Wednesday, November 25, 2015

French, Tana (The Secret Place)

Oh, dear, the last in the series. What will I do until she writes her next one? Mourn the complete dearth of poetically-inclined mystery writers? So be it.

This one is really different. At first, I was not enchanted. (Hey, you must give me your tried and true formula. Silly reader thoughts!) But it very, very much grew on me. I wanted to hug it to me constantly because of its subject matter as well - teenage girls, albeit a heck of a lot smarter and less sensitive than I ever was or will be - but still, teenage girls. Dealing with everything they do, chief among them, boys. I think what I like the most about this novel is that it tries very hard not to disparage teenage boys (or even adult boys) fully. As usual, she provides a wide range of thoughts, emotions, ideas, issues of the day and time. Consequently - not a feminist diatribe. And more power to it because of that.

There are some really odd bits that had me raising my eyebrows. Almost as if I can see her gears working... "Huh, now that I'm established, I'm going to take some liberties and see if anyone notices." Heck yea we noticed! What to feel about this? You'll know what I mean when you get there.

I do wonder if she's about to take off in a new direction. She ends with a little description of careers other than police detective work, and the ending of this novel has more completion to it (at least in my mind) than the previous 4 novels. So, it's possible? If so, I know who her new protagonist will be for book 6.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Simsion, Graeme (The Rosie Project)

At first, I was oddly offended by the concept of this book. The stilted manner in which it was written (for a reason, naturally), combined with what seemed to be a manner of making fun of our protagonist, was pushing all the wrong buttons in me.

But, about halfway through it grew on me. Probably because the plot takes an amusing turn, and at the same time, our protagonist begins his actual "hero's journey", that of envisioning a potentially better way of surviving in a world that seems mostly strange to him. There are ups and downs in this process, as there should be, and he tries things that simply will not work for a person with his behavioral disorder. I was sufficiently pleased with the ending to believe that the writer is not blowing smoke at us but does understand the difficulties faced by folks on the far side of the autism spectrum.

I think what I enjoyed the most about the book (and these come towards the end) are the following:
- Empathy is not the same thing as love. Love is illogical, it defies reason, it doesn't "mean" something in particular. You don't have to cry in movies to feel love. This isn't something the world needs to understand per se, but it is very helpful to understand as an individual.
- From the point of view of people with autistic tendencies, the rest of the world looks really weird and people act super weird. In other words, "normal" people think autists act strange, and tit for tat. The world would run a lot smoother if more people recognized that. If nothing else, we'd have... wait for it... more empathy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wright, Lawrence (The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11)

I have so very much to say about this book. I grilled the folks in my book club when we read Wright's book on Scientology (Going Clear) - is this sensationalist journalism? does he lay out his facts well? does he repeat himself ad nauseam (something I really abhor in non-fiction)? The answers were all no, yes, and no. And I loved that book. It was time to try another one of his.

What I think I admire the most about this book, but one that others may find drags the story out a bit too long, is that he starts way, way back. Back to the original Islamic fundamentalist thoughts and the original writings. He wants to lay the background as best he can for why 9/11 happened, and this is key to doing that. He also works hard to differentiate between Islam and fundamentalism, how the split occurred, why it occurred, and where all the faults lie (and they lie all over the world).

Even more intriguingly, he paints a picture of the Muslim world in both its faults and its beauty, and it allows us to see the strength of the religion and the myriad difficulties it encountered in living within a political structure. Hey, the western world knows what that's about! Consequently, Wright's description resonates very well with any American reading his book.

You will shake your head constantly while reading this book (and for a whole variety of reasons) but it's one of those that should be read by everyone, everywhere.

French, Tana (Broken Harbor)

You all know I love French, so I won't bore you with more little love poems to this author, and keep this short and sweet.

Yes, it was typically wonderful in its in-depth character analysis, revealing the important aspects of the protagonist's personality and/or past at the most advantageous moments. However, I found it more procedural than her other ones, and consequently at least half the book is tied up in following police processes and rules, and that couldn't hold my attention. The basic mysteries - who is the actual killer? what the hell is with all the holes in the house? - kept me going forward to find out how French would tie them up.

As usual, she did not tie them up in a nice, neat bow, and the ending leaves you with the same feeling as the previous three - that sad sweet nostalgic feeling that our past is full of mistakes and that moving forward may be painful but there are good reasons to do so.

Grafton, Sue (X)

First, kudos to Grafton for not making this an "is for" title. I'm sure it gave her publisher heart palpitations, but it is a perfect title. It might have little to do with the plot, but it's still perfect.

As usual, I found the novel meandering, but not haphazard. Grafton often has separate plotlines going, and she often pulls from other books to keep them spinning throughout her universe. What I ended up wondering is if this villain will be Kinsey's best, greatest solve, which is why Grafton is letting it roll out over several books. I don't agree that this is the darkest of Grafton's series - I can think of several others that have just as chilling or creepier endings. It's certainly true that this is the most ambivalent ending of them all.

Also, I have to wonder if Grafton is making some allusion to the usefulness of the Internet (which doesn't exist yet in the alphabet series) in how Milhone eventually learns crucial background about the villain. Or perhaps not. Perhaps she's simply touting the "old-boy" network.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

King, Laurie R. (Touchstone)

Maybe I shouldn't read too much King in a row. This one was just a slog for me.

I think there's a point in an author's career where s/he doesn't get as much love from their editor as they should. Meaning, it is assumed that at a certain point, whatever a popular author writes will be basically well received by the fans, even if s/he starts a new series, takes an entirely different thematic tack, etc. Therefore, more words are a good idea! I appreciate that to some extent, but it results in logy tomes, if nothing else.

In this first Harris Stuyvesant novel, at least the first 2/3 of the book is encumbered by ultra-detailed description of settings and scenes, as well as pages upon pages of thought process that, frankly, was already detailed 50-100 pages before. There was only so many times I could handle Harris wondering what Carstairs was up to, or Grey musing on how difficult his life was, or Carstairs himself being a schmuck. I actually started skimming these parts.

Yes, the ending is pretty decent (although I saw two major plot points coming because, again, she wrote too damn much about them in advance), but I won't be continuing on to the next book. I'll stick with the magnificent Russell/Holmes series instead.

Also, you can't use the name Carstairs unless you actually are channeling the CIA director from Dorothy Gilman's mystery series. I couldn't read that name, each and every time, without thinking of Mrs. Pollifax. Not quite the same feel, these two series!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

King, Laurie R. (The Language of Bees)

I read this bassackwards. I read The God of the Hive ages ago, which is the sequel to this book, which ends on a cliff-hanger. The worst part is I don't remember what happened at the end of The God of the Hive! Meaning, I just read a story for which I technically have no conclusion in my head.

Besides all that (guess I better go back and check out The God of the Hive...), I have ambivalent feelings about this book, The Language of Bees, because it has so little of Mary and Sherlock together. I've made that complaint about other volumes in this series before, but for some reason in this volume there's also a severe lack of affection between the two that depressed me. One of the best parts of this series is the incongruous love affair between a 20-something year old and a 60-something year old (and, of course, that it's Sherlock!). It's a clear assumption that this marriage is something very different for the 1920s, but it's also a clear assumption that it's not just a partnership - that's been made very clear over the series. So, show us the affection! In this volume, I don't think they touch each other once. That's just sad.

In terms of description in the story, my favorite part was absolutely the plane ride, but also the rendering of Mycroft's personal space which I don't think we've been privy to before.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Zevin, Gabrielle (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)

It may be a little bit cheesy and a little bit nerdy, but any book that starts off by mentioning "Old School" by Tobias Wolff and finishes by mentioning "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell has a million of my votes.

The plot is nothing complex, and I think the author knew she had to keep it that way because her characters are so rich, vibrant and amusing. Summary? Depressed bookseller finds new loves and finally ends up understanding what living is all about.

This book is very, very obviously a book for voracious readers. It reminded me of reading "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" except that I think this one is better written (or at least doesn't have as hysterically wacky a plot-line). Even though there's one big hole in this novel (I'll give you a hint, it's a police matter), it was so enjoyable to read a book by an author who loves to read and who made me remember how important reading is to me (yes, sometimes I actually forget!). Zevin loves to read all over the map in terms of type and genre of novel, she has very specific opinions about her likes and dislikes, and she has channeled those straight into the book. It's just a joy to read. I was smiling, if not laughing, for at least 2/3 of it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mankell, Henning (The Troubled Man)

This book was more difficult for me to read than the previous Wallander books. It doesn't give anything away to say that he struggles with oncoming dementia (since it's revealed very quickly), and this was the last book that Mankell wrote about his detective. So, it's pretty darn sad - and whether it was because of my frame of mind while reading it, or the advent of the cold (which is what I always think of when I think of Sweden, even when it's hot there!), or remembering my grandmother and her journey through dementia - it was more difficult to pick up and keep going with this one than with his other novels.

And, yes, Mankell just died today. That feels like an extremely odd codicil to me, and is kind of freaking me out a bit.

Perhaps the other issue I had with the novel is that it moves extremely slowly (I think one review I read said that "there are many pages between deaths," ick, what a way to put it, even though it's a murder mystery). It's probably that slow because it's dealing with difficult themes (old age, death, the aforementioned dementia), and it needs many pages to delve into those themes. But it was one more reason I had trouble picking it up. Also, I wouldn't say I preferred the filmed version of it (from the Swedish TV series "Wallander") - they simply provide different avenues into the same themes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cline, Ernest (Armada)

Oh, terrible, truly terrible. It's like he forgot how to write (dude, way to telegraph at least two major parts of your ending, ugh) and just remembered that he was supposed to speak geek to his particular audience. I don't have much else to say - I mean, if you enjoy figuring out what geek he's referencing, you'll have fun, but otherwise, just stay far, far away.