Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pie in the Sky by Wendy Mass mini review

Pie in the Sky
by Wendy Mass

Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group

Format: paperback 
Copyright: 2013
Pages: 244

Genre: children's fiction - sci fi ish
Source: purchased  
Summary from the back of the book:
Joss is the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. when Earth suddenly disappears, Joss is tasked with the seemingly impossible job of bringing it back. With the help of Annika, an outspoken girl from Earth, he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime...and learns that the universe is an even stranger place than he'd imagined.

I so wanted to love this book.  Space, quotes from physicists, Carl Sagan ... it tries sooo hard to be nerd cool. The problem is that overall it is stunningly mundane.  If you are a trans-dimensional being in a Realm that encompasses all of the Universe - um - you are going to spend billions of years in school, live in a house with your family, have an after school job and be a bipedal humanoid with two arms ???  Your life is going to sound like a totally average kids life except with a few special effects?

The plot really consisted of going here to get information, waiting, going there to get information, waiting, waiting some more, going there --- you get the idea.  And don't get me started on the understanding of physics. I shall be charitable and ignore that train wreck. Oh, I have to rant about one - can anyone explain why the ancient ones and the Powers That Be complain that they don't understand time / timetravel and the effects of changing things in the past but go ahead and do something that should have massive repercussions anyhow? If they are running things, shouldn't they darn well understand what should simply be another dimension for them ? Score one for the grownups are idiots trope. Sigh.

And ARGH!  I hate the whole math, physics, thinking is hard stick! In a book that is supposed to demonstrate that science is cool!  Instead the book treats it more like woo. Oops - I am shooting over my quota of exclamation points here.

I also really don't see the kid appeal.  There really isn't much of an adventure here and the touching resolution is not geared to appeal to the apparent target age group of the book. 

To sum up - the book is readable and kinda cute but was ultimately quite disappointing for me - for all the window dressing this was not really a science fiction or sciencey story - it was just mundane.

Three claws? Just okay. I am going to see if I can get my son to read it to see if a science savvy kids perspective is really that much different than mine.

P.S. This book resembles Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy / Douglas Adams books in no way whatsoever.  I have no idea what those people are thinking. It is also not terribly educational either - I don't know where people are getting that either. The most educational things here are the quotes.  Throwing in a few terms like Higgs boson in a totally superficial way doesn't make a book educational.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire mini review

Discount Armageddon
by Seanan McGuire

Publisher:  DAW

Format: ebook (and I think I might pick up the paperback)    
Copyright: 2012
Pages: 368 

Genre: Fiction - semi urban fantasy ?
Source: purchased  
Summary from Seanan McGuire's website

Discount Armageddon introduces us to Verity Price, journeyman cryptozoologist, ballroom dancer, and former reality television star. She's on assignment in Manhattan, researching the local cryptid community while she pursues her dance career. It's a cushy least until local cryptids start disappearing, and all signs start pointing to a man from the Covenant of St. George. But is Dominic De Luca really to blame? And if she casts her suspicions in the wrong place, is she going to survive the experience?

 Okay - this was fluff but totally fun fluff. If you are looking for something serious and logical - run far away.  If you are looking for cotton candy of the semi-urban fantasy type (no vampires or serious Gothic overtones here) this might be your bag.

The pros: I really liked the world building showing us how the cryptid communities have become incorporated into the human population of New York City or are hiding there in various niches. Verity is an interesting protagonist and you can sympathize with her internal conflict - deciding if she is going to dedicate herself to the family business - cryptozoology, or to her passion - ballroom dancing. The setup is good and while the character of Dominic is pretty paper thin and uninspiring, the rest of the cast of characters makes up for that.

One of the things that I especially love is that Verity has the support of a strong and loving family. The book totally passes the Bechtel test as well.

The cons: for a bad ass urban warrior type, Verity makes some pretty stupid decisions sometimes. Also the combat was of totally unbelievable cartoon variety.  And again, Dominic is a bit of a hot mess - lacking in veracity.

It seems if you really like Seanan McGuire's other, darker books, this one can come as a seriously disappointing shock. However, this is my first Seanan McGuire and I was totally looking for a fun vacation read, so I was really amused and was willing to suspend some serious disbelief.

Three and a half to four claws for me.  

Quote: Crazy gets all the knives.

A peak into Discount Armageddon and Command and Control

I live!  Back at home and back to accessible internet that is not moving at a crawl on a mobile device! Hurray!

Now that I have figured out that it is Friday I can post something for Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader. I finished this a few days ago and quite enjoyed it ... Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire.


Verity danced circles around the living room, her amateurish pirouettes and unsteady leaps accompanied by cheers and exultations from the horde of Aeslin mice perched on the back of the couch. The cheering mice reached a fever pitch on the few occasions where she actually managed to get both feet off the ground and land again without falling. Her brother looked up from his book, snorting once before returning to his studies. At nine, Alexander considered himself above younger sisters and their tendency to act like complete idiots when given the slightest opportunity. 

And for a nonfiction section, I heard an interview with the author on NPR for this one and just picked up the paperback: Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser ...

