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Book rec

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I've just finished reading a book which is nonfiction, and not exactly a mystery, but definitely concerns a crime--the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. I'm not generally a fan of WWI stories, but this book just completely blew me away.

THE ASSASSINATION OF THE ARCHDUKE: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World, by Greg King and Sue Woolmans, is less about the labyrinthine politics of central and Eastern Europe before the first world war, and more about how a single tradition and law of the Austro-Hungarian Empire resulted in the alienation of the Archduke from the court, and very possibly provided a motivation for the murder of himself and his wife.

Franz Ferdinand was never supposed to be the heir to the imperial throne--and in fact he was never named Heir. He assumed the position by default after the alleged suicide of his cousin Rudolf at Mayerling. And because he was never brought up to be the heir, the rules of the insufferably snobbish Imperial Court were easier to set aside when he fell in love with a woman that the court did not consider to be his "equal". The Emperor's Lord Chancellor, Lord Montenuovo, made a deliberate and concerted (and successful) effort to humiliate both the heir and his wife during their lives and even after their deaths. Although the authors never make the claim directly, it is clear that they believe the Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina was implicated in the deaths as well.

One cannot read this book without wondering how very much would have been different if Franz Ferdinand had taken the throne--with or without the morganatic marriage. Certainly his sons would never have wound up in Dachau concentration camp; it's entirely possible that he might have managed to reform the Empire and avoided both world wars, as well as many of the more recent conflicts in central Europe. But all of this comes down to the fact that he fell in love with a perfectly respectable woman, and married her, and my heart breaks for them both. I highly, highly recommend this book.



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I haven't been a member of SFWA for many, many years, because I don't feel the organization offers enough to offset the ugliness that too often comes with it; and I haven't been to a WorldCon since 2008, so I'm not voting anyway. I'm looking at this from the perspective of someone who reads SF and fantasy, but is not interested in the internal politics of the genre organization. The blogs and journals I read are solely those of people whose work I like, and/or whom I know personally. So my outlook is limited, but since I don't care about SFWA's internal politics, that doesn't matter to me. I look at the Hugo ballot strictly as an indicator of Possible Stuff To Read. And as with everything else from SFWA, This Too Shall Pass. It's not the first time they've had a ballot-stuffing scandal associated with the Hugos.

But I've seen some of the discussion of the current ballot, and have read a couple of the arguments, pro and con, about voting, and what I have read seems to boil down to this:

1) The award is supposed to be a merit award. Read the entries and vote on whether you think they're good.

2) The award should reflect the merits of the writer when viewed through the lens of political correctness. To suggest otherwise is to proclaim oneself privileged.

So, curious, I went and looked at the ballot, to try to figure out who the Evile Writers were. I could identify, for certain, only one (because if you follow sf politics at ALL it's hard to miss him), but the rest? Not so much; I was trying to figure this out by process of elimination without a lot of success.

Then I found a blog which pointed me at the actual proposed slate of candidates which has gotten everyone hot and bothered, and I'm still a bit bewildered--Sarah Hoyt? Sarah's a bad guy?

But still. The actual names on the ballot are really irrelevant; the real issue, as far as I can see, comes down to the opposing arguments enumerated above. Should an award for outstanding work in a particular genre be made based solely on the merit of the work as it stands, or should the publically expressed beliefs and opinions of the author be taken into consideration as well?

I suspect it comes down to whether one is capable of reading the work in question without letting the knowledge of the beliefs and opinions color the reading. (That might, given the circumstances, be a poor choice of words.) Part of "capable," in this case, is whether one even knows about the Bs and Os involved. I wouldn't have the first clue about the loathsomeness of some of Vox Day's if I hadn't seen the uproar about the last SFWA election--I wouldn't know him, as my mother would have said, from Adam's off ox. (As, in fact, I don't know probably 90% of the current ballot.)

I've been thinking about books that I don't want to read because of the author, and in every case, it's because those books are explicit statements of the things that author stands for which I despise. That list includes Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, and... Hmmm. Possibly The Satanic Bible. And even for those three books, I can think of good reasons why I should read them, if only from the perspective of "know thy enemy." (There may be others on this list but nothing springs instantly to mind.)

There are other books I don't want to read, not because I know the first thing about the author, but because the subject matter is not something I want to have anything to do with. The Dexter series, for example, which makes a hero out of a serial killer. There's another one--and I confess I'm amused to realize that I can't even recall the title, so thoroughly have I rejected the idea of reading it--a novel from a few years ago that set up someone who chopped up people as a hero. Mind you, I read a lot of true crime and thrillers; the difference lies in who's the hero of the piece.

And there are books I don't want to read because, to me, they're just plain boring.

I have read only a few of the works on the current ballot, and as for the rest, I can't tell which category they fall into (other than the one novelette) without actually reading them. I don't know if I'd consider them any good or not. I don't know if they are supposed to be stories, or thinly-disguised political diatribes. (And I don't even know that about the one novelette.)

So I have no choice but to judge these works on merit, as I personally define merit. I can't vote for an author (well, I can't vote at all, but that's neither here nor there). I have to vote for the work.

And running around in the back of my head is the comment, "Books live. Authors die." And not even all books live, fortunately.


works for me.

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George Martin says, "I'm writing about a world where I think that stuff took place." Peachykeen, but that doesn't mean I particularly want to read about it. Or see it. This article summarizes my view pretty well.

Railroad's entitled to write whatever the hell he wants, hurray for him. But as far as worldbuilding goes, I much, much prefer Sherwood Smith's.


New series to love

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"Joe, when a woman drops the subject, she's closing it. When a man drops the subject, he's capitulating. You know that."

--Gar Anthony Haywood, Going Nowhere Fast

This is a series, and hallelujah for that! It features Joe and Dottie Loudermilk, a retired couple (Joe was a cop), cruising the country in Lucille, their Airstream trailer, trying to avoid having anything to do with their five kids. Unfortunately, on a stop at the Grand Canyon, they find a dead man in the bathroom and their son Theodore (aka Bad Dog) hiding in the closet--and it's a tossup which event is the bigger disaster. (Personally, I'm voting for Theodore.) I love Joe and Dottie!

I've also just discovered Jill Churchill's Jane Jeffry series; Jane's a middle-aged widow with three children, and unlike many cozies her widow/motherhood is not just a gimmick. Jane struggles with an interfering mother-in-law, the PTA, carpools, and pets, and the occasional dead body is Just the Last Straw. Last time I looked there were seventeen books in this series; I've torn through four of them, and number five is on its way.

I'm also reading The Victorian Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders. Nonfiction, not (obviously) a series; I was sold on this book by the very first page, which is A Note on Currency, which not only demystifies shillings, pence and pounds (the d is for denarius--who knew? I thought a denarius was worth more than that) but also goes a long way toward explaining galleons, sickles and knuts (although to be fair they're never mentioned).

Lots of good books: happiness is.


Mary Sue, she's everywhere

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I'm very fond of Kerry Greenwood's Phyrne Fisher series, even though it's getting a bit over the top.

When we started out, in Cocaine Blues, Phryne was Exceedingly Gorgeous, Fabulously Rich and Excruciatingly Well-Dressed. From being dirt-poor in Melbourne, Australia, she was catapulted into a life of luxury when a bunch of intermediate heirs died in WWI (although Ms. Greenwood can't quite decide, or remember, exactly what her father's title is; and her grandfather is still alive in Cocaine Blues anyway*). So once her father got his title (or became heir; it's not absolutely clear), he gathered up the fam and carted them off to Jolly Olde, where Phyrne was put into a boarding school, where presumably she learned how to be Exceeding, Fabulous, and Excruciating, not to mention the cynosure of all eyes and the object of all men's (and some women's) desire. It was also mentioned that after the war, she went to Paris, where she lived quite the bohemian life as an artist's model. Oh, and apparently she magically learned how to fly a plane just in time to save a bunch of lives in Scotland from the flu epidemic. And just by the bye, she's a concubine to a Chinese merchant, too, although that doesn't stop her from bedding any attractive man who catches her eye--at least one in each book, and aren't they all just incredibly grateful for the experience!

Over the course of twenty books, Phryne's history has gradually shifted in time--she drove an ambulance in the war (in between terms at the boarding school? Or wait, was that after her father inherited or not?). In the latest book, she not only drove an ambulance during the war, but now, it seems, she was a spy as well, working for MI6.

I love the character, I love the language of the books, but Oh come on now. This is Mary Sue-ism to the max. I continue reading (and listening; I have the books on CD) and enjoying, but I shake my head and grin a lot, too.

The books have been made into a TV series in Australia, featuring an actress who does very well in the role although she's about 20 years too old for it (to be fair, you can't always tell!). In the TV series (available on DVD as Miss Fisher's Mysteries), there's a huge amount of UST between Phryne and her favorite policeman--really, it's smoking--which does not exist at all in the books.

Which just goes to show that a professional writer can get away with stuff that would make any self-respecting fanfic author curl up and die a little inside.

*Phryne is a Hon., which would indicate her father's a Baron; at various times his title has been mentioned as a baronet (nope, not with that Hon.) and I believe even a duke or an earl has been mentioned in passing. (She wouldn't be an Hon. there either.)


Just sayin'

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Harry Potter: Page to Screen is a damned heavy book.


Better late than never, I suppose

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The August edition of the Bloodstained Bookshelf (in-print, traditionally published mysteries through June 2014) has just been posted. Pass it on, please? Thanks.

Say WHAT again?

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So, okay, Galleycat does this weekly list of self-pubbed bestsellers. Bearing in mind that Sturgeon's Law applies, one can at least hope that if it has hit a bestseller list, it might ... oh, forget it, that's just my cockeyed optimist speaking.

Because #7 on today's list is blurbed thusly:

A Rite of Swords by Morgan Rice: “Thor grapples with his legacy, battling to come to terms with who his father is, whether to reveal his secret, and what action he must take. Back home in the Ring, with Mycoples by his side and the Destiny Sword in hand, Thor is determined to wreak vengeance on Andronicus’ army and liberate his homeland—and to finally propose to Gwendolyn.”


Okay. So this is not the son of Odin Allfather. And somehow he's gotten involved with the Greeks.

There are six books in this series. (At least six.)

But still. Gwendolyn???

Exit reader, whimpering.


Dear Author Whose Work I Love a Lot....

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I just finished listening to the first book in the series on audio, and I'm very disappointed that the others aren't available. I have all three in print AND electronically, and I can't say that about any other series.


There are some things I pick up from listening that I missed on reading, probably because I was devouring the books wholesale, and I will never be able to read or listen to one small section of the first book again without giggling hysterically.

Dear Author, I will always love your work. But PLEASE.

please. Trust me on this: One does NOT muck out stalls while dressed in an elegant, floor-length, formal gown, and then turn around and celebrate a formal occasion while still dressed in that same formal gown. You just DON'T.

Signed, Fellow Author Who Mucks Out Stalls Every Day

Speaking of mysteries

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It's always frustrating when some country (I'm looking at YOU, Australia!) makes a really terrific TV series and then selfishly withholds it from the rest of the world... okay, maybe not selfishly, but still, I'm WAITING for the rest of Corelli!

But I've recently learned that MISS FISHER'S MYSTERIES, the Australian series based on the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood, is available online (*and*, it turns out, on DVD, hallelujah) at The first episode is free, and you can register for a 30-day free trial without giving a credit card. The series is available through the middle of the month--apparently they rotate their offerings. And a year's subscription is only $30, which is a good deal all by itself.

I've been watching the MISS FISHER episodes, and enjoying them very much. The actress is not as coltish as I imagine Phryne to be, nor is her hair quite black enough; and Lin Chung doesn't fit my image of him, either. But these are mere quibbles. I <3 Jack Robinson, Bert and Cec, and the woman who plays Dot is absolutely perfect, as is her beau, Hugh. And we all need a Mr. Butler in our lives. If you like the Roaring Twenties with an Aussie twist, along with truly fabulous costumes, go check it out.

Okay, this is embarrassing

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Checking my mail today (and btw, thank you to UPS for delivering that last item just in time for wrapping), I found... a book? Which I surely had not ordered?

I am five-nines sure that I won Orders from Berlin, by Simon Tolkien (yes, the grandson of that Tolkien) as a result of a comment in a blog contest. My problem is that I cannot for the life of me remember where I commented or which blog it was, and the book and its envelope provide no clue whatsoever.

So--a huge Thank You is going out into the aether in the hope that the folks running that contest will somehow know that I really am very pleased to receive this book. Merry Christmas to them, and indeed, to me too.

eta: Does anyone else find it amusing that LiveJournal's spell checker evidently does not recognize the word "blog"?


Now I'm just annoyed at myself

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Recently I got a bug for some old mysteries I'd read a long, long time ago: the Pierre Chambrun series by Hugh Pentecost. These were set in the Hotel Beaumont, and I remember really liking the setting and the characters.

So I went looking, and on eBay I found eleven Pentecost books for very cheap; three of them were the Chambrun series, and the rest were in two other series he'd done. I divided the cost by the three books I wanted, decided I could live with it, and ordered them.

Naturally, shortly thereafter I found, somewhere, a slew of Hugh Pentecost books for sale. There were about twenty of them, and nearly all were in the Chambrun series. But the total price was just over forty bucks, and just having bought the eleven, I decided to hold off until I had some more cash.

I went looking for that cache of books this evening, and I cannot find them anywhere--not on eBay, not on abebooks or alibris. You would think I'd have put them on a watch list, or at least bookmarked the site, but Noooooooooooooo. I am really annoyed at myself.

Meanwhile, the books I ordered came in, and they're all ex-library. Had I But Known, I'd have passed; I prefer my books as pristine as possible.



Another site I love

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If you like series--whether mystery or fantasy (and maybe romance), check out this site. Fictfact allows you to search by title, author, or series; it lists the books in a series in order (oh, the bliss of not having to check every bloody pub date), including novellas! and it will even send you an email announcing when a new book in one of your series is coming out. Somehow, it does this even before the online sales sites have the book available, but your home page will show you a comprehensive list of upcoming books if you need to look into it.

Highly recommended for the compulsive reader.


Yay Team Lippizan!

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dancinghorse has funded her initial goal AND met the first bonus target on her Kickstarter project Living in Threes, so backers are guaranteed not only an e-copy of the book but a short story, as well. I really want to see the next target for the project, where she tells us how she builds the world of a novel that covers three different eras. Go check it out!


Best book I've read in a while....

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I have no excuse; I bought it ages ago, but just never got around to picking it up. Now I have. I have torn through all 499 pages, and am now deep in the sequel and waiting impatiently for the third.

The book is The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, and if you haven't read it yet, please, go look. It's a fantasy caper novel, with real, living breathing characters who will break your heart, and a setting that is so rich, so fully realized, that it just leaves me breathless. This is a first novel, and I'd be blind with envy, except then I'd have to stop reading, and I do not want to stop reading these books.

The second book in the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies, is not letting me down.

Pardon me, a bookmark is calling.


*sigh* I'm getting old

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Lead story on the local news tonight: a recovery center for teens suffering from an addiction to .... bath salts.

Apparently, not in the hedonistic, pass-the-chilled-champagne-and-towel-boys sense, either.

I feel very old. What are they doing, eating the stuff? I'm not sure I want to know.

In other news: Elizabeth Taylor's request for her funeral? That she be fifteen minutes late. Now THAT is a Grand Old Broad.

Someone else has pointed out that today is the seventh anniversary of the death of Katherine Lawrence, writer and friend of many on GEnie and then LJ. I was very angry at Katherine the time; now I think I understand better why she made the choice she did, but I still find myself thinking from time to time, "Damn, Katherine would have loved this." She missed SO MUCH that has happened in the last seven years.

Weather report predicts 1-4 inches of snow this weekend. Naturally, this happens after I disconnect the tank heater, pull the horses off pasture, and replace the heated water buckets with summer buckets. I'm sure Dare is going to have something to say to me about this, since it's obviously All My Fault.

I've been sick the past four days--still coughing, but last Wednesday morning I was literally holding myself up on the pass-through fence, trying to get the water tank filled and then get the hose disconnected. It was not the most wonderful moment of my existence. The improvement since then has been, shall we say, substantial.

I've sent the Mirlacca books off for conversion to .rtf format. This is the first step toward eventual release as ebooks. O Brave New World, that has such Formats in it!

Borders bookstores closing

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Borders has declared bankruptcy, and is
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Borders has declared bankruptcy, and is <a href+"">closing about 30% of their stores</a>. If you live near a Borders on the linked list, this is the time to go.

I hate to see this.


Talk about a rave review!

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This is the kind of review we all wish that one day we would deserve.


Back online!

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Back online (at last! Three days without internet access really should be addressed by the Geneva Conventions), finally.

Someone sent me this link, and I love it (especially the Kansas City Public Library one): Understand, I know nothing about architecture (except "I know what I like when I see it") but I adore the sense of whimsy in these buildings.

In Other News, the final hay delivery has been made and is paid for. Hay Guy was a bit apologetic; because the creek is running so deep (today was our first day in what? Two weeks?) with no rain), he couldn't deliver using a large trailer, which would have bottomed out in the ford. So he had to make four trips instead of one. I asked him how that would affect the delivery price, and he said that he hadn't wanted to say anything because, you know, we'd had an agreement and all.... Silly man. With today's gas prices? He's making four 150-mile round trips hauling at least two tons of hay at a time, and he kinda wanted to know if $25 a trip would be okay with us?

Good grief. Of course it's more than fair--for heaven's sake, he's not only delivering but unloading and stacking as well. My neighbor wants to adopt the man. I told him that was no problem at all, and since he was delivering while my neighbors were gone, I went down and gave him not only my check but paid for theirs as well. No reason the man should have to wait for his money, and as I told him, "We want a relationship with you, dude!" (Although not necessarily an adoptive one.)

Meanwhile----I had to go see the doctor today for the six-week checkup on my knee. He agreed to renew my drug prescription ONE more time--that's okay, I'm hoarding the pills for days when I get really stupid. I was warned before the surgery that it takes up to a year to fully recover, and it's been six weeks, so perhaps I shouldn't be quite as disappointed in myself for not being able to do Russian dances yet. It's interesting, though, that it's hard for me to remember now how very much it hurt before the surgery. I can do a lot of things I couldn't before, and I certainly walk better (at least, when I'm not tired). Proof of pudding will be the NINC conference. I am determined that it's going to be better than WorldCon was. (And then I get to come home and have surgery done on the OTHER knee.) The scar tissue is adhering to the shin bone below the patella, which makes bending interesting, and apparently I'm setting new standards for tightness of hamstrings. When I do PT, hamstring stretches are so painful I get nauseated. But it's improving. Everything is improving. ("One inch is progress.")

Horses are doing well. They're out on pasture now 24/7. They managed to scam me day before yesterday; Leroy fed them, and I didn't realize it, and so they got two dinners. Not something they're going to get every time, that's for sure. I've shut them out of the barn, because they seem to think it's their toilet, and washing down the barn aisle every day is getting old (Things To Remember Next Time I Build A Barn: Emphasize slope more. Barn aisle is too flat. Should slope both to the center and down from one end to the other. Not drastically, just enough to get water and Other Stuff moving in the right direction).

I have discovered a new author: Sarah Graves. The books are advertised (by Bantam) as the "Home Repair is Homicide Series." but these are emphatically NOT craft-type mysteries. No tips or cutesy stuff. The heroine is a former financial advisor, divorced from a neurosurgeon who's an egomanical jerk. She's moved with her fifteen-year-old son to an island off the coast of Maine and is renovating an old Victorian house. None of the characters are cookie-cutter, even the ones who first appear to be, and the writing is just absolutely lovely.

My house is old, and rambling, and in some disrepair, and I think that it is faintly haunted: a cold spot forming inexplicably on the stairway, a scuttling in the hall. Then of course there is the matter of the enigmatic portrait, whose mystery I had not yet managed to resolve on that bright April morning when, after living cheerfully and peacefully in the house for over a year, I found a body in the storeroom.

Coming upon a body is an experience, like childbirth or a head-on collision, that takes the breath out of a person. I went back through the passageway between the kitchen and the small, unheated room where in spring I stored dog food and dahlia bulbs, and where apparently now I stored corpses.

There are at least eleven books in the series, which makes me smile and smile, contented. I have no idea how long they've been sitting on my shelf--at least a year, I think. I go through compulsive phases where I'll pick up one book and decide that it looks good, and get all the others in the series at the same time, in case I like them and can't find them later. Sometimes this pays off, as with Graves; sometimes it doesn't (I just took a half-dozen by Shirley Darmstaadt back to the store today--I really tried to give the first one a decent chance, but it just annoyed me too much, and I wasn't going to invest the time in the rest of them.)

Of course, when one buys whole series and leaves them on the shelf for too long, one forgets one has bought them, which leads to the embarrassment of discovering one has bought something one already has. Not that this ever happens to moi, of course. (Scheduling another trip north to the bookstore in the next two weeks, *sigh*.) Particularly annoying is the discovery that while one has, in fact, purchased Book One in a series, one cannot find the damned thing for love nor money, though Book Three is leaping off the shelf into my hand, begging to be read. I hate getting into a series in the middle, particularly a mystery or a fantasy series. So like an idiot I go and get the first one again, knowing perfectly well that the day after the return policy expires, I'm going to find it in plain sight. Oh well. Nearly as annoying is discovering that a series which started out in paperback is now being published in hard cover. I don't mind paying hardcover prices for books I really like, but it makes me crazy to have half a series in paper and half in hardcover. If they're going to start publishing someone in hardcover I wish to heck they'd go back and re-release the earlier titles in hardcover too.

I'm blathering. This is what happens when I've been offline too long. I need to take one of my newly acquired precious painkillers and go fall in bed (one of the joys of high-speed internet is the fact that I really can whip through 400+ emails in an hour and a half). Maybe I'll be able to sleep most of the night through, which would make a very nice change indeed. Apologies to those who would have preferred this all under a nice neat lj-cut, but I'm posting it originally on Dreamwidth, and I'm not sure how to do one here, yet.

Which reminds me, I have a bunch of invite codes for Dreamwidth, if you know anyone who's interested.


Yet another reason I don't like e-books:

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I do not own a Kindle, and right now I'm grateful, because it seems that Amazon reserves the right to cancel your Kindle account at its discretion. As this blog points out, it underlines the fact that when you "buy" an electronic copy of something, you actually own... the right to read it. And that's all you have.

And possibly, the right to read it once.

If I'm going to buy a book, by gods, I'm going to have an object in my hands which is my damned property. I won't argue with the author about the content--they created it and they own it--but the book is mine, to have autographed, to reread at my leisure, to throw across the room, to loan, sell, or give away, to prop up the coffee table, to use for kindling if I so choose. Better to kindle than to Kindle, say I.

And right now I'd like to light a fire under Amazon, for more reasons than just this one.


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