Monthly Archives: November 2012

Books! Dude needs a new fairy godmother stat #cbr4

I’m not going to finish my full Cannonball Run, but I think I’ve done pretty well for the first time. I’ve read 38 books this year, which is the highest number I’ve read since I was like 12. I’ve only done 23 reviews so far, but I will try to push out some over the break, maybe. Next year I might be more strategic in the types of books I read. I tend toward the long and dense. More YA might need to be in my future.

My parents introduced me to the Dresden Novels by Jim Butcher about a year ago. I was looking for easy and fun novels to read during the summer vacation. They had just finished reading the entire series together (AW! Yes, it is sickly sweet, but the family that reads together!)  and thought I would enjoy it. So, I’ve been making my way through the novels since then. I definitely wouldn’t be able to read these one after another like the rents. They are, let’s say, too similar in style from one to the next for me to read them all in a row. I would seriously get bored. However, if you are looking for a quick and fun fantasy series these fit the bill nicely.

The Summer Knight is the fourth in the series. To give you a bit of background, Dresden is a perpetually down on his luck wizard turned detective who fights a bunch of fantasy realm characters on the mean streets of Chicago. But these aren’t your childhood fantasy characters, of course. There are some mean baddies. He is so down on his luck that even the people who supposedly like him, seem to, well, not really like him. And he gets beat up A LOT. I wonder sometimes if Jim Butcher takes sadistic delight in imagining his main character demoralized, tossed about, and mostly ineffective (until the end at least). Anyway, I digress.

This installment finds Dresden dealing with an emotional breakdown after the third novel (I’ll save you specifics) and trying to keep himself alive after his world has started falling apart (mostly his fault). He is hired by a queen of the Winter Faeries to figure out who killed off the Summer Knight. It is too much to explain, but basically there are Winter Faeries and Summer Faeries and they trade off control of the year. They have knights and when one gets killed there is a disturbance in the force. And all hell breaks loose. Or at least Dresden must figure out what the heck is going on.

Like I said, the Dresden novels are fun, but repetitive. I’ve love Jim Butcher’s imagination and he sets a solid scene for the reader. I don’t like how much of the novel is focused on Dresden being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting the crap beat out of him until finally he doesn’t anymore. I know the purpose is to create suspense, but I find it hard to believe half the time that this loser will accomplish anything. I’ve started skimming the middle a bit just to get to the final scene where, yes, Dresden’s awesome powers shine through, and yes, Dresden makes it all (or, well, mostly) right.

The good thing about these novels is that the main character doesn’t always set everything to right. Someone always gets killed or turned into a vampire. But again we are reading about a down on his luck wizard.

Great vacation reading. Even I can finish them in two or three days (I’m a SLOOOOW reader). Solid fantasy detective stories with a bit of the pulp.

Books! Making of a President 1960 #cbr4

“For the President of the United States is not only the many men listed in the official catalogue of his powers–he is also the nation’s chief educator, the nation’s chief persuader, the nation’s master politician. Where he leads, his party, his instruments, above all his relectant people, must be persuaded to follow.”

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Published in 1961, Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1960 is the seminal work on the 1960 campaign and election season. While White certainly expresses his overwhelming enthusiasm for Kennedy, he does a wonderful job highlighting the internal workings of both campaigns and the changing demographics of American society. This is a rich and extremely well-written work, so I can only highlight a few aspects.

First, reading this work with the hindsight of the 21st century is heartbreaking, especially when White projects into the future with statements like, “unless he does this, so portend the election results of 1960, he will be dramatically vulnerable to Republican counterattack in 1964.”

Second, it is amazing to see how dramatically the demographics of the American electorate have shifted since 1960. White lists the Southern states that went for Kennedy (Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, etc) versus the states that were solidly Nixon (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio). It makes you realize how much has changed both in America and in our two major parties.

In my favorite chapter White describes at length the sea-change in American demographics discovered in the 1960 Census (primarily with the emergence of the suburb and the death of the cities). Just one fun fact is that in 1950 11% of Americans owned a television whereas in 1960 88% owned one. He uses these statistics to highlight how critical the televised debates were to the election. And yes, he discusses those pesky debates!

Finally, I found fascinating his descriptions of the party conventions and how they served as sites of contestation rather than the crownings they now seem to be. I can’t think of a single convention in my voting life where we didn’t already know the name of the heir-apparent. Part of this is decided by the primary system, which was much more limited back then, but it made me long for a convention process that is actually contested, heated, and full of real debate. Heck, maybe I would actually watch them then.

This is a fantastic work to read in light of our recent election and perfect for anyone interested in the Kennedy-Nixon election as well as the continuing drama of American Presidential politics.

Books! The emperor’s new wife #cbr4

I loved Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, which I believe was her first book. The main character was believable and not overwrought, and the story held true to the events of the French Revolution without excruciating detail. I also enjoyed her Heretic Queen. Her latest novel, The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court, was on my anticipated releases list, but definitely not my favorite.

The story follows the adventures of Napoleon after he has become conqueror to the time of his fall. Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria becomes Napoleon’s second wife after he divorces Josephine (well, technically before he divorces, but whatever). She is forced into the marriage and oh so unhappy, but makes do. The chapters alternate between three perspectives: Marie Louise, Pauline, Napoleon’s selfish nymphomaniac sister, and Paul, Pauline’s Haitian courtier.

To be honest, I hate this, let’s call it, Phillipa Gregory “technique” that pervades so much historical fiction.  The alternating chapters never give you enough time with any one character. They feel like coverups for underdeveloped characters and laziness in storytelling. Michelle Moran has done much better so I was disappointed to see the book laid out that way.

While the novel is called the Second Empress, the only character with any real depth or development is Paul, the courtier. I wish Moran had stayed with him and written a different novel. Overall not my favorite, no Madame Tussaud, but a quick read (even I finished this one in four days).