Friday, December 31, 2010

The Great Book Safari Contest!

I figured it was about time for Mr. X to host a contest. I wanted to make it something fun and unique, something that tied into what I am doing right now. Then it dawned on me. @PoseySessions and I are taking a trip to Las Vegas on a great book safari. We plan to hit up as many of the local used book stores as we can in search of some great books. I had first thought about making it a little contest among ourselves, then as I thought more about it I wanted to extend that opportunity to the followers of this blog.

So what is the deal?

Easy! There is two ways to win. First just follow this blog, on February 1st a winner will be selected from all the followers and they will receive a $30 gift certificate to better World Books. Another, more fun, way to win will be to contribute to the hunt. Below I am going to post a short list of items that PoseySessions and I consider the feather in the cap of our upcoming hunt. You can contribute to this list in the comments of this post, if your contributions sparks interest and is sufficiently uncommon we will add it to the list and you have just been entered to win a $10 Better World Books gift certificate. Here comes the good part, if we find your book on our safari you win! You can have up to 3 books on the target list, meaning if we find all of them you will also win $30 towards you own virtual book safari.

A short explanation of what we are looking for on our list. One of my items is The Man Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett. My grandpa owns a first edition of this book and I have been searching used book stores across the country for it. I came close to a copy in Connecticut but it had disappeared from the shelf shortly before I arrived asking about it. I could easily order a copy online but part of the fun is the hunt. The genres we enjoy most are scifi, fantasy, nonfiction (historical, philosophy, political thought). So what are some gems you think should be on our list?

List:

1. The Man Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett
2. The Glass Bees - Ernst Junger
3. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
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The rest of the list is waiting to be populated by you, so participate for a chance to win your own virtual book safari!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes - Brandon Mull


I have become a Brandon Mull fan with blazing speed, meeting him on October 31st, and finishing all of his books by Christmas. Mull is a great story teller, and without that I would have not rushed through everything he had to offer so quickly. One thing I am happy I got to read was the first book of his new series Beyonders. I was lucky enough to get it in ebook format from Simon and Schuster's Galley Grab of about a month back. A World Without Heroes officially releases march 15th of 2011, but I have chosen to wrap up Brandon Mull month with an early review of the book.

I have said it many times, but it bears repeating if you are going to dig into A World Without Heroes: Mull is a slow starter, plain and simple. I realized it while reading the Candy Shop War, and when I tuned into a local talk radio station last week I caught them right in the middle of discussing Fablehaven, before long the speaker stated "the first book starts out kinda slow" a sentiment I share. The good thing about Mull is once he gets over the initial drudgery of setting up his tale they usually take off on a rip roaring pace and finish strong.

I do not like to follow the old "talk about all the bad stuff first then give a good review" line that I see so often (but yes I do it), however, I am definitely going to do that with this post. Why? because the book starts bad. There was a moment around a third of the way through that I almost decided to put it down and forget about it. The writing is solid as always with Mull but the narrative for the first 200 pages borders on boring. It takes him a long time to get to the meat of the story, and even then it takes more pages to get into something that feels like a fantasy adventure.

The first part of the book jumps from chapter to chapter each named after some inconsequential character that the protags meet on their quest. A lot of the early stage of the novel feels phoned in, or a mad libbed version of a fantasy book. They meet _________ on the road, he is a _______ and has the power to _________. Then that character fades away as they continue the journey down the road to meat another similar character. The early part of the story is extremely linear, I felt like I was reading a choose your own adventure that only had one choice. I got frustrated many times with the lack of any narrative twist or sense of real threat or danger. Mull employs a trope early in the book that drove me nuts for many pages. An all powerful antagonist who can crush the protags any time he chooses, but lets them continue their quest just for his own amusement, oh yeah and their quest is to destroy him. I groaned every time I heard another excuse why these little nobodies were not being ground to dust under the boot of the evil emperor. BUT, Mull proves his ability later in the book. He turns a groan inducing plot device into a really interesting and unique aspect to the book. It is the twist ending that Mull does so well, it was set up perfectly early on to give the reader a facepalm moment, but still reading through it initially was a bummer.

Almost directly in the middle of the book A World Without Heroes gets good, no great. It takes Mull's introduction of political intrigue and scheming, the imminent threat of death and a spectacular invitation to a wondrous place to make the story come to life. That along with the introduction of some truly awesome supporting characters and finally a sense that the protags have a mind of their own and we begin to see where this story will grow. There is more payoff later in the book as some of the toss away characters return in different capacities. Mull employs some great techniques to paint a dark world covered with a flimsy facade of whimsy. While the protags are on the move it seems like the world is of little consequence, lacking richness or depth, once they stop somewhere Mull takes the time to detail the setting of each of the episodes that take place within the book. It left me feeling like I was looking at a tiny world filled with blandness but peppered with a few points of great interest.

As the narrative picks up in the second half A World Without Heroes becomes a strong and enjoyable fantasy novel. Along with being a slow starter Mull has a thing for one dimensional main characters. In every one of his books I have found the supporting cast to be more interesting, more detailed and more fleshed out than his main characters. The same goes for this book The female protag, at times, seems like she merely represents an outlet for the male character to vent his frustrations. However, from the ending it seems like this may change in the second book. It should also be said this is definitely a story from a boys perspective, whereas I felt Fablehaven was more balanced, but leaning toward a girls point of view, A World Without Heroes is told more through the eyes of a male protag. While Fablehaven made a point to complete each book with its own conclusion, A World Without Heroes does not have a solid ending point, and the story is left unresolved to be picked up with the next book.

readers should rejoice, though you will have to slog through a couple hundred pages of mediocre narrative you will dive into the deep end of a fantastic fantasy adventure, and in the style of Mull's previous series, the action should not die down in the beginning of each subsequent book, it feels like he has shaken out the cobwebs, laid the cards on the table and with the first book in the Beyonders series has prepared the reader for two more books stacked with fast paced fantasy adventure. We can only hope!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eastern State Penitentiary




This summer I was lucky enough to have one the of best experiences of my life. I took a cross country road trip with PoseySessions. We drove from San Diego to Connecticut and visited NYC, Washington DC and a bunch of other awesome places. One of the best things about the trip was the fact that I could stop at several places along the way and visit friends and family who are spread out all across the country. One side trip took us to Philadelphia where we planned to stay a few days with my cousin Desi. Without anything really planned Desi decided to show us around her home city. We feasted at several great ethnic restaurants, saw the famous Rocky statue and played in a few fountains. Now if you know PoseySessions you know that she is sort of a bibliophile. Desi recommended a neat little used bookstore near a place she used to work. So we went, and found a great parking spot, which was surprising! But what was even more surprising is what was directly across the street from our destination. While I drove along the cramped streets of Philly I did not even notice the hulking stone mass (hey I am a small town boy, I had enough on my plate just understanding if I was going the right way down any of the one way streets). We stepped out of the car and then I saw it, well I saw a huge block wall stretching high into the air. It did not fit, here we were in the middle of a major metropolitan area and there was a castle across the street from a coffee shop, a Greek restaurant, and a used bookstore. I wondered out loud what that could be. It is Eastern State Penitentiary my cousin responded, and then my heart skipped a beat, I immediately thought of this.



Those (few) of you who follow the blog may have noticed that I am slightly interested in the paranormal. That being so I have been a fan of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters since its first episode. I don’t claim to believe everything that happens on the show, but I do get a fun little tingle by tagging along into creepy places in the middle of the night. F you have seen the show then you might know that Eastern State was one of the locations that TAPS investigated early in the series. They came out with some spooky (if controversial) evidence. Later in the series they returned for a live event. The TAPS crew announced Eastern State was officially haunted. So there I was, standing, staring (gawking) at this mass of stone and mortar. It cast a pall over the neighborhood, its mere presence making the cloudy day even gloomier. We have to go, I announced. And so we did.

