October in Books

Hello! I’m back!

Well, sort of. You will remark that the ratio of books actually read to books simply listened to is a little skewed this month. This peculiar percentage is due to the unfortunate circumstance of not having any time to sit down and read. And when I do have time to sit with a book, I promptly fall asleep in the first five minutes (but I am sure none of you experience that phenomena). However, my life is full of tiresome tasks (I am rocking the alliteration today!) that are considerably less tiresome when listening to a story. Especially if that story is a Victorian, quasi-bodice-ripping murder mystery. Quasi because no bodices actually get ripped- they are only in imminent danger of being passionately torn from heaving bosoms. Heady glances across the dining hall, a whisper disturbing the hairs at the nape of the neck. A flutter of gloved fingers at a bare wrist. That sort of thing.

But first.

Books I actually read on real paper.

Heartless by Gail Carriger

I rejoined Ms. Alexia Tarabotti as she waddled her way through London society heavy with the “infant inconvenience” and still the favoured target of the vampire hives. What else do I have to say about this?

I don’t want to get to much into the plot as it is the fourth in the series. Let me just say that if you are looking for the right mix of humour, adventure and rapier wit, draped in rich satin, hatted with superb millinery skills and scented with a dash of steampunk tech wielded by a cross-dressing, debonair  French inventor of the Saphic persuasion, then this is the book for you.

The parasol protectorate is the perfect salve for anyone who feels frazzled by daily demands. Okay. So recommended to everyone.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (A book club read)

Let us venture into the world if the cyber thrillers for a moment, shall we? The idea behind this book is intriguing. It focuses on the cut-throat world of marketing and the ability of some people to be able to instinctively recognise when something “works.” (Side note- apparently this is the idea Gladwell explores in his book Blink, but I haven’t read it so am just going on hearsay). The difference is, Gladwell talks about this phenomena in various fields- here it is attached to marketing. The main character Cayce Pollard, is a free lancer in the world of marketing. She is a cool hunter, but also some sort of logo savant- she is hired by agencies to pronounce on logos. Her contract stipulates that she need not give  reason for her pronouncement. She will look at something, then either nod her head in approval and you know you have a winner or shake her and it is back to the drawingboard. The downside to this skill is that she had a visceral reaction to many logos- catching sight of the Michelin Man can give her an attack almost immediately.

And that is where I got interested. A marketing person who is allergic to logos. Cayce’s sanctuary is in an online chatroom where she discussed the possible meaning, provenance, etc. of mysetrious footage that appear in different places in the web, but most definitely belong to the same story. It has been her obssession for years and until then has been something she keeps secret from her friends and separate from her professional life. Until she is hired by Blue Ant Marketing and its brilliant but enigmatic and dare I say, Machiavellian owner Bigend, to find out  where the footage comes from. A story full of nasty corporate spies, ex-secret police from both sides of the cold war, and a whole host of eccentirc characters ensue.

Although Gibson’s style took me a while to decode, I finally got to appreciate it. That is, after I looked up the word liminal. He seemed very fond of it. Dry, and unsentimental, the thrilling gets thrilling at certain points, and he is a master of setting up a scene to creep you out. Although the ending was a little rushed, Pattern Recognition is a great book for someone who is looking for a page turner with some substance.

Spinning out by David Stahler Jr.
Reviewed from a Librarything Early Reviewer copy

There are some books that surprise you. You pick them up with low expectations, thinking that this is not the kind of book for you and opening it with a sense of duty. Oh, fine. I really should review this. It was sent to me for free after all. That sort of thing.

But then you read a few pages and although the story has no werewolves, vampires or any supernatural creatures, no murders or corporate secrets being traded to the highest bidder, the book has your full attention.

This was the case with Stahler’s Spinning Out, a simple tale of two high school buddies in their senior year of high school. Frenchie and Stewart are the clowns of the school, though they both do well academically, they are the non-joiners, the outcasts. But when Stewart gets it into his quirky head that they should try out for the school musical, Man of La Mancha, the fit hits the shan as they say. Stewart gets the role of Don Quixote and Frenchy gets the role of Sancho Panza, a fitting metaphor for their friendship and personality.

Frenchy (so named because of his French-Canadian background and the fact that he is husky and hirsute- a stereotype I take issue with Mr. Stahler) thinks Stewart is joking, that it is a big lark. But it is soon clear that playing Don Quixote means way more to Stewart than Frenchy could have guessed. Stewart begins to wear his costume all the time, and is rarely out of character. When Frenchy hears Stewart battling the voices in his head, he realises that there is something very wrong with his friend and he doesn’t know what to do. Unfortunately, this is just the horrifying scenario he has just lived through with his father. An ex-soldier fresh from Iraq, he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and committed suicide, leaving Frenchy and his mother to wonder how they could have stopped him. frenchy is haunted by the “if I had just…” syndrome familiar to the surviving family members.

At first glance, this is a story with a predictable plotline. Disinterested, troubled kid comes of age by taking a chance and finding out he is not such a loser as he supposes. But Stahler has made it so much richer. He deftly weaves themes of mental illness, suicide and depression through out the book without ever getting maudlin.

I think I actually heard the creaking of my heart as it cracked just a little for Stewart and Frenchy.

I suprised the hell out of myself by not being able to put this book down. The characters are rich and nuanced. The plot swift and suspenseful. There are several scenes centered around battling windmills. What’s not to like?

I would recommend this to…I don’t know who I would recommend this to. It would be a good one for teen boys who don’t like to read maybe. But alas, I don’t know many of those. I would also recommend this to teen girls who like coming of age stories- fans of Nick Hornby maybe, or Gordon Korman… Hell, I would recommend this to anyone who likes Don Quixote, or even just a good story.

Books I listened to

A Dangerous Mourning and Defend and Betray by Anne Perry

Now back to my 19th century murder mystery obsession. William Monk and Hester Latterly are back in two more adventures (there are way more, I’m sure). I don’t have much to say about them except for I remember getting a tad bit bored after the third one. The internal repetitive musings can become a bit much.

Although I find both their characters fascinating (especially Hester- a strong, independent woman with an easily roused temper who suffers from an excess of competence, to the chagrin of all her male acquaintances) much of the time their actions don’t make sense to me. They become bitter and resentful at the slightest provocation. They seem to willfully misunderstand each other.

In A Dangerous Mourning, Monk resigns from his post as Police Detective over the arrest of a footman for the murder of his mistress. Monk does not believe the footman is guilty, but his nemesis at the station (whose name I forgot and am too lazy to look up) is getting pressured from on high (not God – his superiors) and wants to get the case over and done with. Nobody will miss an arrogant footman after all.

But that does not stop Monk. He enters into private consultation and is hired by Hester’s friend Lady something or other (another name that has fallen down the well of my mind).

Hester has been fired as well from the hospital where she had been working as a nurse for taking matters into her own hands (even though she did the right thing and saved a baby’s life, it was unforgivable of her to act without the stupid doctor’s consent). She finds herself in need of a place and ends up in the dead woman’s family.

Need I say more? As I think about it, I can’t even remember who did it? Oh wait. it is coming back to me. I’ve got it. And I’m not telling…

Defend and Betray finds Hester hiring Oliver Rathbone, the lawyer who convicted the murderer in the first book on behalf of her friend’s family. Her friend’s brother has been murdered and his wife confessed to it. But Hester’s friend does not believe she did it though she won’t admit it. What could be the reason for her admission of guilt? Who is she protecting? Rathbone hires Monk to work as his detective for the case and Hester helps get the family gossip. Ooh, the one thing that would keep me reading more is the burgeoning love triangle between Hester, Monk and Rathbone. Although at the rate it is going, it might take a few more books for anyone to declare themselves and I am not sure I have the patience.

Nothing much to say about these books. It caught my attention and I did wonder who done it, but there are some literary tics that become more annoying as they are read to you. I will probably wait for another audio book sale before buying any more (that is how I bought the first three).

All Clear by Connie Willis

I mentioned the first part of this book in a previous post and I am not pleased to relate how equally bloody annoying I found its sequel.

There were so many things I found irritating about this time traveling history to the Blitz in Word War II  I don’t even know where to begin.

OK, Fine. Let us start where so many books go wrong. Let us begin with character. The character development consisted of each of the three main protagonists indulging in counter-productive games of what-ifs for several hundred pages. That is to say, there was no development. In addition to rehashing the same “Oh-nos” over and over again, and wondering in more and more creative ways how they have disturbed the time/space continuum, their reactions made no sense. If there is one thing I hate, is when a character in a book acts willfully stupid. For example, Polly one of the historians left behind, keeps hiding information from her fellow trapped historians. Why? because she wants to spare them the worry? Because being trapped in the middle of a bombing blitz in World War II with no visible means of escaping is not as bad as the fact that she saw her friend and felow trapped historian Merope at D-Day on another assignment? Or that she thought she bumped into their boss Historian down at the church and that somehow that might be important?

As well, the characters have no history. They spend a lot of time making little acerbic asides to themselves about their case. For example, if a regular Londoner asks them if they want to leave, or where’s their home, or make some other assignment, ‘they will constantly say under their breath or to themselves some pithy remark like, “you have no idea,” she muttered. But not once, in the months they spend in the blitz, do they give a thought to their family left behind. It is like they sprouted out of the ground as historians, without any past history. Although Willis obviously has a knack for keeping people guessing (that’s why I kept listening), suspense does not make up for the fact that because I didn’t know of any good reason for them to go back home to the future- except for that it was their home, it didn’t seem as urgent.

Of course, there is always the disturbance in the Time/Space continuum. Willis deals with time as serpentine,  a chaotic system (isn’t that an oxymoron?) that will correct itself when tampered with. But if it corrects itself, doesn’t it mean there is a plan to begin with? And in the end, that is how she resolves it. The historians are just part of the God Chaotic System’s big plan. A notion unsatisfactory in the extreme as well as her conception of time travel. If they are so concerned with the time-space continuum it should be obvious to the Historians that the minute they set a foot anywhere, whether it be in the past or in the present,  they change it. The principle of uncertainty tells us that. So the fact that these historians go blundering into one of the more volatile times in history and then spend months wondering if every incident that occurs to them- being hit by a bicycle, influencing someone to join the Nurses- is what will lose the war seems too little too late, if not completely asinine.

I feel like I need to counter this review a little by showing a good review of these two books. And I will mention again that this diptych did win the Hugo Award so it might be just me who found it so frustrating. Once again, I probably find myself in the minority, the story of my life…

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

And I’m back to the 19th century murder mysteries with strong female characters who fall for arrrogant, proud, preferably large and hairy men (the hairy chest thing seems to be a big turn-on in these books).

Amelia Peabody, a wealthy old maid of 32 decides to go travelling after the death of her beloved, scholarly father. She is headstrong, smarter than most and does not suffer fools gladly (my favourite kind of heroine).She’s bound for Egypt via Italy when her plans are delayed by the very inconvenient illness of her companion whom she must send back to England. Ms. Peabody is wondering what to do when she comes across a damsel in distress in a cemetery, in a melodramatic moment that is only saved from complete sentimentality by Amelia’s biting tongue and common sense. She takes the girl Evelyn back home, nurses her and makes her a companion despite Evelyn’s self-professed ruin (she eloped with her Italian art teacher who then left her when she was disinherited before marrying her). Together, they travel to Egypt. There they meet with more adventure than they bargained for in the form of a ghost of a mummy.

While the actual mystery was predictable, and the voice of the narrator used for Evelyn sickeningly insipid, Amelia’s first person account is hilarious. There is also a nice love story threading its way through out the novel , complete with a rough hewn Darcy-esque Egyptologist. Definitely a fun listen, though I am not sure if I need to read more.

So there. Thus concludes October in Books. A note about these reviews- they are not so much reviews so much as flippant commentary on the books I am reading.
Duh. I guess that is what reviews are in essence.( Can you tell I am feeling guilty about my bad reviews?)

Whatever I think of the book, the author still managed to write one, which is more than I can say for myself. So. Once again. These are just my humble opinions. They are not even that educated, I am sorry to say and sometimes I like a book more because it suits my mood and less because it is a good book with weighty substance.

In a nutshell- take me with a grain of salt please.

Thank you for your cooperation.

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