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Kinjal Ramaiya 4 days ago

Epic SunshineStuart Neville, RATLINES

If ya don’t know me, I’ll explain that I grabbed this library book for the title alone. I had to see what Ratlines in the context of muh Darling Staggering Rat was all about.

It wasn’t about her. It is crime fiction of the Irish variety, meaning it is couched in the issues of Catholicism, and Britain, and an ignoble past of indifference and some support for the Hitlerian cause against Britain, and of JFK’s visit to Ireland, the first by a head of state in modern times.

At the heart of the book is The Troubles and their successors, THE MORE Troubles, English Protestant dominance, the questions of Northern Ireland, and the Irish Republican Army. The plot centers around the murders of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who settled in Ireland after World War Two. The government doesn’t like murders, especially before Kennedy’s visit, and brings in soldier Albert Ryan to find the killers, and to stop more murders from happening.

The question of protecting Nazis, as government, policy, is dubious at best. These are real Nazis, men who enjoyed the slaughter, not just working class people following orders or just going along. They deserve to die. Is the new state of Israel behind it? Is it greed for the money the Nazis stole and still control? Is it revenge alone? A moral issue of stopping known bad people from doing more bad things?

The story is complicated by cultures, by history, by personality and by class. It is well conceived, compelling, and interesting. Everyone of course has blood on their hands and the question of what Ireland really stands before is a backdrop of integrity-in-writing, in thought.

The upshot is that, yes, the plot is resolved in the end. And that I liked the book enormously. And that Ratlines (this is no spoiler) are those channels by which Nazis and wealth were smuggled out of Germany from the middle to the end of World War Two. Having been introduced to Mr. Neville by title alone I will now seek him out on the shelves and read more, especially his Dublin Trilogy. Thank you Stuart, Thank you. 1 week ago

Epic SunshineStewart O'Nan, SONGS OF THE MISSING

O, whatta heartbreaking novel.

All those children we used to see on milk cartons? And the local news stories that occur everywhere once or twice or six times a year?

This coulda been real. It has all the ring of reality, all the signposts we’ve all seen, heard about. All the truth that we all say “I can’t imagine what they must be going through” and then think “Glad it’s not me.”

It’s a simple story. An 18 year old woman is experiencing her last summer, probably, at home with the friends she grew up with. There’s hanging out. Beer. Minor drug use. They are all working service industry jobs and getting ready for college (or what not). She leaves for work one day, never makes it, and is never heard from again. She’s a good kid from a good family and nothing should have happened. Nobody could have done anything to prevent this, except the sicko who did it.

The story is not told from the perspective of the victim or sicko but from the perspective of her mother, father, sister, close friends. The kids have secrets, yes. And most of them are uncovered. But they have nothing to do with the kidnapping. And then there is law enforcement, frustrating at best from the perspective of loved ones: She is 18, a legal adult. She’s involved in some sort of drugs. She’s got a boy friend (or two) and let’s look first at them rather than everywhere, at once, as soon as possible. The mother turns more aggressive: the internet, the advice, thousands of fliers, public statements, awareness raising of all kinds. The father doesn’t know what to do except to stay busy: lead search teams along creeks the kids hang out at, deal with the frustrating cops as best as he can. The little sister is simultaneously forgotten and becomes a prisoner, everyone afraid fro her safety. Her world turns, collapses, gets strange. And the girl is not found.

The emotion is palpable. It is realistic too. It is heart wrenching and awful. And it is a mystery. O’Nan is a terrific writer (if you accept his journalistic skill as literature) and conveys the story with the realistic detachment of somebody too close to real tragedy. Yes, the cops really suck, the parents are really hurt AND trying to resolve, move on. Yes, kids have secrets at this age. And it is all there, some of it clear and some of it, like what really happened to the victim, the details, will never be known. And that is the hardest part of these stories and this book.

We are given closure to the story. (And I feel terrible about all those families who have been through this and still never get closure.) It does not end well, but it does end. It is dark, and troublesome, wholesome and universal. It is a good and disturbing book and I won’t be reading another one like it for a long time. Thank you, Mr. O’Nan. (And I REALLY REALLY I enjoyed Faithful. It was a stroke of huge luck to write it THAT year. Thank you for that too!) 1 week ago

Epic SunshineJohn Sandford, PHANTOM PREY

A whodunnit by an author who’s written 18 whodunnits with the word “prey” in the title. And other whodunnits too.

His Prey series is based on a Minneapolis detective, Lucas Davenport. I like Minneapolis. Never been there, except for the airport. But I like the ring of it, and that it goes well with “Minnesota.” I like thatit has a twin city too, like Dallas-Fort Worth, one greater, one lesser unless you find greatness in the working class like me. They slaughter and butcher the meats, historically, in one city and serve them up in the other.

This book touches a little on that. But not a lot. We don’t have dual personality metro regions like we used to. Sanford gives a dual personality, actually a triple, in this book. The old Sybil story. The question isn’t really “who” but “which.” At least for the serial crimes. There are other crimes, including another murder to solve, one connected to, but not conducted by, the primary criminal. It is a detective’s perspective, and allowed. Sanford takes on the journey of sorting it all out. And there’s other priority work for Davenport too. He’s a detective and has to work several cases at once. At least until the end of the book when EVERYTHING gets wrapped up in one exciting day.

I liked the pacing, the continuity of three or four stories at once, their complicated ties and surprising resolutions, and that we know the emus will be cared for. I like that a lot. Sanford put a lot on the plate and got it all sorted out. I wasn’t sure he’d be able too, but he did.

All these people and personalities take a bit to follow, to sort out. It’s complicated at times and I found myself having to concentrate to keep things straight. That’s ok. But I’m not used to it for these quick-read who dunnit novels. Other than that, the language gets a bit rough at times. (Why do cops HAVE to speak like that? They don’t, but they do anyway.) But the pacing is quick, the details interesting (emus are not out of line though they could be in a lesser author’s care) and the story arc(s) are true and well finished.

Nice work, Mr. Sandford. If I find another of your works (I like Robert Parker, but he’s post-morem emeritus now and I’ve read all his books and need another several who dunnit authors to follow) I’ll grab it.

I would suggest you get off this prey business. It’s a poke toward lesser stories and story tellers like Sue Grafton. And it diminishes, to me, the effort and quality of your story telling. But I’m sure you’ve already considered (after 18 probably many times) the issue, including name recognition and a marketing brand and all that and are gonna stick with it. 2 weeks ago

Epic SunshineKazuo Ishiguro, NEVER LET ME GO

Oy! Whatta book.

The premise is that some people are raised only to be organ donors for others. This book is about the former, not the latter. Kids are herded into a boarding school, given something of an education, make friends, age out to become people who care for those still older ones giving organs, and then age out and become organ donors themselves until harvested, until life cannot be sustained.

It’s a wonderfully creative premise. I really like the horror aspect, and the nature of a system that grows to unnatural extremes. I liked Rollerball and Westwood a long time ago for the same reasons. And some of the Star Trek episodes too.

Ishiguro focuses on the life-time relationships of three people who are raised in this. By using their experience he does not have to explain how the system came to be, who the beneficiaries really are, or even, given the nature of their education and background, why the donors are pretty much stupid about simply accepting their lot in life and death. It works as a literary device and is believable but truth be told, I want to know more than he offers. What IS this system? Why are the donors such completely passive sheep? Isn’t human nature MORE than this on both sides of the equation? He coulda done more and my brain says he shoulda done more. I was left with way too many questions to be satisfied with my own completion (as the author calls DYING).

And here is another rub. So much of the book focuses on tedious conversations, both youthful and as adults, that are present only to show (methinks) the absolute lack of curiosity any of his characters has. Yes, there is a forest which look scary but it doesn’t play a role in the story. Yes, there is a cassette tape with a song conveying the book’s title, but it is not important in any meaningful way. Yes, there are relationships but they are limited at best and shallow at second best. Is there no love or hatred in this world? No lasting anger? No insurmountable obstacles overcome? The worst was listening to teenagers talk. It was terribly effective, this writing, like listening to real teenagers talk. They really don’t have a lot of important things to say, but they think they do and THAT is just tedious.

Yes, I’ll recommend the book to others, and do so with the same warnings that Ms. R offered when she recommended the darn thing to me: it’s got limits, a great story but not a great telling. Yes, it had an unexplained clown loosing helium-filled balloon as a metaphor (double oy). The story deserved more and better. 2 weeks ago

Epic SunshineAnne Rice (writing as A.N. Roquelaure) THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY

Welly Welly well! Ms. Rice has always been a wonderfully serious romance writer at the edges of something more. What darkness her vampires live! And her ghosts and witches and all the rest! What feral natures, possibilities, limitless!

One of the great things about her writing is that the romance is always present: scenes between males, paternal-child, women, EVERYONE! Even if there is no s-e-x between characters, there is always the presence of romantic language, exotic settings, and of course dark alternative underbellies.

It is natural for Rice to turn at some point to BDSM, methinks. Her stories all involve the language of control, of power, of usurpation and sensuality. A great fit! So when Ms. R. and I checked this one (the first of a trilogy) out of the local library, there was literary and romantic interest afoot. What better setting than a fairy tale? what better character than a sleeping beauty? What better question than “what does happily ever after really mean?”

Yup. Beauty is awakened and then harnessed to the will of her Prince Charming who hauls her back to his kingdom to be a slave of passion and love to him. Her training is willing and begins immediately, on the journey. She is stripped down and paraded, learns the beauty of the paddle, what other responsibilities servants may have, etc. The book is Story of O, except in a kingdom and castle. She is degraded and loves it, a willing participant, student, submissive.

The whole kingdom appears to be bound up in matters sensual. The castle has a slave hall, great training parties, all sorts of equipment and people, roles and expectations. Yet is a marvel to which layer after layer unveiled to Beauty. The only real absence of expectations lies in gender accountability. Whatever the tendancis of individuals, everyone slave is up for grabs by anyone. It’s a wide open festival of the limitless.

So why does Beauty cry so much? Ms. r. and I talked about it. There’s no real reason. Beauty wants to serve, embraces the lifestyle, never objects, is naturally sensual. Why all the crying? It goes on and on, public and private, alone and not. Why? It is not sensual, does not serve the story, and only puts a harsh on the buzz.

And here is another thing: the only word used for the human ass is buttock. Given all the paddling (there’s TONS) one finds one self reading “buttock” over and over and over, if outloud as Ms. R and I did, it first brings grins, then guffaws. No Arse Ass Bottom Cheeks. Nope. Only BUTTOCK! And the word mount gets a pretty good work out in the same way. Aren’t there OTHER words?

And so much of the training, virtually all of it, is a matter of public sport. Prince Charming comes and goes (or the otherway around) but with Beauty it is always in a room full of people. Do they not have a private and personal relationship? Can there be real intimacy before a crowd? it undermines the story a bit in this regard.

The story, in this book, is fairly limited in terms of BDSM activity. My supposition is that in the next two books it becomes much more varied and creative. My criticism here is that if you are looking for new ideas, new omelettes to make, you probably will not find it here. We delighted in picking this up, reading aloud, having fun with it. Great literature it is not. But it is broadly romantic, tepidly spiced, and given the body of Rice’s work, worth a look. Now, back to the library with you. We shan’t seek out the other volumes but if someone leaves them on the step like an abandoned puppy, we will have a wee look and pass it along. 3 weeks ago

Epic SunshineBernard Cornwell, 1356

I grabbed this one from the library shelf for the title alone. I’m not a medieval man but once in a while a good plague and inquest captures my curiosity.

This is about a battle in the hundred years war between England and France with a Pope of Avignon thrown in. I don’t know if the Church recognizes those popes today as official popes. But there ya go. The age of two popes.

There’s no real love story here, though there are women and the men who love them. And it is a real battle though we know little about the battle in a detailed way, like why a third of the French army simply got up and left in the middle of it. We do know the outcome (a third moves out? No spoiler on the outcome.

The book opens with a runaway bride, the reclamation of her and the slaughter of her lover by the men of the fat pig that married her, and the subsequent pursuit of her for political as well as marital purposes. The story brings in a cast of warriors and the women who love them, and points to the cruelties of life at the time. There’s lotsa talk about arrow and crossbows and and the effect their use have on men. And there is lots of religious and economic intrigue. It is, after all, mostly about money, power, influence.

The best part of the book was the inclusion of a search for a religious relic like the holy grail or Dan Brown’s vessel in the DaVinci Code. Cornwell’s is a sword, the one used by Peter to protect Jesus as they arrested him before the crucifixion. Good call Mr. Cornwell! I’ve never seen THIS relic used or discussed in any detail. It made the book fresher than just another war history.

The writing is tolerable. For all the intrigue and those who like it, there is fodder here. For those of us who might yawn over yet another potential romance/political alliance tidbit the book may hold less interest. I found myself wondering occasionally, eh, who cares? And I found myself wondering if I really need to know how arrows differ or lances or chain mail. But I finished it with aplomb, getting through all the blood and guts and clanking and slaughter just fine. And yes, the fat pig of a husband gets his in the end. 3 weeks ago

Epic SunshineRick Greener, THE LACY CONFESSION

A whodunnit of mid 20th century socio-eco-political faux historical significance. The essence: One very rich, powerful, well connected, all capable capitalist had good reason to kill three Kennedys and everyone else he wanted to, exploit and shape hugely transformative moments in the Russian and subsequent revolutions, and influence all of the emerging post world war two to his benefit.

Really. It is THAT big. The best part is that Greener takes the known and accepted existing facts of all this and bends them to his will and story. It comes out as almost believable. Why? Because we love conspiracy stories and all of these are based on conspiracy anyway. they are rooted in known truth so what is one more conpipracy to tie them all together?

I wish I’d of thought of it!

I had a lot of fun with this book. It’s an earnest and ernest story of money and power where the rubber meets the road. Lacy, the rich guy behind it all, left a confession to be read publicly after his death. He’s old and seen, done it all. So NOBODY wants the confession public and the one guy who has it is hunted by everyone who has reason to hunt him. it is a taught, fast paced, well written thriller. It is for the most part well written, if not beautifully composed (but that’s what I get reading this at the same time as Fitzgerald) and I had a whale of a time getting through it.

Here is my ONLY criticism. If I had such a document in hand and wanted it publicized after my death, I’d have made a thousand copies for mailing, dissemination, not leaving a single copy in the hands of a single elderly attorney as Lacy did. Or, if I was the sole possessor of such a document knowing that the only previous possessor and those close to him were already murdered for it, I’d have found a Kinkos, and be quick about it.

But then the story wouldn’t hold together as a man-hunt thriller would it?

This was FUN read. Thank You Mr. Greener. THANK YOU4 weeks ago

Epic SunshineF. Scott Fitzgerald, THE GREAT GATSBY

A revisited classic. Does it change with my maturity, insights? No. I think I got it all the first time. Except for just how beautifully adept the use of language is. This is a classic for this reason and the real beauty of it comes to me now, in my dotage.

The tale, of course, is of 1920s wealth, the kind behind excess and the market Crash of ‘29. It is the kind of wealth that has no bounds, no limits, no reserve and no morals.

In my previous reading I’d seen it aas a story of excess alone. Now I see it as beautifully told. ALL the main characters (save, broadly, the narrator) have morals issues and a self aggrandized right to excess that is unquestioned.

There is death of course, the ultimate and justified payback for all this excess. And the fact the deaths are justified, even if the dead are not those who cause death, is what really makes the story tick. Feel bad for a case of mistaken identity resulting in murder? No. I don’t.

It is a grand and powerful book, a thing of beauty in the handling of gender, money, class, ethnicity, crimes and punishment. And it a joy to read and re-read the phrasing, the dialogues, the words of it.., all.

Thank you Mr. Fitzgerald. I may even see the movie. 4 weeks ago

Epic SunshineRobertson Davies, THE MANTICORE

This is the middlebook in the famous Canadian “Deptford trilogy.” Ms. R gave me the first and third books several years ago to bolster my meager canon of Can-Lit and I relished the introductions. The Christmas brought, from her, a first edition of the middle book, THE MANTICORE, so I went back and re-read the first to prepare for the second and am now on, again, the third.

This is the odd-man-out book of the trilogy. It is focussed on a minor character in the first book, is for the most part not set in Canada, departs considerably from the themes and nature of the first book, and stands alone (like a good second trilogy book should) as a story unto itself.

Like the other books, Davies gives us crisp articulation and imagination that moves and surprises. The story arc is sweeping. I really liked these elements:

1. The first book explores the rise of small town people in a larger world. This one explores the son of one of these characters as a personal journey of a larger world boy needing to learn the small of himself. It is an inversion carefully and beautifully, as they say about illusion, pulled off.

2. There are consequences, in Davies’ class-defined, democratically instinctive Canadian/British world. A lot of them are of ambition as defined by individuals. Does the ambition of the son ever live up to the ambition of the father? And what of the ambition(s) of women, including mothers and daughter, when harnessed to patriarchy and capitalism and success? Davies explores these themes very very well, especially for a book of the 1970s rather than a generation later.

3. I learned a lot about Jungian analysis. I did not go into this book wanting to learn a lot about Jungian analysis for I am not big on self-analysis, much less systems of analysis as invented by others. I can be mean about this kinda thing. Why blame childhood (Freud) for a fully grown adult’s failure to deal with issues? And if so, why does childhood also not get any credit for adult success? Really, isn’t there anytime when an adult is fully and completely making his/her own decisions without all the power of others’ influences defining these choices? Jung is not much different in this desire to find others the defining nature of the individual, but he is way different in that he is not overly attached to toilet training and breast feeding and what not. So I’m good with that.

3. The book is crafted. It is a pleasure to read, to follow, to be a part of. The characters are strong and purposeful. the story is clear and compelling, and it is a book one wants to finish rather than simply get through.

Thank you, Mr. Davies. It is a pleasure! And Thank You Ms R. It is a PLEASURE to be pushed into the great world of you and Can-Lit. 2 months ago

Epic SunshineCROSS-FIRE by David Haberg.

I finished this a week ago. Plot is that the fall of the Soviet Union means big budget problems for the KGB. They decide to solve their shortage with good old common theft, of gold, while framing U.S. spies as the thieves. The idea is thin, given that off-the-books funding has never been a problem, apparently, for either country. And when you start dragging other nations into the whole thing, as Haberg, does, it
becomes a real suspension of reality.

The nice part of the book is that a descendant of Nazi emigres to Argentina at the end of World War Two is seeking to recover Jewish gold to be returned to proper authorities. I liked the historical reach of this side-plot better than the plot itself.

