Books I read while on vacation

Here are some of the books I've read over the past two months.

Beguilement: The Sharing Knife, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was a bit disappointing - only because I have such high expectations for Bujold's work. It was fun, but lighweight. I will read the sequels.

Outwitting History, by Aaron Lansky

The story of the founding of the National Yiddish Book Center. This was a book club selection, and everyone loved it! That never happens! Lansky took a dry story and made it funny and charming. Very good.
The Three Sisters, by Rebecca Locksley

Another lightweight fantasy, marred by typographical errors.

What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth George

This is a sequel, or prequel, to the frustrating With No One As Witness. Unfortunately, reading it was a complete waste of time. The plot converges with 'Witness' only at the end of the book. What Came is the story of the disintegration of a lower-class family, dis-spiriting and, what's worse, uninteresting. This can safely be skipped.

A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss

Another book club selection. A seventeenth-century detective story featuring a Jewish boxer. I loved it.

The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry

A riveting non-fiction account of the Infuenza epidemic. Very well-done.
The Machine's Child, by Kage Baker

Kage Baker returns to the best time travel series ever, The Company, and this time, she advances the plot. Yay! I thought she had lost her way in The Children of the Company. The Machine's Child made up for it. The narrative was sometimes overly complex, but there is plenty of (ehem) internal drama. Very enjoyable.

Guests of the Ayatollah, by Mark Bowden

Very good non-fiction account of the Iran hostage crisis.

Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman

So good it made me want to cry. From envy.

The Areas of my Expertise, by John Hodgman
Hilarious. I almost bought it for myself, because it's one of those books that I want to keep and leaf through every other day or so. Instead I bought it for someone else as a gift.

The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge, by Vernor Vinge

Vinge is a very imaginative author. I've loved his novel-length works. These stories were not always as ground-breaking, but there are enough gems to make it worthwhile.

breaking radio silence

I'm still here.

I'm just trying to figure out what to do.

I realized in November that my reading habits had become negative. I was arranging my life around reading five books a week, and I didn't have time to enjoy them thoroughly or think about them thoroughly when writing a review.

Reading was becoming a chore. And I was putting off reading the classics that I wanted to read because they were too long and would mess up my schedule.

This is not consistent with my goals. Since I will be starting a new business, I will have less free time to read anyhow.

I don't think I will keep on reviewing a book every weekday. That means I need a new blog name. And raison d'etre.

I'll think fo one shortly. Meanwhile, I am reading Middlemarch and enjoying it very much.


Book of the Day will be on hiatus for the month of November for National Novel Writing Month.

And in completely unrelated news.

Recently I have not been averaging a post a day. I have had some personal and professional stresses eating up my time.

Well, on the last day of October (Happy Halloween!) I quit my job. I'm going to take a short vacation and then start my own lecture agency. Wish me luck! I'm very excited.

I hope I will continue to have time to devote to reading. If it becomes a problem, I'll evaluate my time management and make a decision. But as of this moment I intend to get going again at the beginning of December.

Books I read but didn't blog this week

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.

I can see why this became a cult classic in the sixties. It was like drinking a glass of cool water.

The Anti-Death League, by Kingsley Amis

This goes into the Catch-22 category of desperately funny and sad at the same time.

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

New verse, same as the first.

Reading Journal Entry: Diary of Lady Murasaki

Lady Murasaki is the author of one of the Great Books on my list, the Tale of Genji, which is one of the earliest works of Japanese literature, as well as one of the earliest novels in all of global literature.

I haven't gotten to the Tale of Genji yet, but I hear that Genji is a handsome and naughty boy who gets up to lots of amorous escapades.

Murakasi Shikibo lived around the turn of the first millenium, one of the court ladies attendant on the Empress in Kyoto. This 'diary' seems to be a combination of personal recollections and letters edited together at a later date. It records several significant events in court life, beginning with the birth of the Empress's first son and including several elaborate and involved religious ceremonies.

Personal reflections and observations of extreme delicacy make this a surprising record. There is subtlety here. It's a fascinating window onto a world that seems very alien. I was very glad to have the introductory historical materials. It's amazing that people were living like this in Japan while Europeans hadn't even started building cathedrals yet.

Deep thoughts

That's what I've been having.

I misjudged my reading schedule this week because I expected Magic for Beginners to be a quick read, because it's short stories.

I was wrong, it's very complex. I'm still collecting my thoughts.

Thoughts collected. Thanks Richard. I agree with some of the comments in your review. 'The Faery Handbag' was the most traditional inclusion and possibly the most enjoyable (although not necessarily the best). Other entries were more or less, well, difficult. I liked 'Some Zombie Contingency Plans' very much. But man, this stuff is hard. Post-modern isn't the word.

One of the characters requests a story in 'Lull' that should be 'about good and evil and true love, and it should also be funny. No talking animals. Not too much fooling around with the narrative structure. The ending should be happy but still realistic, believable, you know, and there shouldn't be a moral although we should be able to think back later and have some sort of revelation."

I couldn't tell if it was excess trust in the readership or a desire for obscurity that pushes her away from this goal.

Reading Journal Entry: Finding Home by Jill Culiner

The title is Finding Home: Following in the footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, by Jill Culiner. The Fusgeyers are brave Romanian Jews who walked across Europe atthe turnd of the nineteenth century in order to emigrate to the US and other locations. Their story is interesting.

Jill Culiner is a stuck-up Canadian pseudo-historian who walks across Romania sneering at the tourists, the buildings, and the locals. Her story is not interesting.

Skip this and find a real history book instead.

Reading Journal Entry: A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer

Wen Spencer's Tinker and Wolf Who Rules were pretty good as self-indulgent mind candy goes. I decided to check out the rest of her oevre.

A Brother's Price is alternate history that plays with gender roles. We've got late 17th century levels and men are far and few between. It's never made quite clear.

Men are scarce and family structure has changed to reflect the fact that one man can sire children on multiple women. Sisters live together and share a husband; sons are traded for a husband for the next generation or sold to other families.

Men are so valuable they are often stolen and must be protected, rarely appearing in public and always guarded. Women fulfill all of the public roles in society, and raising babies and cooking is considered 'men's work'.

Jerin is the oldest son in a large family of landed gentry about to come of age and afraid of being traded to the hickseed girls next door. He's a sweet guy, loves kids, cooks well, and was taught expert sexual techniques handed down by his grandfather the kidnapped prince (even though he's still a virgin). He's breathtakingly beautiful. Luckily for Jerin, his family is pulled into involvement with the Royal Family (and my, it is a whole family of women sharing power) and the Eldest Princess just happens to develop a huge crush on him after he lets her touch his naughty bits in the farmhouse kitchen.

Spencer is able to even build in a 'virginity' clause for men by including a rabid fear of disease.

While this is well-constructed to foreshadow plot points and explore some of the male-female issues, there are times when it seems a little mechanical. I got the feeling Spencer had a checklist about sexual stereotypes and was checking off items as she went along. 'Men have long hair - check. Jerin is described as beautiful instead of handsome - check. Female whores with dildos - check.' Etc.

Reading Journal Entry: The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss

Neil Strauss goes from AFC(Average Frustrated Chump) to PUA (Pickup Artist) able to pick up the hottest girls in any location, and joins a weird community of manipulative sex-crazed males. This is his story.

I assummed this was one big piece of fiction. Not that I disbelieved the pickup techniques Strauss describes. I just didn't believe in the characters and drama he creates around the set piece that becomes known as 'Project Hollywood'. I didn't believe Mystery, Papa, Herbal, or even in Style (his own moniker). I didn't particularly believe in any of the women he describes or that he actually interviewed Courtney Love, Britney Spears, or Tom Cruise.

I was wrong. I can't think that The Times of London would publish an interview backing up multiple aspects of the story unless it were true.

It's true.

It's awful.

