Sunday, August 30, 2015

More Jackaby

I don't know if you remember when I read William Ritter's Jackaby, a fluffy bit of a novel about a supernatural investigator and his spunky narrator-sidekick.  Short version of that review; rough around the edges as a novel, but unbelievably charming.

Well, Jackaby's back, as is Abigail Rook and even Constable Charlie Barker in the sequel, Beastly Bones, and my thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.

It took me a while to read this one--I started it, and enjoyed it, but the structure of the narrative was a little odd, I though.  The first half of the book was a slow burn of buildup, and for what is essentially structured as a mystery/thriller, it takes a looooooong time to get to the mystery.  There's a lot of setup--establishing new characters, background mysteries and problems--that are going to pay off both later in the book and, clearly, in whatever book comes next.  And that's great, but you can't put off the real mystery until after you do all the exposition.  That's awkward structuring.

So I read about half of this book and then wandered away. But then I found myself drawn back to it recently, probably because the tone is just right for my mood--it's fun, and cute, and funny, and adventurous.  It's got a Doctor Who vibe, in that there are murders and big world-ending dangers, but it's still mostly a family show/really light book, with soppy romance and intrepid heroines and a brilliant but socially awkward detective.

"Please try to remain calm.  If you do not remain calm, we may all be devoured ina  horrifically violent manner by that very same medieval monster that consumed your cows...Are you calm?  Mr. Brisbee?"

"He's fainted," said Charlie.

"Well that's not helpful in the least."
This is like watching a show on the CW, but that's not a bad thing.  A CW period romp about the supernatural in 19th century New England?  Sign me up!

(An aside: I have a clear picture of Jackaby in my head, and I realized a few weeks ago that the guy I picture is actually a local actor I've seen in a few plays, Lewis Wheeler.  Charlie, on the other hand, is Constable Hugh Collins from Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.  I'm all about the mental casting.)

So: charm.  Oodles of charm.  There are things about the pacing and structure that I'd change, but the second half alone was a lightweight romp, and the teasing ending--mysterious mastermind, ghost Jenny's challenge--has me perfectly primed for the third one, which I will devour with all due haste.

And, also?  Looking this up to find links shows me that there's a Jackaby novella available free on Amazon right now.  Go forth and be charmed!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Red Letter Day

Guys, I filled my kindle. 

I don't even know what to make of this.  Is it because most of the books are not directly bought from Amazon but other kinds of files converted to mobipocket format?  Is it because I have so many PDFs on there? 

Or is it just because I have SO MANY BOOKS?

I got an error message right in the middle of reading, telling me there wasn't enough memory.  Then the book closed.  Didn't happen again for a while, but then I forgot about it and downloaded a couple more books (because, me). 

Next came a message about how the system update couldn't run because there wasn't room.  At this point I couldn't open any books, so I skimmed through and deleted a couple of things I could spare--some things that I'd finished but not removed, decided not to read but hadn't bothered deleting yet, kept around because I loved them so much I wanted to look back at their covers an reminisce.  A few books that I'll embarrassingly admit I had on there twice. 

I've got it down to 615 items and 188 Kindle samples.  I believe I was at 648 items when things went wonky. 

Guys?  How much space is on a Paperwhite, anyway?  Like, is it really weird that I filled up my kindle?  And please tell me that someone can relate to the need to carry around 615 books everywhere, because you never know which one you might need to read next.

Whoo, boy.  This place where I live, it's odd, I think.  Odd, and very, very full of books.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Interstellar Origami

They always make it sound so easy to fold space.  Remember in A Wrinkle in Time, when they're explaining what a tesseract is and how you just create a fold in space, and at one point (spoiler? maybe? seriously, have you not read that?) they need to escape, and Calvin just says to Meg's dad, "Tesser, sir!" and he does?  (And also, how that sounds so silly if you say it out loud?)

But the point is, it's not that the idea of a tesseract or wormhole is too much to comprehend--it makes perfect sense, really.  It's the idea of doing this, of humans bending space--where do you grab the edges to start twisting?

In Peter Cline's The Fold, the answer is apparently a supercomputer and Science!

Mike, our hero, is a humble high school English teacher.  That's what he's chosen to be, because he realized a long time ago that his other options--which involve using his superintelligence to its fullest--had plenty of downsides.  So his perfect memory, his ability to sort and think and make leaps of logic faster than anyone else, is something he keeps tucked away.

Until an old friend who works for DARPA comes to offer him a summer job.  A really intriguing job, evaluating a scientific project that's shrouded in so much secrecy that even its funders can't get near the information.  Mike's job is to go in and figure out why this "finished" project requires more testing, and why the team has been acting kind of odd.

As with any thriller about the twisting of space and time, it doesn't pay to look too closely at the Science!, but that's to be expected in a story about instantaneous travel. I'll say here that it also doesn't pay to look too closely at how the scientists are doing their jobs, because if you want to talk about how funding works, or how experimental trials, the scientific method, or even industrial risk-assessment work, all these are also played fast and loose here.  The team is doing a lot of hand-waving, which is why Mike is sent in, but even after cracking down, the author still lets them get away with batting away some concerns like kitchen moths.

The pleasure in this book--and it is a pleasure, though maybe a bit of a guilty one--is watching Mike's mind work.  Seeing him ask questions, put together tiny clues, create massive charts in his head, and try to seem like a normal guy--try to BE a normal guy--through the whole thing is the fun part.  And if the character development is a bit flat, you're kept plenty curious to make up for it.

This is apparently Clines's second book set in this world, though the first, 14, appears to be an entirely separate story.  I actually have a copy of that from Netgalley from ages ago, but I hadn't read it yet; I picked it right up after this one, which is super embarrassing and also super satisfying--I wanted another one of these right after I finished, and there it was!

I will say, though, that as much as I'm enjoying 14, I miss Mike.  I miss watching his brain work, and I hope that if Clines does more in this world, it follows him further.  Can I call a violent thriller with  hints of Lovecraftian dreams a romp?  Because you know--this was. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quick Hit of Romance

Okay, I need to officially stop trying to grope blindly into the dark in search of a good romance novel.  The masses have spoken: Courtney Milan's The Duchess War will be my next romance attempt.

It's just that a novella seemed like such a good way in.  And I'd heard of Emma Locke's The Art of Ruining a RakeSo when I saw the prequel novella, A Game of Persuasion, on Netgalley, it just seemed like a brilliant plan.  Lusty romance, minor commitment, and the series is called The Naughty Girls--I mean, this is the sexy, lowbrow stuff I'm looking for, right?

Sigh. Can't even blame the book--it's a prequel/setup for the novel, and while the blurb seemed to hint that it was a good way, in, I disagree.  Because we get zero impression of the hero--the heroine was great (although quite anachronistic in her thinking about sex; still, I can deal with that), but there was so little information about the object of her affection that I got no picture of him at all.  There was a lot about how she liked and loved and wanted him, but not one interaction or memory or personal anecdote or even good description that made him seem like a worthwhile person, or even a person at all.

A lot of the action seemed to supplement the other books in the series; apparently the first one was about our heroine, Lucy's brother.  She spends some time with his inamorata during what is probably the "misunderstandings" part of their book, and that's all well and good.  But there's a lot of Lucy thinking about going into society and caring about Roman and etc., and very little showing it. 

So, not what I needed after all.  I feel somehow that I'm letting the romance genre down.  Sigh--back to my smutty fanfiction!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Below the Radar

I spent a lot of last week reading a friend's novel and writing up commentary for her, which is not really blog fodder, because I would just be teasing you with a book you couldn't run right out and grab.  Also I was traveling.

But I'm still behind, blogwise, so let's see what's in the ole mailbag today.  Oh, here's one I read a few weeks ago that'll be tricky.

Laughing at My Nightmare, by Shane Burcaw, is a memoir that's based on the author's blog.  The author has a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, which is a progressive disease that causes him to be unable to control his muscles.  He's been in a wheelchair since he was a very small child, and he has almost no control over his body. 

Memoirs are so, so tricky to review.  You're not just reviewing a book; you're kind of judging the person, since the author and the narrator and the character are all the same.  Especially a book like this one, where it's not a writerly take on things, using the distance of time and the lens of authorship to separate then-person (character) from now-person (author). 

This is a very readable, likeable book.  Shane is really funny, and he is very frank about a lot of things while maintaining an upbeat attitude.  He's really likeable like that--the bantering between him and his brother, the jokes about his personal care routines, his clear affection and love for his friends while also discussing quite frankly that making friends is a survival skill for him, since he can't do anything for himself.  He's funny, and fun, and he even lets you see where his positive attitude is natural and where he cultivates it because there aren't a lot of other good options.  This is actually really healthy, and I found it touching and even personally helpful to read.

This kind of honesty, though, had a down side.  Shane grew up as a special ed kid, and as someone who a lot of people assume on sight is mentally handicapped.  You can't blame him for hating this, hating to be talked down to or ignored or treated like he's anything but the funny, intelligent person he is.  But in discussing this frustration, he's sometimes really mean about the mentally handicapped. 

He always puts out the "hey, I'm sure they're very nice people and it's not their fault and I don't want to be mean, but" in he name of truth, they all kind of smell like poop.  And are gross and inappropriate and he really wishes he didn't have to be around them so much.  I mean, you can totally sympathize when he's at a special needs camp or in a gym class where he's the odd man out.  But he's actually pretty disrespectful, and there's a point where he basically points out that he's never met anyone in a wheelchair he gets along with.  At camp, he hung out with the counselors, aka the cool kids.

Anyway, I found that a bit offputting.  I've worked with autistic kids, and I know he's right; if I was put into a group of autistic people and treated as though this should be adequate socialization--especially in middle school!--I would probably have felt the same way.  But again, the lack of writerly distance hurts a bit there; the sense that the middle school kid who felt that way hasn't grown up to be someone with more perspective, but rather someone who knows he's not supposed to say those things. 

So yes, very readable, very funny in a lot of places, but the voice put me off a bit in places.  But I will say, his ideas and examples of how he maintains a positive attitude in the face of a really hard and scary medical condition that controls so much of his life--that was an important and valuable take away for me.

And, because I don't use this word often enough in my blog, I'll repeat it here: poop.  Poop!

(Sorry, it's late.  Good night!)

Thursday, August 06, 2015


The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango, billed itself on Netgalley as perfect for readers who loved The Dinner.  And while I didn't love The Dinner, I was fascinated by it, so I wanted to read this, at the very least to try to figure out how I felt about this kind of book.

And it turns out that the comparison is spot on in a lot of ways, in spite of the many differences in the books. The book centers on Henry, who is a bestselling author of thrillers and has a perfectly nice life.  He's got a lovely house and a great dog and a wife he really loves.  He's also got a mistress who is pregnant and works for his publisher, and some secrets in his past.

I wouldn't say this book is as tightly crafted as The Dinner.  That's not the point of comparison.  The Truth and Other Lies follows Henry and a few of the people in his orbit--his mistress, her boss (the publisher) and his secretary; Henry's best friend, who sells fish in the village; a man who's been following Henry for years.  Each of them has their own little piece of the story of what's going on, but we have the whole thing.

This is essentially a "will he get away with it" story.  It plays out very loose, with a lot of personal situations (the secretary is in love with the publisher; the stalker was bullied as a child) that are touched on.  But the part you really care about, the place you're invested in this book, is Henry.  This is one of those stories where you kind of want the guy to get away with his secrets, even though he's clearly a bad person, just because you're watching the intricate structure that he's building so precariously, and you kind of want it to succeed, even though it's a monument of badness.

Also, Henry is affable.  I think that's what I liked best about this book--Henry isn't evil.  He isn't even indifferent to other people.  He keeps saying to himself that he's going to do the right thing, and then doing the expedient, wrong thing instead, and justifying it to himself.  This is the kind of villain I can--not sympathize with, but at least imagine becoming.  If I was going to be evil, I would be Henry evil.  Which is sad, but is also intriguing because so rarely can you see yourself in the bad guy, you know?  He's not evil, exactly; he's weak and indifferent, on a monumental scale.

The book gets off track in a few places, and it's occurred to me to wonder how much of this would seem run of the mill in Germany, where the book was originally published.  But I'm pretty sure the point where Henry nearly goes off the rails searching for the marten that's living in his walls would seem a little out of place in any country.

Still, I wanted very much to know how things ended.  And I was even a little fond of some of the characters (sadly, some of them were not the ones who survived).  An interesting book; if a low-key European psychological thriller sounds like your kind of book, this one's probably worth your time.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Quick shot, because I'm sure you've heard this before: read Nimona!  Noelle Stevenson's comic is delightful and you should definitely read it.

I'd never read her before; I gave Lumberjanes a shot, but it just wasn't my thing. Fun and zippy, but a little too YA and punchy, like hanging out with pre-teens on a suger high.  Which is what it was going for, and more power to it, but not for me.  Nimona, however is for me, and for you, and for anyone into whose hands I can shove it.

So you might call the setting steampunk fantasy, but it's not all that steampunk, I guess.  There's magic, and there's chemistry, and it's all mashed up and doesn't matter.  Ballister Blackheart is the most famous villain around, brilliant and embittered, scheming constantly to destroy his enemies, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, noble hero of the realm, and the Institution of Law Enforcement that he works for.  They've got a pretty standard hero/villain balance going on--until a new sidekick shows up at Blackheart's door.

Nimona is young, eager, and really good at being nasty.  She's also a shapeshifter.  It's all Ballister can do to keep her ambitions in check--to keep her from just destroying the city, instead of trying to bring down the worst of those in power.  But she grows on him--and on us--with her vicious good cheer and clever plans.  Plus she's a shapeshifter!

So you have fun and charming and rompy.  But there's so much more here--Nimona's had a rough life, and the more we get to know her, the more we see why she's so angry.  And here's thing one to love--the bad guys here know they're bad guys, but they also have very good reasons to be the way they are.  They're not evil for evil's sake--they're standing against something that they believe needs standing against.  They're angry for reasons--ask Ballister how he lost his arm--and they're sad and scared and damaged.

And they change.  They change each other--Nimona jollying Ballister up; him reining her in.  Whenever they talk to Goldenloin (whose name, in case you didn't notice, is Goldenloin), someone comes away with a lot to think about.  And as the bigger story starts to build, you start to realize that right and wrong are relative, and that everyone's truly doing their best, by whatever yardstick they use.

This is what I love in a story.  If all bad guys were like Ballister Blackheart--well, we'd have more happy endings.  You can't argue with that, can you?