Exit Music by Ian Rankin: Rebus has one more shot at Big Ger before he retires

I got off-track with these books when I took my trip out of state for my son’s transplant (I was due to go to the library to pick this up the day we got the call), and it took me a bit to get back on top of things. I’m so, so glad I was able to return to this world. I missed it.

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #17

Hardcover, 421 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2007
Read: October 17 – 18, 2018

Before I get into this, last week my son was playing some EASports game — FIFA something, I think. Anyway, I notice that he’s playing Hiberian, and my first thought is, “Hey, that’s Siobhan’s team.” That’s a sign that I’m probably reading too many Rebus novels, right? Anyway, on with this post…

           “No sign of any abandoned cars in the multistory?”

“Good point, Shiv, I’ll have someone check. Talk to you later.” The phone went dead, and she managed a little smile, hadn’t heard Rebus so fired up in several months. Not for the first time, she wondered what the hell he would do with himself when the work was done.

Answer: bug her, most likely–phone calls daily, wanting to know everything about her caseload.

I think many readers, like DS Clarke, have wondered just what Rebus will do after retirement — which is looming as this book begins. Actually, it’s more than looming — it’s 10 days away. Ten days of Rebus trying to squeeze in any last-second mentoring he can, ten days of him trying to get Clarke invested in cold cases he can’t let go of, ten days of Rebus trying to stay relevant, active . . . ten days of John Rebus trying to remain John Rebus.

John Rebus has no family left, few friends, only a handful of colleagues that trust him, no plans for retirement at all. He’s going to have to come up with something, he knows, but he can’t really contemplate that reality, much less plan for it.

But first, there’s a murder — a man without any identification on him has been found by a few pedestrians out for a late-night walk, apparently beaten to death. A literately-inclined morgue worker recognized him as a Russian exile and poet of note. Plunging Rebus and Clarke (named to lead the investigation, only because of Rebus’ impending retirement *wink*) into an investigation with international implications.

Funnily enough, a contingent of Russian businessmen is in Edinburgh looking for investment opportunities, all of which are welcomed and encouraged by members of Scottish Parliament — especially by those MSPs seeking independence. None of the MSPs have any interest in their Russian friends being hassled by detectives over a pesky little thing by murder. Even if the victim was drinking in the hotel they were staying at shortly before the murder.

But once Di Rebus finds not only a link between the victim and their hotel bar, but a link between the poet and Gerald Cafferty, and links between Cafferty and the Russian delegation? All bets are off. The clock is ticking on his career — and the ticking is getting really loud — but here’s Cafferty with some sort of connection to a murder victim? There’s no way that John Rebus can let this go (not that Siobhan Clarke is that interested in letting this opportunity pass by, either).

The investigation isn’t making too much progress, but maybe is getting far enough, when someone else connected to the case is killed. And the investigation looks like it’s dealing with a web of drugs, prostitution, blackmail, international interests, politics, a large national bank a poet, and Cafferty. Which would be a lot to deal with even without Rebus’ deadline.

While preparing for Rebus’ departure, Clarke takes a uniformed PC under her wing — he has talent and ambition — he was one of the two initial officers at the site of the original murder and wants to be a detective soon. Clarke brings him along with her to many interviews and visits to various places in the investigation, as him run errands and even do some of the grunt work (scouring through hours of audio recordings that may or may not hold relevant information). He’s an interesting character — he adds some emotional weight to some scenes, and comic relief in others.

It’s possible that Rebus is at his most introspective in these pages — he knows his career is finished and that in no time at all he’ll be forgotten by just about everyone. What’s been the point of it all?

           Outside in the car park he unlocked his Saab, but then stood there, hand on the door handle, staring into space. For a while now, he’d known the truth–that it wasn’t so much the underworld you had to fear as the overworld. Maybe that explained why Cafferty had, to all purposes and appearances, gone legit. A few friends in the right places and deals got done, fates decided. Never in his life had Rebus felt like an insider. From time to time he’d tried–during his years in the army and his first few months as a cop. But the less he felt he belonged, the more he came to mistrust the others around him with their games of golf and their “quiet words,” their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm greasing and scratching of backs.

Still, he perseveres, he gets into hot water with his superiors, with Clarke, with government officials, and — of course — Cafferty. In the end, despite the large number of detectives eventually working on the murders, Rebus is the only one to focus on the important facts (it helps that he’s not worried about what happens after the arrest, like everyone else is) and makes the important conclusions so that the cases can be closed in time for him to leave the force. It’s really a nice bit of storytelling by Rankin here, and I’d be very happy reading it even without all the hubbub around Rebus’ retirement. And then Rankin ends it with a jaw-dropping final chapter and a last line that just about floored me.

I’m so glad that I’m discovering these books now — when I know that there’s a future for Rebus (even if I’m not really sure what it is, but there are 5 books to come, at least). It can’t have been easy for Rebus fans to close this book not knowing what Rankin was going to do next.

At the same time, this remains a decent entry-book — like every other book in this series. Sure, you get more of the emotional weight if you’ve been reading about the DI for several books, but Rankin writes them in a way that the weight can be seen regardless.

I think if this were any other Rebus book, I’d rate it 4 stars for the case work, the internal squabbles with the hierarchy and the politics — but when you add in Rebus counting down the last ten days of his career, the hope of this case leading him to one more shot at Cafferty, the reflections on what he’s done and why he’s done it and what it cost . . . essentially, all the intangible things, the parts of a novel that are hard to pin down, much less describe. All that combined with a strong story, some excellent non-Rebus/Clarke/Cafferty character development (not that theirs isn’t strong as usual, but this is a new characters) — and it’s easy. Rebus retires with a 5.

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne: A Mix of Common Sense, Cynicism, Self-Aggrandizement, Clever Writing, and a Great Narrator

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 17 min.
HarperAudio, 2016

Read: October 1, 2018

I’d seen this book around, and let my eyes slide right off given the title. Clearly, it wasn’t for me. Then a couple of months ago, I heard it referenced in a couple of podcast interviews (no, I don’t remember who talked about it — but at least one of them said something thoughtful about it) and my cubicle-mate listened to it at the same time and seemed to enjoy it. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, really.

I’m also glad that HarperCollins’ website gives such a thorough blurb about the book, which will save me so much time — so let’s take a moment to read what they said:

           In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

Sure, some of that is overblown — its point is to sell you the book, right? But, by and large, that’s a good summary of the book’s highlights. Manson’s point isn’t to stop giving a f*ck period, it’s to give fewer f*cks in general and to make sure the f*cks you give are for the right/important stuff in life. That’s pretty basic, but pretty easily ignored advice: everything seems important, but not everything is. Focus on the important stuff, care about that, and let the rest go — if it works out, great. I’m not sure if this is different from Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — but it probably has more laughs and profanity.

Manson is entirely too impressed with himself (or at least he comes across that way), and he never convinces me that there’s a reason to heed his advice over anyone else’s. But on the whole, what he says makes a lot of sense. Do I think that ultimately, this is all a house of cards that won’t stand intense scrutiny? Yup. But I think that of every bit of man-made advice — Manson’s is more amusingly delivered than most, and won’t get the devotee into too much trouble if they apply this recklessly.

Roger Wayne’s narration elevates the entire thing — there’s not a moment that I don’t confuse his voice for Manson’s. It felt like I was attending one of the most intense self-help seminars in history and that Manson got going and just wouldn’t stop (not that anyone tried to make him). Wayne added voices (his Disappointment Panda voice is the best character I’ve heard in an audiobook since Luke Daniel’s take on Hearne’s Oberon), flair and a sense of passion to the text. When Manson approached poignancy, Wayne made it all the more so. Fantastic work.

I’d probably give this 3-stars if I’d read the text — amusing, thought-provoking, with some good advice. But, you add in Wayne’s narration? I’ve got to bump it up to 4. Seriously, he’s just that good. This isn’t a book for everyone (I know several readers of this blog that should avoid it just for the language), but for those who are capable of sorting out the wheat from the chaff — this is a fun and potentially helpful read.

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Trouble Never Sleeps by Stephanie Tromly: Tromly (and Digby & Zoe) saved the best for last.

Trouble Never SleepsTrouble Never Sleeps

by Stephanie Tromly
Series: Trouble, #3

Hardcover, 299 pg.
Kathy Dawson Books, 2018
Read: September 17, 2018

This picks up right on the heels of Trouble Makes a Comeback leaving Zoe and Digby (and their friends) to deal with the social fallout of the events of that party. Then and only then can they start to decide how they’re going to deal with the deal Digby was offered: steal some top-secret research data in exchange for information on his sister’s whereabouts. Sure, it’s technically treason and will likely end up destroying Digby’s life as well as the lives of Felix’s family.

Meanwhile, there’s a complication to the caper in the last book — Zoe left something tied to her in the evidence collected by the police. The repercussions of that caper are also in danger of hurting some of the students they set out to save.

Both stories are good uses of the characters, and were strong stories on their own. While I have enjoyed Digby’s schemes and how they work out (or how they almost do), but I had a hard time swallowing his plan (or how it was carried out) for the non-high school caper. By the way, it took several tries to stay away from spoilers in that sentence. However, once I decided to not care about how outlandish it all was, I enjoyed reading it.

The key to this book — series, really — are in the characters and their interactions. Not just Zoe and Digby (but nothing’s more important, or better, than that), but Zoe and her mom, Zoe and her friends/frenemies/enemies at school, and Digby’s strange interactions with everybody. I don’t know if Tromly hit that better this time, or just as well has she had before — either way, the dialogue sings and you believe it. These relationships are complicated and real and they make the books come alive.

I should probably add that the reason I didn’t listen to the audiobook (unlike the last two) is because my library didn’t have a copy, unlike the last two. It’s not a reflection on Kathleen McInerney’s work — it was good for me to see that it was Tromly’s words and not just McInerney’s great narration that hooked me, though.

It’s hard to talk about this book in any kind of depth without spoiling book 2 and ruining things here. So I’ll stop now. It’s a fun adventure, with laughs, tension, and all the warm fuzzies you could ask for.

The trilogy started off strong, stumbled a bit and then more than recovered with this one. It’s the strongest of the series easily — and sticks the landing (which I worried about, not because I didn’t think Tromly could do it, it’s just easy to miss). I’m going to miss Zoe and Digby. I’m so glad that I found this series this year — it’s been a blast to listen to and read. Great characters, strong character arcs over the trilogy, a good overall story, with some great smaller stories in the individual books. This series is going down as one of my favorite YA series ever.

—–

4 1/2 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook) by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur: A close-up look at the Cartoonist and His Creation

I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to get this header to look decent — and I give up. It’s just going to look awkward given the length of the title.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook)Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip

by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 9 min.
ListenUp Production, 2014
Read: September 25 – 27, 2018
Nevin Martell, like just about everyone who ever read him, is a Calvin and Hobbes fan — what’s more, he discovered the strip at the right age and was able to appreciate it as only a child can — without being self-conscious about reading a comic strip and with devotion. Years later, when trying to write something more meaningful to him than another book about a pop star, he decides to write about that strip and its reclusive creator.

The reclusive part of that sentence is the key — Watterson had (and has) pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as your typical person is concerned. A few select friends, business acquaintances and family members can get in touch with him, but no one else can. This isn’t crippling to a book about his comic strips or himself, but it sure hampers it (especially because those people who can get in touch with him are just about as reticent as he is to talk about him or his work). Unencumbered by access to Watterson himself, and his perspective on his life and career was like, what his influences were, what made him make the creative decisions, etc. Martell dove into research — things written about and by Watterson, archives of his previous work (when and where available) and interviews with colleagues, editors and the like.

In the kind of detail only a scholar or a fan can appreciate, Martell describes Watteron’s childhood, college, and pre-Calvin and Hobbes career; then he discusses that comic strip — major themes — and its publishing history; Watterson’s battle to keep control of the strip, its merchandising/licensing; then he describes Watterson’s retirement. As much of that as he can, which isn’t much. Following that, Martell focuses on things like the impact of Watterson on the industry, his relationships with other cartoonists and is influence on those who followed.

I wish he’d given us more (and maybe he gave us all he could, but I don’t think so) from Watterson’s contemporaries/those he influenced in the field of comics (or related fields — he spoke with a novelist and Dave Barry, too). Martell spoke to many and gave us a lot of what he was told — but I’d have appreciated more coming from professionals about Watterson’s strengths, technique, stories — whatever. Sure, it might have gotten a little redundant, but something tells me that it wouldn’t have been too bad. These were my favorite parts of the book, and I could’ve listened to another hour of them easily.

I’m not convinced that I was ever as invested in Martell’s journey as he seemed to think his readers would (should?) be — and I’m okay with that. I know I tend to overshare here a tad myself — so I understand the impulse. Or maybe I’m just callous, and everyone else got into it.

As far as Arthur’s work narrating — there’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a work of fiction where he can play with characters, pacing, and whatnot. It’s a straightforward text and he does a capable job of reading it in a straightforward manner. I did have to remind myself a couple of times that I was listening to someone Martell’s words rather than listening to him — which I guess is a good thing.

It was a pleasant book, nothing too challenging — and it reinvigorated an impulse to go read a collection or two of Watterson again on my part (and some of Larson’s The Far Side, too — I’m sure there’s an interesting book to be written there, too). It’s not a must-read, but it’ll scratch an itch for those who have an interest in the subject.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Sinners by Ace Atkins: Atkins’ take on the Dukes of Hazzard(??) is another stellar installment in the Quinn Colson series.

The SinnersThe Sinners

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #8


Hardcover, 365 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018

Read: September 4 -5, 2018

They sat there in silence for a bit, enjoying the warm breeze, the empty, quite sounds of the hot wind through the trees. He and Boom could be together for a long while without saying a damn word, same as it had been hunting and fishing when they were kids. They didn’t feel the need to fill that silence with: bunch of empty-headed talk.

“This place is a lot different from when you got back,” Boom said.

“People in town said for me to burn the house down,” Quinn said.

“Took us two days just to clear out your uncle’s trash,“ Boom said. “Nothing good in here but some old records and guns.”

“And a suede coat and a bottle of Fine bourbon from Johnny Stagg.”

Boom nodded, silent again for a while. Quinn drank his beer watching Hondo, now just a flitting dark speck among the cows as he worked them a little, letting them know who was in charge. Nearly ten years Quinn’d been back and he wasn’t sure he’d made a damn bit of difference.

On the one hand, it’s easy to argue that with Quinn — even just one of the seven preceding novels would tell you that. But, it’s easy to see where he’d get to thinking that way — Tibbehah County is a very much poster child for The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same Club. The Sinners is full of nice little moments like this — quiet, reflective moments with Quinn and Boom, Quinn and Lilly, Quinn and Maggie. While it’d be easy (and understandable) to focus on the storylines featuring the Pritchards or Boom Kimbrough — the heart of this novel is in these moments. You want to know what Quinn Colson, or this series is about? Focus on these conversations, the quiet in the midst of the storms.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the storms.

The first story (not in the book, but here) focuses on Boom Kimbrough, Quinn’s oldest friend. Unwelcome at his old job keeping the Sheriff Department’s vehicles running (among other things), thanks to the county supervisor we met in last year’s The Fallen, Boom’s moved on to doing some interstate trucking. Convinced (wrongly?) that a black man with one arm isn’t going to be hired by anyone else, he’s stuck with one particular company. And once he becomes suspicious about the cargo he’s sometimes carrying, he’s ready to quit — but despondent and frustrated about what he’ll do as an alternative. His boss doesn’t want him to leave — and uses a couple of tough looking employees to convey that to Boom (Boom’s not the only one they’ll threaten — Fannie Hathcock is also a target). Clearly, they don’t know enough about Boom, and before you know it, Quinn is informed about it all. Which brings in FBI agent, Nat Wilkins (more about her in a second). Things get hairy from there. This is the secondary story — and gets that kind of space — but it’s really the more interesting of the two major plots, mostly because it’s what forces Fannie and the Dixie Mafia toughs to get involved in the other story.

The major plotline involves the anti-Bo and Luke Duke. Tyler and Cody Pritchard are a couple of good ol’ boys concerned with racing their stock car, women, and growing/selling the best weed in The South. Things are going fine for them, by and large: they race, they grow and sell, which funds the racing, enabling them to attract women. Sure, they’ve double-crossed Fannie a bit, but that’s really nothing major. Until their Uncle Heath gets out of prison after doing 25 for his part in laying the groundwork of their marijuana growing. Heath, too, is an anti-Duke. He got caught, for one, and he’s not in the habit of keeping his nephews out of trouble, in fact, he makes things worse for them and spurs them into bigger and worse crimes than they’d been accustomed to.

Now, long time readers will have done the math here — Heath did 25 years, Quinn’s been around for almost 10, having taken over for . . . that’s right, his Uncle, Hamp Beckett. Hamp and Heath apparently were quite the cat and mouse for a while (Hamp perhaps being spurred on by his “Boss Hogg,” Johnny Stagg — I swear I’m done with the Dukes now) until he finally got the goods on Heath and sent him away. That story kicks off this book and is a great way to open. To say that Heath has got a chip on his shoulder toward Hamp and his nephew would be understating things a wee bit.

So we’ve got Heath dragging his nephews into bigger and badder felonies, making them targets for the Dixie Mafia, who are having troubles with things at Fannie’s, and one of their transportation venues is being scrutinized thanks to Boom. Oh, yeah, and Quinn and Maggie are a couple of weeks away from tying the knot and Quinn’s mother is becoming a pest about the ceremony and reception. It’s set to be a good time in Tibbehah.

This is told with Atkins’ typical skill, eye for detail, good timing and atmosphere. It’s hard to find something new to comment on. One thing I really appreciated was how clever he had Quinn act when it came to putting the pieces together. We’re all accustomed (especially in film or television) for the police to be close to figuring things out, but needing a vital piece of information from an unconscious, unavailable, or non-communicative witness until the last second. By the time the unconscious witness woke up and started providing the clues and identities needed to put anyone away for their crimes, Quinn had already sussed it out and was in the middle of making the necessary moves. One more Hazzard reference, I lied, get over it — Quinn is very much the anti-Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

I spent so much time feeling bad for Tyler and Cody — they aren’t characters I’d typically like. There’s little to commend them — they’re not that bright, not that talented, not that nice, I can’t imagine why any woman would want to spend time with them (not that we have proof that any do), and seem destined to lead quiet little lives of no consequence. But once their uncle forces them into things, I just wanted them to find a way back to their petty little pot farm.

I spent more than a little time worried for Fannie, too. She’s as despicable as they come, too, but as characters go, I like having her around. The way she’s treated by her superiors shows how tentative her situation is — and Quinn could be facing someone worse than her or Stagg pretty soon.

Speaking of worries — I spent most of the novel very concerned about the heath, well-being and longevity of a character that’s been around since The Ranger. I don’t think for a second that Atkins feels the need to keep any one of these characters alive. Frankly, it’s be easy to make the Quinn Colson novels the Tibbehah County Chronicles or the Lilly Virgil novels — no one is safe, including Quinn. Making it very easy for me to spend a lot of time worried about someone I like. Obviously, I won’t tell you how right I was on that front — but I wasn’t wrong.

Naturally, Atkins gets the characters right. You know from the beginning how worthless Heath Pritchard is, how nasty the Dixie Mafia toughs are, how lame the Pritchard boys would be without prodding (lame, but amusing). We meet new federal officer here — Agent Nat Wilkins. I’m glad that Quinn isn’t wholly dependent on the DEA Agent (whose name escapes me for the moment) for outside support anymore. But more than that, I’m glad that Wilkins is who we get to see in this role. She’s brash, she’s smart, she’s fun — she really isn’t like any Law Enforcement type we’ve met in this series to date. I’m sure we’ll see her again, hopefully soon. I’m not saying I need to see her next year, but if I don’t see her again by 2020, Atkins can expect me to lead an online riot.

It was good to spend time back in this troubled county, checking in with our old friends and some new ones (I’m really liking Maggie, and hope she sticks around). As much as I enjoyed Atkins’, Old Black Magic, I think this is his better work this year. As satisfied as I was with the story, I’m already impatiently waiting for the next installment — between how much I liked The Sinners and the way that Fannie’s last line promised to make the next book a doozy, it can’t come soon enough.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

My Lady Jane (Audiobook) Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren: This YA Romance/Alt-History/Fantasy is simply delightful

My Lady JaneMy Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren (Narrator)
Series: The Lady Janies, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 47 min.
HarperAudio, 2016
Read: July 2 – 5, 2016

           You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete strange (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.

Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)

We have a different tale to tell.

Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.

This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.

So begins the Prologue to this wonderfully fun book. It’s that second paragraph — but specifically the parenthetical sentence — that locked in my appreciation for the book. Thankfully, it continued to be as good as that paragraph, but I was going to be a fan of anything that happened from that point on.

The advantage you have with historical figures that no one knows anything about, is historical novelists — particularly those who like to play with their history — can do pretty much what they want. Lady Jane Grey is probably the English monarch that people know the least about (if they know about her at all) making her perfect fodder for this story.

This is one of those books that I can’t figure out how to summarize, so I’m just going to steal the publisher’s blurb, as much as I hate doing that, but my attempts have a mess, and theirs worked:

           In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind YA fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

The characters are wonderful — no one’s perfectly good, or perfectly evil (although there are a few that come close in both directions). The authors keep things moving well, never letting the story detract from the characters, or one part of the narrative take over (there’s plenty of action, romance, friendship, espionage for everyone). Yes there’s magic, yes there’s comedy, but there’s also a lot of heart — a lot of joyful storytelling. This has it all. I really can’t point to a favorite bit, or favorite theme or anything. This is just one of those books I enjoyed all of.

Inside this novel is a love letter to books — and Jane is the representative book lover par excellence (though she could like poetry and novels a bit more) — there’s a treasure trove of quotations about reading, books, and related topics in these pages. All of them delightful.

The novel is clearly clever, witty, with a lot of heart, etc., but what sealed the deal for me was Katherine Kelgren’s outstanding performance. I would’ve enjoyed the novel pretty much no matter who wrote it (I’m not sure Scott Brick or Dick Hill could’ve pulled if off, but you never know), but Kelgren absolutely sold it. Her accent work was outstanding, the life and verve she brought to the project just wowed me.

I’m blathering on, I realize — yet I’m not sure I’ve actually said anything. Bah — just grab the book or audiobook. I don’t care if you’re YA or just A, if you like romance or not, male or female — if you like a fun story that’s well told and never takes itself too seriously (but never makes a joke out of anything important), read it. You’ll have a blast.

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Planet Funny by Ken Jennings: Chortling Towards Bethlehem? or We Are Amusing Ourselves to Death

Planet FunnyPlanet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Scribner, 2018
Read: June 21 – July 6, 2018
This is going to be much shorter — and much more vague –than it should have been, because I was in a rush to get out the door on the day I took this back to the library and therefore forgot to take my notes out of the book. Which is a crying shame because I can’t cite some of my favorite lines (on the other hand, I don’t have to pick from my favorites). I’m actually pretty annoyed with myself because of this — I spent time on those notes.

I’m going to try to save a little time here and just copy the Publisher’s synopsis:

           From the brilliantly witty and exuberant New York Times bestselling author Ken Jennings, a history of humor—from fart jokes on clay Sumerian tablets all the way up to the latest Twitter gags and Facebook memes—that tells the story of how comedy came to rule the modern world.

For millennia of human history, the future belonged to the strong. To the parent who could kill the most animals with sticks and to the child who could survive the winter or the epidemic. When the Industrial Revolution came, masters of business efficiency prospered instead, and after that we placed our hope in scientific visionaries. Today, in a clear sign of evolution totally sliding off the rails, our most coveted trait is not strength or productivity or even innovation, but being funny. Yes, funniness.

Consider: presidential candidates now have to prepare funny “zingers” for debates. Newspaper headlines and church marquees, once fairly staid affairs, must now be “clever,” stuffed with puns and winks. Airline safety tutorials—those terrifying laminated cards about the possibilities of fire, explosion, depressurization, and drowning—have been replaced by joke-filled videos with multimillion-dollar budgets and dance routines.

In Planet Funny, Ken Jennings explores this brave new comedic world and what it means—or doesn’t—to be funny in it now. Tracing the evolution of humor from the caveman days to the bawdy middle-class antics of Chaucer to Monty Python’s game-changing silliness to the fast-paced meta-humor of The Simpsons, Jennings explains how we built our humor-saturated modern age, where lots of us get our news from comedy shows and a comic figure can even be elected President of the United States purely on showmanship. Entertaining, astounding, and completely head-scratching, Planet Funny is a full taxonomy of what spawned and defines the modern sense of humor.

In short, Jennings is writing about the way that humor — the entertainment culture in general, really, but largely through humor — has taken over the cultural discourse in this country, so much so that you can’t make a serious point about anything anymore without injecting a smile or a laugh. This could be subtitled, Neil Postman was right. Jennings looks at this phenomenon through a historical lens (mostly over the last century) and a contemporary lens — analyzing and commenting on both.

The initial chapters on defining humor, the history of humor and academic humor studies are probably the best part of the book — not just because of their scope and subject matter, but because how Jennings is able to be amusing and insightful while informing. (although the amusing part is problematic given the thesis of the book). I enjoyed learning about the use of humor in the 20th Century — who doesn’t associate the two? I don’t remember a time when the best advertisements/commercials weren’t the funniest (other than things like the crying Native American anti-litter AdCouncil stuff). But there was actually a time when that was looked down on? Who knew?

I also particularly liked the history of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and then pivoting that into a look on the way even entertainment changed in the last few decades because of the funny-ification of all things. Jennings gives a pretty decent defense of Alanis’ “Ironic” (while enjoying a few shots at it, too) — and the ensuing discussion of Irony the cultural waves embracing and shying away from Irony, Enjoying things Ironically, and a need for sincerity was excellent.

Politics, obviously, has fallen prey to this comedy-take over as well. From Nixon shocking everyone by showing up on Laugh-In to Clinton (pre-presidential candidate) on The Tonight Show to then-candidate on The Arsenio Hall show to every political player doing Late Night shows. Obama appearing on Maron’s podcast and Between Two Ferns (crediting that appearance with saving ObamaCare?) and onto the entire Trump campaign. At this point, the book got derailed — I think — by getting too political. If Jennings had kept it to Trump’s embracing/exploiting the comedy takeover, I probably would have enjoyed it — but he spent too much on Trump’s politics (while having ignored Nixon’s, Clinton’s, Obama’s), enough to turn off even Never-Trump types.

I’m pretty sure that the book was almost complete about the time that Louis CK’s career was felled by allegations of sexual misconduct — which is a shame, because Jennings had to go back and water-down a lot of insightful comments from Louis CK by saying something about the allegations while quoting the comedian. At the same time, it’s good that the book wasn’t completed and/or released without the chance to distance the man from the points used — otherwise I think Jennings would’ve had to spend too much time defending the use of those quotations.

I think Jennings lost his way in the last chapter and a half or so — and I lost a lot of my appreciation for the book as a whole at that point. On the whole, it’s insightful writing, peppered with a good amount of analysis, research, interviews, and laughs — outside of his weekly trivia newsletters, I haven’t read Jennings and he really impressed me here. In short, it’s a fun book, a thought-provoking book, and one that should get more attention and discussion than it is. I may quibble a bit with some of the details, but I think on the whole Jennings is on to something here — and I fear that it’s something that not enough people are going to take seriously until it’s too late.

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3.5 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge