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"switterbug" Betsey Van Horn RSS Feed (Austin, Texas)
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.57
93 used & new from $11.50

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tightly controlled Murakami--a journey of past, present, and future, August 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Murakami is an artist of seduction when it comes to themes of alienation and dislocation. He takes you into a surreal world, where dreams and reality overlap, classical and jazz music is imbued, and the lonely hero has a soulful journey enriched by his subconscious provocations. His latest novel is tightly focused, more tautly controlled than any of his others that I have read. It concerns railroad station engineer and loner Tsukuru Tazaki, a thirty-six-year-old at a liminal stage between letting go and going forward. He resides in Tokyo and left his hometown of Nagoya when he went to college.

Sixteen years ago, our hero's tightly knit group of four best friends (two other males, two females) ousted him for no discernible reason during his college sophomore summer break (age twenty). The novel opens with Tsukuru's melancholy and suicidal thoughts, and leads us to the present, where he approaches life with detachment. Now, at thirty-six, he can't seem to fully expose himself to the vulnerability of love and fulfillment unless he resolves the burning issue of why he was banned all those years ago. This book is his pilgrimage toward wholeness.

Tsukuru has always considered himself an empty vessel--"colorless Tskuru Tazaki"--his name has no color, while the other four friends' names did. His name signifies "to build," an apt one for him, who builds for a living. Yet, he feels like a failure, unable to connect meaningfully with other people. (Even his memories of his father are inadequate). He insists that he was inferior to his colorful, vivid group of teenage friends. To himself, he is hollow, a cipher. Now, Tsukuru is on the verge of a serious romance with a somewhat mysterious woman named Sara, which could be sabotaged by his mental state. Sara, knowingly, prompts and inspires him to resolve his past.

There are powerful epiphanies, which engage the theme, (such as on page 322), which I think some readers will be compelled to include in their review. However, Tsukuru's journey is a paced process, and it is imperative that the reader engage with the hero's odyssey step by step, and (in my opinion) not reveal these later insights that bubble up toward the conclusion. However, it doesn't hurt to know that the musical theme of the book is Listz's Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), le mal du pays (Suite 1: Switzerland), especially as played by Lazar Berman. (All three suites are inevitably "heard" in the novel). I have now listened to it several times (on YouTube). It is a perfect metaphor for this book--elegant, melancholy, reflective, subtly captivating.

"Le mal du pays...usually it is translated as `homesickness...'it's more like `a groundless sadness called forth in a person's heart by a pastoral landscape.' It's a hard expression to translate accurately."

The above is a splendid description for Tsukuru's state of mind, the homesickness a figurative symbol for the four friends from Nagoya, the Liszt piece a consummate harmony for the novel. I suggest listening to it while in the midst of reading this book. It led me to deep-seated places, and palpably brought forth both sorrow and bittersweet buoyancy. I immersed myself into Tsukuru's provocative dreams, and his haunted soul. The universal theme of closure is enhanced by Murakami's hypnagogic imagination. The past, present, and future does a temporal twirl. A wonderfully balanced book! Philip Gabriel provides a lucid translation.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2014 10:47 AM PDT


I Can See in the Dark
I Can See in the Dark
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.30
41 used & new from $12.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subversive and interior, August 19, 2014
This review is from: I Can See in the Dark (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
No other Scandinavian crime writer that has been translated into English impresses me as much as Karin Fossum, who is one of my favorite contemporary crime writers. The crime itself is often less germane to the overall story than the psychological profiles of the people involved. In this book, there are definitely some straw characters (such as the police detective), which I accepted, because the main character, Riktor, a true loner, is so chilling and fascinating a protagonist that I was consumed with peeling away his layers.

Fossum not only created a riveting character, she borders on farce by having Riktor arrested for a crime he didn’t do, all the while the egregious crimes he has committed go undetected. We peer inside his head and gasp in horror at his indignation at being accused, and yet his umbrage is tragically comical in Fossum’s representation of Riktor’s sociopathology.

The less Riktor confesses to the reader, and the less insight he has about the world around him, the more we get to know him. When he does admit to us his crimes, we become horrified at his pervasive cognitive dissonance. He is a nurse working with geriatric patients in a nursing home, many who are close to death; his views on death are the clues to his pathology.

The entire novel is told from Riktor’s point of view. The prose is lean and assured, and Rikto’s voice is subversive and contagious. As he finds himself in a cat-and mouse situation, the reader’s pulse quickens to match Riktor’s. The supporting characters, quirky--but far les dimensional, do enliven the plot. The only reason I gave 4 stars rather than 5 is because the novel is entirely interior to one character, and therefore confined. This is just a personal preference, and I want to convey that this is not a flaw in Fossum’s writing. However, my reading predilection is generally for a more expansive cast. For Fossum fans, this is a must. If you’ve never read her before, I highly recommend starting with THE INDIAN BRIDE.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2014 2:37 PM PDT


Fourth of July Creek: A Novel
Fourth of July Creek: A Novel
by Smith Henderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.07
83 used & new from $12.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It made sense in his heart and his heart only.", August 16, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"Your caseload is brutal and will get worse as the holidays steadily advance on the poor, deranged, and demented."

Debut novelist Henderson Smith has written a tale about rural America that is both bleak and suffused with a bone-dry wit. Most of us do not have any reason to deal with the Department of Family Services in our state, but in my job as a psychiatric pediatric RN in Austin, I have my fair share of in- and out-of-state hook-ups (on the phone, or they come to us). Here in the outback bergs of Montana, Pete Snow, Bachelor of Social Work (drop-out of the master's program) is the go-to person for the most extreme and sometimes most dangerous cases involving crises and sometimes threats to life. An alcoholic whose partying wife has left him and taken their teenage daughter, Pete has a pretty sorry excuse for a personal life, except for his loyalty to a few friends and the hard cases he works.

In his work, Pete gets the job done. His tools are his clipboard and pen, and if the law shows up with a gun, he uses his wiles to disarm them. Usually. His clients are typically poverty-stricken and lawless, and dependent on the system that they resent; the children are the ones that Pete wants to help the most, the often innocent and vulnerable that are headed for a lifetime of institutional living. To his irresponsible wife, he has said, "I take kids away from people like us." His daughter has run away while in the care of his ex-, and now he is desperate to find her, while still invested in his work at home. In the meantime, he is shutting out his brother, an outlaw on the run. Snow's no hero--perhaps a flawed anti-hero. He should be more jaded than he is, but that is Snow's endearing quality--he just never gives up, on his daughter or his cases:

"...these absences were twinned in Pete's mind as if the one could not be solved without the other, and he harbored the absurd hope that the revelation of the one would reveal the other."

The two cases he struggles with are Cecil, a violent and sexually deviant son of an abusive parent, and a feral child named Benjamin, who lives in the wilderness with his anarchist, survivalist father, Jeremiah Pearl. Pearl is already a living legend, haven taken American coins and punched holes in the presidents' heads; the coins have made their way around pawnshops and collectors. Jeremiah spouts an extreme Christian dogma that may be dangerous to himself, his son, and the world at large, including Pete.

It becomes evident that Pete Snow is compelled by his isolation and connection to the fringes of society. He lives in a primitive cabin (no electricity) in Tenmile, and showers at the courthouse. They put up with Snow's eccentricities and the way he pushes the envelope because his compassion and dedication is consummate and tireless.

This is a sweeping tale about tough human questions, such as: what freedoms are compromised for assistance--for food, clothing, and essentials? What price do people pay to meet Maslow's lowest hierarchy of needs? Is it fair to force someone with crushing demons into a society that demonizes and crushes him even more? Can you effectively help others when your own life and family is falling apart? The big questions of sovereignty, safety, family, and the pursuit of, well, individual liberty, is well wrought and teeming with moral ambiguity.

Smith Henderson knows his geographical areas. He is from Montana, and participated in the Michener Writer's program here in Austin, where part of the novel takes place. This confidently written, brutal, take-no-prisoners tale does not read like a debut novel. I know that Smith worked at a juvenile group home, a superb place to gather grit for this kind of story, to study the characters of children living outside of societal norms. It is well-plotted, focusing on character, but building to a nail-biting conclusion.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 16, 2014 7:16 AM PDT


Belkin Apple MFi Certified Lightning to USB ChargeSync Cable for iPhone 5 / 5S / 5c, iPad 4th Gen and iPad mini, 4 Feet (White)
Belkin Apple MFi Certified Lightning to USB ChargeSync Cable for iPhone 5 / 5S / 5c, iPad 4th Gen and iPad mini, 4 Feet (White)
Price: Click here to see our price

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Belkin makes a quality product, August 16, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I own several Belkin products, including a router, and have always trusted their name to mean quality. Their lightning to USB is no exception. It is certified by Apple, so it will consistently work and not overheat. It is thicker than the Apple brand, so the strain from coiling it and carrying it with you won't make it fray at stress points so quickly.

