Review ~ World of Trouble

World of Trouble cover

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.

But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank’s search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.

The third novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, World of Trouble presents one final pre-apocalyptic mystery—and Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond whodunit: How far would you go to protect a loved one? And how would you choose to spend your last days on Earth? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the third book in the trilogy. I enjoyed the first two and I was interested in how Winters was going to wrap up a story set at the end of the world.

What Worked
There are a lot of post-apocalypse stories, but there aren’t many pre-apocalypse stories. I’d argue that’s because the end of the world is the least interesting part of the whole deal. Therefore, if you’re going to set a story at the apocalypse, the story itself has to be solid. Winters does a great job telling a story that would have been good even without an asteroid hurtling toward earth.

The feel of this installment reminded me of the movie Looper. The characters in both act in the inevitable way they should. Both are noir, but take off into a rural setting. I like that juxtaposition. Both also have a speculative fiction future setting that isn’t the story itself.

I’ve said it before but I like Hank Palace. I like his dogged determination and his loyalty. Which is why it’s pretty heartbreaking when he’s wrong about a few things. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but Hank is a little dense at times in this book. It’s understandable, but weirdly disappointing.

What Didn’t Work
The characters in this book take beatings. And stabbings. And burnings. Sometimes, I had a hard time believing that anyone could survive such abuse. I suppose it’s not impossible, but it gives me pause.

What Worked Best
There are so many times when I thought to myself, “Winters isn’t going to pull this off. He’s going to screw up the ending.” But he doesn’t. The meanderings of plot are all justified. The ending is spot-on. I don’t read a lot of series fiction and I finish even less.

I’m going to miss Henry Palace.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Quirk Books, July 15, 2014
Acquired: Amazon, 5/30/18
Genre: mystery/crime

 

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

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Review ~ The Floating Light Bulb

Floating Light Bulb cover

The Floating Light Bulb by John Gaspard

MURDER AT THE MALL OF AMERICA

When a magician is murdered in the midst of his act at the Mall of America, Eli Marks is asked to step in and take over the daily shows–while also keeping his eyes and ears open for clues about this bizarre homicide.

As Eli combs the maze-like corridors beneath the Mall of America’s massive amusement park looking for leads, he also struggles to learn and perform an entirely new magic act. Meanwhile, the long-time watering hole for Uncle Harry and his Mystics pals is closing. So in addition to the murder investigation and the new act, Eli must help the grumpy (and picky) seniors find a suitable new hang out. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the fifth Eli Marks Mystery. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous four; why wouldn’t I read this one?

What Worked
The Setting: Eli is back home in Minnesota after a jaunt to London in The Linking Rings. I really liked Mall of America as a setting with all its Paul Bunyan and Babe kitch. It a fun contrast to murder and mayhem of the plot. 😉

The Magic: As always, the magic is handled very well. Eli inherits (figuratively) not only a gig from the murdered magician, but a stage manager and talented assistant as well. If there are more Marks mysteries, I hope Nimisha becomes a regular character. I’m always in favor of more female magician characters.

What Didn’t Work as Well as Other Things
The Mystery: Don’t get me wrong, the mystery is solid. The clues and connections are all there. Eli figures it out and we build to a thrilling conclusion. But sometimes the mystery takes a backseat to the characters and their interactions. And that’s okay: these are characters I want to spend time with.

