Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have Gates, Will Travel

If you wanted to get from one part of the universe to another, would you choose (a) a fast spaceship, (b) a spaceship that uses a wormhole, or (c) a gate that instantaneously transports you?  I would go with option (c).  When it comes to space travel, I'm not sure the journey is more important than the destination.

The theme of gates like these has been quite popular in science fiction.  For example, consider the movie "Stargate", its sequels, and the TV series it spawned.  One simply steps through the gate and arrives in a new location - usually a new planet.  Of course, in fiction one doesn't always know what to expect on the other side ...

One of my favorite series of books is C. J. Cherryh's "Morgaine" saga (Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, Exile's Gate).  This series includes both fantasy and science fiction devices - low technology weapons like swords and high technology machines like gates - and a special sword ("Changeling") that controls gates, but the author considered this work as fantasy.  When I learned that Gate of Ivrel was her first published novel, I was amazed.  (I have to admit that I was influenced by Michael Whelan's cover art as well.)

In contrast, I was very disappointed with Jack Williamson's The Stonehenge Gate.  This was another example of a gate (appearing very primitive, despite its power, compared with the gate in "Stargate") transporting people to other places in the universe.  This was the first novel by Williamson I've read, so maybe it's just his style, but I was put off by this book's poor plot development.  Important details were glossed over.  Transitions from one scene or locale to another made it seem like the book itself was going through gates!  I had to give up after the first 30 pages.  To be fair, it appears that this novel, published a year before Williamson's death in 2006 at the age of 98, was his last.  It is likely not representative of the work of this award-winning science fiction author.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Night Before Christmas

Pleased with the art and conception of The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, the ebook app from Moving Tales, I ignored the reviews for the new project from Moving Tales, Twas the Night Before Christmas.  I downloaded the book, expecting a treat, but I find I have to agree with the reviews.  This was not a well-executed book.  It didn't flow well.  There were typographical errors.  The characters were too cartoonish.  Granted, anyone doing their version of this story faces criticism from someone.  But this could've been done much better.

On the other hand, the latest from Padworx, an abridged version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I expect will prove to be a worthy successor to their take on Dracula (see my posting).  Already, going through just the first chapter, the artwork is interesting and vibrant, the specters disturbing, the musical score well chosen, the interactive mechanisms on the page clever.  As with Dracula, there are a few typos.  But this is truly an outstanding work.  I will be shocked if my first impression doesn't last through the rest of this short book.  (I can even set aside my feelings toward steampunk.)

Footnote: Not long ago I also downloaded the War of the Worlds ebook app by Smashing Ideas, Inc.  This is not abridged, and may explain why there is only one interactive picture per chapter.  I read War of the Worlds probably 40 years ago.  Unfortunately there's not enough visual excitement in this ebook for me to prioritize reading it over most of the other books I have.  Smashing Ideas is also responsible for the MAC A Tartan Tale ebook app, which, being free, I thought I'd download as well.  Maybe I'm the only male on the planet that doesn't know that this is associated with a line of women's make-up, but the description of the app really does not make that clear.  I'm just glad I didn't pay for it.  After only a few pages, I knew I was not the intended demographic for this product!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Horizontal Books, and other Orientations

I'm not surprised that it's been two weeks since I last posted, what with all the brouhaha going on in our household leading up to Christmas!

One of the things I've noticed with my library in the past few weeks is the increasing number of books that are in a horizontal position.  This is because there's no place to stand them up vertically, so I have to lay new books on top of other books!  Seeing this wouldn't lead anyone to expect that I'm organized.  But think about it ... look at the shelves of books in a law office commercial, how nice and neat and tidy they are, and then look at the shelves of books in someone's home office, someone who reads a lot, maybe writes a lot.  Could be a professor or teacher.  Those shelves are frequently jam-packed with horizontal books.

But these horizontal books are now hiding half the clock in my office so I can't see what time it is for thirty minutes every hour.  Some of these books are horizontal because they simply don't fit on the shelves because of their height.  But a more serious problem is putting a book in vertical on either its spine or the opposite side.  Why?  Because you can't see the title of the book.  And then you do like I did recently and buy a second copy of a book by accident because you didn't realize you already had it, because you couldn't see the title.

Book crowding frequently causes me to start weeding out books to make room for new ones.  But it's getting where I'm having trouble identifying more books to weed out.

Woe is me.  Woe is every other bibliophile out there with not enough room for more books.

UPDATE, December 20:  Take a look at this blog posting: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/11/beautiful-bookshelves-how-do-you-sort-yours.  This gave me some ideas.  If my shelves only went floor-to-ceiling, and then extended to the end of the wall, I could probably get 40% more shelf-space.  But that would mean convincing my wife that we should (a) sell the existing shelves that match the decor and (b) pay someone to build the new shelves.  Is there no way out?  :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Can a Science Major Appreciate Art?

One of the best illustrators of all time is Frank Frazetta.  This is not about Frank Frazetta.  To do Frazetta justice would require more energy than I feel like applying today.  Instead, this is about books that showcase the work of two other illustrators, Manuel Sanjulian and Jeffrey Jones.

Sword's Edge by Sanjulian (rating: 6/10) is not a comprehensive look at this artist's work but rather a particular segment of his work: illustrations of Robert E. Howard's sword-and-sorcery hero Conan.  Sanjulian's style is much different than Frazetta's, and many people are more familiar with Frazetta's Conan.  Unfortunately this is a short book marred by mislabeled pictures and typographical errors and an introduction that says more about Robert E. Howard than it does Manuel Sanjulian.

I didn't realize until I read The Art of Jeffrey Jones (rating: 7/10) that I had seen paintings of his used to illustrate book covers on fantasy novels.  Like Sanjulian, Jeffrey Jones's style is much different than Frazetta's.  Where Frazetta is detailed Jones is more impressionistic.  And yet energy and dynamics and movement still come through.  This book gives the reader much more of Jones's work than Sword's Edge gives of Sanjulian's work.  And the introduction tells us much much more about the artist.

Frazetta himself gave Jones great praise.  Artist Gerald Brom has said "In the footsteps of Wyeth, Pyle and the Brandywine school, Jeff Jones has kept alive the grand tradition of American illustration as art."  I'm beginning to better understand - me, a science major in college, not an art major! - why the work of Frazetta and Jones and other modern illustrators, as well as that of Wyeth and Pyle and Waterhouse, appeals to me like it does.

Similar books waiting on my shelves:
Knightsbridge: The Art of Keith Parkinson.
Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition.
Cutler, Laurence S. and Judy A. G. Cutler.  Maxfield Parrish.
Hobson, Anthony.  J W Waterhouse.

Daughter of Hounds

When I recently came across Caitlin R. Kiernan's Daughter of Hounds, I thought I'd give it a try.  It wouldn't be the first novel I'd read about changelings (Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child), but while Kiernan's name was familiar to me, I'd never read any of her novels.

The story started off well, with an interesting scene underground in the lair of the ghouls who steal children.  I found myself caught up in the story (that's a good thing) and appreciating Kiernan's prose, including some very nice turns of phrase (another good thing).  But along the way something happened, and I've decided to give up.

I'd always heard that it's best to use profanity and obscenities sparingly in one's writing.  That they can be useful in giving atmosphere to a situation, or conveying details of someone's character (or lack thereof).  But when used more than sparingly, it suggests a lack of skill on the part of the author in establishing atmosphere or character.  I can forgive an author for this but only up to a point.  Kiernan exceeded my tolerance level.  When it gets to the point where every piece of dialogue is laced with this kind of language, it becomes not only annoying and distracting but tiresome.

Midway through Daughter of Hounds, I realized that not only was I tired of the profanity and obscenities, I was also tired of waiting for at least a tidbit of resolution or explanation to what was going on, and I wasn't getting it.  So this one is getting my "abandoned" label.

Postscript:  Donohue's The Stolen Child (rating: 9/10) was an excellent story - interesting, moving, well-constructed, and a pleasure to read (as long as you don't mind sharing a character's profound sadness).  Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Books by the Yard?

I've mentioned Half Price Books in many of my posts.  They have a well-established network of used bookstores and it's hard for me to stay away from them.  But one thing they advertise that just hits me wrong is "books by the yard."  Half Price says that "Books by the Yard is a unique product that Half Price Books offers to designers, retailers and individuals across the United States."

Basically, you can buy three linear feet of books to make it look like your display, your model home, or your real home includes real books.  The object is to fool someone.  I don't have a problem with books as a way to dress up a home, make an office look intellectual, whatever.  But a collection of books could and should be obtained by buying books that one reads or peruses or at the very least, flips through.  Buying a bunch of books that you have no interest in ever reading, books that serve no other purpose than to fool others into thinking you read, or like books?  That's just wrong.

The statistic I heard the other day was that 80% of the population reads less than two books a month.  At that rate, if you bought everything you read and saved it, it would take you a year or more to accumulate three linear feet of books.  Better start reading now so when you do need three feet of books you've got them!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Doc Savage and G.I. Joe

Last night I watched "G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA" on Netflix.  The idea of pulling a team together comprised of individuals who each contribute some unique skill to the team is certainly not new.  Look at the X-Men.  Or "The A-Team."  Look at the Justice League of America.  But go a little further back, to the days of the "pulps."  One of the popular adventure series was "Doc Savage".

I started reading the Bantam paperback editions of Doc Savage stories when I was in high school and saw some of my friends reading them.  Doc Savage was a crime-fighting hero who had no superpowers, no mask or cape.  Just (!) a genius intellect, a physique to put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame, a code of honor and justice, and the ability to pull together the right team. 
I have tried - periodically - to go back and read some of the old Doc Savage stories, but alas, they don't hold the same allure they did when I was a younger man.  But I learned early on there's nothing you can't do if you have the right people to work with.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Henges, Hill Forts, and Barrows

My "bucket list" includes seeing Stonehenge.  Someday I'd like to witness the mystery of this site firsthand, ponder how and why it was constructed, appreciate its antiquity.

I just finished reading Prehistoric Britain from the Air (rating: 9/10).  The many aerial photographs in this book include not only Stonehenge but dozens of other sites in the British Isles.  I had no idea that so many prehistoric sites still stood.  The ones in England are much more accessible than those in Scotland and Wales, so I was also surprised to see much less security around these sites than what I would expect if they stood in North America.

I was reminded that Francis Pryor's Seahenge: A Quest for Life and Death in Bronze Age Britain is sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read.  The photographs of hill forts brought to mind the battle scenes in Bernard Cornwell's series, The Saxon Tales ... and the most recent volume in that series, The Burning Land, also sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.  The photographs of barrows made me think of the fear the hobbits felt when they encountered the barrow-wights in Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring.  I was also reminded of the Moesgard Museum, a collection of early Scandinavian history (including Vikings) in Aarhus, Denmark, which I visited many years ago.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pulp Fiction

Many years ago - long before I was born - maybe even going back to the 1800s (I can't remember, that really was before I was born) - Procter & Gamble began giving each of its employees a holiday basket at Christmas time.  I believe I heard the first ones included a turkey.  By the turn of the century (20th to 21st), the tradition had changed somewhat.  Each employee received a large box containing ham, or sausage, and fruit, as well as various P&G products for use around the home.

In 1958, West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (later known as Westvaco, and then MeadWestvaco) began giving their employees a slip-cased hardcover edition of a classic piece of literature.  The first book was Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  In the Foreword, it says "We are papermakers, whose pride in the historical evolution of both our industry and printing, is matched only by our interest in those present-day techniques which have enabled us to bring you this example of classic literature in a form which is authentically 1820 yet typically 1958."  Bradbury Thompson, a famous graphic designer, designed each book in the series.  Some designs were more intriguing than others.  The Red Badge of Courage, for example, has simulated bullet holes in the cover.  The story of the Lewis & Clark expedition includes a DVD.  By the time Westvaco stopped printing these gift books - the 50th book, a retrospective of the series which was distributed in 2008, was the last - the common slipcase had morphed into ornate boxes, CDs of music were often included, and booklets often provided ancillary information.

The first book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was issued in a print run of about 300, making it the most rare of the series.  By 2005, over 17,000 books were distributed each Christmas.  It's not unusual to see The Legend of Sleepy Hollow sell for $100-$600 on eBay (median price over $300).  I once saw a copy sell for $25 on eBay in a buy-it-now auction and kicked myself for not getting to it first.  Eventually I found a copy - sans slipcase - for which I paid about $80, and quite pleased with myself.

Today, at Half Price Books, I found a nice copy, with slipcase, for $60.  I had a coupon for 50% off, so I wound up only paying $30!  Now that's a bargain!

Friday, November 12, 2010


One of our readers (okay, okay, my dad) sent me a review, from the November 2010 issue of Christianity Today, of Bill McKibben's new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.  "Eaarth" is not a typo - it's the name McKibben suggests for a planet we know and love but perhaps don't respect enough, a planet that has changed radically and will never be the same.  A well-known environmental writer, McKibben says it's too late to expect that some of the changes civilization is talking about will actually help, but he's not ready to throw in the towel.  Instead, his solutions are perhaps in line with the "think global, act local" school of thought.

I could react to what the reviewer says are the solutions McKibben proposes, but that would be cheating.  I need to read the book first.  So I'm putting it on my "I should read this" list.  I learned from this review that McKibben - who has written on environmental themes in the past for Christianity Today - is a church-going Methodist who believes the Church at large should be leading the environmental  movement because of what Christianity teaches regarding stewardship.  Along these lines, I'm reminded of several things:
  • An article by Wendell Berry, titled "The Gift of Good Land," that appeared in Backpacker magazine in the early 1970s.  Berry was the first author I'd read who connected care for the Earth with Christian values.
  • A book I inherited from a reader (yes, yes, my father again!), titled Our Father's World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation, by Edward R. Brown.
  • The Green Bible, my newest version of the Bible.  While many versions of the Bible use red type for the words of Jesus, this version uses green type to highlight all the places in the Bible that have anything to say about creation and caring for it.
  • Another book on my shelf, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, by E. O. Wilson (rating: 7/10).  "Written in the form of an impassioned letter to a Southern Baptist pastor, The Creation demonstrates that science and religion need not be warring antagonists."  As a scientist and a Christian, that theme really resonates with me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hyperkinetically Connected

There was a time, about ten years ago, when I had a Macintosh computer, a PC, a Silicon Graphics workstation, and an Apple Newton at home, and another PC and another SGI machine at work.  I was on the grid, I was wired, I was hopping from one piece of computer technology to another like I'd had too much caffeine (maybe too much Mountain Dew), and I would tell people that I was "hyperkinetically connected."

While I've simplified my connectivity (well, maybe) over the years, life still seems frantic and a little more manic every year.  I recently heard about Crazy Busy, by Edward M. Hallowell, and decided it was something I need to read.  The book is subtitled, "Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!  Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD".  I can identify with that!  So I bought the book.  The problem is (I admit with some chagrin), I keep meaning to read it, but I've been too busy ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tut, tut ...

Mystery writer James Patterson has written - with Martin Dugard - a retelling of Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of King Tut alongside a speculative account of King Tut's murder.  The subtitle for The Murder of King Tut is "The ultimate cold case - reopened", and an Indiana Jones-like figure is seen entering Tut's tomb with torch held aloft.

I can forgive myself for thinking this might be an exciting story.  But I was surprised to discover as I read this that there was little excitement, even though Patterson had exciting material to work with.  I've not read any of Patterson's other books, so I can't compare this with them.  But I finished the book feeling disappointed.  There just wasn't enough substance to what could have been a great story.

Voracity: example

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is said (Christianity Today, October 2010) to be a voracious reader and collector of books.  How voracious is this man?  His personal library contains over 40,000 books.  They are arranged in rooms, by theme.  And every book has been catalogued.

Now, it's unlikely he sat down and catalogued all 40,000 at one time.  But if we allow a minute per book, he has spent 40,000 minutes cataloguing.  667 hours.  83 eight-hour days.  17 work-weeks.  In my spare time it took me months to catalog my (relatively) little library of 1200 books using Book Collector software (a very good tool).

How he manages to read and collect books while leading a seminary and writing his own books and sharing his beliefs online is hard to imagine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Demons, Devils, and Hellish Creatures

Having read John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things (rating: 9/10) and enjoying it, I looked forward to reading his latest novel, The Gates.  Unfortunately, a hundred pages into the book, I'm giving up.

In both books the main character is a young boy.  In The Book of Lost Things he's a 12-year old whose mother has died, and only has his books and his imagination for company.  When the story took serious turns, I thought of the book as something for adults.  On the other hand, there were many whimsical moments when I questioned that.  The theme - the transition from childhood innocence to adulthood - is certainly a serious one, and one most adults can identify with.

But in The Gates, the main character, Samuel Johnson, is a precocious 11-year old who accidentally witnesses his neighbors raising the Devil.  At the same time, with the unknowing help of the Large Hadron Collider, a portal between our world and Hell begins to open.  I know from the back cover of the book that Samuel will play a role in vanquishing Satan and his minions.  But the story is entirely too whimsical for me.  Demons with silly names, silly roles, and identity crises.  Humor, frequently in the form of lengthy footnotes to explain things to the reader, who is assumed to be young.  I think Connolly missed a chance to teach us something, as he taught us in The Book of Lost Things. And while Halloween costumes that make devils out of children can be cute, the concept of Hell is not one to be treated quite so lightly, I believe.  It seems to me that religion in the past placed too much emphasis on Hell and eternal damnation, and nowadays places too little.

As a scientist, I grow tired of seeing scientists stereotyped in fiction as feckless, irresponsible, hungry for power and at the same time prone to making Big Mistakes.  Perhaps Connolly's next novel will be better.  This one I'm getting rid of.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dracula on Steroids

I'm a card-carrying member of the market segment of readers that likes the feel and smell and overall experience of reading a book made out of cellulose products more than the experience of reading a book made out of electrons.  But books made out of electrons appear to be catching on more and more, if you can believe the statistics.

I look at the bookshelves in my home office and bemoan how I've run out of room for new additions.  I hope my wife doesn't notice the Compulsion to Buy Books has led me to having to lay some books horizontally across the tops of others in order to get them "shelved."  I don't even want to think what she'd say if I started taking over the guest room for my office and let my current office become a library.

But e-books?  Sure, they don't take up room.  But if I don't see them lying around, I might forget about them and not read them.  They don't feel right, look right, smell right.  I can't trade them in at Half Price Books when I'm finished with them.

But what e-book publishers are starting to do with book design is pulling me in.  If a publisher can give me an experience with an e-book that I can't get with an ordinary book, I might just give it a try.  That's what I did with Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition (PadWorX Digital Media), named the iTunes App of the Week this past week.  Here we have a novel written in 1897, a novel I'd not ordinarily read because of its antiquated style, but through e-book magic has been made interactive, with music, sound effects, objects that move on the screen.  Letters and papers have to be moved with a finger swipe in order to read the letters beneath.  Tip the iPad and the rosary necklace hanging across the top of the book in an early chapter tips, following gravity.  PadWorX has taken an old book and made it fun!  This is Bram Stoker's book on steroids - a perfect piece of entertainment for Halloween, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  For a preview, see this YouTube video.

New to Hope

In Kendra Lacy's latest book, New to Hope, we have the privilege of someone describing for us the beginning of a unique and personal process.  Not only describing it, but taking us along as they begin their journey.

Kendra shares with us how her life has changed in the past year.  These changes were triggered when she finally found the right spiritual home.  She knew that it was the right place, she says, when she discovered a Narnia-themed library.  What happened to Kendra is hard for anyone but her to put in words.  It was not a conversion - she was already a Christian.  It was not an awakening - she was already awake, just not in the right place quite yet.  Perhaps we could think of the christening of a ship and watching it head for the horizon. It took just the right set of circumstances for Kendra's spiritual ship to leave the dock and head out to sea, her sails billowing with joy, like Narnia's Dawn Treader.

I encourage you to read Kendra's book and discover what all this means.  And if you want to follow her journey, follow her blog at http://newtohope.blogspot.com.  And, if you're in the Melbourne, Florida area on a Sunday morning, stop in at Hope Episcopal Church.  You'll be welcomed with a big hug, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Wonder of It All

When I was a young boy my classmates at school knew what I was going to be when I grew up before I knew.  When it was my turn to tell the class, they answered for me: "Scientist!  He's going to be a scientist!"  They reached this conclusion, I believe, by the following logic.  (1) I could read better than anyone else in the class.  (2)  Therefore I must be smart.  (3) The smartest people turn out to be scientists.  (4) Therefore he's going to turn out to be a scientist.  While their logic had some errors, their conclusion turned out to be correct.  I did become a scientist.

I don't believe the other kids knew that I had my first microscope and my first chemistry set before I was nine years old.  But they might've known about my "How-and-Why Wonder Books" if I brought one of them to school.  I got some of them from school book fairs, and some at the local shopping center in Levittown (later Willingboro), New Jersey.  I remember books on rocks, and coins, and dinosaurs, and stars.  No doubt reading these books sparked my curiosity and instilled a sense of wonder that would guide me as I grew up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Bugs Bunny

"The Bugs Bunny Show" aired on ABC from October 1960 to September 1962, Tuesdays from 7:30 to 8:00 PM.  This was something we looked forward to every week when my sister and I were little.  We'd watch 30 minutes of cartoons and then it was bedtime.  The only thing that came close was Saturday morning cartoons.  (If Saturday morning now was like it was back then, I'd still be glued to the TV set.)

A great reference for Warner Bros. cartoons is Jerry Beck's and Will Friedwald's book, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons.  This text lists and describes every cartoon Warner Bros. produced, including year of production, characters, artists and animators, plot and gags, and connections to other cartoon.  I used this book to make a list of every Bugs Bunny cartoon ever produced ("theatrical cartoons" only).  Assuming I counted correctly (!), I have seen 133 out of 167 cartoons.  Maybe seeing the remaining 34 should be an addition to my bucket list!

What did I learn from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons?  I think primarily watching these cartoons shaped my appreciation for humor.  But there were other things.  To expect fairness, but not be surprised if it wasn't forthcoming.  That indignation over unfairness is appropriate.  That retaliation and vengeance - the kind that doesn't cause real harm, only "pretend harm" - is one response to unfairness, but that this can backfire!

The censorship of Warner Bros. cartoons that I've seen in recent years is something that I find offensive.  I did not learn to fire guns at people by watching Elmer Fudd fire his gun at Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck.  I did not learn that wounds in real life - even severe wounds - can heal themselves in the few seconds that it takes for a scene to change in a cartoon.  Just as I did not acquire a warped view of violence, I did not acquire a warped view of race and culture, despite the many depictions of races and cultures that are offensive to people in this day and age.

Thank you, Bugs, for being an important part of my life.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Of Kings and Legends

If you search on "King Arthur" on Amazon's website, you'll get almost six thousand results.  Of those, T. H. White's The Once and Future King (rating: 9/10) is very popular.  Why would there be so many books about this legendary king?  There is something about Arthur and Camelot and the Knights of the Round table that thrills and inspires  us.  Of course, many movies have been made telling this story as well.  When I was young, everyone had seen the Disney movie, "The Sword in the Stone."  Watching that movie told us that exciting things can happen to you, even if you're only a child.  My favorite cinema-d'Arthur is "First Knight."

I've just finished reading a very interesting book, which is actually the first in a trilogy.  Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy's The Forever King (rating: 9/10) is a very original cross-genre fantasy/thriller that brings the legend of Arthur and Merlin and the Holy Grail into the present.  (I'd read and enjoyed Grandmaster (rating: 9/10) by the same authors.)  My willing suspension of disbelief may have been stretched a bit by thinking the protagonist, a ten-year old boy, could be capable of the thoughts and actions portrayed, but it was still fun to read.

One thing I hate with trilogies is when they come out over the span of a few years and I have to try to remember what happened in the earlier volumes.  Fortunately this trilogy has been out for several years and I can move on to the second book right away, The Broken Sword, and the final volume, The Third Magic.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kendra Lacy wins award for "Drachen"

Kendra Lacy has won an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 18th Annual Self-Published Book competition for her young adult fantasy novel, Drachen.  Her book will be promoted in the March/April 2011 issue of Writer's Digest.  Way to go, Kendra!

Shudders from "Shutter Island"

While traveling recently I finished reading Dennis LeHane's Shutter Island.  I was intrigued by the trailers for the movie (which I've not yet seen).  U.S. Marshals arrive on an island which is home to a high-security mental institute for the criminally insane; their task, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients/inmates.  Suspense, mystery, creepiness, a dark gothic setting, and a healthy dose of insanity make for a story whose conclusion caught me completely by surprise.  Always fun when you don't see it coming!  And just enough to make you think, and you leave you feeling slightly "disturbed."  I highly recommend this book - if you haven't already seen the movie.

LOST Knowledge

When I was a boy I was always excited when a new book from the Weekly Reader Book Club would come in the mail.  Now, far from boyhood, I still get excited when a book comes in the mail.  My wife will pick up the mail and tell me, "You've got a present!"  And that's what it feels like.  Nine times out of ten it will be something from Amazon or an Amazon reseller, but sometimes it will be something off of eBay.  The anticipation is such that I can't resist following the shipment using the tracking number Amazon gives me.

Now I have something else to look forward to: The LOST Encyclopedia, by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry.  I don't watch much TV, but once my friends got me interested in LOST, I was hooked.  The combination of mystery, personal stories, survival, philosophy, and even science fiction was irresistible.  My wife and I rented all the old episodes we missed and had marathon LOST-watching sessions each week, catching up as quickly as we could.  And then we stayed with it to the end.  (Although my wife started to lose interest in the last season or two.)  I knew that someone would come out with the definitive "canon" that would tie all the loose ends together for me, and show me things I missed or didn't recognize at the time.

I can hardly wait!  Better go track the package and see where it is now ...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


... is a moose.  The cognoscenti know Thidwick is a big-hearted moose.  Dr. Seuss tells the story of Thidwick and how the other animals took advantage of his hospitality.  It was one of our favorite books when we were little.

Growing up in a small house in Central Florida, there was never much room for storing things.  That didn't stop Mom and Dad from putting up shelves everywhere they could in the garage.  But it did mean they didn't save toys and other items from our childhood.  So I was quite surprised when - not long after mentioning to Dad how I wish I still had Thidwick - a large envelope showed up in the mail, containing the one and only Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.  Dad had kept it all these years.  Maybe it was sentimental to him as well, since he used to read it to us.  Now it sits on the shelf waiting for the day I can read it to our granddaughter.

A protege of Dr. Seuss, P. D. Eastman, was the author of other books that were part of our family culture.  Our daughter Kendra loved Are You My Mother.  And Go, Dog, Go was another favorite.  In fact, when we see a bunch of people all headed in the same direction, we still say "they're going to a dog party."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Angel's Game

Last month I posted on some books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  The Shadow of the Wind and The Prince of Mist were both very good books.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same about The Angel's Game.  What little mystery threads through the novel is insufficiently engaging.  Certainly there is nothing endearing when it comes to the main characters.  Although the author's style can't be faulted - he really writes very well - I just didn't care enough about what was happening to read the second half of the book.