Book Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer


Author: Eoin Colfer
Title: Highfire
Publication Info: New York : HarperPerennial, [2020]
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I received an advanced reading copy of this novel through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Eoin Colfer writes fantasy fiction primarily for the young adult audience, but this book is most decidedly not for children.  Nevertheless, the book is about an ancient dragon Wyvern, Lord Highfire (“Vern” for short) who has retired to the Louisiana bayou where he reclines in his La-Z-Boy wearing a Flashdance t-shirt and drinking vodka while watching Netflix. A series of incidents bring him together with a teenager named Everett “Squib” Moreau, who has a penchant for trouble but is trying to do his best. Squib eventually becomes Vern’s assistant or “familiar” despite the latter’s mistrust of humans.

Squib has the misfortune that the corrupt and sociopathic constable Regence Hooke is insistent on dating Squib’s single mother.  Squib gets into deeper trouble when he witnesses Hooke murdering a rival.  Hooke learns of Vern from following Squib and comes up with a plan to use the dragon to take out a New Orleans crime lord and take control of drug and arms trafficking.

Parts of this book are a delightful blend of fantasy and gritty, everyday life on the Louisiana bayou.  I especially enjoy the growing relationship between Squib and Vern.  Unfortunately, Colfer seems to revel in detailing Hooke’s cruel and psychotic mind.  It gets to the point where Hooke feels like he’s the main protagonist of the story and he’s not someone I want to spend a lot of time with.

Recommended books:

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Monied Metropolis by Sven Beckert


Author: Sven Beckert
Title: The Monied Metropolis : New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896
Publication Info: Cambridge, UK ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, 2001
Summary/Review:

I read this book as a group project at my job since the people covered in this book are the types who are represented in many of our archive’s older manuscript collections.  The author uses the word “bourgeoisie” and is very repetitive in general.  I also think Beckert could’ve been better at showing rather than telling about the social changes in 19th century New York City.  Nevertheless, it does offer some interesting insight into “the story of the consolidation of a self-concision upper class in New York City in the second half of the nineteenth century.” (Beckert, 2).

The main theme of the book is the conflict between the established merchant class and the nouveau-riche industrialists.  The conflict also manifests itself in those who are sympathetic to slaveholders in the South because it provides them financial gain (generally the merchants) and those who are anti-slavery, mainly because it threatens to compete with their own sources of labor, but also for moral and religious reasons (typically the industrialists).  Even during the Civil War there were elites who favored ending the war swiftly and going easy on the slaveowners.

New York City grows massively in population during this time as well as in wealth.  And the new bourgeoisie find ways to consolidate that wealth into a handful of families that intermarry akin to medieval aristocrats.  The elite unite to quash labor movements and increasingly use their strength to squash political organizing of the poor out of fear that the working class will be radicalized.  The elite even take on the roles of government, such as building castle-like armories and training as National Guard units to prevent proletarian uprising.

It’s hard not to read this book and not come away with the impression that the 19th-century New York City elite were pretty awful people.  Even in a charitable act such the Christmas Feeding at Madison Square Garden, the rich would gather in the stands to watch as lines of poor people processed through to receive gifts of food, adding an extra layer of humiliation to their plight.  In addition to acting against labor, the NYC elite also consolidated around antisemitism, anti-Black prejudice, and anti-immigrant sentiment.  By the end of the century they were using terms such as “businessman,” “capitalist,” and “taxpayer.” Their legacy has many echoes in the present day.

Favorite Passages:

“Mystifying the laws of the market into laws of nature allowed upper class New Yorkers to account for their own exalted position.” – 281

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle


Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Title: All the Bad Apples
Narrator: Marisa Calin and Elizabeth Sastre
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2019
Summary/Review:

A Dublin teenager, Deena, on the precipice of her 17th birthday accidentally outself herself to her much older sister Rachel and her conservative father. Her other, wilder sister Mandy (Rachel’s twin) goes missing, and when her car is found by some cliffs on the other side of Ireland, she is presumed dead by everyone but Deena.

Instead, Deena goes on a road trip with her best friend, a mixed-race bisexual boy named Finn, and meets a previously unknown niece and an attractive young woman along the way.  They pick up clues in the form of letters from Mandy about the troubled history of women in Deena’s family going back centuries which includes forced pregnancy, rape, ostracization, accusations of witchcraft, abortion, and imprisonment in the notorious Magdelen laundries. The whole time they are pursued by three banshees adding an element of magical realism.

This movie ties together a story of contemporary sexism, homophobia, and discrimination in Ireland with folklore and history.  But does it with very little subtlety.  My mind wandered a lot during this book but let’s chalk that up to reader error. I’m sure this is a perfectly good book for young adults who want stories of adventure and family history with positive female and LGBT characters.

Recommended books:

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by


Author: Tyler Kepner
Title: K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches
Publication Info: New York : Doubleday, [2019]
Summary/Review:

Tyler Kepner explores ten different pitches in baseball, describing how they’re thrown, how they move, and the history of how they originated and developed.  The ten pitches include standard pitches like the fastball, curveball, and slider.

But Kepner also explores pitches that only an elite cadre of pitchers can master (the knuckleball) and a pitch that only one pitcher can really handle (Mariano Rivera and the cutter).  He also explores pitches that had peaks of popularity in the past but are all but absent in the present-day game (the screwball and the splitter).  Kepner even devotes a chapter to spitballs, scuffballs, and other modifications to the ball that affect pitches and the gamesmenship of pitchers known to use them.

The book is written in an oral history style, relying on Kepner’s interviews with current and retired pitchers and coaches as well as quotes from earlier works that covered now deceased pitchers.  The book is a creative way to look at the history of baseball from the perspective of one of its most important facets.

Favorite Passages:

Every pitch is a decision. That is the beauty and the burden of the pitcher. Think there’s downtime in baseball? Tell it to the man on the mound, all alone on that dirt bull’s-eye. The catcher thinks along with him, back behind the plate, but the pitcher rules the game. Nothing happens until he answers these questions: Which pitch should I throw, where should I throw it, and why? It is an awesome responsibility.


I’ve found that most people in baseball tend to be…pretty nice. And of all the subsets of folks in the game, knuckleball pitchers might be the nicest. They are also part of the smallest group, which helps explain it. Almost all knuckleballers were rejected by the game before they could last very long. They earned their living by grabbing the wing of a butterfly and then, somehow, steering it close enough to the strike zone, again and again, to baffle the best hitters in the world.


In the 1930s, the prime of the great Giant lefty Carl Hubbell, “screwball” came to describe a specific genre of Hollywood comedies: battle of the sexes, often with a woman’s madcap antics upending a stuffy man’s world. In his book about Depression-era films, Andrew Bergman wrote that “screwball comedy,” like Hubbell’s famous pitch, was “unconventional, went in different directions and behaved in unexpected ways.”


“Have I ever told you about my agreement with the ball?” Quisenberry asked Angell, who said no. “Well, our deal is that I’m not going to throw you very hard as long as you promise to move around when you get near the plate, because I want you back. So if you do your part, we’ll get to play some more.”


After two chaotic decades or so, the spitball was banned for 1920, the same year the country went dry under Prohibition. The rule simply turned the mound into a speakeasy, with many pitchers going undercover to get the same slippery edge as their predecessors.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Hunger by Alma Katsu


Author: Alma Katsu
Title: The Hunger
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:

This historical novel retells the journey of the Reed-Donner Party in 1846, but adds a supernatural element.  So in addition to a series of mishaps and a poor decision to use a dangerous cutoff in attempt to shorten their journey, the party of pioneers also have to deal with supernatural elements.  I found the characterization of the people in the novel was well-done, and the author created a good illustration of how the people in this moving community interacted.  But the horror of the real Reed-Donner party with people dying of disease and starvation, with others resorting to cannibalism to survive is horrible enough. The story is not improved by the supernatural horror.

Recommended books:

Rating: **

Book Review: Bonk by Mary Roach


Author: Mary Roach
Title: Bonk : the curious coupling of science and sex
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton, c2008.
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Mary Roach, the popular science writer who has the sense of humor of a 12-year-old, investigates medical research of human sexual intercourse.  There are some guffaws, and Roach even volunteers for some experiments with her husband, but this book is surprisingly a straight-forward account of historical research and current studies of sex. Roach draws on the writings of famous sex experts such as Alfred Kinsey and Masters & Johnson, and interviewing and observing today’s researchers. Along the way she details with sex machines and penis cameras, erectile dysfunction treatments, artificial insemination, and the mysteries of the female orgasm.  It’s an interesting account but it doesn’t feel like vital read.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison


Author: Toni Morrison
Title: Song of Solomon
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2009 [Originally published in 1977]
Other Books Read by Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Song of Solomon is a novel I read a couple of times in college and is my favorite of Toni Morrison’s many masterpieces.  I feel unqualified to write about it, since Morrison’s used of words, world building, characterization, and storytelling are so terrific they are to describe.

The novel tells the life story of Macon Dead III, known by the nickname “Milkman,” and his journey of self-discovery.  Milkman comes from a prosperous African American family in an unnamed Michigan city.  His father, Macon, owns lots of real estate, and his mother, Ruth, is the daughter of the city’s only African American doctor.

Milkman’s aunt Pilate lives on the other side of the tracks and is a bootlegger and something of a mysterious figure who was born without a navel. Despite Macon’s alienation from his sister, Milkman begins visiting Pilate and establishing more of a link with his family past.  He also begins a long-term sexual relationship with his cousin Hagar.  Milkman is also contrasted with his older, more world friend Guitar who is part of a secret organization of men who kill white people in retaliation for racial murders of blacks.

Milkman begins a southward journey, opposite of the Great Migration occurring at the same time the novel is set, ostensibly to follow the trail of some gold his father and Pilate once found. In reality, Milkman is finding connections to his past and his people. First, he visits the real town of Danville, Pennsylvania where his grandfather was murdered by white people and his father and Pilate had to flee for his safety. Then he continues to the fictional town of Shalimar, where Milkman pieces together his family history to enslaved Africans and Native Americans.

The ending of this book is both tragic and triumphant.  I was surprised that there were scenes in this book that stuck in my memory perfectly over 25 years.  Although there was also a lot of the book I’d forgotten. The novel remains one of my all time favorite books.

Favorite Passages:

“I wish I’d a knowed more people. I would of loved ‘em all. If I’d a knowed more, I would a loved more.”

Rating: *****

Book Reviews: Damaged Goods by Russell T. Davies


Author: Russell T. Davies
Title: Damaged Goods
Publication Info: Virgin Book, October 1996
Summary/Review:

Many of the Doctor Who novels published in the 1990s were written by authors who either wrote for the original tv series or would go on to write for the revived series.  This novel is significant in that it’s author Russell T. Davies would go on to be the showrunner who brought Doctor Who back to our tv screens in 2005.  In common with the later tv series, this story is set on a council estate with a family named Tyler.

Much like in Andrew Carmel’s Warlock, a narcotic drug turns out to be an alien force.  In this case, cocaine contains an ancient Gallifreyan weapon called the N-form.  The weapon draws power from a pair of twins separated at birth who are connected by a vampiric waveform.  The whole plot is rather complicated, but it’s setting in the depression and poverty of Thatcher’s Britain is a well-formed world for the Doctor, Chris, and Roz to unlock a mystery and a human tragedy.

Rating: ***1/2

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures:

Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker


Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Title: The Age of Miracles
Narrator: Emily Janice Card
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012)
Summary/Review:

This novel offers a speculative account of the crisis that occurs when the rotation of the Earth slows, lengthening the periods of daylight and nighttime.  This incident is referred to by the characters in the book as The Slowing, and it has the effect of causing birds to die off, an increase of solar radiation, a complete inability to grow traditional crops, and even causing some people to contract an illness.

While the premise is fantastical, the way the fictional American society responds to the crisis is realistic.  The US government determines that the country will continue to follow the 24-hour clock regardless of what time the sun is shining or not.  Some people rebel against this, insisting on living on “real time,” even going so far as forming their own separatist communities.

The narrator/protagonist of the novel is a junior high school girl from suburban San Diego named Julia.  From her perspective we see the dissolution of the social order among her family, friends, and school.  Any attempts to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence are overshadowed by the crisis that prevents any sense of predictability in the world. Julia narrates from an uncertain future while the narrative focuses on the first few months of the slowing as Julia faces changing friendships and an emerging relationship with a long-time crush.

This novel is dark and emotional and all too real to be reading at this time.

Recommended books:

  • The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Rating: ***

Book Review: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai


Author: Elan Mastai
Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Narrator: Elan Mastai
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

All Our Wrong Todays takes the idea of the dystopian alternate universe and it turns it on its head.  In this novel, OUR universe is the dystopia where the narrator/protagonist Tom Barren ends up after a time travel experiment goes wrong.  In his world, the invention of a machine that provides unlimited clean energy in 1965 has lead to five decades of remarkable technological advancement, peace, and prosperity.

The great twist in this book is that Barren (known as John Barren in our world) is actually much better off in our timeline.  A loser in his world, he’s a successful architect in ours. His father is an aloof genius in his world, but a loving dad in ours.  His mother is dead in his timeline but alive in ours. He even has a younger sister who he’s very close to in our timeline.

Tom is faced with the struggle of knowing that he is responsible for changing history to our timeline with pollution, inequality, and war, and inadvertently making billions of lives nonexistent, but also wanting to cling what he’s gained in our world, especially the love of a woman named Penny.  Be warned that Tom is kind of a terrible person, and an unsympathetic character, but stick with it as his self-awareness is a strength.

This is an enjoyable and creative novel, and honestly I couldn’t stop listening to it once I started the audiobook.

Favorite Passages:

“The problem with knowing people too well is that their words stop meaning anything and their silences start meaning everything.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****