Wednesday, December 6, 2017

N is for Noose (Grafton)

N is for Noose Sue Grafton (1998)

After a couple of false starts going through some "between books" books, I returned to Sue Grafton, starting the second half of the alphabet. (I'd say the end is in sight, but, of course, the last two books have yet to be written.) As always, the action takes place a few months after the previous installment, so even though the book was published in 1998, the action takes place sometime in the 80s. Specific dates aren't mentioned, but you have to keep in mind the technology. Granted, even if it were 1998, Kinsey likely would not have had a cellphone (or even a Blackberry) and pay phones would still be around. The Internet, as we know it, would be in its infancy. But that doesn't exist here.

The story opens in Nevada, for a change, as Kinsey Millhone is caring for her boyfriend, Robert Dietz, who is recovering from surgery. Once he's able to get around on his own, there isn't any need for Kinsey to play the domestic, so she prepares to drive home to Santa Teresa, California. On the way back, she stops at Nota Lake, California to check in with a possible client, referred to her by Dietz.

Selma Newquist is a recent widow after her husband, Tom, who worked for the local sheriff's department, died out on the road. There's no murder mystery here -- Tom died of a heart attack. There isn't anything to suggest it was anything more that that. However, Selma is convinced that something was bothering Tom in recent months, and she hires Kinsey to investigate to see if she could find what troubled him. She reluctantly agrees, figuring that if no leads turn up in a few days, she'd call it off and go home.

Her inquiry has two sides: interviewing friends, family members and coworkers at the Sheriff's department, and going through the papers and bills in his office at home. The interviews review that Tom was well-liked, but Selma? Not so much. Also, there may or may not have been another woman involved. People are happy to help, but in a small town, no one likes a snoop.

The main clues are phone bills showing out-of-town calls, a missing police notebook and some doodles and numbers on a desk blotter, which include a noose, as in the title. Coincidentally, the odd phone calls go to Santa Theresa, giving Kinsey reason to go home. Another reason to go home: someone follows her car around the neighborhood one night, and then breaks into her rented room and breaks her fingers. So there's definitiely something there that someone doesn't want found, likely dealing with Tom's last case, but his notes are missing -- not in his house, the car, the scene of his death, or the sheriff's office.

There are minimal appearances by the usual Santa Teresa players, and the newfound family members don't get a mention this time. No weddings or any personal, non-investigation events of any consequence.

A murder in Santa Teresa links up with another five years earlier in Nota Lake. The victim in the second case was a person of interest in the first. But by the time Tom got there, he'd already run off. Next anyone heard, his body was found, months after his death.

So I enjoyed this one like I enjoy most Kinsey Millhone stories. Grafton usually finds a different take on a story instead of a straightforward procedural. (Her first novel in this series had her solving a crime for someone who had already been found guilty and served the sentence.) However, this one seems to lead Kinsey around until the facts fall into place when they're needed to. For instance, she interviews one hotel clerk, who has some information about another man who visited, but she didn't get to talk to the other one before being called back to Nota Lake. So a key piece of information isn't gathered -- in this case, a description of the man, where even knowing black or white could telegraph the ending. Likewise, when the notebook is finally found, along with the phrase "the key is on the desk", it's readily apparent that the "key" is a cipher key, not a physical one to a lockbox somewhere. (Because any physical key or physical safe would have been previously found and vetted by this point.)

Kinsey also "hangs a lampshade" on the fact that so many of the people she'd met in Nota Lake had five-letter names. I wish she hadn't. While she's trying to figure out want this string of coded numbers might mean, it might've been neon lights saying, It's a Name!

And I may not be the greatest sleuth, but I crack the code using the info provided at least a chapter before Kinsey. Granted, she might not have been at 100% at the time.

As with the last book, when the ending came, i thought it unraveled a little too quickly, and I might've like a little bit more of an epilogue. Sure, the case is over, but for all the added info in the middle of the story unrelated to the case, maybe a little explanation after the fact would be nice. Or even just a deputy showing up and making arrests? Maybe that's just television bias.

Moving on to O is for Outlaw soon. I'll check the library for an ebook.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge (Younker) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge: The Dirty Secrets Behind Early American Medicine J. Marin Younker (2016)

My Summer Reading Challenge was technically over, as was summer itself, but how could I pass up a title like this one?

This is definitely a case of Know our Audience. I'm sure there are pretty of kids interested in all the gruesome details when explained in such an icky way.

It was a quick read, and a quick look into how America was lagging in the field of medicine from the founding right through the Revolution. In many cases, the "cure" or "treatment" was worse than the illness, and patients were likely better waiting out a disease.

The colonies (and the States afterward) didn't have great medical schools, or medical training, or medical libraries, etc.

Spoiler: Things got better, of course. But in the meantime....

Library catalog number: YA 610.97 Y

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson (Ackley-McPhail & Schauer, ed)

The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson Danielle Ackley-McPhail & Greg Schauer, ed (2014)

Disclosure: I've met CJ Henderson. I would have to say I knew of him, more than that I knew him. He was a fixture at a science fiction convention I'd gone to almost every year for over two decades. I can't say how much I'd actually talked to him in that time, but he was a person you could talk to, whether in the Dealers Room during the day or the Con Suite in the evening.