It was entertaining, this read, but not, to me, mesmerizing. Thank you Mr. Haberg. 3 months ago


Ahhh, the well spring of a loved one’s screen name! The title of this book is ballsy. Can it live up? I’m sure everyone who’s touched it thought the same thing. And I’m sure Eggers has gotten his answers to this question a million times. The question is Caesarian, as is the book: thumbs up, ya love it; thumbs down, it fails, and badly. There’s no inbetween here. Eggers doesn’t offer it, expect it. And if readers go for the in between they’ll do anything to pacify anyone.

So I’ve taken my time on this review. The truth is that some of the writing is more than credible. The story too has the framework of being compelling: A mother and father both die, separately and several months apart, leaving children behind. None of the kids are adults though one is fully grown. The youngest is a real child, in need of more than siblings alone, especially teen siblings, would generally be able to offer. There are discussions and ultimately the decisions are made. The youngest, in grammar school, will be raised by the teen-aged son. The eldest will be supportive but on her own, attempting to find her own place in life. On the surface the book revolves around the ongoing relationship of the two brothers. But this book is really, and thoroughly, only about Eggers who is the middle child and did indeed take on the task of legal guardianship.

I thought a coming-of-age-under-unusual-circumstances might indeed present staggering insights, genius. I thought too of the potential for great drama, for overcoming huge obstacles, of a tale (it is classified as fiction) well conceived and beautifully told, for that is what the title promises.

At times the book seems headed there. There are hugely and beautifully moments, presented with all the lack of insight a teen boy might have and done so beautifully. The book is also weighted with the other life of a teen/young adult boy too. Friends who drink or get high because they can. Acquaintances who disappoint, maybe becasue too much is asked of them, and of course the daily works of survival: cooking, making the rent, dealing with estates and local laws and all the rest that we all face.

I enjoyed this book. At times greatly. But I also had a lot of “so what” moments. There is some genius here. But it is not consistent. It staggers, and in a way the author did not intend. But it is also a popular book, has merits short of greatness, and was well worth my effort and time.On this one I am thumbs down man. Thank you Ms. R for giving this to me, for sharing your thoughts on the work, and thank you Mr. Eggers, for the effort and at times great insight into your personal journey that you have chosen to share. 4 months ago

Epic SunshineShilpi Somaya Gowda, SECRET DAUGHTER

THIS is a good read! Another in the ongoing Ratopia University Canadian Lit offerings, the book is written by an Indian immigrant to Toronto. It is the story of two families. The first is an impoverished rural Indian family that has to put a baby daughter into an orphanage. They are simply too poor, and the baby, too female in a patriarchal culture, to be cared for. The baby is adopted by the second family, a pair of medical doctors on the west coast of the U.S. who, after a series of miscarriages, medical interventions, tryings, finally turn to adoption. The new father is an Indian immigrant to the U.S. The mother is caucasian and aside from her husband, has little interest in India or things Indian until the end of the book.

The mother who gave her baby up has to live with her choice as well as the hardships of her life. The mother who chooses to adopt has to live with the fact that she does not look like her daughter, is not a biological mother, and does not understand her husband, his family, or his native culture. The book moves from one family to the other. The contrasts are huge, the insights provocative and insightful. The conflicts the two families, notably, the baby’s two mothers experience can be dramatic, wrenching. The story unfolds over the years the baby is raised, successfully to adulthood when she decides to return to India to learn about her culture and attempt to find her biological parents.

There is redemption in this story for all the parties though they (spoiler alert) never meet. There is resolution too of many of the key conflicts and the cultural commentary, on both continents, is at times wonderful to behold, though I wondered that America appears to have no poverty, no comparison in this regard to India. The writing is lucid, moves right along. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone seeking a bit more than might be expected by a story of condition, of adoption, of loss and findings. And what ISN’T in the book is Canada! by jimminey! THAT was a surprise given all the others in the Canadian Lit of Ratopia University! Thank you Ms. Gowda! Thank you! 4 months ago

Epic SunshineJohn Tigges, HANDS OF LUCIFER

This was a freebie. I almost passed but it looked to be 400 pages and I thought entertainment by the pound! A paperback by an unknown author. A lurid title and free. Why not?

So the first words in the book, even before the book starts, are on the very first page. They are meant, I think, to keep a certain type of reader from putting the book down and walking away. They go something like this: She took her clothes off, stepped outside the circle, and said the spell.

The story is of love lost. A young woman wants to recapture the love of a boyfriend that left her. She finds a spell book in a (you guessed it) a used book store. Takes it home and calls on Satan to personally restore what was before. Satan, not having enough to do what with the rest of us all being so happy and at peace, buys into the bargain though what Satan gets in return is not clear at all, not even at the end where (spoiler alert) Satan hides in the boyfriend’s body until the exorcising priest leaves them alone and the “boyfriend” gets to (in the vernacular) “do her.”

Really? Is that what Satan plots and connives for? That’s it? This book was almost 400 pages. But it’s got big margins, top sides and bottom. it’s got blank chapter pages. The author refers to his own (other books) as being good and well known works, and (worst of all) favorably compares his own works to the original Exorcist book. If you take out everything that doesn’t build or carry the story, this book doesn’t even make the weight of a 200 page book. I’d go, in fact featherweight.

There is an upside here. I laughed out loud at times. And it went faster than cold coca-cola in hell. Ask Lucifer. He’ll tell you. Thank you Mr. Tigges. I am once again convinced there is no such thing as a bad book. But there are books that are cheap thrills, usually without the author’s intent. I had a great time at times. And if perchance I find another freebie by you at a church basement sale, I shall hope it is GARDEN OF THE INCUBUS. Who wouldn’t go for that!?4 months ago

Epic SunshineAnne Rice, TALE of the BODY THIEF

Huh! Rice’s long time, long loved vampire, Lestat, is approached with an offer: to switch bodies for a bit. Lestat wants to see the sun again, know what it is to be mortal. The body thief wants to know Vampirism. The deal is struck and off we go. Guess what? The body thief doesn’t want to go back and Lestat doesn’t want to stay mortal. And that’s the rub. They both want to be the original Lestat.

There’s room for great philosophy in all this: what eternal an mortal might mean. What super power and loneliness might compell, yadda yadda. There’s room for a great hunt too, as Lestat moves to recapture his body, raising the question of how’s a mortal not only to conquer a very powerful vampire, but how’s one to toss one soul out and put your own in?

