Monday, March 25, 2013

Booknote: The New Deadwardians

This was a fun graphic novel, so I figured I would share my review as I posted it to my GoodReads profile.

The New DeadwardiansThe New Deadwardians by Dan Abnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though it deals with zombies and vampires, I tagged it for my "mystery and detective" shelf because it is more of a mystery tale than an actual horror tale, plus the gore factor is pretty minimal. Considering the crappy way zombies and vampires have been handled lately, this is actually a pretty good tale that offers a pretty refreshing take on both. The premise is this: during the reign of Queen Victoria, a zombie outbreak occurs. England is now segregated with zombie areas, human areas, and then higher class vampire areas separated. Yes, you see, in order to avoid becoming zombies, the higher classes have voluntarily taken "the cure," a.k.a. becoming vampires. So, we have the vampires (known as "the Young"), the zombies (known as the "restless"), and everyone else (called "Brights"). In the midst of this we have our protagonist, a young chief inspector from Scotland Yard who is the last detective assigned to the Murders Desk. After all, with most of the population undead somehow, there are not too many murders happening.

But a murder does happen when a Young is found dead in a river shore. How is that possible? The corpse does not show the usual causes of vampire death: decapitation, impalement of the heart, or burning, and he is missing a hand. What is going on? As our vampire detective strives to find the answers, he finds that the case touches on the highest echelons of British society and government. Some do not really wish for him to learn the truth. Abnett puts together a pretty good Edwardian era murder mystery. At the same time, he also does some very good world building, and we get a very good picture of what this new chaotic world is like. Vampires here are handled pretty well and in a pretty humane way. Our protagonist pretty much shows the price of being immortal.

Overall, this is definitely a must read graphic novel. It is labeled for mature readers, probably due to some brief nudity scenes.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Booknote: Fulgrim

This is my review of the book as I posted it to my GoodReads profile. If you are a fan of Warhammer 40,000, you will probably enjoy the Horus Heresy series. This volume is a good addition to that series.

Fulgrim (The Horus Heresy, #5)Fulgrim by Graham McNeill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fall of Fulgrim, the Primarch of the Emperor's Children legion, is tragic and quite dramatic. It is a descent into madness driven by dark forces for a figure that was brilliant and good for starters. And like a good tragedy, you know that there is no stopping the fates once they get going.

Fulgrim is the Primarch of the Emperor's Children, one of the legions of the Emperor of Mankind fighting in the Great Crusade to unify the worlds of men. The Emperor's Children pride themselves in their pursuit of perfection. Unlike other legions, they seek the best and most perfect way to go into combat. They are also haughty and proud. We have met some of their members in previous novels. We met Lucius, the skilled but arrogant swordsman that, in my case, I keep waiting to see him get what is coming to him. Saul Tarvitz, the captain of the 10th Company of the Emperor's Children who is seen as nothing more than a line officer. We have seen Saul in previous novels, so if you have read those, you know of his gallant fate. There are also some new people, and naturally, this is Fulgrim's novel, so he stands larger than life. But the tale is not only about Fulgrim; it is also about his bonds of brotherhood. He is close to Ferrus Manus, the Primarch of the Iron Hands. They are so close that in fact they forged weapons for each other at one point. Fulgrim betrays his brother in arms in a truly tragic way full of pathos. This is probably one of the best passages in the book leading then to their inevitable confrontation. And there are confrontations in this book.

We get to see the battle of Isstvan III, but McNeill glosses over it, and if you have read the previous novels, then you know of how Horus betrayed and massacred so many Astartes and their military support units. Now a new battle is coming to Isstvan V as legions loyal to the Emperor come to bring reckoning to Horus. But will they succeed in defeating Horus? Or will the wily traitor have yet another trap at hand? I leave that to the readers to find out saying it will be worth reading.

I did not give the book that fifth star because the text is a bit drawn out at times. The book clocks in a bit over 500 pages, and I found it a bit too long. I think a little editing could have made for a leaner, and still good, book. The strength of the book lies in the strong tragic sense of the fall of Fulgrim into darkness and his betrayal of Ferrus Manus. This is almost as good as any Shakespearean tragedy. But madness and darkness do not come to Fulgrim alone. His whole fleet, including the remembrancers are affected as well and fall as well into the darkness of Chaos (Chaos still something that we are gradually learning about in the setting of the 31st Millennium). Adding to this, McNeill does use some very good descriptive detail in the passages about the artists which reinforce the impending doom.

Overall, the book is a good addition to the series. It has a good blend of intrigue and action, though the intrigue is not as good as previous novels. I think this is no fault of the author. We already know as readers much of what is to happen already; we are seeing it from a different point of view. This on the one hand is interesting, but I can see where some readers might find it repetitive over time. Fulgrim is quite the figure, and his fall is really a tale worth reading. The author does manage to continue the style and feel of previous books, which means there is good consistency. For fans, I think this is a very good book. For those like me discovering the Horus Heresy series, I think this is a good addition and a good read. It is one I recommend, and I will certainly go look for the next one.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Reading about the reading life, March 15, 2013

A few items I read a while back that I found interesting.

  • A very interesting overview of how Spanish and Latin American literature in translation is doing in China. Wow, the Chinese are reading our literature. How cool is that? The article features some nice photos of Chinese editions of these classics, which are neat to look at. Now, all we need to do is send them some Puerto Rican literature to add to their reading. Maybe start with some Enrique Laguerre, Luis Rafael S├ínchez, and Ana Lydia Vega among others. By the way, there is a shortage of translators from Spanish to Chinese. If I knew Chinese, I'd consider such a job, but the article says the work is notoriously underpaid. Oh well, this librarian can always dream a little. Story via the Global Times (China).
  • A while back, I was helping out a colleague at MPOW with some collection weeding (for my non-librarian readers, that is when libraries remove from the collections books that may be out of date, that have not circulated for a certain amount of time, or due to some other criteria) when we came across some books with some nice marbled paper. A pity the books had to go; they were beautifully crafted. Here, via the Fine Books & Collections blog, is a short piece on "Beautiful Marbled Papers." Yes, there are still people dedicated to that craft.
  • Via Book Riot blog, you can find some neat photos in "a Brief History of American Pictures."
  • Via Irrawaddy Magazine, a story of a man who started out as a teacher and is now a bookseller in Burma. The best line for me from the article, when he is asked about the transition from teacher, which apparently is pretty well-regarded in Burma, to street vendor (how he started selling books) is this: "I believe there’s no shame in making an honest living." True words indeed. For me, book selling always seems like a viable career alternative, or rather, one I would not mind doing but sadly would not pay well, especially in this economy. Again, this librarian can dream a little.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Campus Event: Vandana Shiva on "Making Peace with the Earth"

This event is part if the campus Convocation Series. Vandana Shiva spoke on campus on February 28, 2013. The following are my notes from the event. Any comments I make are in parenthesis:

  • A culture of greed is celebrated in our world. For a moment, it seemed that something would be different after the 1992 Earth Summit. But we need to worry. Global Warming causing climate chaos: U.S. facing historical drought, intensity of hurricanes increasing around the world. This a result of the war against the Earth. 
  • Wars are about seizing the resources of others. Here is a little known effect of the War in Iraq: there is new local legislation banning the use of local seeds there. Why? To require farmers to use Monsanto seeds. (I had to look this up, but here is an account out of AlterNet and another from GRAIN).
  • The closing of the commons. Loss to societies as common spaces are privatized by corporations.
  • Biodiversity and cultural diversity go hand in hand. The planet is not just home to human beings. Man is part of the Earth, not an owner of it. 
  • The concept of the 7th generation is missing: thinking of acting with consideration of the future and avoiding harm if possible. (i.e., think at least seven generations down the road before you do something). 
  • Eco-apartheid exists today. But how can we see ourselves as separate from nature? Scientific illusions make nature into mere matter, dead; thus, it can be exploited. Native peoples and their notions of Mother Earth are seen as obstacles to civilization. But this empty Earth idea was nothing more than a license to ravish and destroy the Earth. The new philosophy now is to destroy the Earth for "growth" and cash. 
  • Creating societies of non-producers. For the U.S., notice all the things made in China. Wall Street does not really produce anything, other than electronic money, what grew into financial speculation. The subprime crisis thus took out various nations with it. We see a growth of fictional economies. 
  • The idea of the rich white male has transformed into the corporation as a person. See the Citizens United decision (case information from SCOTUS blog; from Open Secrets). We are seeing democracy moving from being by, for the people, and of the people to by, for, and of the corporations. 
  • Nutrionism: taking a food process and adding chemistry to it (messing it up in the process). This causes issues like mad cow disease, which was really caused by a mutated/twisted protein. 
  • The labeling of food is simply your democratic right to know what you are eating. It is why companies like Monsanto and Pepsi fight against labeling legislation. 
  • See her book, Soil, Not Oil. (Our library has it, so I will be reading it soon. Review may be forthcoming). 
  • Danger of an anonymous food system. 
  • Making peace with the planet: 
    • Recognize that the planet is alive. This thinking is re-emerging in Bolivia, for instance, with Evo Morales and his advocacy along with others for Earth rights. 
    • Our own rights depend on the Earth. We need clean water, clean air, etc. We prosper in harmony with the Earth. 
    • We need to shift away from the idea of limitless growth on a limited planet. Taking more than what you need is theft as it takes from others. Consumer cultures create throwaway cultures.
  • The web of life is a food web; we are connected by food. We need to go home to community. We need an expansion of our sense of Earth as family. The art of money making is killing the art of living. We need to support and build up the art of living instead. While we shrink our ecological footprint, we must enlarge our awareness of Earth. We must plant seeds of compassion and love. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Booknote: Girls Who Score

I do enjoy reading erotica now and then, and so does The Better Half. However, it is not something I have reviewed in the blog before, though I do always post the reviews on my GoodReads. I figured I would give it a try and post an erotica review now and then to go along with all the other kinds of books I read. I do try to read broadly, so why not reflect it here? Besides I do enjoy this kind of book.

So, let's start with this one:

Girls Who Score: Hot Lesbian EroticaGirls Who Score: Hot Lesbian Erotica by Ily Goyanes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished reading this anthology last night. It is a lesbian erotica collection with a sports and female athletes theme. Jocks do have a prominent presence, so I will admit I was a bit skeptical as jocks are not always my thing. However, there is no need to worry. This anthology features 16 stories by authors presenting tales of various female athletes and the women who admire and crave them, or the female athletes who admire and crave other women. I think readers who enjoy the themes of sports and female athletes will find something appealing in the variety of takes on the female athlete: soccer, tennis, swimming and hockey are some of the sports represented in the anthology. There are also boxers, ice skaters, and even classical era female gladiators. As for the sensual element, you will find tales that go from sweet to very hot and heavy to no holds barred sex. I can say that some stories left me wanting more, and that is a good thing. Some stories worked for me better than others, but overall this collection's stories are smart and well-written.

Let me take some time to comment on some of the stories that I really liked:

* Gina Marie's "Blood Lust" was the story of the female boxers. It was a sensual story. It also had a small twist where I thought the story would take one direction. Instead, the story went in a different and very delicious route. This was one of my favorites.

* Ily Goyanes, the anthology's editor, gives us the story of an athlete and an artists in "No, Tell Me How You Really Feel." I really appreciated how Goyanes, largely using the artist's point of view, set up the contrast between the two women and led us to a hot and erotic scene. It build up a lot, but when it got there...oh boy! This is a tale that left me wanting more.

* Kiki De Lovely's "Facing the Music" about a lesbian couple attending a high school reunion was amusing. I think readers who have faced this prospect of attending a high school reunion will relate, especially if the idea is not the most appealing thing. For me, the story worked because the characters fall within my generation, so some of the pop culture references made me feel at home. This story does feature a very nice, quick and hot scene that makes it well worth it.

* And I definitely have to mention Paisley Smith's "Cymone's Dominatrix." I was not expecting a story about female gladiators in some ancient time given all the other stories are more contemporary in setting. I am glad the editor included it. If you like some kink, some dominance and submission between strong females in a very hot, sensually charged setting, then this is the story for you. Add to it that the tale is very well-written with a lot of detail, and you can see this story is not just an erotic story; it is a well-crafted fantasy. As for the tale's end, all I will say is it reminded me of Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or The Tiger," and I mean that as a compliment.

Overall, if female athletes are your thing, if you fantasize about that strong, confident female at the gym or the soccer field, or maybe you find ice skaters hot, this is a collection for you.

(In compliance with FTC rules, also known as keeping The Man happy, I disclose this book was provided to me by the publisher for review purposes).

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Campus Event: Matthew Fox on "How to Fall in Love with the Spite of History."

This event is part of Berea College's Convocation series, and it took place on September 27, 2012. Yes, I am still catching up on notes. Matthew Fox has a Wikipedia entry, which gives a bit more information about him and his work. These are my notes from the event:

  • "We are the first species that can choose not to go extinct." He was quoting a biologist. We do need to make that choice. 
  • The question: how do we fall in love with the world again? 
  • Science is not value free. It has to remind us of the beauty of which we are all a part of. 
  • Aesthetics, the philosophy of beauty, has been neglected. Yet beauty is everywhere. It brings us all together. As bell hooks says, the next revolution will be one of aesthetics. 
  • If you can talk, you are an artist. The poet in you is the lover in you. Fall in love at least three times a day-- with people, animals, poetry, art, so on. There is plenty of loveability in the world.
  • Service is about cutting ropes and liberating others. 
  • Book suggested: Jesus and the Disinherited.
  • Spirituality is about who you really are and allowing others to discover that. 
  • Einstein saw intuitive mind as a sacred gift and the rational mind as a servant. The rational is the one usually honored while the intuitive is neglected. We need a balance. 
  • Talking about wisdom in a university is a bit like talking about chastity in a brothel. We forget that university is about discovering the universe. Intuition tells us the purpose of life. Ask how the universe is asking you to serve. 
  • We need to relearn to love our bodies. We share bodies in common with other creatures, our ancestors, so on. Yet our society sends such mixed, often negative messages, about the body. If you love your body, you would grow conscious of what you put in it and what you need to care for it. Want to know how sacred food, water, or sex are? Fast (or abstain) for a while. 
  • We need to be warriors. Warriors are lovers and prophets (by the way, now that I think about it, this also reminds me of some Paulo Coelho's ideas, see for instance Manual del Guerrero de la Luz. Link to my GoodReads review). Warriors speak out and make a stand. A mere soldier is not a warrior; a soldier is simply told to kill or be killed. We are here to give out our wisdom, love, service. But to do this, you must fall in love, discern what you really fall in love with, what you cherish. This is what makes us human. How do we know? By silence and reflection. 
  • In the end, all religions are trying to teach us about compassion. 
  • Meditation, which calms the reptilian brain, is about being still. Meditation can take various forms. Meditation is good for the mammal brain, where compassion resides. 
  • When you fall in love, you contemplate the beloved. To contemplate, you have to be still. In fact, being still is the most radical thing you can do. Love speaks to us in stillness. 
  • Three lessons for life: 
    • Pay attention. 
    • Be astonished. 
    • Share your astonishment.