Not Good

On September 18, 1980, at about six thirty in the evening, Senior Airman David F. Powell and Airman Jeffrey L. Plumb walked into the silo at Launch Complex 374-7, a few miles north of Damascus, Arkansas. They were planning to do a routine maintenance procedure on a Titan II missile. They'd spent countless hours underground at complexes like this one. But no matter how many times they entered the silo, the Titan II always looked impressive. It was the largest intercontinental ballistic missile ever built by the United States: 10 feet in diameter and 103 feet tall, roughly the height of a nine-story building. It had an aluminum skin with a matte finish and U.S. AIR FORCE painted in big letters down the side. The nose cone on top of the Titan II was deep black, and inside it sat a W-53 thermonuclear warhead, the most powerful weapon ever carried by an American missile. The warhead had a yield of 9 megatons — about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice something from page 56 of Discount Armageddon

Recovering the height I lost during my getaway would have been too much trouble, especially when I could feel the bruises forming as I ran. My left ankle was throbbing steadily, making my footing questionable at best. One of the first rules of successful free running talks about how you do it with injured ankles, wrists, knees, or hips. It's a simple rule: don't. It's a good way to do permanent damge, and unless you're being chased by a hungry wendigo, no shortcut is worth that.

one ... Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion

For a moment Powell and Plumb just stood there, stunned, looking down at the fuel pouring out of the missile and the white mist floating upward, reaching level 6, level 5 and level 4. 

Oh, my God, Plumb thought, we've got to get the hell out of here. 

Powell radioed the control center. There's some kind of white, milky substance in the air at level 7, he said. And that's all he said.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Car treking across the universe ...

always going forwards because we cannot find reverse.

I am going on a short vacation car trip and will be out of internet access for a while so  in lieu of a sensible post I give you ... 

Morty the Corpse Flower !  
Yes - Corpse Flowers are a real thing. I was amazed it came up in The Heist an otherwise totally forgettable book. They are native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia and are famous for their horrible smell, like rotting flesh, while in bloom. Corpse Flowers can bloom every 6-10 years and the one at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens bloomed this month. And yes, they smell terrible when they are in full bloom.

To offset Morty, here is some jasmine, which smells absolutely heavenly.

Pause and Wednesday Update for Bout of Books

So ... I am going a on long car trip which means that a) I can get some reading done, since I am one of those people who can read in a car and b) I won't be on-line ! 

My update is pretty lame too since I spent most of the day finding a last minute hotel and washing clothes.

Pages read today: 24 + 32 = 56 (I mostly read news articles instead)
Total pages: 614
Number of books I've read today: 2
Total number of books I've finished: 2
Books Finished Today: none :(

I read some from Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World by Mark Norell, Denise Patry Leidy, and the American Museum of Natural History with Laura Ross and am enjoying it. I hope to finish it in the car 

I also read some from A Vision in Velvet by Juliet Blackwell - the what six in the series ?  So far so good. 

Sorry for the lame update - we are packing and heading out the door shortly!  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bout of Books 11 Create a Sentence Challenge

Today Book Reviews from Christian Gal 
is hosting the Create a Sentence Challenge, which is as follows

For this challenge, I want you to pick some awesome books out and make a sentence with the first two words from each of your books.  I have tried this myself and it can be a little tricky because the lack of verbs in the first two words of the book.  Therefore, you can add another word that is not from the first two words of the books if you wish.  The more ridiculous, the better.  

So here are my words:

The sofa
The Silk
Serene was
Ever since
Ida Minerva 
Feathers fell

From ... 
  • What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark
  • Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World by Mark Norell, Denise Patry Leidy, and the American Museum of Natural History with Laura Ross.  
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • Dragonwings by Laurence Yep 
  • Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business – And Won! by Emily Arnold McCully
  • The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

From which I get  (with added words in italics) ...

Ida was ever serene since Minerva fell on the silk feathers on the sofa. 

or how about ... 

 Ida said "Minerva was serene ever since the silk feathers fell on the sofa."

Hummm, Ida, I must confess, is giving me trouble.

or perhaps ?  ...

Serene was the silk and feathers sofa, ever since the Minerva fell for Ida.

Wondrous Words Wednesday 22

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!

This week is Bout of Books and so far I haven't been thrilled to pieces with the books I have read, but I still have a few words to throw out there ...

From The Irish Game ...

... Hill came into Oslo on the British Airways flight from London, larger than life, turned out in Gap khakis and a blazer, a perfect vision of American vraisemblance.

(of hypothesis) likelihood; (of situation, explanation) plausibility

Ah - this wasn't making much sense until I backed up and re-read the bit where Charley Hill is introduced. He isn't American - he was born in Britain to American and English parents, was a boy in rural England, went to high school in the US, fought in Vietnam (it doesn't say as what) and then went to Dublin. Thus this is a fancy way of saying that he could pass as an American or he had verisimilitude as an American - what overwrought language. 

From What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark


noun \ˈha-sək\
1: a cushion that you kneel on while praying
2: a cushion or soft stool that is used as a seat or for resting your feet 
Origin: Middle English, sedge, from Old English hassuc

1: A thick, firmly padded cushion, in particular.
  1a. A footstool
  1b. A cushion for kneeling on in church.
2: A firm clump of grass or matted vegetation in marshy or boggy ground.

This one lost me because I couldn't think of the difference between a hassock and an ottoman. "The ottoman is generally a large, padded stool that usually is also covered in fabric. One of the defining characteristics of this piece of furniture is its ability to store things inside." A hassock is also covered in fabric, traditionally so extensive that no legs or framing are visible, unlike an ottoman. The hassock also doesn't have a storage space, so they tend to been smaller than an ottoman.

Also from What We Found in the Sofa ... we have


"Achromatopsia is a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder which is characterized by decreased vision, light sensitivity, and the absence (i.e. complete lack) of color vision. In the U.S. it affects about 1 in every 33,000 people.

Achromatopsia is sometimes called ‘Day Blindness’, as these children see better in subdued light. Children with complete Achromatopsia will have reduced vision (20/200 or less) due to an abnormality of the retina. They also have no color vision, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and the presence of nystagmus (shaking of the eyes). Children with incomplete or partial Achromatopsia may have better vision (20/120 to 20/80)."

Achromatopsia and red-green color blindness are not the same thing. People with red-green color blindness have otherwise normal visual acuity and they do not have complete lack of color perception.

Finally from Traveling the Silk Road I have

A Roman maenad dressed in silk.  


In Greek mythology, maenads (Ancient Greek: μαινάδες, mainádes) were the female followers of Dionysus. Their name literally translates as "raving ones". Often the maenads were portrayed as inspired by him into a state of ecstatic frenzy, through a combination of dancing and alcohol intoxication.

Naples National Museum.

Tuesday (and Monday) Update Bout of Books 11

Two for the price of one!  I spaced doing a real update yesterday so here is where I have gotten so far ...

Pages read today:163
Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've read: 1
Books Finished Today: The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg - Children's Fiction 1997 Newbery Medal

Mini review - I am honestly not sure what I thought about The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg. I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and wanted to read another of her books. Since this was a Newbery winner I thought it was a good place to start. On the surface the story of four people coming together to form a unit and to compete as a brain bowl team is cool (I did that too when I was in middle school) but what was going on in the background here really bothered me.

Only Mrs. Olinski was a teacher with compassion for her student and a real concern for education. Every other teacher and school official was portrayed as a shallow/incompetent/terrible person (with one possible, minor exception). This really, really bugged me! I hate the fact that teachers are being portrayed as public enemies these days. Yes, there are incompetent teachers out there, but the vast majority that I have met range from at minimum competent and invested, to fantastic and responding to a calling. It is a hard, and these days pretty thankless, job. But it is increasing common to hear parent say that 'their' child's teacher is good/great/wonderful but still accept this meme that all the other teachers out there are lousy/lazy. And that messed up perspective was laid out here in the story. I really disliked this aspect of the book.

Just because our team is in competition with students from other grades and schools doesn't mean that we have to demonize the other teams and their coaches. That bugged me too. Whatever happened to the concept of friendly competition ? 

When Mrs. Olinski pokes fun at her supervisor for his understanding of diversity, I was somewhat on-board, but started more actively wondering about what exactly the author was trying to say here. I agree that a shallow understanding of diversity, going through the motions, is trivial and pretty useless. BUT real diversity is important and striving to increase understanding and respect has enormous value. Based on the book it is really fuzzy about whether diversity was really being celebrated here. The actual characters involved were from a pretty dated version of diversity and I am less then happy about the mystical Indian trope that was pulled out for Julian Singh and especially for his father.  That make me question what was actually going on here. So - disturbed.

On the other hand, I did very much enjoy the interlocking stories and the perspectives of each of the main characters. The book was a nice light read and in that aspect I felt it succeeded very well. 

Pages read today: 295
Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've read: 2

Books Finished Today: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Right - so I got a copy of this for a buck from the library book sale, basically to support the library. I had a headache and ended up picking this book up because it had large print and required a low investment in intelligence. So, my expectations were low going in but oh my god this book is stupid.

I can't even review it - the writing is, well I was about to say juvenile but the children's book I read yesterday was much more sophisticated, so how about inept. The POV wanders around at random from Kate - Barbie FBI action figure, to Nick - generic Raffles sexy amazing thief, to the bad guys. And I do mean wanders - the POV occasionally jumps mid-paragraph. I can only assume that Kate is Janet's Mary Sue and that Nick is Lee's Gary Sue because they are such outrageous caricatures it is absurd.

 The first half of the book is 'assembling the team' so each of the new team members gets a chapter (thank god the team was comparatively small) and after that all but two of them basically disappear. They are also paper thin caricatures. Willie says around to be the explicit 'sex' girl to counterbalance Kate, the 'good' girl.

Now don't get me wrong, I can totally enjoy a stupid book as long as it is fun, but this was too much like reading someone else's private wish-fulfillment diary. I was not having fun. I was mostly amazingly bored.  This was like nothing so much as one of the lamer episodes of a TV show like It Takes a Thief or Hardcastle and McCormick (anyone remember those ?) I won't be reading another. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Spine Poetry Challenge for Bout of Books 11

Happy Second Day of Bout of Books!

