FicusFan's Reading in 2009

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FicusFan's Reading in 2009

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1FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 21, 2009, 6:05pm

I finally broke down and joined one of these things. I wanted one that didn't restrict or dictate what to read, I am already in 4 RL book groups.

This is my first post, and I am still at work, so I will start on my books read later on. Probably this weekend.



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2jfetting
Apr. 3, 2009, 3:13pm

yay, Ficus! Welcome - can't wait to see what you're reading.

3FicusFan
Apr. 3, 2009, 3:30pm



Thank you.

4ronincats
Apr. 3, 2009, 3:49pm

Hey, good to see you over here from Fantasy Fans and Science Fiction Fans. Anyone with whom I share over 300 books is bound to be reading some interesting things!

5FicusFan
Apr. 3, 2009, 4:22pm

Cool Beans. I do read a lot of SFF, but have been branching out between some of my RL book groups and LT.

6englishrose60
Apr. 4, 2009, 2:21am

Hello FicusFan, welcome to the group. Looking forward to seeing what you are reading.

7FicusFan
Apr. 4, 2009, 11:05am



Thank you. I have to get going on posting. I am also looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading and what they thought about it.

8FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 14, 2009, 2:57pm

I will list my January books here.

I was reading a couple of series that were wacky fantasy/modern day blends, that someone on Goodreads called Dude-Lit (as opposed to Chick-lit). Both series were carried over from December. Sometimes I read the book as it comes out, and sometimes I collect the whole series and only read when its done.

1. The Undead Kama Sutra, by Mario Acevedo, Completed 1/1/09, Stars: 3.5
It is book 2 in the Felix Gomez, Vampire PI series. The main character was a soldier in Iraq, and was turned into a vampire. He comes home and uses his vampire powers to become a very successful PI. Turns out there are aliens among us as well. Humor and sex-focus abound.

In this book Felix is searching for a vampire version of the Kama Sutra, and gets side tracked into an alien plot to abduct human women and sell them off planet as pets.

This book was OK. Not as good as the original (The Nymphos of Rocky Flats), probably because the shock value has worn off. The books are all consumed with sex and female body parts. It needs a lighter touch. The characters were more developed, and the writing was good. It seems the author replaces any character that gets too close to Felix, so he isn't as likable as he should be.

2. X Rated Bloodsuckers by Mario Acevedo, Completed 1/1/09, Stars: 3.5
Book 3 in the series. This one takes place in the X-rated film industry in LA. No aliens this time. He is looking into the murder of a reformed porn star. He is also spying for the vampire power structure who think the head vamp in LA has let humans in on the secret and is colluding with them to gain political and financial power. A bit more like a normal mystery, except for the vampires and the sex-focus, though also a bit slow in terms of pacing.

Not sure if I will read the next one or not. None of the characters are people I miss when the book is done, and I am getting tired of the ham-handed sex-focus of the books.

3. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell, Completed 1/2/09, Stars: 4
The first book in the Kurt Wallander series. I read this for a RL book group.

A Police procedural type of mystery set in Sweden. Kurt is a police officer, with lots of experience, a good heart, and a terrible mess of a life. His wife left him, and his daughter won't spend time with him.

The story is set in the 90s when Eastern Europe has escaped from communism, and many are fleeing to other countries for a better economic life. Sweden is being overwhelmed and the government has set no rules. There are refugee camps, and anti-foreigner feeling is running high.

An elderly farm couple in a isolated place (one other farm neighbor) are slaughtered in the night and their neighbors hear nothing. The rumor starts that foreigners are involved. Kurt has to track down the killer and deal with hate crimes and violence. Very well done, interesting setting and characters. I also thought the translator did a good job. I will read the rest of this series at some point.

4. Hot and Sweaty Rex by Eric Garcia, Completed 1/4/09. Stars:3.5
Book 3 of the Dinosaur Mafia series. This is the other wacky Dude-lit book/series. Again it is a mystery with a PI as the main character, but he is actually an evolved dinosaur in a latex people suit. No really. He is a raptor and is from LA, but this book takes place in South Florida.

Th POV, Vincent Rubio works for himself, but in this book he gets sucked into working for the mafia. He has to follow a rival family member to south Florida and spy on them. While there he hooks up with important people from his past. This is the last book and again, the wow of dinos in human suits has worn off. The characters are not really compelling and it plods a bit.

5. The Mosaic of Shadows by Tom Harper, Completed 1/11/09, Stars: 3
This was a stand alone when I bought it, but now is the first book in the Demetrios Askiates series. It follows the POV, a former mercenary who is tasked to find the man who tried to kill the Emperor Alexios in the street, with an exotic weapon from the West. They also are looking for the powerful people who set the plan in motion. So its an historical mystery. It is set in Constantinople in the Byzantine empire in 1095, with the first crusade arriving outside the walls. They may fight the Turks, or they may sack the city.

The writing was unsophisticated and it made the pace slow. The characters and the setting were well done, but the perp was obvious. Don't know if I will read the rest of the series or not.

6. A Tree Grows in Booklyn by Betty Smith, Quit - 1/16/09
This was a book I had to read for a RL book group. I really disliked it. It was slow and had no real story as far as I could tell. I realize it is a slice of life of the time period and class of people, but it just didn't grab me. I don't usually give up on books, last year I only had 1. But I just couldn't force myself to keep reading. The writing was good, so I may finish it at some point in the future.

7. Radio Freefall by Matthew Jarpe, Completed 1/19/09, Stars: 4
A book for a RL book group. It is SF that mixes the computer/virtual world with corporate culture and music. It is set in the future where companies have taken over the functions of government, because they are so powerful, and embedded in everything through the use of the information and the computer grid. It is billed as an updated version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress based on earth with Rock & Roll. Apt. It is well written and flows well. The characters are good, and the story is interesting. Much better than I was expecting. Will read this author again. It was his first book.

8.Graveyard Eyes by David Chacko, Completed 1/23/09, Stars: 3.5
Another mystery set in modern day Istanbul. It is the start of the Onur Levent series. He is a police officer and is given a high profile case: the torture murder of a rich half-foreign woman who runs a famous travel agency, and is connected to the rich and powerful of the city. She also has English relatives demanding action.

The writing was good, the setting was spot on, much better than the other mystery series set in Turkey. The characters were interesting. The pacing was a bit slow but that was the only problem.

9. House to House: A Soldier's Memoir by David Bellavia and John Bruning Completed 1/24/09, Stars: 5
This is a non-fiction book about the experience of a soldier, Sergeant David Bellavia in Iraq. I saw him on CSPAN speaking about the book when it came out as a HC about a year ago. It was an amazing performance, I think he talked for over an hour on one breath. The book reads the same way. The main story is the battle of Fallujah. They went in to clean out the insurgents after they killed and hung the bodies of 4 American contractors from a bridge. It is extremely raw, and very frank and rough. Not for the faint of heart.

Very well done in terms of the writing and the telling of the tale. I read it in one sitting.

10. Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich, Completed 1/25/09, Stars: 4

After the previous book I needed a light and easy read. This is a book in the Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers series. They are short and usually set around a holiday. There is also a bit of fantasy thrown in.

In this book the holiday is St. Patrick's day. Grandma Mazur has run off to Atlantic City to gamble with mob money that she stole from a light fingered leprechaun. He stole it from the mob to get a run down race horse, Doug, a leg operation. Diesel appears, chasing after the leprechaun and the horse, whom the leprechaun also stole.

Diesel might be a bad boy angel, in any event he is a bit magical. Eventually he and Stephanie and the leprechaun end up in an RV, as they try to find the horse and the grandmother who have been kidnapped. They find the horse. So now they have an RV and a horse. You do the math. I laughed out loud and almost fell on the floor. Stephanie never changes but I don't mind, she is book form comfort food.

It was a pretty good month, though it started slow. As you can probably tell I get bored easily. So a book needs to grab me with the writing, the story, the characters or the setting. If it does grab me I can forgive a lot, but if it doesn't, no amount of perfection will be able to make up the deficit.

My favorite would have to be House to House, but I also enjoyed Faceless Killers, Radio Freefall, Graveyard Eyes and Plum Lucky.

9FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 14, 2009, 3:01pm

I will list my February books here

11. The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr, non-fiction, completed 2/1/09

This was a book I started in January, it was an ER book. I originally gave it 3 stars, but then downgraded it to 2.5 stars .

The writing was good, and parts of it were interesting, but it lacked focus. He was tracking the making of 2 perfumes: one in Paris for Hermes, and one in the USA by Coty, a celebrity scent for Sarah Jessica Parker

He tried to do way too much. He spent too much time on people and the story of their grandparents, even if they had nothing to do with the perfume. He went on about their clothes, their sexual preference and their past perfumes.

He tried to cover everything, and he tried to do it twice (in Paris and in NYC). He jumped around, and often went back in the time line. There was a huge name dropping fest, and way too much French.

I thought he was not writing for the general public but for the people in his industry.

12. UnFallen Dead by Mark del Franco, urban fantasy, completed 2/2/09

This is the 3rd book in the Connor Grey series. I really liked it. Each book seems to get better and we get more details on the Fae and their relationships. Connor, a druid, is magically disabled and pensioned off from the Guild. He lives in a Boston Fae slum called The Weird and works as a consultant to the Boston PD on the magical crimes the Guild ignores.

This book has him and his pals still reeling from the huge magical spell gone awry in the previous book. The Fae are afraid that the lingering taint will allow the dead to cross the veils between life and death during Halloween. There are politics and the power struggle between the Celtic and Teutonic Fae taking center stage as they try to use the dead to their own advantage.

I gave it 4 stars and can't wait for the next book.

13. Nightrunners of Bengal by John Masters, historical fiction, completed 2/8/09.

This book took me a while to read. It really didn't hook me, and I found it slow going. The book is the 3rd in story order of The Savage Family Chronicles . It is about the Raj, the Brits who went to India and served the company or the government to run India.

This book is set during the Indian Mutiny and has Captain Rodney Savage as the Savage family member in the book. Each book has a different member of the family in it. They are stand alones, but they should be read in story order, because the books follow the history of the Raj in India.

I don't know if its because it was the first book he published or if he was trying to write like the Victorians who were in power at the time of the book, but the writing was stiff. Also 2/3 of the book focused on life in the fictional cantonment which was a mini-British society. The early part of the book is about petty social events and issues. It gives you a feeling of the time and life there, but it was too long and bored me. I also found that I didn't really care for Rodney, the first Savage I have disliked.

The last third of the book is about the mutiny and how people died, and how they survived. Rodney and his party are aided by Indians who keep them alive, and they return the favor when disease strikes the village they are hiding in. The book ends with British winning, with very little shown of the aftermath.

I gave it 3.5 stars .

14. Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett, cozy mystery, completed 2/8/09

This is the first book in the Booktown mystery series. It is set in a fictional NH town, but based on a town down the road from me. It has lots of local color, and it was a read for a RL book group.

I don't normally like cozies, they are too close to pink, plastic formulaic romances. I liked this one however because of the relationship between the POV and her sister, and because of several of the supporting characters.

The POV owns the mystery book store and she has a rocky relationship with her sister. They are estranged, but her sister comes to town and forces herself on the POV. Their scenes are awkward, caring, and annoying. Their relationship evolves, but isn't healed right away, and both are at fault. It was realistic and refreshing.

Then several of the supporting characters are keepers. Two are elderly, not the young, pretty/handsome, well built, well off, well educated, gap-clad perfect people that often make up the characters in these things. There is also a quirky transplanted Texan.

This is definitely light and fluffy, but I enjoyed it and gave it a 3.5 stars . I also read the 2nd book in the series when it came out later in the month.

15. Duplicate Effort: a Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SF-mystery, completed 2/12/09

This is book 7 in the Retrieval Artist series. It is one of the few books I read as soon as I get it home.

Miles Flint is a Retrieval Artist, albeit on hiatus. The series is set in the future with humanity having domes on the Moon and Mars, and several other space outposts. Aliens with advanced civilizations are in space and humanity has to make accommodation with them if they want to trade. And of course they do. The agreement is that if humans break alien law they must be subject to alien trial and punishment.

Miles was a loner after his child died and his wife left him, so he had no one who would be endangered by his profession. Or so he thought. In the last book he found out his ex-wife has the child cloned before she died. She was living with one clone and had scattered 5 others. After his wife was killed he inherited the teen clone, Talia, who has no standing in human law. Miles gives her the standing of a person, and makes her his daughter.

Now back on the Moon, a scheme Miles had planed before he knew he had a daughter, a hostage to fate, is proceeding. A powerful and corrupt lawyer killed Miles' mentor and friend. Miles is using the secret files she gave him to bring him down, by feeding information to a vid reporter who is doing an expose. She is killed and Miles is afraid that he or his daughter may be next.

I love this series, it is well done and interesting. I gave it 4 stars .

16. The Story of the Cannibal Woman by Maryse Conde, fiction, completed 2/14/09. It is a book for a RL book group.

Story set in South Africa after apartheid. The POV is a black woman from Guadalupe and is married to a white professor from England. He is murdered one night and she is left alone and must figure out who she is and how to live.

The book was poorly written in terms of structure. The story jumps between current day, memories, backstory and back to current with no warning or breaks, so it is very hard to know when you are, or what character is being featured. There are also continuity problems with appearance and relationships.

Finally the POV is an empty well. She doesn't read, or care about the news or current issues, she won't socialize with her husband's friends or colleagues. She dislikes whole groups of people in general, and almost everyone in specific. She feels she is always being insulted, and won't engage, but rather walks away. She is a painter but can't name her works, say what motivated her to paint them or even what they are about. She is so passive I wouldn't be surprised if she got someone else to breathe for her.

She won't help the police find out who killed her husband, or go through his study, papers or computer.

She becomes obsessed with the story in the paper (her maid reads it to her) of a woman who is charged with killing and eating her husband. The Cannibal Woman. I have no idea how that is supposed to relate to the POV.

She is probably the worst most useless character I have ever come across. I really didn't like this book, though it started out well. I gave it a 3 stars, but then down graded it to 2.5 stars .

17. Angel-Seeker by Sharon Shinn, SF, completed 2/16/09
This is a read for a RL book group

It is the 5th book in the Samaria series, but the story takes place immediately after the first book Archangel.

The people on Samaria came by spaceship, and have lost contact with their origin, and the technology that brought them there. One thing that has continued are the biologically altered humans who have become Angels. The Angels rise in the atmosphere and act as intercessors for humans with their god who floats above the planet. Angel-Seekers are women, groupies really, who want to have sex with an Angel to bear an Angel baby. Mothers of the very rare Angels are treated well, and given care and prestige for life.

The story is focused on one Angel-Seeker and one woman who falls in love with an Angel in defiance of her society's laws. The story focuses on the relationship the Angels have with each other, the society of the girl who falls in love (Muslim) and the aftermath of their enslavement of another group, and the consequences of freedom.

It was well written and the characters were done well. The story was a bit predictable and slightly distasteful (ala Anne McCafrrey's female drudges who provide sexual favors in Dragon Riders of Pern series), but still interesting.

I gave it 4 stars .

18. Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett, cozy mystery, completed 2/18/09

Book 2 in the Booktown mystery series. This book was as good as the first one, and in some ways better. My only quibble would be the total hate of the local police, which makes the POV have to do all the investigating. It is standard in a cozy, but goes too far to be real.

Still light and fluffy and good. I gave it 4 stars .

19. The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran, non-fiction, completed 2/22/09. This was another book for a RL book group.

The idea was two friends were going to redo the race around the world. They weren't supposed to use air travel. Both are writers in TV and think they are very funny. The book was written to be one laugh after another. Some of it was funny, but often they tried too hard and it was more annoying that funny. Much of the humor, especially from Vali was smarmy and it felt like being trapped with Bevis and Butthead's elder brothers.

On top of that Vali cheated, and took 10 airplane rides, took drugs and was just smarmy. I felt that they didn't think that a book on its own would be interesting enough so they decided to jazz it up by having one of them cheat. It just had a reality TV vibe to it. They became the subject of the book rather than the places people or cultures they visited, and most of what they did was not memorable. Finally they turned down some interesting trips to keep up with the race. A race that as a reader I had no stake in.

It was written in fragments by each person, and it made the book fly by which was good since it was too painful to linger with.

I gave it a 2.5 stars .

20. Second Sunrise by David and Aimee Thurlo, supernatural mystery, completed 2/26/09. It is the first in the Lee Nez series.

A mystery that is set in New Mexico and the POV is a Navajo state police officer, who becomes a vampire. It is not an urban fantasy, they hide among us, and it isn't campy, done for humor. Rather it is a regular mystery where the main character happens to become a vampire.

It opens in 1945 and the POV fights with Nazi spies who are trying to steal plutonium. One of them is a vampire and makes Lee Nez, into a vampire. The story then moves into the modern day. Lee has had many identities, but now he is a state police officer again, under a different name. The Germans are back and he is working with an FBI officer to catch them while dodging Skinwalkers. They are Navajo witches who can shapeshift into animal form and can smell vampire blood. They want to use it in their ceremony for immortality.

The book was pretty good. It was well written, The only thing to me was it was really not much story stretched out for lots of chases and battles. I would have liked more meat and more Navajo culture.

I gave it 3.5 stars . And will read the rest of the series.

21. The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, mystery, completed 2/28/09
Book 2 in the Kurt Wallander mystery series set in Sweden.

The book is set about a year after the first book. Two frozen dead men drift a shore in an unmarked life raft. They have been shot and posed with their arms around each other. The police and Kurt Wallander are called in to investigate. Eventually they trace the men to Latvia. It is 1991 and the eastern bloc is testing its freedom from the sickly Soviet Union.

A Latvian Major in the police comes to Sweden to help with the investigation and to take the dead men and the case back to Latvia.

After the Major leaves Kurt is called to Latvia because the Major was murdered as soon as he returned. The story is good up until the trip to Latvia, where it becomes wacky.

Wallander is never told what he can do there, but he goes and it becomes a low-rent cold war spy story with lots of sneaking around, bugging, secret meetings and freedom fighters.

The writing was good, the translation was done well and even though the story went south, it was still better than most. I gave it 4 stars .

22. The First Death by Laurell K. Hamilton, graphic novel, completed 2/28/09

This is supposed to be a prequel to the first book in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, Guilty Pleasures. It is supposed to show the first meeting of Anita and the vampire Jean Claude.

It is told in 2 parts. The first part is a very short story of vampires killing children. A vampire stripper from Guilty Pleasures the club is on the scene, so the police and Anita go to Guilty Pleasures to question JC. Thats it, the big first meeting, which is exactly the same as the meeting that was in the book Guilty Pleasures. What a rip off.

The second part of the story is about Anita and Valentine which is backstory that was also presented in the book Guilty Pleasures.

The rest of the GN is made up of a handbook based on the book Guilty Pleasures. So for $15.00 there are about 4-6 pages of new material (extremely weak) and the rest is all re-hash. I gave it 1 star .

My favorite book is hard to pick. I really enjoyed Duplicate Effort the 2 new Booktown series books Murder is Binding and Bookmarked for death, Unfallen Dead and Angel-Seeker, so they were all my favorites this month.

10FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 4, 2009, 8:01pm

I had a good month, some really good books, and some stinkers. There are some in the middle that I am ambivalent about. I rated them higher, and have downgraded them, and did so again.

23. Sway by Zachary Lazar, Completed 3/2/09, Stars: 2.5
This is a book of fiction, based on minor facts, set in the 60s. It tries to bring together the Rolling Stones, the Manson Family, the experimental film-maker Kenneth Anger, and the intersection of their lives to mean something. It seems to be the usual dark underbelly of 'Flower Power'. Unfortunately for me it also seemed more about trying to be important and trendy than in actually telling a story.

The Stones' part focuses on a watery Brian, as though Mick & Keith were non-entities, the Manson's part focuses on Bobby Beausoleil, who is empty and aimless, and the Kenneth Anger part focuses on his films and the visuals from scenes, one of which is narrated several times. Much of the setting seemed to be focused on the visual, as though staging something was as important as the story. I am not a visual person, so it really didn't work for me.

I thought the writing and storytelling was choppy, and boring in places. Didn't think much of the characters.

24. Nightlife by Rob Thurman, Completed 3/4/09, Stars: 3.75

I made the rating up. It is better than 3.5 , but not quite a 4.0

It is a first book and the start of the Cal Leandros series. It is urban fantasy/paranormal where fantasy/horror beasties walk the streets of the modern world. I liked it, but it did have some issues.

The story is of two half- brothers. One is all human and the other is half-human and half-elf. Elves however are not nice, aristocratic beings in this series, but nasty, hate filled, killing machines. For some reason they keep trying to steal Cal and take him back to their reality. His older brother Niko has spent his life protecting him. They both are in hiding, living quietly and running from the Elves. In this book they finally have a confrontation.

