Book Review: A Devil in the Details by Stewart

A Devil in the Details (Jesse James Dawson, #1)A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wry urban fantasy is not my normal fantasy subgenre, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart. I can savor the supernatural (angels, demons, witches, clerics) but please pass on the paranormal (vampires, werewolves, zombies) and that’s just what Jesse James Dawson did.

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I Spy the Night Sky

I stepped outside just before 9:00 pm to let the dogs out and shocked myself with the sight of actual stars, something I haven’t seen in weeks (it seems) with the unrelenting cloud cover, rain and thunderstorms plaguing the Heart of America this month.  I grabbed my camera and tripod and setup just east of my mailbox, hoping to capture photographic evidence of the overwhelming light pollution saturating my neighborhood.

Due North (from in front of my mailbox)
Bambi Court Due North (from in front of my mailbox)

Not only does everyone on my court leave every outside light on, they feel compelled to illuminate their driveways, fences, sidewalks, trees, boats, etc., etc.  The clouds in the above picture are actually illuminated by the glow from the Lansing Correctional Facility (just a half mile north of my neighborhood).

Turning around 180 degrees on the tripod, and flipping the camera 90 degrees to the horizontal, I snapped a shot of my new ‘bright night light’ recently installed at the corner of Bambi Court and Fawn Valley:

New 'Bright Night Light' (Installed at the corner of Fawn Valley & Bambi Court)
New 'Bright Night Light' (Installed at the corner of Fawn Valley & Bambi Court)

Again, the neighbors to my south, on the south side of Fawn Valley, seem to be in competition with the Bambi Court Extreme Illumination Foundation.

I could barely see the handle of the big dipper, so I thought I’d try experimenting with long exposures using the Pentax K100D.  There was no wind where I was standing, even though I could see the thin wispy clouds moving casually from west to east across the backdrop of the Big and Little Dippers.  I set the camera to Shutter Priority Mode and selected a six second exposure for a half dozen shots of the northwestern, north and northeastern skies.  The most dramatic shot, after autocorrecting with basic photo editing software (and I apologize for the greenness of the resulting photo), follows:

Bits of Ursa Minor and Draco (behind the clouds)
Bits of Ursa Minor and Draco (behind the clouds)

I packed up the camera and tripod and thought about heading to bed.  I tried to read more from the Backyard Astronomer’s Guide but gave up around ten o’clock.  I got up to let the dogs out one final time and, as I always do, I looked up when I stepped outside.  I always look up.  The clouds had cleared away more and I could clearly see the Big and Little Dippers from my back patio.  I grabbed the tripod and camera again for some more experimental shots using an exposure of fifteen seconds.  The following two photos show Ursa Minor and Major in one shot:

Ursa Minor and Major (Polaris is at 1 o'clock compared to the tree sillouette bottom center)
Ursa Minor and Major (Polaris is at 1 o'clock compared to the tree sillouette bottom center)
Ursa Major and Minor
Ursa Major and Minor

And there I will leave you to dream of the stars.

Good night and sleep tight!

My Pseudo-Google Alter-Ego

My husband and I trade salvos across the DMZ of household organization, not constantly, but consistently.  I am highly organized virtually, but lack motivation for the more tangible aspects on the home front (I’ll let you translate that however you want).  Terry is just highly organized (I will refrain from further labeling or categorizing in the interest of keeping the peace).

With the prospect of a mostly rainy three-day weekend to look forward to, I’ve decided to de-clutter the front closet.  Tonight, Terry and I will inventory all our winter coats and jackets, with an eye towards donating most of them to GoodWill Saturday morning.  I also plan to relocate all the orphaned games from when Rachelle and Derek were children, possibly storing them in the closets of their old bedrooms.  I can make better use of that shelf for storing kitchen-related items, since our house does not have a pantry (beyond a small cabinet-like area next to the refrigerator).   I envision reclaiming some of my counter space and pantry space by storing the crockpot, blender and other small appliances on the shelf in that closet.

Terry also suggested a couple of days ago that we finally work on Rachelle’s ‘green’ bedroom.  This is the room I hope to turn into an office/library/reading room.  Her ‘purple’ bedroom requires a lot more work, including purchasing a shredder to permanently deal with documents of a sensitive nature that we no longer need to store but can’t really just throw away intact.  Once we get that clutter dealt with, we can finish remodeling the room by installing the wood floor.  We removed the carpet for Rachelle in both rooms to help ease the symptoms of her asthma and allergies.

When I need to find something at home, I rely heavily on my photographic memory (not audio-graphic, just photographic … if I’ve seen it, I remember it) and my brain’s ability to find the memory with a speed that sometimes rivals an internet search engine (but is slowing as I age, sadly).  Terry … just calls me … or yells for me (if I’m within earshot).

While I can remember, almost with install recall, whatever I’ve seen, Terry amazes me with his ability to remember, replicate and improve what he hears.  He puts this ability to exceptional use as a rhythm guitarist (because he also possesses impeccable timing) for his band WolfGuard.  I hope he’ll get an opportunity to compose a few more originals soon as he’s also a gifted composer.   I’m looking forward to their next gig a week from Saturday and hoping they book a few more shows over the summer.

It’s a long-running joke between us that when I receive the phone call that begins with “I can’t find … ” from Terry, my first response is “And you stood in the middle of the room and couldn’t find it …” meaning if it didn’t jump up and bite him, he couldn’t find it.   This happened today, but only in reverse.  Terry couldn’t find his cell phone (therefore he couldn’t call me to ask where it was and I was too far away to hear him yell).  When he did find it, he called me to tell me he couldn’t find it from the middle of the room, but once he moved towards his favorite recliner, he spied it under something, where it had fallen on the floor beside said recliner.  Predictably, I laughed.  He ended the conversation abruptly, responding to an urgent call of nature, to which I replied, “Yes, please don’t stand in the middle of the room and do that.”

Corner Yard Saga Continues and Other Updates

Storm Takes Out Streetlight 04/15/2011
Storm Takes Out Streetlight 04/15/2011

A little more than a month ago, on the ides of April, one of the early spring thunderstorms took out the streetlight that graced the corner of my yard.  At the time, I jumped for joy at the prospect of stargazing with less light pollution than ‘normal’ in my over-illuminated urban area.  Ironically, except for a handful of nights, the sky remained overcast for the past six weeks.  I began to wonder if I’d been transported against my will to the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve completely missed the pre-dawn planetary line-up (Mercury, Mars, Venus and Jupiter), even on ‘clear’ mornings thanks to haze, humidity and wispy clouds just thick enough to obscure the eastern atmosphere.

New Streetlight, Same Over-Illumination
New Streetlight, Same Over-Illumination

This week, the power company installed the new streetlight pole and rewired it to the leaning pole in the southwest corner of my yard.  That’s the pole they really should have replaced as with the current thunderstorm activity, I predict it will be the next victim.  Either the City of Lansing or the power company opted to continue over-illuminating the neighborhood by installing a standard cobra drop-lens fixture instead of the flat-lens cobra luminaire, which is a full-cutoff fixture, is very effective in reducing light pollution, ensuring that light is only directed below the horizontal, rather than directing light outwards and upwards.  Not only are the nights getting shorter (and more humid), I now get to look forward to seeing less stars, constellations, planets, galaxies and nebulae.  At least the moon has some chance of competing for a few days each month.

I snapped a couple other photos of the state of that corner of the yard, mainly the huge pile of dirt around the base of the new streetlight:

What to do with the dirt?  Tamp it?  Water it?
What to do with the dirt? Tamp it? Water it?

I wonder what type of grass seed the City chose for the patch of yard the snow plow scraped off earlier this year:

The Grass is Greener ...
The Grass is Greener ...

I’ll leave you with my final photo of the evening, a bit of flowery brightness to lighten the mood:

First Day Lillies
First Day Lillies

At the End of the Rainbow

A Taste of Victorian LiteratureTonight wraps up the encore run of ‘A Taste of Victorian Literature‘ lecture and book discussion series with D.H. Lawrence‘s The Rainbow.  Join us this evening at the Plaza Branch at 6:30 pm to listen to Andrea Broomfield‘s lecture and discussion the topic questions.  Hope to see you there!

The following information provided to the group members as reading aids in e-mailed handouts:

About the Book:

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

Within weeks of its publication in 1915, The Rainbow was condemned by British authorities. A London court ordered the destruction of all copies seized from its publisher, leaving in the hands of oft-bemused readers fewer than 1,500 copies of the novel that would later be recognized as D.H. Lawrence’s masterpiece.

Its timing proved particularly unfortunate for The Rainbow, whose anti-war heroine sparked public outrage as World War I entered its second year. This fueled the controversy already surrounding the novel, which the National Council for Public Morals had targeted for its potential to demoralize the public through indecent language.

Both the politics and sexuality expressed in the novel are components of an intensely individualistic philosophy that Lawrence sought to articulate in this fictional chronicle that follows three generations of the Brangwen clan. The story begins in 1840 on a farm in the rural midlands of Nottinghamshire and traces one family’s social, geographical, and religious expansion during the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution. In a genre style similar to that of the Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Lawrence depicts the importance of food and drink within the context of everyday people’s lives and the events that matter to them: weddings, holidays, christenings, and funerals.

The central character is Ursula, who is introduced as a young girl. The development of her consciousness becomes the chief occupation of the novel even as she pursues her education and a romance with her first love. Her story is continued in Women in Love (1920).

This novel falls within the broader definition of Victorian literature, though its author is certainly a product of the Victorian age and the events of the novel fall entirely within that timeframe.

About the Author:

D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930) grew up in poverty in the Nottinghamshire town of Eastwood, which would serve as the setting for his early novels, including The Rainbow. His mother Lydia encouraged his education and their close relationship has been the subject of much critical debate.

D.H. Lawrence
D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence worked for a few years as a schoolteacher, though his poor health forced him to quit soon after the publication of his first novel, The White Peacock (1911). This debut was populated by idealized versions of friends and family, as Lawrence often created characters inspired by those he knew. His first commercial success was the essentially autobiographical Sons and Lovers (1913).

A prolific writer, Lawrence churned out multiple drafts of The Rainbow amid a stormy romance with Frieda Weekley, the wife of his former teacher and a mother of three. The couple fled to her native Germany and traveled widely, returning to England two years later to marry after her divorce was finalized.

Lawrence began associating at this time with members of the influential Bloomsbury Group, particularly writer Katherine Mansfield and philosopher Bertrand Russell, with whom he fashioned an unsuccessful plan to establish a revolutionary anti-war political party. A string of ill-luck and hardships – including suppression of The Rainbow – followed.

In 1920, the couple continued their travels and Lawrence returned to prolific form, writing several novels, travelogues, translations, scholarly works on literature and psychoanalysis, and poems in the years to come. Malaria nearly killed him while living in Mexico and his health never fully recovered. In 1928, he published his most controversial novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover; unexpurgated editions of the novel were unavailable for more than 30 years.

Lawrence succumbed to tuberculosis in 1930. His ashes are enshrined at Kiowa Ranch near Taos, New Mexico.

Discussion Topics for The Rainbow

  1. Much of The Rainbow focuses on conflicts and tensions that exist between people in romantic relationships. As you read about Tom and Lydia, Anna and Will, Ursula and Winifred, and then Ursula and Anton, consider the degree to which these characters and their struggles touch on your own experiences with romantic love.
  2. How might we use this novel to trace and understand industrialization’s effects on the lives of rural English people in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century?
  3. How is Ursula a product of a transitional age, one that moves from an agrarian-based economy and culture to an industrial economy and culture?
  4. Lawrence wrote that The Rainbow is “like a novel in a foreign language.” What elements strike you as unusual, perhaps difficult to translate or understand?
  5. Although the novel depicts England in the Victorian era (roughly 1840-1905), the novel is in many respects modernist. Lawrence concentrates on the inner consciousness of his characters and relies on symbols to add depth to his plot. Including the rainbow itself, what other symbols does the author rely on to convey meaning?

Rapture No-Show And Tornadic Two-Step

For nearly an hour yesterday evening, I heard something I rarely pay much attention to … the wail of the tornado sirens.  Having lived in Kansas all my life, I’ve had close calls with at least two tornadoes (including the huge one that went through the heart of Andover, Kansas).  I usually take a quick peek out the back door to check for the tell-tale signs of imminent destruction … things like green black wall clouds, a distinctive smell, extremes of temperature and pressure.  For the first time this Spring, the warning sirens blared continuously over the course of an hour, heralding a dark doom for parts of Leavenworth County.  Lansing, and those south, skirted and flirted with disaster, but we saw not a single drop and barely a puff of breeze.   All of this reminded me of the Rapture predictions for five o’clock, which also fizzled ignominiously.

My husband and I, and the Rottweilers, spent quite a bit of time outside watching the show to our northwest.  The lightning, the thunder, the ever darkening skies as the sun set behind the dark and gloomy storm clouds.  I watched the radar as the heart of the storm, and it’s potentially spawning tornadic children, made a bee-line for my mother’s home in Easton, Kansas.  I didn’t dare call her during the height of the storm, since she doesn’t have a wireless phone and her cell phone doesn’t get signal from the safe-room in the house (the main bathroom).

I remembered to call her this morning, after reading about the poor town of Reading, Kansas, which suffered one death and the destruction of twenty homes from yesterday’s storms.  She was fine as were her four grandsons.

The prediction of baseball or softball sized hail might have inspired my hubby to finally get the other half of the garage cleaned out.  He was lamenting (translate that to whining) about losing the Firebird to a hail storm.  I did not volunteer to trade places with the Bonneville in the garage however.  Somebody upstairs must have heard his plea since we hardly had a wisp of wind from an otherwise very dangerous storm system.

Last evening’s siren serenade reminded me how grateful I am for basements, meteorologists, radar and early warning systems.

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife

An amazing episode, written by none other than Neil Gaiman, a well known popular award winning science fiction author.  Again, I’m too lazy to write my own synopsis, so please visit the Wikipedia article on The Doctor’s Wife episode if you need more info.

My favorite snippet of dialogue from this episode:

Idris: You ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?
The Doctor: I chose you. You were unlocked.
Idris: Of course I was. I wanted to see the universe so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough.

This episode is overflowing with revelations about the TARDIS (it’s female and likes being called both ‘old girl’ and ‘sexy’).  We see more of the TARDIS (well, Amy and Rory running through endlessly similar corridors while the villain, House, terrorizes them).  We see other dead TARDISes (or is it TARDI ??) and revisit the Tenth Doctor’s console (Tenant’s desktop so to speak).  Definitely a four star rating.

Next Episode: Rebel Flesh

What are the Odds? Astronomical Apparently

B&N's Nook Color
B&N's Nook Color

As an anniversary gift, my husband bought me a Nook Color last week.  I’ve used the free downloadable Nook for PC software for years (well, at least as long as Barnes & Noble has offered it) and even used it on my BlackBerry last year before budget belt tightening meant my employer retracted said BlackBerry.   So, I’ve accumulated about three dozen ebooks from various sources, including Barnes & Noble, but relied heavily upon Project Gutenberg for access to public domain works from the 19th century, which allowed me to read such English Literature classics as The Age of Innocence and Jane Ayre as well as purchase contemporary science fiction and fantasy works that I consider some of my all-time favorites like The Time of the Dark and The Magic of Recluce.

The first week or so of ownership didn’t involve much reading, in the traditional sense.  I test read a couple of books (including reading the Nook Color User’s Guide twice) to adjust the font size to suit my aging eyes.  I explored various wifi hot-spots I might frequent near my employer’s building (including the free one offered by the KC Public Library via their Plaza branch) and at home (my own guest wifi network which I setup a couple of months ago but had not tested yet).

The first app I downloaded and tested I heard about at GoodReadsAnnounced on their blog back in late April, the developers at my favorite book-lovers website created an app specifically for the Nook Color.  Currently, the app is limited in functionality very similar to their mobile site but I hope for some improvements in future versions, most notably the ability to vote (or like) reviews from my updates feed and support for discussions and groups.   I may have found a bug in the status update feature, at least as respects audio books or ebooks (which use percentage read instead of page read).  Since the Nook Color also includes a web browser, I can surf to GoodReads’ mobile site or even regular website if I encounter a problem with the app.

The Pulse news feed application came next.  I am not as wowed by what it serves up for news articles and find myself preferring my laptop and FireFox web browser for current events perusing.

Since I had given up on listening to audiobooks on my dumbphone, I took the 4GB microSD card I purchased several months ago (and could not use in said dumbphone due to firmware restrictions to 2GB) and inserted it into the Nook Color.  I then connected the device to my laptop via the miniUSB cord and copied the entire audio book for Elvenbane (all 15 CDs worth in MP3 audio format).  Using my old BlackBerry stereo headphones (the best sounding most comfortable ear buds I’ve every worn), I have enjoyed listening to the book while relaxing on the back seat of the van I ride to commute daily.

Astronomy Magazine (June 2011)
Astronomy Magazine (June 2011)

But the most exciting opportunity occurred today at lunch, while I surfed my feeds at Twitter and Facebook using Planet Sub‘s free wifi service.  Astronomy Magazine announce today, at 11:25 a.m. the ability to subscribe to a digital version for the Nook!  I subscribed right then and there and downloaded the June 2011 issue before returning to my office building.  Now, if I can just get B&N to also offer Sky & Telescope for the Nook Color, I’ll be in astronomical heaven!  I will console myself by reading the digital edition of Astronomy magazine on the ride home this afternoon.

