Friday, November 30, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Eric Bauman, Openly Gay Chair of CA Democratic Party, Resigns In #MeToo Furor

Eric Bauman, longtime chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and former vice-chair of the California Democratic Party under John Burton, was elected chair of the California Democratic Party in 2017 after a close and hotly contested election with Kimberly Ellis. He is the first openly gay man to lead the largest Democratic Party state organization.

This week Bauman was in the news again because he abruptly announced his intention to resign his position as party chair one day after multiple accusations of improper sexual comments and unwanted physical contact by Bauman were documented in a blockbuster Los Angeles Times story published on Wednesday November 28.

After the article came out Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and openly LGBT Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins were among the high ranking state Democratic politicians who called for Bauman's resignation.

I have known Bauman for years (and been to the annual holiday party at his house multiple times). I never witnessed any unwanted sexual comments but I would say that I have definitely seen him "tipsy." (It was a holiday party, after all!) Initially after word of the accusations were raised last week, Bauman had announced he would take a leave of absence to get treatment for "a problem with alcohol" but soon it became clear that in the current #MeToo era that response would be insufficient. I am somewhat surprised that these accusations of imroper behavior did not come to light last year when the internecine battle between the establishment party folks who backed Bauman and the progressive "Bernie-crat" folks who backed Ellis was raging.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Winter (Aector McAvoy, #1)



The Dark Winter is the first book in the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy series by David Mark, about a Scottish police detective located in the Northern England city of Hull.

A better title for the first book would be “The Unjust Distribution of Miracles” as the story is about a sequence of murders of people who are the lone survivor of horrible incidents, although it takes quite awhile (longer than it took this reader) for Aector to figure out the connection(s) between the killings.

Despite the lack of difficulty of the central mystery, the book has several strengths. The first of these lies in the author’s string characterization of the book’s protagonist, who it is slowly revealed to be in an uncomfortable situation on the job, having been assigned to a new station after he discovered and revealed the corrupt and criminal activities of a popular (or feared?) high-ranking police supervisor. That and being Scottish in northern England and physically imposing (6-foot-5 and “hefty” and red-headed) makes Aector stand out in most situations. He clearly loves his pretty, pregnant wife Roisin and his young son Finlay. He has a female boss whom he both seems to be afraid of and also (sexually) attracted to, at various points in the book.

Another strong feature of The Dark Winter is the inclusion of several exciting action scenes, including one in the penultimate scene which are surprising, gripping and well-written. 

Overall, the spare, effective prose of The Dark Winter makes it an excellent entry in the crowded field of British police procedural murder mysteries. At well under 300 pages in length (my copy from Blue Rider Press was a mere 292 pages despite Goodreads listing it at 304) The Dark Winter packs a memorable wallop appreciably larger than other books up to twice its size from authors with bibliographies twice as long.

RATING: 4.5 STARS.

Title: The Dark Winter.
Author: 
David Mark.
Paperback: 292 pages.
Publisher:
 Blue Rider Press.
Date Published: October 25, 2012.
Date Read: November 28, 2018.


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: B+.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2018 CHESS: Carlsen Retains Title By Defeating Caruana In Playoff (After 12 Draws In Standard Play)


World champion Magnus Carlsen will retain his title for another two years after defeating Fabiano Caruana 3-0 in the 2018 World Chess Championship playoffs. After twelve consecutive draws in standard play of 40 moves in 150 minutes Carlsen and Caruana were scheduled to play four games of rapid (25 minutes for each side for the entire game) with the first to 2.5 points to win the title. Carlsen swept the first three games, illustrating his dominance in quicker speed games and cementing his status as the best chess player in the world (again).

Here are the three decisive matches:

Game 1

Game 2 
 
Game 3 
 
Congrats, Magnus!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Croatia Wins (Last?) Davis Cup, Beats France 3-1; Venus Settles; Radwanska Retires; Kerber Picks Schuettler, Halep Picks No One!


CROATIA DEFEATS FRANCE 3-1 TO WIN 2018 DAVIS CUP FINAL
The 2018 Davis Cup was won by Croatia, somewhat surprisingly defeating France 3-1, who was the defending champion (beating Belgium last year). There was extra attention on this year's Davis Cup because tennis is being roiled by the changes to the format of the Davis Cup and the creation of two(!) new team competitions: the Laver Cup (an exhibition competition that happens a few weekends after the conclusion of the US Open primarily associated with Roger Federer and based on a Europe versus The World concept) and now the ATP and Tennis Australia have announced the ATP Cup which is scheduled to start in January 2020 before the Australian Open. The ATP Cup will be a 24-team competition of 6 groups of 4 played in 3 Australian cities over 10 days.
Marin Cilic was the tie's hero, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Friday in straight sets and followed that up with a straight sets win over Lucas Pouille on the final day to win Croatia's 3rd point after Borna Coric easly dismissed Jeremy Chardy in straight sets on the first day. It's not clear why France's other stars (Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet or Gilles Simon) did not participate in the Davis Cup Final this year. The one bright spot for France was their win in the doubles as Pierre-Hughes Hebert and Nicolas Mahut won their match.

AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA RETIRES FROM TENNIS AT AGE 29
The Polish tennis superstar Aggie Radwanska announced her retirement from the sport at the age of 29, ranked World #75. However, between 2008 and 2016 she was ranked in the Top 15 (rising as high as World #2) and won the WTA Fan Favorite award 6 years in a row. In 2012 she won the middle set against Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final but lost the match.

VENUS SETTLES WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT WHERE SHE HAD NO FAULT
Venus Williams announced that she had settled a lawsuit filed by the estate of a man who had died in a car accident in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida where Williams was an unwilling and faultless participant. The settlement terms were not disclosed.

KERBER PICKS NEW COACH RAINER SCHUETTLER, HALEP PICKS NO-ONE
The end-of-season coaching merry-go-round continues with World #1 Simona Halep deciding not pick a replacement coach for Darren Cahill who said that he has decided to reduce his travel commitments in 2019 to spend more time with his family. Despite winning Wimbledon with Wim Fisette this year, Angelique Kerber has dismissed him and hired with former ATP Top 10 player Rainer Schuettler as her new coach.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Favorite Books Read In 2017 (Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller)


In 2017 I read 60 books; as usual almost all of these were novels, primarily in the genres of mystery/thriller and fantasy/science fiction. Interestingly, the books that I read in 2017 were  dominated by the mystery/thriller category (33) with the rest pretty evenly split between the genres of science fiction (15) and fantasy (9) with a few books falling into both categories or neither. 2017 was more like 2014 when mystery/thriller predominated my reading list while in 2015 more than half the books I read that year were science fiction. In 2016, surprisingly no particular genre dominated. This is surprising (to me) because generally if I were to list my favorite genres in decreasing order it would be 1) science fiction 2) thriller 3) fantasy 4) mystery. One issue is that thriller can really be any genre (even though most of the thrillers I read are also mysteries).

I was introduced to several new authors in 2017 (Stuart MacBride,  John Sandford, Blake Crouch, Dennis Taylor, Justin Cronin, Rachel Caine, Val McDermid and Susie Steiner; I definitely look forward to reading more of books from many of these authors in the future. In 2017 I followed up my 2016 read of my first Stephen King novel (11/22/63) with the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch).

Happily in 2017 I also read lots of book by authors whose work has previously been some of my favorite reads (Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbø, Louise Penny, Brian Staveley, Michael Connelly, Patrick Tomlinson, Peter Robinson, Brent Weeks, Adrian McKinty, N.K. Jemisin and Greg Iles). In 2017 I read not one but two books from what is currently my favorite series, i.e. The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. The sixth book, Babylon's Ashes, was released in December 2016 but I didn't read it until my Hawaii vacation in January 2017 and when the seventh book Persepolis Rising was released in December 2017 I gobbled it up soon afterwards. Another favorite author, Peter V. Brett, published the fifth and final book in the Demon Cycle, The Core, nearly 9 years after the first book, The Warded Man, came out in 2009.

I'm always looking for more good books and authors to add to my "To Be Read (TBR)" pile! Feel free to make suggestions of books or authors you think I would like in the comments after seeing what books have resonated with me previously.

Below are my favorite reads for 2017 in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller.

Favorite Science Fiction Novel Read In 2017: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
As I have said before, The Expanse series is my favorite current series. This is not much of a surprise, since space opera is my favorite genre, and The Expanse is an action-packed space opera series about the human colonization of the solar system that is impacted by the discovery of alien technology. For example, in 2014 (Cibola Burn) and 2015 (Nemesis Games) a book from the Expanse series was my favorite for that year. In 2016, there were no Expanse books released and thus in 2017 Book 6 and Book 7 of the series was released: Babylon Ashes and Persepolis Rising. I was sort of disappointed with Babylon's Ashes but was very impressed with Persepolis Rising. It is quite incredible that the two authors who write together as James S.A. Corey have managed to basically stick to the schedule of an average of one book per year for seven books, even as they have been heavily involved in the adaption of their books for television as The Expanse series, the first three seasons of which have been broadcast on SyFy, but which has moved to Amazon Prime for season 4 after the cable channel declined to renew the show. In 2018 we are again not having an Expanse book, with the 8th book in the series Tiamat's Wrath having been delayed until 2019.

Runner-Up in Favorite Science Fiction Novel Read In 2017: Death's End by Liu Cixin.
Death's End is the third book in the space opera trilogy written by Cixin Liu who won the Hugo award for Best Novel for the first book in the series called The Three-Body Problem. The story is about an invasion of Earth by aliens known as Trisolarians (because their home world is surrounded by three stars). All three books are excellent and very different in their own way. The first two books (The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest) also appeared on my end-of-year favorite reads list for 2015 so it shouldn't be surprising that the third book appears on one as well. In Death's End the stakes for humanity grow even higher (and this is after the threat of alien invasion is resolved in quite an unexpected way!) and the time scale of the book grows longer and longer. There's not much more I can say about Death's End without revealing plot details but I can mention that it has a main character that is a female scientist and strongly encourage you to read the book. It is well-written, complicated science fiction at its very best. If it wasn't for N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate I am fairly confident that Death's End would have likely won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel instead.

Honorable Mention (Science Fiction):  Children of the Divide (Children of a Dead Earth, #3) by Patrick S. Tomlinson.
One of my favorite books from a few years ago was The Ark by Patrick S. Tomlinson, the first book in the Children of a Dead Earth trilogy. As I have said earlier, I like specific genres of fiction (mystery/thriller and science fiction/fantasy) and one of the things that drew me to The Ark is that it is a rare example of a book which combines mystery and science fiction in a clever and engaging way. Children of the Divide is the third book in this series and it does an excellent job of  continuing (and possibly completing) the story that began in The Ark while still maintaining its commitment to blurring genre boundaries of science fiction and mystery. Children of the Divide is about a former detective who is now part of a small human colony on a planet trying to engage with the indigenous alien population and uncover corrupt and criminal conspiracy among the colonial leaders.

Favorite Fantasy Novel Read Novel In 2017: The Core (The Demon Cycle, #5) by Peter V. Brett
Peter Brett's Demon Cycle has been one of my favorite reads in the category of fantasy since the first entry The Warded Man appeared in 2009. Brett is definitely on the short list of my favorite fantasy authors: Brian Staveley, Brent Weeks, Michael J. Sullivan, and Daniel Abraham. The Demon Cycle is set in a world where there are different kinds of monsters (called "demons") who appear every night once the sun goes down. Demons apparently rise up from the "core" of the earth and have claws, teeth and talons and kill humans. Civilization does not have electricity  and so society is based around daytime activity because there is a strong belief that there is no way to fight against the demons. It is known that certain symbols (called "wards") can protect property from demon incursion but deep knowledge or understanding of wards and the ability to create new wards has been lost in the annals of time. When the series starts the main characters are Arlen Bales, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn who live in an area we would recognize as similar to 18th century North America (without the slavery). One of the highlights of the series is that it proceeds (The Desert Spear) we are introduced to another pocket of humanity that lives in dry, arid area. This society we would recognize as based on 18th century Middle Eastern or Muslim living. Here the main characters are Ahmann Jardir, Inevera and Abban Haman. In The Core, Arlen, Jardir and Arlen's wife Renna take the battle against the demons to The Core in order to settle the question of which creature, corelings or humans will dominate the planet. This plot summary is a bit simplistic, because the war against the demons has many fronts and involves many other "lesser" characters. (One of the other strengths of the Demon Cycle books is the nuanced characterization of the primary and secondary characters in the series.) Brett wraps up the 5-book series expertly and satisfyingly in The Core. I am very interested in seeing what Brett will follow up the Demon Cycle with; he's a great writer.

Runner-Up Favorite Fantasy Novel Read in 2017: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne is an epic fantasy trilogy (The Emperor's BladesThe Providence of Fire,,The Last Mortal Bond) featuring a trio of heirs (Adare, Kaden and Valyn) to the Unhewn Throne of the Annurian Empire by Brian Staveley; it was one of my favorite reads in 2015 and 2016. They are great books, built around amazing characters and featuring taut plotting, treacherous betrayals, huge battle scenes and god-like creatures. Although Adare, Kaden and Valyn are the main characters in the book, there are several side characters who make indelible impressions. One of these is Pyrre, a priestess of the God of Death. In Skullsworn, Staveley writes an entire (somewhat short) book entirely focused around Pyrre and gives us insight into how such the smart, accomplished woman we met in the trilogy became a fully-fledged and devoted member of what is essentially a death cult. Pyrre is so fabulous in the original trilogy that it is not surprising that her origin story makes for an exciting read. It is pretty difficult to write a prequel for a character we know survives this story, especially one who literally kills without compunction in service of her religious beliefs but Staveley is so talented he does it very successfully. There are many other characters in the Unhewn Throne trilogy who would also make excellent subjects of their own books (Gwenna, The Flea, to name just a few) so I hope Staveley returns to this setting soon.

