bunrab: (me)
I regularly grab large armfuls of stuff off the new books shelf in the library, on spec, to see if there are random authors out there I haven't run across who might be any good. This is particularly the case with murder mysteries - I read 'em faster than the authors write 'em, so I am constantly on the lookout for new series, or new to me, anyway.

One of the things that I've noticed is that there are more and more gimmicks in the mystery genre.
A long rant about gimmick escalation. )
One example of too many gimmicks, that I skimmed through and could hardly stand even the skim version: our protagonist spends lots of time drinking brand name liquor and talking about kinky sex with her neighbors, but still has time to have a really successful career! And she has a boyfriend who's a cop, and he doesn't mind at all that she constantly gets involved in murders and solves them for him! And she's going to be on a reality show! Which is supposed to be a bunch of women from whom the rich guy will choose a spouse, but really he's gay and it's one of the men in the house that he's going to choose! Only one of the guys is secretly straight and pretending to be gay in order to get the rich guy's money! Oh, and there's a guy who's secretly his son he didn't know he had! I'm pretty sure there were designer shoes in there somewhere too, but I couldn't hack even skimming more than the first two chapters and the last one.

And then there's the other bane of the random book grab, the self-published book. These show up on the library shelves, often because a local author has donated copies to the library. Where do I even start about the horrors of most self-published books? I won't even mention the lack of proofreading in many; that's just pitiful - but the stuff beyond typos and obvious grammar errors? The dialogue that clearly no one has ever tried saying out loud? The massive info dumps as filler? The continuity errors, oh gods, the continuity errors. Bad enough when it's just that the spelling of someone's name changes from Marjorie to Marjory, a little worse when someone's physical characteristics such as hair color change suddenly, or their background information changes. Then it gets to the point where someplace that we were told 2 chapters ago is a place our protagonist has never been, but suddenly he's familiar with it and has spent years there. Or there's dialogue and suddenly one of the characters who's speaking is someone who wasn't in the book at all until suddenly they were in the middle of this conversation! And then there's the really egregious stuff - the narration changes from third-person to first person at random times that are clearly accidental, not a deliberate viewpoint change to make something clearer. Or similarly, the tense changes for no reason, and a paragraph that was in standard fictional past tense is suddenly being told in the present tense, even though nothing else has changed. Or someone who was speaking standard English (albeit stiffly and without contractions or very unrealistically) suddenly starts speaking in a dialect, with the dialect spelled phonetically.

I've been sent a few such books by authors who see my name on Amazon; so far, there hasn't been a one of the self-published books where I'd be able to write a positive review.

Sometimes it really makes me question whether it's worth trying to read anything new. But in the next post I will describe a couple of books I liked, one with a gimmick that was a little bit gimmicky but the characters were likeable and the plot was good, so it worked; another that was self-published but turned out to be quite decent.
bunrab: (me)
A Christmas Garland - Anne Perry. Novelette, Christmas-themes, annual, features one of her regular characters at a much earlier point in his life. Good mystery.
The Member of the Wedding - Carson McCullers. I sorta resolved at New Years to try and read a few "classics" this year, and since this was on the "classics" display at the library, I grabbed it. I have no idea why it's a classic. I am reminded once again, even in this relatively short novel, of everything I don't like about the style of "Southern" writers and of the whole southern-gothic-sort-of genre. Stories of family scandals based on ignorance, disease, and discrimination, will just never be my cup of tea, I guess. And our protagonist is actually too young for this to be coming of age, nor does she particularly come of any pieces of wisdom from the incidents. I guess it's a good description of the intense but scattered emotions and lack of logic typical of a girl on the brink of adolescence, but so what? Not that interesting.

Tried a bit of chick lit, since it involved a bookstore; I thought that might make it interesting. It didn't, and I didn't finish The Book Lover by Maryann McFadden. I stopped at about the second point where I was mentally shouting at someone, "Why the hell do you people keep lying to each other on the spur of the moment for no logical reason???" Life's too short.

Now reading: Rage is Back - Adam Mansbach. Very, very funny. It's told in the first person, and some of it in New York City dialect, if that's the right word - our protagonist is the teenage son of an absent father who was a famous graffiti-writer in his day. Said son, unfortunately named Dondi, is quite intelligent, and has only recently been kicked out of what he refers to as the Whoopty Whoo Ivy League We's A Comin' Academy, which he was attending on a "What the Hell, Let's Give a Clever Young Colored Boy a Chance to Transcend His Race Scholarship."
Here's an excerpt from where I just reached, in which our narrator's reappeared father has described an alleged entheogenic serum from a talking tree, and our hero is deciding whether to listen to him:

I'm taking the time to acknowledge this out of respect for you, the reader, because I hate stories with fuzzy internal logic. Kids who've grown up on Harry Potter don't know any better, poor schmucks: the people in those books are constantly doing things that were impossible five minutes earlier. In a few years, you'll see. The Rowling generation's going to be the most fucked up yet. Whereas you could break into George Lucas's house right now, traipse into his study, and say, "Hey George, what exactly is a parsec?" and as soon as he finished taking his bong hit, he'd be able to explain. Probably before security arrived. Or take Tolkein: not only could J.R.R. have told you why they didn't just ride those giant fucking eagles straight into the heart of Mordor instead of walking, he'd have done so in High Elvish, or the Tongue of the Woodland Realm, your choice.

