Charles Shulz, The Code of the Woosters, Digital Photography

Stuff I’ve read lately:

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
by David Michaelis
Who knew that Charles Schulz was such a prickly pear? And a fascinating artist. His rise to prominence as a cartoonist occurred when I was a tiny tot in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the perspective I had of the Peanuts cartoon from that age is thrown into quite a contrast by this biography — and for the better, I’d say. It’s interesting to discover that a cartoon I have such strong childhood memories of was originally aimed at and popular with the college students of it’s generation.

The Code of the Woosters
by P.G. Wodehouse
One of the few remaining Wodehouse books I haven’t read; funny as always.

The Digital Photography Book
by Scott Kelby
A really handy book for people who are picking up a DSLR camera for the first time and learning what it can do. Kelby leaves out the dry boring crap and tells you “here’s how I would set up my camera in this situation.”

Night Work (Kate Martinelli Mysteries)
by Laurie R. King
Fourth book in the series. I seem to be reading them backwards; I haven’t read the first 3 yet. That hasn’t impaired my enjoyment at all.

Continue ReadingCharles Shulz, The Code of the Woosters, Digital Photography

What I’ve Read Recently

The problem I had with being unfocused and skipping from book to book seems to have passed, post-wedding. At one point, I believe I had 9 books partially read. I haven’t gone back to finish any of them, but started fresh with some lighter summer reading in order to carry paperbacks on the plane with me.

The Areas of My Expertise
by John Hodgman
John Hodgman is a writer and comedian who has appeared on the Daily Show and is the “PC” in the Mac/PC commercials from Apple. It’s a very funny book, but I think I’d prefer to hear him read this out loud though – his deadpan delivery is what really sells his offbeat humor.

Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy (Jane Austen Mysteries, book 8)
by Stephanie Barron
While I still can’t quite reconcile this mystery series’ rendition of Jane Austen with the woman I see in my mind’s eye after reading her biographies, the series is pretty entertaining.

Justice Hall (Mary Russell Novels)
by Laurie R. King
The Game (Mary Russell Novels)
by Laurie R. King
Looping back to pick up the two mysteries in the series that I skipped over accidentally. Justice Hall is the 6th in the Mary Russell series, and for those that may not have read my previous reviews, Mary is married to detective Sherlock Holmes. They’re pretty well written, and I enjoy Mary’s character, although Holmes seems at times to take a back seat and plot is sometimes a bit ambiguous.

The Somnambulist
by Jonathan Barnes
Wow. For a debut novel, this is a killer job. I really loved this book. Edward Moon is a British magician in Victorian London, with an unusual, hulking silent partner called “The Sonambulist” who participates in his acts and helps him solve the odd mystery on the side. Moon’s career is on the wane after years of popularity, mainly because his act has been the same for years and people have tired of seeing the same old thing. He’s drawn into the investigation of an actor’s murder, and manages to stumble into a full-blown conspiracy to destroy the city of London, which he must quickly get to the heart of before doom strikes the city. The book is funny, quirky and full of Dickensian-like oddballs. Can’t wait for the sequel. I hope there is one.

The Secret of Lost Things
by Sheridan Hay
Rosemary Savage comes to America at age 18 to settle in New York City after the death of her mother in her home country of Tasmania. She finds a job in the Arcade Bookshop (similar to the real bookshop the Strand) and stumbles into a mystery of a lost Herman Melville manuscript, and those who want to profit from it.

Continue ReadingWhat I’ve Read Recently

Spychips by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Recent reading: Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move
by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) “tags” are small wireless devices that emit unique identifiers when interrogated by RFID readers or sensors. Today, both government and the private sector are using and promoting the use of RFID tags for many applications, from consumer items to government ID cards. EFF believes, however, that society is moving too quickly to adopt RFID technology. Used improperly, RFID can jeopardize privacy, reduce or eliminate anonymity, and threaten civil liberties.

Want a book that will give you some serious paranoia? This is definitely it. Albrecht and McIntyre are privacy advocates who research and report on Radio Frequency Identification microchips that corporations and governments have patents and plans to embed in nearly everything – consumer goods, credit and loyalty cards, identification, money, even under your skin:

“As you walk down the street, a tiny microchip implanted in your tennis shoe tracks your every move; chips woven into your clothing transmit the value of your outfit to nearby retailers; and a thief scans the chips hidden inside your money to decide if you’re worth robbing. This isn’t science fiction; in a few short years, it could be a fact of life.”

