October 18th, 2019


Books 56-59

56. The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
The next installment (#5) in the Armand Gamache series. It’s Labo[u]r Day weekend in Three Pines, and the village is buzzing with activity. The discovery of dead body in the town bistro brings an end to the festive mood, and the mystery deepens when nobody seems to know who he is. Investigating the crime also means digging into the residents and their secrets, exploring the nearby Czech community, researching stolen antiquities, and meeting the latest newcomers who unintentionally(?) shake up some of the village’s complacency. Also, one of the residents faces a professional ethical dilemma that I think will reverberate in later installments. I’m still not completely sold on the way she writes all the characters, but the mystery is a little more solid in this one. Read 29 September-5 October.
57. Goldie Vance, Vol. 1 by Hope Larson & Brittney Williams
Nancy Drew meets Veronica Mars in this cute graphic novel about a teenager who helps find a necklace that was stolen from a room in the hotel where her father works. Fulfills Booked2019 prompt to read a graphic novel. (However, as I learned at the National Book Festival, graphic novels are not a genre but a medium.) Read 6 October.
58. Dog on It by Spencer Quinn
Chet is a dog of indeterminate breed who helps his human friend Bernie work cases and solve crimes. Usually they’re divorce cases, but the pair get embroiled in a missing persons case in which both partners face alarming peril from some obvious bad guys. The story is told entirely from Chet’s point of view, which is alternately charming and ridiculous. I like the dog, but not enough to continue with the series. Read 9-11 October.
59. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
I came across this title a few years ago when it was included on Amazon’s list of 100 mysteries and thrillers to read in a lifetime. Having read it, though, I’m a little surprised that it was included, mostly because it’s the 12th book of a long series, and I think I definitely missed something by not knowing the backstory of the two main characters, Harriett Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. She attends her college’s “gaudy night” which is a kind of homecoming/reunion, and shenanigans ensue. It starts with nasty notes to Harriett and some of her fellow alumnae, and over the following months the mischief escalates to destruction of property and attacks on some of the students and faculty. She eventually asks for Peter’s help, and along the way their relationship evolves. Here’s where a deeper understanding of the backstory might have led to a more satisfying payoff, because overall I found the whole thing a little stuffy and stilted. So much talking! So many characters! Nevertheless I’m glad I read it, and it fulfills two reading challenge prompts: night-oriented and published before I was born. Read 7 September-16 October.

Book #49: Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

Number of pages: 448

At the start of this book, its heroine, Lisa, is face-to-face with a man on the titular Platform Seven. A train is coming, and suddenly the man walks towards the platform edge and jumps in front of the train. It's quite a bleak opening to the book, in which you suddenly learn that Lisa is herself a ghost.

This is a book that I'd read about and I thought it was going to be all about Lisa finding out what happened to her; all we know is that she died on the railway tracks at the same station; it is not made clear whether she was pushed, she committed suicide or if something else happened.

The book is entirely narrated by Lisa, and has her observing living people, and other ghosts who also inhabit the station and its surroundings; there is an implication in the book that we are surrounded by ghosts that we cannot see all of the time; its an image that put me in mind of one scene from Dickens' Christmas Carol.

The book also flashes back to Lisa's past, and her relationship with a man called Matty, and this was where it started to feel like a mixture of two books I read earlier this year, Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. It appears that Matty is insecure and very controlling of his wife, though not to the shocking extent portrayed in Behind Closed Doors. It starts with Matty checking Lisa's phone while he thinks she's not watching, and then bullying her and even saying that she doesn't care about his feelings. For a while I wondered if the truth was that Lisa was just mentally ill and that Matty was just caring for her (it becomes clear though that Matty is just a jerk).

There were other characters too, and some of their stories eventually dovetailed together with other plotlines seen in the book, in ways that I did not expect, most notably the storyline involving a young man who Lisa observes in the station cafe, and follows along the street. The individual plotlines almost felt like separate stories in their own right.

I thought this book was okay, although when the truth about what happened to Lisa was revealed, it wasn't too surprising what happened - I was hoping for some unexpected plot twist.

The overall tone of this book is very bleak, with the large number of suicide references, but the final chapter was very enjoyable, and bittersweet, as it bought all of the storylines to a conclusion, in a very poignant manner. There was also a flash-forward, which proved to be quite satisfying, all caused by Lisa apparently having the ability to see into the future.

I'd probably read more novels by Louise Doughty.

Next book: Milkman by Anna Burns
book collector

Books 78-80

Zero Sum GameZero Sum Game by Cody L. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this a while back and it took me forever to review (a reflection of own crazy life, not the book). I enjoyed it though it took a bit to get moving. It has a slow start but once Hina gets the 'battle suit' things pick up.

Hina is a fourteen year old school girl (the author is an American teacher who has taught in Japan for several years at Hina's level). She's a bit different in that she's a competitive weight lifter. Her parents have recently divorced and her mother has moved away leaving her with her father.

In Hiroshima a group of aliens, the Noigel, as masked as humans with these battle suits that make them nearly invulnerable. They are from the Noigel ark. Their world has died and they want to terraform Earth into a new homeworld (but humans would not survive the process). The Noigel aren't in agreement about this and two of them turn on a third who dies but not before passing the suit onto Hina out of desperation.