My Little Pocketbooks is hosting a Book Spine Poetry Challenge.

Here is my book spine poem ...

Beneath the sands of Egypt
A Rumor of Bones 

The Laughter of Dead Kings
Remembered Death 

Quieter than Sleep

Last Chance to See 
The Walker in Shadows 

And Then ... There Were None

No idea what it means, but it sure is moody.  I guess that is what you get when you have way too many mysteries on your shelves.  I also know that free words were offered but I liked it better as it was.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bout of Books Scavenger Hunt

The Book Monsters is hosting the Bout of Books Scavenger Hunt challenge

Book Scavenger Hunt:
1. A Book that begins with “B”  (for Bout of Books!)
2. A book that has been made into a movie/tv show
3. A series you love
4. An anthology of poems or short stories
5. A book on your TBR shelf, or your full TBR shelves
So here ya go ... 
1. Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart 
2. The Great Gatsby by  F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett - part of the Discworld series
4. R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury - an anthology of seventeen short stories 
5. The first four books on my TBR "pile" that were withing reach - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (I am actually in the process of reading this but am taking a break), Dragonwings by Laurence Yep, A Vision in Velvet by Juliet Blackwell and The Silk Road: A New History by Valerie Hansen

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bout of Books 11 Signup and Goals post

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.  
- From the Bout of Books team

Oops - I totally forgot Bout of Books 11 starts tomorrow. All heck has been breaking loose this past week with broken bones (minor and not me), broken internet and general chaos - so this is gonna be my least organized goal list yet! Um go me ?  So this is my combo signup and goals posts.

Oh dog - I am 766 - my lamest number as well.  Well, at least it will be easy to remember. Update - Wow - somehow I am now 762. Weird, I don't remember that ever happening before.


My Goals

Anyhow - my major goal for this Bout of Books is simply going to be to read at least one book along with my son for discussion and critical analysis (i.e. he and I both separately read chapters and discuss, along with investigating some external references as well). We have a couple chosen that are possibilities - Bud, Not Buddy and Dragonwings - though others might pop up as well. The latter choice is my preference since we are also going to read about Ancient China and the Silk Road.

I will list whatever I do manage to read here and add links to reviews as I manage them.

I will also try to play along with at least a couple of the challenges.

Monday 8/18
Done ! Book Scavenger Hunt -- The Book Monsters

Tuesday 8/19
Done ! Book Spine Poetry -- My Little Pocketbooks

Wednesday 8/20
Done ! Create a Sentence -- Book Reviews from Christian Gal

Thursday 8/21
Like This, Try This -- Writing My Own Fairy Tale

Friday 8/22
Recreate a Book Cover -- Spines and Covers
Book Chain -- Christian Bookshelf Reviews

Saturday 8/23
Spell It Out -- Kimberly Faye Reads

Sunday 8/24
5 Books -- Falling Down the Book Hole



Pages read today:163
Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've finished: 1
Books Finished Today: The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg - Children's Fiction 1997 Newbery Medal

Pages read today: 295
Total pages: 458 
Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of books I've finished: 2
Books Finished Today: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (blergh!)

Pages read today: 24 + 32 = 56 (I mostly read news articles instead)
Total pages: 614
Number of books I've read today: 2
Total number of books I've finished: 2
Books Finished Today: none :(

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark mini review

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World
by Henry Clark

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2013

Pages: 355

Source: Purchased

From the back cover:
The Adventure of a Lifetime Begins Between Two Sofa Cushions.

When River, Freak, and Fiona discover a mysterious sofa sitting at their bus stop, their search for loose change produces a rare zucchini-colored crayon. Little do they know this peculiar treasure is about to launch them into the middle of a plot to conquer the world! The friends' only hope is to trap the plot's mastermind when he comes to steal the crayon. But how can three kids from the middle of nowhere stop an evil billionaire?  ...

My son selected this book when he was let loose in the bookstore to pick out a couple of books to take to camp. He didn't actually get much reading done at camp this year, so he didn't get to it yet. Instead when he got home I ended up picking the book up when I got exhausted with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I needed something lighter and funnier, and this seemed like a reasonable candidate. Turns out it was a good choice because I quite liked it!

It is awfully hard to talk much about the plot because, for the most part, things are what they seem to be - it's just that what they are is rather weird. Kids find sofa  ... kids explore sofa ... kids end up going on adventure. It is all familiar stuff but played out with humor and enthusiasm. The book makes some seriously ridiculous things seem perfectly reasonable, just laying them out there without trying too hard, and without taking itself too seriously.

There are some deeper themes in here - alcoholism and some philosophizing about what constitutes death, and the setting is a town located around/above a coal-seam fire - but it is all discussed with a light hand so that things are not nearly as dark as they could have been. I liked the sarcasm - the narrator has a good voice and  and the story carried me along quite nicely.

From my perspective - I am looking forward to Clark's next book (though I hope is has a shorter title), can see myself re-reading What We Found in the Sofa..., and I now I am waiting for my son to read it as well.  I call it a four and a half claw book.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A peak into What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World plus Traveling The Silk Road

We were without an internet connection for most of the day so I am behind today - plus I am pretty brain dead, so for Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader here is the beginning of What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark. Technically a children's book but so far surprisingly entertaining. (I am still reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but it gets do disheartening - I have to take breaks and read something light or I find myself getting angry at everything.)

The sofa wasn't there on Monday but it was there on Tuesday. It sat in the shade just down from the bus stop. A broken branch dangled from the tree above it, like maybe the sofa had fallen from the sky and damaged the tree as it fell. Then again, maybe the broken branch had been there the day before. I hadn't noticed.

And for my non-fiction book I just got a beautiful copy of Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World by Mark Norell, Denise Patry Leidy, and the American Museum of Natural History with Laura Ross. It is a lovely book with fold out maps that was put together for an exhibition of the same name.

The Silk Road. It is hard to imagine a single phrase suffused with as much mystery and romance as those three simple, evocative words. What does the phrase conjure up in your mind? Exotic faraway lands, long-gone empires, and mighty conquerors? Punishing travel over blazing-hot, windswept dunes and unforgiving mountains? Rich commerce in silks, gems, spices, and other goods – as well as ideas, religions, and ingenuity? The Silk Road embodies all of those things and more.

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice something from page 56 of What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World  ...

I suddenly realized I was gripping the edges of the cushion I was sitting on very tightly. As I started to let go, I thought I felt the cushion squeeze back. I got off the sofa as quickly as I could.

And from Traveling the Silk Road we have ... 

The name Xi'an is made up of two Chinese characters that can be translated literally as "Western Peace." But this important capital has had a variety of names over its three-thousand year history. During the Zhou dynasty it was known as Fenghao. During the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), it was called Chang'an ("Perpetual Peace").

Xi'an known as Chang'an during the golden age of the Silk Road

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday 21

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!

I am re-reading and reading for the first time, some classic children's novels for the Midnight Garden's Classic YA Readalong, so I have some words from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which is this month's book ...

This is the forest primeval. 
The murmuring pines and hemlocks, 
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, 
indistinct in the twilight, 
Stand like Druids of eld.

1.Old age.
2. Former times; the past.
Origin: Old English ieldu, eldu, of Germanic origin; related to elder and old. First Known Use: before 12th century.

-- ** --

The boys, from eight to fourteen years of age, looked alike in straggling knickerbockers and broken-peaked caps.

knickerbockers   /ˈnikərˌbäkər /
1 (knickerbockers) North American Loose-fitting trousers gathered at the knee or calf.
2 (Knickerbocker) A New Yorker.
  2.1 A descendant of the original Dutch settlers in New York.
Origin mid 19th century (sense 2): named after Diedrich Knickerbocker, pretended author of W. Irving's History of New York (1809). Sense 1 is said to have arisen from the resemblance of knickerbockers to the breeches worn by Dutchmen in Cruikshank's illustrations in Irving's book.

East Broadway: Newsboys Early 1900's (Image Source)

Knickerbocker Village Newsies
 -- ** --

She stared at the bearded men in their alpaca skull caps and silkolene coats and wondered what made their eyes so small and fierce. 

silkolene or silkaline or silkoline
a soft, thin cotton fabric with a smooth finish, for curtains, bedspreads, garment linings, etc.
Origin: 1895–1900, Americanism; silk + -aline, alteration of -oline, as in crinoline. 

-- ** --

Since it was essential that a masquerade costume be décolleté, she had devised a backless costume, the front cut to display her over-full bust and with one long sleeve to cover that right arm.

/dāˌkäləˈtā, ˌdekələ-/ (also décolletée)
(Of a woman’s dress or top) having a low neckline.
Back to top A low neckline on a woman’s dress or top.
Origin: mid 19th century: French, past participle of décolleter 'expose the neck'.

Yes - I more or less knew this one because I know décolletage - but I was unfamiliar with this form. 

-- ** --

It was made of a purple satin sheath with layers of cerise tarleton underskirts.

/səˈrēs/ or / /sə-ˈrēz/
1. A bright or deep red color
2. A moderate to dark red color
Origin: mid 19th century from French, literally 'cherry'. According to Wikipedia the distinction between the colors cerise and cherry red, as described by the 1930 book A Dictionary of Color, is that the color cerise has always been depicted as a somewhat bluer color than the actual color of a fresh uncooked cherry, which is denoted by a different redder color called cherry red. The color cerise is a depiction of the somewhat bluer color of a cooked cherry, such as the cherries in a cherry pie.

also tar·la·tan  (tärl-tn, -l-tn)
A thin, stiffly starched muslin in open plain weave.
Origin: French tarlatane, alteration of earlier tarnatane.

Okay - I tried to try to put together a picture of this dress but it started to make my eyes ache. The left sleeve is actually supposed to be pea green chiffon - and there is more. That dress sounds painful to behold !  It is supposed to be their conception of what a Klondike dance hall girl would wear.  Urk. So I basically knew what the words meant, but the mind apparently reeled at trying to work out what this dress would look like and refused to make a picture.

