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Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen

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I've created my first giveaway here on Booklikes. Hope I did it right...


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The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon - David Grann This will make you feel like a kid again! It will ignite a Jonny Quest kind of desire for adventure, to dive into the jungle in search of lost worlds.

This will also quench most desires to ever take one step closer to a jungle.

"Z" is supposedly a long lost South American city of a once powerful people. Think El Dorado. Did it ever really exist? Finding out was the self-imposed task of an almost legend of a man who lives up to the myth:

Famous British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett...


A military man with an athlete's physique and a cast iron constitution, Fawcett made the perfect explorer. As fortune would have it, he lived in a time and place where conquering the last of our Earth's unknowns was in high fashion: Victorian England.

I've read a few of these sorts of books and I've come to expect the unavoidable asides. After all, to take this book as an example, there is always going to be more to the story than just one man trying to find one lost city. The Lost City of Z is fattened by many an aside discussing the myriad of Victorian era explorers who threw themselves into harm's way for glory and adventure. It was almost like a game to them, a great race to see who could get there first, be it the depths of the jungle or the arctic pole.

Author David Grann juggles these stories well, never dropping the main story, at least no more than necessary to incorporate the interesting details from these off-shoot tales that help the reader to better understand the mindset of the times or to underscore the perils of such treks into the unknown.

In the process of putting this book together, tracking Fawcett became Grann's adventure. However, it turned out to be one shared by many.

Fawcett went on numerous South American explorations with varying degrees of success and always emerging - though slightly worse for wear - in relatively good health compared to the many who perished along the way. However, after disappearing into the jungle one last time, with his son and a friend in-tow on this occasion, Fawcett disappeared forever. In the years that followed, finding Fawcett became a new kind of sport that swept the world. Many expeditions set out to find and bring the man back, dead or alive.

As you read The Lost City of Z you begin to form the opinion that "dead" is the only possible outcome for anyone foolish enough to set foot in the jungle. Grann's descriptions of the jungle's deprivations felt to me like watching a David Attenborough nature program in Feel-o-vision...every sting, bite and virulent disease feels like its invading your body. I itched unconsciously at every mention of the ubiquitous insects. I swore my skin creeped and I could feel a fever coming on. So, if you've got Indiana Jones aspirations, this is the cure!

Rumpole Misbehaves: A Novel (Rumpole Novels)

Rumpole Misbehaves: A Novel (Rumpole Novels) - John Mortimer The song remains the same, but there's something so likable about Rumpole, that old curmudgeon of a London barrister, that it doesn't matter if each book feels a little like a repeat.

On the surface, this story is just another Rumpole petty crime court case with the Timsons in-tow, however, sex slave trafficking turns out to be the seedy underbelly.

On the home front, Rumpole's wife Hilda is intrigued by the advances of a judge into studying for the bar, as well as participating in her usual pastime of pushing Rumpole towards a silk robe, the garment of a judge. This time around even Rumpole himself seems interested in seeing that become a reality, but longtime readers know the likelihood of it happening is slim indeed.

Why? Well, look at it this way. Rumpole is very much like The Highlander in that he never ages. He is perpetually on the verge of retirement for decade upon decade. The series started in the late 1970s and ran for 30 years. Rumpole's age is hard to pinpoint exactly, but he always appears to be in his late 50s to early 60s irregardless of the hippies, discos, punks, Johnny Depp movies, iPods or the post 9/11 world whirling about him. Fashions came and went, events befell humanity, but Rumpole motored on, never changing right up to the end.

Rumpole Misbehaves was one of, if not, the last book in the series that John Mortimer published before his death (I only know of one collection of Christmas stories that came after this and that was published posthumously,) so I found myself actually investing some real hope that Rumpole might finally succeed in getting silk for himself and rising from lawyer to judge. I thought, heck, maybe Mortimer sensed the end was nigh and threw the old boy a bone. Not likely?