Overall
The Eli Marks series features fun characters, magic (the real kind, not the fantasy kind), and great mystery plots. Still going strong after five books.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Albert’s Bridge Books , June 10, 2018
Acquired: June 14, 2018, Amazon
Genre: mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Fall of Man in Wimslow cover via Goodreads

Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz, trans. George Goulding

From the author of the #1 best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web—an electrifying thriller that begins with Alan Turing’s suicide and plunges into a post-war Britain of immeasurable repression, conformity and fear

On June 8, 1954, Alan Turing is found dead in his home in the sleepy suburb of Wilmslow—an apparent suicide. Investigators assumed he purposely ate a cyanide-laced apple because he was unable to cope with the humiliation of his criminal conviction for gross indecency. But Leonard Corell, a young detective constable who once dreamed of a career in higher mathematics, suspects greater forces are involved. In the face of opposition from his superiors and in the paranoid atmosphere of the Cold War, he inches closer to the truth and to one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Second World War–what was going on at Bletchley Park. With state secrets swirling in his mind and a growing fear that he is under surveillance, Corell realizes that he has much to learn about the dangers of forbidden knowledge. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Alan Turing was an interesting guy and I’ve been wanting to read more about him since being pretty disappointed with the movie The Imitation Game. Unfortunately, I think I originally believed that this was a nonfiction work, which it isn’t.

What Worked
Lagercrantz does a good job with the setting. He needs a repressed, tattered, paranoid 1950s England, and that’s certainly what we get.

The book also slips into some rather lengthy passages about mathematics that aren’t too confusing, though I’m only assuming that the information is correct. The main character, Corell, studied mathematics in his past, and his delves into the subject seemingly give him some insight into Turing. It’s an interesting way to look into the character of Turing, though I’m not sure it was entirely satisfying for someone (me) who wanted more of a factual character sketch.

What Didn’t Work
It took the majority of the book to get to the actual plot—a noir-ish bit of spy story. Yeah, the mathematics is a great way of getting to know Turing, but it ended up being a bit long.

I also didn’t quite buy Corell’s character development. It felt too rushed, squashed into the last forty pages of the book after being in a holding pattern. As is always the case with translations, I wonder if some of the occasional clunkiness of Corell might be due to English word choice.

Overall
Regardless, this book did pull me along. If you don’t mind some digressions into mathematics (as a philosophical endeavor), give it a try.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Vintage, 2017
Acquired: Won this book from Goodreads, 3/31/17
Genre: literary fiction, mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ The Doctor and the Kid

Cover: The Doctor and the Kid

The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick

Welcome to a West like you’ve never seen before! With the O. K. Corral and the battle with the thing that used to be Johnny Ringo behind him, the consumptive Doc Holliday makes his way to Deadwood, Colorado. But when a gambling loss drains his bankroll, Doc aims for quick cash as a bounty hunter. The biggest reward? Young, 20-year-old desperado known as Billy the Kid. With a steampunk twist on these classic characters, nothing can be as simple as it seems. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was walking through the library and was waylaid by a “If you like West World, try…” shelf. Now, I like westerns. I don’t read many of them, but it’s a genre I like. I *want* to like the sub-genre of  weird west and I *want* to like steampunk, but I’ve often been burned by those. I’ve also somewhat sworn off books that have too many fictional versions of real people. So, why-oh-why did I check out this book?

The cover. Yep. I figured the Doctor was Doc Holliday and I didn’t know I wanted Doc “the Lunger” Holliday tricked out with steampunk gear. I read a few pages before I checked it out and it didn’t offend.

What Worked
The plot was okay, though it felt a little drawn out. Honestly, the weird west and steampunk elements worked pretty well. Better than any of the other books of these genres I’ve read. I think this was probably because it was a western first and didn’t go *too* overboard with the trappings. Yeah, there’s the problem of outfitting a town with technology without infrastructure, but…

What Didn’t Work
…no, actually that bugged me, but that wasn’t the biggest problem here.

Man, the dialog.

There’s a rule in writing that info-dumps are a no-no. I would argue that it depends on the size of the info-dump (usually). If it’s too big and dry, in the middle of fast-paced plot, that’s probably a problem. If it’s not that big of an info-dump… You know, characters *do* have to explain things to each other sometimes. And that’s okay. In the case of The Doctor and the Kid, info-dumps are handled through strings of dialog.

