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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23)
Terry Pratchett
The Dry
Jane Harper
Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Progress: 249/311 pages

Sorry, Char! Next time, I promise.

I promised Char that for my next book, I'd read Boy's Life - Robert R. McCammon, which she's been talking up for about as long as I've known her on BL. But, I'm going to have to break my promise. I'll be at the Rangers game tonight, hopefully to witness history as Adrian Beltre achieves the 3,000 career hit milestone. Plus, they're giving away a Roogie bobblehead to the first 15,000 fans, so we have to get to the ballpark as soon as the gates open, which means I have to pack a book. And I'm not hauling a hardcover around in my backpack in the Texas summer heat. So it's got to be a small paperback next - Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23) - Terry Pratchett. I'll get to Boy's Life next, I promise.


Go Rangers!

The Realm of Last Chances ★★★☆☆

The Realm of Last Chances - Steve Yarbrough

Are there any “literary” novels that aren’t grim and depressing? If so, I haven’t found any yet. My takeaway from this one is that

everybody is hiding something, the only people who aren’t judgmental assholes aren’t interesting enough for character exploration but instead are simply receptacles for the interesting people, and since everyone is guilty of violating at least one rule of ethics or someone’s trust, then we shouldn’t judge each other for that kind of stuff, only for having tacky or popular tastes in entertainment and/or conservative politics. Oh, and all sins are fairly equivalent: academic dishonesty, cheating on your spouse, embezzling from your employer, giving someone a (deserved or undeserved) beating that hospitalizes them, armed robbery, or being a swinger.

(show spoiler)

In spite of these flaws, this is a well-written story with interesting characters and plot.


Hardcover, purchased from Half Price Books on the recommendation of the now-defunct podcast Books On The Nightstand.


Previous Updates:

7/22 – 27/288pg

7/24 – 82/288pg

7/25 – 96/288pg

7/28 – 199/288pg


Gwendy’s Button Box ★★★★★

Gwendy's Button Box: Includes bonus story "The Music Room" - Richard Chizmar, Stephen King, Maggie Siff

It’s odd to me that, given the emphasis in the afterward by Chizmar on getting the setting right, I don’t really recognize Castle Rock. But otherwise, this novella is a home run for me. I loved the character of Gwendy, and the mystery of the box. In true SK fashion, nothing is explained about how things work or why it happens, and it doesn’t matter at all, because the story is terrific.


The bonus story, The Music Room, wasn’t such of a much. It was more like flash fiction than a complete short story.


Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. Excellent performance by Maggie Siff.

The Realm of Last Chances: 199/288 pg

The Realm of Last Chances - Steve Yarbrough

Now she was lying in bed, in a musty room where the accumulated dust of the coverlet made her sneeze each time she crawled under it, and a man who could have gone to jail for embezzlement was asking her if she could possibly overlook academic mischief. 


Swan Song ★★★★☆

Swan Song - Robert R. McCammon, Tom Stechschulte

Oh boy, was this a wild, fun ride-along with characters that I loved and characters that I loved to hate. There was plenty of explicit gore, some of which actually did make me cringe and stop for a bit. But there were some truly touching moments, too. Much like the post-apocalyptic world of this book, it’s not all darkness and cruelty and death, but also some hope and love and a tiny spark of belief in humanity.


It’s not quite a five star read, though, because I had to work pretty hard to suspend disbelief that 

a world in which a nuclear winter lasts for 7 or 8 years, where supposedly nothing can grow, not even weeds, and all plant life has died, seems unlikely to be able to sustain any life at all. Sure, most people starved and some could survive on the remnants of canned food or rats, but what would herbivores survive on? How did they keep that horse alive, if nothing was growing? If there are no herbivores left, did the carnivores/omnivores like rats and bobcats and wolves survive just on eating each other? If there are no plants, then a significant population of insects would go extinct, wouldn’t they? The disruption of the food chain seems unlikely to have allowed survival for that long a period of time.

(show spoiler)

 But this isn’t explained or even addressed, so I wondered and doubted, and that took something away from the story for me. Although it does strike me as funny that I didn’t have the same problem with 

people growing an entire warty coating on their heads with their faces beneath becoming something entirely different that reflects their true self/soul, or non-human creatures growing extra limbs and heads, or an inhuman creature who thrives on death and destruction and performs supernatural feats, or a girl who can magically make plants grow at an accelerated pace, etc.

(show spoiler)

 Why I should fixate on the

nuclear winter

(show spoiler)

thing, I don’t know.


Audiobook, purchased on sale from Audible. The performance by Tom Stechschulte was absolutely fantastic. I’ll look for other books read by him. Warning, though, this is a 34 ½ hour audiobook, so you have to really love audio to consume it in this format. It’s a LOT of listening.


