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For most of a decade Mark Twain lived in Europe, returning at last to America and a joyous welcome on an October night in 1900. Ten years later, in the spring of 1910, he returned once more, only days before his death, carried down the gangway as reporters on the New York piers waited, yet again, to welcome him home a final time. In those two decades last of the nineteenth and first of the twentieth our modern nation was formed. Men whose names have become legendary Rockefeller, Carnegie, Edison, Wright, Ford exemplified the great changes taking place in America at the time. But only one name rivaled Mark Twain s in the love of his countrymen. Theodore Roosevelt dominated the politics of the era just as the author of Huckleberry Finn dominated its culture. The celebrities were well acquainted, and in public neither spoke ill of the other. But Roosevelt once commented in private that he would like to skin Mark Twain alive, and the humorist recorded his own opinion (although not for public consumption until later) that Roosevelt was far and away the worst President we have ever had. Philip McFarland s Mark Twain and the Colonel describes the prickly relationship between these beloved figures by focusing on two tumultuous decades of abiding relevance, decades to which no Americans were more responsive than Colonel Roosevelt of San Juan Hill and the humorist Mark Twain.

McFarland juxtaposes the lives of two important men at the turn of the 20th century in this fascinating read. I read in search of more knowledge on Theodore Roosevelt in particular, for research purposes, but the sections on Mark Twain were equally riveting. McFarland did a good job, I think, of showing how complicated they were: Roosevelt with all his good to conserve land and establish peace, even as he believed firmly in the science of the time that elevated Anglo-Saxons as the superior species; and Mark Twain, a showman who grew increasingly taciturn as he aged and liked to play grandfather in a way that now seems suspicious. The downsides to the book came down to organization; the material was sometimes frustratingly redundant and it constantly hop-skipped.

This was both a good and useful book, however, and one I will be keeping for future reference.

Books 37 & 38 - 2014

Book 37: Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs – 271 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
As 200,000 fans pour into town for Race Week, a body is found in a metal drum near Charlotte Motor Speedway--a discovery that has NASCAR crewman Wayne Gamble urgently seeking out Tempe at the Mecklenburg County ME's office: twelve years ago, his sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring professional race car driver, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette, who was linked to a group of right-wing extremists. The FBI joined the investigation, but it was soon terminated. Is the body Cindi's? Or Cale's? Tests reveal that a toxic substance was in the drum with the body--just as another disappearance occurs. Who is orchestrating the mayhem behind the scenes at NASCAR--and what government secrets might have been buried more than a decade ago?

Another Bones book, but a rather forgettable one. I only read this one eight or so months ago, but I don’t remember it as well. Pretty sure Brennan got herself into big trouble at the NASCAR and there was some confusion over how a body got where it ended up. As usual Brennan ends up in hot water, which seems to happen far too frequently for someone who is a forensic anthropologist. I’m not really into car related stuff, so the background information on the topic in question that Reichs always gives in her books was of little interest to me. Perhaps the one thing I really did like is when she talks about stuff specific to Charlotte mostly cause I’m going to Charlotte later this year. I will also say that I actually like Slidell (or is it Sidell? I can’t remember) despite how negatively he is described – he’s both funny and endearingly determined.

37 / 50 books. 74% done!

12955 / 15000 pages. 86% done!

Book 38: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Tenth: The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket – 337 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Like bad smells, uninvited weekend guests or very old eggs, there are some things that ought to be avoided. Snicket's saga about the charming, intelligent, and grossly unlucky Baudelaire orphans continues to alarm its distressed and suspicious fans the world over. The 10th book in this outrageous publishing effort features more than the usual dose of distressing details, such as snow gnats, an organised troupe of youngsters, an evil villain with a dastardly plan, a secret headquarters and some dangerous antics you should not try at home. With the weather turning colder, this is one chilling book you would be better off without.

This series is nearing its end, and with that, the line between good and bad is blurring significantly. Throughout this story, I have developed more and more pity for the Baudelaire’s kids as they have battled to make good, just decisions whilst faced with the seemingly never-ending questionable decisions made by the adults that surround them. This book starts to see some of the various threads throughout the earlier books come together, and elements of what the Baudelaire children are wrapped up in actually start to become revealed. It is quickly becoming apparent that Count Olaf has not sought out their money by accident. I had genuinely wondered whether this series would prove to be as ‘unfortunate’ as the title suggested; the further through it I get, the more I believe it lives up to its title.

38 / 50 books. 76% done!

13292 / 15000 pages. 89% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Queen of Zombie Hearts by Gena Showalter – 442 pages
-        A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Thirteenth: The End by Lemony Snicket – 324 pages
-        Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter – 263 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Book 83 Unbound

Unbound (Magic Ex Libris #3)Unbound by Jim C. Hines

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really do enjoy this series, though this one was quite a bit darker than the first two and that's saying something. There will be mild spoilers in this review, just fyi. What is particularly nice about this series is that it's obvious Hines loves books and uses them in creative ways seeing as the protagonist, Isaac Vainio and the group he used to belong to, the Porters, use books to create magic, hence the Libriomancer tag on the series. The other very nice thing is that even though the point of view character is male much of the supporting case is made up of strong females who usually spend their time rescuing Isaac from whatever foolhardy thing he's just done instead of the other way around.

It opens not long after Bi Wei and her order (who had been hunted down by the Porters) have outed magic, especially after she tags in a page to the Game of Thrones series explaining it all. Isaac is not only out of the Porters but Gutenberg himself has locked Isaac's mind so he can't do magic. Isaac is suffering from that loss coupled with the fact that the battle with Bi Wei and the Ghost army decimated his home town and that Jenata, the young girl who has managed to use ebooks to do libriomancy when no other Porter can, has been taken over by an insane sorceress from a thousand years ago, Meridiana.

Meridiana isn't hiding magic either and she is seeking full entry into this world. Isaac, along with Lena, the dryad, and Nidhi, the former Porter psychiatrist, are trying to find Jenata and unlock the memories of Meridiana hidden in Isaac's brain (and if someone could unlock his magic, that would be great too). But remembering is only part of the battle.

Soon enough, Isaac finds himself working with the outlawed ex-Porter sorcerer, Juan Ponce de Leon while running from Gutenberg and his right hand woman, Nicola, a Porter who sings her magic. Running turns into reluctant cooperation which turns into something far more tragic by the end as the Porters fracture and an uneasy alliance with Bi Wei and her people are sought. Then Isaac does something with far reaching and dangerous potential.

