Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men, Harold Schechter

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Paperback, 334 pages
Little A

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Although I am a insatiable true-crime enthusiast, this was actually my first Harold Schecther read. Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men was a thrilling, and supremely informative dive into the life and crimes of the Lady Bluebeard of La Porte, Indiana. I was first exposed to the story of Belle Gunness from an episode of the Lore Podcast with Aaron Mahnke. The episode titled, “Negative Consequences,” detailed how Gunness lured men with the prospect of matrimony and wealth, but instead planted them six-feet under in the hog lot. While it was a quick glimpse into the story, it planted that seeds in my mind which would later lead me to read the Harold Schecther book. Hell’s Princess, in kindle format this time, was well formatted, with moving titles and picture scenes which helped set a sinister mood for the harrowing tale of the infamous murderess. In some ways, the book reads similarly to The Devil in the White City (which I just realized that I haven’t written my review for!). The story pace is very slow, and builds up with a significant frontload of history and contextual information intent on setting the scene. The book even has its own sort of Moby Dick ‘history of whaling’ section when it gives something of a brief history of Nordic Europeans in the midwest (there are a lot of inland vikings here). The book is also loaded with newspaper clippings, and advertisements that really help send a reader back to early 19th century Midwestern America. You’ll also get a decent primer on early 19th century law practices, as a lot of courtroom drama plays out through the story.

Overall, I give Hell’s Princess 4 out of 5 stars. The book was immensely informative, and helped sate my incessant true crime bent. I would definitely class this as a must read for any true-crime enthusiast looking to round out their collection of horrible trivia knowledge.

A Casual Review: The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher

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Overall Score: ★★★★ – Great Series, have read multiple times.

So for many of my very few readers, you will all know that I initially started this blog reviewing each of the Dresden Files novels. I had a long commute to my job, and was listening through them on audiobook. At the time, I was doing my best to review each of them individually, but I soon fell behind in my reviews, and instead blitzed through the remaining novels. Having finished the novels significantly ahead of my reviews, I found that it was a huge drag to try and work through the rest. Attempting to review fifteen books of a series in which the story gradually develops, but generally the events are episodic was very tedious and wore me out. That being said, I am now going to take a final moment to review all of the Dresden novels in blurb format so that I can at least consider that chapter of my blog covered.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)
Paperback, 355 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★1/2 – Good book, an enjoyable one-time read (but I would probably read it again)

Book #1, the first foray into the wild wizard Harry Dresden’s magically complicated existence. The beginning of this novel is very amusing, and the general story is gentle on a reader. Jim Butcher hadn’t quite worked out all the rules of magic yet, so there are often a few inconsistencies in the earlier novels, but otherwise it is a comfortable read.

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)
Paperback, 401 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★1/2 – Good book, an enjoyable one-time read (but I would probably read it again)

Book #2, This is a real character building book, with Dresden and Lieutenant Murphy needing to work out their differences, or else kiss that friendship goodbye. This book is still very episodic as far as the novels go, things really don’t pick up until book #3. Still a fun read, and it starts to set the scene for how dangerous the magical world really can be.  

Grave Peril (The Dresden Files #3)
Paperback, 378 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #3, this book is not only where I first started the series, it is also where the primary conflict of the novels really takes off (and when Harry starts to actually throw his wizardly weight around). Lots of interesting characters, Jim Butcher really figured out what he was doing around this book.

Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4)
Paperback, 449 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #4, the start of this book is wonderful, and that tone maintains while you cruise through the novel. Lots of fey, and plenty of factions to mess with.

Death Masks (Dresden Files #5)
Paperback, 451 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★1/2 – Good book, an enjoyable one-time read (but I would probably read it again)

Book #5, this book is chock-a-block with factions and figures, and yet the pace is remarkably slow. There was a startling amount dialogue and not much action for how much shit was about to hit the fan. Still enjoyed the novel, but it was underwhelming for the series thus far.

Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)
Paperback, 439 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★1/2 – Good book, an enjoyable one-time read (but I would probably read it again)

Book #6, 3.5 stars out of 5, slow paced through much of the novel but had a radical finish. Great characters and a better introduction to the White Court of vampires.

Dead Beat (Dresden Files #7)
Paperback, 517 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★★ – Excellent book. A favourite. Would read annually.

Book #7, the best Dresden book in the entire series. This book was such an entertaining romp, and I look forward to it on every reread.

Proven Guilty (Dresden Files #8)
Paperback, 489 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #8, you ever wanted to know how the wizard legal system works? Well this is the right primer on magical lawyering. 4 stars out of 5 for a heartfelt and intense book in the series.

White Night (Dresden Files #9)
Paperback, 409 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★1/2 – Good book, an enjoyable one-time read (but I would probably read it again).

Book #9, White Night really drags its feet, maybe less than Death Masks, but similar enough to bother me. The real clincher here is that White Night does an excellent job of character development, with many of the characters really putting in the effort to fight with their inner demons (a statement far less metaphorical in Jim Butcher’s world). However, much of the novel really happens only during the last few chapter. It always feels bad to make the cliché of “it gets better,” but it really does get better.

Small Favor (Dresden Files #10)
Paperback, 420 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #10, This book was very entertaining, and actually kind of lighthearted for the most part. Despite the intensity of the series at this point (it really doesn’t let up at all in the final books), the story manages to make you smile little by little.

Turn Coat (Dresden Files #11)
Paperback, 420 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #11, This book is incredible. Cathartic and depressing are the best descriptors for the way this novel goes. A great part of the series, and a wonderful revisitation for some of my favourite characters.

Changes (Dresden Files #12)
Paperback, 420 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #12, if there was ever a climax to anything, this book really pulls a lot of strings together. If you were worried about a lot of bits and pieces of the series that were needing attention, this book does a lot of good working addressing things.

Ghost Story (Dresden Files #13)
Paperback, 481 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★ – Good book, an enjoyable one-time read.

Book #13, and generally my least favorite of the Dresden series. It suffers from a significant shift in the general paradigm of the stories, which is understandable considering the events of the previous novel. It’s just a drastic shift that takes a lot to get used to, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I haven’t yet reread it to be honest, but I think it does deserve a re-look.

Cold Days (Dresden Files #14)
Paperback, 515 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #14, Speaking of paradigm shifts, things just keep getting wilder in the Dresden series. This book is just a high-speed adrenaline blast from start to finish. In a way, the final two books really feel like one collective rising action, one can only hope that the last book in the series ties everything together.

Skin Game (Dresden Files #15)
Paperback, 454 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★ – Great book, would read again.

Book #15, Last of the series thus far, and what a wild trip it has been. This book has a bunch of awesome reveals, and I greatly enjoyed reading it. Now we just need to sit and wait for Jim Butcher to finish his work and give us the end.

Final Notes on the Dresden Series:

Overall the series was great fun to read.

Even better to listen to — James Marsters does an absolutely spectacular job.

Harry Dresden is a bit problematic, and the books have a little bit of an age problem. That being said, Dresden’s sexism tones down somewhat as the series progresses, which is nice and can be attributed to his progression of character (and hopefully Butcher’s as well).

I have at this point re-listened to most of the books in the series at least once, some more than once (ahem, Dead Beat). The books are a lot of fun to listen to, and again James Marsters is brilliant in his acting. He really IS Harry Dresden.

Lastly, I will simply leave with a ranking post of the series from least enjoyed, to most enjoyed of the series. The later books are difficult to rank, simply because most of them are really just that good, but I have done my best here to list them as I saw fit.

15. Ghost Story (#13)

14. Death Masks (#5)

13. Fool Moon (#2)

12. Blood Rites (#6)

11. White Night (#9)

10. Storm Front (#1)

9. Proven Guilty (#8)

8. Turncoat (#11)

7. Skin Game (#15)

6. Changes (#12)

5.  Cold Days (#14)

4. Grave Peril (#3)

3. Summer Night (#4)

2. Small Favor (#10)

1. Dead Beat (#7)

 

Dead Beat (Dresden Files #7), Jim Butcher

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Paperback, 517 pages
Penguin ROC

★★★★★ – Excellent book. A favourite. Would read annually.

