Wednesday, December 26, 2018

[Book] Euphemania by Ralph Keyes

Book Cover
I love puns, and this is a book about the grandfather of puns... the good ole euphemism.  This book moves smoothly from subject to subject bringing up lots of history.  It is sometimes funny, but it doesn't overplay.  Overall, it's a pretty serious book about the very human desire to avoid talking directly about certain subjects.

Chapter Listing
Mincing Words
From Bears to Bowdlerism
Speaking of Sex
Anatomy Class
Secretions and Excretions
Under the Weather and In the Ground
Comestibles
Show Me the Liquidity
Words of War
Brave New Words
Why We Euphemize

I found the chapter on sex to be the most interesting.  I'd go so far as to say that the whole book is worth it for Speaking of Sex and Secretions and Excretions.  I learned a huge amount that I never even suspected, having grown up with so many euphemisms as "normal" speech.  Even the "proper" terms that I've been taught are usually euphemisms from another language.  I also find myself much more accepting of curse words after reading this book.

One aspect of this book that surprised me is that there are sprinkled references to euphemisms in other languages.  In retrospect, it is clear that euphemisms often jump from one language to another, and morph slightly as they go from language to language.  I found these parts to be fascinating none-the-less, and really makes me wish I had the patience to really learn more than just English.

Bottom line is that I found this book to be delightfully charming.  I learned a lot (and have already forgotten far more).  As usual, I'll include the escape reasons...  If you are bored by puns, have no interest in etymology, or just don't want to think about language now that English class isn't mandatory in your life, I won't think less of you for skipping this one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

[Book] There There by Tommy Orange

Book cover
I will start by noting that this book started slow for me.  It took me over two weeks to read the prologue up through the fourth chapter.  Once I passed that, I read the next 80% of the book in two days finishing on a third.

Every character in this book is a Native American either from or converging on Oakland California.  There is a lot of exploration, especially among the young characters, of what it means to be Native in the city.  A native away from the things externally associated with being Native.

I loved this book, but I feel I should not have liked it at all.  This book has most of the things that I've complained about in reviews past.  The book is non-linear.  The book retells the same scenes from different perspectives, sometimes many chapters apart.  The book jumps between grandmother to grandchild without reminding us of the shared relationship.

Yet, the details emerge.  The memories re-ignite.  Not the way I expect them to, but there is always enough there that I'm not left confused and angry.  Chapter headings are helpful here.  They name the character that the chapter will focus on.  The perspectives are amazing in how different each character sees the world.  Which things energize and which things turn off.

The author does an amazing job really pushing the personality drivers of each person, making families familiar in a way that is obvious, while making each character a fully believable individual.  There are multiple people in this book that I wish I could just sit down with an have a conversation with, or just share a meal.

By just about the middle point of the book, it becomes clear that these individual pieces of story are all converging.  More and more, the life stories that are being told are intersecting in place and time.  In this, all of the exploration, the meaning, are all in service of the overall story-arc.  The shifts in place and time, are to help us avoid spoilers for what is to come, and it is done very well.

This is a book I'm recommending without reservation.  I don't do that very often.

There is violence, gang, domestic and sexual, though the sexual violence is not described in graphic detail.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

[Book] I Am Not Famous Anymore by Erin Dorney

Subtitled, Poems after Shia LaBeouf, this is a short volume of erasure poems lifted from interviews with Shia LaBeouf.  Before this book, I had only seen erasure poetry in poster or postcard format.  Kitch, at it's best.  Also, I have very little patience for poetry.  I've read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and never completely read any of the song-poems that are scattered throughout those volumes.

All of this leaves me quite surprised that I really enjoyed this book.  I read maybe 5 to 10 of the poems in here per day over the course of a few weeks, and while often bazaar or nonsensical, there are several poems in here that I think back on from time to time.  Through this book, I've found an appreciation for this art-form.

Ultimately, this is a very short read, but I recommend this.  I recommend spacing it out, as I did.  Also, I can't think of a good reason that you might want to skip this one.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

[Book] A Guile of Dragons by James Enge

Book cover
The book starts in a very promising place.  It offers a map.  All of my favorite fantasy novels have included a map, and this leaves me excited for a tale with some traveling.  The first very short chapter introduces some world building back-story, a short story about gods.  Then, on page 19 (or the third page of story) the novel lands in a fantasy space that I find very overused and tired... Merlin in fantasy old England, complete with a mention of King Arthur's Court.  This has nothing to do with the map, and that gave me the hope to keep reading.  This turns out to tell the story of the birth of the actual main character, Morlock Ambrosius, son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana.

The book divides itself into four parts.  The first part explains how the main character comes to be in, and introduces us to the world that the map describes... a world that is not fantasy old England or even Earth.  At part two, we leave back-story and really get into the main part of the story.  Dwarves, Wizards and, yes, dragons.

The world building is important to this story, but it's also good.  Despite the Merlin reference, this is not a reused fantasy world of others.  The dragons are not friendly or even sympathetic.  The dwarves are not overly talkative.  There are no elves in this story.   The dragon lore in this book is a very interesting take, and I find that I'm quite fond of this version.  I'll note that guile is used as a collective noun, as a herd of cows or murder of crows, but also implies a social structure.

After finishing the book and preparing this review, I found out that Morlock is a main character in some of James Enge's other books as well, meaning that this book is an origin story.  Here's the cool thing, besides being disappointed with the Merlin / Arthur tie-in, I didn't notice this was an origin story (and those are the best kind).

There are definitely parts of the story that are left unexplained.  Not plot holes, but points of resolution that I wish had been further explained.  Knowing that this character appears in other books, I find myself wondering if these are story points in other books, or things specifically being left for future books to explore.  It's a suspicion I would not have if this were a stand-alone book, but I feel it, so I felt I should mention it.

There is exactly one passage in this book that allows it to pass the Bechdel test, and it's singularity stuck out to me.  I don't think that I usually notice these things, but the one passage was distinct enough that it stuck out as being too lonely among many great opportunities for - you know - more simple exposition between two women.

Read this book if you are looking for a different fantasy space, and a male point of view.  Skip this book if an overly male point of view bothers you.  Honestly, this is the reason I'm not likely to seek out more books from this author.  The story telling is great, but it's almost all guys.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Google Cardboard is a Terrible Experience

Every time I ever try to do anything with Google cardboard - apart from the demo itself - the entire thing is a horrible experience.

Take something that seems like it should be relatively common: VR video.  Go into cardboard (the app), request the VR video channel.  Find a video.  Start that video.  THEN hit the cardboard icon that will put it into cardboard mode.  Then pause it.  Put my phone into the cardboard-compatible viewer and hope it doesn't touch anything on the way in.  If anything touches the screen in the wrong place the phone jumps back to full screen.  That means, remove the phone again, re-queue the entire thing and try again.  Finally, I can strap the thing onto my head and if everything went just right, I can hit play and watch that video... at least until it's over.

"If anything touches the screen
in the wrong place the phone
jumps back to full screen."

When the video is over, YouTube does what YouTube always does.  It randomly queues another video that is subject related to the one previous.  Normally, this could be okay, but I've tried this multiple times and the next video has never been a 360 experience.  There is no way within the limited cardboard interface of YouTube to go back in and select a different 360 video.  That means, remove the phone and do the whole thing over again to get back into a 360 video.

I played around with an Android app called Cosmic Roller Coaster.  There's no back in the interface.  Done with the "free" experience, my only option was to remove the phone from the cardboard and hit the Android back button to get back to the main menu within the app.  I then promptly uninstalled Cosmic Roller Coaster.

Google Earth, launched from within the cardboard demo environment is the only decent experience that I've found.  Why is this the only thing I've tried that gives me good feelings about VR as an experience?  Everything else I've tried is mostly a frustration at some point.

Here's the thing.  I love 3D.  I love VR.  I am geeky enough to understand the interface problems and all the steps necessary to overcome them.  Good or bad, Google Cardboard via smart-phone is the first most people will ever get to try VR, and even though it's been around for years, the experience is pretty bad.  I look at the fairly sad sales of the higher-end VR gear (Vive, Oculus or the Microsoft AR vendors), and I can't help but wonder if the underwhelming experience under Google Cardboard isn't part of why there hasn't been more adoption in this market.

I've done some playing with an Oculus and that experience is mind-blowing.  Comparative, Google Earth on both is about the right experiential jump between a phone to a PC hosted app.  That is the only place where Google Cardboard doesn't feel like a complete waste.

Am I missing something?  Leave a comment below if you've found something worth the time and setup of using the Google Cardboard interface.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

[Book] David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones

Book sleeve cover
The author of this book took a huge amount of time to collect together statements and interviews from a vast array of people who knew or in some cases even briefly met David Bowie.  Jarringly, there are places where David Bowie's own statements are included.  All of these vignettes are presented each in whole, collected into chapters into an approximate order as to when the main point of each vignette happened.  Each vignette starts with a name followed by a parenthetical as to what this person is in relation to Bowie.  Very sparingly, there will be fully italic paragraphs where the author actually writes some narrative framework.  Pointing out things that are important, but not illustrated in the vignettes.  It took me until chapter 3 until I realized that this is what the italic sections were for.

The first chapter of vignettes was very difficult to read.  Of course, the youngest part of anybody's life is the hardest to keep interesting.  "Nick Kent (journalist)", who hadn't met Bowie, but saw him on TV at 17 representing, The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, said "...I remember thinking, Now, this fellow we'll probably be seeing again."  At this, it was really hard to keep my eyes from rolling out the back of my head.  There were even vignettes that simply talked about a neighborhood where he was living, without any direct connection to Bowie himself.  Nothing much here but color commentary.

Starting in the second chapter, there are more vignettes from musicians who actually worked with Bowie, and those start to get interesting.  Rick Wakeman, of Yes fame, is a stand-out for good short stories, and though his stories start in Chapter 1, they don't get good until Chapter 2, when he's talking about things that he was part of.

Another thing that goes on through these vignettes that overlap in time is that often two or three recollections of a person or event in Bowie's life will contradict each-other.  Where this happens, there is no narrative interlude to give more information, just the confusion that we don't really know.

Bowie's first wife, Angie, was either "a snotty bitch" and "her own worst enemy" or "... if he hadn't met Angie, David might have continued as a sort of Bob Dylan type..." and "part angel" who "did more than her share of domestic chores".  All I can get from this is that she rubbed some people the wrong way, and - more likely - people who liked her then came to dislike her after the divorce.  Ultimately, I found the Angie bashing to be distracting more than enlightening, and it is just one early example of narrative contradictions.

Because the vignettes overlap in time, and often contradict each other in detail, the book is very hard to follow in a narrative sense.  This is actually worse than the eyE Marty autobiography; that was also out-of-time order, but at least it was a single voice and viewpoint.  This book left me with a mess of details, and I'd bet that two people could read this book at the same time, and come away to tell their own version of the story of Bowie in multiple ways, depending on which vignettes resonated with each reader.

I tried to force myself through this book, but have put it down several times to read other things that have a straight forward narrative.  This book forces you to pay attention, and I wouldn't call it a good summer read (that is, I actually started this book in mid-July).  I got about half-way through this book before deciding I'd read enough of it to publish this review.

Skip it even if you are seeking a narrative walk-through of Bowie's life.  Read this if you are obsessed with all things David Bowie, and really want to get a very in-depth view from a lot of different voices.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Next Career Move

The company I work(ed) for has been planning a division sell-off for most of the year.  Weeks after that division spin-off into Private Equity, I was notified that my last day will be 29 October.  The last time I was laid-off, it was similarly driven by a corporate action.  Upper management had been talking about a flatter organization, and cutting out management levels, so I was well prepared mentally.  I actually expected that I would take it much worse than I did.

I have about 15 years of management experience in IT and Software, so the first phase of my looking for a job will be to try to find a Software Manager position (since this is my longest, most relevant, and most recent experience).  If that doesn't go well, I'll open up to IT management roles as well.

Anyway, if you know me and you know of an opening that I might be good at, feel free to send me a note.

I suspect this may mean less book reviews (though I currently have reviews written through 12 December).  This summer I reviewed a bunch of books, and then dropped to every other week to help stretch out the fact that I've slowed down my reading a lot as fall hit...

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

[Book] Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Book cover
I realize that I've read and reviewed a lot of books that I don't really like.  This review isn't that.  I liked the book, Leia; Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray so much that when I found out she had another book in the Star Wars universe, I bought it right away. I really like to keep these reviews spoiler-free, and if I really enjoy a book, I actually have a much harder time writing about it, because - well - everything I enjoy about a book seems like a possible spoiler.

As per the cover of the book, this book happens "In the years before Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  This book starts at a slower pace than Leia, but unlike Leia, this book is bridging a lot of history after the Battle of Endor, and it really sets the stage for The Force Awakens.  The first half of this book is mostly driven by politics, most of the scenes take place in the Galactic Senate chamber.

Wait, keep reading!  I know that if I read the above, I'd have never even picked up this book.  Here's the thing, the author kept it interesting, and more important ... relevant to the plot!  All the political infighting is what gets Leia herself to head up an investigation that gets her both out of the senate and into some real action.

Also, just like Leia, this book has lots of characters show up from movies and other stories.  There were less of these than in Leia, but still, C3PO is present throughout, Han Solo and Chewbacca show up, Snap Wexley shows up, too.

If you have not seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then the part below the cut could seem like a spoiler.  Also, that is another reason why politics were so important to this story.  Without the detailed politics, there would be a major plot hole.  I'd go so far as to say that this covers some plot-holes in The Force Awakens.

Read this book if you liked The Force Awakens.  Also read this book if you wanted to like The Force Awakens, but felt it seemed too disconnected from the rest of the Star Wars history.  Read this book if you want to hear Leia's voice clearly (Claudia Gray clearly gets the Leia character very well).  On the other hand, if Star Wars isn't your thing (that's okay), then it's possible that the references and history won't mean anything to you.  Myself, though, I highly recommend this book.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

[Book Spoiled] North American Lake Monsters

The book, North American Lake Monsters, is a collection of short stories that I reviewed here.  Read that first, without it, this will have little context.

Seriously, the following is absolutely full of spoilers, and I don't want to hear about it.  Well, for the stories that I actually like, I still try to keep them a little spoiler free, but the first story ... that one I lay out ALL the main points.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

[Book] North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Book cover
North American Lake Monsters is a collection of short horror or at least suspense stories.  One short, The Monsters of Heaven, won the Shirley Jackson Award, and this book is on its third printing.

Several of the stories introduce a monster, but the monster itself is inactive ... in one case, already dead, leaving these stories to be more about the evil we bring with us where the monster is just a catalyst or even excuse for some all-too-human transition into bad behavior.

I'm still pretty new at this, but it feels that; to be honest about this review, I have to take a minute to talk about me and where I come from.  I was around a lot of drug abuse in my younger years, and maybe this leaves me with little patience or even empathy for a person who brings their own evil, using something external as an excuse.  There are many stories that centered around this, and those just left me feeling uncomfortable, and sad.  Not horrified, scared, or even worried.  When I recognize these patterns at the beginning of the story, then I already have my guard up.  I cannot empathize with these characters.  The turns, in these stories, felt like the inevitable.  I say this with the highest compliment I can muster: I recognize these patterns, they ring true to real life, which means that the bored tropes of my own experience with the worst traits of humanity may indeed make wonderful fodder for those unfamiliar and seeking horror.

Even so, some of the stories in this book feel like a premise has been introduced, but not fully explored.  All short stories can feel this way, but -- reading over my own reviews -- I have little patience for when a story lacks a full narrative arc, and there were some stories where I felt like I read a promising chapter one, leaving me cold.

Inside here, I disliked these stories: You Go Where It Takes You, S.S., The Monsters of Heaven, North American Lake Monsters and The Good Husband.

This story was interesting, but not great: Wild Acre.

Read this for The Crevasse, Sunbleached and Way Station if you find this collection on sale.  As I note above, maybe the rest of this is exactly the kind of thing a horror fan might look for.  At the same time, so many of these stories introduce something very strange or very interesting, steer the story around and away from that thing, while the short format doesn't allow those things to be expanded upon.  Overall, I don't recommend this book.

I'm actually quite tempted to do a spoilers version of this review to explain more on each of these stories from my perspective.  Leave a comment if you are interested, or would rather I leave it spoilers completely off this blog.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

[Book] Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Book cover
Since this is a non-fiction and educational book, I'm not going to worry about inadvertent spoilers as I usually do with fictional, or even narrative true-stories.  This book does have a narrative flow, better that a lot of the fiction books I've already reviewed, but it is the narrative flow of a documentary, moving from subject to subject, building knowledge.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the top science communicators alive today.  And this book, physically small, is only about half the reading of another book with the same number of pages.  It took me about a week to complete, and I definitely read non-fiction books much, much slower than I read fiction.  This is as close to a page-turner of a non-fiction book as I've read since I read the Quark and the Jaguar, around 7 years ago.

This book starts with chapters titles that invoke biblical parallels.  Chapter one, The Greatest Story Ever Told, covers the big bang, introducing Plank and leaving me with many, many questions about the speed of light and how it's rules applied to the earliest moments of the universe.

The book then covers Isaac Newton's discoveries about gravity, and specifically the universality of gravity throughout the solar system, but thankfully avoids describing calculus itself.  Moving back to the forming of the early universe, it covers the Cosmic Microwave Background and its origins.

The next three chapters cover the space between galaxies first establishing the basics then introducing us to Dark Matter and then Dark Energy.  At the point where I was reading about these, my questions surrounding the limitations on the speed of light were still reeling in my head, and all this measured "extra" is a lot for my little brain to take in.

Chapter seven, The Cosmos on the Table, explores the stellar origins of the elements (those of the Periodic Table), which for me was a very welcome break from the abstract.  Though not repeated in this book, it reminds me of the Carl Sagan quote, "We are all made of star stuff."

The next two chapters talk about Spheres and Invisible light.  The stability of spheres as well as how rotation has a tendency to flatten a sphere into an oblong spheroid seems meant to explain the general shape of galaxies.  Invisible light is a useful introduction to the instruments of modern astronomy beyond the visible-light telescope, including how each was discovered and how they are used.

Between the Planets, the 10th Chapter, tries to put into perspective how little the constituent parts of our solar system are in comparison to the Sun while Chapter 11, Exoplanet Earth, explores what our planet would look like from other stars and what methods might be used to figure out that there is life here.

In the 12th and final chapter, Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective, Tyson clearly shows that he is a disciple of Carl Sagan, linking the study of the Cosmos to the importance of stewardship of our tiny and fragile planet, while fostering a hopeful view on what we could accomplish.  This is a very good round-up of the book.

Overall, I recommend this book if you found this review itself to be interesting.  If, on the other hand, you generally find space to be an invitation to sleep, then it's okay to skip.  I am glad I read it.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

[Tech/PC] VirtualBox, Windows 7 and a new CPU

As I've done from time to time, this blog serves as a bit of a bench-notes of what I did.  However, maybe someone else hits the same problem, and finds my blog via search.

About a month back, the new nVidia 2080 Ti card was announced.  I decided to hit up eBay to see if anyone was selling off a 1080 Ti, and I was not disappointed in the price drops.  So, I upgraded my graphics to the 1080 Ti.

Similarly, Intel just dropped the new 8th Generation of Core i7 processors.  Last weekend, I upgraded my system from a Core i7-6700k CPU to a newer i7-7700k.  Now that the 8th gen 8700k is out, the 7700k became more affordable AND my existing motherboard already supports it.

I was hoping it would be more noticeable in actual use.  My benchmarks are slightly better as I expected.  I have - though - life extended this another year or two into the future.

----------

VirtualBox & Windows 7 (which I run for work reasons)

When I started my Windows 7 virtual machine, I got a notification from the Operating System that some Windows Updates would stop being delivered because Windows 7 doesn't support my CPU.  Knowing that VMs can fudge this data, I went searching.  After pages and pages of VERY complex commands, I found a comment from 2010 pointing at experimental "Processor Templates".  With all VirtualBox components shut down, I ran the following:

cd '\Program Files\Oracle VirtualBox'
.\VBoxManage.exe modifyvm "Win7 x64" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-6700K"

Restarted the VM and everything is happy again.

NOTE:

VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Xeon X5482 3.20GHz"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-2635QM"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-3960X"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i5-3570"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-5600U"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-6700K"

----------

Current PC Spec

Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake Quad-Core 4.2 GHz LGA 1151 91W BX80677I77700K Desktop Processor
GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Turbo 11GD, GV-N108TTURBO-11GD
ASUS WiFi Dual Band Wireless (Intel AC 8260 chipset)
SAMSUNG 950 PRO M.2 512GB PCI-Express 3.0 x4 Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) MZ-V5P512BW
CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2133 (PC4 17000) CMK32GX4M4A2133C13
ASUS Z170-A LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
CORSAIR HXi HX750i CP-9020072-NA 750W ATX12V / EPS12V 80 PLUS PLATINUM Certified Full Modular Power Supply
Corsair Carbide Series 100R Silent Edition CC-9011077-WW Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case ATX (not included) Power Supply
Noctua NH-L12 120mm & 92mm SSO Bearing PWM Fans CPU Cooler
Noctua NF-S12A PWM 120mm Case Fan
Samsung SSD 850 EVO 2TB (Added mid 2016)

Original Parts replaced from 2015 November build

EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 06G-P4-4991-KR 6GB GAMING w/ACX 2.0+, Whisper Silent Cooling Graphics Card
Intel Core i7-6700K 8M Skylake Quad-Core 4.0 GHz LGA 1151 95W BX80662I76700K
Intel 7260HMWDTX1 Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 (Died April 2018)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

[Book] Leia, Princess of Aderaan by Claudia Gray

Book cover
This book is a Star Wars story.  It takes place during Leia Organa's 16th year.  I would like to say that familiarity with the Star Wars universe isn't absolutely necessary, but I cannot be sure of that.  It is, at its base, an exhilarating and sometimes sad, coming of age story, where we see Leia grow from a teen who thinks she's all grown up, to a woman who knows she isn't quite there.

I will warn that there is a LOT of Star Wars style galactic politics in this book.  There are many examples of the Empire creeping further and further into totalitarian rule, and - given the present climate of politics in the USA - some of that can be a bit hard to read.  It is important to the overall story, informing both Leia's choices in this story, but also foreshadowing the choices she will make later in her life.

This story has castles, swamps, mountains, oceans, space-ships, action, danger, spy-craft and romance, and a pretty good mix.  I laughed out loud a few times, and I cried once.

For the Star Wars fan, we get to see Leia meet Grand Moff Tarkin and R2D2 for the first time.  We get to see her form a friendship with Mon Mothma.  We get to see Leia use the Tantive IV without her father for the first time.  We get to really experience some of the personality of Bail and Breha Organa, and the beauty of Alderaan.

I try to keep these reviews from spoilers.  Anyone familiar with the Star Wars movies will be able to automatically know where some plot-points are headed.  I really want to talk about what happens in this book because I just finished it, but I may have said too much for some already.

I really enjoy this book, and I felt invited into the worlds it described easily.  Of course, I'm also aware that I grew up with the Star Wars movies, and I also enjoyed Rogue One and the other recent Star Wars films, so my easy enjoyment with this book may not be true for everyone.  If you don't know or like Star Wars, maybe this book isn't for you.  If, like me, you enjoy the franchise, and especially if you wanted to know a lot more about Leia, then read this book.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

[Book] Home After Dark by David Small

Book cover
Bonus review this week (because this book comes out on the 11th), and I finally figured out what to say about it.

This tale is, all at once, heartbreaking, terrifying, uncomfortable, troubling with a tiny bit of hopeful mixed in.  Trigger warnings would be helpful here: racism, suicide, sexual predation, sexual bigotry, bullying, alcoholism, violence (both human and animal), parental abandonment, and smoking.

After his mother walks-out, 13-year-old Russell moves with his father clear across the country to a small town in California.  The fears and uncertainties of teenage life in the 1950s come very much to life in this graphic novel where the story is told as more in the pictures than by the dialog.  This is not in color, though - honestly - color might actually take away some of the drama.

Russell goes through a lot in this book.  The characters... the raw side of human nature depicted in this book feels real.  It feels like people I've run into (and wished I hadn't).  I read this and I took several days to process it before even attempting to write this review.  It feels important.  It also has something to say without making it painfully obvious.

If the trigger warnings have you pulling back, I fully understand.  There were certainly parts of this book that were hard for me to read.  That said, I really do recommend it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

[Book] Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Book cover
Even though I'm reviewing an Advance copy, this story is surprisingly nonlinear, and I doubt that will change, though - really - it could.  The book starts, like a 1970s movie, listing the cast of characters in the approximate order in which the characters appear.  It's a story about two people, writing screenplays that are not exactly about the same thing, but are derived from a shared starting point and past.

Because it is non-linear, it is not obvious when switching between past, one of two screenplays and the present.  One has to carefully pay attention to the cast of characters to help determine *when* one is in the storyline.  This is not terribly difficult, but I had trouble getting back into the story when I paused for 48 hours around the middle of the book.

There are many Filipino references that subtly suggest this book isn't meant for me.  I don't mean to say that it is exclusionary, but it is definitely written in a way to not bother to introduce most words, phrases and Filipino cultural norms that I am not familiar with.  I feel like - to get the full experience - I should read it with Google open nearby, or - more naturally - be from the Philippines.  I read a lot, but I'm not that kind of advanced reader, so I just let the things I don't know wash over me in the comfort of knowing I don't need to know everything.

Here's the thing - when I'm in a chapter (as opposed to the jarring start of a chapter, where I haven't figured out where or when I am) - the writing is very engaging, and the characters feel very natural for who and where (or what) they are.  That said, the whole book is comprised of two parallel stories in two diverging and emerging screenplays of those stories, wrapped in a story of the two authors.  Put another way, it's meta, sometimes self-referentially meta.  It is also steeped in more than a little actual history of the islands, which is the part that most interested me (that is, the oldest, lowest level story).

Now that I've finished reading this book, it started to make a lot of sense.  I definitely feel it would all make sense if I read it a second time.  That said... there's a lot of books in this world, and I'm not going to make the tiniest dent by revisiting this one.

This is probably a great book to read while on the beach on a Philippines vacation, or if you live or have lived there.  It is a decent book if you like to read about the ripple effects that historic events have on lives and cultural perception over time.  If everything I wrote above gives you a headache, it's okay to skip this one.  I came really close to giving up more than once, but I'm glad I read it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

[Book] Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett and Dave Zirin

Book cover
"We have got to make the white population uncomfortable, because that is the only way to get their attention."  That quote at the start of this book is from Bill Russell in 1964.  He was a Basketball player, but also a civil rights activist.

I categorize this book as a Memoir, mostly because it follows the narrative flow of a memoir.  It starts out introducing the reader to Michael Bennett's childhood on a rural farm in the South, into college through the NFL, and discusses his own discovery of the importance of both support and activism on a number of issues of equality.

However, the point of the book is mostly to openly and honestly talk about racism and equality.  The key places where that racism presented itself in Micheal Bennett's life are chronicled here, and show that - instead of just getting angry or jaded, he also evolved and became more inclusive in his activism.

The narrative comes from a real place, it feels honest.  The most useful parts of this to me were where the author calls himself out.  He passes these self-reflections on, as olive branches to the reader; a note that mistakes are learning moments.

I must note that socially, I come from a liberal viewpoint already.  There is nothing in this book that I disagreed with, and no major concept that I wasn't already aware of.  This book definitely filled me in on a number of details, but didn't have to convince me of a point of view.  I could not care much less for sports than I do, but besides that, this book is aimed squarely at me and where I am in life.  That is, I care from over here, but I am not an active agent for change.

I have enjoyed this book better than I have any piece of non-fiction in a very long time.  It didn't make me uncomfortable, but certainly gives me some pause to think about where I should fit into the scale between caring and actually helping.



Saturday, August 25, 2018

[Shopping] eBuyer Beware

I know this.  Read the fine print.  I didn't do that.  The rest is geeky details having to do with rack-mountable servers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

[Book] Drawing The Dragon by April Adams

Book cover
Imagine the universe of Battlestar Galactica but add elves, trolls and dragons, remove the religious overtones entirely.  The dragons are spaceships, a bit like the galactic whale from Jim Henson's Farscape.  Instead of Battlestar's Cylons, we have Constructs, which are a bit closer to the Nexus of Bladerunner fame.

Scarlett, Jade and Blue are elite pilots of young dragons on the cruiser known as the Opal Dragon.  Calyph is the engineer of the Opal.

There's a lot of back and forth between the present and flashbacks.  Always done at page gaps or chapter breaks, but it sometimes takes a page to figure out the timeline context.  In the case of "Grandpa" it is present time, but it took me over half the book to figure that out.

The book stops telling a story, but I would call the ending an anti-climax.  There were many sub-plots that were not properly wrapped up, and there was ongoing action that hadn't yet resolved.  I'd go so far as to say the book ended with a soap-opera style cliffhanger, which is super out-of-place in a book that was otherwise well layered with action.

The last page, called Author's Note, basically just asks the readers to forgive the abrupt ending, claims that the next book will not wrap up any of the plot, but teases the next book anyway.  That next book is called Moons of Jupiter, I own a copy, but given the Author's Note warning, I doubt I'm going to read it.

The type of this book is almost twice as dense as any other book I've read published this century.  The margins are smaller, the lines are packed tighter and the font point is smaller.  There are no blanks in its 346 pages.  This is the sort of book that a professional editor would have forced some major fixes on, and the book would have been SO much better for it.  In the beginning of this book, I was confused by the introduction of words without context or definition.  Here are several examples...

Dragon & Ship (used interchangeably) leaves the impression that maybe they just call spaceships dragons, and that smaller ships that launch from the large ship are just called Fledgling simply because they are like the aircraft of a carrier.  I went four pages not sure if the narration was talking about a seafaring vessel or a space craft.  It took near a quarter of the book before it became clear that these spaceships are actual living beings, but have been fitted with interface equipment.

Fieldpack, in this book, is a device that creates an atmospheric field around the user.  I went through a quarter of the book thinking it was a military pack with mission necessary equipment, but that is what this book calls a flight bag.

Jordan, in this book, is a designation for a dragon pilot, but not the pilot of the big dragon, that person is a captain.  Dimlight, on the other hand, was introduced and explained through some really awkward dialog on page 9.  Then on page 10, it was explained again with more detail (the lights dim at regular intervals to help with people's circadian rhythms - thus it is a Sci-Fi stand-in for "day").

Engineer, as if it should be obvious, is an elf that has kinetic abilities with metals.  Basically the superpower of Marvel comics' Magneto without the evil intent or any of the action.  I'm not sure why we were introduced to this character having to study star maps.  Maybe he was originally going to be a navigator?  I don't know, but I again appreciate the job a good editor does.

Finally, I read the whole book, and I'm still not sure if a Troll is a living being or just a helper-droid with advanced AI.

The frustrating thing is that the writing style itself is quite engaging.  I never felt lost in the narrative, just lost on words and terms.  Bottom line, I cannot recommend this book unless you really, really think that everything I described above sounds like the kind of ride you want.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

[Book] Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book cover
According to the preface, this book is a carefully researched retelling of surviving stories of the Nordic gods, Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya and others.  Where surviving versions of a story differ, artistic license allows for the best of each to be used.

First and foremost, these are Nordic tales.  If you are familiar with these characters from Marvel comics or movies, be prepared to relearn a lot of what you thought you knew.  This, in fact, was one of my favorite things about reading these stories.

The stories are told in a way that makes chronological sense in that things that happen to each character stays with them in subsequent tales, (there's really only one glaring exception to this) though each one can totally be read on its own as well.

Neil is a great story teller, and surprisingly there are points where I was pulled from the story by a needless repetition of fact - perhaps because he is telling these stories in a style reminiscent of the original sources: I'm not sure.  What I can say is that if this had been my first introduction to this author, I wouldn't put him at the top of my list.  That doesn't say this was a bad book - it really wasn't - it's just that I have lofty expectations for this author and this book isn't his best work.

As this has sources, I am filled with the urge to find out more.  I'm curious as to how close to the sources these tales actually are.  So, while I might not recommend this as a first Gaiman novel, I would absolutely recommend it as an engaging introduction to the gods of Nordic legend.

Norse Mythology
W.W. Norton & Co.
Fantasy/Mythology
Release Date: 7 Feb 2017
Hardcover, 304 pages

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

[Book] Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book cover
The descriptions of the country, fashions and even the names of characters channels Poland of the 1500s or 1600s.  The story focuses on a peaceful valley with little villages nestled along the Spindle river, but a dark forest grows nearby.  Corrupted creatures come from the forest late at night and attack human, livestock or both.  Or worse, a cloud of pollen might come in and corrupt a neighbor where they stand, turning them.

With leave of the king, the wizard named Dragon rules the valley and lives at the head of the valley.  The Dragon protects the villages from the forest, but is also feared more than appreciated as once every ten years, the Dragon demands his pick of a lady born in the valley from October to October and is in her 17th year.  The previous woman is released, and goes home, but doesn't belong anymore, and ends up moving to a city.

Agnieszka { ag-NYESH-kah } and Kasia are friends who live in the village called Dvernik, one town in from the edge of the valley where the evil forest looms.  They both have spent their lives knowing they were born in the year that the Dragon would pick from.  From one end of the valley to the other, though, Kasia is the prettiest, and everyone assumes the Dragon will choose to take her back to his tower.

2015 Nebula Award winner for best novel.

It has been such a huge pleasure reading this novel.  There are two characters who both do magic together throughout this book, and the relationship is like a cook who doesn't understand the precision of baking and baker who has never known or understood cooking.  They both get magic done, but they are both frustrated by the way they each get there.  The relationship between the two is amusing in its absolute believability.

The writing is engaging and descriptive, without bogging down in needless detail or needlessly skipping detail for a quick turn.  It is also a stand-alone story that has both a climax and a resolution (I've read so many books without a resolution lately that this basic building block of story-telling is actually note-worthy).  The build-up I describe above is all covered within the first half of the first chapter, which is to say - there's a lot going on in this story and the pacing is brisk.

Unless the description above sounds like misery to you, then chances are you will love this book.  I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

[Book] She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore


Book Cover (from publisher)

This is divided into two books, THE THREE and SHE WOULD BE KING.  A quote from the Author's Note (before the book even begins):
{Gbessa is pronounced "Bessah"}
The first book is the story of three characters, each from different places and backgrounds.  Gbessa is exiled from her African village as a witch.  June escapes slavery from a plantation in Virginia.  Norman escapes his scientist father in Jamaica.  This follows each of their journeys up to their first meeting.  The second book pulls them apart again, as they each journey to the American colony at Monrovia.

All of the book and dialog is presented in English, though the characters are not always speaking English.  Whenever a character is speaking a non-English language, the words are shown in a unique dialect, where each is unique to the language being presented.  In the beginning, with only the first language presented, this was difficult to read.  When other non-English languages started showing up, though, I came to appreciate the effort the author took to create readable dialects that were both new and distinct from each-other.  This helped me easily recognize who could understand what dialog.

This book is in the Alt-History category, as some characters have super-human powers.  This book made me curious enough about Monrovia and Liberia that I did a bit of reading of the history.  Many of the surnames used in the book are surnames from Liberian history, though (I've not done enough reading to verify the timelines) I suspect that the names were plucked from throughout early Liberian history.

If you enjoy Alt-History with a whisper of super-powers, I highly recommend this.  If you are uncomfortable with the brutality of American and European history where it collides with Africa, then this is going to be outside your comfort zone, but I still recommend it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

[Book] Skyward (Omnibus) by Jeremy and Kelly Dale

Before I start this:

I met Jeremy Dale with Kelly by his side on several occasions at various comic book conventions.  I am always on the lookout for a well written all-ages comic book story, and I found Jeremy and Skyward when there were only two issues, self-published and in black and white.  Later, I saw him at a different convention and got issue 3, and he said that issue 4 should be out by NYCC.

When I saw him at NYCC and asked him about issue 4, he said quietly that it was delayed because he was in talks about a publishing deal.  He was quiet, but clearly really, really excited.  The next thing I knew, I was seeing Action Labs re-publishing issue 1, but this time in glorious color AND at my local comic book shop!  I purchased and followed the rest of the issues through 9.

Then, Jeremy Dale passed away on 4 November 2014.  After a handful of years passed, his widow, Kelly Dale, picked up Jeremy's notes, wrote out the story and started a Kickstarter campaign to get a final issue of Skyward published along with an Omnibus collection of the whole story.

I backed this, and now I've finally re-read the whole Omnibus including the new and final issue 10.  Anyway, it's all very sad, and emotional for me to see this finally happen, and maybe this isn't as much a book review as a note about a really, really good all-ages adventure story that maybe should have gone on 20 or 200 more issues.

Skyward follows a boy named Quinn and his dog, Jack.  Early on, a mysterious group comes along, [selecting the stripe will spoil most of issue 1] burns down his house, kills his parents and starts chasing Quinn.  His father had told Quinn to get to the city of Three Rivers.  Everything after that is Quinn's adventure with Jack, unsure of where he is going, and trying to evade the group that is hunting him.

This is a little scary of a beginning for very young readers but the drawn violence is limited.  I will note that there is one place in issue 10 where there is a literal puddle of blood under a someone making gurgling noises... which may push this out of all-ages for some parents.

Here's the thing, the story is very well written, and the ending (issue 10) - while a little rushed is very well done with a much needed nod to Jeremy Dale at the end.  If this is a book or digital that you can get hold of, I do recommend it.



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

[Book] Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Book cover
Fourteen year-old Doreen Green is back in this second adventure of Squirrel Girl.  Her parents are a little more used to the idea that she has super abilities, but are still nervous parents.  Her Best Human Friend Forever (BHFF), Ana Sofia, is also a friend of Thor, and Agents of SHIELD show up. Her Best Squirrel Friend Forever (BSFF), Tippy Toe, also joins in to help her solve the big mystery.  So, Marvel's comic universe is in full swing in this delightful return to young Squirrel Girl adventures.

For those who don't already know: Squirrel Girl has a tail like a Squirrel (but human sized) that she stuffs into her pants to pass as "normal", she can talk to squirrels, and she has the proportional strength of a squirrel.  Squirrel Girl, while super strong, always tries to use her wit and intelligence before resorting to an actual fight.

Doreen Green is just trying to navigate middle school as a normal kid while her super-hero persona, Squirrel Girl is so-popular the other students have set up a fan club that goes out on patrols to try to see Squirrel Girl in action.  Everyone is excited about a new mall opening near town, but before the mall opens, Squirrel Girl needs to deal with LASER LADY.

Bonus: There's a sub-plot here that feels like a nod to Jason Reynolds' book Miles Morales: Spider-Man, while taking the story in a very different direction.  This may not have been on purpose, but I like to think that it was.

In case it isn't clear, I highly recommend this book.  I also suggest picking up the first book, but there's no references to the first book that are not explained in this second book.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

[Book] The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover (paperback)
This is the 1989 book that later became a movie (which I never saw).  This won the Booker Prize.  We follow a quintessential British Butler named Stevens sometime after World War 2 on a journey to look up an ex-employee.  The journey itself is beautifully and descriptively written.

While the main thread is the journey, the bulk of the story is Stevens' recollection of his past.  From stories about his father, to many descriptive stories about how professional he is, to his many interactions with both employees of the house, Darlington Hall, and the owners of his house, especially the first one, Lord Darlington.

At its core, this is a sweet story that - having read it four months ago - still sticks with me, and I still think of it occasionally.  In some ways, I feel this was a life story of someone who has seen a lot, but not seen anything extraordinary.  However, in other ways it is much more expansive than that, in that it deeply explores how being too close to something can keep you from seeing what it really is.

I do recommend this book if you are the kind of person who doesn't mind being haunted by a good story.  When I first read the book, it seemed like nothing happened, but it kept coming back to me and I realize now that nothing happened in between the three or four stories that were beautifully told throughout the narrative.  If you demand some action, though, this book isn't for you.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

[Food] Homage to Pizza Gone By

Gone
Not too far from where I live is a "turn key fully equipped restaurant" for lease.  The restaurant that was there until a few weeks ago was called Pizzaniste.

Pizzaniste had really good pizza.  Gourmet, all fresh ingredients, coal fired, whole-wheat crust as an option; even gluten free as an option.  Partly because they also made custom fresh salads, there were some unexpected ingredients: Real anchovies, fresh basil, artichokes, black beans, corn, cilantro, carrots, chickpeas, eggplant, hard-boiled egg, zucchini and two types of olives to choose from (along with all the other things you might expect every pizza place to have).  The place also had the look of a high-end juice-bar.  Tile and wood, clean glass in front of the food prep area.  Ingredients in refrigerated buckets easily seen and identifiable by the consumer.

Pizzaniste was also surprisingly inexpensive (which may be part of their demise).  They made these 12" personal pizzas, and their specialty vegetarian, "Veg Out" was $11.95.  Less than $1 per inch.  They had this huge bowl of Minestrone soup that they sold for $4.95.  This place was excellent, and I would have paid half-again the price for anything I ordered there it was that good.

However, it wasn't greasy New York street-style pizza.  The first thing I learned about this neighborhood is that the best rated pizza place around here is a place that absolutely specializes in street-pizza.  At Louie & Ernie's Pizza, orange grease runs freely from a bent slice (no pepperoni required), just like they make it for the two buck slices in "the city".  Street-pizza has its place, but I'm not in my 20s anymore, so I have to come at that sparingly.  This neighborhood loves Louie & Ernie.

In their last week, one of their employees pulled me aside and said that I was the only customer who noticed that they were about to close.  The signs were piling up fast.  Early in the year, there were several weeks where several fountain drink flavors ran out.  That was isolated, and eventually fixed, but ... a bad sign.  About a month before they closed, their customer WiFi stopped working, then their branded cups ran out, replaced by cheap purple-green blotch design cups.  I mentioned my suspicion to that employee, and he put on his best face, "they are on order".  When their web-site went offline with no sign of returning, I was deeply concerned.  The last time I went in, and they were out of Parmesan cheese I moaned at everyone, "Oh... it's really over."  That's when he took me aside to tell me that they would be closing as soon as Thursday or Friday.  They were already gone on Thursday evening.

My wife and I miss you, Pizzaniste.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

[Book] eyE Marty by Marty Feldman

Book cover
Marty Feldman is probably most famous for playing Igor in the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein.  He died in 1982, and his autobiography sat in the attic of his widow's home until her death in 2010 when it was discovered by Mark Flanagan.  Flanagan had it transcribed, exactly as it was found, including photo inserts and published without further editing.

This book is in desperate need of editing.  I fully understand why it was published the way it was, but it was one of the hardest books to read that I've ever sat down for.  Here's the thing, I love the comedies he's written for, and I love the comedies he's acted in, but I cannot recommend this book.  Maybe, though, this is exactly what you want to read.

eyE Marty is very much like sitting down in front of someone you don't know very well, and having him simply tell you his entire life story.  It is conversational in tone, which also means that the timeline slips back and forth with little notes like, "before I get to that, I have to go back a few years to mention..."  At which point, conversationally, I wanted to say, "Wait, what year?"  But nobody can answer my inquiry.  It's also not always clear when the back-story is finished and we've come back into the "current" timeline.

The greatest value of this book, is the foreword by Eric Idle.  The foreword is enlightening in its explanation of the things that happened after Marty finished this book.  It was finished just before he left for Mexico to film what would become his last movie, Yellowbeard.  Also, the foreword was well edited.

Well, at very least, here is a nod to all the book editors out there.  You folks rock!  Thanks for keeping the narrative flowing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

[Book] Ohio by Stephen Markley

Ohio book cover
Book Cover
This follows four main characters who had gone to high school together back in the early 2000s, and on one night in 2013, all came back home to their hometown of New Canaan, Ohio.

After the prelude, the first section of the book follows Bill Ashcraft, a drifter who is loaded up on drugs.  Appropriate to the character - for the parts where we are following his narrative - the story is jumping back and forth between his past and present with no direct warning in-between, full of non-sequiturs, and frankly - hard to follow.  In my Advanced Reader's Copy, this section is a quarter of the book, and there were several times during this part in which I came close to giving up entirely on the book.  I'm saying it was well written, but purposely hard to follow in places.

The rest of the book is much more straight forward.  We are re-introduced to several characters that appeared in the Bill section, with mostly overlapping timelines.  The story still switches between past and present with little warning, but because the narrative is sober, there is easier context to follow.  I found myself quite eager to continue once the drugged part of the narrative was over.

The past... the parts where these characters are recalling the things that happened in high school reminded me of watching Riverdale, but darker and way more adult.  There is a lot of things going on, gossip, love, infatuation, cheating, and conspiracy.

There are politics and diverse political viewpoints throughout this book from many different characters.  The most obvious view of a die-hard liberal is the drug addled Bill Ashcraft, who comes off as more an anarchist than a liberal.  While the many views of core conservatives included a deeply racist, radical that got his start from family money; an assistant pastor who quotes Leviticus to his gay sister and Rick Brinklan who puts patriotism and following a Republican president above all other political considerations.  The political alignments on these character's other traits felt like caricature instead of character, which is sad because its the only other aspect (after the drugged narrative) that took me out of the story.  There's a lot of politics in this story for it not to be about politics, and the static nature here is offset by the personal relationships.

There are friendships, loves, love affairs, fights, hugs, rape and lots of consensual sex.  While it felt like a lot of sex (especially during the high-school years), the inter-personal relationships were dynamic, complex, and the emotions were nuanced.  Relationships affected other relationships, affairs had consequences.  Rape is not glorified but brutal, and the explanations, excuses and rumors felt all so real.

While there aren't a lot of action sequences, the ones that exist were surprisingly easy to follow.  I, as a reader, often have trouble following fast paced action sequences, and even the ones that occurred during the drugged narrative were crisp and clear, and I felt I understood what was happening the whole time.

Ultimately, this book explores the ripples that happen because of loss.  A job, a whole factory, a lover gone away without explanation or a friend lost to war.  Innocence less lost, but enthusiastically tossed aside, with the emotional consequences no less for irreverence.  This exploration of loss is the theme within this book that really resonates with me.  There's also a plot-line of this book that is a mystery, which will satisfy those who enjoy some mystery as well.

I haven't figured out where to go with the actual rating of books on this blog.  Despite my criticism, the overall story works, and I'm glad I stuck it out.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

[Book] Catching Stars by Cayla Keenan

Book cover
The world building is probably the thing I liked the most about Catching Stars.  There are people who have magical abilities and a larger group of people who don't.  Within magic users, there are different types of magic users.  There are kingdoms and politics, palace intrigue, roving gangs, sailing ships, petty rivalries and fierce prejudices.  Though the story is quite different, the emotional feel of the world is similar to the book Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley.  Take that basic world with its gritty dangers, add magic and remove the detailed economic modelling.  None of this would be interesting without a good story to go with it.

The story is very action packed, every chapter switching back and forth between the perspective of the two main characters, Jayin and Maddix, and the author does this very well.  The book starts off establishing Maddix, and throwing him in front of very powerful magic.  This quick action sets the pace for the rest of the book.

This is the first book in a series, which I say because I wasn't actually aware of it when I read this.  If you want a book to have a climax, this book delivers.  If you want a book to have a resolution, THAT part is probably found in book two.  I was much more disappointed by this when I expectantly turned the page to find the heading ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS than I am now, a few days later.  Now, honestly, I'm just looking forward to the next book.

Nitty gritty:  There was one important thing that was introduced in the middle of the story that I missed.  I think I missed it because it was introduced in the middle of fast paced action scenes.  I tell myself this often, but I need to slow down and read carefully.  I also spotted at least two places where it seemed like a negative was missing, which had me re-reading and hunting context to make sure I understood correctly what was going on.  Maybe I mis-read something, but watch for those.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

[Book] The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman

I got an advanced readers copy of this book from the first day of BookExpo.  It is supposed to be released in September 2018, but that is preliminary, and the date could slip.

Book cover
I don't usually read true-crime genre books.  If I had never read the Nabokov fiction, Lolita, I would have never been interested enough in this book to read The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman.

A note about Lolita

It's been a few years, but I have always been uncomfortable with the book, Lolita.  It didn't present to me in the same way it presented to so many other people.  To me, it was a beautifully written tragedy in which the narrator has circumstances that show him in a better light, but we can't trust the narrator.  I have said to people that I regret having read that book.

The Real Lolita

This book contrasts the journey of Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Véra while Nabokov wrote his controversial book, Lolita, with the journey of Sally Horner who was kidnapped in 1948 and taken across country herself.  In some ways the book is a little game of what did Nabokov know about Horner, and when did he know it.

I feel better about having subjected to myself to the fictional Lolita after reading this book.  I say this because this book points out the things that made me most uncomfortable about Lolita, and in some ways sets them right.

Ultimately, though this is a true crime story about an 11 year old Sally Horner and her abductor Frank LaSalle.  While I can't recommend the fictional Lolita, I absolutely can recommend The Real Lolita to anyone who has read the fiction, or who is interested in true crime stories.  This book is very well written, and given it still has an edit pass or two to go, I am sure it will be even better in its final version.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

[Book] Piggy and Pug by Anne Wheaton, Illustrated by Vipin Alex Jacob (No-Spoilers)

This is a story about the journey that brings together Pug, who's searching for a new family, and Piggy, who's searching for a new friend.  That text is lifted almost directly from the piggyandpug web site, but it's a short book, so hard to not spoil anything...

This is a children's illustrated book, from Monolith Press, 32 pages.  I was at BookExpo at the end of last week, and I got an opportunity to flip through this book with the book's publicist, Susan, watching me intently for reaction.  I looked up and asked her about the illustrator.  She told me that Vipin Jacob is a Canadian who is greatly influenced by older Disney and Warner Brother's Motion Cartoon art.

It's Anne Wheaton's story, and it's good, but I have to take a few minutes here to compliment the artwork.  The artwork makes the book.  I noted that the framing (especially the use of blur) reminded me of the Don Bluth years of Disney movies.  It really makes the pages feel like they are ready to move, like the whole book is ready to be an animated short.  Check out either of the links on this page (the first to see some samples FROM the book, the second to check out Vipin's Pinterest page).  I want to see this artist everywhere.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

[Book] Oracle Year by Charles Soule (No-Spoilers)

I read this book in only two days, which is way shorter than I usually read, especially a book of 416 pages.  I generally only read on weekends, and usually only for a few hours at a time.  This book really had me hooked from start to finish.  I definitely lost sleep for reading.

Will Dando, a struggling New York musician, dreams up 108 predictions.  A line of information and a date for each.  He writes them down, but doesn't think much of them until he realizes that they are real.  At this point, he has to decide what to do with this information.  This starts the Oracle Year.

The author is Charles Soule.  He is an immigration attorney.  He's written Daredevil for the last few years, and famously wrote the Death of Wolverine before that.  Oracle Year is his first novel, and it's good enough that this is the first time I've decided to write a review on my own blog about it.  [ I don't use this blog enough, so maybe I should fill it with books. ]

This book has a lot of action, but it's smart.  We get to see the big picture as well as the up-close perspective from multiple characters.  This book navigates news and world events in a way that is very hard to pull off while keeping the story focused on the characters.

Anyway, I highly recommend the Oracle Year.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Agony of No Heat

Or: The Longest Move

15 days without heat.  25 days to complete a delayed move, because we really couldn't live without heat.  History and some details below.