Booklist 2007

The love of reading

I’d like to read at least 52 books in 2007, because it’s a “magic number” for one a week.

  1. 01-04-07 Women in the Middle Ages by Joseph & Frances Gies. This book begins with a discussion of the legal status accorded to women during various eras and geographic areas during the early middle ages through the high feudal period. It goes on to examine the lives of a typical noblewoman, a peasant, an Abbess, a queen, a guildmember, and a couple members of the new rising merchant class. The most interesting of these to me was the chapter devoted to Magherita Datini. She was the wife of an Italian merchant in the late 1300s and by pure luck her and her husband’s voluminous correspondence was sealed into a wall of their villa for 600 years. Because of this, a lot is known of her life and so she became a real person through the excellent synopsis provided by the Gies writing team.
  2. 01-07-07 William Marshal: Medieval England’s Greatest Knight by Myra Weatherly. I had this book on my wishlist for quite a long time — it was out of print but I thought someday I might find a used copy. Today I found a copy at the library and am glad I never bought it because it’s rather lightweight, more of a young adult history rather than the in-depth biography I had envisioned. Nonetheless it was an interesting read about an extraordinary man. Now I need to track down a copy of L’histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal from 1219, preferably translated into modern English!
  3. 01-08-07 The Last Rakosh by F. Paul Wilson. Another book from the library and an easy read… because I already read it, last year! This is a short section from another of Wilson’s Repairman Jack books, the confrontation between him and the Ozymandias freakshow. I am led to understand that it was published as a stand-alone book because it was originally a short story but considering how it is word-for-word the same as I recall from the longer book it appears to be more of a *looks inside front cover* HOLY SHIT IT COST $29.95!!! rip-off. Good story though, even as an excerpt.
  4. 01-11-07 American Beauty by Allen Steele. Bumped into this book at the library, where I was looking for the latest Coyote novel (alas, not available there and not anywhere in paperback yet.) This is a collection of ten stories, some of which seem to be homages to other authors and styles — Asimov, Farmer, Fleming, Tom Swift books. My favorite story was A Walk Across Mars, which is set in the same universe as Steele’s “oh my god, I’ve found the new non-sexist Heinlein” outer space novels (HIGHLY recommended.) Overall, the appeal of the stories varied a lot for me (the Tom Swift one in particular was a throw-away.) I wasn’t compelled to rush home and pick up this book, though I’m not sorry I read it either, which I reckon gives it a grade B- or so.
  5. 01-19-07 Sims by F. Paul Wilson. I have read a bunch of Wilson’s books over the past year. This quasi-SF/horror/suspense novel didn’t hold up very well, in my opinion, earning a C- for “I finished reading it but it was tough going.” The premise is that recombinant DNA technology has allowed the creation of smart chimps, able to speak and even occasionally read. The entire “race” is owned by SimGen as property — they are legally classified as things so don’t fall under protections given to either animals or humans. The plot ranges between a Sims Liberation group to military development to a years’ old mystery. Unfortunately I did not find the characters well-developed or compelling; even the Uber Bad Guy was not very interesting. Plot twists were telegraphed and worst of all, there were periodic short chapters in Sim talk that were very annoying. Better luck next time, Mr. Wilson, I cannot recommend this book.
  6. 01-25-07 Lady Fortescue Steps Out by Marion Chesney. I’m in the middle of four books right now. I keep picking one up, reading a few pages; then later pick up the second, reading a few pages, et cetera. I’m tired of finishing none of them so when I was at the library tonight I picked up a 6-book series by this Regency romance author. Her books are not “throbbing thighs” novels, more akin to Jane Austen Xtra-Sooper-Lite. They are fun though and obviously a quick easy read which I need right now. The series revolves around a group of “poor relations” of aristocrats who band together to open a small hotel. The characterizations are well done and as the series progresses each one will have a happy ending, if I remember correctly. Brain fluff books for brain mush me.
  7. 01-27-07 Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney. Book 2 of 6. The cluster of impoverished gentility has begun to run out of money, and so Miss Tonks goes to visit her sister with an eye to stealing something which won’t be missed. A little bit of highway robbery later, suddenly Lord Eston is involved with the group and falling for… her forthright niece. The most amusing part of this book was the machinations to disentangle Lord Eston from the grasping parents of his erstwhile fiancee — and how another character, who actually loves the girl, managed to put them in their place.
  8. 01-27-07 Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by Marion Chesney. Book 3 of 6. These books are like popcorn, you know. Plus I had a bitch of a week and so decided to be a slacker and read a bunch today. This volume revolves around the titular Mrs. Budley, a sweet young widow who was part of high society before she joined the other Poor Relations in running a hotel. All of her and her deceased husband’s relatives have disowned her so a scheme is cooked up whereby she will descend upon the country house of an aged decrepit Marquis, claiming to be a relative. The group is short on funds again and this time it’s her turn to steal. Unfortunately the old Marquis has died and the new one is a rather studly war-hardened soldier. He’s cynical about all the mamas shoving their daughters in front of him; she’ll scared he’ll turn her in to the authorities to be hanged after discovering her scheme; the rest of the group is trying to cope with a catering event sans their French chef who has run off; and the books’ version of Cruella deVille is trying to take revenge on all of them. All twist and turn until a satisfactory conclusion is achieved for all… except Cruella. mwahahaha.
  9. 01-28-07 Sir Philip’s Folly by Marion Chesney. Book 4 of 6. I was ranking on that horrid Eragon one day and commenting how much C likes it only to be asked back “Don’t you ever read trash?” Hahaha, never, as evidenced by this latest run of books. In this volume, Sir Philip has brought an outsider into the group, the horrid fat and lazy Mrs. Budge, so a scheme is hatched to lure her gold-digging ungentile self away. The actor hired to play a rich merchant in the plot stirs tender feelings in Miss Tonks’ heart; and in the meanwhile one of the latest lodgers is keeping her very presentable daughter under lock and key so to hide her own middle-agedness. All comes around at the end with happiness for some and a poignant a sigh for others.
  10. 01-30-07 Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue by Marion Chesney. Book 5 of 6. Mrs. Budge is now gone and the motley crew needs cash again. Colonel Sandhurst hies off to dun a former lodger for an outstanding bill and happens on a heiress running away from an arranged engagement. Soon a plot is hatched to use her as a hostage to get the bill paid, only everything goes askew. The man from whom the heiress was running shows up at the hotel, only to fall for a chambermaid; in the meanwhile the heiress has eyes for a handsome Captain of the Guard. By the end everything is settled between the odd couples, the Poor Relations Hotel has acquired the Prince of Wales endorsement… as well as a last chapter cliffhanger.
  11. 01-31-07 Back in Society by Marion Chesney. Book 6 of 6. A young woman with a troubled background comes to the hotel for one last week of good food and warm surroundings before committing suicide. Her plot is detected and foiled, however, and soon the assorted hosteliers have joined forces with Harriet (from Book 1) to turn her life around. By the end of the book everyone has gotten what they most dreamed of and the Poor Relations hotel is now under the able ownership of their mercurial French chef.
  12. 02-01-07 The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. Book 1 of series. All three of my children have read these “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books and are quite wild about them so I checked out the first five volumes from the libary to see what they were all about. They appear to be quick reads and quite enjoyable in a modernized Penny Dreadful sort of woebegone way. The first book details how the Beaudelaire siblings (Violet, Klaus and Sunny) were suddenly orphaned and sent to live with Count Olaf, a horrible man with schemes to get their inheritance. The things I enjoyed about the first book were the ridiculousness of the careening plot, the weird asides, and the children who already have distinctive and likable personalities. As I read the book, I thought how fun it would be to read out loud with all the drama and bizarre characters. I can now see why these are so popular.
  13. 02-02-07 The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket. Book 2 of 13. I have now been informed that there are 13 of these books. The three children have been dropped off at Uncle Monty’s house, where they are having a secure and enjoyable time preparing to a herpological trip to Peru until Count Olaf shows up in disguise. Woe woe, death and venom. Mr. Poe is the banker in charge of managing their legacy until Violet reaches the age of majority. He again proves ineffectual in catching the Villain and so the next book is set up…
  14. 02-02-07 The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket. Book 3 of 13. I was home sick and read a lot this day, what can I say? This time the Baudelaire children have been parked with Aunt Josephine, a woman who raises timidity to a fine art. Unfortunately she knows nothing about children and even less about recognizing Count Olaf under the oily charm of Captain Sham. Luckily little Sunny reveals the dastardly fiend just in time for Mr. Poe to not catch him again. Alas! Too bad about the leeches, by the way.
  15. 02-03-07 The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket. Book 4 of 13. Just. Like. Potato. Chips. I cannot stop eating reading. In this outing, the Baudelaire children are dispatched to stay work at the Lucky Smells Timbermill, under the care slavery of Sir, their remote relative and owner of the place. The toil is awful, particularly for Sunny who, as an infant, cannot use tools and is forced to use her four sharp teeth to chew the bark off logs. Klaus’ broken glasses leads to hypnosis which leads to the inevitable discovery that Count Olaf is near at hand. Luckily there are a couple of sympathetic souls around and with their help Violet saves the day… for now.
  16. 02-04-07 The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket. Book 5 of 13. As threatened by Mr. Poe, the children are hustled off to a boarding school, Prufrock Preparatory. Even though the bizarre and hateful headmaster imposes bizarrer and more hateful rules (e.g. you lose the use of tableware if you enter the Administrative building) the Baudelaires find kindred spirits in the Quagmire Triplets, Isadora and Duncan (don’t ask.) While the older children are studying weird shit and forced to run in circles by Coach Genghis (Count Olaf in disguise), poor Sunny is toiling as an office secretary, not precisely a suitable occupation for an infant, especially when she is forced to manufacture her own staples after running out. At the cliff-hanger ending a clue to a secret is revealed which will hopefully someday lead to the downfall of the awful Count.
  17. 02-05-07 The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket. Book 6 of 13. The Baudelaire’s are off to live in a gigantic penthouse apartment with Esme and Jerome Squalor. Jerome is a nice sort, albeit horribly hen-pecked, while Esme is absolutely possessed by what’s in and what’s not in. Luckily taking in orphans is in at the moment, although Violet, Klaus and Sunny worry about what will happen to them once the fashion changes. Fortunately this never occurs during the book; unfortunately it’s because Count Olaf shows up again. Through Violet’s inventing prowess, Klaus’ encyclopedic knowledge and Sunny’s amazingly strong 4 teeth the siblings manage to get away, but not before they try and fail to save the Quagmire Triplets.
  18. 02-06-07 The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket. Book 7 of 13. Still attempting to figure out what the mysterious VFD is, the children find themselves with an entire village as their guardian. As the book points out, “it takes a village to raise a child” does not mean “it takes three children to do all the work for an entire village.” Luckily Hector the Handyman has just enough gumption to contrive an escape from the area after the Baudelaires escape from the jailcell in which they have been imprisoned. Doubly luckily they have now found and rescued the two Quagmire triplets. Triply unluckily Hector and the triplets take off and the Baudelaire children are left behind to fend for themselves. I believe this is the final book in which they put any faith in Mr. Poe as well, having seen again and again that the executor of their parents’ estate is ineffectual at best and blindly evil at worst for putting them in harm’s sake again and again.
  19. 02-07-07 The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket. Book 8 of 13. A book a day keeps Count Olaf away, only not. This time he’s impersonating the head of HR and arranging for Violet to have a craniectomy. Klaus and Sunny are frantically searching for the lost Snicket and Baudelaire Files in the basement of the hospital and having to use every ounce of ingenuity and disguise to rescue their sister, discover more about VFD, elude Count Olaf and his creepy sidekicks, and get out of the burning building alive. The end has the biggest cliffhanger yet, as they escape the premises in the trunk of Count Olaf’s automobile, all the time wondering if it is possible that one of their parents survived the conflagration that kicked off the entire series.
  20. 02-09-07 The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket. Book 9 of 13. The siblings are now in the Hinterlands attempting to discover more about VFD at Madame Lulu’s carnival. Violet and Klaus are disguised as a two-headed person while Sunny growls around the premises as Chabo the Wolf Baby. They find a cache of information in Madame Lulu’s tent; unfortunately they are forced to burn it and all goes up in flames. They grieve not only for the lost pages but wonder whether they themselves are being lost as well, beginning to act like Count Olaf with disguises, lies and subterfuge that leads to other people’s deaths. At the end of the book the two older Baudelaire children are hurtling down a mountain to their own deaths while Sunny, trapped in the car with Count Olaf and Esme, wails in the distance.

    One quick quote while I’m at it to demonstrate why these books are fun to read. This is the author, Lemony Snicket, opening Chapter Nine:
    “If you are thinking over a dilemma, you are likely to toss and turn all night long, thinking over terrible things that can happen and trying to imagine what in the world you can do about it, and these circumstances are unlikely to result in any sleeping at all. Just last night, I was troubled by a decision involving an eyedropper, a greedy night watchman, and a tray of individual custards, and this morning I am so tired that I can scarcely type these worfs.”

