Friday, April 10, 2015

Blogging A to Z - I

Author: Irving, John
I know I already featured one of his books, but honestly, my choices for I were limited.  I also really enjoy John Irving as an author so I don't mind having him here twice. In addition to A Prayer for Owen Meany, I can recommend Cider House Rules, A Widow for One Year, and The Fourth Hand. I know he is not for everyone - his books aren't always realistic, but they are entertaining and certainly make me think. He doesn't shy away from hard topics (the death of children, abortion, infidelity, family relationships, etc.) but can seemingly find humor even in these situations.

Book:  Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The by Rebecca Skloot
This is the story of a poor African-American woman who died in 1951 of cervical cancer. Doesn't sound all that exciting until you hear about how the sample of her tumor was the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture and were instrumental in countless scientific discoveries. As if that medical drama wasn't enough, there is also the human drama of her family, who weren't aware of what Ms. Lacks' cells were contributing until almost 20 years after her death. Because the cells aren't considered property, there was never any payment and Ms. Lacks' family can't even afford their own medical care. It's a fascinating read about genetics, medical research and ethics, and the business of science. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Blogging A to Z - H

Author:  Harris, Charlaine
I'm sure that most people associate Charlaine Harris with the True Blood (Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire) series, but I'd like to highlight some of her other works. The Harper Connelly Mysteries feature a brother and sister (step) who travel the South helping people who have lost loved ones.  After Harper was struck by lightening, she realized she can find dead people and share their final moment. Her stepbrother is her manager/handler/companion. Darker in tone than Sookie, I enjoyed them just as much.  Harris has started a new trilogy about a town in Texas where everyone has secrets and some of them are pretty explosive. The second in the set is being released soon and I've already pre-ordered it.

Book:  Hundredth Man, The by Jack Kerley
As usual, I'm highlighting the first book in a series that I enjoy.  This is the first of the Carson Ryder series, about a pair of detectives (rookie and senior) who form a special psychological investigative unit to solve special crimes. The Junior Detective, Carson Ryder, has a past which gives him special insights into the crimes he is investigating.  This is a great series, but unfortunately, I believe the author was unable to find a US publisher after the first few books, so the later books in the series are harder to find (but not impossible). I recommend making the effort.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blogging A to Z - G

Author:  Greenleaf, Stephen
For the most part, I'm choosing popular and fairly well-known authors.  However, now and then, I'm going to highlight one of my personal favorites who probably isn't as well known, even to fans of the genre. Greenleaf wrote the John Marshall Tanner series of mysteries set in San Francisco. I'm not really sure why I like these so much, but they are well-written with interesting plots and characters. The characters, especially Tanner, really grow over the course of the 14 books. These books aren't always easy to find (my collection was stolen and I am trying to rebuild it) but they are worth seeking out. This is a series where it's important to start at the beginning with Grave Error.

Book:  Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane / Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I just couldn't choose between these two for my "G" books and they do have the same word in the title, so I'm picking both. Each of these explore the dark side of humanity, and are not easy reads. Gone, Baby, Gone in particular, with its depictions of horrific child abuse, is incredibly hard to get through, but the payoff is worth it. In Gone Girl, the author shows the reader how a marriage can go horribly wrong. Both books also have twists that I won't reveal in case you haven't read them yet - and I recommend you do so immediately.  (Gone, Baby, Gone is part of a series, but it also works as a stand-alone novel.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blogging A to Z - F

Had a busy day today, so just getting this in in the nick of time.

This former jockey was a prolific writer publishing a novel a year from 1962 until his death at the age of 89 in 2010. His books all center around horse racing with quite a few of the protagonists being jockeys. They are usually quick, entertaining reads, with tons of information about horse racing and associated fields.

Book:  Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson
This was the main book that turned my college career to political science (the other one being "The Boys on the Bus" by Timothy Crouse).  Fear and Loathing is true Gonzo journalism, and a collection of articles originally written for Rolling Stone.  The Good Doctor focuses mainly on the campaign of George McGovern. By the end of the campaign and the overwhelming McGovern loss, Thompson was totally exhausted and burned out on politics. While you have to take some of his stories with a grain of salt (Edmund Muskie and his addiction to Ibogaine for example), the book is a terrific examination of political campaigning and the media of that era. I recommend it highly.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Progress on 101 Things - April 4-5 edition

Here's a wrap-up arranged by category.

Travel - Oregon [nothing]
Travel - Washington [nothing]
Travel - Rest of the World [nothing]

  • Completed that Scrapscription album (Just Be You). Here's the completed project, along with some Easter carnations and bunny decor. Starting another album today, but might not finish this week.

Entertainment and Culture:
  • My son surprised me by getting us tickets to Mariners' Opening Day, so that will make 3 home games this year!
  • Made Bacon Cheeseburger Sandwiches.  Very good and the only complaint was that there wasn't more.  Also tried a few other new recipes, but this was the biggest hit.  
  • Read 2 more books and started a third.  No reviews this week - both books were the next in a series that I've already reviewed, and not much changed.
  • Wore my fitbit every day this week and made my 10,000 step goal on six out of seven. On that non-goal day, it was pouring rain both outside and inside my umbrella so I cut my final walk short by 904 steps. I still totaled almost 73,000 steps for the week, which was 29.4 miles!
Miscellaneous [nothing, but added another goal]

Blogging A to Z - E

Author:  Ellison, Harlan
The moment I decided on the theme for this challenge, I knew who my E author would be. I bought my first collection of Ellison short stories in the mid-1970's, and a love affair began. While best known for his speculative fiction and short stories, including award-winners "Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman", "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", he has also written over 1,700 works including novellas, screenplays and teleplays, criticism, essays, at least one novel and, of course, short stories. Mere words cannot express how much I enjoy his work. There have been countless times where I've picked up one of his books, planning on reading one or two stories before bed, and lifting my eyes from the book three hours later. I've seen him in person a few times, where he was doing readings of his essays and short stories.  Once at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon (Mecca for book lovers), I waited in line to have a book signed and when I met the man I'd admired for almost 40 years, I said a few words to him.

When my time is up and I'm off to my urn, I will consider it one of my crowning achievements that I made Harlan Ellison laugh.

Book:  Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
A short, unassuming book comprised of a series of letters between family members (I learned a new word when I read this book: epistolary). In a nutshell, this is the story of Ella Minnow Pea, who lives on an island off the coast of South Carolina. This island was also the home of the man who invented the sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" and there is a statue honoring him. When letters start falling off the statue's plaque, the town rulers decide that means they are no longer to use those letters, and anyone found to do so (either written or spoken) must be punished. Enough infractions, and the punishment is death. What seems to be a lighthearted, humorous story quickly turns dark (at least it did for me). Not something I would normally read, but it was recommended to me and I, in turn, recommend it to you.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Blogging A to Z - D

Author:  Donaldson, Stephen R.
What a varied catalog of works this man has produced. The epic fantasy of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (all three series), the science-fiction/space opera of the Gap Series and (my personal favorite) the two-volume series Mordant's Need. If there is one thing Donaldson can do, it's create elaborate worlds. Personally, I recommend Mordant's Need above the other two - the Gap Series is VERY dark and not for everyone and the Thomas Covenant series (for me at least) trails off in the end. If you like high fantasy, I would just go with the first three volumes of that. I confess - I started the third Chronicles and couldn't make it past the first couple of chapters.  Addendum:  In doing some research for this post, I discovered that Donaldson wrote four mysteries under a pseudonym, but has now published them under his real name. I think I will have to check these out.

Book:  Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
Here's the start to another great urban fantasy series, The Hollows, with Rachel Morgan the witch, Jenks the pixy and Ivy the vampire. Of course there are also elves, demons, shape-shifters, and fairies (nasty little creatures).  There are fourteen books total - I confess that I haven't read the last one yet even though I've had it for a while, because I just don't want the story to end. I did start re-reading them from the beginning since I tend to read very fast and I wanted to make sure I caught every nuance before finishing up the series. As with the other series I've recommended, I envy those of you who have yet to start. Enjoy the journey into The Hollows!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Blogging A to Z - C

Author: Connelly, Michael and Connolly, John
Both mystery writers, names different by just one letter, but oh so different in style. Michael Connelly writes in the police procedural vein but with more depth and characterization and features Harry Bosch, an LAPD cop, while John Connolly tells us about Charlie Parker, a former cop turned private investigator whose stories have definite supernatural overtones.  Both writers excel in drawing you into the worlds they have created, albeit with much different moods and themes. For M. Connelly, start with The Black Echo.  The first Charlie Parker book is Every Dead Thing. You can't go wrong with either one.

Book:  Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
Winner of numerous awards, including the Bram Stoker Award and the British Fantasy Award, this novel is a different take on vampires. These creatures feed off emotions and violence rather than blood and have been doing so for a very long time. While it's true that at over 700 pages the book probably could have used some editing, it kept my attention the entire time and I recommend it for fans of horror.  Stephen King called Carrion Comfort one of the greatest horror novels of the 20th century, and I think that says something.  (Dan Simmons is another of my favorite authors - he writes in almost every genre and rarely comes up with a dud.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blogging A to Z - B

Author:  Butcher, Jim
I used to read quite a bit of science fiction, but was never really one for fantasy.  You know, swords and sorcery fantasy. When I found Urban Fantasy, however, I was all over it. And no-one writes better urban fantasy than Jim Butcher. Seriously. Harry Dresden is one of the best characters of all time, and his supporting cast members are no slouches. This is one author that I always pre-order and have never been disappointed. I have read his other books as well, but Harry is my favorite. If you like urban fantasy and have not read Butcher yet, start with Storm Front and work your way up to the latest.

Book:  Bitten by Kelley Armstrong (Women of the Otherworld, Book 1)
More urban fantasy, but very different from the Dresden Files. I chose this book since it was the first in a series that I've enjoyed (and I already used my "A" author). Unlike most series which focus on a main character, the Women of the Otherworld focuses on a group of women (and men) letting each one have a few novels where they are primary. It's an interesting way to approach the series concept and I like it. Often with just one main character you run out of material, but by spreading it out to an entire world of characters, you've got more room to explore. The first installment introduces us to Elena, the only female werewolf and the rest of her pack. I read the entire series and while some books were better than others, they were all entertaining reads.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Blogging A to Z - A

And we're off!  I've never done anything like this before, but here goes.  First, welcome to anyone who is stopping by here for the first time (or the second or third...). My posts are mainly about my crafting, menu planning, or my 101 things I want to do.  On a personal note, I'm a 50-something Project Director from Everett (north of Seattle), Washington and counting the days until I can retire, hopefully to the Oregon Coast. Married with 3 children, 2 grandchildren and 1 very spoiled Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

So let's get started with Books and Authors.

Author:  Asimov, Isaac
I have always loved science-fiction. I think the first SF book I read was Journey to the Mushroom Planet in 3rd or 4th grade. It was a shared love with my dad and one of the first adult authors he introduced me to (after Heinlein) was Isaac Asimov. From the Foundation series to I, Robot to Lije Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw. Just thinking about these stories (and Isaac) brings back fond memories of discussing them with my dad.

Book:  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Absolutely one of the best books I have ever read, and I've read a lot. I read this back when it first came out (1989) in hardback (which was rare, because I usually couldn't afford them) but I had enjoyed his earlier works so I splurged. I do a lot of reading on the bus to and from work, and quickly found that this is NOT a good book to read in public. Considering my uncontrollable laughter at the nativity scene and my open sobbing during other parts, it just was not a wise decision to read this where other people could see/hear me. This is also one of the few books that I've read more than once. For me to do that, well, it just doesn't happen very often. If you haven't read this before, I envy you. Grab it now, and introduce yourself to the world of God's Instrument, Owen Meany, and his best friend, John Wheelwright. You won't be sorry.