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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.

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!

Books 50 and 51

50. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Charming memoir about her life from grade school to 2017, from South Side Chicago to Washington DC, from middle-class upbringing to First Lady of the United States. She talks about working hard, loving her family, and learning to “swerve.” The audiobook version is read by the author, and it’s like sitting down and having a conversation with her. This is the December selection for book club. Finished 19 August.
51. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
A young girl living by a marsh in North Carolina is left to raise herself after her family falls apart. She avoids most of the local townspeople who harass her and call her trash and spends her days studying the marsh and eking out a meager living trading fish and mussels for fuel and groceries. As a young woman she attracts the attention of two young men in the town, and trouble ensues. The writing is very atmospheric, the characters are believable, and the story is intriguing – though it’s sometimes a little slow and occasionally veers toward the cliché. This is the November selection for book club, so I’m caught up there for the next six months! Finished 20 August.


Book #41: Looking Good Dead by Peter James

Number of pages: 519

This is the second murder mystery novel starring Roy Grace, and involves a group who are making snuff movies and streaming them online to a group of subscribers.

However, something goes wrong and an innocent man gets involved in this. Tom Bryce first appears on a train heading towards Brighton, getting annoyed at the man sat next to him. The stranger gets up and leaves the train, and then Tom notices that he's left a CD on the seat.

Tom starts attempting to return the CD to its owner, which involves looking at the contents of the CD, which takes him to the snuff movie website, causing him to witness the live streamed murder of the group's latest victim.

This results in some quite scary moments, as the perpetrators attempt to cover up their deeds, which involve them sending threatening calls to Tom about what will happen if he calls the police, and even using his laptop to spy on him, the sort of plot device that has more recently been used in TV shows like Black Mirror (this book was published in 2006).

I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the first book in the series, as it doesn't have quite the same level of tension (the origial book involved a character being buried alive) and towards the end, it is easy to see where the plot is headed. However, the book did appear to be setting up an intriguing story arc that I hope gets followed up in the later books (I had to re-read the final chapter a couple of times to understand properly what it was talking about). The book did flesh out Grace's character more; as well as continuing his habits of not playing by the book, with more visits to psychics, the book had him trying to put his troubled past behind him by dating a mortician called Cleo, a character who presumably appears in later instalments of the series. I also liked the fact that the character of Tom, the unwilling victim, was made very three-dimensional, as the novel described his job and family life.

I want to read the next book in the series, as I'd love to find out what happens next. I like the way that Peter James has managed to create self-contained stories, while the main character has a more complex backstory that presumably will keep developing throughout the subsequent titles.

Next book: Do Not Pass Go by Tim Moore

Books 48 and 49

48. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
I have finished this series at last. If you like the series and want to see it through, it’s a satisfying conclusion. If not, well, you haven’t hung in there this long. It’s not really a book to be read on its own. There’s a showdown between our heroine and her nemesis, and meanwhile there are seeds planted for the inevitable follow-up trilogy, which I will probably read in due course, as well as the prequel series. Read 27 July-8 August.
49. Storm Front by James Butcher
Since I love mystery and love fantasy, I figured I would love a supernatural mystery. I was wrong. (I also bailed on Dirk Gently, so maybe it’s me.) Though I’ve heard that the series gets better, I won’t read further. It started out strong with some snarky dialogue about wizards, but for the most part I thought it was rather ridiculous. As a silly example, there’s a section where the MC is interrupted in the shower to deal with a demon in his apartment, and he goes on and on about the shampoo running into his eyes. I have short hair too, so I know that shampoo doesn’t stay in your hair that long, especially if you go running outside in the middle of a wailing rainstorm. (Yeah he’s also gallivanting naked for this whole sequence.) Fulfills Litsy Booked2019 challenge prompt: genre buster. Read 5-10-August,

Book 63

The Westing GameThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Westing Game was an odd little YA book. It was a Newberry winner (not to mention other awards) in the 70s and it’s one of those ones that makes me think what did I miss? To be fair, I’m reading this forty years after it was written and the ideas might seem tired now that didn’t then. That said, I doubt this would ever fly as a YA book these days as it’s not all about the teens. There are four teens, two people in their twenties and dozen older adults so that right there is a strange dynamic and we spend time floating through all their heads (though a few are more prominent than others and even at that, it’s not always the teens pov we spend time in) and I do mean float so if omniscient pov isn’t for you, pass on this.
And it’s not that I hate this book. I just found it odd. A group of people were given a special invite to move into a brand new apartment complex, Sunset Towers: Dr. Jake Wexler (podiatrist) and his wife, Grace (social climber) and their two daughters, Angela (the perfect daughter, set to marry plastic surgery intern, Denton Deere) and Turtle (brat but smart); The Theodorakis family who sets up a coffee shop in the lobby , Theo (a high school senior who wants to be a writer) and Chris (wheelchair bound by some unnamed neurologic disease, birdwatching enthusiast) are the sons; Sydelle Pulaski (secretary); The Hoo family, James (restaurateur), Madam Hoo (recent Chinese immigrant and cook) and his son Doug (track star); Josie-Jo Ford (judge); Flora Baumbach (dressmaker) .

Strangely enough all of them move in as asked. Hoo has his Chinese restaurant on the fifth floor and Wexler is office on the first floor. Overlooking the apartments is Sam Westing’s home. Westing is a paper product multimillionaire and recluse. We learn right off that one of the people invited into the apartment was the wrong person but we don’t know which one.
The teens end up daring each other, thanks to the mentally slow delivery boy, Otis Amber, to go spend the night in Westing’s house where his body is rotting. To their shock they do find his body and the game kicks off. Plum, his lawyer calls in all the tenants (excluding Theo and Chris’s parents) and along with Sandy McSouthers (doorman at the apartment) and Berthe Crow (apartment housekeeper) and Angel’s fiancé, Dr. Deer. They’re considered Westing’s heirs for some mysterious reason and in order to “win” being his heir they have to play his game. They’ll be broken into teams of two and will receive ten grand for just showing up (two don’t and forfeit that money). They’re given a bunch of clues, each team with different clues and the will is read (also a clue).

Westing puts out there that he’s been murdered and they’re to use these clues to solve his murder (as obviously he expected to be killed and knew who’d do it as he had enemies). They’re offered a final clue, it’s not what you have that matters, it’s what you don’t. They have a specified time limit and at the end of that they will get another ten thousand for giving their answer as to who killed him. Whoever is right inherits two hundred million.

The rest of the novella deals with them trying to find the killer. Some of them (namely the teens) didn’t know Westing. The adults often had a connection to him, usually unpleasant as he was a ruthless businessman (ala Carnegie, Rockefeller, well any businessman you care to name who made billions on the backs of others) And honestly none of the ‘heirs’ are that nice in and of themselves which was part of my problem with this. They weren’t exactly unreliable narrators but they were secretive.
I think in many ways that was the heart of this book and might be the reason it won the Newbury. It looked into the hearts of the characters and showed everyone’s secret struggles. Jake Wexler is a decent man but Grace is casually racist (without realizing it), potentially embarrassed to be married to a Jewish man (he worries on that) who idolizes one daughter (Angela) and thinks the other (Turtle, actual name Tabitha-Ruth) was switched at birth. Angela is her mother’s door mat, not sure she wants to marry and secretly longing to return to school and be a doctor (which in the 70s was hard for women). Turtle acts out because she has no attention from her mother but honestly at thirteen kicking people in the shins all the time and running off seems so childish. Sydelle Pulaski is so desperately unhappy and feeling unnoticed and unwanted that she buys crutches, paints them gaily and pretends to have a muscle ‘wasting’ disease just to get attention.