Previous Updates:

7/17/17 – 2% 

7/18/17 – 9%

7/18/17 – 16%

7/19/17 – 23%

7/22/17 – 51%

7/25/17 – 97%


Swan Song: 97%

Swan Song - Robert R. McCammon, Tom Stechschulte

Wheeeeeeeeee! It's like riding a runaway mine train!

The Realm of Last Chances: 96/288 pg

The Realm of Last Chances - Steve Yarbrough

Nope, still no empathy. But have to credit the author with really vivid character creation, even the most minor of them. Although I think as each character is introduced, we are learning more about whichever of the three main characters that is interacting with them. They sure are a judgmental bunch of assholes.  

The Realm of Last Chances: 82/288pg

The Realm of Last Chances - Steve Yarbrough

So this guy is

an embezzler who asked his elderly mother to borrow the money to pay back his employer, is a snob about books & music (a girl who "never read anything serious" and listened to Cyndi Lauper is only interesting because she's beautiful) and thinks of dogs only as "props".

(show spoiler)

I hope I'm not expected to find him either likable or sympathetic, but he's clearly one of the story's protagonists. I believe I'll be cheering for him to experience more misery and loss, regardless. 

The Realm of Last Chances: 27/288pg

The Realm of Last Chances - Steve Yarbrough

Lately, he felt insubstantial, weightless, as if he were merely the idea of a person rather than the real thing. People weren't just a past or a present or a set of extinguished expectations. They had to have a future, too, and for himself he failed to see one. He felt as if he could readily be brushed off, as if right now, should he choose to, Nowicki could swat him aside as if he were no more momentous than a fly or a gnat. 

Swan Song: 51%

Swan Song - Robert R. McCammon, Tom Stechschulte

Did the story just jump 7 years forward? That was disorienting. 


Comparisons with The Stand are inevitable, of course, and I was thinking how differently people, in general, were behaving in the aftermath of the apocalypse, and that McCammon must have a much darker view of humanity's essential nature than King does. Then it occurred to me that there is an enormous difference that could account for it - resources. In The Stand, a virus wipes out most of the people, but leaves nature and natural resources intact, along with most of the man-made resources, so there are few humans, but an abundance of food, shelter, and fuel. McCammon's is a nuclear apocalypse, so there seem to be more people, but scarce life-sustaining resources in a hostile natural environment. 


So, yeah, of course people are going to behave differently. 

HP's BL-opoly - Final Post

This was a fun game! Although the rules were a little complicated for me to keep up with, I didn't worry much over it as I had zero chance of winning, because I was using it to pare down my already-owned TBR pile, and I'm an especially slow reader during baseball season. Although I do have to confess that my Rangers have been so painful to watch that I did escape into reading during some games. I am stopping game play a little early, because at the rate I've been reading, there's no way I can finish another book before the game ends. 


Still, it was fun to play, helped me whittle down my TBR mountain, and especially fun to read everyone else's posts. Special props to Ani's Book Abyss, because I always looked forward to Magnetic Monkey's antics as he cheered her on. 


So my final bank is a measly $74 accumulated through 10 rounds of game play. I knocked 12 books off my TBR (10 read, 2 DNF) and read 5 hardcovers, 2 paperbacks, and 3 audios. 


Player Bank Posts

6/1/17 balance

6/4/17 balance

6/23/17 balance

7/8/17 balance 

7/22/17 balance



Bank 4/17/17:  $20



Round 1 (April 17, 2017)

Dice Roll: 9

Square: Fantasyland 9: Read a book that is tagged Genre: Fantasy or Fairy Tale on GR


Book Read: Dream Weaver by Michael Hague and Jane Yolen

Pages: 80

Payout: $1


Ending Bank 4/17/17: $21



1st Round Pick

1st Round book review



Round 2 (April 19-May 11, 2017)

Dice Roll: 7

Square: Additional Task 15: Read a book where someone gets married, with jewelry on the cover, or where any character is a millionaire/billionaire!


Book Read: The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Pages: 512

Payout: $5


Ending Bank 5/11/17: $26



2nd Round Pick

2nd Round book review




Round 3 (May 11-May 22, 2017)

Dice Roll: 10

Square: Adventureland 24: Take the Jungle Cruise. Read a book set in Africa or Asia, or that has an exotic animal on the cover


Book Read: A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Pages: 276



Ending Bank: $29



3rd Round Pick

3rd Round book review



Round 4 (May 23-June 1, 2017)

Reading concurrently with Round 5 (one audio, one bound).


Dice Roll: 7

Square: Paradise Pier 30: Read a book with a twist, or that is tagged “suspense” on GR, or that has more than 555 pages


Book Read: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (audiobook)

Pages: 582

Payout: $5

Gift from Ani’s Book Abyss $5


Ending Bank: $39



4th Round Pick

4th Round book review



Round 5 (May 25-June 4, 2017)

Reading concurrently with Round 6 (one audio, one bound).


Dice Roll: 9

Square: Frontierland 2: Read a book with a main character who knows how to handle a gun, or where someone is shot


Book Read: Shane by Jack Schaefer (paperback)

Pages: 432

Payout: $5

Ending Bank: $44



5th Round Pick

5th Round book review



Round 6 (June 3-4, 2017)

Reading concurrently with Round 5 (one audio, one bound).


Dice Roll: 4

Square: Mystery 8: Read a book that is tagged mystery or has a title that begins with any letter in the word “CLUE”

Book Read: The Fold by Peter Clines

Pages: 384

Payout: $3

Ending Bank: $47



6th Round Pick

6th Round book review



Round 7 (June 7-23, 2017)


Dice Roll: 7

Square: Trains, Planes, & Automobiles 14: Read a book that involves overseas travel, or that has a suitcase on the cover

Book Read: On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry

Pages: 256

Payout: $3 (corrected $6)

Ending Bank: $50 (corrected $56)



7th Round Pick

7th Round book review



Round 8 (June 23-July 4, 2017)


Dice Roll: 4

Square: Cars Land 18: Read a book that was published in 2006, 2011, 2013, or 2014, the years of Cars and its sequels, or that has a car on the cover.

Book #1 (DNF): The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon

Book #2: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Book #3: Don’t Look Down by Jennifer Crusie

Pages: 394

Payout: $3 (corrected $6)

Ending Bank: $50 (corrected $62)



8th Round Pick

8th Round 1st book DNF

8th Round 2nd Pick

8th Round 2nd book reshelved

8th Round 3rd Pick

8th Round book review


Round 9 (July 5-6, 2017)


Dice Roll: 9

Square: Adventureland 26: Read a book tagged genre Adventure or Thriller on GR

Book Read: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (audiobook)

Pages: 368

Payout: $6

Ending Bank: $68



9th Round pick

9th Round book review


Round 10 (July 8-22, 2017)

Dice Roll: 8

Square: Tomorrowland 33: Read a book set in space or tagged SciFi on GR or a book that includes robots or cyborgs

Book Read: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (paperback)

Pages: 288

Payout: $6

Ending Bank: $74



10th Round pick

10th Round book review


The Andromeda Strain ★★★☆☆

The Andromeda Strain - Michael Crichton

Put together the most meticulous plans and bring together several brilliant and creative minds, but still nearly come to disaster through mistaken assumptions and mechanical and human errors, and be likewise saved by random leaps of logic and mechanical and human errors. Perhaps the most fun part of reading this, for me, is how plausible this seems, because all the characters involved behave like real humans do. Plus, having been written in 1968, Crichton is writing about cutting edge/futuristic technology that is now hilariously dated. Imagine a disaster nearly caused by

a communication failure, because an isolated team is relying on alerts that are transmitted to a machine that prints on a continuous roll of paper, but the paper gets jammed and nobody notices because the guy who’s supposed to check it just looks for software failures rather than mechanical and thinks, well, no news is good news.

(show spoiler)


Paperback, picked up at a used book sale. Good thing I didn’t try this on audio, as I expect that the frequent displays of lab test results and technical readouts would be horrible on audio. What would they do, just read line after line of figures?


I read this for the 2017 Booklikes-opoly challenge, for the square Tomorrowland 33: Read a book set in space or tagged SciFi on GR or a book that includes robots or cyborgs. The SciFi tag applies to this book.


Previous Updates:

7/8/17 - BLopoly pick

7/14/17 – 40/288pg

7/18/17 – 107/288pg


Swan Song: 23%

Swan Song - Robert R. McCammon, Tom Stechschulte

That boy is one sick little bastard. I suspect he's going to be real trouble down the road. 

Swan Song: 16%

Swan Song - Robert R. McCammon, Tom Stechschulte

Damn. That was gross. 

The Andromeda Strain: 107/288 pg

The Andromeda Strain - Michael Crichton

Zing! I didn't see that one coming about the person who gets the key to the nuclear bomb.


And I'm curious about how Crichton set up this fictional study of which type of person is most likely to make the "right decision" with the key - the subjects are categorized by gender and marital status. I'd think that having a child/being a parent would have a greater impact on this kind of decision than simply having a spouse. But perhaps, in 1969, it would have just been an assumption that the parenting would be associated with marital status. Married = family & Single = no family. I suppose it just wouldn't be part of the assumption, at that time, that parenthood could be completely independent of marital status. 


Swan Song 9%

Swan Song - Robert R. McCammon, Tom Stechschulte

I can see why there are so many comparisons of this book to The Stand. It does seem to begin with a similar construction - lots of random characters of both white hat and black hat variety, religious fervor, and a supernatural creature who delights in death and destruction. That scene, btw, of him (it?) in the theater was super creepy.


This is pretty dated, but still plenty of fun so far.