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October 5, 2015
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
(A Burton & Swinburne Adventure)

Mark Hodder
ISBN-13: 978-1616142407
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The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack

This is the opening volume in Hodder's exciting series of six novels featuring the highly unlikely and startling adventures of Sir Richard Francis Burton and the poet Algernon Swinburne as they make their perilous way through an alternate version of Victorian London tracking down werewolves, time travelers, trash-talking mechanical parrots and a whole lot of other stuff that's better left for the reader to discover on her own. Toss in Charles Darwin, Florence Nightinggale, and Benjamin Disraeli, and I can promise you that these are six wild tales that will leave you gasping at their sheer inventiveness, mystery, and unique atmosphere.



September 15, 2015
The Good, The Bad and The Smug

Tom Holt
ISBN-13: 978-0316368810
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The Good, The Bad and The Smug
Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman (in his lighter mood)...You've read and relished all of these humorous, philosophical writers of fantasy and science fiction and now despair at the fact that there seems nothing to do but turn around and re-read them all. (Although there are much worse fates, believe me.)

There's an alternative to Looking Backwards, however. March Onwards to the 'H's' in the library stacks and enter the equally marvelous world of Tom Holt, a British writer who has been crafting intricate, deeply funny fantasies since he first downed tools as a solicitor in 1995, "went straight," and gave us the wonderful EXPECTING SOMEONE TALLER.

Here he is now in 2015, still going strong and cracking wise at all things material and immaterial, and in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SMUG he's gifted us with the thoughtfully hilarious story of Mordak, "a new breed of Evil," who is striving to implement his Vision of Universal Health Care and Kindness (see what I mean by 'new?') but facing the challenge of a Humanity which has suddenly become unaccountably wealthy. So where are human beings getting all the dough anyway, and how can Mordak return them to their usual 99 per-center status so that his New Vision can get kickstarted?

That's the tale but with Holt (as it was with Pratchett and Moore and even Gaiman) it's the Telling that matters.
Read this one slowly...Holt has the wit but perhaps not the narrative skills of his compatriots...and you'll find much to relish and even mull over.

Then...Well, you CAN 'look backwards' from this one to over 20 other earlier Holt gems to explore!

August 25, 2015
The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality,
and the Financial Crisis

Darryl Cunningham
ISBN-13: 978-1419715983
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The Age of Selfishness
If you still harbor any doubt that a graphic novel is capable of handling deeply complex subject matter in an engaging, comprehensible manner, then the THE AGE OF SELFISHNESS should put your doubts to rest forever.
Here graphic artist (and photographer and sculptor) Darryl Cunningham tells the story of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in a manner that merges (critical but sympathetic) biography with economic and cultural history.
Yep. All of that in a book that still 'looks' like a comic book. And probably has as many pictures as words.
This is one of many recent works in the genre of Graphic Novels that demands and rewards multiple readings. The images don't merely illustrate the text;they enhance and build upon the written arguments in a way that deepens both the reader's emotional and intellectual responses.
Even if you think you couldn't care less about Rand or the recent Financial Crisis or Economics in general (that Most Dismal Science, as it's been called), I promise you will find yourself absorbed in Cunningham's rich, even occasionally humorous, world. This one's a keeper.

August 20 , 2015
A Little History of Literature

John Sutherland
ISBN-13: 978-0300205312
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A Little History of Literature

John Sutherland is British. He's VERY British. And you can hear his Very British accent on every page of this small book as he takes us through 40 brief chapters with each devoted to a single topic in the history of Literature from Gilgamesh all the way up to (hang onto something!) Fifty Shades of Grey. His erudite but accessible readings of the Classics and the Popular over a brisk 250 pages will give causal readers historical and critical context while providing more 'educated' imbibers with new insights and reading selections. Sutherland is a respected teacher for The Learning Company, and his new book could serve as an outline for an excellent and compelling series of lectures.
Highly recommended!

May 13, 2015
Silverlock (Including the Silverlock Companion)

John Myers Myers
ISBN-13: 978-1886778528
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Silverlock (Including the Silverlock Comopanion)
Now back in print after too long an absence, this one-of-a-kind Tale of High Adventure may well become one of your favorite reading experiences.
(On the title page of the old, broken down copy that I used to read in the stacks of my hometown library, for example, some previous, properly enthralled reader had carefully printed in scroll-like text: "A Fine Yarn." That just about says it all, but I will indulge myself by adding just a tad more detail before sending you off to experience it for yourself.)

This is a story of a pretty self-centered, smug...some might say heartless or even soulless...young man who is shipwrecked on a strange island he comes to know only as The Commonwealth. He is not alone in this odd and wonderful land, however, as he discovers over the next 400+ pages in which he encounters nearly a hundred characters from literature and history...everyone from Don Quixote to Robin Hood to quite a few you won't have heard about. (Which is where the included Silverlock Companion will provide a necessary map.)