There are a lot of instances of Character A saying something and Character B asking “What’s that?” Character A gives a small explanation, but then Character B asks a variation of “What’s that?” Which leads Character A to give the second part of the answer. But Character A‘s explanation would have only been three or four sentences in the first place. This probably isn’t a problem once, but it’s every time, every character, on multiple subjects. It got tedious. Which I would guess is what Resnick was trying to avoid.

Overall
You know, I read the whole book. It frustrated me at times, but it was a quick, sometimes fun read. It pointed out something to me that I want to avoid in my writing, And it had a steampunk Doc Holliday and a great cover.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Pyr, 2011
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: weird west, steampunk

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

 

Review ~ The Hermit

Cover via Goodreads

The Hermit by Monica Friedman

The Sonoran Desert is full of life, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

Kaija Mathews doesn’t want to talk to anyone, ever, so she’s hiding in a cave in the desert all alone. Or, she would be all alone if fifteen years of deep meditation beside a magic spring hadn’t cursed her with the ability to converse with animals. The other creatures always respected her privacy, until the massacres began. Suddenly, she can’t get rid of the local fauna and their stories of an insatiable monster that kills without ceasing, leaving an unearthly stench in its wake. Only a holy woman, they say, can defeat it. Kaija’s no saint, but if she’s ever to enjoy her solitude again, she’ll have to play along.

Worse, she’ll need to face the challenges of the world she abandoned, obstacles like her nightmare of an ex-husband, and a drifter half her age who feels like a sweet dream. To do battle with a bulletproof monster straight out of North American mythology, Kaija must learn what it means to stare down fear, when to fight, and most of all, how to answer hatred with love. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
K. J. Kabza recommended this book. Dang it, he’s a good writer and he has good taste…

What Worked
First off, content warning: there are spiders in this book. Yes, there are also coyotes, packrats, javelina, and even a creosote bush with personality, but there are also spiders. Many, many spiders. Friedman works many Native American myths and lores into this story and one of them is Spider Grandmother. Despite my problems with spiders, I got through it. In fact, there are a few times when Brown (a brown recluse) adds some deeply funny dark humor to the proceedings.

The pace of this story is rather slow, and that’s okay. It fits. Even in the cities, the desert isn’t a fast place. The stories, Kaija’s, Little Brother’s, the monster’s, all unspool gradually. And stories are very important to this narrative. Kaija, a librarian before she was a hermit, gains knowledge when she learns to listen to stories again. Kaija’s character arch is also long. She resists change for most of the book, believing that she’s living her best life rather than just hiding. Oh, and kudos for the pairing of a middle-aged woman with a younger man. I do love Peter S. Beagle, but his older-men/younger-women plots are getting old.

I love books with a strong sense of setting and, while being transported to somewhere else is often nice, I also enjoy reading about the places I am more familiar with. This book is set in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. I’m not a camper or a hiker, but we’ve driven through the desert many times and I find that I do love its beauty and its harshness in my own city-girl kind of way.

What Didn’t Work
There was a level of wrap-up at the end of the book that felt weird to me. The resolution involves magical elements overlapping with dead-serious real elements. I kept expecting the mythological to sort of fade out of the story or not be seen by the “real.” End of the day, the monster, Eagirl, killed people. While her mystery is solved, there are still…dead people. And that gets sort of ignored by the police who are involved at the end. Would I be happier if I was given some “all a dream” type explanation? No, probably not. I don’t know a way around it.

Overall
I enjoyed this book. Often, my continued reading (or even watching, in the case of TV and movies) comes down to the answers to two questions: Is this setting somewhere I want to be? Are these characters people I want to spend time with? When the answer is yes to both, I’m a happy (city-girl) camper.