There is plenty of action, history and of course, pop culture book references. There were news articles, blog posts, letters etc between each chapter. Some were interesting. Some were less so, mostly there to illustrate people are becoming aware of magic (and Isaac will pay a high price for that awareness). Though it puts me in mind of the Dresden Files series where we keep upping the game to the point of where can we go from here? Isaac makes so many enemies in this his continued survival logically seems nearly impossible.

Speaking of the Dresden Files, this reminds me of that in another way. Or maybe it's just that I'm tired of protagonists belonging to an organization made up of utter dickholes. Whedon's Rupert Giles of the Watchers, Butcher's Harry Dresden of the White Council, and now Isaac of the Porters (and probably what's his face from Rice's Talamasca but it's been too many years for me to remember that clearly), the one lone person (with maybe one ally) who is decent in a group filled with arrogant twits seeking to put down that person and not listen to reason because they know they're right. It's getting a little old.

On the plus side, Lena really comes into her own in this one, becoming even more awesomely bad-ass. She was always a dicey character as Hines well knew as he has Isaac worrying about it. She was created by magic from an old SF book the Nymphs of Neptune and as you might imagine these nymphs, a dryad in Lena's case, were basically sexual fantasy fulfillment. Isaac has done his best to help her grow as a person and not just as something to fulfill his sexual desires (he was not the one to make her for those new to the series) or that of Lena's other lover, Nidhi.

And that was also a nice thing. This book does not shy away from the fact that Lena is bisexual and that the love triangle between Isaac, Lena and Nidhi, resolved itself by becoming polyamorous. It's one of the few times I've seen that happen. I like that it's there. I like that Lena and Nidhi have a lesbian relationship without much ado being made of it (though I suppose if I go through the reviews on GR I'll see some non-reviews bashing the homosexuality in the book). For that matter there is another homosexual relationship in this book that was unexpected, sweet, sort of goofy and sadly tragic. I like that authors in main stream books are no longer shying away from gay characters and that they're not just there as negative stereotypes. it's about time.

That said, I'm a bit leery of book four and in this new world that will emerge from what happened in this book. I'll check it out surely but I'm unsure of it. Also I have to say even Smudge gets into the action in this one. He's okay for a big flaming tarantula.

View all my reviews

Book 73: Rising Ground by Philip Marsden

Book 73: Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place.
Author: Philip Marsden, 2014.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Memoir. Travel. Nature. History.
Other Details: Hardback. 452 pages.

Why do we react so strongly to certain places? Why do layers of mythology build up around particular features in the landscape? When Philip Marsden moved to a remote creekside farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response took him aback. It led him to begin exploring these questions, prompting a journey westwards to Land's End through one of the most fascinating regions of Europe.

From the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions of Tintagel, from the mysterious china-clay country to the granite tors and tombs of the far south-west, Marsden assembles a chronology of our shifting attitudes to place. In archives, he uncovers the life and work of other 'topophiles' before him - medieval chroniclers and Tudor topographers, eighteenth-century antiquarians, post-industrial poets and abstract painters. Drawing also on his own travels overseas, Marsden reveals that the shape of the land lies not just at the heart of our history but of man's perennial struggle to belong on this earth.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This proved to be a fascinating account that deals with one of my long term interests: the power and meaning of place and landscape with emphasis upon spiritual experiences. In the course of the book Marsden walks to various places in the South West of England exploring ancient monuments as well as recounting more recent history including the lives of those antiquarians who painstakingly chronicled aspects of the landscape in earlier times.

I took my time with this book, reading a chapter or two a session while sitting in the garden enjoying the summer afternoon. Its format, with each chapter dedicated to a site or place, suited this approach. Marsden's writing conveys his deep respect for the past as well as for the land. I am not usually that drawn to travel writings but this was so interesting that I was carried along.

Book 82

青の祓魔師 [Ao no Futsumashi] 13 (Blue Exorcist, #13)青の祓魔師 [Ao no Futsumashi] 13 by Kazue Kato

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I'm not sure why I couldn't go all the way to 4 stars for this one. It feels like something is missing and I'm not certain why. There is plenty of stuff in this volume, lots of emotional stuff. Maybe it's because Izumo isn't a character I've ever warmed up to. Maybe there's just too many fight scene pages. That's not to say it's bad in any way. It just felt...like it needed something.

But seriously, tons of stuff happen. We learn Izumo's tragic back story. What she and her family has suffered at the hands of the Illuminati, especially the scientist, Gedoin is pretty horrific stuff and what he plans to do to Izumo is no less disgusting. It makes Shima's betrayal even worse. Gedoin wants in part to help Lucifer merge hell and earth as one which the Illuminati believe will help free everyone and make it better. It's hard to say if they really believe this. Lucifer, much like Satan, can barely stay in this realm.

In the meantime, Izumo's friends are trying to rescue her but they are faced at every turn by Gedoin's terrifying zombie-like monsters. It gives the students problems ethically and magically. they're not truly demons. They might once have been humans (and humans make up some of the other enemies). Yukio also pointed out something else interesting. Konemaru and Bon are both Arias, who fight by chanting scriptures, which is something best done in groups with protectors but everyone is fighting alone thanks to Gedoin.

The art is still excellent and you can always tell what's happening in the fight scenes. What sucks is being caught up on this series because now you have to wait for there to be enough to bind and publish. In other words it's up to one volume a year and now I have to wait until January for more. Sigh.

View all my reviews

Book 81

Seraph of the End, Vol. 1 (Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign, #1)Seraph of the End, Vol. 1 by Takaya Kagami

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to try some new manga and had deeply mixed feelings about this. I think I've read one too many loud angry young men (with cause) mangas. Edward Elric of Fullmetal Alchemist, but at least Ed is intelligent so he's loud but he thinks. Rin of Blue Exorcist who at least is tempered by his twin. Yuichiro Hyakuya "Yu" is just loud and unthinking. He wants to kill all the vampires as they killed not only his parents but all his 'family' in the orphanage. Understandable but he doesn't listen to reason. He just bleats on about it ignoring the people who could and would help him. It's not fun when you want to slap the protagonist.

