7 Quick Takes: Reading List

Sign of the Apocalypse: I’m organized enough to come up with 7 things to say on a Friday.


A reader sends in a link to Diary of a Gold-Digger.  I liked the Morocco stories especially.  Look forward to reading more.


I keep forgetting to pass on that Dan Castell’s second installment in the Marx Brothers series is out.  Excerpted from The Marx Brothers Meet the Doctors of Death:

“I do have this.” Groucho pulls up his shirt and exposes a fine swath of swarthy tummy.
“Und what is that supposed to be?”
“It’s a rub that itches when I scratches.”
“Ach,” says Dr. Mangler, “a rub that itches when you scratches is simple schtuff. You haff the acute dermatitis.”
“Acute dermatitis!” Groucho cries. “And me…so young…so much undone…so many dames still to fun. Acute dermatitis—and I thought it was just an itch.”
“Ja,” says Dr. Mangler, “that is what I haff said. Acute dermatitis—you haff an itch.” He pulls out a prescription pad, scribbles a scrawl, and hands it to Groucho. “Here, that should help.”
“My prescription!?”
“Nein, mein bill. Fifty dollars, please.”
“I thought you said this would help.”
“Of course fifty dollars helps. You don’t think scalpels grow on trees, do you?”

My boy loves this guy.  Also available at Barnes & Noble.


Speaking of the boy, do you know why I have an inordinate fondness for the Young Chesterton series?  Because the other night I go check on the progress of homework.  Recall the child is supposed to be writing a review of Emperor of North America for his composition assignment, so he isn’t being a total slacker when I catch him with both novels open.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m looking something up.  I thought the ‘Oliver’ character might be the Oliver from Oliver Twist.  I had to check and see.”

That’s why.  Basically if it makes you think about Dickens, in a good way, I’m okay with that.


Grammar Girl is my new favorite grammar book.


I put new blogs into my feed reader all the time, and sometimes I forget where they came from.  I clicked on Servant of Truth, which had something or another about a history curriculum the author was putting together, or, oh, gosh, where did I hear about this blog from?  Who is this person?  I click through for a clue.

Oh yeah.  Kolbe.  Idiot.

Have I mentioned I would have been sunk this fall without their ready-made course plans?  You begin to see why.


Okay I am not that organized.  No apocalypse.


And anyway, my five counts as seven if you give Castell and McNichol each credit for two.

Book Review – Emporer of North America

John McNichol kindly sent me a review copy of his new  Young GKC book, and I keep forgetting that I still have not posted a full review.  I also keep forgetting to get Mr. Boy to write his review.  Mine is here for you now.

What it is: Emperor of North America is the second in the series, following Tripods Attack.  It’s an alternative history in which Young GK Chesterton is an American trying to make it as a journalist in steampunk England.  In book one, Martians invade.  In book two, Martians are back to Mars (for now?), but there is big trouble from a certain earthling who’s gotten hold of martian technology.  If I were to give it a sub-genre, I’d vote “fast-paced epic catholic action-adventure alternate history”.

Who reads it:  Mr. Boy was, my goodness, eight? really?, when he read the first book.  Thereabouts.  He’s not a normal reader.  I’d vote 10-11 is the earliest normal boy age, or whenever your child picks up Lord of the Rings and won’t put it down.  Target audience is middle school and up.  [Young GKC doesn’t require nearly the endurance you’d need for epic Tolkien.  You do need to be able to read big words and keep track of a complex plot, but the writing is very action-packed, doesn’t bog down at all.]  Grown-ups who enjoy a good story will find plenty of fodder for the intellect — GKC quotes, literary references, and of course trying to figure out the intrigue.

Mature Content Rating: Mild PG for the violence.  Language is clean (expletives like “blast!”, and all sorts of genuinely colorful but never off-color insults).  The romance and discussions of romance are clean as you could manage and still get close enough to kiss; my 11-year-old tells me he just skips those parts anyway, which are written for young men who think girls are no longer gross.  The evil violence is chilling, but there’s no lingering on graphic descriptions, and despite the intensity of the opening pages, the overall proportion of such scenes throughout the book is modest.  (FYI, the alien scenes in Tripods are super gross.  Not for squeamish middle-aged ladies.  But no trouble for boys.)  There’s a couple of bar scenes, including a cautionary tale about drunkenness.

