April 20th, 2014

Dead Dog Cat

#38, 39

It's been a busy week, so I'll update the whole week at one go:

I finished two books this week, the first being Osprey Vanguard #42: Armour of the Vietnam Wars. That particular conflict isn't exactly famous for the effect tanks had on it, so I found the book a wee bit boring. Now, helicopters...

The second book continues my delving into Christopher Moore's works. It was Island of the Sequined Love-Nun, and quite amusing. The author plays on cargo cults, cosmetic sales pyramids, yakuzas, gods, and the whole mishmash hangs together far better than this post does. I'm really enjoying his works, and I'll be adding the next book of his to the stack to be read real soon now!
miss fisher

Book 83: Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood

Book 83: Murder on a Midsummer Night (Phryne Fisher #17).
Author: Kerry Greenwood, 2008.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1920s Australia. Crime Fiction. Cosy Mystery.
Other Details: ebook. 269 pages.

The Hon. Phryne Fisher, languid and slightly bored at the start of 1929, has been engaged to find out if the antique-shop-owning son of a Pre-Raphaelite model has died by homicide or suicide. He had some strange friends—a Balkan adventuress, a dilettante with a penchant for antiquities, a Classics professor, a medium, and a mysterious supplier who arrives after dark on a motorbike. Simultaneously, she is asked to discover the fate of the lost illegitimate child of a rich old lady, to the evident dislike of the remaining relatives. With the help of her sister Beth, the cab drivers Bert and Cec, and even her two adoptive daughters, Phryne follows eerie leads that bring her face-to-face with the conquest of Jerusalem by General Allenby and the Australian Light Horse, kif smokers, spirit guides, pirate treasure maps, and ghosts. - synopsis from Poisoned Pen Press website.

I started this novel as usual as my audiobook-in-the-car in March and then had a car accident and my car was taken off to be repaired and I forgot to remove my CD. Since I had no idea when I would be reunited with the car I eventually elected to avail myself of the Kindle edition. Although I had listened to about 100 pages, I realised that with a gap of a few weeks I wasn't quite sure where things stood in the story and so elected to start at the beginning and read the entire book.

It proved to be another delightful mystery as Phryne works on two separate mysteries and seeks to cope with a heatwave. These stories are great fun and I feel they remain quite fresh.

My only very minor niggle is that Kerry Greenwood is always so spot on with history and yet she has Phryne refer to someone as 'a friend of Dorothy'. Surely this slang wasn't in use this early, especially in Australia? While it is not known if this refers to 'The Wizard of Oz' or Dorothy Parker, according to on-line sources it generally did not come into use until the 1940s and so seems a strange anachronism for such a historically meticulous writer as Greenwood.

Books 11 and 12

11. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. This one may be my favorite Vonnegut book so far. It's so absurd, but there's an undercurrent of truth, even to the most absurd scenario. The narrator of the story starts out just wanting to do a book on Felix Hoenikker, the co-inventor (fictional) of the atom bomb. During his travels to speak with those close to the famous inventor, the narrator John discovers that Hoenikker had devised a theory on something far more destructive than the A-bomb- and created it. John's travels put him in contact with Hoenikker's three children, one who commands a high position on a tiny remote island called San Lorenzo, one of the poorest areas on the planet. It's during his travels and especially his stay on the island that he comes in contact with Bokononism, a sort of religion that is banned on the island but is nonetheless embraced. The journey and realizations weave in and out like the cat's cradle, but of course all it takes is one pull of a string- ice 9-to unravel everything. The ending is a sort of thumbing of the nose at what we consider conventional.

12. The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier. I found this very hard to put down, and finished this in a weekend. I've enjoyed Chevalier's other books and this one delivers the same wonderful narratives and memorable, nuanced characters we come to expect. What's cool about this book is that most of the setting is in Ohio, mostly the Oberlin area. Honor Bright ventures to America with her sister Grace when the latter becomes betrothed to a man from their town who recently immigrated there. Nothing goes as planned; Grace's sudden death leaves Honor feeling unmoored and lost in this strange new land. I loved the contrasts between Honor's memories of her predictable, orderly life at home and the unknowns in the new country. Everything, from the wildlife to the food to the constant state of movement among the residents, strikes Honor as foreign. The overarching issue is the issue of slavery. The times is the early 1850s, more than a decade before the Civil War. Oberlin had a reputation of being a staunch abolitionist area, and Honor herself, a Quaker and coming from a country that had long outlawed slave labor, feels compelled to help the runaways that come through the area. But her wish to help comes in conflict with the views of her new family and those in her small settlement near Oberlin. The stance is not to support slavery, but not to actively aid runaways so not to conflict with the recently passed Fugitive Slave Laws. Slavery, of course, is deplorable, but The Last Runaway looks at why the institution lasted as long as it did, and why even those professing to be against slavery often considered it a necessary evil, or at the very least, something that needed to be phased out slowly if possible to avoid economic collapse. Honor's new husband and family also have additional reasons for their reluctance to assist runaways, which come out late in the story. The reader may ultimately disagree with their view, but one also can't help but sympathize with their reluctance to take sides. An excellent book that, while it covers a long-ago time period, has a lot of relevance to today's world, where abuses - both with workers and the environment- are written off as economically necessary by many.

Currently reading: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
snowy foliage 1 from Agie

2014 3rd entry

#8 was "24 Declassified: Collateral Damage" by Marc Cerrsini
#9 was "Protect and Defend" by Vince Flynn
#19 was "24 Declassified: Trinity" by John Whitman

Okay, I want Jack Bauer and Mitch Rabb to meet.

#11 is "The Quiet Gentleman" by Georgette Heyer

Nearly the end of April and I've only read 10 and 3/4 books! What is wrong with me?
beach reader

Book 84: The Bat by Jo Nesbø

Book 84: The Bat (Harry Hole #1).
Author: Jo Nesbø, 1997. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett, 2012.
Genre: Crime thriller. Police Procedural. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: Hardback. 374 pages.

When Inger Holter, a young Norwegian woman and minor TV celebrity, is murdered in Sydney, Australia, the Oslo Chief Constable sends Detective Harry Hole to represent Norway's interests during the investigation. However, on arrival he is told by the lead investigator that he is meant to only observe. That kind of inactivity goes against Harry's nature. He is teamed with Homicide Detective Andrew Kensington, who like Harry has an eccentric style of investigation. They get along well. Harry soon proves himself to the Australian police and becomes more deeply involved in the case. After a few false starts Harry becomes aware that this might be more than a straight-forward murder but the work of a sadistic serial killer. Amidst all the danger he also becomes involved with Birgitta Enquist, a waitress at the bar Inger was working at, and they embark on a passionate affair.

Like Henning Mankell and other Scandinavian crime writers this first novel in the Harry Hole series was translated into English some years after its initial publication and out of order. The same is true for the second n the series, The Cockroaches. This was probably because both novels were set in foreign countries rather than at home in Norway. The persona of Harry Hole was obviously also in development and the novel does give plenty of background on what has contributed to his tortured soul.

One of the ongoing jokes about the novels in English is the pronunciation of Harry's surname. Here that issue is addressed when early on Harry decides to tell the Australians that his name is Harry Holy "so that he wouldn't be confused with apertures or orifices".

There is a great deal of background in the novel about Australia, much of it via Andrew, who is an Australian Aborigine. He and others in the story also weave in a number of Aboriginal folk-tales, which I enjoyed very much. One reviewer did write that this gave the early part of the novel the feeling of being a travelogue. It's a fair comment though it didn't bother me.

I kept in mind throughout that it was a first novel and so had some rough edges. The finale made me think Nesbø was uncertain of Harry having further adventures. Still I enjoyed it for all its convolutions and found it typically down beat despite the cheerfulness of the Australian setting.

#21: The X-Files Season 10 #5 (Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire)

I'm counting comic books amongst my 50 book total.

The reason I started with this one was just because this was the earliest in the comic book store I looked in; I'm now borrowing the book with issues #1-5 in it so hopefully that will cause things to make more sense. This is set after the ninth season of the show (and presumably the second movie too). Anyhow, spoilers...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

The comic book opens with Scully attempting to save Mulder's life after he has been shot; there is a lot of spooky stuff going on, including some apparent illuminate-like cult following them, and since this is the last story in a five-part serial, it quickly leads to a climactic confrontation with an alien bounty hunter.

The second half or so of the story is all about wrapping stuff up, which includes Scully enlisting in the F.B.I. again and an appearance from the show's chief antagonist, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, evidently having somehow survived being nuked at the end of the show's run on the television - he is speaking to someone whose face isn't seen properly, but who is evidently meant to look like Walter Skinner (now promoted to Deputy Director); I suspect this is probably a red herring.

Overall, this seems quite good; most of what happens seems quite open-ended, and raises lots of questions, much like many of the alien-based stories that were on the show itself. The front cover is excellent, though I had mixed feelings about the artwork inside; some of it is really good, while some seems too dark and grainy, and you can barely see anyones' faces properly. Some of the pictures of Mulder looked nothing like David Duchovny.

However, based on this, it feels like the comic book series could have a long lifespan.

Next book: Unseen Academicals (Terry Pratchett)