Monday, November 11, 2013

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night
I feel like I haven't really been posting much here recently, it's not because I've forgotten about it. It's because I've been struggling through this book, and boy, oh boy, I thought it would never end. That's not to say I didn't like it, exactly. It's just that there was a whole lot more of it than I wanted to read.

Shadow of Night is Deborah Harkness's sequel to A Discovery of Witches, and there will be a third novel, which I don't believe has been released yet. The first book introduced the story of Diana Bishop, a modern day scholar with witching in her blood, and her relationship with the vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont. Diana's witch education has been neglected, and she and Matthew decide to time-travel back to the 16th century to try to augment her education.

This book deals with what they find there. I found the treatment of real historical figures (Queen Elizabeth, Kit Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, Dr. Dee, to name a few) fascinating, and was only annoyed by the constant references to Diana's troubled relationship with Matthew. (Yeah, she loves him, he loves her, they're tied forever... I get it, already!) Other Amazon Readers liked the relationship stuff, and wanted less history. Go figure.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Necessary Endings

Necessary Endings

I've read a lot of self-help books in my life, and by now it's rare that I stumble across something new. Necessary Endings is in that category -- an excellent book, and very novel in it's attitudes.

Dr. Cloud talks about endings, and how they're sometimes necessary in order for us to make progress. He deals with personal life, and with businesses, and he offers a lot on both counts. My favorite section was when he talked about hope, and makes the point that hope not only buys time, but it spends it.

I can't possibly do justice to this book in a short review. Just know that it's different, and it's wise.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

After You with the Pistol

After You with the Pistol
After You with the Pistol is what's generally categorized as a "Caper" novel. It features the Honorable Charlie Mortdecai, thief, forger, sometime assassin, and knave. In this book, Mortdecai finds himself unexpectedly married and inveigled into a plot to assassinate the Queen.

The book was first published in the 1970's so some of the references are a bit out of date, and others, I'm afraid, I just didn't get. (Lots of Britishisms that I didn't understand.) It was mildly amusing, and started out as kind of fun, but by the time I finished, I found myself considerably glad it was over.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Feast of Ice and Fire

A Feast of Ice & Fire
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. It's a cookbook based on meals referenced in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, with beautiful photographs and reasonably authentic recipes. There's a nice introduction by Martin himself. The recipes are arranged by region -- the Wall, the North, Southron lands, etc. -- and most dishes have both an authentic medieval recipe and a version that would be more in tune with modern tastes. Quotations are given from both Martin's books (where the particular food is mentioned) and the reference source for the recipe.

(The medieval recipes are from medieval Europe of course, and the Ice and Fire series is actually set in a fantasy world that closely approximates it, so you can't really say that they're 100% authentic. And there are differences between the worlds. Martin's world seems to have potatoes and peppers, for example, which didn't come to Europe until a bit later. But still, the two worlds are extremely similar.)

This would make a terrific Christmas gift for:

  •     George R. R. Martin fans
  •     Fans of the TV series, Game of Thrones
  •     "Renaissance" people -- fans of Renaissance Faires, Society for Creative Anachronism people, etc.
  •     Foodies and Gourmets
  •     People who like to cook
  •     Anyone who likes food

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Monkey Mind

Monkey Mind
Monkey Mind is the story of author Daniel Smith's personal experience with anxiety. It's been promoted on NPR, and generally has been acclaimed as an excruciatingly funny and extremely honest account.

Well, it's excruciating all right, but it's not really funny. And I'm not sure how much help it would be to someone who actually suffers from anxiety. It struck me as being self indulgent, more than anything else. I don't suffer from anxiety, so I suppose it could be argued that I'm not sympathetic enough, but really, I don't think that was my problem. I tended to not be very sympathetic with the author, which is not at all the same thing. Somehow, I just couldn't get past the feeling that he could help himself if he really wanted to. And that's not helping anybody.

Monday, November 4, 2013

PreSchool Gems

PreSchool Gems
I happened to notice Preschool Gems on the New Book shelf at the library and flipped through it quickly and decided to check it out. It's a collection of bon mots from the younger set, and the few that I glimpsed look cute.

"I'm feeling poisonous, baby kitty."

This is a real cute book of the cute-things-kids-say genre. I liked it because it seemed more genuine than a lot of other books of that type: the quotes aren't earth-shatteringly perceptive, or side-splittingly funny. They're the kind of thing that little kids say every day. Some of them have their own brand of childlike logic, and some of them seemingly no logic at all.

"Um, she chopped my hand with a piece of bark because I said her ice cream wasn't real? But also, I want some?

Leslie McCollom, the author, is a preschool teacher. I liked her book particularly because she's not condescending toward the children, and she doesn't go in for all the double entendre stuff that a lot of authors of this type of book do. She also has a Twitter Feed that you might want to sign up for.

It's a good read.

" Know what? I really, really, really...I forgot what I was going to say."

Friday, November 1, 2013


This is technically considered Young Adult fiction, and it's been a lot of years since I was considered a young adult. Still, I really enjoyed the first book in the series, Divergent .


This series is definitely worth a read, although, I have to say, I didn't like this book quite as well as the first one.

At the end of Divergent , Tris -- our main character -- had successfully transitioned from the family's faction of Abnegation to her new home with the Divergent. And a horrible war had just broken out.

Insurgent continues the story, as the now homeless Divergent population finds temporary refuge with Amity, and then with Candor, giving us a look at both of those factions, too. It's becoming more and more evident that none of the factions is entirely without merit, or blame. (Well, except for the Erudite, but I'm sure we'll get to them in the next book.)

I particularly admire the way the author handles the romance in this series. It seems relatively authentic for a young girl like Tris, and yet it's neither cloying nor exploitative. I'm eager to see what the next book will be like, but I guess I'll have to wait until it gets published. Sigh.

Watch the Book Trailer for Insurgent:



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dancing with Cats

Dancing with Cats
This falls into the "I think this is a joke" category. It's written by Burton Silver and Heather Busch, who brought us such wonders as Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics, Why Paint Cats: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics, and The Naughty Victorian Hand Book: The Rediscovered Art of Erotic Hand Manipulation. I never know what to expect from these people. Well, actually, I guess I do.


"Last year, when we had the feng shui catman in....."

My absolute favorite sentence in this book started out something like that. Dancing With Cats is a fun book, a parody, and a delight for anyone who loves cats or is forced to live with someone who does.

It's full of that special blend of Burton Silver/Heather Busch humor that's so delightful in their other books. Amazon Reviewers can't seem to agree on just how "real" the pictures are. (My personal opinion is that a lot of them are probably authentic photos, but taken when a cat was lying down and stretching, and then made to look as though they were in mid-air. A few of the pictures look as though a leg might have been repositioned courtesy of PhotoShop, but I don't know -- cats do get into some kind of weird positions sometimes.)

Anyway, it's a fun book, and it's currently an Amazon "Bargain Book", so you might be able to get a good buy on it. Christmas gift, anyone?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hide Me Among the Graves

Hide Me Among the Graves
Oh, my, this was fun!

Hide Me Among the Graves is a new novel by Tim Powers and a distant sequel to his The Stress of Her Regard, which was first published in 1990. The Stress of Her Regard is apparently about Keats, Byron, Shelley -- and vampires! (I say "apparently" because I haven't read it yet, but you can be sure I will.)

Hide Me Among the Graves takes us into another generation of vampire hunting. This time the chief bad guys are the spirits of John Polidori and Boudica. (Polidori was Byron's personal physician and the author of the short story that helped to inspire Dracula. Boudica was 1st century British female warrior who led an uprising against the Romans.) The vampire hunters are veterinarian John Crawford (who is also a main character in The Stress of Her Regard) and former prostitute Adelaide McKee. Other significant characters include Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, and author/adventurer Edward Trelawny. And there's where the fun begins.

I found the shenanigans of the Rossettis' totally convincing, given what little I know about them. One of the most well-known acts in Dante Gabriel's life was his romantic burial of the only copies of his poems in the grave of his wife. Some years later, he changed his mind and had her dug up so he could get them back. This book actually presents Rossetti in a more favorable light than history does. And I totally believe that Algernon Swinburne would have sold his soul to write better poetry. Oh, yeah!

Other than that, the book has us wandering through the streets and sewers of Victorian London, and the action gets pretty exciting and scary at times -- I actually found myself biting my fingers. A terrific read that I highly recommend.

(Now I just have to find a copy of The Stress of Her Regard.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Kingmaker's Daughter

The Kingmaker's Daughter
The Kingmaker's Daughter is the latest in Phillipa Gregory's "Cousins' War" series -- what most of us probably think of as The War of the Roses. It was the 15th century conflict between the two branches of the Plantagenet family, the houses of York and of Lancaster.

The title character in this book is Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, popularly known as the Kingmaker for his power and political maneuvering. Anne was married, first, to Edward of Lancaster and heir to the throne of England after his father, King Henry VI. After his death she married Richard of Gloucester, who later became Richard III. Thus, Anne was at various times allied with both the House of York and the House of Lancaster.

Gregory's earlier books in this series, The Lady of the Rivers, The White Queen, and The Red Queen are rather interesting in that they treat many of the same events from differing points of view. The books are told in the first person by the title character, which tends to give them all the same voice -- Gregory's -- which is sort of a problem for me. Nevertheless. I find the series fascinating, and will no doubt continue to read it.

Gregory says that her next book will be called The White Princess and will be about the Princess Elizabeth of York, daughter of Henry IV, niece of Richard III, wife of Henry VII, and mother of Henry VIII. I can't wait.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Un-Spell Book

The Un-Spell Book
You can call it Magick, but it's really just about focusing your energy.

As such, I suppose it's valuable to be reminded that in attempting to achieve things it's necessary to be clear in your intention, focused on the result, and always grounded. What is perhaps not quite as valuable is Mya Om's recitation of spell after spell after spell, all dealing with essentially the same elements. She criticizes other books whose "spells read like recipes in a cookbook", but that's essentially what she's given us.

It took me forever to finish this book. A book about Magick should be a lot more fun, don't you think?

Sunday, October 27, 2013


In post-apocalyptic Chicago, citizens are required to join one of 5 "factions", each representing and serving a different virtue. There's Abnegation, Candor, Amity, Erudite, and Dauntless. On one day of the year, all 16-year-olds are required to declare themselves, and join one of the factions. If they choose a different faction than the one they grew up in that means leaving their family forever. There's no turning back.

Divergent is the story of Beatrice (Tris) Prior, a young girl brought up in an Abnegation household. She opts for the Dauntless, and immediately begins a rigorous training program, where success and failure could be literally a matter of life and death. Tris also has a special ability -- one she must keep hidden at all costs.

If you think this sounds a little bit like The Hunger Games , you're not far wrong. There is, however, one important distinction between Divergence and The Hunger Games. I actually liked this book.

I don't remember exactly what I didn't like about The Hunger Games, and I wasn't doing reviews then, so I can't just look it up. I do remember that I decided, after reading the first book in the series, that I wasn't going any further. It seemed an important thing to remember -- I didn't want to read that series again by accident.

I checked Divergent out of the library the other day, read half of it before I went to bed, and then finished it up the next morning. That afternoon I ordered the sequel. It's a quick read, and very absorbing.

There is one little thing about this book that bothers me, however. It's the name of the factions: Abnegation, Candor, Amity, Erudite, Dauntless. They're not even all the same parts of speech. I suppose you could argue that the adjectives can be used as a noun -- the Erudite, the Dauntless -- but then you have 2 factions with names that describe the people, and 3 that describe the quality. The lack of symmetry distresses me. I'd even accept it if four of them referred to the adherents, and only Abnegation the quality, because -- well, you know how those Abnegation people are, never wanting to draw attention to themselves.

Now, if only there was a faction for the anal-rententive.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Forbidden Area

Forbidden Area
A while ago my reading list included Pat Frank's class post-apocalyptic novel, Alas, Babylon. It was better than I had expected, and had the interesting factor of having been first published in 1959. If you want to get a good idea of the kind of thoughts that were going through Americans' heads during the cold war, Alas, Babylon is an excellent resource.

Forbidden Area is more of the same. It was published a few years before Alas, Babylon and is not quite as good a novel. In this book, the Soviet Union has planted sleeper agents in the U.S., with a sabotage plan that will make possible the conquest of America by nuclear weapons. One of the characters in the book at one point asks what on earth they would want with a continent covered with radioactive waste. "Maybe they'll just put a fence around it with a sign saying 'Forbidden Area'," is the answer.

This isn't a very long book, but I felt at time that I was never going to finish it. There are a lot of characters, few of whom have particularly distinct personalities, and eventually I just gave up on keeping most of them straight. (It's pretty clear what the role of each character is, anyway, so I just treated them as though I was meeting them for the first time whenever I encountered the name. It didn't really matter, in terms of understanding the book.)

I was in elementary school during the '50's and '60's, and I found this book to be pretty indicative of the attitudes of the time. I had pretty much forgotten how frightened we were of the USSR in those days, but this brought it all back. It's an interesting look at a slice of the past, and I recommend it for historical perspective if nothing else. As a literary piece, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Some Kind of Fairy Tale
No matter what you might think, I'm not actively looking for novels about girls who disappear. Although this book would appear to have quite a similar plot line to The Uses of Enchantment (reviewed previously), the fact that I've read two such novels in the same month is purely coincidence.

I picked Some Kind of Fairy Tale up off the New Book shelves at the library. I read the introductory paragraphs, found them rather intriguing, and decided to give the book a try. I was actually more attracted to the language than the plot line.

Good thing, too, because the story wasn't all that much. In a nutshell: 16-year old Tara Martin disappeared from the Outwoods, an old, old forest in the heart of England, 20 years ago. No one ever knew what had become of her. Now she has come back.

Tara has scarcely aged at all in the time she's been gone. To anyone at all acquainted with English folklore, it's perfectly obvious that she's been stolen away by the fairies ("Don't call them that! They don't like to be called that!" she keeps insisting to everyone.) Her family, however, flat out doesn't believe her.

The story had promise, but ultimately it doesn't really go anywhere. We have flashbacks into her time in Faeryland (which put me in mind of a 60's hippie commune). We have interviews with her psychiatrist. We have discussions about how her disappearance effected her brother, her parents, her boyfriends. And we have a whole lot of shifting around of points-of-view. None of these aspects of the novel are really anything to grab the attention. It's not a terrible book, but it's not a terrific one, either.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yes! Energy

Yes! Energy
Really, it's nothing you haven't read before.

Believe in yourself. Change your self-talk. Capitalize on your strengths. Delegate. Trust in a Higher Power.

Loral Langemeier's Higher Power wants her to have a new car in the driveway and more time on the slopes. And this is where things start to get questionable.

If you google the author's name, you'll find lots and lots of complaints about her organization. According to Loral Langemeier, these websites are paid Google advertisements designed to steal traffic away from her and direct it toward her competitors. And, she says, they're put up by Eastern European Extortionists in an effort to extort funds from her. (If she pays up, she says, they'll take the websites down.)

Except they're not. They're definitely not Google ads, and they're not directing traffic to anyone else. And they sure look like actual reviews to me. Which is something I can't say about all the glowing 5-star reviews of her book on the Amazon Website.

If you really want to read this mediocre and not-very-helpful rehash of all the old money-making platitudes, I urge you to borrow the book from your library. Or, if you must buy a copy, get it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Do not, under any circumstances, consider buying it from her website, or from doing anything else there that would involve Loral Langemeier and her minions from getting your credit card number.

Because, according to those East European Extortionists, that might land you in a sea of grief.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Elements

The Elements

Before I begin discussing this book, I'd like to make a little detour and explain a literary allusion that seems relevant here.

There is a character, in Dickens' classic David Copperfield, named Mr. Dick, who is attempting to write an autobiography, but keeps running into a problem. Mr. Dick is a gentle soul, and a little crazy, and he is obsessed with the matter of the head of King Charles I. The subject keeps finding its way into his manuscript, no matter how hard he tries to keep it out. The phrase "King Charles head" was picked up by other writers, and by the end of the 19th century it was a common expression for an obsession that keeps intruding into matters where it's not relevant.

Now, back to the The Elements. The author, Theodore Gray, has a bit of a King Charles' head, and that head is his aversion to incandescent lighting. You would think that in a book that covers, literally, every thing in the world, he could find other things to write about. But no, he is thoroughly and enthusiastically opposed to incandescent lighting. It is bad.

And it's amazing in how many places he manages to bring the discussion around to his topic. I mean, I would have expected it under tungsten. But he talks about incandescent light bulbs all thought this book! Amazing.

I ordered this book from the library after reading a review that said it had amazing photographs. Eh. It's formatted pretty much in the manner you'd expect of a junior reader encyclopedia. There's a big picture of element on the left-hand side, and a bunch of smaller pictures of its applications on the right. There's a little bit of text, in white lettering on a black background. The book smells like Play-Doh.

One review I read of this book suggested it was perfect for high school students. Not bloody likely. If your high school student already knows, for example, that diamonds are made of carbon, this book is way too elementary for him.

Or if he already knows about incandescent light bulbs.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Unholy Night

Unholy Night
Seth Grahame-Smith. Really, how can you not love this guy?

Grahame-Smith is also the author of enormously successful books Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Like those two books, Unholy Night is the re-telling of an oh-so-familiar tale.

It's the story of Balthazar, a thief by profession and wise guy by preference, and his adventures during the 1st century AD. Balthazar runs into a little trouble with Herod's soldiers, gets thrown into prison, and meets up with a couple of other career criminals named Gaspar and Melchyor. After their resourceful escape from execution, the trio meet up with a newly-married couple and their new-born son, and help them escape from Herod's forces who, for some reason inexplicable to Balthazar, are routinely slaughtering all the Jewish boy babies in the area.

Get the picture?

It's a clever idea, and adequately carried out. I can't say there's anything especially noteworthy about the execution, however. Grahame-Smith is a pretty decent writer. I was really impressed, for example, with the way he seamlessly blended the zombie scenes into Jane Austen's prose in his better-known work, and I understand that he did pretty well with the archaic style of Abraham Lincoln's "secret" diaries. (Haven't read that one yet.) But here, he's writing, presumably, in his own voice, and I can't honestly say I'm all that impressed. It's a quick read, and altogether understandable, but his writing's a little more expository than I would like. Still, it's a fun read, and it won't take you long to finish.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I read a review of this book that compared it to Watership Down, and that was enough for me. Silverwing is clearly a children's book, and I'm not really expecting a book of the same caliber as Richard Adams', but it could still be very good without rivaling his work. It's apparently about the travels and tribulations of a young bat.


What a delightful book!

Actually, I started reading this a couple of weeks ago, got into it a few chapters, and then got bored and started reading something else. Last night I picked it up again. And oh, my goodness!

In the very next chapter: Cannibalism! Bad bats! Danger and excitement! Lots of surprises!

I read straight through to the end, and I really enjoyed the ride. There's a whole series of these books (which are technically written for children, but, who cares?) and I'm pretty sure I'll be reading more of them.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Everything He Hasn't Told You
I'm not quite sure what to expect from this. Burton Silver is the author of several amusing books, including Why Cats Paint, Why Paint Cats, and The Naughty Victorian Hand Book. At first glance, however, this one looks more-or-less serious. It's a book of questions to ask your man to get him to "open up to you." Hmmmm, isn't that Cruel and Unusual Punishment for a man?


Oh, boy.

I once had a boyfriend who, when being asked a simple question, would sit and think about it for a few minutes before answering. It wasn't a difficult question. When I asked him what was up, he answered, "I'm trying to decide what the right answer would be."

Really, I'm not like that. I don't have a hidden agenda when I ask questions. (Most of the time, anyway.) He didn't get this from me, but, yeah, he did have a lot of baggage. And I'm beginning to understand how men get this way.

This book is touted as the solution to all your troubles if your man isn't too communicative with you. Hmmm. If he just isn't communicative in general, I guess you could just try, you know, talking to him. If, on the other hand, he's "uncommunicative" in the sense that he doesn't share everything when you ask "What are you thinking about?", then this might be the book for you.

If you're one of those women who believe that he's your man, and that means you own every little idea that's in his noggin, then I think you'll really like this book. It gives you techniques to mine for all that precious ore that should rightfully belong to you, not him. Even better, there are secrets to translating the answers he gives you into usable data. Oh yes, ladies, there are Trick Questions in this book.

For example, one of the questions gives you a series of situations that men might fantasize about, not necessarily in a positive manner. The situations include being an astronaut, going insane, wearing women's clothing, cannibalism, moving to Canada, and meeting Elvis. You're supposed to ask you man what percentage of men, in his opinion, have fantasized about the experience. The trick is, that since most men probably want to think they're "normal", he will tend to put himself in the majority. In other words, for any experience that he thinks more than 50% of men have fantasized about -- he probably has, too.

This book left a really, really bad taste in my mouth, and it may have been just because I was reading it straight through, one invasive question after another. I thought at one point that it might be an interesting book from the point of view of questions to ask yourself, or -- if you're a writer -- things to think about in regard to a character. But in the long run, I rejected both of those ideas. I get offended when I ask myself all of these questions. And my characters would never stand for it at all.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Uses of Enchantment

The Uses of Enchantment
I'm looking forward to this. I've read several other books by Heidi Julavits, and enjoyed them, but I find I have to pace myself. Her books do tend to be a lot alike, and have eccentric and unlikeable characters and bizarre situations. A little goes a long way. I think I'm ready for another, though.


The year was 1985. Sixteen-year-old Mary Veal, leaving school after soccer practice, was abducted by a stranger, held prisoner for a few weeks, and sexually molested. Or was she?

Her psychiatrist doesn't think so. He believes she fabricated the entire incident. Her mother tends to believe him, thinking it less shameful to have a liar for a daughter than a rape victim.

15 years later, Mary still isn't sure what did or didn't happen. Her mother has just died, unreconciled to her daughter, and Mary returns home for an uneasy reunion with her father and sisters. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the past, and attempts to unravel what might or might not have happened. Like so many of Heidi Julavits' books, the novel is filled with unpleasant female characters, difficult relationships, and the truth is never cut and dried.

Interesting novel.

Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Mind Map by Tony Buzan

How to Mind Map
Unlike the book I reviewed yesterday, How to Mind Map really is about right-brain thinking.

If you already know about mind-mapping, you don't need this book, because, believe me, this really is mind-mapping at its simplest. Which is not to say that it's not a good book. If you know a student who's having trouble in school or someone that has so many ideas they just keep getting themselves confused all the time, this would make a dandy present. It's pocket-sized and a really quick read, and it's pretty much the perfect solution to those of us who were terrorized by outline-preaching teachers at some time during our lives.

I first heard about mind-mapping on the internet, and I find that there's a whole slew of software products available now and even ready-made mind maps to get you started. (I can't even begin to understand how a ready-made mind map would help anyone.) What I found particularly interesting in reading this book by Tony Buzan -- who, if he didn't exactly invent mind-mapping, certainly popularized it -- was that his concept was that the mind map should be hand-made, always colorized, and definitely visual. (You're supposed to draw all kinds of little pictures and stuff.) Which is pretty much everything that the mind-mapping software doesn't give you. Interesting.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Right-Brain Business Plan

The Right Brain Business Plan
I decided to take a look at this book because I wanted to see what a right-brain business plan would look like. I didn't find out.

You know what a business plan is, right? And you know what a vision board is, probably. So, this author would have you take your business plan and then translate it into a vision board. Know how to do that? Well, I've just saved you $19.95.

So, this is basically a way to play around with your business plan and draw some nice pictures and build a collage or two so you won't be so afraid of it. Because, oh-my-goodness, I'm just too creative and too much of a girly-girl to not be intimidated by the Big Bad Numbers.

You're not creating your business plan with your right brain, in other words. And I still believe there's a way to do that -- you just won't find it in this book. (In fact, at the end of each chapter there's a left brain check-off list to make sure you covered everything.)

So basically, I don't have much use for this book. I seem to be in the minority, however. 32 Amazon Reviewers have given this book an average of 4.9 stars out of 5. And only 2 of those reviews were less than 5-stars. And that's mostly because the Kindle edition doesn't do the pictures well.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Paint Cats

Why Paint Cats
I don't quite remember when I ordered this from the library. I do remember that I found it when I was looking for Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics.

I was well aware that Why Cats Paint was a "joke" book, a parody on artistic criticism and history.

What I didn't realize until I started looking at Why Paint Cats is that it's a parody, too. It is not, as I had thought, about the pastime of painting pictures of cats, but about the activity of painting cats themselves. You know, instead of canvases. Or, like, barns.

Even then, I'm ashamed to say, I wasn't quite sure it was all a joke. The pictures are pretty convincing -- all Photoshopped, of course, but still... It was the text that finally convinced me. While I'm not positive that there aren't people who paint their cats, I'm quite sure that there aren't enough of them to constitute a school. And this book discusses a lot of schools: Neo-Totemism, Retro-Ritualism, Anamorphic Hybridism, and my favorite, Transmogrificationism.

The book really is a hoot. Get it to give to your Art Major friend, or anyone, really, who's a little too pretentious about their artistic leanings.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Sacrifice Game

The Sacrifice Game
It's here! It's here!

I've been waiting for this book for ever so long. Last April, hearing that it was going to be released soon, I reread the first book in the series -- In the Courts of the Sun.

What's it about? Well, it's an absolutely amazing blend of science fiction, historical fiction, adventure, and fantasy. Jed Delanda, a 21st century Mayan, has been transported back in time to the seventh century. Well, sort of. Since Jed and everyone else knows that it's impossible to take someone back in time literally, Jed and his cohorts have figured out a way to print his memory and personality on a seventh century person -- who becomes, for all practical purposes, Jed Delanda.

So now we have two Jed Delandas running around -- one in 7th century Mesoamerica and one in the 21st first century, awaiting the the countdown to Doomsday in December 2012. Jed-2's objective is to learn enough about "The Game" -- an ancient Mayan practice that Jed-1 is somewhat familiar with -- to find a way to prevent the End of Everything. As for Jed-1, he's moved on to other motivations.

If you haven't read the first book, you definitely don't want to start with this. The opening chapters recount what's happened up to then pretty well, I thought (and I really appreciated having it there), but I can see that it would be pretty dry reading for someone who wasn't already a fan.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a terrific read.

In the Courts of the Sun

 (If you haven't already read it, this is the one you'll want to start with.)


Just finished reading this, and ... wow! I mean, wow!

This book is just as good as its predecessor, but again, I really would not recommend that anyone start with volume two. It would probably not be as confusing as I had thought -- D'Amato does an excellent job of recapping the action of the first book -- but the recap might get a little boring if you weren't familiar with the first book.

The game sequences and the the torture episodes are much more involved in this book, and seem to go on forever -- although not necessarily in a bad way. I'm relieved to think that there will probably be very few people out there reading this book just to get to the icky parts, though.

There are at least two major, major plot twists in The Sacrifice Game that were total surprises to me. I love that in a book.

One thing confused me a little, however. When I finished this book, I felt as though everything had been wrapped up. Did I make up that idea about the series being a trilogy? Went back to Amazon to check it out, and sure enough, it's still being marketed as a trilogy. Hmmmm. It felt so complete.

Well, that means good things are yet to come. I sure hope it won't be 3 years for the next volume to come out, though!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Points of View

Points of View
I'm waiting for the new Brian D'Amato book, The Sacrifice Game , to get to me from the inter-library loan program, and it's taking awhile. While I'm waiting I'm trying not to start any major fiction, because I know I'd want to stop as soon as the D'Amato book gets here. (And it's over 600 pages and I'm not a fast reader, so I'm going to be at it for a while.) While I'm waiting, I'm killing time reading Points of View.

Points of View is an anthology of short stories, arranged, not surprisingly by the point of view of the narrator. It's an interesting technique, not particularly valuable, in my opinion, but then, why not? After all, you have to arrange the stories somehow.

I'm not normally much of a fan of the short story genre, but I'm making an exception in this case, because they really are good stories. Among the featured authors are Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, Henry James, Dylan Thomas, Anton Chekhov, and a host of others, all of them pretty much considered "classic" authors.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Selected Writings by Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung: Selected Writings
Yes, this is a little over my head, and no, I didn't read it cover to cover.

I found Jung's Selected Writings an interesting book for browsing. Mostly, I was interested in his treatment of dreams and archetypes, and I read several of the articles on that subject.

I touched a little on his discussion of synchronicity, but I just didn't have the concentration necessary to focus on it this week. I may go back to it later, however.

One thing I think he said is that natural law is only statistically valid.


Sure gives you something to think about, though, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Second Grave on the Left

Second Grave on the Left
Well, at least it was light reading.

Second Grave on the Left is the second in the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones. It's basically in the same genre as the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, but nowhere, nowhere near as good. (You can even tell that Jones is going to use the word "grave" in all her titles -- just as Harris uses "dead".)

Charley Davidson is a private detective with supernatural powers. Specifically, she's the Grim Reaper, which in this case means she's the portal through which the dead can pass to get to Heaven. (Apparently some of them manage to do it on their own, or she'd be a whole lot busier.) She can see ghosts, and communicate with them, which gives her an advantage as a PI. As far as I can tell, it's her only advantage, as she certainly doesn't seem too smart or too resourceful. Mostly, she just flits around and does things on the spur of the moment with no thought as to repercussions or consequences. She also unmercifully bosses around her faithful little doormat, er, sidekick, Cookie. And she wisecracks. Continually. Like, every other sentence. You can practically hear the rimshots.

She also has a supernatural entity boyfriend, who, apparently, has been stalking her since birth. (I won't tell you what he is, because although it's no secret in this book, apparently it was in the first.) There are a lot of hot, steamy encounters with him, which of necessity are of the delayed gratification type -- primarily because he's not in his corporate form through most of this.

Oh, yes, the plot. There are two of them, and I couldn't tell you which one is supposed to be the main one. One involves a series of apparent homicides that involve a friend of Cookie's and apparently go back to that friend's high school days. The other plot concerns the necessity of saving Charley's boyfriend from torture and a fate worse than death -- for everybody. You won't care about either of the plots, I promise you.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Six-Figure Second Income

The Six-Figure Second Income
The problem with books of this sort is that they're generally obsolete almost before they get published. The Six-Figure Second Income is a bit of an exception. It's actually a pretty solid book, filled with sound advice on general internet business practices and copywriting techniques. It would be an excellent book for a beginner, but even an old hand at internet marketing could pick up a pointer or too. Of course, it's a fairly new book -- it was only published in 2010. Still, I suspect it will stand the test of time.

Amazon Reviewers generally agree with me. They've given the book an average of 4.0 stars (out of a possible 5), with a total of 60 reviews.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators

Curation Nation
I really wanted to like this book. I'd heard good things about it, and I went to considerable lengths to get my hand on a copy.

There's a whole lot of information in this book, more than I can possibly summarize or even remember. There's a general history of curation (covering, among other things, the history of the Dewey Decimal system). There are examples of websites that have been hugely successful in the field of content curation (the Huffington Post, for example). There's some lip service paid to the process whereby the individual can contribute curation to the internet, but this is really more of a "why to" book than a "how to."

In short, it's really difficult for me to figure out exactly who this book was written for. It seems to me that if you're interested in this stuff, you already know most of what Rosenbaum is telling us. And if you don't know, you probably aren't all that interested.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Deadlocked - Charlaine Harris
Deadlocked is the latest in the Charlaine Harris series about Sookie Stackhouse and all the supernatural friends, enemies, and lovers in her life. If you've never read any of them, but are a fan of the HBO series True Blood, you have a real treat ahead of you.

That being said, if you've never read any of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, you don't want to start with this one. This is #12 in the series (Harris intends to discontinue the series after #13) and each novel does build on the previous ones. You'll want to start with Book 1, Dead Until Dark and take them in order. I'll leave it up to you whether or not you want to get ahead of the TV series or not.

The last couple of books in the series had been kind of ho-hum, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one was really quite good. I remained absorbed in the story throughout, and was surprised a couple of times. Sookie has definitely become older and wiser, but the supes are just as unpredictable as ever.

If you aren't completely up-to-date on the Sookie Stackhouse series, or if you've only watched the TV show, you might want to stop reading now.

Naturally, I won't reveal any SPOILERS for this novel, but the situations that Sookie finds herself in might reveal major plot developments that you don't wish to know yet.

Sookie by now is deeply involved in a romantic relationship with Eric -- he's even gone so far as to make her his "wife", a step that should protect her from some trouble with other vampires. But all is not well. The couple and their accomplices will have to answer to Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana, for past actions, and the situation doesn't look good. When a dead woman turns up on Eric's front lawn, all the vampires have some explaining to do, but Sookie has her own ideas about how the woman got there. To add to the tense climate, all the fae seem restless too, and the weres have a few problems of their own. Sookie and Eric each have a major decision to make, and it's likely that their choices will have a serious impact on their relationship.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung

Memories, Dreams, Reflections
In 1957, at the age of 81, Jung began telling the story of his life to Aniela Jaffe. That narrative, combined with chapters that he wrote himself, by hand, resulted in this book. It's not exactly a biography -- rather, it's the story of his own spiritual journey, and it does a great deal to further our understanding of his book.

A fascinating and absorbing book.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Long Earth

The Long Earth
Even before Terry Pratchett had even begun his Discworld series, he had an idea about a possible premise for a science fiction series. His fantasy series, however, was such a huge success that he never got around to writing the science fiction work -- until recently, when he collaborated with Stephen Baxter, an author well-known in his own right for his work in the world of hard science fiction. As an avid Terry Pratchett fan, I was eager to find out what it was all about.

I could have waited. This book, presumably the first in a series, is little more than an exposition of the premise. There are a whole string of alternate universes, you see, and people from Earth can easily "step" from one to another. Most people need a device to do it. Some can step naturally; some can't step at all. There is world after world after world, all remarkably alike, differing mainly in the climate conditions and the particular beings that inhabit each world. Even the characters find it boring.

Besides showing us the scenery, the book introduces us to the main characters, essentially cardboard cut-outs with names attached. There is no actual conflict, although there is a foreboding of doom. We actually get introduced to the potential source of future conflict at somewhere around page 300, just before the end of the book.

This is a dreadful, dreadful book, and, as much as I love practically everything Terry has been involved with, I will not be likely to read any future volumes in the series.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
Sure, we've all had a look at Bartlett's a time or two in our lives, but sometimes we forget just how good it is.

Of course, you can always find quotations on the internet, but this time I was looking for a series of quotations by a particular author for a Zazzle project I'm working on, and it was real handy for me to settle down in my comfy chair with Bartlett's on my lap. Unlike some books of quotations, Bartlett's is organized chronologically by author, which in my case was exactly what I was looking for.

A good reference book is always good to have.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier

The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Well, I'm definitely in the minority here. The Pioneer Woman Cooks has 586 customer reviews on Amazon and 480 people gave her 5 stars.

For my money, though (and I'm glad I didn't spend any ) this is a book to be looked at once and then taken back to the library. There is nothing here I would care to make, the recipes are way more complicated than they need to be, and the quantity of photos is ridiculous. I mean, seriously, do you really need a picture of how to mix dry ingredients together? Of how to pour broth? They're also laid out funny, in my opinion. I kept trying to follow them left to right, but the pictures read top to bottom. Oh, well.

If you're a big fan of the Pioneer Woman, or if you just like to collect cookbooks, you might want this book. But even her biggest fans report that all of these recipes are available on her website.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stay Close by Harlan Coben

Stay Close - Harlan Coben
Ray Levine is a man with the worst job imaginable. He's a for-hire "fake paparazzi" -- a man who gives Bar Mitzvah boys and awkward suitors the full experience of being relentlessly pursued by the media. Megan Pierce is a happily married suburban soccer mom, but years ago she was a stripper named Cassie, who loved to walk on the wild side. 17 years ago the two were lovers, until a savage murder forced them apart.

Now, a similar murder has occurred, and soon it becomes clear that's it's just the latest in a long string of grisly events. Ray and Megan are forced to work together, and who knows what will happen next?
Stay Close was a fairly absorbing novel, although I can't say that the characters were particularly well drawn, or that the "mystery" was much of one. It's pretty apparent from early on who the real killer is, and what the motivation was. Still, it was an quick and easy read, and fairly enjoyable summer entertainment.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Effect of Living Backwards

The Effect of Living Backwards
Last month, I read and enjoyed The Vanishers, a rather bizarre tale of dueling parapsychologists.

I hadn't had quite enough weirdness, so I undertook another book by Heidi Julavits. Living Backwards is the story of two sisters, Alice and Edith, who get hijacked on their way to Edith's wedding by a bizarre set of characters. The story is told from Alice's point of view, with frequent side-bar "Shame Stories" -- stories that Alice has invented about the people she meets.

If you're looking for a story with a straight narrative, this isn't it. In fact, it's a little difficult to make out exactly what did happen in this book. But for a rollicking tale of absurdity and sibling rivalry, interspersed with a threat of maybe-terrorism, this book can't be beat!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Conspiracy of Friends

A Conspiracy of Friends
What we have here is yet another bright and breezy novel by Alexander McCall Smith. A Conspiracy of Friends is book 3 in the Corduroy Mansion series, set in London's Pimlico neighborhood.

