Saturday Miscellany – 11/18/17

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:

    A couple of Book-ish Related Podcast Episodes you might want to give a listen:

  • Hank Garner’s The Author Stories Podcast had two strong episodes this week: Episode 260: Andy Weir was great — he talked about a novel he had to shelve, his one problem with The Martian movie, and the genesis of Artemis.
  • Episode 262: Janet Evanovich — I’ve actually never read/heard an Evanovich interview before (that I recall, anyway). This was great to hear.

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

  • Artemis by Andy Weir — Can Weir follow The Martian with anything but a let down? I finished this last night, and my answer is YES! Also: Phew!! Basically, it’s a heist novel set in the first city on the Moon. And it’s great.
  • Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb — Lori Anderson, the wonderful single-mom/bounty hunter from Deep Down Dead (and possibly my favorite new character this year) is back for more. I’m pretty sure I knew this was coming out this week, but I’d forgotten it, so seeing it show up on my Kindle really screwed up my reading schedule for the rest of the month. How much do I care? Not one whit.
  • Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant — None of Seanan McGuire’s alter ego’s books have appealed to me yet (beyond being written by one of the best around). This one just might get me to give Grant a shot. For those more open to the horror or SF-Horror type of read, you should probably consider this one.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to theartdive and M.L.S.Weech for following the blog this week.

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Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

Paradox BoundParadox Bound

by Peter Clines

Hardcover, 369 pg.
Crown, 2017

Read: November 8 – 9, 2017


Sanders is a typical American small-town, so typical, I felt like I grew up there. Thankfully, unlike Sanders, the place I grew up in has moved on, Sanders has not. There’s still a Video Rental Store there, for crying out loud. Those who work with computers, or want to have much of an idea about contemporary pop culture, have to move away — or at least commute.

Eli Teague is just such a person — but before he commutes to his IT job from his apartment above the Video Rental Store, he grows up in a pretty typical way. With one exception: twice while growing up, he encounters a young woman dressed incredibly oddly while working on an old Ford Model A, which seems to be fueled by water. They spend a little time conversing each time — typically leaving Eli more confused than he’d have thought possible — then she drives off and disappears. This instills in him an obsession with historic cars, that spills over into American History in general.

As an adult, he encounters her again and inadvertently puts her in danger. He abandons everything he knows in an effort to save her from this and ends up joining her on a hunt through history. Harry (this mysterious woman) travels through history — she’s not a time traveler, she’ll be quick to point out, she travels in history. She’s not crazy about bringing Eli along with her, but literally has almost no choice in the matter.

Harry . . . she’s a great character, and I would’ve appreciated a lot more focus on her, and getting to see much more of her past. Maybe not getting to actually helps, because it makes the reader more curious about her — but I’d still have rather had a better look at her life before Eli became a regular part of it. She’s tough, loyal, cunning — but no superhero, just a strong person.

Short of spoiling the whole thing, this is one of those I have to be very vague about the details, but then why should you read it? I’ll leave it to you to read the book to get more about the hunt they’re on, but I’ll just say that it’s a great idea, a wonderful concept. The other hunters (and allies) we meet are interesting, but man, I’d love more of all of them — there’s some great historical cameos, too. Naturally, we need an opposing force to make things more tense — and we have one of the creepiest around in these pages. They’re not evil, not corrupt, not anything but driven (and with a skewed way of looking at things).

There’s a nostalgic, hopeful tone throughout — despite the sharp critique of the stats quo in America. There’s an evident wit behind the words, too, but this isn’t what you’d call a funny novel. I do think that Clines and I would differ a bit on some of the ways he interprets parts of the national character/psyche, but I can appreciate what he was going for (that’s one of those things that’ll make more sense after you read the book). The characters — whether we like them or not — are very human, very relatable, and pretty sympathetic. Clines has again taken some tropes, concepts, ideas that we’re familiar with — some we know very well, but skewing them just a hair and resulting in something we haven’t sen before.

I expected this to be a pretty good read after The Fold a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t expecting something as fresh feeling as this (but with the skill of someone who’s written a few novels). There’s a dash of civics lessons, some cultural commentary, and a lot of hope — things you don’t always get in light(ish) SF. I “bought into” this book much more quickly than I did The Fold, I’m not sure if that’s because Clines earned my trust in the previous book, or if there’s something more accessible about this one — either way, it’s something for the “Plus” column.

