Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Ever Increasing Mount To-Be-Read

I spend the weekend at ConCarolinas and had a wonderful time.  Lots and lots of authors there, some of whom I have read, many I have not.

Thus, all the books.  I met authors, chatted with them, and the ones I liked got to sell me books. That is the stack of what I bought (only three are from the used book booth).

So, what did I get?

Sound and Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

The Green Hornet Casefiles by Joe Gentile, with contributions by Bobby Nash

Gretchen Thyrd: On the Bridge by Jason T. Graves

Bill the Vampire by Rick Gualtieri

Steeplejack, MacBeth: A Novel, and Cathedrals of Glass: A Planet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley

We Are Not This (anthology) Edited by Melissa M. Gilbert

Chains of Fate, Blades of Fate, and Dark King Rising by Alledria Hurt

Lawless Lands:  Tales from the Weird Frontier (anthology) Edited by Misty Massey

Badass and the Beast: 10 "Tails" of Kickass Heroines and the Beasts Who Love Them (Anthology)

Timebound, Time's Edge, and Time's Divide by Rysa Walker

Perishables and Tooth & Nail by Michael G. Williams

My plan is to read and review ALL OF THEM by the end of the year (Yeah, I have ambitions.  We Shall See.)  I hope I love every single book because I really liked all the authors and editors I met and I want to like them.  Well, face it, I want to at least like every book I read -- who wants to waste hours with a book that doesn't work for you?  It's like wearing shoes that don't fit -- it doesn't matter how good the shoes look,  how well made or expensive they are, what outfit they match, or anything else.  If your feet hurt, all you want is to get those shoes off.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Losing and Gaining Time

I haven't been reading so much so far this year.  I'm not even listening to audio books.

Why?  Politics.

Ok, lemme 'splain here.

The election last year and the resulting shit-show going on has me upset.  So, I felt like maybe, after some 30 years of being politically indifferent, maybe it was time I got off my ass and started paying attention.  The easiest way to do this available to me was via podcasts.  I've spent much of 2017 trying and culling various podcasts to find the ones that spoke to me, that made sense to me, that seemed less like idiocy to me.

I have a surprisingly long list.

Of course, not everything I listen to is politically related.  There are science podcasts, humor podcasts, podcasts about books and writing, and a few that are pure entertainment.  Listening to podcasts eats up a lot of the brain power I would normally use in reading.   I'm following the stories, trying to keep my eye on the smaller, important ones and not get distracted by the splashy big headlines of the latest rumor or gaffe.  I'm watching court cases, keeping an eye on legislation in committee, and of course, watching the White House.

I'm also having a current brain problem with emotionally connecting with fiction.  This is related to my depression and anxiety disorder.  I've started I can't count how many books recently, was reading along with interest, when -- at a point where I had to emotionally engage with a character -- a giant NOPE spider would drop metaphorically on the page and I would just ...go away.  I'll push through this at some point, but right now it's a spoon too many.

I'm also dealing with physical issues -- arthritis in my already borked spine has reached a level where I need pain management to do things like walk or stand.  What I've got going works, and works pretty well, but it requires regular "updates" and has some side effects that aren't so wonderful (my first 7 day total migraine, for one).  Again, these will be handled in time, but that time issue is important.  Physical pain and mental pain eat up a lot of my time and energy these days.  This seriously cuts into reading time.

I have ambitions to catch up this summer and read at least 6 books.  I intend to spend my time in Maine reading, writing, doing a few craft projects, swimming and kayaking, and staring at trees.

So, actual reading done -- I read through the second volume of Noah Lugeons' Diatribes, which I enjoyed.  I got to meet him in April at ReasonCon. Everything I said the with the first one stays true here.  I enjoy Noah's voice.

I also read yet another Pride and Prejudice fanfic called Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston, which was unusual and pretty good. It explored the "road untaken" of having Elizabeth accept Darcy's first proposal --upon conditions.  It didn't pull too many non-sequiturs and anachronisms, and did a nice job of sticking to the original material where it could.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Catch up and Diatribes by Noah Lugeons

It's been a long, difficult few months for me and many of the people I know.  I don't bring politics onto this blog anymore but suffice to say my interest in politics has increased greatly since November.  I'm joining, I'm marching (as far as my back and hips and knees will allow), I'm writing, I'm attending meetings.  I'm becoming, at 52, radicalized.  It feels strange.