But me let back track. The manga starts off promising. Yu has been raised underground by the vampires as mostly a food source with many other kids after a virus wiped out all humanity other than those pre-pubescent. His family is all the other orphans and he's very close to Mika, a young man who is the de facto leader. Even here all Yu thinks of is killing his vampire overlords. Mika is the thinker and finds a way for them to escape but when that goes sideways and Yu does make it outside, he learns much of it has been a lie. Humanity is still there.

The story time jumps a bit and Yu is now a teen and he is in a school as punishment by Lt Col Guren Ichinose. Yu wants into the vampire killing unit Guren runs but refuses to be a team player at all. He's at teh school to learn how to work with others and make friends. He's watched over by the sexually preoccupied, Shinoa Hiragi who keeps telling him he needs to make a friend and get himself laid while he's at it. Yu keeps singing the same song. "I wanna kill vampires."

Shinoa is amused by this knowing he's going to get nowhere with this attitude but in spite of himself Yu does help someone and makes a friend who is also useful to the military. they get learn about the cursed gear, and making demon pacts to help stop the vampires and still Yu doesn't listen to anything anyone has to say about teamwork or how things need to be done.

Overall the story isn't bad. I kinda liked it. The art is very very nice. I might give it another try to give Yu time to mellow and and start thinking but if this is his whole character it'll get old fast.

View all my reviews


Birmingham, Alabama, drew a difficult resource portfolio in the Minerals Lottery.  Although there were commercially useful deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone close-by, which would seem to confer a locational advantage, those deposits were not as good as Pennsylvania coal or Minnesota ore.  And thus, although the major steel companies established integrated mills around Birmingham, the principal metal-working of the area was iron products.  Much of that iron was smelted in the Sloss Furnaces, the subject of W. David Lewis's ethnography, or perhaps history of technology, Sloss Furnaces and the Rise of the Birmingham District:  An Industrial Epic.  Instructive reading for Book Review No. 15.

Hard-hat on, and punch in ...Collapse )

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #33: Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

Number of pages: 744

This book is different from other Charles Dickens books, as it is not set in the author's Victorian-era Britain. Like A Tale of Two Cities, it was written as a historic novel, weaving in real-life events. Whereas the latter revolved around the French revolution, this book is set in 1780 and involves the Gordon riots against the Catholic Church, something I'd never heard of previously.

The book opens with the arrival of three strangers at an inn, including a highwayman, before the cast of characters is introduced. Strangely, Barnaby Rudge himself hardly appears in the first half and I started wondering early on why the book had been named after him. Thankfully, he does eventually become central to the main plot.

I noticed that Barnaby was referred to as a "village idiot", and I wondered if this was a non very politically correct 19th century term for an autistic person. I found him very easy to sympathise with, and I enjoyed reading the chapters involving him and his talking raven.

The first half of the book was a bit hard to get into, and mostly involved character romances, although I did enjoy the literary style; for example, at times Dickens tells an entire episode more than once, from the point of view of different characters.

The sections of the book I enjoyed most were in the second half where just about every main character got involved in the riots. The vivid portrayal of events was very compelling, and the scene where Newgate prison gets attacked reminded me of the storming of the Bastille in A Tale of Two Cities. At times, the story felt very dark, especially when the subject matter involved executions by hanging, and it felt like there was unlikely to be a happy ending.

Overall, I was glad that I persevered with this book, because I enjoyed it a lot.

Next book: A Feast for Crows (George R.R. Martin)
The Stranger and The Stranger's Woes, by Max Frei
Odd, rambly, intensely detailed fantasy. The structure is one of my least favorites - a few novellas per book, and each novella broken into a jillion tiny sections. Both times, I was just kind of poking along for most of the book, enjoying myself but also restless, and then the last 100 pages or so got REALLY REALLY good. So as long as that keeps happening, I'll keep wanting to read the next one.
(164, 228)

Polar Bear's Underwear, by tupera tupera
Cute kids' picture book with a super awesome trick to it.

Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey, by Alex Milway
Can an early reader book be witty? it was grade school level wit, but definitely felt like wit rather than straightforwardly funny? Anyway, I enjoyed it.

Clementine and The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee
Charming and open-hearted kids' series that I originally picked up for the Frazee illustrations. They are lively and the story is equally lively, and quite wonderful as such things go. The next best thing to Ramona Quimby books.
(167, 229)

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, by John Himmelman
Engaging albeit didactic stories wherein a bunny learns about martial arts skills. I appreciated that the main character was a girl, too.

The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Blends, by Megan McArdle
Hm. This was solid but I think I was expecting to Learn From An Expert and instead figured out that I'm already well ahead of the expected audience for this book. So, like, I didn't learn very much about working with genre blends? Sadness. But I dd read about quite a few specific titles I was unfamiliar with, or only passingly familiar with, that really appeal to me. Woot!

That's Not English, by Erin Moore
This is a superfun book about differences between British and American English by someone who really knows her stuff. The only thing that irritated me was the extremely narrow focus - the author didn't seem to know much about Canadian English (even though she mentioned it a couple of times), and Aussie / NZ / Indian / Malay / etc English might as well have not existed, even when one of those dialects would've been so relevant to the specific word she was discussing that it felt like a big gap in the discussion. I suppose the book was what it said on the tin, British and American, so it feels uncharitable to complain... but it did bother me.

Regulators by Richard Bachman

book 58: The Regulators by Richard Bachman

This is typical Stephen King, posthumously written (as said in King's introduction) by Richard Bachman (King's alter-ego). I guess I would describe it as "what would happen if a sadistic, soul sucking vampire who got off on human suffering and death gained control over a child's imagination and could make it real". Hopefully, that's not too spoilery. I think most people can figure out that much pretty quickly. It made me smile to see that I think this may be one of the rare "happy endings" that I have seen in a Stephen King (or alter ego) novel. "Happy" being relative, of course. Otherwise, it's entertaining, often gruesome, not-so-much scary, light reading by the horror master. It seems that Desperation, written under Stephen King's name, might by linked, as it is an important location in The Regulators, but I haven't read that one yet.