I don't feel I'm spoiling anything terribly important here. No, because the real moral of Mortimer's stories is morality. Rumpole maybe be rough around the edges, but what we like about him is his willingness to put right before wrong regardless of the consequences to himself. This fat, cigar-puffing grouch is as close as a white knight as you'll get these days.

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy Wanting to give up...
Refusing to give up...
Not knowing the meaning of giving up.

When drugs and money come to a small Texas town, sheriff-about-to-retire trope Ed Tom Bell is tasked with solving a deal gone murderously wrong. This is indeed No Country for Old Men.

A psychopath of a hitman, Anton Chigurh (that last name being pronounced cheekily similar to "sugar,") is making Bell's last days as sheriff a living hell. Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss isn't making things any easier. Moss happened upon the drug deal aftermath, grabbed the loot and dashed. Chigurh's been on his heels ever since. That leaves Bell trailing along behind them, picking up clues and wondering what in the heck they all mean.

I found myself actually pulling for all three men, yes, even the psycho killer and that scared the crap out of me. He was such a good "bad guy" that I didn't want to see him die. There are a multitude of colorful and carefully crafted characters herein, some as thorny as the landscape. How do I know the landscape is thorny? Cormac McCarthy made me feel it.

The book is set in 1980. Thankfully, McCarthy doesn't overplay it with product placement...Oh look at me in my Lee jeans and pornstar mustache drinking from a glass bottle of Coke while sitting on the hood of my '76 Camaro....He uses period-appropriate props only when they are necessary.

The plot is tight when it needs to be and breathes when it can. The action fluctuates from relaxed to tense and back again. Not-completely-necessary-but-still-enjoyable story asides (that you won't find in the movie) often contain pearls of homespun wisdom like "Every step you take is forever. You can't make it go away. None of it."

I saw the movie version of this awhile back and, although the book and movie are very similar, this was still an exciting read for me. McCarthy's austere style may not set well with all readers - he doesn't fuck around with flowery words much - however, the spartan prose marches soldierly ahead, pressing the story on, delivering to the reader a tale victoriously told.

How Right You Are, Jeeves

How Right You Are, Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves was right, but that title is wrong!

The statement in title form, How Right You Are, Jeeves does two things. It tells you that Jeeves is going to offer up correct advice, as per usual. It also leads you to believe that Jeeves will play a large role in said title, and that is not the case. They should've stuck with the alternate title Jeeves in the Offing.

Jeeves is Bertie Wooster's manservant. Jeeves has extracted Bertie from many a mishap. When Bertie is without Jeeves, he often finds himself neck-deep in the soup. When a Jeeves & Wooster book is without Jeeves, the book often drowns.

How Right You Are, Jeeves is a perfectly adequate addition to the J & W series, but it's not one of P.G. Wodehouse's best. It lacks the wit and fun that fill the pages in spades when both Bertie and Jeeves are doling out the words. In this story, Bertie is left to fend for himself for the most part while his manservant is off on holiday. Jeeves briefly pops his head in to comment on the proceeds, but that's about it.

Drawn again to Brinkley Court to partake in his aunt's French chef par excellence Anatole's cooking, Bertie soon finds himself embroiled in one ridiculous scheme after another, where the bog standard love triangle looks more like an octagon. The plot is a tad muddier than usual, as I don't feel Bertie has any great impetus pushing him on as is the case in other books.

Another reason for this one feeling flat could be that it was written later in Wodehouse's life, being published in 1960 when he was 79. He would go on writing and publishing for another 15 years, but this is his twilight era stage and perhaps the old tried and true plots are getting a bit tired at this point.

Even so, any Wodehouse fan can find plenty to enjoy in How Right You Are, Jeeves, such as recurring characters Aunt Dahlia, Sir Roderick Glossop, Bobbie Wickham, and the 18th century cow creamer.


Road Dogs

Road Dogs - Elmore Leonard If Elmore Leonard meant for there to be a theme running through this book it's probably: There is no honor among thieves...

