Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I post on Juneteenth, the day celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.

Small Great Things (2016) was recommended for those who want to learn more about racism.

The American author, Jodi Picoult, is a white woman.

I’m a super privileged white man.

And I did learn from this book.  Especially many of the subtle instances where Black Americans are stereotyped by oblivious whites.  It made me wonder how many times I’ve done the same things.  I am often oblivious of the feelings of those around me.

The story concentrates on an African-American labor/delivery (L&D) nurse, Ruth Jefferson, in charge of newborns at a Connecticut hospital.

Ruth is ordered not to touch or go near the baby of a white supremacist couple. After the baby dies in her care, Ruth is charged with murder, and taken to court.

Small Great Things is being adapted into a film starring Viola Davis and Julia Roberts.


I happened to have recently read a big chunk of The Innocents Abroad (1869) by Mark Twain, one of the best-selling travel books of all time.  Of course Twain was a humorist, skilled at making me laugh.

He’s an American imperialist abroad, mocking everyone and everything he finds abroad.  It was off-putting.  Later in life he became an ardent anti-imperialist.

Twain was an adamant supporter of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves, even going so far as to say, “Lincoln‘s Proclamation … not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also”.  Yet in his travel book you have to call him a racist.

That I found also off-putting.

The only instance of praise for anyone in the first part of the book, however, was for an African American tour guide working in Europe.  The only good guide they had in months.

Last Words by Michael Koryta

Update – Later I tried the sequel, Rise the Dark, but couldn’t finish.

Michael Koryta is a prize winning American author of contemporary crime and supernatural fiction.

This is his first book that I’ve read. It was recommend by many of my favourite authors.

That said, this one is only OK.

Markus Novak, the lead character, is neither compelling nor all that interesting.

The plot is excellent, however. And surprising.

Still mourning the death of his wife, private investigator Mark Novak accepts a case that may be his undoing. On the same day his wife died, the body of a teenage girl was pulled from the extensive and perilous cave system beneath Southern Indiana. Now the man who rescued the girl, who was believed to be her killer, begs Novak to uncover what really happened.



The Witch Elm by Tana French

Well written, as expected.  French is one of our best living authors.

Surprising. Original.

I liked but did not love this novel.

The narrator is Toby Hennessy, social media guru for an art gallery.

After confronting burglers (?), Toby is beaten nearly to death. To convalesce from his amnesia, aphasia, headaches, and PTSD he retreats to his Uncle Hugo’s country house to recuperate.

A skull is found by a child in an old Witch Elm. The real mystery starts there.

Much of the book is dialogue between Toby and his childhood best friend / cousins, Susanna and Leon.

This is modern literature.  I do recommend the book. 

Stephen King’s review:

French has eschewed her popular Dublin Murder Squad series here to write a stand-alone novel, and as often happens, her work — never dull to begin with — has gained a certain lively freshness.

Oh, there are detectives, and they arrive equipped with all the surface bonhomie and dangerous, not to say feral, undertones that we are used to in a French novel.

The only difference here — and it’s a big one — is that when they finish one of their nerve-jangling interviews and exit Ivy House, the Dublin manse where most of “The Witch Elm” is set, we are not privy to their speculations or deductions. …

Is the novel perfect? Nope. …

This is good work by a good writer. For the reader, what luck.

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Radicalized is a collection of 4 novellas released on March 19, 2019 as a reaction to Trump government chaos.

The issues discussed are very current.

It’s one of the books contending in the Canada Reads 2020 contest.  I’m slightly surprised at that as one of the four is a rant against the American non-health care system.

I recommend it IF you are interested in these themes:

… explores such issues as digital rights management, police brutality, radicalization in internet communities, and doomsday preppers. …

… American medical care, immigration, white male rage and technological monopolies …

Those who did not like the book consider it too preachy.

I quite liked the first story, Unauthorized BreadA refugee, Salima, confronts the software controlling installed in her kitchen appliances after the companies who created those appliances suddenly cease operations.

Cory Doctorow is one of the Tech gurus I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following Boing Boing, which won the Bloggies for Weblog of the Year, in 2004 and 2005.  The web version launched January 2000, a “directory of wonderful things“.

In February 2020, Cory Doctorow left Boing Boing to start, a blog that brands itself as having “No trackers, no ads.”  Of course I’m now following it too.

Cory is an activist in favour of liberalising copyright laws and a proponent of the Creative Commons organization, using some of their licences for his books. Some common themes of his work include digital rights management, file sharing, and post-scarcity economics.


Harry Bosch books #3 & #4

That’s it.

#3 Concrete Blonde

#4 Last Coyote 

I’ve now read all 22 Harry Bosch books through 2019. And watched all 6 seasons of the Bosch TV show.

… Or did I miss Trunk Music

Michael Connelly, my age, is certainly a favourite author.  He was a crime reporter at the Los Angeles Times before becoming a writer.

In the books Harry consistently and persuasively argues that the police need MORE freedom to keep the peace. Fewer rules and restrictions on how they protect and serve.
Yet not even Michael Connelly can support the police during the June 2020 police violence protests.

I highly recommend you get hooked on Harry Bosch.




The Secret Commonwealth (2019) by Philip Pullman

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were great friends—both Oxford writers and scholars. Both important to this day.

Philip Pullman is another Oxford man, one who believes he should be ranked with those great writers.

I wouldn’t go that far.

Certainly Lyra in The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights) is one of the great children characters in fiction.

Certainly Pullman’s invention of the daemon is one of the great fantasy inventions.

A film adaptation of Northern Lights, titled The Golden Compass, was released in December 2007 by New Line Cinema, starring Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, along with Daniel CraigNicole KidmanEva GreenSam Elliott and Ian McKellen. Though it was a financial failure, I personally like the film.

That all said, the plot of this other world is simply too scattered.  Seems he started without knowing how it would end.

Secret Commonwealth is 5th in the series, and weakest so far

Super fan Rine Karr posted the best review I’ve read. She was disappointed. The book is too preachy:

Racism, xenophobia, and the refugee crisis. Sexism, violence, and rape. Propaganda, the suppression of free speech, and religious fundamentalism.

Recall Pullman’s His Dark Materials series:

  1. Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass)
  2. The Subtle Knife
  3. The Amber Spyglass

His The Book of Dust series is a prequel and sequels:

  1. La Belle Sauvage (2017)
  2. The Secret Commonwealth (2019)
  3. … TBD

The Secret Commonwealth follows Lyra Silvertongue and Dr Malcolm Polstead, both at Oxford; she as an undergraduate at St Sophia’s college and he at Durham College.

It takes place twenty years after the first volume, La Belle Sauvage and seven years after the conclusion of His Dark Materials.

The setting is a world dominated by the Magisterium (commonly called “the Church”), an international theocracy which actively suppresses heresy. …

The relationship between Lyra and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, has been severely strained …

This is my least favourite of the 5 books, so far.  Too confusing.  Too random. I certainly hope book 6 wraps up Lyra’s endless and seemingly pointless journey in some satisfying way.


Broken Harbour by Tana French

The fourth novel in Tana French’s excellent Dublin Murder Squad series sees evil break into a Dublin family’s dream home.

Atypically for me, I quit after finishing 63% of the book.

Got sick of the lead character, Detective Scorcher Kennedy. His mentally ill sister was even worse.

In fact, the only appealing character is the rookie partner, Richie.

Very well written, the story was too slow for me, as well.

I’m in the minority. Most folks loved this book as much as the rest.

Guardian review

Influential ALBUMS of my youth

Bridge over Troubled Water (1970)

We walked to Woolco.

This is the first ALBUM I bought. My second choice (that I couldn’t afford) was The Beatles.

Previously I had only purchased 45 singles.

Though Rockin’ Ronnie no longer recalls this episode, I’m quite sure he telephoned me in 1974. I rode my bicycle over to his place in Lakeview where he played me Queen II.

It was a revelation.

… “Side White” and “Side Black” (instead of the conventional sides “A” and “B”), with corresponding photos of the band dressed in white or in black on either side of the record’s label face. …

I’ve been a big Queen fan ever since.

The Scottish band Nazareth got BIG in Canada before the States.

They were my first LIVE concert. It might have been the Loud ‘n’ Proud tour. Or possibly the earlier Razamanaz tour.

In High School we listened to both those albums a lot. For a short time.

I lost faith later thinking they had gone too commercial. Sold out. 

Most of the music I like best was introduced to me by friends, especially Ron and Kate.

One exception was The Eagles. For some reason I considered them my discovery. I kept insisting High School friends pay attention.

Their fantastic debut album was Eagles (1972).  But it was Desperado (1973) that I loved best.  Every track superb.

  • Tequila Sunrise
  • Doolin-Dalton
  • Twenty-One

I graduated High School 1975 age-16 and took a gap year. We saved money to tour Europe spring 1976 in an orange VW van.

Leaving Canada my favourite album was The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. (1973)

Springstein wasn’t all that famous yet.

Jon Landau saw Bruce playing Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Harvard Square Theater on May 9th, 1974 and declared him the future of Rock and Roll. But it took Born to Run, released August 25, 1975, before he got really famous.

By the time we got back from Europe, Springstein was arguably the #1 recording artist in the world.

To this day, I love all early Springstein.

I had a punk era. Clash. Sex Pistols. Patti Smith. But I’m thinking it was Television that was most important to me. I recall playing Marquee Moon (1977) full volume in my parent’s back yard. No doubt the neighbours hated it.

Though you’ve probably never heard of this album, critics raved. In Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (2003), it ranked 128th.

During University we spent a lot of time listening to LIVE punk at the Calgarian Hotel.  My favourite local band – The Slits.

Another influential album for me during my University days was the first Violent Femmes album.

Most of the tracks were written when the songwriter, Gordon Gano, was 18 years old and still in high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Add It Up“, “Blister in the Sun“. Powerful raw songs as relevant today as they ever were.

Billie Jo Campbell, a 3-year-old, was walking down a street in California when  her mother was approached and offered $100 for taking this photograph.

I could include Leonard Cohen on this list. But even more important to me was Stan Rogers.

I don’t recall owning any of Stan’s albums. By that time in my life everything was Cassette mixed tapes

… therefore I’ll add The Very Best of Stan Rogers (2011) .

Stan died in a fire aboard Air Canada Flight 797 on the ground at the Greater Cincinnati Airport at the age of 33.  Tragic.

I listened to Stan most after his death.

When traveling people would ask me to recommend Canadian music.  I consistently recommended Stan Rogers and The Tragically Hip, quintessential Great White North music.

At Altadore Gym Club in the 1970s and 80s we listened to a LOT of Stones and Led Zeppelin. Best album?

Perhaps Led Zeppelin IV.

There are many, many more influential bands of course.

Talking Heads, James Taylor, Prince, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, B-52’s, …

Like most people my age, I felt popular music got worse in the 1980s.

I listened to less and less. Bought very few CDs.

At some point I gave up on music entirely. Today I listen exclusively to audio books and podcasts.








A Study in Scarlet Women – by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet is an 1887 detective mystery novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring the debut of Sherlock Holmes.

A Study in Scarlet Women, a 2016 mystery novel by Sherry Thomas, the first entry in the “Lady Sherlock series“, in which Sherlock Holmes is actually a public persona created by a woman detective named Charlotte Holmes …

Sounded a great plot device.

Charlotte is Sherlock. Her partner a wealthy widow, Mrs. Joanna Watson, whose husband was an army doctor killed in Afghanistan.

Sadly, I know Sherlock. And Charlotte is no Sherlock.

Constance Grady for Vox gave it two and a half stars saying “A Study in Scarlet Women has a killer premise, some interesting character work, and a regrettably poorly structured plot.”[4]

As I post there are 3 more Lady Sherlock sequels. But I won’t carry on.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I haven’t read a lot of Steinbeck.

But this story felt familiar. Perhaps I read it as a teenager.

Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck.

Published in 1937, it tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the United States.

George Milton is street smart, but uneducated man. Lennie Small, a bulky, strong man but mentally disabled.

George’s loyalty to Lennie is the main theme.

The novella has been banned in places in the USA for various reasons. It remains required reading in many other American, Australian, Irish, British, New Zealand and Canadian high schools.