bunrab: (alien reading)
So, I read this book called How to Read Novels Like A Professor, which turned out to be great - imagine a course on literature, except instead of concentrating on all the boring stuff, he concentrates on bestsellers and genre fiction. And he's funny. He starts out by telling us how the first two sentences of the book can already reveal exactly how much effort and attention we'll have to put into reading it. Several chapters are spent on discussing the unusual narrative techniques of modern novels - as a contrast to Victorian novels, explaining too why those were written the way they were, and how much something can change from that and still be considered a novel. We have the usual discussion of POV, and what the limitations of first-person are, and so on. He uses a lot of examples, including Agatha Christie mysteries, and the aforesaid Dickens. Mostly, when he discusses Dickens, he talks about Great Expectations, which I didn't like and never finished; he doesn't mention my favorite, A Tale of Two Cities, at all. And he spends a lot of time trying to justify reading Joyce's Ulysses, leaving me totally unconvinced - I'm still never going to read it. On the other hand, some of the books he discussed were ones I had not previously considered, that he made sound downright interesting - see more on that below. Others, well, no - he spends a lot of time on Fowles' The Magus, which I read while I was in college in the 70's, and didn't like at all, and the very points that I didn't like are what he does like about it: how "clever" it is, where you have to *work* at figuring out what's going on. And when I read it, I kept thinking, this is an awful lot of effort for very little story; there's not enough plot under the cleverness, and if I want to do this much work while reading, I'll read a textbook and get a good grade for it, thank you very much. So, not everything he considers interesting is attractive. Nonetheless, an excellent book; the writers on my flist would probably enjoy it, too.

One of the books he used in illustrating POV was Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible which I had heretofore ignored. But his description of multiple third-person non-omniscient POVs sounded interesting. So I went and took that out of the library next, and wound up reading it through in only two sittings - it was that interesting. And going in knowing what to expect, the multiple POVs, some with limited information, were not too much work, and were quite enjoyable. Lots of story in there; it's not just character and cleverness.

I also finally got around to reading Koontz's Odd Thomas and one of its sequels, Brother Odd, books which illustrate yet another POV - the *unreliable* first-person narrator, as Odd himself describes himself, comparing it to the POV in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I don't think I would have focused as much on how the unreliable-first-person POV affects the story had I not recently read the How to Read.... Anyway, I liked the first one, didn't like Brother Odd as much, mainly because of the excess of "Forbidden Planet" woo-woo - I didn't like "Forbidden Planet," for that matter, and for that matter, I hate "The Tempest" - I think it's the stupidest play of Shakespeare's that I've ever read, character and plot-wise. (Great language, but stupid.) Despite the "things man was not meant to create" vibe, though, I enjoyed a lot of the book, especially the Russian character.

Now off to more crocheting and some herbal tea.
bunrab: (Default)
Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick - second in his series about PI John Justin Mallory; I liked it better than the first (Stalking the Unicorn) - it made more sense as a mystery, if one can say that about farcical fantasy. Anyway, John Justin, aided by ex-military Winifred Carruthers and 90-pound cat-girl Felina, have to determine why Winifred's nephew seems to be turning into a vampire. This winds up involving several funeral homes with odd names not to mention the Vampire State Building. This is definitely the other Manhattan.

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb. Who could resist a title like that? Not I, certainly. I hadn't enjoyed what little I'd read of Webb's "Desert" series, but this is a new series, taking place in a small zoo in California. It's still not a great book, or a great murder mystery, but it's OK, and the details about the animals and their care are interesting enough and funny enough to make up for the stereotypical nasty rich people who populate the surrounding town. Among other things, we get a giraffe giving birth, as well as the banana-obsessed anteater giving birth. Spoiler: neither the anteater nor the butler did it.

The Handicap Principle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi. Probably the most boring pop-science book I've read in a while, partly because very little has been done to turn it from academese to pop. Excessively long to convey a fairly simple idea, the authors insist on dragging EVERY possible feature of an animal into play as a handicap for mating competitions, including, for pete's sake, why men have beards and women don't. The authors claim, you see, that it's because men fight a lot, and having a beard makes it easier for other men to grab them, so by displaying one, a man is claiming that he can win any fistfight, even with the handicap, thereby making him a more attractive mate. Women don't have beards because they don't get into fistfights. Honest, the authors say this!! Also, besides dragging their premise to absurd lengths, the book has crappy illustrations that do nothing for it. Would be much improved by editing out the more outrageous half of their claims, and filling the space with photos of the animals and some side-by-side comparison illustrations. Also including more rodents, perhaps overlooked here because so many of them aren't flashy and aren't terribly dimorphic in size and therefore would be difficult to stretch into the authors' thesis.

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. Known for her work with livestock animals, Grandin here adds pet animals to the mix, discussing how improving our pets' lives by considering their evolutionary environment can also improve our own lives. Some of it is redundant stuff from her other books. The chapter on cats is interesting - a good explanation of why, although cats and dogs are both "domesticated" animals, a cat is a lot less domesticated than a dog.

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson, edited by Hank Davis - a collection of some of the Van Rijn and Falkayn stories, nothing one hasn't read before, but with introductions to each explaining a little more of the big picture of Anderson's future history. Also, at the end, a very good timeline showing how the Polesotechnic League develops and dissolves and the eventual development of the Empire period of Ensign Flandry.

The Fourth Time is Murder by Steven Havill - grabbed at random off library shelves, looking for more to read, this turns out to be a recent volume in a long-established series. It takes place in the Southwest - New Mexico, near the Mexican border - but is NOT, thank goodness, another attempt to be a Hillerman clone. (I get tired of those - all the Hillerman wannabes who toss in a Navajo and a mention of Navajo religion, and then expect that we'll all enjoy their books just because of that, regardless of how superficial or unrealistic it otherwise is.) Main protagonist is a woman under-sheriff. Plot is based around a financial scam we only slowly find out about; side plots include illegal immigrants, perhaps unavoidable given the location.

The Golden Age of Novelty Songs by Steve Otfinoski. Although it hits most of the high points, I can't entirely agree with a book that devotes almost an entire chapter to Alvin and the Chipmunks and only a couple of sentences to "Camp Grenada." And in the chapter about Christmas novelty songs, he doesn't even MENTION "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" - hmph! Includes photos, and does include things you might not instantly think of in the novelty song genre - Cheech and Chong, and William Fries (better known as C.W. McColl), along with the ones you would instantly think of - Napoleon XIV, Homer & Jethro, The Chad Mitchell Trio (my favorites! for their song "Lizzie Borden.")

There, now I'm only a couple weeks behind on the news.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Bunch more library books to return, so here you go:
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House by Charles Osgood - a collection of campaign humor, or, as the subtitle puts it, "Humor, blunders, and other oddities from the presidential campaign trail," from the 1948 elections (Truman v Dewey) through the 2004 elections. Some of it is indeed more odd than funny. And some of it sadly reminds me that Richard Nixon, crook and bigot though he was, was at least more intelligent than Shrub. Easy to read bits of at a time - this was my bathroom reading for a couple weeks.
Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black - sorta disappointing, as Black turns out to be one of those "oh, organized religion is nonsense but I still believe in God" types, afraid to cross the line to atheism. Parts of it are funny, some are sorta blah; his accounts of his "spiritual" experiences with hallucinogenic drugs are both religious copouts and sad. But there are funny bits as well as stuff that would never have been printed if it wasn't Lewis Black saying it.
A Song For You by Betsy Thornton - a murder mystery grabbed randomly off the shelves in an effort to try more authors I haven't read before; verdict: it's OK. Features the daughter of a past-her-prime hippie mother who was a singer in a band, and the remaining members of the band, all old and worn out. And a murder from the old days, as well as a current one. A decent resolution, adequate writing, not super-exciting but I would try more books by her if I happened to run across them.
The Good Neighbors, Book 1: Kin by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh - fantasy graphic novel, mainly YA, as that is what Black writes when she writes regular books. Coming-of-age and our protagonist suddenly discovers that she can see people others can't, who turn out to be faeries, or "good neighbors." I like the artwork, and there's a good mix of panels where something is happening with the apparently mandatory panels where nothing happens except that some feature of someone's face or clothes gets enlarged. I like our heroine's group of goofy friends. Ends in mid-plot, sort of cliff-hanger, as the title might indicate. Things Are Not What They Seem!

More later - gotta get to band rehearsal early to hand out some more music.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Finally! A genuine post instead of a bunch of tweets!

First, the best book I've read in the past month is The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett - it's a really original fantasy. My Amazon.com review is here and as ever, I'd appreciate it if you read the review, voted Yes for it, and commented on it if you have the time and willingness to do so.*

Then, books that I tweeted, but haven't mentioned in more detail:
Salvation in Death - JD Robb, latest in her Eve Dallas series, not bad, has to do with a televangelist who suddenly goes honest.
Bones and Obsession - Jonathan Kellerman, latest in his Alex Delaware series; Alex and Milo sound more alike than ever, both of them frequently leaving any personal pronouns off the beginnings of sentences; the new sidekick that Milo acquires in Obsession shows some promise as a character.
The Best of Michael Swanwick - anthology of short stories, some of which I had already read when they appeared in SF magazines; perhaps the most famous is "The Feast of St. Janis."
A graphic novel of Thor based on the comic books of the same name; the book uses up quite a bit of space on the set-up of why Thor is coming back, and a lot of it is pretentious panels that show almost nothing. Thor establishes a new Asgard - hovering over a farm in Oklahoma. There are some good bits in here, such as when someone from the town wants to deliver an invitation to the residents of Asgard to attend a town hall meeting, and has to first install a mailbox under Asgard, so he has something to deliver it to. Also the scene where the gods come to the town meeting - that's where the quote "What unfortunate day's events are not made gladder by cake?" comes from.
Manga Shakespeare Julius Caesar - worst in the series so far; the artwork is so ugly it makes it nearly impossible to tell the characters apart. And having the characters wearing togae in one scene, and then put on zoomy helmets and hop on motorcycles, is so wrong. I can't see where anyone would ever be drawn to a deeper understanding of Shakespeare or toward reading more of his plays, from this presentation; if anything, it'll drive new readers away.
Cretaceous Dawn by L. and M. Graziano - sorta like Jurassic Park, except it involves the scientists actually being dumped back in time. A couple of characters seem real; others are cardboard, but overall it's readable. Manages to involve a turf war between OSHA and ONR (Office of Naval Research) and a couple of crooked physicists, to give more interest to the modern end of things. The entomologist gets the girl.
A Very Private Enterprise by Elizabeth Ironsides - from the cover illustration, and even the back cover blurb, I thought this was going to be a historical mystery, but it turned out to be modern, far too British for me to understand what was going on, and it had a totally implausible ending where after everything is over and one person is left packing up, the real killer just wanders in and confesses.

And a few I hadn't mentioned at all yet:
Stat-Spotting by Joel Best - lightweight, but good summaries. Perhaps his best chapter is the idea of knowing benchmarks - there are about 300m americans, 4m babies born each year in US, 2.4m die each year and a few other general ones - so that you can recognize totally bogus stats (like one claim I heard, from a relative, that there are 150 million abortions a year in the US - oh yes, 50% of every man, woman, and child in the country had an abortion last year? Really?)

Free-Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee - a lot about her daughters. No sense anyone who doesn't knit or haunt yarn shops reading it. It's humorous, but only for yarn addicts.

Ageless Memory - Harry Lorayne - a reminder of the old trick of putting absurd images to things you need to remember. I used to do that and then didn't and now Lorayne has reminded me that it works.

A Just Determination - John Hemry (not Henry) - well-written and fascinating, and at the same time way too much detail of every sentence needed to launch a ship or start a court-martial. He's best known for a particular mil-fic series, which I haven't read and which this isn't in. This one has a touch of Young Adult coming-of-age stuff in it, but it isn't juvenile. I liked it. Our boy is a newly minted lawyer (well, that's not what they call it, but that's what it is) on a battleship on a supposedly peaceful mission. Which of course goes awry. Warning: unless you're already deeply into Navy stuff, you'll spend a while getting straight about the difference between Captains and Commanders and whatnot, and the exact chain of command, and who isn't on the usual chain, and more of that nature.

Gaaah, and there's still a short stack of books here - I'll include the 4 remaining in a second post, before this one gets big enough to invade a small nation.
bunrab: (alien reading)
some of which must return to library Thursday. So I'd better mention 'em now.

American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent - amusic, sometimes superficial. He makes an interesting case, in his chapter about the SCA, for the way the SCA manages to create nerd jocks, unlike most nerdy groups.

Recovery Man by Kristine Kathryn Rusch - latest in her Retrieval Artist (Miles Flint) series; all the books in this series are seriously good crime fic/mystery fic as well as quite acceptable science fiction - a far more serious blend of SF elements than, say, J.D. Robb. I like the way she does really alien aliens. And I like the dry sense of humor that sneaks in occasionally. This volume has far more to do with Miles' past history/personal life than any of the previous ones. One of the things I like best is how realistic the characters are - even the nasty-guy Recovery Man has some sophisticated thoughts and thinks about what he's doing, not an all-evil-all-the-time-just-because villain.

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. Well, of course, RVs/motor homes/campers are a lot more common now than they were in 1960, and the interstate highway system is a lot more complete (even in some of its deteriorating-infrastructure state), so some of the book is a bit dated. But it's still interesting, especially the postscript about the Kennedy inauguration - coming up as we are on the Obama inauguration, which, you will recall, is more or less a local event where I am; yes, traffic and security and whatnot for DC does stretch all the way to our area.

I had briefly mentioned Odysseus on the Rhine but didn't say anything about it, and I should. It's a sequel to The Odyssey and before you go "ewwww" please listen when I say it's quite nicely done. I've added a review to Amazon.com, which should be posted within a few hours. (And if you read it and like it, besides the Yes button, could you possibly add a comment? I'm a glutton for comments, and they keep Amazon from thinking that it's the same few fans all the time. Thanks!)
bunrab: (alien reading)
Read a whole bunch of xmas-themed short story and novella anthologies, not worth mentioning (although Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, werewolf Christmas stories, is a pretty funny concept, erractically implemented) and I'll mention one xmas novel, Donna Andrews' Six Geese a-Slaying - it's the latest in her Meg Lanslow series, and it's back to being funny, which the previous volume wasn't, which is why I mention it even though it's a series book.

And Jim Butcher's Welcome to the Jungle, a Harry Dresden graphic novel, which I felt was eh. I mean, OK, but thinnish on plot and I really like having more detail in these; in this case, the pictures were NOT worth a thousand words to me, and I much would have preferred a good ol'-fashioned text novel. Oh, and when it has a cape/mantle, people, it's not a duster any more, it's a freakin' greatcoat, OK??

And a graphic novel I didn't finish, Preacher, Vo. 1: Welcome to Texas - not my cup o' tea, too weird, with a plot line that has too little coherence and too much violence and profanity just for the sake of violence and profanity. Though I do sorta like the Irish vampire character. But I'm not gonna bother finishing this or looking for the rest of the series.
bunrab: (Default)
Okay, some Amazon.com reviews - read 'em, click the little Yes button, you know the drill:
This Might Not Be Pretty (a Stone Soup comic strip collection) by Jan Eliot
Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred - already mentioned this one; it's on my "favorite books this year" list.

Briefly in tweets I quoted from A Short History of Rudeness by Mark Caldwell. It was written about 10 years ago, so the chapter on the internet is overwrought and out of date. And the chapter on Martha Stewart is just plain weird, has nothing to do with the rest of the book. But nonetheless there's some interesting reading in some of the chapters, particularly about how the rise in mobility (more and more individual transportation) contributed to the world being ruder.

From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell - a re-release of the first Inspector Wexford novel. From 1964. I've never gotten around to reading any Rendell before. Eh. I could see the plot twist coming a mile away. And I find the whole thing too British for me. In order to read the story smoothly, one has to be familiar with the British school system, and with the whole "this neighborhood in London automatically conveys such-and-such a social and economic class" thing, which is not information I've ever cared to internalize. I know a lot of people don't mind it; it's a personal thing to prefer novels set in places where I know the milieu.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, that's an 8.) Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Very, very funny book. Especially the chapter on why Chinese food is "the chosen food of the Chosen People, or, The Great Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989." The history of General Tso's Chicken, the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, and a comparison of the McDonalds model as Windows and the Chinese restaurant model as Linux. I bet almost everyone on my flist would find something to enjoy in this one.

Michael Chabon's The Final Solution - a short book that, although it never mentions the name, is clearly meant to be a sort of alternate-history "Sherlock Holmes lives to a ripe old age in rural England." A quick read, nice enough, and the parrot is a nice character.

Welcome to Tranquility by Gail Simone and Neil Googe - another graphic novel, this one a very loving send-up of old-fashioned comic books, the kind from the 1940's through 1960's, with a touch of how counterculture and Goths and Postmodernism took over from those. The plot is set in the town of Tranquility, where all the retired maxi-heroes (someone must have a copyright on "super-heroes") live. And the young African-American female sheriff who gets to try to keep the whole town calm. Probably MORE fun reading for someone my age, who read all those '60's comics books at the time, than for younger people who don't have that whole context.

Oh, and of course The Eight by Katherine Neville, already mentioned that it was in progress. Finished it. A bit silly and complicated in many spots - requires a willing suspension of disbelief for the fantasy element that sneaks in, as with any magical/religious object that exerts mysterious powers over people, even though otherwise set in the "real world." And quite a bit of the whole Freemasons/Rosicrucians/gigantic historical conspiracy wingnut stuff as part of it. Good fun, though, and I liked many of the side digressions, such as the tale the 18th-century chess player tells of meeting J.S. Bach. On the whole, a bit non-sequitur-ish, as the mystical power of the chess set at the end has nothing to do with how it was introduced at the beginning, but nonetheless a good adventure thriller, sort of "what if Indiana Jones were a woman working for a big-8 accounting firm in the 1970's?" with a whole bunch of French Revolution and other international travel thrown in.

Okay. Gotta go change clothes for yet another band Christmas concert tonight. Whee. "Sleigh Ride" till our lips fall off.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Kitty and the Silver Bullet - Carrie Vaughn - latest in her werewolf series, includes vampires and a vampire war over the next king of the city.

The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart. This murder mystery was written a century ago, 1908, and what's surprising is how modern it is. I think that Agatha Christie probably couldn't have written her stuff had there not been Rinehart's stuff to ease us out of the all-male Victorian stuff. In Conan Doyle and other mystery writers of the turn of the 20th century, mostly women are just objects that things happen to. Rinehart, however, made her protagonist a grumpy old maiden aunt, and both the mystery and the characters seem far more modern than I expected. For example, the aunt inherits guardianship of her niece and nephew. When the nephew graduates college, the first thing he does is go out and buy a car. In 1908! And a period touch: "... and I learned how to tie over my bonnet a gray baize veil, and, after a time, never to stop to look at the dogs one has run down. People are apt to be so unpleasant about their dogs." The copy I read, incidentally, was the original 1908 edition, with its carefully inset illustrations. The crime is certainly modern enough - it involves a bank officer faking his own death to avoid being punished for his embezzlement, when his bank fails. (Ken Lay, anyone? Many people suspect that his death was all too convenient...) Anyway, I liked this, found it easier to read than much turn-o-century stuff, and certainly more modern characters and plot than some of the other stuff I've read from that era. For example, in the back of the book are pages advertising other recent releases from the publisher; I've read a couple of Grace Livingston Hill's books, and they were so awful I never read more, and I've read every word Kathleen Norris ever wrote - I went through a phase - and while those were more readable, they still have a certain saccharine quality to them, and a certain dependence on unrealistic coincidences and people walking into other people's houses uninvited and then eavesdropping to their detriment; Rinehart has much better characters than that!

I noticed that I've already blogged about more than 100 books this year, so for the rest of the year I'm probably going to only mention books where I really have something to say about the book; not gonna blog about any more routine murder mysteries or routine vampire stories. I may change my mind about that, but right now, I figure I've already done my share for promoting literacy. And only a quarter of the ones I've mentioned are murder mysteries, and nearly half of them were nonfiction! So I've met at least one New Year's Goal.


Sep. 15th, 2008 11:53 pm
bunrab: (Default)
Okay, so after the flu in the middle of August and then a week at Sally's inhaling dust, I couldn't stop coughing and I felt even more fatigued than usual; eventually I started thinking maybe there's fluid in my lungs, so I went to the doc. Apparently not fluid, just inflamation, so using steroid inhaler (as of this past Wed) to reduce inflamation; it's working a bit, I guess - still coughing and stuff, but nearly back to only tired all the time instead of exhausted to the point of not getting out of bed.

I got a couple of RL projects done - finally finished a couple of bedside rugs I've been working on for me and [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet, since cooler weather is coming and we may not want to step onto cold floors. I'll try to get pictures of them sometime soon. Started work on wedding gift for my cousin Jesse who got married last September - goal is to finish the stuff (quilted table runner and 4 placemats) and mail them off by the end of this month, a year after the wedding. Still cleaning up bits and pieces at old house; we buried Lamarck chinchilla who passed away this past spring and had been in the freezer, and I put a stepping stone on his grave - I'll take a picture of that, too, when I get a chance.

And there has been reading, as usual:

Book I did not finish: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. Forty years ago I didn't make it ten pages in before giving up out of total lack of interest in figuring out who these characters were; twenty years ago I made it about twenty pages in; this time, all the way to page 27 before closing it again. I do not care enough about Hindu mythology and other mythology to follow who these characters are, who is an avatar of who else, who is on which side... I just don't care.

Book I didn't like: White Oleander by Janet Fitch. This was apparently a big bestseller and very popular with book clubs, and it reads exactly as if it were written to be a book club discussion subject, and I don't mean that kindly. Where some reviewer sees a "surprising journey of self-discovery" I see a protagonist who stays stupid the whole way through - she doesn't make the same mistake twice, but she makes new and dumber ones all the time, and never seems to wise up and stop approaching life as a manipulating but clueless slut. We're supposed to care about what she learns from each of her foster mothers, and compare them, but she doesn't ever seem to learn any rational kind of lesson. Even when her own mother gets out of jail, she isn't really happy. This book doesn't really have much of a plot; the character grows older but doesn't grow up; her mother gets out of jail but that's just a small paragraph amidst the general whining and indecisiveness. Bleah. I know thousands of people disagree with this evaluation of the book; clearly, many people are looking more for "emotionally gripping" than for "fast-moving plot and rational characters."

And for stuff I did enjoy: Watchers by Dean Koontz - not great literature, but a fast-moving plot and nice characters! This is the first Koontz I've ever read - somehow managed to not get around to any till now. This one features a golden retriever named Einstein, genetically modified to near-human intelligence, able to read and even converse in writing. Plot also includes a nastier genetically modified character, the Outsider, and along the way we are supposed to compare the Outsider and Vince the mob hit-man, and notice which of them is really less human and kills more people. That part is a bit obvious. But hey, it's a good story, and most of the characters are likeable, and there's a more-or-less happy ending.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is a novel about a historian who is researching Vlad Tepes, who turns out to be an immortal vampire after all, sort of, only not. It's a very long book, and some of it was longer than need be - in almost a deliberate imitation of Victorian style, there is much more exposition, and jumping back from generation to generation, and words upon words, than is really necessary. Sometimes one can lose track of which generation is taking place - is it our female protagonist as a teenager listening to her father tell about his research, or the father listening to his mentor from a generation earlier, or is it 30 years later? We run through all sorts of minute historical detail from the 1470's onward. I admit to skimming in spots.

Smoke-Filled Rooms by Kris Nelscott - a murder mystery set during the 1968 Chicago convention, featuring a black, male, PI - written in the first person by Nelscott, which is one of Kristen Kathryn Rusch's pen names. So, quite a feat of characterization. Anyway, a decent mystery, though a bit of gory torture of the sort I really don't think could go unnoticed for so long. Much of the plot is timely enough given this election year. I'll probably look for the rest of the series.

