Best of 2015

2015-end-of-year-book-survey-1024x984-900x865This survey has been put together by Jamie @ The Perpetual Page-turner

I usually shy away from these sort of surveys because I don’t read that many books in a year. This year though, I read a lot of good books, but I’ve been having trouble deciding what to highlight. Enter the 2015 End of the Year Book Survey.

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?

Magic is my bailiwick. By far, the best book I had the opportunity to read this year was volume two of House of Mystery, edited by Todd Karr and Teller. It contained all the crunchy bits that were missing from my understanding of David P. Abbott.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

This designation goes to my first read of 2015: Raylan by Elmore Leonard. It was the weakest of his books that I read and far inferior to Justified.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. …And not in a good way. Considering how beloved this book is, I was pretty underwhelmed. Sorry, everyone!

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

I was really happy that at least one blogger I know read Michael Pronko’s Beauty and Chaos because of me (I think).

5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

I don’t read enough series to have an ender as well as a beginner, but I was pleased to start J. A. Lang’s Chef Maurice series.

Continue reading “Best of 2015”

What Else in December

WhatElse
I’m returning to using What Else as my monthly round up of stuff I haven’t posted about/monthly summary/update post.

Short Stories

In the past week, as a part of #COYER, I read two short stories:

“Escapology” by Chris Winterton – “Escapology” is a pretty short short story juxtaposing a bridge jump by Houdini in 1910 Australia and the life of a grimy undertaker. Not a bad effort, all in all.

“Chef Maurice and the Rather Fishy Tale” by J. A. Lang – This Chef Maurice tale is a special freebie given by the author for signing up for her email list. It’s a complete little mystery in 30 pages. Worth the effort!

Because Reading is better than real life

Writing Work

I’ve spent December on sabbati-hiatus. I’ve taken the “down-time” to get our promo ducks in a row, look at ways to improve our listings on Amazon, and improve our newsletter. I’m also working on putting together an anthology of my short works.

Other Life Stuff

December has been December with all the associated holiday stresses. I have to admit, I really didn’t get into the Christmas spirit this year. It feels like 2016 should have started two weeks ago. Are there Happy New Year cards I can send to the half of my Christmas card list I didn’t get to?

Been continuing to take Coursera classes. I finished up “Using Python to Access Web Data” and “Grammar and Punctuation” and started “Using Databases with Python,” “Introduction to CSS3,” and “Superhero Entertainments.” The grammar class was a nice refresher, though I’m still not sure I could explain the differences in verb tenses. Similarly, the CSS course’s main purpose (for me) is to teach me the correct way of doing things rather than often wrong self-taught manner I’ve been using. Funnily enough, the set of web pages we’ve been styling is about ultimate frisbee. (The other thing I’ve been pouring time into during sabbati-hiatus has been finally giving the VOTS pages a good update.) And I’m taking “Superhero Entertainments” because I thought it might be interesting.

Looking Forward

Bout of Books starts in a week! I’m totally going to readathon it up. I’ll have an official post next week.

Bout of Books

My parents are coming to visit/house hunt at the end of January. They’re strongly considering moving to Prescott.

At the very end of the month, we’ll have our yearly ultimate frisbee tournament. I’m planning to play one day and otherwise generally help out. Spring league sign-ups will be starting too.

Deal Me In, Week 52 ~ “The General”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The General” by Carol Emshwiller

Card picked: Seven of Clubs
From: Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: Sadly, for the last story of the year, I don’t have a lot to say about “The General.” Maybe it’s just that I’m looking forward too enthusiastically to 2016.

The tale is told in alternating POVs. One is “We,” a conquering military dictatorship searching for an escaped traitorous general. The other POV is the man they are looking for. Originally one of the subjugated people, the man had decided to become a perfect prisoner and later a perfect soldier, a general in fact, in an effort to lead an uprising, or at very least escape. He does escape and is taken in by a little girl, Loo, and her grandmother. Whose side are they on, living off the land in the mountains? And what will the man do when Grandma becomes ill and the only help is in the city he escaped from?

The dictatorship is as loathsome as you’d expect. They had taken pride in turning the man into a prized soldier and are confident that they will be able to track him down. If they are worried about him, it’s not like they’d ever tell anyone…

 

Saturday Cinema ~ The X-Files

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 History

The X-Files premiered in the fall of 1993. I was a brand-spanking-new college freshman that year and had, luckily, fell in with a group of fellow speculative fiction fans. To show my utter geekiness, I have fond memories of a Friday night ritual that included a Target/Super Saver run, take-out food, and watching The X-Files and whatever unfortunate show was in the death slot before it. When I moved out of the dorms (with their free basic cable) in 1997, I lost track of most TV shows. Seriously, Lincoln, NE has many great things, but its over-the-air TV reception was utter crap. When I could afford cable again, a couple seasons later, I was totally lost. The over-arching “mythology” of X-Files had gotten the best of me.

In mid-November 2015, I had the chance to binge the series via a free month of Amazon Prime. With the mini-series coming in January, I thought I’d try to get a little caught up.

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Thexfiles” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Observations

  • I didn’t watch every episode. After two seasons, I started watching mythology episodes and what are considered the best of the series. I didn’t make it very far into season 9.
  • I think that X-Files was important to TV by bringing in the concept of over-arching plots to series television. Unfortunately, I don’t think the mythology episodes are very good. By season 9, things have gone in very odd directions.
  • I don’t watch a lot of television, but I don’t know of many shows that are brave enough to regularly do out-of-the-ordinary episodes. A lot of the crime dramas I watch get very repetitive. X-Files kept things fresh. There are mythology episodes and monster of the week episodes, but also great comedy scripts, artistic episodes shot in black and white, and other experiments from its writers, directors, and actors. Some worked, some didn’t.
  • While not a fan of seasons 8 and 9, I like John Doggett. I have a soft spot for the solid, loyal characters who are good at their job, but not extraordinary, and get tossed into screwy situations.
  • I’ve been cynical about a number of nostalgia projects/reboots, but I’m looking forward to the X-Files mini-series. I like that it isn’t a reboot with a new, young cast. I want to see older Mulder and Scully.
XFilesCreditsS1-7.jpg
XFilesCreditsS1-7” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

My Top Ten X-Files Episodes

In series order:

  1. “Beyond the Sea” s1, e13 – Amid so many great images from the first season (a season that included Eugene Tooms in “Squeeze”), the ghost of Scully’s father sitting in her Christmas decorated home was one that caught me by surprise. It was a scene that I forgot I remembered. Plus, this is a great performance by Brad Dourif as serial killer, and maybe psychic, Luther Lee Boggs.
  2. “Humbug” s2, e20 – The first of four episodes written by Darin Morgan (five with the upcoming mini-series). All of his episodes mix in comedy, which makes them lighter, but not necessarily less serious. “Humbug” is set in a Florida freak show retirement park. Guest cast: Michael J. Anderson, Vincent Schiavelli, Jim Rose, The Enigma.
  3. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” s3, e3 – Peter Boyle is a life insurance saleman who can see how people die. Darin Morgan brings a light touch to a character that could simply be tragic.
  4. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” s3, e20 – The last Darin Morgan on my list, and the most overtly funny. It’s a homage to pulp literature and UFO culture. Guest cast: Jesse Ventura & Alex Trebek as Men in Black.
  5. “Home” s4, e2 – “Home” is a nasty piece of business, obviously inspired by 70’s horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s also really beautifully shot by cinematographers Jon Joffin and Ron Stannett.
  6. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” s5, e5 – Talk about an out-of-the-ordinary, kind of bizarre episode. Shot beautifully in black and white, this is from the other end of the horror inspiration spectrum, borrowing from James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein. With a soundtrack by Cher.
  7. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” s6, e6 – Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin as Christmas ghosts. And that’s how Chris Carter does a bottle episode with four actors and one set.
  8. “Milagro” s6, e18 – Not the most well-regarded episode, but I found John Hawkes performance as a writer obsessed with Scully to be really claustrophobic and discomfiting. If Joyce Carol Oates wrote an episode, this would be it.
  9. “The Amazing Maleeni” s7, e8 – Why is this one of my favorites? Magicians. Ricky Jay as Maleeni and Jonathan Levit as his rival. Plus, it’s more of mystery than an X-File, and a pretty well done one.
  10. “Je Souhaite” s7, e21 – It took The X-Files seven seasons to get to djinn. While not as funny as a Darin Morgan episode, Vince Gilligan does a good job with a cynical genie who is fed up with the stupid wishes that humans make. Humans including Agent Mulder.

Deal Me In Lunar Extra ~ “The Cold Embrace”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Cold Embrace” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Card picked: A nine.
From: Available online at Gaslight. I originally heard about this story at Paula Cappa’s blog. That particular entry also features Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” which was my first Lunar Extra of 2015.

Thoughts:

He was young, handsome, studious, enthusiastic, metaphysical, reckless, unbelieving, heartless.

And being young, handsome and eloquent, he was beloved.

The “he” above is a student and the ward of his uncle. The student pledges to marry his cousin Gertrude, who is very much in love with him. And he is in love with her, at least for the moment. Of course, the uncle wants better than the student for his daughter, and the two are forced to declare a secret engagement. The student vows:

I would return to you from the grave, Gertrude. My soul would come back to be near my love. And you–you, if you died before me–the cold earth would not hold you from me; if you loved me, you would return, and again these fair arms would be clasped round my neck as they are now.

Gertrude, being fairly pious despite keeping secrets from her uncle, replies that people who die and are right with God, go to heaven. Heaven is better than earthly love. “…[I]t is only the suicide–the lost wretch on whom sorrowful angels shut the door of Paradise–whose unholy spirit haunts the footsteps of the living.”

Of course, our handsome, heartless student goes off to Italy and forgets Gertrude. The uncle finds a rich suitor for her and she is contracted to be married in June. Gertrude, still desperately in love with he student, remembers his vow to her even if he doesn’t…

While maybe a tad predictable, this is still a nicely told tale. The end scene, with the student in Paris for Carnival, brings to mind Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Man of the Crowd.” A good end to my Lunar Extra experiment.

About the Author: I kept trying to remember how Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s name was familiar to me when I was certain I hadn’t read her before. Her novel Lady Audley’s Secret is on my Gothic TBR.

#COYER ~ Back to the Basics

Because Reading is better than real life

Join us December 19th to March 4th with the Clean out your E-reads Challenge hosted by Fantasy is More Fun, Because Reading & Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My! and start cleaning out your free or nearly free E-reads!

I’m a little late jumping in, but better late than never, right?

Continue reading “#COYER ~ Back to the Basics”

Investigating the Cozies ~ Chef Maurice & Giulia Driscoll

Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J. A. Lang

Cover via Riffle

“They say one should never trust a thin chef. By this measure, Chef Maurice was very trustworthy indeed.”

Take one sleepy Cotswold village, mix in one Poirot-esque murder mystery, add a larger-than-life French chef with an appetite for solving crime, and season with clues and red herrings galore . . .

It’s autumn in the Cotswolds, and Chef Maurice is facing a problem of mushrooming proportion. Not only has his wild herb and mushroom supplier, Ollie Meadows, missed his weekly delivery—he’s missing vital signs too, when he turns up dead in the woods near Beakley village. Soon, Chef Maurice is up to his nose in some seriously rotten business—complete with threatening notes, a pignapping, and an extremely well-catered stake-out. Can he solve Ollie’s murder before his home-made investigation brings the killer out for second helpings? (via Riffle)

I picked up this cozy on the advice of the Puzzle Doctor  at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. True to the Doctor’s word, this is  worthy read.

Sure, fine, maybe it’s not on the level of “worthy” as Shakespeare or Dickens, but there is a place for those guys and a place for a French chef solving crimes in an English village with his restaurant critic sidekick, Arthur, and his soon-to-be-well-trained truffle-snuffling micro pig, Hamilton.

Often, I’ll look at a book in terms of what could go wrong. There are a lot of moving parts in Chef Maurice. I started listing characters while reading because  I got lost while reading a previous cozy where there seemed to be too many character. I didn’t need to do this because Lang gives the supporting cast enough personality that it was easy to keep the characters separate. There are a couple of scenes from Hamilton’s POV. I’d recently seen the convention of scenes from an animal’s point of view done rather poorly. In Chef Maurice, these are kept light and appropriate. Most importantly, though, the mystery is good and it’s Chef that does the detecting.

It’s also very funny. (Why don’t I read more funny books?) Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle is going on my list of books to recommend during readathons. It’s light, well-written, and entertaining.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Purple Panda Press, April 2015
Acquired: Sept. 19, 2015, Amazon
Genre: cozy mystery

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“Changing Habits” by Alice Loweecey

Cover via Riffle

A GIULIA DRISCOLL MYSTERY SHORT STORY

The day Giulia Falcone jumped the wall—that’s code for leaving the convent—her sole possessions were the clothes on her back. Four years later, she’s an official Private Investigator juggling a rash of church vessel thefts and her complete inability to find a wedding gown that doesn’t require her to steal a gold chalice for herself. She’s about to marry her boss despite all the advice about office romance. Giulia is a champion multitasker. The Church is on her back to find the thief. Her all-natural co-worker is insisting she walk down the aisle to the soundtrack for The Sound of Music. Her fiancé’s relatives are overwhelming her with plans and advice and excitement. Piece of cake. She can find the clue that unmasks the thief. She can keep an eye on the music. All she needs is a wedding gown for her own wedding. In four days. What could possibly go wrong? (via Riffle)

“Changing Habits” wasn’t as successful for me as Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle, but that’s probably mostly me. For example, my wedding was super low-key and that was pretty much ideal. But I did want a taste of Giulia Driscoll. I’ll say that it’s quite possible that I’ll pick up Nun Too Soon one of these days. Maybe this series doesn’t entirely fit the cozy mystery pattern–Giulia is a PI, and I enjoyed the more contemporary urban setting–but there was a lot of warmth and humor.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Henery Press, Dec. 2014
Acquired: Dec. 12, 2015, Amazon
Genre: mystery