The 4-feet size is really nice. Many come in 3.2 feet--just a bit too short, whereas 6 feet is too long for transport. This is a nice tight portable size, and it still has a decent reach under a desk and in the car.

It works capably on my iPhone 5, iPad 4th generation, and iPod 5. It also fits with all my cases, including my iPhone's Otterbox Defender, without problem. The fit into the devices is nice and snug, and it begins charging immediately.

This lightning to USB is as effective as the Apple brand, but not at a cheaper price. However, the extra length and strength, as well as the quality, earns its price. I would recommend it without reservation. I would definitely rather pay for this Belkin, which is sturdier, than buy another Apple charger, which isn't built to last.


[Apple MFI Certified] 1Byone Lightning to USB Cable 3.28ft (1M) for iPhone 5/5s/5c, iPad mini, iPad Air, iPod nano 7th Gen and iPod touch 5th Generation
[Apple MFI Certified] 1Byone Lightning to USB Cable 3.28ft (1M) for iPhone 5/5s/5c, iPad mini, iPad Air, iPod nano 7th Gen and iPod touch 5th Generation

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hair thicker than the Apple brand, August 15, 2014
At a cheaper price than the Apple brand lightning cord, the 1Byone brand is just as effective, and Apple certified. (Don't buy brands that aren't Apple certified, or they will stop working and overheat your technology). This is a good traveling charger because it isn't too thick, so it packs small. I would say that it is a hair, just a hair thicker than the Apple lightning charger. It fit my iPhone 5 through my Otterbox Defender, and I have used it for my iPad 4th gen and iPod 5.

Because it isn't much thicker than the Apple cord, it will likely fray within a year if you carry it everywhere and wrap and re-wrap. Time will tell. But I don't like to carry my very thick lightning chargers, because they take up too much space. I like how the 1Byone feels, and its lightness. I received a complementary charger for an honest appraisal. I would certainly recommend this as a much less pricey lightning charger than the Apple brand, and just as impressive.


Bolse® High Output Cell Phone Chargers, 3-Port USB Car Charger (32W / 6.3A), Provides Maximum Power For 3 Devices At Once for iPhone 5, 5S, 4S; Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Galaxy Note 3, 2; iPad Air, 5, 4, mini; LG G2; Motorola and HTC
Bolse® High Output Cell Phone Chargers, 3-Port USB Car Charger (32W / 6.3A), Provides Maximum Power For 3 Devices At Once for iPhone 5, 5S, 4S; Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Galaxy Note 3, 2; iPad Air, 5, 4, mini; LG G2; Motorola and HTC
Offered by LowerPriceUSA
Price: $29.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great charger for mixed brand devices, August 14, 2014
This is a nifty, powerful car charger with three 2.1A ports--two for Apple devices and one port for a Samsung device. I am an Apple gal all the way, so I use the top two Apple ports to charge my iPhone 5 and my iPad 4th gen. It charges pretty swiftly while I am driving to work or elsewhere. There's a blue LED glow that indicates that devices are charging, and when fully charged, a sensor turns it off so it won't keep charging or overheating.

The shape is intelligent, also--it is kind of blocky, which makes it easy for me to guide my charger cords in the appropriate slots. Although I have no use for the Samsung port, it would be very useful for a family or couple with mixed devices. I also own a Bolse lightning charger, which is now my favorite charger due to the superior materials used to make the flexible cord. I've determined that Bolse is a name I can trust. I received this car charger in exchange for an honest review; I would be delighted to try out more Bolse products.