Strauss is a geek who can't get laid. He apprentices himself to the master PUA (encountered online, of course) and learns how to pick up women. They refine their techniques and get better and better. They recruit more disciples, charging for workshops and running seminars in the wild at clubs and bars. They create 'Project Hollywood' a house in LA that they share with other PUAs with the goal of reversing the equation and getting attractive women to come to them.

Drama and chaos ensues, as it so often does in internet-related groups. Strauss allegedly realizes the emptiness of this life and hooks up with an alpha female (who dumped him about six months after the book ends according to wikipedia) and moves out of the house. End of story.

Morality: Strauss defends his chosen path quite vigorously several times. It's about bringing people together. Women want sex just as much as men, they just don't like to admit it as much. Turning other men into PUAs helps their self-esteem and gives them the opportunity to have relationships they otherwise might never have.

I'm a pretty judgmental gal. I have some guidelines I use when I need to decide if something is moral or not. Here's the first one: does it require lying? Answer: yes. Almost all the techniques and lines are flat out lies.

Strauss lies to women in order to manipulate them into having sex with them. And then he teaches other people how to do this. It's not just one lie. Everything is a lie. The PUAS construct entire personas and entire conversations ahead of time until Strauss admits they become 'social robots' reciting preprogrammed dialogue.

That's not a genuine connection. That's not a relationship. It's Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

It's scary and unhealthy and frankly a bit disgusting.

I can only hope that guys who pick this up looking for a how-to manual instead of memoir read through to the end and the spectacular crash and burn.

Great Book: Has Man a Future? by Bertrand Russell

An examination of the consequences of the development of nuclear weapons, by Bertrand Russell.

I don't have memories of the Cold War. I was alive, sure, but I was just a kid, and by the time I started paying attention to politics the fear was moderated. I don't remember experiencing anything like the peril and fear that Russell conveys about the international situation in the decades immediately following World War II.

One thing struck me the most about this treatise, and that's were Russell's criteria for success. The ways that humanity might manage to destroy itself in a nuclear holocause are not so interesting or varied. Russell's condition for permanently aavoiding such destruction were novel. He posits a world government, federal in nature, which would take control of all military power monolithically. Freedom of speech would be curtailed to reduce nationalistic sentiment and avoid uprisings. Can't have people praising military leaders or talking about how great their country is.

Other than that little weirdness, it all seemed quite reasonable (if hair-raisingly scary). It's amazing that we survived, really.

Reading Journal Entry:A Woman's Liberation, edited by Connie Willis and Sheila Williams

An anthology of female-themed science fiction stories. This collection includes several wonderful classics. Connie Willis' 'Even the Queen' won the Hugo and Nebula Awards. "Rachel in Love' by Pat Murphy won the Nebula. McIntyre's 'Of Mist, and Gress, and Sand' won the Nebula. 'Speech Sounds' won Octavia Butler her first Hugo Award and reads surprisingly modern for something first published in 1983.

Most entries will be familiar to the well-read genre fan, but this would make a great gift for the new reader or even for your generic hippie female.

Great Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Summer is now truly over. I'm back to reading Great Books.

So I decided to read Alice Walker's The Color Purple because I read her daughter's book Black ,White, and Jewish.

All this time I thought The Color Purple would be a bad book because it was made into a movie with Oprah Winfrey in it. How stupid! It's wonderful.

It's an epistolary novel, beginning with letters from Celie, a young black woman in pre WWII Georgia, to God, asking Him to explain what is happening to her and help her.

And what letters. Celie is raped by her father, who takes the two children that she bears away from her. Her mother dies and she is left to protect her younger sister alone. That's the first three pages.

Her father gives her in marriage to a man who needs a wife to care for his children, who despises her and abuses her. She loses her younger sister Nettie. Celie almost succeeds in rubbing herself out completely. But then her husband brings his sick lover into their home. Shug Avery is a singer with a long black body. She knows who she is and what she wants. She changes Celie's life.

Walker conveys the drudgery and poverty of farm life that James Agee described in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but adds the emotion and drama of an entire beautiful life, Celie's life from the beginning to the end of adulthood.

The dialect could have seemed trite, but it doesn't. Celie is real as pain can be on a page. I wanted to cry when she finally got her first little bit of happiness.

Darfur Diaries

You should all buy this book. It is a project very close to my heart. It's an important story, and it deserves to become an international bestseller.

I only wish it hadn't had to be written.

Back to Business

Work had me swamped and exhausted this week. Plus I've been dealing with some mildly inconvenient health problems. I've been reading, not haven't found time to review.

Here's what I read this week:

Irresistible Forces, edited by Catherine Asaro
A short story collection of spec fic/romance with some big name contributors. This will mainly be of interest to Bujold fans interested in 'Winterfair Gifts', a short set of Barrayar during preparations for a wedding featuring a romance between minor characters from her Vorkosigan saga. The concluding story, Jennifer Roberson's 'Shadows in the Wood' was also decent, but the three middle entries left me cold.

Foundation's Friends, edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Stories in honor of Isaac Asimov, written by stars in the field: Bradbury, Bova, Silverberg, Turtledove, Willis, Resnick, etc ., etc. There were a lot of gems in this collection, and a wide variety among the stories - appropriate given Asimov's prolific output. There was a nod to all of my favorite Asimov works, even some rather obscure ones. Very much worth reading.

Inside Job, by Connie Willis
This is a novella rather than a novel, but I'll take it. I don't know how Willis did it, but she managed to write a paranormal fantasy that is sure to become a beloved classic among skeptics and rationalists everywhere. What happens when the editor of a skeptical magazine encounters the returning spirit of H. L. Mencken? Willis treats her characters with love and respect that just shines through the page.

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Husband has started to read A Game of Thrones for the second or third time - he keeps giving up 150 pages in. Meanwhile I picked this earlier work up at the library. It's about vampires and steamboats, not a combination I would have thought of myself. Martin does a wonderful job of evoking the richness and complexity of life on the Mississippi, which makes this worth reading even though it does fall apart a bit at the end. Warty Captain Abner is a wonderful creation. Good for fans suffering withdrawal from Ice and Fire and fans of Twain's river tales.

Reading Journal Entry: Dark Mondays by Kage Baker

Today's Yom Kippur, so I was going to only do four reviews this week. But I forgot to post one on Friday so, it all evens outs anyhow.

The last read of the week is a short story collection, Dark Mondays: Stories by Kage Baker. Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors. The time travel Company series is her best-known work, but she's also a wonderful short story writer. Mother Aegypt collected some of her earlier work, including some Company stories. Dark Mondays collects nine stories and doesn't contain any sops for the Company fanatics who are so eagerly awaiting the next installment (in my case, eagerly awaiting the right place in the hold queue at the local library). That doesn't make it less fun, though. Baker has a wonderful trick of making the fantastic seem believable and historical fiction come alive. The standout is the last story in the volume, The Maid on the Shore, which is a rolicking adventure story set in Jamacia featuring pirate and privateer Captain Henry Morgan.

Reading Journal Entry: Sinister Barrier by Erik Frank Russell

The last novel collected in Entities, Sinister Barrier, was less interesting than the others. It's less humorous and mostly a straightforward adventure story. Our hero is a puckish investigator who begins by making connections between seemingly unrelated suddent deaths of scientists worldwide and ends by saving the human race. The idea that we're being manipulated by mysterious unseen forces is creepy but now seems a bit dated, and Graham the narrator is annoyingly brilliant; A 'lady scientist' makes an appearance, which is nice, but mostly as a foil for Graham to display his ardor/inappropriately sexual conversation skills. Russell's characters often had a paper feel to them. In his previous works the unusual nature of their occupation (professional terrorist/telepath/extraterrestrial being) made their extraordinary competence less jarring. Since Graham is a 'regular guy', hecomes out sounding more like an automaton.

Reading Journal Entry: Call Him Dead by Erik Frank Russell

Mr. Harper is a telepathic mind living in a mind-blind world. He tends to keep his thoughts to himself except when he can't resist turning fugitives over to the police and succouring dying strangers by the side of the road. His penchant for amateur sleuthing lands him in trouble - he's tracking down some suspicious characters when he encounters a mind that is not as it should be.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers! This might sound derivative but only because it's been copied so many times.

