Category Archives: Books


Our library’s book discussion site (Book Talking) is having some problems. I’ll be temporarily hosting it here at I’ll be slowly migrating the content over the next few days (unless someone knows a good way to import into WordPress from BlogEngine.NET). If you’re interested in book reviews, book clubs, eBooks, or just books in general, take a look.


Ten Offbeat Science Fiction Reads

If you’re looking for some unusual science fiction books for the summer, here’s a list of ten of my favorites. Some of the are easy reads, some are extremely challenging (like Dhalgren). All of them are sure to make you think. I’ve included links to Kindle and Nook versions where available. The books are listed in no particular order, except as they came to mind.

  1. The Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy (Robert Anton Wilson). Includes The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons. Wilson’s solo follow-up to the Illuminatus! trilogy, this book is just as strange, but less dated. An amusingly weird exploration of what quantum physics can mean for individuals. (KindleNook)
  2. And, of course, the Illuminatus! Trilogy (Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson). Includes The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple, and Leviathan. A funny, at times disturbing, piece of 70’s weirdness. (KindleNook)
  3. I Will Fear No Evil (Robert Heinlein). Not as widely known as Stranger in a Strange Land, this book tells the story of a dying, immensely wealthy old man who has his brain transplanted into the body of his beautiful young secretary. Part trashy sci-fi romp, part serious philosophical work on the nature of consciousness, all good! (KindleNook)
  4. Stand on Zanzibar (John Brunner). I first read this years ago. It’s an oddly frightening look at the consequences of unlimited population growth. (KindleNook)
  5. The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton). One of his early works, yet it can still be creepy. Definitely  a foreshadowing of some of Crichton’s later “dangerous technology” works, like Prey. (KindleNook)
  6. Pebble in the Sky (Isaac Asimov). You can’t have a sci-fi list without Asimov! This is his first published book and the first in his Galactic Empire series. Late WWII concerns about atomic energy and weapons are clearly evident in this story of a 20th-century American transported to a future Earth rendered virtually uninhabitable by radioactivity. (Kindle – Nook)
  7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick). The basis for the dystopian film Bladerunner. If you’ve seen the movie, read the book. If you haven’t seen the movie, read the book and then see the movie! (KindleNook)
  8. Dhalgren (Samuel R. Delany). Massive in scope, this post-apocalyptic novel tackles serious questions of race, gender and sexuality in a ruined mid-America. Difficult, but well worth the effort.
  9. Alongside Night (J. Neil Schulman). A dystopian/utopian story of a United States in collapse and the brave new world that follows. A bit over the top in some places, but still an excellent read. (Kindle)
  10. The Probability Broach (L. Neil Smith). An interesting polemic about a Denver cop who is transported to an alternate world where the United States as we know it doesn’t exist, and the national hero is the man who killed George Washington. Also available as a graphic novel, but I prefer the original.

There we go. My list of favorite offbeat sci-fi. I’m sure you have your favorites. Tell me about them in the comments.


Do you like ebooks? Do you have a Kindle or a Nook? If so, you probably need to know about You may already know that you can lend most books in your collection. How often and for how long is up to the publisher, of course, but it’s generally one time for 14 days. makes it easy to loan books to people everywhere.  You sign up, list your books, and people can browse and select books they’d like to borrow. The site automates the lending process for you and keeps track of which books have been loaned and can’t be loaned again.

There are a few problems. I’ve occasionally had requests for books that Amazon tells me have already been loaned, so apparently the tracking on the ebookfling site isn’t perfect. Also, since requests stay active until they’re either filled or cancelled by the requester, I’ve got a huge portion of my collection on the site that just keep getting forwarded from one request to another. Apparently, a lot of people aren’t actively using the site anymore. It would be nice if the site administrators would build in some way to mark users as inactive so that their requests are removed from the queue. In spite of these problems, though, it’s a good site and I recommend it to anyone looking to expand their sources for ebooks.


Review: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence - coverSworn to Silence is the first book in Linda Castillo‘s Amish Thriller series. It features Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police of the small Ohio Amish Country town of Painter’s Mill. I’ll admit I had started this book with pretty low expectations. I had tried unsuccessfully to read another Amish-themed mystery about a year ago. It didn’t help that the reviews for this book that I read on Amazon weren’t encouraging, either. In fact, some of them were quite brutal. If I hadn’t needed to read the book for an upcoming book club meeting, I likely wouldn’t have bothered. That would have been a shame, because it would mean I had missed one of the best contemporary mysteries I’ve read in some time.

Castillo is a very good writer, and she clearly knows her stuff. Whether it’s modern-day police procedures or life among the Amish, she has a depth of knowledge that I found refreshingly unexpected. Her portrayal of Amish life is particularly well done, showing the complexity behind the stereotypical simplicity. Castillo manages to be both sympathetic toward and realistic about the Plain people, thus avoiding the idolization I’ve seen in some other authors. This was one of the characteristics that drew me to the book.

As for the story itself, I simply couldn’t put it down. The two main characters, Burkholder and BCI field agent John Tomasetti, have both been badly damaged by events in their lives and so are always on the edge of despair. Nevertheless, they remain likable characters. We want them to succeed at their task, as well as in their lives. And what a task they’ve got! A series of horrific (and I don’t use that word lightly) murders are happening in this small country town that exactly mimic murders from 16 years previously. Is it a copycat or the same killer? If a copycat, then how does the killer know details of the killings that were never made public? If the same killer, then why the 16 year break between murders? The investigation is confusing, and is further complicated by local politics and long-held secrets from Burkholder’s past. The author puts a great amount of detail into telling the story of both the investigation and the murders. Sometimes a truly disturbing amount of detail. Much of the book reads less like fiction and more like true crime reporting. After finishing the book you’ll want a long, hot shower to try to wash yourself clean. But you’ll want to put Linda Castillo on your list of must-read authors, too. I know I have.


I’m Currently Reading…

Like most book lovers, I’ve always got more than one book going at a time. Right now, I’m working on one audiobook, one eBook, and two traditional books. Here’s what I’m currently reading:


Geography of BlissRight now, I’m finishing up The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, written and read by Eric Weiner. I need to have this done for a book group tomorrow evening, so it’s my primary focus right now. I have to say, I love this book. Weiner, an NPR correpsondent, decided to see what makes a place “happy.” Or, in the case of Moldova, unhappy. He visited a number of places and talked to people to see how happy they are. I’ve still got two chapters to go, but so far we’ve been to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Moldova (not a happy place), Iceland, Thailand, and Great Britain. Part travel book, part social sciences, this is one of the better audiobooks I’ve listened to recently. My only complaint is that the author (who is also the reader) has a couple of idiosyncratic pronunciations. That’s something I cann overlook. If you haven’t read this book, please do. You’ll enjoy it.


Earth MagicI just recently started reading Earth Magic by Marion Weinstein. This is the revised edition of a book I read over twenty years ago. Weinstein, who died a few years ago, was a self-professed witch. Earth Magic was the second of her two books discussing what she called positive magic. Positive magic seems to be a kind of combination paganism and New Thought. It makes for very interesting reading, especially if you’re interested in either paganism or New Thought, as I am. This is my first time reading the revised edition, but it seems to have more information than the original. I’m looking forward to reading more of it.


Sideways on a ScooterThe first of the two traditional books I’m reading is Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy. The story of the author’s time spent living in India, it’s part travelogue, part social commentary, and part memoir. Kennedy is a good writer (another NPR correpsondent), with a good eye for the details of life and society in a very different culture. I particularly like the way she describes her upbringing by two peripatetic souls from the Sixties. As you can probably tell, I like this type of book (travel, commentary, memoir) very much. Probably because I’ve always wanted to travel myself.

Two For the DoughThe second book is Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich. I enjoy mysteries, but I’ve never read any of the wildly popular Stephanie Plum series except for the relatively short Visions of Sugar Plums. I finally decided it was time to read some of them. They are good, if a little chick lit. Whether or not I’ll finish the entire series, I don’t know. I believe I will, but it may take me some time — I’ve got so many other books on my list


Free Audiobooks

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If you like audiobooks, and I know lots of people do, then Random House Audio has an offer for you.

To promote their Car Share Program, they’re offering 5 free audio downloads. All you have to do is sign up for their monthly newsletter on the website, and they’ll email you a link to the downloads. Pretty easy. You don’t get really weird titles, either.

  • The Geometry of Sisters by Luanne Rice (10 hours 48 minutes)
  • The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag (6 hours 2 minutes)
  • “Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades” from The Demigod Files by Rick Riordan (1 hour 17 minutes)
  • “Including One Called Hell” from Fraud by David Rakoff (35 minutes), and
  • “Mercy Watson to the Rescue” from The Mercy Watson Collection, Volume 1 by Kate DiCamillo (20 minutes).

Not bad for a little time. Thanks, Random House!


Bill Bryson Reminds Me …


I’m reading Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid in preparation for next month’s book discussion. Although I’m about seven or eight years younger than Bryson, his memoir of growing up in Iowa in the fifties is bringing back some memories for me. It really was a much simpler time: less crowded, less technologically advanced, and stupid people were allowed to do stupid things all the time.

One thing I’ve remembered: It was the late 60’s or early 70’s. We were burning trash in an open fire in the back yard (yes, it was still legal, even then). My brother (although he’s not stupid – anything but!) heard a ticking sound, and went to see what it was. Turned out it was an aerosol can someone had pitched in the trash. Well, needless to say, the can exploded just about the time he got there. He had the extremely good sense to drop and roll, which is more than I would have done.

So, did anyone learn anything from this experience? Well, my parents learned not to put aerosol cans in trash you’re going to burn. I think my brother learned not to get too close to an open trash fire, because you never know what’s going to happen. Me? I learned that you don’t wear shirts made of synthetic fabric.

Like Bryson’s stories, this one ended well, with no lasting harm to anyone involved. If you haven’t read his book, you really should. And if you can come to our book discussion, we’ll be very glad to have you.


Today’s book discussion, and memories of past times


Well, we had our book discussion of The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer today. It went quite well. Lots of discussion, very lively. There were myself and ten or eleven women present. I did learn one thing today: Even when men and women are reading the same book, they’re not reading the same book. I enjoyed The Tender Bar very much, which surprised me. I don’t usually like memoirs.

It did bring back memories of when I was living in Florida. Alcohol was never a part of my family life, but when I went to Florida, I also started drinking a little. Later, I started going out after work every night with my boss. He was going through a really bad time with his wife, and we’d get totally messed up. For some reason, the bars we went to were never like Dickens/Publicans. Maybe a regional difference? After a while, I decided that wasn’t something I wanted to do, so I just stopped. Since then, I hardly ever drink alcohol.

Sometimes I miss those days.


The Tender Bar


(Crossposted from Book Talking)

On March 17th at noon, we’ll be discussing The Tender Bar by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer J.R. Moehringer. The Tender Bar is the author’s memoir of growing up in a household of mostly women with an absent father. He tells about his search for a father in his life, and how the men of the neighborhood bar become surrogate fathers.

“The Tender Bar is a beautiful, gravelly love letter to [an] amorphous father, a melancholy romance between a boy and a corner saloon that’s as smoky and heart-crackling as a Sinatra 78.” – The New York Times Book Review

This best-selling and award-winning book is a fascinating, highly entertaining look at growing up with a big piece of your life missing. Come join us at noon on the 17th to learn more.

We meet at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library.


The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane

The Unscratchables The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was a surprisingly good book. The author, Australian Cornelius Kane, has an impressive understanding of the noir genre. He has the ability to write a noir story with cats and dogs as the main characters, and write it as well as Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.

The Unscratchables is the story of a dog (a former POW and veteran of the Siamese war) who has to team up with a Siamese cat in order to capture a feral cat on a murderous rampage in the Kennels of Kathattan island. I don’t want to give away the ending, so I won’t say more than that. If you enjoy a good story filled with plot twists, you’ll like The Unscratchables. If you like your books a little deeper, then you’ll really enjoy the ongoing political, social and media commentary Mr. Kane weaves into the book.

I read it in less than twelve hours. It’s that good.

View all my reviews >>