Recent Reading - 2014
Virgil Flowers, gone to the dogs. When a friend calls, Flwoers delays his return from vacation to the BCA, leaving his boss, Lucas Davenport, to handle the "Black Hole" crimes on his own. The friend, one Johnson Johnson, named for the outboard engine company (as was his brother, Mercury Johnson) needs help because hunting dogs have been stolen along with dozens of other dogs in the small Minnesota town of Trippton.
Murder and embezzelment add to the problems Virgil must handle in this excellent book. I enjoy the humor Sanford works into his writing along with a full set of wonderful characters, even the bad guys. It lightens the reality of the killings at the core of the story.
Tooth and Claw
It is time to change my tune. I've said many times, "I don't like fantasy. I prefer science fiction." No more.
What I prefer is good writing. Let's face it, some authors write weak science fiction. Other authors write weak fantasy. Jo Walton does not. She writes great characters and works within a well-established world, one which many science fiction authors could only wish they were able to construct.
Tooth and Claw is about dragons, but it never gets beyond itself. Walton pulls off a Victorian novel without a doubt. The dragons behave just like dragons, but with the very recognizable characteristics of humans described in many Victorian novels. That her characters are dragons instead of humans didn't phase me at all. If I had been reading a science fiction novel with aliens instead of dragons, I could not have been more pleased.
Though it isn't Jo Walton alone who has changed my opinion. Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher, among others, have helped in recent years. There is no doubt in my mind that Jo Walton has had the greatest impact. It began with the excellent Among Others and the Farthing series before Tooth and Claw. She has made me change my tune. I know I can now look forward to reading fantasy, especially if it is as well written as this book.
Tropic of Cancer
No money, no job, an absent wife. The main character, an American, ostensibly Henry Miller, makes friends to borrow money. Lives in the same rooms with one after another of his friends. When he has no room, he walks the streets to avoid thinking about his gnawing hunger. Drinks heavily. Pours out his inebriated dreams as stream of consciousness and makes tons of artistic and literary allusions.
Paris is dirty. The French are miserly and smelly. Whores are easy to find and easier to use. Sex is central, but without much pleasure beyond its release of tension. This kind of book links, for me, to the term "sophomoric", in my opinion. While it may be "brilliant", it also may be mostly a bunch of words strung together. "Oh, this happened, write it down. I had a thought. Write it down, too." One person's pleasure at stream of consciousness is another person's hope for a stream of unconsciousness after putting the book down and closing his eyes.
I suspect a truly literate person will find the references to other authors fun to find. In contrast, I would have enjoyed finding a story. If this is autobiography, okay. If this is fiction, it misses the mark with me.
Not my kind of book
A new virus causes millions to get sick. Some recover completely, others become comatose, but fully aware. Science provides robot bodies to carry the locked-in sufferers, mainly funded through government research. In part, the research got off the ground because the US First Lady is one of the victims. The main character, one of the afflicted, has just joined the FBI and is plunged into escalating events.
This book is great, well written and full of humor in spite of exploring one possible grim future.
Cryo: Rise of the Immortals
The author recently followed me on Twitter. I checked his profile and took a shot at one of his books as a result
This novel has the language structure of a first novel and limited editing. While the basic plot of the story is interesting, there are lots of holes left unfilled. Some future volume is probably intended to fill the holes, but my current sense is that I'll be skipping the next book. Of course, I may be totally wrong. It may simply be that this author, from London, England, is using language as it is spoken there. Perhaps all London doorways have a precipice "a very steep rock face or cliff, typically a tall one" in them. Typical doorways have thresholds of under an inch here in the US.
Once again, Lee Child has provided me a moving reading experience. Tripwire was published in 1999, and I have read books from earlier and later in the Jack Reacher series. This book is consistent with the others, but it is also not like the others. I have noted before that Child writes new details about Reacher into his books. Bits which might be from way back come into play. They are different bits, not a reprise of the same backstory.
This book comes just before Running Blind which I read back in July. The books are obviously connected with Jodie Garber Jacob as a main character in both. Even so, the story has a "stand alone" feeling which I've felt about the other books, too. Child keeps his series from being serial.
I am very impressed with Child's ability to bury important details in the beginning and middle sections of the books. The details work around in Reacher's mind, and potentially in the mind of a reader. They fit together better and better as more details turn up. Their eventual combination is very satisfying at the conclusion of the book, and this book has an amazing conclusion.
Death in Holy Orders
Commander Adam Dalgliesh of the Metropolitan Police, who works out of New Scotland Yard, returns to a happy childhood location, St. Anselm's Theological College, where he, a parson's son, spent some summers as a boy. He's nominally on vacation, but also looking into the untimely death of one of the students at the request of the young man's influential father. Another death and a murder follow the first and Dalgliesh quickly, if reluctantly, converts the vacation into work.
P.D. James is British, and the pacing of this book is not typical of the detective fiction I have read before this, almost all of it US-based. The story meanders through sections about several of the characters and their backgrounds. At the time, the sections didn't seem to be necessary to the story, but I think I may have missed clues embedded in these interludes. Some references to events in other books were not clear to me, but that doesn't surprise me. There are several other Dalgliesh novels.
I was also challenged to verify the meanings of several words which I didn't know or wasn't sure of. It has been a while since I've had to keep a dictionary so close while reading. One very interesting term, new to me, was "SOCOs" which is "Scene of Crime Officers" instead of CSI, Crime Scene Investigators, with CSI common currently in several popular US television series. "DI", the term for Detective Inspector added to my recognition of "Constable". The seemingly low stature of a sergeant (Robbins) working with Dalgliesh was also intriguing.
I enjoyed the book. I'll read another.
A book of mixed-length short fiction isn't typically on my reading list, but I really like Larry Niven's work, so I gave it a try. I liked some stories better than others, which might be expected, and there were some Draco Tavern stories I had not read before, too. This book was published in 1985. It took me a long time to get to it.
Heart of the World
Carlotta Carlisle is a "Big Sister" to Paulina Fuentes and has been very close since Paulina was seven years old. At fifteen, Paulina disappears. It is a couple of days before Carlotta even knows she's missing. Did she run off with a boy? Did she go to find her father? Didn't he die in a plane accident in Colombia?
This book digs pretty deeply into the underlying quality of Carlotta's character.
An early winter snowstorm makes the arrest of a drunk elk hunter into a real mess. It doesn't become any easier when Joe Pickett finds the elk hunter with his throat cut and skewered with two arrows. Buried under three feet of snow, Joe's family is ripped apart when April Keeley's mother comes back to town with a group of anti-government separatists. The situation brews itself into a war zone.
Box avoids making Joe be so stupid as he was in the second book, Savage Run, though he's not always "smart." I liked this book better.
The Special Prisoner
Retired Methodist Bishop John Quincy Watson encounters the man who tortured him in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War. The book alternates between the recollections of 50 years past and the present. It isn't always easy to take, but the book is very well written, and challenged me to understand the feelings of both men.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Autobiographical book of Maya Angelou's youth to age 16. Loved it. Looking forward to reading more of her work. Not easy stuff, but beautifully written. Highly Recommended
Ecoterrorism and a "rancher" cabal go head to head in Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming and Joe Pickett has to deal with his wife, Marybeth's youthful memories.
Unfortunately, Box writes Pickett as a very odd mix of thoughtful idealist and downright stupid man. The climax left me wondering if I'll go beyond one more book.
The Jennifer Morgue
Bob Howard works for The Laundry, a secret British agency which deals with supernatural events. He's mostly a computer geek, but gets assigned to do field work where he encounters problems beyond his expectations. The book is written with a combination of tongue-in-cheek references to James Bond which causes the story to be "cute" instead of much else.
Jack is cleaning his house, yes, he owns a house!
Well, then there's the little protection racket he breaks up in his usual way, and then the FBI arrests him and then things become interesting because he's a suspect as a serial killer.
Not typical Reacher, but none of the books by Lee Child about Jack reacher are cookie-cutter copies of any other in the series.