When the book was written in 2005, there were only handful of companies using RFID technology, but through patents and leaked corporate documents, the authors were able to find some of big businesses very disturbing plans, including embedding permanent RFID chips in clothing and even human beings.
In the two years since, some of the books predictions have come to pass – Passports now contain an RFID chip, as well as many toll booth ez pass cards, and some schools are tracking students. IBM has advanced to patent applications for “Identification and tracking of persons using RFID-tagged items.”

And even more disturbing – the chips have been show to cause tumors in animals who have been chipped for identification purposes.

The books draws some very nightmarish scenarios – it’s hard to tell whether they’re paranoid or just extraordinarily cautious, but it’s a subject that seems to be flying under the radar of much of mainstream media and the average person.

Continue ReadingSpychips by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre


After complaining that I’m frustrated by my start and stop reading lately, I sat down with our next book club selection, Twilight, and finished it in less that 24 hours. Abiding by the first rule of book club, I won’t discuss the book, but obviously I blazed through it.
(it’s about vampires, and I liked it. Breakin’ rules.)

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Recent Reading

It was about this time last year that I got behind in reviewing what I had read recently and gave up and simply posted a list of recent reads. Must be the time of year. I’ve definitely been having trouble getting through any book; I have tons of things half read, and I’m very frustrated by that. I used to read a lot on the weekends, but the last couple years we’ve been so busy that most of my reading is done at night before I go to bed, and I’m irritated by the stop and go effect.

Chicago from the Air
by Marcella Colombo, Gianfranco Peroncini
Crappy book. Very difficult to read, and not easy to get a good idea of what the whole of Chicago looks like from above. Could have been much better done.

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft
by Simon Houpt and Julian Radcliffe
Cool book on major art thefts throughout history, and how the current inflated price of fine art drives recent thefts.

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
“Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels. The man calls himself LaĂ­n Coubert-the name of the devil in one of Carax’s novels. As he grows up, Daniel’s fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a “porcelain gaze,” Clara BarcelĂł; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, FermĂ­n Romero de Torres; his best friend’s sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide.”
I took this on the cruise with me and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Poe Shadow
by Matthew Pearl
A young lawyer in 1849 Richmond sets out do discover why his hero Edgar Allen Poe died under strange and unfortunate circumstances. His investigation confounds and disappoints his family and friends, and eventually lands him in jail for murder. But his instinctive sense that something about Poe’s death wasn’t quite right leads him on. I enjoyed the book, but there are definitely sections that dragged, and I found myself as exasperated at the hero as his own family at times.

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place
by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
As noted in the Amazon description — “that organizational efforts tend to close off systems to random, unplanned influences that might lead to breakthroughs.” They have some very valid points, and very entertaining examples; the book was definitely worth reading.

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart and Carson Ellis
Young Adult Fiction
“After Reynie Muldoon responds to an advertisement recruiting “gifted children looking for special opportunities,” he finds himself in a world of mystery and adventure. The 11-year-old orphan is one of four children to complete a series of challenging and creative tasks, and he, Kate, Constance, and Sticky become the Mysterious Benedict Society.”
I really enjoyed this kids book, it was very inventive and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books from childhood – The Westing Game.

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Book Review Catch-Up

I’m way behind on writing little synopses of the books I’ve finished this year, so I’m consolidating this latest list. Looking back, this happened about this time of year last year, too. Must be a trend. Anyways, here’s what I read since whenever.

Sword of the Guardian: A Legend of Ithyria (Legends of Ithyria)
by Merry Shannon
Cheesy lesbian fantasy fiction novel. Very much so on the cheesy. Not even worth describing the silly plot; except that I picked up because it had a female cross-dressing character in it. I did read the whole thing, however, because the lesbian sex scenes weren’t terrible. (I have my priorities.)

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
by Lauren Willig
I’ve picked up all three in this series on the remaindered shelves very cheap – and it shows. The premise is quite fun, but the plots are a bit too silly. Set in Regency England and Napoleonic France, they revolve around a “Scarlet Pimpernel” character who is undermining Napoleon’s attempted invasion of England, and having romantic adventures as well. This setting is juxtaposed with a modern-day chick-lit romantic heroine who is reading the manuscripts of the historical story. I may get around to reading the sequels someday, but given the goofiness level, they’re not high on my list.

by Daphne Du Maurier
This was one of our book club selections, and I picked it up to read it, but just didn’t get far. For one thing, I think I read it when I was a kid. And for another it was just a bit too much like Jane Eyre for me – and having read the Thirteenth Tale (which was good) and Heir to the Glimmering World (which wasn’t) lately, I couldn’t get into the “Manor House in the country, young girl adrift upon the world at the whims of unusual families” aspects of it. From the discussion, I should probably have given it a few more pages to let it hook me, but I think my timing was just off. I may go back to it at some future time.

On Beauty
Zadie Smith
One of our bookclub selections; I really dug it. I didn’t realize when reading that it was an homage to E.M. Forster’s Howards End. (Perhaps I should read that? Or at least a review of On Beauty? Hmm.) From “Howard Belsey is a middle-class white liberal Englishman teaching abroad at Wellington, a thinly disguised version of one of the Ivies. He is a Rembrandt scholar who can’t finish his book and a recent adulterer whose marriage is now on the slippery slope to disaster.”

EZ66 Guide for Travelers
Jerry McClanahan
This is a great resourse to take take with you on your Route 66 trip – specifically for helping you find Route 66 attractions, and the off the beaten path remaining sections of the road, many of which are no longer marked. It has detailed turn-by-turn directions and maps of the route by seasoned traveler McClanahan, who has explored the entire Route many times. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to tell how important or visit-worthy an attraction is from this book, so if you have a short period to take it all in and need to be selective, I’d recommend the following book, too:

Route 66 Adventure Handbook
by Drew Knowles
This is the second book I’d highly recommend taking with you on a Route 66 trip. This one is a bit more readable if you’re just trying to get information about Route 66 attractions and if you’re trying to assess how large, interesting or “not-to-be-missed” a particular attraction is along the way. We flipped back and forth between this book and the EZ guide and were fairly successful at fitting the highlights into our 2 1/2 week trip. To see everything, you’d really need a month.

Hogs on 66 : best feed and hangouts for road trips on Route 66
by Wallis, Michael.
Geared towards Harley riders, but a really handy reference for anyone looking for the best diners and stops along the route. I read this ahead of time and had some idea of some of the excellent places to eat along the way.

Route 66 lost & found : ruins and relics revisited and
Route 66 lost & found : ruins and relics revisited, volume 2
by Olsen, Russell A.
Beautiful photography, but a bit of melancholy to it. The author takes photos of “Then and Now” pictures of stops along Route 66 – recreating the scenes of old postcards and photographs with what the same building looks like today. In most cases, time hasn’t been kind. A great book to read either before or after your trip in preparation.

Route 66: Images of America’s Main Street
William Kaszynski
Like the books above, a great before or after traveling book to read to get a history of America’s Main Street.

Roadside Giants
Brian and Sarah Butko
When I first saw this book, I was worried that it was a book form of my “Big Things” photo galleries, but it’s a very different book than what I would write, and definitely worth owning if you love roadside attractions. They aren’t interested in photographing or logging every “big thing” across the country, just providing a cross-section of the most known, famous or unique ones.

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon
by Thomas M. Myers, Michael P. Ghiglieri
DO NOT read this book while you are at the Grand Canyon. Also, DO NOT read this book when you are leaving the Grand Canyon, but are traveling further west on Route 66 on the Oatman Highway over the Black Mountains through Sitegreaves Pass. Either read the book when you are safely on flat, solid ground, or better yet, before you go to the Canyon in the first place, so you don’t do something stupid and fall off like the many, many people in this book. A key bit of info to take away from the book, from “The authors show that most of the deaths, whether of tourists, prospectors, or experienced adventurers, occurred when people failed to pay attention to warning signs or did not use common sense; others are attributed to high testosterone levels. The episodes are engrossing, but one becomes sated with the details after a while.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling
If you really need me to review this for you, you must be living under a rock of some sort. I loved it, of course.

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
David Weinberger
From “In Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger charts the new principles of digital order that are remaking business, education, politics, science, and culture. In his rollicking tour of the rise of the miscellaneous, he examines why the Dewey decimal system is stretched to the breaking point, how Rand McNally decides what information not to include in a physical map (and why Google Earth is winning that battle), how Staples stores emulate online shopping to increase sales…” A fun read.

On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Our next bookclub read, so of course the first rule of bookclub is invoked.

Route 66 Remembered
by Michael Karl Witzel
This is the book I really wish I’d read before they trip, because I would have gotten the most out of it. A nice history of the Route 66 that charts the rise of the road and it’s institutions – gas, food, lodging. The really great part of the book is the personal accounts at the end; real people’s stories of traveling on The Mother Road in it’s very early days when it was a potentially dangerous endeavor, to the heyday when families piled in the car and headed to California to see the sights.

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Heir to the Glimmering World

Heir to the Glimmering World
Heir to the Glimmering World
I also can’t find enough time to write a synopsis of Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick – a book I picked up in Chicago last July and just finished reading, so again I’m going to cheat and give you the synopsis/review From Publishers Weekly instead:

Ozick’s previous novel, The Puttermesser Papers, revolved around one quirky hero; this time around, Ozick incubates several. Characters, not plot, drive this Depression-era tale, and Ozick eviscerates each one through her narrator, Rose Meadows, a resolute 18-year-old orphan. Virtually abandoned, Rose wanders into a job with the Mitwisser family, German refugees in New York City. Filling gaping holes in their household, she becomes a research assistant to the father, a professor stubbornly engaged in German and Hebrew arcana; a nurse to his oft-deranged, sequestered wife; and nanny to their five children. As she penetrates the fog surrounding their history, Rose limns their roiling inner lives with exasperated perception. Mrs. Mitwisser especially chafes against the family’s precarious, degrading status as “parasites,” erratically supported by the unbalanced millionaire son and heir of an author of popular children’s books who is fascinated by Mr. Mitwisser’s research. With her trademark lyrical prose, gentle humor and vivid imagery, Ozick paints a textured portrait of outsiders rendered powerless, retreating into tightly coiled existences of scholarly rapture, guarded brazenness and even calculated lunacy—all as a means of refuting the bleakness of a harsh, chaotic world. Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life.

The assessment of “grinding the plot to a halt” is dead on – I found this book to be a tough slog. I also had trouble sympathizing with any of the characters; each of them was either mean or sad, and I couldn’t get over my frustration with them.

Continue ReadingHeir to the Glimmering World

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a synopsis of The Thirteenth Tale – (I’ve been meaning to since I finished this fun, enjoyable book three weeks ago!) so I’ll have to cheat and give you Amazon’s instead:

Settle down to enjoy a rousing good ghost story with Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield has rejuvenated the genre with this closely plotted, clever foray into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. She never cheats by pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this atmospheric story hangs together perfectly.

There are two heroines here: Vida Winter, a famous author, whose life story is coming to an end, and Margaret Lea, a young, unworldly, bookish girl who is a bookseller in her father’s shop. Vida has been confounding her biographers and fans for years by giving everybody a different version of her life, each time swearing it’s the truth. Because of a biography that Margaret has written about brothers, Vida chooses Margaret to tell her story, all of it, for the first time. At their initial meeting, the conversation begins:

“You have given nineteen different versions of your life story to journalists in the last two years alone.”

She [Vida] shrugged. “It’s my profession. I’m a storyteller.”

“I am a biographer, I work with facts.”

The game is afoot and Margaret must spend some time sorting out whether or not Vida is actually ready to tell the whole truth. There is more here of Margaret discovering than of Vida cooperating wholeheartedly, but that is part of Vida’s plan.

I give the book a thumbs up; it was a quite good homage to victorian gothic tales or those of the BrontĂ« sisters. The book has a promotional website that’s also quite fun to peruse as well.

Continue ReadingThe Thirteenth Tale

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

A strange Victorian Steampunk novel that I enjoyed, despite its length and rather confusing cast of villains. Celeste Temple is a young English woman raised in the West Indies and residing in London awaiting a future wedding to her fiancĂ©, Roger Bascombe. When he sends her a curt note breaking their engagement, she decides to find out why – following him to a mysterious party in an English country manor. After infiltrating the gathering, Miss Temple witnesses a bizarre set of “scientific” experiments and narrowly escapes capture after killing one of her homicidal pursuers.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
by Gordon Dahlquist

Her escape to London is short-lived, as the alchemical experimenters begin searching the city for her. She is soon joined by some unlikely allies – military doctor Abelard Svenson looks after his addle-pated foreign prince who is caught up with the sinister cabal pursing Miss Temple, and Cardinal Chang, a paid assassin who’s true love has been indoctrinated into the strange cult.

The trio soon find themselves in grave danger as they investigate the strange blue glass books produced by the villains, and try to unravel their sinister plot of world domination.

The book runs 700+ pages, and the cast of villains is huge, and difficult to follow. Some of them seem little more than cardboard cutouts, especially many of the minions and hangers-on to the cabal. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of exposition near the end, also, as the villains are forced to explain their dastardly plot – but it’s handled rather well and doesn’t seem overly heavy handed.

But there is a mysterious house with bizarre secret passageways and hidden rooms, and the final battle takes place on a zeppelin, so there’s plenty of fun involved.

Continue ReadingThe Glass Books of the Dream Eaters