Book Review: Burr, by Gore Vidal

Aaron Burr in his own words... kind of.


Random House, 1973, 430 pages

Here is an extraordinary portrait of one of the most complicated - and misunderstood - figures among the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as vice president, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster by many. But he is determined to tell his own story, and he chooses to confide in a young New York City journalist named Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler. Together, they explore both Burr's past - and the continuing civic drama of their young nation.

Burr is the first novel in Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series, which spans the history of the United States from the Revolution to post-World War II. With their broad canvas and sprawling cast of fictional and historical characters, these novels present a panorama of American politics and imperialism, as interpreted by one of our most incisive and ironic observers.

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Book Reviews: Never Goodbye and The Best Friend by Adam Mitzner

In two sequels to Dead Certain, Ella Broden and her father become continuing characters.

Never Goodbye

Thomas & Mercer, 2018, 341 pages

After her sister was murdered, Ella Broden meted out her own punishment, then abandoned her career to pursue her passion as a singer. But another murder that hits close to home draws her back to seek justice.

Dana Goodwin is the newly appointed deputy chief in the Special Victims Bureau, replacing Ella. For her, the case is also personal, but behind Dana's relentless pursuit, her motives might be running deeper than anyone can see. Her secrets, too.

Connecting the two women is Ella's boyfriend, Gabriel Velasquez, who has teamed up with Dana to investigate the murder.

At first Ella thinks all she has to fear about this case is what she knows - that she could be the next target of a man's obsession. But the closer she works with Dana, the more she starts to believe that the most dangerous thing of all is what she doesn't know.

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Also by Adam Mitzner: My reviews of A Conflict of Interest, Dead Certain, and A Matter of Will.

My complete list of book reviews.
Anna Chu

AQATWW: A Big War and Big Fat Books

After a bit of slacking, I have been picking up the pace recently. 202,000 words and 36 chapters, with 56 in my outline. Eep. I was determined to keep AQATWW under AQATWA's word count (which was just short of 300,000) but right now I am on track to match or exceed book five's word length.

Of course right now I am just pouring out words. I have mentioned the write-first-no-editing first draft struggle before. It is counter-productive to go back and edit your work while you are still working on your first draft, but many writers have a hard time resisting that temptation, and I struggle with it. Knowing that a chapter is going to have to be rewritten, that I left a big gaping plot hole unfinished, or that there is an entire scene that should probably be eliminated, it's hard to press onward without.... fixing things.

It's much more time and story efficient to fix things after I have a completed first draft, but editing WIPs is like literary dermatillomania. Pick, pick, pick.

So, although my books have not always neatly fit into the three-act structure, I have pretty much completed the second act and am now starting to write the third and final act... in which shit goes down.

I don't have a good perspective on this draft yet. There are parts that I think might be some of my best writing yet. There are other parts that I think are really pretty crappy or nonsensical and might require me to rewrite half the book in the second draft. The tone is.... different in places. And we are way off the canon train now. I'm changing Alexandra's world in a big way.

I don't do deadlines or promises anymore. But barring a real wrench in the works, finishing AQATWW this year certainly seems like a reasonable expectation. At this precise moment in time. Famous last words....

I think it's time for another word cloud. This one might be kind of spoilery. I didn't edit out names this time. Have fun playing "Who's Who" and "Spot the cameo." However, do not draw too many conclusions based on the current relative size of names. Some characters figure more prominently in the first part of the book, and some won't appear at all until the final third.

AQATWW word cloud

Deep Nostalgia is Creepy AF

Ankhes drew another character portrait, this one of Darla:

Darla by ankhes

But I was curious about MyHeritage's new Deep Nostalgia technology for animating photos. Does it work on illustrations?

(You have to click on the links to view the animated files, but seriously, check this out.)

Alexandra Quick-0-Animated



Livia Pruett-0-Animated

John Manuelito-0-Animated


Physical copies of AQ books

Lumos Evanescent printed a personal copy of Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle. I love the idea of different printings of AQ out in the wild.

Printed Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle

As you know, I have been working on a very self-indulgent project to print self-published copies of my Alexandra Quick books. Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle was relatively easy, as I found Barnes & Noble's self-publishing service and both produced acceptable prints at reasonable costs. However, Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below, as a standard 6" x 9" trade paperback, ends up being 838 pages, which is too large for those services. I could not find any reasonably-priced alternatives until I finally investigated Lightning Source, a POD distributor for Ingram.

Lightning Source will print a softcover of up to 1000 pages (!!). However, it's a bit more expensive than B&N or Lulu: in addition to the individual printing and shipping costs, they charge a $50 setup fee for each book. Still, much better than the quotes I was getting from local print shops. I was able to set up AQATLB and run off a proof copy, and it came out looking quite nice.

Printed copy of Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below
Printed interior of Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below

Being such a fat book produced via Print-On-Demand (i.e., cheap paper), it's likely to fall apart pretty easily with a lot of rough handling, but it does look good on the shelf.

A select few individuals are now in possession of exclusive copies of this printing. As you know, I have made the PDF files for books one and two available for anyone who wants to print off their own copies. Book one can still be printed the same way I did, by uploading it at B&N or Lulu yourself. (See details here.) If you want to print book two at Lightning Source, you will have to do the same thing I did, which is pay the $49 setup fee and the printing and shipping fee for the book itself (this came to about $20 per copy for me). Lightning Source is also a bit fiddlier about getting the text and cover templates right - it took me several tries before it was approved.

I would love to make Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below available to anyone else who wants a copy. In theory, I could make it available for distribution, and set the price at cost, so you are only paying Ingram what it costs to print and ship it. However, this would still technically be "selling" a fan fiction novel, which would put me on legally questionable grounds. So, I am afraid y'all will still have to DIY it for now.

I am working on the layout for Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment now, while waiting for art.

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945, by John Toland

A Pulitzer Prize-winning history of World War II from the Japanese perspective.

The Rising Sun

Random House, 1970, 954 pages

This Pulitzer Prize-winning history of World War II chronicles the dramatic rise and fall of the Japanese empire, from the invasion of Manchuria and China to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Told from the Japanese perspective, The Rising Sun is, in the author’s words, "a factual saga of people caught up in the flood of the most overwhelming war of mankind, told as it happened - muddled, ennobling, disgraceful, frustrating, full of paradox."

In weaving together the historical facts and human drama leading up to and culminating in the war in the Pacific, Toland crafts a riveting and unbiased narrative history.

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Book Review: The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang

In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army committed possibly the greatest war crime in history.

The Rape of Nanking

Basic Books, 1997, 290 pages

In December 1937, in the capital of China, one of the most brutal massacres in the long annals of wartime barbarity occurred. The Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking and within weeks not only looted and burned the defenseless city but systematically raped, tortured and murdered more than 300,000 Chinese civilians. Amazingly, the story of this atrocity- one of the worst in world history- continues to be denied by the Japanese government.

The Rape of Nanking tells the story from three perspectives: that of the Japanese soldiers who performed it; of the Chinese civilians who endured it; and finally of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city and were able to create a safety zone that saved almost 300,000 Chinese. It was Iris Chang who discovered the diaries of the German leader of this rescue effort, John Rabe, whom she calls the "Oskar Schindler of China." A loyal supporter of Adolf Hitler, but far from the terror planned in his Nazi-controlled homeland, he worked tirelessly to save the innocent from slaughter.

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Book Review: A Killer's Wife, by Victor Methos

A prosecutor with a genius daughter who's hooking up with bad boy losers, and a serial killer ex.

A Killer's Wife

Thomas & Mercer, 2020, 362 pages

Fourteen years ago, prosecutor Jessica Yardley's husband went to prison for a series of brutal murders. She's finally created a life with her daughter and is a well-respected attorney. She's moving on. But when a new rash of homicides has her ex-husband, Eddie, written all over them - the nightmares of her past come back to life.

The FBI asks Jessica to get involved in the hunt for this copycat killer - which means visiting her ex and collaborating with the man who tore her life apart.

As the copycat's motives become clearer, the new life Jessica created for herself gets darker. She must ask herself who she can trust and if she's capable of stopping the killer - a man whose every crime is a bloody valentine from a twisted mastermind she's afraid she may never escape.

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Also by Victor Methos: My review of The Neon Lawyer.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: James Monroe: A Life, by Tim McGrath

In my presidential biography series, I come to the end of the Founding Fathers.

James Monroe: A Life

Dutton, 2020, 738 pages

Monroe lived a life defined by revolutions. From the battlefields of the War for Independence, to his ambassadorship in Paris in the days of the guillotine, to his own role in the creation of Congress's partisan divide, he was a man who embodied the restless spirit of the age. He was never one to back down from a fight, whether it be with Alexander Hamilton, with whom he nearly engaged in a duel (prevented, ironically, by Aaron Burr), or George Washington, his hero turned political opponent.

This magnificent new biography vividly recreates the epic sweep of Monroe's life: His near-death wounding at Trenton and a brutal winter at Valley Forge; his pivotal negotiations with France over the Louisiana Purchase; his deep, complex friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; his valiant leadership when the British ransacked the nation's capital and burned down the Executive Mansion; and Monroe's lifelong struggle to reckon with his own complicity in slavery. Elected the fifth president of the United States in 1816, this fiercest of partisans sought to bridge divisions and sow unity, calming turbulent political seas and inheriting Washington's mantle of placing country above party. Over his two terms, Monroe transformed the nation, strengthening American power both at home and abroad.

Critically-acclaimed author Tim McGrath has consulted an extensive array of primary sources, many rarely seen since Monroe's own time, to conjure up this fascinating portrait of an essential American statesman and president.

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Book Review: Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel

In the sequel to Sleeping Giants, Earth is invaded by giant robots.

Waking Gods

Del Rey, 2017, 336 pages

As a child Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand buried deep within the earth. As an adult she's dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers - and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer now than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth...and maybe even the stars.

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Also by Sylvain Neuvel: My review of Sleeping Giants.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré

Brexit and Trump take all the fun out of being a British spy.

Agent Running in the Field

Viking, 2019, 282 pages

Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. Nat is to take over The Haven, a defunct substation of London General with a rag-tag band of spies. The only bright light on the team is young Florence, who has her eye on Russia Department and a Ukrainian oligarch with a finger in the Russia pie.

Nat is not only a spy, he is a passionate badminton player. His regular Monday evening opponent is half his age: the introspective and solitary Ed. Ed hates Brexit, hates Trump, and hates his job at some soulless media agency. And it is Ed, of all unlikely people, who will take Prue, Florence, and Nat himself down the path of political anger that will ensnare them all.

Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.

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Also by John le Carré: My reviews of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Mission Song, A Most Wanted Man, and Single & Single.

My complete list of book reviews.

Comic Review: Invincible, by Robert Kirkman

A superhero universe by the guy who wrote The Walking Dead.


Image Comics, 144 issues

Invincible was a comic book series published by Image Comics that ran for fifteen years. In addition to the Invincible series itself, there were many spin-offs and miniseries and one-shots, all set in the same universe. It's now an animated feature on Amazon Prime. (I have not yet watched any of it.)

The series is collected in a variety of trade paperbacks and omnibuses, also available digitally. If you want to read the entire series, then other than reading all 144 issues individually, there are several types of collections. I'll describe them below, but tldr: get the Compendiums as the simplest way to read everything.

Trade Paperbacks

There are 25 of these. Each Volume collects 4-6 issues.

Invincible Volume 1: Family Matters

Ultimate Collections

There are 12 of these. Each Ultimate Collections contains 11 to 13 issues of the series.

Ultimate Collection 1
Ultimate Collection 2
Ultimate Collection 3
Ultimate Collection 4
Ultimate Collection 5
Ultimate Collection 6

Ultimate Collection 7
Ultimate Collection 8
Ultimate Collection 9
Ultimate Collection 10
Ultimate Collection 11
Ultimate Collection 12


Lastly, there are the Compendiums. The entire series collected in three big volumes.

Ultimate Compendium 1
Ultimate Compendium 2
Ultimate Compendium 3

Below will be a review of the original comic series, including huge spoilers below the cut.

Invincible is an unabashed four-color superhero comic book. The main thing that sets it apart, and won it so many accolades, is that having been steered from beginning to end by a single creator, it is able to preserve a consistent narrative without too many continuity glitches across its entire fifteen-year span. While Marvel and DC characters have accumulated the cruft of 60-80 years of history, having been written by literally hundreds of different writers, further complicated by endless reboots, Invincible has always been written by one man: Robert Kirkman. It shows. You can see things in the final few issues that were set up at the beginning of the series. Recurring characters really feel like recurring characters whose reappearance was intended all along. It's not perfect: there are a few silly tangents and a lot of plot holes, some characters who seemed to have no real purpose other than a single scene, and a few early plot threads never resolve, but for the most part, it feels like a very long saga that the writer was able to bring to a conclusion the way he wanted to.

One of the other features of Invincible, though, is that it is graphically violent. When superheroes punch each other, there is blood, sometimes a lot of it, and there are entire issues painted with buckets of blood and gore. Kirkman really likes to show what happens when Superman punches a normie.

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The story starts out as the amazing adventures of Mark Grayson, an ordinary teenager whose dad is Omni-Man, basically this world's Superman, but with a pornstache.


Mark is a senior in high school, trying to juggle girls, an afterschool job, homework, and college applications like any other teenager, and then his powers kick in. He's delighted to take up the cape (not literally, he goes for a more modern, capeless costume) and become a superhero like his old man.


They have Adventures, Invincible joins the Teen Team, there is relationship drama, and the Graysons are adorable, with Mark's mom being so blase about her husband and son running off to save the world on a regular basis, and occasionally disappearing for a week or two while being captured by extradimensional aliens or master villains.

The first volume alone was just plain fun, and enough to keep me reading, though I was starting to get bored with the Adventures of Superboy.

Then, everything changes.

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