As the Goodreads description indicates, this isn't an actual book as such, but rather an invitation to other Goodreaders to describe their reading expAs the Goodreads description indicates, this isn't an actual book as such, but rather an invitation to other Goodreaders to describe their reading experience in the year just past, and a creative way of giving them a forum in which to do it. I like the concept, and am glad to accept the invitation!
By Goodreads' count, in 2014 I read 36 books, of which one was a lightweight child's picture book I read to my youngest grandson. Four more were really just short e-stories, all of them freebies. These were a mixed bag; I gave D. B. Jackson's "A Spell of Vengeance" four stars and Wil Wheaton's "Hunter" five, but Martyn V. Halm's "Locked Room" only got one, and another Wheaton story I didn't rate. (I didn't personally like it, but I thought it would appeal to fans with different taste.)
That leaves 31 actual grown-up books that I read for myself (or read out loud for both my wife and I). Of these, I rated 30 (the other one was a review copy, and I thought giving the author my feedback would be more helpful than a review). Those 30 were almost unanimously liked; only one got less than three stars. (Eleven of them earned five stars and nine more got four; so 2/3 were really liked or better!) Most were fiction; genre-wise, they break down into 17 speculative fiction titles (six science fiction, five supernatural, four fantasy, and two more that are hard to classify) and seven descriptive fiction: four historical, one action-adventure, and one crime fiction. (One more, Robert E. Howard's The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, straddles the descriptive/speculative divide; some stories are one, some the other). A Shakespeare play, a poetry chapbook, and three other nonfiction books round out the total. My liking for action heroines is reflected in the fact that 11 books (in various fictional genres) featured protagonists of this type; and I'm a fan of short fiction, so six collections of stories, by one author or several, made the list. (These also span various genres.) Unusually for me, I read five books (and rated four) as e-books this year, all of them free or review copies.
My friend Jackie and I usually do a buddy read every year; this past year, we continued our read of Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series with The Shadow Lamp, the fourth installment. I took part in eight group common reads in six groups; one of these proved to be my favorite book of the year, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. 2014 also saw me reading an unusual number of review copies from Goodreads or author/friend giveaways (eight that I actually reviewed). Some of my top favorite books of the year were by familiar favorite authors of mine: Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Norah Lofts, and Andrew Seddon. (Another favorite writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, got four stars from me for The Silmarillion, as did C. S. Lewis for The Four Loves.) Other five-star reads introduced me to authors new to me, with series openers for series that I'll be following: David Weber (On Basilisk Station), Suzanne Arruda (Mark of the Lion, and K. W. Jeter (Real Dangerous Girl --at least, I'll follow Jeter's Kim Oh series if he brings it back into print in paperback! Some other happy discoveries this year were freshman author Juliene Lloyd's Operation Angelica (five stars) and Melanie Frances' Anatomy of a Love Affair (three stars --and I don't usually like contemporary poetry). Through a common read in the classics group I belong to, I finally got to read a long-awaited classic, Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor (four stars). Rosemary Edghill's The Empty Crown, an omnibus volume of the first three novels in her Twelve Treasures series, made it into my list of five top favorite reads of the year, and it was a real disappointment to learn that the publisher won't continue the series. :-(
My major disappointment was with the final volume in Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. I'm one of the many fans who feel the author dropped the ball in that volume, although I still gave it two stars to reflect the fact that I liked it almost up to the end. Two other books, Son of the Morning by Linda Howard (which was a Christmas gift from my wife) and Wayne Reinagle's Pulp Heroes - Khan Dynasty also disappointed, in that I thought that with different execution the potential of the book could have been much better realized; but I still gave them three stars.
Looking ahead to 2015, Jackie and I plan to wrap up our read of the Bright Empires series with the final volume, The Fatal Tree. I'm finishing up my queue of review books, planning to take part in at least three group common reads, and I have some serious nonfiction reading in mind that I feel I need to do. Over and above that, I have a couple more series openers I want to read, and I really need (and want!) to make some effort to read further in some series that I've already started. But I'm always open to any happy surprise that may present itself!...more
Although the accurate Goodreads description for this collection of 12 original stories describes the mission of the TADSAW (Train a Dog, Save a WarrioAlthough the accurate Goodreads description for this collection of 12 original stories describes the mission of the TADSAW (Train a Dog, Save a Warrior, www.tadsaw.org ) organization, it neglects to mention that proceeds from the book sales go to support TADSAW's worthwhile work. My review copy was a no-strings-attached gift from my friend Andrew, one of the contributors. All of the selections are published here for the first time, though not necessarily originally written for this anthology.
T. H. Cragg's contribution here is a genuinely touching nonfiction memoir of the homecoming of his father's "war dog" after World War II. (Dogs trained for combat by the U.S. military were euthanized after the war, unless their former human partners were willing to give them a home; fortunately, in this case, T. H.'s dad was glad to do that.) The other contributors (editor Kyle also has a story included) all are represented by fictional tales. (The titular pun is obvious!) Three of these are mostly descriptive fiction (although one of these does have a supernatural element --but though integral to the plot, it's low-key); the others are speculative, mostly science fiction. Except for one story, the human lead characters are current or former members of the military, or military-like organizations. Their canine companions are mostly dogs, but in the SF yarns, they may be dog-like creatures (and wolves are represented in a couple of stories). These canines may play crucial, even life-saving roles in the story plots, or they may simply be loving companions for their humans. SF genre stalwart Kevin J. Anderson is the best-known author here (though I hadn't read any of his work before), and doesn't disappoint. But veteran anthology editor Kyle has assembled a quality collection here across the board! Every one of the selections is a good, worthwhile read; and all the authors have an accomplished, readable prose style.
My favorite of the descriptive stories is Kyle's "Partners," which has really engaging, believable characters; the perfect amount of texture, a nicely done premise and plot, and a skillful resolution. (I could like Blake, Micki and Steele --and Thor!-- as series characters!) World War II aerial combat is vividly evoked (in all its grisliest realism) in L. J. Bonham's "Sancho." And C. R. Asay succeeds as well in "The Greatest" at having an animal narrator, who thinks and feels the way we can actually imagine a dog doing (rather than coming across as essentially a human disguised with fur and four feet), as it's probably possible to within the conceit that a dog can be this verbal.
Andrew's "The Dancing Golden Girls" is in a class by itself among the speculative stories --not because the author is a friend or because I beta read the story several years ago, but because I genuinely like it. Set in 1927 Egypt, it's the first story of a cycle about World War I veteran Sheffield and his dog Baltasar, whose travels pit them against various sinister entities of a Lovecraftian sort, but handled without the existential pessimism that's often tacked on to HPL's own work. (Okay, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, if it's well-done --and nobody does it better than Andrew!)
That story has a resolution to it, even though it's the start of a series. If the other speculative stories have a flaw, it's that the writers often dump us into the middle of events with a considerable back-story and a partially-built world with all kinds of features hat cry out for more explanation, but not really enough scope in the short format to fill in either; and they often don't have real resolutions, either. If I didn't know better, I could see some of them as novel excerpts. (S. A. Wallin's draconic fantasy "The Commanders Tail" is actually a "companion piece" to her still-unpublished the Dragon's Daughter.) Sometimes this was a bit frustrating, and I might have deducted a half star for this if I could have. But I was usually able to take this on its own terms as a reflection of life, where events often don't have tidy resolutions either. That said, Doranna Durgin's "Just Hanah" is a fine example of a well-done coming-of-age story. Anderson does an excellent job of creating palpable suspense in his near-future dystopin vision, "Dogged Persistence." Leah in Dana Bell's "Pack Rule" was a protagonist who intrigued me, and whom I'd like to have seen more of, or more developed, in terms of what's next.
None of these stories have any sexual content, and they either have no bad language or not an excessive amount of it. Violence is generally not too graphic, and it isn't there unless it needs to be. Darkness and death may be realities in the characters' world; but in any case, the messages are about hope and life. Highly recommended, to any readers who are lovers of hope and life!
Appalachian author Mildred Haun (1911-1966) was a protege' of John Crowe Ransom, whose pupil she was at Vanderbilt Univ. This particular collection waAppalachian author Mildred Haun (1911-1966) was a protege' of John Crowe Ransom, whose pupil she was at Vanderbilt Univ. This particular collection was the only book of fiction she published in her career; it was reprinted in 1968 by Vanderbilt Univ. Press as The Hawk's Done Gone: And Other Stories, with the later "other stories" (mostly unpublished in her lifetime) comprising the second half. My long residence in Appalachia has given me an interest in fiction set in that region, so when I found the later book in the BC library soon after I started working there, it piqued my interest. However, I quit reading after finishing the original book.
