Saturday, August 20, 2016

RIP Thom Steinbeck, Library Olympics, NFL Book Club, Dark Run by Mike Brooks and Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway

As everyone knows, I am a huge fan of the works of the Bard of America, John Steinbeck. He was a fascinating man who had a rough history with his family. I once spoke with Thom's sister in law (she was married to his older brother John Jr) at length, and she had only kind things to say about the youngest Steinbeck. I read his book Down to A Soundless Sea and found it lovely, if a bit overwrought. Still, both of his sons inherited their father's love of words. Johnny died unexpectedly during a routine operation, and now it appears that the youngest son has also passed too soon. RIP Thom.

Obituary Note: Thomas Steinbeck

Thomas Steinbeck
the eldest son of novelist John Steinbeck "and, later in life, a fiction
writer who fought bitterly in a family dispute over his father's
estate," died August 11, the New York Times reported. He was 72.
Steinbeck "was approaching 60 when he published his first fiction, a
collection of stories called Down to a Soundless Sea, in 2002," the
Times noted. He also published two novels, The Silver Lotus and In the
Shadow of the Cypress.

Steinbeck "gained perhaps his widest attention in 2004, when he and a
granddaughter of John Steinbeck began a lengthy battle for intellectual
property rights to the elder Steinbeck's written works that they said
rightfully belonged to the author's direct descendants," the Times
wrote. While a New York federal judge granted the blood heirs
book-publishing and movie rights to some of the major works, the
decision was reversed by a federal appeals court in Manhattan in 2008.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal.

Yes! I love that there are Olympics for smart people, too!
Librarians Have an Olympics, Too'

Noting that "librarians perform feats of near-Olympian prowess every day
as they lug books back and forth, tame tortuous piles of information and
sustain long hours and complicated reference requests," the Smithsonian
reported on the University of Dayton's Library Olympics
earlier this summer. Many libraries hold similar competitions.

The librarians competed in events like " 'journal Jenga' (stacking bound
periodicals as high as possible and jumping out of the way when they
collapsed. Then they faced off in a circuit of different events,
including balancing bound journals on their heads, running a book cart
through a twisty course, and tossing journals toward a target.... Brains
had a place next to all that brawn, too, as librarians participated in a
tricky speed sorting event in which they had to put books in order by
their Library of Congress call number. To top it all off, they ran
around campus finding objects that corresponded to different LOC call
numbers. The winning team made off with the medal by a single point."

Since we moved to Seattle in 1991, my husband and I have become Seattle Seahawks football fans. My favorite player is a gentleman who actually lives in Maple Valley, not far from our home, named Richard Sherman. Now I read that another Seahawk has started a book club for football players, and it seems appropriate to me that it be someone from one of the most literate cities in America. Good on ya, Michael Bennett!

Cool Idea of the Day: NFL Player's Book Club

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett "wants to try something
new with his teammates: a book club
ESPN reported, adding that the lineman "pitched the idea to Seahawks
vice president of player engagement Maurice Kelly, and Kelly liked what
he heard. The first book on the list is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell."

"Try to get a book and try to have a good conversation about it,"
Bennett said of his book club game plan. "Read a couple chapters and
just go through it. 'What's your take on it? What's your opinion on it?'
It's going to be pretty cool." Thus far, his teammates "have been
receptive. I tell them don't waste too much time staying on the phone
all the time. Every once in awhile, open up a book."

"People think that he just talks, but he does research," Kelly noted.
"He reads a lot. He's not just talking to be talking, just to hear
himself. Sometimes it comes across as if he's just talking just to hear
himself talk. But he knows his history. He leaves his books all over the
damn place. I see 'em in my office all the time." Regarding the book
club, he added: "It's a good thing, kind of taking everybody out of
their comfort zone. I don't know too many guys who read a lot of books.
Mike reads. But to put the onus on everybody else, to challenge
everybody else, I'm accepting the challenge."

Dark Run by Mike Brooks was recommended on an book site FB page as science fiction that would appeal to fans of Firefly Having been a browncoat for years now, I was intrigued. What really surprised me about this novel, however, was that it melded the styles of Firefly with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Limitless the TV show, as well as adding in pop culture references from everything from the Princess Bride to Monty Python's Flying Circus. It takes the Star Trek trope of a small group of misfit protagonists and sets them into trouble out in the galaxy  with only the captain's wits and the crews special talents to see them through. Here is the blurb:In this debut space epic, a crew of thieves and con artists take on a job that could pay off a lot of debts in a corrupt galaxy where life is cheap and criminals are the best people in it.
The Keiko is a ship of smugglers, soldiers of fortune, and adventurers traveling Earth’s colony planets searching for the next job. And they never talk about their past—until now.
Captain Ichabod Drift is being blackmailed. He has to deliver a special cargo to Earth, and no one can know they’re there. It’s what they call a dark run…And it may be their last.
Drift's second in command, Rourke, is a kick-ass woman who reminded me of Ming Na Wen on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. His "brawn"  a Maori warrior named Aprirana is surprisingly innocent and has a sensitive heart, which reminded me of Fezzik from the Princess Bride movie. At any rate, the prose is no nonsense and clean as a whistle, which is why the FTL plot can zoom along at such a rapid pace. Once you pick up this science fiction thriller, you won't be able to put it down. I really can't go into the intricacies of the plot without spoiling it, so suffice it to say that Dark Run gets a well deserved A, and a recommendation to all fans of Firefly and Star Trek.
A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway is the second book in the Baskerville Affair series, a Steampunk romantic adventure that, while being a bit too "ladies lose their minds around men" style, still has much to recommend it. Here's the blurb:
When a bomb goes off at 221B Baker Street, Evelina Cooper is thrown into her uncle Sherlock’s world of mystery and murder. But just when she thought it was safe to return to the ballroom, old, new, and even dead enemies are clamoring for a place on her dance card.
Before Evelina’s even unpacked her gowns for a country house party, an indiscretion puts her in the power of the ruthless Gold King, who recruits her as his spy. He knows her disreputable past and exiles her to the rank alleyways of Whitechapel with orders to unmask his foe.
As danger mounts, Evelina struggles between hiding her illegal magic and succumbing to the darker aspects of her power. One path keeps her secure; the other keeps her alive. For rebellion is brewing, a sorcerer wants her soul, and no one can protect her in the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper.
Though I like Evelina as a protagonist, for the most part, she tends to become stupid around men, especially Tobias and then Nick, who didn't seem like a good guy to me, because he was so violent and possessive. Evelina just can't control her emotions around them, though, and acts like a silly damsel in distress, and when push comes to shove, she is willing to lead a life of slavery to one of the Steam Barons just for the chance of saving Nick, though he is thought to be dead anyway. Evelina also succumbs to the blandishments of the evil Dr Magnus, though she knows he's up to no good, and yet she just can't help herself when she asks him to teach her dark magic, which, again, she knows is wrong and will only lead to pain and suffering. For a supposedly strong and feisty heroine, Evelina needs rescuing a lot, and she can't seem to keep from stepping in it over and over. She's also supposed to be smart, but she acts without thinking things through all the time. Her best friend Imogen is even worse, which of course makes her all the more attractive to all the Victorian sexist men, who seek to use everyone for their own gain/power. the explanation for Jack the Ripper being who she is was inventive, if a bit bizarre. Still, the prose was intricate and engrossing, and the plot full of twists and turns. A nicely done B+ steampunk novel that I'd recommend to those who like their heroines strong, but not too strong, and their male heroes stereotypically macho. 

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