Saturday, July 14, 2018

Recent Reads

Don't Ask by Donald Westlake.  This is part of Westlake's Dortmunder series about a crook who gets involved in crimes that never quite pay.  Here he gets a team together to steal a relic and help get some Balkan nation into the U. N.  Good twisty plot, fun characters, and a healthy dose of humor. 

Even This I Get to Experience by Norman Lear.  Lear, of course, is responsible for a large number of iconic TV shows.  He also is a patriot who trys to show patriotism transcends being liberal or conservative.  This was a decent memoir, but something about him just grates on me a bit.  I've noticed it on podcasts as well.  I'm not sure, but I think it's an air of smugness.

Black Panther:  A Nation Under Our Feet, Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates and others.  So disappointing.  I felt dumped into a story where backstory is necessary but almost nonexistent.  I think the Black Panther comic books will be a pass from here on out.

Colonel Quaritch, V. C. by H. Rider Haggard.  Daughter of a man who is land rich but cash poor falls for a retired officer.  Father wants her to marry a rich cad.  Plot is resolved by means reveled in the first few chapters. I try my best to not judge books on present standards, but I wanted to smack the father soundly.  If he'd just told his daughter to marry the money, it would have been fine.  Instead he pulled this passive aggressive nonsense of "she's a grown woman free to do what she wants even if it leaves her poor father without a home).  What an ass.

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Marta McDowell.  A book exploring the landscapes and plants important to Wilder's life.  Nothing special but not bad.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison.  Somehow I never read Ellison, so I was happy this popped up on Prime Reading.  I find Ellison the person interesting since he was apparently the nicest guy in the world as long as you didn't cross him, and you should never cross him (see video below).  I don't care much for his writing, however.  It's a bit too harsh.

Superfreaks by Elsa Charretier, Pierrick Colinet, Margaux Saltel and Ed Dukeshire.  I'm going to end up blowing away my Goodreads goal if Amazon keeps putting comics on Prime Reading.  This was a complete story over five books.  Superheros get created by a mysterious van.  They then disappear leaving their untrained sidekicks to figure out what happened.  I liked the story, and the art was colorful and exciting.  The only problem was the ending was a little too pat.

The Gadwell Incident (Lock and Key 0.5) by Ridley Pearson.  A Kindle freebie that I bought without reading the description so I thought it was ancillary to the Locke & Key graphic novel (oh, for an e).  It's an enjoyable story about two kids trying to find out what their father's doing.  But I won't read the other stories in this series since it is apparently Sherlock Holmes fanfic.  Now I'm not opposed to fanfic on principal:  it can provide practice for writers and wish fulfillment.  Some of it is even better than the source material.  I just don't think it should be published and paid for.  This story was good enough the characters did not have to be named Moriarty.

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg.  This collection of fairy tale retellings is one of the buzzed about books of the year.  I gave up after two stories.  The writer was so wrapped up in being edgy and gender non-conformist that there was not enough characters or plot for my taste.  The Cinderella story was nonsensical word salad.

Afterlife With Archie 1-5 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla, and Jack Morelli.  Hot Dog gets hit by a car and Jughead asks Sabrina to bring him back.  Thus starts a rather fantastic story of the Riverdale gang battling the undead.  I highly recommend these.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Recent Listens

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson narrated by the author.  This was a freebie from Sync Audiobooks.  I was expecting historical fiction and was surprised it was a nonfiction book about Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad.  Anderson did a good job of balancing the horrors and events of the time with a biography.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan narrated by LeVar Burton.  To bake an apple pie you must first create the universe.  We are all made of star stuff.  That is brilliant thinking. While listening to this I realized how much Sagan influenced by view of the world.  Cosmos the show was a big deal when I was a kid and showed up a few times as school watching, but it was still pre-VCR days so it's a bit amazing that those two thoughts stuck in my head.  The cosmic calendar isn't in the book but that image stuck too.  Sagan showed me something huge.  I can't buy into a literal interpretation of the Bible since the creation stories in Genesis are so commonplace as compared to "Let there be Light" setting off the Big Bang and beginning the glorious Rube Goldberg machine that is the universe (I have no problem reconciling God and science). The audio book is excellent.  Burton is a perfect choice for this with his love of learning and sci-fi connections.  There's also introductions by Seth MacFarlane, Neil De Grasse Tyson (who did a decent Cosmos reboot a few years ago), and Ann Druyan (Sagan's wife and uncredited co-writer).  I highly recommend this one.

On Power by Robert A. Caro narrated by the author.  A short Audible original in which Caro talks about his work and how he became interested in the study of power.  Interesting for any one who is a fan of Caro's work.  I did have to laugh when Caro was on C-Span's Q&A promoting this and the host was quizzing him on his health practices.  I'm glad I'm not the only one who worries Caro might die before completing The Years of Lyndon Johnson.

Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein narrated by Paul Michael Garcia.  One of Heinlein's juveniles where a young man cons his way onto a ship that gets lost in space.  Quite fun.  The female lead tends to act a bit stupid (a product of the times) but is saved by being actually smart.  This is the second Heinlein I've listened to read by Garcia who seems to have a gist for this sort of material.

Wizard:  The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla by Marc J. Seifer narrated by Simon Prebble.  Tesla was a genius like Leonardo Da Vinci--lots of great ideas but very little actual output.  A decent biography of a surprisingly boring guy.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The OXO Kitchen

One of this year's main projects was to upgrade my kitchen.  I've always liked OXO's products and was thrilled to realize that they are the same prices at Bed, Bath, & Beyond as at Amazon.  Since BB&B always has coupons and there is one located on my way home from work, this ended up being somewhat reasonably priced.  20% off coupons were great for containers and $20 off of $75 were perfect for the little things like measuring cups, funnels, and other small tools.

My cabinets were a mess of items in Rubbermaid, cheap plastic, and ancient Tupperware containers.Investing in Pop containers meant everything fits better.  The containers are clear with lids that open easily by pushing a big button.  I went with all squares and rectangles so they'd be stackable and fit on the shelves better than round containers.  I started with the 10 container set which gave me a good idea of what sizes I needed (hard to judge just by looking at them) but included two containers that are too small to be useful.  Mostly I bought individual pieces so this part of the project probably cost more than intended, but organized cabinets are worth it.

One of my favorite OXO pieces is the garlic slicer.  I had a gadget for shaving garlic which worked well but was hard to clean and requires a push and twist action.  The OXO is a miniature mandolin which is super fast and easy.  If you like garlic I highly recommend it.

My other favorite purchase is OXO's cold brew coffee maker.  I've never drank much iced coffee seeing it as expensive, but figured I'd like it if I could make it at home.  This consists of a brewing container that stacks on a pedestal and drains into a carafe.  I don't use the paper filters since reviews say they make draining slow (otherwise it gets top marks).  I picked the second coarsest grind on my coffee grinder so I don't have sediment issues.  I also had to buy a digital scale since the directions recommend measuring coffee by weight.  It feels like it uses a lot of coffee, but the resulting concentrate lasts for weeks since you only use a little at a time.  The only thing I dislike is the carafe which is awkwardly shaped and takes a lot of room in the fridge, but I just use a different container.  The resulting coffee is very smooth quite tasty.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Recent Reads--Comics Edition

Hip Hop Family Tree, Vol. 1.  A nice overview of the early days of hip hop.  I know next to nothing about the subject and don't care enough to read a full book on the subject so this fit my need perfectly.  My biggest problem was a huge cast of characters with many having similar names, but this wasn't too important to me since I only wanted an overview.

The Swords of Glass Vol. 1.  A girl seeks revenge on an evil warlord who detroyed her family.  The story wasn't anything overly original, but I liked the art style and the creatures were interesting looking.  The problem with getting my comics  through Prime Reading is you only get the first volume of a story.  I would like to read the rest of some of these except I have such a backlog of books I can't currently justify a Kindle Unlimted subscription.

Wool:  The Graphic Novel.  The novel Wool caused a sensation a few years ago but didn't look interesting enough for my time.  The graphic novel confirmed my decision.  The characters weren't very interesting and the story was nothing special.

Fairlaine the Goblin, Vol. 1.  A goblin and his tree are travelling trying to find a forest to call their own.  In this book they go through three kands.  I liked the drawing style.  The characters were  interesting and nicely designed.  Another series I'd like to finish someday.

The Bean Straw:  Non-Flying Objects.  A few funny panels but for the most part it trys to be The Far Side and fails.

Harvey Kurtzman's Marley's Ghost.  Kurtzman worked at Mad Magazine and wanted to make a graphic novel of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  This was several decades before graphic ovels were a thing so his idea went nowhere.  Recently, the took his storyboards and made this.  A very nice interpretation of the source materiel with a great overall look.  The v=best of the comic books I've read this year.

Avengers vs. Thanos.  A collection of Silver Age comics.  It was ultimately disappointing since it gathered select comics across several series so there were a lot of bits and bobs missing which made the plot coherent but not complete.

Thanos Rising.  I quite enjoyed this gritty telling of Thanos' origin.

Black Panther by Christopher Priest, Vol. 1.  Very disappointing compared to the movie.  This story is told in a convoluted flashback fashion by an idiot American protocol officer.  I guess he's supposed to be comic relief, but he's so annoying it dragged down anything interesting going on in the rest of the book.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Recent Reads

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.  This was on a list of Best Comic Novels or if you like X you'll like this (X being Douglas Adams or Christopher Moore) so I decided to give it a shot.  It was really quite good with intertwining stories involving perfume, a pair of immortal lovers, a dying god, and beets.  Very amusing with some beautiful use of words.  I'm going to have to check out more of Robbins work.

Hell's Princess:  The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter.  I finally read one of my Prime First Reads book.  Belle was known for luring men to her farm with promises of marriage and wealth and then killing them.  I find it odd that there were no nosy station workers or neighbors who noticed that none of the men they saw going to her farm were ever seen leaving it.  This was a Kindle in Motion book which means the pictures had a small amount of animation.  It was a nice touch but didn't really add much.

Who's Sorry Now by Joe Pantoliano with David Evanier.  Pantoliano has had a nice if limited career as a character actor specializing in mafia types so I grabbed this at a book sale without reading the blurb.  Turns out this was just about his childhood with his passive father and psychotic mother.  The book wasn't bad, but it was basically a family history book with no reason for it to be generally published.

Fluke:  Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore.  A comic novel about whale watchers with some weird twists.  Not Moore's best work but still worth reading.

A Pocket Full of Rye and Poirot's Early Cases by Agatha Christie.  The Poirot was a book of short stories.  Christie is one of those writers whose short stories and novels are equally good.  Rye was a Miss Marple where she shows up late in the story due to the death of her ex-maid.  This was Marple in full avenging angel form with a wonderful line about always thinking the worst of people because it's so often true.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  The world's gone to hell so people spend a lot of time in a virtual reality called the Oasis.  The creator of the Oasis dies, leaving the company to whoever can find his Easter Eggs and solve the puzzles.  The heroes are plucky individuals with the villain being an coloration using collective play to win.  Solving the puzzle involves knowing everything about the creator's obsession with the 1980s.  Being a child of the '80s, I could appreciate some of the pop culture things although it skewed more towards video games.  The back third of the book was good, but it took longer than expected for me to finish.  Here's my main problem:  the hero solves the first puzzle after five years,  In just five years, he watched, re-watched, and memorized every TV show and movie the creator loved; read all his favorite books; learned all the minutiae about the music; and mastered dozens of video games (including being able to play a perfect game of Pac-Man).  I am often teased for my vast amounts of woethless knowledge and I couldn't do all that in just five years.

Mr. Meeson's Will by H. Rider Haggard.  A woman is involved in a shipwreck and agrees to have a dying man's will tattooed on her shoulders since they have nothing to write on.  This moved along at a nice clip.  Haggard kept making a point of how virtuous and good the heroine was while almost reveling in the fact she kept having to wear low cut dresses so that court officials could examine the will.  Saucy for Victorian times.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

This Year's Garden

I debated waiting another week to put in flowers since it was still sweater weather last week, but spring seems finally to have come to stay.  I spent less than last year and worried I had not bought enough.  Of course, I then ended up with almost too many.  For the first year in forever, I did not need to buy more dirt which was nice. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Recent Listens

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel narrated by David Kelly with a full cast.  Set in an alternate universe where lighter than air travel is the norm, this is the story of a low level crewman who tries to help a passenger discover unknown flying cats while battling pirates.  This was a decent young adult adventure story.  My main issue was that the passenger was supposed to be an intelligent, independent young woman but she had a tendency to be a bit damsel in distress at times.  This might be because the story was told from the point of  view of a teenage boy or because of the acting.  Kelly told the story and voiced the main character and did a pretty good job.  All remaining dialogue was done with a full cast, some of whom tending to the overly dramatic.

The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker narrated by Chris Patton.  Most modern food is designed to have a high yield, quick growth, and/or long shelf life.  The flip side of this is that breeding for those things tends to breed out flavor so flavor compounds get added into the food.  These compounds aren't as physically satisfying so we tend to eat more.  The book was pretty interesting and another good example of why one should think about what one eats.  On the other hand, when he was describing the invention of Doritos and who they came o be flavored, I sorely wanted to go buy a bag and shove the whole thing down my food-hole.  I'm well aware it's crap food, but that crap can taste so good.

The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff narrated by Eliza Foss.  I remember from college that the Salem Witch Trials were actually a pretty boring affair.  I hoped this  book would make them interesting, but it failed.  Too many characters, too little analysis of why, too much repetition.  My mind often wandered.  Also the narrator tended to be a bit too light-hearted at times for my tastes.

These were all free from Sync Audiobooks which starts up again on April 26.  None of this years titles is really grabbing me but I'm sure I'll end up downloading a bunch of them any way.