In Road Dogs, two buddies get out of the joint and immediately hatch up plans for new heists. But then a girl muddies things up. Then another one makes it even more complicated. And what about the loyal prison bitch of one of the buddies? Which side is he taking? And for that matter, whose side are any of them on?

This probably deserves 4 stars. It's good writing. It's an interesting story. But I think I was expecting something more "Hollywood," if you will.

That's ironic, because the setting for most of the book is Los Angeles. Specifically, the expensive houses along the canal system just off of Venice Beach. I've been there and the tiny area has a very movie set look about it. In fact, everything about this book feels like it should be an action-packed, Hollywood heist flick, but it's not. There's a low-key con. People go down. However, Road Dogs never does kick into high gear. It's very talky and more cerebral than I expected.

On second thought, three stars does seem fair for a good book that I enjoyed, but what didn't light any particularly burning fires within my reading soul.

The Kings of Clonmel

The Kings of Clonmel - John Flanagan Not really sure what's going on here... I feel like I walked in on a business meeting halfway through. I've missed some important info and the CEO isn't about to stop his speech to fill me in. That's okay. Quite understandable. But there's no sense in me wasting my time finishing this thing out if I'm going to remain at sea the rest of the time. I'm out!

The Kings of Clonmel seems to be about rangers and bandits and religion and storming castles...I think. I don't know.

Not realizing it was the eighth book in a long running series, I made the mistake of picking this up at the library on a whim. I figured why not? I like rangers. This sounded like it might be set in Scotland and that would be cool by me, even if it turned out to be fantasy or historical fiction. Sure, it looked to be a YA book and generally I've found that I'm getting too old for those, but hey, I thought I could at least bank on this being heavy on the adventure. Plus, I liked Harry Potter, so maybe this might fall into that realm. Some of my assumptions played out true. My other guesses fell flat or were never resolved before I gave up about a fifth of the way in.

I think giving a book a couple chapters to horse-collar you is fair enough. John Flanagan spent those chapters leading me nowhere. There was a brief flash of action, but mostly it was a slog through details that might later be relevant to getting the plot finally set-up. I suppose he assumes at this point that all of his readers are well versed in his world. It doesn't take much for a writer to make single volumes in a series self-contained, but it's his sandbox, he can create whatever he wants in it however he pleases. Then again, that approach might turn off potential future fans. Personally, this experience hasn't made me want to rush out and read book one. On the other hand, it hasn't dissuaded me from ever giving the series another shot.

The Red Pony

The Red Pony - John Steinbeck A story about a pretty, pretty precious pony? Hurray! This is going to be giggly joyous laughy-good pony time!...What? It's written by John Steinbeck? Fuck. Sorry, pony, either you and/or everyone you love is going to end up dead.

Yes, these are tales of living on a ranch in the early days (well, early-ish) of California. But underneath, they are more of the same Steinbeck: the vignettes of the hardscrabble life of immigrant farmers.

Specifically it's 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, such as seen in Tortilla Flat. The people are established. This is their land. It feels as if it's always been theirs, but there were others before them...ghosts now.

The Red Pony follows a boy, Jody, who is coming of age and given the responsibility of raising his own horse. Steinbeck captures well the emotions and perspective of a child feeling his way in a world that is changing for him, new understandings that come at young folks daily like minor revelations. Will he cope?

Thought I'd give this a read, what with my interest in animals being piqued by Goodreads' recent ads for All Creatures Great and Small. The Red Pony reads like a collection of related short stories. It definitely doesn't feel like a complete novel with a plot, climax and satisfying finish. There's just theme, like viewing a photo album. That can be enjoyable too, after all, every picture tells a story, don't it?

The Secrets of the FBI

The Secrets of the FBI - Ronald Kessler Well, they ain't secrets no more!

And were they secrets in the first place? I guess "technically," but if we're being honest, come on, some of this stuff is just silly. Kessler tosses the FBI some grapefruits right up front in this one, giving the reader little vignettes of instances where the Bureau came away with mud on their face. It's like viewing their blooper reel: Agents foiled by cats and in-and-out jobs gone haywire by zany hijinks. *cue the laugh track!* I didn't have much hope for this one right off the bat.

But eventually it comes around. Kessler hits his stride when he starts in on the pros and cons of each of the Bureau's Directors: Hoover's suspicious denial of the mafia's existence; Freeh's technophobia; Sessions allowing his wife and her friends complete security clearance and access within FBI Headquarters. Many interesting how-to tidbits regarding their techniques are told via entertaining anecdotes. Kessler gives a rundown of how the FBI responded to major national events (Waco, 9/11, etc), not allows showing them in a positive light.

Overall though, The Secrets of the FBI maintains a balance, reporting equally on the good and bad of the FBI's checkered past, and it does so in an engaging manner that may not be as exciting or biting as some wish it to be. However, for those of us with a passing interest, it's a good read for sure!

The Wreckers (High Seas Trilogy)

The Wreckers (High Seas Trilogy) - Iain Lawrence
(I'm dusting off and resurrecting the ol' "INCOMING" baby...)


Forget it! I'm through with this!

The Wreckers a book with an old timey feel about ship-wrecking on the coast of England should be right up my alley, and maybe it would've been, but at only about a quarter in, I'm giving it up. I found Iain Lawrence's book amongst the audiobook shelves at my local library and the summary made me think it could provide a pleasant diversion while I was doing yard work or what have you. Oh the promise was there.

But then Ron Keith, the narrator, opened his stupid mouth. I swear this chuckle monkey can't keep a straight face. The dude is reading about a shipwreck and dead bodies floating in the surf and it sounds like he's smiling the whole time. I can actually hear a grin. Seriously, he sounds too damn happy to be reading somber stuff. I know this book is meant for a younger audience. It has a Treasure Island feel to it. Nonetheless, when a freakin' serious scene comes along, Mr. Narrator Ass Man, try to sound a little less like Santy Fuckin' Claus distributing joy to the fucking world!!!

Keith needs to stick to children's books. This sample of The Wind in the Willows is a good example of his proper place: http://excerpts.contentreserve.com/FormatType-425/1694-1/450675-TheWindInTheWillows.mp3

I hate giving up on books, but I knew this one would grate on me the whole way through, so it had to go. Better that than make myself miserable and, by proxy, my wife. She hates it when I force myself to read annoying shit.

Rating: I'm not rating this one, because I didn't finish it and besides, it wouldn't be fair to Lawrence. Lord knows, he's not to blame for the bloody awful narration!

The Minority Report

The Minority Report - Philip K. Dick I'm not an old, crusty sci-fi fan who read this when it came out in '56. No, I'm a neophyte who only knows about The Minority Report because of the 2002 movie version. It's hard not to associate this solid, yet too short short story with that blockbuster flick starring Tom Cruise...


...and I'm not even going to try. Why? Because I loved the movie, even though I hate Tom Cruise. Maybe "hate" is too harsh. Let's just say I've never liked him and have only tolerated watching his movies, all the while wishing it was someone else in his role.

Even with my anti-Cruise bias, I really enjoyed the heck out of the movie and expected the same with the story. Well, that didn't happen. Oh, I enjoyed it all right. It's perfectly fine. However, it lacks tension. Certainly high-stakes are on the line for our hero Anderton, the head of police force that captures and incarcerates would-be criminals before the crime is committed, but figuring out what's going on is made all too easy for him. It needed to be teased out a bit more.

I have to hand it to the screenwriters and director Steven Spielberg for tricking out this pedestrian story and turning it into a fast, fun, 2+ hour thrill ride. In comparison, the original story is like a quarter's worth of floppy anti-climax on one of those sticky, paint-chipped, slow-moving mechanical rides out front of your typical beat-down grocery store.

El Vocho

El Vocho - Steve Lafler Full Disclosure: This is by my friend Steve. Of course I am going to be my usual honest self, but I just thought you all should know.

In the graphic novella El Vocho, a lanky white artist dude gets into a fender-bender with a saucy Mexican chick, who changes his life and car forever.

The artwork reminds me of a more mature Archie Comics. It has a further throwback element in that the gangster baddies are very Dick Tracy.

El Vocho breathes. Some panels could be said to be unnecessary and some comics readers might complain that the story moves slowly. I like an action-packed thriller, but I also don't mind when a writer, musician, artist, or whatever allows the scene to unfold naturally, lets a note linger longer to coat the ear in the desired ambience, or gives the eye a moment to rest upon a mood-setting image.

Yes, the script could be tighter, but as I say, that doesn't concern me too much. An area that could use improvement is in the transitions. One or two of them "clangs" a bit, ringing false. A smoother read throughout would've upped my rating. But all in all, this quirky and inventive little story is a fun read!

Seven Wives and Seven Prisons

Seven Wives and Seven Prisons - L.A. Abbott "Some one has said that if any man would faithfully write his autobiography, giving truly his own history and experiences, the ills and joys, the haps and mishaps that had fallen to his lot, he could not fail to make an interesting story." Well Mr. Abbott, I'm not sure that's true for everyone, but it's certainly true for you!

I knew nothing about Seven Wives and Seven Prisons, but with chapter subtitles like "My first and worst wife" and "My own son tries to murder me," it's been a long time since I got this excited about reading a book, and I wasn't disappointed.

In the early-to-mid 1800s, Abbott bounced around the United States northeast from one state to the next, getting married and - more often than not - getting thrown in prison because of that marriage.

"She said she was lonely; she sighed; she smiled, and I was lost."

Says Abbott, "I was a monomaniac on the subject of matrimony" and after reading a mere couple chapters you will believe him through and through.

The man seemed incapable of even looking at a woman without ending up married to her. Not bothering to get a divorce from his first wife caused many of his problems, as - even though he was still married to her - he continued to elope with other women. Dude needed to get his priorities in order. But time and time again, he fell into the same old trap, never seeming to truly learn from his mistakes: "As my readers know by this time, all experience, even the bitterest, was utterly thrown away upon me; I seemed to get out of one scrape only to walk, with my eyes open, straight into another."

Aiding and abetting him was his love of liquor, an underlying sort of disdain for authority and a fancy-free attitude, an almost vagabond's outlook on life. He may not be to blame for these tendencies, as it appears his father had a wayward nature that forced itself on young Abbott's upbringing. As a young man, he started off as an apprentice blacksmith to his father, moving with him here and there upon his father's whim.

And then - BAM! - Abbott just kinda became a doctor. As an author, he doesn't dally on the little details. He speeds up the timeline of his life so much that occasionally important questions like, oh I don't, "how did you become a doctor?" for the most part go unanswered.

After a while I was asking myself, like poor little drugged up David after the dentist on Youtube...

Is this real life?

This guy's life is almost too ridiculous to believe. He reminds me of Candide. All manner of mishap befalls him. At any second I was expecting him to get one of his buttocks chopped off. Granted, stories can sound like legend when only the most interesting highlights over the length of one's life are compiled into one tightly packed narrative. But in the very least, I would guess that Abbott is giving us a biased account of his side of the story, maybe with a dash of fisherman's-tale embellishment.

I've tried to verify the story, but there is scant info on the man. In the end, does it really matter? This is just a hell of a fun story. Read it and enjoy it.

If you're interested, you can find Seven Wives and Seven Prisons for free at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4667

Lords of the North

Lords of the North - Bernard Cornwell It's Danes versus Saxons in a fight for the right to rule over a cold, wet island soon to be known as England, as depicted by these toys in this unrealistic setting...


Our hero Uhtred is still at it, trying to regain what is rightfully his, the impregnable fortress Bebbanburg. But as usual, a bunch of assholes stand in his way.