Eastern State is a fantastic place. While the self guided tour seemed a bit lacking, the experience of being able to roam on your own through the dark crumbling halls was better than I could have ever imagined. The stories told by inmates and guards alike are enough to put even a person without knowledge of the supposed haunting on edge. It was the country's first penitentiary. Penitence being the root word. The prisoners were kept in silence, devoid of human contact. Guards wore special socks over their shoes as to make no noise when walking the halls to alert the inmates to the presence of another human being. A reverent pall settled on me as I entered into the first cell block, men actually lived years of their lives in this place, it was a sobering thought. The halls were crumbling and the rusted, warped doors led into dark voids filled with damp, cracked walls. As we walked through the oppressive atmosphere I could not help but feel a rush, this was a legitimately spooky place, this is how they are supposed to feel. if a ghost lives anywhere in the world, I bet there is one at Eastern State.

As we concluded our tour feeling suitably humbled and slightly creeped out we walked out into the courtyard and the threatening storm broke loose on us. Lightning flashed briefly brightening the day darkened by black clouds. Thundered boomed across the prison and rain spattered down. It was the perfect ending to the amazing experience.

Another interesting aspect to Eastern State were the numerous artistic installations. While I found some of them to be a bit out of palce for my taste (the ode to Abu Ghraib in particular) several of them only served to enhance the experience. One was a set of televisions located in different parts of the prison playing scenes from famous prison movies. In the bathroom was an endless loop of bathroom scenes, in the hallway were scenes that take place in prison halls, and so on for cells and other parts of the penitentiary. Another that served to capture a moment of Eastern State and freeze it in time was the addition of several white plaster cats placed among the crumbling ruins. They were crafted in homage to the pack of stray cats who made a home in the prison walls, and to the man who took care of them. The story of the cats was almost as sad as that of the penitentiary itself. Animal control spayed and neutered all the animals and the clan eventually faded away, like their statues which are crumbling and disappearing from the grounds of Eastern State.

In the end I cannot say if Eastern State is haunted, but I can say it is a wonderful place to visit. PoseySessions was the photographer for this excursion as she is for most of them.. She got some shots that captured the creepiness of the place.

This might not be a ghost in this picture, in fact I doubt it is, but I like to pretend we caught something paranormal during our time at Eastern State. Below: extremely creepy barber chair in one of the cells.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fablehaven–Brandon Mull

FableHeader

Prior to attending Teen Book Fest in Provo I had read eleven pages of Fablehaven, closed the book and mostly forgot about it. After meeting Brandon Mull I decided to give this one another go. What turned me off was the familiar opening and the realization that this was another urban fantasy. I picked the book up and began to read. It was several pages before my interest was piqued. It seems to me that Mull is a slow starter, which is not really a bad thing, but with so many books out there dying to be read I often give up a little too early. In the end I am very happy I picked this book back up.

It takes a while to get into the meat of the story, but when Mull begins to unravel mysteries and secrets the roller coaster ride never ends. There is so much packed into this book that it is hard to decide where to begin. The world of Fablehaven is our own world, usually this is not very interesting to me, however, Mull pulls it off like none other (ok, ok, maybe one other) I loved the idea of a world that used to be filled with magical creatures with human eyes slowly being closed to their existence over time. I loved the setting. Connecticut. Having just visited the state for the first time this summer I was entranced by the natural beauty. It was fresh in my mind and with Mull’s descriptions I was easily able to pictures the forests and streams of Fablehaven.

Mull intrigued me with the hints of sinister and evil creatures, his depictions of terrible monsters, and warnings to not peek out the windows on midsummer’s eve. At times the story can be dark, creepy, and bordering on scary. There were moments surrounding midsummer’s eve that I found my self tensely flipping pages to catch the next development. I was reading the book in a way a person watches a horror movie through the gaps in the fingers covering their eyes. Yes, it was that awesome.

Mull weaves in a cast of characters that are unique and interesting, if at times a bit flat or one dimensional.The main characters, the kids, were at once fun to read about, and a bit off putting. Seth can at times be very hard to like, and Kendra is a bit of a blank slate early in the series. These things do change in time, but they are very noticeable in the first book. I would have loved to know more about Grandpa Sorenson and Dale. But, the number of characters and their personalities definitely improves through the series. Especially with my favorite character, Hugo. Saying that might be a bit of a spoiler, but not much, you still have to figure it out. I especially liked Muriel and her jangling limberjack, it was an excellent way to tie the story together and bring it into the larger scope of the entire series.

The best part of this great story was definitely the ending. I have noticed that many fantasy stories aimed at young readers lack that epic feel. Even Harry Potter left something to be desired in the way of grandiose actions scenes that typify the genre. Fablehaven does not. The final battle, while small in scope, feels like a raging fight to save the world. I reveled in the good on evil action and the series of twists that made the story pay off.

Fablehaven is an amazing fantasy story, it has everything one could hope for in a roaring good tale. A little bit of horror, a lot of action, magic, demons and witches and a pressing sense of danger.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Candy Shop War–Brandon Mull

n256748Prior to Provo City Library’s Teen Book Fest I only knew Brandon Mull as the author of the Fablehaven series. I was taken a bit off guard when I saw hordes of youngsters carrying a different book by him. Little arms absent of Fablehaven book instead clutched copies of The Candy Shop War. I noticed it, but thought very little of it, as to me it seemed this was a novel for much younger kids. then I read Fablehaven and was convinced of Mull’s status as a great storyteller. I had seen it on the shelf of a local bookstore one week, went back a few days alter and they were sold out. I went to another store and snagged their last remaining copy. I cracked open the book with very few expectations.

I was for the most part correct about the target audience of the book which seems in the 8-10 year old range. The story begins with a very familiar middle grade trope: new kid just moving into a new town. Scores of these books begin either in a car travelling to an unfamiliar new hometown, on the first day at a new school, or standing in a bedroom surrounded by boxes waiting to be unpacked. PoseySessions refutes this statement, but I stand firmly by my assessment. The new kid in town is the old fallback opening for many of these types of stories. Not saying that it does not work, but I had hoped for something more original from Mull. There was very little in the way of adapting to a new environment. The fact that the main character instantly made friends and assimilated into his new environment made the fact that he was a new kid in town almost pointless. He confronts the realities of the story as they begin, he did not move into a weird town and begin to discover its oddities, he moved in right as the strangeness begins. Nate could have been any kid who lived in Colson for years, that used and abused new kid in town formula served very little purpose and did nothing but set this novel from the beginning in the “standard middle grade fare” territory.

Standard fare is where the novel muddled for several chapters. The idea of magic candy and the way Mull sets it apart is very well conceptualized. I like the way he created his magical system, a world where magicians have to exploit children with candy in order to achieve their goals. There is something sinister about Mull’s magic from the beginning. It speaks back to the mantra hammered into the minds of every child: “don’t take candy from strangers". The sinister tone that underlies the book serves from the start to make narrative fairly predictable. There were no boundaries smashed in The Candy Shop War, at least in the middle chapters of the book. I did however enjoy the fact that Mull created a dangerous world, a world where you can be killed and nobody is really safe. The introduction of John Dart in the prologue makes it very clear that things are dangerous, and when he reemerges later in the story it is where the book picks up and starts to get better.

One thing that I really liked about The candy Shop war was the unfamiliar triumvirate of opposing forces. The bad guy, the not so bad guy who is still not too trustworthy, and the good guy who is still pretty dark. When John Dart enters the narrative the story changes from something standard to something much more interesting. I wont say if he is a good buy or bad guy (no spoilers) but he is a very neat character who pushes the story in a much better direction. by the end Mull has cultivated a sense of hopelessness and loss. And when the story comes to a climax the reader is turned upside down and inside out and left with their jaw dropped as they contemplate an “I see what you did there” moment.

While The Candy Shop War may be slow and predictable for the first three quarters of the book the final chapters make it more than worthwhile to push through them. in the end I went from disappointed with the book to having enjoyed it enough that I eagerly await the sequel. It is a good read with a solid message for readers of all ages.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brandon Mull Month

mullBrandon Mull is the author of middle grade fantasy series Fablehaven along with standalone novel The Candy Shop War and children’s picture book Pingo. I chose to dedicate a month on the blog to the works of Brandon because after meeting him at Provo City Library’s Teen Book Fest I was convinced that he was a genuinely nice guy. The next day I picked up a copy of Fablehaven and was convinced, shortly thereafter, that he is one heck of a writer. Despite signings by other very popular authors (Brandon Sanderson, Scott Westerfeld) Brandon’s line at Teen Book Fest was by far the longest, eclipsing Sanderson who was seated next to him by about double.

I was the last person in Brandon’s line, as I had yet to read any of his books. I was collecting signatures on the back of my nook and decided, seeing the line had almost petered out, to visit Brandon to add his sig to my collection. When I approached him he was at the tail end of a 3 hour signing session, he spent the first hour of the event in a panel on fantasy writing, and the next 3 in an uncomfortable seat facing down a line of admirers. Yet as I approached he seemed genuinely friendly and happy to talk to me. I asked him to sign my nook and he was happy to oblige, then he asked “So tell me about yourself, what is your situation” A moment of “omg” hit me, was this bestselling author really interested in what I had to say? He certainly made me feel like he did. We chatted about his books for a few moments, I even told him I had not read one yet. He assured me when I finished the fblhvnfirst Fablehaven book, if I liked it I would be hooked.

With that promise in my back pocket I quickly obtained a copy for my nook and set about reading. I was pleasantly surprised. In less than 30 days I read the entire 5 book series and Pingo, I will finish The Candyshop War tonight. As we spoke Brandon mentioned his newest series, Beyonders, the first book which debuts in March. I was sold on the synopsis he gave me and was itching to read it. I was super excited to find out that it was part of Simon and Schuster’s recent galley beyondergrab. Luckily I got an advanced copy sitting on my nook and will be reading it very soon.

Brandon Mull Month will be a part of a longer series about Utah fantasy Authors. Specifically the three on the fantasy panel at Teen Book Fest: Mull, Sanderson and J. Scott Savage whose Far World series is currently sitting on my entertainment center waiting to be read. They had some great things to say about writing fantasy and I cannot wait to delve more into their ideas. Especially a follow up on my epic fantasy post of a month or so back, AND a review of the single best fantasy novel I have ever read.

So stay tuned for reviews of the Fablehaven Books, The Candyshop War, Pingo and finally a look forward to Beyonders.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What is a Good Book?

As bloggers we spend a lot of time critiquing books. We make judgments. We declare good or bad. Often we have some pretty good reasons. But, what IS a good book? Each reader has their own answer to this question. What I find great someone else will not. Although I try to respect the opinions of others, I find myself getting aggravated with literary elitists and snobs who tend to pan anything and everything that has a hint of popular appeal. I think these types are so far out of the loop that they have no business being taken seriously.

A novel is in the end entertainment. We open a book hoping to fill a moment with action, adventure, romance and fantasy. Often we take something more away. Sometimes the story can touch us, can make us think, or change the way we think, it can enlighten us, tweak our worldview or even change our lives. But, to begin it all we opened the novel with the intention of being entertained. So if we finish a book with a contented sigh, reflect a moment on the joy we took out of it, the moments spent curled up entranced by the words and the story, then that book is a success.

For me a good book is almost assuredly any book I have read cover to cover. I do not finish bad books. If a book succeeded in holding my attention from start to finish then It has done its job and provided me with something worth occupying my time. When reviewing a book it is not impactful to say “I read it so it must have been good".” But often that is how I feel, even when I finish a book with a little ambivalence, I had at least found something to keep me involved.

Let us be honest a novel has many aspects: the story, the writing, the characters. Some writers are magnificent imaginers, they weave great tales. Some are masters of language and use literary flair as a tool to support their stories. Some have deep understanding of manipulating emotion and crafting characters with which we can connect. All of these are parts of a good novel, but not all are required to make a novel good.

Let us look at Twilight. Twilight and Stephanie Meyer are often the butt of many jokes. Many people stoop so low as to call Meyers names and claim she is a terrible writer. But, this can be proven wrong merely by the joy her books have brought to millions of readers. These books, whether you like them or not, are good. Because they have succeeded in entertaining so many people, because they have inflamed the imagination, because they have enticed many people to open, read and finish her works. This is the mark of a good book.

When I review a book here on this blog I cannot tell you if it was good or bad. I can tell you only if I liked it or not. It is my opinion that any book that someone out there can connect with, that brings moments of joy or escapism to any person who can sit with it from start to finish is a good book.

The only question is: Did I Like It?

The answer remains, if I read it, yes I liked it. Something in it was worth liking.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Through Generations

As I stood flipping through my Dad’s CD case today I could not help but notice how much his musical tastes influenced my own. I then began contemplating my Grandfather’s musical tastes and saw a direct influence from him to my dad to me. Now don’t get me wrong, I can listen to just about anything from either of their collections and be pretty happy, but there has been an evolution in my musical tastes that includes everything that came before me and contemporary music. This doe not swing both ways. While I enjoy Hank Williams from my Gramps’ collection and Lynyrd Skynyrd from my Dad’s they do not like anything from my generation, and my Grandfather would not listen to the Outlaws or ZZ Top. Just like the previous generation of musical artist influences the next, so does the previous generation of music listener effect those that come later. I wanted to devote this post to trace the lineage of my musical tastes.

I am really interested in new style alternative country music that has its roots in the classic country of my Grandfather’s era. A great example of this evolution:

My Grandpa: Hank Williams

My Dad: Willie Nelson

Me: Scott H. Biram

Each of these artists were influenced by the ones who came before. I remember listening to Willie Nelson with my dad as a youngster, and I can picture my dad hearing Hank Williams on the old stereo in Grandpa’s den through the 60s. So when I grew up and found Scott Biram instantly I fell in love with his style and updated lyrics and slight edginess.

Grandpa: Jimmy C. Newman

Dad: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Me: North Mississippi All-stars

The connection between these bands is undeniable. I love that gritty down south sound. I remember long road trips with Gramps and Jimmy Newman’s Alligator Man blasting in his truck, or cruising canal banks fishing with my pop and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. Realizing I have another connection to my Dad and Grandpa through music is very meaningful to me.

Does anyone else have similar stories?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bush Tragedy–Jacob Weisberg

bush-tragedy-bkblak002484The history of American politics is riddled with presidents who, in their time, were reviled and later vindicated as the pendulum of history swung. George W. Bush hopes to join the ranks of this group which includes men like Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln. In The Bush Tragedy Jacob Weisberg looks into the relationships surrounding the divisive 43rd President of the United States. He contends that these relationships were the foundation of Bush’s policy making and in the end led him down a dangerous path that divided the nation and embroiled it in war and failure. The tone of the book is strongly psychoanalytical; Weisberg continually hammers home psychological themes in order for the reader to understand George W. Bush. However, some of the finest analysis in The Bush Tragedy lies in the chapters dealing more with politics and less with psychology, the chapters containing W.’s relationships with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. The Bush Tragedy is an interesting book, it succeeds as a powerful look into the relationships George W. had with the people around him, but it poorly supports its main thesis, which is the supposed competition between father and son.

It is important to note the Jacob Weisberg does not hold a degree in psychology. He is first and foremost a journalist who contributes to periodicals such as Newsweek, the New Republic and The Washington Post. It is important for the reader to know Weisberg’s background and education because complicated psychological themes are invoked many times in the book. When Weisberg speaks of an Oedipus complex the reader should understand that this is the amateur psychoanalysis of a political observer and not the conclusion of a licensed mental health professional. In the introduction to the book he claims no special feeling toward Bush, but it is clear from his affiliations, notably his work for the New Republic, a magazine that caters specifically to causes on the left on the political spectrum, that he has a well-defined sense of his political position. One would surmise that would include a certain antipathy toward a president who so betrayed the democrats and drove a wedge in American politics.

Published in 2008, a year before Bush left office, The Bush Tragedy came at a time that most Americans were looking forward to a future without George W. Bush. The economy was beginning to tank, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had pushed America to the brink, and any promise of peace and prosperity had long since faded. Americans were just getting a glimpse at who might be their future president as the primary campaigns were swinging into full gear. The Bush Tragedy served as a powerful forewarning, in order to avoid another mistake by the American electorate it was important for people to understand why Bush had failed. In the book Weisberg makes a compelling argument, laying out all the information and drawing, for the most part, lucent conclusions.

Weisberg does something refreshing with The Bush Tragedy. He tries very hard to take Bush seriously. He does not paint him as a political caricature, a cowboy, or a clown. Instead he looks seriously at the life of a troubled man. The psychoanalysis in the book often feels like a stretch. Weisberg does not fully flesh out or support his conclusions. He tosses out terms like oedipal complex without fleshing them out or fully investigating them. The reader is left to assume that because Weisberg has described a desire to emerge from his father’s shadow that Bush also held some unnatural desire for his mother; which is the true meaning of an oedipal complex. Weisberg however never makes the latter assertion. Much of the psychoanalysis in the book seems insubstantial, or only partially adequate.

Weisberg’s political analysis is strong and detailed. The chapters which deal with the Bush relationship with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are superbly researched and well argued. These chapters contain the most insightful look into the Bush White House and his decision making process, or lack thereof. Weisberg portrays Rove as a worshipful political lackey willing to take abuse from Bush in order to leech benefits from the charismatic younger Bush’s spotlight. Weisberg goes in depth explaining their symbiotic relationship. Even likening Bush to the shark and Rove to the remora. In his discussion of the ways Rove led Bush astray during his presidency Weisberg does what he failed to do in earlier chapters, flesh out and support a strong argument. The Rove chapter is thoroughly researched and factually represented. It represents a fine piece of political and historical writing. The Dick Cheney chapter is also very well done. Weisberg penetrates the mind of Cheney, exposing the calculations that eventually secured him a spot as Vice President. He describes Cheney as a secretive mastermind, a description that rings true. His descriptions of the way Cheney successfully used Bush’s own psyche against him are some of the most powerful sections of the book. Weisberg, in these two chapters, paints a picture of a President under the influence of powerful men whispering in his ear, men that would lead the country into tragedy and the presidency into chaos.

A less captivating part of the book was Weisberg’s continual return to Shakespeare and the plays Henry IV and Henry V. Often these comparisons felt forced, and always unnecessary. The use of Shakespeare led to long introductions to chapters that broke up the flow of the book and took the reader totally out of the narrative that was unfolding. This was particularly a shame because otherwise the work was a masterful piece of non-fiction prose. Along with the extraneous use of Shakespeare Weisberg also adds other tangential information. Going so far as to conclude the final chapter of the book by holding forth for pages on Winston Churchill and barely mentioning Bush a single time on the final page.

The Bush Tragedy is an excellent piece of political history. The book contains chapters filled with powerful, fact based, political analysis, and chapters that focus on less substantial psychological assertions. It lost a bit of its power by being published before the end of the Bush’s final term because it was not able to examine his presidency as a whole. It missed some developments for the worse, and some not quite near as tragic as first supposed. As a whole Weisberg succeeded with his analysis and did give the reader a powerful glimpse into the mind of an embattled American President.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is this blog?

I know I have seriously neglected this bog for little while now and it is definitely bothering me. I have a ton of excuses, I could tell you that this is my final semester for my B.A. and I am working hard, or I could say being engaged to PoseySessions is a full time job. But I wont. I am definitely going to be spending more time working and adding content to this blog very soon. I will be a college graduate in about 3 weeks. Which should in turn give me more free time to do what I love: read and write. But I am running into a fundamental question...

What s this blog?

I was lucky enough to get a few ARCs from Harper Collins, and definitely intend to read and review them. problem is they are all historical non-fiction. I love history, I am a history major (along with political science) This blog was designed more to review fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal and genre YA and MG stuff. fun, light reading, along with tv movies etc etc etc. Well I still want to review that stuff but trying to mingle serious analytical reviewing of historical non-fiction with reviews of fantasy and young adult boos didnt sound good to me. I considered starting another blog for the historical stuff but was dissuaded by PoseySessions. In the end I am gonna take her advice and let my blog reflect exactly what I am, a nerdy fantasy loving history buff who watches too much tv and movies. Maybe in the end everyone will find something they enjoy reading about here on the blog. And i can build up a collection of serious reviews so I will not be turned down for a galley again!

All in all, if you still read, thank you. There will be tons more content soon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Most Haunted House In England–Count Harry Price

SpookHead

It has been my experience that finding a book written on a paranormal topic by someone with a scientifically skeptical mind is a very hard thing to do.  I feel like it is just as shortsighted to dismiss the idea of paranormal activity outright as it is to believe it wholesale.  While I am definitely interested in things described as supernatural I am not interested in reading accounts by people who approach the subject willing to accept every single bump in the night as proof of ghosts and ghouls.  But, the vast majority of books I have encountered on the subject are written by those types of people.  It bothers me that paranormal investigation has to (almost always) be undertaken with an idea of all or nothing.  Some people believe all, and in doing so damaging their credibility and the study they are trying to prove, and some believe nothing, not bothering to try at all to understand anything described as paranormal.  That leaves the market for nonfiction paranormal books flooded by phony baloney conmen seeking to sell something of which they are not really trying to understand.

Enter Harry Price and the story of Borley Rectory.  Price is exactly the kind of person I want to see investigating paranormal phenomena, a skeptic who is willing to admit that strange things happen.  A scientist in the truest sense of the word he tried to know the unknown, he did not disregard it (as most scientists are wont to do) as mere foolishness or figments of men’s imaginations.  Even if the things people see and experience are part of intricate hallucinations, wouldn’t science benefit by understanding why the human mind is playing such “tricks”? Instead of following this course, science is all to ready to ignore the entire area of study.  It is a shame.

borley-rectory-2-tnBorley Rectory is a fantastic case of paranormal activity.  Locals reported strange phenomena in the vicinity of the building as early as 1863.  Sightings included those of a wandering nun (supposedly bricked up in a wall for her sins) and a ghost carriage driven by a headless man.  In the book Price debunks the story of the nun, yet continues to record sightings, witnessed by himself and others.  During the years of his investigation of the Rectory Price notes the sinister change in the activity from mere sightings of repetitious apparitions to full fledged poltergeist activity.  Ringing bells, flying objects, names and messages scrawled on walls by unseen hands.  Price not only recounts phenomena witnessed by himself but he also lays out a case for the scientific study of the supernatural.  He details an entire process of bringing new and skeptically minded observers into the house in order to garner untainted information from many different witnesses.  His description of the set up borders on ingenious.

Borley Rectory soon became known as a cursed place, abandoned by even the church that owned it.  In the effort of his study Price actually rented the building for a year to continue his work.  All of which is laid out with great detail in The Most Haunted House in England.  Price has a refined writing style that bespeaks a gentile nobility and a fine, educated mind.  This book was a pleasure to read.  If only there were more books of this ilk on the topic, perhaps we would know so much more about the paranormal than we do today.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gold After Gray–Part 3

I knew he was following me, and I knew that he was good. I am not an easy person to find. But why? The question did not bother me much, never kept me up at night; only once in a while did I stop to ponder why that handsome stranger was forever on my tail. At first I thought it coincidence, if we were going the same direction, on the same freeway, we might cross paths at more than one motel. After a while I knew he was after me. Too bad for him, I hold all the cards. A man like that is not easy to forget, he is handsome, his voice rich and smooth, his smile so oddly intriguing, his eyes so bright they almost glow. So I remembered him, noticed him several times in the past two years, where a lesser man might have been invisible. I have done many things in my life that would put the law on my tail, maybe even the FBI, CIA, or some other government agency. I have survived in ways that others would shun, but never have I crossed my moral code. The man at the gas station, the woman beating coward, he was not the first, most likely not the last. Some people deserve what they get, and if I am around they get what they deserve… perhaps that last statement drips with a little too much machismo, an arrogance that I can afford. Nobody has yet to take me down a peg, but, I am not god; I am not the angel of death… I realize now that I could fill thousands of these pages telling you what I am not, but less than one telling you what I am.

So he follows me, this mystery Adonis, to what end matters little. He represents a cage, or shackles, or some other unpleasantness. Although I cannot say that I am happy, I can think of no other way of life that would suit me better than this. As an oddity on display, or a prisoner in a cell, or a test subject on a cold steel table I would be far less happy than I am now; so I keep to the road, Mr. Handsome at my back and any chance of disappointment with failed friendships far away.

Tonight I write this from a campsite inside the Utah border, my small tent is pitched against a light spattering of rain, and the burning steno provides enough light to illuminate the pages of this worn journal. What I hope to gain from laying down this story even I cannot say. Perhaps someone will know me by my words on this page better than anyone has known me by my face or voice. Maybe somewhere here will be the key to unraveling the truth. But for the moment it helps me fill the lonely minutes between turning off some stretch of highway and falling asleep to face the twisting and turning of my dreams.

****************************************************************

“I dunno why I done it Sh’rif!” The Walrus slash trucker blubbered into his beard as he stared at the Sheriff’s stoic face. “I done told ya, He was yelling at Betty there in the Café and he called her a Bitch, so something just said to me ‘ya oughta whoop his ass for that’ and so I just jumped him, he was being mighty rude.” The Sheriff just stared at the big man for a moment.

“Lou Ross” The Sheriff started calmly, and then paused.

“Yessir?”

“Aint you done called Betty a bitch once or twice?”

“Well that’s different; she’s my sister in law.”

“And so you always stickin’ up for her when someone starts to hasslin’ her?”

“Well no… but this time it just rubbed me the wrong way, and then that stranger started tellin’ me that I was big enough to whoop up on the fella and I just decided he had it coming.”

“Which stranger?” the Sheriff asked, his interest piqued.

“The handomse looking one” Lou Ross smiled a bit at the fading memory of the stranger “with the fancy car.” The Sheriff remembered the man. He wrote something down on the yellow pad placed before him.

“So the stranger talked you into it, kinda pumped up your courage?”

“Well, I didn’t even care really, ya know Betty Sh’rif, she is a bitch and all. But the stranger told me that fella was being rude, and I could whoop him, and I just decided I did wanna whoop him, because well I can call her that, she is my sister in law after all and he was just some cross country driver off the freeway coming into town and calling my sister in law a bitch, so well the stranger he had a good point.”

“You know Betty was mighty flattered ya done that for her, said she was gonna put up your bail.”

“Awww damn.” Lou Ross grunted and looked put out.

“Whats wrong?” The Sheriff asked, genuinely concerned “We are gonna have you out of here tonight, that other fella aint even hurt and he won’t be pressing charges because he cant be bothered to come back through for court, but I promised him I would hold ya on disturbing the peace.”

“Its just…” The big man paused then huffed out the last words “Well, I don’t wanna owe that bitch no money! She’s gonna be holding it over my head for the rest of my life, and tomorrow she will have forgotten the beating I gave out for her.” The Sheriff wanted to chuckle, but something about this incident disturbed him. That stranger seemed mighty out of place, everything about him was wrong. Sheriff Graves didn’t believe in coincidence, last night a murder, first in a decade, and today this.

“Let him go, he aint gonna hurt nobody else.” The Sheriff motioned toward Lou Ross as he stood up snatched the hat from the desk, slammed it on his head and walked out. As The behemoth trucker waddled out the front door of the small adobe jail he caught a brief glimpse of the Sheriff’s Buick as it turned onto the highway and sped in the direction of the Gas n’ Go.

*****************************************

The stranger stormed out of the ancient gas station, the pimpled teenager behind the counter had told him nothing, and he would have, even now the youngster was staring out the window at him with a fond, loving, smile painted on his face. There was just nothing to tell. And there was no surveillance tape. That had been turned over to the Sheriff, of course. The tape was out of his reach, he would not confront that old lump of a law man again, not unless he was prepared to gun him down and rid the planet of one who could resist his trick. He had searched the area and found the motorcycle tracks in the dirt behind the building, same as he had been seeing for a while. Maybe Gray was getting sloppy, the stranger didn’t dare to hope that he was following Gray unknown, he had been given the slip too many times for even someone, even as unusual as his pray was , to do it by accident. He saw a few blood droplets, probably the victims, Gray would never leave behind his own DNA, that would be very bad for him. But the stranger scraped it up anyone and bagged it to send back to the men at the top, they would figure it all out. Nothing here helped him much; his mind kept going back to that surveillance tape.

He was following a shadow, Enigma Man, was the name he had been given back when the stranger was assigned this case. It had been a long time ago, he had been after the shadow for a long time, too long for some of the men at the top, things were coming to a head and the stranger intended to come out on top, like always. He needed that video tape, he was a smart man, along with being handsome, and charming, and soulless. He wanted all the imagery of Gray that he could find, and maybe then he could piece together something that would shine some light on the shadow.

He went back to the truck stop and rented a dirty little room in a one level motel whose rooms stood in a single straight row with fading orange doors. When he entered the room he smelled dust and cigarette smoke, he saw nothing, it was dark, the blackout curtains worked in the room, if nothing else did. Without disrobing he lay down comfortably, sensuously, on the bed, his nobility noticeably out of place on the drab and tattered quilt below him. He slept, the deep and calm sleep of the truly confident man, he knew he would awaken, and when he did he would get what he wanted. Only a few hours had past when he awoke, eyelids peeling back from sapphire blue eyes, he was out of the room quickly. Car keys slid from his pocket as he walked, he was in the black machine and out of the motel parking lot in only a few seconds up the highway toward the little desert town. It didn’t take him long to find the Sheriff’s office. It was low and flat building, built of adobe and tiled with red clay, one side was home to the jail and the other to the municipal library. The building sat surrounded by a park, filled with rusting swings, jungle gyms and slides disintegrating from neglect. He parked his fancy car a few blocks away, out of site of the jail and walked casually down gutterless streets, without sidewalks where lawns met road, and he could not quite tell where one stopped and the other started, the macadam giving away to dirt, the dirt sometimes contained clumps of brown grass, usually not.

He crossed the highway that led south to the Gas N Go and North to the truck stop and walked into the park. He noticed as he strolled that the Buick the Sheriff had driven was parked in front of the jail and a shiver that began in his solarplexes wracked him. He was overcome with a wave of fear, anger, and disgust, mostly with himself. He tread on dead grass and passed dying implements that once evoked tinkles of childrens laughter, a sound only mocked now by the rusty screeching of chain blown back and forth in the breeze. He settled in under a gnarled tree of some desert variety with which he was not familiar. He worried for his fine suit so he dared not sit. Instead he stood perfectly still, hands in pockets, golden hair flicked occasionally by a hot draft of desert air. And the sun set behind him, it framed him, a statue in roman style, poised, ever vigilant.

Slightly before the sun dipped below the purple mountains on the edge of the world he stiffened, the sheriff walked out of the building and the enormous trucker who had done his bidding followed shortly behind. The trucker settled in on a bench out front of the library, apparently waiting for a ride home. The stranger grinned and thought of some old idiom. And then he was walking, if anyone was watching him they would have never been able to say he had started walking, he was just moving, moving toward his rotund acquaintance of earlier this morning.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Dead Boys – Royce Buckingham

SpookHead

The-Dead-Boys

The Dead Boys was the first review book I have ever received since starting this blog, and I found it oddly fitting. I carried it along with me as PoseySessions forced me to drive her 3 hours away to attend a book club with a local author. I sat in the sun baked parking lot with the book on the passenger seat, contemplating what to do, I was in a big city and had a few hours to spare. The magnificently creepy cover of The Dead Boys kept calling me, and I gave in. Rather than exploring or finding something else to fill my time I cracked open this gem of a book. The fact that 2 hours later, in that same hot parking lot, with windows down on the car, I closed the back cover over the book and let out a contented sigh just goes to show how gripping and exciting this book is.

The Dead Boys is a Middle Grade novel, probably as can be judged from the title, geared for young boys. Buckingham is a fantastic kids author. He really brought to life the sleepy and dreary little desert town. He made me sympathize with Teddy moving to a new city, and later on he scared the pants off me as some of the visuals he described leaped off the page at me. The book is excellent. The narrative is straightforward and easy to follow, it jumps around a little bit but not enough to really lose the reader. As you close the book you realize it made sense all along, and all the little slips in the story were part of the intrigue.

The book was SCARY, yes, scary enough to make me, a grown man, in a brightly lit school parking lot, in the middle of the day, jump a little bit at a couple of really awesome parts. Buckingham has a well developed style that works extremely well in a spooky novel. I felt like I was watching events unfold, that I could SEE them happening on the page, not just reading a page of black and white text. The idea of the book is original and really fun. Buckingham trims the fat from the story, leaving out a lot of the little extra stuff that does not need to be in these kind of novels. It makes the book streamlined and focused, which is great, because this is a scary story, nothing more. It is a great scary story.

I really love these fun little stories, it transported me back to my childhood and late night reads of anything with Goosebumps written on the cover. The story is along those lines, but Buckingham’s story is more refined, more well thought out, and downright creepier.

I highly recommend The Dead Boys as a spooky Halloween read for anyone looking to be a little creeped out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gold After Gray – Part 2

He smiled a grin that was a little too straight, a little too white and a little too fake. His hair was platinum and gold swept straight back. The eyes were as blue as the Mediterranean. His nose was Roman, crooked enough to be strikingly handsome. His cheekbones, elegant chin and jaw line hinted at some noble breeding. The dark suit he wore clung to him cut in a style reminiscent of European aristocracy. It traced the length of his tall, lithe body and made anyone who looked upon him aware of tense muscles filled with a power that could be unleashed any minute. He was out of place here in this dingy diner surrounded by obese truck drivers and used up women. None of them would look at him twice, as if they dare not see a picture of pure human beauty and know that they would never see it again. These types of people would not trust a man like him. Like a woman who hates another woman who is more beautiful, or a man who covets the wealth and perfection of another, he was a nemesis. But he couldn’t blame them; if he ever let anyone really know him they wouldn’t trust him either. They didn’t have to look at him though, they all felt like they had seen him, met him, before. When he looked at someone, when he addressed them it was as if he were speaking to an old friend, and that is how they responded. All these people would love him, if he wanted them to. He would not have to ask, they would ask him if they could. If he spoke a kind word to them they would feel blessed, and everything they thought upon first seeing him would be vapor in the breeze. He could make these men kill each other and burn this diner to the ground if he just called them “pal.” He smiled a moment at the thought then turned his mind back to business. He had no time for games. He was working.

The waitress watched the smile vanish from his face and she felt as if someone had turned out the lights. She stood, slouching, tapping her pen on a green pad, waiting for him to give her his order, which she hadn’t asked to take.

“Black coffee please, dear.” He spoke slowly, deliberately the feint accent of the moneyed south escaping his lips as they parted to flash that brilliant, odd smile. The waitress, well past her prime, blushed and felt something akin to chemistry crackle between them.

“You got it hon’” She answered a little breathlessly. She hadn’t been in the mood to call a customer “hon’” in years. Decades of serving the slobs who passed through this greasy spoon had worn away her desire to please and left a dry splintered courtesy that consisted of saying little and hearing less. Today, right now, she felt like she was eighteen again and this handsome stranger offered a world of endless possibilities; she only wanted to serve him perfectly. She served him from the fresh pot that was in reserve, waiting for the pot of stale brew to be wasted on the other customers. He accepted the cup graciously; looking into her eyes he thanked her. The waitress felt like she might be melting.

“Hey!” One of the perspiring truckers was yelling. “Hey you!” She was standing still waiting for the stranger to acknowledge her again. “Hey bitch! Damn you I need a refill.” The waitress turned her head violently, dull red hair flashing and spinning. The look of wonder had faded from her face, she felt forty two again and her moment’s entrancement had faded. She trudged down to the end of the counter and filled the loud mouth’s coffee cup from the fresh pot she was still holding. Annoyed by the brash loudness, the handsome stranger turned his head, painted the smile on his face and nudged the extremely large, bearded man on the stool next to him. The gigantic trucker turned his head lazily and frowned at the stranger. His grunt of acknowledgment sounded like it was ripped from a snoring grizzly bear.

“Hey, buddy.” Said the stranger, still smiling. The trucker’s demeanor changed in an instant. His frown vanished and the grin that split the salt and pepper of his beard was massive, yellow and crooked. “Fine morning ain’t it” said the stranger speaking in colloquialisms to more easily relate to the man.

“Best I have ever seen.” Said the huge trucker, ready, willing, and able to please.

“That bastard down at the end, the one with the loudmouth, he sure is mighty rude ain’t he?” The trucker turned his head to stare; when he looked back his face was ruddy with anger.

“Yeah, mighty rude… the bastard.” He agreed.

“I say somebody ought to whoop his ass, don’t ya think?”

“Yes!” The trucker nodded emphatically.

“You are a mighty big fella, I bet you could give him a good ass whoopin’ huh? The rude bastard.”

“I’ll kill that rude bastard!” the trucker blurted out and lifted his four hundred pound frame from the bar stool with a slow intensity. He faltered, turned to look back at his new friend and when he saw the strangers glittering smile he charged down to the end of the diner. “I’ll kill you, you rude bastard! You deserve an ass whoopin!” He screamed and with a dive as graceful as a jumping whale he buried his smaller, but still quite large, opponent.

“Don’t kill him pal!” The stranger shouted to his monstrous champion, and then he sat silently sipping his coffee. It tasted terrible to him and a thin layer of grease floated on top splattered into the air by the unwashed grill. At the end of the diner the big man was winning easily, punishing the loudmouth for his rudeness. Every once in a while the behemoth was heard to say “Rude bastard!” Soon he grew too tired to keep hitting the man and instead just laid on him recovering his wind, taking five, before he could hoist himself up and stumble back to his bar stool. The patrons had gathered around the moaning victim, he was beat up but not too bad. The fat man’s soggy fists were heavy but soft. “Nice work, chief” commented the stranger. The fat trucker beamed, he would feel no happier if he had just hit the New Mexico megabucks.

He turned back to the waitress who was grinning stupidly.

“Anything odd happen in these parts in the past few days, hun?” He asked

“Hell yeah!” she answered, happy to have some information to offer the handsome stranger. “Just last night some poor guy got his head beat in with a tire iron down at the Gas n’ Go.” Having what he came for he tossed a few dollars onto the counter and walked out.

As the finger print smeared diner door closed behind him a white sedan with the insignia of the county Sheriff turned off the two lane highway and rumbled lazily into the sun-baked parking lot. No lights flashing, no sign that the disruption inside was any type of emergency. The stranger stopped and leaned against the hood of his black BMW, his elegant form blending in with the sleek lines of the expensive automobile. From his coat pocket he mechanically produced a pair of dark sunglasses and nonchalantly unfolded and placed them on his face. This he did while watching the Sheriff park and step out of the dusty Buick. He was unimpressed, this was another good ol’ boy bumpkin lawman; over fifty, slightly paunchy, with just a hint of a former bullish physique, a mane of graying hair and sagging jowls. The Sheriff reached into the car grabbed his stiff brown hat and virtually slammed it down onto his head. As he approached the stranger could not catch his eyes, the morning sun was bright and the lawman still wore his dark glasses. He had hoped to charm some information from the Sheriff, anything he knew about the incident at the Gas n’ Go, but as the aging lawman approached, a small pin prick of fear ignited in the stranger’s belly. As the Sheriff moved closer it bloomed into a nervous anxiety. Composing himself the stranger laughed away this strange feeling.

“Howdy, boss.” He began “Mighty big tussle in there, I thought that big bastard was gonna kill that poor fella.” The Approaching Sheriff turned his head to look at the Stranger, but kept walking toward the diner door. “I saw it all, chief, I sure wouldn’t mind making a statement.” The Sheriff turned his eyes back to the diner, he never stopped walking. The subdued feeling exploded again in the stranger’s belly. How weak and vulnerable he felt at that moment, his trick had failed, like it never had before. Often young children were immune, but never a full grown man, a man who should be full of doubt searching for anything to fill a gaping hole in his psyche, a man, like all men, searching for approval. He wanted nothing more than to leave this damned county in this god forsaken state, to be far away from this man who had the power to take apart everything that he was, the man whose eyes had looked at him, into him, and found him lacking. The stranger hated that feeling more than anything.

A short lived moment of insanity grasped him he wanted to take the revolver from under the seat of his car and rush into the diner, to kill that old bastard who would not succumb to him, to eradicate any danger he might pose and then use his trick to make every person in the diner claim they had done it themselves. But the men at the top would not like that at all, they would want to know why he had done it, and if they ever found out his trick had failed, even one time, their need of him might rapidly disappear. He was a valuable tool, more valuable than most, only a few were better than he. Yet his stock would crumble if there were more men like this small time Sheriff in the world, luckily in 30 years he had never met another. Trembling slightly he composed himself, nervously smoothed the front of his jacket, straightened his collar and slid gracefully into the seat of his car. The engine roared to life and he carefully maneuvered out of the parking lot turning into the barren New Mexico desert in search of Nobody.

I have an Ereader, Yes I do.

One bright day in Sunny San Diego PoseySessions and I walked into a Barnes & Noble and we walked out with a Nook. It was an amazing gift from the greatest gal ever. So I have an ereader (more like we have one, I think she uses it as much as me) so what, right? No! I have found this device to be a blessing, and sometimes a curse. One amazing thing about owning an ereader is the freedom it offers. I can get any book anytime I want and I can take it and a thousand others anywhere I go. It is also ergonomic. While opening a book and holding it in your hands is not the most physically demanding of activities, it can sometimes be annoying, especially with big bulky hardcovers, that refuse to lay flat or cooperate with our one handed attempts at holding them while multitasking. My nook lays flat anywhere, that is actually the first thing I realized I loved about it. I could set it on my lap and hold my bag of chi…err carrot sticks in one hand and double half calf soy milk mocha frap in the other, and never once have to contend with the pages slowly creeping shut on me. So I guess I fell in love with the lazy factor.

The amount of books I have on my nook is ridiculous, honestly I dont think I will ever read them all, even though I would love to do it someday. Along with books my nook is also home to a number of academic articles that, because the Nook reads .pdf, are easily accessible for studying on the go. Thanks to sites like Project Gutenberg I feel like I am never far away from thousands of (free) and enlightening books. After entertaining lectures, or reading the bibliography of a particularly good book I find myself browsing the Gutenberg library of public domain books in search of more and more information on whatever topic has caught my eye. Another amazing site is NetGalley where book reviewers big and small (me) have access to hundreds of ebook ARCs made available for review purposes. Between these two sites I will never run out of stuff to read.

However neat it may be, gathering thousands of books is not really a good thing. I have no sense of urgency or expenditure, and I am often lacking motivation to read or finish the books I have amassed. When I think of reading something on my Nook I often end up saying “I can read that anytime".” Whereas, having checked it out from a library, or more pressingly, spent money on it I am much more likely to read something. Every ebook I have paid for has been read to completion on the device. But the other few hundred remain unopened, so far.

I feel a little silly complaining about having too many books. So I will stop now. And instead focus on why I think the device, and to a lesser extent the Kindle (I have only spent a few minutes using one) are still lacking necessary features, or maybe feature. I first envisioned the Nook as a great way to further and assist my studies. I have spent many hours with my faced buried in articles from academic journals, sometimes printing over 100 pages of them in one sitting. I dreamt of easily highlighting and annotating my articles and then during discussions easily searching my notes for points. It did not happen this way. Highlighting and annotating on a Nook is an excruciating process that takes the reader out of the article and into a maze of menus and buttons. So much so that I refuse to do it. I manually (with a pen and paper!!!) write notes and page numbers to avoid having to manipulate the device. In next gen readers I would love to see easy touch screen highlighting that automatically popped up a little touch keypad where notes could be entered, and then a notes file generated where then entire ebook could be uploaded to a pc in highlighted and annotated form with a glossary of notes. Cross your fingers.

In the end I think ereaders are a wave of the future, not THE wave of the future. I do not see them easily replacing paper books. Their is a romanticism surrounding the bound book and I doubt it disappears rapidly. Only when every other aspect of society is paperless do I think we will see real physical books go the way of the buffalo. An ebook reader is a great investment just in terms convenience. When you consider the low prices of some of the great readers on the market they even make sense financially. Some of the best stories ever written, some of the most interesting philosophy, and some of mankind’s greatest observations are freely available in public domain. For the price of ten or twelve of those books in paper copies you could own your own ereader packed with hundreds of them for free. I know a lot of people are resistant to making the switch. But I don't think of it as an all or nothing change. My Nook has its place, as do the hundreds of physical books I have lining my bookshelves. The Nook merely compliments my reading and makes getting a book on demand so much easier. I downloaded a book while standing in the middle of times square, because I just couldn't wait! and for me, that's freedom.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gold After Gray - Short Story – Part 1

The spot on my shirt is blood; it once belonged to a man in a suit. The blood, that is, not the shirt. I beat him to death with a tire iron in the parking lot of a gas station in New Mexico. I watched as he pushed around the woman who was with him, I was going to walk away, until he hit her. That dark spot on my sleeve will probably be the first thing you notice about me, and the only thing. Most of my life no one I have met twice could remember my face, or put a name to it. It’s not quite like being invisible, but it is close. It never occurred to me until I was twenty two years old that I was a ghost, or a shadow, or whatever it is you want to call me. As a child things were not this way. I was not a remarkable child, never stood out at much of anything, but most faces looking back at me carried a spark of recognition. Parents, teachers, friends, and classmates all knew my name. It wasn’t until puberty that my identity just started sliding away, it was there but it couldn’t be grasped, like oil on water.

Soon I was the kid in the back of the class; I had to repeat my name every time the teacher had a whim to call on me for an answer. When my name was read for roll call it was like it was the first time, I was always the new kid. It started slow; most people still caught hold of me, all but the least astute. Gradually it became worse, by the time I graduated high school only the most observant, the sharpest, with the most organized minds could recognize my face. I attempted to go to college, but I began to resent being asked every day if I belonged in each class. Before long I felt like I didn’t. It became impossible to hold a job. I spent many long hours wondering what was going wrong with the world. Then I wondered what was wrong with me, what was my flaw, why did nobody care to know me, to be close to me, to learn my name. For a long time I struggled and when I found no answers I went home.

My mother slammed the door in my face.

The police officers who arrived after I refused to leave the doorstep escorted me off the property and asked me not to return. But I did. The next day I went back, my mother smiled when she opened the door and asked pleasantly, “can I help you?” No. The truth about what I was began to needle itself into my brain. At first I refused to listen to it, I laughed at myself. After returning every day for three weeks I could no longer hold back the tide of reality. I was nobody. There has never been a name for what I have become. Not a doppelganger, I can’t change my appearance. I don’t look like someone new every day. I look like myself, when I see my reflection in the mirror it is always the same. There is no fancy descriptor for my face, my hair or my skin. “Not quite” would be the preferred verbiage were someone to attempt to detail me to a sketch artist. “Not quite tall, or short” “Not quite blonde or brown” “Not quite heavy or thin” with gray eyes. The mean cloak of mediocrity has taken away everything that I am… or could have been.

So I began to wander and test the limits of my strangeness, for that is all I can call it. For a while I thought I might be a super hero blessed with a mighty power to use to fight crime and help those besieged by the criminal element. But I never have had much of an imagination, and the luster soon wore off that idea. What would the damsel in distress cry moments before she is ravaged by thugs, “Help me…uh, what’s his name again?” A proper super hero gets the credit; he is valiantly humble of course and hides behind his mask. But the world knows Batman saved the day. It does not work like that when you are your own alter ego.

So here I am, in a gas station in New Mexico buying a pack of cigarettes. The clerk asks me if I saw what happened to that guy outside. She did. She explains it to me, apparently some maniac bashed his head in with a tire iron. She left out the part where that maniac walked behind the station, washed his hands in the restroom, put his jacket on to cover the blood stain on his sleeve and is now handing over three one dollar bills.

My name is Elias Gray.

I am 38 years old.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes.

SpookHead

October is approaching with sureness and slowness, it shambles with a malevolent gait. It creeps ever closer and with it it brings frosty mornings, falling leaves and waves of ghosts and ghoulies. October is one of my favorite, and most hated months at the same time. I have a serious dislike of fall, I do not find the dying leaves pretty, for me they are merely a hideous reminder (along with the dropping mercury in my thermometer) that in the immortal words of the long dead Ned Stark, “Winter is Coming.” But, a small ray of sunshine penetrates the gray fall days. Halloween! Okay, let me be more clear. I am not a huge fan of the holiday itself, but I LOVE the aura that surrounds it. The creepy feelings and the television flooded with reruns of my favorite paranormal themed programming. So I tolerate October, and then vent my wrath on November when it comes around. November is gonna get it this year, I had a really great Summer and I'm extra resentful that it is fading away.

