Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Reads, 1



I finished several books over the holiday break. My reviews are over on Revish; follow the links below.

The first is The Adventures of Long Tail by Nan Schroeder.This is a juvi story about a family of cats. It is a pretty good story and the first I've read for young people that gives us a bit of "nature, red in tooth and claw." Beatrix Potter it isn't.

The next is John Halsted's first b ook, Legend of the Last Vikings: Taklamakan. It is a cracking good story set at the end of the Viking era. Viking comrades go A-Viking one last time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In The Woods

In the Woods on Amazon

In the Woods on Audible

Tana French, 2007



This was a listen rather than a read and I downloaded it to my iPod from Audible. It is published by Penguin Audiobooks and the narrator is Steven Crossley on both the Audible download and the Penguin CD version. Crossley is an excellent narrator and I will look for his name when selecting other Audible downloads.

Pre-Spoiler Basics
Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are partners and detectives on the murder squad in Dublin, Ireland. They are both considered rookies and Cassie is the only woman. The story is a police procedural told in first person by Rob. Rob and Cassie have an intensely personal but not romantic friendship.

One day they are the only ones in the office when a call comes in that a body has been found at an archaeological dig in Knocknaree, a suburb of Dublin. This is their first major case.

A complication is introduced early when we learn that Rob - then called Adam - was living in Knocknaree twenty years previously when his two best friends disappeared in the woods while the three were playing. Rob was found bloodied and unable to remember anything that happened. The disappearance of his friends was never solved.

The dead person is twelve year old Katie Devlin. She has been found on a ancient Druid alter stone adjacent to the woods where Rob's friends disappeared. Rob is still deeply scared by the events of his childhood but keeps the information from his superior in order to remain on the case. He wants to know if the two events are related.

Readers of police procedurals will appreciate the thoroughness of their investigation as they check out the family, look for pedophiles, and consider the possibility of a Satanic cult. They are frustrated by the lack of evidence and the investigation is in danger of stalling.

As the frustrations of investigation mount, Rob has an increasingly more difficult time dealing with his childhood trauma.

I mostly enjoyed this book and would recommend it. I had my headphones on nearly every free moment until I finished it. French is a talented writer who gets the reader/listener involved in the story and characters. Potential readers be aware that reviewers on Amazon and Audible seem to fall into two camps: love it, it one of the best books they have read; hate it or very frustrated by it. I fall into the frustrated camp. See my comments below.

She has a second book in the works featuring Cassie and I look forward to reading it.

Spoiler Discussion

I really enjoyed about 75% of In the Woods but thought that it started to lose cohesiveness toward the end. From reading reviews on Amazon and Audible I'm not alone.

My first annoyance occurred early and seems like a clumsy plot contrivance. During the autopsy, the medical examiner describes how Katie was molested with a round wooden object that had some charring. Shortly thereafter, Rob and Cassie are back at the archaeological site and Rob hears, but doesn't react to hearing, one of the dig workers complain that his trowel is missing. Do you think this might have been a clue? The body is found at an archaeological dig. The workers use trowels. The trowles have wooden handles. Katie was molested by a rounded wooden object. I figured out what was used when the medical examiner described how she was molested. Having Rob not respond to hearing that a tool is missing from the dig is not essential to the story and could have been introduced elsewhere. As it is the reader is left wondering why a trained detective with an excellent close rate ignores such an important detail. Also, though Katie is found at an archaeological dig, they don't bother to search any of the buildings at the dig.

Second annoyance. A large part of the book deals with Rob's trauma from 20 years ago and the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of his two friends. This goes exactly nowhere. The story ends with no resolution or even hint of resolution. I realize that the author is saying that we can't always expect answers. It still feels like she broke faith with the readers who have invested a lot of emotional involvement in this plot element. This is the major complaint in Amazon reviews.

Third annoyance. Rob also spends considerable time describing his relationship with Cassie. They are very close and act as one on investigations. Though they are not romantically involved, Rob frequently sleeps over at Cassie's apartment. I found myself envious of the depth of their friendship. One night, tortured by his attempts to recall the events of twenty years ago, Rob ends up at Cassie's place and they have sex. The next morning Rob realizes what they have done and shuts Cassie out, immediately and completely, no discussion. He is cold, distant, and hostile and opens a rift between them that can't be closed. We get that Rob is a mess from his childhood trauma but that he could so quickly and completely shut Cassie out in spite of their years together just didn't sit right with me. I figure that French wanted to shock the reader by having Rob turn on someone he cared so much for thus showing us how deeply disturbed he is. It annoyed me.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Arthritis Handbook


The Arthritis Handbook: The Essential Guide to a Pain-Free, Drug-Free Life on Amazon
Dr. grant Cooper, 2007

Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book as one of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. I just posted my review there. Take a look.

This is the first health type book that I've read it has made an impression on me. It isn't just for geezers as it is as much about preventing the onset of arthritis as it is dealing with the effects. I really do wish that I had read it 40 years ago so that I could be reaping the benefits now.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

An Ice Cold Grave



An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly Mysteries, Book 3)on Amazon.com
Charlaine Harris, 2007

I posted a review of this book over on Revish and I would like to push some business their way. Read the review by clicking here.

Bad Monkeys


Bad Monkeys on Amazon.com
Matt Ruff, 2007

Highly recommended.

As a librarian I'm not sure I should admit this, but I picked up Bad Monkeys entirely because of the cover. Talk about leaping out at you from the shelf, the publishers not only gave it a bright yellow, vinyl cover but made it nine and a half inches high by five inches wide. That's an image of a mandrill monkey you see on the front cover, though at first I took it for a Rorschach ink blot.

Bad Monkeys has one of my favorite thriller themes, the super secret organization. Jane Charlotte is a member of an organization dedicated to fighting evil. It isn't part of any government, has no fixed location, and is only known as "the organization." The departments within the organization have long and convoluted names. Jane works for the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, nicknamed Bad Monkeys. The intelligence gathering group is The Department of Ubiquitous Intermittent Surveillance otherwise known as Panopticon.

What's a secret organization fighting evil without an equally secret adversary? the organization is opposed by Mandrill, a group that believes in evil for the sake of evil.

As the book opens, Jane has been arrested for murder and is undergoing an interview to determine her sanity. She told the detectives that arrested her that she is in a secret crime-fighting organization, something not likely to accepted by law enforcement. The verbal sparing between Jane and Dr. Vale is well written and interesting. The present day interview is interspersed with flashbacks as Jane describes her bad girl youth, recruitment into the organization, and the events that led to her capture. Is she really an operative or is she nuts?

The capabilities of the organization are more in the realm of science fiction and I imagine Homeland security would like to have some of their gadgets. Panopticon (see above) not only knows what you read but how often reread certain passages and if you laughed inappropriately (like the Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah). They literally see and hear everything. That Marlene Dietrich poster above your bed, yep the eyes see what you do. Jane relates a time when she was questioned by Dixon from Malfeasance, the Panopticon subdivision that investigates operatives. They are discussing The Delta of Venus, a copy of which Jane stole when she was twelve.

"It's curious sort of literature, though, isn't it?" Dixon said."for example, the third story in the book - the one entitled `The Boarding School' - concerns a young student at a monastery who is ogled by priests and sexually violated by his classmates ... This is what you consider wholesome erotic entertainment?"
"I don't remember that story."
"Don't you? I'd have thought it was a favorite. According to my records, you read it nineteen times while the book was in your possession."
"According to your records?"
"Library Binding."
Bad Monkeys is a good read if you are partial to this genre as I am. It is well paced and I had a difficult time not finishing it in one sitting. The concepts are intriguing and the action sequences well done. Ruff successfully keeps the reader wondering about Jane through to the end.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Portugese Irregular Verbs


Portuguese Irregular Verbs on Amazon.com
Alexander McCall Smith, 128 pages, 2003

Recommended as a nice, light read.

A friend issued a challenge regarding this book. In Blogging for a Good Book she wrote

I am going to recommend a book that I have never, ever, ever been able to get anyone to read.
J_ can now say that one person (besides her mother) has read this book on her recommendation. It is, as she promised, a humorous spoof of pompous academics and I quite enjoyed it.

Alexander McCall Smith is a professor of medical law in Scotland so he is entitled to make fun of academics. He arrived on the popular literary scene with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency set in Botswana, Africa where he was once a law professor.

I also rather like the hedgehog on the cover. It relates to the name of the main character of the book, Professor Dr. Moritz-Marie von Igelfeld. Igel is German for hedgehog and a hedgehog is on his family coat of arms. I personally tend to relate hedgehogs to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. If you haven't read any of these books then looking up the hedgehog reference will make you either recoil in horror or send you to the library to find them.

Portuguese Irregular Verbs is the first in the Professor von Ingelfeld series and consists of eight loosely related stories featuring von Igelfeld and occasionally his colleagues, professors Prinzel, and Unterholzer .

von Igelfeld is a professor at the Institute of Romance Philology and author of Portuguese Irregular Verbs
a work of such majesty that it dwarfed all other books in the field ... It had been well received - not that there had ever been the slightest doubt about that - and indeed one reviewer had simply written, `There is nothing more to be said on this subject.
von Igelfeld longs for the recognition that he believes is his due but finds honors and rewards (professional and personal) going to colleagues of lesser stature (in his eyes).

Here are descriptions of three of the stories that I hope will interest you in this series.

In the lead story, The Principles of Tennis, professors von Igelfeld, Prinzel, and Unterholzer, decide to learn tennis. Being academics, they believe that reading the book of rules is sufficient to begin play, much to the amusement of the other guests of the hotel in which they are staying. They eventually give it up as a flawed game. probably due to the book having been written by someone from Cambridge.

Duels, and How to Fight Them, is one of my favorites. von Igelfeld, decides, entirely on outward appearance, that an acquaintance must be a skilled swordsman because he looks like a swordsman, and accepts a duel on his behalf. It does not go well.

Early Irish Pornography is my favorite story. No actual pornography is involved in case someone of a delicate nature is inclined to pick up this book. von Igelfeld is in Ireland assisting Professor Vogelsang who "knows more about past anterior verbs in Early Irish than anyone else in the world." This includes the Irish about whom, von Igelfeld says
Nobody in Ireland knows anything about early Irish. This is a well-established fact.
Part of the amusement in this chapter are the attempts of the ever proper von Igelfeld to come to terms with the casualness of the Irish, particularly in how they address each other.

Vogelsang and von Igelfeld find old Sean who still speaks a version of Early Irish. They knock on his cabin door and are greeted by furious shouting. After several days they have a volume of phonetically recorded Sean's tirades. Later, von Igelfeld notes
'There is some very rare material here,' he said, poring over von Igelfeld's phonetic notations. `Look, that verb over there, which is used only when addressing a pig, which was thought to have disappeared centuries ago.' ...`Everything he says to us is, in fact, obscene. Everything you have recorded here is a swear word of the most vulgar nature. But very old. Very, very old!'
Upon their return to Germany von Igelfeld sets to transcribing his notes. Unfortunately, his landlady happens upon the notes leading to an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Like most of Smith's other works, the von Igelfeld books are a quick read. I didn't time myself, but at 125 pages in length, I don't think it took me much more than an hour to an hour and a half to finish Portuguese Irregular Verbs.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Making Money by Terry Pratchett


Making Money (Discworld Novels)on Amazon.com
Terry Pratchett
2007

I almost didn't include this book in my list of readings because I can't give it five stars. I mean, this is Terry Pratchett we are talking about here. THE Terry Pratchett. Normally reading a Discworld novel is a matter of holding on as you are pulled along. With Making Money, I had to make an effort to finish and even peeked at the last chapter. I won't be offended if someone can tell me that I have it all wrong.

Making Money is a sequel of sorts to Going Postal. Lord Vetinari "offers" Moist van Lipwig the Royal Mint as his next clean-up task after he successfully reformed the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. Making the job interesting are greedy heirs to the banking fortune and the fact that the chairman of the board is a dog, Mr. Fusspot. Moist's fiancee, the chain-smoking Adora Belle Dearheart who runs the Golem Trust, is also a prominent character as are the golems.

Basically, Moist is trying to introduce paper currency and get Ankh-Morpork off the gold standard. This is the bit I found plodding and somewhat akin to reading an economics text. Not as much sardonic humor as one might expect in this book. To be fair, I found myself skimming whole pages so I may have missed some of the subtle humor. There seems to be a lot of filler between the snort-out-loud parts. I found myself hoping that would be more opportunities for Moist and Adora to visit the Unseen University where you do get the weirdness we associate with Discworld (like the squid that appears in the hallway).

Making Money ends with the promise of another adventure for Moist. Having fixed the post office and mint, there is always the tax system to reform.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dexter in the Dark


Dexter in the Dark at Amazon.Com
Jeff Lindsay
2007

Our favorite serial killer - he only kills bad people - and star of his own television series, returns in his third and, for me, least satisfying novel. Lindsay attempts to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger (the force that guides him in his killing) in Stephen King terms. There is an original evil, referred to as IT, that has existed since the primeval ooze started life on earth. It floats around causing horrible things to happen and, incidentally, spawning Others, like the Dark Passenger that occupies Dexter. Having an outside force guiding Dexter rather than existing as an aspect of his personality makes Dexter less interesting as a serial killer. Your mileage might vary but personally I don't want Dexter to exist as a Stephen King/Dean Koontz clone.

In Dexter in the Dark, Dexter's Dark Passenger is scared out of him by the presence of IT. Without his dark Passenger Dexter is disconnected, unable to function and provide the insights on which his sister, police sergeant Deborah, has come to depend to solve cases. Burned corpses with heads replaced with the heads of ceramic bull are appearing. Dexter is being stalked by IT who recognizes that Dexter is occupied by an Other.

IT is also interested in Rita's children, Cody and Astor, who are also possessed of a Dark Passenger, or shadow, as Cody describes it. At the end of Dearly Devoted Dexter Rita and Dexter become engaged and, we learn, that her children have interests disturbingly similar to those of Dexter. This would have been a sufficiently satisfying plot - watching Dexter try to guide Cody and Astor the way Harry guided Dexter. Some of the more interesting parts of the story are when Dexter is "educating" the children.

The story runs out of energy toward the end and the forces of evil are thwarted in 8 pages.

If you are a Dexter fan as I am you will want to read this latest installment. Unfortunately I can't give it an enthusiastic endorsement.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Love in All the Wrong Places



Love in All the Wrong Places on Amazon
Frank Devlin
2004

This is the second female serial killer book a friend sent me. See HeartSick for the first. Strictly speaking, you might characterize her (the killer not my friend) as more of a facilitator but more on that later.

This is a police procedural of the type where the reader knows who's doing it and the fun is seeing how the police put the clues together. This may be a trickier technique for the author since the reader knows where the story is heading and the author has to make sure that there is a logical progression to the investigation. Devlin makes this work.

San Francisco Inspector Rose Burke and her partner Joshua Falkner investigate a death that has the appearance of a date rape where the victim killed her attacker in self defense. With a more politically sensitive murder in the press, they are pressured to set the case aside to provide assistance to the team investigating the murder of a Japanese tourist.

Other bodies appear and gradually Rose and Joshua begin to link the cases. Complicating the case is the fact that they don't know if the killer is a male of female. Rose and Joshua think they are looking for a female. The FBI thinks the cases are related to a male killer they have been tracking.

There are three alternating tracks working in this story. first there is the investigations. Second there is the story of Rose's disintegrating marriage and the mutual attraction between Rose and Joshua complicated by the shadow of her former partner who killed himself after a bad shooting. The implication being that he fired too quickly to protect Rose. Lastly there is the story of Helen, looking for true love but always disappointed resulting in someones death.

My only complaint about this book is mostly a nit pick. Devlin, like a lot of crime authors, interchanges the terms clip and magazine. They are not the same. See http://www.thegunzone.com/clips-mags.html. Some people might think this is a "so what issue" but maybe it is the librarian in me that says why not be accurate when it doesn't take much effort to do the research. Also, a 9mm turns into a .45 Vietnam era automatic in the space of a few pages.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HeartSick



Heartsick on Amazon
Chelsea Cain
2007

A friend recently sent me two novels with female serial killers. I'm not sure what it means that she knew I would enjoy books about female serial killers but I am grateful that she brought both to my attention.

Chelsea Cain is a columnist for The Oregonian and the author of a parody of Nancy Drew, Confessions of a Teen Sleuth. She says on her website that the Green River Killer and its task force of police officers many of whom spent their career tracking down the killer was the inspiration for Heartsick.

Archie Sheridan lead the task force that, for ten years, tried to find the serial killer Gretchen Lowell. In the end, Gretchen captured Archie and tortured him for ten days. With Archie at the point of death Gretchen inexplicably saves his life and allows herself to be arrested. She saves herself from the death penalty by offering to reveal the locations of her victims but only to Archie. Archie's imprisonment and torture is spread out throughout the book, a technique I found effective. For one, it pulls you along. You want to find out what happened to Archie. Cain does a good job of describing the disintegration of his will. This technique also provides a counterpoint the the investigation in which Archie finds himself involved.

After two years on sick leave, Archie is brought back on active duty to head the task force seeking a serial killer who targets teen-aged girls. The higher-ups have added a complication to Archie's investigation. They tell him that a female reporter, Susan Ward, will be allowed to profile Archie and the investigation. They hope this will head off the negative press they got during the Gretchen Lowell investigation.

Readers will be reminded of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Like Hannibal Lecter, Gretchen is a brilliant manipulator who appears in flashback and in prison. Will Graham who was nearly killed by Lector is brought out of retirement to track a serial killer. Archie Sheridan is brought out of sick leave to head a task force to find a serial killer. I don't want to give the impression that Heartsick is derivative. It isn't. Gretchen is seriously scary in her own right and Cain deftly builds the suspense. Her plot twists and weaving of Archie's and Susan's back stories with the current investigation make this a really great read.

Cain is working on a sequel that continues the story of Archie and Gretchen and I signed up for the newsletter to make sure I don't miss it. If you like this form of thriller, don't miss it.

OK, I'm going to include spoilers here. If you don't want to know some of the interesting twists, stop reading.

I mean it.

Turn back now.

Last chance.

I really liked the way Cain wrote the scenes where Gretchen was holding Archie prisoner and torturing him. The progression from resistance to acceptance was very well done. We see Archie gradually becoming a participant in his own torture and developing a weird sort of dependence on and even love of Gretchen. We also find that Gretchen had male accomplices, one of whom she murders in front of Archie. As I said earlier, Gretchen is really, really scary and well formed as a character.

In a plot complication that I didn't see coming that the current serial killer was one of Gretchen's followers and she has been manipulating events from the beginning. Her saving of Archie, not so inexplicable. She was planning to use him later. it looks like Gretchen is able to activate her male accomplices on their own killing sprees and she thinks that Archie has potential in that area. As for Susan Ward, she is a lot closer to the story than she knows.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Drive



Drive (at Amazon)
James Sallis
2005

I picked up Drive in a Books-A-Million in Port Charlotte, Florida when I was really desperate for something to read. The first sentence sold me:

Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake.
That is a great sentence. It is very visual, you can imagine where he is, and it ends with a dryly ironic twist that made me want to find out more about Driver and his story.

Driver is a movie stunt driver and occasional getaway driver. All he does is drive
I don't take part, I don't know anyone, I don't carry weapons. I drive.
Then a job goes bad and Driver ends up holding the money. He doesn't want the money and would be happy to give it to the "right" bad guy. Unfortunately it isn't as easy as you might think and Driver is on the run, wanting to get rid of the money, and get back to his life.

The story moves around in time. The opening scene reads like the end but actually happens near the beginning of the book. Sallis does an excellent job of fitting in Driver's back-story amongst the action and while there might not have a linear flow to the story you don't mind.

The story of a job gone bad is entertaining enough but it is Sallis' style of writing that pulled me along. He writes in compact, well crafted sentences. In this he reminds me of Ken Bruen. Over on the Killer Year blog Sean Chercover wrote
What the rest of us need a page to say, Ken says in one sentence. One perfect little sentence that packs more emotional wallop than all the ham-fisted heaping of words upon words.
This is the way I feel about James Sallis.

Sallis is the author of the Lew Griffin private detective stories set in New Orleans.

The Cleaner



The Cleaner
Brett Battles
2007

Jonathan Quinn is a free-lance cleaner working for a shadowy agency known as The Office. His job is to clean up after operations both in the literal sense as well as checking to see how an operation went. He is hired to go to Colorado to check on a fire that killed a man. Quinn is not informed of who the man was or why is is important. His job is to see if the fire was an accident as the authorities believe. Quinn determines that the fire covered up a murder. Quinn reports this to The Office and returns to his home in LA with his apprentice Nat. He doesn't report a heavy silver bracelet Nat finds in the ashes.

Not long after getting home, an assassin attempts to kill Quinn and Nat. They survive but find that The Office is under attack and its operatives are being picked off. Jonathan and Nat go on the run, looking for a place where the unknown enemy won't expect them to go. Super secret agency attacked, operative on the run isn't a new plot but Battles uses it to good effect to get the action going. I'm rather fond of this story line myself.

Quinn gathers clues and begins to uncover a conspiracy of with horrible implications. He appears to be a target but has no idea why.

If you like the Lee Child Reacher and Robert Ludlum Bourne stories then The Cleaner should appeal to you. As with lot of thrillers, you probably want to avoid examining details too carefully and just enjoy the ride. There were a couple of times when I started to think "huh? Why don't they just ..." but I was able to rein myself in.

The conspiracy is indeed horrible, the bad guys really unpleasant, and the plot plausible because you know there are nuts out there who would like to pull off something like it.

This is Brett Battles first novel and already he is working on a Jonathan Quinn sequel. I am putting it on my watch list.

Cold Granite (a Logan MacRae novel



Cold Granite
Stuart MacBride

If you like your detective stories hard, cold, wet, and pretty revolting at times then Cold Granite will appeal. This is Stuart MacBride's first novel in the Logan McRae series and it can be placed firmly in the Tartan Noir form of crime fiction.

Cold Granite begins at a crime scene on a cold, rainy, night in Aberdeen, Scotland, aka Granite City. It is the first day back on the job for Detective Sergeant Logan McRea after spending the last year recuperating from stab wounds. Logan expected to be eased back into the job but instead finds himself with a new boss and in the center of the investigation of the murder of a four-year old boy.

Other children disappear and the police feel pressure from the higher-ups, the public, and the press. Compounding the problem is the leak from within the department feeding information to a particularly annoying reporter who is despised equally by his co-workers and the police. Are all these crimes against children related? Is there a paedophile serial killer at work in Aberdeen?

The author is excellent in his descriptions and the reader won't have difficulty picturing the scenes. He is particularly vivid with the crime scenes and autopsies. He also seems to have taken great delight in describing in horrid detail the hording habits of a refuse collector nicknamed Roadkill. Think about it... it is worse than you just thought.

MacBride introduces multiple story lines and deftly manages them to satisfactory conclusions. I wouldn't say that there is anything clumsy or predictable in the way he handles the situations or in the way that Logan finds the truth.

This is an author I am going to continue to read.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Devil You Know



The Devil You Know (a Felix Castor novel)
Mike Carey
2006

The Devil You Know is an urban fantasy. Wikipedia describes urban fantasy as a subset of contemporary fantasy meaning that the supernatural exists and is accepted in a world not unlike our own. If it is in a city then it is urban fantasy. You could also classify it as a supernatural thriller. In any case, it would be safe to put Carey's Felix Castor in the company of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden and Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan.

Carey might be better known for his writing in comics where you will find his name on titles in the DC Comics Vertigo imprint such as Hellblazer and Lucifer as well as Marvel comics like X-Men and Fantastic Four.

The Devil You Know is the first in the Felix Castor series. It is set in London in a world where the dead began "...to rise is sufficient numbers that it wasn't an option anymore just to ignore them." In addition to ghosts, there are demons and loup-garou (were creatures, sort of). Felix is a freelance exorcist who uses a tin whistle to draw the ghosts to him then cause them to move on. Where they move on to isn't discussed but Carey sets it up to be explored in later books in the series.

Felix needs money to pay his rent and takes a job to exorcise a ghost from an archive in spite of a warning from a demon who is also possessing a friend of his. What should be a straightforward exorcism gets complicated as Felix tries to find out what is anchoring the ghost to the archives. The story takes on more twists when a gangster who lures young women from Eastern Europe into sexual slavery gets involved and someone sics a succubus onto Felix.

The story seems a bit drawn out and overly long at times but Carey is creating a convincing world and uses the detail to describe the rules of this world. Consider his take on loup-garou. We are used to reading about were creatures as humans who take on animal form. In Felix's world, ghosts take possession of a animal and shape it into something resembling a human. I appreciate that Carey is able to add fresh elements to a genre with a lot of competition.

The Devil You Know concludes with Felix taking on (unwillingly) an unusual partner and setting the scene for an interesting sequel. Speaking of which, the other books in this series are

Vicious Circle (2006)
Dead Men's Books (2007)
Thicker that Water (2008)

You might have to wait a bit as they are first published in the U.K. and not immediately available in the U.S. Amazon doesn't show a listing for Vicious Circle.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Tin Roof Blowdown




The Tin Roof Blowdown
James Lee Burke, 2007

The Tin Roof Blowdown is a Dave Robicheaux novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans. I checked it out of the library, read a couple of chapters, and set it aside. This morning I decided that it is a book that I am not going to finish. It isn't that The Tin roof Blowdown is badly written or has an uninteresting story. Burke writes well and his descriptions of post-Katrina New Orleans are emotionally charged and come from the heart. It is a subject that means a lot to Burke. The problem is that I don't care about Dave Robicheaux any more.There is too much of a sameness about Dave and his buddy Clete. I find myself wanting to read more about Dave's boss, Helen Soileau, the sheriff of Iberia Parish.

A lot of people liked this book. Me, I skipped to the end to see what happened. Still, if you are a die-hard Dave Robicheaux fan, you are going to want to read it yourself. Otherwise, check out the reviews.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Last Combat Mission

My Last Combat Mission - No ordinary Day -
Roy E. Daniel

You are not going to find this book in Borders or Barnes and Noble. It was author published. A Google search does show a few copies on Internet book search sites. I had a personal interest in reading My Last Combat Mission and was able to get copy from the author. What's my interest in Roy's story? My father was the radio operator and waist gunner on this mission.

I have supplemented this description of Daniel's book with material of my own such as images related to this book here. These images include a scan of the papers issued to prisoners by the Germans as well as postcards written from the prison camps. These del.icio.us bookmarks helped me understand the air war and POW experience.

My Last Combat Mission - No Ordinary Day - is not a long book. There are 86 pages of text and 33 pages of photographs. Oddly, the photographs of aircraft on the cover and in the book are not B-24s, which is the type of bomber Daniel was flying.

Daniel wrote his book more than fifty years after the events at the urging of a friend. His writes sparingly but well and his story deserves to be preserved. This generation is now in its eighties and their contribution needs to be remembered.

At the time of these events, Daniel was twenty-two and my father nineteen.

On 29 May 1944, at 0700, 35 B-24 Liberator's from the 485th Bomb Group, took off from their base at Venosa, Italy to bomb the Atzgersdorf aircraft factory near Vienna, Austria. Daniel describes the target as the marshaling yards at Wiener Neustadt. Both identifications of the target are correct. They joined a much larger raiding force on the way to the target. This was the 14th mission for the 485th Bomb Group in which 61 tons of bombs will dropped. Watching the news from Iraq we are used to seeing pinpoint accuracy with smart bombs but it wasn't like that in 1944. Then the bombers flew in the combat box, straight and level, under attack from the ground and the air, until the lead aircraft released its bombs. That was the signal for the rest of the bombers to release their bombs. Daniel's plane was #3 in the lead box and on the left wing of the group commander.

After releasing its bombs, aircraft 41-28797, assigned to the 829th Squadron, was hit by flak. The crew attempted to keep the bomber in the air but fire in the #3 engine and right wing forced the ten members of crew # 36 to bail out over Zara, Yugoslavia. Daniel and the rest of the crew parachuted safely but were captured by the Croatian army and turned over to the Germans. The MACR gives the time of capture as 1230 but this is certainly an estimate because the crew was not captured at the same time but brought together in the same place over several days. This is considered the first loss of an entire crew due to enemy action in the 485th.

About a third of the book describes the mission, capture and interrogation of Daniel and the crew and was the most interesting for me since my father was present at several of the events. For that reason, they were also the strangest for me to process as I read. These were the times of the most fear and uncertainty and this come across in his narrative. After his capture, Daniel was saved from a impromptu Croatian firing squad by a Croatian colonel who was sympathetic but forced to turn him over to the German army.

Eventually the crew was reunited and held in the countryside in a grain room for several days while being questioned and arrangements were made to move them to another location for processing as POWs. They were to be flown to Zagreb, Yugoslavia on a JU-52. Daniel realized that he could fly the plane and developed a plane to hijack he aircraft. The sympathetic colonel was prepared to make his sidearm available to Daniel. At he last minute, an armed German soldier appeared and thwarted what would have been their best opportunity to escape as a crew.

The rest of the book describes his life as a POW and eventual liberation from Stalag Luft VII-A in Moosburg on 29 April 1945, eleven months after capture. For most of his time as a POW Daniel was in Stalag Luft III which you may know as the scene of The Great Escape which occurred several months before his arrival there. Later, as the Russians got closer, the camp was evacuated to Stammlager XIII-D and then, finally, to Stalag Luft VII-A where they were liberated by Paton's 14th Armored Division. My father was also liberated from Moosburg though he and Daniel never met there as Daniel was an officer and my father an enlisted man.

Daniel gives the reader a feeling for the privations the POWs suffered. The transportation by train in "Forty-and-eight" rail cars is particularly vivid. Forty-and-eight referred to rail cars designed to transport forty men and eight horses. Here, however, fifty men were crammed into a car, sat in rows, with their knees nearly up to their chins and no toilet facilities.

He also describes in ingenuity of the Prisoners to utilize everything they could put their hands on. For example, they found themselves without pots and pans to cook in but were able to improvise by joining food tins from Red Cross packages.

Circumstances make for incongruous incidents such as the time a German soldier asked him to hold his rifle while he went to find them some food. My father had a similar experience on a march between camps.

While still prisoners, the POWs heard about the recently enacted G.I. Bill. After encountering a fellow airman with a bad tooth, Daniel realized that he could become a dentist after the war. He made good on that dream and became Dr. Roy E. Daniel.

Reading Daniel's account of life as a POW, I can see why my father hated, really hated, the TV show Hogan's Heroes. He saw absolutely nothing funny about it.

I recently spent two weeks sitting by my father's bed in a state veterans nursing home. It was sobering to see him and other men and women from "The Greatest Generation" at this stage of their lives.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Serenity




Serenity
2 disc Collector's Edition

Whomever authorized the cancellation of the series Firefly should be given to the Reavers ... but at least we got the movie Serenity.

I love this movie. It has elements of space opera and the western. Joss Whedon has said that he conceived of it after reading The Killer Angels and wanted to follow people who fought on the losing side. In that respect I guess you could put it in the same category as The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales. There is no need for me to go into detail about Firefly and Serenity as the Wikipedia articles (see links in first paragraph) are pretty good.

This movie has everything:

  • terrific cast
  • characters you care about
  • well crafted action sequences
  • pursuit by the government
  • spooky bad guy
  • altered humans worthy of George Romero
  • battle in space
  • heroic actions in support of noble purpose
  • last stand of the crew fighting against impossible odds
  • friendship, loyalty, sadness, humor
  • explosions and gun play
  • iconic hero shot worth watching the entire movie just to see
  • super-powered adolescent girl with edged weapons
  • I'm not sure what was on the original DVD release but this version features two commentary tracks, one with Joss and another with Joss, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, and Nathan Fillion. It also has the usual outtakes, deleted scenes, and extended scenes.

The is one bonus feature that is sure to please fans. On disk two is Session 416. In it we have black & white sessions with a faceless interviewer and River. We see the River from before her programming, when she was a normal and highly intelligent, smiling, school girl who might have the ability to read minds. At first, she is being interviewed for a place with an Alliance supported institute. Over the course of several interviews we see the gradual disintegration of her personality and her descent into psychosis. At one point the interviewer tells her that the institute is all about her mind and allowing it to do everything it could and she asks "Would I still be allowed to dance." This directly feeds into a comment by Simon at the beginning of the movie when she is being rescued from the institute.

Now I need to get the Firefly episodes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Water for Elephants




Sara Gruen, 2006
My Rating: *****

This blog is as much about my experiences reading as the books themselves so it might take me a while to get to the story.

I was sitting in The Last chapter, an indie bookstore/coffee shop in Arcadia, Florida using their free wi-fi to post my comments on Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues. Since I didn't have anything new to read and I like to support indie book sellers, I started looking for something to buy. I found Water for Elephants on the top-selling book table table and was intrigued by the blurb from the Washington Post

You'll get lost in the tatty glamour of Gruen's meticulously researched world ...
I enjoy stories that describe worlds, times, professions, environments etc. with which I have little knowledge and a novel set in a circus during the depression looked to be an interesting read.

Water for Elephants is told by Jacob Jankowski, now in his nineties, and a resident of a nursing home (his children prefer to call it an assisted living facility). Jacob begins his story after a circus sets up near the home. It is easily the most exciting thing to have happened to the residents in a long time.

In 1931, 23 year old Jacob is within days of graduating with a degree in veterinary science from Cornell when a personal tragedy makes him so disoriented and depressed that he walks out of his final exam without writing a word. He hops onto a passing train which is hauling the Flying Squadron, the advance party that will set up the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. He narrowly avoids being red lighted (circus term meaning tossed from the moving train) by Blackie, an enforcer for circus security. He is befriended by Camel, a working man (circus term meaning not a performer), who decides to help him get a job.

Gruen uses Jacob's first day and night to introduce us to circus life from the other side. Does anyone remember the 1956 TV show, Circus Boy? This isn't that circus. Besides mucking out the horse cars on the train, Jacob is put to work nudging the rubes into sideshows and acting as security during the choochie show (his first ever look at a live naked woman).

Jacob is written off as a useless college boy until Uncle Al, the ringmaster, discovers that he is a vet in all but degree. Since all the big circuses, like the hated and envied Ringling Brothers, have a vet he immediately hires Jacob. He works for August, the equestrian director and superintendent of animals, who is married to the beautiful equestrienne, Marlena. Guess where this goes. Later, Uncle Al is able to acquire an elephant named Rosie from a defunct show. To Uncle Al, this puts the Benzini Brothers closer to the big time. Rosie becomes a major character in the story. As you read Water for Elephants you will understand the relevance of the epigraph quoting Horton Hatches the Egg.

Gruen skillfully blends her research into the story making it both informative about a time and way of life few of us know anything about as well as highly entertaining. She works in the desperation of the depression and glimpses of the life of hobos. Her descriptions of people, places, and events are vivid. I could almost smell the stock cars and midway and feel the layers of grime on Jacob that first day with the circus.

Both the circus story and the nursing home story come to satisfying conclusions. My thought as I read the last line was "Way to go Jacob!

There is one aspect of the book that I don't understand. One of the book-group discussion questions states that "Sara Gruen has said that the "backbone" of her novel "parallels the biblical story of Jacob" in the book of Genesis. I don't see the parallels. I read the story of Jacob after I finished the book and Gruen's Jacob doesn't have much in common with the biblical Jacob other than he lies down and rest his head on stones the first night of his journey, the names of several of his children, and that he works for the circus for seven years.

I read this book sitting in a state veterans home in Florida and Gruen's descriptions of the residents, their daily routines, entertainments, their meals, and the relationship between the residents and the staff held a special poignancy for me. When you read this book I want you to know that nurses like Rosemary do exist.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues



Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues
Robert Fate, 2007

The second book in a series is probably hard on an author. The first book establishes the characters and readers decide if they care enough to stick with the author. With subsequent books, the author has to develop the characters and find new plots without losing what attracted readers in the first place. I've stopped reading books that had interesting plots because I didn't care about the characters so it isn't a matter of character driven vs plot driven story, it take both.

I loved Baby Shark and consider it one of my top reads of the year. Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues sucked me in right away and the only reason I didn't finish it in one day is because I had to sleep.

Beaumont Blues takes place about two years after the events in Baby Shark. Kristin Van Dijk has become a licensed private investigator and Otis Millett's partner. Together they are a destructive and often lethal team. Though Kristin is not yet twenty-one, Otis doesn't treat her as anything less than a partner he trusts to watch his back. There is no "watch out for the girl" attitude on the part of Otis. He trusts Kristin to shoot when shooting is necessary.

This time they are trying to protect a Texas oil heiress and make sure she is available when her father's will is read. She has to be present or the bulk of the estate goes to a televangelist. What seems like a straight forward assignment gets complicated very quickly. Kristin and Otis are not sure who is doing what to whom all the way to the end of the book. I found the ending very satisfying, by the way. The very bad people are part of a near-by crime lord's crew and if you have read Baby Shark you can predict their fate.

Oh, and I should mention, Baby Shark a love interest enters the picture. Has Kristin healed enough to be able to trust? Fate does a nice job showing that healing can take a long time.

If you like a strong female character - ready with a gun or knife - and plenty of hard-boiled action then you'll enjoy this book. If you are likely to be troubled by characters who don't see anything wrong with dispatching someone who needs to be dispatched without benefit of a trial then you might want to look for a cozy to read.

My only criticism is that Fate doesn't tell how the aftermath of the messy conclusion to Baby Shark was handled. Otis, Kristin, and Henry had a powerful lot of tracks to cover to keep from going to jail.

Fate is currently working on Baby Shark's Panhandle Caravan and I'll be watching for it.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Baby Shark



Robert Fate, 2006



Baby Shark is a revenge and recovery story set in Texas in the 1950s and a terrific story in the hard-boiled school. I rank it as one of my favorite stories this year. I first read about it on The Gumshoe Review. When it didn't show up in local book stores I ordered it. Fortunately, I also ordered the sequel, Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues which I am about halfway through and it will be my next review.

At seventeen, Kristin Van Dijk sees her father murdered in a Texas bar by a motor cycle gang and is then brutally beaten and raped. The owner of the bar, a Chinese-American named Henry Chin is shot and left for dead, He pulls Kristin from a fire set to cover-up the crime. Henry's son was also killed by the bikers. When Henry finds that someone with influence has managed to get the investigation closed, he and Kristen begin planning their private war against the bikers. Along the way they find help from: an ex-cop private eye named Otis who keeps his .45 handy and isn't adverse to taking preemptive action; a psychotic Korean War veteran and small arms expert; and a former military close-quarters combat instructor. You also get really nasty bad guys, a corrupt cop, and a waitress with a heart of gold.

The story and characters are well developed and the pacing pulls you along. I appreciated the care Fate took to set up the action. The narration is written in the first person from Kristin's point of view and has terrific hard-boiled dialog like “Bear took that stunned look of recognition directly to hell – along with two slugs in his heart.” If you like hard-boiled stories you can't help but go "Yea!" when you read a line like that.

I recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind a lethal teenager with a grudge and much (justified) extra-legal bloodshed.

Shadows over Baker Street



Shadows Over Baker Street: New Tales of Terror
edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan, 2003

“Sherlock Holmes enters the nightmare world of H.P. Lovecraft” says the cover and that pretty much tells you what is going to be in this book - stories that pit Holmes and Watson against the agents of the Great Old Ones. Maybe I am jaded but I wouldn't consider any of the stories particularly horrific. Certainly none generated the delicious anticipation of horror and dread as when I first read Lovecraft many years ago. The pleasure for me was seeing how the styles of Doyle and Lovecraft were blended and I suspect that will be the case for many experienced readers.

Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald leads off the collection and is my favorite story. Gaiman writes in the familiar Watsonian first person style we are used to but gives the theme a twist that makes it a fun read. Gaiman won a Hugo for the story.

While many contributors approach the subject as a Watson first person story, there are exceptions. Tiger! Tiger! recounts a story featuring Irene Adler and, briefly, Sebastian Moran( later recognized by Holmes as the second most dangerous man in England) in India. Adler, you might recall, made only one appearance in the Holmes stories in A Scandal in Bohemia. The Drowned Geologist, is a letter to Watson in which a palaeontologist describes a meeting with Holmes during the period when he was believed dead after the events at the Reichenbach Falls. A Case of Royal Blood is narrated by H. G. Wells in which he and Holmes assist the royal family of the Netherlands. The Weeping Masks gives us some back-story on Watson's time in Afghanistan, events he never related to Holmes.

Readers of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes know that he retired to raise bees. Three of the stories reference bees allowing one to deduce that Holmes' interest had more sinister origins.

I would recommend this book to those familiar with the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and the Cthulhu mythos and who want to expand their collection.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Revish - sharing book experiences

Revish is a social networking site dedicated to all things book.

Here is how they describe themselves:

Revish is a place where people share their reading experiences. You can use Revish to keep and share a list of books you're reading, write reviews of books, find recommendations from other readers, and a whole lot more.

If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, why not sign-up? A standard account is free, and the only thing we charge for is access to Revish Connect, where you can get free books from leading publishers and authors, in exchange for reading and reviewing them.

As with other social networking applications, the more people who use it, the better it gets. If you like a review, you can see who else has read the book, check out the poster's other reviews, their favorites, what they are reading now, who their contacts are. The number of potential linkages available through this site is staggering.

The Revish team doesn't consider Revish a replacement for personal library cataloging sites such as LibraryThing. In fact, they point you Librarything. Though there is overlap, I'd say that they are complementary services.

I recommend exploring Revish. It can be a great discovery tool to identify that next book you must read. Also, if you have been looking for an opportunity to write something that will be read by others, Revish gives you that venue an audience. check it out.



Souls in the Great Machine




Souls in the Great Machine
Sean McMullen

This is an older book review but since I haven't posted much lately, I though I would dust it off.

Souls... is the first in a trilogy. It fits into the post-apocalyptic genre being set in Australia nearly 1,700 years after a cataclysmic war brought upon a nuclear winter. The world has recovered from the Great Winter but society is at a pre-industrial/pre-steam level. This is not your Mad Max Australia where brutality and savagery have replaced civilization.

What astounded me about this book is how many concepts McMullen managed to include. He presents some very interesting ways that the society could compensate for lack of steam power, internal combustion engines, and electricity.

Long distance transportation is through a rail system that uses wind or human power. Think of a train where each passenger pedals and their effort is metered. Pedal hard enough and you can earn credit.

Long distance communication is accomplished using focused light between relay towers. McMullen could have left it at that but the operators of the beamflash network, as it is called, take messages, break them into packets, and calculate check sums for each packet, and relay them to the next tower. The packet is eventually reassembled at the destination. This is an analog version of the packet switching network.

The head librarian of the city-state of Rochester, where much of the action takes place, has designed a computer called the caculor that uses humans as components. These components are slaves captured for their math skills by bounty hunters. They begin to think of themselves in terms of their job within the Great Machine: Multiplier 8, Function 9, Adder 17. The reason Zarvora, the head librarian, gives for designing the computer is that government is too complicated to operate without it. Her unstated reason is to predict the arrival of the next Great Winter and to prepare for it.

I confess, being a librarian myself, I like the roles librarians have in this novel. These are not the librarians you see today. For one thing, their education includes weapons training and it isn't unusual for staff problems to be solved through a duel. You can't get away with that today, as effective as it would be. For another, they have real power in the government. The author convincingly shows the importance of information regardless of the state of civilization. Information is power. McMullen also includes some librarian in-jokes about catalogers that are pretty amusing if you have worked in a library.

And, you have the obligatory political and military strife amongst the various states that make up Australia.

But wait, there is more. Another plot element is a hypnotic force referred to as the Call that sweeps over the land at unpredictable intervals drawing all mammals larger than a cat with it. The source and cause of the Call is a subplot through out the book.

Lastly, there is some remnant of the pre-Great Winter age in orbit around the earth. Could it be the reason that technology hasn't advanced in spite of the high level of knowledge and preservation of ancient books in the libraries?

I've read McMullen's book three or four times now and each time I still enjoy seeing how he creates the society, develops the characters, and convincingly introduces modern technological concepts into a pre-industrial society. It has action, romance, political intrigue, and things that make you say "how did he think of that?"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Feed, by M. T. Anderson




Feed is a young adult novel. It contains profanity though it is pretty typical profanity from what I hear at the malls.

This is the sort of book that conservatives will hate if they read it. It wants our young people to be anti-consumerism, anti-corporations, and radical environmentalists they would rail. At the end, one of the characters says

We Americans ... are interested only in the consumption of our products. We have no interest in how they they were produced, or what happens to them ... once we discard them, once we throw them away.
In the future nearly everyone has a feed integrated into their brains. The feed is like the entire Internet, entertainment industry (movies, TV), and targeted advertising fed directly into the brain. The feed's main purpose is to get people to buy things and it is constantly updating the purchasing profiles of everyone connected to target the appropriate advertising their way. Titus, the narrator, complains that he needs stuff but doesn't know what to get.

The story follows the decline of Violet, who got her feed after the neuro pathways in her brain were nearly fully formed. Her feed begins to malfunction and, because it is an inseparable part of her brain, her bodily functions begin to shut down. She petitions FeedTech Corp. for "complementary feed repair and/or replacement" but is turned down because of her purchasing history. The AI that delivers the rejection tells her
No one could get what we call a "handle" on your shopping habits, like for example you asking for information about all those wow and brag products and then never buying anything. We have to inform you that our corporate investors were like, "What's doing with this?"
Feed should make the reader very uncomfortable because we seem to be on the road toward what it describes. Because of instantaneous communication through the feed, fashions can change in seconds. A condition called Nostalgia Feedback appears.
People had been getting nostalgia for fashions that were closer and closer to their own time. until finally people became nostalgic for the moment they were actually living in, and the feedback completely froze them.
One fashion trend would be amusing if it didn't seem so plausible considering the heroin chic advertising campaigns that we've seen. This new fashion is called Riot Gear and looks to promote a fashion based on the big twentieth century riots.
"Hey!" said Loga to Quendy, pointing. "Kent State collection, right Great skirt"

"Oh, and omigod!" said Calista. "Are those the Stonewall Clogs? They're so brag."
Tell me you can't see that happening.

The environment is shot, lesions begin to appear on people's bodies. Hair falls out. People begin to lose skin to the point where Titus remarks that "My mom had lost so much skin you could see her teeth even when her mouth was closed." Feed is a grim, dystopian, look at our near future and would be an interesting book to discuss if schools could get away with putting it on the reading list.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Champagne Kisses Cyanide Dreams




Champagne Kisses Cyanide Dreams by Ralph Graves
Published 2001

I'm working on a Second Life project to highlight mysteries set in coastal New England and that is how I happened upon Champagne Kisses Cyanide Dreams (which I will now abbreviate Champagne Kisses). This murder mystery was written by Ralph Graves, a former editor for Time and Life and a part-time resident (as of 2001 anyway) of Martha's Vineyard.

If pressed to categorize this book, I would put it just over the edge into Cozies. It takes place in a small, picturesque community and is narrated in the first person by an amateur crime enthusiast, Jason Arnold. Jason is such an enthusiast that he relishes being a suspect and tries to maintain that status as long as possible. He is now good friends with a retired New York City detective Dirk Schultz who was once the primary on a previous murder case in which Jason figured. Thanks to an inheritance from his grandmother, Jason doesn't have to work and dabbles in writing. Regarding his C-minus average in college he says

My father, whose memory is inferior to mine, used to rail against my failure to "put more effort into it." It was an attituude I could understand but not endorse.
He also lists his occupation as "living." This pretty much summarizes Jason, likable, well-off, and not ambitious.

The plot is simple. Mildred (Milly) Silk is a wealthy, famous, author "known for her acid tongue and general mean-spiritedness" (this from the fly leaf). She is also known for her parties. During the dinner party that starts the story, she reveals that her last book will be a tell-all expose' of Island celebrities and that everyone at the party - with the exception of Jason who isn't important enough - is in the book. The celebrities include an aging actress with two spectacular assets, an opera diva, a TV talk show host, Milly's publisher/editor, a California computer software billionaire, and other celebrity dinner party types. Milly is poisoned in full view of everyone. Over the course of the book, several suspects from the fatal party are dispatched in the same manner and Jason and Dirk investigate.

There is a fair amount of humor in Champagne Kisses, all the result of Jason's wonderfully snarky comments and observations about the celebrities and their invasion of Martha's Vineyard. Much of the blame appears to fall on The Clintons.

Graves also provides a nice sense of place in his descriptions of the Island, its geography, culture, and some history. A map allows the reader to see where events are occurring. I appreciated these details as they helped to keep a mental image of the setting as I read.

Champagne Kisses is a thoroughly enjoyable light read. The story moves along briskly, the red hearing isn't annoying, there is a nice twist in the plot, the murders are not particularly graphic, and the small amount of sexual content is out of sight and reasonably tasteful. Correction: in retrospect,there may be a few bits that could offend those of a conservative nature. Didn't bother me, though.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham




I read a review of The Night Ferry and was interested that the author takes a secondary character from one book and makes him or her the main character of the next. I'm also fairly obsessive about reading books that have some sort of continuity in the order they were published. In this case, this book was available and the others were not, so I started with the latest. The Night Ferry is told in the first person by Alisha Barba, a female Sikh detective constable with the Metropolitan Police. I know there is a bias against first person stories in some quarters because you only see the action from restricted viewpoint of the narrator. I don't care. If the author is skillful, it is interesting to try to figure out what is going one with only the information available to the narrator.

Warning, there may be spoilers ahead.

Alisha appeared in Robotham's previous book, Lost, where where she was severely injured while a member of the diplomatic Protection Group. this time, she has recovered from her injuries and waiting to be returned to active duty. She receives a note from a school friend, Cate, from she has been estranged for many years. Cate says she is in trouble and wants to meet Alisha at a school reunion. Before Alisha can find out what Cate wants, Cate and her husband are accidentally run down by a cab driver. Or was it an accident?

Alisha soon finds out that Cate was not pregnant as she led everyone to believe but was involved in some sort of adoption scheme. The clues lead Alisha and Vincent Ruiz (her former boss and now retired) to Amsterdam. There they uncover a baby trafficking ring and forced surrogacy. They also find the woman carrying the babies of Alisha's dead friend. Alisha becomes obsessed with saving the woman and the babies. The action reaches its violent highpoint (though not conclusion) on the night ferry from the Port of Rotterdam to Harwich in the U.K.

The story is well paced and the story unfolds satisfactorily. Along the way reader learns a bit about Sikh family life and and the traffic in babies. I don't know how factual either are but Robotham writes about them in a convincing manner. I like his style of writing and plan to read Suspect and Lost, his previous two books.
In fact, I liked The Night Ferry enough to purchase the paperback edition of Suspect rather than wait for the library's copy to come available.

Michael Robotham's web site.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007




Battle Royale
by Koushun Takami
translated by Yuji Onikj

I'm not obsessed with the Battle Royale books but I spotted the novel on the new book shelf of the library and decided I needed to read the source of manga.

Basic story: 21 male and 21 female students of the Third Year, class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School are transported to an island and equipped with weapons ranging in effectiveness from automatic weapons and hand grenades to a boomerang and a fork. They are released one at a time with only one goal, be the last one alive. The public reason for this game, called The Program, is military research.

Over the next 18 hours, some students try to opt out of the game, some accept it, and most spend the time in absolute panic and despair.The story concentrates on 5 main characters composed of two relative innocents, one weary but basically good person, a cold killer whose lack of emotion is related to a brain injury, and an amoral female who is a victim of her past. The deaths come quickly and graphically. There are acts of heroism, altruism, cowardice, and viciousness.

At the end, we find out that The Program has nothing to do with military research. The supervisor of this program tells a survivor:

Come on, why do you think we have the local news broadcast the image of the winner? Viewers might feel sorry for him or her, thinking the poor student probably didn't even want to play the game, but had no choice but to fight the others. In other words, everyone ends up concluding, you can't trust anyone, right? Which would extinguish any hope of uniting and forming a coup d'etat against the government, hm?
The manga volumes follow the novel closely though the manga give more back-story on the students. The origins of the beautiful, amoral, Mitsuko are described in graphic detail. I won't go into detail about the differences. Wikipedia has several detailed articles that describe the novel, manga, and movie.

I prefer the manga to the novel. The story itself is well suited to a graphic presentation. I am curious how the rest of the manga volumes play out. Volumes 1 to 3 of the manga cover nearly half the novel and there are 15 volumes. I'm expecting a lot more back-story.

I thought that the translation was a bit awkward. It had the odd phrasing that native English-speakers find off-putting. For example, the translator uses the phrases "that's right," "in other words," and "that is" with annoying regularity.

Battle Royals is a provocative book that would make for an interesting discussion on several levels: how would you act in that circumstance, nature vs nurture, would The Program be effective in pacifying the population. It would also be interesting to discuss it alongside Lord of the Flies.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Anthony Awards for Best Mysteries

I just saw the list of nominees for the Anthony Award for best mysteries. The awards will be presented at Bouchercon in Anchorage in September. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read any of the nominated books. Well, I did start 47 Rules Of Highly Effective Bank Robbers by Troy Cook (nominated for best paperback original) but skipped to the end and didn't finish it. I don't remember why. Note to self: make sure to write a post on why I don't finish a book. I want to read Baby Shark by Robert Fate (also in the best paperback original category) but none of the local B&N, Borders, or Books-A-Million have it.

I've been checking the titles in Amazon and have added quite a few to my "look for" list.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why blog about books read?

I read a short description of Nightlife by Thomas Perry on a book blog and got all excited because I enjoy his books. The library has it and it is available. Huzzah! Beer and book in hand I head for the deck and settle down for a nice read in the early evening air. First paragraph - drat, I've read this book.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Battle Royale, vol. 2 & 3


Battle Royale vol. 1 is discussed in this post.

Vol. 2 opens with 5 students dead, two used as examples before the game actually starts. Shuuya and Noriko are idealists who hope to find a way off the island without killing anyone. Over the course of these volumes the major players are sorted out - those who would rather not play the game and those who choose to play either through amorality or weakness. Back-story continues to be added. By the end of vol. 3, 25 of the original 42 remain alive.

Observation: the students are supposed to be classmates in the 9th grade. Some are drawn as if they might actually be 9th graders while others appear to be in their mid-twenties. This adds another layer of weirdness about this series. I was in the 9th grade in 1960 and it would have been unlikely that one of my female classmates would be running a prostitution ring. Still, some of these characters are more advanced than a lot of the college students I see daily.

If you can distance yourself from the ultraviolence, Battle Royale makes for compelling reading. The story line is complex and the back-stories add another dimension to the story.

Battle Royale, vol. 2 on Amazon
Battle Royale, vol. 3 on Amazon

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

First Among Sequals, Jasper Fforde



First Among Sequels is the fourth book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next Series. Along with Jeopardy, these books are the best thing to happen to those of us with a liberal arts education. With Fforde's books, having been an English major is a decided advantage. Let me get one thing out of the way first. In previous posts I have suggested that the series be read in sequence. I really mean it this time. No kidding. Go back and read, in order

  • The Eyre affair
  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
Better yet, buy these books then read them. I want Fforde to keep writing. I also recommend the British editions - better covers.

For those not familiar with the Thursday Next books, they take place in Britain, in an alternate universe. When the series opens, it is 1985 and the Crimean War is still going on. Thursday, a hero from the conflict that also saw the death of her brother, is a member of SO27, the agency in charge of literary investigations. There are 30 Special Operations agencies but everything below 20 is classified. Time travel is a reality, sort of.

In The Erye Affair, Thursday discovers that there is another world behind the covers of a book and that it is possible to "read" oneself into a book and, likewise, for book characters to leave their books. Over the course of this series, Fforde builds and incredibly elaborate structure for how books are delivered to their reader. There is no way to describe this process in a short review. Read the books.

Since books have an actual reality the whole of English literature is open to Fforde's interpretation. You learn, for example, that the characters in Wuthering Heights are in group therapy and Heathcliff has anger management issues. Along the way, you also learn that there are actually only five pianos in all of literature and they have to be shifted from book to book. If you have read all the books it makes sense.

First Among Sequels starts fourteen years after Something Rotten. Brief aside:
You will gain an appreciation for the potential for croquet matches after reading Something Rotten and wish that they were televised on ESPN. Think of croquet with the possibility that someone could be killed.
Back to the story. Most of the SO agencies have been disbanded but Thursday has set up a shadow agency n the guise of a flooring company to continue her activities. She is also continuing her duties as a Jurisfiction Agent. In this role, she is an outlander (i.e. a real person) operating within bookworld and enforcing the rules under which fiction operates. Her adventures have been published and she has to work with two very different, fictional versions of herself. she has two problems to solve. First, the possible end of all time might hinge on whether or not her son Friday joins the ChronoGuard (time enforcement agency). Second, people have stopped reading and reality television shows such as Samaritan Kidney Swap are rising in popularity. How can this be reversed?

None of this makes much sense, does it? I think it is nearly impossible to write a coherent summary of these books. They are full of atrocious literary puns, a look at what characters from books are really like, and fun facts such as there are only five pianos in all of literature and they have to be shifted from book to book. Oh, and each book has special features and upgrades on Fforde's websites. For the special features, you have to answer a question from the book.

I would reluctantly say that First Among Sequels is the weakest of the series. Some of the humor is forced and he includes some thinly veiled references to the political situation in a large nation to the west of the U.K. Fforde also introduces a contemporary fiction character, Temperance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist created by Kathy Reichs. I think this is the first time he has done this.

Still, I have no regrets for having ordered the U.K. edition and will buy whatever Fforde publishes next.

Fforde has another series in the same universe, The Nursery Crimes series. The two books in this series are:
  • The Big Over Easy
  • The Fourth Bear
Links:
Jasper Fforde Home Page
Thursday Next Home Page
First Among Sequels on Amazon UK