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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-11-14 10:15
October 2017 — A Belated Wrap-Up!

 

Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com on November 14, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things are starting to get just a bit darker and the stakes higher when it comes to Ms. Marvel’s life! She has to think whether she should be blindly following orders, even if they do come from someone she has looked up to all her life:

 

She has to concede that she can’t go fight crime somewhere she hasn’t lived long enough to understand what is happening:

 

 

She realizes that others can be surprisingly kind even when they don’t have to be:

 

 

We are also shown a glimpse of her ancestors migrating during the Partition of the Subcontinent in 1947:

 

 

 

As hauntingly beautiful as ever! A good installment where we finally discover that people who loved Maika do exist! She remains her courageous self throughout the story.

 

 

 

Review to come later.

 

 

Read my review and the status of Project Frankenstein.

 

 

As long as you expect the MC not to talk to each other and resolve the major conflict in two pages or one of them just picking up and leaving the other to”protect them” or the big baddie being dealt with in the last two pages, you will enjoy this series. I do, so I did! The humor shines through in the books and I love reading them when I need something funny and light. My favorite quote from the book:

 

 

 

 

Simply beautiful and so on point with the current events that it is scary! These four issues are just the beginning though. I hope it continues to be this awesome. Here are some scenes for you to feast your eyes on:

 

 

 

 

Take a cute cozy mystery and add some seriously messed up and furious ghosts to it and you will have created Southern Spirits. I liked the upping of the violence level, which kept this book from becoming just another cozy mystery. I also liked that the MC didn’t wait around and got down to work even when she was quaking in her boots. My favorite quote from the book:

 

 

 

 

Read my review here.

 

 

So, this is one of those instances where not reading the book blurb or any reader reviews came back to bite me in the ass! The story is the original Mary Shelley story; this book has simply some steampunkish art strewn about. Visually appealing? Hell yeah! Original? Not so much! Even so, I can now cross off this book from my list.

 

 

Review to come later.

 

 

 

While playing Work Book Bingo, I got: A Book Purchased for its Cover. That was when the misery began! I looked around in all my bookshelves trying to spot a book that I had purchased just for that reason. There weren’t any.So, I searched my Kobo library and this was the best that I could come up with.

 

I had so many issues with this book that began with the inclusion of overused tropes and ended at a TSTL protag. Yeah, I didn’t like it and these quotes can easily show why:

Ciardis gave her a look like a deer facing the glow of a bright lantern in the dark forest.

(after talking about candidates dying of asphyxiation)…I hope I never hear of such a thing happening with you, Ciardis.”

“No, of course not!”

Prince Heir or not, Sebastian’s hand-kissing technique, with a bit too much saliva involved, left a lot to be desired.

There was a scene from the book where a prophecy is made about one of the characters coming into enough power to “rend the Empire asunder”. On hearing it, the characters remained unaffected and the prophecy wasn’t even mentioned again!

There was a sprinkling of terms like the Madrassa and Hammam that have an Arabic origin. Yet the worldbuilding included none of the other elements common to Middle Eastern culture.

 

The protag gets whole dossiers full of information about her patrons-to-be. They mention everything about the persons in question. Yet they fail to mention that one of them, a General, has a bastard son who is also a mage. How do you leave out that important a bit of information? If the information gatherers didn’t know, then what good were they?

 

The protag had to undergo a 3-day long contest that would decide if she is worthy of a patron or not. One of the rules for the contest was that the activities of the first day must be hidden from her yet she could be told what would happen in the next two days. I mean, why? Was the author simply making it up as they went?

 

Another major character, the Prince Heir (who gives hand-kisses with too much saliva) went on a quest. This quest was supposed to unite him with the land he is to rule. Yet…yet…he forgot to take matches with him to light a lantern as part of the ceremony in that quest. WHY?! Oh wait, he also forgot to pack a knife that he would need for the bloodletting part of the same ritual.

 

 

A fun if a bit slow paced cozy mystery.

 

 

 

A short, classic horror read. It wasn’t even marginally close to the world-changing Frankenstein, which was also written during the same horror story writing “contest”. Yet I liked it! Like the vampires of old, this one also exuded an aura of evil that affected its victims immensely more than the actual drinking of blood did.

 

Image 

Image 2

 

 

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review 2017-11-10 07:59
In my Top Ten list of History books
Africa: A Biography of the Continent - John Reader

This is a wonderful and highly readable book, but do not misunderstand what it is about. The subtitle is completely honest: this is not a book (entirely) about human history in Africa; this is a book about the African continent.  As such, it is divided into three approximately equal sections:

 

1) Natural History: 

This describes the formation of the African continent during the cooling phase of the Earth's crust. Africa is unusual among continents for being composed of just three giant cratons. A large portion is dedicated to the formation of the Bushveld Igneous Complex- the single largest and richest concentration of mineral wealth on the planet, and almost the sole accessible source of some strategic materials like chromium. 

 

This part progresses to the emergence of life, and the considerable evidence that humans find their origin in Africa, with our present form emerging somewhere between 2 and 4 million years ago, depending on what criteria you apply, and how you interpret the available evidence.

 

2) Anthropology:

Development of human civilization in Africa, and importantly- the co-evolution of other organisms with the human species in their land of origin.  This is a big deal, because all the evidence suggests that humans only left their mother continent about 120,000 years ago. We are an invading foreign species everywhere else on the globe, and like most introduced species, we had fewer natural predators and parasites outside of Africa. Malaria is the best example of an organism which co-developed in evolution, in Africa, alongside humans. Humans even adapted with rearrangements of hemoglobin, which can be beneficial in the hybrid SC form, but deadly in the SS homozygous form (i.e. Sickle Cell Anemia).  This, and other similar examples account for the comparatively slower growth rate of human communities within Africa, compared to without, and some of these issues continue to plague Africa today. 

 

"Expatriot" groups returning to Africa about 15,000 years ago transformed human development on the continent by introducing foreign species which had been domesticated in Asia. Most important of these were cattle. Skeletal remains have shown two different pathways that Africans took with this new resource:

a) cattle raising for meat (in which skeletal remains show an equal number of males and females in the herd). and

b) cattle raising for milk: (in which skeletal remains show most males in the herd were slaughtered) 

 

The two patterns have different land-use and social development implications, which were fascinating to read.

 

There is an entire section dedicated to exploring how conditions, particularly around present-day Nigeria, led to the development of acephalous social structures... some of the largest and most sophisticated examples of completely decentralized human communities with essentially no leaders. It was a development which fit the local environment well, at the time it developed, but made Africa in general extremely vulnerable to foreign attackers with heirarchical social systems concentrating,  commanding, and directing resources against them. This began in earnest with contact with Arab slavers on the East coast of the continent, beginning about 800 years ago, and really picked up pace with European contact in the 1500's.

 

...Which brings us to the subject of slavery. It is an indigenous African practice, which evolved from traditions of adoption and extended family (mutual) obligations. Going back to what I said about malaria and Africa's slow population growth... this created a demand for labor which was sometimes answered with warfare and enslavement of the vanquished, or with peaceful indentured servitude agreements (some coerced, some not; some for a lifetime, some for more limited terms).  The upshot of all this is that a well-established social acceptance of slavery, and a well-developed economic system of slave acquisition and trade was in place by the time Arab slavers arrived in the 1200's or so.  Later, beginning with the Portuguese, Europeans fed this system, and in a sense "addicted" the economies in present-day Congo and Angola to the slave trade. Outright slavery continued in Africa into the 20th century, and many of the proto-slavery practices (i.e. adoption of orphaned relatives, in exchange for limited periods of enforced servitude) continue today.  One interesting observation:  plantations in North America tried on several well-documented occasions to force Native Americans into slavery, but the enslaved never cooperated. They simply refused to work, even on pain of death. The reason is that slavery was a foreign concept to them. Slavery is not a useful institution to hunter-gatherer societies, which don't cultivate or hoard large amounts of food (or any other possessions). It is only in pastoral or agricultural civilizations that large amounts of manpower are needed to work the land.  Africans brought to North America as slaves were mainly from agricultural areas of Western Africa which unfortunately understood well the concept of slavery, and culturally accepted it sufficiently to participate in it, in a way that Native Americans did not.

 

3) Human History:

This is the names and dates History that I had expected the entire book to be. There is little well-documented history before Arab contact.. the Great Zimbabwe, the Egyptian pharaoh dynasties, and the Biblical-era Ethiopians being the standout exceptions. Once Arabs entered the continent, with their written systems of recording, History as we think of it really takes off.  The book is necessarily superficial, covering an entire continent for about 800 years. As expected, there is a lot about colonialism, particularly the Dutch and British in South Africa, the Germans in Tanzania, and the British in Kenya and Egypt. The book follows through to the many independence movements in the 1950's and 60's, and ends ominously with the Rwandan genocide and the probable CIA assassination of Patrice Lumumba- first elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

Overall this is a definite Five Star book, and on my personal Top Ten History Books list.

 

Highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2017-11-09 20:49
DAVID COPPERFIELD Review
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

Wow! What a book.

 

This one was on my TBR for years, but I was intimidated by its size. Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally completed Dickens’s masterpiece (well, one of them) — the book he famously declared was his favorite. The quintessential coming of age tale, this 750-page novel explores in depth David Copperfield, who narrates in first-person, as well as the various friends and lovers and coworkers he comes to know over the years. It’s a dense, challenging journey, but one so worth taking.

 

Though I have read and enjoyed other Dickens novels before, this was the first time I truly couldn’t wait to get back to the story. I thought this would take me at least two weeks to finish; I finished in one. I just couldn’t put this brick down!

 

A masterclass in character development, this long novel is one I am sure I will revisit again and again. David, Little Emily, Peggotty, Agnes, Traddles, and all the rest: you will forever have a place in my heart.

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review 2017-10-29 19:06
What does it all mean? Read this for the Journey not the Characters
The William Hope Hodgson Megapack: 35 Classic Works - William Hope Hodgson,H.P. Lovecraft,Darrell Schweitzer
“What does it all mean?” – narrator of House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson


I bought Wildside Press's The William Hope Hodgson Megapack: 35 Classic Works primarily to read one of his most well cited works: The House on the Borderland. In the US, the Kindle version is only $0.99, and conveniently organizes 35 of William Hope Hodgson ‘s work with introductions from Darrell Schweitzer and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Being a Megapack, it may take a while to read the whole thing, so I check in now to review. The collection is a great value. 

The House on the Borderland (1908) was written by William Hope Hodgson(1877-1918) who influenced many weird fiction writers. In the introduction, we have NOTES ON HODGSON, by H.P. Lovecraft which is telling: 

”Of rather uneven stylistic quality, but vast occasional power in its suggestion of lurking worlds and beings behind the ordinary surface of life, is the work of William Hope Hodgson, known today far less than it deserves to be. 

.... The House on the Borderland (1908)—perhaps the greatest of all Mr. Hodgson’s works—tells of a lonely and evilly regarded house in Ireland which forms a focus for hideous otherworld forces and sustains a siege by blasphemous hybrid anomalies from a hidden abyss below. The wanderings of the Narrator’s spirit through limitless light-years of cosmic space and Kalpas of eternity, and its witnessing of the solar system’s final destruction, constitute something almost unique in standard literature. And everywhere there is manifest the author’s power to suggest vague, ambushed horrors in natural scenery. But for a few touches of commonplace sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water.”

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath seems similar to the strange quest presented in House on the Borderland. Sidebar, I am a huge fan of HPL’s Pickman’s Model and have been motivated to read the Dream-Quest novel since it has Pickman and his ghouls appear again, but the journey is so extended and unfocused, I have failed three times to finish that tale. 

WHH’s House on the Borderland is very similar in style, but I could finish this one! The story is more plot-centric than character-driven; the meandering journey can easily lose the reader, at times becoming repetitive. However, it’s unique strength is its epic tale and flowery language interlaced with mystery & terror. The scope is truly epic. The tale concerns two adventurous hikers who go to remote Ireland, discover a enormous pit and ruined house. In the ruins, they find the titular manuscript: The House on the Borderland. The remaining story switches narration to the writer's perspective. The recluse narrator encounters lots of terror: his haunted house, the swine-things stalking him in the gardens, evils floating up from the Pit, disease corrupting his body, and being extracted from his body to lose one’s anchor in reality…. and have one’s soul float across the cosmos into heavenly and hellish worlds.

Characterization is weak & distant, but read this for the Journey: The main narrator is nameless, and his relationship with his sister is bizarre. At times when she should be involved, Mary is marginalized or disregarded to the point I thought she may be a ghost. Several instances have the narrator securing himself in a locked room with no concern about Mary who is left elsewhere prone to attack. WHH seems to be aware of this and writes: “She is old, like myself; yet how little we have to do with one another. Is it because we have nothing in common; or only that, being old, we care less for society, than quietness?” But this does not make up for her floating in and out of the story so oddly. 