BUFFALO MiniStation DDR 1 TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive with DDR3 Mega Cache Accelerator (HD-PGD1.0U3)
BUFFALO MiniStation DDR 1 TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive with DDR3 Mega Cache Accelerator (HD-PGD1.0U3)
Price: $159.99
24 used & new from $159.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compact, fast(er), but worth the price?, August 13, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Buffalo MiniStation DDR has features that may be appealing for many, but you must decide if the benefits outweigh the hefty price. The MiniStation is very small, compact, and seems a bit faster (nothing to write home about) than traditional external hard drives. It also does not need an external power supply to work. Just plug it into a USB outlet and you are ready to back up your data. Its size makes it very portable if you need to carry your music and movies around with you. I backed up my computer using Time Machine and it worked very well. Although it seemed a little faster, it certainly did not seem like SSD-like speeds.

One terabyte is a respectable size, but for this price I can get four terabytes in a traditional hard drive, and still have enough money left over to treat a friend to lunch, like some Buffalo wings. Buffalo also makes a one terabyte drive that I own. It is the same size but a few dollars less than this one, with many features: it is wireless, rechargeable, and capable of streaming music, movies, etc. to your mobile devices, and also acts as a WI-FI hotspot. It will also charge your phone. So I am puzzled why this drive is almost equally priced when their wireless drive can do what this drive can do and much more.

I deducted a star because of the price and features compared to their wireless hard drive. Pricing this drive equal or more than the BUFFALO MiniStation DDR 1 TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive with DDR3 Mega Cache Accelerator (HD-PGD1.0U3) doesn't make a lot of sense.


Bolse® [Apple MFi Certified] 6 Feet / 1.8m Extra Long Cloth Jacketed Tangle-Free USB 2.0 A to 8 Pin Apple Lightning Cable for iPhone 5, 5s, iPad 4, iPad mini, iPod nano 7, iPod 5G (Black/Green)
Bolse® [Apple MFi Certified] 6 Feet / 1.8m Extra Long Cloth Jacketed Tangle-Free USB 2.0 A to 8 Pin Apple Lightning Cable for iPhone 5, 5s, iPad 4, iPad mini, iPod nano 7, iPod 5G (Black/Green)
Offered by LowerPriceUSA
Price: $29.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Move over, Amazon--you have a smart competitor!, August 9, 2014
This is now hands-down the best lightning cable I have ever used. I like how you can wind this cord without getting it all tied up in knots. It doesn't kink, either--the Apple cables kink and fray within the first year or so just from wrapping it around for transport. This will be my new go-to transport cable for when I leave the house. My usual favorite is the Amazon Basics (I have the 3 and 6 feet cords), which now are my #2!

I received this complementary product in exchange for an honest review. And honestly? Bolse has eclipsed all the other lightning cables. Works great on my iPhone 5, iPad 4, and iPod 4. People actually ask me about this one when they see it plugged in, and say, "That makes sense! Why don't they typically build chargers to last?" That has always been my question re Apple chargers. In the past, I have favored the hard, thick-corded cables, because they endure. But, Bolse demonstrates that size isn't everything! :) Flexibility, elasticity, and protection can come from smart materials. I intend to buy more of these tangle-free charger cords for the family.


Eachine X-power Serie X2 10400mAh High Capacity Portable Backup External Battery Dual USB Port Power Bank with LCD Digital screen for Apple iPhone 5s, 5c, 5, 4s, iPad Air, Mini, Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Note 3, 2, Nexus 4, 5, 7, 10, HTC One, One 2 (M8), Moto X, G, Lg Optimus, Other Smartphones and Tablets
Eachine X-power Serie X2 10400mAh High Capacity Portable Backup External Battery Dual USB Port Power Bank with LCD Digital screen for Apple iPhone 5s, 5c, 5, 4s, iPad Air, Mini, Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Note 3, 2, Nexus 4, 5, 7, 10, HTC One, One 2 (M8), Moto X, G, Lg Optimus, Other Smartphones and Tablets
Offered by Eachinedirect
Price: $34.99
2 used & new from $27.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new favorite battery charger, July 31, 2014
I received this product in exchange for an honest appraisal.

The Eachine X-power Series X2 10,400mAh Portable Backup External Battery charger has quickly become the favorite of all the external chargers I own. I have received several from many manufacturers. What makes this one unique is the LED readout that tells you how much juice you have left in the charger. With most of these chargers, you have no way of knowing when it is depleted. The large storage (10,400 mAh) is definitely a factor that makes this device appealing. It's ability to charge devices more than once is a big plus, and it lasts for days without needing to recharge the unit. This alleviates any worry related to my mobile devices running out of juice.

The Eachine charged my tablet from 25% to 100% quickly for such a device and still had 45 percent power left. Phones also charge rapidly and use less than 10% of the power when charging from 25% to 100%. It comes with 2 USB outputs (a 1.0amp and a 2.1amp) to allow charging of multiple devices. A cord is included that has a mini USB and 3 adaptor plugs to address a few other charging needs you may have. The unit has a small flashlight built-in, and while not very bright, it is very functional in a pinch.

This Eachine device is now my default charger when I am traveling, camping, and any other times I know I will be away from a power source for an extended period of time. For the low price---an excellent value-- the high power level, the LED readout, and peace of mind, I can recommend this charger without reservation.


Lucky Us: A Novel
Lucky Us: A Novel
by Amy Bloom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.60
71 used & new from $10.95

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloom at her best, July 29, 2014
This review is from: Lucky Us: A Novel (Hardcover)
The title of Bloom’s latest novel, which takes place between the years of 1939-1949, is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, on the one hand. But, perhaps a backwards glance would reveal some truth behind those words. Lucky to be alive—and what I mean by alive is more than just breathing. These characters fight for their footing--they courageously and sometimes unwittingly climb out of many sad and tragic moments, and use their wits to move forward and carve out a niche for themselves, even if that niche is largely precarious.

If I described the plot, my review might end up as long as the book (which isn’t long, but so very full). It is about two half-sisters, Eva and Iris (Iris being the elder), who finally meet in their teens when Iris’s mother dies and Eva’s mother dumps Eva on Iris and Eva’s mutual father’s doorstep. Edgar (their father) steals Iris’s hard-earned money that she won for speeches—she was very talented. So the sisters begin hiding Iris’s earnings, and they take off for Hollywood together after Iris graduates high school. Eva was the scholar but since she was fourteen, she didn’t get to finish (although she had skipped grades). However, she was a compulsive autodidact.

Eva and Iris undertake the hard knocks school of survival, especially Eva, because after a horrifying accident, Iris ends up in London, doing plays and setting up a clinic, leaving Eva and their life in America. We learn about Iris through her letters.

“I don’t have much confidence in what people remember…I remember some things at a gallop, some moments…bearing down upon me in huge detail, and other things are no more than small leaves floating on a stream. Memory seems as faulty, as misunderstood and misguided, as every other thought or spasm that passes through us. …I still thought I was made to triumph. That I was, in fact, owed a triumph.”

The story is a combination of Eva’s narrative, intermixed with various characters' epistolary accounts. Braided within the novel are many wonderful songs of the times, lyrics that lend a buoyant context of the era. Even some of the short chapters are titles of songs, or lines from popular tunes.

After being kicked on her ass by Hedda Hopper and blackballed from Hollywood, they take off for more rogue adventures. Fortunately, Iris’s hairdresser, Francisco, becomes a close family friend. Their dad, Edgar, back in the picture, secured a job as a butler with a fairly wealthy Italian family in a NY suburb, and moved the sisters in. Then there is Gus, who was married to Reenie, the cook where they lived. Iris, looking for love in all the wrong places, falls in love with Reenie, and subsequently has Gus captured as a spy. This was, after all, the years of WW II. Many of the letters are from Gus, and his adventures in Germany.

Although Iris had essentially kidnapped a young boy from a Jewish orphanage (because she wanted to mother him with Reenie), Eva was left to raise him, with her dad and Edgar’s black-almost-pass-as-white girlfriend, Clara, a successful jazz singer.

It is okay to know all this, because the plot grows not linearly, but in a varying, circular, and alternate pattern (if there is a pattern to speak of). The novel is often like a romp, where characters pile on to characters, and the definition of family takes on new proportions.

LUCKY US is about luck—good and bad, and about what makes a family, and how to renew and resuscitate the non-working parts. With Bloom at the helm, you know there will also be the perils of being Jewish during WW II, and the horrors of that period. But Bloom is a master of style and unflinching portrayals. She doesn’t depict all ethnic minorities as flawless, heroic, and victimized by the ethnic majority. Her characters are fully dimensional-- flawed, striving, and unorthodox. She is a gifted, gregarious, piquant writer, who is both light and weighty, a wizard with her words, a booming heart through all her passages. Lucky me for reading this book!


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