February and March Book Roundup

So it isn’t just January, but also February (and March) in which I am falling behind. A great deal of this has to do with the fact that I have been watching TV, which I think they said is bad for you on like, some website or something. Whatevs.

Though, I have been falling asleep faster these days, so after taking a shower, I have been going right to bed instead of reading for 30 minutes because I have this thing where I like to have at least ten minutes of Mary Sue fantasy time for which I am totally unrepentant, and I have been missing it. I need me that 10 minutes of pre-sleep erotic adventures with Luke Skywalker. I am just saying. Luke, I miss you. I only cheated on you with Kyp Durron that one time. Well, and that other time, BUT THAT WAS A THREEWAY.

ANYWAY, the books I have been reading (and listening to) have mostly been nonfiction, and they were books of availability.

The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at A Time by Bob Harris.

NOTE: I didn’t finish this book, because while it’s good, it’s too long, and I am tired. Bob, I give out Kiva loans, and I am part of the Nerfherders, thanks to you. Kiva is awesome. Thanks.

Firstly, if you have never read Harris’s other awesome book, Prisoner of Trebekistan, you should because the man is fucking hysterical, and his adventures in prepping, winning, losing and overall exploring Jeopardy! Are amazing. Also, IIRC the man is married to Jane Espenson, so if that isn’t an endorsement of his character, I don’t know what is.

Harris’s main focus is the idea of whether or not Kiva is substantive progress. He travels about talking to people he’s made Kiva loans to (without divulging his loaning) to see what they can accomplish, because really, the movement out of large scale poverty is an interesting one. American poverty is, arguably, different from some other foreign kinds, etc etc. He does have some hits and misses. He manages to describe the lives of people using Kiva loans in varying ways. Sarejevo in particular, was pretty fascinating, because I just don’t read enough about that area.

It’s interesting to see the different uses of this money, and the general idea that microfinance is in some ways more empowering than simple one-time donations. Harris doesn’t shy away from failures in microfinance, from the fiasco of Andhra Pradesh’s SKS (when microfinance tries to be “macro”finance with shareholders) to the sad failure of SELFINA (rushed expansion was the reason here).

Ultimately, what Harris does a really good job with is the painting of human lives—people who are more than willing to work, to learn, but just need a boost (though saying it that way, from my position in a FWC, sounds horribly dismissive). The educational help that comes with microfinance, along with the dollars. I am sure that it’s not always going to work, but it’s a great idea.

So, a few things passages I liked:

On Being A Freelancer:

Freelancing is a constant search for work, and this Kiva idea was just one of many. Since rejection is constant, you learn to hit “Send” and move on to the next thing immediately. And in the rare moment that any idea actually happens, hallelujah, you focus on that one and dive in as hard as you can.


Looking back at my calendar, in the week where I first heard about Kiva, I was also floating a book idea about the growth of international sport as a mechanism for peace, which didn’t pan out; corresponding with Hollywood film producers who were adapting an earlier book for the screen, which didn’t pan out (Hollywood, you should know, is like a pit of vipers, but with more vipers); and hoping to get rehired for the third season of a Mexican telenovela where I’d worked as asesor de producción, which didn’t pan out.

What I like about this is that I often need reminders that freelancing has a lot of rejection. Having been rejected from presses for editing test fails, or just not getting an editing job, I sometimes want to stick my face in the toilet and flush it really hard. This isn’t something I should do, hygiene being not the least of reasons. Instead, I should eat a half a bag of Combos and send about three more emails. Thanks, Bob.

On the phrase “3rd world countries”:

The phrase “3rd world” […]is a Cold War phrase worth discarding: the West was First, the Soviet bloc the Second, and everyone else was Third. Since that’s the vast majority of humanity, the term is falling into wide disuse. Unfortunately, well-known alternatives are few. “Developing world” and its variants are at least widely understood, albeit while implying that poor countries are like teenagers, hoping someday to reach maturity with bigger houses and bosoms and Walmarts. I’d like to disclaim the paternalistic vibe. While we’re on it, calling industrialized countries “the West” is equally clumsy[.] Apologies to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and so on.

On listening to Kiva’s JD give his speech to the Fellows who are about to volunteer in foreign countries:

I was reminded of the wizened mentor character in so many boxing or fantasy films, the one who trains talented recruits by breaking down their habits and emotional armor before building new, better heroes. There was a lot in common. Wizened mentors often have beards. So did JD. Wizened mentors have learned from hard experience. JD had volunteered for the Peace Corps and has worked in rural Bulgaria, Mongolia, and Columbia. Wizened mentors offer helpful aphorisms that reveal the nature of the entire struggle to come:

Yoda from Star Wars: “Do or do not—there is no try.”
Morpheus from The Matrix: “I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo—I only said it would be the truth.”
JD from Kiva: “Trust me—this is really going to suck.”