In the Woods by Tana French

book 57: In the Woods by Tana French

This is the first novel by author Tana French. I think I was expecting a horror, but it turned out to be a murder mystery set on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland. It's written very gradually and subtly, more like a favorite crime show than a movie where everything has to be high-impact to get through the story in the allotted time. I think the slow build adds to the psychological suspense, adding pressure so slowly that you can't tell it's creeping up on you. The plot is based on a couple of child murders, one new and one twenty years prior. The catch is that the homicide cop in charge of the case is, unknown to most of his team, the one surviving child from the earlier unsolved crime, who had subsequently lost his memory of the events up to and surrounding the disappearance and probable murder (lots of blood that was not his) of his play mates. The dialogue is smooth and clever. My only critiques are: 1. the main character didn't feel 100% real, more like a man written by a woman, although I can't put a finger on why; 2. the main character suddenly turned into a grade-A prick in the middle of the novel which seriously affected how much I could care about what happened to him; 3. some of the mysteries of the novel were left unresolved at the end, leaving me feel wanting. I discovered that the book is to be the first in a series with the female homicide partner playing lead in the next installment, The Likeness, so my hope is that some of the creepy things left unanswered are part of an over-riding arc that will be revisited in the future. I was immersed enough and am curious enough to read more (someday) to find out. I guess enough other people were as well, since this first novel won the author an Edgar.

Room with a View by E. M. Forster

book 56: A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

I feel like a dork, but I feel words like "lovely" and "delightful" floating around my head when I think of this book. A Room with a View is E. M. Forster's first novel, and he evidently wrote it before truly experiencing a physical romance himself. Well, he still led me, scrooge though I am about comedic romance, around by the emotions, feeling anxious and brooding and whimsical and passionate. I also had plenty of chuckles and eye rolls and fond memories of the movie based on the book (which turned out to be pretty faithful). Now I will have to track down a copy of the film to see again after over a decade, for the romance, of course (not just to see young Julian Sands naked). :) I also think I can look forward to reading the other E. M. Forster books on my shelf, because if he did this well so young, what did he grow into?

Twits by Roald Dahl

Book 55: The Twits by Roald Dahl

Well, Roald Dahl, as you may or may not know, wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory among other things. This is no "Charlie". I found this book extremely mean-spirited and grotesque. I tried to imagine it being appealing to anyone. Maybe little boys who like to pull the wings off of insects... Bullies... Other antisocial personalities... *shrug* I am strongly averse to censorship, but this is maybe one of two or three books in my life that I considered throwing away rather than donating it to Good Will or the Library upon completion. I found that little of value in it. The story line, if you want it, is this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Twit, trying to outdo each other in being mean to one another and those around them then having the tables turned (literally upside-down) on them unto their demise. I like dark humor, but I didn't find anything to smile about. I will resist destroying a book, but I really don't want to pass this on to my little seven year old niece. This is why we pre-view books instead of banning them.


Circus people, like any other cadre of co-workers, occasionally gather to swap yarns, which are sometimes embellished and elaborated in the re-telling, particularly if there are adult beverages being passed around.  Long-time impresario Paul Binder of the Big Apple Circus committed some of his tales to print in Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion And Other Uncommon Tales, which I'll commend to you tonight in Book Review No. 14.  (Half a year, half a year, half a year onward, and we'll see about the fifty ...)

Gather round the firepit ...Collapse )

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books #35-36

Book #35 was "Two Serious Ladies" by Jane Bowles. I found about this book by reading an article about gay authors' favorite books of all times. Several, both men and women, liked this one. It's the only novel Bowles ever wrote, and she's better known for her plays. The title is like the book, both in earnest and in jest. The two "ladies" in question are Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield, who both are trying to discover themselves in different but absurd ways. Goering is an heiress who moves out of her mansion into a desolate shack on an island, allows her house to be inhabited by gold-digging hangers-on, and finds herself going home with a series of disreputable men. Meanwhile, Copperfield goes to Panama with her husband, only to abandon him in order to take up with a teenage prostitute and the middle-aged proprietoress of a run-down hotel. For being published in 1943, it's quite frank about bodies and sexuality, though any explicit sexual activity takes place "off stage." It does, however, mention bathing in the sea in the nude, dripping pubic hair, and prostitution without much censorship. The book is oddly compelling and amusing, though I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it at times. I do think Bowles and her husband were interesting characters in their own right, and now I'm curious about her plays.

Book #36 was "Herland" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I'd read her novella, "The Yellow Wallpaper" in college English class, and I was curious about her novel about a feminist utopia. My husband listened to it as an audiobook (free via librivox.org) and said he liked it, so I gave it a try. I found it to be quite readable, though it does have the feel of a parable at times, rather than a traditional novel, and I'm sure she did mean it to have a didactic purpose. Published in 1915, the novel starts when three explorers hear a tale about a country of all women. They make an expedition there, assuming that either the rumors are untrue, or if they are, that a country of women would be easily conquered. The men instead get captured and spend a year learning a whole new Herland culture. I liked the book better when it showed interactions between the characters rather than the sometimes lengthy expositions about Herland history and culture, and the whole "Women would run the world better" theme got pounded in a little obviously at times. Overall, I did like it and would recommend it as a highly entertaining feminsit parable.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Jul. 26th, 2015

I don't usually pay a lot of attention to the writers of motion pictures. It's not fair, I know, but the screenwriters don't get a whole lot of respect in Hollywood, and to some extent that attitude is true of the movie fans.

There's this one screenwriter, William Goldman. I was first introduced to his work when a good friend insisted on reading aloud to a group of our friends a particular scene from a book that he'd found. I was shocked to realize later when I was watching The Princess Bride that I already knew the scene atop the Cliffs of Insanity; yes, it was that same scene.

I later read the book myself and enjoyed it...but that's not what I'm dealing with here. Yesterday, I finished reading his book Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting which I found to be an excellent discussion of the movie system. The book is a little old now (written in 1983), but there's still a lot of gold in it. If you have an interest in what The Industry is like, I think this is worth a read.

A few hours later, I also finished reading Osprey Warrior #71: Roman Legionary 58 BC – AD 69, which deals with the troops of the Republic during into the troops of the Empire. It's a pretty well put together book. If you're interested in the period, it might be a good choice for some concentrated data.

#77: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

I received an ARC of this book at San Diego Comic-Con. It isn't for sale until September 1st.

High society hijinks, politics, and magic are artfully blended in this absolute gem of a novel. This is one of my favorite books of the year. That said, I imagine some people will have difficulty getting into the book because the voice is so thick and true to the 19th century. It took me a few chapters to find the Regency groove, but once I did, the novel pulled me in like a hungry kraken.

