Monday, April 2, 2018

THE BODY ON THE BARSTOOL, a charming cozy murder mystery

(Top Shelf Mysteries #1)
Kindle original (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$3.99 available now

Rating: Solid 4 stars of five

The (Self-)Publisher Says: New Yorker Erica "Ricki" Fontaine's ne'er-do-well uncle has dropped dead and left her a dive bar in a small Ohio River town. With a lousy apartment, less-than-promising job prospects, and even worse romantic ones, the inheritance comes at just the right time. Ricki packs up her cat and heads for the Buckeye State.

Now she's trying to change the Top Shelf from a bar known for its Friday night fights into the kind of drinking establishment where you can bring your granny. But finding her ex-husband dead on a barstool at opening time one morning just might put a kink in those plans.


WHISKEY KILLS, Top Shelf #2, is here!

My Review
: I knew this series was for me when I read that the author lived with three or four dogs. I feel a little betrayed that the c-a-t in these books is presented in a favorable light, but one can't have everything. I'm not quite sure why that should be, but there it is.

When Ricki returns to (fictional) Waterton, Ohio, after a stint there as a child in the middle 1990s, she does so as a woman of property, a caryatid of the community, her late uncle's heiress and new owner of a dive bar called The Top Shelf. It's run-down, it's crappy, the police know it by heart, but it's all hers. She's thrilled because her life in New York City was stale as hell. Her college romance drifted into marriage that, sadly, proved not to be right for either of them...her ex-husband Michael remarried after the divorce, tastelessly quickly, to his secretary the Hot Scot. Andy the Hot Scot. So yeah, not really right for the first spouse.

After landing up in Waterton, Michael and Ricki stayed friends and even continued to talk. So it was a huge surprise to Ricki when Michael shows up unannounced at the Top Shelf. Especially since he's dead. Inside her closed and locked bar. With one of her food service steak knives in his side.

Don't you hate when that happens?

Lolli Powell's rollicking ride to resolving this mystery, and the even deeper and scarier mystery at the heart of the murder, is full of surprises and chuckles and relatable moments, just like you want a cozy to be:
I enjoy a good horse race from time to time, but team sports make me yawn. Probably has something to do with the fact that I'm about as coordinated as a legless pig and was psychologically traumatized by always being picked last for teams in gym class.
Also present are the requisite cast of oddballs and eccentrics one requires to be cozy and the employed good-looking heterosexual single men (ha! as if) in this one-stoplight town required for it to be chick lit.

There are a few inevitable holes in the quilt. The characters are numerous so some have little screen time. The red herrings piled up a bit high, though the fishy smell was never quite overwhelming. There's a timely Act of God that did cause my eyes to roll just a widge. The aforementioned Limb of Satan is not dead by the end of the book or there'd be fractionally more stars here. But none of these minor infelicities are remotely big enough to be deal-breakers.

We know the tropes are present. This is good. We know the murder has layers, we know the herrings are red and copious, we know the setting is exotic. (Ohio? There are people there?) We know, in short, all the elements of a satisfying read are present. And having just read the book, I vouch for the satisfactions of the read. I appreciate the chance to look at the world from a front porch once in a while. That's the secret of cozies, they afford a sense of community and connection not always readily available in the real world. Mysteries in general offer a reinforcement of the frequently absent sense that Justice will prevail.

Doesn't sound like your cuppa? Pass on. The world will keep spinning. But I say take a side trip and visit the Top Shelf for a refreshing Jim Beam and soda.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

DARK ECOLOGY presents a philosophical basis for understanding the Anthropocene Epoch

DARK ECOLOGY: For a Logic of Future Coexistence

Columbia University Press
$30.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Timothy Morton argues that ecological awareness in the present Anthropocene era takes the form of a strange loop or M?bius strip, twisted to have only one side. Deckard travels this oedipal path in Blade Runner (1982) when he learns that he might be the enemy he has been ordered to pursue. Ecological awareness takes this shape because ecological phenomena have a loop form that is also fundamental to the structure of how things are.

The logistics of agricultural society resulted in global warming and hardwired dangerous ideas about life-forms into the human mind. Dark ecology puts us in an uncanny position of radical self-knowledge, illuminating our place in the biosphere and our belonging to a species in a sense that is far less obvious than we like to think. Morton explores the logical foundations of the ecological crisis, which is suffused with the melancholy and negativity of coexistence yet evolving, as we explore its loop form, into something playful, anarchic, and comedic. His work is a skilled fusion of humanities and scientific scholarship, incorporating the theories and findings of philosophy, anthropology, literature, ecology, biology, and physics. Morton hopes to reestablish our ties to nonhuman beings and to help us rediscover the playfulness and joy that can brighten the dark, strange loop we traverse.


My Review: I can honestly say that Author Morton was writing directly to my most dearly held concerns. The Anthropocene, the current post-Holocene epoch of geological time, is a given in the author's thinking; if you're not in sync with 21st-century thinking and deny that climate change is not only happening but is largely if not entirely of human genesis, this book will not do one single thing for you. That is, it will make you screechingly furious, but it won't change your mind.

For the rest of us, the book's foundations in logic has lacunae. I'd expected to see the role of Big Science play a major part here; also Toxic Technology; instead Author Morton focuses on the philosophical and cultural roots of the Anthropocene. It's less about What Happened than it is about Why Things Are. We go down a bunch of rabbit holes to explore the nature of the Anthropocene's genesis, we spend a lot of time (in the footnotes) digging for truffles in the dirt of our Collective Unconscious, and in the end come to the surface of our minds with some useful new concepts. "Agrilogistics" and "ecognosis" are worthy neologisms for deep and tangled concepts. A simple explanation of them is that the reductive power of modern STEM-based environmental discussion ignores a huge reservoir of knowledge that comes from our shared, lived experience; this isn't in any way a comprehensive explanation so my suggestion is to read the 192 pages of the book slowly and carefully.

It repaid me enormously to do so and it could do that for you as well.



Curbside Splendor Publishing
$16.95 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: Zoe Zolbrod remained silent about her early childhood molestation for nearly a decade. When she finally decided to tell, she wasn't sure what to expect, or what to say. Through a kaleidoscopic series of experiences—Zolbrod hitchhikes with a boyfriend from one coast to another, hangs out in a strip club in Philadelphia, meets and marries her husband, and gives birth to her children—she traces the development of her sexuality, her relationships with men, and the cultivation of her motherhood in the shadow of her childhood sexual abuse. Bolstered with research, Zolbrod argues passionately for the empowerment of sexual abuse victims and the courage it takes to talk about it.

The Telling is an intimate examination of one woman's reckoning with a past she can't always explain, and a life lived in search for the right words.


My Review:

deepwater horizon

DEEPWATER HORIZON: A Systems Analysis of the Macondo Disaster

Harvard University Press
$39.95 hardcover, available now


The Publisher Says: In 2010 BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe spiraled into the worst human-made economic and ecological disaster in Gulf Coast history. In the most comprehensive account to date, senior systems engineers Earl Boebert and James Blossom show how corporate and engineering decisions, each one individually innocuous, interacted to create the disaster.

Senior systems engineers Earl Boebert and James Blossom offer the most comprehensive account to date of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Sifting through a mountain of evidence generated by the largest civil trial in U.S. history, the authors challenge the commonly accepted explanation that the crew, operating under pressure to cut costs, made mistakes that were compounded by the failure of a key safety device. This explanation arose from legal, political, and public relations maneuvering over the billions of dollars in damages that were ultimately paid to compensate individuals and local businesses and repair the environment. But as this book makes clear, the blowout emerged from corporate and engineering decisions which, while individually innocuous, combined to create the disaster.

Rather than focusing on blame, Boebert and Blossom use the complex interactions of technology, people, and procedures involved in the high-consequence enterprise of offshore drilling to illustrate a systems approach which contributes to a better understanding of how similar disasters emerge and how they can be prevented.

My Review:



The Publisher Says: Traditional economics measures the ways in which we spend our income, and doesn't attribute worth to the crucial human interactions that give our lives meaning.

Clair Brown, an economist at UC Berkeley and a practicing Buddhist, has developed a holistic model, one based on the notion that quality of life should be measured by more than national income. Brown advocates an approach to organizing the economy that embraces, rather than skirts, questions of values, sustainability, and inequality. Complementing the award-winning work of Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs, and the paradigm-breaking spirit of Thomas Piketty and Amartya Sen, Brown incorporates the Buddhist emphasis on interconnectedness, capability, and happiness into her vision for a sustainable and compassionate world.

Buddhist economics leads us to think mindfully as we go about our daily activities, and offers a way to appreciate how our actions affect the welfare of those around us. By replacing the endless cycle of desire with more positive collective priorities, our lives can become more meaningful as well as happier. Inspired by the popular seminar course Brown developed for UC Berkeley that has garnered international attention, Buddhist Economics represents an enlightened approach to our modern world infused with ancient wisdom, with benefits both personal and global, for generations to come.


My Review:


LEADED: The Poisoning of Idaho's Silver Valley

OSU Press
$22.95 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: Leaded is a timely and deeply researched account of one of the largest environmental disasters in western US history. It examines the origin, evolution, and causes of the harmful environmental and human health effects caused by mining operations in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Mining District—the “Silver Valley”—from 1885 to 1981. During that period, district mines produced over $5 billion worth of lead, silver, and zinc. The Bunker Hill Company dominated business and community activities in the district as owners and operators of the largest mine, lead smelter, and zinc plant.

During the first half of the twentieth century, industrial mining operations caused severe environmental damage to area waterways and lands from releases of sulfur gases, lead, and other toxic metals. Damaging human health effects were evident soon after the smelter opened in 1917, when Bunker Hill workers suffered from lead poisoning. Despite the obvious devastation, due to the influence of the mine and lead industry in state and federal politics, as well as scientific uncertainties about pollution effects, no effective federal laws regulating mining and smelting operations were passed until the 1970s.

In 1974, uncontrolled Bunker Hill lead smelter emissions led to the worst community lead exposure problem in the United States and resulted in a widespread lead poisoning epidemic of Silver Valley children. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency ultimately mandated federal air lead standards. At the same time, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health passed national standards reducing allowable occupational lead exposures. Bunker Hill could not meet the new standards, which was a major factor in forcing the company to close, leaving behind a contaminated geographic area that was classified at the time as the largest Superfund site in the United States.

Leaded will resonate with anyone who is concerned about the long-term effects of industrial pollution, as well as students of environmental history, western US history, mining history, environmental ethics, and environmental law.

My Review:

MISS MORISON'S GHOSTS, proof yet again that women face higher hurdles than men


Miss Morison's Ghosts
Internet Archive 1913 illustrated edition

The Book Description: This is the true story of two Englishwomen getting caught up in one of the most fascinating and inexplicable "time travel" experiences ever recorded. After travelling down to the grand French palaces of Versailles, they proceed to take a walk along the various pathways and gardens outside, only to lose their way and on top of that, get lost in a time warp, literally. It takes them back in time to the palace gardens at the time of the French Revolution and to a face-to-face confrontation with Marie Antoinette, among others. No, this is not fiction, it purports to be fact. The two women, both prominent academics, give us a very convincing and staggering account of their claims. This book is their clear and thought-provoking explanation of exactly what happened to them. Were they mistaken? Was it a hoax? Was the experience real? You decide. This is a truly fascinating book, which quickly sold 10, 000 copies when it was first published. Here it is back in print again at long last.

The Film Description: Two British women claim to have been thrown into a time warp where they saw Marie Antoinette as they were strolling through the gardens at Versailles Palace in France. After they tell their story to a psychic society, they find themselves the objects of derision and their jobs are threatened.

My Review: