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Six books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Six books
The Devil in the White City (by Erik Larson)
A non-fiction physical book! (I think it belongs to tirinian.) This is two alternating historical accounts - one, telling about building and putting on the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, and the other about H. H. Holmes, one of the first serial killers in the US, operating the "World's Fair Hotel" and "Murder Castle". The interleaving works well; the serial killer part adds extra thrill, but the putting-on-the-fair plot feels more virtuous to read. I really like Larson's style - the serial killer story is told with a lot of understatement, which makes it creepier but less lurid.
...They knew Mrs. Holton had sold the place. But why had they not seen her around town? Holmes smiled and explained that she had decided to visit relatives in California, something she had long wanted to do but could never find the time or money to accomplish and certainly could not have done with her husband on his deathbed. As time wore on and the inquiries dwindled, Holmes modified the story a bit. Mrs. Holton, he explained, liked California so much she had decided to settle there permanently.
I suspect in part this is grounded in trying to be factually accurate; a lot of Holmes' victims were not proven. The style for the fair side of things is equally delicate; there are a lot of appearances of Famous People, and also People Who Will Be Famous. That helps a lot with putting the story in a place in history leading inexorably (and in many ways optimstically) to the future.
The deepening depression and missteps by the two partners had left the firm with few projects. For all of 1893 Sullivan, never easy on his peers, because furious with one of the firm's junior architects when he discovered the man had been using his free time to design houses for clients of his own. Sullivan fired him. The junior man was Frank Lloyd Wright.
Anyway, it's a slow book, and not my usual genre, but it carried me along the whole way through, and I very much liked the writing style. Four stars.

Widdershins (by Jordan Hawk)
I have got to get my Amazon preferences tuned a little more. Fantasy with a big dollop of romance is fine; actual romance romance ends up being too close to erotica, and I get kind of embarassed reading it in public. Anyway, this is about 50% Lovecraft and 50% angstful gay romance with hot sex, and it's a very well done example of that (possibly small) genre, but it is not quite the genre I was personally looking for. Interestingly, I only requested the free Kindle preview, and what I got was the whole book, marked "Sample". Three stars for me; four and a half for you if this is your genre.

In the Woods (by Tana French)
I really loved this book, and I couldn't put it down, but the ending it gave me was not the one I wanted. It's a mystery - the basic premise is that there's been a murder in a little town, and one of the detectives working on it was a kid there when two of his friends vanished and probably were killed. The mystery is pretty compelling (and the detective grunt work feels real to me), and I was pleased with myself for figuring most of it out. But the best part of the book is the friendship between the two detectives, the narrator and his partner, and to a lesser extent the flashbacks of the sun-dappled friendship with the two other kids, and the witness interrogations are brilliant and are probably the best reminder ever that lying to the suspect is a totally acceptable police tool.
I knew what [the detectives] did was cruel. Humans are feral and ruthless; this, this watching through cool intent eyes and delicately adjusting one factor or another until a man's fundamental instinct for self-preservation cracks, is savagery in its most pure, most polished and highly evolved form.
Talking about the ending would be way too spoilery, but I don't think I can claim that it was a *wrong* ending, or a badly written ending - it just disappointed me. Even so, I think I give it four stars - it probably would have been five if the last bits were different. And I'm going to go find her next book. (Wait, what? Her next book seems to give the lie to one of the two things that disappointed me. I did not expect there to be a sequel. I must rethink this now.) </dl>
Likeness (by Tana French)
I read the next one. I think I have forgiven the previous one for the ending (and I am sad at having been misled by the thing that didn't give the lie to anything at all). These books wrench at me, but I cannot stop reading them. (For those of you reading the Louise Penney books - it's kind of like The Brutal Telling. Heartbreaking.) So, the plot is about going undercover as the murdered girl to try to find out who killed her, because the detective coincidentally happens to look like her and used to work in undercover. It's kind of implausible but I am willing to give the story its initial premise for suspension of disbelief. And it's a good murdery mystery. Both this one and the last one, the clues are well done and fair and the culprits are not stupid for the purpose of making interesting convolutions.

But that's not why I am so enthralled. There are a lot of emotional themes to go around, and some resonate with me more than others. The themes here have to do with friendship and love and talking and fitting together... the partner you have, not your romantic partner, but the one that you know how he thinks, you can finish each other's sentences and know just how to tease and work together perfectly. Or the family you build, in your house - because the way to keep the people you want to keep forever is to own a house with them. (The part where that becomes very clear is actually kind of chilling and makes me worry about my own ethics...) It's hard to pull it out of the books and put into my own poor words, because French writes so much better than I do, but the emotional themes *get* me. The things that the characters love about their lives, they are the things that I love about mine. The things that they fear losing, I fear losing. And when French brings things crashing down about their ears, as she does, because these are not happy ending books, she devastates me. I think I'm upping it to five stars, but these stars are my own and your mileage may vary.

Faithful Place and Broken Harbor
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS AHEAD.
These are the last of the books that Tana French has written, though heaven knows I'm going to buy more any time she publishes something. So, let me explain how this series goes. The first book has Detectives Ryan and Maddox, who are the perfect partners and the perfect friends, and then at the end of the book she crushes their relationship. This book and the next book both have the series title in Amazon of "Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox". When I saw that, I hoped that somehow the friendship wasn't so irrevocably shattered as it had seemed to be - but no. Book two is about Cassie, and Rob appears only in the occasional flashback. Book two is the only one in which the main character does not end up broken, though the story ends nothing like happily. Book three takes a character from book two, and makes him the protagonist. He's kind of a jerk to start with, and this book is more about dysfunctional abusive families and less about friendship, so I didn't like it as much, but I still gobbled it up. It does not end happily. Book four takes a character from book three and makes *him* the protagonist. This one is spooky and creepy and psychological, but back to being more about friendship and love and sadness, and it does not end happily. Now the series title is "Dublin Murder Squad" which is more accurate, though I do not know who can possibly be the next main character. Surely it cannot be Quigley.

So... why am I so enthralled by these books? I can't really explain it. I like my stories to end happier than this. Book three has almost no characters that I sympathize with. I think it's mostly what I talked about up there two books ago. It's that the author can say to me, "I know the sort of thing you care about, and I'm going to demonstrate by showing how I can shatter it." She's taking my hostages and shooting them. But, also, she writes friendship like nobody's business, and she writes manipulative dialogue like a master, and she just writes beautifully. Plus never once did she make me think that the mystery, or the explanation for it, was stupid.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful

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Comments
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: October 2nd, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)
That last series sounds wicked painful. <hides>
merastra From: merastra Date: October 2nd, 2013 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
>>Likeness (by Tana French) ... The things that they fear losing, I fear losing.

Wow. I'm kind of tempted to read that or the first, but am not sure I'm into that kind of pain. Sounds very cool though.

Widdershins sounds neat too. It *is* weird how Amazon gave you the whole thing. Reminds me how Dragon's Path got tacked onto some other e-book and not just an excerpt.
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