Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Aimless Love - New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins

This is a review I recently posted on LibraryThing, Amazon, and GoodReads:

This is a "recent best of..." collection that has both funny and serious poems, each with that unique narrative Billy Collins voice ("that isn't the author's voice").

There are a lot of contemporary poets out there today who don't like Billy Collins because he is accessible to "non-elites." The average person can pick up a book of his poetry and enjoy it. His poems speak on many levels, so it is quite simple to read a work of his and enjoy it at face value. But a person can also look deeper and find those little abstractions, bits of symbolism, and other aspects present in literature and poetry. It is this ability that makes Collins a good poet, and makes him exceptionally talented to continue to pursue one of his passions -- to bring the joy of poetry to the widest audience possible. Poetry shouldn't be restricted to the academics, it shouldn't be restricted to an elite few, it should be shared with all.

This book does that.

How else could a book of poetry be discussed on The Colbert Report and include an entertaining interview with Collins (and a co-reading with Stephen Colbert of "To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl")?

If you're looking for a good entrance into the world of poetry, you won't go wrong with this. If you've enjoyed Billy Collins in the past, then this book absolutely must become a part of your collection. And if you don't like Collins because you're a (jealous) elitist, then go away.

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

This is a review I recently posted on various book-lover websites:

It's rare that I give a fictional narrative five stars, and this one in particular had many little things I didn't like or sometimes found irritating, but the author did two things important things to earn five stars. First, I couldn't put the book down; Second, once I finished it, I immediately wanted to reread it.

Essentially, isn't that what reading is about?

Oh sure, like other pieces of "literature" it leaves an impression on you, it asks important questions both timeless and relevant to today's issues, but when it boils down to the basics, it was a compelling read worthy of the time devoted to it.

Although at times it seemed as though it was a social commentary condemning the "old" ways of acquiring information (via books), it eventually circled around and brought both the "old" generation and the "e" generation together, requiring both their resources to crack the puzzle of the plot. I have to admit, I got tired of reading all the techy references and the digs at those born prior to those inventions, and I especially got tired of seeing the word "Google" on every page, but on retrospect I can see where some of it was necessary. An another enjoyable aspect of the novel was how the author used character roles of the modern genre fantasy novels and translated that into modern terms and roles as a team forms to solve the puzzle of the plot - the wizard, warrior, thief, etc.

I highly recommend this novel to any book lover or anyone seeking a fun, lighted-hearted novel (there's no fighting, violence, etc).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dune - My Favorite Science Fiction novel?

Occasionally, I'm asked what my favorite science fiction novel is. I think that's a silly question since there are so many great ones out there, and honestly, it all depends on my mood at the time I'm asked the question.

The closest I can get to answering that question is by answering which novel I've reread the most - "Dune" by Frank Herbert.

When I first encountered the novel in my early teens I wasn't the least bit interested in reading it. Afterall, a bunch of people running around on a sandy planet wasn't my idea of a fun science fiction read. But a few years later, I finally read it. I can remember that summer well, and look back with fond memories now of my first reading. I can even remember my second reading of it during one of the worst droughts southern Illinois had experienced in decades (how ironic, eh?)

TimeLife Books was offered leather-bound editions of classical works of science fiction, including Dune and Arthur C. Clarke's "2001" through a really terrible television commercial (this was years before the internet). At one point during the commercial, it showed an older man reading a copy of Dune to his grandson - as if a child that young would be able to comprehend this novel. I so wanted a copy, but my parents wouldn't buy it for me - they couldn't understand why I'd want a second copy of a book I already owned.

I've lost track of how many times I've read it, but I would guess at least five times. And I've read Dune Messiah and Children of Dune probably the same number of times. But after that, each novel removed from the original, I've read less. In fact, some of the newer ones by his son, Brian Herbert, co-authored with sci-fi veteran Kevin J. Anderson, I've never read at all. I own then, just never read them. The reason? Probably because when I'm in the mood for the Dune universe, I return to that original novel I fell in love with.

Inexplicably, my family seems to think that Tolkien's work is my favorite. And while I love Tolkien just as much as the next science fiction and fantasy fan, I can't say he is my favorite.

When it comes to favorite authors, I still can't say that Herbert is one. He makes mistakes that authors aren't supposed to make, but for whatever reason, I forgive him. I have friends and author friends who can't stand Herbert, who think he is over-rated, and I can't necessarily argue that point with them. I always reply to their criticism, "You may be right, but I keep reading his books anyway."

So Until Next Time...
Sandily Yours,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Murder on the Links

After taking such a long time to read the third installment of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire ("A Storm of Swords"), I've managed to knock off a Agatha Christie novel in little less than a week. While most people, especially mystery lovers can fly through a Christie much quicker than that, one week is practically a miracle for me considering all the assigned reading I've had to do for the past two years.

I now think it's time for something futuristic, something science fiction, but something that doesn't require a lot of deep thinking just yet, since I have finals coming up in a few weeks. After that, I may even read an old 1980s pop romance ("Master of the Game"). Once the new year begins, then I'll pick up some classic literature I've always meant to read, but never have.