Honorable Mention (Fantasy): Age of Swords (The Legends of the First Empire, #2) by Michael J. Sullivan
One of my happy discoveries in recent year has been the work of Michael J. Sullivan. His Riyria Revelation trilogy (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, Heir of Novron) was on my list of favorite reads for 2016. Sullivan approaches the book industry a bit differently than most authors, since he started by self-publishing his books (quite successfully) and even though his books are now published by major booksellers one is also able to buy them directly from him. He has a new epic fantasy series based thousands of years before the events of the Riyria Revelations called the Legends of the First Empire. Amazingly, he has completed first drafts of the entire 6-book series, so the books are guaranteed to be released on a pretty regular schedule. Age of Swords is the second book in the series and builds upon the setting and characters introduced in the first book, Age of Myth. Unlike the Riryia trilogies, which feature two male characters and are effectively laced with humor, this new series has a female protagonist and is primarily based on an existential conflict between the powerful Fhrey (near immortal, masters of magic and powerfully violent) and humans, who are portrayed in the Bronze age, but inventive and resource. The humans thought the Fhrey were gods until one of them was killed in Age of Myth, but there is still a sense that if the Fhrey decided to invade lands occupied by humans they could exterminate them without much trouble.

Favorite Mystery Novel Read In 2017: Flesh House (DS Logan McRae, #4) by Stuart MacBride
Comedy is so difficult to do that when I find someone who does it well I am always impressed. That Stuart MacBride is able to do this in the context of police procedural mystery thrillers is amazing. I only started reading MacBride's books about Detective Sergeant Logan McRae's adventures as part of the Aberdeen Constabulary in 2017 but already they are very near the top of my all-time list in the mystery category. It was somewhat difficult to decide which of the seven McRae books I read last year should be at the top of this list, but I think it makes sense to pick Flesh House since it is simultaneously the most thrilling and the most darkly comic of these books that I have read so far. As a DS, Logan is basically in middle management, with uniformed police and Detective Constables (DCs) beneath him, and Detective Inspectors (DIs) and Detective Chief Inspectors (DCIs) above him. Unfortunately, in both directions he is surrounded by incompetence and indolence, which MacBride exploits for its maximum comedic effect. The key character here is his immediate boss, DI Roberta Steel (who is such a great character that MacBride has written an entire stand-alone book featuring her in And Now We Are Dead). In Flesh House, Logan (as usual) is juggling multiple criminal investigations, although they are overshadowed by what appears to be the re-emergence after 3 decades  of a cannibalistic serial killer called the Flesher. Len Wiseman was the person who was arrested, tried and convicted as the Flesher but he has been free for years because his conviction was overturned on appeal. Recently a container car full of human meat that was en route to a local butcher has been found and the Granite City is gripped with panic about their local food supply and the police are in such a frenzy to put Wiseman behind bars again that they are willing to bend the rules to get the result that they want. Logan eventually solves the case but only after he puts himself in mortal danger (again) and undergoes excruciating situations which have lasting consequences on his political and personal future.

Runner-Up Favorite Mystery Novel Read in 2016: Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly (Sean Duffy, #6) by Adrian McKinty
One of the key discoveries I made in 2016 was the Inspector Sean Duffy  books by Adrian McKinty. These are a series of police procedurals set in the suburbs of Belfast, Northern Ireland at the height of the "Troubles" in the mid-1980s. I'm already a sucker for police procedurals, having consumed several books of this type written by Duncan MacBride (DS Logan McRae), Ian Rankin (DI John Rebus in Edinburgh), Elizabeth George (Inspector Lynley series in England), Peter Robinson (DCI Alan Banks in Yorkshire), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch in Los Angeles), Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole in Oslo, Norway), Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q series in Copenhagen, Denmark), Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad) and Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallander in Ystad, Sweden). McKinty's Sean Duffy is a nice Catholic boy who is a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer in Carrickfergus, a predominantly Protestant section of Northern Ireland (which also just happens to be the name of the real town that McKinty grew up in.). The Duffy books are bit more than your everyday police-procedural murder-mystery; they have significant elements of spy thriller components, all embedded in oft-amusing cultural commentary on the 1980s and 1990s. The latest (and possibly last) book in the series is the unforgettably titled Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly begins with a bang in Chapter 1 with Duffy abducted and basically left for dead as the result of a contract killing and gets even more suspenseful from there. The book then jumps to a time line BEFORE the abduction to tell the story about how Sean got into this predicament and the reader is left with the very real possibility that Detective Duffy may not survive this tale. (I don't want to give away anything but McKinty has revealed that there will be 3 more Duffy books coming out starting with The Detective Up Late in 2019).

