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A whole big pile of books - Qualified Perceptions
A whole big pile of books
Whiskey Sour (by J. A. Konrath)
This is a perfectly fine book in the category of "cop versus serial killer". And hey, it's free with the Kindle Unlimited thing, which I decided to try for a month (just when everyone else is boycotting Amazon, which makes me feel a little guilty). There are books I know will be really good, that I'm not reading yet (the new Nick Harkaway, or the new Max Gladstone (they show up later here)); sometimes popcorn is what I want. This is from the introduction:
My goals for this book were threefold. First, I wanted the snappy banter and fun comraderie of my favorite comedic mysteries. Then I wanted to counter that with the frightening thrills that make then reader want to turn on all the lights.
My hope for the end result was a laugh-outloud, scare your pants off, quick summer beach read with characters people wanted to see more of.
I think I did actually laugh out loud at least once, and while my pants stayed on, there were some nice tense moments. If I liked beaches, it would be perfect.

Daemon (by Daniel Suarez)
I really liked the book that this was going to be from the Kindle preview - after the death of a game programmer, his pre-programmed evil plan starts murdering his co-workers via clever hacks. But it went more epic than that, and while I wanted to know the answer to "Why did the daemon kill those particular people?" at the beginning, it wasn't that sort of story. I liked some of the characters, but they mostly got destroyed by the characters I didn't like. I definitely sympathized with a lot of the social commentary, but I couldn't sympathize with the implementation (yes, we would probably cut down on spam if we started sending hit squads to kill everyone in the worst of spamhauses...). The ending was terribly abrupt; it apparently continues in a sequel, but I don't think I liked the first book well enough to buy the ending separately. Two stars.

Tigerman (by Nick Harkaway)
I continue to love Nick Harkaway with painful intensity, though in this book he breaks my heart. Tigerman is a sadder book than his others (though still glorious and hilarious at turns), and a more down-to-earth one. The setting is an ex-colonial island, due to be destroyed due to (the one touch of real unreality in the book) fantastic possibly-contagious ecological catastrophe; the government has mostly bowed out, and the Fleet is in the bay. The Fleet is from everywhere else, countries taking advantage of what is currently a no-official-laws zone to stage boats with all the things they want to do but can't at home due to pesky laws. Essentially, the justification for Guantanamo Bay, but writ large and multinational. The main characters are a man (a British sergeant) and a boy (a local), and there's a Casablanca-esque feel to the whole thing, if Ingrid Bergman had been a teenage boy. It's about doing right versus turning a very convenient blind eye, about comic books and culture and Youtube and media frenzy and the thin line between civilization and chaos. Like the previous two books, I want to highlight everything to quote it to you, but I will go with
THE DAY HAD BEEN SO WEIGHTY AND THE OUTCOME SO MOMENTOUS that the boy decided a special entertainment was now called for, saying only in tones of great import and mystery that it would be "hunnerten pro cent zed oh em gee." The Sergeant recognised the over-revved "one hundred and ten per cent" and the "oh my god" parts, but the "z" quite defeated him. "Zombie" was the only thing he could come up with and it seemed unlikely, unless "zombie" had now acquired an additional meaning of "excellent." Thinking about it, he decided that this was possible, but that he would be quite happy never knowing for sure.
I still adore Mr. Harkaway, but it will take me a while to decide if I forgive him. Four and a half stars.

A Cold and Broken Hallelujah (by Tyler Dilts)
I seem to have been on a Leonard Cohen quotes binge recently - this one is part of the Kindle Previews (one free book from a choice of five pre-releases per month), so I picked up a 'book three in a series'. This book was very unusual for a mystery, or at least for the mysteries that I read. The actual mystery isn't very much of a mystery - the killers are caught at the scene of the crime, at the beginning. There's more associated plot, including the innocent kid caught up in things, and the slightly-higher-level bad guys, but mostly, exactly what happened is clear. A lot of the story, though, is spent with the question of who the murder victim was - a homeless man, name originally unknown. The main character spends a lot of effort on this - who he was recently, who he was before, what kind of person he was, a lot of details. The character himself ends up wondering why he is quite so driven as he is to learn this, and as a reader, I admit I was similarly wondering. But the slow revealing of the victim's personhood - it's not an astonishing reveal, he's just a man, not a saint or a monster, with some surprising good points and some surprising bad points - is oddly compelling, like watching a Polaroid develop. I don't quite know what to make of this book, but I may try book one in the series. Three stars?