The two leads are characters of colors, and I loved how Cho handled the issues of racism and sexism. They are ever-present concerns and I felt they were handled within context of the period without being too heavy-handed for modern readers. Zacharias Wythe is an African-born emancipated slave, adopted at an early age by the Sorcerer Royale. As the book begins, Zacharias has assumed the role of Sorcerer Royale upon the death of his mentor--and inherited many other woes as well.

Meanwhile, Prunella Gentleman is an orphaned young lady of great magic talents who faces a future utterly reliant on marriage and the concealment of her great skill. Things are complicated even more by the discovery of her inheritance.

A romance between Zacharias and Prunella is inevitable (and really the only predictable plot in the book), but handled with decorum and charm. The main plot contained many twists and turns. The climax completely surprised me.

I have already added this book to my list of possible nominees for major awards this coming year. It may not be a read for everyone, but it sure hit my sweet spots.

Jul. 25th, 2015

I've dabbled in reading urban fantasy before, most notably Jim Butcher's Dresden series, which I like very much. Somewhere I'd heard about Suzanne Johnson's books which have some similarities to the Dresden stuff, but instead of being set in Chicago, they are in New Orleans, and post-Katrina the gates into the Beyond were ripped open. So I recently finished reading Royal Street and found it quite enjoyable. If you like the genre, give this one a try!

Book 80

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I debated hard on whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. 3.5 would have been perfect but it got rounded up for having an insane vampire.(I have a thing for this, seriously, I read/watch them, I write them). But it's a bit more on the 3 star side for world building which I have some problems with. There are minor spoilers in this review, most for the world building.

Vampires exist and it is viral. They know that the 'Cold' people can survive the virus if they make it 88 days without biting anyone. If they drink human blood, they die and rise as vampires. And the virus makes it so all they want to do is bite and drink. Now here's my problem. The CDC and WHO aren't perfect at containing outbreaks but did no one think to empty out a few prisons which would be perfect for locking up the infected after a bit of retrofitting so they could be fed in their cells? I mean someone figured out the 88 day thing so it had to be tried. There's not enough explanation as to why we went with just building walled cities, the titular Coldtowns, where humans, infected and vampires live in what is being televised/webcasted as eternal balls (making it look cool) and expensive marks are the only way out for the uninfected. Frankly I see governmental drone strikes taking out cities with outbreaks long before I see them going 'eh, just wall them up.'

But okay, once you can except that, the story is pretty fun but to be honest I read it for Gavriel not Tana, which is bad since she's the main pov character. Tana does a lot of stupid things, things she realizes is stupid and I'm torn between thinking, yeah she's like 16-17 so it's sensible that her thought patterns are like this and wanting to slap sense into her.

It begins creepily enough. Tana wakes up in a tub hidden by a shower curtain where she passed out only to find everyone dead. All her friends at the party have been slaughtered and all she can think of is getting out of there while it's still daylight (because she knows first hand what it's like to deal with a Cold person) and that she is so happy her best friend, Pauline wasn't there. But her ex, the bi-sexual and promiscuous Aiden is and he's chained to a bed and Cold. Next to him in chains is a beautiful vampire boy who's mad as an outhouse rat.

Tana makes her first, but understandable, mistake. She rescues them both but in the process the vampires responsible for the slaughter try to stop her, a fang catching her in the leg. Unsure if she is now infected, Tana doesn't call home and tell her father and sister anything (which is infuriating because it's going to have predictable results later and most normal people would do it). Tana instead drives Aidan and Gavriel to the nearest Coldtown. In the process, she is surprised that Gavriel doesn't try to attack her and unsurprised that infected Aidan does, even though he is still mostly her friend, just in the throes of his disease.

Gavriel is delightfully genteel yet violent and insane with moments of lucidity (He does remind me of Joss Whedon's Drusilla and that's a good thing). I loved his character. They picked up two other teens, the twins Winter and Midnight who want to be vampires (well the sister, Midnight, wants it much more than her brother and wants to blog it all).

Unsurprisingly, Coldtown isn't the beautiful eternal ball Midnight and Winter (and Tana's sister, Pearl who watches all the webcasts from the handsome elegant vampire, Lucien, whose parties are infamous in the Coldtown). It's a crappy slum. Things go very much sideways from there and Tana finds herself with new allies inside the town, including a transgendered girl. Worse, Tana finds herself caught up in the betrayal/revenge scenarios of some big name vampires including the Thorn of Istra (the Thorns are self policing vampires who used to keep infected rates down as the vampires hid in the shadows until Casper Morales went public). The Thorn had been tortured for a decade after he showed Casper mercy and unleashed the unprecedented vampire plague (three guesses who that is).

Tana grew on me as the story went on. Her history was interesting but not nearly as much as Gavriel's. Some of the chapters were very slow, especially Pearl's. But overall I liked it. One more world building nitpick, if the Coldtown's are locked down by the military, just how the heck did the vampires get out and then back IN to attack Tana's friends and set this all in motion? That is never even hinted at. The ending is open enough to allow for a sequel. I'd be interested in seeing Gavriel again because he's so my character type. It was interesting to see vampires who were dangerous but not entirely evil per se. The virus seems to enhance the anger and predatory nature inside us all.

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Book 79

Vinland Saga, Omnibus 4Vinland Saga, Omnibus 4 by Makoto Yukimura

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is hard to review because this wraps up the only story arc we've had from the beginning to this point (so about 8 normal sized manga) and wow, what a story it is. Unfortunately when I first got into this series I went looking to see what it's fandom was like and sadly the answer was 'rude about spoilers.' So, I was spoiled for how this ends but I won't do that to you. Read it. It's so worth it and for some characters shattering.

Up until now the story has been Thorfinn with of course Askeladd's input but as the cover promises, this is Askeladd's volume. This is his story, his back story, the fruits of his Machiavellian plotting. I knew of course that this is a fictionalized history story and am well familiar with King Sewyn and his son, Canute. I didn't realize that Thorfinn was, in the author's words, very loosely based on Thorfinn Karlsefni who I had forgotten about (I assume I had to have known his name once as I know the story of Erick the Red and who Snorri was but sorry Thorfinn, you slipped my mind).