What if  steampunk and/or sci-fi are not my genre?  The GKC is awesome.  McNichol recreates young GKC superbly.  The other historical and literary references are just as good, and fun to figure out.  Some have, like GKC, an alternate past, and I was especially impressed with how McNichol nailed the “What if _________ hadn’t _________?” with one of the main characters.  Just perfect.  Loved it.

[FYI: All my friends love sci-fi, but I think it is kind of boring.  I do not find this series boring, not for a second. More like, “fighting with my son over who gets to read it first,” and “I know I should go to bed, but . . . .”  My taste in fiction runs to Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Jane Austen, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, etc.  And Wodehouse, of course.  If you sort of mash those together, the young GKC series fits right in.]

What if GK Chesterton and literary puzzlers are not my genre?  There’s spaceships.  Giant robots.  Chase scenes.  Intrigue.  Mysterious pasts.  John McNichol is really good at writing action.  And bad guys.  I’m going to see if I can’t beg him to teach a class on writing bad guys at the next CWG online conference.

Who shouldn’t read this book?  People who have to be so serious about everything. Also if you can’t stand genre fiction.

I heard it is ‘preachy’. Um, no.  Catholic? Yes.  I suppose it’s one of the troubles with a book written by a guy who teaches middle school — normal teens talk about love, God, angels, apparitions, all that stuff.  It’s only adults who think these things are taboo. I *think* non-Catholics who are comfortable with Catholic characters being noticeably Catholic should be okay; someone correct me if you disagree, I haven’t read it with a protestant lens on.   [I’ll post an update on that if need be.] Most of the could-be-preachy stuff is things like “what’s the difference between love and infatuation?” or “is religion merely a crutch for the despicable weak?” — topics of general interest, not strictly Catholic.

Final Recommendation?  I give it a ‘buy’ recommend if there’s room in your book budget and the genre sounds at all interesting.  It’s very readable, and McNichol has the keep-the-plot-moving thing down pat.  I do strongly recommend you buy both in the series if you haven’t already read Tripods.

Where to get your copy: Barnes and Noble has Emperor of North America in stock in paperback and Nook version, and Tripods Attack in paperback.  Amazon has Emperor in paperback and Kindle version, take a look at the Kindle preview to get started on the story and see if you want to buy.  Amazon has Tripods in the Kindle version, and again the Kindle preview is your reality-check.

Sophia originally published Tripods, and I see they have it back in stock in paperback.  This has brought back down used prices, which had briefly gone silly-high — shop around on B&N and Amazon if your budget is tight, ignore the weird artifacts floating in the cybermall.   Bezalel is the publisher for Emperor, and you can buy the print version direct on their site.  (As I write, Bezalel is offering free shipping on McNichol’s book — nice!)

Aquinas & More has copies of Tripods in stock (paperback — and you can add it to your wedding or ordination registry, I love that), and so does The Catholic Company (no registry, write Santa I guess).  But if you love all that is good and true, of course you will first ask if it can’t be stocked via your local Catholic bookstore.  They can order these things, you know.


Things you  need to know re: the famous ‘full disclosure’: I’m a total Tripods/Emperor groupie.  The kind of person who gathers up godchildren and treks across town to get a book signed, and totally thinks that is the highlight of a trip to the Pacific Northwest.  The whole “my niece is being confirmed” was just a pretext — I mean, yes, sacraments were administered, relatives visited, every good thing.  But wow!  A signed copy! Yes! Pizza with Author & Family! Woohoo!  Also John writes for the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and generally gives evidence of being a Pretty Nice Guy.  But you may recall from ancient blog history that I liked the first book long before I had any reason to like the author.

Marx Brothers Update

The inimitable Dan Castell sends in an update:


I have amended the blurb to include a few lines, as follows:

In this light-hearted short story, Groucho and Chico Marx are on a desperate search for God when they run into a pack of joke-starved comedians led by W.C. Fields. And it happens like this:

A portly soul steps forth from the mist.

Groucho does a double-take at the soul, then reaches out to shake hands.  “You’re…you’re W.C. Fields.  Mr. Fields, you’re one of my heroes.”

“Mine too,” says Fields in his trademark twang.  “Take pride in your good taste, son.  Now go away—you bother me.”

“But Mr. Fields.  I learned everything I know about comedy watching you.  You made me what I am today.”

“That’s the most revolting testimonial I’ve ever heard,” says Fields.  “I plead not guilty on all counts.  Who are you, anyway, my indefatigable carbuncle?”

“Don’t you remember me?  I’m Groucho Marx.”

“Marx…Marx?”  Fields scratches the back of his neck with his bamboo cane.  “Oh yes, I recall that catastrophic encounter.  You muffed that scrub grounder during the ‘08 World Series.  You cost Ed ‘Two Toes’ Jones his shut out.  Your team lost the game and I lost fifty dollars.  Fortunately, I deducted it as educational expenses.”

“Educational expenses?”

“Yes, I learned never to bet on a game until you know the final outcome.”

11-year-old boys at my house swear by this guy.  I’d describe Castell’s genre as sort of like the Hitchhiker’s Guide, only it’s the Marx Brothers wandering Heaven, and replace the existential theme with laugh-out-loud one-liners.  Or think Monty Python, only toned down to purely mild-PG.  (And no, I still don’t own a Kindle, and I haven’t seen this exact story.  Have seen his other work and enjoyed it.)

The update continues:


It is also about to being joined by its cousin, “The Marx Brothers Meet the Doctors of Death,” whenever the e-gods deign to inflict it upon an innocent and unsuspecting blogosphere (in other words, when it works its way through the Amazon’s mysterious innards to go live).


Likewise, over in Barnes and Noble land with both stories, where they tell me they will be available in “24-72 hours”, which actually makes the cable guys look like Mr. Monk in the matter of appointment keeping.

And don’t fret yourself: I’ll be glad to send follow-up when that watershed moment arrives.

I’ll let you know when he lets me know.

The Marx Brothers Meet W.C. Fields

Dan Castell’s first Marx Brothers short story is up at Amazon, “The Marx Brothers Meet W.C. Fields”.

I haven’t read it yet. Just e-mailed Mr. Castell to tell him to fix the Kindle preview so you can see an excerpt of the dialog. Because I have seen drafts of some of the other episodes in the series, and yes, hilarious.  Mr. Boy approves.

Emperor of North America – in my hand!

Yay!  My autographed copy of Emperor of North America has arrived.  I waved it in front of my eldest, who snatched wildly.  I told him he could have first dibs on it if he finished his homework.  Presto-chango, he turns into The Boy Who Cares About Fractions.  Would that Mr. McNichol could write a book a week.


Saturday Linkfest

I’ve got another episode from the Homeschool Photo Contest to post, but am waiting for just the right time.  Ha.  Meanwhile, here’s how you should goof on instead:

1.  Read this article from the Apparent Project on Why You Should Not Mail Peanut Butter to Haiti.  No, really, take it out of the bubble-wrapped package and eat it yourself.  Haiti thanks you.  Because it turns out that shipping bunches of free stuff to impoverished countries undermines local businesses.  That make peanut butter.  Or would, if only Haitians weren’t getting boxes of the stuff from other countries.  Go read.

2. A longtime friend, engineer, amateur gunsmith, and EMT, sent us this YouTube video on Gun Safety.  PG WARNING: If your head is screwed on straight, there’s at least one scene that is objectionable even for comedy noir. It also means you aren’t the target audience.  [Hint: If you have given up watching action-adventure shows because all the egregious gun safety violations– by law enforcement good guy characters no less!!– have caused you to throw your tv out the window, you aren’t actually the target audience for this clip.]  But it is funny. With proper parental guidance as required.

3.  Look, Sarah Reinhard one of my favorite writing friends, has a new book out:

She let me look at one of the later drafts, and it is a really nice little book.  If you are looking for a family-friendly Advent Book, I’d give it a recommend.  From what I recall, it is protestant-friendly.  But just e-mail her and ask if you have any questions or concerns, she is one of those extroverted writers who likes to talk to readers. Or leave a comment in her blog combox.  She’s totally chatty.  Super Nice Person.  Happy to talk about her books any day.

4.  And is just me, or does it look like the new John McNichol book is now out on Amazon?

Serious coolness.

Not for people who don’t read genre fiction.  But highly recommended if you are looking for fun, readable Catholic GKC Sci-Fi Alternate History goodness in a package your boy will enjoy.  Do you know of a different book that will cause an 11-year-old boy to beg to read Huck Finn?  Maybe you do.  Or maybe you think that no day is complete without the threat of an alien attack.  In which case, McNichol is your man.

Wolves, Economists

I saw this post from Darwin in my feed reader, but I didn’t read it for the longest time, because the title made it sound too smart for me.  But look at this:

As soon as people starting thinking of the economy as some great machine with levers just waiting to be pulled (whether it’s liberals convinced that if only we could put through a couple more trillion dollars worth of stimulus everything would be fine or conservatives convinced that we can always raise tax revenues by lowing tax rates) they set themselves up to cause more harm than good.

Yes.  Yes yes yes.


In White Fang  news . . .

I finished the book.  It got so much better after it started to be about a dog and not about some whiny guy being chased by wolves.*  Here’s what I’ve concluded is necessary in order to enjoy White Fang:

1) A dog of your own.  Because it’s a novel about the psychological development of a dog.

2) A good sturdy head cold.  Because, well, it’s a novel about the psychological development of a dog.

Once I had both of those conditions in place, I totally enjoyed the book.  And all the doggy procreation is firmly offstage, so now I don’t feel so nervous about having sent our other copy to camp with my 6th grader.  I was nervous there for a few minutes.



* I myself would be very whiny if wolves were trying to eat me.  For your own sakes, hope I never get to write any autobiography about such things.

Zombie Book Head’s Up

I suppose nearly everyone who reads here also reads at Happy Catholic, but if not, there’s a favorable review just posted for Karina Fabian’s new zombie-killer book.  In addition to being a friendly person who goes above and beyond to promote Catholic writers, Karina has a great sense of humor.  I’ve read one of her Dragoneye PI books, and found it very entertaining.  So there you go – Mardi Gras reading recommendations.

PS: Zombie book is not explicitly catholic, so suitable for general audiences who might not be comfortable with a super-catholic-y book.


New blog I like

Desdemona’s Rabbit.Written by an internet friend (non-catholic, for those who worry about these things).  What I really love: the rating system at the bottom of each review. And no, I have not read the same books Sy has read, so if she happens to like really really awful books, um, I can’t help that.  I’m the one trying to read less this year, remember?  You just go visit your local library and do your own due diligence.

There are some other good blogs I’ve added to the sidebar lately, and I know I have a handful I mean to add but keep forgetting.  If yours is that site, give me a good swift kick.  Thursday.  Wednesday is packed.


Two New Michelle Buckman Books – Recommended

This summer I got to pre-read two new novels by Michelle Buckman as part of the Catholic Writers Guild’s “Seal of Approval” program.  (Both books passed).

They are now in print:  Rachel’s Contrition and The Death Panels.  Two totally different stories, but both are fun, readable, and thoughtful.  And challenging.

–> By “challenging” I do not mean “artsy prose that borders on incomprehensible” and “long passages inserted as a test of your perseverance as a reader”.  MB’s writing is fast-paced, page-turner stuff.  What intellectual-types read when they have the flu, and the rest of us read without having to make up excuses for why we’re allowed to enjoy ourselves once in a while.

But FYI, Rachel’s Contrition leans to contemporary women’s lit (but it’s good!  it is!), and is the more literary of the two.   The Death Panels is a dystopian pro-life thriller.  Lotta fun, but you’ve got to get into the whole dystopia genre, which will require varying amounts of suspension of disbelief depending on which way your politics run.

Don’t say you weren’t warned: Adult topics.  (Fine for mature teens.) –>  If you hear the term “catholic fiction” and imagine some kind of horrid saccharine drivel, you have been hearing wrong.    These books actually are, wait for it . . . . inspiring.  But in a demanding, I-have-seen-the-dark-side-of-my-own-soul way.  No excerpt from one of these two will ever be reprinted in any chicken-soup themed collection.

Good stuff.  Recommended.