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Book 113-114

Devil"s Line, Vol. 1 (Devil"s Line, #1)Devil's Line, Vol. 1 by Ryo Hanada

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this one up because the cover was outstanding and I do like vampire tales. The story ended up being very interesting (more of a 3.5 read but I rounded up). Tsukasa is a young woman in college who is almost afraid of being alone with men but she does have one male friend who unfortunately turns out to be a vampire who is raping and killing women (to keep from doing the same to her as he does care about her).

He is stopped by Ansai, a member of a police force (or something similar) dealing directly with 'devils.' In this verse, the vampires (or devils as they're called) look and act like human, including being out in the day. The only real way to tell them apart is that they are cool to the touch. They actually live among humans and even can marry them (but the legislation wants any sex to be observed to be sure the vampires don't transform and kill). Many of them find it very hard, if not impossible to attack if they see blood. Ansai is basically a dhampire, a half vampire half human

Unfortunately for Ansai, Tsukasa is injured and he tastes her blood and nearly transforms. From there, a relationship blooms. Tsukasa is oddly comfortable with him. The story follows their relationship, upping the game when a group who want to kill all devils and they have Ansai in their cross hairs.

I really enjoyed the story. The art, however, is not pretty. The cover is gorgeous but that's it. While Ansai is meant to look haggard and the transformed devils outrightly ugly, the art in general is awkward with bad proportions. In fact, I did pass on this the last time I was in the book store but decided to give it a try in spite of the art. I'm glad I did.

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House of Odd (Odd Thomas Graphic Novel, #3)House of Odd by Dean Koontz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I usually enjoy Odd Thomas (with a few exceptions) and this was pretty fun. It's set back in the early days when Odd was a fry cook and Stormy was still alive. They've been tapped by Ozzie to help a friend, a Hollywood producer who has bought the old abandoned mansion just outside town and it seems to be haunted.

However, when they get there, Nedra has hired her own ghosthunting team comprised of a psychic who uses her cat to get visions teamed with a pretentious pseudo-scientist who tries to explain ghosts and a young man the team uses as a gopher.

Odd and Stormy are mildly amused by this TV team of ghost hunters but Odd is worried because his talent for seeing ghosts isn't working. As far as he can tell the house isn't haunted but things begin to happen. It'll be all he can do to keep himself and Stormy alive.

It was cute. The art has a slightly fluffy bent to it. It was probably one of the best of the Odd graphic novels. It's a fun read.

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Number of pages: 324

This is a book I had been meaning to read for some time, and I was spurred on mainly by the publication of the prequel, Go Set a Watchman.

I was expecting the book to revolve entirely around the court case that Atticus Finch is involved in, but it turned out to be a lot more than that.

This is in reality a coming-of-age tale set in the 1930s, and based partly on Lee's own childhood, narrated by its central character - Atticus Finch's tomboy daughter, Scout. The first part of the story deals almost entirely with Scout's childhood experiences, before gradually introducing the fact that Atticus is defending a black man, Tom Robinson, in court, where he is accused of rape.

Race becomes increasingly significant in this book, as there are a lot of portrayals of racist attitudes, as well as a shockingly unflinching portrait of how racist America was in the 1930s. This includes a scene where several African Americans get up in the courtroom to allow for caucasian people to sit down, and there is even mention of them having to sit on a different balcony. I got the impression that Scout did not understand any of this, and was shocked by it, as I imagine Harper Lee was herself.

The court case becomes the story's main focus in the middle of the novel, and I could sense that it would not end well.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

In the end, Tom is declared guilty of the charges, and is later shot trying to escape. It was a very sad ending to this particular plot arc.

There were other plot threads in the book, mostly involving Scout's friends, and I was struck in particular by the character Boo Radley, refusing to leave his house for most of the story.

Overall, I thought it was an unusual structure for a book, with the way it switched the character focus, but I really enjoyed it too and definitely want to read the prequel. It was also quite an eye-opener to quite how segregated America once was.

Next book: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists (J.K. Rowling)

Book 112

Urban Dragon Volume 1 (Urban Dragon, #1-3)Urban Dragon Volume 1 by J.W. Troemner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't actually a novel, but rather three novellas (which is clear from the blurb). It follows a twenty-something homeless, Hispanic lesbian named, Rosario' Rosa' Hernandez and her companion, Arkay, who is some form of Asian dragon taking human form.

The first novella - Mark of the Dragon, introduces us to the ladies. Rosa and Arkay live on the outskirts of the homeless community because no one trusts Arkay and her terrible temper, nobody but Rosa. She trusts Arkay to keep her safe and when Arkay is violent it usually is in Rosa's defense. They dont' have many friends and somehow manage to get involved with a flesh-eating ghoul working in the coroner's office, not to mention the necromancer raising a zombie hoard again them. For me this was the weakest of them because we never really get inside Rosa's head (it's all her pov) as to why she's homeless (yes she's thrown out by her parents for being gay but in the next novellas she's gainfully employed so I would have liked to know more about the forces keeping her homeless) and the stuff at the police station strained believability a bit.

Shadow and Steel is the second one. Rosa and Arkay have moved away but not too far. Rosa is now a waitress in a diner and has made a new friend in Kimbra and Arkay is working at a strip club. This time they're called back to their former homeless camp to investigate disappearances at the camp, leading them to demonic possessions and a group of people who fight the evil supernatural beings (Adam is the person from this group they meet). Some chapters are Arkay's pov in this one.