The Apostate's Tale by Margaret Frazer - most recent in her Dame Frevisse series, and this one returns more to the priory (convent) after the last couple of very political volumes. The last two were almost entirely about English political uprisings and Frevisse's cousin Alice, and I was not crazy about them; I was glad to see this one get back to the day to day details of everyday life in the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, it's probably the last one, since it ends with Frevisse becoming Prioress, and also it's set in 1452, so any ten minutes now the printing press is going to come along and destroy the priory's book-copying business and only source of income.

Warning: I am going to attempt Twittering. No telling what may show up.

Now to go see if I can catch up on a couple of weeks of unread flist. Speaking of, Chas, your bday present will be in the mail tomorrow. [livejournal.com profile] richspk, speaking of addresses, I need your snail mail address. Email me, plz.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Well, it's been a murder mystery binge:
Dyer Consequences by Maggie Sefton - latest in her knitting series; so-so. I probably won't bother with more of these; they're just not interesting enough. Could see who the murderer was (though not all the details of why) fairly quickly. One high spot: one of the alpacas is a hero in the final showdown between our heroine and the murderer. But at the end of this book, she's getting rid of most of the alpacas.
Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman - again has Peter Decker and his daughter Cindy working together. Didn't like it that much though; the plot had complications and coincidences multiplied unnecessarily. In connecting two murders some 15 years apart, we have so many characters who were supposedly involved in both but for different reasons that I started losing track of who was who, which victim and which year we were talking about. It just didn't appeal to me that much. On the other hand,
Cold Case by Kate Wilhelm, latest in her Barbara Holloway series, is also about 2 murders, 15 years apart, but I found it much easier to follow who the characters were and why they were involved with each other. Perhaps it's that the setting for this one is mostly academia, while the setting for the Kellerman is the rap-music-and-drugs business in L.A. - I can relate more to the university characters.
Damage Control by J.A. Jance. Latest in her Sheriff Joanna Brady series. Always good. Joanna's mother is getting a bit tiresome, but we do find out a lot more about Joanna's family history in this one, along with the usual exposures of human greed and stupidity.

And one non-murder:
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. Very similar to Predictably Irrational but not quite as long or as amusing. In one chapter, the authors make the assumption that the discovery of homo floriensis has been proven to be a separate species of humanity and that anyone who doesn't buy the arguments in that direction (instead of the many scientists who feel there's not nearly enough evidence yet to draw that conclusion) is irrational. That was a bit annoying. On the other hand, the chapter about the ineffectiveness of the typical job interview in predicting whether a person will fit the prevailing corporate culture is interesting.

Every post deserves a picture:

There is a 36-Euro fine for not picking up your dog poop in Vienna. There are MANY of these little signs, on virtually every patch of grass, alerting you to the consequences.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Crime fiction:
Holy Moly by Ben Rehder - Read my Amazon.com review here. (And clicky the helpful Yes button, plz.) Latest in his Game Warden John Marlin series, set in Texas.
Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews - Read my Amazon.com review here. Latest in her Meg Lanslow series, and not as funny as the previous ones.

Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Sky Horizon by David Brin - Read my Amazon.com review here. Ick - young adult, full of teenage angst, highly improbable alien attitude.
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris - latest in her Sookie Stackhouse series. I didn't review it on Amazon.com because 152 people had already done so. I actually liked it better than many of the reviewers did, though - I liked that it had numerous different plot threads, and a lot of ongoing issues were resolved, though by no means all of them - things were neatened up considerably, so that we can start in on some new plots next volume. Spoiler: Bob the cat finally gets turned back into a human.
bunrab: (alien reading)
After we got back from Europe, I was only home for a couple of days before I turned around and went up to New York to help my friend Sally-the-hoarder throw some stuff out. Just got back this Thursday. Did not have computer with me while I was there, and didn't have much chance to use Sally's computer. We did get some stuff thrown out, but it's a battle - while she knows she's got a problem, she doesn't like to think that any individual thing is a problem, and so every single piece has to be looked at, categorized, and a decision made about it. We couldn't even compromise about putting some stuff in boxes and sticking them in the POD that I rented for her and then deciding about them later, because the stuff in boxes *might* be something she'd need within the next couple months. The fact that many of said things were things she's done without for years because they were buried under other stuff does not in any way alleviate her anxiety that she might need it, that she can think of a possible use for it, and therefore it can't get stored somewhere where she can't get at it instantly, let alone thrown away. So we debate that need to a standstill on every receipt, every tennis ball, every bag of candy purchased in 2004 and long since past its expiration date. Despite all that, we DID make some progress. And I got a chance to talk to a couple of her other friends who live up there, and started enlisting them to help out with one small chunk of STUFF at a time.

Wait, here's a picture, so that this post isn't just whining! This one is me on my travel scooter, on the road leading to the beach in Opatija, Croatia; the bikes behind me are Kawasakis, which seemed to be the most popular motorcycles in town, though still far behind motor scooters in numbers; there are a couple other band members, too - we were on our way to the amphitheatre for our first performance!

Anyway. Reading. Let's see. Re-reading some Terry Pratchett - so far, Guards, Guards!, Men at Arms, and Feet of Clay. Also have progressed through Matriarch and Ally in the second trilogy of Karen Traviss' Shan Frankland series. Now on the final book, Judge - I'll give a more thorough report on that one when I'm done. Also have started the latest Harry Dresden book, Small Favors (Jim Butcher) - I won't give anything away, don't worry. Um, Carolyn Hart's Death Walked In in her Annie Darling series - eh, she's recycling plots lately. There's been other stuff as well - I know a bunch of library books have wandered in and out of here - but I can't remember what.

Wait, I am drifting into boring, must be time for another picture! Here are some bikes and scooters parked under the palm trees along the sidewalks of one of the main streets. I bet you never thought of Eastern Europe and palm trees in the same breath - but Croatia is a seaside country, this is a seaside resort town, and yes, it has lots of palm trees!