Random trivia: I didn’t realize until after I finished The Hermit, but Monica Friedman and I have stories in the same issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Brother Wolf Press, 2016
Acquired: Amazon, 12/16/16
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale, magical realism

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Review ~ Hombre

Cover: Hombre

Hombre by Elmore Leonard

Set in Arizona mining country, Hombre is the tale of a white man raised by Indians, who must come to the aid of people who hate him when their stagecoach is attacked by outlaws. As thrilling as [Leon’s] contemporary novels of crime, double-cross, and murder in Detroit and Miami, Hombre is Elmore Leonard at his riveting best—no less than one would expect from the creator of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Justified). (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I may or may not have only signed up for the Wild Wild West Reading Challenge in order to have an excuse to read Elmore Leonard westerns.

Justified is perhaps my favorite TV show ever—it’s based on character and situation created by Leonard. It led me to a collection of his short fiction and ultimately to the very first proper western that I had ever read, Gunsights in 2012.

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

What Worked
Honestly, I think Leonard does westerns better than contemporary crime fiction. In many ways, Justified feels more like a western than crime drama.  Or at least what he does well is what one *thinks* of as a western. There’s a level of heightened action, one might even say melodrama, that works well in a cinematic notion of the Old West. (It works well in crime noir too, but that’s a genre that I’m not as fond of.) But on the other hand, there isn’t anything in Hombre that I would point at as being too modern. The story pays attention to things like the state of horses, amounts of water, or qualities of darkness.

While I wouldn’t say that Leonard’s strength is environment, it’s certainly the version of Arizona that I marvel at every time we take a car trip. How anyone spent days crossing mountains and expanses of cactus-filled nothingness by horseback/wagon is amazing to me. An eight-hour drive to California with a IHOP stop in Yuma is pretty much all I can take.

What Didn’t Work
In this case—with a first person POV—very informal narrative voice worked well, but that isn’t always the case with Elmore Leonard. One of his most famous quotes about writing is: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Some times, I don’t think that works. Some times, a reader wants steady clarity of narrative. Again, I didn’t have this problem much with Hombre.

Overall
It’s been another indecisive reading month for me. This was a nice change-up from what I had planned. There will be more Elmore Leonard later in the year.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Dell, 1999 (originally published 1961)
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: western

Spring into Horror Halfway-ish Point

For someone who had no horror on her TBR at the beginning of the month, I’m doing pretty well.

Castle of the Carpathians cover The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne

I’ll be honest, I haven’t really read much/any Verne. I know the basics of many of his more famous Extraordinary Voyage novels (20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe Mysterious Island), but I haven’t actually read them yet. I ended up quickly reading The Castle of the Carpathians due to a research tangent.

The story is…very slow. 90% of it does not occur in the titular castle. I feel like Verne decided to write a Gothic novel with the intent of explaining all the possible supernatural happening with technology—very pre-Scooby Doo of him. The problem is, Verne’s not a Gothic writer. This book might have influenced the early portion of Dracula. If it did, Bram Stoker massively improved upon it.

The Greatcoat cover The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I knew going into this book that it was going to be a somewhat romantic slow-burn ghost story. And I like that sort of thing, but I wish there had been a little more menace to the haunting, maybe a little more of a zing to the ending. On the other hand, it wasn’t an entirely predicable ghost story, which was nice.

The Fifty Year Sword cover The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

I’ve sort of been in the mood to reread Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a book I didn’t quite like when I read it the first time, but has weirdly stuck with me. But I couldn’t easily find my copy. When I was at the library I considered  checking out their copy, but then I saw The Fifty Year Sword on the shelf.

It’s an odd size for a hard back. It’s cover it riddled with holes as though made by a big sewing needle (or the miniature sword letter opener I own).  The text in the book is upside down and backwards and written in a free-verse style with many quotation marks (demoting different speakers, it’s explained) and embroidery looking illustrations (our protagonist is a seamstress). The names of most of the characters are strange. While there are shadows of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Drosselmeier in the Story Teller and Shirley Jackson’s “The Witch” in the conceit, I sometimes wish Danielewski would simply tell a story without all the shenanigans. But, I suppose, what else was I expecting…