Sorry for cussing just then. However, if you've read any of Bernard Cornwell's books before, you're probably not too shocked by it. The only thing that might've surprised you is that I didn't say "bastard" instead. It was a favored slur during just about any time-period the author has written in and he's put it to good use.

Cornwell is a master of historical fiction and excels at adding in appropriate details. Slavery goes back a long time in the British Isles and the author uses it with good effect in his Lords of the North plot, excellently describing one form of enforced servitude for the benefit of his readers who dig history. Through out this series, I've enjoyed the layer of Christianity vs paganism he's laid over the background. And his descriptions of fortifications and warfare add a nice touch to these battle-heavy books. However, he really laid it on thick with the shield-wall this time around. The shield-wall was a very important battle strategy for the time and Cornwell has his characters utilize the shield-wall quite often, which is fine, but did he have to constantly mention "shield-wall" every fricking time a shield-wall came into play in this shield-wally story?.....SHIELD-WALL!

My read of Lords... took off and flew for the first three fourths, but sputtered and came to a temporary halt just before the end. I left it untouched for days at a time, dragging out the last couple chapters over the course of three weeks. Why? There were too many climactic scenes. After Uhtred and Co. succeed in capturing Dunholm and reuniting the beat-down Thyra with her brother Ragnar in a very emotional scene I kind of blew my load. I just wasn't in the mood anymore. But the story goes on and ties up everything nicely that could need tying up, except of course Uhtred's Bebbanburg issue, which - let's be realistic - won't be cleared up until Cornwell decides he's ready to write the final book in this series.

To wrap up, this is another fine edition in the Bernard Cornwell library of highly enjoyable, action-adventure based, historical fiction. I'll go 3.49 stars on this one. It was a 4-star good time until the end.



Brimstone and Marmalade: A Tor.Com Original

Brimstone and Marmalade: A Tor.Com Original - Aaron Corwin Mathilde's a spoiled bitch! "I want a pony! I want a pony!" Quit whining, you're getting a damned demon, for fuck's sake!

Perhaps I should say, she's getting a demon of the damned! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAAA (<--That's evil laughter, in case you didn't pick up on it. I'm not very good at it.)<br/>
In this delightful and all too short story, young Mathilde's birthday is coming and all she wants is a pony. But ponies are a big responsibility, one which her parents don't think she's ready for. Much better to start her off with a pet demon.

Maybe that sounds illogical and flat out crazy, but I have to agree with the parents here. Ponies are dicks! Let me explain in the following reminiscence...

When I was kid, probably not much older than Mathilde, I was mucking out the cow barn and feeding the animals. I threw down some hay for my aunt's pony (his name was Tony, of course), and because he couldn't reach the pile, I nudged it towards him with my foot. Well, the little bastard must've got spooked, because his double line of big ol' teeth shot out and bit my stomach. I was in shock and a good deal of pain. It left quite a mark (And that's the story of how I got my belly button!...just kidding).

The mark that really stuck with me is that ponies are dicks. He could've just backed away like any other spooked horse would, but no, Tony took this opportunity to strike back at his human slavemasters (We would harness him to the wee-est tiny trap for short joyrides and I'm pretty sure he resented us for it...guess I don't blame him) and hell, I wasn't even his owner! I was just trying to feed him. Oh well, back to this here story...

Brimstone and Marmalade is well worth your ten minutes to read, even if you have no interest in ponies or demons. It's a tightly told story, a little vignette of childhood memory paralleling so very many children's experiences. Even if it wasn't exactly a pony, who didn't yearn for a pet of some sort as a kid? And who didn't get let down by their parents? You're probably going to relate to this story and that alone often makes for a good read. So couple that with a smartly told tale and you've got yourself a nice little coffee break story to enjoy! And you will enjoy it...THIS I COMMAND!!!

By the way!
You can read this story for free in its entirety on Tor's site at... http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/10/brimstone-and-marmalade-aaron-corwin

Harpo's Horrible Secret

Harpo's Horrible Secret - Barbara Kelly, Lori Block Oh man, I need to know!