Dance with the Devil is the last which ramps up Arkay's destructive nature as her protective senses take in the strippers at the club she dances in (and these are women who have problems). Rosa is now living with a girlfriend putting a bit of a strain on her relationship with Arkay and it's not helping that Adam doesn't particularly like or trust Arkay. Arkay is led into an escalating battle with some petty gangsters and Rosa fears she will lose control. This one was interesting right up to the open cliffhanger ending. Totally a personal thing here but I loathe that. If your story is good I will pick up book two, if you give me a cliffhanger to blackmail me into getting book two I often won't. I'm on the fence about that here because over all it was interesting.

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The fate of humanity hangs in the balance as Aidan faces a crushing choice: give in to the demands of the forces of Darkness in order to save his sister, Ava, or fight on the side of good and risk losing her forever. With so much at stake and so little time, Aidan embarks on a mission to finish assembling a team of “Lights,” other teens whose special abilities are linked to his own.

Meanwhile, Rebecca discovers that she’s more than just a normal teen, and that the power awakening inside her may be stronger than she ever could have imagined. As the city plunges into chaos and Aidan doubts his plan of attack, Rebecca’s newfound gift may tip the balance in the wrong direction.

In this thrilling final installment of The Dark Cycle trilogy, will Aidan find the help he needs to release the world from Darkness’s grip? Or will he lose everything he's been desperately trying to save, including his soul?

I received an early copy of the book in return for my honest review. My honest opinion: WOW.

Marks holds back nothing in the final volume of her trilogy. The stakes are high from the start, with Aidan's power outed in public and demons rampaging throughout Los Angeles. Aidan desperately wants to save his sister Ava from the horrible evil that she is bringing to earth, even as he's faced with saving the lives of his beloved friends. Aidan loves many people; they are his vulnerable points, and Ava knows it.

Rebecca's powers also grow as she gains confidence and contends with her serious attraction to Connor. It's so refreshing to read a series where the male and female leads are in relationships but NOT with each other. I love the twists that come into play for Rebecca--and for her father, who, it turns out, has been hiding some things.

In case it's not clear from the synopsis: this book is DARK. It deals with some pretty grim and gory fight scenes and goes into psychologically dark places, too. This probably isn't a book by flashlight when the power is out! It's a fantastic, tense read, so the pages flip by fast. At the end, I was relieved that it was over and sad, too, because the series has been incredibly fun.

book 111

Your Heart Belongs to MeYour Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I needed a Y for a challenge and the library had this on disc and it still was barely worth it. I usually like Koontz but sometimes he's a miss for me. This was a definitely miss. Honestly it didn't start out that terrible.

Ryan is a dot com millionaire dating a novelist, Samantha and life is pretty damned good. Until he gets ill and learns he has cardiomyopathy, damage to the heart muscle and it might have been from poison. So literally the first two-thirds of the book (or maybe it's just half but it felt more like it was more than half) Ryan is using his contacts to find out who might have poisoned him including Samantha whose mother had euthanized Sam's twin sister after a car accident left her brain dead. Mom is now sleeping with the doctor who performed the procedure, a doctor who keeps plasticized cadavers (like the Bodies exhibit) in his home (including the bedroom) and volumes of perimorteum photos.

As his paranoia ramps up, even as his doctor tells him this was more likely genetic and not poison, Ryan switches to a different doctor at a bigger practice and luckily within a month has a heart transplant.

The last part of the book fast forwards to about a year later. Samantha has left him (and I was never clear why that was) and Ryan is feeling fairly good until he realizes he's being stalked by an Asian woman who claims his heart belongs to her not him.

And this is where a rather plodding medical thriller jumps the shark while wearing sparkly hot pants and firecrackers in its hair. And I'm going to spoil chunks of the end because it deserves it. So that's your warning to jump ship if you don't want a spoiler.

Okay it's painfully obvious that the woman out to kill Ryan is the donor's sister but she wasn't a donor. She was in some Chinese prison and the new surgeon has a deal with that prison cutting up healthy people. She won't believe Ryan had no idea and he doesn't. That part isn't the thing that kills this story, not even when she nearly murders him for it. No the actual end is HE believes he's guilty and deserving of punishment then ends up in a monastery training service dogs living a penniless life to atone. Atone for what? He had no idea the surgeon was doing this. He assumed he was lucky to find a donor so fast so his atonement and enlightenment is false earned and hollow and really makes no sense. This is just bad and not worth the time it takes to read it.

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The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell

book 74:  The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell

This is another Kay Scarpetta, medical examiner, murder mystery.  In this one, Scarpetta has started working with the FBI as a consultant, and they have a child murder which has similarities to the work of a serial killer that previously got away and has a grudge with Scarpetta.  Scarpetta's niece Lucy also gets into trouble, being framed in the midst of having some crises of identity.  Scarpetta also starts an adulterous affair, which sets her at odds with her police friend Marino, who is most likely in love with her in some sort or fashion.  Basically, they are all psychological wrecks in this one and have a pretty twisted psychopath preying on their weaknesses, almost to some of their deaths.  I don't consider myself a prude, but I can't say I was happy about the affair thing.  Having had a cheater boyfriend, it drops my sympathy level for their "love" pretty low.  Finish one relationship before you start another or be openly polyamorous and respectful to all parties involved, you douches.  Anyway, I will probably keep reading the series...the OCD thing, but even though I am sure the author was wanting to create complexity and emotional depth in her main character as a woman who is not perfect, I am still a bit disgruntled.  Just a sore spot with me, I guess.
book 73:  The Fareseer:  Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

This is the first book (maybe her first book period) in a fantasy series.  The series is written in trilogies that deal with different parts of this fantasy world, so I don't know that I have to read the trilogies in order.  But, I'm a bit OCD like that. :P  So, this first book and the trilogy it belongs to are a re-read for me.  I was assigned the first book in the third trilogy for another reading group I belong to, so I have a ways to go to "catch up" to that.  It had been a while since I read this the first time, but I have to say I have enjoyed it as much as I remember enjoying it the first time.  The basic plot is that a royal bastard is taken in by the current king and apprenticed to the current assassin, who is also a bastard brother of the current king.  The king's youngest son is covetous of the crown, which puts anyone in his way in mortal danger.  This series isn't as complex as Game of Thrones, which deals with many kings and lords and usurpers and such vying for power, but it has a similar feel in that a lot of the story deals with court politics and intrigues that happen to be in a setting of violence (raiders are waging war along the coastal duchies) and some forms of magic like "forging" in which a person's basic humanity or conscience is removed and they are released back among their kin to destroy or be destroyed (not exactly the same but makes me think of the white walkers in Martin's work a bit...not sure which of these books were written first); "skill" in which a person gifted with the ability can communicate with another over long distance and sometimes even control their mind; and "wit" in which a person can have that same communications with animals...but is viewed as a heretical magic...think like a reaction to beastiality except with old time consequences like burning or hanging.  Assassin's Apprentice deals with FitzChivalry (the young bastard) being found, taken in, and trained, and then barely surviving his first serious mission as an assassin, compromised and directly attacked by the covetous and vicious Prince Regal, not that Fitz can prove it in a way that wouldn't disrupt the kingdom he is loyal to which is already on the verge of collapse.

I'm actually getting close to finishing the second book in the trilogy Royal Assassin, which hopefully I will get around to reviewing more quickly than this one. ;)


book 72:  The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat by Eric Idle

The Quite Remarkable Adventures... was disappointing. It's another children's book, this time based on Edward Lear's poem "The Owl and the Pussy Cat". I got this one because I like Monty Python, and I had hoped there would be more Pythonesque type humor in it. The story utilizes every part of the poem, sometimes in unusual ways, but it really felt contrived. The best parts were the little songs that he made up in most chapters, but they couldn't really make up for the uninspiring story. He used a lot of puns, but really it was just flat and not funny. Ah well.  Maybe a little kid would like it, but even so, there are much better children's books out there than this.
Oh, how did I let myself get so far behind in my reviews...*sigh*

book 71:  Curious Cats in Art and Poetry by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Curious Cats... is a souvenir children's book my mom brought back for me from one of her trips to New York City, since she knew I liked cats and was collecting children's books (among others) at the time. It's a book of poetry, excerpts of poetry, and art of various forms, all pertaining to cats. It has old favorites like Blake's "The Tyger" and Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat", but I also enjoyed new-to-me poems like "Kilkenny Cats", an old Irish limerick (There once were two cats of Kilkenny,/ Each thought there was one cat too many...), the excerpt from Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno" (..."For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him./ For he is of the tribe of Tiger...), and the excerpt from Pablo Neruda's "Ode to the Cat" (...Men would like to be fish or fowl,/ snakes would rather have wings,/ and dogs are would-be lions./ Engineers want to be poets,/ flies emulate swallows,/ and poets try hard to act like flies./ But the cat/ wants nothing more than to be a cat...). Most of the artwork that I liked best was either Japanese or Chinese, like Asakusa Rice Fields and Torinomachi Festival by Utagawa Hiroshige and Cat and Yellow Butterfly by Xu Beihong. I like their delicate touches, attention to detail, and capture of the individual personality of each cat. I also really liked the end pages, especially "A Terrible End to a Goldfish" by Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen, which made me giggle a little.  I think Curious Cats could be a nice one to read to a child who likes cats. Otherwise, unless you are a book collector with specific tastes, it probably wouldn't be for an adult. Since it is structured as a children's picture book, it only has about 20 poems and several of those are just excerpts. (I don't really like to read abbreviated works...feel like I am missing out.)
Another week, a few more books.

The first one that I finished this last week was Osprey Warrior #173: Mamluk 'Askari 1250 – 1517. I had heard a bit about them, but mostly later in their history, when they faced Napoleon, so this, their origin story filled in a bit of information for me.

Next was My Storytelling Guide Companion, another RPG gaming item, which was somewhat less useful than another book by the same author. Not great, not bad, not special.

Then, In Holy Terror: Reporting the Ulster Troubles by Simon Winchester. The author had been reporting on Ulster during the early days of the disturbances there, and was actually present at Bloody Sunday. This makes the book quite interesting for someone who recalls the garbled reports of our Press at the time. The book is hard to find, but if you have any interest in Irish/British relations, it might be worthwhile to read.

Finally, Osprey Elite #33: South-East Asian Special Forces. Not only South Vietnam is covered, though that pretty thoroughly, but also places like Indonesia and Thailand. Mildly engaging.

#93: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake - and her own.

There has been a lot of buzz about this graphic novel, so I bought it for my 6th grade son to read. Overall, I think it works well as a middle grade book, though as an adult ponder other elements here.

Ghosts follows young Catrina who moves with her family from southern California to the northern coast, where the environment may prove healthier for her little sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. The book excels in showing family relationships. Cat is full of adolescent attitude and carries understandable resentment for bring forced to move to this new town in the middle of nowhere. She adores Maya, though, and does what she can to take care of her sister. Their mother also has considerable depth as she begins to rediscover the Mexican roots that she shunned in her younger years.

Bahia de la Luna has ghosts. A LOT of ghosts. Their numbers only increase as the calendar ticks down to the Day of the Dead, when the town erupts in a great big party. It seemed really weird to me that only the kids in town acknowledge the ghosts all year long. The illustrations are fantastic--she depicts California perfectly--and the details in the Día de los Muertos scenes are extraordinary.

I think my son is worried that this book might be scary. While there are some tense moments as Cat meets her first ghosts, it is NOT a horror book at all. ALL of the ghosts are friendly and happy to party... which is another thing that struck me as odd. I didn't expect any creepy, vicious kinds of ghosts, but this extreme came as a surprise. I have seen other book reviews criticize the book because the mission--the central focus of the ghosts in town--has older ghosts who only speak Spanish, and no mention is made of the native people who would have died in great numbers at such a place. That erasure is a valid concern. It seems the author intended missions to be a light California historical reference within the story--but it is really a deep topic, and one that would diverge from the major themes in the novel. Maybe she could have skirted around that by making the location an old church, not one of the original missions, as she kinda opened a big can of worms there. There is also criticism of how she represents Día de los Muertos, but I can't speak of that with any authority since I have never celebrated the day.

That said, the book does make for a good read for middle graders because of how it explores family relationships,love, and the struggle to grow up. It's wonderful to see Hispanic children as the lead characters. The ghosts felt odd to me, convenient and happy plot points to provoke a change in Cat, but kids will probably appreciate a non-scary take on the supernatural. Maybe the book's weaker points will provide a good starting point for a conversation on the mission system and how Día de los Muertos is really celebrated.

Book 45

Title: A Confederation of Valor
Author: Tanya Huff
Pages: 567
Summary: Valor's Choice - Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr was a battle-hardened professional. So when she and her platoon were yanked from a well-deserved leave for what was supposed to be "easy" duty as the honor guard for a diplomatic mission to the non-Confederation world of the Silsviss, she was ready for anything. Sure, there'd been rumors of the Ohters - the sworn enemies of the Confederation - being spotted in this sector of space. But there were always rumors. The key thing was to recruit the Silsviss into the Confederation before the Others attacked or claimed these lizardlike warriors for their side. And everything seemed to be going perfectly. Maybe too perfectly...

The better part of Valor - Never tell a two-star general what you really think of him. That was the mistake Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr had made with General Morris. And Torin's reward - or punishment - was to be separated from ther platoon and sent off on what might prove an extremely perilous assignment. She was commandeered to protect a scientific expedition to a newly discovered and seemingly derelict spaceship of truly epic proportions. Only time would tell whether the ship was what it appeared to be, or a trap created by the Others - or the work of an unkown alien race with an agenda that could prove all too hostile to ohter life-forms...

My thoughts:
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Book #47: Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

Number of pages: 350

The fourth book in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series feels different for two different reasons.

First off, it takes place during the winter, instead of the summer as with the previous three books. Secondly, it opens by introducing two new characters, Dorothea and Dick, from whose point of view much of the story (certainly the early chapters) seems to be told from the point of view of, as they witness all six of the original main characters arriving by boat. Almost immediately, Dorothea and Dick become part of the core group.

The plot of this story involves the characters getting ready for an "Arctic expedition", where they are going to imagine that they are trekking to the North Pole, with the exception of Nancy, who is sick with mumps. Most of the plot involves the children skating, and pretending Captain Flint's boat is an igloo while it is frozen in the ice.

I quite enjoyed this story, especially when the main characters finally set off on their expedition, which took place in a blizzard; I liked the characterisation of the children in the book, which still felt true to the original, and I hope to see Dorothea and Dick reappear in later titles in this series.

Next book: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

#92: Urban Allies edited by Joseph Nassise

In this impressive anthology, 20 of today’s hottest urban fantasy writers—including Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Maberry, Kelley Armstrong, Larry Correia, and C. E. Murphy—are paired together in ten original stories featuring their favorite series characters.

Urban Allies brings together beloved characters from two different urban fantasy series—Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, Joanne Walker and Harper Blaine, Joe Ledger and Agent Franks, Sabina Kane and Ava—in ten electrifying stories. Combining fictional worlds in one dual adventure, each of these stories melds the talents of two high-profile authors, many working together for the first time—giving readers a chance to see their favorite characters in an imaginative and fresh way.

Edited by acclaimed bestselling author Joseph Nassise—who is also a contributor—this outstanding collection showcases the brilliant storytelling talents of some of the most acclaimed fantasy writers working today, among them seven New York Times bestselling authors, two USA Today bestselling authors, and multiple Bram Stoker Award winners.

Contributors include:
Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden • Carrie Vaughn and Diana Rowland • Jonathan Maberry and Larry Correia • Kelley Armstrong and Seanan McGuire • Joe Nassise and Sam Witt • Steven Savile and Craig Schaefer • David Wellington and Weston Ochse • Stephen Blackmoore and Jeff Somers • Catie Murphy and Kat Richardson • Jaye Wells and Caitlin Kittredge

This new anthology from Harper Voyager features paired urban fantasy authors bringing their series together to take on demons, haunted houses, and twisted not-so-mythological creatures. It was interesting to see how the authors decided to cross their universes, too. Some had their characters inhabit the same world, while others found overlapping dimensions through interdimensional bubbles or fairyland.

Some of my favorite stories were set in series that I'm not that familiar, or I only know one of the authors. Also, some of these tales are DARK. I'm talking, don't read during a power outage or during a deep depression. The writing is consistently good throughout, with great suspense and wonderful teasers for what goes on in their full novels.

Books #67-68

Book #67 was "Ash" by Malinda Lo. This book is a retelling of the Cinderella story. Ash lives during a time when philosophers are in vogue and magic is only believed in by naive rural folk. When Ash's mother, who is a believer in magic and may have consorted with fairies, dies, her father remarries and then also dies shortly afterward, leaving her with a cruel stepmother who forces her to be a lady's maid for her two daughters. However, the plot deviates from the Disney version of Cinderella by giving Ash more options than simply char woman or marrying a rich prince. Instead, she is torn between the love of a fairy prince who once courted Ash's mother and the love of the king's huntress, who treats her as an equal. The prose is absolutely gorgeous in this novel. It's marketed as YA, but I believe most readers of any age could appreciate this story. Highly recommended, and I'm interested in reading more by Lo now.

Book #68 was "The Female Man" by Joanna Russ. It's hard to know what to say about this book. I tried to read it back in 2009 or 2010 and was so disgusted with it by the third page that I put it down and decided I wasn't going to read it. I found the prose clunky, and the sentence that made me set it down was "Miss Allison was a Negro." I mean, what? Why does that deserve a stand-alone sentence and a capital for "Negro"? After Russ died in 2011, I decided maybe I would give it another try, since it's well respected both by people I know and other authors I respect (Dorothy Allison has a blurb on the cover saying she wishes everyone would read it). I found myself infuriated with the book the second time around as well, but perhaps that was Russ's intent, since she's known to be someone who poured her own anger into her writing. The book follows 4 women in different timelines who are similar in some ways but shaped by their environment. One is Joanna, who lives in our timeline in 1969. Another is Jeannine, who lives in 1969 in a parallel timeline when the Great Depression never ended. Janet lives in an utopian all-female world, and Jael is a warrior woman from a timeline where men and women form two tribes at war with one another. Jael isn't introduced until nearly 3/4 of the way through the book, and you find out it is scientists from her timeline that are studying similar timelines and have brought the 3 other incarnations together. When Russ is doing straightforward narrative, I mostly enjoyed it, though it still felt somewhat didactic (in the spirit of "Herland" by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman). I got frustrated with her literary experiments and injection of her politics. It's really a treatise on gender and feminism disguised as a science-fiction novel. I felt intensely angry through much of the book because I felt like Russ was holding the reader in contempt, and treating science-fiction and the form of the novel with contempt. I LOATHE it when an author seems to feel they are "above" a certain genre but enjoy using the tropes from it for their own agenda, and anti-novelists anger me something fierce, like who are YOU you pissant to think you're above writing a conventional narrative? FUCK YOU!!!! So, I guess I'm glad I read this book, but I would only recommend it if you're up for reading experimental fiction or you just find her politics interesting enough to read it. If you're looking for a science fiction novel with a conventional structure, this would not be the book for you.

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

Book 109-110

QQ Sweeper 2 (QQ Sweeper, #2)QQ Sweeper 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume of this manga retains that hint of sweetness from the first even though it does deal with some very dark topics. After all, the function of the Sweepers is to clean the psyche of humans. This takes place a month after the first volume. Fumi is settling in well but Koichi (psychologist, school principle and sort of head of the house) and Granny think she’s hiding something. They are wary and hint at some tragedy that almost destroyed the clan and presumably left Kyutaro an orphan. Kyutaro is getting along well with Fumi but is still obsessing over his lost childhood friend, Fuyu. Fumi reminds Kyutaro of this lost girl and we learn two other key pieces of information. Fuyu disappeared through one of the doors that enter into people’s minds and that Granny and Hoichi aren’t convinced she ever existed in the first place. Granny especially thinks Fuyu might have been an imaginary friend because Kyutaro grew up so lonely.

It comes to a head when Fumi is strangled by a popular student and might have been seriously hurt if not for Kyutaro. Fumi reveals that she is considered 'cursed' and terrible things happen to the people around her. Her instinct is to cut and run but Hoichi stops her, showing there are other ways of dealing.

I really enjoy this odd manga. The characters are engaging and the storyline is interesting. The art is lovely. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

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The Mystery Boxes (Explorer, #1)The Mystery Boxes by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like most anthologies, this graphic novel is built around a common theme, the titular mystery box. What's fun with anthologies is seeing just how many completely different takes on a theme you can have. All of these graphic novellettes are short and all are well drawn. Each has it's strengths and weaknesses but you're surely going to find ones you love.

There are terrifying wax dolls, crazy pain in the butt wizards, maze 'monsters', Asian spirits, the horrors of war and science fiction takes too.

Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

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I am counting this as a book due to the length. It was a good issue overall, though I couldn't get into the featured novella. Some of favorite works included:

- Sarah Pinsker's "Talking to Dead People." It mixes up model houses, a very famous murder, and some deep personal introspection.

- David Gerrold's "The Dunsmuir Horror." Gerrold's partly autobiographical stories in this vein are rambling and often nonsensical, yet also amusing. Plus, I love that he mentions the I-5 turn-off to my hometown, which is quite distinct because of the cattle yards.

Books #65-66

Book #65 was "A Gathering of Old Men" by Ernest J. Gaines. I've had this on my "to read" list for a while but I was putting it off because the subject matter is a bit grim: the book opens with a Cajun farmer dead, and a young white woman and an older black man both claiming to have done it. More and more older men from the sharecropping community in Louisiana show up claiming they did it, to the bafflement of the local sheriff. The white woman, Candy, and the old men are protecting their own from the sheriff and from the lynching they expect the Canjun man's family to head up. Each chapter is told from a different viewpoint, from the women and children who spread the word through the community to the old men themselves to the white family members of the dead man. I really, really adored the storytelling in this book, how you got multiple viewpoints on what happened and background on why each person in the farming community is bitter and has reason to hate the dead man. It was also surprisingly funny in places, and the plot doesn't go exactly where you're thinking it's going. I finished this in two days and found it to be a quick read that drew me right in. I'm interested in reading more by Gaines now and possibly watching the TV movie that was made from it, starring Holly Hunter and Lou Gosset Jr.