And to the matter at hand. Spookfest 2010. To celebrate October this year Mr.X is going to take you all on a roller coaster ride adventure through some of my favorite paranormal stuff, and I will be reading and reviewing a few new things! (new to me anyway) Starting with The Dead Boys, the review of which will kick off the event on October 1st. So stick around I am going to cover several books, some TV shows and at least one documentary.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lone Eagle – Walter L Hixson

What follows is a rough draft of a critical analysis for my history readings seminar.

0321093232 Charles Lindbergh will forever be remembered as the hero of one of America’s greatest victories, and the victim of one of its most noteworthy crimes. The life of Lindbergh was characterized by passion and zeal, and interrupted by crushing tragedy. In his biography of the great aviator Walter L. Hixson sets out to chronicles both the high and low points of the life of Charles Lindbergh. In a mere 160 pages Hixson lays out a story that stretches from a farm in Minnesota to the palaces of Europe; from St. Louis and the birth of a legend, to a whitewashed home in Southern New Jersey and a national catastrophe. Lindbergh captured the American imagination, not only with flight, but heroism itself. In this work Hixson attempts to reignite the larger than life legend that was Charles Lindbergh, to explain the way he gripped the hearts and minds of every American, and how he fell from grace.

Currently a professor in the history department at the University of Akron, Walter L Hixson is the author of several books including a biography of George F. Kennan and politically focused history works such as: Parting the Curtain; Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War and Witness to Disintegration:

Provincial Life in the Last Year of the USSR. It comes then as no surprise the level of detail used by Hixson when delving into the political intrigue of Lindbergh’s life. Of much interest is Hixson’s recently published work The Myth of American Diplomacy, themes of which can be seen scattered throughout Lone Eagle. It is readily apparent that Hixson sympathized with Lindbergh, and from a quick glance at his other works it becomes apparent the two shared similar political ideals.

On a technical level Lone Eagle sometimes suffers from confusing word choice, poor syntax and sloppy editing. A glaring example of which can be seen in chapter five when in blatant redundancy Hixson writes “Instead of flying West, the Lindberghs would go north by the Great Circle Route. Instead of flying West, they would Fly North.”[1] On other occasions Hixson confuses groups or entities and speaks of them as if they were individuals leading the reader on a confusing backtracking expedition to sort out his train of thought.[2] Hixson is not a master of prose, but he makes up for a lack of technical writing skill with a strong grasp of ideas and their importance in the life of both Lindbergh and ordinary Americans.

Hixson does well at relating the different eras through which Lindbergh lived. He captures the spirit of the 1920s and the need for a great American hero, as well as the tense political years between the outbreak of WWII in Europe and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hixson masterfully explains the American fascination with Lindbergh, how the aviator was vaulted into legend status, he encapsulates the collective consciousness of the United States and connects it the explosions of hero worship that surrounded Lindbergh after his New York to Paris flight. Hixson also succeeds in explaining the mind of Lindbergh as he is faced with challenge upon challenge stemming from his universal adulation and the death of his first child. Lone Eagle succeeds in conveying the importance of ideas in the life of Lindbergh; how those ideas drove him from the farm in Minnesota to Paris, Mexico City, the microphone at an anti-war rally and into the cockpit of a fighter plane flying over the Pacific theater.

It is readily apparent that Hixson identifies with his subject, and perhaps the author is infected with a bit of the hero worship which he so deftly explains to the reader. He writes of Lindbergh’s disillusionment with American society. He begs for the reader to understand, not condemn, Lindbergh’s decision to flee the United States. Considering the vein of Hixson’s previous work, it is clear that he sympathized to a large extent with Lindbergh’s feelings. Both apparently share a certain cynicism regarding American culture and exceptionalism. Hixson goes so far as to contend that the American identity prescribed to by most Americans is nothing short of Mythical. With such a jaded view of American society it calls into question Hixson’s description of Lindbergh’s life and thought process. The reader cannot be sure what part of his rendition is accurate and what part is a projection of his personal bias onto the life of an American hero.

Lindbergh largely gets a pass from Mr. Hixson for a number of controversial statements and ideas. The author often seeks to explain away many of Lindbergh’s less than politically correct personal traits. A statement about building “White ramparts” against the intrusion of the “pressing sea of the Yellow, Black, and Brown” is explained away by the author as a reaction to a minor incident in China years before. Hixson repeatedly attempts to sanitize Lindbergh’s ties to the Nazi party, dismissing or explaining away every argument presented against him. Hixson admits Lindbergh believed that democracy would fall, and even though he preferred fascism to take its place, referred to Hitler as a “great man” and found a “sense of decency” in the Third Reich, Hixson, time and again, claims that Lindbergh was not a fascist. It was merely the way the “compulsive energy of the Nazi regime mirrored Lindbergh’s own personality.” Hixson calls Lindbergh’s refusal to condemn Nazi atrocities “plain speaking.” He refuses to connect Lindbergh’s hatred of communism to anything other than a fierce patriotic sentiment, leaving out his admiration for fascism, the antithesis of communism.

While Lone Eagle does laudable job at relaying the factual details of the life of an American hero, the bias shown by its author bleeds across its pages and serves to discredit any objective statement it hopes to make about the mind of Charles Lindbergh. Hixson seeks to project a certain style of thinking onto Lindbergh, a series of opinions that strikingly resemble those of Hixson as published in his later works. A questionable bias coupled with subpar narrative skill make Lone Eagle a mediocre book, at best, for the investigation of the life of Lindbergh. The most relevant part of the book for any objective study into the subject of Charles Lindbergh is found in the sources, and the notes on those sources found in the back of the book. A reader would be better served by turning to these sources for their information, free of added bias. Hixson’s Lone Eagle was a poor entry into the category of Charles Lindbergh biographies.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Witch & Wizard – James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Witch-and-Wizard

I think it is safe to say James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard has an awesome cover. It was the cover that initially attracted me to the book. Upon mentioning it to PoseySessions she told me it was a YA dystopian novel, at which point I became even more interested. I looked around locally for a copy and didn't find one and had partially forgotten about it when one day last week my awesome lady handed me a copy out of the blue. I cracked it open immediately and almost let out a verbal wah wah waaaaaah of disappointment. The first few pages were bad, they read like a cheesy children’s story full of unimaginative clichés and lame parodies. (Freida Halo? Lay-Z? Really?) But what did I expect from a writer who publishes a book on a nearly monthly basis, a writer who depends on writers like Charbonnet to write his first drafts for him, a writer who has admitted he is not a master of prose? I guess I expected more than the watered down and uninspired shell of a story that is the first few chapters.

With & Wizard improves dramatically as the book progresses, the final 2/3rds of the book encompasses a pretty good story. It is a solid page turner, but it is by no means a “good” book. The characters in the novel are horrendous, poorly imagined, poorly written and just all around unbelievable and impossible to identify with. I would never expect such levity from two kids about to be executed. The last I knew being ripped from one’s parents in the dead of night and told you were going to be killed was not an opportunity for sardonic humor. Yes it is a kids book, but even that does not excuse the atrocious and shallow style in which the book is written. It really feels like the cliff notes version of a pretty good book. The story is there, but the writing leaves too much to be desired.

Witch & Wizard was not a YA book, it landed solidly in Middle Grade territory, written for readers maybe 12 years old. Patterson is hammering a very young audience with complex political messages that are boiled down and presented in an uncomplicated way. Dystopia by its nature is political. Witch & Wizard deals with political messages that the target audience cannot understand. This book presents a young reader with a deep distrust of authority, community, adults and a burgeoning misanthropic sentiment. Sure its a neat fairy tale message, the likes of Peter Pan, to tell kids they can rule the world. Patterson, in this novel walks a fine line between enriching our children with a sense of individuality and empowerment, and propagandizing them.

In summation, Witch & Wizard is a decent page turner, a good story poorly told. But in the end it seems like the shell of a book that could have been great if filled with more substance. Patterson is not a good writer, and only a fair storyteller. The best reason for a child to read this book is for the motivational factor. A 12 year old aspiring writer can look at this and say to himself “if this guy can get rich writing like this, there is no reason I can’t as well.”

page image stolen from Aykanozener @ Deviant Art show some love, check it out.