Friday, September 22, 2017

Scooby Apocalypse, Vol. 1

Scooby  Apocalypse, Vol. 1, by Keith Giffen
In  this sci-fi reimagining of the Hannah-Barbera classic, Daphne is the host of a late-night investigative news show, Fred is her cameraman, Scooby-Doo is a genetically engineered “smart-dog” prototype, Shaggy is his trainer, and Velma is the genius scientist
 who accidentally helped transform most of the world’s population into ravening monsters.
The  transition from monthly comic to trade paperback leaves the story bogged down in redundant exposition. More important, however, is that between the nostalgic origins, wacky premise, and surprisingly grim execution, I’m not sure what this book’s trying to do  in the first place. There are a few entertaining scenes, but they’re not enough to carry the story.


Memetic by James Tynion IV, Eryk Donovan (Illustrations)    128 pages

The  zombie apocalypse is caused not by a virus, but by a viral image of a friendly fellow known as the Good Times Sloth. The few survivors make their way through a strange and terrifying new world.
A  one-shot from BOOM! Studios, Memetic is short and—well, not sweet, but interesting. Somewhat meandering, and oddly ambivalent about the fate of humanity, there’s nonetheless a thoughtful story here.

Confucian Spirituality

Confucian SpiritualityConfucian Spirituality (Volume 1), edited by Tu Weiming and Mary Evelyn Tucker, 333 pages

Although Confucianism has traditionally been categorized as a religion by Western scholars, this has typically been qualified, especially in the past century, by an emphasis on the tradition's ethical, social, and political teachings.  The conventional view is that Confucius bracketed the rituals and beliefs of his own time, treating them as normative without assenting to their truth.  Yet, as these 16 essays exploring various aspects of Confucian spirituality demonstrate, a spiritual thread runs through Confucianism, if only in its assertion that there exist values worth sacrificing, suffering, and even dying for.  Indeed, a spiritual substratum is revealed in the concept of a transcendent harmony that embraces Heaven, Earth, and all the levels of human community, from the Middle Kingdom down to the individual family.

This first volume concentrates on historical perspectives, while contemporary developments are left for the sequel.  The essayists view Confucianism from a variety of perspectives, from Aristotelian virtue ethics to Nietzschean postmodernism, and likewise survey a range of sources, from focusing only on Confucius himself to considering the Confucian tradition as a whole to postulating a Chinese philosophia perennis of which Confucianism is one expression, and express a range of attitudes towards their subject, from admiration to skepticism.  Unfortunately, this very diversity precludes any unity among the essays, and the level of specialization makes it easy to become lost.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Charlotte’s Story

Charlotte’s Story by Laura Benedict, 320 pages

The fall of 1957 in southern Virginia was a seemingly idyllic, even prosperous time. A young housewife, Charlotte Bliss, lives with her husband, Hasbrouck Preston "Press" Bliss, and their two young children, Eva Grace and Michael, in the gorgeous Bliss family home. On the surface, theirs seems a calm, picturesque life, but soon tragedy befalls them: four tragic deaths, with apparently simple explanations. But nothing is simple if Bliss House is involved. How far will Charlotte go to discover the truth? And how far will she get without knowing who her real enemy is? Though Bliss House may promise to give its inhabitants what they want, it never gives them exactly what they expect.” These books are creepy.  I would give them to people who like suspense that isn’t too intense.  These aren’t my favorite type of suspense but I like them well enough to want to keep reading them, because the author is a pretty good writer.

Yellow Brick War

Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige, 270 pages

“In this third book in the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die series, new girl from Kansas Amy Gumm is caught between her home--and Oz. My name is Amy Gumm. Tornadoes must have a thing about girls from Kansas, because--just like Dorothy--I got swept away on one too. I landed in Oz, where Good is Wicked, Wicked is Good, and the Wicked Witches clued me in to my true calling: Assassin. The way to stop Dorothy from destroying Oz--and Kansas--is to kill her. And I'm the only one who can do it. But I failed. Others died for my mistakes. Because of me, the portal between the worlds has been opened. And if I don't find a way to close it? Dorothy will make sure I never get to go home again. Now it's up to me to: join the Witches, fight for Oz, save Kansas, and stop Dorothy once and for all.” I think this may be my favorite book in the series so far.  Possibly, it took me this long to adjust to the new version of Oz.  Teens who like fantasy will probably like the series, as long as they are ok with some tragedy.

