The King Must Die

kingmustdie If all you remember about the Greek myth of Theseus is that he killed the minotaur, this book will remind you of his more evolved story.  Born of a princess, Theseus was told all his life that his father was a god and when he finds that his father is actually the king of a distant land, he journeys to find him.

Along the way, he not only encounters the thieves and ruffians but (in the true Greek legend way) overcomes the obstacles to make his way to his father in distant Athens.  After narrowly escaping Medea in his father’s court, he find himself  part of the yearly tribute to King Minos as part of the sacrifice to the city’s Minotaur, a half man/half bull.  As legend has it, Theseus befriends the daughter of the king who gives him a ball of string enabling him to find the best within his lair and kill it while still escaping with his life and his lady.

He make his way back to Athens where, when failing to display the appropriate colored sails, he causes his father to believe Theseus killed, leading to his own suicide.  Thus, Theseus returns to Athens as the proven heir apparent and hero but loses his father in the undertaking and becomes the new King… where he goes on to have other adventures.


Now, I know it seems like I just totally spoiled the whole plot.. but I didn’t.  First, you should already have a working familiarity with the basic story if you are going to get much out of this book because Mary Renault tells the story in a very different way.  And I’m really trying to spare you any of the “wait, what?” moments that I had while I was reading this.

What she’s done is take the basic myth and make Theseus flesh and blood with his own insecurities and strengths and real world problems.  She’s used the legend as an outline to the book, but transforms it into a story that has the main elements while making the story realistic for the time.  Since I don’t want to give away too much of it, I will just say that you have to trust me that it works, although it’s a bit strange at times.  I guess it’s sort of like how the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou? tells the story of Odysseus, although this time she didn’t bother to change the names and it’s in the same time period and I’ve searched and searched and there is no George Clooney anywhere in this book.

If you like Greek mythology, you should consider picking this one up. In fact, if I were a High School English teacher, which thankfully I’m not, I’d make my students read this as a great example of the reworking of an established plot line into something literately more.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault, 338 pages  (and if you get this particular copy, there is a short write up of the Theseus legend in the back)

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tuf Voyaging

tufHaviland Tuf is not necessarily a likable guy.  But he’s been double-crossed by the folks that hired him and his cats to take them to the “plague star” and it looks like he might not live to collect his meager payment.  One thing Tuf is is smart.  And when it turns out the “plague star” is actually a EEC Seedship -a modern day ark – suddenly the stakes change.

The seedship has samples of every known living thing from every known planet and a sophisticated genetic modification system – which basically means that whoever owns the Ark owns considerable potential for good or harm.  And who better to own such potential than a man who loves cats and, mostly, disdains people?

Thus begins a series of adventures across the Universe.  And it’s not always going to be easy to please everyone.. in fact in most cases, it’s going to be pretty tough voyaging.


George R.R. Martin is mostly known for his current grand epic A Song of Ice and Fire. This isn’t really in the same vein – it’s not fantasy, it’s sci-fi to the core.   This book is actually a collection of short stories about Tuf as he (and his cats) travel in the Ark solving problems.  It’s a fun throwback to some classic sci-fi (it feels very traditional in some ways) while being very clever and smart overall.  The characters are not always as fully fleshed out as Tuf is, but they are developed enough to carry the story (another key to classic sci-fi where the story was paramount over highly developed characters)

Tuf is the most defined character and you really get the feeling that he’s an honest, moral guy who really just doesn’t understand people very well.  Or if he does he’s just living in a constant state of disappointment by the behavior he sees.  He’s a strange ‘hero’, but one that you come to understand.

There’s quite a bit of humor in this book, it’s just not overt.  It’s more of a “oh Tuf, you bastard” chuckle sort, which is fun in itself.  I’d totally recommend this one if you are looking for a fun, classic feeling series of stories or if you are a Martin fan and want to see what he does when he’s not writing sweeping epics that seem to drag on and never really get to the plot.  Heh.  Not that I’m judging or anything.  (grumble, read all those other books, series still not done, seems like it never went anywhere, no, I’m not bitter not at all)

*a note.  I believe that this book is out of print, so look for it at in a library or borrow if from someone who has it.

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin, 440 pages

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 9:47 am  Comments (2)  


Okay, not really.  That would be a good story though, huh?

This time, we’re going foodie in a double update!

nastybitsus_150dpi200x300pxl Anthony Bourdain.  The name conjures images of a lanky, chain smoking swearing man enjoying a dish of something that you and I would probably not eat on a bet.  And yet it’s cuisine and he loves it and hey, how can you argue anyway?  Well, he’s back with another book – this time a collection of short stories and essays about everything ranging from how his show is shot to why we should all be nicer to the waiters.   And sometimes, why we should just cook at home.

Since there’s really no “story” here, it’s sort of hard to review this book.  I like Bourdain’s ramblings – he seems like an interesting guy with a lot of insight.  I like how he’s gritty and blunt and seemingly honest with his opinions… but he sort of seems like someone that might knife you if you make him mad.  He probably wouldn’t kill you, but you’d have a really cool scar.  Which might be kind of sweet in itself.  There’s probably a Facebook group for people who have been knifed by Anthony Bourdain.

Anyway, this is another fun one to read if you’re looking for something that you can pick up and put down without losing the narrative (one reason I like these short story/essay compilations).   He never fails to make me want to cook and stay far far away from a professional kitchen.


downandout Part autobiographical, part fiction, Down and Out in Paris and London is George Orwell’s first novel.  It’s a gritty account of poverty and trying to get by in two of the largest cities in the world.  Along the way, he finds himself working in the kitchens of Hotel X, slogging his way through in order to just keep afloat.   Later in London, he finds himself maneuvering through the homeless and the “charitable” shelter systems in an attempt to find his way out from poverty.


I don’t think I want to be poor. I mean, not in the “what can I hock today for some bread” kind of poor, and that’s the kind of poor that this talks about.  It’s the kind of poor where you have to sneak your clothes out of the building you’re living in so that your landlord doesn’t notice and want the rent.  It’s the kind of poor where you sleep in barracks or in shelters that make you listen to a sermon before giving you some bread.  That’s a kind of poor that nobody should have to live.

While this book is technically fiction, it’s commonly known that it’s very autobiographical and from the way it’s written you can tell that these things HAPPENED to Orwell.  There’s a sense of absurd realism that rings true as you read along and you can almost start to see where his ideas about the class system and society (which are so pointedly lampooned in Animal Farm) come from.

I picked this up (and am including it in this post) because it was a book that Anthony Bourdain recommended.  I wouldn’t say that this is REALLY a book about the restaurant industry although it’s a focus of the Paris portion of the story, so if you’re reading it for that you will probably be sort of disappointed.  Those portions are written with the same grittiness as Bourdain’s writing, so you know they are probably fairly accurate, but this book is more than that.  It’s about struggle and despondency and just being part of a marginalized population.  Worth the read – it’s not a long book – and it’s now public domain so you can go to Google books or other sites and read it online for free.  And we like free.

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by Anthony Bourdain, 288 pages

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, 213 pages

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 9:02 am  Comments (7)  
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Starring: Thursday Next

Okay, so I went on a vacation and then got a cold and in the meantime I finished a SERIES of books.  Now, I could list them all out in a strange sort of backwards posting like I did for the Phoenix Guards one, but that kind of annoyed me so I’m going to throw them into one MEGA POST!

Here we go, grab a tea and a scone or something because this is going to be long.


lost Lost In A Good Book is the second in the Thursday Next series that started with The Eyre Affair (I did that one back near the beginning of the year).  Our protagonist, Ms. Next, lives in a world that’s evolved parallel to ours – where ducks are something theoretical and dodos have been brought back from extinction.  She works in Special Operations (SpecOps) as a Literary Detective – responsible for checking out things like forged Shakespeare works and other literary crimes.

Her first book brought her into contact with the Goliath Corporation, the megalomanical world conglomerate that wants to own and control everything and, surprisingly enough, they aren’t through with Thursday yet.  In Lost In A Good Book, Goliath is back to its old tricks of manipulation and has “time-slipped” Landon, Thursday’s husband, in order to “convince” Thursday to a) retrieve their agent from The Raven where he was left after the last round of adventures and b) reveal the secret to entering books in the first place.   In order to get her husband back, Thursday not only learns to read herself into books, but also joins up with Jurisfiction – the quasi-police force inside books.  Oh, and there’s also mammoths, a jar of lentils which indicate entropy levels, Ms Havisham, the Cat Formerly Known As Cheshire and a new enemy who has the ability to make you forget things to contend with.  Seems that Thursday’s got her hands full.



Thursday’s back; preggers and tired and in need of some down time.  It’s hard when everyone is out to get you, you know?  What’s a girl to do except join the Character Exchange Program and have a little downtime in the Well of Lost Plots – a place where book ideas are made and die.  Still a member of Jurisfiction, but on the lamb from Goliath, Thursday fills in for “Mary”, a supporting character in a crime story that’s not being read and not really going anywhere.  Meanwhile, she can’t help feel like there’s something or someone that she should be remembering but it’s probably not that important, right?

All is not well in literary world, however.  First, people are being murdered, the Minotaur has escaped and “UltraWord” (the newest version of the Story Operating System) seems to have some flaws.  There are also some issues with the Generics (“blank” characters, just waiting for spots in a story) and the nursery rhyme and Oral Tradition folks aren’t happy.   Looks like this isn’t going to be much of a vacation after all.



It’s time to get out of the book and back into the real world.  And this time, Thursday’s not alone.  She’s bringing her son Friday, Pickwick the dodo and her son Alan… and Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.  Which is probably good, seeing as how Ophelia isn’t happy with her current role and Hamlet’s wishy washy inability to make decisions and she’s busy making some changes.

Thursday is determined to get Landon back this time and she gets her time traveling, half non-existent father to help out.  Amongst her mother’s incessant baking, Thursday manages to get entangled in the Hamlet mess, a disgusting prophet, a gaggle of Shakespeare clones and the world’s most important cricket match.  The Minotaur is still holding a grudge and Landon keeps flickering in and out of existence – just another day in the life…


sequel And thus the first is the end.  Or something.  Or maybe not!  But we are to the last in the series.  Thursday and Landon and their kids, Friday, Tuesday and Jenny are all living mostly happy lives – Tuesday is a genius, Jenny is at a slumber party somewhere, and Friday is your typical surly teenager.  The problem is, Friday is supposed to be out inventing time travel or something and his parents can’t get him to get up before noon.

Thursday has left SpecOps and is running a carpet business with some of her old colleagues… except that the carpet business is a front for SpecOps work.  Which is a front for Jurisfiction work.  Which is just as crazy as ever.  This time, Thursday is responsible for training some new recruits: Thursday1-4 and Thursday5.  See, Thursday licensed her story and now there are books where she is a character… just let your brain bend a bit and accept it.  And don’t worry, Goliath is still lurking and the Minotaur is still trying to kill her.

So, once again it’s up to Thursday to save the day.  Can she stop Thursday1-4 from exacting revenge on her creator, can she help Landon write a great book and can they make Friday actually get motivated to fulfill his destiny?


I told you it was a lot of words.  Okay, here’s my wrap up.  I love these books.  Fforde is painfully clever and twists and turns a story in such a charming way that you can’t help but want to read these back to back.  I put the last one down and really wished for another one.  Some things that I thought were completely genius (in no particular order)

1)  the idea that Thursday considers and rejects that she is a character in a book

2)  the rational way that The Big Over Easy works into this series

3)  the literary cameos, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Anna Karenina in footnote gossip, are brilliant

4)  the carry over from book to book, although each story is also stand alone

I have to say that these will stay on my bookshelf.  And now I’ve read everything that he’s released and need to wait for the next one… poop.  There are lots of really great series out there, but if you like something intelligent like English class and yet irreverent like Terry Pratchett, you’d do yourself a service to check these out.

Perfectly delightful.  Plock.

Lost In A Good Book, by Jasper Fforde, 432 pages

The Well Of Lost Plots, 416 pages

Something Rotten, 416 pages

Thursday Next: A First Amongst Sequels, 384 pages

Five Hundred Years After

500-years1 In which our Heroes–Khaavren, Pel, Aerich and Tazendra–are reunited again a mere five centuries later…just in time for an uprising that threatens to destroy the Imperial Orb itself!

This is the story of the conspiracy against the Empire that begins in the mean streets of Underside and flourishes in the courtly politics of the Palace where Khaavren has loyally served in the Guards this past half-millennium.

It is the tale of the Dragonlord Adron’s overweening schemes, of his brilliant daughter Aliers, and the eldritch Sethra Lavode.

And it is the tale of four boon companions, of love, and of revenge…a tale from the history of Dragaera, of the events that changed the world!

(heh.  Google books did me good this time!)


Okay, I’m half cheating on this because I have to start shutting things down to head to the airport.  BUT, I wanted to get this up before I left since you all have to wait until Saturday or Sunday (or Monday?) to get the next update.  At least I have an excuse this time.

ANYWAY, yep, our fearless foursome are back and it’s only been 500 years.  While everyone else is off doing things related to their own personal quests from “The Phoenix Guards”, Khaavren has been holding down his post for the last little bit of time.  And oh, the things he’s learning!  It’s time for the gang to spring back into action!

Like “The Phoenix Guards”, the writing style is still all sing-songy when people are talking and it’s still annoying.  I’m getting over it though, and spent a good while searching through two separate Half Price Books to find the last couple of books in the series so I guess I must have liked it anyway.

I’m not sure I have a whole lot more to say.. it’s a great second book in a series and I really wanted to see what happened next and now I can’t and I’m kinda bummed.  Rats.  If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one… it’s like visiting old friends.

Five Hundred Years Later by Steven Brust, 553 pages

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Phoenix Guards


Khaavren of Castlerock is a young gentleman from the House of the Tiassa whose family has fallen onto hard times. Though lacking an inheritance, Khaavren has a long sword and is “tolerably well-acquainted with its use.” On his way to the capital city of the Empire, Khaavren befriends Aerich and Tazendra, nobles from the Houses of the Lyorn and Dzur who also lack income. Khaavren tells them of his plan to join the Phoenix Guards, the new Emperor’s elite personal troops, and his new friends decide to accompany him.  Once in the city, they meet Pel, the final four of the close knit group and it’s only adventure ahead…

(thanks to Wikipedia for saving me from happening to write all those names)


So, I have mixed feelings about this book and I’m going to get the big “ugh!” off of my chest at the beginning.  Sometimes, the writing style gets in the way of the story.  The book is supposed to be a historical recounting so it’s written in an almost romanticized way.  The dialogue is sometimes flowery and tends to have a back and forth cadence that, honestly, half drives me crazy.  It’s primarily “I have a story to tell” “I beg you tell.” “I will tell if you’d like to hear.” “Honestly I’m interested.” “Then I will tell you” ” Please proceed.”

Argh.  Proceed indeed.  There is a certain amount of charm, I’ll admit… but I found myself thinking “GET ON WITH IT!”

As for the plot.. it’s really a Three Musketeers story – except with four people.  There are adventures and there is sword play and everyone seems to always want to fight.  And it’s all set against a background of a strange land where there is magic and wars and a king and a magic orb that watches over all.

In this book, we get introduced to the characters, they form their bonds and have their first series of adventures.  Brust does write fun characters and you like the ones you’re supposed to and kinda also like the ones you aren’t really supposed to.

So, after all of that, these books *are* fun to read, just be prepared to be either charmed or exasperated by the writing style.. and then remember that it’s like that on purpose and Brust does recognize that nobody talks like that and it’s strange.  The things you learn from reading all the parts of books…

The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust, 491 pages

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 10:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Year Of Living Biblically

yolb_paperback Sure, we all live by some biblical rules – we shalt not kill, we shalt not covet other people’s cool stuff (well, we try this one), we shalt not take the last shrimp puff from the buffet – but what if you tried to follow ALL the rules in the Bible?  The one that says you can’t wear mixed fibers or you should stone adulterers?  And welcome to crazy beard land!

A.J. Jacobs does just that, and finds out that it ain’t easy being holy but if you fake it ’til you make it you might learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before.


I bought this book on a whim one day when I was with my friend Brea (she puts me in these types of silly moods) and I couldn’t put it down once I finally picked it up.  This book is funny.  It’s meant to be, so I don’t have to feel bad about laughing (thank goodness!).

Jacobs breaks out his year into 2 parts, the first 9 months working through the Old Testament and the last 3 working through the New Testament.  Apparently there are a lot more rules in the Old Testament and that’s where you get your real Orthodox Jewish population.  Those guys with the curly sideburns?  That’s not fashion, that’s a God rule.

Part of Jacobs’ challenge is not only trying to find a modern-traditional way to follow an ancient governance, it’s also his internal conflict with the study (and close adherence to) religious practices that he doesn’t subscribe to.  It’s interesting to see what happens when he “walks the walk” and you could probably go on and on about the power of belief but this book isn’t preachy and I’m not going there.  Let’s just say while that he didn’t transform from agnostic to Rabbi, it’s probably impossible to not be changed in some way by an experience like this.

Jacobs is an entertaining writer and does a good job of mixing the crazy parts of his experiment (his wife’s reaction to certain rules that men must follow regarding menstruating woman is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time) while keeping a personal tone to his story.  Mixed in with the surreal and fantastical is a real down to earth reality of a year in the life of someone who only sort of realizes that he’s on a spiritual journey as well.

If you want a feel for this book and his writing, check out his website or, if you just want to read something quick and funny, here are a few rules that he followed.  And I have already broken one… you’re only getting one update today so I’ll say ‘sorry’ now for being a liar.

The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs, 416 pages

Published in: on March 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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An update later today, I promise!

No, I haven’t forgotten.  I have a backlog in fact.  So, what’dya say I post a couple later on today?

Oh yeah, that’s how I roll.


Published in: on March 8, 2009 at 11:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Company

company What do the Berlin Base of the ’50s, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, Afghanistan, and the Gorbachev putsch all have in common?  The involvement of the CIA.  And what involvement it is!  From masterminding complex plots to looking for the traitors in their midst, the Company doesn’t only look out for the best interests of the US internally but also judges global events to make sure that the upheaval in the rest of the world doesn’t endanger our way of life.  The Company follows the innermost workings of the, arguably, most powerful agency in the world and brings us into a grand tale of intrigue, betrayal, love and hope.


I wish I’d seen this miniseries when it was on TV!  I bought this book a couple of years ago when I saw it as a movie tie in and didn’t quite know what to think.  It’s sat on the bookshelf for all that time and I don’t know why I didn’t pick it up earlier!  This isn’t a light read, it’s part military/American history and part fiction, but 100% compelling.  The characters are really well written and over the course of the book you follow them as they literally grow up from college recruits to grandparents.  It’s a great journey and by the end I felt for these guys every twist and turn and close call they went through.

The disclaimer to all of this is that I really am not into American history (sorry to my high school teachers – it’s not your fault) so I saw this book from a strictly story telling sense.  I can’t claim to know how much is true and how much is fiction (other than I know the EVENTS are true) so if you’re a history or government buff you might get more (or maybe less?) out of this book than I did.  I’d be interesting to know how much of this is really real and how much is made up but, like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

If you like spy and espionage books, then try this one.  Oh, and it’s got a hell of a twist that I half guessed and then thought I was wrong and then it kinda turned out I was right although I was really doubting that I’d figured it out and WHEW let’s just say it was a good one.

The Company: A Novel of the CIA, bye Robert Littell, 894 pages

Published in: on March 4, 2009 at 2:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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ducklings A duckling finds itself away from the flock and needs to get back to his family.  Will the frog help him or will he be subjected to the harsh realities of growing up in this modern world?


I don’t want to give anything away but let’s just say that this entire book is filled with assholes and I found myself explaining some things to Jack that he shouldn’t have to know at such a young age.  Personally, I think that the characters in this book are childish and the overall plot was weak.  Although it did come with a bonus story about a pansy ducking afraid to swim (nice logic there, huh?) so at least you’re likely to get your money’s worth.

I suppose I’d read it again, but I wouldn’t have such high hopes for major developments this time around.

Ducklings, a three minute tale, by Paragon, 18 pages

Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 7:04 pm  Comments (6)  
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