Saturday Miscellany – 3/28

Just a few odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye — and not one word about Harper Lee (phew!). You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

Dorothy Parker Drank HereDorothy Parker Drank Here

by Ellen Meister

Hardcover, 336 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
Read: March 9 – 10, 2015
Meister’s previous novel, Farewell, Dorothy Parker, was an enjoyable though fairly predictable but well-executed tale with characters I appreciated. While I intended to track down more by Meister, I hadn’t yet. One thing I didn’t expect was to see a sequel — there was really nothing in the it to make me think one was forthcoming — or necessary. So I didn’t read this with any great sense of anticipation, mostly just hoping that it wouldn’t be worse than Farewell.

Well, it wasn’t worse — it was actually better.

Ted Shriver is a — was a — literary star. A novelist of a stature and fame that every MFA student dreams of — until plagiarism scandal a few decades ago ruined that career and turned him into a recluse. He’s currently residing in the Algonquin Hotel, which is where the same hotel that the ghost of Dorothy Parker is spending as much of eternity as she can. Enter Norah Wolfe, a young producer about to be out of a job when the talk show she works for is going to be canceled. She’s got this crazy idea, though — if she can get her hero, Shriver, to come on the show and be interviewed for the first time since the scandal, she just might be able to keep the show on the air. And a certain ghost decides to join the cause, as soon as she convinces Norah that she’s really there.

I know, outlandish, right? An appearance by a novelist is going to save a TV show –puh-leez. (the ghost tied to a guest book is completely believable by comparison).

I do think (but haven’t compared the two in order to examine), that this time, Dorothy Parker isn’t as much fun — either in antics or dialogue. But she’s more flawed, more regretful over the past, more self-reliant, lonelier. — basically, she’s a more well-rounded character reflecting a lot of the less snarky, less quotable Parker. Shriver was believable (and a self-pitying jerk), I think the story could’ve used more time with him as an active character, not just the person everyone is reacting to (even when he’s nowhere to be seen). Norah is our Point of View character — she’s likable, driven, damaged (in a pretty obvious way), and it’s not long before you’re wanting things to work out for her. There are a few other notable characters — and a few that are little more than one dimension, but on the whole you are left with the impression that they could easily be more than that.

I did wonder at the lack of any mention of the events of the previous novel or its protagonist, even in passing. Which means you can read these independently of each other, or in whatever order you wish.

This wasn’t a perfect novel — there was one subplot that was largely unnecessary and a little annoying (but in the end, Meister used it effectively, but she could’ve found another way to achieve the same ends). Other than that, compared to its predecessor, I thought the characters were more complex, the emotional stakes were richer, and the book was about more than just the pretty straight-forward plot. A pleasant read, give it a shot.


3.5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 3/21/15

A little note first: As far as possible, I find the original source of infographics, stories, memes, etc. that I post and/or link to. Occasionally, I miss. One such time was back in September with the handy infographic, How Long Will It Take to Read? I received an email from someone from the site I should’ve linked to the other day asking to fix that — which I gladly did, and figured they deserved another link or two in return. It’s a nice site, which deserves all the clicks and views I can send their way.

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:

  • The Stolen Ones by Owen Laukkanen — this is sitting on my library’s reserve shelf for me, and I’m literally* salivating.
  • The Deception Artist by Fayette Fox — It was the cover that caught my eye and made me take a look at this — kudos to the designer — looks like an interesting read.
  • The Last Days of Video: A Novel by Jeremy Hawkins — this looks like a lot of good, odd fun.
  • Less Than Hero by S. G. Browne — this one looks appealing, too. Read a little — not enough — of Browne before. Need to read more.

* And by literally, I mean figuratively.
Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to K. L. Register for following the blog this week. Big, big thanks to Jennifer Reed/bookjunkiez for the reblog/signal boost!

The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson

The Witches of Echo ParkThe Witches of Echo Park

by Amber Benson

Paperback, 294 pg.
Ace, 2015
Read: March 18 – 19, 2015
So, you have a coven of witches (who don’t like to be called that) who connected to some global network of covens that are under attack. We’re not given much information on that part — just enough so that the threat of violence is real, if shadowing (and mostly so far removed as to not be a looming presence). The local leader of the coven –the last of a generation, it seems — is dying of cancer, and she recruits her great-niece (or something), Lyse, to take her place. Lyse had no idea her great-aunt (or something) was a witch — or in Lyse’s point of view, she had no idea her great-aunt was a little crazy, not full-blown insane, but unhinged enough to believe in magic. But she goes along with her dying wish, and is initiated into the coven. At which point in time, enough crazy stuff starts happening that Lyse has to admit that, yeah, there’s something to that magic stuff.

We don’t get nearly enough time with the rest of the coven to really connect with them — this is about introducing us to the world, about Llyse and Eleanora, and connecting Lyse to everything. It’s only in retrospect that I noticed that I didn’t get to know everyone as well as I wanted to. Lizabeth was close — but I think it’d take 200 pages devoted to her for me to have enough. I wouldn’t need as much time with the others, but, well, trust me on this — Lizabeth is one to watch. They all seem fun and interesting, but no one else comes close.

I’m really light on details here, because the novel’s an introduction to the series — so the details about characters and the tiny bit of plot are all there really is. Which is fine — for this book, not for #2 in the series. I did spend most of the last 50 pages thinking the ending would be unsatisfactory, but she pulled it off — again, for the first book of a series, not for anything later.

This is so different than Benson’s last series, the Calliope Reaper-Jones novels. Honestly, they don’t even seem like they were written by the same person. The characters, the world, the emotions at play, even the magic system feels more grounded, more realistic (if you can say that).

Most Urban Fantasy reads like a Detective/Mystery novel with Magic/Supernatural elements mixed in. This one felt like a Chick Lit (meaning that in the nicest possible way, and just to describe things) book flavored with magic. Which makes it stand out from the pack — by quite a ways. The cover reflects that, I think. Lyse (I assume) doesn’t look like she’s ready to kick butt and take names, she looks like someone who could be my neighbor in the middle of bad day. This is not going to appeal to every UF reader, but I dug it.

On the one hand, it doesn’t take too many pages before you’re pretty sure you know what kind of story this is, how things are going to go. It’s solid stuff, don’t get me wrong — nor is it predictable. It’s just a certain type of story. Yet even knowing that (and I was right, more than I was wrong, anyway) the way that Benson unspooled things drew me in further and further. She set the hook well.

By page 55 I was prepared to call this Benson’s best by a mile — and I only became more convinced the further I read. Friendship, family, devotion, screwy-beliefs, a touch of romance, and magic — Benson brings it all. If you’re up for an Urban Fantasy that doesn’t read like every other one you’ve read, give it a shot.


4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 3/14/15

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

A few odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading 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:

  • Anti-Hero by Jonathan Wood — years back I read the first two in this series, which have thankfully been re-released, and really dug them. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
  • World Gone By by Dennis Lehane — I have got to read this series. I don’t know why I haven’t started — I even bought the first one as soon as I came out! And now we’re at #3?
  • The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence — I ultimately didn’t like Extence’s prior book, but man . . . while I was reading it, I was hooked. Gotta give this one a shot.
  • What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World by Cat Warren — just came out in paperback. There’s a bunch of books on the topic, I don’t really know how to evaluate one against another — but Robert Crais blurbed this one, so it has to be excellent, right?
  • Archie in the Crosshairs by Robert Goldsborough — after the last two books by Goldsborough, I’m dreading this. But, confound it, it’s a Wolfe book. I have to read it.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to jrhehl for following the blog this week. Thanks to Ryan Harris for the interaction — hope we can continue it.

Review Catch Up: Uneasy Relations; Skull Duggery; Dying on the Vine by Aaron Elkins

So, in the last couple of months, I’ve read Gideon Oliver 15-17 and haven’t had a chance to write them up. Might as well tackle them in one post, right?

Some general thoughts that apply to them all, before moving into specifics.

As always with this series, these books are fun, clever, and not terribly violent. All of which are a nice balance to some of the darker things I read — and I know I could find darker yet in this genre. Say what you will about cozies (and I don’t know if these are technically cozies, but they’re at least cozie-adjacent), they’re a darn sight more entertaining than the noirest of noirs.

Not just by the sly and witty narrative, Gideon Oliver books remind me of the Nero Wolfe mysteries — he never ages, he can always find a away around the stickiest of situations and outsmart law enforcement without getting into trouble (Gideon’s better at this than Wolfe, and much prefers working with than in competition with them), and while Elkins will surprise you frequently by the solutions to the mysteries, he never cheats. Can’t take this list too far, because at the end of the day Gideon isn’t Wolfe and neither would find the comparison all that flattering.

Judging by his anthropological research, I’m guessing Elkins has done similar research into the way various law enforcement agencies work around the world. Particularly with the latter two of these, I really enjoyed getting glimpses into the police methods and structures of these countries — ditto for Unnatural Selection, but I don’t think I mentioned that when I reviewed it (and am too lazy to go look).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, reading these books are a like visiting with old friends, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Uneasy RelationsUneasy Relations

by Aaron J. Elkins

Hardcover, 288 pg.
Berkley Hardcover, 2008
Read: December 10, 2014

I’m glad he doesn’t return to this well too often, but when Elkins decides he’s going to invent a fictional (no doubt inspired by a real) major archaeological find, he does it right. Serving as the backdrop for this puzzle, this find sounds like the kind of thing I read about in various and sundry Anthropology textbooks in college. Throw in some satirical takes on publishing, literary agents, and academics and this becomes a really fun read. Oh yeah, and the murder — there’s that. That was a good puzzle, too.

I can’t get into it, but the site of the major find is really the star of this one, and it’s pretty cool. The solution to the murder was a nice twist, and the Skeleton Detective was as clever as ever.
3 Stars

Skull DuggerySkull Duggery

by Aaron J. Elkins
Hardcover, 281 pg.
Berkley Hardcover, 2009
Read: February 21, 2015

This one gets a bonus 1/2 star for the mentions by both Gideon and Julie that if he’s around, a skeleton (at least a skull) will appear to keep him busy (and would probably deserve the bonus without those mentions). I also appreciated the “just another day in the office” aspect of the attempt on Gideon’s life. At this point, he should really take out a bigger life insurance policy any time he leaves the country.

A week’s vacation in a little, out of the way, Mexican village turns deadly for Gideon and Julie. I really enjoyed the setting and the backstory on this one, even more than the forensics.

This one was almost painfully easy to figure out the killer — although the actual motive was trickier than I thought, but after The Reveal, it totally made sense. Despite that, I thought this was one of the better ones in this series that almost never has a lesser entry.
3.5 Stars

Dying on the VineDying on the Vine

by Aaron J. Elkins

Hardcover, 294 pg.
Berkley Hardcover, 2012
Read: February 28 – March 3, 2015

The whole band’s back together for this one — John & Marti, Julie & Gideon in old-school Italian wine country. The intrigue and informatin about the wine production (rephrase) reminded me of the behind the scenes look at coffee production from Twenty Blue Devils (although that subject is nearer and dearer to my heart). While I’m not a big wine person, I know I’d rather drink a bottle (one glass at a time, I’m not a Philistine) from the hands and craft of the traditional elements of the Cubbiddu, not the mechanical/mass produced stuff they started putting out — which I’m guessing Elkins agrees. Although, I can probably only afford the latter.

John navigating the local cuisine was a highlight for me, and probably speaks to my juvenile humor.

The mystery itself? Typical Elkins, smart enough to keep you guessing, compelling enough to keep you turning the pages, and not as important as the characters — new and old — and their interactions.

Heckuva lotta fun.
3 Stars

I’m Trying, Dean. I’m really trying!

If life would calm down juuuuust a little bit, I’d be able to leave some reviews. As far as leaving pie? Forget it — any pie I get, I eat. Well, for most of the authors I talk about here, I’d be willing to share. Probably. Next time they’re in Idaho.

A couple of weeks ago, Anton Strout, Professional Geek/UF Author/Podcaster, posted this picture by RG Alexander – Rachel Grace on his Facebook page. I’ve been trying to find a use for it since. Guess this’ll do.