On The Nightstand – Imperial Twilight – 7/22/2018

I’ve recently slowed down a bit with respect to my reading, writing and posting – partly due to a busier than normal daily schedule – work, kids, a whole host of things – but partly due to a detour I’ve decided to take for the short term.  As any of you who have followed this blog know, my mainstay is Science Fiction and Fantasy – more broadly speculative fiction – a term that hadn’t really entered my lexicon until recently – likely a reflection of my age and my failure to spend time reading about the art of writing over the years.  I’d guess that a good 75% of my posts focus on old and new works of science fiction and fantasy.  Every once in a while, however, I have to step away and move to more academic fare.

If you’re read my About Me Page, you’ll know that I have a second literary love – history, current affairs and political science.  While it doesn’t receive as much of my reading time as it should, I nevertheless return to it from time to time.  I’ll go for months reading nothing but speculative fiction and enjoying it immensely.  Ultimately, though, it never fails – I always seem to hit a point where I feel compelled to read something that actually leaves me a better informed, more educated individual.  When I hit that point, my reading inevitably slows as I feel the need to put real time into the books I’ve chosen.  These are academic works, I’m reading them to further my education and they cannot be given short shrift if I really want to benefit from the experience.

You can see that tendency to swerve back to history in my posts on books like “The Templars”:


Or the time I took to read “The Forgotten War” – a book I commented on but have yet to review – largely because I found it informative but not particularly satisfying. I may eventually get to the point where I’m ready to put a few observations on this one into a post – but I’m not there yet.

I hit that point last week – after finishing “The Black Council” by S.M. Stirling – maybe due to its focus on the First World War.  Around the time I was finishing that book, I ran across both the topic of this post on Amazon – “Imperial Twilight:  The Opium War And The End Of China’s Last Golden Age” – and “Autumn In The Heavenly Kingdom:  China, The West And The Epic Story Of The Taiping Civil War” – both by Stephen R. Platt.  These books drew me in – partly because the episodes in history were ones that I knew little to nothing about – and partly because the reality of China as a geopolitical competitor to the United States has been weighing on me recently.  A fair fraction of my professional life has been focused on Asia – initially as a Diplomat and later as an employee of a large company that offered me multiple opportunities to live and work in the region.

My last opportunity to live and work in Asia ended in 2004 when I repatriated from a 3 year assignment in Malaysia and Singapore.  At that time, China was an emerging offshore destination for western manufacturing of low value products.  Since then, it’s become the United States’ leading competitor in the areas of science, technology, military power and global influence.  The country should be a focus of concern for any American who thinks critically about the role our country has played in the world and the constructive, liberal global leadership we’ve supplied since the end of WWII.  As a result, I felt compelled to buy and read both books.  I was able to finish “Imperial Twilight” last night and thought I should post a few thoughts.

I have to say – from the beginning – that this was an exceptional work of history.  Platt has laid this narrative out in a particularly accessible way, his research and scholarship shines through and his decision to drive the narrative via the very personal stories of the individuals involved makes it a particularly enjoyable read.  He benefits from the enormous amount of source material available – drawing from the records of the British East India Company, communications and records from the Qing Imperial Court, transcripts from British Parliamentary debate, contemporary histories, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and the journals of the individuals involved.  He manages to bring the history of a relatively expansive period of approximately 50 years to life in a very tangible and colorful way.  His style makes this book extremely easy to read.

I don’t plan to provide a summary of the book – only to say that it details the history of trade relations primarily between Britain and China – from the early days when it was conducted through a highly regulated system centered in Canton and consisted primarily of tea and silk from China being traded for English cotton and woolen textiles to the time when it evolved into a free and open trading system that came to be dominated by the English export to China of Indian opium. Despite the reference to the Opium War in it’s title, the book actually spends little time on the conflict. It spends most of it’s time – starting in 1759 with the journey of James Flint up the coast of China from the British East India’s sole China outpost in Canton – describing the state of the Qing Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, the perceptions of that Empire back in Britain and how Britain’s emergence as the pre-eminent world power in the wake of its victory over Napoleon began to change those perceptions, the system of trade in place between China and the West and the importance that trade had for both China and Britain. The actual conflict is ultimately seen as nothing more than a sad and – in retrospect – an entirely avoidable episode that further weakened an already declining Imperial system in China and cemented Britain’s place as a military and commercial power in Asia. It also left them burdened with the corrupting responsibility for an opium trade that was both reviled and yet too profitable and far too significant a source of revenue for the government to eliminate. Like so many histories of this type, it’s characterized by imperfect communication, inadequate mutual understanding, occasional critical miscalculations and human failure and incompetence.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but be struck by similarities to issues we’re struggling with today – testament to the fact that there really are no new problems. Times and technologies may change but the basic complexities and problems that we humans create remain the same. By way of example – I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between Britain’s opium merchants – the sponsors of a destructive drug trade that ravaged Chinese society – and the international drug cartels currently smuggling and selling drugs into the United States. I also found it fascinating that – towards the end of the period described in Platt’s book – the Qing Emperor and his government engaged in a very robust debate regarding the merits of simply legalizing the drug trade instead of continuing it’s aggressive efforts to criminalize it and stamp it out via harsh punishment of end users – so similar to the debates we’re currently seeing in this country today. The retrospective conclusion alluded to in the book is that a decision to legalize the trade – had it ultimately been made – would likely have addressed at least the tensions that led to the actual conflict and may have given China greater ability to control the negative impact that opium use had within the Empire. I was struck by the degree to which poor communication, incomplete information, inadequate understanding, pride, arrogance, greed and – at times – simple foolishness can, over time, wreck a system that – while not perfect – was nevertheless working well for most involved and wreck it so completely that it resulted in an unnecessary war. I couldn’t help but think back – as I was reading – to the comedy of errors – both personal and political – that led us to invade Iraq. Finally, the background narrative of a grand but declining world power and culture being displaced by a new and ascending one is all too relevant in today’s world.

Along those lines – I have to include one quote from the book – a statement actually made by Napoleon who – at the time was serving out his exile on St. Helena. In discussing one of more provocative diplomatic British expeditions to the Qing court prior to the actual outbreak of war, Napoleon commented to his Irish physician: “It would be the worst thing you have done for a number of years to go to war with an immense empire like China. You would doubtless, at first, succeed, but you would teach them your strength. They would be compelled to adopt measures to defend themselves against you; they would consider and say, ‘we must try to make ourselves your equal to this nation. Why should we suffer a people, so far away, to do as they please to us? We must build ships, we must put guns into them, we must render ourselves equal to them.’ They would get artificers, and ship builders, from France and America, and even from London; they would build a fleet and, in the course of time, defeat you.” I sometimes fear that Napoleon was wrong only in the timing of his prediction.

Overall, this was a magnificent book – superbly researched and beautifully written – an extremely accessible and enjoyable account of what – to most of us – would be a relatively obscure historical event. It is truly worth the time and I would recommend it to anyone.

One last comment – and I’ll try not to sound too preachy – but I do want to provide encouragement to anyone reading this post to do something out of the ordinary. I don’t meet many people who have a passionate – or even a passing – interest in history and it saddens me. The time I’ve spent learning about what’s come before us has always made me a better judge of people and left me better able to sift through the chaff that pervades today’s political and policy debates. Particularly in a time like the one we’re living through today, every citizen has a responsibility to be as well educated on issues as they possibly can be and part of that responsibility – in my mind – involves a reasonable understanding of history, geography and economics. No one loves fiction more than I do but I feel a responsibility – on a regular basis – to pull myself up out of the cotton floss of science fiction and fantasy and work on my continuing education. I would urge all of you to do the same – it can’t help but make a difference.

I enjoyed this one enough so that I’ve already moved on to “Autumn In The Heavenly Kingdom”. I also have three titles from Max Boot that I’ve been meaning to read. I don’t know how much of this I’ll get through before slipping back to my first love but – by way of an advance apology – I may be boring you all for at least another week with reviews focused on works of history. Please be patient with me and have a great week.

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On The Nightstand – The Black Chamber – 7/15/2018

I haven’t read everything that S.M. Stirling has written but I’ve read most of his work.  The first of his books that I found was the second he released – “Marching Through Georgia” – in 1988.  I’ve gone on to read every book in his three primary series – his Draka books, The Nantucket series and all of the Emberverse books – as well as most of his less prominent work.  I’ve enjoyed almost everything he’s written – with the notable exception of his Shadowspawn books – not sure what was happening in his life when he wrote those but they were not good.  Overall, I’m a pretty loyal fan and he’s given me many good years of reading.  He creates fascinating, incredibly detailed, believable alternate realities rooted in our world’s history, he populates them with intriguing characters and he drops them into compelling conflicts.

Two things have always stood out to me with respect to his writing.  First, Stirling must know more stuff about more things than any person alive.  One of the many things that’s kept me reading the Emberverse novels is the incredible detail he writes into the stories about everything from bowcrafting to religion to medieval military tactics to agriculture and cooking.  The guy is a walking Encyclopedia Britannica – a set of publications that anyone born in the last 25 years may not be familiar with – they were the closest thing to the Internet that all of us oldsters every had – and he does meticulous research.  His books – in addition to being great, character driven stories – are always oddly educational – something I’ve always loved.

Second, he creates extremely strong female characters – not exclusively – the men populating his novels are fascinating – Rudy McKenzie, Mike Havel, Nigel & Alain Loring – but his female characters always seem to dominate – Juniper McKenzie, Signe Larrson, Sandra Arminger, Matilda Arminger and Tiphaine d’Ath and finally Orlaith and Reiko.  They are the characters that the books inevitable seem to revolve around and they are compelling.  Once you get past the first three Emberverse novels and you lose Mike Havel – with the exception of Rudi – the women drive the narrative – the men are there as wise councilors and / or strong right arms.

Given that the Emberverse novels are coming to a close with “The Sky Blue Wolves” in November of this year, I was excited to see him start a new alternate history with this book – first in “Tales From The Black Chamber”.  It’s set in an alternate timeline during the second decade of the Twentieth Century – about the midpoint of WWI – with Teddy Roosevelt as President and leader of a new Progressive Republican Party.  He’s doing something different here – eschewing the elements of spirituality, magic and mysticism that’s woven into the bones of the Emberverse – focusing on the technologies of the time – more in line with the world he created in the Nantucket novels.  I was intrigued and very ready to see what he might do with this new story architecture.

Overall, I did really enjoy the book – it was a great story and Stirling created some great characters – particularly the protagonist – Luz O’Malley Arostegui.  She is everything you’d ever want to see in a fearless, capable, unstoppable intelligence officer.  I loved the premise that a progressive Teddy Roosevelt is crafting a new America built on progressive principles that in our world don’t see the light of day until the ’60s.  I liked the idea that the U.S. – in this universe – has created an aggressive overseas intelligence organization – 15 years before Henry Stimson closed down the Cipher Bureau – using as his justification that “Gentlemen don’t read each others’ mail”.  Stirling has built an intriguing world and his writing is – as always – superb.

Having said that, the book was just a bit of a slog for me – unusual for a Stirling novel – not a bad experience – just not as riveting as usual – and it took me more than half the book to understand why.  Short to long – it’s the detail he writes into the story – usually a strength – but in this case not quite as compelling as is usually the case.  In the Emberverse novels and the Nantucket stories, the amazing and rich detail that Stirling includes focuses on things that I do really find fascinating.  With Emberverse, it’s the rediscovery and adoption of Medieval technologies in a world without power.  In the Nantucket novels, it’s about taking the science and technology of the modern world and re-inventing it in such a way as to apply it in the Bronze Age.  For me, both premises were compelling and I never really tired of the lessons that Stirling managed to teach.  In the Emberverse series, I also really enjoyed watching the re-emergence of multiple pagan religions and mythologies in a post-modern world.  I couldn’t get enough.

With this story, I just didn’t find the detail about early Twentieth Century technology, German cuisine and female fashion to be nearly as interesting.  For me, it slowed the story down and made it drag at times.  Where I normally fly through a Stirling novel, I felt like I was working a little too hard to finish this one.  Again, it was a good book.  It just didn’t work as well as so many of the wonderful books he’s written in past.

Short to long – a very good story with some compelling characters – extremely well-written.  It just doesn’t bring that same magic that I normally find in Stirling books.

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On The Nightstand – Song Of Kali – 7/9/2018


I had no plan to pick this book up – I think it actually found me.  I mentioned in my July Releases post that this was a light month and that I was looking for options to add to my TBR pile.  I’d already started the one true release that I’d selected for July – S.M. Stirling’s “Black Chamber” – and I was enjoying it.

I actually blame Amazon for what happened next.  I’m browsing my Amazon featured selections early last week and I come across this old U.K. hardcover edition of Dan Simmons’ “Song Of Kali”.  I’ve read one of Simmons’ books – “Carrion Comfort” – and enjoyed it enough (read “was creeped out enough”) to tag him as a “Followed” author.  As a purchaser of hardcover editions, Amazon’s algorithm naturally serves this up and I purchase it despite the price.  It arrived pretty quickly and I decide to read the first chapter.  The next thing you know, I’ve put “Black Chamber” aside and I’m devouring this one instead.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Horror is not my genre – possibly because too much of ordinary, everyday life these days has more than a whiff of horror to it – possibly because so much appalling information these days is delivered to us directly via the 24 hour news stations, the internet and social media.  Too much of the stuff I’ve read from this genre seems to be a bit unremarkable – as though real life has raised the bar to such an extent that it becomes hard for authors to find a way to chill an audience?

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this book so much – even given the fact that it was written in 1985, Simmons found a way to make this horrifying in a durable way – and he does it without slathering on the supernatural.  Instead, he plays with some pretty ubiquitous, atavistic anxieties and fears.

Here’s the first – and anyone who’s had an expat experience – who’s lived for any amount of time outside their own country might relate to it.  Simmons takes a very naive, highly educated, middle class couple with their baby and drops them – without appreciable support – into an unfamiliar, intimidating, extremely complex foreign culture.

I’ve lived as both a government and a corporate ex-pat and I’d be the first to admit that both experiences are somewhat bubble-wrapped.  You have colleagues at work and ex-pat friends whose children all attend the same American school, you have support structures – both locally and back in your home country, you’re well compensated, your housing is provided – your sponsors make it as easy as possible.  Even with all of that, there’s a degree of stress and anxiety associated with the experience that sometimes becomes hard to manage.  The simplest things – things that you used to do without thinking – become more challenging and you feel like you’re expending far more energy every day than was ever the case at home.

Simmons captures that feeling as he describes the experiences of the Luczaks during their relatively brief visit to India.  While they have people that are ostensibly helping them, none of them are trustworthy or what they’d expected and they’re basically cast adrift in a country and society that is bombarding them with situations and messages and experiences they are inherently unrelateable.  The sense of stress they’re experiencing is tangible and you see it degrading their ability to make good, rational decisions.

The second theme Simmons drives into the narrative is a sense of horror – not related to the supernatural – but to the sheer, overwhelming poverty that surrounds the Luczaks and the sense that life is of so little value.  The vision of decay and filth and death that Simmons portrays creates a feeling of horror completely independent of the supernatural elements of the story.  I’ve traveled to India a number of times for business over the course of my professional life and, while I found it extremely overstated and representative of an earlier time, the atmosphere that Simmons creates was still reflective of things I’d seen and experienced.  It is very hard for someone from a developed country to adjust their perspective to accept as normal what is almost certainly the normal course of daily life for so many people.  By way of example, I found it profoundly disturbing to repeatedly have babies pressed against the windshield of my car by infant beggars.

Having said all that, I do want to make sure that I’m not misunderstood.  Every unpleasant shock that India delivers to the system is counterbalanced by an amazing, rewarding experience or a beautiful element of the culture.  For purposes of this story, however, Simmons very effectively uses the negatives to create a sense of horror and disregard for the value of human life that do just as much – possibly more – than the supernatural elements he introduces to make the narrative uncomfortable and disturbing.

Finally, Simmons manages to anchors the horror of the story not in the possibility of a living Goddess of Death guiding events – something that is more hinted at than confirmed – the one concrete appearance of Kali taking place at a time when Robert Luczak is under the influence of a behavior altering drug – but in the cruelty and remarkable heartlessness of the humans who worship her.  The people are the true monsters in this story and not Kali herself.  By way of example, the horror embedded in the story’s final tragedy – the death of the Luczak’s child – is cast as a purely human evil – an attempt on the part of someone to use her corpse as a vehicle for smuggling gemstones out of the country.

Short to long – so much of the horror in the story exists independent of the suggestion of supernatural influence and it comes at you from multiple sources.  I found the book to be particularly impactful – in a way that few of the more recent entries in the Genre manage to be.  It’s a book that – for me – stands the test of time and offers up the kind of experience that more horror stories should.

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On The Nightstand – Cathedra – 7/7/2018

This isn’t really a review – more of a recommendation for a recently published short story from M.C. Tuggle.  You can find Mike’s site here:


Mike just had a short story titled “Cathedra” published in the April 2018 edition of Metamorphosis magazine.

You can order a Kindle copy for $3.00 and a paperback copy for $6.00 on Amazon:


My copy arrived in the mail last week and I was able to read “Cathedra” this weekend.  It’s a smart, first contact short story set on Enceladus.  It’s described in the Afterword by the Author  as “a tale of faith and one’s discovery of purpose within society”.  It’s a quick 10 minute read and one I really enjoyed.

I haven’t had the chance to read through the other 3 short stories but I found “Cathedra’ to be more than worth the $3.00 I paid for the Kindle edition.




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On My Mind – The 4th – 7/4/2018

I know it’s a bit cliche but do you ever wonder what Washington, Jefferson and Adams would have thought if we were able to bring them forward in time and give them a look at what the country they created had become or how we celebrated the miracle of political compromise they’d crafted.  Here’s what they would have experienced if they’d been with us today at the 108th Lake Bluff 4th of July Celebration.  This year’s theme was Spirit and Service and, as always, the central event was the Parade.  It was led this year by the Lake Bluff American Legion Post 510 serving as Parade Marshals.

This parade is a BIG deal in North Suburban Chicago.  It’s one of the oldest and biggest small town Independence Day parades in the country and the Lake Bluff 4th of July Committee spends the better part of the year planning it.  I’ve attended this event 4 or 5 times since moving to Chicagoland and it’s always a unique experience – a pretty good indication of the State of the Nation.

For starters, what kind of a parade would it be without marching bands:

Here’s the Kenosha, WI, Rambler Band putting on a show.

And no Independence Day Parade would be complete without the Pipes:

Belting out Scotland The Brave – a favorite of mine given family origins.

From there – we have something just a little bit different:

Back in the day, these guys and girls were likely marching with bands like the Ramblers – great to see them still pounding it out.

Of course, no parade is complete without your national, state and local politicians:

One of our Congressmen had a presence – Brad Schneider – representing the IL 10th District.

While I may have missed him, I didn’t see Brad – but his people turned out in big numbers.

From there, we moved right on to the State & Local folks:

Always good to see them out in person – pressing a bit of flesh.

Never let yourself forget that this is a country of entrepreneurs – businesses big and small turn out every year:

One of our local realtors – reminding everyone that there’s never been a better time to buy or sell in Lake County.

It’s the 4th – gotta have your BBQ!

Here’s a new twist – a local HVAC company rigged up an air conditioner – blowing cool air – in an attempt to keep the crowd cool – had to laugh when I saw this one.

Now onto the Big Boys – Wells Fargo – after the year they’ve had – good to see that they’re still out there asking for our money.

Of course, the 4th just isn’t the 4th without Mr. Peanut and The Planters Mobile.

Very good to see a worthy local charity represented – I’m a big supporter of Bernie’s and have volunteered.  If interested, you can learn more from this post:


From there, it get’s really local and very colorful:

You have the local chapter of the Indian Guides & Princesses.  Wasn’t even sure if this group was still around given the sensitivity today around cultural appropriation.

The local Lion’s Club – represented by a giant lion on a Segway.

Because nothing says Youth Soccer like a 6′ tall rabbit.

What’s a parade without the Shriners – but scooters just don’t cut it for the Lake County Shriners – these guys ride motorized Coleman Coolers.

Here’s one that I loved but had never heard of until today – a national Star Wars Cosplay group:

Great costumes but does it feel a bit odd to anyone else – seeing the Empire so prominently represented at an Independence Day parade?

Finally – last but not least – a local institution – the Lake Bluff Lawnmower Precision Drill Team.  Every year, these guys pick an issue and build a satirical routine around it.  Check this out.


Yes…many Kim Jong Un did make an appearance at the Lake Bluff 4th of July Parade.  Still trying to figure out the goat.

There you have it – America in all its Independence Day Glory – a great time was had by all!

Having said that, I do still wish I could have brought Washington, Jefferson and Adams to the event today – if for no other reason than to see the looks on their faces.

A Very Happy 4th to all.

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On The Shelf – July Releases – 7/4/2018


July is going to be a different kind of reading month for me.  I went into June with 6 highly anticipated releases – a decent number for any single month – and those books contributed to 30 days of reading pleasure.

My July release list is actually very short – at this point consisting of only one book:  S.M. Stirling’s “Black Chamber” – delivered to my Kindle app last night and already begun.  Here’s the thing that puzzles me about this one.  Stirling is an incredibly successful author – so many worthy books to his credit – this is the beginning of a new series for him – why would they not release with a Hardcover edition?  Makes no sense to me.

Other than “Black Chamber”, I have Glen Cook’s “Wrath of Kings” on order – the last of three Omnibus collections of Cook’s “Dread Empire” stories.  This is a collector’s purchase for me.  Most readers know Cook for his “Black Company” novels – excellent stories – but his “Dread Empire” stories preceded them and are very good reads as well – some would argue that they’re better books.  Nightshade has collected the full body of work in three Omnibus editions:

  • A Cruel Wind
  • A Fortress In Shadow
  • Wrath Of Kings

I’ve had the first two since they were released and have been waiting on “Wrath Of Kings” to complete the set – which happens this month.

That actually leaves me with a fair bit of freedom when it comes to what I’m going to read.  Based on some of the reviews I’ve recently read, I went ahead and ordered “Summerland” by Hannu Rajaniemi, “City Of Lies” by Sam Hawke and “Nevernight” by Jay Kristoff yesterday to give them a try.

Other than that, I have a bunch of partly read series that I can go back to or some singletons that have been in the TBR pile for way too long.  Still, I’m wide open to suggestion here and would welcome any thoughts any of you might have – this is something of a luxury and I don’t plan to waste it since the August release list is looking pretty long.

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On My Mind – June Wrap-up – 7/3/2018

I’ve never done a monthly wrap-up before but – following other blogs – they seem to be pretty ubiquitous so I thought I’d give it a try.

On balance, June was a pretty good month.  It started with a wonderful BDay celebration – my wife has an amazing way of making the day special even at my age.  So far – 57 feels a whole lot like 56 and 56 was pretty good – leaving me hopeful for the year ahead.

The kids continue to amaze – my step-daughter studying abroad in Italy – my son traveling through and working in Korea for the summer – Sue and I living vicariously via text and Instagram – remembering younger days – and incredibly proud of them both.

This was an interesting month at work – very political, very challenging  – most battles fought to a draw – leaving me once again accepting the truth in that old pilot’s saying:  “every landing you can walk away from is a good one”. 🙂

June was a good month for the gardens – things have come in very nicely this year.  Here’s a view of the front:

…And here’s one small slice of the back:

Just a small slice – we spend way too much time playing in the dirt.  Still – very few days where I don’t take a quick stroll through the gardens before I jump into the car and head to work – always helps me start the day in the right place.

The Turquoise Table was in full swing and everyone in the neighborhood seems to have survived the winter.


It’s one of the many things that makes this neighborhood a very fun place to live.

I opened up a new Category on the Site – Scribbles – and published my first post.


I wanted to create the opportunity to write more creatively – untie myself just a little from the book reviews – and see where it takes me.  I’ve been truly amazed at just how much I’ve enjoyed the chance to write since I built this site last November and I think I’m ready to stretch myself a bit.

Ended the month with a few days in SC – visiting my father and step-mother along with my brother and his family.  It was a wonderful, relaxing, restorative trip that left Sue and I wondering why we’re not down there on a much more regular basis – an oversight we plan to correct during the 2nd half of the year.

Finally – last but not least – it was a great month for books – finished and reviewed the following:

  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang:  weak and not  recommended


  • Miss Subways by David Duchovney:  surprising, amazingly satisfying read


  • The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston:  a very worthy read for a debut


  • Blackwing by Ed McDonald:  my favorite book for the month – slam dunk debut



  • The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson:  great short read that I highly recommend


  • Brief Cases by Jim Butcher:  must read for Dresden fans waiting for Peace Offering


  • The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French:  another very worthy read


  • Awakened by James S. Murray:  horror that worked for me


  • Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee:  Please read this series – all 3 books are amazing


  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson:  good debut that hinted at what Sanderson could do


(Could someone please teach me how to properly insert a link)

Overall, a very satisfying month – four grimdark entries with only one falling flat – a wonderful surprise with “Miss Subways” and an amazing conclusion to a landmark series with “Revenant Gun”.

Hate to see you go June – but I think the time was well-spent.

I’ll finish with one suggestion:  before the family and friends arrive, before the first beer, before the grill gets lit, before you head off to watch fireworks – take that thin volume titled The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States off your shelf (something everyone should have in their library) and spend just 10 minutes reading through either The Declaration or The Bill Of Rights.  It would be a worthy addition to a special day.

Have a Great 4th of July.

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On The Nightstand – Elantris – 7/3/2018

This is a bit of a retro post – going back to a book published in 2005 – but I feel compelled to pound out a short note.  Early in June, I read a wonderful, little novella by Brandon Sanderson called “The Emperor’s Soul”:


It was my first chance to read anything by Sanderson and I really enjoyed it – his writing style, his characters, the world he created – it was a brief but intense pleasure.  I also mentioned in the post – having enjoyed “The Emperor’s Soul” as much as I had – that I planned to go back to his debut and see what he was like at the beginning.  Since I’d finished everything on my June Release List plus a bit more – I did just that and wanted to take the chance to finish out the trip.

First – and I caveat this by acknowledging that I haven’t experienced much of his work – I suspect that anyone who goes back to this book after reading Sanderson’s later work will notice a difference.  It’s not as tight as it should be – he dawdles a bit with his narrative – some of the content and some of his characters are a bit cliched – the ultimate reveal was a bit obvious to me early on in the story – there are too many red herrings and plot cul-de-sacs.  Still – I have to say it was fun and, for a lengthy book, it was a relatively fast read.  One of the reasons it went quickly was because this isn’t the type of book that compelled me to focus and pay attention to each word – a reflection of some of the earlier criticisms – but that really hurt the experience for me.

Sanderson has a novel concept and he writes into it in a very engaging way.  What really shines through and what I think I enjoyed is the way Sanderson’s two protagonists – Raoden and Sarene – are so unavoidably endearing.  They just ooze goodness in everything they do – Sanderson obviously wanted them both to reflect an uncompromising decency, courage and heroism and he was thoroughly successful.  As they develop and grow, you can’t help but root for them and want them to win.  While some might find them a bit too sugary sweet – it didn’t bother me – I’m a sucker for a true good guy or girl.

I actually found one of Sanderson’s secondary characters – Galladon – to be more effectively constructed and more interesting.  His worldliness and cynicism were a welcome counter to Raoden’s purity.  While he was a bit cliched – I also enjoyed his antagonist – Hrathen – a conflicted villain trying to do as little bad as he could – one who eventually finds redemption.

Overall, I’m very glad “The Emperor’s Soul” led me to Elantris.  It was an impressive enough debut – even with the small blemishes – that I feel like I have to move on to his “Stormlight Archives”.  If nothing else, my sis won’t be able to shake her head at me any more about not having experienced Sanderson’s works. 🙂

Posted in On The Nightstand | 9 Comments

Scribbles – Safe House – 7/3/2018

Hard not to think back over the month as he takes his first step on the last mile.  It would be all too easy to dwell on the challenges – the small injuries and defeats – those things that turned hours into days and days into weeks.  They were no small part of what put him on this path – looking for greener grass – if only for a few days.

Still, starting down that last mile – it helped – helped bring to mind the fact that there had been good as well as bad – victories as well as defeats – smiles and laughter as well as worry and stress.  It was always good to get out of Chicago and get a little closer to home – not the home where he’d been born or where he’d grown up – the home where his people were – where the edges weren’t as hard, the problems receded into the background and biggest challenges amounted to almost nothing.

It was hot – even with the sun starting to fall towards the horizon – hot and wet – the kind of weather Chicagoans never stopped complaining about – where you felt the heat both inside and out and the humidity left you a bit damp all over.  For him, as he walked under the canopy created by the old oaks and their banners of spanish moss – it was a welcome feeling – heat that penetrated – got inside you – to the point where you could feel it in your lungs and your bones – a healthy feeling – physical, mental and spiritual – that slick feeling on your skin from the moisture in the air was refreshing – the warmth on his skin relaxing – it left him loose and tired in the very best of ways.

Coming to the end of the drive, he reaches The Old Man – that biggest and stoutest of the old Coast oaks – standing watch over the marsh – as it had for more than a century – anchor of the earth – connection point between soil and sky – way point for the hot and tired – playground for the young – reassurance that some things persisted in the face of all the change outside this backwater.

Stepping away and turning towards the marsh, his eye fastens on the boathouse – a transition point between solid ground and marsh – the door through which you step to trade the sober, solid, immutable power of the earth for the energetic, playful, mercurial power of the water.  Perspective shifts as he does so – trading the silence and end of day heat for the gentle refreshing breeze coming off the marsh and the subtle laughter that he hears in the gentle, wind driven chop.  The flavor of the air changes as well – subtly – or maybe he’s just more open to the salt smell coming off the marsh with the change of view – and the rich, living smell that always comes from these coastal backwaters.

Drifting past the boathouse and towards the bank – he takes one last look – pausing to watch the sun slide into the clouds on the horizon – it’s light softening – breaking into that beautiful range of pastels that signal the end of the day – an invitation to the frogs, crickets and cicada to begin their evensong.  He loses track of time – saying goodbye to the day – enjoying the breeze – feeling the temperature begin to drop just a bit – enjoying the silent fireworks of a summer twilight – feeling his head and body drift towards a more restful place – breath coming slower and deeper – finally free of the world outside of this small sanctuary.

Eventually turning away from the marsh – the dying light of day at his back – he walks back up the drive towards the house…

the gas porch lights flickering in the dusk – welcoming him home – warm, gentle eyes in the night – peace – at least for a few days – until he has to leave – head back to Chicago – and start it all over again – the better for having been reminded of the fact that there’s more to the world and to life than the challenges of the day.

Posted in Scribbles | 3 Comments

On My Mind – Book Nooks – 6/30/2018

Apologies in advance of this one -it’s a pure vanity post – but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. As is obviously the case, the focus of this site has always been the books I’ve read – particularly but not exclusively Science Fiction & Fantasy. Having said that, I’ve also built the site to give me options. I added an “In The Cart” Category in case I ever wanted to convert it to e-commerce and sell books. I also added an “On My Mind” Category so that I could post on any topic that tickled my fancy.

This will be an “On My Mind” post inspired by something I saw on “Morgana’s Book Box”. Several weeks ago, she put up a post featuring about 10 really fun book nooks and matched them to personalities. She also asked her readers to comment or post on their perfect book nook. Well…here’s mine.

Let’s start with the caveat that there’s no room in the house that doesn’t work for books. We have a Sun Room out front that’s all windows and it’s perfect for day reading. The Living Room only masquerades as a TV room – the silly thing’s almost never on and the couch and chairs are almost always better used either for conversation or reading. Sue and I end every day in bed with books on our chests until they wind up bumping drowsy noses. In short, every room can serve as a Book Nook.

There is one room though – my special place – the place I retreat to on those weekends when I’ve decided to read laaaaaate into the night – either a scotch or a decaf in hand – depending on the mood and the nature of the work week – when I’m in the middle of a read so hot there’s no way I’m going to put it down – when everyone else in the house has called it a night – the type of sanctuary I’ve been wanting to create for a good 30 years – across multiple cities and multiple houses – my Library.

Here’s what you see as you walk in – that Banister Bookshelf I wrote about a couple of months ago – the most recent addition to the Library and the place where I’ve relocated some of my most valued titles.

Stepping in and looking to the left – I’ve got a whole wall of built ins that carry the largest part of my collection. As you can see, I’m already growing out of these – every shelf full and most double stacked. The first two verticals are all history, political science and current affairs. Every other vertical is 100% Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Last but not least – here’s the heart – my good ole leather bound, cowboy couch. There’s a side table made from the spoke of an old wagon wheel and it’s backed by a free standing shelf that my wife bought and painted for me one year as a present. That shelf’s also devoted to SF&F.

Last but not least – in case you made the mistake of assuming that books and reading were the only things going on in here – if you look closely – you’ll see that I have a comfy old TX Longhorns throw rug on the floor. Behind the chair – if you look very closely – you’ll see a framed print of the Sports Illustrated cover the year the Longhorns and Vince Young won the National Championship – another truly perfect, loving gift from my wife. The room is actually packed with TX and Longhorn memorabilia.

There it is – my Library – my Bibliocave – my Book Nook. Makes me smile just thinking about it. Thank you Love – for humoring me and for all your understanding and patience over the years. ❤️😍😘❤️

Posted in On My Mind | 2 Comments