Saturday Miscellany – 11/28/15

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:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Luke Skywalker Can’t Read by Ryan Britt — A combination of geekery, humor and cultural commentary. I’m seriously stoked about this one, having heard Britt on a couple of episodes of The Once & Future Podcast — notably this one about the book.
  • Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe — the brain behind xkcd has a new book, where using only the most common “ten-hundred” English words and line drawings, he explains complicated things like: food-heating radio boxes (microwaves); tall roads (bridges); the shared space house (the International Space Station), the pieces everything is made of (the periodic table), boxes that make clothes smell better (washers and dryers).
  • Santa 365 by Spencer Quinn — a Chet & Bernie short, seemingly holiday related. If nothing else, should ally fears some fans had at the end of Scents and Sensibility

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Ana Spoke and affyyia for following the blog this week.

Review Catch Up: The Rosie Project; Where’d You Go, Bernadette; The Rosie Effect; Funny Girl

I’m hitting another block when trying to talk about the last few books I’ve read, because here’s another batch of very overdue takes on some good books (and one not).

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion
Series: Don Tillman, #1
Hardcover, 304 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2013
Read: November 6, 2013

This was charming, witty, and had plenty of heart — even without the romance, which just took it all to another level. It was just plain fun to read.

Don Tillman is just a great character — he’s likely someone with Asperger’s, if not fully Autistic. Which is mentioned once or twice, and then not brought up again. He’s then treated as a stubborn, curious, character with behavior patterns no one can seem to understand, but most people in his life figure out hot to cope with. Sometimes they laugh at him, sometimes they get frustrated or angry. What he’s not treated as is someone with anything. He’s not treated by his symptoms, he’s just treated as this guy. Simsion’s treatment of Don reminds me of Abed Nadir, from Community (which is high praise from me).

The only complaint I had was that the last chapter wasn’t really needed, and maybe would’ve been best left to the imagination. But, setting that aside, it felt rushed, while the rest of the book was so well done, it just stuck out like a sore thumb.

Still, whatever — one of my favorite books of 2013, and still one of the best RomComs I can remember.
5 Stars

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple

Hardcover, 330 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
Read: January 01 – 02, 2014

Do you get seasick? People who don’t get seasick have no idea what it’s like. It’s not just nausea. It’s nausea plus losing the will to live.

I should get that embroidered on something.

This starts light and breezy, a little strange, a little typical “these crazy (white) suburbanites with too much money”; but you know it’s going to get dark eventually — probably nasty dark, but first it’s going to lull you into a false sense of fun. I don’t think it gets as dark as it felt like it could’ve, it didn’t need to, and I’m glad it didn’t — but there was a whole lot going on that the whacky beginning didn’t indicate.

You don’t have care about the story because these characters are strength enough to carry your attention for quite awhile with nothing happening — and Semple’s style is just as strong. But there is a sorry here, a story of a daughter discovering just who her mother was — as is — a story about a talented woman who ended up loving a life she’d never have expected or picked for herself or her family. So you do care about the story — especially the way it’s told, in bits and pieces, jumping back and forth through time, from multiple perspectives — particularly when you get two or three perspectives painting a picture of an event — as Bee digs into her investigation.

Fun story, quirky characters, well-told story, with plenty of heart — and too many quotable lines. I jotted down a few that I can’t resist sharing, even in this abbreviated post.

You probably think, U.S./Canada, they’re interchangeable because they’re both filled with English-speaking, morbidly obese white people. Well, Manjula, you couldn’t be more mistaken.

Americans are pushy obnoxious, neurotic, crass — anything and everything — the full catastrophe as our friend Zorba might say. Canadians are one of that. . . To Canadians, everyone is equal. Joni Mitchell is interchangeable with a secretary at open-mic night. Frank Gehry is no greater than a hack pumping out McMansions on AutoCAD, John Candy is no funnier than Uncle Lou when he gets a couple of beers in him. No wonder the only Canadians anyone’s ever heard of are the ones who have gotten the hell out. Anyone with talent who stayed would be flattened under an avalanche of equality.

Really, who wants to admit to her daughter that she was once considered the most promising architect in the country, but now devotes her celebrated genius to maligning the driver in front of her for having Idaho plates?”

4 Stars

The Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect

by Graeme Simsion
Series: Don Tillman, #2

Hardcover, 352 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Read: January 12 – 13, 2015

“To the world’s most perfect woman.” It was lucky my father was not present. Perfect is an absolute that cannot be modified, like unique or pregnant. My love for Rosie was so powerful that it had caused my brain to make a grammatical error.

Don and Rosie are living in New York, getting used to married life, and expecting a kid. None of which goes well — so, of course, Don tries to tackle things the same way he did in the last book. Instant sequel, just add water.

This sequel was written with the same wit and skill as The Rosie Project, but the story wasn’t there — and more importantly, neither was the heart.

Mostly, I think, because Rosie wasn’t around for a lot — and when she was there, she wasn’t a character, she was an obstacle.

Other than really liking the occasional line (maybe more than occasional), I just didn’t like how Rosie or Don were written, the plot was shoddy and contrived, and I was just glad to be done with it so I could move on.
2 Stars

Funny GirlFunny Girl

by Nick Hornby

Hardcover, 452 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2015
Read: February 7, 2015

How on earth could he love her? But he did, Or, at least, she made him feel sick, sad, and distracted. Perhaps there was another way of describing that unique and useless combination of feelings, but “love” would have to do for now.

Everything I know about this era of British culture and TV comes from The Hour and An Adventure in Space and Time, so I just have to trust that Hornby did his homework on this. I thought the behind-the-scenes stuff was great, it felt real — it felt like the kinds of conversations that writers and actors should be having anyway.

The love story turned out a lot different than I was sure it would – thankfully. Actually, most of the book did. This wasn’t the rags-to-riches-to-wreck story that it seemed like it was going to be, but a story of some people with dreams and talent doing what they could to get going in a cutthroat business. Dreams were chased, many were caught, others changed/grew — as did the dreamers.

In the midst of the discussions about the nature of their show and the stories they told — both during the making of the show Barbara (and Jim) and in later chapters where it was being looked back at, I kept wondering if tucked away in all that was an apologia for light fiction like Hornby writes? If so, I appreciated it. (it also reminded me of some similar comments John Cleese has made lately, after coming to terms with being someone who makes people laugh, and not saving the world or something grander)

Thoughtful, heartfelt, charming — this is Hornby at his most confident and mature. I can see why some aren’t liking it, but it really clicked for me.

4 1/2 Stars

Thanksgiving 2015

Happy Thanksgiving/Turkey Day/Thursday

(depending on your location/preference)
I’d fully intended on getting up an actual post today, but circumstances beyond my control, etc., etc., etc.

So instead let me list a few things I’m thankful for this year:

  • Robert Crais actually publishing The Promise
  • Books
  • Authors!
  • Books
  • Coffee (and other beverages both caffeinated and adult)
  • Books
  • Time to read
  • Books
  • Goodreads, WordPress, BookLikes
  • Books
  • Evernote
  • Books
  • Authors!
  • All of you who read, follow, like, tweet, comment, email, etc. this page — you have no idea how much every little bit is appreciated.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

The Burning RoomThe Burning Room

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #19

Mass Market Paperback, 459 pg.
Vision, 2015

Read: November 16 – 18, 2015

Harry Bosch is in the last few months of his career with the LAPD — he’s about to be forced to retire again, and there’ll be no coming back from this one. He’s at peace with this — as much as he can be. It helps that he’s training rookie Detective Lucia Soto. Soto wants to learn from him (which distinguishes her from a lot of his former partners) and seems to want to do things the way Bosch does — it’s about results, not politics; shoe leather, not (just) computer work — everyone matters. If Harry can replace himself with someone like her, he’ll go happily.

There are two cases that Bosch is focusing on this time out — one officially so, the other on his own. The official case has a lot of press, a lot of attention from inside and outside the LAPD from the Chief all the way down. It’s an odd cold case, too. The victim just died, from complications of a bullet lodged in his back almost a decade ago. From the initial findings to the end, nothing turns out to be anything like it was assumed in the initial investigation when he was shot. Great, twisty case.

Connelly spends more effort on the other case, which ends up giving the novel its title. It dates back to about the same time, but isn’t actually assigned to Bosch and Soto initially. It’s been a long time Hobby Case of Soto’s, though and she recruits Bosch to help — which he does, to keep her out of trouble and to continue her development. The case is an old arson investigation, the building that was set on fire was an old apartment building that also housed an unlicensed day care. Nine children died in the fire, and it’s haunted the neighborhood since. A much more complicated case — made the moreso by the two working it off-book.

Harry’s not fighting corruption in the ranks or City Hall this time — his targets may be close to power (and some are about as far from it as you can get), but that’s it. As much as I enjoyed the forever long feud with Irving, I’m glad to see some variety. No corruption to fight — just bureaucratic timetables and peevishness. That’s bad enough for anyone.

Whether we’re talking Iggy Ferras, David Chu, Kiz Rider, Jerry Edgar or any of the other partners Harry’s worked with, it’s safe to say, most of them haven’t been great matches. Kiz came close (Edgar did, too, in a way — they knew how to work together, mostly). This is probably the best relationship Harry’s had with a partner — not his equal, but with almost the same drive. And she knows she needs Harry’s lectures (which most of the others didn’t need or want), she wants to hear them — she even asks for his feedback and critique. Even without this, Soto’s got it going on, her strengths supplement and/or complement Harry’s. I wish they had more time together — although Harry’s lessons might start to grate on her if they spent more than several months together, see the above list of ex-partners.

While the partner/partner dynamic hasn’t always been idyllic, you can usually count on a healthy father-daughter interaction — or at least attempts on both of their parts at it. There wasn’t that much Harry and Maddie material in this one — but what was there was . . . okay. I wonder if Connelly is preparing for a spin-off series starring Maddie, or if he’ll hand that off to someone else to do.

I’m not entirely satisfied — nor are we supposed to be — with the way both cases resolved, but they did so in a way that Harry can be proud of. Much more he has a legacy to pass down –both to Maddie and to Det. Soto. You also know that Harry’ll be one of those retired cops who’ll be quick to return a call from someone in the future looking for help on an old case.

A good Bosch, not great, but solid and satisfying. Killer last scene, even if it made me think of Sutton Foster playing Harry in a very special episode of Bosch. Good ’nuff for me.


3.5 Stars

Hit by Delilah S. Dawson


by Delilah S. Dawson
Series: Hit, #1

Hardcover, 324 pg.
Simon Pulse, 2015

Read: November 21, 2015

When I heard Dawson talk about this on The Once & Future Podcast this past Spring, I knew I had to read it. But like with about half the things I say that about when I listen to that podcast, I never got around to it. I’m so glad I finally remembered to grab it. This was a great read — a heckuva gut punch. A great immersive experience.

Sure, we’ve all read dystopian fictions that take place decades (at least) after the fall of whatever society preceded it. But have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in the opening minutes of a dystopia? Panem before the Capital City was wretched hive of scum and vanity? Well, that’s exactly what Patsy Klein is going through.

Yeah, Patsy Klein — some parents, right?

So Patsy is given a task: work as an indentured servant/debt collector for 5 days and collect from these 10 people. To collect, get their signature and record one of three choices: pay up everything you owe to the bank, now; become an indentured servant yourself for 5 days; or be killed, and here’s a 17-year-old with a 9mm to take care of that. Take your pick.

How can anyone get away with that? Well, Valor Bank (and a couple of smaller entities) has bought — lock, stock and barrel — the debt of the U.S. and every individual in it. Which is a lot of debt when you stop and think about it (all that’s required, really is, something like a California Rolling Stop to reach that conclusion). Valor Banks wants that debt taken care of pronto — and thanks to a subclause in that credit card application that no one ever reads, and some greased wheels in Congress, they can present these choices to pretty much every citizen. Patsy’s part of the first wave of these collectors, moving out before the majority of Americans have figured out what’s happening.

Killer concept, right? Utterly horrific — and yet almost utterly believable. Like I said before, when you plunge in and read this in a sitting or two it works great. If you take the time to think about some of the elements, I’m not sure it’d hold up nearly as well. But man, it was a fun read, even when it made you uneasy about what Patsy was doing.

And before I go any further, I just have to add that this is one of the best cover designs (front and back) I’ve seen this year. I hope someone got a promotion/bonus/raise out of this.

Again, I’m not sure how well this would hold up to examining various aspects of the world. It’s clear that there’s a pretty well-developed world supporting this, but the more we see of it, the more we understand the machinations that Valor Bank went through on both the macro and micro level — which it seems clear is where the sequel is going — the less I’m going to like it. A vague, nebulous Other doing horrible things is frequently better than seeing the Man Behind the Curtain. Right now, this is great — grabs the imagination, taps in to zeitgeist-y resentments towards banks/financial entities, and adds a deadly teenage girl. You explain everything, let us see what’s going on and I’m afraid we’ll end up with something like Allegiant (I’m convinced that was the biggest problem with the end of the trilogy, Roth explained too much).

A great read with some real weaknesses that easy enough to overlook if you want to. This’ll grab you, make you feel every hit, every shot and every regret.


3.5 Stars

Indexing: Reflections, Episode Eight: Holly Tree by Seanan McGuire

Indexing: ReflectionsIndexing: Reflections, Episode Eight: Holly Tree

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Indexing, #2.8

47North, 2015
Read: November 19, 2015
Henry finds a way back home — of sorts, and at a great cost. We learn a whole lot about Sloane, about the early days of the ATI (and it’s predecessors) — and I even expect a lot of this to come back and be relevant.

I just don’t know what to say about this installment. Was it interesting? Yes. Does it set up all sorts of things for the future in terms of character, plot, and everything? Oh yeah.

But, it didn’t grab me, didn’t get me invested, didn’t do anything really for me at all, but I think I know where it tried to and it just didn’t succeed. All it managed to do is whet my appetite for Episode Nine.


2 1/2 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 11/21/15

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:

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to S. C. Flynnfor following the blog this week — and for tweeting a couple of posts. Thanks to sheialanipov for dropping by the comments section. Both of them have great looking sites that I’ve enjoyed browsing through — check them out.