The Goliath Stone
Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington
Nanobots reach an asteroid which would be a near hit of Earth and begin converting it to supply materials for Earth. Nanobots "gray goo" threats begin to make governments nervous as they fear the consequences of nanotechnology run amok.
In the midst of it all are the creators of the the nanotech, threatened by thier own government as well as others. Getting safe isn't as important as getting results.
Niven and Harrington not only refer to many seminal science fiction authors, I felt they wrote a book Heinlein would have been proud to produce.
Burglary, rich old man, beautiful young wife. Illicit sex with a real mover and shaker. But someone was watching and saw not only the sex, but a drunken attempt at murder followed by an actual murder. Catching the bad guys is very complex with political connections.
My first Baldacci. I enjoyed it, but probably won't rush to read another. I expect I may try again later. There are a bunch of his novels to read, but while the story moved ahead well and the characters were good, there were some issues of the type I've disliked in other books. A couple of times, the "Thesaurus" bug crept in. Baldacci described an "overwrought couch" when meaning it was stressed under the load of a couple having sex. "Stressed" is one possible synonym, but in the sense of bad language usage in writing. A joke or a serious error?
More recommended than not
C. J. Box
Getting ready for his first hunting season on his own as a Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett wants everything to be just right. Do a good day's work, even if it takes more hours. Be a good father to his two daughters. Be a good husband to his pregnant wife. Live right and love the work he's prepared to do since he was just a kid.
Murder of three hunters with the apparent killer in a coma makes the hunting season anything but normal and puts Joe's job and family into jeopardy.
This is a first novel for a nice, long series, and I've started because of the strong recommendation by Lee Child on the top edge of the cover of Box's newest volume. We went to the library yesterday afternoon and the 2-week new books had Box's latest. I'll be continuing the series. The writing is clear and the story jumps right along. A few rough edges will probably be worked out as I continue reading this exciting series. Yet another author "new to me", as if I didn't have enough to watch already.
An interrupted bus ride in a small South Dakota town puts Reacher into close contact with a tense local police force. Jack cannot leave town. Snow has closed the Interstate and the plows are not keeping up with even the local roads. There's a death threat against a witness to a biker gang crime and the gang has taken up residence at an abandoned federal facility just outside of town. The accused prisoner is in the just-built prison which is also in the town. This book has a powerful finish, too.
The past isn't entirely gone if crimes committed long ago float back to the surface to mix with crimes of today. Iles combines murders committed in 1964 with recent murders in Natchez, Mississippi and to make the story more challenging, it is the beloved Dr. Tom Cage who is accused of committing one of the current murders. Penn Cage, Tom's son and mayor of Natchez must resolve his memories with the immediate threat to his father who is a heart attack waiting to happen. Confusing things even more, Penn Cage is engaged to the publisher of the local newspaper, an avid seeker of truth. Former KKK membrers resume their murderous ways. Tense to the very end.
Split Worlds: Between Two Thorns
Split Worlds: Any Other Name
Split Worlds: All's Fair
These notes are not quite reviews, so maybe combining my comments about three volumes of a trilogy into one note will be OK. The three books can be read with breaks in between, but the story drew me along such that I read them rapidly, one right after the other. The author says they should be read in sequence, and the story really is one story, logically broken into the volumes named. The fantasy is mixed with concepts of raw power, independence, responsibility and duty. Women's rights is a strong theme, but with a twist. Though we see it most often as cruelty and even violence of men against women, the right to freedom from dominating control applies to everyone.
Field of Prey
Young love leads to the discovery of a cistern with dead bodies rotting in it. Missing blond women from many years are identified. The "Black Hole Killer" takes center stage in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Lucas becomes involved. The lead investigator is murdered and everyone knows it's the Black Hole killer.
This may be one of the most well developed stories in the Lucas Davenport series, with new and well-developed characters who join with the familiar Virgil Flowers, Del Capslock, and Weather and Letty Davenport.
The January Dancer
Michael F. Flynn
Far future, after the wide dispersal of humanity from ancient Earth, there are factions in the galaxy whose interaction is made possible by strands connecting some systems with local C different from the speed of light, making rapid trips possible between stars and cultures. Pre-human artifacts are the beginning elements of the story and it weaves cultures and purposes personified by the actions of a half dozen characters.
Supervolcano: All Fall Down
The second volume of Supervolcano takes us through three more years with many changes including marriages, births and job changes. "Life goes on" as the saying goes, even if life is harder (and much snowier for Colin Ferguson's oldest son in Maine.) More Good reading ahead.
Supervolcano lives up to the first part of the title. Super, for sure. Even though almost all the main characters are from the same family, they are spread out across the United States, making the impact of the Yellowstone Park eruption clear from many different perspectives. I'm very glad there is a sequel, no, I just checked. There are four volumes so far. Good reading ahead.
Separation of Power
Mitch Rapp and reporter girlfriend Anna Reilly go to Italy where Mitch plans to ask Anna to get married. International terrorism and US politics get in the way, of course.
I admit, it bothered me that there was real need for editing which did not happen. Why did I need to be told that a basement level three floors below the ground had no windows?
West Texas, hot in the summer. Too hot this particular summer. Reacher is surprised that he is picked up by a womam as he hitchhikes out of town. That is one of many surprises in this book. Several story lines and a family in turmoil with professional killers. This complex story is a new revelation of Reacher's character.
Recently married, Lucy and her Jewish husband, David, go to Lucy's parents' country house for a weekend party. A houseguest is murdered, and David is under suspicion because a Jewish star is pinned to the dead politician's chest with a dagger. Scotland Yard sends Inspector Carmichael to investigate, but the crime isn't as simple as it might seem. The fact that the dead man is the architect of "Peace with Honor" with Adolph Hitler implicates not only Jewish but also Bolshevik terrorists when Lucy and her father are shot by a card-carrying Red.
Alternate history is an interesting backdrop to a story which is told with simplicity, and it lulled me into a false sense of hope before the book's climax caught me off guard. I'm very glad there are more books in this series.
Soundly grounded in the reality of teen years, this novel gradually reveals the fantasy which permeates the Welsh main character's life as she suffers through a year at an English boarding school after her twin sister is killed and Morweena runs away from her crazy mother. This book won the Hugo this year and the Nebula award last year. Tough to do. I loved it.
Many threads weave through time and several different story lines blend surprisingly well in this book, running from the times of sailing ships to the far future of Earth after some worldwide holocaust. The segments about Sonmi 451 seemed very much like it was influenced by ideas from Aldous Huxley and Brave New World with a concentration on the bottom of the genetic ladder instead of the top. I liked Cloud Atlas much better than Brave New World, and the story threads' loose connections work very effectively to tie the story together.
Winter winds howl, snow piles up everywhere and a thumb in a cooler at the junk yard (Municipal Waste Facility, please) occupy Walt Longmire and his deputies. Some people in the county are not who they seem to be.
Language is at the center of this novel. Long after first encounter with an intelligent species, humans still must deal with the alien nature of their planetary hosts. Ambassadors, in this case, are a special breed of two people whose augmentations allow them to communicate with the hosts. Ordinary humans cannot actually produce Language, just make noise.
When a new ambassador arrives from the regional capital, all sorts of mayhem begins. It certainly looks like the human colony will not survive.
First encounter, but not exactly between humans and aliens. Siri Keeton is one of the "people" who serve as crew on Theseus as it races for the Oort cloud searching for the aliens who seeded Earth with the Fireflies and took a snapshot of the whole planet. Siri isn't quite human. He is enhanced with electronics. So is the rest of the crew, including a vampire. This dark science fiction novel is not an easy read with all its challenging ideas.
Special thanks to Peter Watt for publishing this novel and several others, with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. It doesn't change his copyright and ownership of Blindsight, but in the long run, it will make the process of this work entering the public domain much easier, I hope.
Gradgrind, M'Choakumchild and Bounderby are three of the aptly named characters in this social commentary about the class differences between the haves and the have-nots. Emotion is squeezed to the margins by the "Facts Man" Thomas Gradgrind. Family and kindness are second to toeing the line. Good eventually rears its head and Dickens finishes by asking us to participate in making our world a better place.