Books

Not full book reviews, but recommendations, impressions and random thoughts.

Ray Bradbury's The Golden Apples of the Sun

Old Stories, New Thoughts

After various distractions, I’ve finally resumed an exercise program I started early in the year. It’s a strength-building regimen by physical therapist Ming Chew, author of The Permanent Pain Cure.  There are two sets of three different exercises, some involving weights. Between sets of “reps,” one is required to rest for ninety or forty-five seconds. It’s amazing how long these rest periods feel if I just sit there, so I grabbed a book to read from the huge and random accumulation of old paperbacks that lives in our basement.

The Golden Apples of the Sun is a collection of stories by Ray Bradbury originally published in the 1940s and ’50s. The scribbled “50” (meaning 50 cents) on the cover indicates my copy was a used bookstore find — probably 30 years ago.  Between exercises, I sit down and read a page or so, and I must admit sometimes the rests are extended a bit if the narrative is too captivating to interrupt.

I was surprised how applicable some of these stories are to present-day concerns. “The Murderer” is about one man’s way of dealing with intrusive communication technology. “The Big Black and White Game” is a charming yet disturbing look at race relations in America through the eyes of a child at a baseball game. “I See You Never” is about a Mexican man in Los Angeles facing deportation. And “Embroidery” tells how three women spend the last hours before a nuclear explosion. Bradbury’s writing is fresh and delightful. I recommend tracking down this book, The Golden Apples of the Sun, or at least the stories I’ve mentioned.

A while ago, I bought The Cthulhu Mythos Ebook Bundle from Dark Regions Press. (I think it’s still on sale for $15 US — a deal at that price). Two of the books in this tentacled treasure chest are compilations of weird fiction that impressed and influenced H.P. Lovecraft, the master of the weird tale. They are edited and introduced by Lovecraft scholar and aficionado S.T. Joshi. The authors include M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, Robert W. Chambers and Algernon Blackwood, plus a few until now unknown to me, such as Fitz-James O’Brien, Ralph Adams Cram, and A. Merritt. Merritt’s story, “The Moon Pool,” contains a reference to an ancient being called Chau-te-leur. Sounds a bit like “Cthulhu,” doesn’t it? Another story, “Ooze,” by Anthony M. Rud, contains a creature that may well be the ur-Shoggoth. And the main character of Blackwood’s “Ancient Sorceries” reminded me of HPL himself.

Cthulhu Mythos Ebook Bundle

All these stories have been around for a while, and many of them show their age, a few in rather unflattering ways, but Lovecraft fans will appreciate most of them, as well as the other offerings in the ebook bundle. I know I’m looking forward to working my way through them.

 

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open books, grass

Summer Reading Roundup

I’ve been catching up on a virtual TBR pile of ebooks I acquired in the past couple of years — most (but not all) from Smashwords, and mainly during Read An Ebook Week and Summer/Winter Sale events. Many of them were free.

Free ebooks are considered problematic by many. Rumor has it they are picked up by persons deficient in morals whose purpose is simply to amass hundreds of ebooks — electronic hoarders, in effect. And, rumor adds, these books are never read. Indie authors are advised never to give away their books for free (except as part of KDP Select’s five free days, of course. Oh, and Goodreads giveaways, in which case you give someone a free print copy, and often pay for shipping it to them).

End of digression. Now, where was I? Oh yes — free ebooks. I have deliberately acquired quite a few, mainly from Smashwords. And I have read most of them. One thing I’ve found, though — it’s really easy to forget ebooks, free or otherwise. Unless I download and start reading an ebook right after I buy it, it disappears into the universe of electronic blips that live in my computer. Unlike physical books that accumulate to form tottering piles on the bedside table (or the floor), ebooks easily vanish from sight. And you know what happens then.

Anticipating summer reading time, I had a look through a file called My Digital Editions. I was happily shocked to find half a dozen titles I had completely forgotten about, sitting there unread. I copied them to my e-reader (yes, I still have one of those) and proceeded to read.

Here are my impressions of some of those ebooks. These aren’t in-depth reviews, just superficial observations. The titles are listed in the order I began reading.

 

The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set. A boxed set of nine stories by crime fiction writers featured on the Crime Cafe podcast with bonus interviews!

A perfect accompaniment for a long flight, bus ride, or any situation that may involve lengthy waits. These books were originally published some years ago, but are still worthy of attention. Hard boiled to cozy mystery, novel to novella-length crime fiction by nine different authors. Quality ranges from okay to excellent.

In No Particular Order: a memoir / by Kevin Brennan. It’s true that life is linear, but the living of it is all over the map. In this memoir-in-vignettes, novelist Kevin Brennan (Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road) examines his life the way memories occur in the wild: in no particular order. Whether it’s recalling high school humiliations, ups and downs in love and romance, or unique interactions with the human race at home and abroad, Brennan both entertains and moves the reader with moments of unexpected poignancy and full-tilt humor. In No Particular Order is a deconstructed memoir, like no other because it looks at life as it really is — a kaleidoscope of individual moments.

Plucked from Kevin Brennan’s blog, this bouquet of vignettes and anecdotes presents a poignant picture of growing up and coming of age in the America of the 1960s through to the new millennium. These are thin but tasty slices of life to be savoured anytime. After reading, I find myself thinking, “Yeah!” or, “Oh!” or, “Hmm.”

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part One: Eagle Ascendant / by Lorinda J. Taylor. Robbin Haysus Nikalishin was born on 31 October 2729 and became the first starship Captain to make contact with extraterrestrials. This book recounts the early life of this man who became one of Earth’s greatest heroes. All heroes are human beings and all human beings are flawed, and the man the Earth will come to know as “Capt. Robbie” was a very human man.

Combining hard SF with a coming-of-age story, this is an engrossing read. The future society in which the book is set is methodically constructed and fascinating. The fictional science sounded plausible to me. Step by step, the story builds to a gripping climax, ending with an irresistible situation that compels one to read Part Two.

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Two: Wounded Eagle / by Lorinda J. Taylor. In this second part of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin’s biography, the responsibility for the space disaster in Part One is determined and Prf. Eiginsh’s mystifying behavior is explained, while the Captain attempts to recover from the devastating aftereffects of the disaster. The resolution is bittersweet; will the Captain ever become capable of coping fully with the damage that was done to him? 

Exploring the causes and consequences of the catastrophe that ends Part One, this book is slower but equally interesting. Less technology and more psychology than the first volume.

Awful, Ohio / by Sirloin Furr. Troy Slushy’s exposure to his life-decimating job, depressed wife, and crumbling home encourage his desire for a life in perpetual darkness. It becomes his objective to destroy the bright, menacing beast that removes him from the ecstasy of his dreams, only to expose him to all of these worthless possessions. Troy Slushy declares that his mission is to destroy the sun.

A modern allegory? Experimental fiction? The author has forged a unique monstrosity, beating words into new shapes and meanings. I had to take a break at the halfway point to reset my brain.

A Long Night in Hell / by Jack Stornoway. The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he’d worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties.

This 10K-word story is categorized as science fiction, but the main character is a detective investigating a murder in a mining colony deep below the surface of Mars. Sadly, the tale does not live up to its intriguing setting.

Out of Focus / by Susan Egner. Morgan Grey photographs a prowler at her home 24 hours after her airline pilot-husband’s death. Picking up the pieces of her life, she debuts her photographic talents and features the unusual eyes of the prowler, setting off unforeseen events exposing her husband’s double life. The illusion of a perfect life gives way to the reality of a gifted artist’s celebrity—a life no longer out of focus.

A thriller of the “woman discovers her husband’s secrets after his death” type. Strangely, the reader is informed of the secrets early in the book, so the main question for the reader is when and how Morgan will discover them. Details about flying commercial airplanes, shooting photographs and processing film are interesting, and there are some suspenseful episodes, but the ending is rushed and unsatisfying. Includes a collection of metaphors and similes used to describe Morgan’s green eyes.

Baiting & Fishing / by Meredith Rae Morgan. A newspaper reporter investigates the circumstances of a corporate scandal, and finds the woman of his dreams. Is she his perfect match or a murderess? Is he a heel or a hero?

Middle-aged reporter Ray Bailey is easy to like and sympathize with, as what starts out a potential big story turns into a charming romance. The vanishing lifestyle of Gulf Coast Florida is a big feature of this book — especially fishing, eating fish, and more fishing. Turns out Ray’s mystery woman is a whiz at fishing, and really rich, and great-looking. And a bunch of other things as well, some of them not so good. Kept me reading, and wondering.

The Eternal Librarian / by Meyari McFarland. When humanity went to the stars they took many things with them. Brencis ensured that they took the books. Unfortunately, humanity also took along their greed, their blindness and their short-sighted focus on all the wrong things. The Eternal Librarian is a touching exploration of human nature, determination and the love of learning that is dedicated to librarians and book lovers everywhere.

Well, the description pretty much sums it up. A short story with a sincere message.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

clock mechanism plus numbers

Optimal Order: Reading the Herbert West Series

 

When I wrote the four books that make up the Herbert West Series, I intended them to work as stand-alone novels. And they do, sort of, but to fully appreciate the second through fourth books, it’s really helpful to have read the first one.

hws-complete-3

To complicate things, I also wrote and published four Supplements to the series, short stories that fit within or between the four books.

The first book of the series, The Friendship of Mortals, and all four Supplements, are available as free downloads. More information here.

From July 1st to 31st, Books 2, 3, and 4 of the series will be available at 50% off the regular prices, at the Smashwords store only, as part of the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale.

For readers new to the series, here is the optimal order in which to read the books and supplements:

  • Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals
  • Supplement 1, The Nexus : a portal to the Herbert West Series
  • Supplement 2, From the Annexe : an untold tale
  • Book 2, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey
  • Book 3, Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure
  • Supplement 3, A Visit to Luxor
  • Supplement 4, One of the Fourteen
  • Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix.

 

In whatever order a reader may wish to read, it’s best to save Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix, for the end — well, because it’s the end.

Herbert West Series Composite

HW Series Supps Composite

 

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay, enhanced with Canva.

 

publicity image for Herbert West Reanimator series

Herbert in Italy

Herbert West is about to manifest in an Italian-made web and TV series, and eventually a feature film. Yet another incarnation of this fascinating character, in addition to H.P. Lovecraft’s original, the “Re-Animator” movies directed by Stuart Gordon and featuring Jeffrey Combs, and, of course, the series of novels by one Audrey Driscoll.

Everyone knows and loves the masterful 1985 horror comedy Re-Animator. Directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna and Charles Band, the proudly unrated sex and splatter shocker based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, won the hearts of horror fans and mainstream critics and put Gordon on the map. And now, 32 years later, an intrepid band of Italians are reviving the source story for a web and TV series.
Read more at http://www.comingsoon.net/horror/news/858595-re-animator-is-now-an-italian-series#8oLxm0Y15ivjPC9i.99

Death… is just the beginning.

garden book

A Noteworthy New Garden Book

 

Garden Flora by Noel Kingsbury.

Next to gardening, reading about gardening is a unique pleasure. But finding truly readable garden books is not always easy. Reference-type books, with how-to-do-it instructions, or descriptions of plants and their preferred growing conditions, may be useful, but are not entertaining to read. These are books I consult standing up, with garden gloves stuffed in my pocket and a project of some sort half-done outside.

Readable garden books are to be savoured in winter, or when it’s too dark to do real gardening. They are written by dirt-under-the-fingernails gardeners who are also good writers. Like the best fiction books, they become reliable friends.

