Saturday, May 12, 2018

McNamara, Michelle (I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer)

I kid you not when I say that my loan for this e-book came through two days after they caught the killer. I've talked to folks who read this book when it came out in February, and I really wonder how my reading experience differs from theirs.

For me, it involved reading a section and then immediately going to the web to hear what the police, the press, and armchair detectives were discussing about the very thing I just read. I'm sure readers were doing that when the book came out, but there was SO much more to read at this juncture. No one is surprised he's a police officer and no one is surprised that it took DNA to catch him, but I am surprised that it took this long.

Yes, DNA as evidence was not truly accessible to law enforcement in the 70s-90s, but still, the number of lucky escapes this man had! Are you kidding me! Perhaps unbelievably, towards the end of the book I was getting a little tired of the mantra: "He was just here. You just missed him. He blinded you with his flashlight and got away. We couldn't catch him on foot because of all the... fences in the way." This was repeated so many times that it's hard to believe there wasn't a lot of stupidity, all around.

McNamara herself, being such a tragic tale, is alternately touching and exasperating, but the sections of this book that she had written before she died (other sections were written by fellow armchair detectives) showcase spectacular journalistic intuition and integrity. I wish she were here to continue to be part of this conversation, especially regarding lessons learned for law enforcement.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Towles, Amor (Rules of Civility)

This first book of Towles was absolutely well worth reading. It just doesn't match up to his second book (which I read first).

His second book - A Gentleman in Moscow - has the distinction of having been loved by every single person in my book club, a feat that has never been beaten in our 10-year history. So, there was no way I was going into this book without a zillion expectations. The good news is that his writing craft is still second to none, and he still knows how to build a slow-burn story.

Our heroine seems to meander through most of the book, rather aimlessly, it would seem to the reader. All is for a purpose, though, and nothing isn't interesting. It's perfectly okay that at times you wonder why so many random characters keep popping up - how could they possibly all matter in the end? - and this is likely my main criticism of the novel, that it's damn hard to keep track of all these people! I double dog dare you to figure out who she married on your first guess.

However, the book had a very powerful ending, an excellent rumination on the impact of our young adult years on who we grow up to be, and how it matters far far longer than we think it does. I recommend it for that reason, but it doesn't need to be the sole reason. He's such a damn good writer; I would read literally anything he wrote.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Novellas To Date)

This was fun. I borrowed all the novellas (to date) of The Misters Corey and sucked them down in one slurp.

Since this is an aggregated review, here are some various thoughts about them all or specifically:
  • Having read everything through Book 6 in The Expanse series, it was especially fun to pop back and forth across time in the storyline. For instance, reading about Timmy in Baltimore was a little surreal, knowing how Amos turns out and knowing that Amos revisits Baltimore in Book 5. Or hearing the story of the scientists-turned-evil, post-protomolecule-discovery, was quite the reveal.
  • On the other hand, I didn't enjoy certain stories. That scientists-turned-evil novella ("The Vital Abyss") left a bad taste in my mouth. Too evil? Too lacking in a resolution that made me feel warm and fuzzy? (As if that were possible.) I also wasn't super keen on "Gods of Risk". Just... meh. I loved seeing Bobbie Draper in action but didn't care about what was happening to her brother.
  • I adored "Strange Dogs" specifically because it made me gasp when I finished. What an ending! What a way to think about all those new worlds (and the intelligences behind them) shaping the future of humanity! Of all the novellas, this one was the best.
  • Right behind that one are "The Butcher of Andersen Station" (this is probably the most crafty of the novellas, meaning that it's deliberately crafted beginning to end) and "The Churn" (which made me laugh out loud at its ending).

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Scalzi, John (The Collapsing Empire)

Unfortunately, Scalzi is a pretty lazy writer. At least in later books, he doesn't take the time to create different types of characters, crafts his plots to repeat known things to separate parties, and he is overly dependent on foreshadowing of events. I will say I enjoyed the idea behind The Flow and its disruptive effect on the empire he built around it.

He doesn't develop his characters so that they have different personalities. Yes, they might have different views onto the world, but they're all essentially the same person. In this book, they are strongly opinionated, well-spoken folks who have the courage of their convictions. No one ever doubts themselves, no one ever thinks they are in error, no one has some vice that we can visibly see. Thus, we can't really relate to them. They're a version of humanity that Scalzi would like to live with, but they never feel real to us.

He repeats himself in his plots because, quite frankly, he doesn't take the time to read them after the first draft. (He's said this himself, that he edits as he goes, and then sends the result of that to the publisher. That's not how editing works, dude.) If he did read them afterwards, he'd know that he repeats himself all the time. Yes, to different groups of people in the story. But that is boring for the reader, and guess what? We're actually the most important people.

And, man oh man, I knew what would happen when Cardenia and Marce met, and I knew what would happen when Cardenia toured that ship. I really can't tell if Scalzi foreshadowed these events, or whether I could tell because of his deliberate plotting, overall. Regardless, it's boring, so see the point above.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Sanderson, Brandon (Warbreaker)

I'm not certain if this is Sanderson's first published book, or if it's the first book he wrote that eventually got published. (Knowing publisher timelines to some degree, I know the latter is a very likely occurrence.)

If the latter is the case, I think it shows. He's working out some issues in print here, in a way that he doesn't do as explicitly in later books. He's specifically crafted a character who has a hatred of people she knows little about. Clearly, that's timely (well, it's always timely, but feels moreso with this administration). I think Sanderson is trying to show how difficult it can be to recognize and work to understand another group of people - without context, without living it, without being deeply involved. That's a valuable lesson, but it's way more overt here than in his other books.

Also, I sure did see what was coming between the younger daughter and the God King of Hallendren, long before it transpired. Sanderson is now far more adept at foreshadowing, again, without being so overt.

And one more thing. Can authors please please please not name characters with the same first letter, especially if they are constantly together in the story? Sanderson does this twice here: Vivenna and Vasher, and Siri and Susebron. Every time I saw one character I thought it was the other of the pair. Just... too much work, man.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Desmond, Matthew (Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City)

I have no complaints about this book! Desmond is a master at ethnographic storytelling. He moves away from the recent approach of first-person narrative for these types of non-fiction books, specifically away from the point of view of the ethnographer. While I've read several non-fiction books that have inserted the researcher into the story itself seamlessly, that isn't usually the case, and especially not for a book built upon dedicated scientific research.

Desmond's story reads like a novel, in that each of his central characters gets chapters to themselves, telling their story of living in poverty and facing eviction. While he incorporates vital descriptions of aspects of the eviction system in Milwaukee and nationwide into each chapter, it isn't until the end that you understand his choice of method and overall approach. (So, definitely read both the Epilogue and About this Book.)

While it's essentially easy to read in terms of writing style, it's difficult to read because of the subject matter. Don't assume you'll be able to blow through this book. You have to set it down because it's just so hard to read about the challenges, despair and danger in these peoples' lives. Frankly, I burst into tears at the very end of the book, when he offers a detail about his engagement with a specific character. I'm tearing up thinking about it right now, in fact, and it's one of the stories with an essentially happy ending.

I think this book is very, very important to read. But just take your time with it. You'll have to.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Babylon's Ashes)

This one (#6) is the first during which I was surprised at the structure. And I only realized my surprise at the end. It's vaguely familiar, because I read almost the exact same ending in #5...

I know why they've done this. They have to tell the story of the actual war, and the evil ex-boyfriend (nice one, guys), in order to set up the next book which is clearly all about what's beyond the ring. That's right, this one has zippo on all those intriguing things you learned during #4 (on the planet Ilus), and also no sign of Miller. As much as the crew of the Rocinante (now grown to 6 people) believes they've exorcised every particle of him, I expect he'll be back in the next book (or in #8, and definitely in #9). Maybe only because I want to see Thomas Jane at the end of the TV series.

Everything else is as expected. The writing is stellar. We appreciate our protagonists more this time around because they're so happy to be back together. As expected, there is almost no splitting up of the team (well, a little bit at the end, but it's not like they're very far from each other). Plus Alex gets a love interest!

And, folks, have we forgotten the protomolecule sample?? Don't forget the protomolecule sample. I'd bet even money that it'll show up in the next novel (#7). C'mon, library book borrowers. Hurry up and finish this so I can.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Nemesis Games)

I can barely keep up with these folks, and I'm reading these as fast as I can. Not complaining, mind you! (I just added all their short stories and novellas to my reading list as well.)

Talk about taking 5 books to get to the crux of the matter. I will give nothing away (hate nothing more than spoilers), except to say that uncomfortable feeling you get every time Naomi talks about her past? Here's the reveal. And it sure is a monstrously huge one. In fact, this book does all sorts of new things, including splitting up the team for the first time. (Side point: I know what Franck and Abraham are doing there. They're making you hate that SO much that you know the team will stay together from now to the end. And there's nothing more comforting than that in this series.)

Not to say that sending all 4 protagonists to different ends of the galaxy wasn't smart. It's not that there were fewer suspenseful moments, it's that those needed to take place all over space (that's what happens when you expand your galaxy, see also: the series title!).

So, yup, I gobbled this one right up and moved on to the next. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I finish #7. Oh, right, I have all those lovely stories and novellas to see me through til the 2018 publication of #8. Whew.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Chambers, Becky (A Closed and Common Orbit)

Darn it, sophomore efforts for writers of published series have to be just about the most difficult to achieve well. I so very much loved Chambers' first one - the reason is that it was a breath of fresh air for space operas in general - but in this one, she telegraphs her points too early and too hard.

Chambers' themes are all about celebrating difference in others, instead of falling prey to the "us vs. them" (very) human mentality. I appreciate that, don't get me wrong (it's what I liked about the first novel). But in this novel, she goes out of her way to make those differences both obvious and forthright. Now, it could very well be that I'm put off by how uncomfortable she's making me feel - the new AI from the Wayfarers ship is now in her own body, and it is an extremely difficult transition - and wasn't happy with being made that uncomfortable. Or it could be that I was having a hard time trusting that Chambers would bring this story to a resolution that I could get behind. (Hey, it's fantasy, I was having some trouble thinking of alternatives in a world I don't live in.)

Regardless, while I flew through this one as quickly as before - the parts with Jane are hands-down the best, albeit also extremely unnerving - it wasn't as enjoyable. So, I'm very glad there's a third one coming out any day now because I have extremely high hopes for that one.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Carr, Caleb (The Alienist)

Surprisingly, this book is not for the faint-hearted. Why was that surprising? Because of the tone of the writing.

Carr's style is erudite, to a fault. This novel reads like an academic tome, in parts. There are sections of the book that were truly frustrating simply because something exciting had just happened. A mystery is being revealed! A horse-and-buggy chase has ensued! A discovery has been made! But Carr places pages and pages of text, usually describing the milieu of a particular part of NYC down to the very last detail, in between the initial surprise and the reveal. Sure, that builds suspense. It also means I only skim those sections because I don't care all that much about the color of that brick building, especially when I just want to know who the next murder victim is.

This book also feels a bit contrived to me. Creating a female detective is all fine and good, but don't contrive to put her in particular situations or describe how she might feel versus how the men are feeling, at certain critical junctures. Sure, it's difficult to write a book set in the past, and also place it within the zeitgeist of the current times. But, combined with Carr's specific tone, this didn't sit at all well with me.

And the reason it's not for the faint-hearted? Because of the author's developed tone and his plotting, you would expect not as much violence, not as much blood, not as much horror. It's pretty much all of those, people, so be forewarned.