Knight Moves (by Walter Jon Williams)
I was surprised to realize that this was a new-ish book (2011), rather than an old book that I hadn't read before. It feels older, and it reminds me of Zelazny. No, wait, in looking up the actual publishing date, I find a blog post by Williams that says that it is an old book, from 1985, recently reissued. (And it mentions Zelazny too, so I'm not the first person to think that.) Anyway. I don't find it entirely satisfying, but it makes more sense as an early work. The main character... I just don't like very much, though he is not always meant to be right. And both the beginning and the end, the Great Human Changes are propelled by aliens providing explanations. Which is maybe not implausible for science fiction, but it gave me a feeling of nobody really being a prime mover behind anything (except for some seriously iffy ethical decisions which I would spend a paragraph on if this were a rant). And, there's a lot of argument over the theme of the ennui of immortality, which I would mind more except that it's an argument with two sides, not a statement. It's thoughtful rather than active, and poetic in places. But darn it, I don't really like most of the people in it - not because they're actively terrible, just because there's not much to them to like. Three stars for "decent book that I didn't care for much".

Full Fathom Five (by Max Gladstone)
The third in the Craft series. I was almost disappointed to see some characters recur from previous books; having them be nigh-unconnected was kind of novel for a series. Again, the setting is fascinating, the characters have depth and generally think they're doing the right thing, even when they're opposed. The Penitents are a nicely done horrific idea. I really enjoyed the minor digression into the salesforce side of things, when we've seen a lot of the business/finance/magic/contracts side before - I wouldn't have minded a little more of that, just for the contrast, though alas, Gladstone mostly sticks to the bits that are plot-related.
"And what, precisely, is the... function of your idols?"
"Depends on the idol and the client. Some people want to worship fire, or fertility, or the ocean, or the moon. Changes from client to client."
"What benefits would a worshipper derive from such a thing?" Even such a simple question might be a trap.
"The same as from a god. A fire idol might confer passion. Strength. Return on investment in various heat-related portfolios."
Also, I really liked this:
The pilgrims he stole from are the kind of people who wander into your village and look around and say, This is an awfully nice entire population you have here, it'd be a shame if something were to, you know, happen to it
Four stars.

A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents (by Marie Brennan)
These are charming. The memoirs (first two of what seems like they could be quite a few, judging by the references to things yet to come) of a female quasi-Regency-era scholar of dragons. (Quasi-Regency, because the countries are all fictitious, though most are reminiscent of real countrie). So it's an interesting cross between Georgette Heyer and flat-out fantasy that appeals to me quite a lot. There's a lot of the gender stuff you'd expect - the main character's first paper is published in the name of her husband "and others" and she can't join the scientific society - but neither can a lower-class male rival/ally, and then especially in the second book, there's colonialism politics going on, so there are a lot of -isms to disapprove of displayed. The plot is maybe 1/3 naturalism investigation and 2/3 getting caught up in local politics, and that seems to work well. Having finished the first, I immediately bought the second; it's not clear how long the series is intended to go, but they stand alone perfectly reasonably. (Well, I wouldn't read the second one without having read the first.) Four stars.

Monstrous Affections (by David Nickle)
I generally tend to not like books of short stories; if there's one in a collection that I like, then all the others end up being different. But I continue to be tempted by them, especially in this case because the first story (the one mostly covered by the Kindle preview) I liked quite a lot. Sadly, the first one was also my favorite. Nickle does psychological horror more than physical horror, which means he ranges from mind control that is slowly unfolded for the reader that the character can't see (very nicely done) to "I do not understand what is going on in this story AT ALL.".

Cobweb Bride (by Vera Nazarian)
This is both an interestingly good and interestingly terrible book. On the positive, the main characters are different, well-drawn, and not standard fantasy tropes. As are many of the brief side characters. Even the people who only appear for a scene or two have surprisingly filled-in backstories. The sense of cold in the book is well done, and made me shiver about as much as Dan Simmon's The Terror, which was darned cold. There was a funny bit that made me laugh out loud. The writing is often quite poetic. The premise (Death stops taking people until his Cobweb Bride comes to him at his keep in the North Forest; tons of women of marriageable age start marching northwards through the snow; the Red Duke, newly undead, decides he likes being unkillable and starts trying to catch them all.) is perfectly fine.

On the negative side, the poetic writing occasionally veers into the territory of the wrong word (a person milling from one foot to the other, or the "pre-dawn dusk", or a person's fathomlessly intense dark abysmal strength that probably ought to have been abyssal, and that might not be the only problem with that sentence). Having not looked closely at the map at the beginning of the book, I was startled to discover, about halfway through, that the two main countries of "The Realm" (made up of the dukedoms of Styx, Morphaea, and Lethe) and "The Domain" border France. Regardless of the geography, the genre disconnect was jarring. Of course, having looked at the map, the geography is still a little puzzling, because the compass rose has Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the east, and Spain to the south. Basically Switzerland, except that Spain must have gone walkabout. Actually, you can pretty much leave Germany and Italy out of it, and just wonder about having France on your west and Spain on your south. (There is an author's note at the end that explains the way in which she has moved the countries around. It's not yet clear why, since none of the other countries actually appear in the book. I also don't know whether Death has stopped there too (and in the rest of the world), or just in the two fictional countries.) Finally, as an explanation for a plot point comes the Worst Idea In The World. (This is a spoiler, though it's not a very important one.)

Me: So, you're the king. You decide you need to send one of your nobles off to spy in an enemy country. It's a top secret mission, so his family can't know where he is. What is the worst idea ever to use as the cover story?
Mike: ... he's dead?
Me: Yes. And?
Mike: ... and you killed him yourself?
Me: Yes. And?
Mike: For treason?
Me: Exactly! For unspecified treason with no evidence, in particular. So then the eldest son shows up to demand answers, and you send him off to be a spy with his dad, and send word back to the rest of family that he has also been executed (for dueling), and they need to shut up and leave you alone.
Mike: Brilliant.
Me: And then the second son shows up, and he stabs the princess for great vengeance.
Mike: Does he kill her?
Me: Well, only kind of, but that's because of the actual plot.
This is the first of a trilogy (the kind which does not bring the story to a proper end, but sets it up for the next book). The other two are finished, so I can't complain two much, except that I don't think I actually want to read them.

Locked In (by John Scalzi)
A police mystery, living comfortably in a nice near-future worldbuilding exercise that touches on bodies and wearing other bodies and disability and disability-as-culture and a clever point about gender that I totally missed until chenoameg pointed it out to me. Mr. Scalzi continues to be in the "enjoyable craftsman" category for me, and though I had some quibbles over the plausibility of some of the legal points, they weren't rant-worthy. And, there wasn't even a fart joke. Four stars.

The Secret Place (by Tana French)
I've mentioned Tana French before. This is book number five in the Dublin Murder Squad series, set a year after a murder in a fancy girls' boarding school, and it picked me up and carried me along just as much as the other four. French is a beautiful, lyrical, thoughtful, emotionally brilliant writer. This book is a bit less soul-crushing than the previous ones (unless you're previously scarred by teenage queen bee bullies), so if you have been reading my reviews and thinking "well, those might sound good except for the part where you finish the book emotionally shattered" you might give it a try. I don't quite know what to make of the whiff of supernatural; Broken Harbor played around with that too, but ended up backing off; Secret Place dabbles in the "teenage girls are prone to mild poltergeist activity" area, but it isn't very relevant - and somehow I found it more plausible than the exact lookalike in Likeness. Five stars.

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennett's Pride and Prejudice (by Jennifer Paynter)
I seem to pick up a Pride and Prejudice mashup every so often (this was another free Kindle Unlimited book); this is the second time I have been disappointed because the random writer is not up to Jane Austen's level. I begin to suspect that if a random writer could write with as much wit and sparkle as Jane Austen, they might not be doing mashups. Anyway. No zombies in this one; it's Mary Bennett's story. She has few lines in the original, and is kind of dull and patronizing when she does appear; this makes her more likeable, somewhat. It also makes Mrs. Bennett more likeable, which is remarkable, though this comes at a cost of making almost everyone else less likeable, especially Mr. Bennett, which makes me sad, as he is probably my favorite of the family. The plot all consists of things that could plausible have happened in and around (and before and after) the original story, but it tends to wander more; it made me think of taking a transcription of a Jane Austin Dice Game ("14: A ball!" "5: Mr. Wickham Gets A New Girlfriend") and fleshing it out. So. I will have to consider whether to give up on these mashups, or use it as an excuse to read Pride and Prejudice every few years. Three stars.

Current Mood: voiceless

11 comments or Leave a comment
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: September 17th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I live under a rock: why are people boycotting Amazon?

(Also: oo, more Harkaway! Though I have to say I'm not sure I liked his second one as much as his first.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 17th, 2014 02:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Amazon has been in a war with Hachette, a book publisher. Amazon wants all ebooks to be $9.99 or less, and Hachette wants the ability to sell some of them at a higher price. So Amazon is doing things like not stocking Hachette books and not allowing pre-orders and so on, to get Hachette to agree to their terms.
merastra From: merastra Date: September 17th, 2014 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)
current mood - voiceless? Hopefully you don't have laryngitis.

Is there a star rating for "Whiskey Sour"? I am still failing to read books, but I do enjoy your reviews and enjoy claiming I'll read one or two from your list. :-)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 17th, 2014 12:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I actually had a particularly scary form of laryngitis yesterday, where the back of my throat was swollen enough that talking made me think I was choking. Calling for a doctor's appointment was kind of difficult! But it is much improved today.

Whiskey Sour would be three stars, except beaches don't have stars, just sun! ;-)
merastra From: merastra Date: September 17th, 2014 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Swelling throat, eek!

[begin overly_paranoid] You can try benedryl, it's a much faster acting anti-histamine than, say, zyrtec or claritin, and some nurses I know keep a couple tablets in their wallets for "not dying of allergic reaction shock" purposes. The reason people don't take it more often is because it has more sleepy-sideeffects but if you are not going to be able to breathe soon, being sleepy is a better alternative. [/end overly_paranoid]

Three stars, or maybe three suns, ok. ;-)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 17th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
As far as I could tell, it was never really interfering with my breathing, it was all soft palate/tonsils and neck-soft-tissue swelling, but I will keep that in mind for (hopefully not a) next time. Ibuprofen worked pretty well here, for general anti-inflammation.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 17th, 2014 06:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Eeep! Wishing you a speedy recovery.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 17th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm surprisingly better today. It was kind of cool to see medical technology leap into action at the appointment yesterday - two strep tests (fast and iffy ("negative" in five minutes!), slow and accurate (also negative)), neck x-ray ("hmm, there's a lot of swelling there, but no holes...). By this afternoon, I just sound like a smoker. (But I still have this appt with an ENT on Friday just in case.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 17th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
(but thank you! :) )
countertorque From: countertorque Date: September 19th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll get right on that Harkaway. I also didn't think the 2nd was as good as the first. But the first was one of the best things I've ever read.

Did you see book 4 of Expanse is out? I liked it.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 19th, 2014 11:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh! I missed that, thank you! Buying now.

(I agree that neither Harkaway's #2 nor #3 hit the awesomeness of #1, but he'd have to slide a long way before I stopped liking him.)
11 comments or Leave a comment