It would appear that Chicago is developing a bit of a zombie problem, and this is putting a foul smell in local professional wizard Harry Dresden’s nose. Dead Beat is the 7th installment of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, and it truly is a romp through the supernatural circus. Dresden learns that a particularly dislikable vampire is threatening to hurt his friends unless he finds and delivers an immensely powerful book. With a no-questions-asked clause to this blackmail-bound contract, Harry has no choice but to renew his library card and start snooping around. Much to Dresden’s displeasure, the book is also being hunted by a ragtag gang of rival sorcerers who have no reservations about dismembering anyone in their way. Book 7 has an enormous cast of new and interesting characters, as well as many of our close favourites, such as Thomas, and Butters. Jim Butcher sets the field with conflicting interests galore, and let’s Dresden fall uncomfortably into the middle of it all.

Dead Beat is hands down my favourite Dresden Files story. The novel is the most memorable of the series simply for the sheer number of epic and unforgettable scenes throughout the narrative. As I stated previously, the story is also loaded with characters, and is certainly one of what I might start calling “Dresden All-Stars” stories.

Overall, I give Dead Beat a remarkable 5 stars out of five. I enjoyed it a great deal, and always look forward to re-reading this book in particular. Even for its significant length, Dead Beat is just a real banger of an adventure and never really slows down.

Again, listening to the audiobooks is also a magical treat only made possible by the wonderful narration of James Marsters.

Fear: Trump in the White House, Bob Woodward

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Hardcover, 420 pages
Simon & Schuster

★★★½ – Great book, an enjoyable one-time read.

Fear: Trump in the White House, is long-time political author Bob Woodward’s answer to the last two years of madness in the Oval Office. Woodward takes a deep dive into the White House, with interviews and recollections given (supposedly) by staffers and other contacts within the administration. Woodwards writes in such a way as to prevent the reader from accurately identifying who the source is, which makes the book far more interesting to read. It’s essentially written as a third person narrative. The integrity of Bob Woodward as an author and reporter makes the majority of this text seem credible. It is the nature of this credibility which makes this book equal parts amazing and terrifying. It paints a rather more moderate view of the general incompetence of the staffers of the Trump white house. Many of them appear to be far more intelligent than one would be led to believe, particularly when influenced by one’s own particular political bubble. Trump however, appears far more out of his depth than was imaginable. Woodward paints a picture of a bumbling, impulsive narcissist and liar, which is probably the most believable part of the entire book.

Something that I garnered from the reading which I did not expect was a feeling that Trump, apart from being unhinged and incompetent, is actually significantly more evil than I initially thought. It’s not simply a matter of him being a narcissist, Trump actively sews discord and chaos around himself. He enjoys social carnage, and seeing people go at each other’s throats. Woodward does seem to have an agenda, which is to shed light on how a president should not act, and how unfit for office Trump really is.

I give Fear: Trump in the White House a comfortable 3.5 stars out of five. I don’t think I will likely read it again, but I quite enjoyed it for the information as much as the visceral experience.

The Long Dark – A Hiatus

Hello all,

As you obviously can see, I took a bit of a long break from writing reviews.

I am currently in graduate school for Information Sciences, and it has completely eaten up all my time for reading and writing for pleasure. Fret not however, with summer rounding the bend, I hope to spend time once again reading and writing book reviews.

Come back to me, and enjoy the journey!

~Joshua

A Casual Review: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, Bruce Cameron

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Hardcover, 336 pages
Forge Books

★★★ – Good book; an enjoyable one-time read.

Hey ya’ll, I am returning once again to a life of book reviews being that I have a lot of down-time, and I desperately need some purpose while I wait for grad school to start up.

I initially picked up Bruce Cameron’s The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man because I kept seeing the title in the stacks at the library, and the absurdity of the rhyme just got extremely lodged in my brain.

The novel tracks the life of small town repoman, and hobbyist bookworm, Ruddy McCann. He’s a bit of a down-on-his luck sort of guy, who seems to just be plodding along one day at a time. Rather suddenly, Ruddy begins to hear the voice of a presumed dead realtor. What he and his family consider to be a case of career PTSD (apparently a relatively common repoman risk), turns into a high stakes murder mystery with a very interesting edge.

The language of the novel is pretty simple, which makes it uncomplicated and quite approachable. Its simplicity initially irked me, but I grew accustomed to it,and eventually enjoyed the more authentic small-town, rural feel to it.

For a book that I picked up on a whim due to its catchy title, I quite enjoyed it. I give The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man 3 out of 5 stars. The book surprised me with a unique and interesting plot, and was generally just a pleasure to read. 

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren

Lab Girl

Hardcover, 290 pages
Alfred A. Knopf

★★★★★ – Excellent book; a favourite; would read annually.

My #1 pick for books published in 2016, Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl is the charming memoir of a true woman of science. If you’re looking for a pleasant work of nonfiction, written by a brilliant female author, look no further. Jahren’s detailed and beautifully contemplative prose describes her life, beginning with her family upbringing in a small town in Minnesota. She cleverly retells her journey through academia, with a voice of educated, comfortable sarcasm and wit. Chapters are separated with short, scientific anecdotes about trees and plants; her writing shifting into a beautifully contemplative, poetic tone. She portrays herself with an incredible passion for science; expressing a somewhat manic obsession that so often drives lifelong researchers.

The book was not only a cozy memoir, but also an informative survey of basic plant sciences. Jahren’s descriptions of her plant studies tickled my own passing interests in botany and soil sciences. Most importantly is her underlying message for readers; namely that anyone can pursue science with the right outlook. To put it more simply, Jahren writes that science isn’t just fancy lab coats, and regimented experiments, it’s asking questions with the desire to learn. She also greatly stresses the perseverance of women in STEM fields. This book is a great appeal for women studying sciences, as well just pursuing the fields that they find themselves most passionate about. 

I give Lab Girl a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars. Hope Jahren has crafted an inspiring, and wonderfully well written memoir. She provides us with not only a glimpse into the world of academic research, but allows us a peek into the feelings of the people who live in that world.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

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Paperback, 518 pages
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

★★★★★ – Excellent book. A favourite. Would read annually.

Wow, just wow. Aside from minor discussions about The Hobbit, I don’t think I’ve done a five-star book review on my site yet. But, here we are.

Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was spectacular. We’re only 20 days into 2017, and I’ve already got a contender for my favourite book read this year. Book #1 of the Wayfarer series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was exactly what my SciFi escapist mind was yearning for. Think Firefly meets Star Trek, with a little MASS EFFECT thrown in there. The novel is a cozy SciFi romp through the futurist eyes of author Becky Chambers, and her wonderfully rich universe of aliens and space ships.

The Wayfarer is a tunneler ship. Her diverse and rowdy crew have one job, and that job is punching holes in the fabric of space-time. Without dropping too many spoilers, the story follows the crew as they complete a long-haul mission to connect a species that has been newly admitted to the Galactic Confederation (GC, for short, obviously), to GC space. The characters are so entertaining that they can’t help growing in a reader’s mind. The A.I. Lovey, for instance, is so charming that she really makes me long for the day when we all have robot assistants (not that I am yearning for my own, personal Her moment).

Becky Chambers has really kept me on my recent SciFi rails. Ever since I finished Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning (review coming when I figure out how to condense that complex novel into regular human words), I have been on a futurist space bender. More and more do I wish I lived in the day-of-tomorrow, and I have been energetically seeking SciFi escapist novels. Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet gets a solid 5 out of 5 stars because it truly was a joy to read, and will surely be a pleasure to read again.

A Casual Review: Series: Star Wars – Legacy of The Force

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#1 Betrayal, Aaron Allston
Paperback, 496 pages
Arrow

#2 Bloodlines, Karen Traviss
Paperback, 380 pages
Del Rey

#3 Tempest, Troy Denning
Paperback, 400 pages
Del Rey

#4 Exile, Aaron Allston
Paperback, 368 pages
Arrow

#5 Sacrifice, Karen Traviss
Paperback, 512 pages
Del Rey

#6 Inferno, Troy Denning
Paperback, 312 pages
Del Rey

#7 Fury, Aaron Allston
Paperback, 384 pages
Del Rey

#8 Revelation, Karen Travis
Paperback, 448 pages
Del Rey

#9 Invincible, Troy Denning
Hardcover, 320 pages
LucasBooks

Having finally finished reading through the Star Wars: Legacy of the Force novels, it is time to discuss the now-not-canon expanded Star Wars universe. I was 3/4ths of the way through the books when Darth Mickey was established as the overlord ruler of the Sith, and Princess Leia ascended to the all-time greatest Disney princess (Though, in truth that position is actually held by Belle). I still chose to plod on, because I wasn’t going to stop at book 5; some things just need to be finished, and book series are one of those things. Old-canon Star Wars books aren’t really anything special as far as SciFi is concerned. They are exactly what they are, which is a Star Wars story, existing in the complicated, and often nonsensical Star Wars Expanded Universe. Most of the characters are fairly well known by the majority of the fandom, and the storyline of most arcs are pretty standard “Evil Force/entity deigns to take-over/destroy the galaxy, Jedi/Rebellion/Alliance/Conglomerate-of-the-’Good Guys’ have a bit of a beef with that, good guys win in the end.” That being said, the actual description of that line of story is what makes the novels enjoyable to read, and in the end, the authors make the stories great by writing so well into such a limiting space.

The Legacy of the Force series was spun together through the collaboration of three authors, Troy Denning, Karen Travis, and the late Aaron Allston. Each author brings their own unique style to the story, while also working together with the other two to avoid creating an awkward sense of obvious collaboration. Aaron Allston did a great job of detailing the sheer epicness of Star Wars space, and the battles that tend to take place amongst the stars. Troy Denning focused more on jedi conflicts, and the lightsaber battles, as well as a lot of the social strife in the Jedi Order. Karen Travis swung her skills into describing inner character turmoil, as well as the shady political intrigue that happens throughout the series. Travis also wrote the Boba Fett stories of the series, which are probably the most interesting part of all the novels. Boba Fett is a very cool character, who fans have always been enamoured with, even though he receives so little screen-time in the films. Travis allowed us to see a bit more of the rough and bitter man behind the visor. I should note that no author makes an mention of midichlorians, so that was a huge boon to my Star Wars reading experience. 

Overall, I would give the Star Wars: A Legacy of The Force series a 4 out of five stars. I enjoyed the novels, and it was certainly a good series to read through, and there is a chance I might read through them again some day.

While I’m a bit sad that the Old Canon has gone and died, I am interested, and somewhat excited to get to experience what will probably be the birth of a New Canon, and a new, though likely just as cluttered and absurd, Star Wars New Expanded Universe.

A Casual Review: On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Bliss

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Hardcover, 205 pages
Graywolf Press

★★★ – Good book, and enjoyable one-time read.

Eula Bliss’ On Immunity: An Inoculation takes readers through a sociocultural account of the history of vaccination, and its impacts on the world of medicine. Bliss breaks sections of historical accounting with a personal narrative of her experiences as a new mother in the modern medicinal conflict of vaccinating a child. The history of vaccination is more lengthy than I was aware, with the earliest realizations of inoculation against disease spanning back to the 1700’s and the discovery of milkmaids having an innate resistance to cowpox. Yet, there are even examples of direct-contact inoculation occurring as early as the 1400’s. Throughout the book, Bliss’ personal narrative can be a little grating, particularly as it occasionally ignores the historical, and scientific information provided. Bliss’ own interactions with vaccination as a mother are rather illogical, and too emotionally based. It essentially presents the reader with a decent picture of the contention in modern medicine regarding vaccination in youth. On the one hand, you have the historical, scientific data; on the other hand you have the emotional pathos of those who fear vaccination on the basis of hearsay. That isn’t to say that Bliss is in any way anti-vaccination, she is merely stuck between an understanding of medical science, and the protective concerns of a conscientious mother. The information provided by Bliss was interesting, and educational. I learned much about the history of vaccination, without being overly inundated with the present-day political controversy.

I give On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Bliss a 3 out of 5 stars. The book wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed learning about vaccination from a fairly neutral source.