Haun was a native of the mountains of eastern Tennessee, where these stories are set; she was thoroughly familiar with the customs, dialect and lore of the area (her master's thesis was on the folk ballads of her native Cocke County). This is reflected in these stories, which are set from the late 1800s up to 1940 and, as the Goodreads description (which I wrote; I added the book to the database just now) notes, form a cycle focusing on the Kanipe family. The narrator of all but one is the Granny-woman (midwife and herb doctor) Mary Dorthula White Kanipe, wife of the family patriarch Ad Kanipe, who lives into his 90s. While I've characterized the tales as general fiction, they often reflect the deep-rooted belief of the mountain people in witchcraft and other superstitions, which the narrator and other characters accept as realities. One story, "Barshia's Horse He Made, It Flew," is actually genuine supernatural fiction, of the type that delivers a supernatural comeuppance to an unpleasant character. (IMO, that's the best story in the lot, and the most memorable.) As far as it goes, the folklore and factual material about Appalachia can be fascinating. (For instance, this book gave me my first knowledge of the Melungeons, a group featured particularly in "Melungeon-Colored.")
However, all regions are home to good, evil and in-between people, and they all have their positive and negative aspects. Writers may focus on one or the other, or seek a balance. Haun's focus here is wholly on the region's darkest side; the Kanipes (or at least the males of the family; the women are often drawn more positively) are definitely among the more unpleasant denizens of the mountains. Running themes in the narratives are things like murder, abortion and infanticide; incest, infidelity and other types of sexual immorality, male chauvinism and misogyny, spousal abuse, and general sexism; vicious racism; family dysfunction; and assorted anti-social behaviors. And Haun's literary vision is darkly pessimistic: bad things happen to good people (and to everybody else), if good things happen, they're so rare I don't recall any, and about the best victory characters can expect over the misery of life is surviving through it. (A certain strand of Appalachian-set fiction historically tended to treat the mountain folk as grotesques, for the entertainment of lowland-dwelling "normal" people; it's probably not too far from the mark to view this book in the context of that tradition.) This wasn't really my cup of tea. (For a more appealing, and more balanced, approach to Appalachia through short fiction, I'd recommend Jesse Stuart's Clearing in the Sky & Other Stories.)...more
Although I'd never added it to my bookshelves until this week, this is the textbook I used for 10th-grade English classes when we home-schooled our giAlthough I'd never added it to my bookshelves until this week, this is the textbook I used for 10th-grade English classes when we home-schooled our girls. Originally, I added it as "to-read," only because I couldn't recall for certain if I'd read the entire text. However, I've certainly read (and remember very well!) the lion's share of it. So, I've decided that I've read it sufficiently to go ahead and review it, with that caveat, rather than try to go back later and read every selection I don't distinctly remember. (In the case of those that are just excerpted snippets from longer works, my usual practice would be to skip over those anyway.)
In American high school education, the junior and senior English classes traditionally consist of survey courses in American and British literature, respectively. The sophomore year (10th grade) prepares for this by a broader course in the appreciation of literature in general. This is designed as a textbook for that course and, like most such, consists almost entirely of literary selections (152 of them, in this case) ranging from the Bible to the 20th century, each one followed by a few intelligent discussion questions and in most cases by a short bio-critical paragraph about the author, if known. (It is indexed by authors and titles, and has two glossaries, one of literary terms and one of words in the various selections that students may not have encountered before.) It is not designed for systematic coverage of world literature or any particular national literary tradition, nor does it include blocs of secondary didactic material. Rather, it's a straightforward sampler of good literature, designed to awaken and whet the interest and appetite of students who have the potential to appreciate it.
A Beka Books is the publishing arm of Pensacola Christian College, specializing in textbooks for Christian schools and homeschoolers. (No information is supplied on editor Anderson, but I'm assuming she may have been affiliated with PCC.) However, the scope of the work isn't limited to works with religious themes, or by Christian authors. A number of the latter are represented (including Leo Tolstoy, John Cardinal Newman, John Milton, John Bunyan, and St. Augustine); but so are a number of secular or non-Christian writers, such as Thomas Hardy, Walt Whitman, Emerson, and A. E. Housman. As an epigraph for the book, Anderson chose Philippians 4:8, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." She took this to heart by including worthy works of literature regardless of their source. The majority of the 111 known authors (some, especially among the poets, are represented more than once) are from the 19th or 20th centuries, and most are American or British; but several other European countries are also represented.
Structurally, the organization is topical, rather than by types of literature or chronology; Anderson selected ten broad themes (hence the title) --Truth and Wisdom, Courage, Humility, Justice, Temperance, Beauty, Joy and Peace, Faith and Hope, Love, and Time and Eternity-- and arranged blocs of selections under each heading that she felt were related to it. (With no secondary discussion, the relationships aren't explained; if they aren't obvious, teachers/students can try to analyze them for themselves, or do as I did and just ignore the bloc arrangement and consider each selection more or less independently.)
If I count correctly, 30 short stories are included. (A few selections from The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, adapted as prose stories, are included, too, as is one from Charles and Mary Lamb's similarly handled Tales from Shakespeare.) Some of these are familiar classics, like "The Necklace" by Maupassant, Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without a Country" and O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." Other favorites of mine that I encountered here for the first time are Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Mona Gardner's 1942 masterpiece "The Dinner Party" (short enough that today we might call it a "flash fiction" --but dynamite can come in small containers!), O. Henry's "The Last Leaf," Pedro Alarcon's "The Stub-Book," and my first introduction to Saki, "The Interlopers." (And a powerful introduction that was; but no spoilers here!) Other tales worth special mention are Hawthorne's "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment;" "If I Live till Sundown," a Civil War story by Henry Woodfin Grady; and "A Start in Life," by neglected 20th-century Iowa regional Realist Ruth Suckow. (Her novel The Folks is in the BC library, and I want to read it sometime.) Hemingway's "A Day's Wait" is superior to most of his work, IMO. But I don't recall any stories here that impressed me as poorly done. There are also excerpts from a few novels, such as Tom Sawyer and Don Quixote.
Nonfiction prose accounts for 19 selections. These are mostly excepts from historical or autobiographical works, like Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery or Washington Irving's The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (though Thomas a Kempis' medieval classic The Imitation of Christ is also excerpted), with one or two self-contained essays like Helen Keller's "Three Days to See." I did read the latter and found it worthwhile, though I skipped the excerpts. Some historical accounts that can stand alone also make interesting reading. On the dramatic side, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is represented by an excerpted scene, but there are a few one-act plays, including a 1968 dramatic adaptation of a scene from Dickens' Great Expectations. The best of these, in my estimation, is "The Finger of God" by Percival Wilde.
The rest of the material here is poetry. Longfellow's Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie is included in an abridged version; I didn't read this, but I want to read the whole thing someday. The rest of what we have here is a potpourri of good poetry (some of it great poetry), mostly short, from the likes of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, etc. Some of these gems, such as Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar," I'd read before, others (like Hardy's priceless "The Oxen") were new discoveries.
There are newer editions of this text listed on Goodreads; but since truly good literature doesn't become dated with time, I'd say that even this 1979 edition would be perfectly serviceable as a textbook for the sort of course it was designed for. I'd recommend it to any schoolteacher or homeschooling parent (Christian or not --as I noted, the content isn't sectarian, and the editor doesn't preach) looking for such a resource, or for anyone wanting to do independent study of this type. (That could include readers young and old --very few of the selections here were written with younger readers particularly in mind.) It would also be a treasure trove for someone looking for an anthology of general literature to just kick back and read for pleasure!...more
Note: When I originally attempted, back in 2008, to add this book to my Goodreads shelves, it had already been a long time since I read it, and I coulNote: When I originally attempted, back in 2008, to add this book to my Goodreads shelves, it had already been a long time since I read it, and I could recall only the title, not the author's name. As a result, I wound up for a long time confusing it with Poltergeist! by Colin Wilson (which I've never read). However, I've recently examined both books, and confirmed that this is the one I actually remembered.
Author Roll was a serious scientist, who spent much of his career as part of the pioneering research program in parapsychology at Duke Univ. (long headed by J. B. Rhine, who contributes a foreword here). Between 1958 and 1968 (roughly) he was involved in several investigations of "poltergeist" phenomena (i.e., buildings, usually occupied houses, that are plagued primarily by objects moving --and often flying through the air-- without human touch). Most of these studies took place in the U.S. (one of them in Indianapolis, where my wife and I happened to be living when I read the book!), but he also did some field observation in Europe. (The Indianapolis case was unusual in that one of the victims also experienced puncture wounds and teeth marks inflicted without a visible source.) He also makes reference to earlier historical reports of similar phenomena, going back to 858 A.D., and to a few investigations by contemporary European researchers that he did not personally witness. The modern field research, and the phenomena observed, is described in exact and considerable detail. Roll and his cohorts were not unduly credulous and did not automatically accept reports as genuine (indeed, he devotes a chapter to "ersatz" poltergeist claims). The phenomena observed first-hand, which makes up the bulk of the book, is difficult if not impossible to dismiss as fraudulent, unless the person doing the dismissing has an a priori commitment to the impossibility of unexplained phenomena which trumps ANY empirical evidence of any sort. That type of dogmatic commitment is, IMO, more divorced from reality and more inimical to the spirit of genuine science than the open-mindedness it rejects.
Traditionally, this kind of phenomena was ascribed to ghosts or spirits, an explanation I don't personally accept (poltergeist is German for "noisy ghost" or "noisy spirit"). However, in the tradition of the Duke Univ. school of thought, with its interest in psi capabilities, Roll posits a different cause: unconscious telekinesis by a human agent who serves as the focus for the event. In this theory, disturbed family dynamics creating a considerable residue of frustration and hostility --which could be demonstrated in at least some of the studied cases-- provides a matrix for the phenomena. This is predicated on the hypothesis that all or most people have at least some low-level psi capability. This explanation is certainly very far from proven, and I wouldn't say that I "believe" it. But I do think that it can serve as a respect-worthy working hypothesis, for the present state of knowledge.
The author also provides an appendix distinguishing poltergeist from "haunting" phenomena (which he ascribes to hallucination), and giving how-to advice to would-be investigators of both. While the few black-and-white photographs in the main text aren't especially illuminating, the four-page bibliography for further reading appears to consist mostly of pretty solid scholarly sources. The reading level is appropriate for interested lay readers (although interested academics could read it as well), but Roll does make use of endnotes, and the book is indexed....more
Gifted author Andrew Seddon is both an able writer of science fiction and a serious student of Roman history and author of historical fiction set in tGifted author Andrew Seddon is both an able writer of science fiction and a serious student of Roman history and author of historical fiction set in that era. With this book, he brings the two interests together, and it's a marriage made in heaven. Several years ago, I beta read, and liked, most of the dozen tales that make up this story cycle (and Andrew was kind enough to mention me along with his other beta readers in the Acknowledgements here, though I wouldn't say I contributed that much!). When I accepted his offer of a review copy of the collection, I knew I'd like it; but I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of the achievement of the finished product. The addition of the bridging material and two final stories, and the slight edits to some of the other tales, shapes the whole into a genuine cycle, unified not just by sharing a protagonist but by an over-arching story arc, a journey of mind and soul that goes somewhere worth getting to.
Protagonist Robert Cragg's far-future "present" time is tied, by a couple of brief allusions, into the schema of the author's other SF (the galaxy is now at peace, and the evil Terran Hegemony has ended up in the garbage can of history -YAY!) A middle-aged (he's 40 when he makes his first time-trip; we're not told how old he is at the book's end, but a number of years have elapsed since then, and I'd guess around mid-50s) Roman Catholic intellectual who's fond of dogs, he has some similarities to his creator --though Andrew's doctorate is in medicine, not history. (He's an adult convert from high Anglicanism.) Robert has suffered an emotionally crushing blow --the loss, weeks apart, of both wife and daughter. Volunteering to be the first user of the new and untried time travel technology, for him, is a way of trying to escape from the pain of his present into a past where he can simply be a detached observer of people he doesn't have to care about. (But he'll find that reality doesn't work that way.)
The Roman Empire endured for half a millennium, centuries that saw epochal socio-political and cultural change, and it straddled three continents, comprising an area at least as large and varied as the continental U.S. The settings of the stories here range from 15 B.C. to 415 A.D., and from Britain to Palestine. There's ample scope for a variety of adventures, and the story plots will feature such things as earthquake, shipwreck, the horrors of ancient warfare (and we have front-row seats for two of the 1st century's grisliest), mob violence, religious persecution; we'll see gladiatorial combat, and the insides of a Roman dungeon. But for all that, the most important content of the stories is human character, human relationships, human growth and choices. And our narrator protagonist is brought naturally face to face with questions about meaning in a world of suffering and injustice, about theodicy, about providence and human responsibility. (It's worth noting that there are two theoretical approaches to time travel: one that sees the past as fluid, where time travelers can change what we know as the past and create alternate futures, and one that sees time as absolute, wherein if you do travel to the past, you can only do what you've already done. I find the latter more plausible, and that's also Andrew's approach. But that emphatically doesn't mean that your actions don't matter --it just means that they already have!)
All of Andrew's strengths as a writer are here: his wonderfully life-like, realistic characterizations; his just-right descriptive touches, not too much or too little; his smoothly integrated factual knowledge, his fine prose and emotionally evocative dimension, his deep and wide human sympathy. He's also a tough enough writer to face squarely into the tragic quality of life without flinching, and without losing hope. (A feature here that adds historical substance and realism to the stories is that all of them but the last have Dr. Cragg investigating the background behind an actual find of real-life Roman archaeology. A short appendix of notes gives information on these, and references for future reading.) IMO, this book may come to rank as Andrew's finest literary achievement (at least, to date!)....more