May 1st, 2023

I’ve maintained this book review blog since 2008. A visit to a used book store in Vancouver inspired me. They had a brand new book on display. As I bought it I asked how they happened to have a newly-published novel. They said they receive free books from publishers all the time.

It occurred to me that maybe I could get free books if I started a book review blog. So I transformed my existing freelance ad copywriter website into a book review blog. My domain name still worked quite nicely. And I did get free books. Maybe a dozen in all. Which I reviewed. Fairly. But that was in the very early years.

Being lazy, I decided it was easier to just buy the books I wanted to read. Then I would post links to my reviews on Facebook, and also include a link as part of my email signature. Plus I printed up a bunch of bookmarks to give out.

Over time I could tell that instead of gaining subscribers, readership was fairly dormant. This blog basically became a way to keep track of what I’d read. So I’m retiring it. Not transforming it.

Once my contract expires all this will vanish, I guess. Though I did create a document that lists all these books, authors, and a four-asterisk rating.

We’ll see what happens.

It’s been swell.

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The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

April 18th, 2023

By David Graeber and David Wengrow

The Short Take:This book is so information-dense it took me months to digest it–even partially. The basic premise is that the story we’ve been telling ourselves about the development of “civilization” is all wrong. The proof is there, but the pieces hadn’t been put together. Until now. This is a powerful, hopeful, exciting book. It’s also a lot too unpack.


The archeologist and anthropologist authors of this book looked at how our modern concept of the development of agriculture, cities, and governance was shaped by a conservative backlash against the Age of Enlightenment, when European thinkers saw how strikingly different functioning societies in other parts of the world truly were from the inequities and selfishness prevalent throughout Europe.

While the authors cite cities and communities from ancient China, Turkey, and other areas, the most striking examples come from the indigenous societies of the New World. When representatives of some of these communities encountered typical European thinking on how society should be structured they were literally appalled.

Conventional thinking as been that agriculture and city-building inevitably lead to something akin to the type of society we experience today. However, these authors bring together old and new evidence that demonstrate it doesn’t have to be that way at all.

Dominance through control of violent force (police/military), control of information (government or religious secrets), and other factors is not inevitable. Society can be–and has been–structured differently. And it’s possible to “unstick” ourselves from our current state and reimagine everything.

This book showcases the genuine diversity of past social orders and challenges us to reimagine our own futures.

A Little Plot:

That doesn’t really apply here.

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March 6th, 2023

By Christopher Moore

This sequel to Moore’s Noir is a lot of fun. However, it is set in 40s San Francisco and a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices of the day regarding race, gender, and more are on full display, so be aware. The plot is outrageous, including a talking dragon, a cab driver afraid to drive, a moon man, and assorted murders.


This book is pure Moore foolishness, so if you don’t care for him you won’t like this book. He offers madcap rides where the plot ricochets from point to point like a crazed pinball. But it’s his dialogue I really enjoy. For example, in a prologue he has a Qing Dynasty emperor talking like a character in an old gangster movie but with Shakespearean flair. It’s just fun to read.

Don’t expect the plot to make a lot of sense just accept that Moore will bring it together in the end. Even if he has to stretch some points to make it happen.

But when a book has both a talking dragon and a moon man in it, you can’t exactly expect normality.

A Little Plot:

There’s a new head of Vice on the San Francisco Police Force and he’s determined to clear out the clubs that cater to elements of the GLBTQ+ community. Then when one of those individuals is murdered, the police don’t seem to care. Somehow if falls to our hero, bartender Sammy Tiffin, to figure things out. And there a lot of things to figure out beyond murder.

For more information on Christopher Moore click here.

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The House in the Pines

February 12th, 2023

By Ana Reyes

The Short Take:

This thriller wasn’t all that thrilling nor was the protagonist all that interesting. I understand it’s very popular but I don’t see why.


Maya is a young woman with a host of problems and she feels they all stem from seeing her high school best friend die. In parallel story lines, this novel traces what lead to the friend’s death seven years ago and the path Maya takes to try and determine what really happened back then. The thriller part comes with her conviction that an old boyfriend somehow killed her friend and will now come after her. This belief is pretty far fetched, but then so is most of this book.

The author withholds so much information that instead of enjoying the way the story reveals itself in layers you feel toyed with and irritated. Then when you get to the end–where you’re expecting an explosive climax–the story sputters out like a weak sparkler. I don’t get why it was selected for Reese’s Book Club. It certainly didn’t make the cut with me.

A Little Plot:

Maya is trying to kick a serious Klonopin habit in secret, not even telling the man she lives with. She can’t sleep and watches random videos on line. She comes across one of a man and woman in a diner. The woman’s expression is vacant then she keels over dead. That’s when Maya realizes the man is the same one who was present when her best friend died the same way.

For more about Ana Reyes click here.

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The Tobacco Wives

January 16th, 2023

By Adele Myers

The Short Take:

Interesting look into the vital importance of tobacco to small communities in the 1940s. However, it reads like a young adult book and some elements of the story don’t work well.


In 2023, it’s hard to imagine a time when smoking was ubiquitous and even encouraged as a way to calm nerves and lose weight. That’s when this novel is set. In a small town the power of a tobacco company, its executives, and their wives was immense. At the same time, the power of those who farmed the tobacco or manufactured the cigarettes was non-existent.

A teenage girl is dropped into this environment and put in a situation where she must work to please the all-important tobacco wives while she also becomes aware of the health hazards inherent in every step of the life of a cigarette–from growing the plant through taking that first puff.

Myers’ descriptions of the tobacco processes are as fascinating as they are scary. However, the relationships between the girl and the town’s wealthy families doesn’t feel in the least bit real. It’s all too forced.

But it’s the writing that takes the book down several pegs. Contemporary language intrudes too often and overall the writing lacks finesse. A stronger edit could have improved this book substantially.

A Little Plot:

Maddie’s mother unceremoniously abandons her at her aunt’s house and leaves in search of a new husband. Aunt Etta is an in-demand seamstress to the tobacco wives and Maddie has serious sewing skills, too. But soon her skills are tested in ways she never imagined and her future becomes precarious.

For more about this book and it’s author click here.

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The Ink Black Heart

December 7th, 2022

By Robert Galbraith

The Short Take:

I have enjoyed all the prior Comoran Strike mysteries but this one was entirely too long at 1012 pages. Plus it felt like J. K. Rowling was more interested in making a statement about online trolling–which she hasexperienced–rather than crafting a challenging murder yarn.


Rowling has faced a mountain of criticism for her attacks on transgender women. In this novel, her dead heroine was subjected to the same treatment but for different reasons. When private eye partners, Robin Ellacott and Comoran Strike investigate the death much of their work takes place in web-based environments: private chat rooms, on-line game platforms, twitter feeds, and various websites. This adds the challenge of matching on-line avatar identities with possible suspects in the real world.

Ultimately, real world action suffers while the investigators are glued to their various devices, searching for answers. It makes for a rather tedious read, made more so by the shear number of pages.

The sexual/romantic tension between the two partners continues. The suffering caused by Strike’s artificial leg continues. It would be nice if Galbraith/Rowling brought some advancement to these plot devices, otherwise this line of mysteries feels forced and tired.

A Little Plot:

Edie Ledwell, creator of a popular cartoon, is being harassed on line by legions for allegedly “selling out,” led by the unknown Anomie. The continued harassment leads to her death, but is it suicide or murder?

For more about Galbraith, click here.

By the way, the British-made Strike TV series is quite good, with excellent casting. You can usually find it on one of the streaming services. Each book receives two to four episodes, making a quick binge.

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Profiles in Ignorance

November 2nd, 2022

By Andy Borowitz

The Short Take:

Borowitz typically writes satire for The New Yorker and does a great job. However, this is not a satire, though he still makes you laugh. This is an in depth look at the growth of real or feigned ignorance in America’s politicians, going back for generations. While Republicans receive the brunt of the criticism, there’s plenty to go around.


In the not-to-distant past ignorance was usually ridiculed (potatoe, anyone?). But over time that ridicule transformed into acceptance then the nation and the media went even further to the point where ignorance is now celebrated.

While the book includes examples of political–and voter–ignorance throughout American history (such as Andrew Jackson beating the superior John Quincy Adams) its primary focus is on the political scene of the last 60 years. Borowitz makes a point of shining a bright light on the advisors who work to alter their candidates images; sometimes in an attempt to hide ignorance but often packaging and even showcasing it. It’s fascinating how the same actors have played major roles in national politics from the Reagan era to our own. It’s also disheartening to learn how a candidate like Bill Clinton felt he needed to downplay his intellectual status by playing saxophone (poorly) and inviting comparisons to Elvis Presley (upbringing not singing). Why? Because almost every time the Democrats nominated a “learned” man for president they lost (talking about you, Adlai Stevenson).

The whole thing would be terrible depressing if he didn’t wrap up by acknowledging that he–like many of us– has been making ignorant decisions about how to support candidates and has now learned a better, smarter, more effective way.

I will say that the humor I enjoyed so much during the first two thirds of the book was not enough to buoy me up towards the end but I’m glad I took the journey.

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Fairy Tale

October 14th, 2022

By Stephen King

While I admire Stephen King’s prodigious talent and output I’m not always enamored by what I read. But I very much enjoyed his version of a fairy tale, with its hints of The Wizard of Oz and a faithful execution of the “hero’s journey.”


I actually collect fairy tales (which seldom include fairies, by the way) and have at least four feet of them lined up in my office. This could have led to either love or hate for King’s newest. For me, it was all good. Even though it includes plenty of his signature scenes of horror you’ll also find plenty of magic, from a wise, red, over-sized grasshopper to a literal pot of gold.

In addition, the protagonist–a teenage boy–often notices how certain things remind him of other popular tales of adventure and fantasy. Those mentions sparked happy memories of the new worlds of wonder I discovered in books.

I don’t know if current events have left me largely inured to violence or if the fairy tale setting softened their impact in this novel. There is certainly plenty of death and destruction but it has an otherworldly feel to it, more Middle Earth than Ukraine.

Best of the, the protagonist is a worthy character, conscious of his own sins and shortcomings yet understanding of these flaws in others–to a point, at least.

I’m glad I took a chance and read this book. Stephen King made me happy.

A Little Plot:

Charlie Reade hears cries for help from his irascible neighbor, Howard Bowditch. Charlie’s help saves the man’s life but his elderly dog, Radar, needs looking after until he recovers. Their shared love for this animal leads to bonds that ultimately send Charlie on an adventure to another world.

For more about Stephen King, click here.

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September 10th, 2022

By Karen Joy Fowler

The Short Take:

This novel was fantastic. It focuses on the Booth family, which included several well-regarded actors in addition to the assassin John Wilkes Booth. It makes for compelling reading, revealing fascinating family dynamics, loves, jealousies, hopes, successes, scandals, and great losses.

A Little Plot:

Fowler did her research for this historical novel but admits that sometimes the stories that grew up around these family members were hard to separate from the facts. And, of course, she had to fill in the gaps, especially with the family’s oldest daughter, Rosalie, about whom little is known.

The same can’t be said about patriarch Junius Booth, considered by many to be the greatest actor of his time. His eccentricities were legendary, his capriciousness a continuing burden to his wife and their many children. Their lives were complicated but their love for each other was strong.

Beyond that, you can draw direct comparisons to the intense hatred and cultural divisions leading into the Civil War with our current, divided situation. When it comes to political actions and rhetoric Fowler uses only solid facts and actual words. It can be disturbing.

It’s no wonder this book was long-listed for the Booker Award (as of this date). It’s a giant step forward from The Jane Austin Book Club, which felt like formulaic book club material. This one is steeped in passion as it carries the story forward through the eyes of one Booth sibling after another, giving you different perspectives on each family member and their respective roles.

It is a powerhouse.

A Little Plot:

Though Junius Booth makes his living on stages in important American cities, his family lives in a rural setting, where a series of births and deaths reshape relationships within the family and with their farming neighbors. It’s a strange paradox.

For more about Fowler and her books click here.

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August 27th, 2022

By Tara M. Stringfellow

The Short Take:

As a person with life-long ties to Memphis I was excited about this book: an epic tale exploring three generations of Memphis Black women, with all their fears, tragedies, and triumphs. I wanted to celebrate this Memphis author and her work, which had already received a lot of acclaim. I was sadly disappointed.


To start with, Stringfellow didn’t do her homework. She wrote about throngs of Black people on Beale Street in 1978. I love Beale Street but in the late 70s it was a ghost town. That was about the lowest point in its long history.

Then she described scaling a catfish and the scales catching the lights and colors of the room. Which sounded pretty except for the fact that catfish do not have scales. And the characters keep referring to their poverty yet two of them went to Rhodes College for a nursing degree. Rhodes college is a pricy (and well respected) liberal arts college which should have been their last choice. Memphis is and was a major medical center with numerous more affordable programs. Things like this kept taking me out of the story. Maybe I would have liked it more if I were from Denver.

Beyond that, the constant jumps between major characters and timelines made it hard to relate to any of them. Their stories were highly fractured. In fact the pacing of this novel felt more like a thriller, leaving one character at a cliff-hanger moment to veer off to another time and person then do the same there.

My favorite parts were the descriptions of the home that all three generations of women and their families lived in at various times. Both the exterior and interior descriptions were vivid and lyrical, putting Stringfellow’s poetic side on fine display.

A Little Plot:

The book starts in 1995 with a woman and her two daughters returning to the Memphis home in which she was raised. However, the story will stretch back to the 1920s and on to contemporary times.

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June 2023