There is also the “dear One”, a nameless love interest of the narrator. She mysteriously appears in the middle of the story (which is weird because the House is very remote) but her prime story is literally left out as “unreadable fragments”? WTH? Why? It seemed as easy out for WHH to avoid real storytelling than it did for driving any story line. I any event, this approach deflates the cool/weirdness of the narrator searching and finding remnants of his "dear One’s" soul. It was confusing, and I was convinced for a while that she may have been Mary. 

Pepper, the dog, is a splendid character and plays a larger role than Mary. And there is “Tip,” Mary’s cat which is abruptly introduced and then disregarded. Why Tip got a name and the dear One did not, I have no idea. Names are important, but in this story, the characters are simply less important than the places. 

The names of the strange geography resonant like a Jack Vance novel: Plain of Silence; The Sea of Sleep; The Pit; House in the Arena; and Green Sun. Reading this will be more pleasurable if you focus on the trippy geography than the characters. The language is captivating; excerpt below. At times, WHH seems to be blatantly ironic, like when he uses the word “Presently?” in the middle of a timeless adventure. Really? Like most weird fiction writers of the early 20th century, they peppered their prose with the transitional word “Presently.” WHH did so ironically throughout the trippy, disembodied adventures across time & outerspace. 

"What does it all mean?" : I don't know. Nevertheless, the journey is very weird and very fun. A must read for weird fiction aficionados. 

Excerpt: 

It might have been a million years later, that I perceived, beyond possibility of doubt, that the fiery sheet that lit the world, was indeed darkening. 
Another vast space went by, and the whole enormous flame had sunk to a deep, copper color. Gradually, it darkened, from copper to copper-red, and from this, at times, to a deep, heavy, purplish tint, with, in it, a strange loom of blood. 

… Gradually, as time fled, I began to feel the chill of a great winter. Then, I remembered that, with the sun dying, the cold must be, necessarily, extraordinarily intense. Slowly, slowly, as the aeons slipped into eternity, the earth sank into a heavier and redder gloom. The dull flame in the firmament took on a deeper tint, very somber and turbid. 

… Overhead, the river of flame swayed slower, and even slower; until, at last, it swung to the North and South in great, ponderous beats, that lasted through seconds. A long space went by, and now each sway of the great belt lasted nigh a minute; so that, after a great while, I ceased to distinguish it as a visible movement; and the streaming fire ran in a steady river of dull flame, across the deadly-looking sky. 

…An indefinite period passed, and it seemed that the arc of fire became less sharply defined. It appeared to me to grow more attenuated, and I thought blackish streaks showed, occasionally. Presently, as I watched, the smooth onward-flow ceased; and I was able to perceive that there came a momentary, but regular, darkening of the world.”
Source: www.selindberg.com/2017/10/house-on-borderland-review-by-se.html
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review 2017-10-17 11:03
Carmilla (Valancourt Classics) - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu,Jamieson Ridenhour

So this is a short book, today it would be a novelette and the publishers apparently decided that 85 pages of story needed a 37 page introduction and 72 pages of other matter. I should have skipped the other stuff. It turned the story into a school read and I was not well disposed to that.  The footnotes were also occasionally intrusive, the editor provided a dictionary (from the Oxford English Dictionary) definition of things like "languor" and "traces" so the reading experience felt like a school edition.

 

It's an early vampire novel, one set in Austria, and honestly my only previous experience of stories set in Austria are of The Chalet School stories.  From what I've read of Le Fanu's life he never went to Austria, but he did have experience of a sickly sister.  Maybe some of the ideas of there being some sort of cure was wish fulfilment of sorts, that the defeat of Carmilla would be like the defeat of the illness his sister suffered from? You know what, I could speculate (and the editor of this edition did, at length) but overall it was an interesting read of a root text, rather like reading Dracula a few years ago, to see where some of the ideas and tropes came from that have lingered into modern fiction.  It is also interesting in not being very judgemental about the lesbian overtones but mostly the story left me wanting more from it.  The illustrations were pretty overt as well with mostly bedroom scenes depicted (yes you can see Carmillas body through the nightgown on the cover), so the sexual overtones of the vampire legend are present, even in this ur-text.

 

Without the surrounding literary matter this would probably have been 3.5 stars but the matter got in the way of the story for me. It's the Bookclub read, and I'm glad I did but I wouldn't recommend this edition for the casual reader.  It falls into gothic, vampires, genre: horror, classic horror, and could be used for supernatural in all likelyhood, I'm using it for Classic Horror

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