I could argue the whole thing is specious foo-foo, that the make believe is too far-fetched to be worth muh effort and time. But I won’t. I know perfectly well what I’m getting into with the fiction of Ms Rice and I’m perfectly willing to suspend critical analysis for the sake of light fun reading. And I liked the book a lot.

I went back to this one because it came late in the long run of Rice’s horror/romance career. There’s some reflection of her transition from atheist to Christian here in the questions of immortality, of souls both lost and found, in the nature of desire, and hope for more and better. It’s no surprise both characters sought to give up their mortal bodies in this context. There is some surprise that Vampirism rather than heaven is the big draw. But then hasn’t her vampires always been heavenly characters?

Thank You Ms. Rice, for your words. It was great to read this again and I may be back to some of your others too! 4 months ago


All right. I admit it. I am an Anne Rice fan. At least years ago I was. I used to buy her books and have the store clerks sign them as her. It was my personal joke. I thought that when I died somebody would find one and say HEY! IT”S AUTOGRAPHED! And then look down the shelf and start checking the other dozen Anne Rice books. Or two dozen. And they would ALL be signed, but with different signatures. And me, in my grave would chuckle and say What can I say?

So did I have an autograph put into Called Out of Darkness? Nope. Not yet anyway. This book tells us of her journey from profligate authoress of the dark. Vampires, werewolves, spirits of all kinds and witches and lost souls and found to be immortal souls, and well, an endless stream of sensual trouble of this world and not.

I got hooked on her because it is creative, fun, imaginative to read Anne Rice. Ya never really know what’s up, what’s gonna happen, whether a vampire bite is making love or not, man-on-man, woman-on-woman. She’s really great at these kinds of story telling! So when she re-found her early Catholic roots and went all profound religious after becoming a hugely successful writer, and when I saw her book at a basement church sale and it was marked “free” (so was THE HANDS OF LUCIFER, but I’ll get to that), I said to muh self, Self, Let’s see what happened to dear sweet Anne.

The arc of Called Out of Darkness is typical, even if the details are specific to her wonderfully unique life. As a child she churched as so many of us have. She liked it. She liked the mysitcal elements and rituals of Roman Catholicism, as well as the family and community sense church brings. But she did not give the spiritual aspect any great thought. She simply embraced God as presented, as expected to. And that is what children do. Then she went to college. And we all know college and graduate school, and anything after leaving home, is the era of great independence and backsliding and, well, she fell away from her religion. Later, as a full adult in San Francisco, or Sodom and Gomorrah, you choose, she embraced agnosticism and then atheism.

She’s a woman of intellect, of ideas, of curiosity too and her early background and journey helped grow her books. And they are. And well proven, and fun. And religion in them, these works that reflect the bulk of her life and career take on God regularly and well. How can God create such creatures? Where is will in suffering? What can we really trust about Him? and on and on. I like ideas too and I like people who kick them around as she did, not confrontationally but conversationally. Her character dialogues appeal because they seem real, possible. Of questions we all might ask or hear in times of trouble (but not of success, generally).

Rice had great success. She makes it clear there were good big homes, a husband she adored, a staff to take care of most of her needs, creature comforts and expensive (if sometimes curious baubles like plaster saint statues) that would make many of us envy her. But there were also a group of troubles: illness, the passing of her beloved husband, and the eventual prospect of aging poorly or well that also brings with it thoughts of mortality and what might lie beyond.

It’s about a decade in the making, this return to religion and then the full embrace of Christianity and the rejection of atheism. She tells us that you can see it in her books. (And I do go back and look. More on that later too.) And there ya go. She’s born again for the first time. And I am pleased that she is happy and secure.

This wasn’t a great book. I liked it most for satisfying my snoopy curiosity about her life and journey. I got to know her a bit, or at least a bit more. I still think she’s a wonderful interesting head upon her shoulders and her writings are great fast fun. I won’t be joining her conversion, but I do want to thank her for sharing it with me. And for getting me the nerve to collect her autographs the way I did. Now C’mere, Ms. R. Sign this book with her name for me. I’ll put it on the shelf with the others and we’ll both chuckle when the collectors are astounded then miffed. 4 months ago

Epic SunshineMichael Shaara, THE KILLER ANGELS

This is the classic, all time favorite Civil War novel, Battle of Gettysburg novel. The book is a work of historical fiction, detailing the course and nature of those four days in Pennsylvania when the war turned from a southern possibility to a northern certainty. The book is fiction. Shaara puts words and thoughts to the central players of the battle. But all the rest is real, the engagements, the bloody body counts, the very different cultures of the two sides, the landscape and, of course, the outcomes.

The battle was THE turning point of the war, that pivotal moment when the (false and empty) ideology of states’ rights and the potential of a southern aristocratic slave society began to be permanently erased in favor of a capital/industrial democratic promise of the north.

The book is important because it takes a southern view. Most of the main characters are Southern leaders: Lee, Longstreet and his officers. And their views are articulated and well conveyed. But Sharra doesn’t stop there. At the end of the battle, when the campaign is lost, Shaara shows us clearly and perhaps for the first time in a way that southern culture could understand and believe, the failure at Gettysburg was a failure in both military leadership and in the ideology that drove the secessionist movement. Robert E. Lee was for a hundred years hailed as a genius, a man of southern honour, a man as great or perhaps the greatest the south has ever produced. He was well-loved by his men and by all of the south. And he lead both to great defeat because he miscalculated, refused to listen to the wise men around him, and because he fought for Virginia and himself. In the end, Sharra argues, Lee knew he was a failure, had made great and unforgivable mistakes. And this, Shaara’s presentation, changed the perceptions of Lee forever.

The book is also the clearest and most readable narrative of the battle. For straight military buffs and the general public alike the author takes an amazingly complex and complicated series of events, one after another, continually evolving, and tells the story of what unfolded. His prose is compelling, descriptive, accurate and useful. If you go to the battle field today, you will find it huge, complicated, almost beyond comprehension, even with guides and signage and brochures and audio recordings. But if you go after having read this book, it is all crystal clear. The same is true of history. If you read of this battle elsewhere, try to make sense of it’s nature and import, it is a difficult thing to get your mind around. But if you read THIS book, all the rest falls into place. He’s done a great service to history in the telling of this story. He gives us not just the events, but the values of that event He is a teacher and a good one at that.

It is the bloodiest and most deadly battle in American history. I’ve never understood why hundreds of thousands of everyday men would take up arms and go through this willingly, the values or ignorance, the ideals and results, of the battle of the history that follows. It is inconceivable that so many held so much so dear as to go willingly to such a fate. The short-coming of the book is that Shaara touches on the subject of soldier ideology, values, willingness to fight. Americans, both north and south, did put their lives on the line for deeply held beliefs. But though I am closer to understanding the how, I am not much closer to understanding the why.

I am sure there are those who argue that Shaara did not fully address the importance of the emergence of trench warfare (which would dominate World War One and was taken directly from the American Civil War experience) or ignored the roles of blacks or women in the context of the battle as well as the battle itself. My criticism falls in the same vein. Sharra wrote a book to tell a single story about singular men at a singular place and time. And he succeeded. Greatly. The book won the Pulitzer and was made into a motion picture.

The next time I go to Gettysburg I will be different for having read this work. It was a great pleasure. Thank you, Mr. Shaara. Thank you. 4 months ago

Epic SunshineMargeret Atwood, ALIAS GRACE

I’ve read a lot of her, but this one seemed to have passed by me until Ms. R dropped it before me and said, THERE.

Well! I love Peg’s books. And I love Ms. R more for feeding me a steady and very good stream of Canadian Literature. I picked them both up and took them to where I do most of my best reading. Later, I read.

Alias Grace is based on a historic, that is real, event, the double murder of a farmer and his housekeeper in mid 19th century Ontario. The suspects were the scullery maid and the stable hand. Atwood did historians’ work in going back to the periodicals of the era, the court records, some genealogy, and whatever else she could think of. The archivists she worked with did a good job. They guided her, the helped, they paid attention. Out of all that is available, there are very few concrete facts with which Atwood can work. It is real history, real research. We know the murders occurred, that there was a bit of robbery but that no bank accounts were drained, that the suspects fled and were caught. We know the courts gave it all as thorough a review as they believed they could and that speculation about the whole affair was rampant, inconsistent and at times wild.

So it is a novel. Atwood does the best she can in picking up the pieces, choosing those that we most wonder about and giving us a picture of the event. What were the relationships between the housekeeper and the unmarried master of the farm? What was going on between the scullery maid, Grace, and the stable hand? What happens behind closed doors in rural areas, truly, when human nature unfolds? And what is the culture of punishment, of explanation, of society to violent wanton slaughter?

The author does a magnificent job with what historians call historic context, that is, showing us the very different culture of that era and how the few real facts that are known are shaped and understood differently today than they would have been then. Those charged were undoubtedly responsible. The stable hand undoubtedly did the physical work of the murders and was hung for his efforts. Grace was not hung, but sentenced to life in prison. Whether she goaded her partner into his conduct or not is unclear. And Grace ain’t telling. Never did. She pleaded amnesia of the events and stuck by it till the end of her time on earth.

There were, in the mid 19th century, huge movements to improve penal institutions, to understand the human mind and what we now call mental illness. There was a huge reliance upon religion and will as backdrops to everyday life, as well as speculative greed and frontier-style emotion, response, cause and effect. Atwood takes us through all of it. It is a great and well told historic story.

She also takes us through fiction and that is why the book is a novel. Made up dialogue, speculation taken as fact, etc. This is a great book, historically informative, entertaining, and like many of Atwood’s works, fully understanding of what was then called the female condition. Thank you Peg, for your words! 4 months ago

Epic SunshineBrad Meltzer, THE ZERO GAME

A freebie from the end of a church sale.

I’ve read him before. He’s another action author of the law school background, the law, politics and good at his craft, just like several other authors, Grisham and Turrow, etc.

THE ZERO GAME is set in Washington, D.C. The characters are filled out enough to be believable. The nature and background too. Meltzer gives us a story arc that is fast, well-filled, not really believable, but also good enough that we want to believe. It’s a good fast read, the consume kind. I finished it in three days staying up too late and poking my nose in when I could. It’s good entertainment and fair writing. He’s out to get the story to us and does it well.

Yup, three thumbs up! Thank you Mr. Meltzer! 7 months ago

Epic SunshineArthur Golden, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

Well! An American male sits down one day and says I think I’ll wite a novel, as a Japanese woman, a particular kind of one, one that specializes and lives by hostessing and her wits, a complicated tiny slice of a complicated culture. AND I’ll set in the Great Depression, World War Two and post war America.

I’d never believe it, but here the book sits. He’s got cajones, this Mr. Golden. He’s not ill-equipped. He’s studied Japan and Japanese culture, but it’s still a tall order. Here’s what we have: Young deprived girls thought to have a future in the Geisha trade are sold or other wise find their way in. A mother figure oversees the training, and the books. The girl is expected to do extensive house work as well as be educated and it is grueling. Sexual virginity is auctioned, for example, though good geisha are generally not prostitutes. It’s all about the money and real hookers do not earn as much as the highly selective Geisha.

When she finally turns pro, the mother figure keeps getting a cut. When the Geisha is selected, through auction if possible, by a rich patron for exclusive sexual and other relationship favors, it is exclusive. I learned that marriage is not important, not to the men, their wives, the Geisha. Abortions are common. Life can be very good, and very bad. And that there’s plenty of room for Geisha competition, much of it ugly.

Golden has great insight of the culture, so far as I can see. And he has great insight of caddy competition, like in soap operas and better stories too. His strongest tool is the metaphor. And the simile. The book is beautifully eloquent in this regard and worth reading for this alone.

Go. Get it. Read it. Frown and squint your eyes, revel in the use of words. And then thank Mr. Golden for this odd sounding effort, which succeeds. Thank you, too, Ms R, for giving it to us. 7 months ago

Epic SunshineS. King. THE DARK TOWER (vol. 7 of Dark Tower series)

This is the final final volume of Stephen King’s epic quest tale. The first volume was completed when King was a young writer. Subsequent volumes appeared throughout his career, between (and during) the publication of other works. Tolkien’s Ring trilogy was one inspiration, but so was the tradition of the epic quest going back to the earliest traditions of literature. King’s is the longest of which I am aware. It is seven volumes, an estimated 5000 pages, and I am glad to have read it. Very glad.

The book, the whole story, is drawn from a wide range of literature, an homage to writers and stories that he admires. The story itself is compelling. His hero, Roland of Gilead, seeks to enter the top room of The Dark Tower which plays a central role in holding time and space of the earth that we know together. He does not know what he’ll find there, but he does know that he has to stop the destruction of the tower, and earth, being pursued by a mad man of great power. Roland and his friends face struggle after struggle in the quest.

The book is broad. Earth is not static and consists of numerous alternative times and spaces, each with their own histories, politics, realities. His characters must negotiate, therefore, not only great distance but enemies and god figures that do not exist where they are. It is a far-flung and compelling story and King is at his best in this volume.

The struggles his band of gunslingers face are immense. They are also difficult and as creepy and interesting as King has ever been. In the end Roland achieves his quest with great loss. All of his fellow travellers, everyone he’s ever loved in fact, dies. In this the book is sad. And that it has an ending that is unsettled, an unapologetic surprise of the worst sort, is what makes King compelling as an author.

This last volume contains an autobiographical aspect some earlier volumes touched: King’s own brush with death and subsequent pain after being stuck by a car while taking a walk along a rural Maine road; his place and thoughts (and limits) as a writer; his convivial humor and interaction with readers are all incorporated into the story. He frankly admits that the thought of leaving this quest unfinished before he died motivated him to finish it. There is warmth and complexity at times as well as the compelling story King creates. In this, the tale is different. And well worth the effort.

Thank you Steven, and Let’s Go Red Sox 8 months ago

Epic SunshineStephen King, SONG OF SUSANNAH

The fifth (or maybe sixth, I dunno) in King’s Dark tower series. The title character is one of four gunslingers on a quest for the dark tower. She’s got problems: multiple personalities and pregnancy among them. But she’s got qualities and strengths too and we see more of them as King brings her pregnancy to term.

This volume becomes a true writer’s book. King inserts himself as one of the gods the four must deal with in their journey to the center of all earth, including time and space and multiple realities. At first I was a bit appalled that King put himself in but the logic turned out to be impeccable. In one reality he is telling their story. In another he is their creator. Works for me. What can I say?

Like some of the other books we don’t have a clear conclusion, plot resolution. King leaves us hanging, and therefore hungering for the next work in the series. Yup. I’ll do it! Thank you Mr. King, for your words. And let’s both hope The Sox hang onto first the rest of the year (if only they could get a strong consistent rotation all the way through the four and five spots). 10 months ago

Epic SunshineStephen King, WOLVES OF THE CALLA (Dark Tower Series vol. 5)

Well! Our gunslinger Roland and his gang go all Magnificent Seven (Kurosawa too) in this longish (709 pp) tale of a town under threat by dangerous raiders. The threat is real and compelling enough to stop them in their journey to the Dark Tower, to organize the citizens, and to wipe out the threat.

I find Ms. S.’s pregnancy unsettling, richly and deeply creepy. Ugh. Only you can get away with something like that. And the inclusion of self-reference to me is both amusing and odd. Thank you for that too!

Well told Mr. King! But you do ramble a bit at times. I was eager to get on with the story at times, as I am now. Today I will return this volume to the LI-BARY, take a quick look for vol. 6, and continue the journey with Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah, and the wee beastie if I am able. 11 months ago

Epic SunshineStephen King, Wizards and Glass (Dark Tower series, vol. 4)

Ah….Mr. King. Where do I start? Ya kill Blaine. He needed it. And move Roland and the gang along then WHAMO! Flashback! Half the book goes back to proto-Roland! It’s a good tale, a love story, and full of youth and vitality and, well…Nicely done!

But the book’s end? Really? you went there? With those? and that story line? Yes, I understood this to be a quest series. And I saw it when you added the four-legged follower and thought Well! He’s following the same pattern! But you went and dragged it all into your story! In your way, yes, but still!

So of course as soon as I was done I scurried off to muh local library for volume five, due May 23, and I’ll find out what happens next. Thank you, Stephen, and go Sox!11 months ago


I’ve been on a trilogy roll lately, scooping up those which I’ve noted and desire over the years. And that is the source of my selecting THE GUNSLINGER, the first of King’s Dark Tower series begun in the 1980s and so far as I know continuing and continuing forever.

This is the introductory work and gives us the main character, Roland, who was born and bred to handle himself. He’s got no police authority but he does have a moral code. And a compulsion, a mission, an obsession, with making something wrong right at a Dark Tower.

We don’t know what he is really all about. But what we know is enough. He is living in what seems to be a modern, post apocalyptic west. Technology and information have fallen away and though there is evidence of a greater age before him he is 19th century man. He is not unfriendly, can be loved and loves as much as he might in return, but he has no social circle for that is the world of his type.

As the first of a quest series we learn that in this time is malleable. A dead boy from another time and eastern urban city, New York, is resurrected in a new life to serve Roland. The boy will die again, this time at Roland’s neglect, but I expect to see him again in later works. We learn too that those Roland likes and knows may turn against him for no real good reasons, reasons beyond what we can understand in this first work, but that Roland has the ability to deal with this threat as well.

What we most learn is that Roland is product and force of powers, including the landscape of the Arid West, that are for now beyond our comprehension. Roland needs water and time to rest more than he needs other people. Yet his quest has other people before him. They are required. And they are not all good people.

In THE DRAWING OF THREE King gives us Roland’s acquisition of other souls/persons that are needed for the continued pursuit of the tower. Again we find characters from New York including the boy that Roland sacrificed in the first book. The Three are characters linked by one man, a serial killer, whose demise is the Gunslinger’s purpose. It is, apparently, required to complete the journey to the tower. And in the killing of the killer the other characters find healing of their own significant problems. The Gunslinger is not just an avenging angel, but a saviour too.

I’m eager to to move on to the other works. Thank you Mr. King, for the thrill of your words. 13 months ago

Epic SunshineStephen King, BLOCKADE BILLY

A quirky novella of the King variety. He’s combined his affection for baseball with his penchant for odd, for violence, and for (yes) not getting away with it.

Blockade Billy is called up to the majors from the lower minors. A team needs a catcher, in a hurry and Billy is the man.

Billy is quirky, odd. But quite at home between the foul poles and behind home plate. It is the collision aspect of coming home that ruined the team’s last catchers. And though there is some question as to whether Billy is really big and tough enough to withstand a major league mow-down, the answer comes quickly enough: yes. And you may be punished in addition to being stopped.

Billy is something of a baseball specimen. He knows the game instinctively. He’s got a sharp eye, and a never-say-die demeanor. He’s from the rural heartland and his parents are said to have given him enough support and time to develop as a player, potentially a good one. Billy’s past got him started. He made the minors but was headed down, not up, when he got the call. He is good but simply wasn’t major league material. It is only the pro teams crisis that has given him this chance.

But Billy IS good. So good he in part carries the team, develops a fan base, saves the season (as much as he is a part of it). If his team mates and the coaches and the front office staff don’t really follow him (there is something off ) the fans at least adore him. He can hit, and does. But it it is his work on the third base line with a man coming in that they most adore. No one is allowed to score on Blockade Billy.

The book ends in the usual King way. It is unusual. (Stop reading here if you don’t want the ending revealed).

Billy isn’t Billy at all. Billy is someone else who loves baseball. Someone else who had better and more skills than the real Billy. But Billy is also a working-and-lower class kid who never got a chance. Until he took Billy’s place.

It’s implied that the team’s season is over after Billy’s arrest. The team folds later too, probably for employing and marketing its homicidal catcher. Billy was, in fact, great at the game. Not so good at life.

Thank you Mr. King. It wasn’t The Body or Shawshank or even my favorite, the one about the long, long race in which you succeed for life or die if you don’t win. But it was good. And by the way, yes. I think it really is your work and not the work of a working-and-lower class writer who will never, otherwise, get a shot at the majors. 13 months ago

Epic SunshineAndrew Scott Card and another guy (the book went back to the lib.)

Well! Mr. C. told me of this. He’d found it on a shelf, a prequel to the Ender series, a one of three prequel originating from comic books of the Ender series. How can I pass THAT up?

It is titled Earth Unaware: The First Formic War. And there is no war. There is an opening to war but no war. Not Yet. The book, because it is part of a trilogy has no ending. Nothing satisfying, nothing resolved. I could say the same about The Lord of the Ring of course, but Card ain’t Tolkien and there ya go. No. I did not look for the second volume when I dropped it back to the library.

It’s a good story and much in the same vein as the Ender books. I’m glad Card did it. I really am. And that it came first as comics, so much the better. This is a true case of milking a thousand words from every picture.

Thank you Mr. Card and the other guy. There. Done. 13 months ago

Epic SunshineJohn Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Yes, it’s been a movie. At least twice. But I’ve not seen the movies. I saw this on the library shelf. I grabbed it because I ran across it and wanted to read it. It is a classic, very highly regarded, and a genre I have in the past greatly enjoyed.

It is a spy novel of course. And it is unlike other spy novels because in this one the spying is pretty much all on and within one intelligence agency. It is the British. They have a terrible leak. They’ve had it for a generation and did not know it. But now they do.
It is at the top too. One of four or five or six or seven (hence the title Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) people in the agency.

A single spy, George Smiley, is brought back from recent retirement to find the leak and close it. He’s told to spy on his own past, his own life, his own world and not let anybody know. And he does.

The story is marvelously construed and at times wholly unexpected. It hits themes I learned about at The Spy Museum, in Washington, D.C. but had never given much thought to: spying at times is excruciatingly low, akin to rooting through sewage or body parts without morals, qualms, emotion. Or making thefts, planting evidence, participating in wee hour dead drops and making meeting plans that seem over-wrought, childish, small and mean. A spy, good or bad, can make friends, family, lovers, or even children pawns, disposable, tools. And be able to credit love of country for it.

This is a 1971 book. Ages before the Philby bust or the several in Washington. Le Carre’s work previews big and ugly themes in the notable revelations of these spy crises. There is the money first, and wanton sexuality (implied by Le Carre, not explicit). There is hunger for power, blind and naked ambition too. In fact, I’m not so sure Le Carre did not have a check list of the Seven Deadlies and made sure he hit hard and well on each in some form. Spying in this and the real world is noble and vice-filled and Patriotism the most wretched excuse for pursuit of vice.

In part, this is what makes the book good. It is a period piece reflecting the numerous crises of the late 1960s and 1970s and these do not include rock and roll or a lot of bad poetry. It is the corruption of ideals culturally and at the highest levels that the book works on. And what really makes the book timeless is that these ideals and the potential for corruption of them is timeless. Beyond this, what makes the book truly classic, is that the writing, the handling of the themes, is also timeless and beautifully crafted.

Tinker Tailor is an ugly story beautifully conceived, construed, and conveyed. Le Carre is at the top of the writing game in this one. There is a secret language to this world. Job titles, verbs, small actions of big import. Everything is interpreted and explained of course, but the reader has to pay attention too, stay focused. The language of secrets is a huge part of the game and draws the reader further in, making him or her part of the fabric, part of warp and weave of the tail, an insider. Le Carre’s moral judgments are somehow simultaneously withheld and conveyed as well. We see choices made or pursued that begin, within reason, within all of us. Or within sight of us. His characters are simultaneously full of good and evil, nobility and scum. The only real question is the tipping point and if we will see it or not. Does anyone rise above it all? Yes. His hero, Smiley, but he does not do so without regret or loss. It is a tragic tale. And in the end secret too. This was a great read.

My only regret is that I wish I’d read this book years ago. I really do.

Thank you Mr. Le Carre. Thank you. 13 months ago

kaleidoscopelady 14 months ago

kaleidoscopeladya few more

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld’s Teaching By Heart….a lovely book been on my wish list forever. SHe is such a bright inspiration.

Bev Bos,

Jeff Johnson, an (un)curriculum book with Denita Dinger. SUper cool but not a lot of new info.

Scanned through Teaching Natural Childbirth and Childbirth Education, Theory and Practice and was super inspired.

A Waldorf inspired book about breath awareness that is incredible, will change the way I teach.

browsing a Waldorf book about daily rhythms that is pretty nice.

Just picked up Memm Fox, Radical Reflections last evening, I think it might be one, I’ll devour pretty quickly.

Found, A History of Childcare in America, at the Goodwill yesterday.

Ordered some herbal books yesterday.

fun times. 13 months ago

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