The first ten days of ownership of the Nook Color promise many more enjoyable hours of reading, listening and surfing.  I have had very few problems with the device.  I highly recommend it for the geeky gadget-loving reader.

A Farewell to Stargate

I may never know what happens to Destiny, or Eli, or Young, or Rush, or any of the other marooned survivors of the Icarus Project and the lone Lucian Alliance member.  And I think I can live with that.  Given the circumstances (the cancellation of Stargate Universe during filming of the second half of the second season), the writers, producers, directors and cast managed to give us, if not complete closure, at least a stay of execution and a glimmer of hope with last night’s ‘Gauntlet‘ – the final episode of the entire Stargate legacy (transcript available here).

Ratings update posted Tuesday evening at GateworldHighest since November.

SGU: Gauntlet (aired Mon 9 May 2011)
SGU: Gauntlet (aired Mon 9 May 2011)

The drones were kept to a minimum, thank goodness.  So I’m not entirely sure what the title of the episode represents.  Is it a reference to running the Blockade? Or the proposed plan to skip this galaxy, without refueling (because of the Blockade) or resupplying (again because of the Blockade) on an extended FTL jump to the next galaxy?

Everyone got a chance to return to Earth and say goodbye (quite a fete to accomplish in just 24 hours).  Young will finally get some rest (definitely the running gag of this episode).  And the loser in the game of musical stasis pods remembered to turn off the lights.  At least, the CGI guys didn’t beat us over the head with any more cliches, having Destiny fly off into the sunset (or the closest non-Blockaded star).  Rather, Destiny just faded away.

I came to the Stargate series late, when my mother asked me to record the inaugural pilot episode of Stargate Atlantis.  I had seen the movie in the mid 90s (what science fiction fan hadn’t?).  I became intrigued by SGA, but felt a bit out of my depth, as I had not watched SG1.  At the time, Syfy actually aired science fiction programming both during the day and during prime time viewing hours, something which becomes increasingly rare as noted by the founder of Gateworld in his recent article entitled ‘How Wrestling is Killing Science Fiction‘ and sparked a response via Twitter from an executive at the Syfy channel.  Anyway, SG1 was still in production so I was able to watch current new episodes and catch-up on all the previous seasons in the matter of a few weeks or months.

I admit I didn’t care for the direction SGU took two years ago, compared to the other two series.  I realized quickly someone somewhere at Syfy or NBC or Universal or MGM attempted to ride the coat tails of BSG.  While I enjoyed that gritty re-imagining of the squeaky clean original Battlestar Galactica, I had a bad feeling that trying that with the Stargate universe (notice the un-capitalized version of that word) would fail.  And for much of the first season of SGU I remained skeptical.  But the second season, and the looming cancellation, seemed to spark better writing or better performances or both.

Thus I’m left with but one weekly avenue for my science fiction television fix: Doctor Who.

For a series finale, ‘Gauntlet’ of course falls well short of the ‘wrap-up’ bar, so in that light I’d only give it three stars out of five.  However, given the circumstances and hurdles overcome by the hamstrung production, I’ll fondly remember this episode with perpetual hope, four stars and a heart-felt ‘well done’ to one and all.

Last Time to Dial a Stargate in Just A Few Hours

SGU: Gauntlet airing Mon 10 May 2011 8pm CentralThe final episode of Stargate Universe airs this evening (8 p.m. Central on SyFy).  The end of an era in science fiction television sputters to its prematurely canceled end in the episode ‘Gauntlet.’

Don’t miss this important final installment not just of this series, but of modern-day Stargate as we know it. We believe with great certainty that the franchise will be back down the road. But for now, this is the final hour for Stargate fans to enjoy.

Darren Sumner, founder of Gateworld, (writing in his final weekly ‘heads up’ article “Tonight on SGU Gauntlet“)

I am dreading this evening.  The moment I watch the episode, all hope ends for any new Stargate material, at least in the foreseeable future.  Perhaps I should pickup a bottle of wine on the way home to sooth my anticipated raw nerves?

Darren penned another op-ed piece today (Wed 11 May 2011) at Gateworld you might be interested in reading.  Here’s a snippet from that article:

… what is clear from the swell of support that last week’s editorial received is that Syfy has an image problem on its hands.  The network has succeeded in broadening its appeal through rebranding, airing wrestling, and developing scripted dramas that are more accessible to casual viewers than traditional science fiction fare — whimsical procedurals rather than, for example, the arc-based “space opera.”  But that change of image comes at a cost.

GateWorld throws down gauntlet, Syfy Channel responds