The suit, which she dubs Voice (as it can talk to her), is stuck in the form of her school uniform. Unable to change and go to someone else, like a soldier, Voice is stuck with a fourteen year old girl. Hina now has to bear the weight of saving the world.

Once we get to this, especially after she has to tell her teacher Ozaki the truth, the story really picks up. It of course has a manga/anime feel to it but that's fine, I love that. Hina is a good character, I liked her a lot. I enjoyed the story, though it does have some pacing problems. Still it's fun.

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The Child ThiefThe Child Thief by Brom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had this on my shelf for years, bought mainly for Brom's art as I knew nothing of his writing but I thought this dark retelling of Peter Pan was well done. The prose is evocative in many places. This is dark but really if you look a Peter's story (as written by Barrie) it is actually rather creepy. Forget about Wendy and her siblings. Think about what the lost boys actually do. They attack and kill pirates. Peter himself says something along the lines of Death Would Be an Awfully Big Adventure and talks about weeding out boys who get too old (how, Barrie doesn't say).

Brom grasps onto those ideas with this and then mixes them with actual faerie lore, tosses in some Arthurian legend along with Celtic/Welsh folklore with Lady Modron and her son Mabon ap Modron (who has been lost in this). What you get is a Peter as a faerie/human hybrid who keeps coming back to Earth to steal children for his army. He knows that they will die but he feels compelled to attack the Flesh eaters who were early pilgrims, now trapped in Modron's 'avalon' for centuries, slowly turning nearly undead monsters.

Enter our other point of view character, Nick who is a young man whose mother has let out rooms in her house to drug dealers, and they want Nick badly hurt if not dead. He's on the run for his life when Peter claims him. This Peter is fine with killing and stealing and Nick goes with him into 'Neverland' and to the Lost Boys (who are called Devils in this).

The beginning of this is not linear bouncing between Nick's story, Peter's present story and Peter's past story. We watch Seku (a young Native American girl) train Nick and get to know some of the Devils and the wanna-bes. We learn that if you're too old the magic won't sit right within you and you become what the Flesh-eaters are (and Nick is on the cusp on being too old).

Avalon is dying, however, even if Peter is having trouble admitting it. Modron has withdrawn into her own world. Many of the old gods have died. And instead of helping Ulfgar has spent the last centuries angry at Peter and the unfairness of it how he sees his life (in spite of being the heir to Herne the Hunter/Cernnunous) so Peter has no help from the faeries and the Devils are good but they are never enough.

If there was anything I didn't like, it was the pacing. We don't get to see the actual bad guys until the last quarter of the book. It felt a bit dragging in places. We do spend a lot of time with Nick as he tries to fit in, realizing he isn't and his desire to get home to his mother (who he realizes now he's left alone with these horrible men). At least another of the young (quite young) kids would like to go home too and it might all be a moot point, as Avalon dies, they're running out of food.

Nick is a far more compelling character than Peter in many ways. He's been caught up in horrible things. Peter's story is tragic too but he authors much of his own drama.

I will say I am very conflicted about the ending. It's fitting for the story which is dark fantasy/horror. That said, I felt let down by it. It wasn't the ending I wanted after wading through nearly five hundred pages of text.

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Yankee Doodle Dead (Death on Demand, #10)Yankee Doodle Dead by Carolyn G. Hart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay as a mystery it's not bad but there were some things that truly annoyed me in this. To be fair, I wandered into this on book 10 (and have no real desire to find any others in the series which should tell you something). So obviously someone likes this series. Annie runs a book store in town on a small South Carolinian island and her husband, Max is apparently wealthy, more interested in golfing than working.

Annie does three things that really annoyed me to no end. 1) the endless repetition of 'speak your mind' things she wants to say but doesn't. It gets old fast. 2) The endless listing out of fictional sleuths. Okay I get it. She owns a mystery book store and loves mysteries. I have things I'm a super fan of too but I don't constantly list out what Kirk and Spock would have done here. And if it was just one sleuth per incidence it wouldn't be so bad. But no, it's often three or four each and every time. I couldn't help feeling annoyed. 3) Annie's interview style is abrasive and honestly I don't know why anyone on this island talks to this woman with how she handles things.

For that matter, the victim took forever to die. The book is only 270 pages and it takes him over a hundred pages to get his misogynistic self dead. We know General Bud Hatch is going to die (says so on the dust cover) and even if it didn't you want him dead. He comes into town and tries to run it his way, taking over the local youth center and treating it like bootcamp, taking over the library and the fourth of July celebration which was supposed to be about the historic women of town but what do women have to do with history and being interesting? Well nothing according to Hatch.

Naturally someone Annie likes gets blamed (a young African American boy) and she has to save him before the lazy prosecutor settles for the easiest target, i.e. Samuel. Everyone had reason to knock hatch off from the women he was trying to get fired, the gay men he was trying to run off, the husband of the woman who was cheating with Hatch.

So mystery wise there's plenty of suspects but it wasn't all that entertaining.

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