Upon reflection, I enjoyed this book, and upon finishing it, I'm not quite sure what happened. The story, such as it is, feels like a chess game toldUpon reflection, I enjoyed this book, and upon finishing it, I'm not quite sure what happened. The story, such as it is, feels like a chess game told from the p.o.v. of one of the pawns, who gets promoted to queen at the end and given a glimpse of the entire board, then gets removed from the game just before the finishing moves.
I can't really describe what the book is about. It's easier to describe what it's not. It doesn't have a sympathetic protagonist. It doesn't have a clear villain. It doesn't seem to be set in the future. It doesn't quite seem to be set in the 1930's either. It's not quite a science fiction novel. It's not quite a pulp. It's not a Lovecraft story, and it's not an off-Broadway musical. Yet it kind-of is....more
This is a strong, polished debut novel from a writer who is obviously making use her own life experience to add some gritty realism to her writing. DHThis is a strong, polished debut novel from a writer who is obviously making use her own life experience to add some gritty realism to her writing. DHS social worker Claire Conover is horrified when one of her clients, a two-year-old boy who was recently returned to his recovering drug-addict mother, is found dead of a drug overdose. The mother, Ashley, assumes all responsibility and pleads guilty to negligent homicide, but Claire doesn’t believe it. Ashley had been well on the road to recovery and had shown no signs of a relapse. Defying orders to drop the case, Claire digs deeper and discovers that there were more than a few people, including prominent pillars of the community, who had reason to want Ashley and her son out of the way.
I normally follow sci-fi, so I've rarely had the experience of reading a book set in a place I'm personally familiar with. Fenton makes use of so many Birmingham landmarks in her story that I almost found it distracting (but that's probably just me). Let me tell you, it's a weird feeling to read a scene in a fiction novel set in the *actual building where you work* and to have it accurately described....more
Well, that was cool. Having seen umpteen bazillion variations of Sherlock Holmes in film, TV, and literary pastiche, it's pretty much impossible to coWell, that was cool. Having seen umpteen bazillion variations of Sherlock Holmes in film, TV, and literary pastiche, it's pretty much impossible to come at the original source material "cold," and yet A Study in Scarlet still managed to surprise me.
Even with the recent Cumberbatch and Downey Jr. versions fresh in my mind, the Holmes my brain defaults to is Jeremy Brett. Doyle's Holmes in this first novel is younger than any of those, except possibly Cumberbatch, and his arrogance isn't nearly as abrasive as is usually portrayed nowadays (although from a rigid Victorian standpoint, it may have been shocking). He seems to be a pretty clear cut manic-depressive, though Doyle never uses those exact words (I doubt anyone did yet at the time).
So what's surprising? First, I was amazed how many elements of this story were reused in "A Study in Pink," the first episode of the current TV iteration, although twisted and turned all out of the original context. Also, it was pretty unexpected when the mystery is solved halfway through the story - then Doyle makes a literary u-turn, backs up twenty years, and retells all events of the mystery from the point of view of the perpetrator and a few other characters. Where the story really begins and who the most villainous characters are I won't say, but it was something of a shock for a novel I'd expected to stay rooted in ye merrie olde England.
I guess I'm committed now. Thank goodness these stories are all available free from Feedbooks. On to The Sign of the Four!...more
The second Sherlock Holmes novel is already sliding into formula - Holmes investigates crime, solves it almost immediately but doesn't tell anyone jusThe second Sherlock Holmes novel is already sliding into formula - Holmes investigates crime, solves it almost immediately but doesn't tell anyone just so he can be a smart-alec, hunts down culprit, and then we veer into an extended section depicting the criminal's story from his own point of view. While in A Study in Scarlet this latter section took up a full half of the novel, in the sequel it wisely only takes up a single chapter.
Still, my problem with this one is that the problem Sherlock solves doesn't really seem all that difficult, and therefore there's no real suspense and no "a-ha!" moment at the end. More interesting here are the subplot of Watson's romance with the story's "wronged woman" and the revelation that Holmes is a coke-fiend. I'd heard about his drug use in the original stories, but I'd always assumed that it was something subtly alluded to and not this blatant: the book begins with Holmes shooting up, and ends with him about to do the same. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - I like my heroes with flaws, and this is a big one.