Honorable Mention (Mystery):  Well-Schooled in Murder (Inspector Lynley, #3) by Elizabeth George.
I finally started reading the British police procedurals written by American Elizabeth George in 2017. George is widely known for her Inspector Lynley series (which at one point was a popular BBC television series that also aired on PBS). The Lynley series is now 20 episodes strong and features upper-class DI Tommy Lynley (the 8th Earl of Asherton) and working-class DS Barbara Havers solving crimes with the supporting characters being Lynley's girlfriend  Lady Helen Clyde and his best friend Simon St. James. I read the first four novels in the series in 2017 but I think that the strongest of these is the third book, Well-Schooled in Murder. The plot is about a murder that has occurred at a boarding school which is something of a locked room mystery. I definitely intend to read more of these books in the future, even though the romantic tension between Tommy and Helen is a bit off-putting, the class tension between Havers and Lynley is intriguing.

Favorite Thriller Novel Read In 2017: Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges, #1) by Stephen King.
Stephen King is a colossus in the publishing world, primarily known for his numerous best-sellers, his prodigious, decades-long written output and the number of film adaptations which have become classic movies (Carrie, It, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, et cetera). Since I am not a fan of horror I had mostly ignored his work  but I did read 11/22/63 (since as an alternative history about the President Kennedy assassination that involves time travel it is effectively science fiction) and very much enjoyed it. So, when I discovered that King had written a mystery thriller series (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) I decided to check it out and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. I read all three books in a row; they are very suspenseful, funny and interesting. I don't think King is a great writer, but I do think that he is a fantastic storyteller. I selected Mr. Mercedes as my favorite thriller read in 2017 because the last third of the book is almost impossible to put down. The book begins with the horrible hit-and-run which results in the death of 8 people and the wounding of several more. King tells the story from the perspective of the person who commits the crime, Brady Hartsfield, as well as  the police officer who unsuccessfully investigated the crime and who is now near retirement, Bill Hodges. Hodges teams up with two unlikely sidekicks, a gangly  teenaged African-American named Jerome Robinson and an obsessive-compulsive recluse named Holly Gibney. Together Holly, Jerome and Bill make an engaging team that are a highlight of the entire series. Although they have a limited role in the sequel Finders Keepers they return in the final entry in the trilogy, End of Watch. The series has been adapted for television but is airing on something called the Audience Network which I don't have access to.

Runner-Up Favorite Thriller Read in 2017: Criminal (Will Trent, #6)  by Karin Slaughter
I discovered Karin Slaughter in 2015 when I read the the first book Blindsighted in her Grant County series. The book made an immediate impression on me, grabbing an Honorable Mention for Favorite Thriller Read in 2015. I basically devoured the rest of the six books in the Grant County series in 2016 and have been rapidly making my way through her 9-book Will Trent series ever since. Slaughter is a crime thriller writer who also combines romantic tension between her main characters. The Grant County series was built around a trio of characters: Sara Linton, Jeffrey Tolliver and Lena Adams. (Tolliver and Linton were married and Adams is the only female detective in the same police station where Tolliver was chief of police.) The Will Trent series is based around another female-male-female triangle, Sara Linton, Will Trent and Angie Polaski. (Trent and Polaski were orphans who lived in group homes together, both became Atlanta police officers and eventually married while Sara moves to Atlanta from Grant County and becomes romantically involved with Will.)  In both series Slaughter provides point-of-view perspectives from each of the main characters and shows how the very same events and actions by the principals can be interpreted very differently, usually due to the past experiences and traumas each character carries with them. Slaughter does an excellent job of characterizing female characters and her books are full of extremely strong and independent woman while simultaneously depicting society's (and violent men's) horrific domination and  oppression of women. I chose Criminal as the runner-up thriller of the year from the six Will Trent books I read in 2017 because it revolves around unearthing secrets about Will's parentage and we learn more about why his boss, Amanda Wagner, is so closely tied to him.

Honorable Mention (Thriller): Mississippi Blood (Penn Cage, #6) by Greg Iles.
The Penn Cage books by Greg Iles have been some of my favorite thriller reads in the last few years. Overall, I think the first trilogy (The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, The Devil's Punchbowl) is even more gripping than the second (Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, Mississippi Blood) although the stakes and acclaim for the second one are greater in every aspect. Reading the series in order raises the stakes for the reader in how invested we are in the ultimate disposition of the characters. Not all of our favorites survive the end of the series, and it is heartbreaking. There's a real sense of suspense and danger that tragedy could strike anyone, even the eponymous Penn Cage. For me, the imbrication of race, crime, Southern history and journalism in the series is a potent mix and convinced me to keep Mississippi Blood on my list of favorite reads in 2017.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Less by Andrew Sean Greer


Less is the title of the award-winning novel by 48-year-old, openly gay author Andrew Sean Greer about an openly gay author named Arthur Less who as his fiftieth birthday approaches decides to go on an extended trip around the world primarily in order to avoid any social obligations involved with the imminent marriage of his former (much younger) lover Freddy Pelu to another man.