  21. 02-10-07 The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket. Book 10 of 13. The action in this volume takes place on top and below the Mortmain Mountains, where a hidden VFD headquarters is said to be. Good News: Violet and Klaus have escaped almost certain death at the end of the prior book and have bumped into Quigley Quagmire, the third thought-perished Quagmire Triplet. Bad News: Sunny is stuck on top of the mountain cooking for Count Olaf and company. Good News: the three older children find the VFD site. Bad News: It has been burnt down. Good News: Not totally, a few scraps remain in the library as well as a mysterious inscription over a door. Bad News: Carmelita Spats, the nasty girl from book 5 shows up and joins the villains. Good News: Sunny is rescued and the ultimate goal of the bad guys (beyond the Baudelaire fortune) is discovered. Bad News: that goal has apparently washed out to sea. Good News? At the end so have the kids.
  22. 02-14-07 The Far Country by Nevil Shute. This book has certain similarities to A Town like Alice, one of my favorites by Shute, in that it concerns a young Englishwoman who is transplanted temporarily to Australia. In this book, more is made of the “Brave New World” of post-WW II Britain than in Alice; in the first part the heroine of the book receives a post-death legacy from a great-aunt who has essentially starved to death under post-war food restrictions and loss of her dead husband’s pension. However the story moves on to become, overall, a romance between young Jennifer Morton and Carl Zlinter who has emigrated from a refugee camp in Europe to Australia. Carl was a medical doctor prior to being interred in concentration camps; now he labors as a logger. As it typical in Shute’s books the dance of attraction between these two grows delicately and when Jennifer’s mother unexpectedly dies and she must return to England their love for each other can finally be expressed. I enjoyed this book, I enjoy the way he writes characters, and his phrasing (even though it leads me to say “my word!” far too much after reading one of his books.)
  23. 02-21-07 Coyote Frontier by Allen Steele. This is the third and supposedly last of his Coyote books. It was not as episodic as the prior two which I am not sure is a good or bad thing. Overall I liked it although I didn’t find the characters as compelling as the prior books — Jon in particular never came to life for me as a character which is too bad as he is so central to the story. On the other hand, the reappearance of Manny was very pleasing and I wish the Savant political story could have been further explored. In this solidly written outing, one of the scientists who escaped the round-up in book 1 has been hidden for several hundred years before arriving on Coyote. His secret is that he has developed the practical use of wormholes between the light-years-distant moon and Earth. After the long fight against imported collectivism in book 2, it’s not a surprise that the Coyotans don’t precisely greet this development with joy, particularly after they discover that Earth has essentially almost been used up. I found the section of the book during which Carlos and Wendy act as diplomats of Coyote to negotiate settlement by various Earth factions to be not very interesting, frankly. Finally, the deus ex machina ending seemed tacked on. Having said all this, Coyote Frontier still stands head and shoulders over most of the SF I’ve read in recent years — just not quite as tall as the first two volumes.
  24. 02-22-07 The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket. Book 11 of 13. At the end of the prior book the orphans were headed out to sea. By strange coincidence they are picked up by Captain Widdershins piloting the submarine Queequeg. Since the sugar bowl at the middle of the VFD mystery has been washed out to sea, Klaus and Widdershins’ stepdaughter Fiona determine that is may have settled in a hidden cave and voila, the adventure is off. Surprisingly, Count Olaf does not show up until well into the book, unfortunately after little Sunny has been accidentally infected with a deadly fungus, the Medusoid Mycelium. After Fiona (who Klaus is falling for) betrays the children and they are captured by Olaf they discover the one substance that can save the youngest Beaudelaire child, but not without uncovering yet another set of mysteries, this time about their parents.
  25. 02-24-07 The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket. Book 12 of 13. When the children wash up on shore they discover two taxis waiting for them. Spurning Mr. Poe, their ineffectual banker, they choose to take off with a pregnant Kit Snicket to the Hotel Denouement, the “last safe place”. Upon arriving they assume disguises as concierges and spend a great portion of the book running around on errands, mostly conducted for characters met in prior books. The Beaudelaire orphans have a difficult challenge in deciding who is on the good side of VFD and who is on the bad, especially after they themselves inadvertently cause the death of a person who has been helping them. The hunt for the mysterious and elusive sugarbowl continues and too many oddball events happen to even begin to recount. Eventually the children are met with a very Unfortunate Event, choosing to leave the hotel in a boat with Count Olaf rather than face their own deaths. At the end they remain troubled about whether they themselves have become villains.
  26. 02-26-07 The End by Lemony Snicket. Book 13 of 13. When the orphans and Count Olaf wash up on a remote island they for once do not have to convince people that Olaf is villainous. Although the colony seems restful and safe at first, they soon discover that the benevolent despot is not as kindly and well-meaning as he seems. In the meanwhile Olaf is conspiring to seize command and Kit Snicket, close to bearing her child, has also washed up on an enormous raft of forbidden books. As usual Violet ties up her hair and invents, Klaus remembers useful information from the thousands of books he has read, and Sunny uses her strong teeth and keen cooking skills to unravel perilous situations. Happily they discover partial answers about the many questions of their parents’ involvement with VFD. Sadly they cannot save the colony’s inhabitants from the effects of the deadly Medusoid Mycelium, imported by Olaf, and are faced at the end of the book with raising Kit’s baby alone. It also is the end of the series, as well as the end for one Very Unfortunate character too. (Note: this book is impossible to check out of the regular library so A was kind enough to re-borrow it from the gradeschool for me to read. What a good girl she is!)
  27. 02-26-07 Midnight Magic by Avi. A brought this home from school and it looked rather interesting so I read it. A has been gobbling down Avi books for the last month and based on this one I can see why. It is a typical but well-written Young Adult novel set in medieval times. As it begins a philosopher is under house arrest after being accused and acquitted of sorcery. Suddenly he and his servant Fabrizio are summoned to the local palace to magic away a ghost that is haunting the local princess. There’s an evil count who wants to marry the princess, a missing prince, a superstitious king, a anonymous and mysterious kitchenboy, a protective queen and the too smart for her own britches young princess. Fabrizio and his master figure out what’s been going on and turn the tide on the count, resulting in happiness for everyone on the White Hat side. I particularly liked how Fabrizio is almost sassy with his continual apt quotes, and the affection he has for Mangus, his master.
  28. 02-28-07 The Lioness and her Knight by Gerald Morris. I really enjoy these Arturian books by Morris. They are witty and fun and sweet rather than being tragic. This particular tale is about Luneta, daughter of Agrivaine and niece to Gawaine and King Arthur, and her adventures on a road trip. Luneta has been clashing with her mother so she is packed off with her cousin Ywain, a knight, to visit her cousin Laudine. Ywain has lived out in the sticks and has heady asperations of doing Knightly things, as well as a naiveté which is gently and kindly mocked by Luneta and Rhience, an ex-knight now acting as a traditional fool who joins them. Ywain falls totally in love with Laudine, which is inconvenient as he has just killed her brute of a husband, and the misunderstandings begin. Further highjinks ensue when Luneta discovers she has sorcerous powers and hies off to Morgan le Fay for training. Upon completion, she winds up being imprisoned only to be saved by Rhience and Ywain, as well as a lioness who has joined them. This all sounds very complicated but it is not as it unfolds. Overall it’s a delightful book, especially charming in the continual banter between Luneta and Rhience.
  29. 03-02-07 Infernal by F. Paul Wilson. Another Repairman Jack book, and definitely not up to the level of the prior ones. This book was just a filler, a reason to *spoiler* get another member of Jack’s family killed off. There was minimal ooga-booga spooky stuff, although a nice reappearance by Lyle and his brother, the ghost Charlie. Gia is becoming increasingly two-dimensional and the repeated mention of her being six months pregnant and barely showing bothered me unduly for some reason. Yeah sure, she’s beautiful, bright, beautiful, loving, straight-laced, beautiful and god forbid she get, you know, fat even when she’s pregnant. Good news: looked at the Repairman Jack for a teaser on the next book (which is out in print) and it looks like Ramsalon and the Black Hats actually make an appearance. Thank god. This was boring.
  30. 03-03-07 Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. 1 of 4. This is the first book of the Song of the Lioness series and has been the read-aloud book for the last however long. Alanna and her twin Thom, 11 at the beginning of the book, are slated to go to the generally accepted gender-based training, sorcery for her and becoming a knight for him. Problem is, he wants to be a scholar and she wants to learn to use arms. A fairly cliche switch ensues and “Alan” heads off to become a page, her true identify known only to Coram, the family armsmaster who was supposed to accompany Thom. As several years pass Alanna faces bullies down, being hurt and becoming stronger and more determined in the process; finds a friend in George, the king of the local town’s thieves; and becomes the junior mascot/member of a group of squires including Jonathan, the heir to the throne. She also discovers that she as well as Thom possesses sorcerous skills and in fact appears to be protected by the Mother Goddess. Throw in a fatherly mentor, a charming Duke who’s conniving for the throne and some magical Old Ones to defeat… well, you’ve got a pretty standard Young Adult fantasy novel. The difference is that Pierce’s writing is never condescending — Alanna is neither WonderGirl nor more fraught with self-doubt than any other determined young woman. At any rate every night I read it out loud there were demands for “more! more!” so I think it struck a good chord with the girls.
  31. 03-07-07 Aces High: Wild Cards II edited by George R. R. Martin. I dug out some old books to reread before moving and came across a bunch of volumes of this shared universe series. (Unfortunately the first book is buried somewhere in a hardcover box, bought thanks to an ancient membership in the Science Fiction Book Club.) The premise of the series is than an alien arrived on Earth in 1946 and through an interaction with JetBoy, an ace flier, released a virus nicknamed the Wild Card. 90% of those who became infected died. Of the remaining 10%, nine suffered a Joker mutation which either left them bizarrely deformed or caused them to develop pointless superpowers. The remaining lucky one person gained true and useful superpowers. The alien responsible for all this, known as Dr. Tachyon, remained on Earth to help his victims. In the first book, a number of recurring characters are introduced and the timeline progressed through the Fifties (when HUAC action is leveled against mutants, with a turncoat naming names) through the Sixties (and an eventual movement to stop prejudice against the Wildcard victims.) The second volume picks up in 1979 and revisits some of the earlier characters in a series of stories. There is a theme to the book, that an evil Ace called The Astronomer is using perverse rites to summon another alien entity, The Swarm, to conquer Earth. Whew, that’s all backstory, more or less. I like the characters, many are written well, in particular The Turtle, Jube the Walrus (yet another alien, a sociologist secretly studying Earthlings for 40 years), and Croyd. The Astronomer theme serves to move the story arc along towards a big confrontation in book three. The stories, written by a bunch of different authors, are homogeneous enough to not create that stylistic jarring that can happen in shared universes. They are also rather noir, imbued with grit, violence and sex. I’m glad I’m rereading this series.
  32. 03-07-07 Joker’s Wild: Wild Cards III edited by George R. R. Martin. This volume is different from the first two in that the contributing authors wrote characters who were then integrated into a joint storyline — in other words, Melinda Snodgrass wrote Roulette segments and Stephen Leigh wrote The Howler segments which GRR Martin then seamlessly integrated into a series of chapters. I suppose the stylistic similarities which I noted in the prior volume helped, although I’ll also bet that Martin had a bear of a time doing the editing. This book picks up The Astronomer versus Fortunato theme from the prior book — since the former failed at enticing The Swarm to descend he has decided to kill everyone who thwarted him and then steal Dr. Tachyon’s spaceship for an outerspace rendezvous. The entire book happens over a 24-hour timespan, Joker Day, the 40th anniversary of the original accidental infection of Earth. Considering the large cast of characters, sites, and people rushing here and there in search of (a) getting laid after making a speech at JetBoy’s tomb (Dr. Tachyon), (b) a lost niece (Jack and Bagabond), (c) death to everyone who thwarted him (The Astronomer and all his evil minions), (d) hosting the party to end all parties (Hiram), and (e) a stolen diary that holds the key and control of Mob wars (everybody) the story line holds together very well.
  33. 03-19-07 Aces Abroad: Wild Cards IV edited by George R. R. Martin. Wow, it took me a long time to work through the next volume, which I guess is not a surprise because it is a weak entry into the series. The theme this time is that a group of Jokers and Aces are embarking on an around-the-world tour to publicize and investigate how victims of the Wild Card virus are treated in different countries. The group is led by Dr. Tachyon and Senator Gregg Hartmann, a strong contender for the next presidential nomination. Unbeknownst but vaguely suspected, Hartmann is a secret Ace, controlling other people’s actions and emotions. During one of the early stops another Ace secretly joins the group, Ti Malice, a parasitic mutant who lives off the blood and emotions of his victims. The stories are not intertwined as in the prior book; rather, there they are interspersed with diary entries by Xavier Desmond, known as the Mayor of Jokertown. This makes them more disjointed, of course, and the inclusion of a South American story which involves none of the regular characters throws the flow of the book badly offstream. There are additional subplots involving Peregrine’s unexpected pregnancy by Fortunato, and Dr. Tachyon’s discovery of a grandson, neither of which I found very involving. If I remember correctly this particular entry was boring the first time(s) I read it way back when so I’m not too worried about the series getting back on track.
  34. 03-22-07 Quest of the Fair Unknown by Gerald Morris. The latest of Morris’ Arturian stories, this one is based on Le Quest del Saint Graal (that’d be the Holy Grail) as well as as a Middle English romance called Lybeau Desconus, or The Handsome Unknown. The story begins as Beaufils leaves the forest where he and his mother have lived in solitary since he was born, on a quest to find out who was his father. He has never seen another person and is very sweet and innocent, characteristics that continue throughout the entire book. His journeys soon bring him to Camelot in the company of Galahad, an unsufferable prig, who discovers than Lancelot is his father. A startling appearance by a floating vision of the Holy Grail and soon everyone is off on quests. Beaufils may be sweet but he’s not stupid — his ability to cut through nonsense and find a good solution to every problem never becomes cloying. Accompanied by Ellyn, a young woman who likes him because he doesn’t recognize that she’s beautiful and so values her for herself, he continues to journey about and help people, all the time wondering where and to whom he himself belongs. As in Morris’ other books, the conversational wordplay is delightful and the main characters ones I’d enjoy knowing in real life. The book is quieter than some of the prior ones, being rather concerned with faith and religion (including a funny side trip through a forest packed with hermits) but very satisfactory. One new thing in this book, likely foretelling future volumes, is the first appearance of Mordred who is presented as a mean little son of a witch. I keep on recommending this series to anyone who enjoys Medieval/Arturian stories and would like a break from the Art/Gwen/Lance tragedy. This one holds its own as well as the prior volumes.
  35. 03-23-07 Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev, translated by Hillel Halkin. This is a Young Adult book checked out at the library when I was there with the kidlets last weekend. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of Srulik Frydman who escapes from the Warsaw ghetto at the age of 5 and manages to hide in the Polish forest and work odd jobs on farms throughout the Second World War. It’s written from a child’s perspective so the timelines are difficult to follow — how long did he live in the woods with the refugee gang of other children? Must have been at least a year — but that doesn’t take away from the tale. There is nothing in this book that would be particularly hyper-traumatic to a young reader and it could serve as an introduction to the Holocaust. I think the theme is how much young Srulik lost by the end of the war: his family, an arm, his youth, and even the memory of his own real name. There is a coda to the book by the author telling of how he saw the real man, now calling himself Yoram, speak up at a school lyceum in Israel after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and how that inspired the book. “At the end of his talk, Yoram rose and told his story again. This time, to his surprise, the audience was enthralled. You could have heard a pin drop. Many people were moved to tears. As was I when I heard it.”
  36. 03-25-07 Down and Dirty: Wild Cards V edited by George R. R. Martin.
    Jane Dow: “I’ve heard people say you’re kind of honest, as well as kind of nuts.”
    Croyd: “They’re half-right.”
    And as I recalled, the series gets back to its gritty New York City noirness in this volume. The timing occurs before and after the world trip that is the basis for book IV. The main themes are that there’s a gigantic turf war happening between the Mafia and an upstart Asian group; Croyd “The Sleeper” has woken this time with a newly transmittable version of the Wild Card Virus which is reinfecting everyone with whom he comes into contact; Tom Tudbury, “The Great and Powerful Turtle” has to decide whether he should let his alter ego remain dead or not; and Ti Malice, the vampiric Ace who rode home with the world travelers, has begun to take over Ace after Ace. Considering the huge cast who show up in this book it’s remarkable easy to keep track of various story lines. Characters ranging from SewerJack to Demise to Bagabond to Modular Man show up and immediately fit into place in the plots. I think it’s one of the strengths of this shared universe that even peripheral jokers like Snotman are presented with thought and don’t seem like cannon fodder.

  37. 03-30-07 Ace in the Hole: Wild Cards VI edited by George R. R. Martin.
    The Democratic presidential convention is going on in Atlanta with the chief contenders being Gregg Hartmann versus Leo Barnett. Gregg is a secret Ace, Puppetman, who can control others’ emotions to manipulate events and have gleeful evil fun. Barnett is a religious fanatic who thinks any victim of the Wild Card virus should be shut up In concentration camps. Over the seven days of the convention the usual myriad cast of characters interact in a kaleidescope of configurations. Amongst others, Mack the Knife cuts people up with his hands; Golden Boy’s reputation as a weenie is challenged; Spector is hired to kill one candidate; and Hiram Worchester keeps on dashing back to NYC to visit the parasitic Ti Malice. (In the meanwhile, Chrysalis has been brutally murdered back in Jokertown, something that is treated peripherally in this book but is the focus of the next.) Once again I found it interesting and easy to follow all the activity, although Dr. Tachyon should SHUT THE HELL UP AND STOP BEING SO DAMNED EMOTIONAL. Ahem. He is the real weenie, if you ask me. Spector is such a cool character for a hitman, by the way. At the end, Sara finally earns the comeuppance she deserves from her treatment in the last book and… wait, was that too many spoilers? A couple things happen to a couple people that provide resolution. Heh.
  38. 04-07-07 One-Eyed Jacks: Wild Cards VIII Edited by George R. R. Martin. Back to the original style, with individual stories connected by a series of thematic interludes. In this book they revolved around Jerry, formerly The Projectionist, then a 50-foot-tall gorilla, and now a normal kind of schmuck trying to catch up on the past 20 years missed during his apehood. Not quite 100% normal though as he’s hidden his ace powers to try to stay under the radar of the increasingly conservative anti-Wild Card political climate. Another theme character is The Oddity, a 3-person meld into one being who has been a side character in part books. Oddity has always been presented as mysterious, dangerous, and very grumpy so to get an inside view of His/Hers/His minds added a lot to the book. The main stories themselves tend to revolve around the jumpers, a group of individuals who can switch bodies with anyone they choose. They have become part of a colony on Ellis Island, which has overall been taken over by Bloat, one of the most disgusting Wild Card victims yet. Tachyon’s grandson Blaise is proving to be an immoral psychopath (if those terms are not redundant) and the head of Latham Strauss is living up to every bad cliche every given to lawyers. In the meanwhile, Mark Meadows is in a struggle to keep custody of his beloved daughter and a hard-as-nails female doctor has joined Dr. Tachyon’s Jokertown clinic. One of the strengths of this series, I believe, is that new characters can be introduced and old characters more deeply examines while remaining firmly in the framework and progression of the shared universe.
  39. 04-11-07 Jokertown Shuffle: Wild Cards IX Edited by George R. R. Martin. Things are going to hell in a handbasket in this volume with violence being present in every story. The book opens with the reappearance of Daniel Brennan and Jennifer, aka The Yeoman and Wraith, as their new lives are invaded by Kien’s gang of thugs. After that story they disappears and the remainder of the book revolves around Bloat’s joker sanctuary on Ellis Island. Now called the Rox, Bloat and the jokers is in continual conflict with Blaise and his troupe of jumpers. Tachyon’s been jumped into the body of a 16 year-old girl and things are not going easily for him/her as his/her grandson’s captive. Back in Manhattan, Jerry the ex-ape is continuing to track down the ace responsible for the jumpers; and Mark Meadows is in hiding, having renounced his Captain Trips powers after attempting to rescue his daughter from a horrible state facility. What I liked about this addition to the series: we get to know Bloat much better, as his internal narration is the spine that links the stories. Peanut gets a lot of airtime; he is a lovable character. Tachyon is not as much of a drama llama as in prior books, thank god. Some new interesting characters are introduced notably Charon, the jellyfish-like transport from Manhattan to the Rox; and a mysterious ice-skating penguin. St. John Latham has an experience that leaves his mind a little scrambled. Tommy Tudbury aka The Great and Powerful Turtle is always an asset, as is Croyd, a three-foot-tall pink hairless bat in his latest iteration. Finally, I found the Black Shadow / Chalktalk story intriguing. A lot of the book is set in visions and dreams but that was involving rather than annoying and did a lot to offset the bodycount. At the end a situation is set up involving several key characters that lead them directly to outer space for book 10.
  40. 04-16-07 Double Solitaire: Wild Cards X Edited by George R. R. Martin.
    Jay Ackroyd: “Okay, but I get time-and-a-half for other planets.”
    Right on the heels of the last book, Blaise has headed into outer space, toting along Tachyon’s jumped body, hieing back to his ancestral world Takis under the tutelage of a genetically-created ultimate warrior named Durg. Tachyon, stuck inside a teenager named Kelly, is right on his heels accompanied by his despicable cousin Zabb and two aces, “Popinjay” Jay Ackroyd and the sweet and naive Mark Meadows, aka Captain Tripps. Takis is a world of haves and have-nots, with the ordinary people being treated like serfs and the ruling aristocracy doing anything their mentat abilities allows. Blaise proceeds to shake the place up badly with his combination of Communism, greed and psychopathy and soon a world war is waging. In the meanwhile, Tachyon is growing out not up at an alarming rate; Meadows gets a snip-snip here and a snip-snip there to protect his oldest friend; and Zabb is not sure whether he wants to kiss or kill his cousin now that he’s a she. A new set of characters is introduced, mostly as wallpaper except for one of Tachyon’s harem-contained sisters and a commoner who finally breaks through hard-boiled Ackroyd’s shell. Good news: even though female for once Tachyon is not endlessly sobbing. Better news: an interesting addition to this shared universe even if it happens off Earth and suspends the Rox action until the next book. Best news: ha ha Blaise, sucks to be you!
  41. 04-19-07 In the Hand of the Goddess: Song of the Lioness 2 by Tamora Pierce. This is the second of four in the series I am currently reading to my daughters. In this go-round Alanna grows from age 14 to 18 and continues to conceal her gender as she trains to be a knight. Her friendships with Prince Jonathan and George, the King of the Rogues, grow as she serves as his squire; her emnity with Jon’s cousin, the evil Roger Duke of Conte’ increases as an increasingly suspicious series of coincidences lead to their final confrontation. Luckily for her “Squire Alan” has received the favor of the Lady Goddess along with a couple of crucial gifts that combined with her natural wits and perseverance keeps her on the path of Truth, Justice and the Tortallan Way. Overall this book is a bit juvenile but that is absolutely appropriate for its intended audience. As with Pierce’s other books, I appreciate how Alanna is never presented as a superwoman. She gets hurt and takes months to heal. She’s confused and doesn’t know right away how to handle her feelings. The success of this book, for me, was in the many nights of pleasding for “just ten more minutes!” or “read to the next pause point!” The third volume will be cracked next Monday, to see what happens now that Alanna has achieved her goal of being recognized as a Lady Knight.
  42. 04-21-07 1700 — Scenes from London Life by Maureen Waller. I’d been 90% finished with this book for ages and picked it up to finish it today. The chapters are arranged thematically, beginning with Marriage and proceeding through Birth, Childhood, Disease and Death before getting onto life outside the home,in places of business and pleasure. There’s a plethora of trivial information included and it’s written in a way that’s interesting and not overwhelming pedantic. If I were an author and was seeking some casual information of the time for some esoteric detail, this book would be a good resource. The illustrations were abundant enough too to give a nice feel for how alien those lives are to ours today.
  43. 04-22-07 The Great Divide — A Walk Through America Along the Continental Divide by Stephen Pern. Another book which I had almost finished. I had read this some years ago and upon picking it up again wondered why I had kept it the first time. The topic is interesting enough — Pern walks from New Mexico to Montana — but the continual snide comments about how wasteful / parochial / unenlightened / shitty Americans are grew old after awhile. Sure, Americans can be those things but for god’s sake, quit hammering on it. I felt like writing him and mocking British dental care. The good parts of this book are when he’s actually out walking; his descriptions of the terrain are quite compelling. The good doesn’t offset his general whininess though. Recommendation: don’t bother reading this book even if you find it at Goodwill for 25 cents which is where it will be later today.
  44. 04-22-07 Dealer’s Choice: Wild Cards XI Edited by George R. R. Martin.
    Cameo: “You’re bleeding.”
    Carnifex: “Yeah, I do that a lot.”
    While the outer space antics of the last book are going on, back on Earth the final confrontation between the military establishment and the Jokers/Jumpers out at the Rox is heating up. There are some new characters introduced, Herne the Hunter on the Joker side and Special Agent Battle on the military side. One neat new character is a young woman named Danny Shepherd, aka Legion — or should that be young women because there are seven of her. Much more attention is paid to Billy Ray, aka Carnifex, who finally gets some depth beyond being a musclebound brawler. Tom Tudbury is being the Great and Powerful But Very Sweet and Naive Turtle again, and finally FINALLY finds a woman to love. A lot of the action and quite a bit of mystical stuff revolves around Bloat, the so-called Governor of the Rox, and his avatar The Outcast as well as the real him, Teddy. Wyungare, an Aboriginal character from a prior book, shows up to try to lead Teddy to a better life while the walls are literally falling down around him. One additional character, Modular Man, also finds what he has been seeking since his creation. It was fun to read and understand allusions to a lot of prior characters and stories. The whole book takes place over a two day period and overall I found it a satisfactory ending to the Jumper story thread — even if I still don’t quite understand what the ice-skating penguin with a funnel as a hat was all about.
  45. 04-25-07 Wild Cards Edited by George R. R. Martin.
    Last weekend when I was sorting things out preparatory to hitting the storage locker and Goodwill I finally found the hardcover which was the very first book. It was interesting to step back after having read over ten of the follow-up books and realize how very little we knew during the first entry into this shared world. Jetboy’s saga is fully told, as are the HUAC scares which result in the Four Aces destructing and a drunken Tachyon wandering around Europe for years. The stories are rather unconnected to each other in this book, yet quite a few characters are introduced, particularly Croyd in his many forms. I had forgotten how many other characters who become important first enter onto the stage in this book: Fortunato, Yeoman, Turtle, Puppetman, Bagabond, Rosemary Muldoon, Sewer Jack. I had forgotten how full of characters this book was; no wonder it was intriguing enough at the time that I kept buy book after book. In retrospect from being so further along the saga, the book was more of a bit of a pale curiosity than something totally gripping but I am pleased that it has been found again.
  46. 05-04-07 Turn of the Card: Wild Cards XII by Victor Milan. A single author for this book which revolves entirely around one main character. Who’s the least likely person to feature in a War Adventure novel? Mark Meadows, of course, the aging hippie Dr. Trips, with his alternate personae induced by drug use. Meadows is back from his adventures on Takis in book X and on the run from the Feds since breaking his learning disabled daughter out of a nasty government care center. As the novel starts he’s settled in Amsterdam but soon a conspiracy to kill him rears its ugly head and he’s off to Greece, India and the Middle East before finally arriving in reunited Viet Nam, a country that is advertising itself as open and welcoming to all Wild Card Victims. In the early parts of the book two ineffectual DEA agents are working with Mistral and a new character to us, J. Robert Belew. Thankfully the first three drop out of the story once Meadows arrives in Viet Nam because they are very two dimensional characters.

    Once in Viet Nam, Meadows find there is no place for his biochemistry genius and is more-or-less drafted into a Joker segment of the Army. There he discovers that genocidal bigotry against Wild Card victims is very alive and well, despite official protestations to the opposite, and makes a history-changing decision to go AWOL and begin opposing the military establishment. At this point Belew, now revealed as the ace “The Mechanic”, shows up and the real story begins. The happy addition of Croyd Crenson as Meadows’ sidekick smartmouth really enhances that latter half of the book. The Sleeper is always a neat character with his ever-changing abilities and his first appearance here as a human skink is a happy thing. Between Belew’s political savvy, Croyd’s support, and Meadow’s alternate personalities (Jumpin’ Jack Flash makes a fun appearance as a human fighter jet), there is eventually a surprising new President of Free Viet Nam. By the end of the book Meadows emerges as a much wiser and more cynical man with his underlying sweetness still intact. I found the book quite a satisfactory addition to the series.

  47. 05-09-07 Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. This paperback was lying around the break room at work and I kept picking it up and flipping through so I finally liberated it for a few days and reread the whole thing. I had forgotten after that abomination Hannibal that Harris could actually write once upon a time — SOTL holds together very well as a crime adventure with the horror parts used sparingly as drivers to the story line rather than the main (and bloody) meat held together by tendons of badly written plot as in his later books. One thing that stuck out to me during this reading is how naive Clarice Starling is throughout the book. Granted, with Hannibal Lector’s supposed genius ability to psychologically dissect people perhaps anyone could be manipulated but still. I had forgotten that Starling is really very young in this book. Due to the movie’s influence I continually visualized her as Jody Foster, as well as Scott Glenn as Jack Crawford which neither added nor detracted from my reading but was interesting to realize about halfway in. It’s too bad that Harris had whatever his book contract was so that he had to follow Red Dragon and this book with the crap sequels.
  48. 05-12-07 Card Sharks: Wild Cards XIII Edited by George R. R. Martin. This book is back to the original structure, a series of stories written by different authors connected by a single-character storyline as its spine. It is seriously great, maybe the best book of the series so far for me, as it fills in a number of empty spaces alluded to in prior novels, highlights some prior players, and introduces a number of new characters as well as a years’ old international conspiracy to wipe out Wild Card victims. I very much enjoyed this book with all its insider information. The book opens with a horrendous fire at the Jokertown establishment, the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker. A fire investigator is called in and soon Hannah Davis — a nat who is highly xenophobic of jokers and aces — is up to her eyeballs in conspiracy theory. The rest of the book is her interviewing various people in the US and Free Viet Nam at increasing risk to her own life. Their stories subtly build upon each other until it is obvious to her that there is indeed something very sketchy going on. Throughout the book she is added by Quasiman, a peripheral character in prior books, a man who perpetually partially phases in and out of our and other universes and so can sometimes predict the future. The stories themselves are told by old and new characters with my fave Croyd showing up to contribute one as well. I enjoyed learning more about Bradley Finn’s history (he’s a centaur doctor who works at Tachyon’s Jokertown clinic) as well as finally learning the true story behind Jimmy Carter’s SNAFU of a ace rescue of Iran hostages as told by J. Robert Belew. There’s a huge sense of alternate universe too as Marilyn Monroe, of all people, plays a part in several stories. The book finally winds up with a huge cliff-hanger which was literally a jaw-dropper for me. I cannot wait to see how this storyline plays out.
  49. 05-17-07 Marked Cards: Wild Cards XIV Edited by George R. R. Martin. If the last book was past tense, flashback stories heard by Hannah Davis in her search for the Card Sharks group, this one is present. The plot again revolves around the mysterious organization which is determined to eradicate everyone ever infected with the Wild Card virus, whether they have manifested it as Ace, Joker or not at all. The storylines which make up the spine of the novel are threefold: Hannah Davis’ continuing her investigation while under increasing threat of death; Gregg Hartmann, his Puppetman talents now hugely diminished, becoming a new man much more quickly than he would have liked; and Carla van Renssaeler, granddaughter of the original Four Aces’ Brain Trust, taking over the Jokertown Clinic to obtain access to Tachyon’s notes in order to develop a killer virus. These themes again interweave in a very satisfactory way, interrupted by the main stories which bring back many prior characters. A couple of stories featuring Mark Meadows in Viet Nam and Bagabond in South America seem like throwaways against the book’s big theme although they do provide some updating to prior characters. It was nice to see Tom Tudbury featured a bit as well although I suspect that was a nod to “show us our favorite characters!” rather than really crucial for any storyline. Croyd shows up again and again with amusing — and very deadly — effect. His amorality combined with genuinely nice personality and constantly changing form makes him a really fun character. He and Black Shadow working together allow the good guys to finally get some revenge for the diabolical scheming and deaths caused by the Card Sharks. I enjoyed that story very much in a GRRRRR go get’em fashion. The storyline concerning Carla and her gradual shift away from Card Shark brainwashing into humanism was good, especially since Dr. Bradley Finn, a very nice guy who has been mostly backdrop to the series, gets more airplay.

    This was an exciting book for the filling in what is basically the Card Shark trilogy. It left me eager to dive into the next one to see how things wind up. The personal growth exhibited by some characters (notably Hartmann) is way the heck overdue. By now I feel so immersed in this universe that even little bit of business like a random comment by Jube the Walrus have meaning. I hope in the next book that the White Hats go nuts on the Card Sharks and really kick their genocidal asses.

  50. 05-24-07 Black Trump: Wild Cards XV Edited by George R. R. Martin. This is the final book of the ones I own, although there were two more subsequent volumes published a few years later. Continuing hot on the heels of the prior book various groups of people are dispatched around the globe to attempt to recover the three missing Black Trump virus caches. Early on it is discovered that the Black Trump will kill all humans, not only Wild Card victims which gives the rescue operations extra impetus. Billy Ray, “Carnifex” is teamed up with a woman operative and falls in love while tracking down Gregg Hartmann and Hannah Davis. Hartmann’s lost Puppetman skill begins to reappear but he finally does the right thing for the right reason. In the meanwhile Zoe Harris is dispatched from Jerusalen to infiltrate the Nur’s viral factory, ultimately assisted by good ol’ Croyd, wearing humps in this incarnation. Their extra push to succeed is a nuke almost literally hanging over their heads. Back in Viet Nam, Mark Meadows is creating a super duper version of the Black Trump, under duress to save his daughter from torturers. Will he be a sly and subtle enough biochemist to slip an Overtrump cure past his captors? Not without getting severaly beaten up several times. Good thing Jerry, aka Nobody, shows up in time to help effect an escape. Ultimately Mark finds precisely what’s he’s been seeking all these many years, with poignant results. Throughout all these goings on Quasiman is phasing in and out at various places, perhaps helping, perhaps forgetting what the heck he is supposed to be doing, have done, or will do. This is an action adventure, no question there.
  51. 06-01-07 The Nazis: A Warning from History by Laurence Rees. I wrote a little about this book in a recent post. It’s a companion volume to an excellent BBC series. It’s not a typical WII history with recounting of battles; nor it is a biography of Hitler (who, the book says, is the most biographed person ever.) Rather it looks at the infrastructure of the Nazi party and how that grew chaotically to end with such horrific results. It also debunks some of the mythology surrounding Hitler, pointing out that if he was such a magically charismatic person, how come he received a dazzling 2.6% of the votes in the 1928 election, when he had already been in the public eye for some time.

    The most interesting part to me is the chaos of his administration, how there were several people with essentially the same administrative position all jockeying for favor by proposing more and more radical responses and, wincing at the loaded word, solutions. One of the things that became obvious at the post-War Nuremberg trials was how little Hitler actually put down in writing — instead the philosophy of the times was to “work towards Hitler” in how a person ran or proposed to run the area under his jurisdiction. The endgame result grew like a weed sending out evil tendrils. The most extreme example, of course, are the pure deathcamps. Get the Jews out of Germany turns into sending them to ghettos in Poland as waystations until they can be shipped to Madagascar. Oops, shipping is an issue because of the British Navy, they have to stay in the ghettos. Oops, the Jews are out of money so make them work to earn food. Oops, too many in Russia to ship back, just kill them there. Oops, shooting thousands of people is wrecking troop morale, refine a better way to kill. Oops, the ghettos are overcrowded send the nonworkers off to be slaughtered. Oops, too many Jews in newly conquered areas, don’t even bother with the ghettos. Nothing was planned much in advance, it was improvised at almost every point with the most extreme proposal chosen again and again.

    Anyway, a good book with a different perspective and I recommend it.

  52. 06-06-07 The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible! by Otto Bettmann. Otto Bettman had a fascinating history and were I a gazillionaire I would have perhaps tried to buy his famous Archives myself, heh. It’s kind of amusing to me, for many years after becoming aware of the Bettmann Archive I took care to notice how ubiquitously often that resource was cited whenever an old image was used in any form of media.

    In this book he uses many old photographs and newspaper drawings to touch upon virtually every aspect of life in the late 1800s. He makes the point from almost every angle that The Gilded Age was not much fun for even the wealthiest people — after all, what’s the point of escaping the summer stink of the pigs wandering around city by going to a beach “cottage” malaria followed right along? I have read this book a couple times before and find each time that it sparks my interest in a number of different topics, from the writings of Jacob Riis to homesteaders’ experiences on the Great Plains. A definite keeper, both for myself and as a volume which might prove as interesting to my children.

    Just because, here’s an interesting article about Dr. Bettmann.

  53. 06-09-07 The Short & Bloody History of Knights by John Farman. This is the first of three light-hearted volumes about interesting career choices. It’s a glib and entertaining overview of the evolution of knighthood and brief stories about some of the more famous (or infamous) characters. I suppose it’s directed at a young adult audience — it’s the type of book one might expect to find in a doctor’s waiting room or a bathroom (interesting juxtaposition, that) because it’s very easy to pick up and put down.
  54. 06-10-07 The Short & Bloody History of Spies by John Farman. Yjos was not as interesting to me as the knights one. Face it, if a spy is at all good, we never knew about him or her, eh?
  55. 06-11-07 The Short & Bloody History of Pirates by John Farman. The final volume of the popcorn trio, this had some interesting history, particularly about Anne Bonney, and was as light-hearted as the prior two. I’ll see if any of the kidlets want to read these; otherwise off as a donation to the library.
  56. 06-14-07 The March by E. L. Doctorow. Doctorow writes in an interesting style, his characters and plots swirling around like pools of color, mingling for a moment and then separating again. This book revolves around William T. Sherman’s march on the South during the waning period of the Civil War. Southerns are also on the march: away from the army; leaving their plantations to find refuge in cities; as freed slaves following the army in search of something better. Sherman is presented as a complex man, driven by his burning desire to finish the war and his guilt over what will take to make that happen. One of the main characters is a white-skinned former slave, Pearl, who is saved from drowning by man with a name familiar to readers of Ragtime, yet slightly different: Coalhouse Walker Senior. Another set of characters combine, evolving into one attempting assassination on Sherman thwarted by the second. I agree with the Publisher’s Weekly comment on this book: “…Doctorow’s gift for getting into the heads of a remarkable variety of characters, famous or ordinary, make this a kind of grim Civil War Canterbury Tales.” My final assessments of this book are: (a) it is interesting but not hugely compelling to reread, yet (b) it makes me want to reread additional Doctorow novels to see whether the characters in The March recur or are echoed (as in the Coalhouse Walker Jr. backstory) and (c) wishing that Doctorow’s novels were either a bit stronger (to make them stronger rereads) or a bit weaker (so they wouldn’t linger in my mind.)
  57. 06-20-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Grasscutter by Stan Sakai. I am in the midst of a long books and World War II so taking a break from that to read a graphic novel (comic book) about a 16th century samurai rabbit was just fine by me.

    The neat things about Sakai’s books are that they are not just battle and slash and hack — as a North American who has somewhat limited exposure to Japanese folk culture and history they provide a nice basic grounding in those subjects through prequel stories. In fact in this particular book it’s a good 20+ pages before Our Hero even shows up.

    This book concerns a plot to overturn the empire and establish a shogunate (as do all the UY comics, as far as my experience goes) and as usual Long Ears manages to partially save the day with the assistance of his occasional sidekick Gen (a rhino) and his secret love, the Lady Tomoe (a cat.) The Grasscutter of the title is a legendary sword that Usagi finds through a convoluted series of events and has to protect from a minion of The Dark Lord (and his hapless and cute daughter, poor kid.) Now I just hope that the library has part 2 of this tale so I can see how it all turns out.

  58. 06-22-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Seasons by Stan Sakai. Two preliminary comments: (1) I have to find the order in which these books go and (2) I wanna be Lady Tomoe. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, turning into a big fangrrl of these books. In this one there are a variety of tales from Usagi Yojimbo, Gen and Tomoe finding themselves inside a ghost story to the back story of General Ikeda, who was significant in Grasscutter. This was a very poignant story, by the way, and shows how talented Sakai is, that he can make the reading audience feel for a failed traitor… bear. As an final sidenote, the complexity of Sakai’s drawing reminds me in a lot of ways of the Asterix & Obelix comics in the way both artists have shorthand ways of providing information. In the Usagi Yojimbo comics, for example, whenever anyone dies often there’s a ghostly thought balloon floating off containing a representation of their skull. It’s a nice bit of shorthand and also amusing because of the range of skulls that the critter characters provide.

    By the way, has more information than most people would want about this series.

  59. 06-27-07 Auschwitz by Pascal Croci. I’ve been flipping back and forth between several books and finishing none. After reading halfway through a library book of Esther Friesner short-stories and being bored to death by them I hit the library last night to return it and other now-read books and pick up some new ones.

    After finding more Usagi Yojimbo books I headed over to the adult graphic novel section in an attempt to find Neil Gaiman’s Sandman collection with no luck. However, I did discover this short hardcover story. It may seem heartless to say so but I did not find this a particularly moving book. Unless a person has no inkling of the history of the death camp there is nothing new presented here either in images or storyline. The story is bookended by a few frames of an old couple who are apparently about to be caught up in ethnic cleansing in 1990s Yugoslavia. While the noose tightens around them they suddenly tell each other their parallel experiences in Auschwitz, the wife finally informing her husband after 50 years what happened to their daughter in the camp (he thought she was gassed but actually she lived through the gas chamber (this actually happened at least once) and died of typhoid two days before liberation.)

    I might think that perhaps I am too inured to this sort of story / pictures except that Art Spiegelman’s excellent Maus and Maus II still have the capacity to move me. Overall I wonder how Croci could have spent five years researching this short book, complete with self-confessed deliberate inaccuracies (e.g. the prisoners’ hats) and yet produce a book which while portraying heartlessness itself contains no heart.

  60. 06-29-07 The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. I don’t know quite what to call this: a fairy tale? A fable? Take an old ineffectual king with two sons, the first being almost perfect and the second lumpy and feeling less-loved. Stir in an evil wizard named Flagg who loves to stir up trouble every hundred years or so. Add a drop of regicide and see what happens. This book is unlike anything else King has written yet contains his usual insights and understanding of human feelings and how capital-E Evil can sneak in when no one is paying attention. It reminds me in a lot of ways more of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust than the normal King ooga-booga or psychological writings. I think I will suggest C read it and see what he thinks about the characters of the Princes Peter and Thomas.
  61. 06-29-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Grey Shadows by Stan Sakai. A story of nobility segues into a ghost/demon story in this collection, followed by a political murder mystery. This is the first time Inspector Ishida has appeared in one of the books I’ve read and I hope he shows up again. Yojimbo pays Doctor Watson to Ishida’s Sherlock Holmes and the way the latter strolls around, stooped with his hands clasped behind his back, belays his abilities as both a lawman and a fighter.
  62. 06-30-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Duel at Kitanoji by Stan Sakai. I’m really enjoying reading these both as a break from the WWII and Doctorow books that are also on deck and for their stories and artwork. Again the volume opens with a couple of short stories, this time revolving around Yojimbo’s rescue of the son of a friend and a tale of samurai revenge. The main story concerns a journey to an epic duel between Usagi’s former sensei and his longtime rival. While accompanying the rival and his own undeclared son to the meeting, Yojimbo discovers a weakness in the rival’s attack that could prove crucial in the outcome of the battle. Should he disclose this secret or not? His teacher’s life could hinge on this decision.
  63. 06-29-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Grey Shadows by Stan Sakai. A story of nobility segues into a ghost/demon story in this collection, followed by a political murder mystery. This is the first time Inspector Ishida has appeared in one of the books I’ve read and I hope he shows up again. Yojimbo pays Doctor Watson to Ishida’s Sherlock Holmes and the way the latter strolls around, stooped with his hands clasped behind his back, belays his abilities as both a lawman and a fighter.
  64. 07-08-07 Chiaroscuro — The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci by Pat McGreal (and others). Library books are due, time to finish up a few. This is another graphics novel which purports to tell the story of da Vinci and his protege, a beautiful young peasant boy who inspires and eventually betrays him. I didn’t like the drawing style of this book very much.
  65. 07-09-07 The Waterworks by E. L. Doctorow. I’ve liked some of Doctorow’s other books. One of their main strengths is their large cast of characters moving through and past eah others’ lives like leaves in eddies. One result of that style is none of the characters is ever very deep. In this book, with only a few characters, the lack depth made it boring and hard to read. Plus.. many… ellipses… I am not sure what was with that but after awhile it greatly… bugged.
  66. 07-09-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Glimpses of Death by Stan Sakai. There are twenty of these books, by the way. This volume contains a story of youthful Yojimbo’s training with his sensei; a short adventure about the underground Christianity in feudal Japan; a folktale about “The Rat”, a version on Robin Hood, which features Inspector Ishida (I love his eyebrows or should that be eyebrow); another adventure in which Yojimbo get corralled into escorting an old crabby woman; and a series of stories which build on the activities in The Grasscutter. It was fun to see some previous characters show up and their stories be resolved.

    In the first story, his teacher Katsuichi is teaching him a lesson by instructing him to put three things into boiling water.

    Y: They’re done, sensei.
    K: Good, take out the daikon and the egg.
    K:The boiling water represents life’s hardships. The radish went in firm and strong, but the water has rendered it soft, weak and mushy. The egg, on the other hand, was once fluid in its shell. Though outwardly it looks the same, the interior has hardened. Adversity has changed both.
    Y: What about these crumbly leaves?
    K: The leaves have changed the boiling water into a savory aromatic tea. *sip*
    K: In the face of adversity, which of these three are you?
    Y: Huh?
    K: Are you the daikon, at first strong and rigid, but soon becoming soft and weak? Perhaps the fragile egg? After lying ion the boiling water, its heart became hardened and its spirit stiff.
    K: Or are you the leaves, which did not suffer for the worse, but instead changed the very circumstances that would have brought pain? As the water became hotter, they released their fragrance and flavor, altering the situation around them.

  67. 07-11-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Demon Mask by Stan Sakai. Again a series of unrelated tales to start, including a ghost story (or is it?), a tale in which Yojimbo instills some wisdom in a wanna-be-a-samurai kid and assorted others. Finally the big story starts, a continuation of the body-shifting demon and sword from Grass Cutter tales. I am enjoying these books a lot and almost out of the library’s collection, alas.
  68. 07-13-07 Other Worlds, Other Times by John D. MacDonald. This is a collection of science fiction short stories from the 40s and 50s which hold up quite well. The science in many is ludicrous, of course (e.g. alien slave colonies on Venus) but the characterizations and plots are interesting and well done. MacDonald is best known for writing his Travis McGee detective books and one longer fantasy tale, The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything but this set of stories holds their own with those and are better than most authors of the post-War period.
  69. 07-14-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Fathers and Sons by Stan Sakai. The last of the local library’s holdings. Usagi Yojimbo is a wandering ronin samurai, and in this book he is accompanied on his journeys by a young friend Jotaro. Together they participate in the closing chapter of the Goat Assassin from prior books before stumbling onto Lady Tomoe and Lord Noriyuki. A very sad thing happens — I was honestly moved. Finally the two separate, but not before individually struggling with telling the other their secrets: Usagi is Jataro’s father; Jotaro is Usagi’s son. They each decide that the other should not be burdened with the knowledge and so they part, for now. This book also contains a very poignant tale in flashback from sensei Katsuichi’s youth. Hard to believe a graphic novel *coughcomicbookcough* can contain such depth.
  70. 07-15-07 Spindrift by Allen Steele. This book ties into the Coyote series. At the end of the third Coyote book there was a deus ex machina, some space aliens suddenly show up and zing, the whole plot shifted 90 degrees in the final few pages. It was annoying, like a poorly done cliffhanger. This book fills in the gap of that part of the Coyote saga, about an earlier exploratory ship that went missing, what happened to it, and how three crewmembers show up by Coyote with an alien in tow. The story overall was, frankly, boring. There is some political manuvering in the early parts but it was done with so much more urgency and sense of danger in Coyote… There was some dangerous situations but those were done so much better in Coyote… you see where I’m going with this. The book is defintely okay, but not up to Steele’s recent efforts.
  71. 07-19-07 Tempting Fate by Esther Friesner. I picked up a couple of Friesner’s books during a recent foray into the young adult section of the local library. She’s an interesting author, whose writing varies from cryptic and dark to light-hearted and slightly fluffy. This book falls into the latter category, concerning Ilana Newhouse’s summer job, temping for the mythological Fates. Ilana has a bit of a chip on her shoulder, feeling outcast from her family’s preoccupation with her older sister’s pending nuptuals (shades of “Sixteen Candles” here) but her good heart helps her traverse the complexities of dealing with drunken gods and coffeehouse-owning sorceresses. Arachne is presented as a rather charming sidekick too.
  72. 07-21-07 Stardust by Neil Gaiman. A fairy tale, a fable, a play on words, a shaggy dog story. Tristam makes a promise to his lady that he will find a fallen star and give it to her in exchange for her love. But the fallen star lies in Faerie, and is a person rather than a bit of space metal. To complicate things, an evil witch and a coldly psychopathic heir to a kingdom are also searching for the young starwoman. This book has a relatively uncomplicated plot for Gaiman, yet I found is satisfying as the kind of fairy tale that ties up all the loose ends in a gratifying way.
  73. 07-25-07 Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner. Apparently the first of a series, this book tells the story of the tweener years of Helen of Sparta, who one day will be known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen is a headstrong tomboy who chafes at feeling confined in her role as future queen — so, as is typical in young adult novels of this type she dresses as a boy and learns weaponry. Much to her surprise, her secret is tacitly endorsed by her mother, who turns out to be an excellent archer. The book is not hugely deep, yet I found it interesting how so many characters from mythological tales just wander in and out of the tale, Atalanta and Theseus, for example. At the end, Helen and her freed-slave sidekick Milo are sneaking off to join the group of young men following Jason to his boat. My assessment as an adult: I’d pick up the sequel if I noticed it; also I’m sure I would have found this adventurous and enthralling while a tweener girl myself.
  74. 07-29-07 Hospital Station by James White. This is the first of the Sector General SF series, which revolves around an outer space hospital which treats people of many known species as well as heretofore unknowns which are picked up by their distress beacons. If I recall correctly in this series, the first few books are collections of related short stories and later ones are constructed more as several novellas inside one cover.

    Using this short story format, this book introduces the reader to a number of characters who are pivotal throughout the series, particularly O’Mara and Conway. The former has a checkered past as a man who is too intelligent to fit his appearance; his installation as Sector General’s reigning psychologist sets him up as one of the connecting threads for the entire multi-book set. I have always felt that O’Mara would be a good man to know, and an excellent one to have at your back. Conway arrives as a fledging doctor and he as well acts as connective tissue from book to book. In this group of stories he is jejune in his outlook and experience, but has the key characteristic of being utterly imaginative in how he tackles some of the most difficult medical situations and emergencies the facility encounters. There are a host of important secondary characters introduced as well, particularly Prilicla, a dragonfly-like physician, and the elphantine Thornnastor, Conway’s boss. I found it amusing that nurse Murchison barely gets a no-name mention here, as Conway’s well-known affinity for other species falls to the side in future books as he falls to her lovely human side. (And I am ashamed of myself for that little play on words.)

  75. 07-31-07 The Torturer’s Apprentice by John Biguenet. This is a book of short stories that I picked off the refile carts at the library — sometimes there is nothing as compelling as a random pick from a group of somethings that other people have found attractive, right? Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway if the book weren’t as short as it is (176 pages) I am not sure I would have bothered finishing it. The stories were sometimes creepy in a deranged psychology way, which can work very well for some authors (see Shirley Jackson) but in this case they rarely seemed to come to any sort of thoughtful resolution, whether a good or bad end for the characters. I think this author has promise but needs an editor to send back his writings until he gets over letting plots peter out. One story stands out in my mind as remarkable, “The Open Curtain”, in which a man suddenly sees beyond the mundanity of his life to the small sparkling jewels that he ordinarily overlooks.
  76. 08-04-07 From a Buick 8 by Stephen King. This is an interesting “monster” tale from King in that, for once, the monster itself is not really defined. The book revolves around a group of Pennsylvania State Troopers who happen upon a vintage Buick that is wrong. It feels wrong, it exudes wrongness, it is not constructed like a real car which would run, nothing is good and right about this car. It sits in a shed behind the trooper HQ for more than 20 years, occasionally producing incredible bursts of light and even more occasionally spitting out wrong things from Someplace Else. The car itself is maybe a portal, maybe a tool, maybe a forgotten trail from one universe to another. One thing is sure: it draws in people around it, psychologically and sometimes literally.

    The books is constructed as a series of flashbacks, stories told by the troopers to the teenaged son of a fallen comrade. In these tales King shows his usual skill of vulgar delicacy— he never seems to go wrong in being able to write his characters speaking like real people. My only negative comment about the book’s construction is that I did not find a strong enough distinction between the troopers themselves. For example, there’s one man who speaks in a stereotypical Swedish sing-song fashion; I kept forgetting what his role at the HQ was. On the plus side (though I believe some people would find the book very unsatisfactory because of this) the mystery of the Buick is never explained. I reckon the theme of the novel is “It is what it is” which may reflect King’s maturity as an author. I’m glad I read it, and equally glad I got it from the library because it’s likely I wouldn’t bother reading it again.

  77. 08-05-07 Usagi Yojimbo — Daisho by Stan Sakai. I have now discovered that this county’s library system has borrowing privileges with surrounding counties. Yay! More samurai bunny for me! I also discovered that “yojimbo” means bodyguard, a job which “Long Ears” formally takes on once upon occasion and informally assumes with some frequency when encountering bullies.

    This book has a theme of objects, I think. The opening story has Usagi encountering a wandering priest who is playing a flute. Some of the ronin’s past history catches up to them, leading to a tragedy, and the story segues directly into the next, a tale of a town overrun by slavers. Our Hero shows up, in pursuit of a killer, only to be captured and (for this series) brutally tortured. At a highly dramatic moment the story stops… and the next one is a history lesson about the creation of a samurai’s swords. The tale shows how the katana contained the warrior’s soul. This information becomes pertinent when Usagi’s tale continues, as his tormentors have stolen his swords and he is hot in pursuit. If you can imagine the angriest rabbit face ever in existence, that is his expression throughout this tale. Luckily he meets up with his friend Gen and another bounty hunter, Stray Dog, to succeed in his quest. The final story is a flashback to Usagi’s youth and lost love, the Lady Hirano. It is a sweet tale with a poignant ending.

    In case anyone has missed this, I really like these books.

  78. 08-06-07 Usago Yojimbo — The Brink of Life and Death by Stan Sakai. This collection begins with a very short summary of the situation in 16th century Japan, when the Shogunate meant that the standing samurai armies were not necessary. Some samurai became bodyguards; some went into trade; some became ronin; and some, like our hero, began a warrior pilgrimage — the musha shugyo — to increase their spiritual and fighting strength.

    One of the joys of this series is the range of emotions aptly shown by Miyamoto Usagi. Sometimes he looks young and joyful, scar on his brow nonewithstanding, and sometimes his eyes narrow and glare and he is absolutely fierce. Stan Sakai is genius as an artist in this way.

    The books contain stories from mundane (the lives of seaweed farmers) to occult (bat ninjas, and by that I mean with literal wings and flying abilities). A sequel to the seaweed story sees Usagi encountering Inazuma the ronin for the first time, as she scams him for sake and snatches an arrow from flight to save his life. A different kind of meeting is detailed as a young girl is threatened in her own home by assassins, only to be rescued by the demon-ridden Jei, still hot on Usagi’s trail. Luckily for the girl, the demon sees no evil in her soul and so the lives to become Jei’s faux-niece and acolyte as seen many other stories. A third encounter is yet another meeting between the rabbit samurai and Kitsune, the thief/street performer, followed by what seems to be becoming a traditional run-in with a shapechanging demon in the woods. The next is a tale of secrecy, assassins and betrayal which is enlivened by mole ronin who literally tunnel their way out of the rock — that was an amazing and amusing panel in the book as Usagi and his companion must have been almost literally standing on top of them! The final tale sees Usagi talking with Inazuma again, hearing with her four companions how she became a warrior, a story with a surprise ending.

  79. 08-08-07 The World Within War by Gerald F. Linderman. I’ve been reading this book on and off since late June and finally finished it. It is somewhat dense reading but also very interesting, being a sociological study of various aspects of World War II combat. I have multiple stickytabs marking pages of topics mentioned in passing that elicited my curiosity enough to want to do additional research — perhaps one day I will write an essay or two on some of them and post it on this site.

    The major themes explored are: battle, expectations, reality, and coping with combat; the philosophic differences between the European and Asian wars (rules versus unrestrained, in the books’ parlance); discipline and reaction to the same in an army made up primarily of what Stephen Ambrose called “citizen soldiers”; how war had its appeals in terms of spectacle, permitted and encouraged destruction, and comradeship; and finally the discrepancies between the war front and the home front. The books contains a lot of front-line and first person testimony although those quotes are used in a supportive and correct ratio to the underlying theses, not just “it was awful”, “yeah, it was awful” to pile voice upon voice. Interestingly I have read enough WWII books that I frequently recognized the speakers from either their own biographies or from other sources. Yet there was much fresh material as well, all dancing around whichever central thought was being examined, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away, to create what seemed like a balanced and thoughtful examination of the war experience.

    I enjoyed this book, although at times I had to set it aside and focus on something else. I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in 20th century warfare as a social history rather than a series of battles.

  80. 08-09-07 Usago Yojimbo — The Shrouded Moon by Stan Sakai. The final volume I checked out in the latest batch, this book contains a long story of an adventure my Miyamoto Usagi and his rhino friend Murakami Gennosuke. Gen is always a kick, being frankly mercenary and self-interested but frequently also evidencing a heart of gold, especially after Usagi draws him into helping some pack of underdogs. In this tale, the rabbit and rhino find themselves on opposite sides of two feuding bands of hoodlums — the two opening panels of the big fight scene are quite funny. The book also contains continuing stories of characters we have met before: Chizu, the ninja woman now gone fugitive from her own gang; the ronin Inazuma, now demon-ridden and tracking Usagi’s trail; and Kitsune, the street performer/thief who is now used as bait in a torturous trap for the hero samurai rabbit. Once again I am determined to find more of these books to continue to fill in the blanks — a tribute to Stan Sakai as an artist and storyteller who has captivated my interest.

  81. 08-12-07 The Gunslinger by Stephen King. This is the first book of The Dark Tower series, which numbers ten or so books? I’m not sure. Based on this opening volley I’m not sure I really want to read more (though I probably will.) The books is very cryptic, with the titular character, Roland, in pursuit of the Man in Black across a desolate apocalyptic world. There are zombies and flashbacks and magic foretellings and a boy from New York in our universe and none of it makes sense. If I did not also have books two and three checked out from the library I doubt I would give this series another thought because no one had any depth — it was like shadow puppetry across the desert, through the caves and up the mountains.
  82. 08-15-07 The Greedy Bastard Diary — A Comic Tour of America by Eric Idle. I borrowed this from the library, not knowing what to expect. It isn’t bad, not hugely gripping either though. Idle’s recounting of his roadtrip is full of anecdotes, some humorous and some poignant. I suppose in a word I found the writing eventually becoming monotonous, much as the tour seemed to have become.
  83. 08-17-07 Usago Yojimbo — Shades of Death by Stan Sakai. Mwahaha, found more at the library. I am such a dork. Ahem. Apparently there was a Usagi Yojimbo / Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover at some point because in this book Splinter’s great-the-umpteenth grandfather summons the four turtle ninjas from the future to help defend a monastery. They are a little bemused at their sudden appearance — one of them has this conversation with Usagi and Gen the rhino:

    Turtle: “It’s just like 17th century Japan — except with animals instead of humans! How did they evolve? Why is a horse a horse but a rabbit a person?”

    Usagi: ” ‘Evolve’? I don’t understand. We are creations of the gods as are all things around us?”

    Turtle: “Yeah, but a bunny as big as a rhino? And what about the talking cats, dogs and other critters running around? Like… do you guys have tails?”

    Gen: “Hey, don’t get personal! At least we wear clothes!”

    Turtle: *sheepish* “Ha, ha… er… well I guess you’ve got me there!”


    The book opens with more battles between Our Heroes, Chizu and her ninjas and the bat ninja clan over the Grasscutter sword, then moves on to other unconnected tales. The second is a poignant yet fulfilling tale of a mother’s memorial to her slain son, then moves on to a two-part tale of a hidden treasure. In an unusual Lion & the Mouse story, usagi and the ubiquitous dinosaur-lizards who are always wandering around manage to aid each other; then a flashback to Usagi’s time as a child, learning wisdom from his sensei Katsuichi. The final set of stories also feature young Usagi, learning that battle is not exactly glorious and having an unknown foretelling of his future.

  84. 08-19-07 The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King. Dark Tower, Book 2. Man, this series is going to be a freaking trainwreck. The question is whether I’ll be able to fend off the “gotta know what’s going to happen next” of the set. The second volume is not as surreal as the first having an actual plot. In a nutshell Roland pulls three people from our uiverse into his: a junkie, a crippled woman with multiple personalities, and an evil person responsible for all kinds of bad stuff that happened to other characters over the years. In the meanwhile there are giant lobsters snipping off fingers and toes and talking at the main characters. It’s a weird book and I think it was written while drunk.
  85. 08-20-07 Usago Yojimbo — Grasscutter II by Stan Sakai. I finally checked out this volume which contains the end of the saga of the sacred sword (sss ssss ssss didn’t intend that alliteration) and the efforts to get it to a temple where it can replace the fake sacred sword. Usagi Yojimbo, Gen, the priest Sanshobo and the ex-general Lord Ikeda are racing against Chizu and her Neko Ninja and finally the bat ninja guys, all of whom want Grasscutter for political purposes. Race race fight fight race fight, lots of assorted deaths, one big fake-out and there you go, finally the Grasscutter saga is done.

  86. 08-22-07 Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw by Will Ferguson. I was actually trying to find a book by Craig Ferguson but forgot his name at the library and brought this home instead. This might explain why it wasn’t riproaringly funny, but overall okay. The book details Ferguson’s trip across Canada, with a lot of side digressions into his Saskatchewan boyhood. A bit of a trudge to finish but okay.

  87. 08-23-07 Usago Yojimbo — Travels with Jotaro by Stan Sakai. This compulation is all Usagi and his undeclared son wandering around Japan, with one campfire tale about the senior samurai’s youth (a visit to a mountain troll.) Jotaro never listens to his “uncle” Usagi and has a wicked aim with a rock and not a little skill with his wooden training version of a katana. I could have done without the giant bugs (shades of the King Kong remake, ew) and was a little stymied at the cliff-hanger ending — until I realized that I had already read the subsequent volume and *spoiler* everything comes out all right.

  88. 08-24-07 Girl in a Cage by Robert Harris. This is a young adult book I picked up on spec at the library a week ago to bring along for one or both daughters on the most recent roadtrip. R read it and liked it so I gave it a whirl too. It tells the story of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert, and the time she spent literally in a cage before being released to a convent as a political prisoner. There’s some question whether this really happened or not to her specifically but nonetheless as I read the book I pictured my little 11-year-old under similar circumstances and wondered whether she would have the strength of conviction as the titular character does. (I think so.) Anyway, based on said girl’s reaction I think I choose well to check this book out.
  89. 08-28-07 Crimes of New York edited by Clint Willis. Here we have a compilation of first-hand accounts and writings about (duh) New York city crime from the latter part of the 1800s through the 1980s. Some of the authors included were interesting (Calvin Trilin) and some were not (P.G. Wodehouse.) Surprisingly perhaps, not too many were about gangs or the Mafia.
  90. 09-02-07 Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay. I noticed this on the “new” shelf at the library and brought it home since I have always really liked Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry series and it looked similar. It contains a couple of the characters from FT, years older, and contains supernatural happenings but outside of that the similarity wasn’t there. Ysabel takes place in Provence, revolving around a professional photographer and his entourage, including his 15-year-old son. Ned finds himself in unexpectedly deep water when Melanie, his father’s assistant, is transformed via Celtic magic into Ysabel, one of three characters in a story which has repeated itself for 2,000 years. The main plot concerned rescuing Melanie before the climactic duel between Ysabel’s ago-old lovers cause her to be lost forever.

    In a nutshell I found the book rather bland, with none of the heart-rending moments I expected from Kay. The only thing I’m taking from this book is a mild inclination to do some web research about a certain battle two millenniums ago, and that will likely fade quickly.

  91. 09-03-07 Elidor by Alan Garner. All the library books got returned yesterday so I chose this off the shelf to read before either (a) giving it to one of my kids as a recommendation (b) attempting to sell it or (c) giving it to Goodwill. This is the first of four related books set in Britain which are about the children in a small family going through a mysterious portal into another country… yes, a little reminescent of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia in the broad outline. In this case it’s very much more like Susan Cooper in feel; I recall picking up this set many years ago (1981 edition) after reading her The Dark is Rising series. My vague recollection is that these books were as good, although moodier in tone and without the time switches in the Cooper books.

    As I open the book I see a blurb: “Elidor is a remarkable book; intelligent, rich and terrifying. Too terrifying? Perhaps for the impressionable, but worth ten of more prettier things.” - Time Literary Supplement. What the hell does that mean? Plus has a misplaced semi-colon in the first sentence in my opinion. Okay, my assessment: not terrifying. I suppose it might be if I were eight-years-old (must one be single-digits old to count as “impressionable”?) Merriman Gandalf Ingold Dumbledore Malebron fills the wizard role and for once the children do not spend the entire book bickering and stomping off in a huff. Their characters are a little cloudy: there’s Roland, Our Hero; Helen; the girl, and other other two. The novelty of having their four Supernatural Treasures transform into ordinary things when they return to mundane England is rather nifty. The shadow guys were creepy, especially when they began to take form and rattle the door knobs, but the payoff was a little meh. Neat unicorn! Overall I will read book 2 in the series in the hope that the story builds to become as good as I recall from Way Back When.