It might just be my complete lack of reading interest these days that made me put the book down 70 pages short of the end. If it’s something you are curious about, I recommend it. Its’ not the writing (though I think his use of footnotes gets very tedious. I don’t mind good footnotes. I like them for comedic value, but sometimes it made following a number-heavy narrative difficult)—the writing is fine. I even like that he addresses the hinky racial implications of his “privileged white dude traveling around to research where his money went” concept, which I think could be used to write off portions of the book if he wasn’t so hyper-aware of it and attempting to expand beyond that. He talks to a lot of microfinance people in every location. He’s super-invested in the concept of microfinance, and while visiting his loan-ees is something he’s curious about, it’s not an ends to a means.

Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman

What it says on the tin: “Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Prof. James Moriarty – wily, snake- like, fiercely intelligent, unpredictable – and Colonel Sebastian ‘Basher’ Moran – violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike. Unravelling mysteries — all for their own gain.”

I listened to this one, and the narrator is fantastic, Tom Hodgkins. The framing device, “oh this is a found manuscript of Sebastian Moran, I shall publish it” is brilliant, as it has the chance to mirror, darkly, Watson’s story telling method, and everything is hysterically crass and horrible. It’s amazing. Irene Adler has a Jersey accent. Moran calls his favorite sexual tactic the “Basher Moran Special”. And the titles: A Volume in Vermillion, A Shambles in Belgravia, The Red Planet League, The Hound of the D’Ubervilles, The Adventure of the Six Maledictions, The Greek Invertebrate, The Problem of the Final Adventure. Sound familiar?

To be sure once again, Volume in Vermillion is STILL ABOUT MORMONS and therefore very boring. Some of them start out clever and then get a little too complicated or bogged down in silliness (Red Planet League, in particular), and apparently Newman LOVES to use the word “oscillating” to refer to Moriarty’s head movements, but meh. The Final Adventure is particularly clever in its handling of the Final Problem, obviously, and Moran always has a lot to say about how idiotic Holmes and Watson are. Moriarty certainly paints Holmes in a different light. Particularly of note is Newman’s mimicry, especially the Belgravia section, in which like Holmes always referring to Adler as that woman, Moriarty always refers to her afterward as that bitch.

In any case, the voice alone is worth a read/listen.

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

This was lying about in paperback form, and I stupidly read it at night, fueling a month’s worth of nightmares. I wouldn’t say it’s a good book. It’s a sensational book. Douglas (with the help of Olshaker) is trying to tell his story, and he does that, so while critics chide this book for its braggadocio, it’s not unreasonable for Douglas to give his life story. It’s HIS book. Later books of his talk more exclusively about cases, but this was the first one, and maybe he felt like he needed to tell his life story in the frame of the unit formation. Whatever the case, I don’t think that’s out of line with the book mission. (I think it’s also worth noting that what the average American in this case knows about FBI profiling these days, even if it’s just based off TV, is a shitload more than ze might know in 1995.)

Douglas goes over a lot of cases, and almost a month after I read it, I am hard-pressed to remember one, but I did earmark a few passages that I thought were interesting, particularly in reference to words that we often bandy about, like “psychotic” and “psychopath”.

True Psychotics—those who have lost touch with reality—don’t commit serious crimes very often. And when they do, they are usually so disorganized and make so little attempt to avoid detection that they are generally caught fairly quickly. Richard Trenton Chase, who killed women because he thought that he needed their blood to stay alive, was a psychotic. If he couldn’t get human blood, he’d settle for what was at hand. When Chase was placed in a mental institution, he continued to catch rabbits, bleed them, and inject their blood into his arm. He would catch small birds, bite off their heads, and drink their blood. This one was for real. But for a killer to avoid detection and get away with ten murders, he has to be pretty good at it. Don’t make the mistake of confusing a psychopath with a psychotic.


Bill Tafoys, the special agent who served as our “futurist” at Quantico, advocated a minimum of a ten year commitment of money and resources on the magnitude of what we sent to the Persian Gulf. He calls for a wide-scale reinstatement of Project Head Start, one of the most effective long-term, anticrime programs in history. He doesn’t think more police are the answer, but he would bring in “an army of social workers” to provide assistance for battered women, homeless families with children, to find good foster homes. And he would back it all up with tax incentive programs.

I’m not sure this is the total answer, but it would certainly be an important start. Because the sad fact is, the shrinks can battle all they want, and my people and I can use psychology and behavioral science to help catch the criminals, but by the time we get to use our stuff, the severe damage has already been done.

Considering that this book was from 1995, that’s an interesting assessment.

Law & Disorder by the same authors is more interesting, because it focuses on specific cases for much longer: Jonbenet Ramsey, Amanda Knox, the West Memphis 3, etc. It spends a lot of time on each case, and also on general philosophical questions of capital punishment and the miscarriage of justice.

Douglas is obviously pro-death penalty, with stipulations, but his issue with it is the way in which it is applied to cases—some crimes of passion merit the DP while others do not.

And the description of Katie Sousa, when she visits the medical examiner’s to see thebody of her murdered child, Destiny:

They had Katie go into a viewing room and brought Dee’s body, cold from refrigeration, covered by a sheet. She was not content just to see her daughter’s bruised face and the dotted puncture wound on her scalp, where he plastic barrette literally had been driven into her skull when Miller smashed her head with a heavy wooden jewelry box, ostensibly to punish her for “mouthing off” to him.

She described for us how she told them to remove the sheet. She wanted to examine Dee’s naked body, inch by inch, from the top of her skull to the soles of her feet. She spent about forty-five minutes doing this. She wanted to understand—to experience—everything that had been done to this innocent child. She needed to take the suffering and pain onto herself and make it hers. With her little girl dead, this was the only way she felt she could go on living.

Carrol Ellis, who was then director of the Victim Services Section of the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department, likened it to the image of the Pieta. “I still see in my mind this Madonna with child in this private moment, seeing her child’s wounds with her own eyes.”

Yeah, he got me.

And I love when Douglas comes out and calls things what they are: “We pay a lot of attention to the specter of domestic terrorism these days, but lynching was an accepted and tolerated method of terrorism against blacks throughout the south for a hundred years.”

Anyway, you can juxtapose what he thinks about the Ramsey case with what Cyril Wecht says and still not come to a conclusion. The West Memphis Three is a long portion of the book that covers the beginning to release, and it’s a prime example of shitty police work and jurisprudence. The Amanda Knox case is interesting because he produces good arguments for her innocence, not least for me is the complete batshittery of the prosecution’s case (Mignoni is obsessed with wimmens doing Satanic witchcraft, no serious. This is a Thing with him, which you see again in Monster of Florence by Mario Spezi and Douglas Preston).

A good running listen, though honestly, if you have kids, there are some things you do not want to dwell on if you have a vivid imagination.

Jason by Laurell K. Hamilton I have already said my bit about this travesty in my goodreads review, so I’ll just post it here:

I have a theory about Laurell K Hamilton: After she wrote the first 8 books, she hit her head and got amnesia, and was permanently arrested as a 16 year old. In an attempt to get her memory back, she read the first 8 Anita Blake books. It didn’t trigger her memory, but it did make her a SUPERFAN of her own work, and so she kept writing, not realizing that everything after book 8 is a bad fanfic.

If these books were on AO3, they’d say Part 400/???.

Anita Blake books, before and after Goldie Hawn amnesia.

The current book has 4 audio sections. At the end of section 1 (1:07 hours), we have covered NOTHING. I mean, NOTHING. We have talked about relationships for an hour, in such a way that after every sentence I audibly mumble “Oh my god.”

I mean, I have read all the previous books. I edit erotica and porn for a living. I have written things kinkier than anything Anita will ever do. It’s not the content. I don’t even mind the Cast Of Thousands.

It’s the writing. The writing is FUCKING HORRIBLE. You know how sometimes you say, “I can’t even pick a favorite part because I would just have so many?” It’s the same thing when trying to nail down a bad sentence/section. And I listened to it, so it was like being held hostage–I couldn’t skip pages.

I can’t say why I finished it. Probably because I am a completest, but Jesus.

What a giant travesty is that in the right hands these books would be sexy, hot romping adventures with plot, intrigue, poly love, and the supernatural (we know this because see the first few books), but it never will be.


BOOKS I READ BUT DIDN’T REVIEW: The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer, because meh.
BOOKS I REREAD, BECAUSE THAT IS NOT CHEATING: Star Wars Legacy of the Force: #1 Betrayal by Aaron Allston, and #3 Tempest by Troy Denning. I WOULD have read #2 Bloodlines, by Karen Traviss because that is my favorite, but it is lost SOMEWHERE IN MY HOUSE, SO I HAD TO SKIP THE BOBA FETT LOVE. FUCKBEARS.

Hopefully I will be more productive In April, but I doubt it. I am in non-reader mode this year, despite that I continue to purchase books from indie and fav authors like paper is going to be outlawed.


About Amanda Ching

I write. Fo' you.
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