Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Royal Physician’s Visit by Per Olov Enquist. Historical fiction.

My attempt to read a great Swedish novel or two, preparatory to visiting the country, was easier said than done. This, for example, by all accounts a great novel by a great Swedish novelist, in fact takes place in Denmark. As it is based on true historical events, the subtitle could be “The 101 Guide to How Not to Reform Your Society Even If You’re Basically Right Because You Will Get Your Head Chopped Off,” a warning for idealists everywhere.… >> Read more


Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Children’s fantasy/horror.

It was…fine. I think I would have liked it more had I been reading it aloud to small children. But then, I would have to get close to small children…so I’ll pass.

Coraline knew that when grown-ups told you something wouldn’t hurt it almost always did. She shook her head.

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Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson. History/botany.

There are a couple of ways you could go here. You could talk about (1) the science behind the workings of seeds; (2) how they fit into ecosystems; (3) their importance to human culture and development; (4) their nutritive value; (5) the importance of, and methodology for, saving unusual seed varieties in viable form; or (6) their future in the face of changing agricultural patterns and genetic modification.… >> Read more


Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life by Anu Partanen. Politics.

Firstly, this book is oriented toward Americans, so if you aren’t American it will probably just make you laugh sadly. (In fact, I am an American and it made me laugh sadly too.) The author is a Finn who married an American and promptly ran up against the fact that Americans can’t afford to get sick, lose a job, get a good education or have children.… >> Read more


Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song by Frank M. Young, illustrated by David Lasky. Biography/music.

I met the illustrator at a dinner party. I adore his work. In fact, I have some on my wall. However, unless you are truly interested in the Carter Family (which you might be, who knows, but I am not) you can probably skip this.… >> Read more

The Fortuitous Meeting cover

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Fortuitous Meeting by Christopher Kastensmidt. Fantasy.

Honestly, this was a perfectly acceptable novella in all ways. It just didn’t…stand out. Perhaps the rest of the series is better?

Oludara laughed deeply. “Sorry to laugh at you, Gerard van Oost, but how can one not laugh when presented with such madness? Yet I must also be mad, for I accept your proposal.

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What Makes This Book So Great cover

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton. Nonfiction.

I enjoyed reading this book, but, perhaps peculiarly, I hesitate to recommend it. For one thing, all of its contents are available for free online. For another, one large chunk of it pertains only to the Miles Vorkosigan books of Lois McMaster Bujold and another chunk to the Vlad Taltos series of Steven Brust—and both sections are packed with spoilers, making them something you’ll probably want to avoid unless you’ve either already read those series or have no intention of doing so.… >> Read more

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Literature.

I have a friend who jokes that I don’t read any living male authors. I do, of course; I just don’t read non-genre literature by living male authors—or living anybody, really. This book on my shelf was a counterexample of one. (And that is a beautiful irony, that David unwittingly got me to read John Irving, because he’s a snob who probably hates John Irving.) Anyway, in a nutshell: the eminently slappable middle-aged professor John Wheelwright looks back on his boyhood friendship with Owen Meany, a very distinctive character who from an early age believed that God put him on Earth for a mission.… >> Read more