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Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone
J.K. Rowling
The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills
Jon Saphier, Robert Gower
Dan Simmons
Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible - Suzanne Kamata Although I really liked how it all came together at the end and contemplated that fourth star, and still am, I decided that "liked" is probably a more accurate description of my feelings for most of the read. I wish I could give more details about the ending, but I think it would spoil it for you. One thing I can reveal is that the ending was a pleasant surprise. The main character, Aiko Cassidy, travels to Paris with her artist mother for a summer during much of the book's last half. I really wasn't expecting much from Part Six, the last part, called "Michigan, Again", but, well, I did get a bit teary-eyed and flooded with emotion, damn it, so clearly the various elements built to something rather sublime.

The cover and title may be misleading. This YA novel is not speculative fiction at all. Gadget Girl is the name of a manga that 15 year old Aiko creates in her spare time. It's one of many elements that may endear her story to you, depending on your buttons. Others include: coming of age, artists, mothers and daughters, single-parent families, and cerebral palsy (topics listed under the ISBN number). Obviously I'm a sucker for some of them. Aiko has cerebral palsy. It definitely affected her life and story but without hijacking the narrative completely. That struck me as realistic at times, while at other points I wasn't sure what I thought of the light treatment (but really, I wouldn't know how much cerebral palsy would, could, might color someone's consciousness).

I almost want to say this novel was hyper-realistic, maybe because it was mainly quiet and completely convincing, even when Aiko gets to experience some romance in Paris. It took awhile for me to identify with her, though the book is first person, but when I put the book down for good I felt close to her. Aiko tells us the entire story and her mother often seemed selfish but I felt for her too by the end, caught glimpses of what made her tick. And her father too, a little. Ah, pain. Ah, life. It can be so messy.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling - James N. Frey There seem to be about two broad categories of writing book. Some are inspirational/visionary/literary. Others focus on reader interest and organising your writing so that it might sell commercially. I like both kinds and expected this one to fall into the second category, which it did.

When I pick up a book about writing, I don't necessarily expect anything earth-shattering because I've read a fair number of them. What I expect is an opportunity to reencounter ideas in a fresh way that for some reason makes them resonate anew. Intellectual understanding is not enough to further my writing, so I hope a writing book will give me further insight, even if the change is not exactly measurable. I'm not even begging for insights necessarily. A few glimpses over the horizon is often enough.

This book covered a lot of the familiar bases: character, conflict, viewpoint, flashback, etc., but I've just seen it done better or more in depth. He used a few familiar books for his examples, like Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, but the execution was perfunctory. His simplistic presentation of premise or theme and its controlling influence struck me as possibly incorrect. I prefer Stephen King's advise in On Writing, which was to revise for theme after the first draft.

One line on p. 162 almost made the whole book worth it: "Being an unpublished novelist has about as much social acceptability as being a shopping bag lady."

The Monkey's Raincoat  - Robert Crais Unless something surprising shapes up as I write this, I don't think I have anything new to add to the general consensus that other reviewers have established for this novel, the first mystery in a series that features private eyes Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. If you've read Robert B. Parker's novels, and I haven't, this may strike you as a rip-off, or so I've heard. However, it seems to be a good rip-off, the kind with promise, because the book starts well and gets better and better, apparently, whether or not Parker's oeuvre is weighing on you.

I enjoyed Elvis Cole's tough guy, first person narration/banter from the get-go. It was ridiculous at times, but in a good way because it was interesting, inappropriate, or odd, like when he tells the client's friend in chapter 1 that he'd "like to lick chocolate syrup off your body." Don't be offended or turned off, the context actually makes it palatable, and Elvis Cole turns out to be a really nice guy, despite a few issues left over from the Vietnam War and despite an interest in Disney merchandise. Details like that don't make him a fully rounded character right away, but I warmed to him as he went about trying to help a woman named Ellen Lang locate her husband Mort and son Perry. His partner Joe Pike does not make an appearance for a long time and we only hear about him from secondary sources, which was an amusing way to build him up because he is one of those over the top mercenary characters, whose presence Crais makes more than acceptable. I suspended disbelief and skeptical humphing completely and let Pike be Pike and I am a better person and reader for it. I don' think the novel twists and turns through virgin territory, but Crais showed in this book, his first I believe, that he could make the most of plot just as well as character: some spice gives each scene a robust health. Pike proves human for example. Ellen Lang matures. Cole mutes his banter when necessary.

Despite the fact that it takes place in the horrid 80s, you could do much, much worse and probably not much better, though I haven't read mysteries widely enough to bet on it.

Island of the Aunts - Eva Ibbotson, Kevin Hawkes I just finished reading this book to my son, who is nine, and he expressed curiosity about whether there was a sequel, which surprised me. He never complained while I read it, which surprised me first, because Island of the Aunts is not like the books he reads on his own and I myself had some mixed feelings about the story.

An appreciation of Eva Ibbotson in the Horn Book a year or two ago convinced me to pick this up. Like other reviewers here, I loved the author's writing style, which was lyrical and enjoyably precise, wonderful to read aloud, because it was impossible not to read it with expression, even when tired.

The aunts of the title care secretly for a large number of sea creatures, some that are ordinary, but others that aren't, like mermaids and selkie. The aunts' advancing age worries them, and they kidnap a few children to inherit their tasks, which complicates the message about caring for the environment/ocean a bit. There are a few places where her message is, not muddled, but actually suspect. She is a careful writer, I think, and I believe she means what she says. The book could therefore inspire some good conversations about right and wrong and responsibility when taking action about complex issues, like stewardship of the environment. Two of the children they kidnap fair well; one doesn't. Like Roald Dahl, her characters are capable of outrageous acts, and her villains are shockingly mean (the aunts aren't the villains) and so real that they are, in fact, worse than evil because they are so damn human.

Despite the powerful description and the extraordinary elegance of her writing, I was disappointed that I did not end up feeling closer to the two main children, Minette and Fabio, who I liked, but whose viewpoints and personalities were never really allowed to suffuse the narrative. I was surprised my son expressed interest in a sequel because the old aunts and their concerns dominated, which is not a bad experience for children and definitely attests to Ibbotson's skills, but the lack filled me with regret because Minette and Fabio were such good kids and perceiving their wonder and transformation from the inside a little more might have been uplifting and joyous.

I know Ibbotson has passed away. It might be interesting to continue Minette and Fabio's story in fan fiction...
Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead Now I understand why Stephen King was so happy that the vampires in the Passage are killers. The vampires here, and maybe in other books like it, are basically just teenagers with fangs and magical abilities. That began to wear on me, especially in the middle of the story when the characters were mainly just being mean teens obsessed with popularity and social standing. I knew that urban fantasy riffed off of that kind of thing, I just did not expect that to dominate so much of the story when better things could have gone on.

I bumped the rating up to three stars because of the beginning, the ending, the setting, and the clarity of the writing. Rose narrates the story. She is not a vampire, but a Dhampir. They're mixed: human and vampire. Dhampirs guard Moroi, which are living vampires. Rose, our narrator, guards her best friend, a Moroi princess named Lissa, who is the story's focal character because Rose is fiercely loyal to her. The beginning was interesting and humorous because blood sucking is equated with sex: it is so sensuous. Almost made me uncomfortable, in fact (I felt like a voyeur). When Lissa sucks Rose's blood, I thought it had homosexual undertones, perhaps by accident since it did not seem to be a theme of the book. Anyway, I liked the beginning because the world that unfolded was complex and the blend of romance, boarding school narrative, fantasy, and princess baloney was entertaining, at first. And there are also Strigoi, which are undead vampires who attack the Moroi and try to turn them into Strigoi, which is why the Moroi need guardians.

Rose and Lissa fled school, St. Vladimir's Academy. The story starts when they are forcibly returned. The story gets bogged down in the middle with Lissa and Rose trying to one up a bitch girl named Mia, who is out to get Lissa and by association, Rose. Neither Rose nor Lissa seem all that admirable themselves though. The author makes it clear Rose has some growing up to do. At the same time, Rose is supposed to be strong-willed, but I don't think her actions actually justify the reputation. She hits Mia at one point, but Mia isn't even a guardian, she's just an underclassmen vampire. And Lissa? She's portrayed as if she is high and mighty, sort of like Frodo, but I didn't think she seemed worthy of Rose's loyalty. It's told, not shown.

A few other things bothered me: 1.) Rose can go into Lissa's head and see and hear what she sees and hears, especially when Lissa is experiencing strong emotions. It's part of their special bond. I tolerated that, but it occurred too often and for too long. Reading about something happening to Lissa through a first person narrator who isn't actually there was strange and just a bit too convenient after awhile, I thought. 2.) The writing is clear and crisp throughout, but at key moments, especially action, fights, the author summarised hastily instead of providing details that show what is happening. That deflates a few events. 3.) And finally, Rose is a guardian who sacrifices a lot for Lissa. That theme of sacrifice was never quite developed in a satisfying way. I guess because their relationship was just taken for granted. I often felt the Moroi did not deserve the Dhampirs. Personal rights versus group sacrifice also plays an important part near the end but the theme just fizzles, along with the denouement. Why? It just seems to be another instance of Lissa and/or Rose putting themselves first.

Despite all that, one particular twist near the end was great. I can't give it away but it neatly wrapped up something I'd been longing for since the set up.

Among Others

Among Others - Jo Walton Some readers have found this novel's flaws to be off-putting enough to rate a lower score. I agree about a few of those flaws: the extraordinarily large number of references to other books was tiring at times; some story events unfolded in a way, or didn't, that seemed strange; and some things may have been given too much emphasis because they later seemed to have no importance.

But maybe it is okay if a story has some loose ends. What's the big deal? Especially if other things recommend it, such as its portrayal of magic and the way it incorporates fairies, creatures I've never found interesting, except I guess in Shakespeare, but that are well-portrayed here. The setting mixes magic into our world but is too sublime to be classified as urban fantasy, as far as I'm concerned. This is not a droll tale with wise-cracking succubi. I can't overemphasise how beautifully and seamlessly the magic infuses Mori Phelp's world, but ordinary things do too. She's fifteen, with a fifteen year old's concerns, some of which include ordinary things like friends and sex. Her voice is intimate, because we are reading her diary. A past event dominates a lot of the story. Mori survived a showdown with a witch who happens to be her mother, but we don't see that. We see the aftermath, when Mori is at a boarding school in England. There is some excitement, some enchantment, but a lot of it is ordinary, in a good way, often in a very good way. She begins to surround herself with a few good friends, none of them from her school, and there is a showdown that seems to puzzle quite a few readers and leave them unsatisfied. It puzzled me too, but it transformed Mori in a way that was convincing and left me with that feeling good endings produce.
The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children - Ross W. Greene The book is billed as "a new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children". I don't know if it's new - it seemed logical and simple enough, but I think the author's presentation is so clear that you will benefit from the book even if you are already trying to solve problems with your child collaboratively. A few reviewers seemed to feel that the author was negative, but I completely disagree. I thought he was extraordinarily understanding toward children and parents. His starting premise is that children will do well if they can. Sometimes, it is hard to keep that in mind, or to believe it, when a child "explodes" frequently. It is hard not to feel the child is being manipulative or something like that, but the author works hard to remind you that it is more complicated than that, and that is a good thing, because it makes his approach possible. The method is simple, in a way, but it is systematic and requires work. The author does not split hairs trying to define what an explosive child is, but there are a large number of transcripts that show them in action. You do not need a diagnosis to get started. As a matter of fact, I liked the way he downplayed the importance and value of a diagnosis almost entirely.

After chapters that give a rationale for why collaborative problem solving is the best solution, after a detailed explanation of your three basic options, one of which you probably fall back on unconsciously, even if you try to explain your thinking to your child, the last six or so chapters elaborate on the basic approach. It is not exhaustive, but it gave a very distinct sense that you can not just try the method once or twice, but that you need to practice it so that it will become a habit, so that it evolves in a way that fits your family. Basically, all you are doing is talking to the child proactively. The author demonstrates that your child's explosions are probably predictable. You have to sit down and find the patterns, the situations. You have to sit down with him or her and create a solution. Sounds simple enough, may sound impossible, depending on your child, but the transcripts are very illuminating. As a teacher, I was very interested in the chapter about schools. I will probably pick up his book about schools if it looks like it elaborates on his ideas and gives more examples of dealing with explosive children. A classroom teacher probably could not implement his approach without support though. I also liked how the method could be adapted for solving problems between siblings and/or students and for teaching skills.

Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America

Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America - William D Waltz What are you looking to read next? What will convince you to reach for a volume of contemporary poetry, maybe this one? Is there anything I can report about these poems that will help you judge correctly whether or not they will appeal to you? I hope so, I will try.

I can't best the power, brevity, and accuracy of Bob Hicok's blurb on the back of the book, so I will start with part of it:

"If you don't think life is wonderful and don't want to, stay away, because William Waltz has 'always half-expected / incredible journeys.' Appreciation shines through these poems, and something rare in contemporary poetry - affection for the quality and dimensions of a life."

I agree with Hicok, of course. For example, when reading these poems, it's okay to laugh at images and/or fascinating juxtapositions: 'In hell, / in hell there's one / season. It's called cold / cruel oatmeal but it's never / too soon to wear white slacks'. It's okay to wax nostalgic about your misspent/well-used youth: 'Entangled / in a snare of cords and cables, / Jello gently unnetted me.' It's okay to note and ponder recurring elements that may reveal themes, such as birds, trees, and rivers. It's even okay to ask questions and pass judgment. Does one season dominate the volume? Are the birds birds or symbols? What makes a poem succeed or fall flat? What makes some resonate?

Can you tell I'm an elementary school teacher? I give you permission to dissect the poems on some readings, if you wish. It's okay to note the use of repetition, alliteration, personification, and of course, simile, metaphor, and rhyme (there's not so much rhyme). I will use some of these poems to practice reading closely. I may use them for writing exercises. I know these are good poems because I see ways for us to mess around with some of them. One seems to have 3 parts inspired by time: 1) Later,... 2) One day I'd like to... 3) But in the meantime... I'd like to see what the children can do with that.

The lines of poetry in the book are often clear and direct, seemingly straight forward. Most lines seem grounded in reality, what's concrete. Juxtapositions, though, sometimes startle, like a Zen koan: 'The flag flying over Baker, / Montana is a cloud of prehistoric dust, / part Bitterroot, part Yellowstone,/ part mastodon, part radio transmission.' A few of the poems look like paragraphs but most are arranged in short lines of a few words, the number of lines in the stanzas vary. No lines are marred, to my ears, by something uneven, unlyrical, or unloved. There is music here! Some of the poems start with a bang, but more build to one. Here's a great line from a middle: 'For a moment, the whole world is still, suspended from the sky by threads of starlight.'

Long ago, I studied Milton, Lowell, and Bishop, among others. I had a dog-eared anthology of poetry and saw Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, and other poets read during my undergraduate years, but I have not read a lot of contemporary poetry, not really, and what I have read was often selected by this poet, because William Waltz happens to be the founder and editor of Conduit magazine, which I also recommend, though his poems and those poems are not carbon copies in any way.

Finally, William Waltz and I recently became Goodreads friends, but over twenty years ago the Plant and Soils Department at UMASS hired me for a summer job at their orchard and I worked with a poetry graduate student named Bill Waltz. Therefore, reading these poems had an added layer for me, since we have not seen each other for a long, long time. All of us can wonder if the "I" in some of the poems is the poet, or not. I can't claim to know. But did I hear Bill? Yes! And one other thing is clear: William Waltz is happy! These poems celebrate life and nature: 'Rising up / through the dark broken water, / weed and water lily parting, / we begin, a gamble / with a face. Then / we move on.' None of the poems are labeled as an ode, but most, perhaps all, push appreciation, so partake, without regret: 'There was nothing left / to do but dive in / before the smell of black / coffee and blueberry pie / reminded me how beautiful / and incomplete / my communion was / and would be until / it was no longer."

Soulless - Gail Carriger, Gail Carriger I picked this up because I was interested in reading about vampires and steampunk (shoot me) and this story combines the two. Another dominant genre mash of the novel slipped my notice until I started reading: romance - yuck!

Despite that, I managed it and am not even ashamed. To me, the first chapters were harder to get through, shaky, not because of the romance elements but because of the author's ornate writing style. Extensive use of adverbs and other tics (wordiness, head-hopping) were enviously (because she got published anyway) and endlessly distracting as well as simultaneously proof that a new writer with an appealing story can find an audience. Eventually even I began seeing the "mistakes" as amusing and/ or instructive and just read on, like so many others. For example, does this sentence bother you?: "She worried her lower lip." (p. 45). Do you approve of long passages in which two people fighting in a room are forgotten about while the protagonist thinks and kisses? What about word choices that seem to undermine the terror or violence and distance the reader from the important emotion of the scene because the author won't/can't vary the tone, though I understand that that tone probably sold the book. I just think it undermined the story telling at points.

Around the halfway point, I assumed I'd rate the book 3 stars, perhaps 2 if the plot, characters, and setting sagged, but it didn't. The romance blended with the urban fantasy and steampunk admirably. I like authors, I like writing, and I admire this first time writer (she's written at least 4 sequels since) most for a plot that did not putter out or blow up confusedly. If you get through the sloppy, crude exposition at the beginning that establishes the Victorian London steampunk setting, eventually Alexia Tarabotti, the protagonist, a 25-year old spinster with an annoying family who does not value her, is able to do more than just explain and inquire. There were even a few spots where I truly felt for her.

Science usually gets a good rap in steampunk, or that's my impression from limited exposure. It's true here too, but that is somewhat undermined by the villains, who use it nefariously.

WARNING: Vampires and werewolves and such beings are the focal viewpoint of the story. That, in my opinion, is what contributes to the lack of terror/horror. Humans however are portrayed in all our sinister, imperfect glory. That may offend you.

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman Neverwhere by Neil Gaimen is good. I particularly liked the idea that cities we know exist side by side with parallel cities under them that contain violence, uncertainty, magic, the supernatural, and derelicts. The main character, Richard, was probably my least favorite part of the book. He just was not that compelling, though his presence did not ruin my enjoyment of his adventures. Gaimen purports in an introduction that his goal was to create an Alice in Wonderland, a Narnia, a Wizard of Oz feeling for adults. Those moments existed for sure as Richard's act of kindness to a dirty, wounded girl he passes on the street results in his induction into London Below. Much of the plot revolves around the girl and her quest, which Richard joins. She's okay, a damsel in distress, who hires a female bodyguard named Hunter and also relies on a shifty fellow called the Marquis de Carabas to avoid two ancient, notorious, and extremely effective killers named Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. The quest challenges them, in some ways foreseen, but much of it entertained me, especially when Richard crossed a bridge with an unfortunate girl, when the Marquis makes a big gamble, and during the Big Reveal.

I think of Gaiman as a good writer, capable of pulling off some amazing feats, so I was surprised to come across instances of what I thought was lazy writing, such as a few places where I thought things were told when they should have been shown. Oh well.
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis A lot of people really seem to love this book. I noted many good points and am envious of those readers who were unaffected by its plodding pace, but that severely limited its appeal to me. The extraordinarily slow beginning and middle contained details I enjoyed, but they did not build up in such a way that I was completely enchanted and all was forgiven. For me, the power of the good things, the power of the whole, was weakened by details that bordered on filler. And I do not require a breakneck speed either. No, sir. So maybe this book, not the individual elements, but the way the author weaved them together, letting too much stick, is just not my thing. That's one reason I really wish I could bump it up to four stars. Trenton Lee Stewart's heart is in the right place. For many people, enough to turn it into a best selling series, so was his style.

I liked the four orphans, two boys, two girls, and their different personalities, especially Kate. Reynie may have been a good choice for point of view character, since he became the de facto leader, but sometimes I wondered why the story wasn't told from Sticky's point of view, at least in part. (Maybe I tired of Reynie occasionally.)

Anyway, I liked the island. Nothing wrong with villains on islands. I liked the technology. Nothing wrong with villains with technology. I liked the brainsweeping and the evil plan to... I liked that the children were sent in as spies by an adult who was reluctant to send children into danger but felt it needed to be done. Though the children have their strengths, adults are portrayed as more powerful. One raging adult frightens the four of them, and that may be the kind of thing that inspires reviewers to compare the book to Lemony Snicket's and Roald Dahl's.

3D Printing: The Next Technology Gold Rush

3D Printing: The Next Technology Gold Rush - Christopher D. Winnan A few months ago, after reading a newspaper article about 3D printing, I placed a book about 3D printing on my to-read list. The author of this book noticed it, I suppose, and asked if I’d be interested in a copy of his book in exchange for a review. I agreed.

Glad I did!

Before I review the book, a few words about my interest in 3D printing. First, I majored in Comparative Literature as an undergraduate. Since then, I’ve often wished I majored in engineering. Life and earning a living (blah, blah, blah) have prevented me from making up for that - I just haven’t gotten around to being a tinkerer, even as a hobby, though becoming one is a dream of mine. My grandfathers were both tinkerers. So was my grandmother actually. Tinkering seems like such a good idea, even if mass production and economies of scale have largely rendered it obsolete. I had relatives who succeeded in manufacturing despite not having college degrees, though those days are long gone, right?

Maybe not. That’s what interests me about 3D printing. Is it a chance for me to mess around not only as a designer but as a maker of things? Is it also a chance for me to redeem myself as a technology visionary? I mean, back in the early 80s when my high school had a few weird computers that people programmed FORTRAN or something on, I had no interest. Zero. What the hell did those things have to do with me and my interests? I’m not the only one who missed the boat, but it has amazed me since then to see how wrong I was, how much computers have revolutionized and changed things that interested me when I was young, such as reading, writing, publishing, and art.

So for me, 3D printing brings together a few things. I don’t really expect to drop everything (or anything probably) and try to jump on board some gold rush, but I am interested. And I do believe that 3D printing offers tinkerers a lot of opportunities for fun and profit and who knows what else. It does seem possible that 3D printing has the potential to be a transformative, disruptive technology, like computers. If my grandfather was alive, I can see him having one and tinkering like hell. Recent news articles about Edward J. Snowden and his betrayal of the government mention his lack of education/credentials and his excellent pay package. He was a tinkerer; the money came later. If you put in the hours, hard work can pay off even if you are not on the cuff of the transformation like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but it probably won’t if you lack passion. Someone probably will make a mint from 3D printing, but they probably won’t just be chasing money, like lawyers allegedly chase ambulances, they’ll probably be smart tinkerers, interested in design, content, and business.

Lawd! Enough about me. Onto the book:

I am a neophyte and loved the detail. Depending on your level of expertise, I suppose some of it may not be necessary, but I’d be very surprised if there isn’t a lot of useful information, no matter how knowledgeable you already are. If nothing else, the author has assembled a comprehensive starting point from which you can navigate to ever more information. Investigating the links and suggested resources will take me years. Most important is the range: Winnan covers everything from technical details, to product ideas, to the big, big picture, 3D printing and the future. I am sure this book will be useful even as my experience and skills grow. I will be able to return to it and have a richer understanding of some passages. Using this book as a resource, I am sure, will save time and cut down on false starts and dead ends.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1, called A Technology Primer, introduces the reader to the world of 3D printing: 3D printing technology, scanning technology, modeling technology, and so on. Some of you may end up skimming parts of it, some like me, may not. It describes, explains, and lists a lot of sites and a lot of activity, such as Thingiverse.com, where designers post printable files of their work. This section is full of an awful lot of information, including speculation that CAD software is bound to get simpler to use, just as graphic design software has. Among other things, the author suggests getting familiar with SolidWorks so that you can evaluate the quality of files, and suggests tutorials for doing so. Are you familiar with Tinkercad, Sketch up, and Kinect? What about 3D printer forums on Kickerstarter? There is so much more, including comments about places on the internet that link designers, manufacturers and customers. You can even get started if you don’t have a printer. 3D printer services, such as Shapeways and Sculpteo, already exist.

Part 2 is called financial implications and opportunities. I remember a newly minted MBA telling me that he now thinks differently, that he is better able to spot opportunities and consider possibilities. As he spoke, I had my doubts and thought his boast could probably be turned into a Dilbert cartoon. However, Winnan, the author of this book, is a mind on fire, and he proves it in this section. Maybe, just maybe, I’m beginning to think like a newly minted MBA. When the barber was cutting my hair the other day, I was wondering if the shaving machine attachments might be interesting products for a 3D printer. Final products, not just prototypes, are the goal. Winnan also emphasizes that 3D printers will not be trying to compete with mass production and economies of scale. Think small runs, quick turn around, custom fabrication, high end. He shares lots of ideas for products. Lots. If I listed some of his categories here, it would actually be deceptive, because you would think you get it, but the most instructive thing about it is seeing how he mines the Internet for data and inspiration. One example: I remember my mother visiting a friend’s neighbor. This person was into doll houses and furniture. When Winnan brought up doll house furniture as a 3D printing product, I remembered my mother’s story and knew Winnan was right. There are many other niche communities besides doll house aficionados that large manufacturers are not fully satisfying.

Part 3 is called Storm Clouds on the Horizon. Here Winnan addresses the big picture in various ways. It’s interesting, especially if you are an ambitious tinkerer of one kind or another. He addresses naysayers if you’re worried about them. He offers up historical analogies that may convince you that 3D printing could be an extremely transformative technology. Even if he’s wrong, I think a lot of people will have a lot of fun with this stuff. I liked the part about large scale printing: buildings! I did not know it already exists. I also liked the part about printing materials, not just plastic, but recycled plastic from the sea, sawdust, metal alloys, human ashes, ceramics, and more. If you want to use a 3D printer to better the world, read what he has to say about 3D printing in the Third World and about the disruptive power of 3D printers.

Part 4 is appendices where he shares and comments about his sources, etc.

In conclusion, good book. Informed, detailed, thoughtful. You may not strike it rich, but you may, especially if you are technically orientated and creative. If you aren’t, you could still have a lot of fun.

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family - Thomas Mann I read a review recently of a historical novel. The reviewer believed that most historical novels fail, because they depict characters with a modern consciousness. These characters often defy the thinking of their times and act in ways that we can approve of. This novel is not historical fiction, but the fact that it was written over a hundred years ago and is full of completely recognisable, very vivid, and obviously historically accurate characters is just one of the things that wowed me about this book, Thomas Mann's first. Sure, the characters do not hold all our values, but they are so like us, in good ways and bad ways, that it reminded me that our lives, in a sense, have been lived before.

And that is humbling. But the book is so well-written, filled with so many beautiful passages, so many extremely clear depictions of important aspects of life. The realisation that all these emotions and situations have occurred before, millions of times, in millions of places, usually without an amazing novelist as witness, isn't even scary (most of the time) because I was just so impressed with Mann's ability to touch on so much. He writes about a specific family during a specific time period but makes it breath-takingly universal. Some characters appear throughout, but there are many viewpoints. Curiously, the novel, though clearly "literary", may even be an early example of a sub genre, the business novel, though I really have no idea how far back that sub genre goes. The Buddenbrooks are merchants, and the business environment, livelihoods, is a lively and interesting element of the novel's setting. The Buddenbrooks' decline and their business savvy is linked. We hear so much about today's changing economy; we ponder the unknowns and calculate, but that too, it is apparent from this novel, is not unique, even though differences between today and yesteryear obviously abound, humans have looked over similar precipices before...

It's an old novel, but I found it very readable and modern. Most chapters are short. A lot of exposition and description are not incorporated within "action", as may be more the norm today, but it was not monotonous or boring. If you want to see examples of lively exposition and lively "telling, not showing" that sparkles, read Buddenbrooks. Mann moved between exposition and scenes without apparent effort, and the scenes are exquisite. I'll try to recall some of them without giving too much away while hinting at their scope: banquets full of innumerable characters, siblings in their twenties playing it cool, young adults at the beach with their whole lives ahead of them, school days, class distinctions at play between various characters in various situations, characters with broken dreams rationalising, broken men at the beach relaxing, going to the dentist, playing music, getting sucked into a philosophy book for the day, shirking responsibilities, facing death, and much, much more.

'Salem's Lot - Stephen King It did not affect Stephen King's bottom line at all, but it took me a long time to get around to reading one of his books, mainly because I never really enjoyed horror movies, especially the slasher/splatter variety, which, for some reason, is the kind of story I thought King told. One reason King's finances should remain secure despite whatever happens to publishers is the fact that large numbers of readers who ignored him for years eventually discover him and pick up a few of his books. I know I'll read at least three more eventually: Carrie, The Stand, and The Gunslinger.

You probably don't give a damn why I got off my high horse and gave him a try, so I'll just direct you to my review of King's On Writing if you're at all curious. 'Salem's Lot is King's second book. I was surprised that it took a relatively long time for the horror action to start. Maybe that is directly due to the difference between readers of commercial fiction of the 1970s, and their attention spans, and readers today? The slow start was well written. King can set the scene. His descriptions of nature, the town, and people's personalities are great, even beautiful. The horror here was not slasher/splatter at all. I loved the way it grew, yet while it grew, brought on by vampires, the ordinariness of the everyday still took place. The sun rose and characters observed nature's beauty and were not even sure, in a way, if the night's horrors could have been real. I don't know if that is trademark King, but I am interested in finding out.
The Best American Mystery Stories 2012 (The Best American Series (R)) - 'Tom Andes',  'Peter S. Beagle',  'K. L. Cook',  'Jason DeYoung',  'Kathleen Ford',  'Jesse Goolsby',  'Mary Gaitskill',  'Thomas J. Rice' I preferred some stories over others, of course, but enjoyed 'em all. I've read quite a few volumes from this series over the years and always appreciate the opportunity to read mystery stories by authors known to me and unknown. The excellent writing found in these volumes is, I believe, what first opened my discerning and highly critical mind to the possibilities and pleasures of mystery stories. In the introduction, the series editor, Otto Penzler, often explains and/or apologies for his wide definition of a mystery story, which basically requires a crime or the threat of one and is not at all limited to sleuths. Penzler does it well enough each year, and distinctly enough, that I always read it and never feel like a sucker (It may be similar to what couch potatoes experience when watching reruns, but I doubt it.).

I blurbed about each story without planning to. Shared whatever gems came to mind as I skimmed the contents:

The Hit by Tom Andes: Very good tale about a goofball, told by a hit man.

The Bridge Partner by Peter S. Beagle: Yes, that Peter S. Beagle. He gets away with this because the narrator's bridge partner's modus operandi is hilarious.

Filament by K.L. Cook: Don't get pregnant and drop out of college.

The Funeral Bill by Jason DeYoung: Engaging tale of obsession.

Fifty Minutes by Joe Donnelly and Harry Shannon: A psychotherapist tells the story, maintaining a streak of truly impressive and interesting characters. You will love him.

Man on the Run by Kathleen Ford: Extremely old narrator, realistically portrayed, and kick ass. God bless this writer.

The Other Place by Mary Gaitskill: A narrator looks back. The looking back was written in a way that grabbed my attention more than the story in the past...

Safety by Jesse Goolsby: Unexpected ending. I smiled.

Trafficking by Katherine L. Hester: Visiting the past, visiting a prison.

Soul Anatomy by Lou Manfredo: Very interesting perspective on police.

The Good Samaritan by Thomas McGuane: Narrator likes to end his day working on his ranch. I liked that.

Looking for Service by Nathan Oates: American on business in unnamed Latin American country encounters American backpackers. Communication breakdown.

Dog on a Cow by Gina Paoli: Farmer, flood story within the story. Told by a victim in truly terrifying circumstances.

Vic Primeval by T. Jefferson Parker: Crazy kids. A wrestler. A detective.

Hard Truths by Thomas J. Rice: Historical. Takes place in Ireland in 1958 and seems to capture the times and the tone. Narrated by a boy. The story of his parents.

Icarus by Lones Seiber: Portrays a disturbing ordinariness/hopelessness. Lock your guns away before reading.

Trafalgar by Charles Todd: Historical. Cambridgeshire, 1920. Police procedural, I believe. Atmospheric. Like a condensed novel in its complexity.

Half-Lives by Tim L. Williams: Gritty, realistic, urban, with mafioso and an environmental/social responsibility theme. Unique, I thought. Applause.

Returning the River by Daniel Woodrell: Short, damn near incomprehensible to me, not because of the writing, 'cause of the outlook, which I am still contemplating...

P.S. Besides the stories, there's more fun to be had because they include notes about the contributors, which are often brief bios with short descriptions of how they came to write their stories. I almost always turn to the notes after reading each story, mainly out of envy, sometimes out of awe.

Darkness, Take My Hand

Darkness, Take My Hand  - Dennis Lehane The blurb on the back cover refers to a serial killer. Usually that would be a show stopper for me, because serial killers do not fascinate me at all, especially the Mensa type that seem to overpopulate thrillers. If not for Lehane's reputation, especially among various friends here on Goodreads, I'm sure I would have passed. Lehane's serial killer does spout some spooky stupid mumbo jumbo, but by the time I got to it, I didn't give a hoot.

This is Lehane's second novel. I read and enjoyed his first, A Drink Before the War, but noted a few rough spots in it, if I may be so bold, a few places where I thought I may have been able to offer him some writing advice about certain particulars. Not this time. Things fit together tightly without being so polished that it isn't distinct. His detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, remain interesting, most of the time (I skim read some of the "romance", sorry). Character nuance, especially with Patrick the narrator, adds significance and import in just the right doses. Even Bubba, their psycho friend, who ordinarily would induce a give-me-a-break eye roll, escaped my ire. Despite elements that should make you gag, like the serial killer and Bubba, Lehane pulled it off. It helped that I'm familiar with Boston and its surroundings and enjoyed all the references, but that was not all. It worked for other reasons too, like the plot. Kenzie and Gennaro come up empty, end the investigation, and go off on tangents, but it begins to come together at a certain point, then hurtles forward, a pace I really liked.

It was not perfect. For example, some scenes and some plot development relied on too little description and too much dialogue, but even my correct guess about who one of the unidentified killers was did not ruin it for me, because I agree with the unnamed writer for the Daily Express who wrote that "Lehane's hold is wholly unremitting...". Overall, Lehane mixed it up tremendously well. The flaws did not detract from the story, the characters, or the suspense.