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Skin Game (Dresden Files)
Skin Game (Dresden Files)
by Jim Butcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.46
156 used & new from $1.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Can I give it more than five stars?, April 25, 2015
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I’ve read lots of book series. I went through a lengthy mystery phase, when I read pretty much every Nero Wolfe book that Rex Stout wrote; I read all the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald — and in both cases I read a few of the knockoffs by imitators, and was unimpressed. I’ve read all of the Wheel of Time, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I read twenty or so of Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, and every one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I read all of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Bloody Jack Faber series.

I stopped reading the Song of Ice and Fire after Book 4. Because I won’t put up with that kind of nonsense, Mr. Martin. You publish your books before you make the TV series. At the least, work on both concurrently, sir. I’m using up all of my patience with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books; but at least she has to do extensive historical research before she writes each book. You make ’em up, George. I learned from Robert Jordan the risks of waiting too long for a series to end; didn’t you learn, too?

The point is, I enjoy the series. I’ve seen them get better as they go (LOTR) and I’ve seen them get worse (ABVH), I’ve seen them end too soon and too late.

Never — not once — have I enjoyed a series as much and as long as I have enjoyed Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books.

It is extraordinary to me that Butcher is able to keep these books as alive as they are. They are nothing but action: generally 400-500 pages, they cover only a day or two, and the entire time is spent in some form of combat, chase, or intrigue. Harry Dresden must be the tiredest man in the imagined universe. And yet, despite fifteen books with the same general outline, they have never gotten boring, nor repetitive; I have never left the edge of my metaphorical seat. The key is that the book is much, much more than action (despite my prior statement): even though Harry never stops fighting, there are many pauses and lulls in between the knock-down drag-out brouhahas, and in these pauses, Butcher has built not only a world and concept of magic that I find as compelling as any I’ve ever read, but also some of the most completely realized characters that I can imagine finding in an action novel. Dresden is not Man-Compelled-To-Fight-By-Need-For-Justice, though there’s some of that, and he’s not Man-Torn-Between-Good-And-Evil, though there’s some of that. Harry is a man, a complicated, flawed, man, both strong and weak, admirable and despicable. (Part of this is the fact that Butcher has had a canvas fifteen books wide to paint this character on. Some of the less prominent but still important characters — Michael, Thomas — are a bit more one-dimensional. But even those sorts of characters have their hidden sides — think of Bob. Mac. Charity.) On top of all that, Butcher has an ability to weave in philosophical sorts of musings, on what it means to be human, to be mortal, to be powerful; to love, to hate, to fight; along with the best sense of humor since Douglas Adams. And his nerd references are a solid 10.0. Funniest thing in this book is when a character starts quoting Monty Python without even realizing it.

The point is, I love these books, completely, unabashedly. I’ll keep reading them as long as Butcher writes them, and cry when he stops. Then I’ll re-read them all.

This book is a heist story. The tension comes from the fact that Harry has to work with his enemies, yet they remain enemies, regardless of any cooperation (Like the Winter Court, though the Fae are not as prominent in this novel.). Some allies come back, out of semi-retirement from the main plotline, which was wonderful; new villains are introduced, who were excellent; there is a fantastic cameo by a god; there is a hell of a plot twist; there is one of the coolest Ascension scenes (When a character becomes something more than he or she was before — like Molly at the end of Cold Days) ever, with one of the best nerdgasm moments of all time.

Best of all? I can’t wait to read the next book. I have to see what happens with Dresden’s daughter.

No: the other one.

Unpopular Essays (Routledge Classics)
Unpopular Essays (Routledge Classics)
by Bertrand Russell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.58
60 used & new from $13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars I need to read it again. So do you., April 25, 2015
Unpopular Essays
by Bertrand Russell

I need a new copy of this book; mine is old, and the glue in the spine has failed, allowing the first thirty or so pages to fall out.

I need a new copy because even though I have read this, I want to keep it. I want to read it again.

Partly that is because I want to learn a bit more philosophy; I didn't understand the essays "Philosophy and Politics," "Philosophy for Laymen," or "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives" as well as I would have liked. I followed the logic and the writing, of course, as I think that Lord Russell was possibly the clearest thinker and the clearest writer in the history of English and the history of philosophy; but the references to the large ideas of Kant and Nietzsche and particularly the Greeks, were new to me, and thus no chord was struck.

