February 19th, 2018

smirk by geekilicious

Book 23

Night Shift (Midnight, Texas, #3)Night Shift by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one was hard to rate because some parts worked very well and others (looking at you, ending) that were abysmal. It’s a 3.5 read for me and I rounded down on the stars thanks to the ending. This one returns to Midnight, Texas about six months after the last book and it’s the first of them I’ve read since seeing the TV show (which created dissonance in my head given how White some of the characters are here vs the show).

It opens with an interesting premise: people are coming to the crossroads in Midnight and committing suicide there, including strangers and people known to the residents of the town. They need to figure out why this is happening, and the only clue is the voice from the ground that talks to Fiji, telling her its doing this for her.
I’d like to say that if this is what the novel concentrated on it would have been a four-star read or higher since that was fascinating, especially when Fiji’s estranged sister, Kiki comes to town and falls under the creature’s spell. But I can’t. For one, the idiot ending is for this storyline (I’ll put that later under a spoiler warning) and secondly because there are so many storylines that they all suffer from neglect.

So not only do we have that, we have Quinn and his son, Deidrick and being a weretiger, the boy has grown from a child to the equivalent of an eighteen-year-old man in those six months (and it gets a bit creepy with him flirting with Fiji who was a mother figure and being told several times he’s sleeping with one of the workers at the hotel. We have Manfred having really only a bit part. Other than his going into town with someone else which was a clue to that plot line, he could easily not have been in this story (and he’s one of my favorites). We have at least two stories revolving around Olivia and her weird family life. There’s Bobo and Fiji being estranged and angry with each other (well she’s angry at him, he can’t figure out why). And there’s Lemuel trying to decipher the books and figure out the thing under the ground. And oh, there’s someone new in town and then there’s the diner and Teacher and his wife who run it who tie into Olivia’s storyline.

In theory, this was supposed to be the last book (But frankly so much is unresolved I’m not sure it is). Maybe that’s why this is such a tangled mess. She would have been much better off breaking this into two books, so the plots could be concentrated on. Then there’s the fact that some characters felt well…out of character. Yeah, I know how can an author write her own stuff out of character, but that’s how it felt. Fiji being obstinate about Bobo for one (or maybe I’ve forgotten what he did last book that made her so mad). Somehow, I never pictured Lemuel as a cowpoke. Seriously, I have no idea if this was brought up before or not (thanks memory) but I pictured him as a southern gentleman before his conversion but in this we learn he was a ranch hand and he cracks out words like skedaddle…. reminded me of when they have Sheldon Cooper be a Texan, seems so out of place. We also have a new reveal for Manfred who should have been so much more set back on his heels, so much more blown away, just looks at this reveal and goes okay cool. It felt so unbelievable and shoehorned in there and for that matter the rest of the town has the same shoulder shrug to this news as he did.

So now for the spoiler. That’s your warning in case you don’t want to see it.

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There is a strain of social criticism that treats the good as a given, or perhaps as accident, and lays off all the ills to the "system."  Perhaps the most notorious such example is Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, although it is not the only example.  Consider Kurt Andersen's recent Fantasyland:  How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History.  We'll start Book Review No. 8 by asking whether triple-expansion titles are necessary.

Substantively, Mr Andersen might be writing to reinforce conventional notions of rationalism, or perhaps he's troubled by a Donald Trump presidency.  The fantasy, however, might have been a long time in coming, with the notion of a New World becoming an opportunity for grifters of all stripes, thus "The Conjuring of America."  Then comes the fabulous Nineteenth Century, in which that vast frontier becomes "The United States of Amazing."  There are plenty of hyped schemes then, with nary a mention of the railroad mania after the Civil War.  Even the "Long Arc Bending Toward Reason," which is to say, from the conquest of territories in the tropics to the zenith of the American High, it was "freaky and fantastical."  (Perhaps unsustainable, as well, but that's a different strain of social criticism.)  Then came the 1960s, and, although Mr Andersen's sympathies for the aesthetic of the gentry liberal come through, e.g. "Walter Mitty" pickup trucks and sport-utes, his "Big Bang" (the expanding universe of Fantasyland, if you will, in the Sixties and Seventies) includes hippies, intellectuals, Christians, paranoid politics, and entertainment.  Plenty of vectors for the contagion, and plenty of ways that "Fantasyland Scales" up to the present.  Close to half the text deals with the recent history, or with "The Problem (they're multiple, actually) with Fantasyland."  Again, there's plenty of blame to go around.  From page 429, "Our tendencies to fear the new and to to reject reason have appeared on the left as well as on the right."  He's also worried about people losing a notion of objective truth (and yet, that's what radical skepticism will get you.)  More recently, he's followed up on the book by suggesting that an Oprah presidency would not work as a corrective to a Trump presidency.  "Any assessment of her possible presidential bid should consider the irrational, pseudoscientific free for all she helped create."  The details of the pseudoscientific free for all?  In Fantasyland.

Yes, dear reader, take the concluding sections of Fantasyland to heart.  And yet, do not be devoid of good cheer.  Perhaps the fantasies are evolutionary dead ends.  There is enough in the way of a continuing experiment in self-government, improvements in manufacturing technologies, medical science, and in having fun and in getting along with others, in those past five centuries, to think that "haywire" might be too strong an indictment of the American Condition.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
smirk by geekilicious

Book 24

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce, #9)The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is another read where I’m torn between three and four stars and I rounded down because I know how good this series can be and in places I feel like Bradley has written himself into a corner and is searching for a way out. There were just some elements that were very weak, especially the end.

The beginning was also a bit slow. It’s six months since the sisters’ father has died and Aunt Felicity wants to take control of Flavia and Daffy and sell off Buckshaw manor. As far as she’s concerned Mrs. Mullet and Dogger can go pound salt. Feely’s marriage to Dieter has been put on hold because even in the 1950s mourning periods are a thing (and well yeah it might seem disrespectful to get married soon after your father has passed). The sisters along with Dogger are on vacation and are punting along the river with Flavia considering suicide because she doesn’t want to go with Aunt Felicity.

Just then she hooks a dead man’s mouth with her fingers and of course she’s hooked on solving how he ended up in the river. With forethought not often seen in a tween, Flavia takes a daub of the purging from the man, Orlando Whithead’s mouth for later forensic experimentation. They end up at a local inn and Dogger steps right up as Flavia’s Watson. In fact, this novel is Dogger’s more so than Flavia. If anything, she’s overly boastful and sort of annoying in this but Dogger shows so much knowledge in this and foresight (more on that later) that I have to wonder if he was actually a spy or some sort of special forces in the war.

As Flavia investigates she learns that Orlando was an actor with a famous local mentor, Poppy who made the error of becoming a middle-aged woman, something an actress just cannot do. Orlando had his demons, an alcoholic now addicted to the drug used to get alcoholics off alcohol. Worse, his father, the local priest, was hung for killing three of his parishioners but Flavia quickly begins to wonder, was the priest guilty?

Almost everyone in town seems to have something to hide either regarding Orlando or to his father’s crime. Even their proprietress seems to have something to hide, not the least of which is she’s the author of a somewhat romantic/erotic book of poetry that Daffy is familiar with. Another highlight of this book is finally Flavia’s older sisters aren’t being utterly dreadful to her. Feely is barely in this but Daffy on the other hand, actively helps her sister investigate.

Another highlight is Claire, a nurse that Dogger knows, presumably the one who treated him after he was rescued from the prison camp he was tortured in I loved her, and I hope there’s a reason to bring her back in future books.

I enjoyed the middle of the book which really picked up the pace from the slow start. On the other hand, the ending was just dumb. It felt like huh, who did this? I dunno how about this person whom we really had no reason to suspect. And it just sort of jars to an end with the idea Flavia is not going to go with Aunt Felicity and open her own detective agency. I also felt there was a serious lack of acknowledgement of Flavia’s father’s death. Now she’s not exactly one for deep thinking on her emotions but there is almost no mention of it once you get past the beginning. You can’t tell if she’s sad, a little afraid of the future, nothing. It’s just not there. That said, I’m looking forward to the next one and I hope there’s this level of Dogger in it because he and Flavia make a great time.

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