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Hildy had brassy blond hair, wore a garnet colored chiffon bow around her neck, chewed sen-sen, knew all the latest songs and was a good dancer.

Sen-Sen was the original breath freshener. They were small hard candy pieces with a licorice flavor. (They look like little black squares.) Sen-Sen was developed in the late 1800s by T.B. Dunn and Co., perfume dealers in Rochester, New York. Then produced by F&F Foods and discontinued in July 2013....

The origin of the name Sen-Sen is apparently lost to history. In Japan "sen-sen" means glistening, shiny or bright, but there is no documentation to indicate any connection between these meanings and the product. The ingredients of Sen-Sen are imported from Bulgaria, France, Turkey, Greece, Italy and some almost inaccessible regions of Asia. The product is still made on some of the original equipment that manufactured the product in the late 1800's. (Source)

-- ** --

There was a bakery store to one side of it which sold beautiful charlotte russes with red candied cherries on their whipped cream tops for those who were rich enough to buy. 

charlotte russes 
"By the time the Charlotte Russe had made its way to New York in the early 20th century—especially to sweet shops in Brooklyn and the Bronx—the confection had taken a dramatically simplified form. There, it was made from a thin disk of sponge cake topped with a lofty spiral of whipped cream and crowned with a Maraschino cherry." (source - cool article with a recipe!) 

Told you I would get back to food :-)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Irish Game by Matthew Hart - mini review

The Irish Game
by Matthew Hart

Publisher:  Plume by Penguin Group

Format: paperback   
Copyright: 2004
Pages: 220

Genre: Non-fiction, crime
Source: purchased  
Summary the back cover:

Famous paintings. A notorious thief. Cunning cops. And a troubled Irish history. 

In the annals of fine-art theft, no case has matched – for sheer criminal panache – the heist at Russborough House in 1986. The Irish police knew right away that the mastermind was a brazen Dublin gangster named Martin Cahill. Yet the great plunder – including a Gainsborough, a Goya, two works by Rubens, and a Vermeer – remained at large for years until the challenge of disposing of such eminent works forced Cahill to reach outside the mob and into the international area. When he did, his pursuers were waiting. 

The sting that broke Cahill uncovered a maze of banking and drug-dealing connections that redefined the way that police view art theft. With the storytelling skill of a novelist and the nose of a detective, Matthew Hart follows the twists and turns of this celebrated case. 

And, unfortunately, leaves his readers in the tangles. This non-fiction retelling of the robberies (yes, plural) at Russborough House, book starts out strong, but leave the reader increasingly at sea - lost in an extraordinarily messy chronology and in an increasingly less than lucid explanation of machinations of both the police and the criminals.

The use of art as surety in the criminal underworld is a central theme in the book, but is explained so poorly that it leaves the reader under the impression that the criminals involved are related to the Three Stooges - fumbling about with art while at the same time creating complex international networks for supply of drugs and/or weapons. You get the idea that these connections are important but the way they are described they don't make any sense. And even the most inept thief must be aware that a multimillion dollar painting that is damaged or destroyed due to poor handling is no longer worth millions - so as a long term strategy treating art as some sort of football to be passed around the word just would not work - at least not as described. The author fails to really make the connections to explain why these art thefts are really new and significant.

Here is an article from the FBI Bulletin that makes more sense   (hum - this looks interesting too but I haven't had time to read it all

I really struggled to finish this book. The more you read, the more it resembles a stack of notes for a book that never really got fleshed out. You need a score card to keep track of the majors players - especially with the inclusion of all the aliases used by the police. There is not enough information to really make any of the latter part of the book make sense - instead it is just a string of details that don't hang together to make a coherent portrait (sorry, that probably counts as a pun). There just isn't any rhyme or reason, and the lack of overarching framework leave you utterly bewildered as to why anyone was doing anything - or even who was doing what. And I think the book completely excluded the drama in Turkey.

The chronology is also increasingly tortured - zipping around in time from the 1986 robbery, to more recent ones, back again, forward again to when the Vermeer is hung in the National Gallery then in the next chapter telling you that the paintings were hung back where they had been originally in Russborough. Plus, Russborough House was the target of more smash and grab robberies in the 2000's - which get tossed in by the author to make some sort of point.

Anyhow - yea gods - there are much better books about art theft out there.  Unless art crime is really your obsession, I think this one is a pass - most of the information here is presented more clearly and in more detail in other books.

I guess this was a three claw read.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A peak into A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Professor and the Madman

Late again - it has been that kind of a week. I am re-reading and reading for the first time, some classic children's novels for the Midnight Garden's Classic YA Readalong, so for Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader here is the beginning of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which is this months book ...

Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn't fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer. 

 I am going to go ahead and admit right here that I had to re-read that beginning bit several times over to convince myself that there wasn't a typo of some sort, 'cause you know, when I was in New York City, serene is quite possibly the last word on Earth that would have come to mind. Chaotic, huge, loud, fast, crowded ... serene just doesn't run with that crowd.

So Brooklyn now ...

Brooklyn in 1912 ...

A totally different world really.

And for non-fiction, here is the beginning of The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, source of some of the words for my Wondrous Words Wednesday post this week ... 

In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gunshots was a rare event indeed. The marsh was a sinister place, a jumble of slums and sin that crouched, dark and ogrelike, on the bank of the Thames just across from Westminster; few respectable Londoners would ever admit to venturing there. It was a robustly violent part of town as well–the footpad lurked in Lambeth, there had once been an outbreak of garroting, and in every crowded ally were the roughest kinds of pickpocket. Fagin, Bill Sikes, and Oliver Twist would have all seemed quite at home in Victorian Lambeth: This was Dickensian London writ large.

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice page 56 of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is blank, so that won't work.  We will go with the start of Book Two on page 57 ...

It was in another Brooklyn summer but twelve years earlier, in nineteen hundred, that Johnny Nolan first met Katie Rommely. He was nineteen and she was seventeen. Katie worked in the Castle Braid Factory. So did Hildy O'Dair, her best friend.  

I have to skootch back to page 55 of The Professor and the Madman for continuity ...

"Forest fires raged," wrote another solider who was at the Wilderness, "ammunition trains exploded; the dead were roasted in the conflagration; the wounded, roused by its hot breath, dragged themselves along their torn and mangled limbs, in the mad energy of despair, to escape the ravages of the flames; and every bush seemed hung with shreds of bloodstained clothing..." 

Okay - poetic and horrifying. Um, that is a really lousy note to end a post on so we need a bonus piece here. This is Friday after all. And of course the next book on the pile is 1984 - well that will make everyone feel better. The next one won't help either - man, I have to rearrange this stack of books!

How about page 1 of Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon (the forth Meg Langslow mystery) by Donna Andrews ...

"Mutant Wizards," I said. "Could you hold, please?" 

I switched the phone to my left ear, holding it with my awkwardly bandaged left hand, and stabbed at a button to answer another line. 

"Eat Your Way Skinny," I said. "Could you hold, please?" 

As I reached to punch the first line's button and deal with the Wizards' caller, I heard a gurgling noise. I looked up to see that the automatic mail cart had arrived while I was juggling phones. A man lay on top, his head thrown back, one arm flung out while the other clutched the knife handle rising from his chest. He gurgled again. Red drops fell from his outstretched hand onto the carpet. 

"Very funny, Ted," I said, reaching out to press the button that would send the mail cart on its way again. "You can come back later to clean up the stage blood." 

I could hear him snickering as the cart beeped and lurched away, ...

 Have a great weekend ! 

Tower of London in a sea of red poppies

I am sure that lots of you have already heard about this, but I wanted to post anyhow. To mark the centenary of the First World War, an art instillation called 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' is going up on the lawn outside the Tower of London. The installation, created by artist Paul Cummins, set designer Tom Piper and a team of around 8,000 dedicated volunteers, will be comprised of thousands of red ceramic poppies - each one representing the life of a solider from Britain or the Commonwealth lost in WWI.

There are currently around 140,000 installed but the full instillation will consist of 888,246 poppies. The artist is trying to present a visualization of just how staggering the lost of life really was. The last poppy will be placed on November 11th - Armistice Day. 

Source - Telegraph
Each poppy is made in Paul Cummins' studio (one site said that there are 50 potters involved). The poppies are available at for £25.00 +p&p. All net proceeds plus a guaranteed 10% from every poppy sold will be shared equally amongst six service charities. Poppies will only be available for purchase throughout the duration of the installation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lake Erie Water Quality - we are killing it again

Unless you have been in hiding, you probably already have heard about the brief drinking water ban (actually it extended to the point of a don't touch the water ban) in Toledo, Ohio. Up to approximately half-a-million people were told not to drink the water, don't shower in it, don't wash dishes in it, don't let your pets play in it -  in fact - just don't get near the water at all. And boiling it isn't going to make a difference. The first tests indicating that there was a problem came Friday night. Toledo issued warning just after midnight Saturday, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency. The state began delivering water to the Toledo area Saturday afternoon. The ban was lifted Monday morning (August 4th). They were pretty lucky - it would be hard to provide bottled water for that many people for any sustained period of time.

The really sad part of this news, is that it isn't really news at all. Scientists have been warning us about this problem for years. Algal blooms have gotten increasingly bad in Lake Erie over the past few years and with the effects of climate change things are only going to get worse. 

The above picture, from the New York Times, is of Lake Erie in 2011. That year the algal bloom  covered one sixth of the lake, expanded the dead zone (i.e. anoxic or oxygen free zone) on the lake bottom, reduced fish populations and fouled beaches.

NASA image of the 2011 bloom - this isn't at its worst either

Compare that to this image of Lake Erie taken a couple of days ago ...

Algae-infested water from Lake Erie on Monday washed up onshore at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio, near Toledo. Credit Joshua Lott for The New York Times

And this satellite image from August 3rd ...
Unfortunately the NOAA Lake Erie MODIS Satellite Image for 08-03-2014 18:41GMT s pretty cruddy but you can still clearly see the algae bloom. The rest of the days have tons of cloud cover.

This year, as I listened to the news play chirpy reports about how the Toledo population was pulling together and making jokes ("my child is so spoiled they only bathe in bottled water"), the thing that really attracted my attention was the unstated implication that these algae blooms are somehow the new normal. 

Really they are the result of nutrient rich run-off from agriculture and sewage treatment plant effluent. The phosphorus from these sources is food for a poisonous cyanobacteria called Microcystis aeruginosa, that produce the toxin microcystin. Microcystins are hepatotoxins (liver toxins), causing liver damage, diarrhea, and vomiting, as well as skin, eye and throat irritation. I have seen no reports of human deaths due to exposure, but pets and livestock have died after drinking contaminated water. 

Cyanobacterial blooms, or blue-green algae blooms, are already harmful because they cause oxygen depletion of the water, creating dead zones. The addition of Microcystis toxin just exacerbates the problem. And basically, they are our fault. Humans are providing the nitrates and phosphates that cause these blooms.

It turns out that in this instance, Toledo was a victim of bad luck. A bloom of toxic algae formed miles offshore directly over the city’s water-intake pipe in Lake Erie.

Scientists have been calling for action for years now. Perhaps this time people will listen, but I am not holding my breath.

I will close with these panels from Grist (at ...

You should read the whole thing.

 More to the story at Grist ... 

We are well on our way to losing Lake Erie again. 


Wondrous Words Wednesday 20

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!

I am reading at night, but haven't gotten many reviews done latel - hopefully I can catch some up soon. I have jotted down a few words but neglected to cite the sources so first I have a couple of words that I don't even remember where I saw them ...

"Ready to absquatulate all the dragons and rescue you.”


to decamp; to move on; to depart in a hurry

Origin: mid 19th century: blend, simulating a Latin form, of abscond, squattle 'depart', and perambulate.

... as a writer in the old Vanity Fair magazine in 1875 elaborated: “They dusted, vamosed the ranch, made tracks, cut dirt, hoed it out of there”.

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Okay - I know that I wrote this one down simply because I have always loved how it rolls off the tongue...

A secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling.
Origin: late 18th century: from French, from oublier 'forget'.

I would imagine that lots of people know this word from the movie Labyrinth

So, looking for an image of a real oubliette, I have found that apparently the one at Leap Castle (pronounced “Lep”) in County Offaly, Ireland, has somehow become the most famous - via appearances in various ghost chasers television shows.

If you are interested in ghost stories, there appear to be a ton for Leap Castle. According to one website the oubliette was discovered in 1922 in the corner of a chapel - still full to the brim with skeletons.

Right - horrible reality, still an evocative sounding word. 

--- *** ---

Now to some words that I know where I read them, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester ...

In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gunshots was a rare event indeed.

Disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way
Origin early 19th century: from French, literally 'squinting'.

Okayyy - failing to see how crime ridden slums are rakish or appealing.

Lower Fore Street, a narrow cobblestoned street in Lambeth, pictured in 1865. This industrial area became very densely populated over the Victorian period; its inhabitants rose from 28,000 in 1801 to nearly 300,000 by the time this photograph was taken.
Picture: 'Dickens's Victorian London' by Alex Werner and Tony Williams (source)
--- *** ---

So when a brief fusillade of three revolver shots rang out shortly after two o'clock on the moonlit Saturday morning of February 17, 1872, the sound was unimagined, unprecedented and shocking.

/ˈfyo͞osəˌläd, -ˌlād /
noun: A series of shots fired or missiles thrown all at the same time or in quick succession
archaic verb: Attack (a place) or shoot down (someone) by a series of shots fired at the same time or in quick succession.
Origin early 19th century: from French, from fusiller 'to shoot', from fusil

I did basically know what the word meant, but it seemed repetitive as presented in the sentence so I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing some subtlety here ... turns out that actually Winchester is rather flowery and repetitive, which can be fun or annoying depending on your mood.  

--- *** ---

This isn't a word per say but a thing in the book that made my mind go boink ...
the London Necropolis Railway 

London's population more than doubled in the first half of the 19th century, but the amount of space preserved for cemeteries did not keep pace. Grave were being 'reused' with the former residents dumped unceremoniously about the place and bodies were also being absconded with by 'resurrectionists.' Then came the 1848-49 cholera epidemic that killed almost 15,000 people. 

To deal with this problem, Sir Richard Broun proposed buying land in Brockwood for a huge new cemetery - dubbed “London's Necropolis” and using the railway from Waterloo to  Southampton to transport coffins and funeral parties there. London Necropolis Railway opened in November 1854 and service lasted until the night of 16–17 April 1941, when the London terminus was badly damaged in an air raid and rendered unusable. There are some amazing articles about it kicking around the web if you are interested.

Entrance to Necropolis Station, Waterloo, London, 1890

BTW - if you are confused about the connection, Waterloo station is in Lambeth and was famous for being ramshackle, confusing and, unlike other major stations, downright ugly.

Jerome K Jerome's even takes a jab at it in his 1889 comic novel, Three Men in a Boat. The protagonists were wandering around the station trying to find their train:

We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it. The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.  

To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform.  We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop.  But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.

You get the idea. 

Well this was a rather morbid entry - bet you all liked it better when I rambled on about food. I will try to be reading something less dark next week.