I can also add that in 2014, I was in his house with many other people, but he was only there in spirit. When CJ died in 2014, family and friends held an "Afterlife Launch Party" in his honor. The family had hoped for a large turnout, but many that he knew from the convention circuit lived anywhere in the tristate area as well as up and down the Eastern seaboard (and elsewhere, too, but those were the ones likeliest to make it). I also learned that he lived about a 15 minute walk from my house. So I made the trip, and met a lot of familiar faces, and a few not-so-familiar. I discovered a couple days after that I'd met a favorite artist of mine without knowing it was him. But I digress.

This anthology was put together when CJ was ill. He had even seen most (if not all) of it but didn't get to see it published. Shame on me for waiting three years to finish it, but I have a habit of putting down anthologies in the middle (because I can), reading something else that came along, and then getting back to the first book. (In my defense, Danielle, if you're reading this, some of those books were other eSpecbooks!)

The anthology includes stories by John L. French, Jean Rabe, Patrick Thomas, David Boop, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jeff Young, Leona Wisoker Robert M. Price, Leona Wisoker, and James Chambers, and CJ's presence is felt in all of them. Stories are inspired by his works or his mythos and feature either a character based on one of his or a character based him CJ himself. (He appears in one story as himself, in another as a bard who is the son of Hender, etc.). All of pleasant to read -- with one exception. The foreword for one story included a warning that Henderson himself would've found the story disturbing, and warns the reader might wish to skip that one. I prefer to avoid disturbing things -- I have enough trouble sleeping -- so I skipped over that one.

Hard to pick a favorite, but I might possibly pick the lead-off story just for setting the tone for the rest of the book. But a later story hits home the theme of perseverance, particularly if you want to be a writer. If I didn't want to be a writer, I might not be writing these reviews. I'm not always sure whom I'm writing this reviews for: myself or the wandering web surfer? Never count out the flying monkeys.

Enjoyable anthology, possibly disturbing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Men in Black (Levin) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Men in Black: How The Supreme Court Is Destroying America Mark Levin (2005)

In my first pass on the 300s shelf, I spotted a book by Mark Levin, a brilliant legal and Constitutional scholar, who iscurrently a talk-show host and pundit, but was chief of staff for Attorney General Edwin Meese in the Ronald Reagan administration. (Basically, he knows what he's talking about.) Anyway, it wasn't one I was interested in reading, but since it would fill a spot on my reading challenge, I placed a hold on Men in Black, which I'd heard about years ago, but never read.

Men in Black has nothing to do with Will Smith or aliens or secret government agencies. Quite the opposite -- it has to do with the one branch of government that always comes from and center in the headlines every June when it delivers a boatload of decisions and opinions. Levin has read all the major ones going back over 200 years.

Levin goes through many of the jurists who have sat on the bench and the influence that they've had in shifting the legal system, how they've expanded rights and taken others away, how they've pushed toward statism and away from federalism. And how they sometimes perform judicial acrobatics to achieve the ends they want, regardless of the legacy it leaves and the precedence it creates.

And let's not forget about the emanations and penumbras.

You'll read about the people who have sat on the bench for decades. The ones who wore black robes during the week and white robes (with matching hoods) on the weekends. The bad decisions, which were later overturned. The bad decisions which haven't been. The good decisions which were overturned.

Surprisingly, he actually faults SCOTUS for getting involved with Bush v Gore. While he understands that it was necessary to rein in a runaway, rogue Florida Supreme Court, Levin holds that it was unnecessary. Under Florida Constitution, it would have ultimately come down to the Florida legislature, which was controlled by the Republican Party. Gore never had a chance. However, by inserting itself under whichever rationale, they have set precedence for future challenges in elections, which will play out eventually.

I wouldn't mind seeing an addendum to this book, say, 15 years later, in which Levin points out the trends he'd predicted which came to pass or are almost here, and new ones likely to occur. I don't know if he'd want to revisit the same topic, and he'd likely wait until the effects of Trump appointments are seen.

I enjoyed reading this book, and it was good for sitting in an inner tube floating in the pool in the yard for a hour or so in the afternoon sun.

Book number: 347.7314 L

Rediscovering Americanism and the Tyranny of Progressivism (Levin 2017)

At the same time I placed a hold on Men in Black, I put one on Levin's latest book, Rediscovering Americanism, a topic he's passionate about. Levin is an outspoken proponent of Federalism (state's rights), as opposed to Statism (the country as one state). While he prefers the term "statist", he uses "progressive" because that's the common vernacular.

The book became available sooner than I had expected. I enjoyed his introduction, but I had a problem getting through Chapter 2 of the book. Basically, it's sixty pages long, about one-quarter of the book. It sets up all the arguments for progressivism, from its roots to the present, and it does it using the original words from the original texts. The problem, for me was that it was just too much already. I don't mind reading history, but this wasn't the history I wanted to read -- at least not in this quantity, all at once.

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if I enjoyed the rest of the book if I skipped to chapter three, but I just felt like I needed a break from 100-year-old speeches and essays. Maybe I'll give it another try in the future, maybe not.

Since I didn't get through the book, I'm not including it as a summer reading challenge book, although it's another 300s book.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

M is for Malice (Grafton)

M is for Malice Sue Grafton (1996)

Each summer, I try to revisit the Sue Grafton series? Why just the summer? Because I don't think I could stick with a series through 26 volumes (even if only 24 are published at this time). This series is popular enough that I had over a monthlong wait for the ebook from the public library even though it's over 20 years old!

I discovered the series on audiobooks when I was commuting an hour each way back in the 90s, listening to whichever volumes were available. At some point in this century, I decided I would read them in order, unabridged. There's a slightly dated feel to the books because each one takes place a few months after the prior entry even though they are written a year or two apart. On top of that, Kinsey is a little behind the times with her portable typewriter and lack of technology. Even the fact that she doesn't have a cell phone seems a little jarring, but it was the 90s.

I've started to notice a turn in the storytelling in the past few volumes. Kinsey is a private investigator and former cop, but has decided not to carry a weapon any longer. She has used a gun in earlier novels, but thankfully they didn't all end up in shoot-em-ups with the suspect dead or dying. The other change is the presence of previously unknown family members trying to work their way into her life. It's a slow process that will play out over the next few entries, I'm sure.

The biggest difference about this book is the case itself. Kinsey's cousin Tasha is an attorney and hires Kinsey to locate a missing heir to a local businessman, Bader Malek, who passed away. The son, Guy, was constantly in trouble and left home 20 years ago. His father gave him his inheritance at the time and wrote him out of the will. Problem is that the new will is missing, so the prior one, with Guy included, will be entered into probate. His share of the estate will be worth millions now.

Finding Guy turns out not to be a difficult task. He would have been reasonably easy to find, but no one looked for him. Guy was happy to know that a PI was hired to find him, but saddened that it was for the wrong reasons. All of this occurs within the first third of the book, so you can imagine things aren't going to end well for the family.

There's still some bad blood between Guy and his brothers Donovan, Bennet and Jack. Guy goes to visit them, against Kinsey's advice. Soon after, Guy is dead, the brothers are implicated. Kinsey gets attorney Lonnie Kingman, from whom she rents office space, on the case, and Lonnie hires her to investigate. And so we're back on the case.

The ending plays out well, and the pieces do fall into place, explaining everything. However, when it finally does all unravels, it seems a little abrupt. Also missing is the usual "respectfully submitted", which makes sense given that there were really two different cases going on here. An enjoyable read, and I learned a little bit about rock quarries. Book "N" will be in the "to be read" pile very soon.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir (Capote) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With the Lost Photographs of David Attie, Truman Capote (2015)

With an afterword by Eli Attie.

The 800s shelf: Literature, which includes plays, poems and essays. I saw that it was about Brooklyn and then I flipped through and saw the pictures, and I had to check this one out.

First off, I've never read anything by Truman Capote, nor was anything ever assigned to be read. I remember a copy of In Cold Blood sitting on my bookshelf when I was a kid, but I didn't pick it up.

Second, the Afterword was actually the most fascinating part of the book. If you pick up this book, you might want to read it first. Or you can save it for last, and it will change your opinion of the entire book.

From the Introduction, I learned when this essay was originally written and where it was published. From Attie's addendum, I discovered that this Memoir was published as a book in 2002 without the photos. The photography of David Attie, someone you've probably never heard of, were still "lost" at that time.

Eli Attie is David's son and was researching the work his father had done. It turned out that Capote could be credited with launching the elder Attie's career. David even found photos of Capote along with many taken in a walk around Brooklyn Heights in the late 50s (1958, according to the text).

The collected photos (I'll let you read the story) were set to be a book on their own, but as these things go, the set was combined with a second edition of Brooklyn. Both works benefit from this.

Capote had a flair for writing (I guess I'm speaking the obvious to many) which I guess fits what I know of his personality from TV and movie appearances (not to mention impressions by people like Rich Little). However, anyone who walks around Brooklyn Heights and the area down by the Brooklyn Bridge will recognize some of the buildings and streets and structures in these photos. And if you were around there back in, say, the 70s or 80s, you might recognize even more. It's a walk down memory lane to see these places along with the people.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number 813 C

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Luck Archive (Menjivar) -- Summer Reading Challenge

The Luck Archive: Exploring Belief, Superstition, and Tradition, Mark Menjivar (2015)

The 300s shelf: Social Sciences, which I already did, but I saw another book that looked interesting.

In brief, the author was interested in stories about things, objects, and rituals that people believe are lucky or will bring luck. He even visited stores that had some kind of luck in the title. Many of those stories, along with pictures, are gathered in this one volume. He doesn't try to validate the stories, nor disparage them. More of a simple celebration of the things people do to make luck go their way. (Or to make bad luck just go away.)

A quick little read. I saw it on the shelf, and I thought it might be interesting. It was, but not overly memorable. Nothing much to make a note of.

For fun, here are some of the other options I had, which seemed to have a lot to do with Vampires and Zombies. The English Folk Tales book is one I might revisit later. There was also a book on "Social Q's" as well as a wedding planner (could you imagine me reading that on a train?), as well as some on topics I didn't care to read entire books about.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number 398.41 M

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Remember the Alamo (Rattle and Vale) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Remember the Alamo: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About American History With All the Boring Bits Taken Out, Alison Rattle and Allison Vale(2009)

My summer reading challenge took me to the 900s, which is History and Biography. I went for something short and easy to read. In fact, in researching this book to put on this blog (I already returned it to the library), I discovered another version of it with a shorter title about "Bite-Sized pieces".

Rattle and Vale (who spell their first names differently, so I can't call them "the two Al(l)isons") present snapshots of American history from the Pilgrims to Watergate, all in one-page snippets. Obviously, some topics require more pages to tell the complete story, but it's easy to break things like the Revolution into separate topics and events.

Likewise, one-page biographies of important people are included and inserted into the otherwise chronological narrative at the time it would most sense. Placing Thomas Jefferson's biography, for example, at either the point of his birth or his death would be silly and not relevant to the timeline.

If you just want a primer which the basics, this isn't bad. But it's obviously a starting point if you want to learn more about anything. Also, just reading their take on the first Thanksgiving had me wondering how much I could trust their "slant" with the rest of the book. For the record, the Pilgrims, a group that came over to these shores for religious freedom and who, according to this text, believed that the Church of England hadn't broken far enough away from Roman Catholicism, held their first Thanksgiving to give thanks to God, not to the Indians for helping them through the harsh winter. Now, the authors are the historians here and they could argue the point with me if they wanted to, but God doesn't even get a mention.

What else aren't they telling me? Well, quite a lot, actually, because this is the "Cliff's Notes" version of history. And, oddly, I would have expected a little more about the Alamo, considering the title.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number 973R.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Bradys and the Girl Smuggler (Doughty)

The Bradys and the Girl Smuggler; or, Working for the Custom House, Francis W. Doughty (1900)

Note: This novel appeared inside the collection 8 Dime Novels.

Back around the turn of the 20th century, there was a series of dime novels named Secret Service about agents who do a lot more than just protect the President. This series featured an agent known as "Old King Brady" who was joined by a sidekick/apprentice who shared his surname even though they were not related. The latter became known as "Young Brady". The stories featured the byline "A New York Detective", which was Francis W. Doughty.

The Bradys had a knack for solving problems when no one else could. At least that's what I figured was the reputation that they had. The novel I read was number 79 in the series.

The story opens in the port of New York in lower Manhattan, an area I've been familiar with since I was a child, but that was long, long after. (Two world wars and then some!) Still, it's amusing when I read the street names as they pursue a suspect that I can make a mental map of the route.

The Custom House of the story has to do with declaring valuables being brought into the country when getting off a steam ship so taxes can be paid on them. Someone has been smuggling diamonds into the country right under the noses of the Custom House agents, and no one seems to know how it is being done. The Bradys are called in to take the case.

The villain of the piece is named La Croix and his French accent is sometimes difficult to work out. ("Eet es deef-e-cult!") He's tricky and won't stop short of trying to kill the agents (bold move for a smuggler -- that's ups the game somewhat). It does become a family affair, as you can tell from the titular "Girl Smuggler".

The story takes them up to Canada and back again, riding trains because that's the fastest method of transportation and communicating through telegrams to places where the other person should be and may go to because that's just the way it was.

With nothing else to compare this story to, I can't say if it's a great example of a dime novel, but I did enjoy it (other than the phonetic accent). Would I read more? If I could download another story in a format that was easier to read, maybe.

One of the interesting things about the book was that it seemed to be reproduced in the manner that it was originally published, complete with the splash page (shown in the photo above). The novelty of that will wear off after a while, particularly with older eyes viewing it.

I don't believe that I'll plan on reading the first 78 to catch up to wear I am.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

8 Dime Novels (Bleiler, ed)

8 Dime Novels, E. F. Bleiler, editor (1974)

I don't remember the circumstances that got me thinking about old "dime novels" a few months ago. It couldn't been because of seeing a roleplaying game online or something similar. I searched both the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries for information on dime novels, and one of the hits I got was for 8 Dime Novels, edited by and with an introduction written by E. F. Bleiler. Collected in 1974, the stories are much, much older.

I'm not sure when "dime novels" ended and "pulp magazines" began or if the two are somewhat synonymous.

My biggest problem with this book was that it was a big book. Larger in size that a regular magazine, but hardcover. Not something that was easily portable, so I couldn't read it on the train. And not the kind of thing I want to hold onto and catch the lamp light right before bed. Basically, I had to find a comfortable place outside to read, close to home. As a result, I didn't read much of it despite how long I kept it.

Bleiler's introductory essay was interesting and gave me some more background on dime novels and suggestions for others to read. It went into why those 8 were chosen though I suppose a case could've been made for many others. Some of these novels, think "comic books with only words and no pictures", went on for a hundred or more issues. I don't know how many even survive, let alone were read for consideration.

In the end, I read the essay and the first story. I probably would have skipped to the Buffalo Bill story after than, had I more time.

It's not likely that I get this book again, unless I can find an ebook version of it. On the other hand, I've found an entire library of Buffalo Bill stories online that are free to read.

Still I enjoyed that this was available. It's a piece of history. That said, reading books more than a century old, particularly those that are cheaply made, can be a little challenging when you're used to today's pacing and writing style. (I'm saying this as a guy who likes science fiction but had trouble getting into both Dracula and Frankenstein for the first few chapters.)

This was not part of my summer library challenge. I took it out late spring. In fact, I finished it earlier in the summer than the last couple of books, but I forgot to post an entry when I was catching up.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Fire In My Hands (Soto) -- Summer Reading Challenge

A Fire In My Hands, Gary Soto, 2005

image coming

Another warm day, another trip of errands briefly interrupted by a stop in the air-conditioned library. Actually, I had time to spare, and I thought I could find something that I could possibly read in a half-hour. (No, that wasn't likely to happen in any case.)

As I walked past the 800s shelf -- Literature -- I looked for something thin that wasn't labeled Young Adult. Yeah, I failed at that as well.

But I did pick out a slim volume by Gary Soto, whom I hadn't heard of before now. Some business to take care of before I continue.

As a child I was fascinated by poetry. By the rhymes and by (although I wouldn't know it at the time) the meter. There would be poems at the start of each section of a reader (or text book?) we had way back when.

I have since fallen out of love with it, particularly in its modern incarnations. Specifically, I hate free verse. I hate random words on paper. I liked the rules, and working in the rules makes a successful poem that much more successful in my mind. When there are no rules, what is success? I read it ... and nothing. In wanting to know these rules, I took a Creative Writing class at Brooklyn College where the teacher (I don't recall if she was a Professor or not) explained the rules and then gave examples that broke all of them, without explaining how and why to break them for effect. (Shout-out to Xaverian High School English teacher John Mucciolo for explaining a bit about breaking the rules with purpose -- I believe he went on to be a principal in Ramapo, NJ.)

What I liked about Soto's collection (some of which dates back to before the 2005 publishing date): he went back to childhood memories, and some adult memories about his children. He told stories without a lot of excessive pretentious verbiage (see what I did there)?

I didn't like the free verse where lines broke sometimes in the middle of a two-word phrase, but I could read it like a story -- not so much prose, but like a guy talking to me. Such conversations can be choppy and disjointed to.

I appreciated the imagery he created without going for crazy allusions and allegory.

And since I'm from the Northeast -- Brooklyn, all my life -- and he's from the Southwest, a Central Valley Mexican, I found the change of viewpoint, scenery and all that to be a refreshing change of pace.

Also, his name to last poem is one that was commissioned by NASA before the Millennium. I didn't know this going in, so it was a happy discovery. Gotta love it.

So if you're a non-poetry person looking for a book of poetry to read, I can recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dead Strange (Lamy) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Dead Strange: The Bizarre Truths Behind 50 World-famous Mysteries, Matt Lamy, 2012

I went back to the 000 (General References) shelf of the library and looked through the reference books and the "How To" for different software programs. It looked like I was going to have to take a "supernatural" book.

That said, I like this book. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid. I didn't read a lot, and part of the problem in the early grades was that there weren't books like this in my school library. It jumped from the Dr. Seuss level to 100-page novels without any in-between! (I remember discovering chapter books with my children and thinking how wonderful they were.) I remember taking out a book on magic because it interested me, but it was too dense for me to get through.

Anyway, back then, I would have loved books about supernatural stuff, and this book has 50 things in it (although a couple are kind of related). And the best part is that each section is only 2 or 3 pages long. Long enough to give you an idea about the subject. Short enough not to put you to sleep or drag on endlessly.

Using my usual standard, it reads better than a click-bait web article "The Bizarre Truths Behind 50 World-famous Mysteries!! -- (You won't believe Number 23!)". Yes, it could be a little more in-depth, but it's another young adult book meant to get them interested. It's not a college thesis.

Drawbacks? Cross-referencing would've been nice. Also, there's at least one reference to something weird without mentioning that it isn't in the book. A bibliography would've been good, as well as a "for more information..." page.

I read this while sitting in an inner tube floating on my pool on a couple of early summer mornings before the Sun got too high and too hot.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number YA 001.94L. Young adult.

Some of the choices I had in the 000 series:

Monday, August 7, 2017

Eyes & Spies (Lloyd Kyi) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Eyes & Spies: How You're Tracked and Why You Should Know, Tanya Lloyd Kyi, 2017
Art by Belle Wuthrich

While walking up and down the aisles at my local library branch recently (a cooling center for a hot day), I mused that I should just grab a book from each shelf and see how many I could read this summer. It became sort of a Summer Reading Challenge, but a poorly planned one. For one thing, I originally considered the fiction shelves: grab a mystery, science fiction, historical, young adult, graphic novel/manga, etc. Then I thought about the shelves lining the walls, with numbers corresponding with the Dewey Decimal system. I could try to read on from each leading digit. Now there's the rub. First, I'm not big on non-fiction, and second, a lot of the material was reference-oriented. Also, many of the books were quite large and would likely be pretty dense reading.

And there's the other thing about wanting to enjoy what I'm reading and read some of the things that I've been waiting to get to.

So, yes, I cheated a bit and scanned for some shorter books. And that also meant grabbing some Young Adult material just to increase my chances of getting through the books.

The first book was from the 300s, which is the Social Sciences. I took a picture of some of the options. I settled on Eyes & Spies. I liked the title and I was curious what it had to say.

Since it's non-fiction, there isn't much to review or comment on. I liked some of the historical context it gave, including some information I hadn't known. It didn't say a lot about the state of computers now that I wasn't familiar with, but it's a good primer for middle school students. I don't remember if it had an index or bibliography/list of sources/suggested reading, and I wish I'd made a note of it. (I read this a couple weeks back, and I've already returned it.)

It's definitely more information than you would find in one place on any site on the Internet and it reads quick. You could research this on your own, but you don't have to. That said, you probably should use this book as the beginning not the ending. There are a lot of eyes out there and the technology is constantly changing.

I'd recommend this for any middle schooler who used the Internet a lot -- that is, all of them.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number YA 323.448K. Young adult.

Some of the choices I had in the 300 series (and a couple of misplaced 400s):

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dresden Files: Fool Moon (Butcher)

Dresden Files: Fool Moon, Jim Butcher, 2001

The first volume of the Dresden Files had vampires, but it wasn't about vampires, even though they played an important part. The problem there was wizardry, and that was a nice change from what you might expect.

The second volume has werewolves, and it is definitely about them. But there's still a twist to it, and that's the ground rules. Bob, the air spirit Dresden keeps in his cellar, explains about different types of werewolves from folklore and how people become them. Hint: getting bitten by a werewolf won't turn you into one -- otherwise, the world would be overrun with werewolves. (My note: consider that any virus that could spread so easily would either become a mass epidemic or kill everyone, and itself, pretty quickly.)

All the different types are encountered here, including the mysterious Tera West, who Dresden isn't too sure what she is. It's certain that she isn't as human as the others because his soul gaze didn't work on her. She is the fiance of Harley MacFinn, who is a loup-garou, the most powerful werewolf type Bob mentions, and also the least controllable. He has a circle of protection to contain him in his home, but it has been broken. West needs Dresden to contain MacFinn or innocent people will die under the full moon -- or is it that more innocent people will die?

Dresden doesn't have to worry about the White Council in this book as much as he does a greater adversary: Lt. Murphy. She hasn't been pleased with him for keeping secrets from her during investigations. Their working relationship is quite strained as Murphy wants an answer to the investigation while Dresden wants to protect her from the worst of this business. She brings him in on an investigation where bodies looked liked they've been ripped about by wolves. The last was a month ago, during a full month. The latest, another full moon. Doesn't take much to realize a consultant should be brought in. The problem with the latest crime scene is that it's out of Murphy's jurisdiction and the Feds have moved in. She needs this win for the Special Investigations Unit.

And, naturally, Johnny Marcone ends up being involved in all of this.

The action keeps moving, and there's a good cast of characters. Most of them seem to want Harry dead, but some need him alive -- at least for now. This is not a sophomore slump in any way. And there are plot hooks for the future. It should be interesting to see where it goes.

I'm coming back to this series at a later time.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dresden Files: Storm Front (Butcher)

Dresden Files: Storm Front, Jim Butcher, 2000

I heard about the Dresden Files many years ago, probably as long ago as they've been around. I've been told I'd probably enjoy them. Whoever said that was probably right.

I don't know what pushed me recently to request Volumes 1-6 as an ebook from the library, but I did and I had a while to wait before my name got to the top. I knew that there was no way I was going to read six books at the end of the school year in the standard loan time/ I "put down" what I was in the middle of and managed to read two volumes. I'll list them as separate entries.

So Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is an actual wizard in the modern world, and that world isn't Harry Potter's with the regular schools and such. Harry's father was a stage magician and named him for famous magicians. Unlike his father, Harry has an aptitude for actual magic. The downside is that magic and technology don't go well together, so he doesn't keep a lot of tech around. This means his old car breaks down often, and he uses a lot of candles.

In Harry's world, he has to make a living, so he works as a private detective and he freelances for the local police department. No one actually believes in magic or that he's anything other than a scam or a fraud. Except that he gets results. Other things that they might not expect to exist are vampires, fairies, air spirits, and other entities from the Nevernever, which while mentioned, we don't get to visit. There's also a ruling White Council, which can hold the power of life or death over Harry. In fact, he's being followed by someone looking for an excuse to kill him, Walden Morgan. Harry has to play by the rules, and magic has a lot of them.

The actual magic spells and potions are interesting. Potions require certain ingredients that appeal to the five senses, and that would include putting a ray of sunshine in. For that matter, sunshine can be held in a handkerchief and shone later.

The two characters who seem to believe in Harry more than the others are Lt Murphy, the head of the Special Investigations unit of Chicago PD (which gets no respect, really) who calls him in to assist her with a case, and Johnny Marcone, the head of the underworld. Marcone has looked Dresden in the eye and not freaked out.

In the first volume, Harry is called in to investigate two gruesome murders where the victims are a wiseguy and a vampire call girl. Right there, you know it's going to be interesting conducting interviews. Especially when Marcone offers to pay Dresden his going rate to take the week off.

