Friday, August 12, 2016

A Well-done Bad Guy

Right now, I'm reading Lisa M. Peppan's Sorry, No Refunds.  This is the second of the series she has named Geaehn Chronicles, telling the story of a magical realm named Gaeah, where mundane folk must contend with magic-users, some benign and some not.  The first in the series is Somewhen Over the Rain Clouds.  In that story, a group of off-duty Seattle cabdrivers get into an accident, and end up in Geaeh.  How they learn to cope in their new home is an engaging story, and of course, sets us up for this continuation of the series.  Tilli Kuru, the first character we meet in this second installment, is definitely not benign. 

I have read only one other book in which the bad guy is the first character we meet.  That book was the first in the Thomas Covenant series, written by Stephen R. Donaldson.  I read -- or, attempted to read -- the first in that series at the end of the 1980s or beginning of the 1990s.  I got only 100 pages into the book, to the part where Thomas Covenant, apparently one terribly messed-up person, rapes a woman who had only been trying to understand and help him.  That was it.  The book went against the wall (yes, I am a book-flinger), and I never darkened Donaldson's pages again. 

But not only was Thomas Covenant a character too rotten for me to ever want anything to do with, Donaldson was a terrible writer, in my rather demanding opinion.  His writing was turgid and repetitive.  He used the phrase "as though" so often, that if I had continued reading his books, and had deposited a nickel in my froggy bank for each time he used that phrase, I could have financed the college education I indulged in from 2007 to 2015, spanning two post-baccalaureate degrees (a double major) and a second master's degree.

How I even slogged through that first 100 pages, I do not know.  I put the book down several times, exasperated by the overblown prose.

Tilli Kuru does something similar to Thomas Covenant.  He is a magic-user of the most destructive and evil kind, one of those called in the realm of Geaeh the Yellow Wiqq.  He has kidnapped an innocent mundane woman, and raped and impregnated her, which was his intent.  He has a special magic, being immune to something which can cause great physical damage to other magic users (nope, not going to tell you what.  Read the book).  Having this immunity gives him great power, and he wants to breed a race of people with this immunity.

Told you he was a rotten person.

The difference is that Lisa handles this aspect very deftly.  In few words, well-chosen, she gets the point across with no ambiguity.  Her writing is clean and spare.  And Tulli Kuru is not psychologically messed up and weak.  He's purely bad, with a dream of power and control, convinced that it is his right to do whatever he wants with lesser mortals to accomplish his nefarious goals.  He isn't a despicable ingrate like Thomas Covenant.  I cannot abide ingrates.  Tulli is just plain bad.  And Lisa gets to the heart of things within the first few pages.  No slogging through 100 pages to find out how rotten the character is.  Bang!  You're there by page 2, and on from that into the story.  That's writing.

Now for the disclaimer:  I have known Lisa M. Peppan as a friend and fellow writer for (mumble, mumble) years.  Let's just say it's been a long, long time.  She has been working on the Geaeh stories for a long time, polishing and massaging.  We are both members of a private online writer's group that has been going since . . . well, since my now middle-aged daughters were in middle school!  Remember the old Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)?  Remember how excited we all were to go from 300 bits per second to a screaming 1200, and then to the incredible 2400?  Yeah, that long ago.

That's bits per second.  Not megabytes.  Bits.  Let that sink in.

Lisa is now nearly through writing the third of the Geaeh Chronicles.  If you're a fan of fantasy, and looking for something to read, buzz on over to and get started.

And now for a little "simple desultory Philippic," to borrow from Simon & Garfunkel:  I supppose I will no longer be reviewing on books by people I know and am friends with on Facebook. has decided that this is a no-no.  They have insulted many of their reviewers, me included, by assuming that we are doing such reviews only to pump up our friends.  They are assuming that we are nothing but simple-minded fawning fangirls and boys, rather than serious readers who appreciate good writing (and don't appreciate bad).  So I will be reviewing books by people I know here on Autobiography of a Bookworm.  Maybe I'll put all my reviews here rather than on Amazon.  Originally, the requirement on Amazon has been that a review should be at least 20 words.  They have not enforced that, and "This is a real good book," the sort of thing I've seen too often over there, just is not a review, by any competent standards.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Has it been Seven Months?

Time flies while we're having fun . . . or not.  Time has certainly flown since I made my last post, talking about the 2016 reading challenge.

I'm still working on Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life.  Well, really, I've been avoiding working on it.

But it's been a productive avoidance. 

I have taken off the challenge list the following: 

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller.  I have to confess that it wasn't a personal recommendation, but a de facto one, as the book was prominently displayed at the main library in my county.  The book is Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

RBG is awesome!  What a fascinating life, and what a fascinating career in and perspective on the law she has.  The book is unusual among biographies in its format, but I enjoyed the different approach taken by the authors, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.  I think the approach they selected, and the organization of their material, reflects well the tale of how RBG arrived at a career as a lawyer and became a justice on the Supreme Court.  The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of RBG, her husband, and her colleagues, and there are also brief analyses of some of her important cases and opinions.

In the category of A book published before you were born, I chose one I mentioned in my last post, Historical Sketches of Colonial Florida, by Richard L. Campbell, published in 1892.  A surprise to me was that it was more well-documented than most histories from that era, with a goodly number of footnotes.  The footnotes are not exactly in the format favored by the Chicago Manual of Style, which today's historians use, but they are there, and that is more than can be said for a lot of late 19th and early 20th century histories.

The coverage runs from 1528, and the early explorers, to the early 19th century, to the time when Florida became a territory of the U.S.  Scholarship since has brought out a lot more of the story, of course, and the author, as with those of most national histories published in the U.S. during that time, had an anglocentric slant.  Still, it is an interesting read for those who choose to study colonial Florida.

I have not limited myself to reading books in the categories of the 2016 Reading Challenge, however.

I just finished Rhonda M. Kohl's The Prairie Boys Go to War: the Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865.  I do confess that I would not have read the book had I not been made aware by Ms. Kohl in an e-mail a few years ago that she was depending heavily on diaries and letters written by the soldiers, including the diary and some letters of my great-granduncle Thadeus B. Packard.  (Yes, there's only one d in Thadeus here).  Not only is this a fine regimental history, it is also the most powerful intimate examination I have yet seen of the daily lives of Civil War soldiers.  Those on both sides faced the same difficulties, and Ms. Kohl tells their story, mainly through their own words.  She describes well the diseases that took their toll, the interpersonal difficulties at times, and the sometimes less-than-stellar qualities of the officers who commanded these troops.  Her description of the arrogance and lawlessness of General George Armstrong Custer, whose punishments of misbehaving soldiers were clear violations of military regulations, might make some readers think that he got exactly what he deserved at the Little Big Horn.

I am nearly finished with a delightful history of reference books, You Could Look it Up: the Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia, by Jack Lynch, who is now the head of the Department of English at Rutgers University, Newark.  He tells the stories of the devising of some of the world's most famous, at least among scholars, reference books of all time.  In between the chapters where he examines these references in different classes, two at a time, he has what he styles "half-chapters" in some of which are found broader views of reference books in general, and some of which give delightful trivia about the creating of some of these works.  He also answered some questions I had about the reference works I use in my work, those being Spanish dictionaries from the 15th century onward, which have been digitized by the Spanish Royal Academy.  One of them, referred to as the Rosal, for its author, is in handwriting, not printed, from 1611.  From this book, I found out that the reason this dictionary is in script is that this handwritten manuscript is the only copy of this dictionary ever made.  It did not get into print.

On to more reading!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The 2016 Reading Challenge

This comes from the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. The Reading Challenge asks you to read:

  • a book published this year
  • a book you can read in a day
  • a book you've been meaning to read
  • a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
  • a book you should have read in school
  • a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF
  • a book published before you were born
  • a book that was banned at some point
  • a book you previously abandoned
  • a book you own but have never read
  • a book that intimidates you
  • a book you've already read at least once
I am off to a good start.  Right now, I'm reading a book one of my daughters gave me for Christmas, from my extensive Amazon wish list.  It's The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History.  Technically, I'm no longer a student, since I've finished my late-in-life collegiate studies, having received my Master of Liberal Arts in Florida Studies from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg just this past May.  However, we are all -- or should be -- lifelong students.  And we historians are constant, inveterate, and total students.  I'm enjoying the book.  It has given me information on aspects of history and historical study of which I was unaware.

I am also working on a book that intimidates me.  It is Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life.  It's a theoretical work, and therefore it makes my head hurt.  But I'm slogging through it.  He speaks of everyday practices of everyday people.  I just wish he had used everyday language in which to do it!  I am getting something out of it, but probably not as much as is there, alas.  Highfalutin' language and theory always make my head hurt.

As to a book published this year, I'll have to hunt for one.  A book I can read in a day?  I may have a few of those on my shelves, but not very many.  Maybe one of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books.  I love those.  They're delightful.

I have a number of books I've been meaning to read, and for that I think I'll choose fiction.  I will read my friend Lisa Peppan's Somewhen Over the Rain Clouds.  Maybe tomorrow when I take my sister-in-law to the library I'll ask for a recommendation from the librarian.  I like mysteries, so I'll see what she may have to say of something in that field.  A book I should have read in school.  H'mm.  Heh.  Do I want my professors to possibly see this?  Well . . . Okay, I'll fess up.  Dr. Charles Clossman, now chair of the Department of History at the University of North Florida, forgive me.  I didn't read Jack Temple Kirby's The Mockingbird's Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South in class.  I will read it this year, as part of the challenge.

I have a lot of books published before I was born, even though I was born a long time ago!  They were printing by that time.  Gutenberg showed me an advance copy of his Bible!  Okay, kidding aside, as a historian, I have a lot of old books.  My college housemate (FSU, 1965-66) Judith West sent me a book she had held onto since childhood.  This book was published in 1892, and she thought that, as a Florida historian, I'd be interested.  Indeed I am.  The book is Historical Sketches of Colonial Florida, by Richard L. Campbell.  It deals mainly with what was called West Florida, of which Pensacola was the capital in Spanish times, while my studies are mainly of East Florida, of which St. Augustine was the capital.  However, I can certainly read it for Judith, and in honor of my mother, as both were raised in Pensacola.

I have rather a fetish for reading banned books.  It is a way to thumb my nose at the prudes and arrogant bluenoses who ban them.  I must have a banned book in my collection; at least one.  I will check the American Library Association's website for their banned books list.  The website discusses banned and "challenged" books.  I'm sure I can find something fascinating on their lists.

A book you previously abandoned.  That is a tough one.  Usually, when I abandon a book, it is because I just cannot proceed any further in it, for a variety of reasons.  These are the books that I may feel so disgusted at that I throw them against the wall.  I have done so in the past because of execrable writing, terrible plotting, and disgusting characters.  I will have to work on that one.

A book you own but have never read.  I have a few of those.  I shall just peruse my bookshelves and pick one.  To be announced.  A book you've already read at least once.  Oh, that could be such a pleasure, for I have books that I have so thoroughly enjoyed I have read them again and again.  Thomas P. F. Hoving's The King of the Confessors is probably number one on that list.  It is a wonderful story, full of intrigue, telling how Hoving tracked down the elusive Bury St. Edmonds Cross.  This artifact was lost for many years.  It is an elaborately carved cross and is stunningly beautiful.  I also immensely enjoyed E. J. Priz's Cosa Nosferatu:  Capone.  Ness.  Cthulhu.  Yes, you read that right.  It was such big fun!  (Note that on the website, accessible from the above link, the second quoted review, the one in red letters, is mine!)

So that is the challenge, and how I plan to meet it.  I'll comment on these books as I finish them, and tick them off the list.

Take up the challenge!  Read some good books!  After all, we have the whole year, right?