The Great Greene Heist

The Great Greene Heistby Varian Johnson, 226 pages

“Jackson Greene has a reputation as a prankster at Maplewood Middle School, but after the last disaster he is trying to go straight--but when it looks like Keith Sinclair may steal the election for school president from Jackson's former best friend Gabriela, he assembles a team to make sure Keith does not succeed.” Although the book felt like it was the middle of the series instead of the first, since there were many references to former heists Jackson had pulled, this was still an awesome story. I loved rooting for Jackson and his friends and kids will too.  This is a great book for anyone who likes realistic fiction, humor, and intrigue.

Lethal Legacy

Lethal Legacy by Irene Hannon, 351 pages

“The police say her father's death was suicide. But Kelly Warren says it was murder--and she has new evidence that she believes proves it. Detective Cole Taylor doesn't put much credence in her claim, and nothing in his case review suggests foul play. But when Kelly ends up in the emergency room with a suspicious life-threatening medical condition, the incident strikes him as more than just coincidence. Digging deeper, he discovers she's linked to a long-ago crime. Is history repeating itself? And who wants Kelly silenced?” This followed Hannon’s typical formula but it doesn’t stop me from feeling compelled to read the story, especially when it gets intense.  Fans of the suspense romance will like this.  Women looking for Christian romance will also like it, if they are ok with the thriller aspect.

The Haters

TheHaters by Jesse Andrews, 325 pages

For Wes and his best friend, Corey, jazz camp turns out to be lame. It's pretty much all dudes talking in Jazz Voice. But then they jam with Ash, a charismatic girl with an unusual sound, and the three just click. It's three and a half hours of pure musical magic, and Ash makes a decision: They need to hit the road. Because the road, not summer camp, is where bands get good. Before Wes and Corey know it, they're in Ash's SUV heading south, and The Haters Summer of Hate Tour has begun.” I liked this book and I think that a lot of teens might like it also, if they like books that talk about real life.  I didn’t like the end as much as I liked the rest of the book, mostly because I like my stories more wrapped up than this was, but the ending made sense, even if I wasn’t as pleased with it.

The Last Days

The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld, 286 pages

Strange things are happening: old friends disappearing, angels (or devils) clambering on the fire escapes of New York City. But for Pearl, Moz, and Zahler, all that matters is the band. As the city reels under a mysterious epidemic, the three combine their talents with a vampire lead singer and a drummer whose fractured mind can glimpse the coming darkness. Will their music stave off the end? Or summon it? Set against the gritty apocalypse that began in Peeps , The Last Days is about five teenagers who find themselves creating the soundtrack for the end of the world.” It took me a while to start reading Westerfeld’s books but I doubt that I’ll ever stop at this point.  This one is definitely more on the science fiction and horror side and teens who like those genres will love this.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer RebellionThe Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners That Shook the World in the Summer of 1900 by Diana Preston, 360 pages

In the summer of 1900, an obscure Chinese religious sect - known as Boxers after their belief that certain martial arts rituals could render them invulnerable to bullets - grew into a major movement.  The Boxers demanded that the foreigners who had polluted and despoiled China be exterminated along with all those Chinese who followed their alien ways - especially the hundreds of thousands of Chinese Christians.  Soon, the Boxer movement exploded into violence, with Boxers torturing, raping, and murdering their way across northern China.  The Empress Dowager allied herself with the movement, and the foreigners resident in the capital of Peking found themselves besieged in their legations by a combination of Boxers and imperial troops.  The defenders - Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese - held out through months of desperate if sporadic fighting until relieved by a multinational expeditionary force.

Preston admirably sifts through a mass of diaries, papers, and memoirs left behind by the Europeans trapped in Peking, which provide a wide range of sometimes conflicting perspectives.  Unfortunately, the upheavals of the twentieth century have destroyed most of the primary sources on the Chinese side, and this means that the Chinese experience of the Rebellion remains largely a mystery.  Dramatically, this is satisfying, as it places the reader in the shoes of the besieged, but it is devastating historically.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Alice Network

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn          503 pages

In this historical novel, author Kate Quinn gives us alternating perspectives of two main characters, one of them a female spy recruited to the Alice Network in France during World War I, and the other an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947.

In 1915, Eve Gardiner wants to join in the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly, gets her chance when she's recruited as a spy and is sent into enemy-occupied France.  Trained by Lili, the "Queen of Spies," Eve works right under the enemy's nose, putting herself in greater and greater danger.

Thirty years later, Eve spends her time drunk and secluded in her London house until a brash young American knocks on her door, uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades.  Charlie St. Clair, as it turns out, is on a mission to find her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France. Complicating things are a few facts: Charlie's pregnant (and her mother is determined to take her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of), Eve drinks a lot and has a brusque and difficult temperament, and, let's not forget, Charlie's cousin Rose disappeared a few years ago.  In helping Charlie, Eve discovers she's on the trail, herself, to find someone from her past.

Based on some real people and real events, I found this story entertaining, but it also made me want to know more about the real Alice Network.  The back-and-forth in time and the two narratives made the story really compelling, and the sense of danger that underlies Eve's story just helps to increase the pace.  Both women are well-written characters and Eve's story, in particular, is very believable.  Good story.

No Kidding

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Henriette Mantel    248 pages

This collection of essays by various writers tackles the topic of not having children. Whether their reasons have to do with courage, health issues, apathy or something else, each essay gives insights into each woman's decision.

Admittedly, when I picked this up, it was because the title made me curious.  I didn't realize that the women writers would mostly be writers in the field of comedy. After a few essays, I felt like this wasn't quite the book I had been hoping for, and most of the time, I didn't find the essays that funny. Some of them were more interesting than others, but I felt there was some repetition and I wish there had been more variety in the authors.

Unforgettable: A Son, A Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime

Unforgettable: A Son, A Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime  by Scott Simon           Audio Book:  6 hours       Paperback Book: 272 pages          

What a fun story about Scott Simon’s mother,, Patricia.   Written as only a loving son could tell it, there are celebrity and society names mentioned, there are glimpses into what it’s like growing up the son of a successful though alcoholic comedian father  and a sometimes actress but all the time great gal, Mother, then after they divorced, many of Mom’s pals, 3 more husbands, and all the adventures that got them from there to here.    His mother is so full of life that Scott’s telling gives a real word portrait of growing up with a beautiful mother that men threw themselves to be with her and how a young boy comes to terms with all the gay male friends who frequented their home and remained dear friends all their lives.   One story in particular when at 2 years old, while out at a chic restaurant with his mother and grandmother he sees one of his grandmothers dear friends who often came over in drag, however at the restaurant he was portraying his hetero side in a 3 piece suit.   Scott screamed, “Grace!  Grace!”  (The  gentleman’s alter ego.)    The man obviously with a group who did not know his other side came over and said, “What a lovely young man, but, I believe you have mistaken me for someone else.”   He looked to Patricia and her mother but received no help, though they did pretend not to know him to keep his cover going.    Scot continued to rail, “Grace!  Grace!   Don’t you know me?  Don’t you recognize me?”  Scott carried on so the poor man had to leave or be exposed!    Scott Simon  juxtaposes the history of the times with  the prevailing attitudes and what was happening in their own lives.  He gives an honest approach to the good and the bad they went through over the years and how everyone in their circle affected him and helped him to become the man he is today.   Whether it was his Mom’s Irish upbringing or being married to his comedic father, regardless the situation,  his mother looked for and taught Scott to look for the funny side in all things.   She also taught him to always write notes of thanks for both small and big things.   People remember what you say and how you took the time out to say something nice to them personally.    She taught him to leave big tips because tips got them through many a dicey time when they needed to scrape up rent or food money during those in between times.   (Usually in between lovers or husbands and acting jobs.)   This would serve him the rest of his life.   Scott is a successful writer and broadcaster on NPR.    I loved all the recollections and the laughter.    There were hard times too and when times got too hard Mom got married or found a boyfriend with money to help them get by.  They had many a wonderful adventure and loads of memories that I am glad he shared.    Good book.

The Almost Sisters

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson                     Audio Book:12 hours,  45 minutes   Hardback Book:  352 pages              

A well told story so well told that I did not like the narrator.    She is harsh to her grandmother and her grandmother’s best friend by coming in after a long time away and tries to make them move out of the family home they share in order to get them both in an elder care facility.    Leia Birch Briggs finds out her grandmother has Alzheimers and is getting worse and that this has been going on for several years but her best friend took care of her and never told any one in the family how severe it was getting though they both were up in years and neither got around that well so they always held onto each other to walk.   Leia’s grandmother was appalled by all the rabbits she kept seeing and the things they were doing (multiplying).   O.K. no one else saw the rabbits, but,  I think her better tack would have been to find someone to come in for a few hours each day and look after them rather than just in bust in out of the blue and tell them what they were going to do because she said so after years of not worrying about her granny enough to see how she was doing?    Leia is a graphic artist who writes and illustrates her own books.    She is queen on the Con(vention) set and has a fling with a gorgeous guy dressed as Batman after they imbibe a little too much and fall on top of one another.    Turns up later she is going to have Batman’s baby.    The story has a lot of good twists and turns, funny dialogue and I did enjoy the book very much.   Don’t want to give too much away but Leia’s hateful blunderbust charge in take over and run the show attitude is what sets the whole story and a giant mystery into play.   A good WHO DID WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW.

Weird Sh!t!

Weird Sh!t: True Stories To Shock, Stun, Astound and Amaze by Mark Leigh                    Hardback Book: 169 pages            

Oh how I love these types of books.   I just adore learning new incredibly bizarre stuff about everything in the universe.   It’s awesome!  Actual definition not the gushy over used version of that word.
Who knew a yak’s milk is pink?   Or a lab mouse/rat runs on average 5 miles per day on that wheel in their cages.   Or that Al Capone’s business card said he was a used furniture salesman?   Johnny Depp is descended from the first female slave in the United States to sue for her freedom and win!   Elvis Presley owned a chimpanzee named Scatter?   Wonder if that is where his son-in-law got the idea?   The Dahari tribe in India has a practice that all the brothers in a family can pool their money and buy a wife they all share.   When “The Sound of Music,” was released in South Korea, it turned out to be too long for local audience’s taste so the local distributor cut out all the songs.   Paintball guns were originally invented as a way of marking cattle for slaughter.   Adolph Hitler was declared Time magazine’s “Man of the Year, 1938.”    U. S. President James A. Garfield could simultaneously write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other.   Or how about every time you lick a stamp you consume one-tenth of a calorie?   Man, who knew sending out wedding announcements or holiday cards could be fattening?    Love this book.   Warning – some things here are pretty gross but there are a whole lot more really interesting tid bits I couldn’t put in this family posting.    Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Same Beach, Next Year

Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank             Audio Book:  10 hours,  15 mins     Hardback Book:  384 pages              

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.    Great tale of a man withholding important bits of his past when introducing his ex main lover to his wife as just someone he happened across while walking on the beach they have a summer home at.    Oh yeah, Girls, you know it is on once the big reveal comes but there is so much more to this story that you will end up feeling like you have been to Greek Fest before it is all said and done.    Deliciously told in the vein of Shirley Valentine – this is a most excellent story.   I have given you the bare bones of the story but there is so much flesh to attach to those bones and Eliza has the funniest sense of humor and reasons like a lawyer.    Most excellent story.   Treat yourself to this one.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower     256 pages

Viking marauders descend on a much-plundered island, hoping some mayhem will shake off the winter blahs. A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the print of a bare foot on the inside of his windshield doesn’t match her own. Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods. A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl.

Just a whole bunch of stories about sad, sometimes pathetic people, whose lives are a train wreck. There were bits and pieces that I enjoyed - some clever prose popped in and out - but I really didn't much care for the stories. 

This had been on my to-read for a while, so I can only imagine I put it on my shelf when I saw there was a story about vikings in it. Sadly, the viking story was my least favorite out of the whole compilation. 

I really don't like reading sad stuff, so that's probably why I didn't enjoy Tower's stories. There was also a lot of meat butchering and general icky things that I just don't enjoy reading about. Most of the stories were told from a male perspective, which is fine, except that it came to be another blah story about a sad, depressed middle aged white man after another and yes, I'm going to say it: if you've read one, you've read them all. Boring, done.

Come Rack! Come Rope!

Come Rack!  Come Rope!  by Robert Hugh Benson, 377 pages

The only son of a proudly recusant Catholic family in the reign of Elizabeth, Robin is devastated when he learns that his father intends to recant and join the state church.  Perhaps even more surprisingly, his beloved Marjorie reveals to him her growing conviction, despite her own wishes to the contrary, that it is the will of God he should become a priest.  Robert Hugh Benson's classic novel follows the pair on their separate journeys of love from this initial sacrifice to the ultimate consummation.

Although the primary characters are fictional, a number of historical personages make appearances in Come Rack!  Come Rope!, including St Edmund Campion and Mary Stuart.  Benson evokes the historical period with a casual ease, conveying its peculiarities without belaboring them.  The novel focuses on the characters and lacks a strong central plot - the primary antagonists barely appear - and, unfortunately, those characters are not strong enough or interesting enough to carry the book.