Give this one a whirl — you’ll be glad you did.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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4 Stars

Breaking Bad 101 by Alan Sepinwall

Breaking Bad 101Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion

by Alan Sepinwall

Hardcover, 281 pg.
Abrams Press, 2017

Read: November 15, 2017


So, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain what Breaking Bad is, do I? One of the greatest TV dramas of all time, Mr. Chips turns into Scarface, et cetera, et cetera. This book is a collection of brief essays about each episode, a critical companion, fan resource, and all around handy book.

Most of these chapters started out as episode recaps on Alan Sepinwall’s blog generally posted a day or two after the original airing — a couple were written just for this book because he didn’t recap each episode in season 1 and a later episode deserved a better recap (for reasons Sepinwall explains) — although the original version is included as well. He does take out some of he speculation and whatnot from the original posts to provide a nice, clean look at each episode. It’s more than just an episode recap, he looks at the arcs, the acting, writing, cinematography; in just a few pages he gets to the heart of the episode and helps you see all things that Gilligan et. al. were doing. The real gems are the footnotes and sidebar pieces that dive in a little further to the nitty-gritty details — why was this decision made, where’d actor X come from, and so on. Seriously, fantastic footnotes.

This is a quick and wonderful read if you do it start to finish — or you can just thumb through, stopping at random points to read up on an episode. The book works both ways. I imagine the best way to read it is with a remote in one hand, a DVD/Blu-Ray disc in your player and the book in the other hand. Watch an episode, read the chapter — skipping around in the episode to re-examine shots/sequences, etc. I haven’t done that, but man, I’m tempted to.

A few other things worthy of note: Damon Lindelof wrote a very amusing foreword; Max Dalton provided 12 black and white illustrations that are just perfect; the dust-jacket design is great; but more than that, the actual cover is even better; and lastly, the whole book is so well-designed and pleasing to the eye, it’s nice just to look at without reading. I don’t mention those kind of things enough, and need to get better about it.

Now, I’ve been a fan of Sepinwall’s recaps/writing since the days he posted about NYPD Blue on Usenet. I also read all these posts from Season 2 on within a few hours of their original posting (I didn’t start watching until after the season 1 finale — so I read all of those in a couple of days, still pretty fresh). So I was pretty predisposed to enjoy this book, but I’m pretty sure I would have anyway.

Sepinwall is a fan of Breaking Bad, most of the stories, most of the performances, etc. But he’s a thoughtful fan, not a mindless one — he is critical of some things, this isn’t just someone being a fanboy. I heartily encourage fans of the show to pick this up — or people who’ve been meaning to watch it, but haven’t (this book would be a much better companion than your friends who will be patronizing about you finally getting around to watching it).

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4 Stars

The Freedom Broker by K. J. Howe

The Freedom BrokerThe Freedom Broker

by K. J. Howe
Series: Thea Paris, #1

Hardcover, 361 pg.
Quercus, 2017

Read: November 6 – 7, 2017


Thea Paris is such a cool character — she’s like a combination of Charlie Fox and Vanessa Michael Munroe — but with a very different load of emotional baggage. When she was a child, her brother was sleeping in her room to help her make it through a hard night when he was kidnapped. She’s spent the following decades convinced that the only reason he was kidnapped is that the abductors thought he was Thea. Yes, he eventually made it back safely, but he was (obviously) never the same, and Thea used that to fuel her mission in life. Her father is the tycooniest of American Oil Tycoons, and she could’ve easily rested on his laurels, or followed in the family business.

But no, Thea is in private security, with an emphasis on K&R (Kidnapping and Ransom). She’s the one negotiating with kidnappers/their representatives to get a ransom paid and the victim returned to his home/family/nation/company. When that doesn’t work, Thea will lead the extraction team doing what they can to bring te victim home. She’s one of the best around. She is not perfect, and we see that right off, but she gets the job done well.

Which is good, because on the verge of one of the biggest deals of his life, Thea’s father, Christos, is kidnapped. It’s up to her, some allies and friends to bring him home. There are several candidates for the kidnapper’s identity — there’s the Chinese oil corporations competing with her father, there are representatives of the African nation that kidnapped her brother all those years ago, there’s an arms dealer that has rumors flying, too. In the midst of this hunt, secrets will be revealed (many Thea will regret learning), and virtually everyone in her life will end up divulging something dark and hidden.

One more thing about Thea — she’s diabetic. Which is an interesting character trait — I can’t think of another action hero with something like that: a real physical condition that requires maintenance, but is manageable and will not ordinarily cause anything more than inconvenience. Sure, it does give us what I’m calling Chekhov’s glucose monitor (not a spoiler, that’s what I put in my notes when it was first mentioned).

I liked the other characters, too — but it’s hard to talk about most of them without getting too heavily into the plot. So let’s just say there are a few people I’m really looking forward to seeing again, and a few that I enjoyed enough this time out, but am very glad they’re in no position to show up again. Just about everyone has a believable motivation — no matter what side of the law and/or morality they fall on — which is just great.

Howe’s prose is tight and the pacing is great. There’s a few times that Thea has the same thought over and over — which is probably realistic, but it seems repetitive (and possibly not trusting the reader enough) to read her conclude “X may have done Y” in a chapter, and then “Y may have been done by X” in the next. But it’s nothing to get too worked up over, I didn’t think. Howe does seem to have a “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to story telling — the number of things that go wrong during Thea’s search for her father, and the number of opponents and obstacles in her way is seemingly endless. I love it, every time you think she’s on a roll and things are going to start going her way, a problem that the reader should’ve seen coming (but almost never does) shows up to derail things again. Sure, eventually, that comes to an end — the book doesn’t go on forever — but not until Howe’s good and ready for it to end. She’s probably getting a new kitchen constructed to hurl at Thea in the next book.

There’s a great mix of action and intrigue, putting clues together and smacking heads, emotional growth and uncovering the past. Like it’s protagonist, The Freedom Broker isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done well. Sign me up for the upcoming sequel, too.

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3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Meddling Kids (Audiobook) by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs and 53 mins
Random House Audio, 2017

Read: October 27 – November 11. 2017


Going to be brief here, this is one of those books that’s all about the concept, if it’s up your alley, you’ll like the book.

The Blyton Summer Detective Club was a group of kids who met up on school breaks in a small Oregon town from their various homes/schools who solved mysteries à la the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and most importantly, Scooby and the gang. Time after time, they’d uncover the solution to a mystery plaguing the community — usually resulting in finding a man in a rubber suit, explaining everything. Meddling Kids asks the question: what if the solution to the mystery wasn’t (just) a man in a rubber suit? What if the kids stumbled on to something actually mystical, real monsters, etc.?

Following their last case, the gang’s lives went in separate ways — mostly downhill. Incarceration, mental health treatment, academic struggles, addiction, and so on. Finally, more than a decade later, the Detective Club reunites to return to the scene of their last triumph to see just what they missed (or suppressed).

Cantero’s execution of this premise was spot-on, early on he left the satirical component/pop culture commentary behind (pretty much), and just told the story, using that as a foundation. Really not much more to say then that.

Kyla Garcia’s narration was pretty good. A time or two I had a little trouble following it, but I think that’s reflective of the text — which doesn’t seem like the easiest to translate to this medium (not a slight on Cantero or Garcia’s talents there). On the whole, though, she did a fine job bringing this book to life and I’d enjoy hearing another book she narrated.

An entertaining celebration of the genre, a rousing adventure, and a pretty creepy story. Pretty much all you could ask for.

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3 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 11/11/17

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 Midnight Line by Lee Child — In the wake of Make Me (which still gives me the heebie jeebies), Reacher goes on a hunt to indulge his curiosity (and we all know he’s going to end up doing a lot more)
  • Communication Failure by Joe Zieja — this funny follow-up to last year’s Mechanical Failure will get you laughing at the brink of Interplanetary War. It’s great, as I discussed here.
  • Bonfire by Krysten Ritter — Ritter’s first novel is a suspenseful, solid read. Here’s what I wrote about it last month.
  • The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt — another comedic space opera this week — sounds like a pretty good trend.
  • A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford — it’s a cute premise, and different enough from the typical UF that it looks worth a try.
  • A Burdizzo For A Prince by Mark Rapacz — J. J.’s a hitman on the run from his former colleagues after he dishes out some justice on the boss’ son. Look up the word “Burdizzo” and you’ll get an idea why J. J. probably doesn’t want anyone to catch him.
  • Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner — It’s Matthew Weiner, what else needs to be said?