At the same time, Harry actually has a reluctant client show up to find her husband. The two cases become intertwined, and before you know it Harry is going to be the next victim -- either of the killer or of Morgan or the White Council. He has to solve the case and stop another wizard from attacking before the next big storm hits Chicago and powers the bizarre rituals behind the killing spree.

As for the review portion of this entry: I enjoyed the book and made sure I had time to squeeze in a second before my loan was over. I liked the interaction between Dresden and the air spirit, Bob, who lives inside a skull in Harry's cellar (underneath his basement apartment) and who knows a lot about creating potions. The fairy, Toot-Toot was meh, a useful creature to move the story along. I like that Harry got a girlfriend, so I don't have to expect a Mulder/Scully thing between him and Murphy, who he considers a friend. And I liked the odd rules for magic, which seems refreshing while sounding archaic in nature.

This is definitely a series I will get back to.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Piece, Vol 1-29 (Oda)

One Piece, Volumes 1-29, Eiichiro Oda, 1997-2003

Sometime in June 2016, I heard several of my students talking about One Piece. To be honest, I don't know now if they were talking about manga or anime. I can't say for sure that I saw anyone reading One Piece in particular, but manga was popular with the students. I had an epiphany. If this is something that the students like, then maybe I should partake a little myself. And having an excuse to read the stuff was just a bonus. I had a couple of choices, but given the conversation I was listening to, I figured I'd start here.

These 29 volumes were read between June 2016 and June 2017, particularly during those periods I was riding trains to different schools in the city.

It helps that the Brooklyn Public Library has many of the volumes available. (By coincidence, the first volume that they didn't have was one of the few early volumes that the Barnes & Nobles a block from my new school (with different students who don't seem to read manga) did have. I read a few pages at a time, each day.)

There's not much I can say that you can't find in online encyclopedias.

I enjoy the stories and the actions. There are drawbacks, but I don't know if those are peculiar to One Piece or to the medium in general.

Luffy, the main character, wants to be the world's greatest pirate, but he eats the devil fruit of the Gum Gum tree, which gives him stretching powers, but makes him incapable of swimming. This makes him a bit of superhero in this world.

The problem is that these devil fruits aren't as rare as you might think. And they come in many varieties, granting many different powers. I guess they're rare in that I haven't seen any fruit tree duplicated, but it seems that every pirate Luffy and his crew come up against have also eaten devil fruit. So sinking like a stone isn't such a bad thing for pirates.

The books have 11 chapters in each volume, so I've read over 300 chapters. Also, some of these are available in omnibuses containing 3 volumes. I'm currently waiting for volume 30 to become available, so I'm writing this mid-story.

That is one of the problems: the story lines go on forever. There are entire chapters that are devoted to a single fight between two combatants. I add this last clause because the past couple of volumes have been, essentially, one long, drawn-out fight.

Not all the fights make the transition from anime to manga very well. Sometimes I stare at the images trying to see exactly what is happening. It isn't always obvious.

I have to say that it has moved the story along. Luffy filled out his crew (even adding prior enemies). They mentioned the Grand Line, so they went there. It didn't seem as frightening as it should have been, but it was definitely dangerous. At this point, Luffy wanted to find the island in the sky. And so he did. That story line seems to be drawing to a close -- at least I hope it is. Parts of it have been a mess to keep track of as the story shifts points of view.

Problems aside, I'll keep reading it as long as the library keeps supplying me. And I'm likely to move on to other series after. (I'm open to suggestions.)

I'll probably have another entry after I read another 30 or so books.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Post (Cooper)

Post, Brenda Copper, 2016

The story is set in the Pacific Northwest after society breaks down, but through disease and natural disasters, not war and bombs as in a typical post-apocalyptic novel. People now live in small communities, growing their own food, hidden for their survival. Walking the roads could be dangerous. Sage, the girl at the center of the story, likes to go outside. She's quick, so she can escape any travelers she encounters, but her constant outings put the Garden in jeopardy, and she's told that the next time she leaves, she won't be allowed back in.

This is actually fine by her, because she wants to go. She wants to see a big city. And she has seen an airplane, so she knows that there must be something. So Sage is sent to Portland, to find what the world is like now.

Sage runs into some trouble on the road and is rescued by a man from another community. She is allowed to stay the night, but in the morning, she is sent off with another girl, Monday, who is given the same job: find if the world has recovered.

They get there, after some missteps, and mistrust, and get involved in an uprising as Portland is in the middle of a power struggle. Sage does find the plane and the pilot.

(There would be more here had I written this entry a few months ago.)

I enjoyed the book. I liked the character development. The kids weren't whiny -- something that bugs me when I read, essentially, young adult novels. (I know I may not be the target audience, but really!) If I had one problem with it, it was too short. It needed another chapter, or an epilogue, just for a little more closure. Yes, I wanted to know what happens next, though not necessarily a sequel.

Actually, I wouldn't mind a sequel set in this world, but I'd want another story, not just "and then this happened".

I got this book from its Kickstarter campaign.

Statistics: ebook, fiction, post-apocalyptic, short

Monday, July 10, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Rowling, Tiffany)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II, J. K. Rowling and John Tiffany, 2016

First of all, if you don't like reading scripts, you are not going to like this. This is the script of the play, though I wonder how they staged some of it. But that's the magic of theater, isn't it?

The story picks up right where Book 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) leaves off, at the Epilogue in Kings Crossing. It even replays that scene.

We learn that it isn't easy being the son of Harry Potter (and it still isn't easy being Harry Potter), nor being the son of Draco Malfoy. Albus Severus Potter meets Scorpius Malfoy, and they become friends, which is facilitated by Sorting Hat placing Potter in Slytherin. (Gasp!) Who is this Cursed Child of the title? Is it poor Scorpius, rumored to be the son of Voldemort and Astoria Greengrass, Draco's late wife, who was sent back in time to be impregnated, to carry on the Malfoy name when Draco wasn't up to the task? (Such an idea seems silly on the face on it, but I think it served one purpose: to plant the seed that some Time Turners still exist).

(Here's where I wish I had written this up back in January -- the point of this blog is to help me remember these details!)

As the story unravels, we meet Amos Diggory, father of the deceased Cedric, and Amos's niece. The three of them hatch a plan to steal a Time Turner (there is a secret one, which survives, should it prove needed) and go back and save Cedric's life. But whatever they do, playing with time, has serious consequences, including people disappearing (such as Ron and Hermione's daughter, Rose, because the two never got together).

As you can imagine, they have to fix things, without making things worse, including confessing to the people in a doomed world what's going on, to get their help to set things right.

I can agree with someone's online assessment that it's a nice story, but I wouldn't want it to be canon. It reads like fan fiction, but only because it's a little light in its words -- it is a script, after all. Plus, there are limits to theater.

Unlike each Potter book, this one spans several years, and there are big gaps, where you might wonder what the characters are doing. It tells a story, but it closed off others and will make life difficult for other stories to take place. I guess we all have ideas where we'd like the Potter people to go and to do afterward -- or even in those missing years before the Epilogue.

Statistics: library e-book loan, script, continued series

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Happiness Handbook (Sonne)

The Happiness Handbook, Lisa T.E. Sonne, 2015

Not my usualy read. This is basically a collection of 1-2 page long affirmations, to be read daily or all at once. Listed with no apparent order or theme. No chapters to speak of, nor any appendix or list of references at the end.

This book was a gift I received at an after-the-holidays birthday gathering. I didn't want to put it off because, if asked, I'd like to say, yes, I read it. I figured that I could probably get through it in a couple of mornings on the train. Instead, I found myself playing games on my iPad a little more often rather than reading.

There wasn't anything too deep within the pages beyond the expected "you can be happy"/"you should be happy" vibes. Despite some interesting quotes from people, I would be hard-pressed to tell you any specific idea presented within the pages.

Fluff. Worse: it turns out I never finished it. I found my bookmark just before I started writing this. (I read the book in February.) I quickly tried to skim the last 20 or so pages and ... stopped.

Moved on to the next book.

Statistics: hardcover, approx 220 pages, non-fiction, inspirational, self-help

Monday, April 3, 2017

500 Sundays (Crystal)

500 Sundays, Billy Crystal, 2005

Catching up on this year's readings, so far. Not that there's much of it.

500 Sundays was the name of Billy Crystal's one-man Broadway show, telling stories about growing up with his father, and life after that. The title comes from the fact that his father's one day off was Sunday, which he spent with his kids. Unfortunately, he died when Billy was only 14, which meant that they only had about 500 Sundays together. He doesn't go into every one of these. In fact, there's plenty that happens on weekdays at the Commodore Music Store in Manhattan.

I saw Crystal's show, so reading this was almost like reading a transcript of the show. I remembered quite a few of the stories, in particular, the fact that the first time he was in a movie theater, he was sitting on Billie Holiday's lap. Dad was in the music biz, particularly around Jazz. Billy Crystal grew up in that show-biz environment.

A lot of heart-warming stories are contained within, and it's an interesting contrast to two biogrpaphies I read recently: one by Don Rickles and the other by Martin Short. I guess I like reading about funny guys, even when their lives aren't all that funny.

The book continues past the 500 Sundays of the title and continues with his growing up, getting into show business, and, of course, life with his mother. The end of the book comes with two tragic events. I'm not giving much away to say that dealing with the grief of his mother's passing is the first one. The other is 9-11. Actually, there was anecdote from the show abut 9/11 that he left out of the book. Maybe it wasn't a good note to end the book on. (I think it came earlier in the show, because it involved meeting then-President Bush.)

One of the reasons I remember his story involving Bush and, believe it or not, Regis Philbin, was because I heard him tell it on a morning radio show in the months after 9/11. When he told it in the show, he changed the payoff line, which admittedly wasn't incredibly funny in its original form, to one that took a shot at Bush. That might've been funny in 2005, but it would not have been something he could've said to the President during a World Series game in 2001. It's just as well he omitted it.

Anyway, it's a sweet, fun read that drops quite a bit of names and gives you a bit of background about Crystal.

For my own notes: this was a hardcover book, not an ebook. I picked it up at a library sale.