This book finds William less concerned about his issues with his slacker son and more worried about fighting off an unwanted admirer (which he accomplishes by getting himself entangled in another web.) His greatest concern, however, is the disappearance of his beloved pooch, Freedie de la Hay. He is right to be concerned -- Freddie has a terrifying experience.

Meanwhile, literary agents Barbara Ragg and Rupert Porter quarrel over the right to represent a Yeti author, and the despicable politician, Oedipus Snark -- whom even his own mother loathes -- undergoes an amazing transformation.

If you've enjoyed any of Alexander McCall Smith's books, you'll doubtless enjoy this one, too.

By Blood by Ellen Ullman

By Blood by Ellen Ullman
By Blood is set in 1970's San Francisco, where the main character, a disgraced professor, is taking a mandatory leave of absence from his university and attempting to put his life back together. He rents an office in a seedier part of town, and soon discovers that on the other side of his paper-thin wall (and a badly fitting connecting door) is a practicing psychiatrist. She generally employs a white-noise machine during sessions, but one of her patients cannot abide the sound, and for her, the machine is turned off.

Our professor soon finds himself enthralled by her story. He sits very, very quietly in his office, not daring to move for fear that the squeak of his chair will alert his neighbors of his presence. (After all, he can hear the sound of their nylon stockings when they cross their legs.) The patient is trying to deal with issues regarding her adopted family, and decides to begin a search for her birth mother.

She soon learns that she was adopted through a Catholic agency that may have been involved in "stealing" Jewish babies from their extended families in the wake of World War II. After finding only a few shreds of information, however, she is thwarted in her search.

But if there's one thing the professor knows how to do, it's research. He soon undertakes the mysterious patient's quest, and learns quite a bit about her origins. Since he has no excuse to contact her directly, he develops a subterfuge to get the information to her, and then listens as she recounts her experiences to her therapist. Soon he becomes entirely entangled in her life.

To tell you the truth, I almost stopped reading the book after the first chapter. Ullman's style (at this point, anyway) is particularly stylized and ornate; I found myself wondering if she was trying to channel Poe. In fact, I did stop reading after the first chapter, and went and read another book. Eventually, though, I came back and finished it. It was a fairly absorbing book -- I'm glad I did.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lily Dale : The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead

Lily Dale by Christine Wicker
In New York State, just an hour south of Buffalo, there is a little village named Lily Dale, where the inhabitants speak to the dead. The town became a center of the Spiritualist Movement in the early 20th century, and is still. It has workshops and demonstrations year-round, and is especially active during the summer months. In the past, it hosted such famous personalities as Harry Houdini and Mae West. Today it sometimes hosts speakers such as Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and James Van Praagh.

Christine Wicker, the author of this book, went to Lily Dale for the express purpose of investigating this community and writing a book. She is, I believe, very honest in her writing, and reports to us her thoughts as she goes back and forth between belief and skepticism. She reaches no conclusions, or, at any rate, none that she sticks with. I found her writing interesting and entertaining, and almost felt as though I had been there myself.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


When Grigori Rasputin was murdered in 1916, he left behind two daughters, who were living with him in St. Petersburg at the time of his death. They were taken in as wards of Nicholas II, and lived with the Imperial Family until the Romanovs were exiled to Tobolsk in 1917.Enchantments is the story of the eldest daughter, Maria Rasputina, in that time of terror and trouble.

The story is narrated by Maria, in bits and pieces as she jumps forward and back through time. If you are reasonably familiar with the story of the last of the Romanovs, it's not particularly confusing, but I can see that it might give you trouble if you're not. As far as I can tell, most of the historical information is accurate, but Harrison has infused the book with her own whimsy, inventing fanciful conversations between Maria and the young Alexei (or "Alyosha" as he is called by Maria), and even a bit of youthful sexual exploration. It is a novel, after all.

Rasputin did have a daughter named Maria, who, I have learned, did survive the Bolsheviks and later became a lion tamer in Europe and America, even working for Ringling Brothers at one time. She also wrote several memoirs about her father, one of which I am currently trying to track down.

We all know the horrifying story of the fate of the Romanovs, and this book did little to add to that knowledge, but I found Harrison's treatment of Maria's memories of her enigmatic father (which I suspect are based on Maria's memoirs) to be the most interesting part of the story. I also enjoyed the tales she told to Alyosha. They have that dreamy air of fairy tale mysticism that seems so characteristic of much Russian literature. Harrison's treatment of Alexei's budding sexuality, on the other hand, seemed crass and unnecessary.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Coral Glynn: A Novel by Peter Cameron

Coral Glynn
In the spring of 1950, a young nurse named Coral Glynn comes to a dreary estate in the English countryside to nurse a dying patient. Her charge soon dies, and Coral finds herself courted by the elderly woman's son, a man damaged both physically and emotionally by the war, and almost as passive as Coral Glynn herself. Events unfold, and the characters are more acted upon than acting, yet still manage to occasionally surprise you with their hidden depths.

I liked Coral Glynn, but I recognized that it's not a book for everybody. If you're looking for action or romance, this is not the book for you. For a quiet, interesting, and introspective read, this is quite a good book.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Family Circle Magazine

Family Circle
Family Circle is another story.

At that same "Free" table at the library, I found a stack of Family Circles. They were a couple of years old, but with Family Circle it doesn't really matter. I quickly flipped through them all, tearing out any articles or recipes I found useful. The remains of the magazines are going back to the Free Table.

Mostly what I got was recipes. Tempting, inexpensive, and most of all, easy.