I am somewhat ashamed as an openly gay man myself who is an avid reader (and who turned 50 this year!) that it took me this long to discover and finally read Less. (I think I remember some of the buzz when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Novel in 2018 but even that didn’t provoke me to pick it up then). I’m here to urge you to learn from my mistake and read Less sooner rather than later! 

For one thing, the book is relatively short (well under 300 pages) and laugh-out-loud funny. I literally laughed out loud multiple times, especially in the first half of the book. In some circles the fact that a humorous novel won the Pulitzer is more significant than the fact that an openly gay author won for a book with a central gay character. 

Less is essentially a travelogue, a cautionary tale and a love story all in one. It is also cleverly structured (it uses long chapters that revolve around Arthur Less’s trips to various countries like Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan). While sticking to these forms it also pokes fun at them in interesting ways.

Less reminds me of Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, which subverts the self-help form to make profound observations about life, destiny and virtue. Greer does something similar by subverting the story of the solo American traveler traipsing around the world to make profound statements about the nature of love, aging and happiness. The two works are similar in another way in that they both deploy the narrative voice in tricky and surprising ways. Although Arthur Less is the protagonist of Less, he is not the narrator of the novel. There’s someone else who narrates key scenes of the book and the reason is not clear until the very end. Although there are substantial hints dropped along the way the end of the book still packs an emotional wallop.

In many ways Less is a tour de force. I hope Armie Hammer has called his agent to get the film rights, because he would seem to be perfect casting for the lead role of Arthur Less (who is described as blond,VERY tall, handsome and average in most ways, with innocent eyes).

Title: Less.
Author: 
Andrew Sean Greer.
Paperback: 273 pages.
Publisher:
 Lee Boudreaux Books.
Date Published: July 18, 2017.
Date Read: November 13, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A+ (4.08/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A+.
IMPACT: A+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: 2018 Season Ends With Djokovic and Halep On Top



TENNIS SEASON ENDS WITH SIMONA HALEP AND NOVAK DJOKOVIC ON TOP
The 2018 tennis season is now over since the 2018 ATP Tour finals concluded on Sunday with Sascha Zverev's improbable win over Novak Djokovic in the final. For the record, Djokovic ended the year at #1 on the ATP Tour and Simona Halep ended the WTA tour at #1.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Ricardo Lara Becomes 1st LGBT Individual Elected Statewide In California


Ricardo Lara has been declared the winner of the California Insurance Commissioner race, defeating former Republican (and current Independent) Steve Poizner. Lara is an openly LGBT state Senator and as of today he leads Poizner 52%-48% (or 400,000 votes) with nearly 10 million votes tabulated:

Lara becomes the first openly LGBT individual elected statewide in California!

Hat tip to Equality California.

EYE CANDY: David McIntosh (4th time!)





British bodybuilder has appeared as Eye Candy here multiple times before (September 24, 2012, December 31, 2012 and February 11, 2013). I recently went to his Instagram page (@king_david85) and he still looks amazing!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

2018 ATP YEC: Zverev Stuns Djokovic To Win Biggest Title


Sascha Zverev defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-4 6-3 to win the Nitto ATP Finals in London, becoming the youngest player to win the ATP's year-end championship since Djokovic won the title in 2008.  21-year-old Zverev will end the year ranked at World #4, behind Djokovic at #1, Rafael Nadal at #2 and Roger Federer at #3. In the semifinals, Zverev defeated Federer 7-5 7-6(5). His win over Djokovic ended a 14-match winning streak the Serbian had against Top 10 players in 2018 and evened their career head to head at 2-all (his head-to-head with Federer is now 3-all).

Last year, Grigor Dimitrov beat David Goffin to win the 2017 ATP year-end championship. This win often presages  a quantum increase in success, but Dimitrov didn't have a great 2018 afterwards.

Friday, November 16, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Jared Polis Becomes 1st Openly Gay Man Elected Governor


Former Congressman Jared Polis has become the first openly gay man to be elected as the Chief Executive of a State. Polis, 43,  is now the Governor-elect of Colorado, having been elected as a Democrat on Tuesday November 6 with 51.7% of the vote. He is a dot-com millionaire and he and his partner Marlon Reis are parents to a son and daughter.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Foundryside (Founders, #1) by Robert Patrick Bennett


Foundryside is the first book in an epic fantasy series called The Founders trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, the author of the Hugo-nominated Divine Cities trilogy (City of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles).

Foundryside has some interesting parallels with the Divine Cities, in that the main protagonist appears to be a woman of color and her primary sidekick is a big, taciturn dude who is really good at killing people. In the Divine Cities trilogy the actual main character in each of the entries in the trilogy changed, while it looks like in Foundryside the main character will presumably remain the same, Sancia Grado (although we only have one book to make this conclusion from).

Sancia is delightful, which is great because we the reader spend a lot of time with her. (If this was a movie, she would basically be in every scene.) It is true that she’s a thief, but she’s also an escaped slave and has been mutilated by her former (unknown) masters to have curious but definitely useful abilities. She carries scars, both physical and emotional which broaden and deepen her as a character.

A key feature of Foundryside is its magic system, which is based around “scriving,” a combination of writing code and spell-casting. Basically scriving allows the scrive to change the reality of the scrived object. Examples include lamps which float in the air on their own, specialized locks that require specialized keys, and extremely powerful weapons in a civilization which is barely out of what we would call the Bronze Age. (There’s a lot of horse drawn carriages, swords, crossbows and armor in Foundryside.)

On top of this intriguing magic system Bennett layers on a feudal society and sets the story in Tevanne, a city which is basically controlled by a handful of family-run Houses that have a monopoly on the scriving market. The book begins with an extended caper of Sancia stealing something incredibly valuable (and powerful) from one of the houses and being tracked down by its head of security, who just happens to be the scion of one of the main Houses, Gregor Dandolo. Gregor is a lone survivor of a bloody engagement in a recent war and is the large dude I mentioned earlier who is very good at killing things whom I would say is the second main character of Foundryside.

Another strong aspect of Foundryside is that there are several other character that are compelling besides Sancia and Gregor. There’s Ofelia Dandolo, Gregor’s mom who also runs House Dandolo and seems to have decidedly un-maternal feelings towards her sole surviving family member. There’s House Dandolo’s primary scriver, Orso Ignacio, and his assistant Berenice who play key roles in the story. There’s also Estelle Candiolo, Orso’s former fling/girlfriend/potential wife from decades before, who is the daughter of the former head of House Candiolo and the wife of the current head, Thomas Ziauno.

I don’t want to say much about the story or plot but we do find out much more about Sancia, her origins and the source of her powers. (Also, she’s probably a lesbian, or at least has a female love interest, yay!) Foundryside being a Bennett book, there’s very rich world-building and an extremely interesting historical backstory, which in this case involves gone-but-not-forgotten ancestors who modern-day people in Tevanne basically think were gods for what THEY could do with scriving. I would not be surprised if the future books in the Founders series gives us more information about these folks, called Hierophants in the book. I look forward to reading the sequels to Foundryside with great interest, enthusiasm and impatience! HIGHLY recommended.

Title: Foundryside.
Author: 
Robert Jackson Bennett.
Paperback: 512 pages.
Publisher:
 Crown.
Date Published: August 12, 2018.
Date Read: November 5, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A.
IMPACT: A+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

AZ-SEN: Openly LGBT Kyrsten Sinema Wins!


Congressperson Kyrsten Sinema has won election to the United States  Senate from Arizona, defeating Congresswoman Martha McSally in a very close race. Sinema, 42, is the first female Senator from Arizona, and as a bisexual woman, only the second openly LGBTQ member of the "world's most exclusive deliberative body," following openly lesbian Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin (who was re-elected last Tuesday) in Wisconsin with 55% of the vote. She will also be one of the youngest members of the U.S. Senate.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

TENNIS NEWS: Djokovic Returns To #1, Khachanov Breaks Through, ATP YEC Field Set (Isner, Nishikori IN, Nadal, Delpo OUT)


DJOKOVIC RETURNS TO WORLD #1 AFTER  NADAL WITHDRAWS FROM PARIS MASTERS
Because Nadal cut his entire season short (he ended up not playing the rest of the year after retiring with an injury against Del Potro in the US Open semifinals) Djokovic was assured to  return to World #1 last Monday when the Paris Masters points dropped off the calendar. This was a historic changeabout for Djojkovic who started 2018  with 6 losses and 6 wins but then had a 20-match winning streak which resulted in 3 titles (2018 Wimbledon and 2018 US Open).

FEDERER LOSES TIGHT 3-SET SEMIFINAL TO DJOKOVIC WITHOUT LOSING SERVE

The highlight of the Paris Masters was the 47th match between Federer and Djokovic, which the Serbian was able to win the 3-hour semifinal showdown 7-6(6) 5-7 7-6(3) despite never breaking Federer's serve.

DJOKOVIC ENDS YEAR-END #1 FOR FIFTH TIME IN CAREER
By Nadal being unable to compete in the ATP World Tour Finals, Djokovic will end up as the year-end #1 since World #3 Roger Federer will be unable to get enough points to surpass the Serb by the end of the year. This is the fifth time Djokovic has ended the year at #1 (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018).

KHACHANOV WINS FIRST ATP MASTERS TITLE
Karen Khachanov defeated Djokovic in the final of the ATP Paris Masters in straight sets 7-5 6-4 to win the biggest match of his career. The 6-foot-6 Russian reached a career high of World #11 and seized the ATP World Tour Finals first alternate spot with the win.

ATP YEAR-END CHAMPIONSHIP SET WITHOUT NADAL, DEL POTRO
The Elite Eight is set with the field consisting of Djokovic, Federer, Sascha Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, John Isner and Kei Nshikori. The two alternates are Borna Coric and Karen Khachanov. The draw is set, with Djokovic, Zverev, Isner and Cilic in the Guga Kuerten group and Federer, Thiem,  Nishikori and Anderson in the Lleyton Hewitt group.

Friday, November 09, 2018

2018 World Chess Championship: Carlsen versus Caruana (London, November 9-28)


The 2018 World Chess championship is being held in London starting today and should last until November 28th or so. It is between the defending world champion 27-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway, and 26-year-old Fabiano Caruana of the United States. Carlsen has been the World #1 ranked chess player since 2010, and first won the World Championship by defeating Viswanathan Anand in 2013 at the age of 22.

However, Caruana is the first American player to challenge for the World Chess champion title since Bobby Fischer in 1972. This is a *big* deal and he is the real deal. I didn't know much about him but this article informed me of his bona fides.

Carlsen-Caruana is the matchup that the chess world was hoping for. It’s world No. 1 versus world No. 2—the first World Championship match between the top two since Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov went at it for the fifth and final time in 1990. Caruana only sits three Elo rating points behind Carlsen at 2832 to 2835, both the highest combined rating and the smallest ratings difference in World Championship history. If Caruana wins the match within the 12 classical games, he’ll not only take the title but also the world No. 1 spot that Carlsen has held continuously since July 2011—about which Magnus has said, “I would like to give you some boring, politically correct answer, but the truth is, yeah, it does bother me!”

This should be awesome!

Monday, November 05, 2018

EYE CANDY: Robert Oliveira (reprise)





Robert Oliveira is another one of my Brazilian crushes. He has appeared as eye candy only once before (July 16, 2018) but  almost certainly will make many more. There's a reason why he has over 200,000 followers on Instagram (@robert.official). Enjoy!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason



Jar City is the first book by Arnaldur Indriðason that I have read. I was mostly interested in reading it because it’s set in Reykjavik, and ever since the city was put on the map fro the famous World Chess Championship between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer in 1972 I have been interested in it. I visited Reykjavik this year for a week to celebrate my birthday in May 2018. Thus it was sorta fun to read place names that were somewhat familiar in Jar City

However it turned out that Jar City the book was not that interesting to me in the end. I have a theory that quality of mystery books depends on a number of factors: the quality of the characterization of the protagonist/detective, the interesting features of the sidekicks, the compelling nature of the setting and the intricacy of the puzzle/mystery. 

Here the strongest aspect of Jar City is the puzzle. The protagonist is Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson, who is somewhat interesting but also a bit of a misanthropic and unattractive character. This is not necessarily a deal breaker for me to enjoy a mystery book, since one could also describe popular mystery characters like Inspector John Rebus by Ian Rankin. The main problem with Jar City is with the sidekicks, who are completely uninteresting to me. One  is a woman named Elinborg and a guy named Sigurður Óli. We don't get very much (if any) of the internal monologue of either of these supporting characters, and it's not even very clear what Erlendur thinks of either of his partners. One would think that the setting (Reykjavik) would be compelling but in the end the homogeneous and exotic nature of the setting is not as interesting as I had originally expected when I discovered the books existed. 

Although Jar City is technically not the first book in the Inspector Erlendur series, it is the first book in the English translation order of the books. It's also often true the first book in a mystery series is often not the author's best work. (This is definitely true of Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and Patricia Cornwell, just to name a few.)

I have to add that the one aspect of the first book that may get me to read the future entries is Elendur’s relationship with his pregnant, drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind. I’m definitely curious about what happens to her character but there are many other series that I would rather make progress on first (Val McDermid's Tony Hill/Carol Jordan and Stuart MacBride's DS Logan McRae immediately come to mind, for instance).

Title: Jar City (Inspector Erlendur, #3).
Author: 
Arnaldur Indriðason.
Paperback: 275 pages.
Publisher:
 Minotaur Books.
Date Published: October 1, 2005.
Date Read: July 29, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★  (3.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).

PLOT: B.
IMAGERY: B.
IMPACT: C.

WRITING: A.

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