Garden Flora by Noel Kingsbury lives up to its subtitle: “the natural and cultural history of the plants in your garden.” It presents a lot of information in its 368 pages. It is arranged by genus, in alphabetical order, but each section is an essay, covering genetics, evolution, distribution, botanical characteristics, and history in cultivation. This last includes discovery, medicinal and religious uses, breeding, cultivars and fashions. Kingsbury’s informal writing style delivers facts in a congenial, readable manner. It was a revelation to me that the genus name Alchemilla derives from Arabic for “alchemy,” because of the way water droplets cupped in the leaves shine like mercury. Apparently, medieval alchemists believed this water to be especially pure and gathered it for their procedures.

The book’s extensive introduction includes valuable information about plant classification, evolution, ecology, habits and habitats, as well as a history of plant cultivation from ancient and early historical times (dubbed “before glass”) to the modern era (“after glass”). Another surprise for me was how many varieties created by plant breeders have vanished from cultivation over the years, after falling out of fashion, or because growing them became too troublesome or costly. Perhaps we are in a sort of “post glass” era?

Illustrations are drawn largely from botanical art and historical nursery catalogues, which are interesting and/or charming, but the pictures I appreciated most are those of plants in their natural habitats — hostas and daylilies growing wild in Japan, delphiniums in Kyrgyzstan, colchicums in Turkey, lupins in Washington State.

This is a fairly large volume, almost a coffee-table book, and quite heavy. It doesn’t pass the bath-bed-bus-beach test, but the depth and richness of its contents make it a book I will be content to sit down at a table and read, now and for years to come.

Local Author Book Review #13: Deception Bay by Lea Tassie

dec-bay-front-cover-web-thumb

Greater Victoria Public Library (in Victoria, British Columbia) launched its third Emerging Local Authors Collection on May 4th. I have already finished reading a book from it!

Here is the description from the back cover:

To a tourist, the sleepy village of Deception Bay appears to be an idyllic, peaceful retreat, anything but deceptive. But Larry, a bartender in the old, quaint, ivy-covered inn, and Brenda, his realtor buddy, know better. They discover the secrets lurking below the surface, such as who attends the occult meetings and who committed the unreported rape. They can guess who lit the mysterious fire, though there’s no proof, and they discover the motives of the man who is definitely not what he seems to be. And they are not above starting a few rumors of their own to make the local news more interesting!

I picked up this book expecting to read a cozy mystery. Small town, secrets, crimes and rumors — cozy mystery, right? Wrong. Although it shares some elements with that genre, this book is about relationships — between parents and children, spouses and ex-spouses, friends, and people and their community.

The story is told in first person by the two main characters, Larry the bartender and Brenda the realtor, in alternating chapters. Each of them faces a series of problems which they share with one another, usually over drinks. There’s a lot of drinking in this book — endless gin and tonics (with lemon slices) for Brenda, beer, spirits and wine for others. Alcohol, in fact, is a major plot lubricant. The reader may wish to avoid vicarious driving after reading it.

The plot, like life in this village on Vancouver Island’s east coast, progresses at a leisurely pace. Nothing resembling a true crisis appears until the halfway point, but I was happy to wander through the spring and summer days with Larry and Brenda to discover how matters are resolved as autumn begins.

Author Lea Tassie lives in the region in which this book is set, and she knows whereof she speaks.

My rating: 7 out of 10 stars (in my own rating system: 1 = abysmal, 2 = barely readable, 3 = mediocre, 4 = not bad, 5 = OK but not great, 6 = good but unremarkable, 7 = pretty good, 8 = really good, 9 = remarkable, 10 = superlative).

 

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

A Big Read

I bought a copy of The Egyptian Book of the Dead (the translation by E.A. Wallis Budge) a couple of years ago, when I was thinking about writing a novel set in Egypt. It sat around gathering dust until last week, when I started reading it in the hope that it would pump up some enthusiasm for that work in progress, which so far consists of a measly 10,000 words.

This book was first published more than a century ago, so easing into it via a 2008 introduction by archaeologist John Romer was helpful. The intro warned me that Budge had rendered the Egyptian texts into the English of the Bible — King James version — full of  “thees” and “thous” and verbs ending in “eth.” This reminded me of my intention, some years ago, to read the Bible, which never really got off the ground. Not too promising.

But I was surprised and intrigued to learn that J.R.R. Tolkien “described the inhabitants of Middle Earth as ‘best pictured in Egyptian terms’,” with helmets apparently modeled on some pictured in vignettes from Budge’s Book of the Dead. Hard to believe, but fascinating. Another surprise was that the structure of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake follows that of the Book of the Dead. T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Faulkner also found something worthwhile in it; then there’s Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. All in all, it seems that quite a few writers have found inspiration in this tome.

I’ve already noted quite a few pages with exciting stuff that has made me rethink some of the fundamental premises of my barely-started WIP. I’m excited about realizing these ideas in words; to do that, of course, I’ll have to write my way to that point.

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Notes for the work in progress and the Book of the Dead

And I haven’t even started reading the actual texts. The various introductions and prefaces and table of contents total ccxliv pages. (That’s 244 for those out of practice with Roman numerals). I’m only on page cxlviii (148). When I finally get to page 1 there will be 697 more. I’ll be immersed in this antique milieu for some time.

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Parts of Chapters 26 and 27

The printing even looks old-fashioned, somehow, full of parenthetical and bracketed stuff and bristling with footnotes. I actually need glasses to read it. In his introduction, Romer advises the reader “to slide through its texts as one might read Finnegan’s Wake, marvelling all the while at the expansive scholarship, and at the lilt and span of its exotic prose.”

Indeed. I’ve never tackled Finnegan’s Wake. I hope to slide, rather than struggle.

favourite books, laptop computer and small notebook

Comfort Reading

You know how sometimes you just want “comfort food?” No fancy stuff, no fretting about nutritional balance, just something simple, starchy and familiar.

It’s the same with books. When I’m dealing with something difficult, or am just fed up with the complications and nastiness of the world, I want to read something low-key and predictable. No tension, no conflict, no edginess or dark themes. It’s more than escapism; when even fictional adventures in an imaginary world with its own history and rules are too stressful, I want to send my battered mind into a safe, quiet space where I know exactly what’s going to happen. Spoilers are definitely not an issue.

The degree of tension and turmoil — present and anticipated — in the world these days makes ordinary life challenges, such as interpersonal rubs, illnesses and the losses inflicted by time, harder to bear. Books may be applied like compresses to these psychic sores.

Books for comfort reading are found in all genres, with the possible exception of those requiring violence and gore, although if such a book is dear and familiar, it might just do the trick. That’s the thing about books — the choice is an intensely personal one.

Cozy mysteries are often just the thing. Sure, there are dead bodies, but they are presented in contexts that are, well, cozy, and often furnished with characters ranging from charming to quirky. In the past couple of months, I found myself re-reading the Needed Killing Series by indie author Bill Fitts. The five books are described as “cozy mysteries with a Southern flair.” The pace is slow, the mysteries are just puzzling enough, and they all include animals (cats and dog) as significant characters. The plots always involve a lot of food, so you can vicariously enjoy good cooking (and drinks) while you read. Gentle distractions for a troubled mind.

You’ll notice I mentioned re-reading. That’s the key to comfort reading. When even fictional troubles seem like too much, it’s time to visit the bookshelf of rubbed and tattered books that are like old slippers, or old friends.

ch-books-friends

 

Local Author Book Review #12: Hunter’s Daughter by Nowick Gray

This book is part of the 2016 Emerging Local Authors Collection at the Greater Victoria Public Library.

hunters-daughter

From the back cover:

Northern Quebec, 1964: Mountie Jack McLain, baffled by a series of unsolved murders, knows the latest case will make or break his career. Eighteen-year-old Nilliq, chafing under the sullen power of her father in a remote hunting camp, risks flight with a headstrong shaman bent on a mission of his own. Their paths intersect in this tense mystery charting a journey of personal and cultural transformation.

Despite the reference to murder and a Mountie, and the word “mystery” above, this book is not a conventional “murder mystery.” Instead, it’s a character-driven, in-depth examination of cultural and personal change in Canada’s arctic. While the murders propel the plot, the substance of this book is a complicated dance of the principal characters, examining relationships and events from different points of view.

Sections narrated in first person by Jack McLain alternate with third-person chapters related from the point of view of Nilliq. This is entirely appropriate, since the author is a white man whose experience of the North was several years of teaching in Quebec Inuit villages. He does not presume to speak with the voice of an Inuit woman, but makes a great effort to represent her culture accurately. All other characters are seen through the eyes of these two; in some cases the same events and people. Rather than repetitious, I found these reiterations helpful in solidifying my understanding of events and relationships.

McLain and Nilliq are people in transition. He knows his term of service is coming to an end, due to imminent bureaucratic changes. Disillusioned with trying to administer justice in a rapidly changing and idiosyncratic cultural situation, but without any solid prospects elsewhere, McLain is a somewhat sad figure, an intelligent and well-meaning individual who too easily sees the dark side of things, but with a fundamental love for the northern way of life. Nilliq teeters on the edge of womanhood, increasingly aware of the exploitation of women by the men around them, and longing for wider horizons. Opposing them and one another are the enigmatic hunter and shaman who calls himself Wallin, although he also has other names, and the menacing figure of Nilliq’s father Sandlak.

The prose is spare and direct, tracing the narrative in a linear way, but permitting the characters to show background complexities in their interactions and conversations, finally taking the reader to a point where the issue of the murders is largely resolved, allowing the main characters to move on to new situations.

Hunter’s Daughter is a tale well told, with special relevance and interest at this time when many Canadians are trying to learn more about their country’s native peoples.

My rating: 9/10 stars.

An Almost Local Author Book Review: Adventure on Whalebone Island by M. A. Wilson

A while ago I decided to write reviews of some of the books in the Emerging Local Authors Collection at my public library. There were strict geographical criteria as to what constituted “local.” Michael Wilson, the author of Adventure on Whalebone Island, lives outside of the defined area, but I think I can bend the rule (this is my blog, after all), to include a resident of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, where the book is set.

whalebone-island

The book is aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds. Here is a brief description:

Ryan and Kendra have come to Maple Harbour on the BC coast to spend their summer holidays with their aunt and uncle. They’re expecting a leisurely holiday swimming and playing on the beach with their cousins Claire and Nathan. Claire, however, has other ideas – exploring islands in her sailboat and searching for sunken treasure. But what’s hidden on mysterious Whalebone Island? Have the four of them come across a secret that others don’t want discovered? Join these four intrepid adventurers and their fearless dog Meg in the summer escapade of a lifetime!

The story is simple and straightforward, with the main focus being a series of adventures. The children get re-acquainted, go swimming, sailing and enjoying the natural world. In the course of these activities, each of them has to deal with challenges involving self-confidence, getting along with others and learning new things. The action intensifies when they start looking for a sunken boat and survive a storm at sea, seeking shelter on Whalebone Island. While camping on the island, they encounter unexpected hazards presented by a group of criminals. Each child must call upon their inner resources to extract themselves and each other from dangerous situations.

The characters are sufficiently distinct from one another to give most readers someone to identify with. The situations are realistic and plausible, but the world in which these kids live is essentially a safe and secure one. There is no family dysfunction, corrosive personal anxiety or urban grittiness. This is a sunny adventure, perfect for entertaining its intended audience, who may also vicariously enjoy a lot of good food while reading about the meals and treats partaken of by the four adventurers.

The elements of this book — pre-teen children on a summer holiday, small sailboats, camping on an island, a quest for treasure, unexpected hazards — necessarily reminded me of Arthur Ransome’s books. Adventure on Whalebone Island may be favourably compared with those classics, incorporating the key elements in a present-day setting on the coast of British Columbia. One difference is these children inhabit the same world as the adult characters. There is no attempt on their part to create an alternate reality like the kids in the “Swallows and Amazons” stories. This is not a fault, but having made the comparison, I thought it worth mentioning.

The illustrations, by Vadym Prokhorenko, are notable for their elegant simplicity.

Further information, including purchase links, may be found at the website of Rainy Bay Press.

This review is based on a review copy of the ebook version.