The Mail I Get . . .

(with apologies to Lee Goldberg for stealing his title for blog posts to describe the strange, the obnoxious, the puzzling emails that he gets.)

Have myself a nasty case of eyestrain today — which makes this whole thing interesting — I got about half of a post written, but I can’t read it, so who knows how good it is. Thankfully, I can still make out graphics enough to black out revealing information, so I can tell a little story and still get a post up today. My eldest assures me that I got the graphics right — and he even fixed a typo that I couldn’t see.

Last year I got this email:

I responded (I seem to have sent several emails that day, most of which were overdue, so I didn’t realize that this one wasn’t):

I got the book, didn’t like it at all, posted about it, and then a couple of weeks later, I got this email:

I chose not to reply.

Fast-forward to this week, when I got this from the same author:

Believe it or not, I said I’d be happy to read it — I think there’s a really good chance that I’ll like this one. I really hope I do — I prefer liking things to any alternatives. (and, yeah, it’d be a better ending to the story).

Towel Day ’17: Some of my favorite Adams lines . . .

There’s a great temptation here for me to go crazy. I’ll refrain from that and just list some of his best lines . . .

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • This must be Thursday. . . I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
  • “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
    “You ask a glass of water.”
    (I’m not sure why, but this has always made me chuckle, if not actually laugh out loud. It’s just never not funny)
  • He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided im with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
  • In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before . . .
  • “Look,” said Arthur, “would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  • It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N-N-T’Nix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.
  • Life, the Universe, and Everything

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.

    There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.

    The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

  • (It goes on for quite a while after this — and I love every bit of it.)

  • “One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying . . . “is how dull it is?”

    “Dull?” . . .

    “Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there’s so much of it and so little in it.”

  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

  • Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.

    You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.

  • Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.

    “Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.”

    “Er, how so?”

    Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”

    “Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”

  • Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.

    “Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.

    “Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”

  • Mostly Harmless

  • A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

  • Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.
  • (I’ve often been tempted to get a tattoo of this)

    The Last Chance to See

  • “So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly?” I asked.

    He looked at me as if I were stupid.

    “You die, of course. That’s what deadly means.”

  • I’ve never understood all this fuss people make about the dawn. I’ve seen a few and they’re never as good as the photographs, which have the additional advantage of being things you can look at when you’re in the right frame of mind, which is usually around lunchtime.
  • I have the instinctive reaction of a Western man when confronted with sublimely incomprehensible. I grab my camera and start to photograph it.
  • And a couple of lines I’ve seen in assorted places, articles, books and whatnot

  • I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
  • A learning experience is one of those things that says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
  • Towel Day ’17: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

    A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

    More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

    Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

    One of my long-delayed goals is to write up a good all-purpose Tribute to Douglas Adams post, and another Towel Day has come without me doing so. Belgium.

    Next year . . . or later.

    Adams is one of those handful of authors that I can’t imagine I’d be the same without having encountered/read/re-read/re-re-re-re-read, and so I do my best to pay a little tribute to him each year, even if it’s just carrying around a towel (I’ve only been able to get one of my sons into Adams, he’s the taller, thinner one in the picture from a couple of years ago below).

    TowelDay.org is the best collection of resources on the day, recently posted this pretty cool video, shot on the ISS by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

    Even better — Here’s an appearance by Douglas Adams himself from the old Letterman show — so glad someone preserved this:

    Love the anecdote (Also, I want this tie.)

    The Question of the Absentee Father by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen

    The Question of the Absentee FatherThe Question of the Absentee Father

    by E.J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
    Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #4

    eARC, 288 pg.
    Midnight Ink, 2017

    Read: May 19 – 22, 2017


    So after reading #3 in this series, The Question of the Felonious Friend last year, I was going to read the first two before the next one came out but you know what they say about the The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men, right? Gang aft agley . . . So, here it is, a few months later and the next book is out. Picking up soon after the last ended — this time the case is a bit more personal. Not case, of course, Samuel isn’t a detective, he answers questions. To be accurate (as Samuel would want), this time the question is a bit more personal. Not that Samuel cares about it, but people in his life do.

    (actually, I technically can still read the first two before the book comes out — I’ve got a few months, now that I think about it)

    I should back up a bit, for those who didn’t read what I thought of book 3 (I’ll get over the slight) — Samuel Hoenig isn’t your typical mystery protagonist. He runs a business called Questions Answered — basically, he researches things for you. A human Boolean Search. From the looks of it, this occasionally results in him playing amateur detective. As is indicated by the name of the series, Samuel finds himself on one end of the Autism Spectrum, which helps him focus on his questions, but leads to challenges on the interpersonal level.

    Which is where is mother and his associate, Ms. Washburn, come in to play — Ms. Washburn helps him through the challenges presented by the world around him (as well as helping research his answers). His mother is . . . well, his mother — she still cooks for him, , still cares for him, pushes him to do new things, while providing a safe environment at home. He has a friend, Mike (no known last name), a taxi driver with some military experience that he relies on when things get sticky. And things get pretty sticky this time around.

    Samuel’s father left home when Samuel was a kid, he always assumed it was because he was such a difficult child. He never let this define him — or affect him at all (as far as he’s aware). But now, his mother receives a letter from him, and it distresses her. So she asks Samuel the question that she’s probably been wanting to ask for a while, “Where is your father living now?” The question is not emotionally wrought for Samuel, but he can tell it is for his mother (and Ms. Washburn keeps trying to make it into something that matters to Samuel).

    What Samuel does get emotional about is what this question makes him do — leave home. Get on an airplane, travel to California, sleep on a strangers bed, ride in a car that he is unfamiliar with, eat at restaurants he’s never heard of, deal with LA traffic — and much more. In the midst of all that, Samuel and Ms. Washburn begin to suspect that his father is mixed up in something nefarious, and potentially dangerous.

    The story is really strong, and more complex than I’d assumed it would be. In the last book, Samuel was dealing with other people on the Spectrum or their families. This time, there’s none of that — just strangers who are unused to interacting with people like him and who have no patience. Which serves as a good challenge for Samuel to overcome. There is real character growth evident in this book — it’s not the same kind of growth you expect to see in most books — because Samuel isn’t like most protagonists. But it is there — and really, he makes some pretty big strides here. It’s nice to see him not be treated as static, but someone who can make choices, can evolve.

    Once again, Samuel isn’t treated as a bag of symptoms or tics, he isn’t made a paragon of anything. He’s an individual who has to do some things the rest of the populace don’t consider. There are some lighter moments in the book, but none of them are at Samuel’s expense, just human foibles.

    The Question of the Absentee Father is another strong outing for Samuel and his team — as well as for E.J. Copperman. For those who like a mystery on on the cozy side, with some strong characters, this is the one for you.

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

    The Right SideThe Right Side

    by Spencer Quinn

    eARC, 336 pg.
    Atria Books, 2017

    Read: May 11 – 12, 2017


    Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

    Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

    Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

    It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

    LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

    The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

    Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

    This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

    —–

    4 1/2 Stars

    Storm Front (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

    Storm FrontStorm Front

    by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
    Series: The Dresden Files, #1
    Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 1 min.
    Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

    Read: May 18 – 19, 2017


    Okay, I know myself well enough that I’m pretty incapable of critical thought when it comes to The Dresden Files — which is not to say I think the books (especially this one) are perfect, but I can overlook all the flaws — and those I can’t I can shrug off. It’s been years — almost a decade — since I re-read this, and I’d forgotten some details, but the core is pure Dresden. And the best of all is that I know they get better from here.

    So I’m not going to talk about the book, really. For the 2 of you who don’t know, Harry Dresden is a Marlowe/Spenser-type of P.I. (but not really) who happens to be a wizard. He consults with the police on the supernatural front and does a little business helping private citizens. That’s all the setup you need.

    What I want to talk about here is the audiobook portion of it — I’ve heard for years that the James Marsters narrated audiobooks in this series are fantastic. I was prepared to be thoroughly entertained. But not as much as I was. Marsters was just incredible, almost unbelievably good. This was, as the best audiobooks are, a performance, not just a reading. And this was one of the best performances I’ve witnessed from Marsters. Had I the means, I’d have bought the rest of the series Friday night after I finished this one.

    Butcher fans, if you’ve only read the book, you need to listen to them, too. Marsters brought our man to life.

    —–

    5 Stars

    The Hammer of Thor (Audiobook) by Rick Riordan, Kieran Culkin

    The Hammer of ThorThe Hammer of Thor

    by Rick Riordan, Kieran Culkin (Narrator)
    Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #2
    Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 34 mins..
    Listening Library, 2016
    Read: May 10 – 12, 2016


    Thor’s hammer is missing, so not only can he not stream Netflix (I’d forgotten that was a thing in this series) on it, he can’t intimidate the giants into not invading. You can guess which bothers him more. The Valkrie Samira and her pal Magnus have to go find it before things get out of hand.

    I didn’t like this one as much as the first book in this series — but I didn’t dislike it. It’s still the same outline that Riordan is following with these books — there’s a quest; the hero and his friends have to go find the whatever to stall doomsday a little longer; to get the X the group has to beat a series of mini-challenges and then they’ll have a shot at the X. Since this is a book 2, they’ll get X, but many other things will go wrong, forcing the series into another book. For the most part, the minor challenges worked better for me than I expected.

    I enjoyed Magnus’ friends — Samira in particular; although I’m pretty torn about the new character added to Magnus’ group: Alex Fierro — a child of Loki. I understand what Riordan was trying to do with this character, but I’m not sure he succeeded. I’m not convinced that Alex was a person, and not just a conglomeration of traits. But I have hope. Alex’s presence, I thought, ended up short-changing some of the other characters when it came to action and involvement in the plot, which I wasn’t crazy about.

    I really enjoy seeing different authors’ take on the same mythological characters. Comparing/contrasting Kevin Hearne’s and Riordan’s Thors and Lokis would make for a very entertaining piece (I think Riordan’s Thor is more comical, but his Loki just might be more sadistic), and I will admit I got distracted a couple of times listening to this by thinking about the differences.

    The best part of this was seeing how the problems Magnus, etc. are dealing with intersect some of what Percy, Annabeth and Apollo are going through in Riordan’s other series, and the strong hint that we’ll see some sort of cross-over soon. We’d understood that the Egyptian gods were threatening the earth about the same time that the Problems with Camps Jupiter and Half-Blood start up, but this was a much more explicit description. I like thinking that the various pantheons are having troubles at the same time, and that Earth could be doom in any number of ways simultaneously.

    I bought this in hardcover the week it came out (last October, I think), but haven’t been able to find/make the time to read it. When I saw it as available on my library’s audiobook site, I figured I’d jump — just to get that TBR pile a little smaller. I hadn’t listened to Riordan on audio before, and was curious ow it translated. I was surprised to hear Kieran Culkin’s name (and voice) at the beginning of this — he didn’t strike me as the kind of actor who’d do audiobooks. I’m glad that he did, though. I really enjoyed his work throughout the novel — the narration, the characters — he just nailed it. That’s how Magnus Chase should sound.

    It was entertaining enough to keep going, and I trust that Riordan knows what he’s doing, I’m just not convinced that he did all he could to make this book as good as it could be.

    —–

    3 Stars