This book also shows quite a bit of racism on Conan Doyle's part in his depiction of the monstrous "black savage" from the Andaman Islands. It's also worth noting that even though the villain they capture in the end is white, every single murder in the story is committed by Indian Seikhs or the islander, Tonga. There's also a healthy dose of arrogant British colonialism in Doyle's depiction of the Great Mutiny, although some of that could be excused because he was relating the events from a criminal's point of view....more
Classic B-List "Detective Comics" backup character gets the Vertigo treatment. This edition collects a 4-issue 1999 miniseries and the graphic novel "Classic B-List "Detective Comics" backup character gets the Vertigo treatment. This edition collects a 4-issue 1999 miniseries and the graphic novel "Final Cut." It's easy to love the cool concept behind Human Target, but in execution it leaves the protagonist too cold a character to sympathize with. As a result, the story is gripping on an intellectual level but stays as emotionally distant as its main character.
Anyway, if ya didn't know, Christopher Chance is a professional impersonator who specializes in taking the place of people who have been targeted for assassination. In the Vertigo version, he goes so deep into his subjects' lives that he loses his own sense of self and often forgets that he's not really the person he's impersonating. The first story in this volume offers several layers of impersonation within impersonation, Inception style. The second offers a more compelling mystery, but I didn't particularly care for the solution. The whole is intriguing in a dark, pulp noir kind of way, but I don't really feel hooked enough to come back for volume 2....more
The first collection of Holmes short stories is enjoyable, in a disposable sort of way. None of the twelve mysteries included are particularly mysteriThe first collection of Holmes short stories is enjoyable, in a disposable sort of way. None of the twelve mysteries included are particularly mysterious, some of them are pretty damn obvious long before Holmes reveals the who, what, and why. Holmes's irascible personality begins to develop toward the Holmes we're familiar with through TV and film adaptations, and its interesting to see all the little seeds that would later be exaggerated by others into the overblown modern Holmes mythology. I do think Doyle works better with novel-length stories than shorts, but hopefully his short stories will grow a little more complex in later volumes....more
One of my new goals is to spend more time reading outside my genre comfort zone, and as a librarian I've always thought of Jodi Picoult as a good placOne of my new goals is to spend more time reading outside my genre comfort zone, and as a librarian I've always thought of Jodi Picoult as a good place to start for contemporary fiction. I picked up House Rules for its focus on Asperger's syndrome - Picoult does an outstanding job both of showing the world through the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum, and of showing the effect on family members of living with someone who has a such a severe case of Asperger's that daily life itself is a challenge.
As a legal thriller/mystery novel, the book doesn't fare quite so well. Placing the main character in the center of a criminal investigation and a murder trial is an ingenious way to force him into a situation he truly can't cope with, but the solution to the underlying mystery is unfortunately so obvious that I was able to figure it out before the "crime" even took place. For a while I wondered whether Picoult even meant for it to be a mystery, but the way it plays out in the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion leads me to think that she probably did. The book provides little resolution for any of the characters and the whodunnit is revealed through a "Deus Ex Aspergers," not through the efforts of anyone involved in the case.
Oh well. I guess I've spent too much time watching CSI and Law & Order to give that part of the book a fare shake. As a chance to view the world through a totally new perspective, I highly recommend it and look forward to reading Picoult again....more
My mission to read outside my normal genre stomping ground continues…
I complained in an earlier review about exaggerated fictional representations ofMy mission to read outside my normal genre stomping ground continues…
I complained in an earlier review about exaggerated fictional representations of Louisiana. It’s refreshing to come across one that gets it exactly right. Attica Locke sets her story in the sugarcane country of Ascension Parish (where I began my career as a librarian, I might add) and paints a culture with two faces: one for show to the tourists, and one that permeates every aspect of daily life; a community that is at the same time proud of its own history and enslaved by it.
The Cutting Season is driven by the mystery of the death of a migrant cane worker on the grounds of the Belle Vie plantation, but it isn’t strictly a mystery novel. Instead it focuses on Caren Gray, a descendant of the slaves who once worked the plantation and who now runs it on behalf of the family who acquired it after the Civil War. She herself was sucked into the vortex of the plantation’s history after her first attempt to break free, and the novel is as much about her attempts to come to terms with her heritage as it is about solving the murder.
If I had any complaint about the book, it’s that I was able to spot the whodunit pretty early on, simply by applying the Law of Economy of Characters, but that’s what I get for reading too much. Thankfully, that didn’t detract from the story. The Cutting Season is an unflinching, honest portrayal of a part of the country I’m intimately familiar with and fond of. Highly recommended....more
Since the central incident around which everything else in this novel revolves is a murder, you'd be forgiven for going into this book thinking of itSince the central incident around which everything else in this novel revolves is a murder, you'd be forgiven for going into this book thinking of it as a mystery. It's not - unless you take that in the Dirk Gently sense that in order to truly solve a crime you have to "solve" the entire society in which the crime took place. Holly Jones sets out to do exactly that, using the death and disappearance of one person as a lens to examine an entire world of characters in the small town of Roma, Kentucky.
Those characters are the reason to read this book, and they are fantastically drawn with a rare level of emotional honesty. Every now and then I was afraid the novel might dip into a case of "bad decision theater" - stories in which the plot only takes place because of the characters' inability to make good choices - but that never quite happens here. Rather, Jones paints a compelling vision of these peoples' lives in which the choices they make, right or wrong, are often the best they can within the emotional realities of their situations. The "whodunnit" of the book is only maintained by a kind of narrative cheat, but the true impact of the careful examination of all these characters' lives makes The Next Time You See Me well worth the read....more
A fun, cozy listen for the drive to work. I was reminded an awful lot of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One by the book's structure as a puzzle-maze inA fun, cozy listen for the drive to work. I was reminded an awful lot of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One by the book's structure as a puzzle-maze in which the esoterica of the past collides with the era of the search engine, all wrapped in the trappings of the Heroic Quest superimposed on modern-day banality. Whereas Ready Player One delved into the labyrinth of 80s pop culture from the perspective of a dystopian cyberpunk future, Mr. Penumbra explores the world of rare book dealers, cryptography, secret societies, and font making from the point of view of modern-day, Google-infested San Francisco.
Seriously, all the Google worship was a bit much.
At the end of the day, my complaint would be that in Penumbra, the protagonist chasing the mystery doesn't really believe in the mystery he's solving and hasn't got anything emotionally invested in it beyond his friendship with a weird book dealer. As such, he never has anything to lose and sacrifices nothing on his way to the final reveal, making the triumphant ending feel unearned.
Ready Player One was an epic fantasy, next to which Mr. Penumbra was a pleasant fairy tale. Still, sometimes a little happy-ever-after is good for the soul....more
Finding Camlann is an utterly pleasant novel (and great for making twelve hours sitting in airport gates and on airplanes fly by, FYI). It's a multiplFinding Camlann is an utterly pleasant novel (and great for making twelve hours sitting in airport gates and on airplanes fly by, FYI). It's a multiple-mystery novel but nothing in the way of a traditional whodunnit, especially since one of the mysteries in question relates to the last days of a probably mythical personage who, if he existed at all, died at least 1400 years ago. It does this from the vantage of a modern-day Oxford archaeologist struggling with his latest book and a linguist for the OED struggling with the slow demise of her fifteen-year marriage.
Sean Pidgeon does something wonderful here: he takes the dry, dusty world of academic research and makes it fascinating - not in a cheesy Dan Brown kind of way, but by showing the slow process of putting together clues and hints from the long dead past and perfectly describing that sudden thrill that the researcher gets when the pieces finally start to click together. The novel spans several months, and the fact that so many revelations are made in that small space of time means that the archaeological process has been sped up for narrative purposes in much the same way as the various tornado chases in the movie Twister. Nevertheless, I can imagine this novel inspiring many a reader to think "Hmm, maybe I should have been a professor after all."
On top of that, this book has a lot of heart. The romantic tension between the lead characters is perfectly balanced with the slow agony of old loves pulling away. It stops just short of being a romance novel, becoming more a story of missed opportunities and unmade emotional connections. These are characters you actually come to care about, enough that in the end I found myself wishing for a few chapters more....more