Harper's perspective as a telepathic narrator is unique, but his path is too smooth to make this an interesting read. A sweet ending, though.

Reading Journal Entry: Sentinels From Space, by Erik Frank Russell

Sentinels From Space, explains Jack Chalker carefully in his introduction, has a 'closed loop' plot. There's the plot. And then there's the other plot. Superficially this is a mystery/thriller about interplanetary friction between Earth and her colonies of Mars and Venus. David Raven is an individual of extraordinary abilities who has been recruited by the government of Earth to ferret out and defuse a separatist underground. He's not what he seems. He has powers beyond the ordinary, but in choosing to exert them in this cause he risks exposing himself as.... what? Read to the end to find out. I never saw it coming, but it all fit together very nicely and gave me that feel-good 'Aha!' moment.

Reading Journal Entry: Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell

Last week I reviewed Wasp by Eric Frank Russell, a British post-WWII science fiction author. Wasp was included in Entities: The Collected Novels of Erik Frank Russell, and I've been gulping down the rest of the collection as quickly as I can.

Wasp was hilarious.Next of Kin is prophetic in its echoes of Catch-22, published 3 years later.

It's an irreverent howl at officialdom. John Lemming is a skilled space pilot, one of the few types allowed a bit of craziness in a military force that seems eerily familiar. The work opens as he steps into the office of a Fleet-Admiral with his fly open. He never gives up railing against injustice, on the grand and the petty scale. Luckily for our side, he becomes a prisoner of war and is able to exercise his talents for good.

I never would have guessed where this ended up going - very funny. Good clean fun too, reminiscent of Heinlein juveniles (before he got into the polyamory thing). Straightforward enough that I was comfortable recommending this to my husband, whose latest read was Duel of Eagles, and who goes in for adventure stories and car magazines.

It's clear to me now that Russell was one of the most influential British SF writers of his generation, right up there with Aldiss and Wyndham. How did I not know about this guy? I thought I had exhausted the ranks of lantern-jawed, soap-and-brandy-smelling, no-nonsense adventure SF writers of that era. After all, I read my way through two fairly complete antiquated SF libraries - my dad's, and my high school's. I am so glad to learn I was wrong.

Reading Journal Entry: Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser

I came across a mention of Flashman, the swaggering Victorian hero escaped from the pages of Tom Brown's School Days by the twentieth century George MacDonald Fraser, a few months ago, I can't remember where. He was described as misogynistic and cowardly. Then I saw the cover of a Flash book on George W. Bush's summer reading list and I could resist no longer. After all, it was pretty fun last time I read along with Mr. Bush.

Harry Flashman, son of a Victorian gentleman, exceeded all of my expectations for riotous behavior and general moral reprehensibility. The books purport to be his memoirs; in this volume he begins with his explusion from school at the age of 17 for drunkenness and proceeds to cheat in a duel, attempt to rape his father's mistress (after cuckolding him successfully once before), debauch a young virgin of good standing, etc., etc. He joins the military and is posted, to his great dismay, to Afghanistan. Flashman is a tremendous coward, and doesn't have any of that high Victorian gudgeon that drives his peers to sacrifice their lives for Queen and country. No, he prefers to leave his skin intact. He avoids danger whenever possible and takes to his heels in the face of the enemy a number of times. In his narration he indulges in a free flow of contempt for the natives of the countries he travels in, his military commanders, and every woman he meets.

He is a delightfully despicable character. By the end of the book I was rooting for the woman who wanted to castrate him. Sadly, he escaped.

A good part of the events take place during the end of the British conflict in Afghanistan. The British had placed a friendly ruler on the throne, but in 1841 and 42 the British were expelled and completely defeated, the affair ending in a disastroust retreat through snowy mountain passes in which 14,000 soldiers and camp followers died and only 1 Briton survived. Two if you count Flashman.

There are two Flashman novels on President Bush's list, Flashman at the Charge and Flash for Freedom. Flashman is not on the list. It's the first in the series, though, and therefore I can have to conclude that President Bush has read it. Through the release of his summer reading list he gives it and the other volumes (staid non-fiction and biographies, with a few mystery novels thrown in) publicity and by implication his endorsement.

What in the world is he thinking of to give public attention to this kind of character and plot? To a book set in an area where the United States is currently at war, with a narrator who refers in the basest terms to the native people? 'Nigger' is the least of it. Flashman is a drunkard, a coward, and an imperialist to his fingernails. It's impossible to avoid comparing the character to the man. Frankly I can't imagine what his people might have been thinking. It's enough to cause an international incident.

Reading Journal Entry: Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell

Eric Frank Russell was British, and served in military intelligence during World War II. He was also one of the most prominent humorous SF writers of his time.

Wasp is, as Jack Chalker says in his introduction, "the only World War II novel that I know of set in the Sirian Interstellar Empire". It's about a man who is recruited to serve undercover in enemy territory committing acts of sedition and terrorism, a 'wasp' designed to demoralize and distract the enemy and commit resources that would otherwise be put to use on the front lines.

Our wasp is named Mowry, and he's very effective. Minor alterations to his appearance make him appear to be a native-born Sirian. With some fiscal and technological help, he infiltrates himself into the police state and begins wreaking havoc.

There's not a lot of real science fiction here - 'scratch the Sirian's purple skin and find Imperial Japan underneath', says Chalker. It's almost entirely a spy novel set on another planet. But it is very fun and should be enjoyed by fans of Bond and his ilk.

So: the terrorism. Here we have a guy who goes about undercover and commits acts of violence against a civilian populace. That's not too popular these days. Why don't I feel repulsed by it? Well, this is clearly modeled after World War II, which was a conflict that required all-out commitment from the Allies. The niceties were not observed, because they could not afford to observe them. Germany and Japan wanted to invade and control Allies and were aggressors in the conflict. Casting the Sirians as the Axis in WWII makes civilian attacks less surprising. I can't pretend to be shocked by a character blowing up a hotel room in the context of Hiroshima.

Reading Journal Entry: Dzur by Steven Brust

I've been waiting a long time for this book.

Brust's Jhereg series, about the adventures of a sometimes-thug, sometimes assassin Vlad Taltos, is one of the best 'live' fantasy series out there. He delivers elves and swordplay (everybody's favorite, admit it) without succumbing to the numbing sameness that affects much of today's generic medievalesque fantasy.

Taltos lives in a world dominated by tall, near-immortal Dragaerans, all of whom are sorted neatly into clans bearing the names of animals. Humans (Easterners) make a living mostly in the corners of this society. Taltos found his path with the Jhereg (basically the mob), named after a breed of scavenging lizards. He also happens to have two of said lizards as companions to whom he is telepathically linked. After working with the Jhereg for a number of years, he pissed them off wildly enough that the biggest price in history is on his head and he's been in hiding for a number of years. Now and then he emerges from obscurity long enough to have interesting adventures involving the most powerful Dragaerans in the realm and, sometimes, gods.

The most recent of said encounters endowed him with an unusual weapon whose capabilities he is still feeling out, and an unusual relationship with a goddess who seems to have been messing with his head.

OK, that's the set-up.

The hook for this one is that Taltos is drawn back into the affairs of the Jhereg because his ex-wife has gotten herself in trouble. After mismanaging the Eastern section of Adrilankha (the criminal/extortion aspects thereof) a mysterious organization of women called the Left Hand of the Jhereg is moving in and trying to displace her.

Vlad doesn't want her to get killed, so he has to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to convince them that they don't really want it badly enough any more.

Taltos is the narrator as well as the main character, and he has a spare dry voice that edges toward comedy. He doesn't explain much, which makes for a challenging read; more so, I imagine, for readers new to the series. This makes for an intense and engaging reading experience.

The story is framed by the courses of a meal at Valabar's, a restaurant whose culinary delights have been mentioned in passing many times in previous novels. Vlad's dinner companion is a Dzur; famous for their impetuousity, their skills with blade and spell, and their love of lost causes.

It's been five years since Issola was published. Brust has focused on another series set in the same universe, some five hundred years earlier (or so) in the meanwhile. But I like Vlad better, and I was so glad to see him again. There's something endearing about his wry observations, and something amazing about the way Brust manages to make them believable in a world that is his own creation but feels completely real.

Reading Journal Entry: Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett

A sequel to Only You Can Save Mankind, these are the continuing adventures of Johnny Maxwell and his pals.

When saving mankind, Johnny was dealing with aliens and video games. Now he's developed a disturbing availability to see dead people. The cemetery he walks through on his way home from school is a pleasant enough place, but he wasn't expecting to be handed the job of preserving it from developers by the inhabitants. They're nice people, mostly - it's just that they're transparent.

Johnny rises to the occasion, of course, and Pratchett's warm-hearted tone really makes the story work.

Reading Journal Entry: Defending Gary by Mark Prothero

A true crime story written by one of the primary defense lawyers of the Green River Killer.

Green River is in Kent, the rural suburb of Seattle that my husband works in. The first victims (young prostitutes) were found in the river, and the name stuck as more and more bodies of young women were found, abandoned all over King County.

In toto Gary Ridgway killed at least 50 women and probably more like 80 to 100. He eventually made a plea deal with the prosecutors, who could only have successfully prosecuted him for a handful of the killings.

This book follows the case from Ridgway's arrest; Prothero was a public defender and was called in to defend Ridgway very early on.

This book won't win any literary prizes. Prothero obviously relied on transcripts and there are something pages of tedious interviews. But it is a fascinating story and that makes it a very worthwhile resource. Prothero really tried to get into Ridgway's head and figure out what made him kill, but ultimately he remains a cipher.

Reading Journal Entry: Lost Girls, by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

Ha, ha, I have Lost Girls and you don't. The first printing sold out the day it hit the stores. Luckily I had it pre-ordered.

OK, how do I review a book of pornography without terminally embarrassing myself and my parents, both of whom (at least according to my IP logs) read this regularly?

Mom and Dad: you can read this review. But I don't want to talk about it, EVER, and I'm not under any circumstances going to lend it to you.

First, the physical object. Beautiful. Absolutely fantastic. I hadn't seen any pics of the cover so I was expecting something all black and serious and not girly and fun. They are magnificently bound and produced volumes. They even smell good.

Artistically: Perfect for the subject matter, impressive design, the perfect marriage of art and words to convey story.

The story: Three women named Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy meet in a hotel in Austria on the eve of the first World War. Do those names ring a bell? Moore and Gebbie give us Alice as an older member of the English aristocracy; Wendy as a middle-aged, middle-class Edwardian housewife; and Dorothy as a windblown farm girl fresh from Kansas. They progress from sexual repression to bawdy smut as the political atmosphere goes from twilight innocence to threatening, stormy skies.

Each woman tells her story - and oh, what stories they are. Alice is first molested, then seduced by a schoolmistress and drawn into a corrupt ring of drug addiction and underage sex. Wendy and her little brothers are introduced to sex by a group of boys they meet in the park (the ring-leader, of course, is named Peter). Dorothy has her encounters with the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man before finally confronting the Wizard himself.

I've seen people comment that this was the dirtiest thing they've ever read, which to me says they haven't been exposed to much anime. The worst things in here are multi-partner sex, some mild bestiality, incest, golden showers, and of course, tons and tons of underage sex.

Moore inserts an ironic commentary, from Monsieur Rougeur, the proprietor of the scandalous hotel, after reading a piece of work that I can only call 'the porn within the porn'. "You see, if this were real, it would be horrible. Children raped by their trusted parents. But they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effect and consequence. Why, they are almost innocent."

The three women leave the hotel, much as they were cast out of the arena of the erotic in their previous lives. Alice leaves the precious mirror that she's carried with her on all her travels since childhood. "I once thought part of me was stuck inside it, but now. We've rescued her." They've reached some fulfillment. But the hotel is destroyed, and Europe is engulfed in war. Do 'beautiful and imaginative things...blossom, even in wartime'?

It's hard to blossom when you're dead. I think the ending acknowledges that masterfully.

Reading Journal Entry: The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith

What is with these odd coincidences? A short month after reading one historical novel featuring Charles Baudelaire as a character, I find another. This time Baudelaire is the young friend of an aging Daguerre. The inventor of modern photography is losing his mind, the wages of a decade spent in close contact with the poisonous fumes of mercury.

He enters a netherworld of hallucination and paranoia with a bang. The apocalypse is coming, and he has a list of ten things he wants to photograph before the end of the world. The opening scene is impressive: it begins "When the vision came, he was in the bathtub' and cascades from there. The last item on Daguerre's list is Isobel Le Fournier, the love of his life, who married another man after a childhood romance. Ghosts of the past rule Daguerre's mind as he becomes less and less functional. He obsesses about his youth and loss of Isobel's love. After finding her daughter in Paris working as a prostitute he pays her to pose for him over and over again.

Flashbacks from his early life make up a large part of the book; Daguerre's early life is, alas, much more exciting than his decay among the riots and debauchery of modern Paris. I found the addition of Baudelaire as a character distracting and unnecessary. His work didn't play a part, and his famous mistress Jeanne Duval, featured so prominently in The Salt Roads, was missing. Why was he Baudelaire?

I think I prefer my historical novels, if they feature real people like Daguerre and Baudelaire, to be more firmly rooted in fact.

Reading Journal Entry: Dope by Sara Gran

After just reading Too Darn Hot by Sandra Scoppettone, which is a detective novel set in New York in World War II, I picked up Dope by Sara Gran. Why? Because Bookseller Chick reminded me that this is the book that Max Perkins outed himself for. Dope is set in New York as well, in the fifties, a short decade after Faye Quick solved her murders. But it's a thousand miles away from it in tone and content.

Gran has played with the noir genre here, making her 'detective' a female ex-junkie trying to get by on what she can steal. Josephine (Joe) is hired by two well-to-do Westchester parents trying to find their daughter, who dropped out of Barnard and disappeared into the drug culture.

The great pleasure of this book was Joe. She's a horrible detective. Pretty good at being a recovered junkie, though. She makes the same kind of naive mistakes that I would make if someone hired me to find someone. She is never one step ahead. Gran expresses wonderfully the muddled mess of emotions and motivations that most of us walk around as - and I still don't know how she did it, because Joe's internal dialogue was spare and terse. Nonetheless her feelings leapt off the page.

I liked Joe and that made this a difficult book to read, because she has a pretty shitty life. But it paid off in delight and heartache.

Reading Journal Entry: Mr. Monk goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg

Mr. Monk Goes To The Firehouse is a tie-in novel for the TV series Monk, which stars Tony Shaloub as an obsessive compulsive detective. It's a wonderful show, that I have seen less of than I would like (I just put the first season on reserve to rectify that).

Shaloub's performance is wonderful, and Goldberg really captures the quirky charm of the character. The book is written from the point of view of his assistant Natalie, which is a nice touch.

I very much appreciated that it starts off as an invetigation of the murder of a dog impaled by a pick-axe, a nice touch of the hat to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, about an autistic boy investigating the murder of a dog.

Marjane Satrapi

I went to see her when she came to speak about Persepolis....wonderful lady. Somehow the post got lost and it never ended up on either Seattlest or here.

Dr. Jonathan Wells

I covered a Discovery Institute event last week for Seattlest. Here is the article, with a sketch of author Jonathan Wells.

Peter Jackson attached to Temeraire

I really, really enjoyed Naomi Novik's series about dragons and the Napoleonic Wars.

Now it seems that Peter Jackson has secured the rights to film them.

I approve.

Reading Journal Entry: Desire in Disguise, by Rebecca Brandewyne

My inspirations, the Smart Bitches, turned me on to Desire in Disguise when trying to help out a loyal reader. As described, Desire in Disguise sounded like delicious campy fun, and I had to try it out. It was everything I expected, right down to the purple prose.

Two cousins, engaged from youth, marry when she escapes revolutionary Frances. They quickly come to despise each other (through a set of amusing contretemps, of course) and become estranged. She periodically slips out of the manor to free French nobles in danger of beheading in the disguise of a pirate calling herself Rouge. He does the same, under the name Noir. The two masked pirate/freedom fighters meet and a grande passion is born.

Oh, it was awful. And delightful.


I owe so many reviews. But I am SO TIRED. So we're going to start with a clean slate this week. Since I read 3 books on planes this weekend I'm ahead of the game.

Reading Journal Entry: Too Darn Hot, by Sandra Scoppettone

The sequel to This Dame for Hire, a hard-boiled detective novel set in New York during World War II. Faye Quick is one of those thousands of women like Rosie the Riveter who had to step into roles that enlisted men left behind. She's trying to keep her detective agency afloat while her boss is overseas. Solving a high-profile murder case in the last book has sent a nice stream of business her way.

Scoppettone does a wonderful job of evoking wartime New York with great period details, dialogue, and the horrible New York summer heat. These are competent little mysteries that win my personal 'best in breed'. I like Faye a lot, and the setting really makes the books priceless. Well done!

Reading Journal Entry: Circus World by Barry Longyear

I have been waiting to read this book for about... 15 years.

When I was a lonely teenager in Italy a used copy of a science fiction book about a ship full of circus people crashing on an alien planet and building a new society, Elephant Song. I loved it, but I forgot about the series until recently. It came into my mind again and I realized that now that I am no longer marooned in a foreing country I might be able to find a copy of the other works. Voila, there is a book called Circus World and I have read it.

Circus World is a collection of connected short stories that explore the cultures of the circus world as it is affected by interstellar politics. Baraboo is in a strategically important location between two powers, and it can no longer remain isolated from the Galactic mainstream. But how can they retain their unique way of life?

The writing has a classic feel that makes it seem a bit dated (twenty years after publication) with some leaps of logic and odd racial stereotypes. But it's very fun - the traditional 'what if' question played out to an extreme.

Reading Journal Entry: Skin Folk, by Nalo Hopkinson

Skin Folk is a collection of short stories by Nalo Hopkinson, the author of Salt Road who I saw read this summer at the Clarion West series.

She really won me over at the event and I've been seeking out her fiction since then. She is Canadian but grew up in the Caribbean and the tropes of that area infuse these stories with a light and heat that makes them truly original.

They are spooky, sexy and funny.

Reading Journal Entry: Stiff, by Mary Roach

Stiff was on the bestseller lists for a long, long time, and generated a lot of buzz. I expected to like it a lot less than I did, because, while I'm really NOT stuck-up about romance novels, I can be stuck-up about non fiction. If stuff has too popular a feel to the prose, it bugs me.

In Stiff Mary Roach talks in excrutiating detail about the uses to which we put dead bodies - this I knew. I didn't know it was funny. Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny.

And informative! Who knew that I could donate my body to be used in a car crash, dissected by surgeons, rotted on a meadow, plasticized as an art exhibit - and so on and so forth. I am almost intrigued enough by the museum idea to be tempted, but I think I'll stick with my current organ-donation-bury-the-rest plan out of consideration for the family.

I probably shouldn't have tried to read it during meals, though. That was a mistake.

Update on The Wedding Surprise by Trish Wylie

Ooo, Trish Wylie does vanity Google and found my review of The Wedding Surprise. And she didn't like it.

My little blurb about her book sparked a 1500 word essay from the outraged author. It's too bad I didn't proofread before posting my 'review' as she calls it, because I made two mistakes - I misspelled Mills & Boon, and I omitted the word 'category' in front of 'romance' at the beginning of the review when I said 'I haven't read a romance lately'. As anyone could see from a cursory glance, I read romance novels a lot - it's category romances that I wanted to get a refresher on.

Wylie takes offense at a number of things I didn't say in my review, which is quite a feat. But since she so graciously directed readers of her blog to mine (with an invitation to 'add a comment of your own or if you're someone who has read the book and didn't think it sucked like apparently all romances do...') and picked it apart piece by piece, I'll go back and explain the parts that confused her.

Trish says: "I will smile graciously and take criticism with grace when it comes from someone who has any clear idea of what category romance is about these days... Which this person- Clearly doesn't -"

Geez, Wylie, I said right up front that I wanted to know what they were up to 'these days'. I don't know what more you can ask for in terms of a disclaimer. I guess Ms. Wylie thinks only the 'educated' reader (ironically she uses the term 'educated' as a put-down a couple of times in her post) should dare to have opinions make comments about the books that they read.

Trish says again: "If you don't like a particular book then fine, that's entirely your choice, and mine, and the rest of the planets - but don't knock an entire genre because of one book and the pre-conceptions you already have in order to make you feel like a more 'educated' reader. If you're an educated reader then you do your research, read across the lines and discover what the best-sellers are - allow that others may like something that you do not - and you do not feel you need to put them down because of it."

I'll give you a pass on the first part of this one, Wylie, because I said (mistakenly) in the review that I hadn't read a romance lately. But WTF are you talking about? I didn't pan romance novels. I didn't even pan category romance novels. I panned YOUR NOVEL. And I didn't even pan it that hard.

Wylie goes on to pick my 89 words apart sentence by sentence phrase, by phrase. "Now let's look at the words 'but it's probably not typical' - Well actually, I'd love to say I was the first category author to come up with Reality TV as a back drop(...)"

That's great. Modest of you. But what makes you assume I was talking about the Reality TV aspect of your book? I wasn't.

"The thing about the kind of people that run down the genre without knowing better(...)," Wylie continue to dribble in this paragraph, calling me 'too lazy' in the next line.

"Then we have 'It's a Mills and Boone book, and set in Ireland. It took me a while to get my head around that, but I got over it.' - Mills and Boon may be a London based publisher - but (...) the books are set ANYWHERE (...) They have a diversity of settings, of plots, of characters and of authors voices that mean to lump them all under the one heading for criticism is a tad naive, don't you think?"

It wouldn't be naive. It would be a complete non sequitur. I was surprised that the book was set in Ireland because the only thing that tipped me off to the location was the mention of Dublin and the Irish names for all the characters. I started off with an assumption that had to be corrected mid-stream. This was annoying. I don't think, nor did I say, that publishing books set in a variety of locales is worthy of criticism.

"'Not a bad idea, but not very believable either - truly fell apart at 'the big reveal'. (...)But to choose one, as it happened mine (which is why I found it) to use as a way of running down an entire publishing house... well... Do I really need to spell it out?

As to the 'not very believeable either' - I could choose to write 'real-life' romance from the experience of my friends and myself as modern day women in our thirties - but I'm writing books that are meant for 'escapism' - for guaranteed Happily Ever Afters for the reader - because that is what they want, it's why the romance industry exists - and really, isn't life depressing enough???"

I am truly baffled. Apparently the fact that I mentioned the name of the publisher means that I was running them down. And the fact that I said her book 'wasn't very believable' means I have a problem with upbeat endings for romance novels.

Her hysterical conclusion: I hate romances and have used my dislike of her book as an excuse to slander the entire genre.

Perhaps if Wylie had read more closely, and if she hadn't been 'too lazy' to educate herself about the person who she was making personal attacks against - she would have realized that I didn't slam the genre - just her book.

And it wasn't much of a slam at that. I felt the characters were mildly likeable and I did enjoy the set-up. I didn't feel the ending was believable - because the idea of anyone trying to solve a relationship problem by creating television montage is only less laughable than someone accepting such a montage as proof of sincerity from someone who had lied to them for months. It struck me as humiliating, heartless, and far-fetched.

To sum up, Wylie used an 89 word review which made only one clearly negative remark about her book to throw a hissy fit of a tirade in which she accuses me of saying a whole lot of things that I didn't say and don't think. She was snide in my direction, she invited her readers to make nasty comments on my blog, and she called me uninformed, lazy, naive, and narrow-minded

Thanks for the link, Trish Wylie. I like romances a lot. I didn't like your book much, though I didn't dislike it as much as you seem to think. I definitely don't like YOU. I don't appreciate your behavior, and I won't be buying any of your books any time soon.

Reading Journal Entry: Mission Child by Maureen McHugh

Mission Child started by surprising me. The beginning of Mission Child was adapted into (or from, I'm not sure) a story in the Mchugh anthology I reviewed last month, Mothers and Other Monsters. That story was about a 'mission' among people on another planet colonized by Earth centuries before. The residents had lost their technology when rediscovered. The mission is run by believers in 'appropriate technology adoption' trying to teach and support a community in a wintery area where residents depend on hunting and herding engineered renndeer for food. Janna is a 'native' teenage girl living at the mission when a visit by itinerant young men goes horribly wrong. In the short story, she is charged with the safety of another young woman, a recently arrived off-worlder.

The visitors become drunk, and then violent. They kill most of the residents of the mission, including Janna's parents and younger sister. Janna survives by hiding; she is given an implant with the ability to send a distress signal and another that permits her to hibernate. The title of the short story is "The Cost To Be Wise", and it was one of the stories in Mothers that I had to walk away from. Janna and her new friend survive and are rescued. But her longing for the 'forbidden' offworld technology gives the story a terrible sting.

In the book, Janna is alone. She is not rescued and whisked away. She and her boyfriend are among the few survivors of the mission community; they must struggle to survive together, finding brief respite in a new community before encountering violence again. Janna finds herself a refugee and alone. She dresses herself in a man's clothing and begins to call herself Jan - it is easier to be a man than a woman in her circumstances. Eventually her circumstances change, but she does not. She is unable to let go of the male identity even though she assummed it under duress.

Jan's flights are multiple; from the very beginning until almost the end of the book she runs from one situation to another, desperately trying to avoid putting down roots or explaining herself to anyone. The English she learned growing up in the mission puts her into contact with the off-worlders again and again. She never really seems to grow up or recover from her first traumas. But eventually she finds some people she can call family. Ultimately this is a very sad book.

Reading Journal Entry: A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett

Yes, more Pratchett. Don't look at me that way! It's summer! And I'm reading as many books as I can in order to get in some more entries for the Seattle Public Library's summer reading drawing, which ends 8/31. I'll get back to the classics next month.

A Hat Full of Sky is very much a girls' book. It's a Discworld novel, but not aggressively. Pratchett has reined in his rampant footnotes and digressions and Ankh-Morpork makes no appearances. This has a very local, very anywhere-fantasy-land, and a very YA feel to it and there are no 'barriers to entry' for readers who are unfamiliar with the rest of (extraordinarily long) series. So much so, in fact, that I wonder if this was written with the American YA market in mind.

It's about Tiffany Aching, who is eleven and being sent away from home to be an apprentice to a witch. That's OK, making cheese on the farm was getting old, even though she was very good at it, and apparently in some previous book she proved herself to have some magical talents that probably need training up. Tiffany is very likeable and feels totally natural as a character. I'm surprised Pratchett does girls so well! There is a particular scene where Tiffany makes a mis-step with a group of her peers which made me redden in sympathy for her.

Tiffany isn't just magically talented, she also has a special relationship with several tiny blue men - The Wee Free Men of the previous installment. They are drunken, rowdy, very funny, and just want to help Tiffany. With everything. Sometimes this is a bad thing. But when a powerful magical creature begins to stalk her, they are determined to help.

The final conflict had more than a bit of Deus Ex Machina to it, but the way there was so amusing that I can't help but love this and recommend it.

Terry Pratchett on religion

I was listening to an audio book of Pyramids by Terry Pratchett today and came across this scene; one of my favorites in the entirety of the vast Discworld series. I'd forgotten which book it was in. I laughed and laughed. Luckily I wasn't the one driving.

He'd always remember the first night in the dormitory. It was long enough to accommodate all eighteen boys in Viper House, and draughty enough to accommodate the great outdoors. Its designer may have had comfort in mind, but only so that he could avoid it wherever possible: he had contrived a room that could actually be colder than the weather outside.

'I thought we got rooms to ourselves,' said Teppic.

Chidder, who had laid claim to the least exposed bed in the whole refrigerator, nodded at him.

'Later on,' he said. He lay back, and winced. 'Do they sharpen these springs, do you reckon?'

Teppic said nothing. The bed was in fact rather more comfortable than the one he'd slept in at home. His parents, being high born, naturally tolerated conditions for their children which would have been rejected out of hand by destitute sandflies.
He stretched out on the thin mattress and analysed the day's events. He'd been enrolled as an assassin, all right, a student assassin, for more than seven hours and they hadn't even let him lay a hand on a knife yet. Of course, tomorrow was another day . . .

Chidder leaned over.

'Where's Arthur?' he said.

Teppic looked at the bed opposite him. There was a pathetically small sack of clothing positioned neatly in its centre, but no sign of its intended occupant.
'Do you think he's run away?' he said, staring around at the shadows.

'Could be,' said Chidder. 'It happens a lot, you know. Mummy's boys, away from home for the first time-'

The door at the end of the room swung open slowly and Arthur entered, backwards, tugging a large and very reluctant billy goat. It fought him every step of the way down the aisle between the bedsteads.

The boys watched in silence for several minutes as he tethered the animal to the end of his bed, upended the sack on the blankets, and took out several black candles, a sprig of herbs, a rope of skulls, and a piece of chalk. Taking the chalk, and adopting the shiny, pink-faced expression of someone who is going to do what they know to be right no matter what, Arthur drew a double circle around his bed and then, getting down on his chubby knees, filled the space between them with as unpleasant a collection of occult symbols as Teppic. had ever seen. When they were completed to his satisfaction he placed the candles at strategic points and lit them; they spluttered and gave off a smell that suggested that you really wouldn't want to know what they were made of. He drew a short, red-handled knife from the jumble on the bed and advanced towards the goat-

A pillow hit him on the back of the head.

'Garn! Pious little bastard!'

Arthur dropped the knife and burst into tears. Chidder sat up in bed.

'That was you, Cheesewright!' he said. 'I saw you!' Cheesewright, a skinny young man with red hair and a face that was one large freckle, glared at him.

'Well, it's too much,' he said. 'A fellow can't sleep with all this religion going on. I mean, only little kids say their prayers at bedtime these days, we're supposed to be learning to be assassins-'

'You can jolly well shut up, Cheesewright,' shouted Chidder. 'It'd be a better world if more people said their prayers, you know. I know I don't say mine as often as I should-'

A pillow cut him off in mid-sentence. He bounded out of bed and vaulted at the red-haired boy, fists flailing.

As the rest of the dormitory gathered around the scuffling pair Teppic slid out of bed and padded over to Arthur, who was sitting on the edge of his bed and sobbing.
He patted him uncertainly on the shoulder, on the basis that this sort of thing was supposed to reassure people.

'I shouldn't cry about it, youngster,' he said, gruffly.

'But - but all the runes have been scuffed,' said Arthur. 'It's all too late now! And that means the Great Om will come in the night and wind out my entrails on a stick!'

'Does it?'

'And suck out my eyes, my mother said!'

'Gosh!' said Teppic, fascinated. 'Really?' He was quite glad his bed was opposite Arthur's, and would offer an unrivalled view. 'What religion would this be?'

'We're Strict Authorised Ormits,' said Arthur. He blew his nose. 'I noticed you don't pray,' he said. 'Don't you have a god?'

'Oh yes,' said Teppic hesitantly, 'no doubt about that.'

'You don't seem to want to talk to him.'

Teppic shook his head. 'I can't,' he said, 'not here. He wouldn't be able to hear, you see.'

'My god can hear me anywhere,' said Arthur fervently.

'Well, mine has difficulty if you're on the other side of the room,' said Teppic. 'It can be very embarrassing.'

'You're not an Offlian, are you?' said Arthur. Offler was a Crocodile God, and lacked ears.


'What god do you worship, then?'

'Not exactly worship,' said Teppic, discomforted. 'I wouldn't say worship. I mean, he's all right. He's my father, if you must know.'

Arthur's pink-rimmed eyes widened.

'You're the son of a god?' he whispered.

'It's all part of being a king, where I come from,' said Teppic hurriedly. 'He doesn't have to do very much. That is, the priests do the actual running of the country. He just makes sure that the river floods every year, d'you see, and services the Great Cow of the Arch of the Sky. Well, used to.'

'The Great-'

'My mother,' explained Teppic. 'It's all very embarrassing.'

'Does he smite people?'

'I don't think so. He's never said.'

Arthur reached down to the end of the bed. The goat, in the confusion, had chewed through its rope and trotted out of the door, vowing to give up religion in future.
'I'm going to get into awful trouble,' he said. 'I suppose you couldn't ask your father to explain things to the Great Orm?'

'He might be able to,' said Teppic doubtfully. 'I was going to write home tomorrow anyway.

'The Great Orm is normally to be found in one of the Nether Hells,' said Arthur, 'where he watches everything we do. Everything I do, anyway. There's only me and mother left now, and she doesn't do much that needs watching.'

'I'll be sure and tell him.'

'Do you think the Great Orm will come tonight?'

'I shouldn't think so. I'll ask my father to be sure and tell him not to.'

At the other end of the dormitory Chidder was kneeling on Cheesewright's back and knocking his head repeatedly against the wall.

'Say it again,' he commanded. 'Come on - "There's nothing wrong-"'

'"There's nothing wrong with a chap being man enough-" curse you, Chidder, you beastly-'

'I can't hear you, Cheesewright,' said Chidder.

'"Man enough to say his prayers in front of other chaps", you rotter.'
'Right. And don't you forget it.'

After lights out Teppic lay in bed and thought about religion. It was certainly a very complicated subject.

The valley of the Djel had its own private gods, gods which had nothing to do with the world outside. It had always been very proud of the fact. The gods were wise and just and regulated the lives of men with skill and foresight, there was no question about that, but there were some puzzles.

For example, he knew his father made the sun come up and the river flood and so on. That was basic, it was what the pharaohs had done ever since the time of Khuft, you couldn't go around questioning things like that. The point was, though, did he just make the sun come up in the Valley or everywhere in the world? Making the sun come up in the Valley seemed a more reasonable proposition, after all, his father wasn't getting any younger, but it was rather difficult to imagine the sun coming up everywhere else and not the Valley, which led to the distressing thought that the sun would come up even if his father forgot about it, which was a very likely state of affairs. He'd never seen his father do anything much about making the sun rise, he had to admit. You'd expect at least a grunt of effort round about the dawn. His father never got up until after breakfast. The sun came up just the same.

He took some time to get to sleep. The bed, whatever Chidder said, was too soft, the air was too cold and, worst of all, the sky outside the high windows was too dark. At home it would have been full of flarelight from the necropolis, its silent flames eerie but somehow familiar and comforting, as though the ancestors were watching over their valley. He didn't like the darkness.

The following night in the dormitory one of the boys from further along the coast shyly tried to put the boy in the next bed inside a wickerwork cage he made in Craft and set fire to him, and the night after that Snoxall, who had the bed by the door and came from a little country out in the forests somewhere, painted himself green and asked for volunteers to have their intestines wound around a tree. On Thursday a small war broke out between those who worshipped the Mother Goddess in her aspect of the Moon and those who worshipped her in her aspect of a huge fat woman with enormous buttocks. After that the masters intervened and explained that religion, while a fine thing, could be taken too far.

Reading Journal Entry: More Wandering Stars by Jack Dann

More Wandering Stars from Jack Dann. This collection contains a sequel of sorts to Horace Gold's The Trouble With Water, the creepy but not-up-to-the-last-one Warm Dark Places. An Isaac Bashevis Singer story, The Last Demon, puts all the rest to shame. Woody Allen's meditations on the Tanach, The Scrolls, made me laugh out loud. A worthy anthology, but a bit slim. And it's been 25 years since this was published. Isn't it about time for some more Jewish-themed science fiction and fantasy? C'mon, Jack Dann! What have you been up to?

You'd think it's out there - but I don't know. I was looking for Jewish-themed speculative fiction for my Jewish book club (you can only read so many holocaust books in a row) and I couldn't really find any that were in print. Recommendations would be welcome.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

This is the book I was running away from when I read two Georgette Heyer novels this weekend. Black Hole has been on my list for way too long. It's brilliant, and I wanted to buy it, but it was just too spendy and too heavy - both emotionally and physically. I kept picking it up and putting it down.

It's a graphic novel set in an alternate 1970's suburban Seattle. A weird disease changes people's bodies in unpredictable ways. The art is haunting & bizarre, white on black with a visceral quality that literally made me sick to my stomach a couple of times.

'It' is transmitted by sex, and only affects teenagers. We follow the stories of Chris and Keith, who each come in contact with the disease in different ways.

Ugh - take a trip back to high school, and then add horrible nightmarish stuff on top of the already horrifying experiences you remember.There are some very trippy dream sequences. This was very difficult to read. But it needed to go back to the library, so after reading two Heyers as insulation I picked it back up again and struggled through.

Good - sad - serious art. Extremely uncomfortable on every level. Not only did the art make me nauseated a couple of times, but there were at least two times when I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment - remembered or symnpathetic? Hard to tell.

Reading Journal Entry: The Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer

This Heyer, on the other hand, has a bit more dash to it, and is definitely more memorable. Pre-Regency, the characters are allowed the fashions and flourishes of the Georgian period - red high heeled shoes, powdered wigs, wide skirts - and use them to good will. In fact, the two main characters are cross-dressing siblings who fool all of London society into accepting them as a brother and sister when they are in fact a sister and brother.

I did not quite expect this. It was fun, and funny, and very amusing that they should fall in love (with gender-appropriately dressed individuals) and be all sorted out nice and tight with decent identities and so forth by the end of the book.

This was unexpectedly one of two books about cross-dressing that I read this week, and compared to Maureen McHugh's Mission Child it falls a bit flat. I mean, c'mon, Georgette, surely there had to be a bit more going on with these two than a simple desire to escape the consequences of Jacobitism. No?

Reading Journal Entry: Sylvester, by Georgette Heyer

A new Heyer! Two, actually, this week. I will be so sad when I've read the last one. Heyer is the Queen of Regency, and this is a very palatable example. It's her 'Pride and Prejudice'. I read this rather quickly, though, and the characters are bland enough that they are beginning to slip from my mind. Sylvester: self-important Duke, with very good manners. Prudence: plucky but timid (?) authoress of a roman a clef skewering said Duke. They conceive ill opinions of each other, but Fate Brings Them Together! Most satisfactorily.

Reading Journal Entry: Secrets of the Lean Plate Club by Sally Squires

This diet book is written by a who wrote a nutritional column for the Washington Post. Pretty standard feel-good diet fare, with the usual scaremongering about the dangers of fat (THE FAT IS COMING TO GET YOU!)

The best part about this book is the advice to start weight-lifting, which comes with illustrations and instructions for exercises that can be done by beginners.

Readng Journal Entry:The Wedding Surprise, by Trish Wylie

A romance novel! I was curious to know what they're like these days, so I picked up a random recent volume at the library.

A Wedding Surprise is certainly recent (it's about two people who agree to participate in a reality show) but it's probably not typical. It's a Mills & Boone book, and set in Ireland. It took me a little while to get my head around that, but I got over it.

Not a bad idea, but not very believable either - truly fell apart at 'the big reveal'.

Reading Journal Entry: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

The third volume about Captain Lawrence and Temeraire takes place after the successful resolution of the crisis with China. They are called suddenly away to deal with an international crisis - Great Britain has bought two dragon eggs from SItanbul, and they must be secured before they hatch in a few months time. The urgency necessitates an overland trip (for a nice change from the previous long sea voyages) which allow for plenty of adventurous encounters and local color.

I didn't feel this colume was as successfully plotted as the previous two - things seemed to resolve themselves mid-book, and the last third of the volume almost dragged, with nearly a completely different storyline. She did leave us with a kicker of a teaser for next time, though. Damn her. Hurry and write, Naomi Novik!

A response

I previously expressed dismay at Will Duquette's review of S. M. Stirling's Dies the Fire.

Will has responded in a somewhat prickly manner. I didn't say anything of substance in my post, and he seems to read in a great deal more than I intended. The reason I didn't say much is because, as the title of the original post stated, I really was at a loss for words. At the time I wasn't sure why his review struck such a wrong chord for me.

Since he went to the trouble of noting my response with a further explanation of his feelings about Wicca, sprinkled with concern about his - gasp - –intolerance, I've taken a few days to examine why his words struck such a wrong chord with me.

I was not offended, nor do I think he was 'intolerant'. Duquette may remain faux-gasp-free. My reaction had nothing to do with the merits, or lack thereof, of the Wiccan faith. In fact, my opinions about Wicca align in many respects with those that Duquette expresses (although I like to believe I would choose more tactful phrases than "hodgepodge of play-acting and high fantasy" and "willfully self-deluded").

Duquette disapproved of a positive portrayal of characters following a religion other than Christianity. His exact words were, "It troubles me to see them lauded in what is arguably a mainstream novel."

Religion, Duquette explains, is a matter of truth, not of psychological utility. Besides, real pagans converted to Christianity. I'm not sure what his point is with that bit of info. So back to me.

I'm not Wiccan. But I'm not Christian either. I'm Jewish. Until fairly recently, there haven't been many positive portrayals of Jews in literature. It's been pretty much Shylock & Fagin all the way. And these twisted ideas of Jews were used to justify the worst kind of hatred and violence.

When I read the above, I think: well, what SHOULD Wiccans have looked like in this book? What would a book that did NOT trouble Duquette look like? Should the main character have been less 'kind, intelligent, and clearly sincere'? How charismatic is it OK for them to be? Should mean, stupid Wiccan characters have been included for balance? Or is it OK for them to be positive characters as long as none of the other characters are influenced by them?

What about Jews? Or Mormons? Are positive portrayals of people of those faiths disturbing? And what exactly does 'mainstream' mean? It's OK as long as only the religious minorities involved are exposed to them? Hmmm. I wonder.

Yeah, I find it sad. In fact, you might say I find it 'troubling'.

Reading Journal Entry: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade is the sequel to His Majesty's Dragon, which I gulped down a couple of weeks ago. I loved the idea of combining a historically realistc Napoleonic warfare with dragons, and I was thrilled to learn that the publishers released all three books in quick succession. That meant I didn't need to wait another year to find out what happened to our lovely black Celestial Temeraire and his daring Captain Lawrence. I just had to wait two weeks for the Seattle Public Library to get me one of the fifteen copies they bought.

It was a long two weeks, but it finally arrived, and I brushed aside the 37 other books I have sitting on my 'SPL' bookshelf in favor of Throne of Jade and its sequel Black Powder War.

At the end of His Majesty's Dragon, Lawrence had become reconciled to departing his beloved Navy and entering the Aviation Corps. Temeraire had proved his mettle in defense of the British Isles and revealed himself to be in possession of a smashing new fighting ability: the divine wind, which is pretty clearly an audio shock wave of some kind. Fun stuff!

But at the beginning of Throne of Jade, Lawrence and Temeraire aren't basking in the gratitude of the multitudes. An embassy from China has arrived, demanding the return of the precious Celestial they had intended to be a companion to the Emperor of France. As Temeraire refuses to be separated from Lawrence, and Lawrence refuses to lie to Temeraire in order to trick him on board ship, things are at an impasse until Lawrence finds himself volunteered for a trip to China.

The long sea voyage is not glossed over; one reader complained about this, but I enjoyed it very much and I think many others will also - because the Naval atmosphere is so compelling. Novik again does a great job weaving the realities of 'dragon support' into the historical situation. Temeraire and Lawrence find themselves on what is essentially an aircraft carrier that has to support three different entourages. There's the regular crew, Temeraire's crew, and the Chinese embassy. Plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings and tension.

Well done, although I wish some incidents had been wrapped up more neatly.

Reading Journal Entry: The Salt Roads, by Nalo Hopkinson

I saw Nalo Hopkinson read from her next book last month at a Clarion West event. She was so magnetic that I immediately rushed back to the library and reserved all her books (no, I didn't buy them - why? Because I read 5 books a week, duh, if I bought them all I'd be poor.)

In The Salt Roads Hopkinson interweaves several storylines about black women connected by Ezili, the goddess of love, and the power of the sea road on which the Ginen were taken from Africa. The three women are Mer, a healer in Saint-Domingue; Jeanne Duval, a historical figure and the lover of Charles Baudelaire; and Meritet, who becomes St. Mary of Egypt.

These are richly told, heartwrenching portraits. Hopkinson is really skilled at evoking the historical era; the smells of the Mer's cane fields, Jeanne's powder and makeup, and Meritet's dusty Roman roads.

Hopkinson's vivid writing makes up for the lack of resolution. Ultimately the three stories (and Ezili's story) didn't come together in a satisfactory way. I can't decide whether the loose structure is a strength or a weakness. I think, though, that it's enough. It's good as it is. Forcing it into the mold of a traditional story arc would have crippled it.

Adjectives I will apply to this book: interesting, exciting, thought-provoking.

In which I muse on an unnamed self-help book

I can't review the last book I read this week because it would get me in trouble.

Let's just say I've been experiencing some difficulties in one of my relationships. And I picked up a self-help book that references said relationship in a derogatory manner in the title. Out of a sense of self-preservation, I will not be revealing the name of the book.

If you're reading this, and you know me, it's not you. Really. I swear. It's totally not you!

You (generic reader you) are not missing much, though, because thus wasn't a great book. Pretty run of the mill. Classifies people into neat little categories, tells a few funny anecdotes about how moronic people can be, and gives the reader a nice slap upside the head. The problem may not be your fault, says this (and every other self-help book), but it is at this moment your responsibility. You are undoubtedly contributing to the problem. So adjust your expectations and your attitude.

I adjusted myself and tried wearing a new attitude this week. So far, so good.

Reading Journal Entry: Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way by Leanne Ely

This cookbook and dinner planner was recommended to me. Ely provides no-nonsense dinner recipes that won't cause anyone's palate to rebel; she includes shopping lists and serving recommendations. A strength is that nutritional information is provided and she does not adhere to any particular 'brand' of low carb diet. Very sensible, not too exciting, but it did give me some ideas....

James Tiptree, Jr. biography released.

I am so excited about this book.

I attended the release party and wrote about it for Seattlest here.

Reading Journal Entry: Wolf Who Rules, by Wen Spencer

We read Wen Spencer's Tinker in April. At that time I mentioned that Tinker's new dreamy husband, Wolfwind, doesn't really make much sense. I was hoping to get some of that sorted out in this sequel. But Spencer doesn't seem to have the words 'slow down' in her vocabulary. All that wacky stuff that Wolfwind did in volume 1 (like marry Tinker without her knowing it, and turn her into an elf without asking permission) isn't revisited. Instead, Spencer picks up right where she left off with the action (Pittsburgh has been catapulted seemingly permanently into Elfland - there's a big growing deadzone - Tinker still has the hots for everything with a dick) at the end of the last volume, throws in some additional complications, and gets to work.

Actually, there are a LOT of additional complications. The numerous plotlines become confusing and weaken the story. By the end of the book there are just too many players, and some of them are underdeveloped.

Still fun though!