Book #66 was "Ancillary Mercy," the final book in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. I adore the main character, Breq, and I love this series so much. It's marketed as space opera, but there is more than science, big ideas and world-building -- the character development and change in relationships over the course of the book are also extremely well done. In this final installment of the trilogy, Breq, an AI in a human body who used to once be an entire spaceship with an "ancillary" crew of human bodies, is trying to save one planet and space station from the civil war triggered by the Lord of the Radch, who inhabits multiple bodies, which have broken into warring factions against themselves. Breq must deal with back-stabbing by the Lord of the Radch, competing factions on the space station and figuring out just what role the alien Presger might be playing in the conflict. Along the way, Breq discovers to her surprise hat she is not only admired, but loved. I ADORE this series and also am happy to recommend it because I like the author, who I met at a convention earlier this year. People who are tired of female under-representation and who appreciate someone challenging gender norms (everyone in the series is referred to with the pronoun "she") will especially appreciate these books.

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

Book 108

The Mystery of Nevermore (Snow & Winter, #1)The Mystery of Nevermore by C.S. Poe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank to netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for a review and in no way influenced the review. I really enjoyed this, especially the first half where we really get to know Sebastian Snow. He owns a successful antique shop, is in a strained relationship with a closeted cop, Neil, has a very supportive father and has achromasia, a lack of cones in the retina causing not only color blindness but a loss of sharp vision (and the author did seem to do a bit of research on this).

Like in all amateur sleuth stories, something has to happen to draw him into the mystery. In this case, someone buries a pig heart under the floor boards of his shop but Sebastian gets off lightly as other antique dealers end up murdered all in ways that reflect Edgar Allan Poe's stories/poems. This is how he meets Calvin Winter, homicide detective.

Calvin is as frosty as his name and he's not thrilled with Sebastian's nebby ways. He doesn't want Sebastian butting into the case but of course, like every amateur sleuth everywhere, Sebastian feels compelled to do so.

The bodies keep falling. His relationship with Neil implodes as his relationship with Calvin heats up. And like most mysteries there's a splashy violent ending that I don't want to spoil. I'd like to see where this series goes.

I do, however, have a few spoilery things to say so that's your warning. You can stop reading now if you haven't read the book.


okay, this was nearly a star lower. I liked the story over all and I liked the writing style which saved that star but there were things that did annoy me (mostly personal choice sort of things).

I did dislike how Seb and Calvin got together because a) Sebastian basically cheated on Neil even though he was already done with Neil in his head b) and more importantly there is no way Calvin could have cleared Sebastian by this point. They've had like three conversations and he jumps right into sex with Sebastian. Very unprofessional and that's usually a deal breaker for me so it says something about the story that I kept reading.

Sebastian falls hard on amateur sleuth tropes of doing stupid things like not telling the cops about things that are very obviously important and/or going after the killer on his own. I expect this in amateur sleuth fiction (and is why I read little of it even though mystery is the genre I read the most). However, it does make you want to shake sense into him.

But the thing that bothered me the most was Sebastian's utter failure to understand why both Neil and Calvin are closeted. He basically calls them cowards and ashamed of themselves. To me that is completely dismissive of the fact that there truly are jobs where being out means your career is deadended. Yes, it's horribly unfair but that's still reality. His argument is if no one takes a stand, it'll never change. That is true but would have carried more weight if he had tried to understand Neil and Calvin's point of view and he doesn't.

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Book #46: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Number of pages: 351

This book is all about the concept of having a relationship with God and living as a Christian. It felt mostly like something for people just beginning to look into the Christian faith, but it made some good points, some of which I had never thought of before, such as that if you just have a mental image of God, you are putting a "graven image" before him, and that all hardships you face as a Christian are really intended to strengthen your faith.

The first J.I. Packer book I read felt like quite heavy going, and luckily I found this one more accessible, and easier to follow. I love how J.I. Packer summarises his points by use of various headings and lists of individual points, as well as iterating the purpose of each of the book's chapters.

Next book: Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
Since my last post, I've read a few more books.

First was Osprey Campaign #299: Zama 202 BC: Scipio Crushes Hannibal in North Africa which dug pretty far back into Rome/Carthage history before dealing with the battle itself. Not bad.

Then I read Osprey Campaign #285: Lewes and Evesham 1264 - 65: Simon de Montfort and the Baron's War, a bit of English history. Having heard a few podcasts about this period and to a lesser extent this battle, I found the book filled in a few gaps for me, so again not bad.

Next was Osprey Campaign #286: Catalaunian Fields AD 451: Rome's Last Great Battle, another one that had been foreshadowed for me by podcasts which was fine. Pretty solid read.

Finally, Osprey Elite #213: The Barbary Pirates 15th - 17th Centuries which was especially interesting in that it deals with a subset of pirates that our media rarely deals with. I liked this one very much.

More later!
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.

When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.

But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.

This book was mentioned on a couple different bookriot podcasts and was also featured on my library's summer reading list. I found it to be charming and touching. It starts out a bit slowly as we go through a languid summer, but the action picks up quickly when necessary. Many residents of this little town think that going to war will be a lark and adventure, but they soon learn that there will be hardships and heartaches for the civilians as well as the soldiers. There are also several social issues running through the story that are relevant today -- Belgian refugees who aren't necessarily as grateful and genteel as the town gentry expects, old white men who expect the world to bend to their will just because, and the crushing burden of "keeping up appearances" in the face of idle gossip and old prejudices.

I especially liked the main character Beatrice. She's smart and savvy as she navigates a changing social landscape, making mistakes and learning from them, and she doesn't let herself be a doormat even when it might be to her more immediate advantage.
Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

This is my first Abercrombie book, and one that has wallowed in my to-read pile for several years now. My reaction: WOW. The plot of the book isn't anything new or fancy, really. It's secondary world grimdark fantasy, with barbarians, snobbish politicians, and nebulous ancient threats working their way south. What makes this book are the characters: they are vivid and complex, and become even more so when viewed through the points of view of the other characters. The best example of this is Glokta, a severely crippled master swordsman who is now an expert in torture. He's an awful, cruel man, and yet... Abercrombie writes him in a way that makes him compelling, not pitiful.

Books 105-107

Bleach―ブリーチ― 65 [Burīchi 65] (Bleach, #65)Bleach―ブリーチ― 65 [Burīchi 65] by Tite Kubo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

More of the same old same old, endless battle scenes with increasingly weird villains (and thanks for nothing for making one of the bad guys transgendered for no apparent reason). The only break we get from the combatants foolishly explaining their powers and weaknesses to each other is when Ichigo finally returns to these pages and everyone stops to cheer. I wish I were joking about that. He's even a priority kill for the Quincies over many in theory more important Captains.

About the only thing in this worth reading was Ichigo being reunited with Chad and Orihime (if you ignore the time wasted on the two guys being offended by her boobalicious stupid outfit) and them deciding Uryu can still be saved from his fellow Quincies (provided he even wants to be). Ywach, the leader of the Quincies remains as confusing and arrogant (and straight out of the 70s) as ever.

Seriously just sticking with this because I need to see how the series ends.

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Bleach―ブリーチ― 66 [Burīchi 66] (Bleach, #66)Bleach―ブリーチ― 66 [Burīchi 66] by Tite Kubo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The title of this one is 'sorry I am strong.' It should be sorry I wasted your time. Literally almost nothing happens (except maybe some of your favorite captains die off screen and become zombies). Still endless battle scenes with characters you don't care about because there are so many new ones no one can keep track or care. They're still spouting off their powers and weaknesses leading to their immediate defeat (somehow to their surprise) and I thought the Quincies were human. So what's up with all the utter weirdness like the kid with two tongues dangling out of his mouth (not sure why other than Kubo wanted to draw that).

This thing is just spinning its wheels and stuck in the mud. Ichigo is hardly in it but even more characters from the very first chapters (back when this was worth reading) reappear.

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The Stonekeeper (Amulet, #1)The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't know what shelves to put this on. It's sort of fantasy but not, ditto steampunk and SF. It's a little of each and I've been hearing tons of good stuff about the Amulet series. I wasn't as blown away by it as I expected. That said, it was good.

Emily and Navin are siblings and living a happy life with their parents until tragedy strikes. Their mother moves them to their ancestral home to start all over again. It's barely livable and in their attempts to clean it up and explore the kids learn their great grand father was a genius inventor and puzzle maker and Emily finds the titular stone amulet which whispers to her to keep it.

That very night their mother is kidnapped by a huge tentacle-tick thing leading them into a fantasy world where everything is out to kill them. Guided by the amulet, they're on the run to find their mother, stalked by an elf prince (though they don't know this yet).

They find their refuge and aid in Great-Grandfather's sentient robots and they go to rescue their mom. But the amulet's power comes at a price. Navin believes his sister should stop listening to the amulet, to get rid of it but Emily is willing to pay the price to save her mom, too young to understand really what she's getting herself into because there is more than her mom at risk: there's an entire world to save.

It's a good storyline with a young girl as the central character. I enjoyed that. I was less a fan of the art to be honest. Still, I'm looking forward to more.

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Book 104

Zombies & CalculusZombies & Calculus by Colin Conrad Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't go into this one thinking you're going to be reading a straight up horror, zombie story. This really is a vehicle to show how math works in the real world (for those who don't think it has applications, you're wrong). Note that it is put out by a university press, so yes, a teaching tool of sorts.

Dr. Craig Williams is a calculus prof whose class gets interrupted by a zombie student killing another student. Soon the whole university is on the run and only pockets of non-infected students and faculty are left. Craig along with some of his students, his former lover and his rival Gunderson (whom you'll wish to get eaten) have to figure out how long it takes for a bite to get infected, how fast this will spread, how fast can a zombie run etc etc.

Yes, all those things that need math. It gives you a lot of math (calculus and otherwise) and if you want more math just follow the bloody hand prints to the appendix and it continues there.

It's rather clever in a way. It's not great literature but it's not trying to be. It's certainly a fun tool to get students to think in mathematical terms as Craig tries to get home to save his kids and later all of humanity from this lab-generated zombie virus.

The most scary part of course was the calculus.

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Book 44

Title: Empire in Black and Gold
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 611
Summary: The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace and prosperity for decades: bastions of civilization and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbours.

But meanwhile, in far-off corners, a warlike Empire has been deouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, its killing Art ... And now its hunger for conquest and bloodshed has become insatiable.

Only the ageing Senwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over. It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path. But first he must stop himself from becoming the Empire's latest victim.

My thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )


Books! I finished reading several more books in the last ten days, but I didn't have time to post about it over the weekend.

Since I last posted, the first book I finished reading was Down and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers. Powers has a real knack at writing eerie stuff, and this one is right in line with it. A man has been tracking down an old friend who married and then murdered a woman that the man had always loved, but by the time he found the friend/murderer, he was already dead, and so the man wanted to die to completely wipe the friend from the Universe. Strange and eerie. Worth reading, as is much of Powers' works for the last twenty years or so.

Next was My Guide to RPG Storytelling, another gaming guide for gamemasters. It had some good ideas, some of which are sparking thoughts that I may use at my next gaming session, whenever that'll be.

Then I read Osprey Raid #30: Red Christmas: The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid 1942. In support of the destruction of a German army at Stalingrad, a large formation of Russian tanks broke into the German rear areas, and wreaked havoc at one of the airfields that the Luftwaffe was trying to use to supply the cut-off units. The brave Russian raiders ended up being cut-off themselves, and this book discusses the overall effectiveness of this particular raid. I found it very interesting.

Next then was Figs: A Global History, not bad. Worth a peek at the library.

Then, Osprey Campaign #21: Gravelotte- St. Privat 1870: End of the Second Empire. I found this one pretty hard to read. I think that was mostly due to my fairly limited knowledge of the events of that particular war. Unfortunately, I didn't find the author's work engaging, so I had to slog my way through the book. Not great.

On to the next book!

Books #63-64

Book #63 was "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey. I'd heard somewhere that this was a classic of nature writing, and when I looked at my copy from the library, I noticed it had spectacular pen and ink illustrations as well, so I decided to pick it up and read it. Abbey was known as a novelist and nature writer, primarily with an emphasis on the American southwest. This book came from his experience as a park ranger in Utah's Arches National Monument park, spending many of his days alone. I loved his rhapsodic prose about the rock formations, plants and animals of the desert and the changing of the seasons in the desert, and I loved some of the kooky stories he told about treks he took by himself or with a friend. He is a bit of a crusty old hippy and yet is also a bit politically incorrect, so I liked it better when he stuck to personal anecdotes and observations about nature and enjoyed his political rants less, though I do agree that a balance has to be struck between making the parks accessible to citizens and protecting our natural assets and that the park system doesn't always get it right.

Book #64 was "The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures" by Christine Kenneally, as an audiobook. I liked this audiobook, though the narrator's thick Australian accent and soft, breathy voice took a bit of getting used to. The subject matter is extremely interesting, though. It's about genealogy and DNA and how DNA is informing genealogy. I learned a LOT of cool stuff, including more about Australia's criminal past, the tri-racial Melungeon's of Appalachia, and how our understanding of DNA and inheritance has become more nuanced over time. I recommend this highly.

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

Books 24-28

I’m thinking I’ll never catch up with myself if I keep posting book entries only sporadically, so here’s a burst of short blurbs.

24. The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon – two sisters grow up in 1950s Vermont in a quirky hotel where things ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM. Has the bones of a good story but to me it was just okay. Fulfilled horror task of Read Harder Challenge.
25. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks – a novel about the life and times of King David as told by his counsellor Nathan. Goes WAY beyond the highlights taught in Sunday school! This is a future book club selection that I’m sure will generate a great deal of discussion.
26. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman – stand-alone mystery about a freshly elected State’s Attorney whose first murder case conjures up a previous murder case tried by her father as well as an old family story that may or may not have transpired quite the way she remembers it. Lots of personal local color which I really enjoyed, and lots quiet (sad) family drama.
27. Murder with Macaroni and Cheese by A.L. Herbert – follow-up to last year’s debut and the next installment in the Mahalia Watkins series. More local color for me! Also a good mystery storyline, fun characters … and recipes!
28. Badlands by C.J. Box – international drug gang tries to invade the booming economy of North Dakota’s oil fields, but their efforts are interrupted by the innocent actions of a young boy. Blood & Oil meets The Client meets Narcos. A real page turner but very violent.

Since I seem to be defaulting back to mysteries, and with many Read Harder Challenge tasks remaining unfulfilled this late in the year, I may need to make some adjustments to my reading plan. That’s okay!

Book 103

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, #1)Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I mostly like Harris's work though there are some I've really disliked. This is somewhere in between. It was good but not outstanding. It took me a while to realize why. It opens with a prologue (oh it's not labeled that, it's not labeled as anything but that's what it is) with someone moving to Midnight, Texas which seems to be the ass end of the middle of nowhere and that all of the few residents are a bit weird and have their secrets. And that's what bothered me, not to prologue per se but the fact that it and the first chapter made me think the newcomer was going to be the focus (the blurb also played into this).

Manfred is not the focal character. The povs are split mainly between Manfred, who is sort of a real psychic (hit and miss talent) and part psychic con man on the internet. He's about 23 with a face full of piercings (it's mentioned often). He was living with his grandmother, a strong psychic who has now passed (and from reading other reviews he's from another series, the one I hated so I didn't even remember him). Then another major point of view character is Bobo (shudders, it was hard to take that name seriously) who runs the pawn shop (granted I'm not sure how a pawn shop is surviving in such a small town as I've lived most my life in small towns and that's usually not part of them) and is a landlord to Manfred along with two other tenants, Olivia (who's real job isn't really clear but she has no problems with killing and disposing bodies) and Lemuel (a vampire who survives on little bits of blood and energy and is the night clerk in the pawn shop when all the true supernaturals come out) And the last major pov character is Fiji, a young with of indeterminate powers.

The second problem was there's not much of a plot especially in the beginning. It just meanders between all these characters and we get to know them as Manfred does. The key point turns out to be Bobo had a girlfriend, Audrey who disappeared when he was out of town and that Bobo's grandfather was a hero to the Men of Liberty, a White supremacist group and that he left Bobo a cache of weapons that Bobo swears doesn't exist (and he is the opposite of a racist, friends even with the Hispanic gay couple in the story) About a third of the way in (maybe more) we finally have a plot: Bobo's girlfriend is found when the whole town goes picnicking, dead by the river.

The rest of it is police investigations, magic and pissed off White Supremacists. The characters were interesting enough (but I was glad this was a library book instead of money out of my pocket). I was glad the real killer wasn't the obvious suspect. On the other hand, I didn't feel we had enough to figure out who it really was. In retrospect there were hints but this character didn't have enough face time really. Ah well. Would I read more? If the library has it yeah.

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