Hell House

Who doesn’t like a good haunted house story? Well, I suppose some don’t (who are you people?) but given the enduring popularity of the genre, there must a be a sizeable chunk of readers out there who like reading about things that go bump in the night. In my experience it is more difficult to sustain a haunted house story for a whole novel, especially when you compare that to how effective short stories can be. How well does Richard Matheson do in Hell House? Read further if you’re ok with spoilers (though the book was published in 1971, so it’s not exactly hot off the presses.)

Continue reading “Hell House”

Biography on Madison and the Future of America

My current car book (popping in the CDs, very old school) is a biography of James Madison. It’s good, and I’ll maybe do a review of it later, but I want to talk about a comment I heard this morning that the biographer makes as he is describing how Madison and Jefferson first conceived of the Republican (now Democrat) party.

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Just a Pit Stop in the Galaxy

I recently finished a book called Way Station by Clifford D. Simak, and thought it was good enough to post about. Enoch Wallace is a civil war soldier whose house is transformed into a transfer station for aliens traveling around in space. It’s kind of a like a backwater bus stop no one stays at because there’s nothing to see. He becomes the keeper of the station, and therefore immortal. The story picks up with the government finally noticing the strange behavior of this hermit, hiding away in a remote part of Wisconsin, who never ages and who sends diamonds away every now and then to maintain his funds. You’ve probably never heard of the great diamond mines of Wisconsin. Well, neither has the U.S. Government. Enoch has lived a hundred years or so as the keeper without an incident, but forces beyond his control are bringing things to a head. (Warning: the analysis of the book below contains spoilers). Continue reading “Just a Pit Stop in the Galaxy”

Oh Mother Where Art Thou?

Two books I’ve read in the last few months share themes that make them worthy of a post (more than worthy!) They’re both excellent, tightly written, suspenseful horror fiction, and both explore a mother realizing her child is the embodiment of evil. These two masterpieces of Mommy Macabre (mahvelous!) are Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and The Bad Seed by William March. If you haven’t read them, and don’t like it when someone gives away the plot, read no further, but for the rest, let us proceed. Continue reading “Oh Mother Where Art Thou?”

Werewolf, magic, with a twist

The Changeling Prince was a very readable book, and Velde does a great job of having you root for the central character, Weiland. He is a sympathetic young man/wolf put into impossible situations, and this is all to Velde’s credit. The drawbacks of the book are: 1) Weiland doesn’t really think his way through any of the problems. When there is a big reveal at the end, it isn’t because the main character has reasoned it out, which is ultimately more satisfying for the reader; rather, it is just dumb luck. 2) The climax is rushed and feels very deus ex machina. I won’t give much away when I note that the character of Kedj, the villainess’ henchman, is incomplete and yet he figures heavily in the final crisis. 3) The villainess is vile to the extreme but she lacks in levels, character shadings that would make her more realistic. She is a spoiled child with incredible power, but that is about as deep as it goes.

All in all, I’m glad I read it. A little above the level of juvenile fantasy in terms of writing style and subject matter. I would give it a partial recommend.

Are You Anti-Fragile or Fragile?

Have you ever had a book blow your mind in the first ten pages? Well, I’m seventy or so pages into Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder and my mind’s been blowing up like the last thirty seconds of a fourth of July fireworks show.

Taleb talks about how Antifragility is the one central idea of his life. It is the opposite of fragile, which most people improperly define as “stable, resistant, long-lasting, unbreakable, etc.” Instead, anti-fragile things, such as our bodies, naturally become stronger when they are stressed. Think about our immune systems. They do not break under stress, they improve.

One interesting note, for the Russian language major in me, is that Taleb scans all the major languages and none of them have a word like “antifragile” to capture this concept. It’s a literal linguistic blind spot. (Did I make a half pun there?) And as we’ve sought to lower the stress we experience in modern society, we’ve protected ourselves and become, ironically, more fragile in the process. We have put our happiness and health at risk.

We know about antifragility intuitively. We have the old adage: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But it’s more nuanced than that. Sometimes a stress will indeed kill you (see knife, directed toward chest). But totally eliminating stress from your life? Extremely bad.

How does this apply to you? How it applies to me is what’s making my brain go kaboom. How often do I avoid risks because I fear pain/loss/backlash/stress? How much more full would my life be if I risked more and received the necessary feedback stress incurs?

Taleb talks about how the antifragile person/system/thing makes many small recoverable errors, is stressed by them, recovers and becomes stronger because of them. So, it’s time to stretch and “stress” myself out.

Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but a few years ago I stopped reading a book if I was no longer enjoying it. Taking this approach felt like both a luxury and a violation at the same time. Up to then, I was the good reader doobie who finished anything he started. But, maybe around the time you hit forty, and you start to see the end of the life’s road approaching, you put a premium on your time. Bad books don’t cut it.

Whoa (said Keanu), just went a little existential there…but it’s true nonetheless.

I can’t think of a time when it has happened for two books in a row, but it did recently, and I thought I’d post about why. Usually, I pick up a book because it’s been recommended somewhere, by either a friend or on another blog written by someone I respect or in a writing book. I’m no longer a willy-nilly, “hey, this cover looks nifty, maybe I’ll give it a try,” kind of joe. So, I’ve become choosier about what I even pick up, AND become much more judgmental about what I’m reading as I’m reading it.

I think the basic rule is: if I’m not completely lost in the story within the first fifty pages, the book isn’t for me. But for it to happen twice? Maybe I’m crossing the line into being too harsh… Continue reading “Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…”

Go Read the Chet and Bernie Mysteries

View this post as a love letter to some “easy-listening” books I have picked up at the library starting a few years ago. Ever since listening to the first one, I’ve been on a recommendation rampage. (Yes, I’m a car book fanatic.) I started book number five, A Fistful of Collars, yesterday.

For those of you not yet in the know, the basic premise is a dog (Chet, plain and simple) working with a detective (Bernie Little) to solve mysteries around “The Valley,” which is sort of a stand-in for Phoenix, AZ, although Spencer Quinn, the author, never spills this particular bean explicitly.

The essential charm of the books is that they are told from Chet’s point of view. Comedy and drama spring from this choice, and Quinn never strays from it. Oops, bad pun alert; however, if you liked that pun at all, that’s another reason you’ll love these books.

Chet’s observations about the environment around him (the sights of course, but particularly the smells which are emphasized because he’s a dog) are constantly bouncing off of the reader’s own human point of view. We fill in the blanks left by the dog’s charming naïveté, and all we need are the hints about the human behavior he picks up to gather the complete picture. It is a masterclass in showing, not telling, the reader the story.

Really, you could accept just about anything plot wise when it comes to these books. The lesser of the books, To Fetch a Thief, is about an elephant kidnapping. It closes with a set piece that is outlandish bordering on the farcical, and a resolution that is ultimately unbelievable under the cold light of day. It feels more like the plot resolution from a bad Hardy Boys book. But who cares? If Chet’s involved, ever striving to be a “professional” detective (even if he fails when there’s something interesting to eat on the ground), you don’t care too much as a reader. His love for Bernie, the relationship they have, is unshakeable and makes the whole thing hum. You root for them to succeed.

One other note, Quinn isn’t scared to give Bernie human flaws and foibles that might be more off-putting if Chet wasn’t the one describing them. Bernie is painfully bad with women to the point of being a wimp, horrible with money, and obsessed with environmentalism to the point of being nannyish. All these things would be unpalatable if the books had Bernie as a narrator. But these flaws are softened when they are described by Chet, who is confused about Bernie railing on about the overuse of water to deplete the aquifer, among other things. You end up forgiving Bernie for his foibles. He’s a do-gooder, who isn’t necessarily the smartest human in the room, but Chet thinks otherwise, so bad guys better watch out.

The first and second books are the best to-date (as I said, I just started the fifth). But for pleasure reading, you can’t do much better. Start with Dog On It and enjoy.

Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith

After reading A Simple Plan years ago, I was very much looking forward to reading The Ruins. And besides, Stephen King didn’t just endorse it – you practically have to wipe the saliva off the cover from the tongue bath the maestro of horror gives this book. The Ruins popped up on my reading list because I was bored one day and googled best horror novel lists, so I added it to my own.

To put it simply, the book is worth a read, particularly if you like horror. Would I recommend it to my wife who enjoys mainstream fiction? No. Her book club ladies would not enjoy this alongside a glass of wine and their buffalo chicken dip.

But let’s take the book from a strengths and weaknesses perspective. If you think that the strengths outweigh, it’ll solidify your choice about whether to read it, although this post may function better as a discussion forum for others who have already read the book. Be warned, some spoilers below. Continue reading “Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith”