Book Review: Dark Jenny

Review: Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe

Recommended for fans of Arthurian legend and hard-boiled detectives.

Dark Jenny is what the Arthurian legends turns into when it’s run through the lens of Raymond Chandler. It’s a very familiar feeling story and it’s not just because of Arthur.

Eddie LaCrosse is an honest PI, I mean Sword Jockey who gets pulled into the political intrigues of the country of Grand Braun. He’s just at the court for an infidelity job, but he witnesses a murder he’s immediately accuse of. Our Sam Spade with a sword — I can’t resist the alliteration — convinces the knight in charge of the investigation that he’d be more useful interviewing suspects than being locked up.

Since one of the suspects is the queen, things quickly get out of hand and Grand Braun teeters on the edge of civil war.

This isn’t some musical Camelot. While Dark Jenny reflects the Arthurian legend, Grand Braun is a world that grew out of bloodshed and war to be united behind a charismatic warrior king. There’s court politics and gossip; there’s crosses and double-crosses; there’s horrible human nature and wonderful dreams.

This is also a hard-boiled mystery adventure. All of the clues are there if you want them, but the ride is fast enough that you can just pull down the safety bar and enjoy it. Now I just need to get Alex Bledsoe’s other books!

Highly recommended.

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Book Review: The Dancing Wu Li Masters

The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics by Gary Zukav

Recommended for: newcomers to quantum physics or physics in general.

The main selling point of The Dancing Wu Li Masters is that it tackles physics theory without the mathematics. For any student or autodidact who’s crashed up against the formulas in the textbook and bailed, this is definitely the book for you. Gary Zukav is a layperson who worked closely with several physicists to translate the world of higher math and quantum mechanics into every-day language.

For the read who’s a few years away from their science classes and interested in theory more than application, again this is a great review. Come to it with an open mind and you will learn a lot.

On the other hand for the avid science reader, this may come off a bit like a high school text trying to be cool. I have a sneaking suspicion, actually, that my high school text “borrowed” from this book. A lot of it is very familiar.

My edition was from 1979 and it does feel dated at times. The author tries very hard to bridge the gap between science and religion — especially the Eastern traditions. However, even being dated and philosophical, it is still relevant. It covers the theories of relativity, the Uncertainty Principle, Schrodinger’s thought experiment and much, much more. It will give you a much clearer understanding of what CERN’s up to and why the Large Haldron Collider is cool.

Definitely give it a shot. It’s a classic for a reason.

Book Review: The One Thing

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

Recommended for: Everyone, but especially creative types and entrepreneurs.

Not my usual format here. Cross-posted from The Art of Procrastination:

Okay, here’s something you won’t see me do too often on this blog, I’m going to recommend a business productivity book. Hey! Wait! Come back here. It’s a good one.

In fact, What’s Your One Thing? by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan is not just a business book. (Though I’ve been arguing that writers do need to think like business people for ages.) It is an excellent book for life in general and for artists and creative people of all stripes.

What it boils down to is “What is the One thing you can do right now that will help you reach your goal?”

That question is a focus question. You have to make a very specific answer for it. You can’t have a to do of 10 things. What is the One Thing that must get done right now to make your goal attainable. Of course, you also need to have a goal and actually think about and create a progression from here to there. I’m not re-capping all the steps, just the biggies. READ the BOOK.

Follow up? Why aren’t you doing that thing?

Second step, after this focus question, is to make time for that one thing and to guard that time jealously. Keller and Papasan suggest a four hour block in the morning. I would adjust that to a four hour block whenever you are at your best. If you’re a night owl, carve out a slice of time at night. If you’re a morning person, do it in the morning.

I say, if you can’t do four hours right now, carve out half-an-hour. If you can’t do that, you don’t actually give a shit about your goal and need to find one you *do* care about.

Make that time, that precious, precious time, and do it every day, five days a week. Your goal will get closer and closer. And once you spend 2-3 months carving out your time, it will be a habit and you’ll feel *wrong* when you don’t spend the time on your goal. After that, it’s inertia and time to work on the next habit you want to create.

Time, repetition, habit. Train in new habits, and over-write old ones.

When I say guard that time, it means, work without distractions. Turn off the internet. Kill the phone. Do not move away from whatever your task is until it is done.

One task a day, that’s not that hard right? Write 5 pages. Hell, write 5 sentences. Whatever the goal is, hammer at it every day.

But first, read the book. It’s worth the time.

Highly Recommended.

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road – Seanan McGuire.
Recommended for: Supernatural fans, people who grew up on Scary Stories, and road warriors

Our main character Rose is the basis of the phantom prom date. One of them at least. She’s a hitch-hiking ghost who needs to borrow a jacket to be physically present in the world. She was 16 when she died and ever will be. She’s also a psychopomp — you know, like the sparrows in The Dark Half. She guides souls to their rest. Sometimes, she can even save lives.

She’s running from the man who killed her, but she’ll have to confront him soon or he’ll keep killing. He’s not alive anymore you know?

Sparrow Hill Road is where Rose died. Where she “lives” though is the heart of America — roads, diners, truck stops — a place full of the smell of exhaust and exhaustion, road weary and wary, grease and coffee. There is a pulse made of coffee and small kindnesses in milkshakes and fries. It’s where truly American folk tales start and survive.

And it’s fracking awesome.

I loved this book from the first page to the last. I hope I’ll get to see more of Rose in the future and I want everyone to grab a copy of this book so we’ll get another.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Archie Goodwin Meets Nero Wolfe

Archie Goodwin Meets Nero Wolfe – Robert Goldsborough

Recommended for: Fans of the series, folks who enjoy Glen Cook’s Garrett PI, Sherlock fans, and mystery fans.

This book is bittersweet for me. I am an ardent Nero Wolfe fan and have read every one of the books. (Rex Stout’s and Robert Goldsborough’s)

In this book, Archie Goodwin as a nineteen year old rookie from Ohio learning his way around the private detective business. Which is slightly jarring, because of course, I will always think of him as the thirty-something he was in the rest of the series. (Rex Stout made a decision. The world around the brownstone changed, but the characters remained the same age from the beginning of the series to the end. If he were writing today, Archie would have a smart phone, and Wolfe would Skype to orchid growers around the world, but they’d be the same age they were in 1930.)

This is not the Archie from the rest of the Nero Wolfe books and Wolfe himself is more of a spider hidden in his web than usual because the two haven’t bounced against each other for ten years yet.

Saul is there. Along with the rest of the family. I think that’s the bittersweet part. Everyone is spot on. (Goldsborough wrote seven Wolfe books after Stout’s death. All of them are wonderful.)

It’s just… I know what happens in A Family Affair. Seeing Orrie, Fred, Saul, and Archie in their younger selves is like seeing an them come into focus on a Polaroid. It’s an excellent use of the characters. I see who they will become hinted in who they are now. Wolfe too, is not himself yet. He has his routines, but he has not filled out to his handsome proportions yet.

The Williamson kidnapping case is satisfyingly complex. The Prohibition era details are exceedingly rich. And Archie is a perfect mirror for it. He’s still adjusting to his new world, but his voice is perfect and shows the man he will become.

The book is an easy read and — as always — all the clues are laid out for you. You just have to be clever enough to string them together.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Accidental Assassin

The Accidental Assassin by Jan Toms

Recommended for: People who like Donald Westlake, “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Noises Off.”

The Accidental Assassin by Jan Toms is a farce — a beautiful, elegantly woven, farce. I loved it.

I picked up the book on a whim because it was on sale. Now, I want to buy a copy for half the people I know because it’s so much fun.

Victor Green is a mild-mannered civil servant. He falls out of a tree and happens to kill a mobster. Therein starts the fun. Victor is a quiet little milquetoast of a man. He has very little sense of adventure and stammers when he gets nervous. He adopts the mobster’s dog in remorse for killing the poor dog’s master.

Then he gets a random check with a small slip of paper. He’s suddenly 20,000 pounds richer. And has no idea what to do next.

Soon enough there’s another death and another check. Victor’s got a girlfriend who’s the Constable’s daughter. There’s a love story in the midst of the gathering gang war. Poor Victor’s in the middle — not quite sure how he got there — and trying to figure out what seems to be a horrible misunderstanding.

It’s a happily ever after with bullets and poodles. I really don’t want to say too much more because to reveal it is to ruin it.

Definitely read it though.

Cross-posted on Goodreads.com

Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Recommended for: People who liked The Butterfly and the Diving Bell or Salt

I picked up this quiet little book at the library because I could not pass up the title. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating just intrigued me the way The Elegance of the Hedgehog did. On top of that it was a short book, not even 200 pages.

Bailey’s voice is what comes through most. This is a true story. It’s more than just information about snails. It’s about the idea of slowing down and watching. It’s also about the isolation of illness.

Bailey suffers from a nasty little autoimmune disorder that kept her bedridden. She was living in a studio apartment rather than her home so that she could be close to treatment. One of her friends brought her some flowers from the backyard and included a little snail.

This random gift of a pet set off a chain of research and observation that turned into a lovely little book. It’s part meditation on the reality of illness and connection to the world, and part detailed information about wild snails. I learned a lot of things. For instance, did you know that not all snail mucous is alike? I didn’t. I also didn’t know that they could send a mix of healing mucous to different areas of their bodies. I also didn’t know they had kin relationships.

There is an amazing amount of knowledge hidden in this slender little set of essays. I’ve recommended it to at least five people already and now I’m recommending it to all of you. Go read it.

Now.

ED: Crossposted on Goodreads