Whether or not the real Thorfinn ever knew Canute is debatable but in this he and Askeladd (who draws his inspiration from Nordic and British folklore)are accompanying Prince Canute, along with Thorkell the Tall, to meet Sewyn in York (add this to places I need to see). Along the way Thorfinn cashes in on the duel Askeladd promises but this time his mentor (whether or not Thorfinn likes it) holds nothing back because he knows that Thorfinn isn't learning from his mistakes and there is a distinct, if unconscious, father-son relationship here.

Things go as violently as you might expect between Sewyn and Canute's factions. I won't say more than that. The next storyline begins at least a few, if not more, years later (I looked for a date but if it was there I missed it) through the eyes of an English slave.

The art in this is simply amazing. In the fight scenes you know what's going on (the mangaka said he felt that was very important to be sure of for the reader) and the storyline is top notch. It would have to be if I'm giving out five stars to a war epic since those aren't my thing. I love this. I'd love to see it animated some day.

View all my reviews

Books #33-34

Book #33 was "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void" by Mary Roach, as an audiobook. I'd read "Stiff" by the same author before and I know I like her writing style, and the topic is highly of interest, so I expected to like it, but I ended up LOVING it. The science and the politics around space travel budgets is beginning to get outdated since this was published in 2010, but it's still well worth a read. Roach is the person who is not afraid to ask about gross or taboo subjects like poop, body odor, sex in space, masturbation, or death in space, so she was the perfect person to write this. Her style is very breezy and informal (direct quote: "Some seriously hairy shit was going down on a regular basis."), but she is obviously a rigorous researcher and interviewer as well. The book is about all the challenges of long-term space exploration, the ways we've tried to train astronauts on earth-based simulations, and the challenges we already know about from space exploration in the past. My only complaints are 1) I wish there was even MORE direct dialogue from the astronauts because it's so fascinating and 2) She talked about all manner of sexual and bodily challenges in space but didn't mention menstruation, which I fond a little odd. Overall all, though, and extremely entertaining non-fiction read. I want to read her book on the science of sex, "Bonk," at some point, too.

Book #34 was "Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir" by Roz Chast, a graphic memoir. I am so glad I ran across a mention of this book in an article I stumbled on about "Best books of 2012." Roz Chast is best known as a cartoonist for the New Yorker. This graphic memoir recounts dealing with her elderly parents -- both in their 90s -- and their refusal to talk about death or aging until life circumstances force them to face the fact that they can't live on their own in their apartment anymore. The first 90 percent of the book is hilarious, and I laughed a lot. The last 10 percent of the book had me weeping almost uncontrollably. Toward the end, Chast gives up her wacky impressionistic cartoon style and prints verbatim some more realistic line drawings she did of her mother in bed, half comatose in her last few months of life. They are very moving in their simplicity. Another book I recommend highly. I really applaud the recent uptick in NONFICTION graphic books, because some of them ("Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel, or "Nat Turner" by Kyle Baker) have been among my very favorites.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 70: Swamp Bones (Temperance Brennan #16.5) .
Author: Kathy Reichs, 2014.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Forensic.
Other Details: ebook. 98 pages.

Although a trip to Florida is supposed to be about rest and relaxation, there’s no such thing as a day off for Dr. Temperance Brennan. She has come to visit her friend, a dedicated ornithologist who’s researching the threat that intrusive Burmese pythons pose to indigenous bird species in the Everglades. While sorting through the stomach of an eighteen-foot specimen, they make a disturbing discovery: bones that are unmistakably human. And when Tempe spots the telltale signs of murder by a very different kind of predator, she’s drawn into a case with its roots in the darkest depths of the swamp. - synopsis from author's website.

Pythons and 'gators in the Florida Everglades form an interesting background to this novella from Reichs. It was a fascinating stand-alone story with the attention to scientific detail that marks all of her writings.

Book 71: Bones Never Lie (Temperance Brennan #17).
Author: Kathy Reichs, 2014.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Forensic.
Other Details: ebook. 323 pages.

Unexpectedly called in to the Charlotte PD’s Cold Case Unit, Dr. Temperance Brennan wonders why she’s been asked to meet with a homicide cop who’s a long way from his own jurisdiction. The shocking answer: Two child murders, separated by thousands of miles, have one thing in common—the killer. Spoilers for "Monday Mourning"Collapse )

But Brennan will have to draw her bitter ex-partner out of exile, keep the local police and feds from one another’s throats, and face more than just her own demons as she stalks the deadliest of predators into the darkest depths of madness.
- synopsis from author's website.

The case here revisits characters and events from 'Monday Mourning', which I read a while back (2008 Book 6). I recalled some of the details though Reichs provided plenty of background of the 2004 case.

This was solidly written as all of Reichs books in terms of the forensic details and had plenty of twists in terms of whodunit. It is interesting that as with 'Pretty Girls' this case involved the abduction of young women, though here the age was younger and motive much different. The ending now makes me keen to read her latest in the series that is just about to be published.

Book 82: Bones on Ice (Temperance Brennan #17.5) .
Author: Kathy Reichs, 2015.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Forensic.
Other Details: ebook. 104 pages.

It is called the “death zone”: the point on Everest, nearly five miles high, above which a climber cannot be rescued. More than 250 souls have lost their lives there. Most of the bodies remain, abandoned, frozen in place. When an earthquake leads to a miraculous recovery, Dr. Temperance Brennan is hired to identify the frozen mummified human corpse. ... But far from offering solace and closure, Tempe’s findings only provoke more questions. What happened on Mount Everest? Was the young woman’s death an accident? Why aren’t the other climbers talking? And how far will those hiding the truth go to make sure the past stays buried? - synopsis from author's website.

This was another satisfying novella in which Tempe investigates am unusual case. I always am struck by the fact that Kathy Reichs is the real deal, like her fictional character she is a working forensic anthropologist so her science is spot on. When she introduces other topics such as the dangers of mountain climbing,I always trust that she has done her research.

The brutal and systematic “ethnic cleansing” of Chinese Americans in California and the Pacific Northwest in the second half of the nineteenth century is a shocking–and virtually unexplored–chapter of American history. Driven Out unearths this forgotten episode in our nation’s past. Drawing on years of groundbreaking research, Jean Pfaelzer reveals how, beginning in 1848, lawless citizens and duplicitous politicians purged dozens of communities of thousands of Chinese residents–and how the victims bravely fought back.
In town after town, as races and classes were pitted against one another in the raw and anarchistic West, Chinese miners and merchants, lumberjacks and field workers, prostitutes and merchants’ wives, were gathered up at gunpoint and marched out of town, sometimes thrown into railroad cars along the very tracks they had built.

Here, in vivid detail, are unforgettable incidents such as the torching of the Chinatown in Antioch, California, after Chinese prostitutes were accused of giving seven young men syphilis, and a series of lynchings in Los Angeles bizarrely provoked by a Chinese wedding. From the port of Seattle to the mining towns in California’s Siskiyou Mountains to “Nigger Alley” in Los Angeles, the first Chinese Americans were hanged, purged, and banished. Chinatowns across the West were burned to the ground.

But the Chinese fought back: They filed the first lawsuits for reparations in the United States, sued for the restoration of their property, prosecuted white vigilantes, demanded the right to own land, and, years before Brown v. Board of Education, won access to public education for their children. Chinese Americans organized strikes and vegetable boycotts in order to starve out towns that tried to expel them. They ordered arms from China and, with Winchester rifles and Colt revolvers, defended themselves. In 1893, more than 100,000 Chinese Americans refused the government’s order to wear photo identity cards to prove their legal status–the largest mass civil disobedience in United States history to that point.

This is an extremely well-written book about horrible things. I really had to push myself through the last hundred pages because I felt the increasing need to go back in time and punch people for being so ignorant and cruel. I have been reading a great deal about the experiences of Chinese in America at the turn of the 20th century, but this is by far the most graphic, the most detailed, when it comes to the matter of the pogroms and massacres that occurred throughout California and north to Washington.

It's a hard read. It made me angry and frustrated. I'm a native Californian. The more I research, the more I realize how poorly educated I was about real history. In my hometown of Hanford, we were taught to celebrate our pioneer heritage and be proud of China Alley, and history books pretty much said "Chinese were treated badly." That was it. I didn't know that 30 minutes away, Tulare's Chinatown was razed, repeatedly, and the Chinese run out of town. That the same happened in nearby Fresno and Visalia, with Chinese murdered in vineyards as they worked. I called up my mom, who was born and raised in the heart of the state. She had never heard of those incidents, either. I bet 99% of people born and raised in Central California don't know.

Pfaelzer did an excellent job on this book. At times, the details felt a bit too exhaustive--I wanted to know more about incidents outside of Truckee and Humboldt county--but that may have been because of my own emotional exhaustion at reading about inexcusable brutality.

If you want to know about a hidden history of California and the west, seek out this book. Just be sure to pause in reading to go hug kittens or seek out pleasant things, though. I definitely need a lighter read after this.
A sweeping story of 1492 Spain, exploring how what we know about the world shapes our map of life. Valencia, 1492 - King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issue an order expelling all Jews who refuse to convert to Christianity. Amalia Cresques, daughter of a Jewish mapmaker whose services were so valuable that his faith had been ignored, can no longer evade the throne. She must leave her beloved atlas, her house, her country, forever. As Amalia remembers her past, living as a converso, hiding her faith, she must decide whether to risk the wrath of the Inquisition or relinquish what's left of her true life.

This was a touching and (mostly) interesting book with occasional difficult patches. The treatment of Jews in this time and place was appalling. Amalia found more acceptance among the Muslims of Granada than among the Christians she met in her travels throughout the Iberian Peninsula, before we even get to the Spanish Inquisition. Now it's a Monty Python punch line, but during its time it was a brutal purge that left families shattered and communities bereft. Amalia's "decision" at the end of the book is not really the point of the story. Instead it's about the people she's loved (and mostly lost), the series of decisions she's made before ever getting to Valencia, and all the places she's been along the way. A few of those places were familiar to me from a too-long-ago trip to Spain, but at the same time it was a jarring contrast between the beautiful scenery and architecture I remember and the ugly fear-mongering and discrimination that took place in the past.

Jul. 21st, 2015

A couple of days ago I finished reading Osprey Men-At-Arms #173: The Alamo and the War of Texan Independence 1835 – 36 which I found particularly interesting, having visited The Alamo in the past. It made it easier to picture the historical discussions in that section of the book. A quick review of the whole period.

#75: Revision: a Novel by Andrea Phillips

Mira is a trust fund baby playing at making it on her own as a Brooklyn barista. When Benji, her tech startup boyfriend, dumps her out of the blue, she decides a little revenge vandalism is in order. Mira updates his entry on Verity, Benji’s Wikipedia-style news aggregator, to say the two have become engaged. Hours later, he shows up at her place with an engagement ring. Chalk it up to coincidence, right?

Soon after, Benji’s long-vanished co-founder Chandra shows up asking for Mira’s help. She claims Verity can nudge unlikely events into really happening — even change someone’s mind. And Chandra insists that Verity — and Mira’s newly minted fiance — can’t be trusted.

Revision is a tight, tense read with a light science fiction premise and a relatable heroine. The tale is told through Mira's point of view, which makes the trickiness of her character all the more well done: she's a rich girl who has convinced herself that she's independent, but not really. She works as a barista and fancies herself as rebellious. I could have really disliked her as a character type, but her character was nuanced and sympathetic. When her high tech boyfriend spontaneously dumps her, in her shock and grief she uses his log-in to his Wikipedia-like site to say they became engaged instead... and is shocked when, hours later, it becomes true.

The science-fantasy plot is extremely tense. I read the whole book in one day. To me, the whole thing felt like a really good, classic Twilight Zone episode. It turns out that her new fiance's site has discovered the deep power of suggestion. The right change, at just the right moment, because true. As Mira falls deeper into the truth, her life completely falls to shambles, and it's clear that no one is safe. The conclusion is a tad predictable but very right and satisfying.

On a more technical note, this is the first novel I have read from Fireside Press, and I really liked that they included content notes on potential triggers for readers. I hope more publishers start including that kind of data.

Book 78

Cantarella Vol. 1Cantarella Vol. 1 by You Higuri

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought this was better written than Gorgeous Carat and the art is more even, prettier but I'm not entirely sure I liked the history of Cesare Borgia used so loosely (though I am laughing at the reviewer who is all offended because they're Catholic. Obviously they don't know their own history. This happened, except the satanic pact BUT there were even rumors of a darkness ruling the Borgia line! Though those rumors are harder to find now that scholars have found much more reliable and favorable sources than centuries old smear campaigns) For those who don't seem to realize it, Cesare Borgia along with his sister Lucretzia and his brother Giovanni (Juan) were real. They were the bastard children of a Pope (a cardinal at that time. He fathered at least a half dozen bastards we're aware of).

In this version, Higuri goes the extra step with the negative superstition-born rumors and makes Cesare actually cursed by demonic entities, little will-o-the-wisp things that follow him around. He has a loveless childhood. The two bright lights in all of this is his sister Lucretzia (and yes there was hints of them being incestuous though modern scholars now believe that was part of the above mentioned smear campaign) and Lady Vanozza who is his adoptive mother (real mother as far as actual history knows). HIs brother, Juan, is a brat and hateful.

As they get older, and their father is plotting to put all his kids in positions of power, Cesare is taken from Vanozza along with Lucretzia and given to a hateful woman. Higuri's alternative history has Cesare nearly raped by the irate husband Cesare's father was cuckholding. He's saved by a swordsman who teaches Cesare to fight.

As a young adult things go even worse for Cesare. He leaves his father's planned path for him to be in the church (in truth, he stayed with it until he was a cardinal before being the first cardinal ever to resign). Friends turn on him. An assassin, Michelotto is sent after Cesare and things go sideways.

I know this was a very popular manga a decade ago. I wasn't that taken in by it (I only have two in my collection) I'm simply rereading it now as I purge my shelves. I can see people liking it. There are definitely homoerotic overtones between Cesare and Michelotto for those who go in for that.

View all my reviews
Book 69: The Hippopotamus Pool (Amelia Peabody #8) .
Author: Elizabeth Peters, 1996.
Genre: Adventure. Historical Mystery. Egyptology.
Other Details: ebook. 404 pages. Unabridged Audio (14 hrs, 29 mins). Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.

When a masked stranger offers to reveal an Egyptian queen's lost tomb to Amelia and Emerson in 1900, they are intrigued to say the least. But the guide mysteriously disappears, leaving them to sail to Thebes to follow his trail. The fact that Ramses and Nefret are along on the journey both helps and hampers efforts to solve this mystery. Soon all four are risking their lives as they foil kidnappers, grave robbers and ancient curses. And intrepid Amelia finds herself faced with a surprising new villain who is every bit as clever and resourceful as she is! - synopsis from th Amelia Peabody website.

Another in this series that provides a delightful combination of mystery, adventure and romance with lashings of Egyptology as well as the dry wit of the narrator perfectly captured on the audio edition by Barbara Rosenblat.

The series continues to be strong with characters that have become familiar while retaining a freshness. I quite like Ramses now that he has entered his teenage years. The newest member of the family, Nefret, is very cheeky and I look forward to her development in future books.
Book 67: Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes.
Author: Karin Slaughter, 2015.
Genre: Crime Thriller.
Other Details: ebook. 80 pages.

A missing girl in the news reminds Julia Carroll of herself: nineteen, beautiful, blonde hair, blue eyes. Julia begins to dig deeper and plans an article for her college paper. She becomes gradually more obsessed with the case, never imagining how close she herself is to danger. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Oh Karin Slaughter I am not sure if I love you or hate you! I am used to reading these kind of short stories from various authors prior to a new release. They provide a pleasant diversion though this turned out to be a prequel teaser for her new book, Pretty Girls. I quickly came to care about Julia and this story and the sample chapters of Pretty Girls made me eager to read that book right away rather than waiting for library copy or for Kindle price to drop. Happily I only had to wait a day for publication.

Book 68: Pretty Girls.
Author: Karin Slaughter, 2015.
Genre: Crime Thriller.
Other Details: ebook. 544 pages.

With a missing girl in the news, Claire Scott can’t help but be reminded of her sister, who disappeared twenty years ago in a mystery that was never solved. But when Claire begins to learn the truth about her sister, nothing will ever be the same. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This stand-alone thriller certainly packs punch after punch. As noted above I had been well hooked by the prequel story 'Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes', which set up Julia's story.

Aside from her long missing sister, Claire is also estranged from her other sister, Lydia. While Claire lives a life of luxury as the wife of a millionaire businessman, Lydia is a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Events bring them back into contact and the reasons for the estrangement is revealed along with many other twists. I lost count of the number of times I was knocked back by another revelation.

As with other of her novels it was highly violent and quite disturbing in places. If you plan to read do avoid spoilers. It proved a very satisfying tale with strong characterisations, especially of its female protagonists. I really could not fault this novel. It was a roller-coaster of a read and I am glad that I bought it on the day of release.
Gaius Petrius Ruso is a divorced and down-on his luck army doctor who has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. His arrival in Deva (more commonly known as Chester, England) does little to improve his mood, and after a straight thirty six hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to a moment of weakness and rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from the hands of her abusive owner.

Now he has a new problem: a slave who won’t talk and can’t cook, and drags trouble in her wake. Before he knows it, Ruso is caught in the middle of an investigation into the deaths of prostitutes working out of the local bar. A few years earlier, after he rescued Emperor Trajan from an earthquake in Antioch, Ruso seemed headed for glory: now he’s living among heathens in a vermin-infested bachelor pad and must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next.

Who are the true barbarians, the conquered or the conquerors? It’s up to Ruso—certainly the most likeable sleuth to come out of the Roman Empire—to discover the truth. With a gift for comic timing and historic detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.

This first mystery in a series has a unique premise: a Roman doctor on duty in Britannia, solving murders. I found it slow to start yet intriguing. The pace gradually accelerated, not so much because of drama about the murders, but because of the setting and interactions around Ruso.

Ruso was an okay lead, though "the curmudgeonly divorced detective who becomes more pleasant because of a good woman" trope has been done to death. He didn't feel that unique to me. I did like how Downie handled the sensitive topic of slavery within the Roman Empire. She makes Ruso a man true to his time: he has owned slaves in the past and acquires a new one in the course of the book. It's disturbing, as well it should be, but is handled within proper context.

I really enjoyed the historical setting more than the actual murder mystery plot. The villains of the story are too obvious, and the ending is rather heavy-handed with how they explain their motivations. It doesn't make me that keen on continuing the series, though the first book was a pleasant enough read.



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