Saturday Miscellany – 8/1/15

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    Just a couple of New Releases This Week that I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Crooked by Austin Grossman — Lovecraftian Nixon? I’m not sure this is my thing, but I’ll probably give it a shot.
  • Half a War by Joe Abercrombie — The Shattered Sea concludes. Still meaning to read the first volume of this series; and I guess volume two, too.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Themis-Athena’s Garden of Books, Grimlock ♥ Deadpool, Paul Read or Dead, Constantly Moving the Bookmark (which might be my favorite blog name in weeks), The Primroses Were Over, Book Cupidity, and Jessica’s Book Thoughts for following the booklikes version of blog this week – quite the bumper crop, actually.

Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

Scents and SensibilityScents and Sensibility

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #8

Hardcover, 305 pg.

Atria Books, 2015

Read: July 16 – 17, 2015Bernie Little is back from his cross-country adventures, not much worse for wear, probably with a little coin in his pocket (knowing Bernie. He gets home to find one of his elderly neighbors in the hospital and her husband being investigated by some overreaching environmental authority. Which gets Bernie’s protective instincts engaged. Oh, yeah, and there’s a hole in Bernie’s wall where a safe used to be. That’s in the mix, too — but it takes a back seat to the Parsons’ plight.

It seems that the Parsons’ son was recently released from prison, making the timing of Mr. Parson’s troubles (and the missing safe), a little suspicious. Bernie starts investigating the son — which leads into looking at the crime that put him away in the first place. Which leads Bernie to cross paths with an old rival. An old rival who may have had something to do with the fact that Bernie is no longer employed by the Phoenix Police Department.

The past and present mingle with the personal and professional for Bernie as the case gets more complicated and dangerous. Which makes this a pretty decent detective novel — then throw in our loyal narrator, Chet with his uniquely irrepressible voice and perspective. That’s a thick layer of icing on a pretty good cake.

Which I guess makes the presence of a young dog who looks and smells like Chet (he’s the source of the latter observation) a nice fondant?

I think the illustration is getting away from me, so I’d better move on.

There are a few certainties in crime fiction, in every novel: a vehicle operated by Stephanie Plum will explode; Nero Wolfe will have beer; Harry Bosch will listen to jazz; and Chet will be separated from Bernie. Sometimes, this annoys me because it seems so forced, but this time it snuck up on me so naturally that I was three or four paragraphs into it before I realized it had happened. There’s some other Ce and Bernie mainstays here: Bernie says something he regrets to Suzie; Bernie’s ex seems to go out of her way to misunderstand Bernie, Chet is spoiled and eats like a goat. Really, it has all the elements of this series, Quinn just uses them better than usual here.

A compelling story, the characters back in their stride, and we learn a little bit more about Bernie — if that’s all this had, I’d jumping with excitement. But when you add those last few paragraphs? Forget it — this is the best thing Quinn’s done since introducing us to this pair.

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4 1/2 Stars

Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

Junkyard DogsJunkyard Dogs

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #6

Hardcover, 306 pg.

Viking Adult, 2010

Read: July 25, 2015This one opens with probably the funniest incidents in the series, I don’t want to spoil it, just trust me. Actually, there’s quite a few things in the opening chapters of this book to chuckle at or with.

But it wouldn’t be much of a mystery novel if it stayed that way. And so one chuckle-worthy happening is used by Walt to try to help one of his deputies. And then another string of comic events and characters ends with a corpse or two turning up. Which pretty much stops the laughter. It’s really a shame, I liked one of the people who died — and the family of one of the others. (Which isn’t to say that it’s not a shame when it happens to characters I don’t like)

The mystery was a little easier to solve than I really like, but these books aren’t really so much about the whodunit as they are about what happens with Walt and co. while they figure it out. On that front, this was pretty entertaining.

Seeds were planted for something involving Henry’s brother. Well, seeds have been planted already — I guess I should say that the previously planted seeds about Henry’s brother got a decent watering. However you want to look at it — something’s brewing on that front, and it’s not going to be pretty when it’s done. I hope the same isn’t the case with the impending nuptials.

As usual, with a book that takes in a part of the country like Absaroka County, WY, you have to worry about the number of murders and the risk posed to everyday residents of it. But at least they’ve got a lawman on their side who’ll make sure that those who disturb that corner of the woods pay for it. And not to sound too callous, but as long as these books keep being that entertaining, I can live with the hit to the census.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char

by Scott Hawkins

Hardcover, 388 pg.