Along the way our selfish scoundrel Grows Up and evolves into the Noble Silverlock, and we learn the necessary lessons right at his side...and laugh and shudder and much else besides.
I could go on. I could tell you how even when it was out-of-print so many, many writers and critics and just 'regular' readers kept The Silverlock flame alive by sharing dogeared copies and holding live readings. Or I could tell you about my favorite adventures in the book.
But I won't.
Just go read it.

Trust me... Trust all ofUS...It's A Fine Yarn.

April 22, 2015
Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips

Walt Kelley
ISBN-13: 978-1560978695
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Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips
OK, let's be Perfectly Clear about one thing right off the bat: POGO is the single greatest comic strip of all time. Sure, KRAZY KAT had e.e. cummings and Robert Warshow in his Korner, and PEANUTS was more popular, but I'm sorry, there's POGO and then Everybody Else.

Only POGO created a fantasy world of indelible characters in a fully-realized fantasy world AND interlaced it with a level of satirical political commentary which yet never detracted from its charm or humor. POGO was KRAZY KAT and DOONESBURY rolled into one glorious Swamp of Ideas and Gags.

And I've plum forgot to mention the songs! Where else can you find the complete lyrics to that Christmas Classic "DECK US ALL WITH BOSTON CHARLIE" or 'hear' Albert the Alligator serenade the Swamp with his ukulele and "I WAS EATING SOME CHOP SUEY WITH A LADY IN ST. LOOEY?"   

Only in Walt Kelly's magnificent, unique work of Art....yes, by golly, ART...the 'comic strip' called POGO.
I have never recommended a book more highly!

March 18, 2015

Matt Sumell
ISBN-13: 978-1627790932
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Making Nice
I 'recommend' this 'novel' (it's actually a series of connected short stories which share the same narrator) as a genuine challenge to all those who think that fiction can and should serve to help us understand and empathize with disparate sensibilities. 
Our hero Alby is just about a 'disparate sensibility' as it gets outside of the warped world of a Dostoyevsky fever dream. He's profane and violent (he punches his sister because "she deserved it") and condescending. But he's also funny, surprisingly caring (he feeds his ailing grandmother spoonful-by-spoonful), and self-critically aware.

He's very, very human.

Can a collection of short stories convince you to understand and empathize with him?

Can fiction teach Love?
Create it?
That's my challenge, and that's my recommendation for this book.

March 2, 2015

James P. Blaylock
ISBN-13: 978-0857689795
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The Aylesford Skull
Blaylock is back!

If that doesn't do it for you, then it will next time if you read the latest adventure of Langston St. Ives in this Victorian-era tale of derring-do and evil skullduggery.

Blaylock is rightly recognized as one of the founding creators of a subgenre of fantasy/science fiction called Stempunk, but his books have always been far more Blaylock and less Steampunk than other more genre-restricted examples of the form. Blaylock has a gently, whimsical quality to his writing which somehow matches nicely with the wild imaginings of his event-filled plotlines,making his world a comfortable one for a reader to inhabit even as all Hell appears to be breaking loose on the page. He also has written a number of pretty straightforward Ghost Stories and he often puts that skill to good use in his Steampunk offerings, as he does here with the supernaturally powered Skull of the title. 

Blaylock is one of my favorite authors, but he is true of any distinctive acquired taste. Here's a good opportunity to pick up The Blaylock Habit.

February 19, 2015
We Are Pirates: A Novel

Daniel Handler
ISBN-13: 978-1608196883
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We Are Pirates: A Novel
Yes, they really are pirates.

But not the Yo-Ho-Hoing, eyepatch-wearing ones familiar to us. These pirates are a modern day teenager and a dementia-ridden nursing home patient who set sail in San Francisco Harbor to find treasure but, more importantly, to Find Themselves. As Lemony Snicket, the author has written a series of Unfortunate Events books for children which had such a dark edge to them that they could easily have come with a Parental Advisory attached. Now he's applied the same combination of lighthearted adventure on the top with dark undercurrents underneath in this novel for adults, and he's equally marvelous at it. Some of the stuff involving the young pirate girl's dad feels a bit shallow, but that just means that the pirates steal the show along with everything else that isn't guarded closely enough. There's real heart and depth to the feelings here that make this far more than just a merry romp. (Although it IS that as well.)

February 10, 2015

Bill Bryson
ISBN-13: 978-0767919418
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One Summer

Bryson (A WALK IN THE WOODS, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID, etc.) is his usual breezy, engaging self in recounting the myriad of events and personalities which combined to make the Summer of 1927 a memorable one indeed.

It would be easy to underestimate Bryson's accomplishment and simply argue that the Time Itself did most of the work for him. After all, with things like the Flight of Charles Lindbergh, the Dempsey-Tunney fight, Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly setting a record for staying atop a flagpole for twelve days straight, etc one might think that it would take more effort to muck things up than it would to produce a book recounting that amazing year. But to do so would be a mistake: The real heart of the book is in Bryson's Voice which simply brims with gentle enthusiasm for his various topics and which never seems to lack for some new telling detail which makes even the familiar seem new. The book is long, but seemingly over in an instant. Just like all those summers we remember from our youth.


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January 29, 2018