, Fred and Spike over an open grave is amazing.

And then we have the muddy, uninspired art that makes up most of the bound volume. Sigh. I hate to say it but there are reasons I stopped collecting American comics and moved to exclusively Japanese manga. Art this sloppy just does nothing for me. Half the time I'm not even sure who is who except Gunn (for the obvious reasons).

The storyline has interesting ideas, the Illyria/Fred dichotomy, Gwen and Connor and what Gwen does. The sad interactions of Wes and Illyria. Angel and Gunn's confrontation and (view spoiler)[ Cordelia's visit for a dying Angel (hide spoiler)].

But it doesn't seem to have 'enough' storyline. It's just stretched out to make it longer so it began to feel slow and repetitive. So the story arc is good but it really needed punched up some.

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Number of pages: 277

It has been a few years since I last read an Adrian Mole novel, and this is one I'd missed, which came before Cappuccino Years.

This one is set in 1991 and early 1992 and sees Adrian in his early 20s, mostly trying to deal with his love life, sending numerous creepy notes to his childhood sweetheart, Pandora, and attending therapy classes, only to fall in love with his shrink.

Another one of the main plot threads involved Adrian Mole's nemesis Barry Kent writing a book that was a thinly-veiled mockery of Adrian himself, prompting Adrian to attempt to write his own book himself. Adrian's book itself seemed dire - this seemed to be done on purpose - but I found that it resulted in a lot of the book's comedy when the character in the story started writing his own book, resulting in a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, and Sue Townsend took things even further, but in a way that did result in a good payoff.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

At the end, one of Adrian Mole's fictional characters comes up with a book that sounds more promising than Adrian's real-life ideas.

Having read later books in the series, I noticed a few plot threads starting that finally got resolved later in the series, including the character of Glenn Bott. Also, I love the standard format of the novels, which are written as their main character's diary, so you get to read all his random thoughts as well as about his life.

I was glad I picked up this book, but do want to get the other book I missed, The True Confessons of Adrian Albert Mole and the final book in the series, Adrian Mole: The Prostate Years.

Next book: The 7th Function of Language (Laurent Binet)

Book 105

Angel: After the Fall, Volume 2: First NightAngel: After the Fall, Volume 2: First Night by Brian Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first thought was 'what the heck IS this nonsense. The first volume ended on a cliffhanger but it also started months into their time in hell (in which time we’re expected mopey, blaming himself Angel, ignores his son because that’s consistent with the show, uh-huh, right). This very small volume was dedicated not to picking up at the cliffhanger but rather on the ‘First Night’ (it took spotting that on the cover about a third of the way in before I realized that this was what the volume was about, which is a failure in and of itself).

Each character got their own first night in hell (except Angel, ironically). Spike’s was just confusing a bit too fractured. Betta George (a giant telepathic betta fish demon that so far is just a weird waste of space) didn’t interest me at all. Lorne’s was interesting in that it was done as a rhyme. Gwen’s was very good. Wesley’s was too. Then there was Connor’s which was also just confusing because we see him regaining All his memories including ones before he was even born (um….) so we get pages of him running, hiding and puking at the confusion the memories caused. But…Connor regained his memories on the show. He fought next to Angel, so this was just weird because it felt like a retconning. We also get Kate (whom I always loved and was sad she was gone) and through her we see more of Connor as she sort of inspires him to fight (did he need that? I’m not sure that he’s ever needed that). However, I did like Connor trying to sort through his three fathers. That was a nice touch. Gunn’s story was interesting enough. And oh, there was a short story about a couple of civilians which I sort of enjoyed.

I hate to say it the art was pretty awful. It was done by multiple artists, each story getting its own art. Spike and Gwen’s art was nice. Wesley’s was fantastic. Lorne was done by John Bryne who I am very well acquainted with but this was most assuredly not his best work. Mooney’s art for Connor and Kate made me wonder if he knew what humans look like and the Betta George stuff looked like I drew it (which is not a compliment).

In the back matter, Lynch talked about why they did what they did. It was risky constructing the story this way. Uh-huh, the word I would have used is annoying. My only consolation is I’m getting all of this at the library. If I had paid money for this, I’d be much more disappointed.

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Book 103-104

Erased, Volume 2Erased, Volume 2 by Kei Sanbe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Satoru's power of revival has sent him back 18 years to his grade school days, hoping to save the life of a classmate. He believes that this will change the now where he has been framed for the murder of his mother.

The first try doesn't go as planned and he finds himself back in the present day not only on the run but with the murderer on his heels trying to ensure Satoru is jailed life is hard. Worse, he's managed to drag a friend into the line of fire from both the cops and the killer.

Revival gives him yet another chance to save Hinazuki from both her abusive mother and the killer. This time we have his friend, Kenya playing a much larger role. This is one bright boy.

The characters in this are so interesting and the situation dire. this manga has mystery and time travel and coming of age all bundled together. Satoru believes this will be his last revival for better or worse, putting a clock on it.

there are plenty of twists and plenty of room for more. If he saves Hinazuki will it save his mother in the future? Has he put another innocent in the path of the killer? Will he be stuck in the past? I can't wait to find out.

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Scream All NightScream All Night by Derek Milman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book I would normally read but a friend recommended it. I almost didn't read it because the first chapters were rife with gay jokes and that really annoyed the heck out of me. It added nothing and they were derogatory, used, I think, to illustrate how big of a jerk Dario's older brother, Oren is. Thankfully that stopped by chapter three and the rest of the story was enjoyable.

Dario is a seventeen year old emancipated minor living at a group home, having made a very good friend there. He gets called back to Moldavia Castle, his childhood home and the set of all of Moldavia Studios' class B (at best) horror flicks. His father is dying and all that waits in the home is Oren, the older brother he doesn't trust, horrible memories and Hayley, his first love.

He doesn't want to go. He wants to go to Harvard where he's been accepted but soon he finds himself not only back but wrapped up in all the bad memories and craziness of Moldavia thanks to his father's will. He has to save Moldavia or maybe he'll just let it fall and turn his back on the insanity.

This has it's share of darkness. Memories of child abuse, an insane parent, death. Dario is a fascinating character and I really liked him.

I just wish some editor would have carved out the homophobic beginnings because it really was a non-issue in this. Maybe it was meant to be teenaged humor? Wasn't funny.

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Book 102

Angel: After the Fall, Volume 1Angel: After the Fall, Volume 1 by Brian Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've had this on my shelves forever, unsure if I really wanted to read it. I wasn't particularly happy with how Angel ended on TV and what I had heard about the comic series didn't exactly set me on fire to read it. Years later, I find it on the shelf and decided it was time.

It wasn't quite as bad as I feared nor as good as I hoped. The art was okay, a bit muddy in a lot of places but it was better in more places than it was bad.

One of the reasons I didn't want to read this (can it be a spoiler at this point?) was I knew that all of LA had been sucked into hell. What a miserable dystopic crap plotline. Great, not only did our heroes basically lose, they damned a city of millions. Lovely.

So that's where it opens. LA has been carved into demonic fiefdoms. Angel is still hanging out in the ruins of Wolfram and Hart's building with Wesley's spirit (and there is a big twist with Angel that I won't spoil). Gunn, Spike, Lorne, Illyria and Connor are all out there, not in fact, working with Angel.

Instantly disliked Gunn's storyline so far.

On the other hand I did like Spike and Connor's. I admit it, was always a fan of both. The creator talks about how stable and heroic Connor is in this continuation because he grew up. My thought was, no, you sent him to a hell dimension similar to one he grew up in. He's back in his element. He's also running an Underground Railroad sort of thing to save humans from the enslaving demons.

There's plenty of action if nothing else. There a few good lines but overall it's grim. Maybe too grim. That said, now long after the whole series has been over and done, I can say I'll be finishing the series. There's sadly not that much of it.

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Books 61 - 70.

61. Ham (ed.)/Moriwaki - Yoko's Diary: The Life Of A Young Girl In Hiroshima During WWII (part of it English translation)
Although it's more mostly to those in early teens, this books is one interesting, moving account of innocence, of life cut too soon.

62. Stewart - Medicine Ball Workouts: Strenghten Major & Supporting Muscle Groups For Increased Power, Coordination & Core Stability
Good information, even for those who just want to know a few moves to include in other workouts.

63. Pope Francis - Through The Year With...: Daily Reflections (English translation)
Does its job, no doubt about it.

64. MacGregor - A History Of The World In 100 Objects
If you're interested in history, you need this. Based on a program heard on Radio 4, this chooses 100 objects in British Museum to show the travel of time, of developments and communications with people, in a very interesting way.

65. King - Doctor Sleep
If you ever wondered what happened to Danny after "The Shining", here's a continuation.

66. Abensur - Cranks Fast Food
Shows its age a bit, but still interesting, especially if you like Moroccan/Mediterranean flavors, vegetarian style.

67. Pope Francis - The Light Of Faith (English translation)
If your faith needs motivation boost, this slim book does it, and well.

68. The Mabinogion (English translation)
For anyone interested in King Arthur legends, this is a good choice. Plenty of strange things and virtuous (or rude) behavior.

69. Hemingway - The Old Man & The Sea
A classic, well deserved, though reading at right age may improve enjoyment. Just the right length (little under 100 pages), with some clear story structure planning visible - which I like.

70. Terry - Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, & Creative African-American Cuisine
Very cheery, with soundtrack/art/film/books recommended with each recipe.

Books 27 and 28

27. The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered, by Jeffrey C. Alexander. Had mixed feelings about this one, although all in all, I'd recommend it -with some qualifications. This is actually a collection of essays regarding the journalism industry, but written more from a sociologist's perspective. My recommendation: skip or skim the intro, which I've already summarized in the previous sentence, and skip or skim the conclusion, which rehashes the essays. Also, I'd skip the first two essays. The first was written by someone who may have read several books on the industry (including a few which I've read) but still obviously doesn't truly understand what is bedeviling the industry. The second essay basically said there was no crisis, it was all a matter of perspective. Yeah. I detest the rose-colored glasses view as much as anyone, but that is taking things to extremes. I almost quit after reading those first two essays and that would have been a shame, because the rest were quite good. I especially enjoyed the essays on how newspapers in other countries were run, their philosophies, and how they were funded, a topic I don't know a lot about.

28. The Dark Crystal, Creation Myths, Vol. 3, by Matthew Dow Smith. The conclusion to the three-part graphic novel covering the beginning of Thra. This trilogy is a must for fans of The Dark Crystal. The UrSkeks have split into two races; only Aughra and her son Raunip know where the two races come from, but they are busy trying to find the lost shard. A change in the land already can be seen, and eventually, the Gelflings wind up uniting with the Skeksis, who offer their assistance in keeping the sinister creatures at bay.

Currently reading: Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century, from the Kyoto Costume Institute, The Way We Never Were, by Stephanie Coontz, and Black Klansman, by Ron Stallworth.

Book #41: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Number of pages: 436

The opening sequence of this book introduces the reader to August Odenkirk, who is queuing up for a job fair; he lends his sleeping bag to a woman with a baby, and seems like a nice guy. He's the sort of character who you want to read a novel all about.

Of course, this being Stephen King, August is killed off in the first chapter, in an incident that feels even more relevant today because of the similarities to last year's terrorist attacks in London (the book was written in 2014, before the attacks, though Stephen King may have been influenced by incidents that took place at the Boston marathon). A person driving a mercedes ploughs into the queue, killing most of them, including the baby.

The book then introduces the main character, Bill Hodges, who is a retired detective. The killer has sent him a taunting message about what he did; he also so messed with the head of the woman whose mercedes he stole to commit his crime, which seems to have contributed to the woman's suicide. The story gradually moves towards another terrorism attempt that is disturbingly similar to an incident that took place in Manchester last year.

The plot seems to move quite slowly as Hodges tries to figure out who the terrorist is, and I was surprised that, rather than being like a whodunnit mysyery, the readers are told exactly who did it near the start, and it turns out to be a disturbed mummy's boy called Brady, a character who is fleshed out in great detail throughout the book. We are told that Brady is a racist, and it is implied that the issues he seems to have stem back to his childhood. Brady's storyline contains the most harrowing aspects of the story, with moments of child death and another graphic death scene that felt like a throwback to the book that even unsettled Stephen King himself, Pet Sematery (I wasn't surprised when a google search for most disturbing Stephen King book bought up this novel). Because of this being more of a psychological thriller than a horror, I thought this was very reminiscent of some of Linwood Barclay's work, particularly his Promise Falls novels.

Most of the book is written in the present tense, and this annoyed me at first, because I tend to think this looks sloppy (I've started reading internet fan fiction and stopped after about one line when I saw it was written in the present tense), but after a while I realised that it worked quite well in this book, as it makes the story's flashback sequences stand out from the rest of the narrative. I liked the book's characters, and Hodges is given two helpers, Jerome and the mentally unstable Holly, who I am hoping also return in the second and third books that form the Bill Hodges Trilogy (and any further books about Hodges that Stephen King writes - I don't know how the third book, End of Watch finishes, so please don't tell me if Hodges gets killed off). I enjoyed most of this book, although I was in no doubt about how the climax would play out, and the final chapter felt somewhat cliched.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

I'm assuming that, since Brady survives the story, he returns for the second, and probably the third, book.

Next book: Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (Sue Townsend)

Number of pages: 192

It's been years since I tried reading an Agatha Christie novel, and I decided to read this one after seeing the BBC's recent adaptation.

This feels like it stands out from just about any other whodunnit novel, in that not only has the murder already been committed at the start of the book, but someone has been arrested for the crime. In this book, the person accused of committing the crime is the victim's foster son, Jacko, who has also died in prison.

But, then a man called Calgary shows up at the family home, providing an alibi for Jacko; the family initially throw him out of the house, but gradually they start to suspect that Jacko was falsely accused.

I've never been a big fan of Agatha Christie, and most of the book is just conversations and speculation over who the killer was. One thing I noticed was how the book made Jacko seem abosulutely obnixious throughout, which seemed to be to make it seem like he was the killer. Having seen the BBC version, I thought I knew who the killer was, only to realise when I reached the end that the BBC changed a lot of details, inlcuding the killer, so I was suprised by the final reveal.

I thought this book was okay, but I probably wouldn't rush to read another of Agatha Christie's novels.

Next book: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Book 100-101

Shakespeare's Landlord (Lily Bard, #1)Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From trial and error I've learned I prefer Ms. Harris's urban fantasy to her mysteries. That said I enjoyed this one. It was almost a 4 star read but I did find Lily a bit...abrasive. Granted she has reason to be. She is curt with most people but that's understandable. I struggled with the beginning more than anything. Lily is a cleaner, sort of a Merry Maid of one, cleaning homes and offices in Shakespeare, Arkansas. She keeps a low profile and leads a quiet life with the exception of the martial arts she studies with diligence.

It opens at the gym with awkward descriptions of Lily doing her exercises (some things just translate poorly to the written word but that's not what I struggled with). Lily has PTSD and doesn't sleep well. SHe spots something suspicious in the park across from her place and finds her landlord dead but refuses to go to the police with what she sees, calling it in anonymously. It felt more like the author wanting us guessing about this 'bad thing' in Lily's past (i.e. was she victim or aggressor) making it the thing that causes her to avoid the detective (whom she does seem to at least respect).

Lily realizes she has access to more information about the people of Shakespeare than maybe even the police because she's always in their homes, seeing all the things they tend to keep hidden. The tension rachets up when someone starts leaving her nasty little 'gifts', obviously knowing what happened in her past that has left such scars both physically and emotionally.

Lily finds herself swept up with the investigation and at least she doesn't take ridiculous risks like so many amateur sleuths do. I enjoyed it though I did find the actual killer to be a bit of a stretch (another reason I didn't go to 4 stars with this). I'd read another in this series.

and now for a spoiler that contains some trigger warnings. (view spoiler)[ This book does contain a few things that might upset people. Lily has an affair with a married man for one. Also her dark past includes torture and rape some of which is on page. this is darker than a lot of cozy readers would like. I was fine with it even though it's yet another rape of a strong woman. At least Lily's reaction to it and her PTSD seemed more plausible than we usually see. (hide spoiler)]

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See Also Murder (Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, #1)See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, I picked this one up for a literary destinations challenge and I needed North Dakota. I had never heard of this series but it's one I'm going to be hanging with to gobble up more. It was more like a 4 star read for the mystery but I gave it that extra star because Sweazy captures life on the Dakota plains so well (I lived in South Dakota though, similar enough). This is 1964 and it is not an easy life. In fact it's a pretty sad one for the lead character Marjorie Trumaine (and grinding over and over the same angst was one of the reasons the mystery itself is a 4 star read).

Marjorie's life is even harder than most farm house wives in the 60s. Her husband Hank had an accident while hunting, not only catching birdshot in the face costing him his sight, when he fell he broke his neck leaving him a quadriplegic in need of total care. Marjorie is barely hanging onto the farm with the help of her friends' the Knudsons and their two young sons. Also Marjorie - whose father wanted her to be an academic but she fell in love with a farmer - is an indexer, someone who makes the indexes at the back of books. She loves it being of an orderly sort of mind and the books she loves to read are her escape to worlds beyond Dakotan farm life.

And then the Knudsons are murdered, leaving their teenaged sons orphaned. Even more shocking, Erik Knudson is found with a bizarre Nordic amulet in his hand. Marjorie is brought into the investigation by her friend, Sheriff Hilo because she's 'the smartest person he knows.' He believes the amulet is somehow related to the murder and he knows she can handle the academic side of things to find out what the amulet is and why the murderer would have left it at the crime scene.

Marjorie is facing not only a mounting body count but also the worries of Hank dying on her (though he pretty much wishes he was dead) the loss of her friends, the chance she'll lose the farm and then someone starts to stalk her.

It was a very satisfying, if morose mystery. I found Marjorie convincing as an investigator and person (all the little details, like finding solace in a cigarette, the feel of the wind blowing across the prairie really made this novel. It was one of the most surprising finds all year. Looking forward to more.

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Number of pages: 322

This is something I read entirely on a recomemendation from someone else who had also read it. I noticed two distinct plotlines that were almost completely separate from each other, and the book almost seemed to switch between them each chapter.

The book starts off with the central character, Graham, married to his second wife, Audra. However, early in the book, Graham bumps into his first wife, Elspeth, who has also re-married, and events lead to her being involved in his life again. After Elspeth kicks her new husband out of the house, Graham realises that he has got to the point when he can just be friends with her, and starts spending a lot of time with her.

Inevitably, I thought this plotline could only be going in one direction, but the novel threw in a complete curveball near the end, with an event that I did not see coming at all, and sent the storyline going in a completely different direction.

The other plotline, and the one I read the story for, was Graham and Audra raising their ten year old son Matthew, who has aspergers syndrome, and so has difficuly interacting with other kids at school; much of the storyline involves his friendship with another boy, "Derek Rottweiler".

This storyline reminded me a little of another book I read recently, "Midwinter Break" by Bernard MacLaverty, in that it didn't really go anywhere. The thing that kept me reading this book was the humour, mostly through Graham's own thoughts, and the commentary on autism, such as the idea that Graham himself may have some form of autism. At one point, he even thinks about the odd habits of people he knows and wonders if they have aspergers themselves.

The book adds a lot of nice touches along the way, including a moment where Graham seats guests at a dinner party he and Audra have arranged in order of their position on the autistic spectrum. I also liked another moment where Matthew was caught watching pornography on a school computer, and Graham thought to himself that at least his son was behaving like a "normal" boy. I noticed that the storyline itself seemed deliberately idiosyncratic by having the characters go off on tangents themselves, mostly by having long conversations that had nothing to do with the main plot, but which still made for compelling reading.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot; Graham was a character who I found easy to identify with, and the use of humour throughout (aside from when the book reaches the unexpected plot twist I mentioned) was good, and ensured that the narrative style felt light-hearded throughout. This is definitely a book that I would recommend to others.

Next book: Ordeal by Innocence (Agatha Christie)


Thomas Frank's Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society provided additional on-train reading, and Book Review No. 24 will also precede any analyses of the train rides. The reports focus on four different areas of current life, ostensibly to present the message that the Powers that Be, and the Winners of the Lottery of Life, no matter have to care about Everybody Else.

That might be one interpretation, but buried in the curated columns might be the possibility either that the bad news is wrong, or that there's more than one way to respond to the bad news.
Read more...Collapse )And thus we get Donald Trump, or as Mr Frank's fourth section calls it, "The Explosion."  He's more interested in bringing left-leaning Democrats back into power, although he fears that they don't have the message.  Turn to page 222,  "Who needs to win elections when you can personally reestablish the rightful social order every day on Twitter and Facebook?"  Plus, "If economic conditions don't change and Democrats play out their strategy of indignant professional class self-admiration, they have only a fair chance of chasing him out of office -- after which they will undoubtedly be surprised by some new and even more abrasive iteration of right-wing populism."

It might be more constructive for Mr Frank to sit down for drinks with David Bernstein, Kurt Schlichter, and John Kass.  They might find some things to agree on.  Mr Bernstein writes, "Trump has at times promoted bigotry, is a congenital liar, and engages in demeaning and belittling behavior toward his political opponents. Indeed, I think these things are obvious. But much of the country isn't listening when the traditional gatekeepers point this out, and that is, at least in part, the gatekeepers' own fault."  Mr Schlichter notes, "When establishment hacks talk about the 'rule of law,' they mean that they should be able to use the law to rule you while they get to ignore the law when it’s inconvenient." And Mr Kass observes, "Trump's voters know what put him in the White House. It wasn't merely that Hillary Clinton was a lousy candidate. It was that Trump voters detested the crowd that backed her, loathed them; and those voters in turn were viewed as something to be stepped on, to be ridiculed for heresy."

It would be better, though, for these four to meet privately for drinks, perhaps with a tape recorder running.  Put them on live television, particularly with some polemicist moderating, and you'd get a food fight.  Let them interact like four guys in a bar, and they might come up with something.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


I stopped at DePaul's bookstore before getting on the Lake Shore for points east, and picked up Dan Brown's Origin, thus implementing advice I offered years ago about the way to read Inferno.  Got it read before the train reached Albany, thus we'll unleash Book Review No. 23 today and hold the Performance and Practice for another day.

Ostensibly, Origin, like Inferno, and the preceding Lost Symbol and Da Vinci Code, is about Harvard art historian Robert Langdon interacting with some of his brilliant students and using his understanding of arcana to head off The End of The World, and other Dire Consequences.  Yes, those are present.

I can't help wondering, though, whether Origin isn't an Allegory for Our Times.

First, it's not so much that the polymathic Langdon student claims to have information that undoes all the religious Creation beliefs and gets killed before he is able to reveal the information, as it is that social media bots are capable of propagating stories, irrespective of their truthiness, at near-quantum speed.

Second, it's not so much that the Crown Prince of Spain gets drawn into the intrigue by way of his engagement to the director of an art museum, as it is that some of the action takes place in Spain's Valley of the Fallen, an attempt by Francisco Franco to restore unity after the Spanish Civil War: its contemporary story echoes recent tussles over Confederate monuments Stateside.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, an artificial intelligence algorithm, admittedly a very good algorithm, is the Moriarty manipulating social media and doing a number of other things, but you'll have to read the book to find out what those other things.  An artificial intelligence algorithm, though, is only as good as its programming, which is to say, it is still an elaborately scripted moron, and, let's say, in implementing its instructions according to the priorities assigned to it, it takes some scary actions.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

August 2018 reading - books 37 to 42

37. Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts – a pregnant young woman is abandoned by her boyfriend during a cross-country trip and she has to make a new life in a new town – poignant and sweet story that pushes up to the line of corny but doesn’t quite cross it – there’s also mention of some darker topics particularly in the boyfriend’s parallel story – adapted into a serviceable movie starring Natalie Portman
38. The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read earlier this year – picks up the story almost immediately from the ending of the first book – I won this as a giveaway from Goodreads and will post a more thorough review there eventually – in a nutshell I loved it and can’t wait for the conclusion of the trilogy in January
39. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – a family with five sons goes on a literal and figurative journey when the youngest announces that he prefers to wear dresses – thought provoking and engaging story – based in part on the author’s experience of raising a transgender girl
40. If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim – Korean War love triangle involving very cranky people – told from different perspectives spanning several years of a particular family’s life – sometimes the writing is too spare as we never fully get to know the characters or in some cases understand their motivations – depressing book with a beautiful cover
41. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – promising young neurosurgeon develops lung cancer – this book did not wow me but I did find it to be beautiful and sad – fulfills the posthumous publication task for Read Harder
42. I Am the Only Running Footman by Martha Grimes – a young woman is murdered outside a London pub in the same manner as another young woman ten months previously near Bristol – part of the Richard Jury series – very much reminds me of a “typical” British mystery show that later shows up on PBS – October selection for a new mystery book club I’ve joined because I’m a knucklehead

Number of pages: 228

I read this compilation of short stories and writings a few years ago, and had one thought about it:


Reading this again, my view didn't change a lot - this being by George Saunders, most of the stories are either written in an unconventional manner, or are just plain weird. They also felt like stories that I had to read slowly, and I found myself re-reading a few of them.

Many of these stories are obvious satires, including a letter from a fictional character with conservative views, ranting about same sex marriage and "same-ish" sex marriage, in a way that made me chuckle, in the way that it made fun of people with intolerant views (a lot of it was about effeminate men who were married to masculine woman, and the character's belief that this concealed homosexual desires).

There was another one that I enjoyed, which seemed to be all about how human lives are valued more than animals; this one involved a child being killed by an "infected" dog, leading to a cull on just about every animal in the small town in which it was set.

Reading these stories, it occurred to me that George Saunders may have been influenced a lot by Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, based on the writing style and the increasing levels of absurdity.

Other stories were more difficult, and felt like the plots to movies directed by David Lynch. The short story, In Persuasion Nation appeared to be part fantasy and part satire on the power of advertising, but was full of completely bizarre imagery (a packet of Doritos that cuts peoples' heads in half, for example, and a chocolate bar that becomes a sort of false god). In the words of Homer Simpson: "Brilliant. I have absolutely no idea what's going on".

Overall, you need to have some patience to read this book, because many of the stories may leave you a bit dumbfounded to explain what they are about. My recommendation is that, if you do read this book, don't try to rush through it.

Next book: Standard Deviation (Katherine Heiny)

Book 99

Jazz Funeral (Skip Langdon, #3)Jazz Funeral by Julie Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Wow, this was disappointing. To be honest most of the Skip Langdon books disappointed me. (Seriously I remember twenty years ago when the series started reviews raving about how lushly described they were. I read them thinking if I wasn’t told this is New Orleans I would never guess. I was surprised to see Ms. Smith was the first woman to win an Edgar award in nearly forty years back in the early 90s and I thought says more about the sexism of the judges than how good this series is). Anyhow, this just fails to grab me from start to terrible finish. Mostly I read it to fulfill a few reading challenges and so I can send the book on its way to its next home.

Detective Skip Langdon isn’t the only disappointing part of this but she’s the biggest of the disappointments. It’s hard to read a mystery when you don’t really like the lead character. Skip should be a good character, lady detective, over 6 feet tall and tough. Instead she spends much of her on page time whining about her boyfriend or the sergeant who’s currently in charge of her and very little of it actually investigating anything. It opens with her smoking pot (so if that’s a problem for you that’s chapter one). I can handle that but maybe not when she does it again later knowing this sergeant is looking for any reason to can her. (Also, he’s so over the top aggressive I can’t see how she’s not filing a grievance).

The mystery is straight forward enough Ham Brocata has been killed in his kitchen just before Jazzfest, a huge music festival he’s running. He comes from a family who made its money in sandwiches and his father George has a much younger wife, Patty (only five years older than Ham) and a 16-year-old sister, Melody. He’s involved with a Cajun R&B singer, Ti-Belle who actually wants to dump him for someone else, basically the Louisianan answer to Elvis. Melody takes off just after her brother is killed.

So Skip has two things to do. Find Ham’s killer and find Melody because it’s probable that she is his killer. Simple enough, right? Yeah not so much. Melody runs away and changes her hair color which is SO miraculous that literally no one recognizes her (her ex-boyfriend is like ‘she must have had plastic surgery?’ what in the two days that’s gone by? It’s hair color. I change mine often and no one has ever said wow, you’re so different I had NO idea it was you.)

We get too many points of view in this. Skip isn’t on page nearly enough. We do have some chapters with Ti-Belle, George, Patty and the Cajun Elvis. But we get a lot of them with Melody and she made me want to rip the book in half. Part of the reason why I’ll put under a spoiler cut because the ending of this staggers the mind.

Melody is all about Janis Joplin and how she, too, is going to sing and die young. She spends over 300 pages of this thing planning this. She’s an absolute idiot about living on the street. Within a few days has an STD (you get a lengthy description of her trying to pick out crabs from her pubes and no not sorry for spoiling that for anyone). She just knows if she can sing with her friend Joel Boucree she’ll make it. Joel and his musical family are African American and she’s a poor little rich white girl with an older distant father and a trophy mother who isn’t interested in her (so literally such a stereotype she lacks anything imaginative or unique).

I don’t even know how to say this part without sounding like I’m the racist, but Melody idolizes Joel and African Americans but in a weird way. It’s not in a ‘I like African Americans’ sort of way. She pictures them completely unrealistic as if they’re not actual people but some as the personification of perfection (they’re so warm, so musical, so lucky). I lost track of how many times she whined how much she wanted to be Black. Certainly, enough to make me uncomfortable.

Speaking of that, time for a spoiler cut spoilersCollapse )


Book 98

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently, #1)Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's a 2.5 read for me at best. I thought this was a reread of this novel (which I meant to do when the BBC started the TV series) but I must never have made it more than the first fifty pages last time…thirty years ago. I remember buying this in college after falling in love with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. In the interim I’ve learned that while I liked that book I am not really an Adams fan.

I was bored to tears by the first half of this book. Nor did I find it funny. I see plenty of reviewers who thought it was hysterical so I wonder what I missed. (It’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with British humor. I usually quite enjoy it). I simply didn’t connect at all (and for those wondering, this book and the TV have literally nothing to do with each other).

The first half of the book revolves around a strange Electric Monk and his horse, Gordan Way, a computer gaming tycoon, Richard who works for him and dates Gordan’s sister, Susan, Reg an old professor and Michael a former magazine editor who Gordan disposed. Something big happens to Gordan which finally kicks off the action but that takes forever. We have a long session of reading about a faculty dinner which is even more boring than being at one and I can say that from experience.

Once the bad stuff happens, Richard could end up blamed and jailed, he finally meets up with Dirk Gently (we’re over 100 pages into a 245 page book at this point). They know each other from school where Dirk’s abilities got him in trouble (in theory jailed but I don’t know how cheating on an exam ends in that). Dirk comes off as a con man (though he’s really working at a quantum level, in theory). He’s also rather abrasive.

The second half of the novel is definitely better than the first. My cover blurb says it’s a ghost-horror-detective- time travel-rom-com epic. Okay it has a ghost. You don’t see that it’s actually time travel until the last 50 odd pages which are fast moving if a bit confusing. And then, if you can possibly spoil a 31 year old novel it ends with a to be continued (no, not for me it’s not).

While the characters are well drawn, they didn’t engage me. I found this to be a slog. Also it’s very dated in many ways. To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have been interested in computer stuff 30 years ago when it was fresh. Reading about computer stuff three decades out of date was hard.

I found Dirk abrasive and Richard simply not interesting enough to go looking for the two other books. I know this is a classic and I’m glad I read it. I just wish I had enjoyed it more.

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Number of pages: 418

This is a book that I read one chapter at a time, having started reading several months ago.

Other people were wondering what I was thinking when I decided to read this book; while it seems very involved, it made for fascinating reading, in which Daniel Kahneman makes observations about how humans think that I'd never thought of before.

He starts off by setting out that we have two different ways of thinking, named system 1 and system 2.

System 1 is very impulsive, and involves making snap judgements about situations with very little thought involved, while System 2 is the slower way of thinking, and much more careful, thinking more rationally. It made me think of how I can often jump to conclusions, and very fast.

The other chapters were fascinating too; for example, sections that point out that people forget about duration of experiences, so we might see a prolonged bad experience that ends with a shorter, happier, experience as a good experience overall.

Another favourite chapter of mine was about how different phrases were framed. For example, if an item of food is labelled "90% fat free" and another is labelled "10% fat", this both means the same thing, but we will probably see the first as more positive.

I also enjoyed the comments on gambling and risk aversion, showing about the psychological factors around potential losses, and how we tend to assume that rare (and very bad events) are more likely to happen. I know I think this way a lot.

I'd recommend reading this book; it's one that you need to concentrate hard on, so best to read it somewhere quiet, and don't try to rush through it. Be prepared for several hours of reading time.

Next book: In Persuasion Nation (George Saunders)

Book 97

Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson, #3)Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

It’s rare for me to read a book, throw up my hands and feel like screaming (and pretty much decide to quit the series) but this is one of them. I decided not to give it a star rating because I don’t know what to rate it. Honestly, I really enjoyed the urban fantasy part of this story but the romantic subplot and the ending of it deserve negative stars.

This is the third in the Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is interesting. She’s part Native America and can shift into coyote form but she was raised by werewolves. Recently vampires, werewolves and the fae have gone public with varying results. The fae in this book are as wicked (or as good) as some of the fairytales and have been rounded up into reservations.

It opens with Mercy being the scent ‘hound’ for Zee and Uncle Mike a couple of fae she knows (the titular Iron Kissed Zee who helped her get her auto repair shop and is her friend and mentor and Mike who runs a bar) after several fae have been killed. To her surprise after reluctantly pointing out the killer (knowing the fae will ‘disappear’ him, he’s murdered violently with Zee (and Uncle Mike) at the scene. Zee is blamed and in spite of his wishes she tries to clear her friend (because the Fae want him found guilty (even if he’s not) just so the humans don’t figure out other things they’re up to.

Mercy isn’t about to let this happen even if it puts a target on her back with the Gray Lords, the rulers of the fae.

And this part of the story was really good. If there had been no ‘romantic’ subplot I’d probably have given it four stars and gone on to find book #4. As it is, there was a romance so unbelievably self destructive and creepy, I honestly don’t know if I would even read another of these from the library let alone spend money on it. It didn’t help that she thinks suicides are ‘selfish’. It would be one thing if it had been a thought. I’ve been through far too many friends’ suicides and I know that unkind thought can cross your mind but to say it to the person’s brother?
Even though this was out years ago I’m going to put the whole romance and the terrible, shouldn’t have gone there ending under a spoiler cut. And what's worse is that this horrible abusive 'romance' won an award! I'm utterly nauseated by this.

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