We got most of the remainder of the stuff out of the old house yesterday - there's still loose odds and ends in the kitchen that we can carry over in the car, but all the big stuff's out of there, and we can call in the carpet shampooers and the general cleaners and probably have that house ready to rent out for September 1! This house is messier than ever now - but the electrician is coming next Thursday to do the rest of the work on the outlets, and then we can push all the bookcases against the walls and really get to unpacking the books.

This is the Hotel Agava (yes, after the agave plant), which is where we were staying in Opatija.

Anyway, I'm just going to look at my flist starting now, and only go back if (a) I see something drastic that begs for explanation that may be in an earlier post, or (b) you actually put a comment here telling me that there's something I should know or would like to know in your posts of the past month. Sorry I'm being so lazy - but lazy is my middle name, right?

One more pic: This is looking out from the stage into the audience portion of the amphitheater, during our sound check a couple hours before the concert.
bunrab: (Default)
Of All Sad Words by Bill Crider - latest in his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series of murder mysteries. Amusing if lightweight.

City of Pearl and its sequels, Crossing the Line and The World Before by Karen Traviss - science fiction series; there's a second trilogy also out that I'll probably look for. I stumbled across these by accident. They're not bad - strong milfic element, but mainly alien sociology, if you will - humans are NOT the good guys here. (At one point, one of the aliens says, in effect, "I've read some of your science fiction. The aliens always help the humans, or release the human captives, because they admire the spunky human spirit. I've got news for you: you're not spunky; you're obnoxious!") The third volume had a couple weaknesses - a touch of one of the romance genre tropes, where characters don't speak to each other and do all the wrong things simply because they won't ask the other person a forthright "What do you want to do?" I don't like this trope when it shows up in romance, and I like it even less when some of the aliens are supposed to be completely forthright.)

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - this was fun, confirming all one's worst fears about how illogical we are, how easy it is for people to fall into cheating, how crappy our thinking gets when it involves money, how much more we cheat if a transaction DOESN'T involve money, and how traditional economics is full of crap. ([livejournal.com profile] elfbiter, this is sort of similar to The Failure of Logic except it discusses a series of shorter, but much broader, experiments.)

I'm sure there's been something else in there; darned if I remember what. We're still doing the unpacking-one-house, packing-the-rest-of-the-old-house thing, and we can never find anything when we need it. Camera recharger? who knows. Size 13 knitting needles? No idea. The curtain hooks we bought just yesterday? Disappeared into the morass.
bunrab: (alien reading)

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia - despite the subject, not as interesting to me as some of his books - the anecdotes are quite short, and a lot of time is spent on amusia. One fascinating thing: the incidence of musical hallucinations is much more common than you'd think; estimates are that as many as one in four people will have a musical hallucination at some time in their lives, and that there are probably about as many people who have repeated or near-constant musical hallucinations as there are completely deaf people. So chances are, if your circle of acquaintances is large enough to include someone who's deaf, you also know someone who, unbeknownst to you, has musical hallucinations.
Jane Haddam, Cheating at Solitaire - latest in the Gregor Demarkian series. Partly a Hollywood roman a clef and while I realized promptly that "Stewart Gordon" is Patrick Stewart, it took me longer than it should have to figure out that Arrow Normand is Brittney Spears spelled backward.

bunrab: (Sniffy)
Whew. Band Day was fun but exhausting. All went well. The bands all did great programs. The ice cream vendor sold out of all flavors. After we got home, I slept till 4:30 Monday afternoon.

The house is almost ready for us to move in - the painters were doing the final touch-ups today; the new windows are installed and the sunroom shades re-loaded; the washer-dryer vent and power are up and running; the electrician just has to do one more electrical outlet in the kitchen. We have started carrying all sorts of loose stuff over there, but I need to call a mover and get a firm date in order to push me into getting really moving. I have finished crocheting one cotton throw rug for the floor, but I have to get a non-skid backing for it yet; I will take a pic once the rug is all smooth and flat.

Cindythelibrarian has brought us an armful of flattened boxes so I have no excuse not to start packing!!

Recent reading:
Lisa Scottoline, Daddy's Girl - plucky law professor up for tenure gets caught up in giant prison plot. OK, if not great.
G.M. Ford, Nameless Night - amnesia, the NSA and NASA - it's a thriller. Not my usual cup of tea but this was good, and the beginning, with the amnesia patient, tied in interestingly with that book about traumatic head injury I read a couple weeks ago.
Justin Scott, Mausoleum - latest in his Ben Abbott series; as usual, real estate developers are the bad guys. I have a quibble with this series, which is that its protagonist supposedly has a felony conviction and multiple-year jail term in his past and yet somehow had no trouble getting both a PI license and a Realtor license?
bunrab: (Default)
House stuff. Lots of details, boring to anyone who isn't paying for them and watching the contractors do them. We might be able to move in end of next week, or else the day after Memorial Day.

Music stuff. Likewise lots of planning details boring to anyone who isn't actively doing them. Culminating in Maryland Community Band Day tomorrow, at Montgomery VIllage Middle School. Followed, no doubt, by my sleeping straight through from when we get home Sunday night to when I have to shower and get dressed and head for rehearsal Monday evening.

Fidelity by Thomas Perry. Mystery/thriller, with hit man and plucky heroine. Well written, as usual. But much more exciting was the blurb in the back, announcing that a new Jane Whitefield novel will be out in January 2009!!

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures Volume 1 HC - the graphic novel version, really the first 6 volumes of the comic book; by Laurell K. Hamilton (Author), Stacie M. Ritchie (Author), Jess Ruffner-Booth (Author), Brett Booth (Author). Not too bad; mostly, I like the way the characters have been visualized, and most of the important stuff is in there. I wish they had just waited until the entire novel was finished, though.

The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness by Jeff Warren. Fun and science at the same time! Warren reviews all the states of consciousness involved in sleeping, more than you think there are. Includes the author's recounting of his personal experimentation with each stage of sleep, including ordering a NovaDreamer to help with lucid dreaming; sleeping in a cabin in the woods with no artificial light, not even oil lamps or candles, for three weeks. How to catch your own dreams. I've been reading a chapter before going to sleep each night.