Turtle bonds to Flora the dressmaker who was her partner in the game. Flora needs a daughter to love and Turtle wants to have an attentive mom. Theo and Chris are relatively sweet though Theo feels guilty that he resents that his dreams are being set aside so he could care for his ailing brother. James Hoo is a miserably unhappy man who believes Westing stole his idea for paper diapers (which in the 70s disposable diapers were relatively new and a million dollar idea) and resents his son for not being more studious. Doug just wants to be a track star. Madam Hoo doesn’t speak the language and just wants to go home, stealing stuff so she can use it to go back to China. Judge Ford also has connections to Westing as do Crow, McSouthers and Amber.

Being snowbound and having someone setting off small but mostly harmless explosions adds some tension to the story but there isn’t enough of it. The stakes don’t seem high enough or something. It felt flat in that area. The way things resolve you get the idea Westing was trying to do good and get these people to work together, to help each other be better people (because most of them are so broken) but that doesn’t really happen until the epilogue which skips into the immediate future and then down the road a decade or more and we see the long term effects of the game.

There is one thing that does really stand out about this novel. It might be dated in many ways but it would be right at home today at diversity representation. Wexler’s Jewish, Ford is African-American (a woman of color as a judge was not seen much in the 70s), Hoo’s family is obviously Chinese and Chris is disabled. That said, I’m not sure the representation was done particularly well in some cases (Chris’s speech impediment could be a bit cringe worthy sometimes) but given the time period, it’s more than I expected to see.

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The theme for today seems to be the limitations of expertise, and that carries over to Book Review No. 9, Kurt Schlichter's Wildfire, which is the third of his dystopian novels about a future fracture of the United States into coastal states run (badly) as if by the intersectionality seminar gone nuts and interior states run (less badly) while carrying on continental security responsibilities as if in another world war.

I confess to be less than impressed.  The fire this time is a man-made disaster, one that Tom Clancy used twice (once involving a state actor, the next time a bio-tech company run as if by the environmental studies seminar gone nuts) that requires the cooperation of Kelly Turnbull and the other Tom Clancy hero types and the scared officials of the People's Republic, who take their rewriting of history so seriously that one of the protagonists has no clue who real Nazis are or why contemporary Germans might mourn the loss of the Hofbrauhaus.  It seems like more an opportunity to settle scores with terminally silly Democrats and their enablers in the Academic-Entertainment-Media Complex than a warning to True Believers of all stripes to chill and respect, oh, Constitutional Government and Bourgeois Manners.  And so it goes.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #40: The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Number of pages: 512

This is the first in a trilogy of books set in Nigeria and, as I found when I finished it, was written in 1990, which might explain some of the less politically correct language (use of "midget" to describe a little person, for example).

At the start of the book, the narrator Azaro, a young boy, describes his near death experience, which resulted in his parents almost burying him, thinking he was dead. It seems to have resulted in him having the ability to see ghosts, so many of the chapters involve him communicating with spirits that are invisible to all of the other characters. He also apparently has the ability to enter other characters' dreams, and even talk to animals.

The story combines supernatural elements with realistic drama, including the family's domestic situation, much of which portrays Azaro's father as being violent and difficult - initially at least - to like, as he is shown threatening his family, and later on starting fights with other men. The book also introduces politics quite early on, mostly by having politicians canvassing and using threats to try and get people to support their party, although both the main parties seem to be somewhat corrupt.

The other main plot thread involves Azaro working at a bar, run by the enigmatic, and formidable Madame Koto, who also gets involved in the politics. It was hard to tell whether she was meant to be a likeable character, as she was often showing losing her temper with Azaro, and was also said to be a witch.

The supernatural elements mostly involve the spirits trying to get Azaro to come back to the spirit world, which he appears to make frequent visits to, and this is where the book becomes particularly bizarre, with writing that put me in mind of David Lynch, or the writing of George Saunders; for example one of the spirits is described as having his head upside down on his shoulders and a face that is jumbled up. I got the impression that Lewis Carroll was another influence on Ben Okri (at one point, a character fades away until only her smile remains). The book also throws in what I think was meant to be voodoo rituals in some places, mostly through attempts to drive the spirits away.

This book felt quite difficult at times, but I found it strangely compelling; it was certainly an unconventional novel, but I may well read the other two books in the trilogy at one point.

Next book: Looking Good Dead (Peter James)

Books 61 and 62

T is for Trespass (Kinsey Millhone, #20)T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

T is for tedious. I like the series well enough but this one felt very forced and just oh so long. I listened to it on a long drive and it made it much longer. It was more suspense than a mystery. Kinsey's cranky elderly neighbor has taken a nasty fall and is in need of in-house nursing. He ends up with a predator, not really a nurse and we spend a lot of time in her head so we know she's been using other nurses' id to scam, rob and even kill the elderly.

So it's a long slog until Kinsey realizes the danger (and for some reason she no longer has her carry permit I can't remember why other than to set up the ridiculous ending). In the meantime, she's also on another case, a car accident where the young driver was probably swooped and squatted and those scammers might win the case unless Kinsey can locate a missing eye witness who doesn't want to be found.

Neither of these cases are particularly interesting. And Kinsey does a million stupid things to justify the ending. Like when she finally realizes that it looks like the nurse is selling stuff off and has her brute of a son living in the old man's home (and that the old man keeps getting worse) and she does nothing. She gives up on social services and his relatives very fast. She doesn't care and why should we?

The ending was stupid, straight out of Hollywood and so unbelievable I couldn't believe I struggled all the way through this for that ending. Eye roll. This is what happens when a series goes on too long.

View all my reviews

Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: A Study In Mischief (The Lily Singer Adventures, #0.5)Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: A Study In Mischief by Lydia Sherrer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a cute introduction to the series. It's a free novella and does it's job, introduces me to the characters and makes me want to read the series. It showcases the first meeting of Lily and Sebastian as they take turns relating it to their cat who has human intelligence and can speak (at least to Lily).

In this urban fantasy world, wizards like Lily are born to magic, witches like Sebastian must use magical items. Wizards think witches are relatively evil or at least dangerous. Witches see wizards as snobs. Naturally they're enemies.

Lily is a librarian at a magical school and has purchased a box of books from a wizard's estate. Sebastian has been hired to retrieve something from that box but the box has gone missing. They reluctantly team up.

The novella gives good insights into the type of people Lily and Sebastian are and how their worlds work. I'd be interested in reading more of their story.

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Books 59 & 60

A Demon InsideA Demon Inside by Rick R. Reed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this certainly marches to the well established horror tropes, it was still a compelling read. Hunter Beaumont is a sheltered naïve gay man in his early twenties (something I needed to remind myself of as he makes some very dumb choices and I'd have to think, yep adult brain hasn't quite developed yet). the story opens with his grandmother's last day in hospice and her funeral. She was everything to him as his parents were murdered years ago and she left him well off financially. Her last request was to destroy Beaumont House.

Hunter is surprised because he didn't even know they had a house in rural Wisconsin (sounds like it was up where I used to live). In spite of Ian, his grandmother's lawyer's, insistence he isn't ready to destroy the house. He's understandably curious. Unfortunately Grandma had sheltered him too much. He doesn't recognize how predatory Jay, her former doctor is. Also he doesn't have people skills or any control over his mood swings.

When he beholds Beaumont House, Hunter is compelled to ignore his grandma's wishes. And I couldn't blame him. The description is beautiful in spite of the weirdness, it's in perfect and clean condition even though it was abandoned for decades. He sinks all his money into it after his life falls apart and moves to very rural Beaumont House. HIs only companion is the nearby Michael who is caretaker/handyman to an elderly man.

Bad scary stuff started happening almost at once. Hunter and Michael dance around each other but honestly Hunter takes the once bitten, twice shy thing to the extreme. He can be rather unlikeable at times with this so it makes why Michael puts up with it mysterious. And Michael is hiding things so for me this was the most problematic and least enjoyable part of the story. The reason for the haunting was well set up.

I did however like this book a lot. I think it would make a good horror flick. A word of warning, rape themes are in this horror.

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Blood Dreams (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit #10; Blood #1)Blood Dreams by Kay Hooper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The SCU series is one I've read entirely out of order and in bits and pieces. For the most part that doesn't matter because it's easy enough to pick up on all the psychics working for Bishop and the FBI's SCU (or for Haven its civilian counterpart).

This one features Dani and her twin Paris in their hometown in Georgia's rural setting. Dani, who has prophetic dreams, has come home to help Paris over her divorce and of course there's almost always a romantic subplot in these books so we have Dani's ex, Marc who is the sheriff. He's not psychic but he can recognize them if he's touched them. Bishop and Miranda are featured in Dani's dream. She constantly dreams of the team walking into a trap, knowing its a trap but one of their own is the hostage the serial killer is using to lure them in.

This killer has killed many women in Boston, all of them with short dark hair and waif-like bodies. No one can figure out why he'd go for rural Georgia where he's much more likely to be spotted. Not only that he's changed his m.o. which almost never happens. But there's a reason and a big twist that I won't ruin here that's the reason for it.

Overall, I thought it was good, your standard SCU formula. There is a bit too much repetition in this however but i could handle that. What bugged me and dropped this a star was the ending. It was so anticlimactic and so easily solved that it wasn't interesting. And then it sets up an open ended lead in to the next book which is always eye rolling for me, like the author doesn't trust we'll keep up with the series.

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Book 57 & 58

Nine of Stars (Dark Alchemy, #3)Nine of Stars by Laura Bickle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I make a point of finding Ms Bickle every Ohioana book festival I get to because a) she's fun to talk to and b) this is a really fun series. This one is quite a bit different from the last two in some important ways. The main arc of book one and two has been resolved (for example, Petra now knows her father's fate and Gabe is no longer one of the inhuman Hanged Men). It opens with a lot of tragedy in many ways (and side note, some series you can come in on later books, this is not one of them). Petra is facing a life changing illness, Gabe is remembering what it is to be human, Sheriff Owen Rutherford takes over Rutherford ranch, finding what his wicked relative had done to Gabe and the others and what had been done to him and the Nine of Stars wolf pack is facing an inhuman killer.

It opens, in fact, with the wolf pack and I'll be honest I'm always iffy about talking animals (even when it's just in their own heads) unless that's the point of the whole book but later we find a reason for the high level of intelligence of these wolves (higher than the already high intelligence wolves possess). Something is hunting them, ripping them apart and displaying them.

Petra is called in to help examine one of the displays but in some ways she has bigger problems between her health and that Gabe could be a murder suspect in the eyes of Owen who is determined to find out about all the bodies under his cousin's ranch including that of his cousin. But when a friend is hurt and the back country of Yellowstone seems like a good place to hide, she and Gabe try to get to the bottom of it all along with Sig, Petra's semi-tame Coyote (who has secrets of his own).

While they've planned well for taking on the supernatural killer, they underestimate Owen who might just be haunted by the ghost of a young murder victim or he might just be bat crap crazy. He's not about to let Gabe go and it's now a cat and mouse triangle game out in the wilderness.

Petra and Gabe (and Sig!!) are as engaging as always. Owen is fascinating. I enjoyed this but I was less thrilled with the final chapter being basically the first chapter of the next book. I don't like cliffhanger endings. Still, it's a book worth reading.

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MarshsongMarshsong by Nato Thompson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this in a goodreads giveaway which did not influence my review. It was more a 2.5 star read for me but I rounded up because I think it was more of a me not the book sort of thing. It's well written, a few typos aside but there were some problems I had with it that was more content related.

This is a character driven novel with very little plot, or should I say simple plot. Isabella wants free of her abusive master, Marty, and to find others like her and her twin Fennel (they seem to be rather supernatural, feeding off of 'water' which appears to be negative emotion). Fennel wants his statue to be erected and make a statement. (so yes, simple on the face of it). But since Isabella and Fennel aren't easy to like (especially Fennel) it's hard to read and get behind them.

But my biggest problem with this is the outside-of-time backdrop which sets up something akin to cognitive dissonance in my head. We have a feudal system with dukes, mental health institutes in their infancy and the beginning of industrial revolution. And if that is all we had in Barrenwood, if it had remained purely a fantasy world I would have enjoyed this so much more. Instead we have a ton of French place names (is this France? Is it Louisiana? You can't tell) and references to Gordon Lightfoot and Yoda just to name a few. It was jarring and ruined the narrative for me.

Isabella and Fennel do feed off the 'water' and the book opens with them willfully hurting someone to get those negative feelings so that's difficult to want to see these two win. Mental instability feeds them too and someone is trying to remove the mentally ill from the town. Fennel is particularly upset about this. He's used to illustrate political views about the working class vs the one percenters. Isabella is more interested in finding others like them, seeing Savina and the Duke of Izimir as her paths to this end, utilizing many of the bored rich girls to help her (as the duke would be in their social rank).

Isabella (whom we spend a bit more time with) is more intelligent than her brother or at least more mentally stable. Fennel is far more prone to random acts of violence and his end game is very violent. Both of them want something different, driving a wedge between the twins. Isabella wants out and away from Marty, Fennel wants to be his equal. Marty seems to have supernatural abilities as well having put a spell on the twins that a) keeps them in town b) keeps them away from people he doesn't want them to know. They get violently ill when they overstep those boundaries.

Overall the book is interesting but just not for me. It is a bit slow in a lot of parts and could have been trimmed up. How many times did we have to hear how small they were for instance? It felt overly long. While Fennel and Isabella's end games do end the book it's an open ending to what comes next. I, however, probably won't be hanging on for that.

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Wisconsin political scientist Katherine J. Cramer started a research project, with the support of the University, to sound out people about their attitudes toward the University (which might be why the University supported her efforts) as well as to do ethnography on the policy attitudes of Wisconsin residents.

The University even provided her with Wisconsin mementos such as football schedules and Bucky Badger keychains as a way of gaining access to conversations among the regulars at village coffee shops, gas stations, cafes, and perhaps the occasional tavern.  (I might be kidding about the tavern; the descriptions and venues are disguised to protect the human subjects.)  The approach worked in the sense of getting people to trust her and to talk.   (Now, if you really want to get information, you bring donuts dockside, but that's how economists roll.)

It started innocently enough, but then the housing bubble and the Obama bubble and the Walker recall happened, and the resulting The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, our Book Review No. 8, caught on with the punditry in a way that most academic studies do not.
Read more...Collapse )As far as Wisconsin voters preferring Barack Obama in the 2008 primary?  He wasn't Hillary Clinton.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #39: Mr. Standfast by John Buchan

Number of pages: 348

This book is about Brigadier Richard Hannay, who apparently has appeared in other books by John Buchan. This is set during the first world war, and was written in 1919, shortly after it ended, and involves Hannay attempting to weed out (as the blurb on my book states) pacifists who are trying to stop the war.

I did wonder if a pro-war book was a bit controversial nowadays, but reading it, I got the sense that the people who Hannay was trying to stop were assisting Britain's enemies and trying to help them win the war.

I found this book very dense, so it wasn't an easy read, though there were a lot of moments when I felt absolutely hooked. I noticed that they main plot was effectively over a few chapters before the end, in a way that felt slightly rushed, before switching the storyline to being about Hannay fighting for his country; the ending was a bit different from what I was expecting, though it is possible that was intended to set up the next book about Richard Hannay.

The book also frequently references The Pilgrim's Progress, a book that I have read but not got a lot out of because of the writing style, but which is also the origin of "Mr. Standfast". I had mixed feelings about this, because it was quite a challenging read, and I probably wouldn't be in a hurry to read any other novels by John Buchan.

Edit: After I typed this, I did some research; Richard Hannay is the same character who debuted in The Thirty-Nine Steps; interesting.

Next book: The Famished Road (Ben Okri)

Books 45 to 47

45. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a memoir in verse, with the audiobook version narrated by the author. She tells the story of her life from birth in Ohio, moving to South Carolina and then Brooklyn with her mother, up until fifth grade when a teacher recognizes her talent as a writer. Her story is at once “typical” of a young Black girl growing up in the turbulent Civil Rights era … and a singular experience. She talks of being torn between the two worlds of New York and South Carolina, of growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness tradition, her love of stories, and the fierce friendship she develops with the Puerto Rican classmate who lives down the street. My primary complaint with the book is that it’s too short! At least in audio form, the verse format was very seamless. Charming, sweet, moving, funny, and thought provoking. Fulfills the Litsy Booked2019 challenge prompt: middle grade diverse read. I think there’s a similar Read Harder Challenge task. Read 23-29 July.
46. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
On a cold winter morning in southern Sweden, an elderly couple is discovered brutally beaten. The husband is dead, and the wife has barely survived. Before she dies, she tells the police that the murderers were foreign, which sets off an unfortunate chain of events and causes the lead police investigator to examine his feelings on the matter. He’s also undergoing several relationship transitions and acts like a bit of an idiot in his personal life. This is the first in the Kurt Wallander series, and while I thought the mystery was paced and plotted well enough, I doubt if I will continue with the rest. He’s not a particularly compelling main character, and the story itself was a little bleak. However, the immigration angle was unfortunately timely, though the book was originally published in 1991. Once again I read a month ahead for book club before finishing the current selection. Read 16-31 July.
47. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
This was a delightful palate cleanser, literally and figuratively. High school senior Emoni Santiago is balancing school, work, motherhood, and a possible new romance, while also making decisions about what she wants to do with her life. What she most wants to do is study culinary arts and become a professional chef, but she battles self-doubt as well as objections from some of the people in her life. This is very contemporary with several cultural references and some amusing Spanglish expressions, so it may not age well, but I thoroughly enjoyed it for right now. It also has a gorgeous cover. Read 28 July-1 August.

July 2019 reading

July 2019 reading:

62. Spice & Wolf: Volume 17, by Isuna Hasekura (224 pages)
This offered a really satisfying and adorable conclusion to the series, though I look forward to the further shorts.

63. Hammered, by Kevin Hearne (312 pages)
Atticus owes his vampire friend a boon, and it's taken in the form of aid in killing Thor. As it turns out, there are allies who desire Thor's death as well, and all of them intend to band together to invade Asgard and make it so. But Atticus already kicked the hornet's nest with his survey foray last time, so it's going to be even more difficult this time around. Honestly, this one had me laughing out loud several times.

64. Magic on the Line, by Devon Monk (345 pages)
People are dying in Portland on an unknown magical illness--like magic is infecting them. Worse, the Authority doesn't care. Allie, though, does. And it might get her and everyone she loves killed. It'll definitely piss off an Authority that isn't used to being disobeyed.

65. Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction, edited by Megan Giddings (174 pages)
I managed to forget I preordered this. What a lovely surprise in my mail! So many wonderful pieces of flash fiction. Glad I picked this one up.

66. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin (183 pages)
Been on my to-read list for a very long time, so I picked it up during a bout of insomnia and was transported. I absolutely loved this book and the journey it took me on.

67. Storm Cursed, by Patricia Briggs (368 pages)
Mercy's had to put her money where her mouth is after declaring the area protected. Some paranormal folks are hoping to capitalize on it, and in the ugliest ways. But worse, there's a threat from within their own ranks, a feud and a lie that must be put down.

68. Tricked, by Kevin Hearne (341 pages)
As fallout from the last book, Atticus must fake his death, with some help from Coyote. But when it comes to deals, Coyote always takes more than is agreed to. He's put Atticus into a position that requires he take down Wendigos. Worse, Atticus has accidentally unleashed Hel, who wishes to bring about Ragnarok. And someone who he's supposed to be able to trust turns betrayer. What a life the world's last druid lives!

69. City of Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts (377 pages)
Tilla thought she'd be happy in Lightspire, but instead she finds herself unsettled. It only worsens when her roommate is murdered. Looking into it, she finds a rabbit hole of a plot that might bring down the entire world. Her friends are keeping their own secrets, as well. Can they survive what's coming? Great read.

70. The Rising of the Shield Hero: Volume 5, by Aneko Yusagi (400 pages)
Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo travel to take advantage of an event that will allow them to progress in experience after their limits are lifted finally. They find themselves making fast friends with another party, but that party isn't what it seems. Good read. More interaction with the other heroes.

71. Lightfinder, by Aaron Paquette (240 pages)
Although this was sometimes awkwardly written, I absolutely loved it and the mythos it brought to life. Looking forward to reading more.

72. Feed, by Mira Grant (599 pages)
In a world following a zombie plague, adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason are bloggers, bringing the news to life. The corporate media lost face during the zombie plague, hiding the truth and leading to unnecessary deaths, and so bloggers have become more trusted in this version of America. When the Masons are chosen to cover a presidential candidate, it's the opportunity to break away from their parents and make it on their own. Little do they know, they're really covering something much, much bigger.

July pages: 3,563

Pages to date: 22,395 pages


July 2019 comic books & manga:

150. DMZ: Volume 10, by Brian Wood (128 pages)
151. Otomen: Volume 17, by Aya Kanno (192 pages)
152. Otomen: Volume 18, by Aya Kanno (200 pages)
153. Dawn of the Arcana: Volume 5, by Rei Toma (184 pages)
154. Justice League Beyond: In Gods We Trust, by Derek Fridolfs (208 pages)
155. Ooku The Inner Chambers: Volume 14, by Fumi Yoshinaga (232 pages)
156. Wonder Woman: Volume 9, by Meredith Finch (176 pages)
157. Barefoot Gen: Volume 3, by Keiji Nakazawa (257 pages)
158. Moon Knight: Volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis (112 pages)
159. Stepping on Roses: Volume 7, by Rinko Ueda (200 pages)
160. Hana-Kimi: Volume 5, by Hisaya Nakajo (188 pages)
161. March Story: Volume 3, by Kim Hyung-Min (200 pages)
162. Bokurano Ours: Volume 2, by Mohiro Kitoh (216 pages)
163. Pet Shop of Horrors: Volume 4, by Matsuri Akino (216 pages)
164. Monster: Volume 5, by Naoki Urasawa (208 pages)
165. Crossed: Volume 13, by David Hine (144 pages)
166. Stepping on Roses: Volume 8, by Rinko Ueda (200 pages)
167. Stepping on Roses: Volume 9, by Rinko Ueda (200 pages)
168. March Story: Volume 4, by Kim Hyung-Min (192 pages)
169. Saga: Volume 9, by Brian K. Vaughan (152 pages)
170. High School Debut: Volume 8, by Kazune Kawahara (192 pages)
171. Ms. Marvel: Volume 10, by G. Willow Wilson (216 pages)
172. Pet Shop of Horrors: Volume 5, by Matsuri Akino (224 pages)
173. Tokyo Babylon: Volume 3, by Clamp (142 pages)
174. March Story: Volume 5, by Kim Hyung-Min (192 pages)
175. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Volume 4, by Fuse (192 pages)
176. Dawn of the Arcana: Volume 6, by Rei Toma (184 pages)
177. Chobits: Volume 2, by Clamp (176 pages)
178. Ooku The Inner Chambers: Volume 15, by Fumi Yoshinaga (256 pages)
179. Video Girl Ai: Volume 12, by Masakazu Katsura (192 pages)
180. Blue Exorcist: Volume 16, by Kazue Kato (218 pages)
181. Puella Magi Madoka Magica Homura's Revenge: Volume 1, by Magica Quartet (176 pages)
182. Bokurano Ours: Volume 3, by Mohiro Kitoh (200 pages)
183. Honey and Clover: Volume 6, by Chica Umino (200 pages)
184. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: Volume 4, by Brandon Montclare (136 pages)
185. Hana-Kimi: Volume 6, by Hisaya Nakajo (192 pages)
186. Monster: Volume 6, by Naoki Urasawa (208 pages)

July pages: 7,101

Pages to date: 39,374 pages



Newspaper columnist Bob Greene recently recognized that the people of North Platte, Nebraska, knew what to do when a few buses of hungry troops enroute from training to their base were passing through.

He previously documented the World War II canteen in Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte CanteenBook Review No. 7 will suggest that there are two themes at play in the book.

The first theme, which was more easily done just after the turn of the current century, was the recollections of canteen volunteers, railroaders, and the G.I.s who stopped off.  The origin of the canteen would be hokey if somebody in Hollywood produced it: local residents were under the impression that a train-load of Nebraska National Guard, having been mobilized after Pearl Harbor, would be passing through North Platte on Christmas, and perhaps they would appreciate some extra food and good cheer enroute to their next duty station.
Read more...Collapse )Mr Greene concludes with a few recollections of life during Depression and War: in some ways better, in many ways not as good, as contemporary living is.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #38: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Number of pages: 355

This book opens in 1981, with its central character, Juliet, being run over in the street. It isn't explicitly stated, but events later in the book appear to suggest that this was in no way an accident. Most of the book after this is told in flashback, jumping back and forth between 1940 and 1950 (I am told that this is quite common in Kate Atkinson's books).

So, in 1940, Juliet gets involved in a secret project by MI5 to help the British World War II effort by ousting fifth columnists (Nazi sympathisers) who happen to be British citizens, which mostly involves Juliet's colleagues gaining their trust, and even Juliet going undercover with them.

During the 1950s, long after Juliet's involvement with MI5 is over, her past comes back to haunt her, which involves characters from her past reappearing and her receiving a note telling her she will pay for something she has done. There is also a moment when one of her former colleagues in MI5 pretends he's never met her, though precisely why never seems to be addressed.

I found this book difficult at times, but I thought it was written really well; I noticed Juliet had a quirky habit of constantly thinking about what everyone's name rhymed with, and she felt like a character that I was able to care for very easily. It definitely required me to pay a lot of attention; when the revelation about the note came along it involved an event that I did not even remember happening.

This didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book, and there were some plot twists towards the end that kept me guessing as to what was going to happen. I would definitely read more by Kate Atkinson.

Next book: Mr. Standfast (John Buchan)

Books 43 and 44

43. The Smoke at Dawn by Jeff Shaara
The third of four books in the Civil War Western Theater series relates the activities and battles around Lookout Mountain in the fall of 1863. There are battle scenes, expository conversations about plans and tactics, a simmering revolt of rebel generals, and moments of camaraderie within the rank and file soldiers. Once again the audiobook narration is well suited to the story. Finished 17 July.
44. What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha
I’m sorry to say I knew very little about the Flint water crisis prior to reading this book, which is September’s selection for my “regular” book club, as well as this year's "One Maryland One Book" title. The author is a pediatrician who began researching the situation and then requesting official remediation, after some conversations with patients and also with an old friend who had worked as an environmental scientist. Along the way she met many other experts, recruited friends and colleagues to the cause, and encountered many bureaucratic obstacles. She also wove in some personal information about her Iraqi family background, as well as some history of labor movements and environmental activism. Some reviewers on Goodreads commented that they didn’t like the personal information, but for my part I thought it injected a human element to her own story and provided additional context about why she felt so determined to pursue her research and activism on the issue. Read 22-23 July.

Book 14 - 2017

Book 14: Before I Die by Jenny Downham – 327 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:

For the many readers who love The Fault in Our Stars, this is the story of a girl who is determined to live, love, and to write her own ending before her time is finally up. Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, and drugs with excruciating side effects, Tessa compiles a list. It's her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of "normal" life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa's feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, are all painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa's time runs out.


This novel is pegged as having similarities to The Fault in Our Stars. And it does: a dying teenage, a romance, a quick, easy read. But The Fault in Our Stars has more charisma than this novel. That’s not to say its bad - its readable and relatively enjoyable - I read most of it on a flight to America - but it didn’t necessarily blow my mind. Tessa is dying, and there is nothing  is going to change that. So she writes a list of things she wants to do before she dies. Sex is one of them, and needless to say, an attractive and willing teenage boy turns up at the right moment. Probably the best part of this book, from a storytelling perspective, is the death scene at the end, which is well written, balances emotions well, and feels real (at least from my perspective given I have no experience with dying!). Beyond that, for me, The Fault in Our Stars is a better book. Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars and is wanting more of the same.

14 / 50 books. 28% done!

6509 / 15000 pages. 43% done!

Currently reading:

  • The Mammoth Book of Futuristic Romance edited by Trisha Telep – 481 pages

  • To The Nines by Janet Evanovich – 372 pages

  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – 402 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

  • Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women who helped win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly – 328 pages

Book 13 - 2017

Book 13: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli – 106 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:

"The Prince" shocked Europe on publication with its ruthless tactics for gaining absolute power and its abandonment of conventional morality. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) came to be regarded as some by an agent of the Devil and his name taken for the intriguer 'Machevill' of Jacobean tragedy. For his treatise on statecraft Machiavelli drew upon his own experience of office under the turbulent Florentine republic, rejecting traditional values of political theory and recognizing the complicated, transient nature of political life. Concerned not with lofty ideals, but with a regime that would last, "The Prince" has become the Bible of realpolitik, and still retains its power to alarm and to instruct.


Whilst studying my international relations masters, this book came up a fair bit in discussions within required readings, so I thought I should read the original text. Of course, given when it was written, it, at times, can be a challenging read. While I don’t necessarily agree with the overarching themes of Machiavelli’s approach, there are lessons to be taken away from it, and it obviously has had and continues to have an affect on politics. It’s also a fairly short read, and though I think one really needs to read it in conjunction with relevant analysis, reading the original text is a valuable exercise for any student of politics.

13 / 50 books. 26% done!

6182 / 15000 pages. 41% done!

Currently reading:

  • The Mammoth Book of Futuristic Romance edited by Trisha Telep – 481 pages

  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham – 327 pages

  • To The Nines by Janet Evanovich – 372 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

  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – 402 pages

Number of pages: 450

A.J. Finn's debut novel owes a great debt to Hitchcock's Rear Window, with its story of a woman who witnesses a murder through her neighbour's window. It also has a few similarities to other Hitchcock films - Vertigo and The Lady Vanishes. I also found myself drawing inevitable comparisons to two books that I recently read, The Girl on the Train and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

The central character and narrator, Anna, is agoraphobic, and hasn't left her house in ten months, when the new neighbours move in, so she spends a lot of her time watching them in their house through a camera. Anna also works as a psychologist, treating patients online rather than face to face, so several of the chapters involve her chatting online to an online patient.

The only fault I can really find with this book is that a lot of the plot elements were not terribly original, including the fact that no one believes Anna after she tells them what she witnessed. There was a plot twist that I guessed, but otherwise the book threw in enough red herrings to keep me guessing, particularly the fact that Anna's mental state may have meant that she was an unreliable witness. I loved the build up of suspense in this book, and would definitely read more by A.J. Finn.

There are several more details I could give about this book, but it's hard to say too much without giving away spoilers. My advice would be to give this one a try.

Next book: Transcription (Kate Atkinson)

Plowing through mystery series

40. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
The fourth book in the Armand Gamache series takes place mostly in a secluded lakeside lodge just over the mountains from the fictional Quebec village of Three Pines. In this installment, someone is murdered in an unusual way during a family reunion. The Inspector and his wife are there to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but of course he ends up pressed into service to help unravel whodunit as well as how and why. This is one messed up family, including a Three Pines resident who has shown up in the earlier books. Once again I liked but didn’t love this book. Gamache is a delight, and I want to head straight to eastern Quebec for a vacation (hopefully without the hordes of flies the lodge guests encountered), but something about the mystery itself is just not quite right. She also philosophizes a bit in this one, and it’s sometimes a little too much. Nevertheless the positive outweighs the negative, and I plan to continue on with the series. Read 9-11 July.
41. Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths
The second book in the Magic Men series. Two young children disappear on the way home from school and are later found dead in the snow surrounded by a trail of candy. Detective Inspector Stephens once again turns to his friend Max, in town for another theater production, for unofficial help and advice. Interesting characters and a plausible story set in the early 1950s in a seaside English town. Read 22 June-13 July.
42. The Lewis Man by Peter May
Although this is part of the Fin Macleod series, he’s not the true main character in this one. Instead it’s an old man with dementia who doesn’t recognize his own daughter but vividly remembers his (mostly crappy) childhood as an orphan and ward of the state/church. When a body is found buried in a peat bog, his story finally comes full circle… after a fashion. I continue to enjoy this series. Fin is a bit of a jerk, but the other characters are good foils and relatable. This one also has plenty of local color and atmosphere, in this case some of the lower islands of the Hebrides. The structure was a little different, as the old man internally recalls the milestone events of his life, and that served the story well. However, I think the ending was a bit too neat and abrupt. The story overall tends towards bleakness, matching the stark landscape of the islands, so I will probably wait a while before reading the conclusion to the trilogy. Read 15-17 July.


Books 21 - 30.

21. Landsberg - The Medieval Garden
A useful guide to anyone wanting to know what they were like, and for those who might want to recreate some of them.

22. Aust - Less: A Visual Guide To Minimalism
Neat, though not much new.

23. Monroe - A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes
Cheerful budget recipes for two, a bit British :)

24. Cannato - Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons From Black Holes, Supernovas, & Other Wonders Of The Universe
The gushiness and the constant putting-in of the words "radical amazement" into the stories may grate a little, but it's great to know in how many great ways God is involved in the creation of the universe, and still creates.

25. L.Ma - Severance
A different kind of zombie story, quiet, quite connected with New York, immigration, and belonging.

26. Xie - Eye Level: Poems
A short poetry collection with great images and things to think about.

27. Laing - The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone
Loneliness can be a power, too. Learned a lot about art also.

28. Loudon - Unveiled: Nuns Talking
Interviews of nuns, both Anglican and Catholic, cloistered and apostolic, with different temperaments, histories and attitudes.

29. Maqsood - Islam: An Introduction (Teach Yourself)
A good introduction, stays well in the middle of the road, and can see better both good and less-so sides of this faith.

30. Klein - No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs
A classic, even if some information can be dated. Makes you think, even now.

Book 56

ヴァニタスの手記 4 [Vanitas no Carte 4] (The Case Study of Vanitas, #4)ヴァニタスの手記 4 [Vanitas no Carte 4] by Jun Mochizuki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one has tons of plot/character development. Some of it went on a little long (this is like a 3.5 read for me). Noe and Vanitas survive the catacombs and even befriend one of the men stalking them (Roland). We learn a great deal about Vanitas's past and it hints at more. We learn that someone has betrayed them and worse (but I don't want to spoil them).

Jeanne and Vanitas's paths cross again with interesting results.

The art is lovely. And it's hard to hate on vampires in historical (if fantasy based) Paris. I'm curious to see more.

View all my reviews

Books 2 through 11

(yeah, I'm way behind in my updates!)

2. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, by Elizabeth Hinton. This was certainly an eye-opening read. The question always comes up: why do our country's jails hold such a disproportionate percentage of people of color, particularly young black and Latino men? And why does America have the greatest percentage of its population behind bars? The answer — essentially, it was designed that way, going back decades. Unwittingly, at times, to be sure. But the history of our ill-fought wars made me ill to read this book at times. We seem to have a history of disregarding preventative measures — even when they are shown to have success — and use only the stick (or in this case, jail) to deal with problems and potential problems. Answers and solutions won't come easy, but reading this book would be a good starting point, at least to illustrate how things got to this point.

3. Zen Happiness, by Jon J. Muth. What's not to love about another book by Muth, featuring his signature panda Stillwater? The sweet and beautiful illustrations are accompanied by short words of wisdom and hope that made me smile. I may have to get my own copy.

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Book 55

The Demon of DakarThe Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This my second or third by this author but unless I have another one hiding out in the tbr pile, it's the last one. I have to admit it: Scandinavian mysteries aren't my thing. Some I've liked, most I haven't and I'm just not enjoying Eriksson's work, especially when this is two in a row that the main detective, Ann Lindell does stupid, unprofessional things and thinks boy that was stupid and unprofessional. If that's what you have to do to make the narrative work, I don't need to read it. Also she's judgmental and irritated by literally everyone (and she irritated me).

This was boring and dour and had too many subplots about completely uninteresting characters. We don't even see Lindell until more than 50 pages in. We have all the people working in and around the titular Dakar restaurant (the blurb is far more exciting than this book). Eva and her sons take up a large chunk of this book and really only exist for the dumb ending which could have worked other ways and honestly been more interesting without her endless worrying about her self confidence, her mean friend and her boys. Slobodan (who we're endlessly told is fat and sweat-smelly) who is a minor crime boss owning the restaurant and his friend Armas are vaguely more interesting.

Their drug dealing ended up killing one of their carriers, Angel, imprisoned his brother Patricio and brought their eldest brother Manuel over from Mexico to try to help find out what happened to his brothers. And Manuel is a pivotal character.

We know who the killer is (technically self defense) there is NO tension about anyone else being next. Lindell and the other cops do investigate but it's like Columbo without the charm, especially with the homophobia running through the narrative.

If I hadn't been reading this for a challenge prompt, I doubted I'd have finished. I know Eriksson wins awards, has a following and a long series with Lindell but this just isn't the series for me. And there were some really bad things in it an editor should have caught (same issues as last time). While translating is an art, these problems weren't translational. Cocaine is a major point in the novel. Someone (author or translator) has it grown in Bolivia in South Africa. Um....how did no one catch that?

View all my reviews


Book #36: Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz

Number of pages: 668

Oblvion is the final book in the Gatekeepers quintet, and it's by far the longest, being about twice as long as most of the other books.

It opens with all the five main characters split up across the world, so it opens with Jamie appearing at a farmyard in England; Scarlett is in Egypt; Pedro and Scott are in Italy; and Matt is in Brazil, hustling slave traders.

Each of the characters ends up with their own mini stories, all of which bring them closer to the final encounter with "Chaos" in the Antarctic (an under-used character who puts me in mind of the Nights King from Game of Thrones).

Most significantly, events at the end of the previous book, Necropolis, have propelled the main characters, and their companions, including Richard Cole, ten years into the future, so that they are now in a post-apocalyptic version of the world, mostly because of the events of the second book, Evil Star, which took place practically at the same time as the third and fourth titles. This resulted in the book veering into horror territory in one of Jamie's chapters, involving cannibals and crazy people living on the London Underground.

Things are complicated by the fact that one of the main characters betrays the group, and it isn't really much of a spoiler to say that this character is Scott, who out of the main characters has probably appeared on fewest pages of the series so far.

This wasn't my favourite book in the series; the individual episodes varied in quality, and I didn't particularly enjoy Matt's chapters because they felt particularly rushed in places. I noticed that some of the chapters were narrated in the first person by a new character called Holly, who finds Jamie in the first chapter, while everything else was in third person narrative; I wasn't sure why it was done this way, but Holly's narratives were some of the best bits of the book for me.

The ending was satisfying, although I could see many of the main plot twists coming a long way off because they were signalled as far back as the third book, Nightrise, and it does feel very final indeed.

Overall, I was glad that I read all five books, though none of the sequels quite matched the quality of the first book, Raven's Gate.

Next book: The Woman at the Window (A.J. Finn)


I'm using the term in the cosmological sense of so massive a phenomenon that it collapses upon itself.  The motivation for this post is two recent books, Derek Hunter's Outrage, Inc.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism, and Hollywood; and Robby Soave's Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, which I shall combine as Book Reviews No. 5 and No. 6.

The pairing might strike observers as flawed, in that Mr Hunter is an older polemicist with previous experience at Daily Caller and Heritage, while Mr Soave is a younger Reason columnist whose tone is sometimes more in sadness than in anger at the work of his co-cohorts.

Taken together, though, the two books provide a response to the trendy thinking of many young people and leftist radicals of various stripes, and this review will take the form of a mini-dissertation attempting to provide the intellectual foundations of a more rigorous rebuttal to the trendy thinking.  I'm going to take the ideas out of the order in which they appear in either book, but when we're done, we might see that fifty or sixty or a hundred years of bad ideas have culminated in what traffics in the rubric of intersectionality.
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Meanwhile, we're in an inverse-Casablanca world in which the problems of a few people suffice to turn everything upside down, without any thought to what comes next.  Come to think of it, that's the problem of the original Marxism as well, isn't it: misguided critique followed by chaos.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 54

The Wrath of Fate: Book 1 of The Airship Pirate ChroniclesThe Wrath of Fate: Book 1 of The Airship Pirate Chronicles by 'Captain' Robert Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was written by Robert Brown, head of the steampunk band Abney Park and is a fictionalized history of the band and their songs. I saw several reviewers complained of grammar/spelling errors. I have the second edition and I think that's been dealt with. That said, as much as I love Brown as a lyricist this skill with words has translated all that well to novel form. I think this would have worked much better as a graphic novel as emotionally its a bit flat and having the art and graphic novel formatting might have helped.

We follow Captain Robert as he finally decides to give it a real go as a band (after finding a letter from his younger self) and convinces his band (one of whom, Kristina, is his wife) to take a gamble on a distant music festival. Fate interviews and something bad happens but on the other hand he and Kristina are now on Dr. Caligori's time traveling air ship.

Proving to be a good captain, Brown takes over the role and at first they accidentally manage to intervene with a slave ship and it changes history. Seeing this as his mission, they go through time trying to avert horrible things like the rise of the third Reich but the last third of the novel is about how this backfires in a horrible way.

This ties it into Abney Park's end of the world dystopic lyrics that I love so much. I didn't connect with the novel that much though and I had a few things that bugged me bad spoilersCollapse )

This does wrap up most of the storyline but it does have an open ending. However, I think I'll save my pennies for their music.

View all my reviews


Books 37 to 39

37. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Imagine if the Civil War didn’t end through military strategy but because both sides had to work together to fight a plague of zombies. Then many years later a system has taken hold in which African American and Native American young girls are taken from their homes and trained to be “attendants” to society ladies, defending them from the undead and generally ensuring their safety. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, of course, and Jane McKeene is about to find out just how much goes wrong when she runs afoul of her school’s administrators and the mayor of Baltimore where the school is located. While the author plays a little fast and loose with some historical dates, she captures the general atmosphere of the time and especially the unfortunate treatment of minorities. Jane is an excellent character, and I look forward to reading about her next challenges in the upcoming sequel. Fulfills Litsy Booked2019 prompt: POC MC paranormal. Read 21 June-3 July.
38. The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber
This book came out in January, and I don’t even remember now how I heard about it, but it’s definitely “flying under the radar” and deserves more recognition. In 1888 Utah a handful of families live together in a remote settlement, at once part of the Mormon Church and trying to remain outside some of the constraints and practices of the larger community. Rebecca, the glove maker of the title, is a 37-year-old woman whose husband is overdue returning from his annual work trip, and then a stranger comes to town whose arrival brings an impending tragedy with him and upsets their somewhat fragile existence. As the situation unfolds, Rebecca and Nels, her husband’s best friend, have to face hard decisions about their faith and their consciences, as well as the town’s future. Spare and restrained writing, empathetic characters, and interesting history about smoldering animosity between the government and the Mormon Church. Read 4-6 July.
39. Hunting a Detroit Tiger by Troy Soos
This is another series I started several years ago and petered out when I couldn’t find the later books in my local library, but in the meantime I’ve figured out how to leverage the branches of neighboring counties. An itinerant ballplayer in the 1910s and ‘20s keeps getting embroiled in murder and mayhem. A little “Murder, She Wrote” meets “Eight Men Out.” In this installment he’s playing for the Detroit Tigers and inadvertently finds himself embroiled in labor politics, as the “Wobblies” are looking to unionize ballplayers alongside other workers. This story relies on historical atmosphere and a likeable protagonist to counter a somewhat facile mystery. There’s also a possible continuity error from earlier in the series. Read 11 June-9 July.

Book 53

Camp StrangeCamp Strange by Renee Perez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this in a Goodreads giveaway which in no way influenced my review. This middle-grade book is like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson had a baby. If anyone saw The Simpsons episode with Neil Gaiman on how to write YA, this is what you have to have, that played on a loop in my brain as I read this.

It's not that I disliked it. I thought it was cute and I'm sure readers of the intended age group would enjoy it. The author had a touchingly sweet reason for writing this as well.

Ezkiel "Ezie" is a strange young man being raised sans father by his mom, grandma and uncle. He, of course, feels his father's absence and clings to the red bow tie that was his father's enjoying wearing it. But strange things keep happening around him like earthquakes or a Chuck E. Cheese knock off spitting out tons and tons of tickets.

His Mom sends him off to the titular Camp Strange (Ezie's term for it) where he learns he's a Faerman, a fairy complete with wings that bud out at camp which is basically where it happens for all the faerman who are sent at this age to camp to learn their magic. He meets up with who'll be his team of friends, Dara and Ethan, the twins (and he has a crush on Dara), Aubrey, Kalas and Miles.

Naturally there has to be some bad guy and in this case it's the Hematites who want to change the Faermans' place in this world. However, in this volume, they're more of a camp fire story kind of thing and we don't really see them until the end. This story is more about making friendships and finding your place in the world. There is a sweetness to it.

Ezie has found an older friend in an old age home he has to do community service in, an elderly lady who wants to teach him various things like card games and dance. There is however a bully, Fabian and a crazy game they need to learn, Padsphere and there are pegasi to ride.

It's in Ezie's point of view and not all the characters are as well drawn as they could be (Miles and Aubrey notable) This does have some story telling elements that annoyed me. Of course being a middle-grade book, the kids are doing things better left to adults. One of the kids says this repeatedly but they easily convince themselves the adults aren't listening (especially after a Pegasus goes missing) but they also don't act quickly on things that probably should have been of much more concern. This was especially true of when a boy goes missing and Ezie has a vision of him, knows he needs to help now but tells no one and does not much. Granted later there is a reason for it but some simple restructuring would probably have made them look less callous or foolish

I thought it was cute. I think kids would like it. I do have one big negative to say that I almost never do. If this was self published I might have left it slide (as it's an homage to her autistic son) but this thing needed line edited in the worst way. I know Black Rose Writing is a small indie publisher but they should be editing. This thing had so many grammar issues. Paragraphs run together, missing punctuation, confusion of your/you're there/their and the use of 's instead of the plural (repeatedly with the peggies (as they call the Pegasus)) and even wrong words. I felt like this was a draft.

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Books 51-52

Black Butler, Vol. 24Black Butler, Vol. 24 by Yana Toboso

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off the art is, as always, absolutely lovely. It's always a high point. As for the rest, it's a bit of a hot mess.

There are some truly good and interesting things in this. A Victorian theater set up to lure in many who are having their blood drawn as someone experiments with it, figuring out blood typing a couple of decades before Karl Landsteiner managed it. We don't know what the plan is for all this blood but at least it's interesting. The power the theater holds over people is also interesting, including Lizzie who is willing to fight to the death to stay there (abandoning Ciel). What Grell and Othello (our happy grim reapers) are up to is interesting too.

But then Ciel's big plan is to set up a rival theater and it turns into the battle of the boy bands. OMG why? Surely not all the readers of this are tweens. That was eye rollingly bad.

This one also contains a Halloween one off that was cute.

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In/Spectre, Vol. 6In/Spectre, Vol. 6 by Kyo Shirodaira

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars. The author of the light novel had a letter in the back wondering if the novel with its 'heaps of exposition' would work as a manga. The answer is no. The Steel Lady Nanase arc was WAY too long. This volume is extra thick to finish it off. It was nothing, literally nothing but 200 plus pages of Kotoko going on and on making up ways of proving that Nanase isn't a real ghost to rob her of the energy of belief all the while Kuro keeps getting killed again and again. One of the people on the forum accused of her flogging logic endlessly and that's also accurate.

I was bored to tears. The good news is this volume ended that arc (and ended the light novel). So the next volume will be something different but I'm not sure I'm up to it. It started out very interesting back in volume 1. Kuro was created by his family to be immortal, unable to die, because they fed him the flesh of supernatural creatures. Kotoko was taken by the supernatural beings to be their emissary sacrificing her eye and her leg. But the story went over a cliff and half of the narrative (even before Steel Lady) was about how Kotoko wants him to have sex with her and her feelings of inadequacy (as she is now in her later teens but looks 12). If the next volume takes us back to the supernatural I'll be happy but I'm very on the fence with this one.

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