Mainly it is because I did understand everything Russell was saying in the less-referential pieces. Particularly "The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed" and "What It Means to Be a Teacher." The last resonated with me especially because I am a teacher, and I strive to be one that Lord Russell would have approved. I want my students to think: to weigh evidence, to question assumptions, to come to their own conclusions, and then justify their decisions logically. It's difficult. They don't want to. I myself am much less than perfect as a model of the ideals. If I could, I would have them read Bertrand Russell. (Come to think of it, I'll have them do just that. I am a high school literature teacher, after all. But which essay?) Whether they ever do or not, I plan to read all of his works that I can get my hands on; and I will read this one again. If for no other reason, then because of this, from the introduction: "A word as to the title. In the Preface to my Human Knowledge I said that I was writing not only for professional philosophers, and that 'philosophy proper deals with matters of interest to the general educated public.' Reviewers took me to task, saying they found parts of my book difficult, and implying that my words were such as to mislead purchasers. I do not wish to expose myself again to this charge; I will therefore confess that there are several sentences in the present volume which some unusually stupid children of ten might find a little puzzling. On this ground I do not claim that the essays are popular; and if not popular, then 'unpopular.'"

We Are Pirates
We Are Pirates
by Daniel Handler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.71
87 used & new from $11.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Too real to be anything but great., April 4, 2015
This review is from: We Are Pirates (Hardcover)
That's it. I'm never reading a sad book again.

I don't know how people do it. How do you all read literary classics and modern mainstream novels, and enjoy them? How do you read them one after another? I mean, John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, but how do you go from Of Mice and Men to The Grapes of Wrath without reading, say, The Hobbit in between? I can't do that. I've tried for years, I have a degree in literature, I'm an English teacher, I'm a book reader and reviewer, and an author: I know that there is a certain prestige that attaches to the great novels, and almost every one of them is sad, is tragic. But I just can't do it any more.

I got this book because I loved the Lemony Snickett books, and because I love pirates. Stupid, I know; but why not? The Series of Unfortunate Events (Also sad -- I'm aware that I should have paid more attention to the very obvious clues) was genuinely well written, and pirates are not only fun (But also sad: because the average lifespan for a Caribbean pirate was about two years, before they died of disease, alcoholism, or a "short drop followed by a sudden stop." Like I said: many clues.) but also fascinating, because they represent savagery, and also egalitarianism, among other things. Escape, and rebellion, and a final middle finger to a cruel world.

This book was exactly that. Daniel Handler captured not only the world of the pirate, the anger, the pain, the fight against all conformity and thus against all society and even against humanity itself; he also captured the modern world -- and thus made me long to be the pirate, even while I sorrowed for those following that path, pitied them their rage and their pain. And I raged against those who tried to contain the pirates; and then I felt their pain, as well. Because as Handler points out, with the title and with the entire book: we ARE pirates. We all are. We are.

The book is good, damn good, maybe even brilliant; I just finished it minutes ago and maybe don't have the perspective to really grasp all of its insights and nuances. But I laughed at passages, I recognized people, I loved and hated and felt contempt and pity for the characters and their lives. It's written the way a book should be written, and it's about a great subject -- not only pirates, but also family and children and growing up and careers and ambitions and dreams and, of course, disappointments. It's got a wonderful twist at the end, which changes your understanding of things; more than one, actually. It is multi-layered and complicated, but nonetheless still easy to read, and it has some beautiful flourishes and original creations. This is a very impressive piece of work.

And it's sad. And I'm done.

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander)
Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander)
by Diana Gabaldon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.00
117 used & new from $10.52

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost too real. But wonderful, anyway., March 27, 2015
Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

First of all, if you haven't read these books, stop reading this review: go now and find a copy of Outlander. Seriously. Do it now.

After you've read Outlander, fallen in love with this author and these characters and this absolutely lovely series of books, go ahead and read all of the rest of the series, and then come back when you reach the 8th book, which this is. (And while you're at it, be grateful you're coming into the series now, rather than doing what my wife did, and discovering Gabaldon when Outlander was first published -- 25 years ago. It's been a long time, waiting for this series to get this close to the end. A very long time. But she still loves it: every book, every chapter. Worth the wait.)

So for those who are caught up, this is a great book. A great one. This one gets back on track, in some ways; there are more moments of joy than heartbreak, which has not felt true of the last few books, but is one of the reasons why I love the series so: because they are lovely, and loving. It's a true romance, rather than a heartbreaker for the sake of poignancy. And because love is good and great and sublime, there is more joy than sorrow -- and though I don't want to spoil, I will say that there is much more love in this book than just Jamie and Claire.

Of course there are heartbreaking moments. There is more than one death that just tore me up inside. There are frustrating times -- particularly with William. Those damned stubborn Frasers. You understand. There is more than one terrifying moment, particularly those associated with more than one life-threatening injury. But this book does the right things, and goes the right places, and I loved it. I would say I can't wait for the next one -- but I have to wait, don't I?

If I had one complaint, it was this: I always enjoy the historical elements, and the accuracy and detail are remarkable; it's why I'm willing to wait patiently (Well, somewhat patiently) for the next installment, unlike George R.R. Martin, on whom I gave up years ago. But I don't think all of the historicity actually serves the story. Gabaldon went to great lengths to make a few real Revolutionary personages true to their historical selves, even quoting their personal papers for their dialogue. Why? To please the seven people in the world who would recognize a genuine Nathanael Greene Quote from a false one? I appreciate the realism of the British retreat from Philadelphia, and the influence that has on the lives of our heroes; but do we need every single aspect of the Battle of Monmouth to be on the record? I'm really not reading a history book, here. I do understand that every instance when Gabaldon varies from the truth earns her a dozen irate letters from fanatics; but I personally vote she lets that go, and does more things like name Fergus's paper The Onion. Which I just got, by the way. These books are not historically accurate: you can tell by the 20th century doctor in the middle of the Revolution. Verisimilitude is wonderful, and I appreciate all the work that goes into making the books feel and sound real; but they don't actually need to BE real. I'll love them anyway.

If you like the Outlander series, I would also recommend:
The Bloody Jack series by the wondrous L.A. Meyer (Historical adventure and romance)
The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning (Romance and adventure, without history -- but with Irishmen)
The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (Who is not afraid of changing history to include dragons)
Everything by Jeffery Farnol, my favorite historical romance novelist. Check out the pirate books, especially.

Divine Misfortune
Divine Misfortune
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "See this book and pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck." And a good book to read., March 27, 2015
This review is from: Divine Misfortune (Kindle Edition)
Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

I liked this book right from the start. From the very first chapter, when the main human character, Phil, goes looking online -- on a divine version of which is one of the funniest things I've read in a while -- for a god to worship, I knew this was the kind of thing I love to read. Funny and irreverent, but with just enough social criticism to give it some bite, and something to ground the silliness. Oh yeah: this is definitely a book about a slacker luck god who looks like a raccoon in sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt, who crashes in your house and orders pizza with anchovies and invites his god buddies over for a party; but it's also a book about the callous and self-serving way that people treat faith and religion. It's a book about the way that religion exploits its own worshipers, as represented by my favorite character, Quetzalcoatl -- "Just call me Quick." It's a book about how having the right credentials, which often includes religion, can make or break your career. And it says some interesting things about all of those topics, which alone would make it worth reading -- because the writing is good, the characters are both fun and genuine, and it's never too heavy nor too light. But when you include the fact that Martinez makes great use of the concept of a luck god, imagining all of the possible benefits of having luck on your side -- you find enough spare change to buy a new microwave; should anyone (Say, the bloodthirsty cultists who worship THAT OTHER god) come by to try to shoot you, their guns will jam and then blow up in their hands; that kind of thing -- then this book becomes something not only worth reading, but worth telling other people that they should read, too.

You should read this book. It's a lot of fun. I haven't even mentioned most of the things that make it amusing and enjoyable: you should check them out yourself.

Are there flaws in the book? Sure. I don't think the human characters are developed enough; they're just "regular folks," there to give the gods somebody to play with or fight over. The final battle was something of an anti-climax, though it does fit the plot perfectly. And as amusing as the pagan gods are walking around in modern America, I think it's been done better, by Christopher Moore, Kevin Hearne, Neil Gaiman, probably others.

But this book was, for me, a lucky find. I'd recommend it.

If you liked this book, I would also recommend:
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne
Coyote Blue, Dirty Job, Practical Demonkeeping and others by Christopher Moore

Wild Rover No More: Being the Last Recorded Account of the Life & Times of Jacky Faber (Bloody Jack Adventures Book 12)
Wild Rover No More: Being the Last Recorded Account of the Life & Times of Jacky Faber (Bloody Jack Adventures Book 12)
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, Mr. Meyer, March 7, 2015
Wild Rover No More: Being the Last Recorded Account of the Life and Times of Jacky Faber
by L.A. Meyer

This was the book I wanted to read, and I loved it.

I've been an avid Bloody Jack fan for several years, now, along with my wife, who discovered the first book while searching for pirate-themed books for me (I have a bit of a thing for the pirate life and the yo-ho-ho.) and found that she loved these as much as I do. There are not many characters in the world like Jacky Faber: so human, so likeable, and so very, very frustrating. I have for years now felt just like Amy Trevelyne and Ezra Pickering, and I have nothing but the deepest admiration for Mr. John Higgins, the unflappable, dependable, and eternally reliable friend to our dear girl.

Jacky Faber makes me wish I had done one-hundredth of the things she has done -- and at the same time, she makes me very glad that I have never suffered one-hundredth of the things she has suffered. That's why I love these books: I love the adventures, love the chances Jacky takes (even while I keep saying to myself, "No, Jacky, no -- for the love of God, why do you keep doing this?"), and I love the way reality comes crashing down on her, again and again -- and yet she never gives up. And in this book, here she goes again: within the first fifty pages, she is on the run from the law (Not an uncommon occurrence) and she hides out, meeting yet another historical figure -- in this case, one of my personal favorites, even though Meyer had to fudge the history a bit to make it happen. But it is subtly done, this time, possibly because of that; and I can't blame him for taking this opportunity, because if I could write that person into my story, I'd do it in a heartbeat. (I don't want to spoil who it is because it is subtly done, and the moment when the hints build up to the epiphany was fun for me, and I want it to be fun for everyone who hasn't read it yet.)

Jacky also joins the circus, in this book. Because Jacky does that: Jacky takes the opportunities that the rest of us would shy away from, and she lives out the dreams that all of us cherish, up to and including running away with the circus and being, at the same time, a Russian princess. Hell, it almost made me want to be a Russian princess in the circus -- though I don't think I should do the fan dance.

And the end of this one -- hoo boy, the end. It is the end, the last book, and it is the finish of Jacky's adventures. I won't spoil this one either. I genuinely didn't know until the final moments which way it was going to go: Meyer managed to do it perfectly, with as much suspense as any novel I think I have read. It made it hard to put it down.

And I am truly sorry that I now have to put these down. The saddest part of this book is not within its pages: it is on the dust jacket, because now the biography of the wonderful L.A. Meyer says "was." You are a loss to the world, sir, both the world of letters and the world of imagination. Your books were a gift to us all, and I am deeply grateful for them. I may have put them down for now, but rest assured: I will pick them up again and again. Thank you for that. Rest in peace. You and Miss Mary Jacky Faber.

Academie Wirebound Sketch Diary, 14 x 11 Inches, 70 Sheets (54400)
Academie Wirebound Sketch Diary, 14 x 11 Inches, 70 Sheets (54400)
Price: $14.64
2 used & new from $12.58

3.0 out of 5 stars Good sketchbook, August 11, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's a fine product: the paper has good weight, better than most sketchpads, and it's got a slight vellum finish to it. I don't understand the pocket in the front, but if you like that sort of thing, there it is -- like an old Trapper Keeper.

PhysiciansCare 90370 99 Pieces ANSI/OSHA Weatherproof Xpress First Aid Kit with Refill System and Medication
PhysiciansCare 90370 99 Pieces ANSI/OSHA Weatherproof Xpress First Aid Kit with Refill System and Medication
Price: $28.59
17 used & new from $23.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, July 21, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I am not a regular user of first aid; I just wanted this in case, to carry in my car on a road trip. For the light user, this is a good first aid kit. The products are fine; the antibiotic ointment is good, though there is more in the packet than is needed for a single cut. The bandaids are good. The plastic insert was unnecessary, so I took it out and put in more bandaids and such; the case holds quite a lot, and fits well into the niche I had for it. The tweezers are a little flimsy, seems like, but I didn't need to use them to pull out a bullet or anything. Fine product.

Shattered (Iron Druid Chronicles)
Shattered (Iron Druid Chronicles)
by Kevin Hearne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.71
49 used & new from $7.51

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better and better, May 31, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've enjoyed all of the Iron Druid books: the mythology is fascinating, the action is fantastic, and Oberon, of course, is hilarious. If I had any complaint about them, it was that Atticus was perhaps a wee bit overpowered -- wealthy, immortal, able to do almost anything, it seemed, and immune to death thanks to the Morrigan's protection -- and watching him lay waste to pantheon after pantheon would have rapidly gotten tired. If I had any additional complaint, it might be that the books were a little too light, a little cheerier than I like, though of course that's more personal preference.

But thankfully, Kevin Hearne is too good an author for that. These last two books, especially, have shown that Atticus is not all-powerful, not immune to harm, and not capable of conquering any foe with ease. They have also grown a bit more serious, a little less light-hearted, which I enjoy. Oberon is still a major character, of course -- and now he's not alone! -- but he isn't in every chapter, his conversation doesn't dominate the book; so he is the excellent comic relief, rather than the irritating non-stop joke-factory.

I think the addition of two new characters, and the use of all three Druids as narrative points of view, was the real clincher. It allows the reader to consider the Druid's world from several different angles, and it's great. The newest character wasn't my favorite at first, largely because I really like Atticus and he was talking smack about my boy (if you'll pardon the lame slang -- I'm around teenagers all day), but then there's a scene later in the book when they reconcile, and it's an excellent moment.

The action remains great, the druids and the mix of mythologies remain fascinating, and the long-term plot is really heating up nicely. These are now five-star books, for me, and I can't wait for the next one.

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas)
Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas)
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.49
146 used & new from $0.21

9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good start. Looking forward to more., April 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
At first, I thought that Midnight, Texas was a cliche, a repetition of the incredibly successful Sookie books (All of which I read, all of which I loved. Keep that in mind if you read this review.). And it is a cliche, of course, the small-town-with-fascinating-inhabitants concept going back to Winesburg, Ohio and Cold Sassy Tree and a hundred other books I couldn't name; but this is not Sookie Stackhouse's Bon Temps.

Not that it wouldn't appeal to fans of Sookie: it is still Charlaine Harris, and she still has the same gift for bringing characters to life and making the reader sympathize; this is a paranormal book, with psychics and witches and monsters, and murder, and mystery, and at least a breath of romance. There is the same humor, and the same slice-of-life feel to the novel -- and, if I can be slightly snarky without being mean, the same terrible names. I mean, really: Bobo Winthrop? Fiji Cavanaugh? Manfred Bernardo? (Said the guy named for the king of the Rohirrim in Tolkien's Middle Earth, who shares his last name with a cartoon bear, a Beanie Baby camel, and [I'm not making this up -- Google it] an animatronic plush dog that simulates sex. Pot, meet kettle.) I don't think Ms. Harris is bad at creating names (I think it likely there are people with names like these), I just have trouble taking a character named Bobo seriously as a romantic interest. Had the same problem with Sookie, honestly.

At any rate: this is a good book. I read it as fast, and with as many laughs and smiles, as any other book I've read, which is why I keep coming back to Charlaine Harris, who has one of the smoothest and least intrusive authorial voices I know. That makes for a good reading book. It did start slow, as the characters and setting were introduced; I had trouble at first finding a character I could really latch on to and enjoy, but it picked up about a third of the way through, and then I liked all of them. (Especially Mr. Snuggly.) The mystery was good, never unrealistic, the solution a bit of a surprise, though not a jaw-dropping shocker -- not enough time to set up a real stunner, though I don't doubt that Ms. Harris will find opportunities to floor me in this series, as she did with Sookie more than once. I generally liked the paranormal elements, though not particularly the introduction of Lemuel (Not a spoiler -- his first appearance reveals his nature, which was exactly my problem with it), which relies on being a part of Ms. Harris's already established universe to make it understandable, which isn't my favorite writing choice. There's a nod to the Harper Connelly series, too, which I haven't read, and so it is possible that the character of Manfred Bernardo is already known to some, although not to me.

I liked it. I'm recommending it, and getting the next one.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 6, 2014 10:19 AM PDT

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