    (d) foisting the set off on one of my sisters

  92. 09-05-07 The Owl Service by Alan Garner. The second of four books by Garner, the first two being stand-alone with no continuity of characters. This book is again about a Welsh myth, in which a woman is created from flowers and causes a fatal rift between two warriors. The first man kills the second; then it’s the second turn to kill the first. I know, it puzzled me too. In The Owl Service Alison and her step-brother Roger, both fifteenish, have come to stay on a rural property she inherited from her late father. After mysterious scratching is heard in the attic above her bedroom a set of stoneware is found with a pattern which could be flowers or could be owls. Soon the two of them, along with a local boy Gwyn, are having mysterious things happen as the lady of the myth is returning to reenact the old story. Except it never happens, sort of. There’s a creepy ending to the book that makes me wonder whether Alison and Roger were about to run off and snog. The most telling part of the story, I found, was the class divide between the English landowners (and a further subdivide between Alison, who becomes Gwyn’s friend, and Roger, who’s a total snot) as well as between the more countrified Welsh people and the town/city folk. The coolest part is the story was inspired by an actual plate, seen here.

  93. 09-08-07 The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I have to say, this series of books my Alan Garner is not nearly as good as I recalled. This one, which has a sequel in the fourth and final book I own, revolves around a brother and sister who are sent to rural England to stay with family friends while their parents are out of the country. Susan wears a bracelet given to her years before by her hostess, a bracelet which carries a crystal that, wowee, occasionally mists up when scary people are around or has a blueish flame inside when the (quelle surprise) wizard shows up. I must be horribly jaundiced about this genre because is it any surprise that the wizard (a) wears a cloak with a hood (b) has a white beard (c) can open a stone cave with either a touch of his staff or an elven word and (d) is fighting his age-old nemisis, aka Ultimate Evil Guy whose name I don’t recall. (I just checked — it’s Nastrond. Okay.) This time the wizard’s called Cadellin which is a change as it has three syllables.

    Anyway. The dark orcs elves are chasing Susan and her brother Colin about the woods; some deus ex machina dwarves show up to help them through a network of caves (this part was actually rather harrowing) and at the end they have all managed to travel some miles across the country to give the infamous Bridestone to Cadellin who promptly goes away and the book’s over without even a whimper. The good parts: the farm family with whom the children are staying don’t dismiss their tales out of hand and are actually rather supportive. The Galadriel knock-off feeds them a nice meal in their dreams. The cave sequence was good. Outside of that, this is as you may be able to tell more-or-less a third generation Tolkein knock-off, complete with flowery language. “But do not worry, friend: my eyes are not your eyes, and my horse is not of earthly stock: we shall not stumble. But come! Are we to argue here until the day of doom? Mount!” That was the Aragorn knock-off, by the way. Despite my criticism, I am determined to finish the fourth book, out of pure stubbornness and also to see if the Light Elves manage to wrangle up a toast of honeydew or something like that once capital-E Evil is vanquished.

  94. I haven’t been in the mood to write reviews so just slamming these next ones on here to keep a semi-accurate count. Maybe I’ll come back and comment some other time.

  95. Sept 2007 The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner.

  96. Sept 2007 The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip.

  97. Sept 2007 Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

  98. Sept 2007 The Flight of the Horse by Larry Niven. Short story collection, not part of the “Known Space” series.

  99. Note: as you can tell I am still not feeling like writing extensive reviews. It’s also obvious that I’m working through a bunch of Niven paperbacks, most of which are short stories building into the Known Space timeline. I have enjoyed these books many times over the last 30 years and it’s worth rereading them once more before they get mailed off for good.

  100. 10-02-2007 A Hole in Space by Larry Niven. Short story collection.

  101. 10-05-2007 Convergent Series by Larry Niven. Short story collection

  102. 10-08-2007 Neutron Star by Larry Niven. Short story collection.

  103. 10-10-2007 Blubber by Judy Blume. A recommended I read this as she had liked it a lot, enough to check it out of the school library again so I could read it too. Believe it or not, this is the first July Blume book I have read, despite knowing of a number of them. The cast is a bunch of fifth graders lead by a Mean Girl who decide to pick on a loner. The main character, Jill, follows along out of a sense of wanting to belong until suddenly she has a revelation and defies the pack leader. Discovering how painful public mockery can be is a hard lesson for her. I can see how this book would sing true for girls of that age, remembering my own childhood and hearing from A how different cliques at school decide who’s in and who’s out. My only beef with the book is that the resolution seems forced and untrue.

  104. 10-12-2007 The Patchwork Girl by Larry Niven. This illustrated paperback is a closed door mystery featuring Gil “the Arm” Hamilton, former Belter miner and current psi-enhanced member of the Amalgamated Regional Militia.

  105. 10-14-2007 A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven. This is a full-fledged novel, not a short story collection. It revolves around Matt Keller, a colonist on Mt. Lookitthat, who has an unexpected psi power that he discovers coincidentally with news from Earth to disrupt the politics of the entire family. A lot of the book concerns the organbanks.

  106. 10-17-2007 Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez. I’ve been working on this book for awhile and finally finished it. My advice: don’t bother.

  107. 10-19-2007 Tales of Known Space by Larry Niven. More short stories, filling in some blanks. Includes another Beowulf Schaeffer story — I had forgotten that he was Louis Wu’s stepfather.

  108. 10-23-2007 World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven. Another full-length novel, which could be a stand-alone. It happens earlier than a number of the short stories in the collections read above but the only recurring character is Lucas Garner, of the ARM. The book concerns an odd Sea Statue which, when inadvertently released from its statis shield, winds up being a 2-billion-year-old telepathic Thrint. The Thrintun, after dominating a large portion of the galaxy, had eventually triggered an intergallictic incident which destroyed all sentient life, long before life on Earth had reached a multi-cellular state. (From Wikipedia: “The Thrintun were nearly destroyed about two billion years before the human era by one of their slave races known as the Tnuctip, and used one of their own devices to amplify a telepathic command (”die”) across the galaxy in an event they called “Suicide Night” so as to take their slave races with them.”) Now the last remaining Thrint is loose, on the hunt for his amplifying helmet which would allow him to redominate all thinking creatures (except, by no coincidence, the huge sluglike Bandersnatchi.) On his trail is a human who thinks he is the Thrint, as well as the afore-mentioned Luke Garner from Earth and a number of Belter spacemen. Who will get there first and how the players interact is the meat of this book.

  109. 11-02-2007 199 Days — The Battle Before Stalingrad by Edwin P. Hoyt. See, I read “real” books once in a while too! Hoyt is my favorite World War II historian because his books are are a level which provide just the right amount of information about strategies and battles to make them understandable without totally crossing my eyes with boredom. I believe I’ve read 5 or 6 of his books on both the PTO and ETO and in each he’s had a accessible mixture of history, primary source anecdotes, and battles tactics that I was left feeling more knowledgeable without being overwhelmed or talked down to.

    This battle, or campaign is more correct, was of supreme importance and I continue to believe that the Soviets, for all their problems before and since, saved the bacon of the West by engaging (and destroying) so much of the Nazi’s military forces. In addition, it provided a tremendous psychological blow to average German citizens who for the first time truly suffered personal losses and had their confidence in the might of their country and in Hitler undermined.

    The first half of this book provides a background to what was the ultimate turning point for Nazi Germany’s armies in the East, detailing the machinations back in Berlin in 1941 that led the armies to ultimately look at Moscow from a close distance without capturing it, and ignore the possibility of marching right into Stalingrad without much of a whimper from the Soviets. The second half follows the Germans approaching the city, the fighting through the campaign, their eventual encirclement by the Soviets, and the battle’s aftermath. Throughout the book, it is shown how time and time again the two bigwigs involved are too full of arrogance (Hitler) and suspicion (Stalin) to effectively use their generals and armies. I suppose the heroes, if there are any, are the two main generals who finally resolve the conflict (Paulus for the Germans and Zhukov for the Soviets), although Paulus as a good soldier who continues to hold the city against impossible odds winds up looking more like a fool than heroic. History is written by the victors though.

    Here is a Russian site about the battle, with fractured English in some places. Lots of photos and first-person stories.

    Wikipedia overview.

    There was a website that walked through the Mamyev Kurgan hill/ battle memorial that I can no longer seem to be able to find. Nevertheless, here are pictures of two statues there which are remarkable and moving:

    Mother Russia

    Eternal Flame

  110. 11-09-2007 The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This is a deservedly praised SF novel concerning First Contact. An alien species has been discovered, a dead creature in a probe fired towards earth. Backtracking the probe’s journey leads to an extended encounter with the Moties, a species which has developed extreme differentiation of body form according to caste. There are the tiny Watchmakers, who you do not want to accidentally let loose on your ship. There are the almost telepathic Mediators, with whom the humans mostly interact. And then there are the hidden Warriors, whose existence could doom both humanity and the Motie civilization.
  111. 11-12-2007 The Royal Book of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Switching to a different series, the Oz books written by Thompson which follow on the heels of the Baum ones. This is number 15 in the Oz series and is illusrtated by John R. Neill, who had done the entire group over the series. In this book, as is typical, a story featuring a couple new characters is intersperced with something happening to one of the old familiar ones until they meet up to vanquish the bad guy. In this case the Scarecrow is sadened to find he has no family tree and goes to find relatives. Weiedly, he finds that he’s a reincarnated oriental-style emperor with three scheming sons who would just as soon inherit. At the same time, Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion are on a quest, joined by new newbies, Sor Hokus of Pokes, the Doubtful Dromedary and the Comfortable Camel. Needless to say all’s well that ends well.

  112. 11-16-2007 The Cowardly Lion of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Book 17. The titular lion is tired of being called a coward and sets out to eat a brave man. Fortunately he runs into Notta Bit More, a circus clown, and Bob, a semi-pathetic orphan boy, who accidentally magicked themselves to Oz from the good ol’ U S of A. At the same time, Mustafa — a very steroetyped Arab character — has sent an expeditionary force out to capture the Lion for his collection. The usual travels to a bunch of very weird and punnish mini-kingdoms occurs and as happens a lot Ozma injects a little deus ex magicbelt to finally fix all the perilous situations.

  113. 11-17-2007 The Big Lie by Isabelle Leitner. My two oldest children have suddenly glommed onto the existence of the Holocaust, R in particular reading a bunch of young adult novels and true stories and both reading Maus and Maus II (a school assignment for C as well.) R brought this library book home from school so I read it too — it’s a fairly short summary of what happened to a Hungarian Jewish family from the perspective of the oldest sister. I foresee questions coming up and much deep thinking from both of my kids.
  114. 11-21-2007 Grandpa in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Book 18. In what has become the usual pattern, two groups of individuals go on quests before finally linking up and discovering that aha! they were looking for the same thing all the time! In this case Gramdpa and his grandson Tatters are off looking for their respective son’s/father’s head which blew off in a storm. In anticipation of a future Simpsons’ halloween episode, the son’s/dad’s head has been replaced by a doughnut but the team’s daughter-in-law/mother would just as soon have the real one reattached. In their journeys they discover a talking wind-cock (a rooster, pervs) and a fairy literally made of flowers and leaves. In the meanwhile Dorothy has met up with Percy Vere who has a week to find a princess and a fortune to save his kingdom. Hmmm, one group has a girl, one is looking for a girl, wodner what will happen? This book has more than the usual number of puns and was pretty funny, especially when Grandpa is acting curmudgeonly.
  115. 11-24-2007 The Lost King of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Book 19. It’s really taking me three days to read each of these? Wow. Anyway. It never occurred to me to wonder that when Tip was transformed back to Princess Ozma in one of Baum’s earlier books, what the heck had happened to her father, the King of Oz? We knew that the Wizard, at that time a fake magician and scoundrel, had taken over governance of all Oz and had caused the Emerald City to be constructed before the witch Mombi’s magic was negated and Tip was revealed as rightful ruler.

    Well, this book answers that question with the usual duplicate quests happening during the main body, said questers ultimately joining up for the final denouement. The teams this time are (1) the afore-mentioned Mombi, demagicified by Glinda, along with the King of Oz’s prime minister transformed into a goose and a boy named Snip racing against (2) Dorothy and a stunt dummy from our-world’s Hollywood. Mombi makes the classic error of dumping Snip down a well, leading him to form a (3) third team with Tora the Tailor (whose ears independently fly around like butterflies to obtain news and who was providing the drugs for the author of these book? because they were damned fine ones based on a few of the developments.) Ultimately Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant provides the beasta ex machina to get everyone to Ozma’s childhood country home where surprise! there’s a happy ending! The best character of this book was the dummy, called Humpy (heh, so rude by today’s standards) who has some really great punnish lines.

  116. 11-27-2007 The Hungry Tiger of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Book 20. When the Tiger gets an offer to be able to eat people, lots of people, many people, he gets greedy and decides to travel with the author of that offer to the far-off kingdom of Rash. Once there, though, after learning that these dinnertime “criminals” have been thrown to him for such things as singing out of tune he gets a case of the guilts and remains ravenous. Luckily this means he assists the overthrown Prince Reddy in escaping. The quest for the three magical Rash Rubies is on, and after the duo is joined by Betsy Bobbin (yet another Earth girl living in Oz) and a weird guy made entirely of vegetables the adventures really start. Meanwhile back at the Ozma Ranch, the little queen has been taken higher by a literal airman and is floating helplessly around (a situation which again begs the question why the heck she doesn’t wear her Magical Belt on a 24/7 basis.) Guess what? There’s a happy ending!
  117. 11-29-2007 The Gnome King of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Book 21. I did not begin this book with high hopes, as two of the main characters are, frankly, pains in the ass. First off is Scraps, a patchwork girl who has been a continually annoying nitwit in prior books. The people of the Quiltie Kingdom have pressganged her as their new queen and so one of the usual groups of adventurers revolves around her — or rather I should say somersaults around her since she’s always tumbling about while reciting lame doggerel. The second main group is headed by Ruggedo, the erstwhile gnome king, who is grumpy and mean but not enough to become amusing. Bah I thought, this one will be a trial to read.

    However it wound up being not as bad as all that. This time the imported Earthling is a baseball-mad boy named Peter who accidentally flies off from Philadelphia via magical bird balloon. His main concern is to do whatever he musts to get home in time for the Big Game, and if that means helping Ruggedo out so it goes. Fortunately the latter’s treatment of a talking bear cub brings Peter to his senses and thus for once there are three groups dashing toward the Emerald City: Scraps escaping her unwanted royal status, Ruggedo making a snag for the Magical Belt, and Peter attempting to stop the gnome king from taking over all of Oz and wrecking the place out of meanness. Peter is assisted by one really neat new character, Kuma Part, who sends varied appendages here and there to help out. Come to think of it, Kuma acts a bit like a Manos Hand of Fate. Hmmm. Between Kuma, an ostrich egg (I didn’t mention the Oztrich who is also a key character) and Peter’s throwing skill the day is saved and finally, FINALLY Ruggedo is gone for good… we hope.

  118. 11-30-2007 The Giant Horse of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Book 22. There’s a couple more real world characters in this book, Trot (a girl who accidentally sailed to Oz many years prior) and a statue of a Public Benefactor who amazingly comes to live, although still in virtually unstoppable indefatigable statue form. Benny’s cool, he wants to be “real” but still recognizes that his current form has advantages that allow him to very much come to the aid of his friends. He and Trot begin to journey towards the Emerald City so he can meet some of the other characters, in particular the Strawman who also is not a “real” person.

    The other main story revolves around a forgotten island kingdom that has been terrorized by a sea monster for many years. Prince Philador decides to go ask for magical rescue from Ozma and accompanied by the man with a literal medicine chest and a mechanical horse with telescopic legs they encounter the usual batch of punnish communities.

  119. 12-03-2007 The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. This is one of my top 5 books ever read and it’s been about a year or so, so time to reread it. Brendan Doyle is a nondescript professor who has written a scholarly examination of the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Because of this he is invited to participate in a singular experiment, providing a one-time lecture to a group of individuals who plan on traveling back in time to hear Coleridge himself speak. As a victim of a series of accidents he remains behind, only to become involved with an ancient group of Egyptian god-summoners, London’s tramps and thieves, Lord Byron’s gollum, a body-changing hairy man, and a mysterious set of vigilantes from the 1600s. Time shifts, places shift, identities shift in a giddy whirl that is all tied together at the end, when Doyle’s foreseen death occurs. It’s a helluva ride with some really interesting bad guys and Our Hapless Hero at the center of the whirlwind. Good book.
  120. 12-04-2007 Toward Genocide by David Downing. My daughters have been asking more and more about the Holocaust, due to some YA books they’ve been reading at school so I picked up this short overview of the events leading up to the death camps at the library. It’s one volume of something called the World Almanac Library of the Holocaust and gives a concise lead-in from the 1939 invasion of Poland through the establishment of ghettos and onto Operation Barbarossa, ending with the Wannsee Conference. It’s not difficult to follow the course of events and the pictures, while graphic, are not of nightmare style.
  121. 12-06-2007 An Unbroken Chain by Henry A. Oertelt. Also borrowed from the library, for my sake. Oertelt is a local man, a Minneapolis resident, who survived the Holocaust years through a series of eighteen circumstances and coincidences he calls his unbroken chain. He assumes that the reader can put his stories into context without a lot of background information, and his stories themselves are both strong and humble.
  122. 12-08-2007 Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams. This is one of the Holocaust-themed YA books that A recently read, which she felt strongly enough about to check out of the school library again and give to me to read. The main character is Korinna, a 13-year-old Jungmadel member who adores Adolf Hitler and believes unthinkingly in the propaganda she has heard her entire life, to the point of applauding the denouncement of a neighbor friend for obliquely criticizing the Nazi regime. Much to Korinna’s horror and surprise her very own parents are hiding a Jewish mother and daughter in a cubby carved out behind the wardrobe in her room. The stress between discovering these “filthy Jews” are really a sad tired looking woman and her adorable sweet little girl, and maintaining her composure with her brainwashed friends and youth group meetings is the main crux of the story. At the end, Korinna discovers the price of loyalty can be very high.

    I thought the book was rather transparently written for an adult but probably at the perfect level for children in the 9-11 year range, when cliques and the pressure of fitting in cause so many girls to behave in ways that they look back on as being cruel and atrocious. As I said earlier this book was impactful for A, and she and I have had several discussions since about how one chooses what is right and what is wrong; and how to be a true friend.

  123. 12-13-2007 Harbingers by F. Paul Wilson. Another Repairman Jack book, this would should have been more correctly titled “Spacefiller”. It did not have the depth of plot or characterizations that have been a part of the prior nine RJ books and was, overall, a disappointment to me. By now the Faithful Reader knows that Jack is going to have a big face-off with the Ultimate Evil in Nightworld (which Wilson is rewriting to accomodate what’s happened in this series) — thus in preparation he’s been slowly stripped off all he loves to make him the spear without any branches, a phrase which was repeated far too many times through the pages. He’s lost his mother as a teenager and more recently his sister, father and brother. Who’s left? Oh wait, the two-dimensional girlfriend, who’s now pregnant, and her young daughter, both of whom Jack loves a great deal (or has in prior books, they are especially paperthin this go-round.) Hmm, Jack did not have an infant daughter last time I read Nightworld, wonder if that falling anvil could be any heavier?

    I’m feeling kind of crabby about this book, actually. It seemed really rote. Jack showed none of the imagination towards his “fix” jobs as in prior volumes. The villains weren’t, except for one guy who was a bit of a bully. I could ignore the blonde bewbilicious talented smart bombshell mother girlfriend as always except this time she was so freaking annoying. “I’m eating for two! I’m walking down the street for two! I’m watching TV for two!” Yeah yeah, dude, we get it, you are pregnant. Remember that anvil? Ain’t gonna last, hon. And I’m usually a total sucker for that sort of thing too. She’s just an irritant though. Nextly, quit hinting around about Glaeken; as old readers WE ALREADY KNOW and newer readers would have given up halfway through the book from boredom. Finally, although the embodiment of real capital-E Evil, Rasalom (Editorial aside: there, you happy now?), does show up once he’s damned near twirling his moustache a la Snidely Whiplash while murmuring “we all float down here.” For god’s sake, he’s even described as appearing like a balloon. Wonder how hard Stephen King laughed at that one.

    Meh. Wilson, you can do better. In fact this book should have been scrapped entirely with the next one happening after the death and ice and coma and lost baby, and Jack figuring out then who is his ally and who is not his Ally. That would be some drama, a little heart-breaking anguish and then Jack piecing the clues together rather than having them spoon fed, then getting all stony-faced and kicking ass. That’s the book I want to read.

  124. 12-14-2007 Usagi Yojimbo — The Mother of Mountains by Stan Sakai. Last time I went to the library they had a new-to-me UY book, number 21 according to the number on the spine. This volume is unusual in containing one long story which revolves around the life-long relationship betwen Lady Tomoe and her cousin Noriko. The latter has had a mean sreak since childhood and when she ensalves Tomoe and Usagi at a gold mine on a mountain they may be lost for good. Lots of leaping about by my favorite female samurai in this set of teales.
  125. 12-20-2007 Duty by Bob Greene. With Christmas coming up, my reading really dropped off, a few minutes before sleep and that’s it. I’ve been reading Bob Greene’s books since American Beat came out in 1983 and have always enjoyed his down-to-earth full-of-heart style. This book has two parallel themes, the gradual decline and death of Greene’s father; and his growing friendship with a quiet almost anonymous hometown hero, Paul Tibbets. During his father’s final illness, Greene would spend a lot of time listening to his stories of being an infantryman in Europe. After an unexpected introduction to Tibbets he began to ask the former airman questions sparked by conversations with his father, especially regarding how people thought and acted during the war years. Tibbets seems to have been a pragmatic man, not at all romantic about his military career or his most famous mission, the Hiroshima bombing. Eventually the two men become good friends to the extent that Tibbets invites Greene along on a fieldtrip to Branson, Missouri, to meet the other three surviving Enola Gay crewmen.

    Duty is a good book and I recommend it. Despite this review primarily noting the Tibbets aspect, the segment I liked best is a story Greene tells of his parents receiving a standing ovation from 50,000 people at a college football stadium. It was very moving and I felt teary reading it, comparing the love Greene felt for his mom and dad for that I feel for mine. Good book.

  126. 12-27-2007 Witness to Barbarism by Horace R. Hansen. Hansen was a St. Paul attorney and author who served as chief prosecutor at the Dachau War Crimes Tribunal after World War II. I checked the book out of the library expecting it would be primarily about the trial only to find that 90% of it was conversations between Hansen and five Displaced Germans who had acted as stenographers at Hitler’s staff meetings. Their conversations were essentially an overview of the 12 years of the Nazi Reich intersperced with trial tidbits.

    The book was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end despite the fact that Hansen is, at best, a mundane writer. It felt as though every time one of the Germans spoke the other four looked at him and nodded approvingly. Every. time. A lot of times, you understand. Please nod approvingly now. Overall I’m not sorry I read the book but also glad it was a library find and don’t think I’ll ever be compelled to read it again.

  127. 12-28-2007 Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean. What was it really like on Noah’s Ark? How come we never know the name of Mrs. Noah or her daughters-in-law? This book tells the tale from the perspective of Noah’s daughter, 14-year old Timna. This is not a kinder, gentler 40-days-and-40-nights — it’s an out-and-out ordeal. In this recounting Noah is, frankly, a monster of a zealot, so convinced that God speaks to him that he is willing to sacrifice anyone to successfully complete the task he thinks he has been given. He may be right too, even if his methods border on insanity. His eldest son Shem suddenly realizes that all humankind will arise from his own offspring and becomes a ruthless fundamentalist, crazed to the point where he doesn’t even realize that his firstborn infant daughter has been replaced by an older rescued baby. The second son Ham is less well drawn, acting mainly as a shadow of Noah’s and Shem’s singlemindedness in, for example, beating drowning people away from the ark while the waters rise. The third son, 12-year-old Japheth retains his pre-flood humanity, helping Timna hide another stowaway deep in the hold with the animals. Japheth, his stolen childbride Zillah and Timna take responsibility for the creatures and a great portion of the book describes conditions belowdecks, the lions pacing as they smell the hoofed beasts, the overbreeding mice climbing the walls until they fall to the floor like overripe fruit, the sheep hiding the stowaway when a “demon” hunt is on. Some short chapters are written from the perspective of the animals themselves, lending a different set of voices to the tale. The most moving part of this aspect of the story is the exotic multi-colored quexolan, the most beautiful animals on Earth. We do not know this animal today as the last two were sacrificed for their water repellant coats, needed to plug a leak in the Ark. Jepheth weeps as he kills them, his most loved creatures.

    In the final part of this tale Timna is in enormous danger from her father and two oldest brothers as she has identified herself as the demon in order to protect the stowaway. It’s a moving moment when her life is saved by someone that until that point has been almost a ghost in the story. This is a powerful book, surprising in its grimness and yet fulfilling in the subversiveness of protofeminism versus patriarchism.

  128. 12-29-2007 I Will Plant You a Lilac tree by Laura Hillman. This is another Holocaust book that A picked out from the library, as her interest in the topic continues. I am helping her find first-person accounts that are not too horrifically graphic and she and R and I continue to discuss the general topic frequently. I tell them I am concerned that they will be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the numbers of people vanished and the incomprehensibility of trying to figure out “why”. For what it’s worth they agree and trade off between “happy books” and the grimmer ones.

    In this book, the author, then known as Hannalore, was deported from Northern Germany and spent the next three years being shuttled around from camp to camp. She eventually meets a Polish POW who, along with a former Judenrat member from a ghetto, helps her find some kitchen and infirmary jobs that provide more food for her and her friends. She eventually ended up on Schindler’s List by special request of a former camp commandant for whose wife she had acted as housekeeper for a short while. In a stroke of luck, her Polish POW friend does as well, as a group of 300 POWs also placed on the list, and shortly after liberation from Brinnlitz they were married.

    I thought this was an excellent book. It tells of brutality without being overly graphic. There are details that flow by — trees being coated with ashes from the crematoria, her friend Fella’s disappearance after an attempted escape, her brother’s face, bruised from a random beating — but the horrors are not dwelled upon. It is matter-of-fact without being war porn. Throughout, even at her lowest ebb, the author stays alive compelled by a promise that is the title of the book. It’s a memory Hannalore shared with her POW, of a lilac tree at her family home that bloomed each year around the time of her mother’s birthday. Dick made her promise to stay strong through their captivity and in return promised to one day plant her a new bush that would grow into a lilac tree. Here is an interview with the author (scroll down.)

  129. 12-30-2007 The Would-be Widow by Mary Jo Putney. What may be the last book of the year is a Regency romance. I used to read bunches of these, by a certain few authors. I like the restraints of the societal mores of the times, and generally the good authors manage to hold off the kissing and what-not until pretty far into the book (in other words, no rape scenes in the first chapter, yuck.) In this bit of fluff the main female character has one month to get married to keep her legacy and the man she adores is not interested. She hies off to a hospital filled with Waterloo casualties and finds a man who is almost certain to die in order to make a deal with him: his hand in marriage for a trust supporting his sister. Too bad for her that the sister finds a Scots doctor who can cure her new spouse.