Heart Readers

Heart Readers
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1993)

In each generation, twin boys were born, heirs to a throne only one could hold. King Pardu decreed that when the time was right, he would abide by the old magic and call in heart readers to see into the boys’ souls. But the king doesn’t foresee treachery by his ambitious chief advisor.

The first novel read by this author. Well written with memorable characters. It’s the story of accession to the throne in a fantasy world. Given the amount of sex and violence, definitely an adult story.

Night Circus

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

It was originally written for the annual writing competition NaNoWriMo.

The Night Circus is a phantasmagorical fairy tale set near an ahistorical Victorian London in a wandering magical circus that is open only from sunset to sunrise.

I read this as it was on the Kindle Women list. A very unusual book in it’s structure and tone. I wouldn’t have continued reading if it hadn’t been for the author’s ability with prose and the anticipation that ends each chapter. Essentially a fantasy, but I can see why is has gained admiration with the literary types.

Recommended (by almost everyone).

Reluctant Dragon

The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

It’s not surprising I hadn’t heard of this movie. As the titles explain, it’s more of an excuse to tour the Disney animation facilities and see how their movies are made. The tourist is Robert Benchley (a comedian of the era) who takes us through the buildings, interacting with actual staff and acquiring gifts on the way. He is perused by a young fellow that appears to be a cross between a Boy Scout and a member of the Hitler Youth Movement. This leads to a fair bit of snappy dialogue among him and staff.

There is a fun part where he reached the Technicolor section and the monochrome film suddenly changes to colour. Also of interest was the giant (3-4m tall) camera rig used to photograph the cell animation.

The film is interspersed with animation sequences:

  • A monochrome Dumbo sequence featuring a train.
  • Baby Weems, told in partially animated storyboard.
  • Goofy’s How to Ride a horse.
  • And ‘The Reluctant Dragon’, based on the book by Kenneth Grahame.

It’s not clear who the movie is aimed at, the initial scenes look like a drama, but the animations will appeal to children of all ages.

Dan Shamble

Unnatural Acts
(Dan Shamble #2)
by Kevin J. Anderson (2012)

In the Unnatural Quarter, golems slave away in sweatshops, necromancers sell black-market trinkets to tourists, and the dead rise up–to work the night shift. But zombie detective Dan Shamble is no ordinary working stiff. When a local senator and his goons picket a ghostly production of Shakespeare in the Dark–condemning the troupe’s “unnatural” lifestyles–Dan smells something rotten. And if something smells rotten to a zombie, you’re in serious trouble. . .

This is a mash-up of urban fantasy, noir detective fiction, and (a bit of humour). It feels like Kevin has read Mike Resnick’s ‘Chasing the …’ series and decided to have a go. On the plus side, there is plenty of interesting characters and plot. Don Shamble is the neutral character, main protagonist and general good guy. This is a case of just ‘OK’ there is no real spark or new slant that makes this anything but a workman-like novel.


Mary and Max

Mary and Max is a 2009 Australian stop motion animated comedy-drama film written and directed by Adam Elliot as his first animated feature film with music by Dale Cornelius and produced by Melanie Coombs and Melodrama Pictures.

The film deals with themes including childhood neglect, friendship, the obscurity of life, teasing, loneliness, mental illness, autism (Asperger syndrome in particular), obesity, suicide, depression, isolation, and anxiety.


This is an animated movie in the method and style of Aardman. Mary is a girl in Australia and Max a middle aged man in New York. They inadvertently become pan pals and over the course of twenty years their relationship develops. Initially the film is light and funny, then around the halfway mark things get rather dark and dramatic. Mary changes from an eight year old girl to a young woman while Max copes with his anxieties and issues dealing with people. Each alters the other, in positive and negative ways. Mary and Max is a moving celebration of oddness and friendship.


Very ‘eavy

Very ‘eavy Very ‘umble
Uriah Heep (1970)

I have a memory of being introduced to this album when it was released. My schoolmate was into music and liked the use of wah-wah pedal throughout the album. Despite what some music ‘reviewers’ thought of the bank, I have always liked them as a defining characteristic of 1970s music.


7 Wonders

Seven Wonders
by Fleetwood Mac
From ‘Tango in the Night’ (1987)



Fleetwood Max was the band of my teenage years. I have most of their music, but it’s this album that has my favorite song.

Tobacco & Taxes

Smoking Can Help the Economy

I heard about this study in a podcast some years ago. A quick search reveals the following:

Philip Morris – Little Report Says Cigarette Smokers’ Frequent Early Deaths Offset Federal Medical Costs, Study Finds
By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal (July 16, 2001)

Philip Morris Cos. officials in the Czech Republic have been distributing an economic analysis concluding that cigarette consumption isn’t a drag on the country’s budget, in part because smokers’ early deaths help offset medical expenses.

The report, commissioned by the cigarette maker and produced by consulting firm Arthur D. Little International, totes up smoking’s “positive effects” on national finances, including revenue from excise and other taxes on cigarettes and “health-care cost savings due to early mortality.”

The premature demise of smokers saved the Czech government between 943 million koruna and 1.19 billion koruna (between $23.8 million and $30.1 million or between 20.3 million euros and 25.7 million euros) on health care, pensions and housing for the elderly in 1999, according to the report.

The report also calculates the costs of smoking, such as the expense of caring for sick smokers and people made ill by second-hand smoke as well as income taxes lost when smokers die. Weighing the costs and benefits, the report concludes that in 1999 the government had a net gain of 5.82 billion koruna ($147.1 million) from smoking.

Philip Morris said it received the Little report late last year and handed it out recently after complaints from Czech officials that the tobacco industry was saddling the country with huge health-care expenses. “This is an economic-impact study, no more, no less,” said Robert Kaplan, a spokesman for Philip Morris’s international tobacco unit in Rye Brook, N.Y. “We’re not trying to suggest that there would be a benefit to society from the diseases related to smoking.”

Philip Morris manufactures about 80% of the cigarettes smoked in the Czech Republic. The New York company, which owns a 77.5% stake in a formerly state-owned Czech tobacco enterprise, sells its flagship Marlboro smokes as well as local brands.

Measuring the net costs of smoking to societies and governments long has been controversial and difficult. Studies measuring the lifetime health-care costs of smokers, who die sooner but have higher annual medical expenses, have reached conflicting conclusions. Some find that, over their lives, smokers have similar costs to nonsmokers. Others have found that smokers’ health-care costs are higher.

Gauging the real level of such costs is very difficult, and hard-to-quantify expenses aren’t captured in many estimates. Smokers, for example, recover more slowly and are more likely to have complications after surgery for unrelated problems, increasing the cost of caring for them.

Tobacco-control experts attacked the Czech report. “Is there any other company that would boast about making money for the public treasury by killing its customers? I can’t think of one,” said Kenneth Warner, an economist at the University of Michigan’s school of public health. Dr. Warner said the study appeared to be seriously flawed because, among other things, it fails to consider what the economic impact would be if smokers stopped buying cigarettes and spent their money on other goods instead.

Eva Kralikova, a physician and epidemiologist at Charles University in Prague, said the report also “very much underestimated” the costs of medical care for people suffering from smoking-related diseases. Dr. Kralikova said lung cancer and other illnesses caused by tobacco use account for about 20% of all deaths in the Czech Republic, killing about 23,000 people a year. And she said the number of illnesses and deaths is expected to mount, as is the expense of medical treatment, as smokers age.