Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Reading Challenges (Don't Call Them Goals)

Back at the beginning of the year, I saw a challenge to set a goal of reading 60 books in a year. I laughed it right off. Sorry, but as much as I like to read, I don't often get the chance. My two prime slots from reading are commuting by train and falling asleep, the latter being particularly hazardous with hardcovers and ebooks. For the first half of the year (and most of the fall), I commuted by car, losing almost 2 hours round trip daily.

So I found some other Challenges which I list in this this post. I considered them something to shoot for, and maybe to influence my choices in this past year, but calling them goals? I ruled that right out. Sorry, I'm in it for the fun. Putting a goal in front of it makes it a little more work. The journey is more important the finish line right? (With my eyesight, and age, I'll never win Indy, so yeah.)

(By the way, ignore the hashtag. It was already there, so I wasn't making a new one.)

In the first batch, I can say I caught up with a book I've been meaning to read, one given by my spouse, one published before I was born. A few of the books had been in the house for quite a while before I read them.

I don't usually get recommendations from booksellers (although I do own two such books -- I asked for opinions before getting them signed by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark). No banned books or high school/college books this year, but I have gone back to those. I can't say book intimidate me, except for math books that get really theoretical about halfway through. And with so many books to get through, revisiting old ones doesn't generally happen. (I did double-check to see if I'd read or even listened to one of the Sue Grafton books this year, but no, I hadn't.)

As to the second reading challenge, it's a little longer, so I'll just hit the highlights:

I read books under 200 pages, but not over 500 (no GRRM, Tom Clancy or Stephen King). Curious Incident won many awards, though I don't now about National Book Award. Ditto for Tuesdays. I read a couple of graphic novels (however those are defined) as well as manga, but I didn't list those -- maybe I should? Several female authors with female protagonists, particularly the aforementioned Grafton, as well as those teenage paranormal romances, all of which had protagonists with different lifestyles than I have. No essays or poetry, but a collection of short stories, which had some essays, that I put aside and didn't get back to, but will. There was science fiction to be found, but not much in the way of self-improvement this year.

Will I continue with these challenges in 2017? Maybe. It depends on what new challenges I find, and how "reasonable" I think they are.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Vampire Academy (Mead)

Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead, 2007

Okay, for starters: There are two types of Vampires: the Moroi, who are living, breeding vampires, and the Strigoi, who are your more traditional evil vampires. There are also Dhampirs, which are the offspring of Vampires with humans or dhampirs. Dhampirs are mules, unable to reproduce on their own, so they owe their existence to the Moroi. If you search online, you'll find that these are creatures from Romanian folklore, which is a plus for me. Mead takes something existing, which I'm at all familiar with, and makes it her own.

The Moroi aren't your typical vampires. Besides having families, and vampirism being hereditary, they also go to church every week, even if just to learn about St. Vladmir, the patron of the academy. One of the characters is even named Christian, which seems odd at first blush.

This book is the last in a pile of books I won, which included How to Be a Zombie, A Great and Terrible Beauty, and Catching Fire, which I'd previously read but don't seem to have an entry for. (I donated that one to the hotel's library by the pool.) I wish I could say that I left the best for last, but that really, I left the one that looked like I'd least enjoy for last.

First off, I'm not the target demographic for this book. I joke around about Teenage Paranormal Romance, but they are a big sub-genre. They don't have to appeal to everyone. Like Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty, there was a bit of "Mean Girls" to it, but unlike it, the fantasy elements just didn't make it worthwhile for me.

Not to compare it to Harry Potter, but as an example, we don't expect Harry to defeat Voldemort in Book 1, but we expect that he'll make an appearance. In Vampire Acadmeny, much is made about the Strigoi and while I don't expect Rose to take one down (any one, but a powerful one, or the "main" one, if there is such a creature), you might expect on to show up at some point. Basically, the book was long on Academy and short on Vampire.

So little, in fact, that halfway through it, I imagined a "What If...?" where I replaced the Moroi, Strigoi, and Dhampirs into High Elves, Dark Elves and Half Elves. I could write it -- I wouldn't, but perhaps I could.

Again, I'm not the target audience here, so if anyone found my blog and this is your genre, don't let me turn you off from the adventures of Rose and Princess Lissa as they learn how to protect vampires or just be a vampire.

Would I read farther into the series? Probably not, unless the sequel showed up in another book raffle.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

So You Think You're Irish (Kelleher)

So You Think You're Irish, Margaret Kelleher, 1988

This book, published originally in 1988, and reprinted in 2014, was an impulse buy at a discount store. (Note the blurred price tag in the photo.) I'm not aware of any updates to the book for the new edition. Oddly, I never checked when it was published until I was typing this entry. This might explain why my knowledge of history was so rusty, considering that there isn't anything from the past 30 years or so, which would be most of my adult life when I might've been paying attention to such things.

I'll come right out and say this book was a bit of a disappointment, but it was an impulse buy. I shouldn't flipped through the pages a little bit before making the purchase.

The book consists of some 500 multiple-choice questions about Ireland, divided into categories: Irish History, Irish-American History, Beliefs and Legends, Entertainment, Words, Food, etc. The questions were a little too picky, and sometimes several focused on the same event (in some case, inadvertently giving away answers). I'll admit that I don't know the names and contributions of every famous Irish man and woman in each of two countries (and a few around the world).

What I found missing was any sense of cohesion tying the entire book together. Maybe an introduction into each chapter. Perhaps a little more information woven into the answer keys that followed. Something to make reading about random events, people and facts a little bit more interesting.

I'd almost put the book aside before I'd gotten to the chapters on Words and Food. I did pretty well in those, having heard quite a few of those terms over the years, from my family, old movies and even music. As a bonus, the Answer Key to the Food chapter actually included some recipes. I'll likely photograph the bunch of them and try one or two of them out sometime. (Likely not the soda bread -- my wife already makes a good soda bread. No reason to try something new.)

So it was interesting in bits, but overall, not what I was looking for. Sadly, I think I have something else in the closet that's similar. I won't mind if it refers to things I might have heard of or can reason out. But this was just guess, guess, move on, etc.

Final notes: I had a Post-It for a bookmark (two, actually: one for the answers). I scribbled down a few notes to look up, which so far, I haven't. So in case I lose the note, here are the entries:

  • Lough Derg ("Lou Derg")
  • Hy Brasil
  • Femoril
  • "keener"
  • Giants Atrium (cooling lava)

The parenthetical "Lou Derg" was (I think) me thinking that that would be a good name from a character in a story, having a little inside joke in his name.
Giants Atrium is a place formed by cooling lava, and I wanted to research it because it has the natural feel of a fantasy story location. (Maybe for Lou Derg?)

Final verdict: don't waste your time, even if it's only an hour.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

History Bytes (Vulich)

History Bytes: 37 People, Places and Events That Shaped American History, Nick Vulich, 2015

I don't remember how I found this one. Maybe it was posted as a free ebook on Reddit. I don't know.

It was well-written and the bibliography, with some very old sources, shows that it was well-researched, too. If anything, however, I would have liked some references to the bibliography in the text. The tone, at times, is conversational, so it would be nice to know where some of this information is coming from.

This wasn't a book of little-known events, and for history buffs, there probably isn't much here. There was some interesting tidbits, but nothing that made me say either "I never knew that!" or "That can't be right!" But there was information about from Colonial times, the Revolution, the Civil War, western expansion and outlaws. Why 37 events? No answer, but why not?

(Aside: sure, there were probably things that, had I'd ever learned before, I'd forgotten about, but nothing so incredible to amaze me.)

Interestingly, there was some overlap with Great Train Robberies of the Old West, which I reviewed back in February. Nothing here contradicted anything from that one.

You might be able to find a lot of this information online, should you care to look for it. Question is: would you?

Quick read. Enjoyed it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Pirates Who's Who (Gosse)

The Pirates Who's Who, Philip Gosse, 1924

The Pirates Who's Who was written by Philip Gosse in 1924, but through the magic of the Internet, it lives on as a Project Gutenberg ebook. Also, the fact that it's so old adds to its authenticity that it was likely more researched than anything that might be published for the first time as an ebook today. This doesn't read like a lengthy version of some click-bait article.

That said, what it does read like is an encyclopedia because that's what it is. Now, there isn't anything wrong with that, except that the document format of the particular version I have could be greatly improved if it had cross-referencing hyperlinks. This is one of those times that paper beats electronic -- flipping back and forth with fingers holding your place.

Okay, so why choose this book? Subject matter, obviously. Did I realize that it would be an encyclopedia when I downloaded it? No. Was that a problem? No.

Gosse included an introduction to the book which was interesting in itself and while some entires are extremely brief, others contain stories, adventures, rises, falls and final judgments of many colorful characters. That's the heart of the book.

That said, it obviously wasn't meant to be read cover to cover, and I made it 28% of the way before moving on. Important to note: 1) I will get back to it, 2) I stopped because I had some writing to do. There was a flash fiction contest on the topic of pirates. I had thought, but I wanted some authentic background, other than looking up the differed between a buccaneer and a Corsair. I found some inspiration with stealing anyone's tales.

Unfortunately, the first draft was worse than usual, and I didn't have proper time for a second. I thought I might be able to sneak it in by, say, nine the next morning (because pirates break rules!) but the contest was already judged by that point! I guess there weren't any last minute entries.

Added note: I will get around to finishing that story. Hopefully before I finish this book.

Unfinished. I will return to it, which means either editing this entry or giving it a second one.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rickles' Book: A Memoir (Rickles, Ritz)

Rickles' Book: A Memoir, Don Rickles, David Ritz, 2007

I was taking lunch, walking down Pennsylvania Ave in Brooklyn when I passed a Thrift Shop with stacks of books outside. I saw Don Rickles' face on a cover with a sticker price of a dollar. For less than a cup of coffee, I had my subway reading. I picked up the book and then perused most of the rest of the shop (as long as I was there).

A quick flip through the book showed that it was written in 2-3 page chapters or vignettes. I assumed that they would be a collection of funny anecdotes and jokes, but it wasn't. Some were serious. Some were amusing but didn't exactly end in a punchline.

This book might be of interest to long-time Rickles fans, but I doubt the appeal would go much further. Little is mentioned about his life before comedy. He was a kid for a couple of chapters, then in the U.S. Navy, and then trying to establish himself in comedy. Along the way, he drops a lot of names. He talks Vegas, and mentions Hollywood. Oddly, I had only recently seen the clip from The Tonight Show when Rickles broke Johnny Carson's pencil box when Johnny wasn't there and the following night, Carson marched across the hall to the studio where CPO Sharkey was filming and confronted him. That story is included. Also mentioned is the longtime friendship with Bob Newhart, his connections to the Rat Pack and even Elvis.

And, of course, there's a story about his grandkids and Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story.

The one other amusing connection with this book is that while I was reading it, Rickles appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's show along with John Stamos, and then proceeded to talk a lot about Bob Saget.

Last amusing thought: the "other books by" page notes that David Ritz has written about a dozen "autobiographies" featuring the lives of a dozen different people. I think I need to look up that word because I'm not sure that that is the correct meaning of the word.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Darwin Awards: Intelligent Design (Northcutt)

The Darwin Awards: Intelligent Design, Wendy Northcutt, 2000

While covering for another teacher, I glanced at the books on her shelf, and I spotted this little gem of humor. The Darwin Awards are famous and shouldn't need an explanation. I read posts when they show up on social media, but I've never been to the actual websites where stories are posted, discussed and voted on. Nor have I read an entire book of them before.

THere are some amusing stories within these pages. On the other hand, they are also a bit sad. As you chuckle at others' misfortunes, you remember that these were real people, some of whom did very foolish things. And when they are grouped together by categories, they can get repetitive in nature. Maybe that's why I preferred some of the "Honorable Mentions" -- a person gets one of those, generally, by living through their spectacular lapse of judgment.

In addition to the anecdotes, each section has an actual science article as an introduction. It provides some insight as well as a needed distraction.

A quick read. Glad I read it, but I'm not quickly running out to find another one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Van Gelder, ed)

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2002, Gordon Van Gelder, editor

Catching up on my reading list, this is the first of several posts in the days ahead. >P?First off, okay, it's not a usual book. However, at 160 pages of mostly fiction, this one issue of the long-running genre magazine has more reading material than some of the actual books that I read.

I have quite a few SF/F magazines in the house. Most of them are issues of Analog because I had a subscription for a number of years, and I never could keep up with them. Where this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction came from, I'm not sure. There's nothing to indicate that it was mailed to me (no label, or glue), so my guess would be that it was a freebie at a science fiction convention somewhere, most likely Lunacon, which is held (almost) every March.

I have a pool in my yard. I don't sit in read by the pool very often. On the other hand, I've started to like reading in the pool. This means no ebooks (obviously) and no books that I would care about if I "lost". That is, if they took the plunge. These decade-old magazines fit the bill nicely.

I can't say that I was ever a regular read of F&SF but this had a decent selection of stories. Also of note: there wasn't an editorial column up front, and of the "departments", Paul Di Filippo's Plumage From Pegasus: Press One For Literature read like another short story. Added bonus: to my knowledge, I've never read anything by Di Filippo before, but I have two novels in my closet in yet another "To Be Read" pile.

The stories covered a broad spectrum of the genre. There was a religious-based story, which I didn't quite understand, but didn't hate, and a cute retired superhero tale.

On the downside, the novella "Coelacanths" by Robert Reed left me scratching my head.

Albert E. Cowdrey's novelette left me wondering what I missed in his previous writing. This entry, "Ransom", was his third story in F&SF. It started in a different century than his prior two, so I thought I was safe. However, it quickly time-traveled farther into the future, into territory I felt that I should have been more familiar with. I must've put it down a few times before the actual story got going.

So there was some good, some bad, some ugly, but nothing to stop me from picking up another issue. Except that the summer is over, the pool is covered and I have stacks of books to read.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

L is for Lawless (Grafton)

L is for Lawless, Sue Grafton, 1995

This is the 12th book in the series, in case you're counting letters of the alphabet on your fingers. After being a little disappointed by the ending of the K is for Killer, I went straight into the next book. I knew from the start, it wasn't going to be a good time for Kinsey, but at least this time, that fact is telegraphed in the opening comments before the story begins.

For the second time in four novels, Kinsey is involved in a wedding party. (You can't say always a bridesmaid, never a bride, because she'll bring up her two past marriages.) And as with the last time, she gets caught up in events that take her away despite the upcoming event. The last time, it was against her will and she wasn't free to go.l This time, she's following a duffel bag of stolen goods and she can't let her only lead vanish.

And as Kinsey points out at the start, for everything she's going through, she's not even getting paid.

The story begins with landlord Henry Pitts asking Kinsey to help out the family of a deceased neighbor down the street. The family has been trying to get death benefits paid for the grandfather, who had served in World War II. The only problem is that the military keeps saying that they've never heard of him. She volunteers to help look for information in his records that might provide some missing key information that would identify to prove to military service, so they can claim the few hundred dollars they believe he's entitled to.

While searching through old military books, she meets Ray Rawson, an old acquaintance of the deceased Johnny Lee from back East. Ray is looking to move to California and wants to rent the apartment. It doesn't told long to figure out that both Johnny and Ray are full of secrets, the first of which being that Johnny was never in the military -- that's just the story that was told to cover up his two-year absence.

After the apartment is later ransacked, Kinsey follows the thief all the way to the airport, where he gives a duffel bag to a woman who is boarding a plane for Florida. Kinsey buys a ticket and follows, with only what personal items she has in her bag, and a credit card that's nearly maxed out after the airfare. A wrench gets puts in the plans when the woman gets off the plane in Texas.

The mysteries unfold as we find out where Johnny had been, how Ray knows him and the connection to Gilbert Hays, who is both ruthless and persistent.

A satisfying read, and while the ending wasn't given away in the intro, you know it's not going to be the best outcome for Kinsey. On the other hand, it's probably the only one that would make sense, as it extricates her from some events of dubious legality.

As for the continuing elements: obviously there's the wedding between Rosy and Henry's brother, and his whole family is present for it. Also, there's some movement on Kinsey's newfound relatives.

This was an ebook loan from the libary.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

K is for Killer (Grafton)

K is for Killer, Sue Grafton, 1994

This is probably the fastest I've read any book in the series to date, having extra time on my hand. (I finished a few days ago, but I had connectivity problems.) It's also the first one where I was disappointed in the ending. I won't give it away because there are a few people besides me reading this blog.

One thing I can say for the series is that they don't all end the same way. There isn't a shoot-out in every book. The guilty party doesn't end up always end up dead (although truth be told, I do prefer mysteries where the guilty party is named and caught, and not left flying in the wind).

Let me back up a bit. This novel takes places less than a year after the events of J is for Judgment. Kinsey takes on a cold case after she gets a visit in her office from a woman who a support group that meets in the same building after the woman spotted Kinsey's name on the building's directory.

Janice Kepler's daughter, Lorna, was found dead ten months earlier in an isolated cabin located some distance behind the main house on the owners' property. Her body was discovered a couple weeks after her death, and the state of the corpse made determining cause of death impossible. They couldn't even tell if it was a murder or an accident.

What makes the mother seek answers now is that she suddenly received a video in the mail, a professionally-made porno film, in which Lorna was the star. Why did someone send it to her now after all this time? And did it have something to do with her death?

Kinsey isn't sure that there is anything that she can do after all this time, but she agrees to look into the investigation (which is technically still open), going so far as traveling to San Francisco to talk to the people who made the movie. Likewise, finding out that Lorna was a prostitute, Kinsey finds and befriends another lady of the evening who knew the dead woman.

And to top it off, Lorna worked part-time at the water treatment plant, which was a cover for all her other activities. She had to make some honest money somewhere -- although she made sure to pay the IRS taxes on everything!

There's plenty to follow in the story, but it takes a sideways turn when a mysterious, shadowy figure is introduced who you know will play some part in the ending either for good or for ill. The character gets mentioned so little in the rest of the novel that it could have been excised entirely.

But that brings me back to the ending, where Chekov's Mysterious Figure must return. That in itself might not be so bad, but how he comes back bothered me.

I don't think Grafton wrote herself into a corner and chose to add this extra character to handle things. Other resolutions were possible, even some which wouldn't copy what she's done before. Likewise, I can't say that it was a lazy ending. After all, this is the eleventh book in the series and she plans to write fifteen more. I just not happy where the characters went.

On the continuing saga parts of the story, Rosie and William (Henry's brother) move things along, but Kinsey's newfound family don't make any appearances.

This was a library e-book loan, which I finished in just a few days. Record time for me.

I still enjoyed the book, even if I questioned its resolution. Hoping for better next time.

Next up, installment 12. L. I've already started it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

J is for Judgment (Grafton)

J is for Judgment, Sue Grafton, 1993

Summer's here, so I'm back to reading a couple more Sue Grafton Alphabet mysteries, featuring Kinsey Millhone, although had I been keeping up, I probably should be nearly up to date by now.

I'm pretty sure that J is for Judgment was totally new to me. That is, it's not one of the novels I heard on tape back in the 90s. It takes place a few months after the events of I is for Innocent although it was released a year later. This will probably become a timing issue somewhere down the line, particularly with Kinsey lugging around her portable typewriter and not owning a cell phone. She even uses pay phones on occasion.

Okay, so the plot goes something like this: she no longer works for California Fidelity, but they hire her to investigate whether or not a person spotted in Mexico is someone who disappeared five years ago. When he was declared dead, CF had to pay out half a million on his life insurance. They want to know if he's still alive and if the wife is part of a long-term scam. Wendell Jaffe ran a Ponzi scheme (Bernie Madoff, two decades earlier, but not quite as rich) and disappeared when it collapsed, leaving his partner holding the bags, and his wife and two sons with lives in ruins. His boat was found after an apparent suicide.

Kinsey goes to Mexico, finds the man who looks somewhat like Jaffe's pictures, allowing for aging and surgery. He's also traveling with a woman, Renata Huff, posing as her husband. Kinsey's investigation involves a little breaking and entering, and Wendell is scared off -- or was it the news that his troubled son has broken out of prison and has been recaptured. Figuring that Wendell would check on his family, Kinsey moves her investigation. Until now, she has no proof that Dean Dewitt Huff is actually Wendell Jaffe.

Family plays another role in Judgment: while canvassing the neighborhood, she meets someone who recognizes her last name and thinks she looks familiar. Before you know it, Kinsey discovers that she's not as alone as she was always led to believe. This will be a thread that will play out over successive novels, similar to the romance that sparked in the last installment between the brother of Henry, the landlord, and Rosie, the local Hungarian restaurateur.

Another fun, quick read. I'm a little biased: I like this series.

This was a library e-book loan, which amusingly ran out while I was reading the last chapter. I had to borrow it a second time.

Next up, installment 11. K.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Side of Good (Ackley-McPhail, ed)

The Side of Good, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, ed., 2015

First off, this is a bit of a cheat for me, because this is only half of a book. The printed edition of The Side of Good is actually a flip book: if you flip it, you will find The Side of Evil. If you order the ebook, you will get two downloads, each with its own cover (as seen above).

As the names might suggest, this pair of books are anthologies filled with stories of Super Heroes and Super Villains. I get the Heroes precedence and read their tales first.

Editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has assembled seven stories by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, Bryan J. L. Glass, John L. French, Walt Ciechanowski, Kathleen O'Shea David, Robert Greenberger, and James Chambers.

The stories range from the non-powered to the super-powered to the oddly-powered (is it really a superpower?). They not only deal with their heroics but how their actions impact their own lives and the ones around them. And when does it get to be too much?

If I had to pick a favorite, I might go with "Making a Difference", by Robert Greenberger, which reads like an old indie-comic low-powered hero on a motorcycle story, emphasis on old. "Ghost Wolf" by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, would come a close second. For fans of Kathleen David, if you're expecting puppets to play a role in her story, you won't be disappointed.

You won't be disappointed with The Side of Good unless you're, say, Lex Luthor. In that case, flip the book over.

* * *

Current reads:

  • ebooks: mostly short story anthologies, flipping back and forth, The Side of Evil or The Weird Wild West
  • hardcover (for commuting w/o an ereader): Once Upon a Time (she said)
  • manga: started getting One-Piece books from the library. Number 11 has been "in transit" for over a week now.
  • in the pool: old paperbacks and sci-fi mags that I don't mind if they get a little wet and won't cry over if they fall in. Right now, an old issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from 1987

Reminder: for anyone stumbling across this site. These entries aren't really meant to be reviews. I mostly write them for myself because I have a tendency to forget about some of the books I've read -- either about the characters or plot of a book, or sometimes even the book itself. But writing summaries is boring, especially for anthologies, and some of my friends actually like reading this blog, so I'm trying to make it more enjoyable to read, which is all I can ask in a book.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Freakonomics (Levitt, Dubner)

Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, 2005

This was the third and last book saved from a pile that was being donated. I don't remember if it was my idea to save this one, or if my wife recommended it to me, being a math book. (By the way, I can count this toward my informal Read At Least One Book About Math Every Summer list.)

There is no unifying theme to this book, and the book will even get into it. Each section is an investigation into some problem and compares data that you might not otherwise think to compare. This is the work of a man who likes to get his hands dirty looking through data for connections and trends. However, no correlations are made until he finds a method to control for other variables -- such as trying to establish the link between money and politics by concentrating on rematches between the same two candidates.

There are some interesting moments, some infuriating and some a little dull. The authors go into detail about the impact of Roe v. Wade on violent crime 15-20 years later, the economics of dealing crack (and why crack dealers still live with their moms), but also look into things like the impact of a person's name on their future employment. (That latter chapter, while interesting, seemed to go on a little too long for me.)

I read the 2006 revised hardcover, which contained additional material. In particular, the original article that spawned the book itself, some other articles published after the book and some blog posts.

Overall, it was an interesting read. I'm not running out to buy another one, nor am I ready to concede the war on crime was won because of abortion, but it was an interesting exercise.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Haddon)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, 2003

This book was suggested to me by my wife when I asked her about Tuesdays with Morrie. She thought it was a good read and that I'd find it interesting. (Or maybe it was, if I enjoyed Tuesdays, I'd enjoy this one.) Whatever the case, I enjoyed this book.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is something new to me as far as reading goes. The narrator, Christopher, is telling the story, part of which involves writing the book about the incidents in his life, and this is the book that we are reading. Additionally, Christopher has some kind of mental disabilities -- I don't think it was stated outright in the text -- but he is high functioning and good at math. In fact, part of the focus of the book is that he wants to take his "A Levels" exam and pass it with an A grade. (Thanks to twitter and the Math-Twitter-Blog-O-Sphere, I've heard of "A Levels Maths" from British teachers. It's what they call High School math, although it's organized a little differently from the way that I teach it.)

Christopher lives alone with his father and has since the day his father told him that his mother had gone into the hospital. And then his father told him that she died. And then he lives without her for a few years. And then one night, the neighbor's dog is killed with a garden fork. And then he gets blamed. And then he pushes a policeman. And he has a rat named Toby...

It isn't all written this way, but some parts are, and it's enough to get the point across.

Christopher likes Sherlock Holmes and decides to be a detective and try to investigate the dog's death. His father tells him not to stick his nose into places it doesn't belong because he doesn't understand and it can stir up trouble.

It stirs up an adventure for Christopher, which is difficult for him because of the constant assault on all his senses and his not wanting to be touched. And looking after Toby. And wanting to take his A Levels math exams.

And a good story gets told through the eyes of someone who takes it all in, but can't totally process what's happening. And the reader will feel some of the frustration.

One more note: The first chapter is Chapter 2. The second is Chapter 3. The third is Chapter 5. Don't think you missed something. As he explains early on, Christopher is good with prime numbers, so he numbered the chapters using only primes. You didn't miss a Foreward or Introduction somewhere.

The book was made into an award-winning Broadway show, which I have not seen.

Bonus: the Appendix works out a sample Pythagorean Theorem proof. That's a bonus if you're a Math geek.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesdays with Morrie (Albom)

Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, 1997

If not for those New Year lists of Reading Challenges, I don't know if I would have picked up this book and held onto it. The copy belonged to my wife, who read it years ago. It was about to go into a donation box, but I rescued it (along with the next book I'm reading, which she suggested).

Mitch Albom went to Brandeis University where his favorite professor was Morrie Schwartz. Upon graduation, Morrie gave Mitch a present and hoped to see him in the future. Albom then got caught up with life and didn't see Schwartz again until by sheer luck, he flipped TV channels and caught the beginning of Nightline with Ted Koppel who was about to interview Schwartz who was still teaching, despite being diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

What follows are the notes from his first meeting with Schwartz to catch up on old times and discuss life, which then turns into his final class, which will meet every Tuesday. They were "Tuesday people". Albom returns weekly over the course of a few months to discuss life and family and to chronicle his professor's decline in health but not in spirit, with some history lessons and anecdotes from college along the way. Morrie's biggest fear seems to be that one day, he won't be able to wipe his own butt in the bathroom. But even then, he realizes that he's become like a baby again, and there isn't anything wrong with that.

If you know anyone who went through a long decline, it can be heartwarming to read, or it could be gut-wrenching. For me it was the former.

The book did not become a bestseller until three years after it was published, when it was made into a TV movie, which is probably why I didn't notice any awards by the book. It slipped under the radar until it was too late for the accolades.

I thought it was an Oprah Winfrey book club selection, but I can't find a listing for it, so I might have been mistaken. However, she did recommend the book and then produce the movie, so that's close enough for me.

Note: I've tagged this as "Biography" even if it isn't a typical biography. I think it fits that classification.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Analog's Lighter Side (Schmidt, ed.)

Analog's Lighter Side, by S. Schmidt, ed, 1982

Anytime I get any kind of notice that some online catalog now has magazines, I check it out. Unfortunately, those magazines are usually either scholarly journal-type publications or popular newstand magazines of the slick and glossy variety. They don't ever have, for example, old science-fiction magazines.

One of the first ones I search for is Analog because I had a subscription from the late-80s to the mid-90s. The problem was I never seemed to have time to catch up with them, so I let the subscription lapse. Anyway, while searching for Analog, I found an anthology, Analog's Lighter Side, a collection of humorous stories, edited by Stanley Schmidt, who was the editor I remember (and could possibly still be editing it today).

The anthology is from 1982, which meant I'd likely never read any of the material before. As you can see from the Table of Contents above, most of the stories date from before I was born (and before Schmidt's reign). How these stories in particular were chosen, I don't know. I read Schmidt's introduction where he acknowledges that humor is subjective and even mentions that one story plays it so straight that you won't see the humor until it's done. Whatever. I tried to enjoy it, but it's a bit dated.

For example, the future tech seems silly, even quaint, in earlier stories, given the advances of the last half century (especially the past couple decades). And at least two stories make like of characters with drinking problems -- being drunk is central to the story. Less enlightened times, sure, but they were back-to-back and I worried the rest of the book might follow suit.

Where it fell apart for me was "The Gentle Earth" from 1957. It was an okay story, but it just seemed to go on and on, pointlessly. It could've been half the length. And it wasn't particularly humorous. More like "Funny Things Happened on the Way to the Invasion" as things are misunderstood and keep going wrong. The final payoff wasn't the effort. I should have skipped the story, but I got so far into it, I wanted to know how it ended ... even if I kept falling asleep. I was on this story when I renewed the book, and I finished the story sitting at a table in the library so I could drop it in the bin.

I then skimmed "A !Tangled Web", which was a little more promising, but I hate when sci-fi and fantasy writers put symbols or punctuation into language and then don't give a clue as to how such things are supposed to be pronounced. Amusingly (hey, it's "lighter"!), given my computer background, I alternated between "not" and "bang" to stand in for the exclamation point.

Final verdict: meh. Maybe I'll borrow it again this summer and read the rest. Or not.

Goals: A good part of the book was written before I was born. It's an anthology. And it was intended as humor. So I covered some bases.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

(blog): 100 YA Books to Read in a Lifetime, Part 1

100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime??

This is my first blog posting about books in general. I felt like writing something, and I'm not done with my current book, so I'm writing about reading itself. I may decide to do this ever so often.

I recently saw a link to Amazon's 100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime. (Normally, I shy away from free advertising on my blogs, but I've taken most of my images from Amazon, so I guess I've already established the pattern here.)

It's an interesting list to be sure. In fact, it seems to be two lists. The top part of the page shows 60 book covers under the heading "100 Books ..." etc. The bottom parts shows -- I kid you not -- "1-12 of 113 results for Books : 100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime". It then goes on to list books, only some of which appear in the 60 icons above. I haven't explored beyond those 72 titles yet. There's much to mention here.

For starters, I apparently have No Idea what makes a book Young Adult. Someone once told me that it's a regular book with the violence toned down and the sex removed. That was a tongue-in-cheek definition, but not a bad indicator at the time. Either way, many of the books listed, the ones I'm familiar with at any rate, don't seem to me to be the sorts of books that appeal to young adults. If anything, they are the sort of thing they might get assigned in high school. Forced reading is not fun reading, even if they eventually like the book.

That said, I thought I might give my impressions of the books I have read. (Note: I normally only put reviews/summaries of books I've recently read while the details are still fresh in my mind. I don't usually like to review something I read so long ago that I don't remember the details. One of the reasons for this blog is so that I will remember the details.)

I'm not going to cover all the books, but I'll get to ones I have read, and may have something to say about some of the others.

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess: never read it, but nothing I know about it (yeah, the film, which, believe it or not, I've never seen either) tell me it's a young adult book. Odd that this is listed first. It is a classic, so I can see its inclusion on some list, but this one? I should make a note to put it on a TBR list.

A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray: I've actually read it and reviewed it. Yeah, for me! Second book on the list. Fairly recent and a good book, and definitely YA. I'd recommend it if asked.
Reviews of books by Libba Bray.

A Separate Peace, John Knowles: One of the few mandatory reads from high school that I voluntarily reread in college or shorter thereafter. It was still on my bookshelf and I honestly didn't remember too much about it. Plus, I'm sure I didn't "get it" in high school when I likely just read it to be finished. Read it from an older, wiser perspective, I probably thought. I still remember a lot of the crappy parts of it, and don't remember much of the rest. But, hey, it's literature, not fluff or melodrama. It's not like stuff I read today where writers kill characters because they don't know what else to do with them or because they need a plot twist every 20 pages.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain: school book, but I'm glad I read it, even if I might not have been back then. Then again, I'd seen enough TV and movies about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to know the basic story. Again, it's Americana, and you should go back to the original source rather than an "updated" Hollywood retelling. And Tom Sawyer, too. To this day, I still have the copy from high school in a box of books in the basement. I can probably find a free ebook of it (and Tom Sawyer). This one should be on my reread pile.

Dune, Frank Herbert: Another surprise listing. I had trouble getting in this book post-college. In fact, the first two books were my "Secret Santa" present at my first job. I know it's a classic, and I'm a sci-fi fan, but I just didn't get through it. Oddly, by that point, I had already read "National Lampoon's Doon", which made little sense, having not read the original.

Ender's Game: the Ender Quintet, Orson Scott Card. Another classic, and least Ender's Game is. I'm not sure what the "quintet" is. I have read the novel of Ender's Game, and I have read "First Meetings in the Enderverse" although I apparently didn't blog about it. The first meetings book includes the original novella. Changes were made to get from novella to book. The novella was a little less depressing. It's still a good book, and I'd recommend it. I might even read more in the Enderverse.
Reviews of books by Orson Scott Card.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: Another high school book, mandatory read. I remember having trouble getting through it. I remember not getting it. Was it an alternate history where Ben Franklin started a fire department that started fires? What? I've had people talk to me about it and mention scenes that I have no recollection of. Oddly, those conversations have made me change my thoughts about it. So, yeah, it's something that I should reread. Will I? I don't know. Maybe. Some day.

Go Ask Alice, Anonymous: A high school book that I read on purpose. In fact, I borrowed a copy from someone because I wanted to read it. (The person I got it from was happy to be rid of it -- either he or his sister were assigned to read it. Don't remember which.) I read this book for one reason: I was involved in a one-act play based on the book. It interested me enough that I read it. I felt sorry for the poor girl, whose name was not Alice (even though it was in the play). There's an entry in her diary (the book consists of diary entries) where she makes an "Alice in Wonderland" reference about herself. The only reference to a name in the book is "Carla", and that was likely changed. Interesting read. Not sorry I borrowed it. (In fact, I might still have it.)

Harry Potter box set: J. K. Rowling: Not a cheat listing them all together. I'm glad they did. Obviously Young Adult, and they grew up as their readers did. I wonder how this will affect newer readers. Will the final books be too mature for them if they read them earlier? I don't know. That's what parents are for.
Reviews of Harry Potterbooks.
Reviews of books by J. K. Rowling. (Obviously, there is overlap.)

Hatchet, Gary Paulsen: Never read it, but my daughter has. She couldn't stop taking about not only how much she hated the book, but how stupid she thought it was. I can only think of one other book that she might have liked less. She was older by then, and I wasn't reading books with her, so I can't comment, but I had to pass these comments along.

His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman: I have a copy of it. It's unread. It will probably remain so. My brother gave it to me as a gift. I hadn't heard of it, so he explained it to me. Since it was a gift, I didn't ask, "why the hell would you think that this might interest me?" Your mileage may vary. I listed it here so you can form your own opinion when I could have just ignored it.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding, E. L. Epstein. I was never assigned to read this, but there was a copy on my bookcase at home. (I have older siblings who were readers, along with my parents.) Another classic YA book. Read the original. Don't just watch the movies. I enjoyed it as much as any other classic. (I'm pretty sure that I read it after I saw a movie -- one from the 80s, I think.)

* * *

That's it for this time. I'll check this link again soon.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Greek - Norse - Egyptian - Mythology Trilogy (Weaver)

Greek - Norse - Egyptian - Mythology Trilogy, by Stephan Weaver, 2015

These three books were released as a trilogy and I picked it up when they were available for free. Worth every penny I paid, and not a penny more.

You might also note that there is only one date in the title because all three books have a 2015 date. (Amazon lists them all as June to July 2015).

Basically, the three books are poorly organized, somewhat repetitive, and in need of an editor to fix ridiculous inconsistencies. (Like an Egyptian god with, apparently, two right eyes.) I was reading the kindle version and got to the "bonus chapter" of the Greek book -- and immediately wondered how I'd gotten to the bonus chapter already? How short was this book? Short. All of them. You could read the trilogy in an afternoon if you wanted to.

The books aren't very well researched. You could probably do better checking websites online. You'd probably find more information as well.

Thankfully, I didn't spend any money on this. Since I downloaded this on request from a newsgroup I saw a post in (actually, in a "subreddit"), I'll refrain from posting a reivew on Amazon, but there was little to this "trilogy".

Goals 2015: I'm not sure that I could count this toward anything. It was short, and written in the past year. Not much else to classify it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Great Train Robberies of the Old West

Great Train Robberies of the Old West, by R. Michael Wilson, 2006

I walked into Barnes & Nobles in Park Slope and stopped at the closeout books table in the vestibule. Usually, there isn't anything "must have", but this time I saw a slim book on Great Train Robberies of the Old West, which piqued my interest. I flipped through it quickly and thought, "I'll take it." It looked like A Good Read, and it was. Nothing fabulous -- given the subject, the book easily could have been twice the size. But it presented a series of train robberies, brought out the facts and gave some background on the people involved and let you know what happened to the participants after. There was an appendix with references, which weren't just websites, but also primary sources, including hundred-year-old news articles. So the author did his homework.

I've read stuff like this which reads like expanded click-bait articles that you can find online. Others that make me wish I just went to some online encyclopedia and find my own information. This didn't. I was satisfied. That said, I read it for fun, not for research. It might be a good start if I was interested in the topic, but I'd move on to other resources afterward.

The funny thing was I didn't know how I'd feel when I got to Butch Cassidy and Sundance. Would it be skipped? Would it be the back half of the book? Neither. Their train robberies were covered the same way the others were.

My 2016 GOALS: It was a short read (under 200 pages), and it was just about the first book I picked up when I worked into the book store. Nonfiction.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bluebeard (Johnson)

Bluebeard -- And Other Folklore Tales, by Clifton Johnson, 1920

I don't know how long ago I downloaded the free ebook of Bluebeard. I'm not even sure why I did. I probably was looking at the best-selling (or most-downloaded) free classics on Amazon, and it was probably there. I hadn't read it before, so why not.

This was a short, in-between other books, book to read when I didn't have something else available -- or when I was going to sleep and I had the light turned off already. (It disturbs the wife.)

The book is short (Amazon says 52 pages) and I probably could've read it in one sitting. However, the nature of the book and the times when I was reading it caused me to nod off more than once. It is a collection of fairy tales/folk tales from around the world. They might have been children's stories once upon a time, but with all the monsters and mayhem in them, I wouldn't want to read one to any child right before bed. Not unless I wanted them crawling into bed with me in the middle of the night -- or screaming for me to come to them.

The odd thing is that the book is divided up into 19 chapters, but there aren't 19 stories. For example, the story of Bluebeard is two chapters long, and then without any segue or transition, we're into the Goblin in the Bottle, which is a few chapters itself. That's an odd way to compile a book.

The stories seem a little out of time, given that they were written down in this form nearly 100 years ago. But it's a little piece of history.

I enjoyed it.

As for any 2016 GOALS: it is over 90 years old, but not 100. It is a collection of short stories. It was a short read (well under 100 pages). I check the lists later.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Goals and Challenges for 2016?

I generally don't like setting reading goals. I always have some in mind, but they always seem to get away from me -- especially when social media and the rest of the Internet are around. (And their great ancestor: the TV set.)

One of the problems is that Goals are generally boring and somewhat non-specific. Read 10, 20, 30 books. Okay, what kind of books? How big? In 5th Grade, I got tired of not having a star next to my mind, so once I finished the 100-page biography I took out of the library, I started reading the chapter books in the back of the classroom, and other things that were probably below my reading level (unlike the biography). I even read a couple of the books more than once because I knew I could reread them in one day. I got a lot of stars, enough to rival the leaders of the class. But I didn't push myself, read anything challenging. (On the other hand, I won't deny that I read stuff that was fun, which is important, too.)

Getting to the point, if I decided I'm reading, say, 24 books this year, there will be a good chance that many of them will be under 200 pages. There's a good quantity of books from only 20-30 years ago that have a decent quality to them that fit into that range. I could through in some free ebooks with low word counts, both of the classic and the only-read-it-because-it-was-free variety.

That's not what I want. And I probably wouldn't try it. Instead, I'd just skip the goal altogether.

But I found a few challenges on line, varying in length. Obviously, the longer one has the same problems as the 24-book goals: there are too many, unless shoot for two checks with one book. A possibility, of course.

So Challenge 1 goes something like this:

  • a book published this year
  • a book you can finish in a day
  • a book you've been meaning to read
  • a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
  • a book you should have read in school
  • a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF
  • a book published before you were born
  • a book that was banned at some point
  • a book you previously abandoned
  • a book you own but have never read
  • a book that intimidates you
  • a book that you've already read at least once

(I tracked it back to here.)

This one is definitely in the realm of possibility. Twelve books, if I don't double up. For instance, I have many books that I own and have never read AND have been meaning to read. The odd one is rereading a book -- I might be this if another Song of Ice and Fire book (a.k.a. Game of Thrones) comes out, but with so many books to read, re-reading seems silly, unless it's something that I read in high school or college and I want to read again when I might enjoy it more.

Also, anything that I can read in a day, I don't really considering reading a book, but I've posted them in my blog, so I guess I should include them.

The second challenge:

  • a book set in your home state/region
  • a book with your favorite color cover
  • a book recommended by a librarian
  • a book of poetry
  • a book with a main character who has an occupation similar to your own
  • a book that will become a movie this year (watch the movie after and compare)
  • a book published the year you were born
  • a book featuring a protagonist with a lifestyle different from yours (religion, sexuality, education, occupation, politics)
  • a National Book Award winner from years past
  • a book over 500 pages
  • a book under 200 pages
  • a graphic novel
  • books set on each continent
  • a book recommended by someone 30 years older or younger than you
  • a banned book
  • a book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
  • a book by a female author with a female protagonist
  • a book translated from a different language
  • a nonfiction book about science
  • a collection of essays
  • a book by a person of color
  • a famous author's lesser known work
  • a collection of short stories
  • a science fiction book
  • a self-improvement book

(This is the BetterWorldBooks 2016 Challenge).

As you can see, there's some overlap between the two challenges. Some of these are trivial. Color of the cover? Depends on the printing. And if it's an ebook, I may never see the cover. There are a lot of old books under 200 pages, so that's good. I can't say that I've read a lot of movie books recently and I don't even know at the moment what is being made into movies. Female author & protagonists? Kinsey Milhone or that vampire series -- done. Science fiction? Duh.

A little sneaky with "books set on each continent" -- that's seven books! Yes, Antarctica counts. There are books set there. Unless I choose Westeros and Essos.

But it's possible.

I found two more. One is an image that's hard to read, so I'm not retyping it. Some overlap, but it includes read a biography, not a memoir or autobiography, read the first in a series by a person of color (I don't always know that the author of the series is black or Asian or whatever), books in the Middle East, Southeast Asia or historical. A non-superhero comic from the last three years? What's the point of that? It goes on ... I won't.

The last one is for the overachievers, or the Pick-a-Few-Skip-a-Few Crowd. Forty books in all. Not going to happen, unless half of them are pamphlets or matchbook covers.

  • a book based on a fairy tale
  • a National Book Award winner
  • a YA bestseller
  • a book you haven't read since high school
  • a book set in your home state
  • a book translated into English
  • a romance set in the future
  • a book set in Europe
  • a book that's under 150 pages
  • a New York Times bestseller
  • a book that's becoming a movie this year
  • a self-improvement book
  • a book you can finish in a day
  • a book written by a celebrity
  • a political memoir
  • a book at least 100 years older than you
  • a book that's more than 600 pages
  • a book from Oprah's Book Club
  • a science-fiction novel
  • a book recommended by a family member
  • a graphic novel
  • a book that is published in 2016
  • a book with a protagonist who has your occupation
  • a book that takes place during Summer
  • a book and its prequel
  • a murder mystery
  • a book written by a comedian
  • a dystopian novel
  • a book with a blue cover
  • a book of poetry
  • the first book you see in a bookstore
  • a classic from the 20th century
  • an autobiography
  • a book about a road trip
  • a book about a culture you're unfamiliar with
  • a satirical book
  • a book that takes place on an island
  • a book that's guaranteed to bring you joy
This was the ebookfriendly.com reading challenge.

And there you have it, lots of choices and checklists. Some worth the challenge, some silly and frivolous. And a few that seem impossible: "guaranteed to bring you joy"? For that matter, the "first book I see in a bookstore"? Odds are I'm not buying the first thing I see.

On the other hand, the book I'm currently reading was on the Remainder rack in the vestibule as I entered the store -- but I can't swear it was the first one I saw.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What Else Have I Been Reading Besides Books?

Rounding out the things I've read recently:

When I was in the pool, I generally had an old magazine, such as Analog or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which I was might be momentarily upset, but not devastated, by its loss should it slip into the water.

And one point I had, again, picked up the Stars anthology, which contained stories by science fiction authors based on the songs of Janis Ian (At Seventeen). The few I read were a mixed bag. The book was won, not bought, so I can't say that it's something I might've chosen to begin with, but with the line-up, I know why I held onto it. I'm not sure where I put the book, so I didn't get to finish it.

I've also been raiding the library for copies of Phil & Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius series, to find out what all the hubbub was about. So far I've found and read

  • Volume 4: Agatha Heterodyne and the Circus Of Dreams (128 pp)
  • Volume 5: Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess (112 pp)
  • Volume 6: Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite (150 pp)

The library has a problem with people defacing these. In one book, the splash page was torn out and a character's face was cut out of another page.

Volume 4 was the earliest that I could find (other than looking and reading online), so I started there. Thrown into the middle of things, as it were, but I figured out the storyline as best as I could.

It's an interesting Steampunk tale of Sparks and is vividly illustrated. My only problem with the artwork is that the protagonist, Agatha Heterodyne, seems to go through extreme mood swings from one panel to the next. Indeed, several characters seem to encounter this. Now, a lot is going on very quickly, but sometimes it's abrupt. When I first started reading, I wasn't always sure it was the same character because someone went from, say, devious to innocent, or vice-versa, in the space of someone's word balloon.

I've enjoyed the series and haven't minded people watching me reading it on the subway. In fact, I was reading it at 2 am on a Sunday morning when two young twenty-somethings sat down next to me and started a conversation -- not even about the comic. They were new to Brooklyn, and forgot how to get home. Would've been helpful had they been on the correct train.

Speaking of trains, I'm currently reading a book about great train robberies in history. Hopefully, that will be up on the blog in short order.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Bray)

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray, 2003

This book came to me via a book raffle at Lunacon, a general science-fiction convention based, for the most part, in Rye Brook, NY. It's the longest running NYC-area con. The actual winner of this lot had already won a pile of books, so when she walked up, she grabbed a pile and came back and gave them to me. Glancing at the titles, she was more the target demographic than I was.

Anyway, after a year or so of sitting on my shelf, I started going through the pile of books. (Another book in that pile was How to Be a Zombie, which I read earlier in the year.) Reading the description of this and another book, I was afraid that I had a bunch of Teenage Paranormal Romances, a genre that didn't exist all that long ago and now has an entire section in the last remaining Barnes & Nobles locations I visit.

I didn't have to worry.

A Great and Terrible Beauty does have some romance, but it isn't the paranormal kind. And it has its own paranormal/fantasy realm, which can be entered from the Victorian era. Other than that, I don't think it fits the genre much.

If anything, my first thoughts were of A Little Princess, the remake of the Shirley Temple movie, which started in India before moving to a girls academy, with its supernatural elements. Those thoughts were quickly dispelled thankfully.

Normally, at this point, I'd make references to the characters because that was the main purpose of this blog initially: to remind myself about the books, not to review them. However, I read this a few months back and much of it has left my mind. Basically, teen Gemma Doyle, after her mother's murder in India, gets shipped off to Spence Academy in London. She's followed there to make sure she doesn't get involved with what she eventually gets involved with -- magic, the other realm. But are these warnings for her safety or to prevent her from achieving what she's supposed to?

Along the way, she has to deal with the mean clique of popular girls -- or is it the popular clique of mean girls -- and their hangers-on. Before you know it, Gemma has worked her way into their graces and brought along her friend and roommate Ann, completing a foursome with Felicity (the leader) and Pippa.

We learn a little more about their families and why they are how they are, and learn how they plan to cope with their existence being groomed to marry rich, old men (possibly to settle debts) or if they're destined to be spinsters, maids or something trivial and menial.

I enjoyed the book. I can't say that I'm going to run out and look for the sequels, nor is it necessary to do so. Whatever nits I could pick, I forgot about months ago. I think I had one about Gemma's brother showing up at the school in the middle of the book when I didn't recall a mention prior to that. Then I thought Bray would set up a romance between the brother and one of the girls, but he sort of faded back into the background after a scene involving Gemma's family. Again, minor -- I've forgotten the details.

Fun read to pass the time on the train. And despite the cover, I didn't get funny looks from anyone for reading it. Well, no more than the usual funny looks you get on a NYC subway.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Cain)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, 2012

This is a book that was given to me by my wife. She told me, "Read this." As that is not something that happens often -- if ever -- I took it and put it on the side to read "next". (I believe the idiom "-ish" might be appropriate here.) She might hand me something that she thinks I might be interested in, but never tells me to read anything in particular.

A couple days after I started it, she let me know it was a library book and asked if I'd finished yet. Whoops. Hadn't occurred to me. However, by that point, I was hooked enough that I reserved electronic copies at both the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries. I appreciate the NYPL's opinion of my reading ability, but it turned out that this volume was still in their 3-day loan category. Seriously?

So this book has the distinction of my reading it in both paperback form and electronically, on loan from two separate libraries. Yes, I found it that important to finish it.

About the book itself:

Cain talks about "introversion" and "extraversion" (iirc, it's been a while since I read it). She states that the terms she uses aren't the most accurate, but they are the most commonly used (or most popular among the masses, as it were) that she uses them.

I read it with interest because there were plenty of times I identified myself, on both sides of the equation. There have been times in the past that I have referred to myself as an "extroverted introvert". Sure, you can't shut me up once you get to know me -- ah! but getting to know me. Likewise, I have difficulty breaking into a conversation among a group of people. I find myself hanging on the periphery, waiting to be invited in, fearful to invite myself. I don't know how you would categorize this, but I've missed out on contributing to many conversations (and a few parties) because of it. And in many cases, I'd likely have been welcome if I'd either barged or stumbled right in.

On the other hand, her basic definition of introverts, or the basic characteristics of introverts, didn't really describe me all that much. Somewhat, sure, but maybe I'm not as introverted as I thought. Or maybe I am whatever, and I just don't know the word for whatever.

In any case, the book was worth tracking down, and I would recommend it if not to understand yourself a little better than to understand those around you and the challenges that they faced being an introvert in an overly extroverted world.

Some people can function together out in the open, but if they really want to get their work done, they need their Quiet places.