Dear 43 Things Users,

10 years after introducing 43 Things to the world, we have decided we have met our last goal: completing the incredible experience that has been 43 Things. Please join us in giving one last cheer to all the folks who have shared their goals with the world, as well as all the people who have worked at The Robot Co-op to build this incredible website. We won a Webby Award, published a book, and brought happiness to a lot of people.

Starting today, 43 Things users can export their goals and entries from the site. Starting August 15, we will make the site “read only”. 43 Things users will still be able to view the site and export their content, but we won’t be taking any new content from users. We hope to leave the site up for folks to see and download their content until the end of the year. Ending on New Year’s Eve takes us full circle.

It has been a long ride (one of our original goals was to "build a company that lasts at least 2 years” - we beat that one!) While we wish the site could live on, it has suffered from a number of challenges - changes in how people use the site, the advertising industry, and how search engines view the site. We wish the outcome was different – but we’ve always been realistic about when our goals are met and when they aren't.

As of today, you will be able to download your goals and entries. See more about that on the FAQ page. Thanks for 10 great years of goal-setting and achieving.

- The Robots.

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Epic SunshineKen Follett, THE THIRD TWIN

Well. An oxymoron of sorts for a title. I shoulda known better. I’ve read him before. Generally liked his work very much. So when I saw this one almost free I thot (thot!) yup, let’s have a wee peruse.

The plot is centered on genetic research and how people desire to clone dollars from it. There is a bad guy, an arsonist and rapist and general all around uncaring thug and his clone gets accused of the crimes. Fortunately, said clone is being tested by a genetic researcher interested in twin characteristics and she has all the tools to hunt down the real bad guy. The chase is on.

I didn’t find it thrilling or compelling or even particularly clever or well-written. I was, because it is Follett, expecting more. A book that coulda been written by a lot of people and he did it, so I was a bit disappointed. But there’s no real reason to be perturbed or glum. It’s not a bad book. Just not a great one. There. Done. 2 months ago


Epic SunshineJohn Grisham, A TIME TO KILL

Grisham. What can I say?

Clean writing, good plot arc, and Matthew Mcsomething played the main character in the movie and Samuel Jackson was in it too and was he ever GREAT!

Let me axe you… he said in the perfect Mississippi black voice….

And Donald Sutherland too. I always like him. And Kevin Spacey.

Movie stuck to the book with a couple of exceptions. In the book it was a juror rather than the defense attorney’s closing that provided the outcome. And I don’t remember the HUGE protests of the book being so huge in the movie. They may have been. But if so, I’ve forgotten. And Sandra Bullock. I forgot she was in it too. But I’ve always found her a bit forgettable. I know she did a space movie last year but I don’t know what else she’s done. Or at least I can’t remember.

But Samuel L. Jackson? I remember him. I always remember him. He’ll take ANY role, like Snakes On a Plane or Jurassic Park or Pulp Fiction and golly I remember him! He’s ALWAYS terrific!

Pretty good book. There. Done. Love ya Ratty. 2 months ago


Epic SunshineYan Martel, LIFE OF PI

Let’s be clear: I did not see the movie. Ms. R. gave me this book, proclaiming Another Canadian Author in an authoritative Canadian Literary Voice.

Well. I can’t resist her when she utters in muh direction. So I snatched the book up. Couldn’t put it down either. This tale is of a teen male shipwreck survivor in a lifeboat shared with zoo animals being transported from one zoo to another, a spotted hyena, a zebra, and a Tiger.

Castaway tales always focus on the humanity of survival struggle. They always focus on negotiations with God, with the question of purpose, with the consequences of actions, and beliefs, large and small. This tale involves the food chain and man’s place at the top of it. Yes. The top. How does one negotiate a starving tiger who has already taken down the other animals?

It is not a story of consequence. The tiger and boy strike a bargain of sorts and there are no implications for the changing of the world. It IS a story of thought, of integrity, of careful telling. It is a compelling and wonderful story! Yes. I can highly recommend Life Of Pi. And I heartily thank Ms. R. for again thinking of me, feeding me this ongoing course in Can Lit, for caring enough to read aloud and kick around ideas large and small. 3 months ago


Epic SunshineSheila Heti, HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE?

A young writer, a playwright, seeking her place. It reeks of self, of course. Every time a writer writes of a writer it reeks. Some, like Stephen King in Misery pull it off. He didn’t get caught up in self-analysis, or in a search for meaning. He didn’t write about writing at all really, but about a prisoner who happened to be a writer and it worked.

Most writers get indulgent. Some get caught up in exploring insecurity or security. And here we have Heti jumping in with both feet, body and head.

I wanted the book to work. She’s taking the writer’s dilemma(s) head on and with it all the questions of nascent adulthood. She is articulate and smart, at times witty. But to be honest, even given all her gifts, I am not interested in self-analysis, or other peoples’ analysis, in any great depth. I get bored with navel gazers (naval too) and her boat is, in my humble opinion, on the rocks.

I just did not care. But I’m glad I tried to care. I really am: that is how I should be. 3 months ago


Epic SunshineMiriam Toews, SUMMER OF MY AMAZING LUCK

I’d read her before. Complicated Kindness, which I liked a lot. This one? Less so.

The central character is an unmarried mother, young, in public housing and on the dole. Mom passed away and her Dad is estranged. It is a detailed look at the culture of modern poverty in Winnipeg, and it isn’t pretty.

Given the title I’d hoped for a great tale as well as insight into the culture of being poor and female. What amazing luck would unfurl? I’d spoil the plot if I told you so I will not. But I will tell you I was not amazed. Nor did I see luck.

A fine way to pass some time, this book. But nothing grand or particularly entertaining here. And even its greatest quality, the look into poverty, is something I already understood, having been close to it muhself from time to time.

I got it from the library. It is over due and I will have to pay for my lack of interest.

There. Done. 3 months ago


Epic SunshineDavid Sedaris, ME TALK PRETTY SOMEDAY

Ok. Here is what I really loved about this book: Sedaris recounts tales of young adult hood in a realistic way, one that really connects for me. He worked at a wide variety of odd and not so odd jobs in order to make ends meet. Some were physical, like being a mover. Others less so, like being an assistant to somebody who was moneyed, privileged, and had no apparent reason to be because she was messed up. Sedaris recounts various moves, various people, a sister, Amy of course, who’s got her own whacked out humor (she got made up as a beaten woman and stood on a corner yelling about how she’s finally found true love), and parents that are both loving and irritating. His main character isn’t born whole. He has to learn to get along, be smart, learn to support himself, learn what he wants (much less deserves) in relationships. I get it. I really do. The late teens and twenties are a bit of a mess. Also full of opportunity. We get a sense that he finally makes it as a writer because at the end of the book he refers to staying in an expensive hotel, but only after bouts of bad apartments and quasi-homelessness. This man had been on a journey.

The journey is not the focus of the book. Rather, it is a series of vignettes about things that happen along the journey. They are all full of laughter, human stupidity (his own and others’) and of humanity. I was laughing out loud at times, grinning often from the tales alone.

His writing style is what really sells me. It is understated, and overstated. He is clear, elegant, and for the most part simple but not at all simplistic. If his vignettes are well conceived they are also artfully presented. I’ve nothing bad to say about ME TALK PRETTY. A great-fun read! Thank you, Mr. S., and you too Ms. R., for giving this book to our world. 3 months ago


Epic SunshineCarol Shields, UNLESS

Ahh, another Shields book from Ms. R.

This one is the story of an author frustrated (huh! didn’t look far for inspiration there!) by (in this case) women’s power and powerlessness. It’s a good and prominent theme. She ends up writing letters (but mails few if any) to editors who ignore women or list great people, all male, and the like. And goes to a weekly coffee klatch to hash these things overs with other frustrated women.

The story has a daughter, 19, who’s chosen to live for alms on a street corner with a sign that says “goodness.” Our author is also frustrated by this choice for all the right motherly reasons. So is the father. So they give her money and warm clothes and donate monthly to the shelter where she sleeps at night and otherwise subsidize this daughter’s expression of womanly choice and power. I don’t want to be cynical but it is to me an odd expression to know so much and be interested in power and yet be powerless to resolve this. It is, to me, a great failing of the book in both theme and story.

The book has been widely praised for Shields’s attention to the detail of life and the importance that details sometimes import. I give her great credit on this score. She is wonderful to read for this, the nature of her writing, thoughts. It is inspirational at times and always worthy of consideration. Thank you, Ms. Shields. 4 months ago


Epic SunshineRobertson Davies, TEMPEST TOST

Another classic from the Canadian master of understatement. This is the first book of his Salterton Trilogy, that being a modest Ontario community of his typical odd balls, some pathetic and others less so.

Davies draws on his own theatrical stage background to tell the tale of a community group staging Shakespeare’s Tempest. The grounds of a local manse are acquired for an outdoor performance and all the frailities (and some of the strengths) of volunteer summer theatre are prodded. The tale centers on the great love a middle-aged math teacher of no real human quality develops for a 19 year girl/woman. She doesn’t want him of course but her flirtations with a number of other males is enough to drive a stake in to the heart of our teacher.

There’s something odd and creepy at work here. But that is often the case with Davies. There is also great humor too, both subtle and explicit. The writing is what carries the tale. Davies’s cautious and pronounced understatement of both character and story are magnificent even if the whole thing is less than noble.

Thank you, Ms. R., for again fueling me with Can-Lit of real interest. I look forward to more.4 months ago


Epic SunshineStephen King, CUJO

No. I never read this. Nor did I see the movie. Truth is, it was laying about and I decided to fill in a King Gap.

If you don’t know (and almost everyone does), it is the story of a rabid family pet. A BIG family pet. A 200 pound St. Bernard at the height of his adult prowess. Doggie gets a vermin bite. Infection follows. And all who come near are victims or potential victims. Yes, rabies is fatal. And the doggie eventually does pass on. But it’s a nail biter until then. Even the Ford Pinto lost, though it did keep a mother and son safe, kinda, from Cooj. Poor doggie.

A pleasure to read but I have one criticism. Early in the book there is the suggestion of a haunting by a dead serial killer spirit. King transfers the danger to the dog, but not the ghost and we are left wondering what happened to the evil serial killer spirit part of the story line? Other than that, another terrific story from one of my favourite authors. Thank you, Steve. Hope to run into you at Fenway. 5 months ago


Epic SunshineDean Koontz, HUSBAND

Another good, fast tale by a master story teller. This one is centered on the kidnapping of a wife and the husband’s very difficult efforts to pay a ransom and get her back.

Turns out everyone near him is either involved or a victim of those involved. The story unfolds quickly. The pace is almost frantic (after reading Murakami everything seems frantic) because the husband’s efforts are frantic. There are deep, messed up psychologies at work here and Koontz does a wonderful job deftly revealing them.

Thank you, again, Mr. Koontz, for the entertainment of your words. 5 months ago


Epic SunshineGAME OF THRONES

I know it’s a t.v. thing or something. I’ve not seen any t.v. in some time and know nothing about this show. But I did read the book and can say, adroitly, the book isn’t anything like the show. It is three dimensional, a bit of a cube of a paperback. Has page numbers. Thins like that.

It is a good read too. The book is constructed biographically: each chapter is the story of a single person’s experience in a fantasy medieval world of political posturing, power. There is intrigue and war too. The best part is the reader does not know what will happen next and the surprises keep coming. A good book. 5 months ago


Epic SunshineHaruki Murakami, 1Q84

This is a best seller. And a tome. He’a a well known Japanese author and this novel proves why.

Murakami has crafted a complex, sensitive, and imaginative tale. At time poignant, the story unfolds over the course of a year: two young adults destined to be partners.

They are school mates at ages nine and ten. A bond is set between them. They both have unusual parents, social settings, skills. Nothing whopping odd or weird but enough to separate them from the rest of their class mates. What bonds them, though, is greater than being isolated, outsiders. It is destiny, and perhaps God, or fate. They are meant to be partners.

As they both approach age thirty we find them set in their life objectives. He is a part time teacher and beginning novelist. She is a massage therapist, the physical therapy kind. Both remain relatively isolated; neither has forgotten the other. And then he is asked to polish a roughly written work by a young girl. It is the story of where both the love interest and the original author come from, a religious cult. And when the book is widely acclaimed the two protagonists are drawn to each other in a world of religious cultism, mysticism, and alternative contemporary time that is much like the world they live in, but in the alternative world, the influence of secretive Little People who have special talents, interests and skills is very important. It is the basis of the cult and the cult intersects both 1984 and its alternative, 1Q84.

We don’t learn much about the Little People except that their influence is set to greatly weigh upon a potential future in the time of 1Q84. I wish Murakami had explained more about them. But he did not and this was one of two negatives comment I offer. More. Please!

The second is that the book is a whopper. I don’t mind big books, big stories. But I found a lot of this one unimportant to character development, or the story at large. It is true that people fix meals. But why do we have to know about each meal, or how it is prepared? I was, frankly, eager to get on with the story and in the end felt there was probably about a third more book than there should have been.

On the upside, the story is full of wonder, danger, imagination. And the writing is at times compelling, drawing the reader on and on until I looked up and saw it was 3:00 a.m. I shoulda been asleep hours ago. So I put my other things aside, dedicated myself to finding out what happened and made a huge concerted effort to finish the book. It was worth it. I liked this book very very much. Thank you, Mr. Murakami, thank you. 5 months ago


Kinjal Ramaiya 6 months 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. 6 months 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!) 6 months 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. 6 months 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. 6 months 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.

Criticisms:
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. 6 months 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. 6 months 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 YOU7 months 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. 7 months 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. 8 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. 9 months ago


Epic SunshineDave Eggers, A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS

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. 10 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! 10 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!?10 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! 10 months ago


Epic SunshineAnne Rice CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS

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. 10 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. 10 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! 10 months ago


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