One other note:
This Thursday, I'll be doing an original poetry reading at the St. Charles Community College Coffeehouse from 7-9 p.m. You can look it up on the SCC Community College webpage, or drop me  a line for more info.

Until Next Time...
Linkly Yours,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fantasitical Ramblings

This was an Advanced Reader's Copy I was given through Below is the review I posted at the website:

"This was a fun collection of stories. A handful of stories were well written, and a handful were clichéd and predictable. The real stand-outs were "The Sword of Herakles" which combines classical mythology with Arthurian legend and a fun story called "Dragon Treasure".

I wouldn't recommend paying more than a few dollars for this collection, but if you have the opportunity to purchase it cheap, it's worth the cost and will help you pass the time at the dentist office, airport, etc."

Until Next Time,
Ramblingly Yours,

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tracking Library Books

I don't know why I didn't think to do this before. All things considered I should have thought of this within moments of creating the Books Read list years ago.

Since 1999 I've been keeping a list of every single book I read, using Excel to track title, author, pages, fiction or non, date finished, etc. I've even kept track of most of the short stories I've read, whether published in books or magazines. (Note: I've actually been keeping track since before 1999, but it wasn't in Excel format, instead it was on calendars, spare notebook, scraps of paper shoved in folders, etc.).

Then the other day, as I headed home from the library with a stack of books I know I won't finish by the time they're due, I realize that I'm going to need to write down the titles I don't read so I can check them out again at a later date. It wouldn't be the first time I had wanted to ask the librarian if there was anyway she could pull up a list of books I've checked out so I could see which ones I hadn't read.

I have no belief that they actually keep such a list (and if you've ever watched the 1995 movie "Seven" with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, Freeman's character says that by secret order of the government that libraries keep such a list, which now they probably really do because of  9/11), but I thought it would be helpful if I could access this "non-existent" list.

It then occurred to me to stop being an idiot, and just keep the list myself as a tab in my current Excel sheet. When I got home, I popped open the file, added the tab, and input the names of the books I just lugged in.

So, should the NSA, FBI, or CIA ever need a list of the books I own, they can gather that info from (, or else if they want a list of books I've checked out from the local library, they can just seize my computer and read my Excel file.

Until Next Time...
Spyingly Yours,

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Libyrinth review

Here is the most recent review I posted on all the usual places: LibraryThing, Amazon, Good Reads, etc. etc.:

This was a fun YA read that even adults can love -- in fact, adults may like it more, especially book lovers. North populates the story with quotes from various Earth books and half the fun is figuring out the quote or reference from the current story line.

It comes off over simplistic at times, but that's my opinion as an adult reader and may not be the opinion of younger readers.

The story has two heroines who after the initial plot gets rolling are separated and must each cope with their particular situation while still accomplishing the overall goal of saving the Libyrinth from conquest by its enemies.
On a whole, this is a very strong female driven plot which does not compromise and doesn't cater to emotional appeal to keep the reader interested in their fate.

If you liked the Hunger Games or other books of futuristic dystopias, I'd definitely recommend this book.

Until Next Time....
Shelvingly Yours,

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sharing a beer with Stephen King

I hadn't intended to write another post about King, but I'm a fan of the Hard Case Crime series of books, and King's latest novel is another in that series (his first: "The Colorado Kid" was loosely, very loosely, used as the basis for the Siffy television series "Haven".)

So today I went to my favorite local bookstore, Rose's Bookhouse, and bought "Joyland" in trade paperback edition, brought it home, set it on the table, and promptly spilled beer all over it.

I think Steve-O would be proud.

Until Next Time..
Soakedly  Yours,

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kingly Fans: Are you a fan or a Fan?

I guess you could call me a Stephen King fan, but I think of myself as more of an Unconscious Fan, which basically means, I had read a lot of King before I realized exactly how much of him I had read. He and I have a great relationship, one I’ve read he’s perfectly fine with: He writes books, I read them, and recommend the ones I like to my friends. To paraphrase something Tabitha King once reportedly said: "You pay your money, you get a story, and that’s all you get of him, his family gets the rest." I have no problem with that.

Only I discovered I must be a bigger fan than I realized. Nothing reminds me of that more than when I have a casual conversation with another fan. Usually I’ve read more than that person, don’t mispronounce his first name with the “F” sound, and don’t believe the urban legend about him witnessing another little boy get hit by a train while playing on train tracks (my grandmother says the exact same thing happened with my father when he was a boy – I suspect it’s a generation thing mothers used to tell their children to keep them from paying around railroad tracks.).

So as I started thinking back as to how many of his works I’ve read, and how much I’ve read about Stephen King, I thought the least I could do was make a list of all his works I’ve managed to complete over the years.

And without further redundancy, here’s that list:
Carrie (1974)
'Salem's Lot (1975)
The Shining (1977)
Rage (1977)
Night Shift (1978)
The Stand (1978)
The Long Walk (1979)
The Dead Zone (1979)
Firestarter (1980)
Danse Macabre (1981)
Cujo (1981)
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)
Creepshow (1982)
Different Seasons (1982)
Christine (1983)
Pet Sematary (1983)
Cycle of the Werewolf (1983))
The Talisman (1984)
Thinner (1984)
Skeleton Crew (1985)
It (1986)
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987)
Misery (1987)
The Tommyknockers (1987)
The Dark Half (1989)
Four Past Midnight (1990)
The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991)
Needful Things (1991)
Dolores Claiborne (1992)
Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
On Writing (2000)
From a Buick 8 (2002)
The Colorado Kid (2005)
Cell (2006)
Blockade Billy (2010)
Full Dark, No Stars (2010)

Like any bibliophile, I own way more books than I can possibly read. Here are the King books I own but haven’t read yet
The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition (1990)
Gerald's Game (1992)
Insomnia (1994)
Desperation (1996)
The Regulators (1996)
Dreamcatcher (2001)
Lisey's Story (2006)
Duma Key (2008)

Overall, there’s a lot of his work that isn’t on that list, and I know people who have read every single scrap that man has written. But I know people who’ve only read a quarter of that list, don’t know some of the others even exist, yet proclaim themselves pretty knowledgeable about King.

The lesson:
Real Stephen King fans are as loyal, knowledgable, and sometimes as fanatical as Star Trek and Star Wars fans, and unless you know those really obscure facts that 99.99% of the general population doesn't know, then you should consider yourself only a moderate fan. In the meantime, read and enjoy, but know there's always someone, somewhere out there who truly is a bigger fan than you.

Until Next Time...
Kingly Yours,


Friday, April 12, 2013

The Dud Avocado review

Here's a copy of a review of "The Dud Avocado" by Elaine Dundy I've posted on Amazon, Good Reads, and LibraryThing:

This novel is very much a product of its time and comes from the same literary vein as Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Our main character - the flighty Sally Jay Gorce - hops from one scene to the other with random reckless abandon in the streets and clubs of 1950s Paris. At this point in the novel, there is no real plot, and only a few minor points are necessary for the overall storyline. The first half of the novel makes it difficult to maintain interest in a character, who, even though she is only 19 years old or so, seems to have no plan other than prattle on inconsequential issues. The rest of the characters in the book are practically flat and interchangeable, and I didn't care about a single one of them. Dundy presents a fairly accurate view of what a naïve American girl in 1950's France, but I disagree with the reviewers who found it funny -- but then again, maybe in 1950 this WAS funny.
It's not until the second half of the novel when SJ and three friends leave Paris and travel south where they encounter a film crew looking for extras that this novel actually develops a plot enough to keep the story moving forward.
I picked this up because it is a New York Review of Books edition and was recommended by NPR. So while I  may not have completely enjoyed this novel, it is a good example of its time and of some of the modern literature that was being read at that time.
 I gave it two out of five stars.

Until Next Time,

Dudingly Yours,



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Suicidal Authors

The other day during a discussion of The Rape of Nanking, we spent some time discussing the author Iris Chang, her fight with depression, paranoia, and eventual suicide at a very young age. Coincidentally enough, I've been working my way through the complete works of Anne Sexton, and the combination of these two things got me to thinking about other authors who have killed themselves. I then decided to attempt to recall strictly from memory, modern-ish authors who have committed suicide. I came up with these four immediately:
  • Iris Chang (1968 - 2004)
  • Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)
  • Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)
  • Anne Sexton (1928 - 1974)
With a little more thinking, I recalled:
  • Robert Howard (1906 - 1936)
Eventually I gave up and turned to the mostly reliable Wikipedia where I was confronted with a list of poets and literary figures who have taken their own life, but of course, 95% of them I'm not familiar with.

So if there are any you think I should aware of, but don't, let me know.

Until Next Time,
Alively Yours,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

RIP James Herbert

British horror writer James Herbert passed away today at the age of 69. He was best known for writing "The Fog" and "The Rats," although I think the first novel I ever read by him was "The Tomb" or something like that from the mid- to late-1980s. I can say for sure it began with the word "The" and had a purple-ish cover.

He wrote 24  novels and was named Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 — the same year he was made Grand Master of Horror by the World of Horror Convention.

Until Next Time...
Creepy-ly Yours,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Amy Tan

Amy Tan was born February 19, 1952. She rocketed to fame when her first novel "The Joy Luck Club" hit the bestseller lists and was made into a 1993 movie of the same name. And unlike many debut novelists, actually wrote the screenplay as well.

I can remember when I was in college and the movie came out. Nearly every Asian girl I knew was going to the theater with their Asian mother to watch it. For them, like the themes of the novel, it was very much about mothers and daughters connecting. The book and the movie opened dialogues, and in some casese, helped resolved issues that had become walls between generations.

Since then, Tan has written several other bestselling novels, including "The Kitchen God's Wife", "The Hundred Secret Senses", "The Bonesetter's Daughter", and "Saving Fish from Drowning". She also wrote a collection of non-fiction essays entitled "The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings".

In addition to these, Tan has written two children's books I one day intend to look up and check out, "The Moon Lady" (1992) and "Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat" (1994).
Until Next Time,
Luckily Yours,