Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

I had not thought much about Janet Evanovich's other series of books, outside of Stephanie Plum. I needed a no-brainer read (this isn't an insult!) so I picked up The Heist from the library. This is the first book in the Fox and O'Hare series (see that clever name selection there??) and it was really pretty good.

Kate O'Hare is an ex-Navy SEAL and an FBI agent who has been tracking con artist Nick Fox for years. She finally catches him, by hitting him with a bus, and he ends up getting away. But wait! He doesn't actually get away.

He gets recruited by the FBI to help con cons and ferret out some of their most wanted criminals outside of the law....with Kate as his partner. EVERYTHING about this set up is terribly improbable. But it's terribly entertaining. Whereas Plum is inept and bungles her way out of problems, Kate is actually a damn good agent and lethal with just her hands and an eyebrow tweezer. She may spill food on her shirt all the time but even the best of us do. Nick is a too-good-at-this con artist and is naturally charming and handsome.

This is a complete suspend-belief-of-any-kind-but-at-least-the-woman-kicks-ass-and-saves-people- instead-of-needing-saving type of book.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

I know I've read this before but it apparently was before I started tracking books on Goodreads. I remember busting a gut to SantaLand Diaries but strangely.....not this time. Am I getting old?

Nah. I think I've now read enough of Sedaris' works, and listened to him tell stories, that I can tell when he was "fresh" and just starting out. Holidays on Ice is a collection of stories but they are not the Sedaris that I now know and love.

Santaland Diaries IS still a funny story about Sedaris becoming a Macy's elf for the holiday season. With all the hubbub about Black Santas, it's interesting to note that Sedaris was an elf for the black santa back in the day. Why the hubbub, bub?

Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!!! isn't very funny, despite all the exclamation points.

My favorite story, this go round, is Dinah, The Christmas Whore. I have no idea why but I laughed at this and really preferred it over Santaland Diaries.

Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol,  Based Upon a True Story, and Christmas Means Giving are the last three stories and


Try to find Santaland Diaries and Dinah, The Christmas Whore to read. That's all you need.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This has been on my to-read list for a bit but just never made it to the top until this last week. I'll be honest, it made it to the top because it was very short (130+ pages or about 4 hours) and I wanted to hit my goal of 50 books for 2016. I'm not sorry I picked this book but I am sorry I listened to the audio and didn't linger over the writing. The audio from Librivox was just fine, don't get me wrong, but I think this book needed to be read and mulled over.

Apocalypse Now (the movie) was based on this book and I'll admit to being very curious to see it now. Marlow, our narrator, is on a ship going up the Congo River in Africa. He takes a job as a riverboat captain on his way to see Kurtz, a "remarkable, respected, intelligent" ivory trader in charge of the trading post. He's infamous and there is much legend and lore about him. Marlow encounters multiple setbacks on his journey, including having his steamboat sunk. While he waits out the repairs at Central Station, he notices "with horror" how the natives are treated. They are worked to death by the so-called civilized white people, abused and treated abhorrently. Yet, while talking to the white folks working for Central Station, it's a constant stream of how savage and horrible the natives are. This all sounds very familiar from an American standpoint too, eh?

Marlow finally gets his crew of pilgrims and cannibals and makes his way to Kurtz. Again, multiple problems seem to try and derail him, but he makes it there. Once there, for all his bluster about exterminating the "brutes" (the natives), Kurtz seems to be revered by them, seen as a god. He is very ill and is put into a cabin on the steamboat.  Kurtz tries to leave the boat and go back to his station and Marlow realizes how overcome with madness Kurtz really is.

I might put this on a re-read list. The writing was quite interesting and I discovered after Googling, that I missed some things through the audiobook that I might have caught while reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling

A short little book that gives background on well, evil, and accomplices to evil. We all know Lord Voldemort is EVIL. If you pay attention you know Dolores Umbridge is also EVIL. But there's someone in here that I would not have ranked in this book but... yeah, he caused some problems.

We get some good background on Umbridge and there's not much that makes anyone pity her. Just evil evil woman. The Ministers of Magic history is pretty interesting and there are some names that are very familiar!

History on Azkaban, polyjuice potion, cauldrons and potions fills in some space but I was pretty interested in Horace Slughorn. He seemed...kindly but a bit inept in the book and movie. But I see now that he wasn't inept, he was quite smart, and he was terrible inclusive and snobbish. His need to have his ideal students love him led him to reveal to Tom Riddle (aka Voldy) how to create Horcruxes (and we all know where that leads).

Another great little book with extra information on our favorite wizarding world.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling

I read this out of order, although I don't think it matters. This is technically book 3 of the trilogy of short books behind the scenes, so to speak.

Am I the only person who didn't realize Hogwarts was in Scotland?? How did I miss that?

This little book is a quick 79 pages of insight into Hogwarts and how JK Rowling came up with some of the things we all love. We learn more about the Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 3/4. Got some good info on the Sorting Hat and the 5 minute rule.

The castle itself was explored with the Hufflepuff Common Room, which we've never seen, and the Marauder's Map ("I solemnly swear I am up to no good"). Time travel is discussed via the Time-Turner as well as all the Castle residents - ghosts AND portraits!

Lastly, we get the secrets of the Castle. Very good background information!

I love these little books!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

The strange thing about re-reading books you read in high school is how your age and (I assume) wisdom, changes how you view the book. I remember reading this and despising Phineas and Gene. I didn't know why I didn't like them, I was a dumb teenager, but I didn't like either of them.

After a re-read, I still do not like Gene but Finny has a pass. I realize, now, that the codependency of the two is what led me to not like either of them. I've never been a codependent person, never needed someone around all the time. I don't need to be a leader, I don't want to be a follower. Relationships like this have always irked me. But now I see that Finny became codependent out of necessity. Gene still sucked.

Set in a boy's school in New England, Gene and Finny are roommates and best friends. Finny's personality is outgoing, confident and incorrigible. Gene is meek, quiet and self-loathing. The leader-follower relationship is set. As Gene becomes more envious of Finny, he causes a deliberate accident that causes Finny to shatter his leg, thus ending his athletic dreams. Shitty move, Gene.

Finny eventually comes back to Devon, the same but crippled, and is forced to rely on Gene. Gene is still hating himself for what happened (which he should) and actively delves into daydreams and trying to become "Phineas" for Finny. Keep in mind that while this is all happening World War II is going on and each student at Devon is in danger of being drafted. The book never goes near the war, it just keeps it as a dark cloud over everyone and influence their decisions.

Just to keep the spoilers at bay, know that Finny and Gene's story gets more complicated with help from Brinker, another self-important student at Devon. Things do end badly and lessons don't entirely seem to get absorbed.

I couldn't remember anything about this book when I picked it up, except that I read it and it was set at a boy's school. Each page gave me deja vu and I realized it was there all along. I just didn't realize the plot I had in my mind was to A Separate Peace.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

A quick (about an hour) audiobook I found on my iPod. Gillian Flynn is known for Gone Girl and if you've read that, you might know what to expect with this.

This starts off with a ....bang

“I DIDN’T STOP giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it. "

A young woman, never named, works in the back room of a psychic giving handjobs but when carpel tunnel ruins that career she moves to the front of the shop to predict futures. Susan Burke, a mousy rich lady, walks in and needs help. Her stepson is crazy and she lives in a haunted house. Our con lady cum hooker is all to happy to help and see how much she can scam from Susan.

Being a Flynn story, I knew we'd be taking some hairpin turns. We did....actually, several of them. And I'm not entirely sure what road we ended up on. Great little novella!

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

I've had this audiobook on my ipod for some time and decided that I would listen on my commute into work. It's hard to commute when there are tears in your eyes and an ache in your chest.

The audiobook is about 40 minutes long and covers four of Sacks' essays about his mortality. After he was diagnosed with cancer that had metastasized to his liver he began writing these essays.

Mercury is the first one and it's his reflection on turning 80. My Own Life is after learning he has cancer and his time is short.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

My Periodic Table is next and he contemplates turning 82 with knowing he will not see another birthday.

Auden used to say that one should always celebrate one’s birthday, no matter how one felt

Lastly is Sabbath and that is my favorite. He writes of growing up in England in an Orthodox Jewish community. How everyone stops working on the Sabbath and appreciates the people around them. He writes of turning away from the faith when his mother calls him an abomination for being gay. It was a moving piece.

“my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.” ― Oliver Sacks, Gratitude

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dust by Hugh Howey

I'm done!!!! And I'm so happy how this turned out! There are 3 books in the Silo series and it's taken me a bit of time to get through them all. The audiobook was over 12 hours long and I devoured it.

Jules was sent outside to clean (and die) in a previous book but she lived. She found another silo that had survivors and came back to her own determined to dig her way through to the other silo and help the folks there. Silos? Survivors?

Start here with Wool:

Then go here to Shift:

Caught up? Now to Dust.

Because most people in the silos do not believe there are other silos, they believe Jules is crazy and dangerous. Add in a religious "cult" and soon most people in the silo turn against Jules. Silo 1, the head silo with it's finger on the button, has 2 people: Charlotte and Donald who are awake and hiding and trying to save the poor suckers in the silos before the head of silo 1 terminates them all.

I think I just did a poor job explaining this, but it's worth the read. Howey does a fantastic job in creating this post-apocalyptic world and then pushing to set the characters free. Getting down to the last 20-30 minutes was torment. I was trying to drive home and cheer on my friends!


Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

I almost didn't read this one but I made myself. I never like reading or watching war stories and when I read this was based in Nazi Germany in a concentration camp, I didn't want to go there. But I did go there because as painful as it is to read about, I have to remember that people lived through this, people who are still alive now lived through this. And I don't I owe them to not let their horrific ordeal be forgotten?

I think this book is historical fiction - based in history but seen through the eyes of a fictional character. Rose Justice is a very young girl from Pennsylvania who wanted nothing more than to enter World War II as a pilot to help out. She ended up in London piloting planes around for the forces. She's not in the military. She's a civilian pilot. But even civilians, Americans to boot, are up for grabs if they land in the wrong place.

Rose ends up at Ravensbruck, a terrible and notorious women's concentration camp. The story here is told through Rose's writings, poems and in her journal as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her. She was held for 6 months before escaping and even the stories of those 6 months were horrible. A good deal of the story focuses on the Rabbits, young girls who were used as medical experiments by the Nazis, and how the other prisoners banded together to protect them.

Some portions were difficult to read but I had to remember that Rose is a young woman, a teenager when this all started. So her flights of fancy could be forgiven. She was incredibly lucky throughout her imprisonment. Somehow she always fell into the right hands and circumstances which is obviously not true for the millions of other prisoners. But her luck allowed Rose to tell her story. And with that, allowed the author to tell the story of Ravensbruck and the Rabbits.

I need to read more like this. We don't want history repeating itself.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Another recommendation from Books on the Nightstand and, while it was a good novel, I had trouble finishing it. But finish it I did.

Josie is a dentist, who has had to sell her practice to pay off a lawsuit. At the same time, her deadbeat boyfriend, Carl, with whom she has 2 kids, finally leaves after 8 years of never working and never spending time with the kids. In the beginning, I didn't feel like Josie was a person who made smart decisions.....

And she's off to Alaska with her children! In a rented, run-down RV! And no cell phone! With no idea where is she going or why she's doing it! In the midst of horrible wildfires happening in Alaska! All to avoid what she thinks is Carl's ploy to take the kids to show his future in-laws that he's an awesome dad. All of Josie's "decisions" seem like horrible leaps of thoughts that just don't connect.

The RV apparently is not a fun place to live so they end up breaking into B&B's and empty cabins along the way. When Josie contemplates, "Am I a bad mother?" I always answered her with "Yeah, you kinda suck".

I think Josie and her kids were meant to be whimsical and adventure loving people. That I was supposed to look past all the trials they endured and see what free spirits they ended up being. I couldn't, though, because all of Josie's reasons for running were not really based in reality. The trials they endured were brought on by Josie, not chance or fate.

Eggers is a great writer, however, so you can easily ride the story line. For me, though, I didn't like Josie enough, or respect her enough, to cheer her on.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Wastelands by Stephen King

The third book in the Dark Tower series. This is a re-read but once again while I remember the whole, I've forgotten the details. We're travelling along with Roland, the Gunslinger, Eddie and Susannah, newly discovered Gunslingers.

Eddie and Susannah, having been brought through their doors from New York City, are learning from Roland how to be a Gunslinger. He is apparently a very good teacher because both Eddie and Susannah are able to prove their worth and dexterity very early on. Roland, on the other hand, is slowly falling apart mentally. We know from the first book that Jake met up with Roland and traveled with him to see the Man in Black. But Jake died, sacrificed by Roland for the Dark Tower ("Go then, there are other worlds than this"). Roland remembers all of this happening, yet, it didn't happen, because Roland killed the man who initially killed Jake. This is all very complicated but you'll get it. He is living in double memories and it's driving him mad. Unfortunately, Jake Chambers is in NYC and living in his own hell because he knows he's supposed to be dead in "real life" and he's supposed to meet Roland and die again. But he goes on living, trying to understand what's happening to him.

Eventually, through a horrifying process, Jake makes it to Mid-World and back to Roland and the others. Their minds clear and they continue the journey to the Dark Tower. Almost 600 pages of adventures also give us Oy, a billy-bumbler, who befriends Jake and, oh my goodness, I want an Oy of my very own. Alas.....

We're left with Blaine the Mono. Blaine is a pain. And Blaine ends this novel by taking our friends on a riddle-filled, suicide trip at 800 miles per hour.

I've summarized this greatly because well, you need to read it. This is a fantastic adventure. I started reading it on a plane to NYC (coincidence? I think not!) and was just pulled right back in. Fantastic.

Also, Stephen King actually published Charlie the Choo-Choo. It arrived yesterday at my home and it's just as creepy and awesome as you think it would be (you have to read Wastelands to understand this!!!)

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

I'm so torn on this book. First, I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was quite good. The storyline was quite good. The writing....oh....

If you read Cormac McCarthy, you will recognize the attempt at his writing in The Dog Stars. McCarthy has a flow, so even though the writing is fragmented and somewhat staccato, there IS a flow to McCarthy's writing and you can easily get into it. Heller has the same writing style (at least in this book - I've not read anything else by him) and I could not, for the life of me, get into his flow. Maybe it was because it was an audiobook but the fragments and pauses made it hard for me to get lost in the story.

So let's talk about the story.

We're in a bit of an apocalypse when we meet Hig, Jasper and Bangley. A flu has killed a good majority (probably high 90%) of the population and the survivors are 9 years past the major fallout. Hig and Jasper, the dog of Dog Stars, end up in a town near Denver, Colorado with Bangley, a bit of a gun nut, a bit of a damn good survivor. Bangley is really the reason the poetry-loving Hig is still alive. There are 3 books to this novel and the first introduces us to their current situation. Scouting for food, using Hig's airplane to keep a watch on the roads, killing people who attempt to break into their homes, and just surviving.

Book 2 takes us on a journey with Hig to try and find a voice on the radio that he heard while flying three years prior. This book made me angry. One, 3 years ago you heard a radio transmission and NOW you are going to try and find it. Two, you are leaving Bangley alone to defend your homes. Three, when you did find other people, Hig, you were a jackass. I was rooting for you to be shot. You seem to have forgotten how you distrusted people approaching YOUR home and how easily you and Bangley killed invaders. Then you waltz up to another home and add like a son-of-a-bitch, expecting the woman to disrobe for you the minute she saw you. Ugh.

Book 3 takes us back to Bangley and the airport outside of Denver. A good deal more happens in book three that makes you want to slap Hig again, but it wraps up the storyline fairly well.

The story was a good one. The characters were good, especially if the point was to make you want to punch Hig on a regular basis. If you can get past the fragmented writing, it's worth the read.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

I'm terribly sad that Books on the Nightstand has completed it's journey. Without it, I would not have read as many great books as I have. They are keeping their episodes up for 2 years so go out there and check out their recommendations.

American Heiress is another great recommendation from BOTNS. A non-fiction book about the saga of Patty (Patricia) Hearst, it held my attention. The entire Hearst deal happened before I was born but it's something that pretty much everyone knows about. An heiress to the Hearst fortune, Patricia was kidnapped by the stupidly named Symbionese Liberation Army in February 1974. Toobin's account shows a group of "revolutionaries" who really just seemed bored and wanting to do something to make a statement. Their leader, Donald DeFreeze, was a felon who escaped (and the prison actually didn't even bother looking for him - what does that tell you?) who fancies himself a George Jackson, which he wasn't. He fancied himself the leader of the SLA and African-Americans, except he was the only black member of the SLA. Their first real act was murdering Marcus Foster, an African American educator who was actually doing some good, but the SLA got all the facts wrong and a man who was trying to help was now dead.

Next up, the SLA thought a kidnapping was a good idea. Enter Patricia Hearst. This book was written without any input from Hearst but her own memoir, Every Secret Thing, was the starting point for Toobin's research. Hearst was kidnapped, her fiance, Steve Weed ran away from the fray and a neighbor was injured. At first, Hearst was kept in a closet, blindfolded. That didn't last terribly long as the chattier members of the SLA took to being her friends and leaving the door open so they could talk. As we move on, Hearst is given the option of being left somewhere where her family could come get her or joining SLA. She chose to join.

Her participation in bank robberies, bombings, etc. is pretty well known. She had ample opportunity to flee her captors, often being left alone in vehicles while others shopped. Bill Harris, a member of the SLA, often said he wanted her to leave as she was too conspicuous and was causing them problems. Eventually, they are caught, arrested and made to stand trial.

The Hearst family brought in F. Lee Bailey to defend Patricia and he chose to go the route of brainwashing. Long story short, Hearst was convicted, served time, had President Jimmy Carter sign a commutation of her remaining sentence and demanded a full pardon from President Bill Clinton.

My overall feeling of Hearst was "poor little rich girl". She was bored with her life when she was kidnapped, decided being an urban guerrilla would be fun, went to jail, decided being a rich Hearst again would be better, then went on to convince herself that she never did anything wrong.

The SLA did not seem to have enough brain power to keep themselves together, let alone brainwash someone. They barely survived, barely caused a reaction, barely did anything but pretend to be revolutionaries.

Definitely recommend for a good read.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I need to get back to Key West

I got to visit Key West, briefly, on a cruise. We only got about 8 hours there and I didn't get to wander around NEARLY as much as I wanted. Now, I need to go and spend more time...

and this also makes me want to go back (I know Norman won't be there...hush)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How about them goals?

I probably should have checked in earlier on my goals but, looking at my posts this past year, it's obvious that I lost my reading oomph. It's also obvious that I have it back. So let's check in, yes?

My initial goal for the year overall is to read 50 books. Goodreads informs me that I'm at 37 which isn't a terrible amount. Here's my current list of books for 2016. I will say, I've really enjoyed the books I've read. I've ended up reading things I normally wouldn't have picked out for myself thanks to the Postal Book Club started with the Books on the Nightstand podcast (now a defunct podcast which hurts my heart!). The current postal book club will be ending soon and I already signed up for the Before They Were Movies postal book club. I just need to find a good book to read and send on!

My next goal was to have 10% of my reading be classics. I was hoping to read 5 classics this year:

Wuthering Heights
The Handmaid's Tale (this technically could have fit in the re-reads but I moved it)
A Tale of Two Cities

I think I can knock 2 more classics out by the end of the year.

My other goal was to have 10% of my reading to be historical reading, either true stories or biographies.

Dead Wake
The Harlem Hellfighters

Looks like I need to beef this up a bit. Right now, I'm reading American Heiress so that will land nicely in the historical category!

I was also going to re-read 2 books. Because of the Dark Tower movie coming out, a friend and I are re-reading the entire Dark Tower series so that, including re-reading The Stand, covers my re-read goal (and more!).

I'm really not doing too badly here. Honestly, any year where I read this many books is a good year!

Escape Clause by John Sandford

Do you remember when Virgil Flowers aka That Fuckin' Flowers was just a bit player in the Lucas Davenport series? Flowers is already on his 9th book, y'all!

Lucas makes a VERY brief appearance in this, the rest is Flowers holding his own. I will admit that when I first realized, by Chapter 2, that this was about missing tigers from a zoo, I almost put it down. How exciting can that be?

Turns out, pretty damn exciting.

There are actually several things happening at the same time:

Missing Amur tigers from the Minnesota zoo

Frankie's sister coming to stay and wanting to interview migrant workers in a pickle factory

Pickle factory owner getting angry and sending out goons

Animal activists aiming to kill people.

Lots of folks dying

It started to get a little twisty and you have to remember which parts affect which case but I read this in a day and it was a pretty good ride. I really appreciate the Flower series. My only complaint with this book is that the characters seemed a little.....cartoony. Flowers was still awesome, but once Sparkle and Father Bill came into the picture, well, they were caricatures. If I want cartoony characters, I'll hit up the Stephanie Plum series (which I do, frequently). I just don't want them in my Sandford books.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

Another entertaining book by Klosterman. He's a bit all over the place here, jumping from idea to idea, but the premise is good and he made very interesting points.  What if we are wrong about the things we know now? He's trying to think, and make us think, about the future using our present as the past. Got that? It can get a bit confusing.

Klosterman starts of questioning .... gravity. Bold move. But it is just a theory, right? And a fairly new one at that. Chuck tackles rock n roll music (would the Beatles be the epitome of rock 200 years from now??), whether sports will continue as a big money maker, or even at all, and the Constitution. Is democracy overrated? Keep reading, because it's all fair game for Chuck to question.

Klosterman has no real answers. He mainly presents all sides of the possibilities and leaves us to ponder the rest.

If you listen to the audiobook, you will get a lovely British lady reading to you. Apparently Klosterman thought that would sound better than his reading voice. Thanks, Chuck!

Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell

At first, this book annoyed me badly. Badly enough I almost quit reading it. I didn't realize I had a pet peeve against slang being used in books until this one bombarded me with slang (STOP with the "chillaxed"....seriously). I kept at it and ended up actually happy to have read it.

It's a brutal story, to be sure, but Lesley Holloway is introduced to us at 16 years old, having ran away from home and away from her rapist father and pathetic mother. She calls Social Services and, in England at least, they step in and help her out with boarding, food and school. This is a story of mental illness. Lesley turns to self-harm in order to cope with her new situation. When her mother turns against her, her dad ends up in prison, and she ends up alone, she attempts suicide. From there, we follow Lesley through psych wards, therapy and finding a surrogate family.

When Lesley is in her early 20's, she finally has consensual sex and ends up pregnant. The second part of the novel is Lesley trying to prove to Social Services that she is stable enough to be a single mother. This part was heartbreaking. I've never been in any situations like Lesley but the writing and the story feel very true.

This wasn't an easy read, outside of the terrible slang used, but in the end, it was worth reading.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

This is the second book in the Dark Tower series and it pulls together our main core of characters. Remember from the first book, The Gunslinger, Roland was told he must draw three. In this book, Roland comes across 3 doors that are portals into another world, our world, at different points in time. From those portals, he draws his three companions who will travel to the Dark Tower with Roland.

We start off with Roland where he ended in the first book, except he's aged quite a bit. He awakens on a beach and has an encounter with a lobstrosity ("Did-a-chick?") and that encounter leaves him minus some fingers and a toe. Naturally, these lobster-dohickeys are poisonous so Roland quickly gets very ill. Luckily, we come across the first door that leads us into Eddie Dean's world. Eddie is a heroin addict who initially, and later, fights against Roland.

Our next door brings us to Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker. She's a paralyzed woman with 2 distinct personalities and one of them, Detta, is a pretty terrible person. Roland doesn't have as much time with her to convince her to come to his world so he abruptly brings her over.

The third door, well, now, that's an interesting one. Mort is behind that door (The Pusher) but we don't want him. What happens behind this door brings us our third person. I love how this story plays out, even reading it the second time around made me happy.

Our band of merry (?) travelers continue on.......

Friday, October 14, 2016

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by JK Rowling

At 71 pages, this was a quick read and a nice little jump back into Harry Potter's world. I realize Rowling has to move on from Potter (and her Cormoran Strike series is a wonderful road to take) but I do appreciate that she came back for a few to give us 3 short e-books.

E-book number one covers the backgrounds of Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney and Silvanus Kettleburn. We also get sidenotes on Animagi, Werewolves and Naming Seers.

I've missed these characters so I was happy to get a little more background on them. Note that this isn't a story, just biographical information. I think Potter fans will be happy with it!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

A friend and I are tackling this series once again. We've both already read all 8 books but with the new movie coming out in February, we wanted a refresher. Plus, this is such a damn good series, how could we not??

I believe I read The Gunslinger first in either 8th or 9th grade and then I just eagerly awaited all the books as they came out. The first 3 books are paperbacks so I'm guessing I grabbed them all at once? Who knows. My mind has blotted out middle and high school for the most part.

Roland Deschain is our intrepid gunslinger. The first book introduces us to Roland as he crosses a desert in search of the Man in Black. The Man in Black is pure evil with the ability to bring the dead back to life. If you are a fan of King, the Man in Black appears in other books as well. The gunslinger was raised in a world that is no longer. Once his world, and those he loved, were destroyed, he set out for his destiny of destroying the Man in Black.

Along the way, Roland comes across Jake, a young boy of 9 who is mysteriously and suspiciously set in the middle of Roland's path. Jake was killed by the Man in Black in his world (basically OUR world) and ended up in Roland's world. The gunslinger comes to love the little boy but his pursuit of the Man in Black can't be stopped, even if it means the death of Jake.

Re-reading this book reminded again of King's lyrical storytelling. He's not being funny or creepy or disturbing here. There's bloodshed but not in the way King is known for. This is a story unfolding into another story with flashbacks into more stories. THIS is storytelling. This is amazing characters on an adventure in a world that is unlike any other. This reminds why I adore this series so much.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

The rest of the title to this book is How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Live an Awesome Life

I'm torn on my thoughts about this book. I forget who recommended it and I didn't hate it but I didn't run away, clutching it to my bosom, ready to change my life.

Here's the thing: Sincero went deep into a "Source Energy" of the Universe that you basically need to channel and turn everything over to because this energy of the Universe will provide you with everything you ever desire in life, including happiness and money. But ONLY if you really want these things and only if you operate at a "high frequency" so the Universe knows to tune in to your frequency and respond to it.


As a Buddhist, I firmly believe in the karma "rule". What you put out into the world, in your words, actions and thoughts, is what comes back to you. Good or bad. Karma is not a bitch. If you feel like karma is a bitch, it's probably because you're a bitch. So in that aspect, I kind of get Sincero's source energy thing. What you give, you get.

I also appreciated the concept of START NOW. That's where I personally have trouble. I procrastinate and promise myself I'll start that class tomorrow, lose that weight next month, etc. I do need a kick in the ass to get me going. It felt like Sincero gave me a hearty slap instead of a kick.

I also appreciated the chapters on facing your fears. I'm in my Fearless Forties now and am really taking that bull by the horns. But I did that prior to reading this book. Still....kudos.

So I guess I'm saying, I've heard a lot of this before, I know, as a person who wants to make significant changes, that I need to hear this. But I think there was too much "turn your life over to the Universe or live in the Big Snooze forever" to make me feel motivated.

We'll see. I wrote down some key points and will really make an attempt. Like I said, some places she was spot on

“If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.” 


“Surrendering is the free-falling backwards into the unknown and trusting that The Universe will catch you.” 

But let's end with

“There’s nothing as unstoppable as a freight train full of fuck-yeah.” 

Fuck yeah.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Flesh and Blood by Jonathan Kellerman

Published in 2002, I have no idea how long I've had this book but the references to cassette tapes and phone booths made me laugh.

I've always enjoyed the Alex Delaware series and I'm not sure why I fell away from them. Perhaps I need to pick them back up. Flesh and Blood is #15 in the series.

Delaware is a psychologist who consults with the police, specifically with homicide detective Milo Sturgis. This case is a missing woman who Delaware treated for 2 sessions 10 years previous. It's not something he should be invested in, but he gets very deep into the case especially when the woman is found murdered. I don't remember if Delaware was always somewhat reckless (or "intense") but I felt like shaking him several times during the book for the foolish things he was doing. To the detriment of his relationship, he puts all his waking hours into this case.

We have prostitutes, strippers, soft porn magazine honchos, murder, and craziness. All of which makes a good mystery to solve along with the characters.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bones on Ice by Kathy Reichs

This is a novella, a very short Temperance Brennan story, that unfolds in 104 pages (or 3.5 hours if you do the audio). I needed something short, sweet and intriguing and I got it.

Reichs is such a good storyteller. She builds suspense like nobody with each chapter ending in a way that MAKES you have to read "just one more chapter". Even though this was a short novella, she didn't skimp on what makes her so great.

Brennan is asked to identify a body that was found on Mt. Everest that probably belongs to a very wealthy woman's daughter. Should be simple, yes? Oh no. Brennan ends up down the rabbit hole of intense climbing feats, shady business dealings, murder and .... well, I don't want to spoil it because I was very excited when I figured out what happened.

If you like the full length Brennan books, you will like this. Just a taste to keep you going until the next one comes out.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

I finally caught up on all of the Cormoran Strike novels (when IS the next one???) and, while this one was rather brutal, it was still wonderfully good. Again with the audio book because the narrator is just phenomenal.

We know Robin - Strike's secretary/partner in the detective agency. She's marrying Matthew (whom no one likes) and is caught up in wedding planning when she's asked to sign for a package outside of the agency. She hurriedly does, assuming it's the disposable cameras she ordered for the reception, and goes into the office.

Well, folks, it turns out that package contained a human severed leg.

With a horrifying scream, we begin our mystery.

Strike has 3 men in mind who could have - and would have - sent the leg. That really tells you the kind of life he leads, right? If I was sent a body part, I'd be hard-pressed to think of 1 person who would do that.

Noel Brockbank - child rapist who Strike clobbered when he arrested him, resulting in brain damage and seizures but, unfortunately, not stopping his pedophilia.

Donald Laing  - another horrible person Strike met in the military who tortured and held captive his own wife while raping other women.

Jeff Whitaker - Strike's step-dad who, more than likely, killed Strike's mother. Another absolutely horrible person. I could smell his odor coming from my iPod.

Strike and Robin set out doing what they do best but this killer is still getting the best of them. More body parts are sent and, suddenly, London realizes it has another Jack the Ripper on their hands.

There is a great amount of detail in this novel, including finally delving into the past of Robin and Strike. My heart broke for them both and I was actually worried for a bit that this killer would get the best of them.

Fantastic series! Please, JK, write more!!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Stand by Stephen King

One of my reading goals for this year was to re-read The Stand. I read it back in 1990-1991, as a freshman in High School. Twenty-five years later, I started reading it again. I have the hardback, uncut edition but I was so slow reading it, until I realized it's so damn HEAVY to read comfortably in bed. So I switched to the Kindle version (also uncut) and zoomed through it.

I've always maintained that this book is my all-time favorite book ever. I recommend it all the time but I think the size has daunted people. With the advent of e-books, this shouldn't be a problem anymore. Heck, people are whizzing through the Game of Thrones books now. So I'll say again, don't be overwhelmed by the size. This book is fantastic and even more meaningful now.

I was surprised at how much I had forgotten but as I read, there was a feeling of deja vu. I realized how much I missed my "friends" Stu, Fran, Larry, Nick, Tom...... and it was so good getting back with them. (Yes, I love books that much)

The basis of The Stand is the apocalypse. Interestingly enough, with the Walking Dead franchise being so popular, the apocalypse is kind of a "thing" now. People are getting prepared for zombies, but in my mind, The Stand is more realistic. It's hard to prepare for Captain Trips.

The military/government created a superflu and it was 99% contagious and fatal. Think about that. About what that would do the population of the world. Somehow, the virus gets out. Before it can be contained a soldier flees the base to get his wife and daughter and get out of dodge. Right there, in that moment, is how the world collapsed, thanks the the actions of one scared man.

We travel around the US and meet our main cast of characters. Stu Redmon from Texas. Fran Goldsmith from Maine. Larry Underwood from California/NYC. Nick Andros, a traveller. Once the US has been wiped out with very few survivors, people start dreaming. Scary dreams involving The Dark Man aka Randall Flagg and comforting dreams starring Mother Abigail in Nebraska. Because humans never change, the survivors start splitting into two groups: good (travelling towards Mother Abigail) and evil (Flagg supporters).

War between good and evil is inevitable, even with 99% of the population dead and rotting. Flagg and his minions take over Las Vegas and Mother Abigail and her folks take Boulder, Colorado. We work with both sides, through the process of getting power back on, creating communities after everything has fallen apart, and trying to prepare for war against the other side.

King had time and space to create a story that forces you to become an active participant. You get to know and love/hate the characters with a ferocity but, since it's King, you understand not to get too close because not everyone can survive the fight between good and evil.

I will always enjoy my zombies but The Stand affects me more because it can happen. Plagues have happened in the past. Government and military operations have been underhanded and diabolical in the past. Evil exists and when people are broken, they are easily manipulated. But despite that, I feel that good will always win. Whether it's the hand of God or not, good will always triumph in the end. Even in the absolute end.

I will fully admit to hugging this book when I was done with it. I still adore it, I still adore the characters, ne FRIENDS, that I traveled the country with.

Tackle this one. You won't be disappointed. Don't let 1,100 pages scare you away.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

LOVE Cormoran Strike and love Galbraith (*cough* JK Rowling)

Second in the Strike series, we get a little more involved in the case rather than getting to know Strike and Robin (the first book sets you up for those). I listened to the audiobook from the library and it was fantastic. The narrator was really top notch.

Mrs. Quine approaches Strike to help find her husband, Owen. He's a novelist who, while tending to run off by himself, has been gone much too long. Strike is fairly famous at this point for solving the Lula Landry case in the previous book so he's doing fairly well with business. Most of it is rich people cheating on each other so, despite Mrs. Quine not looking like she can pay, he takes her case for the interest.

And interesting he got. Owen wrote a novel that skewered every one he knew and lawsuits were piling up before the book could even be published. Seems like a good time for a novelist to disappear.

Strike eventually finds Owen and he's not among the living anymore. The missing person case has turned into a gruesome murder case and there are too many suspects to sort through.

This was a long book (455 pages or 17+ hours of audio) but it was intriguing all the way through. I enjoyed the ending wrap up because Galbraith made sure we had no idea what Strike was thinking or planning when he figured everything out. Excellent hard-boiled mystery!

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks

This one wasn't up my alley. It was a very short book and it has a good premise (What would you say to that bully 20 years later??) but it seemed to fall short.

Caroline is a meek, mouse of a woman who, one day in PTA, suddenly drops the f-bomb to the head of the PTA. I'm guessing this has built up over time because that seemed odd. When Polly, Caroline's daughter, gets in a fight, Caroline pulls her out of school and several states away so Caroline can deliver the "perfect comeback" to HER school bully.

The characters didn't really work well for me. I get why Caroline would want to go back and tell off her bully (who used to be her best friend) but it didn't seem to go where I think it could have went with the idea and characters. There are some fun characters who pop up but they don't really add to the story.

I think this would appeal to folks who like chick-lit, but it really didn't appeal to me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Listening vs. Reading

I tend to listen to audiobooks a lot lately, on my commute, exercising, while knitting, etc. I never thought audiobooks were "cheating" but apparently some people do. Interesting article on why audiobooks are not cheating :)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Grunt by Mary Roach

Or Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

I've never met a bad Mary Roach book and this was no exception. War books, war movies, none of those are my "thing" but since this is Roach I figured it would be funny and informative and not so much with the horrors of war....all that was true, until the last chapter.

I listened to this in audiobook format so I can't go back and get chapter titles and this all has to come from memory (I should really write things down when I listen to audiobooks) but essentially Roach delves into the science of soldiers at war. But she takes the approach that others don't normally take such as: Is diarrhea a threat to national security? Turns out, yes. It's a huge problem for soldiers in other countries and it's actually not something I would have even thought about. There are departments dedicated to research of diarrhea just to help keep the soldiers healthy.

Roach researched hearing loss - another big problem with soldiers as well as uniforms and how to protect soldiers from IEDs that explode under vehicles. Again, it turns out that those injuries are unique and that lead to Roach researching penis reconstruction and how surgeons at Walter Reed hospital are doing everything they can to put soldiers back together. An interesting and sad side note, when Roach asked about women and their reproductive organs during IED explosions, it was pointed out that if the damage reached the ovaries, then the soldier was dead.

We delved into flies and research on maggot debridement as well as heat exertion and life on a submarine (think severe sleep deprivation). All of the chapters had Roach's trademark wry humor ("Brian Williams loved caffeinated meat.....or did he?"). The last chapter was somber and serious. Roach went to a morgue where soldiers are taken in order to meet with physicians who are doing their best to understand how the deaths happened and what can be learned to prevent future deaths. Something as simple as a tourniquet not being placed right is a difference between life or death and medics in the field are constantly briefed on what went right and what went wrong. Roach was clearly taken with the images of dead soldiers and, honestly, that chapter was hardest to listen to.

I hate war, I hate the thought that all of this is needed because we have to be at war. I hate what the men and women of the military have to endure to do their job. But I'm very happy they are brave enough to do it and I thank them for that.

Two good interviews with Mary Roach can be found:

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Some books put in family trees of their characters, which I mostly ignore, but for Homegoing, I referred back to it repeatedly. Not because it was confusing, but because I wanted to keep making sure lineages carried on. Let me explain why.

First let me say that for a debut novel, this was wonderful. This author is going to shine bright so keep an eye on her. Homegoing tells the story of 2 half sisters, Effia and Esi, who know nothing of each other but share the same mother. Maame is at the top of the tree. We start off in 18th-century Ghana and, in each chapter, we follow one person on the family tree. Effia is known as Effia the Beauty in her village. She is married off to an Englishman and lives in a Castle. Esi is kidnapped from her village and sold into slavery. Slaves were kept in the dungeon of the Castle while they waited for ships to take them to America. Effia and Esi are literally separated by a floor. 

As we move through the chapters, we branch out to follow Effia's lineage in Africa and Esi's lineage in America. We end in modern times, 8 generations from where we started. 

This is a heartbreaking, heavy book. When we hear now of black reparations, most people just scoff that slavery ended and the current generation of African Americans are not affected anymore. Reading this novel can change minds. When slaves were freed and black people had to carry "free papers" everywhere they went, when, even with free papers, they were thrown in jail and sentenced to 9 years of hard labor because they didn't cross a street when a white person walked by, when mothers were kidnapped off the street in Baltimore and taken South to be sold into slavery even though she was born free up North....all of these are heartrending to read. 

Each chapter closes the door on the person we are discovering which is why I kept going back to the family tree to see if that person made it out and continued on. We learn bits and pieces in the next chapters through the eyes of the children to see how the parents faired. It's truly an interesting way to introduce everyone to us and to show how slavery affected one family, multiple generations in.

Must read, you guys, you must read.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

End Of Watch by Stephen King

Ah, Mr. King. You just kill me.

We're at the end of the Bill Hodges trilogy and what an end it was. I'm not going to spoil anything for anyone because this ride is worth taking your time on and enjoying.

We started off with Mr. Mercedes and Brady as the Mercedes Killer. This was a typical "humans are so evil I don't need the supernatural to help" type of King novel. Next up was Finders Keepers with started off in the same vain but ended making us believe the supernatural was about to enter and give evil a hand.

We know from Finders Keepers that Brady woke up from his coma with brain damage and wasn't deemed competent enough to stand trial. We also know that Hodges suspected (correctly!) that Brady was faking it and that he somehow ended up with a bit o'telekinesis.

Oh but that's not all Brady brought back with him.

Hodges, Holly and a bit of Jerome are back together and doing their best to suspend belief, accept the supernatural and impossible and bring down "the suicide prince".

I listened to this from and was terribly sad to have to sleep, go to work... really to have a life aside from listening to this book. I admit to tearing up at the end. King made this a final book in the most permanent way.


The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

Max Brooks is well known for World War Z but this was the first I knew of a graphic novel by Brooks (and Cannan White as the illustrator). The premise was so interesting that I put this on my to-read list on Goodreads and was ecstatic to find it at my (little) local library.

The Harlem Hellfighters (as nicknamed by the Germans) were an regiment of black men who willingly enlisted in the Army during WWI when America finally decided to step into battle. The 369th infantry started off brave, stayed brave when white soldiers and civilians were killing them, when their own army was refusing to give them weapons or training, when they were finally sent over seas to fight and fight hard. They were not given a parade when they were sent out, but the white men were. So much of this novel is brutal but it's not the war portion that is heartbreaking. It's the racist acts by others that make me angry. If you enlist, you are brave and you are deserving of respect, regardless of your color or sex or anything.

This is a fictional account of a real regiment. Some of the characters are real people and at the end Brooks explains who people are. This is a terribly interesting portion of American history that I have never even heard of and now I want to know more!

In the end, they got their parade (along with many years of violent racism) and ended up being one of the most decorated regiments in the army.  Take a look at this and then go find out more about this awesome history.

The quote in this video that sums things up: "Had he been white, he would have walked out of that war with a Medal of Honor"

Sunday, June 19, 2016

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I enjoy Ronson's writing style and his interviews. He interviewed on The Daily Show about this book and I immediately put it in my to-read list on Goodreads (over 1,000 books strong).

The internet is a hotbed of trolls who live for the anonymity of the world wide web so they can ruin lives on a lark. I've not participated in shamings online because they are stupid. After finishing this book, I'm more adamant that the people who set out to destroy other people for minor transgressions need to get a damn life. You want to shame Charles Manson? Go for it. But destroying someone who made an ill-timed or inappropriate joke? Ruining their life? Getting them fired? Pretending you are superior as you destroy them? Get a damn life.

Ronson has admitted that he has participated in shaming although, after writing the book, he does not engaged in shamings (as much). He interviews, over the course of many months, folks who have been publicly shamed and, in some cases, tries to help them repair some of the damage. I've only heard of one person, Justine Sacco, who made a (terrible) joke about AIDs and being white. That one showed up on my Facebook feed pretty often as it was happening. I remember reading the joke and just thinking "That was in bad taste" and moving on. But she was eviscerated online with some Twit(ter) even showing up at the airport to get a picture of her as she got off the plane and discovered what had happened.

The others in the book are authors who lied/plagiarized, a girl who posed for an inappropriate photo at Arlington Cemetery, and a guy at a tech conference who made a geek joke that was taken as sexually inappropriate by a female IT worker. That one got me. It's difficult being female in IT, sure, but she went guerrilla on this guy for a joke that I honestly would have laughed at. While he was fired from his job for this, she took a beating on the internet as well.

All in all, the internet is insanity. The worst of the worst come out to play and apparently don't realize, or they don't care, that people are human and humans make mistakes. One mistake, one bad joke, one tiny thing shouldn't destroy a person. But thanks to the internet and its trolls, it does.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I think everyone knows this phrase even if they've never read the book. I certainly did. Once again, Heather Ordover from the Craftlit podcast caused me to read a classic that I wasn't sure I wanted to attempt. She fully encouraged me through the "slow" pieces for the final payoff. A Tale of Two Cities is easily one of my top 5 favorite classics now.

If I wanted to boil this down: French aristocracy stomps on the peasants. Peasants revolt. People die. Someone knits through the whole thing.

That's almost insulting to this novel. I actually learned quite a bit, not just about history but about writing. There is a reason Dickens is renowned for his work.

We have 3 books: the first book introduces us to the main players. Jarvis Lorry, a man of business who I just want to hug and adjust his wig. Lucie Manette, perhaps too perfect and dull a character but very necessary for the book. Alexandre Manette, Lucie's dad who was imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. We do find out why he was imprisoned and the anger starts all over again. Sydney Carton, he starts off as cynical and probably alcoholic but follow him. Charles Darney, another somewhat dull but necessary character. The Crunchers, The DeFarges, The Jacques...etc. We meet them all, in London and in Paris.

Book 2 moves the chess pieces into place and gets the characters where they need to be. Here, I learned about 3 act plays and how we don't really have them anymore. People want the introduction and then the final payoff. Dickens makes us go through the moving of the pieces and he does it wonderfully.

Book 3 throws us, and the characters, into Paris and just horribleness.  Reading up on the French Revolution, it was really that disturbing and sick. The peasants created an uprising, which since the aristocracy was pretty awful, I don't blame them, BUT they went so far with the guillotine and trying to wipe out entire lineages of aristocracy that it was a bloodbath. Dickens spares nothing when describing the violence and the blood. Our beloved characters get caught up in this revolution, for better or worse. When the ending comes,  your heart will rend (and you will probably tear up - I did).

I also learned about allegorical characters. I never considered that The Vengeance might not be a real woman but it makes sense that she is "Plump with a starving grocer husband" if she is truly the vengeance of the peasants feeding off of their hate. She is well fed, indeed, during the revolution.

I'll admit to being very curious about Madame DeFarge because I knew she was famously always knitting in this novel. Heather even has a knitting book called What Would Madame DeFarge Knit? and that really prompted me to read this. Knitters shouldn't be evil, they just shouldn't. When we knit, we put good thoughts, prayers and positive vibes into our work. Not DeFarge. Her character was very interesting and turned into something very frightening.

Don't be afraid of this book. Tackle it. Read it. Learn from it. It's so very worth your time. This is out of copyright so it's free on the interwebz at Librivox or Project Gutenberg.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Nine Stories by JD Salinger

This was an interesting little book of stories. I enjoyed them all and went out on the Interwebz to read a little more about them. Salinger, obviously, is a great writer and short stories are some of the hardest to tackle, I think, because you have to capture the audience quickly and leave them satisfied with the story in just a few pages.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish is the opening story and, at first, seems very frivolous and materialistic. Nearly all stories in this book touch on war and it's aftermath. We have a daughter and mother discussing fashion while the mother expresses worry about her son-in-law's "funny" behavior. The story ends in such violence that I needed to go back and re-read, sure I had missed something.

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut and Just Before The War With The Eskimos feel connected in a way. Uncle Wiggily shows us a housewife who is realizing her own unhappiness in her life and marriage and is drowning it in alcohol. Just Before The War... show us children starting off making connections with others and realizing there could be happiness. Some of the internet notes say that the latter story is a symbolism of Christ. I didn't see that and don't know if that was the intention.

The Laughing Man and Down at the Dinghy were good stories: the former depicting the end of youth and told from the POV of a man looking at the past. The latter gave us a little boy who frequently runs away to avoid conflict and his mother, whom I was pretty impressed with, connecting back with him to get his confidence to come home.

For Esme - With Love and Squalor was a bit brutal with the wartime references. We start off with a young solider meeting Esme, a little girl, who wants to write to him. We abruptly move into a room with Sargent X, a war harden solider, who has suffered a nervous breakdown.  I really liked this story. I think, even now, we romanticize war much more than we should and "forget" the reality that the soldiers have to face.

Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes is a phone conversation with a, to me, ambiguous ending. Why did Arthur lie?

The last two, I liked very much: De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period and Teddy. John Smith, in the former story, is a narcissistic, arrogant young man who eventually has some revelations that lead him in a better direction. Religion is heavy in this one as Smith tries to communicate with a nun whose art he is tasked with evaluating.  The latter, Teddy, brings us to a close with a very ambiguous ending and quite a bit of Zen and reincarnation as presented by a child. Ten year old Teddy is a mystic prodigy and has several conversations aboard a luxury liner that show his depth of knowledge (he is not an "apple eater"). The ending, where we've been prompted to believe in Teddy's eventual death, may or may not be so.

Excellent little collection of stories to pass an afternoon. You'll need to go back and re-read several of the stories as you hit the end, but it's worth it.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Number 26 in the Lucas Davenport series. I adore Lucas. I want to live in his world - although I think I'd need a bulletproof body suit. The body count jacks up a bit high in this one.  I sent my friend a text telling him that Extreme Prey was very apt for our political landscape now. Which made it very believable.

Lucas is no longer a cop and is just hanging out at his cabin, "helping" to add on a new addition. He gets a call from the governor who needs to see him ASAP. Lucas goes, and ends up investigating (albeit unofficially) a possible threat to a presidential candidate, a woman who could become the first female President. *cough cough*

I don't want to give anything away, because it's a great ride to the end. It only took me the weekend to start and finish the book because I couldn't stop reading. Sorry, laundry and dishes and yardwork.

Lucas does his thing and we come across some crazies (or "radicals") who are willing to take direct action to get their candidate up in to the White House. *cough*

We get very much down to the wire, people are dropping like flies, Lucas finds bullets heading in his direction more than once and a lot of blood is shed.

EXCELLENT read. Love John Sandford and all of his characters. Kidd, Flowers, Elle, all make an appearance in this one.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

I've been listening to Amanda's music for a bit. Backed her infamous Kickstarter. Read all her husband's books (which is, actually, how I came to discover Amanda) and listened to her TED talk.

I finally got her audiobook and finally listened to it. If you read this book, I highly recommend the audio. Amanda reads it herself and there is a lot of music. I usually enjoy when authors read their own non-fiction work and Amanda is no exception. It's a conversation, full of inflection and emotion. Just like she's right there with you, telling you stories.

By deciding to move forward and basically set the bar in crowdfunding, Amanda created a stir when her Kickstarter raised over a million dollars. Folks, like myself, love her and her music and were willing to back her Theatre is Evil project. I used to think that since I was not an artist, I should at least support the artists I like.

Except, listening to the story from Amanda when she asked her mom about being a programmer, I realized, I am an artist. As Amanda's mom put it

"You know, Amanda, it always bothered me. You can’t see my art, but… I’m one of the best artists I know. It’s just… nobody could ever see the beautiful things I made. Because you couldn’t hang them in a gallery."  

She's right. I think where your passion lies is where you find art. And my code is pretty badass.

I digress.

Amanda talks about how she started asking when she became the 8ft Bride (a living statue). How she kept going from there. A lot of people see her as begging but honestly, she is very connected to her fans, she's built a base, a network, a family. Obviously, it takes something to ask for money or help. But, as her friend Anthony said,

"If you love people enough, they will give you everything."

And he is right. If you ask with an open heart and let the person know that they can say no without repercussions, people WILL help. People, I think, naturally want to help other people.

Whether you like Amanda's music or not, this book is well worth the read. Being open, trusting people, not turning bitter when things go badly, and asking for help and offering help. We have very little of this in the world now.

You don't have to go it alone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I didn't want to read this book because I was judging it based on the cover and the title. Ugh, no sappy books please.

There's a reason you are told not to judge covers and whatnot. Just read the damn book!

This was really a fantastic book and not at all what I expected. I expected a sappy bombardment of floral stuff but got a very realistic portrayal of the foster care system and what happens to kids who hit the magic age of 18. Here's a hint: it's not sunshine, roses and happy freedom.

Victoria is our main character who is emancipated from the foster care system on her 18th birthday. She's given a rent-free space for a limited time so she can find a job and start paying for rent and other necessities. No help besides the free room, no mentor, no nothing to get her heading in the right direction. So she heads in the wrong direction and chooses to plant flowers in her room instead of looking for a job. Eventually, she's kicked out and homeless with her flowers and the few possessions she has.

She does happen into an under-the-table assistant position in a flower shop and does well there. But Victoria is angry, mistrustful of everyone and can't stand to be touched. She's trying to survive but it's very difficult. She meets up with Grant, someone she knew when she was staying with Elizabeth, a foster mom. Elizabeth taught Victoria everything she knows about flowers and their meanings and Victoria uses that to communicate with Grant.

Sometimes I wanted to shake Victoria for her choices, but how can I do that when I grew up in a family and was loved? I couldn't possibly understand or empathize with her. Continue on the path with Victoria and it will break your heart but in the end, it will give you a little bit of hope that she will make it.

I read the author's interview at the end and found out about the LifeSet NetWork which was set up to help kids just getting out of the foster system find people to help. Not just financially, even though each each kid (I shouldn't call them kids but at my age people between 18-25 are kids) can set up a registry of things they need to get started which you can purchase for them. But it's a place for encouragement as well. Message boards allow you to chat with the kids and encourage them, cheer them on and give advice. I've already signed up and have been chatting away and helping where I can. I encourage you to do the same!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Have I mentioned how much I love Stephen King? Oodles.

Finders Keepers in 2nd in the Bill Hodges trilogy. You might have met Hodges in Mr. Mercedes. If you haven't met him, go back and introduce yourself. Mr. Mercedes gives us evil in the form of Brady and his stolen Mercedes.

In Finders Keepers, Hodges is back with Holly and working for himself. We get several soon-to-be-interacting subplots: Morris, a young asshole who burglarizes a famous author and ends up committing several murders. Pete Saubers, a kid who discovers treasure in his backyard and innocently uses it to help his parents through a financial crisis. Hodges, who is just going about his workaday business until Pete's little sister Tina comes to him with her fears.

We get to know everyone involved as we go through the years with them. Then, we're on a runaway train as they all collide (ouch -  this really was a fast paced ending that required me to shout at the book).

The last book in the trilogy, End of Watch, will be out in June and I'm really looking forward to it. Because here is where King shines. The first 2 books are your basic people-are-evil books. We don't have any supernatural or monsters yet because, honestly, people are very good at being monsters without any help. BUT..... the ending of Finders Keepers is a teaser. I have a feeling we're about to get all Firestarter up in here (of which I approve as I loved Firestarter). King excels at the monsters and he excels at the monstrous people.

Did I mention how much I love King??


The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I've been wanting to read this for a while and my book club had as the next book to read. Shame I missed that particular book club meeting but I'm still happy I read this. I feel like it needs a re-read.

The plot is very simple. Since it's so simple, there is obviously a greater, spiritual meaning behind the book. We follow Santiago, a poor shepherd, on a trek to the Egyptian Pyramids in search of his treasure. He has been having many dreams about this treasure and decided to sell his sheep and follow his Personal Legend (note the capitalization). According to this book, everyone has a Personal Legend and it's up to everyone to follow it. No matter how difficult the road to the ultimate destination is. 

"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

Santiago runs into some shady characters and learns life lessons in trust. As in, don't just hand over all of your money to a stranger "to hold". As he continues his journey, he meets people who help him understand what he needs to follow his dream.

In the end, really, this book is a fable designed to tell us to keep dreaming, follow your heart and don't give up. I started off really into the story but, not being a religious person, the more it got into God and creation of all things, the more I slowed down in my reading. That being said, there were still plenty of pieces of this tale that I appreciated. And I'm sure I'll appreciate just as much on a re-read.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees The World by Clara Parkes

If I have a knitting bucket list, and I do, Clara just made me add more to it. Some of her adventures were already on my list (Rhinebeck, Maryland Sheep and Wool) but how little did I know of the world of knitting and fiber out there. I must get myself educated!

I own several of Clara's books - the way she researches fiber and presents her completely in-depth knowledge of knitting and fiber makes me feel like this just isn't a hobby, this is passion and life. I'm glad I grabbed this book from the library. It got me through a day of airports and traveling!

Knitlandia consists of 17 essasys about Parke's traveling around the world on fiber adventures. If you are a pretty hardcore knitter, you will recognize a lot of the places she's been and her friends that she meets. If you aren't a knitter, just read it anyways! You don't need to know the people because the essays are adventurous enough on their own (and it may encourage you to pick up sticks and string too!).

The places in America that she hits are doable for me: New Mexico, New York, Denver, Maryland, etc. But the overseas adventures - that will take some doing: Iceland (Oh this sounded like a grand trip!), Paris, Edinburgh.

I'm ready to travel.Who's with me??

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World --Purchase from Amazon

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world... or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

As much as I like Felicia, I had no idea about her past (prior to appearing on Buffy The Vampire Slayer). I just know her as a geeky redhead who kept popping up in the things I kept watching. So now I know she was home-schooled, is a violin prodigy and an amazing singer (for proof of the latter, be sure to listen to the audio book).

I usually astound people with the"Yes, I'm a programmer and in IT. No, I can't stand video games/computer games" I try, I really do. I always think computer games would be fun but when it comes down to it, I'd rather pick up a book and/or knitting. My passion for those hobbies is off the charts, so I do relate in that way to Day's passion for gaming. She has done quite a bit to bring gaming to the forefront, that women CAN be gamers, we CAN go to GenCon and we CAN be geeks. Day details her very first foray into gaming and it speeds along from there. Again, listen to the audiobook. She's a very enthusiastic reader.

Felicia devotes a chapter to GamerGate, and even I, outside the world of gaming, knew about this. Internet trolls are the pond scum in the online world. People, pre-internet, sucked pretty bad but give them anonymity and WiFi and those bastards have a field day.

Felicia also shares her struggle with mental illness. As someone suffering from depression and anxiety, it's reassuring to hear that other folks deal with it and keep moving forward. She makes a damn good point about how difficult it is to get anyone to be sympathetic to mental illness ("Chin up! Try to feel happy!").

I liked Felicia before and really like her now. You don't need to be a geek to read this book because it will entertain you regardless (but being a geek helps!).