Oh yeah, last weekend we saw my folks off on a cruise, leaving from a pier here in Baltimore, and while we were all together ahead of time, I had the chance to give my newest nephew his baby blanket.

That, by the way, makes 37 nieces and nephews (and 6 great-nieces and nephews).
bunrab: (alien reading)
A certain amount of time being spent here waiting for the electrician to show up (yes, Waiting For the Electrician or Someone Like Him), waiting for the people giving an estimate on landscaping to show up, etc.

The Zookeeper's Menagerie by Joanne Duncalf. Ew, Christian allegory even less subtle than Narnia, which is to say, hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-brick unsubtle. That said, the little family of hedgehogs is cute (even if they were intended to demonstrate the superiority of the nuclear family with lots of children over gay couples adopting a child).

Ten Tortured Words by Stephen Mansfield. Ugh, another religious conservative - I have got to start applying a better filter to the "New Books" shelves at the library than "hmmm, interesting title." In this case, Mansfield claims to know what the founding fathers were thinking much better than what Thomas Jefferson *said* he was thinking. Everson v. Board of Ed evil! Lyndon Johnson evil! PFAW and FFRF evil! Thomas Jefferson's opinions on the first amendment are derided because his famous letter was written fourteen years after the first amendment was written, yet the opinions (about what the first amendment means) of one Joseph Story (Supreme Court 1811-1845) in his book published in 1851 are perfectly valid because he was appointed to the Supreme Court by James Madison. Also, the index is sloppy - invalid page numbers for some references, absence of citations of things that do appear in the book, ridiculous assorted spellings of "Mohammedanism." Yes indeedy, gotta refine that new book filter.

Planet Cat by Sandra Choron, Harry Choron and Arden Moore. Lots of cat trivia. Every cat joke that has appeared in email for years. Lots of illustrations, from old woodcuts to 20th-century ads using cats. Some of my favorite things: detail of a 1647 woodcut showing two seated witches as they name their familiars - which include not only a cat named Pyewacket, but a rabbit named Sacke & Spice. "The Cat's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer's Cat, which features a fairly nice pun. Cat cartoons (Executive at desk: "I'm leaving early today to have my cat neutered. While I'm gone, select 9 people to be Employee of The Month and award each of them with a kitten.")

Peeping Tom's Cabin - comic verse by X.J.Kennedy. I took this one out in April, for National Poetry Month. Nothing in it was particularly worth quoting. Some of the verse is amusing, some of it just pointless, and some crude. Poor imitator of Ogden Nash.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde. Very funny; as convoluted as the previous books in the series. If Pride and Prejudice appears on TV as a reality show called "The Bennets" and various daughters get voted out of the family, it's time to panic.

Damsels in Distress by Joan Hess. Latest in her Claire Molloy series of cozy mysteries. Makes fun of the SCA through a fictional clone called ARSE.

Head Cases: Stories of brain injury and its aftermath by Michael Paul Mason. A few hopeful notes, but mostly depressing, both about the overall state of our knowledge of how to treat patients with Traumatic Brain Injury and the state of our health care system as totally inadequate to deal with the number of patients. Don't expect miracles.

There, that's enough for now.
bunrab: (Default)
New House: We finally got the contract negotiated, so we are buying the house with the garage! Settlement (closing) should be the last week in April. Whee!

Old House: Finished with the bathroom remodel! The contractors did it in less than a week! The bathroom no longer has dark brown indoor-outdoor carpeting, grey-and-white plastic wall tile, a mustard yellow tub enclosure, blue swan-shaped nonskid stickies on the tub floor, and pink ceramic towel bars. It now has white tile floor, new tub, white tile around the tub with an accent row of narrow tiles in a brown and tan design, which matches the brown and tan wallpaper. New low-flow toilet that works properly, new sink which is a pedestal sink rather than a vanity, so that one doesn't walk into the corner of the vanity cabinet every time one walks into the room, plus there's room on the floor for the scale. It's never going to be a luxury bathroom, not at 5 feet by 8 feet, but it's now reasonably attractive and efficient.

Music: Went to hear the Austin Lounge Lizards at Wolf Trap last Thursday. They're still good, still funny.

Rebecca York's werewolf series:
Killing Moon
Edge of the Moon
Witching Moon
Crimson Moon

A certain sameness to all of them - acceptable mystery plots, but the villains are pretty much all the same sort of serial sex pervert murderer who is trying to use kidnapped or controlled women to build up magical powers, and our werewolf hero who has trouble coming to terms with his werewolfness, plus the woman scientist-of-some-sort (medical researcher, botanist, etc.) who is in love with him, must defeat said villain, during the which it is revealed to the woman that the man she loves is a werewolf. They're not all identical, but similar. Edge of the Moon actually involves two non-werewolf peripheral characters from the first book.
Also on a Marion Nestle binge - she's the nutritionist/economist from whom Michael Pollan gets a lot of his stuff. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health is mostly a rant about how industrial agriculture and its lobbyists diluted the Food Pyramid to the point of uselessness - a good rant, but a rant. There are also bits about food terrorism and food fearmongering in there; I had a bunch of notes scribbled down of things to mention, but now I can't find the notes. What to Eat is interesting, but waaaay too long. The average grocery shopper is not going to wade through all of that, even though it's got some very useful information - for example, for people who complain that they don't buy fresh produce because it's too expensive, Nestle shows how you can eat seven servings of fruit and vegetables per day for less than a dollar per person, which puts it within the budget of most families. (The current recommended amount is 9 servings, but most people don't even get seven, so that would already be an improvement.)
The most recent two in J.D. Robb's (Nora Roberts) Eve Dallas series, Creation in Death and Strangers in Death. As usual, they're good, though not great literature. The usual mix of Rourke-owns-everything, Eve's-cars-fall-apart, hot sex scenes, and unlikely but fascinating villains.
Hitman, lastest in Parnell Hall's Stanley Hastings series. Hastings is confused, as usual, and there turns out to be more than one hitman.


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