Crown, 2015
Read: July 20 – 24, 2015
This is not the easiest book for me to write about. I’m really torn about this. That’s not exactly true. I want to be torn about it. I spent a lot of time hating this book, and the rest wanting to hate it (and coming pretty close). I took a break on page 81 to write a healthy paragraph in my notes, which included, “by page 81 or so, I really had no idea what the book was about other than some guy inflicting horrible abuse — physical, metaphysical, mental, spiritual, psychological, and any other kinds possible — on children. All of whom, for various and sundry reasons are devoted to him.” There had been at least 4 distinct places by that point where I wanted to stop reading. But I received the book in exchange for a review, so I had to press on. It was within 10-20 pages after that rant that I found something I enjoyed.

If you’re reading an almost 400 page book and the first quarter is so terrible you’re only reading by compulsion? It’s not a good book. No matter how good that last seventy-five percent is.

And it was pretty good. There’s a man, who’s moved on beyond humanity after gaining great knowledge — after 60,000 or so years, he has pretty much gained all knowledge. You know that line about sufficiently advanced science appearing magical? Well, imagine that, but sufficiently advanced as to be on Doctor Strange’s level. For reasons unexplained for a very long time, he took a bunch of kids on as apprentices — teaching each of them one (and only one) discipline so they’d be as knowledge able as he is (and the methods he uses aren’t exactly endorsed by the NEA, John Dewey or even The Barnum and Bailey Circus). After a few decades or so, these children are grown, can almost not remember their old life — and the master disappears. Which is when things start to really fall apart. Oh yeah, there’s a postal carrier and a special forces agent who’s probably more skilled than Jack Reacher. And it’s almost impossible to explain how they’re involved.

The worldbuilding is fantastic, really, you’ve seen little like it. At least 3 of the characters are keepers. Plotting is careful and intricate (at times slow, at other times so fast you’ll have a hard time keeping up). I can’t tell you how many times it zigged when I thought it was going to zag. And each zig was completely believable and generally mind-bending. All in all, skillfully written, skillfully told. Still, not for me.

I’m not sure how to rank this. If going off of my reaction to it, I think I’d have to invent a new ranking system, something lower than no stars. But if going off of actual merit — it’s probably a 3.5-4 (maybe 4.5 star). Read it at your own risk. I received this from the people at Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. They probably wish I didn’t.

Saturday Miscellany – 7/25/15

Been reading a book this week that I’m really not enjoying. Which has made it hard to write — it has helped me spend more time tweaking the coding and features, etc. of this site, though. Anything rather than read that book. You ever have weeks like that? Worst of it is, I think it’s probably a really good book. I just couldn’t stand it.

Anyway, in response to some reader suggestions and requests (okay, one suggestion and one request), I’ve made it easier to find books by rankings, now and I’ve made some real headway on better organizing reviews by author (at least the ones I talk about frequently) and I’m also going to include a little introduction to each.

So, here are the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    Small list of New Releases this week. Phew! My TBR pile is huge after the last couple of the weeks, need a light one (and I’m not just talking that impossibly long list I keep on Goodreads and Amazon — I’m talking my literal pile, too). But what we have is going to be so, so good. Here’s This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Redeemers by Ace Atkins — Quinn Colson returns and finds some sort of trouble — couldn’t tell you what, not going to bother reading the blurb, just going to jump in.
  • Who Let the Dog Out by David Rosenfelt — uh oh, trouble at Andy and Willie’s dog rescue operation?
  • Lessons from Tara: Life Advice from the World’s Most Brilliant Dog by David Rosenfelt — because why should Rosenfelt only publish one book this week? Some of what the real Tara taught Andy Carpenter’s creator.


Re Jane by Patricia Park

This is frustrating…I’ve been working on this post for a couple of weeks now, and have spent a lot of time re-writing, re-writing and throwing out material. I finally decided what to keep and how to organize it, I think. I’m tempted to just put this cover image next to a big .gif of a thumbs up and call it a day.

—-

Re JaneRe Jane

by Patricia Park
Hardcover, 338 pg.
Pamela Dorman Books, 2015

Read: July 6 – 8, 2015

There are two ways to look at this book — as a retelling of Jane Eyre and as a novel on its own terms. It’s clearly indebted to Jane Eyre — frequently, the allusions are subtle; sometimes, she might as well be jumping up and down waving a flag. Still, Park’s her own writer — this is its own story, with its own characters — and a heroine who’s not just Brontë’s best-known character thinly disguised.

If you haven’t read Jane Eyre, first of all — shame on you. Secondly, yes, you can read this and appreciate it — you’ll just miss some of Park’s cleverness. Instead, what you’ll get is a straight-forward story about the trials and travails (and travels) of a young Korean-American woman.

Jane Re’s a half-Korean college graduate who becomes a nanny for the daughter of a couple of silly (white) New Yorkers — she’s a stereotypical college professor in Women’s Studies, he’s a henpecked high-school English teacher. Their daughter was adopted from China, and is now old enough that she doesn’t need a nanny — which makes the whole thing a greater challenge. Still, it’s better than the alternative — returning to live with her uncle and aunt, who were forced to take her in after the death of her mother in Korea (and her family there being unwilling to keep her).

Then through a series of events you can read about yourself, she finds herself living for a bit in South Korea. This is as fascinating as you’d think it’d be. It’s not just about a young South Korean woman, it’s about a young half-South Korean woman, raised in the States (by people who left Korea decades before), trying to acclimate to Korea. A stranger in the U.S. to many because of culture and appearance, finds herself a greater stranger there for the same reasons.

Which leads to . . . spoiler stuff. Which is even more interesting. Along the way there’s a whole mess of family issues, stranger-in-a-strange-land issues, self-acceptance issues, romance issues, and other things I can’t pair with the word “issues.” Jane goes through a lot, I’ve got to say — maybe a wider-range of challenges than Eyre. I frequently found myself wanting a bit more spunk, a bit more chutzpah from Jane throughout. But, like her namesake, when she needed it, she found it within — and it was great to see.

Park makes a pivotal choice in her selection of chronological setting — and one that worried me. It’d have been so easy to go wrong with this, and I’m used to seeing it go badly — but Park pulls it off, and actually makes it work for her.

In the end, I liked Jane. I rooted for her. I liked (some of) her family and friends. I was invested in the story. It’s not going to go down as good as, or as important as, its inspiration — but it’s a well-written, warm, look at a woman learning how to take charge of her life.

—–

4 Stars

Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Saves the WorldKitty Saves the World

by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #14

ARC, 325 pg.
Tor Books, 2015
Read: July 14 – 15, 2015
4 1/2 Stars
Easy title to live up to, no?

About the same time that I posted my review of the previous book, Low Midnight, where I talked about “future Kitty novels,” Carrie Vaughn announced that this one would be the end. So much for my predictive ability. Now, at the end, I see that Low Midnight was well-placed in the series, and I have a better understanding of the role it played in setting up this book. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t have preferred a few more books in this series, but if Vaughn had to end it now, I’m glad she did it like this.

This couldn’t be less obvious a last novel. Kitty name checks and/or visits everybody we’ve met along the way, it’s like the last few minutes of “The End of Time” before The Doctor regenerates into Matt Smith. But Vaughn does it so smoothly, it’s only when you stop and think about who’s shown up that you even notice what she’s done.

I don’t really have much to say about this — it’s the 14th and final novel in a series. Don’t let this be the first one you read — do let this be the last. Start with one of the first few (if not the first, Kitty and the Midnight Hour).

This is different than the rest of the series, not just because it’s the end. There’s plenty of action to be found — not a lot of time for character development, growth, relationships, new characters (well, maybe a couple) — it’s all about Regina Luporum and her allies versus Dux Bellorum, anything else is a distraction (however pleasant a distraction). Which isn’t to say that the characters are unimportant — it’s Carrie Vaughn, characters are the core. But they’re very busy here, and don’t have a lot of time to chat, reflect, or anything like that — they have a world to save.

The final showdown with Roman didn’t go as expected, but better. The scenes following that were great, and the ending was everything a fan could hope for.

One criticism — and, now that I think about it, this applies to the series as a whole — Kitty tells us time after time that her pack is what’s important, it drives her restaurant/bar New Moon, it keeps her in Denver, it’s what motivates her, blah, blah, blah. But really, outside of the occasional chat while picking up an order with Shaun and references to the group hunting on the Full Moon, we don’t see them. The pack that Kitty cares about is the other one — Ben, Cormac, Amelia, Alette, Odysseus Grant, Tina, Rick, Matt, and the others that fill her life and align themselves with her against the Long Game. I’d be fine with it if Kitty were just a little bit more honest with herself/us about it.

I’m going to miss Kitty, Ben, Cormac and the rest, and the next year is going to feel a little strange not getting any new adventures from them. But this was a great way to say goodbye.

—–

4 1/2 Stars