My first completed book this year was Diatribes V. 1, the first collection of the Diatribes of the podcast The Scathing Atheist.
Noah Lugeons is the voice of my anger.  He's far better at it than I am -- I wish I had his access to the sharp, vulgar, accurate insult.

These Diatribes are from the first year of an over 4 year old podcast that drops an episode every week.  Noah is sometimes topical, but often his wit and fury are directed at more universal wrongs, so they don't age.

I'm not much of a reviewer.  I write about my experience with a particular book, and not in a very professional way, so I'm at something of a loss here.  I'm attached to the voices of this podcast, and especially to Noah's voice, so it's hard to be objective about this book.  Noah expands upon the Diatribes here, giving his thoughts upon rereading, filling in background and context, which makes this more than just a collection of angry and often funny essays.  I read through them pretty quickly, in part because I'd heard them all before at least once (yes, I've plundered the archives of the podcast) and in part because they were written to be spoken, and so flow nicely.  The act of reading them is pleasant even if the subjects (and, occasionally, the language) is rough and pointy.

Negatives?  If you aren't a person friendly to the ideas of secularism, humanism, and especially atheism, this book will piss you off.  In fact, it's intended to do so.  It's not for a general audience.  Also, I had to restrain my inner pedant because there are typos and the occasional grammar error, the casual kind that happen when someone is trying to compile a large collection of writings created over a long period (mostly problems with "it's" and "its".  I would happily go into the original file, remove the unnecessary apostrophes, add in the missing commas and periods, and fix that one subjective pronoun into an objective pronoun.

If you aren't familiar with the podcast, I enthusiastically recommend it, especially if you are curious or enjoy dick jokes with an underlying layer of smarts.  If you aren't into podcasts, or just want to sample before you tune in, this book will give you a taste.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review -- In Shining Armor

In Shining Armor:  Book 4 of the Pax Arcana by Elliott James

Audiobook read by Roger Wayne

I've waited a year for the audiobook version of this.  It was worth waiting.  I'm addicted to Roger Wayne's voice acting.

This time the author digs up some dangly threads from the second book (excellent) and spins them into another tangled web.  I really admire how he's developed his main character, John Charming.  John isn't gaining powers and magic weapons as the books go by, as often happens in series like these.  Instead, he's trying to make a life with what he gained in terms of lovers and friends in the previous books. He's dealing with his internal issues while dealing with the difficulties around him, and he's maturing (gasp!) in a slow, natural way. His romance with Sig may have resolved the sexual tension of the first three books, but there's plenty of other relationship tension to keep things interesting.

It's also a deep delve into the world of the Templars -- and we get to see the Templars being has competent and deadly as we've been told they are (but never quite seen, since John can always best them).  We also get to meet up with new and varied magical creatures and get an idea of how they live.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.

If there's anything lacking, it's that John seems to get emotionally close only to women -- Molly (who doesn't really appear in the book, but is referenced several times) and Sig, and now his baby goddaughter Constance.  There are several male figures in his life with whom he has emotionally fraught relationships, but he holds those at an unexamined distance and any resolution in them we are told rather than shown.  I could speculate about why the author does this (or doesn't do this), but it would be just speculation.  It does appear to me to be a stark omission in the books, since there are few female characters compared to male, and John is actively trying to build a sort of family for himself.  Maybe James is saving those tensions and questions for later books.  I hope they are dealt with eventually.

I'm a big fan of the Pax Arcana series, especially in the audio book versions, and I recommend them to any reader who enjoys urban fantasy with some twists on the tropes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Darcy's Passions

Darcy's Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes  by Regina Jeffers

Every so often I like to read a Not Good book.  That is, I pick something that requires nothing of me, that's easy to read and easy to forget.  Since I am an admitted lover of Jane Austen's work, I have an unfortunate addiction to all the assorted sequels, variations, and other fan fiction that finds its way into print.  Most of it falls into the circle of Not Good.

This does not equal Bad.  A Bad book is another creature entirely.  I avoid Bad Books.  I resist giving them my time.

So, here we have a fan service novel where the writer goes into the territory Austen herself did not feel qualified to enter.  There are no surprises here -- the writer slips in how she would have tied up the various loose threads in the original story, and then continues the weave beyond the final line of Austen's work to imagine the first few months of Darcy and Elizabeth as a married couple.

The worst I can say of this particular book is that it could have used a better editor with more of a grasp on 18th and 19th century language.  Many anachronistic slips occurred, especially when Jeffers is creating dialog for the characters.  These were jarring, because otherwise she managed to keep things smooth and predictable.  She did a good job of that otherwise.

Yes, the various side characters she chose to amplify tended to have very modern ideas.  Her ideas of character development tended to be restricted to "Strong but weak.  Confident but unsure.  Kind but cruel."  However, all the real character development was done by Austen in the original novel, so she didn't need to do any heavy lifting.  Tensions between characters already existed and she just gave a view of them from different eyes.  Nothing was going to change.  Her biggest problems began when she moved away from the solid ground of the novels into her extensions, where everything took on a sheen of Teen Angst and Young Love.

None of these problems interfered with my enjoyment of the book while it lasted, however,  It' a Not Good book, as I said.  It fulfilled its purpose in letting me relax before bed, not putting any negative thoughts into my mind, and being entertaining enough.  It didn't contradict the original novel or my ideas about it, it didn't commit any egregious errors, and it didn't take itself too seriously.  In all, a satisfying Not Good book experience.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Book Report

As usual, I took a pile of books with me on vacation, and, as usual, I read one of them.  Also as usual, I got interested in sometime else entirely and had to get books on that subject.   Now I'm on a tear, gathering up books on my particular passion until I get sick of it (which happens occasionally) and I move on to something else.

So, this summer, I read

Jane Slayre by Sherri Browning Erwin -- for a second time.  It far surpasses Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but didn't get nearly the attention.  Someone should make it into a movie.

Shrill by Lindy West reviewed previously

The End of Faith by Sam Harris  -- I was curious about his podcast, and he was reading from this book, so I had to read the book, and thus an obsession began.

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

Godless:How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker

The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism by A.C. Grayling

And I'm nearing the center of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett.

With in the last few years I read Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth and Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and a number of other books about how our brains work, all in my search to understand why humans believe things.

I have an equally tall pile of books I intend to read -- Karen Armstrong's A History of God and The Argument for God, Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and How the Mind Works, more Sam Harris, several books by Victor J, Stenger, and of course Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great.  I plan (if my energy and interest hold out this long) to delve deeper into Dawkins'.  Oh, and for fun, I have Penn Gillette's God, No!

Just in case someone out there wants to debate and argue with me, lemme state it here.  I am not Christian and have not identified as such for about 30 years. I've read the Bible more than once. I spent time on my knees in prayer.  I am not -- right now, at least -- an atheist.  If I have to have a label, I'd call myself a deist.  I have plenty of little things I do that are, at the bottom, quite irrational, but they don't extend beyond myself and occasionally small groups of like-minded people.  I try to be quite rational about my irrationalities. So, please, don't even bring it up.  Talk about the books instead.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Shrill:  Note from a Loud Woman by Lindy West


I heard about this one on a This American Life podcast. It's nonfiction, because I'm on a nonfiction kick right now (because, of course, I have piles of fiction I had planned to read so of course now all I want is nonfiction).

I could say a lot about this book, but I sort of don't see a point in saying much at all.  I liked the book -- well, I liked most of it.  Some parts smacked of sourness.  Some of the humor left me making a face of "really?"  Some of the ideas felt hammered into my head.  But I did laugh, and I got choked up, and I smiled, and I nodded my head at other parts.

I share a lot of qualities with West.  I've lived the life of a fat woman, knowing that my body was not the acceptable sort of body (interestingly enough, I have pictures of me as a teen that demonstrate I was NOT fat.  I was so much NOT fat -- I was healthy and flexible and strong, but I wasn't a match for the then-current ideals of beauty.  I had it so firmly fixed in my head that I was fat that eventually I worked to make it so.).  I would have liked to have had the bravery to Just Be Myself 30+ years ago, before I fell down the rabbit hole.  Ah well.)  I didn't have the defense of humor as she did, but I did have a lot of boyfriends and relationships with men who wanted to keep me out of sight for various reasons, or just used me as a convenient vagina owner.

I also remember the shitstorm about West's confrontation with Jim Norton.  Now, I like Jim Norton and I know he's had his own battle with weight and sex and relationships, and he's a thoughtful man, but, yeah, I thought he swung his white cis/het man privilege around during that debate, unable to imagine himself as either a rape victim or a rapist, unable to extend his mind into the experience of being a dehumanized sexual object.  I think he's wiser now.  But, yeah, not a high point for him.

Still, I got a bit bent over West's rejection of those comedians who did try to say "Hey, I totally did not get this and now I've been thinking about it, and I gotta say I'm sorry for not getting it before and being a dick."  Yeah, she has a reason to be bitter, because she's still taking loads of internet abuse (she apparently has a lot of power in some people's minds, that she can mess up whole realms of stuff people like by pointing out problems and requesting respect.  Gotta admire her for being so restrained, what with all that power.)

Still, my overall reaction to the book is more tepid than enthused.  It's a scattering of stories told out of order and yet not separate and discrete.  It reads more like a collection of articles than a cohesive biography, but it isn't set up like that -- at least, I didn't pick up the cues.  That drained impact from the overall story and left me without a firm place to hold on.  West is a fine writer, but I'm not certain that long form is really firmly in her grasp.

Friday, June 17, 2016


I'm trying to get things packed up and cleaned up, so I'm moving "floor books" to whatever space I can find on the shelves.  So what happens then?

You know what happens then.  I see another stack of books that I just KNOW I'll read this summer.

Yeah.  Sure.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Summer Reading Ambitions

As usual, I'm packing books to take north for vacation reading.  Maybe I should put that in all caps:


which means a pile of books I probably won't read, but that I have all kinds of intentions to read.  So, in a way, I am lying to myself about this whole thing.  Or maybe I'm just super ambitious.  
  • The Six-Gun Tarot -- R.S. Belcher
  • Outlander -- DIana Gabaldon
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- Philip K. Dick
  • Old Man's War -- John Scalzi
  • The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower 1 -- Stephen King
  • Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs -- Molly Harper
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang -- Edward Abbey
Those are the books I really, really intend to read this summer.

  • Day Watch/Twilight Watch/Last Watch -- Sergei Lukyanenko
  • Ancillary Mercy -- Ann Leckie
  • Johannes Cabal, The Detective -- Jonathan L. Howard
  • A Darker Shade of Magic -- V.E. Schwab
  • The Inner Reaches of Outer Space -- Joseph Campbell
  • Girl on the Moon -- Jack McDonald Burnett
Those are the book I am ABSOLUTELY going to read this summer.

  • Pride & Prejudice: Manga Classics -- Jane Austen, Po Tse, Stacy King
  • The Novel Cure -- Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
  • Aspects of the Nove -- E.M. Forster
  • Romeo and/or Juliet -- Ryan North (I'm already reading this one)
  • Uprooted -- Naomi Novik
  • Winterwood -- Jacey Bedford
  • Monstrous Little Voices: New Takes from Shakespeare's Fantasy World
Those are books I really would like to read this summer.

  • The Sculptor -- Scott McCloud
  • Writing Down the Bones -- Natalie Goldberg (already reading)
  • Wild Mind -- Natalie Goldberg
And if I have time, I want to squeeze in those three.

None of this counts in the books on my e-reader or the audio books I want to read.  I figure if I manage a book every two days I might get through the list.

Ambitions.  I have 'em.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I try to stay away from politics, because it's icky and sticks to my paws. Nevertheless, as much as I try to stay in my protective shell. it seems politics will follow me anyway. There is no escape.

So, Trump. So much noise about Trump. Facts don't even apply to him. His long line of business failures, his gutting of Atlantic City, his scam of a university, the verifiable falsity of so much that he says, and the utter hatred and bigotry he exudes -- why does this appeal to some segment of the US population to the point they want him as President? He's never really been poor, he has no connection to people suffering from economic hardship, and he has benefitted from the schemes of the GOP to reduce taxation on the small percentage of people here who have all the money. (I mean, seriously, if you are going to tax someone, doesn't it make sense to tax the people with all the money?)

But aside from the tissue thin ideas he presents, my big problem is the hatred he validates. Those comparisons to fascism aren't lost on me. I've read a lot about WWII written by people who were there and who were writing about it while it happened. I've watched a lot of documentary footage that delved into why Hitler was able to win over the German people, the techniques he used, the staging, the rhetoric. Trump is certainly playing that same game. The faces of people at his rallies are reflecting the same light as those German people in the newsreels. Hitler had a small but fervent following in the US before the war (the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund), so it's not like being in the US makes that impossible.

I've read a lot of people trying to delve into what makes this attraction happen. The gist of it seems to be -- and what I've thought for a while now -- is that Trump legitimizes and validates all the base emotions and expressions of emotions that our broader society tries to suppress. He plays hard on the quandary the US feels about money and education -- that those with a lot of money don't deserve it because they didn't earn it/deserve it because they earned it; that those with education don't have any common sense or practical skills/that a college education is the way to get ahead in the world. He plays with our feelings about immigrants with we are nearly all the children of immigrants who came here for a better life/immigrants who come here for a better life will take away what we have. He lets us hate women because they aren't men (Hillary is, of course, set up for this. There is certainly a line of thinking for women that disowning other women and criticizing them for not being "womanly" or "feminine" along certain sets of rules will help them be favored by men, since men have the power. Trump digs in and makes those ideas seem attractive, even practical. It's far easier to hate than to love, easier to reject than to accept, easier to throw beer bottles and wave signs than to seek to understand and to share. Trump's words tell us that we aren't the ones who need to change. It's "Them" (whichever "them" he's targeting at the time). "They" need to change, to stop trying to take our stuff, to stop coming to our country, to give us what we want because we want it. Our jobs went away because of "them".

And we get led along that path that says we are just fine as we are, we have all the truth we need, we don't have to look into ourselves or look into anyone we think we like for truth or facts. We can have a good time and hate, ride the energy of hate, expand and expound on hate, and Trump makes that ok.

There's no secret about it -- thinking is hard work. There is so much information to be sifted out of piles of crap. We can get fooled by the crap and feel embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed when we are proven wrong. We want to be right, for pete's sake. Being right is the best thing. Even if we are left standing on a crumbling levee while the water rises around us sweeping away all we love and know, as long as we are right, we're ok. Once we've decided we are right, we don't want to be bombarded with alternate views that might shake our fortress of rightness. We don't want to have to think anymore. If we find someone who makes us feel right, who plugs into the more unexamined but emotionally fueled parts of ourselves and says "Hey, those feelings that everyone says you should really examine and maybe change? You don't need to! You're right!" we are going to follow that person. We go with our gut, get primitive, be basic, be salt of the earth, all that stuff that is at one time praised and yet is treated with contempt and...

It's a whirling mess. A downright whirling mess.

For myself, I had hopes for Bernie but I was never sure his particular brand would make it. He's dragging our right-skewed politics back to center (Isn't it odd that "right" has so many meanings?), for which I am glad. He's planted a new idealism and I hope to see new representatives of his ideas sprout up to run for office.

I'm not completely enamoured of Hillary, but I've long thought she has the experience and know-how. She knows where the bodies are buried, probably because she buried some of them herself. She's causing a lot of controversy because she's Establishment. She's got dirty hands -- I find it heard to believe that anyone in politics doesn't have a little dirt under their nails, even Bernie (I am not comfortable with Saints anyway) because there's not a lot clean about politics. Leadership isn't really designed for people who don't know how to deal, to compromise, to make the choices that leave a queasy feeling in the stomach. There are a lot of conflicting agendas in this world, a lot of groups who wants totally divergent things and who have totally divergent things to offer.

Hillary and Bernie both have not played the same hate card. They both have some practical ideas based on having experience with the mess we call government. Neither of them scare me nearly as much as the GOP extremists. I'd like to see the US edge back from the cliff, get some self control. Yes, I do think there are some important ideas in the past (like the taxation rates pre-Reagan) that need to be revamped and put in play again. We have infrastructure to shore up (jobs!) and technologies to explore (more jobs!). We have an education system in serious need of help (yet more jobs) and it would be nice if we started making more of the stuff we consume here instead of relying on cheap and often exploitive overseas labor. I'd like to see focus move from the success and wealth of the CEOs and board members of companies back to the people who do the work (no one fucking needs a $10 mil house or 18 cars or a maid for their dog. Can't people be content with, say, a $2mil house, 4 cars, and walk their own dog?)

See how long I've run on? No one will read this and I don't blame them. Nothing new in my ranting. But I'm honestly worried about the next 4 years. I'm getting older and my life will be more difficult, and I'm scared. I want to have a strong, proud country again, full of citizens who don't have to hate and shoot other people and scream blame, who can be honest with themselves and rise above the base parts of their nature.