I liked the writing, and the setting. The characters were good, and so was the story. I really liked the relationship between the brothers, and the interesting side characters. The problem is at the start of the book the younger brother Cal has a snotty attitude and is constantly spouting smart-ass cliches, and attempting to be humorous. About halfway through there is a twist and it takes care of the problem. I will continue with the series.

25. sTori Telling by Tori Spelling, Completed 3/7/09, Stars: 4

This is a non-fiction, memoir of the life so far of the actress Tori Spelling. It was a light, fluffy, fun, fast read. I never watched 90210, nor do I read tabloids, so I didn't know much about her. I happened to catch her reality show on Oxygen with her husband Dean. I was intrigued by her softness, her honesty about being rich, spoiled and a control freak. She comes across as warm, charming, and funny both on TV and in the book.

26. The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt, Completed 3/10/09, Stars: 3.5
This was a RL book group read for my SFF group. I was apprehensive, because I had a previous experience with him, and it was not good. He had pacing issues, and didn't focus on the subject of the previous book.

I was pleasantly surprised that he was on target in this book. It is about alien archeology and he actually dealt with it and set about half the book at the dig site.

Unfortunately the characters were very stock and the whole thing seemed to be like one of those TV disaster movies. The dig team has to evacuate because the planet is being terraformed and everything will be destroyed. They of course find some new important discovery at the last minute, and they can't stop the big company from starting to terraform.

The book then split into another story where some of the dig team are following a cosmic event as it travels along and destroys other civilizations. They find a recently destroyed place, wander in to investigate and bad things happen.

The writing was good, and it sucked me right in, even though there were the problems I mentioned. Not sure if I will read more in the series. I love the idea of alien archeology, but am not sure how rewarding McDevitt will be.

27. Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagen, Completed 3/14/09, Stars: 3

Another RL book group read, for my Fiction group. We picked it because we were intrigued by the blurb on the back: was he a gay priest or not, was the book about sexual abuse or not ? It turns out the blurb was more interesting than the book. It just had no umph to it. Very vague and dissatisfying in the writing and the story telling.

A priest is assigned to a rural parish in Scotland. He is Scottish but only by birth, having been raised and educated in England. He is considered posh by the residents, and an outsider. He is supposed to be mentoring troubled teens, and ends up hanging around with 2 of them, becoming one of them.

He is going through a mid-life crises and regrets the loss of his lover back in college (he died) and his own choice to hide from life in the priesthood. He is detached from life, and not in tune with his power structure, so he gets grief from both sides.

At one point the 15 year old boy plies him with drink and drugs, and the priest slips (kiss - nothing graphic). Publicity, disgrace, legal action, and the standard circus ensues.

The later part of the book was better than the start. The priest's attraction to the vile teens just never seemed believable. Didn't like the writing or the story telling and most of the characters were poor (exception: house keeper).

The group didn't like it either, and coming after the horrible Story of the Cannibal Woman there was a rumbling about the need to pick better books.

28. Booked to Die by John Dunning, Completed 3/15/09, Stars: 3.5

Start of the Cliff Janeway mystery series. It was also a RL book group read, for my mystery book.

The main character is a Denver cop who also collects books. The mystery is involved with the book collecting world. The author gives a lot of information about book collection.

It wasn't badly written, and the story was OK. It just wasn't my cup of tea. Book collecting not only doesn't interest me, I don't understand spending hundreds or thousands on 1 new book, then putting it on your shelf and not reading it. I would rather spend the money for many, many cheap books that I can read.

The POV is what I call a side-of-beef. He thinks violence solves everything, and isn't really developed beyond that. The author obviously wants him to be tough and manly. Just to emphasize the point that the women in the book are just window dressing, the author ruins 2 of Janeway's relationships. Then the only interesting character in the book, his assistant in the book store, is killed off, another pesky female.

Won't be reading any more of the series.

29. Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, Completed 3/21/09, Stars 2.5

The final RL book group read of the month, for Arm Chair Travelers. Historical fiction that is based on the real life books of a Victorian Englishwomen who went to Siam (modern Thailand) to teach the King's children. It is the basis for the play and the movies.

What a slog to read. It was mostly lifeless and I am not sure why, The writing was not bad, and it actually flowed, but what a bore. It was also quite patronizing, and of course perpetuated the lies of Anna about herself and her family.

There were spots when it would become interesting, but it didn't hold. The characters were also not interesting or sympathetic to me. There are now people who dispute the depictions of life in Siam at the time, and of the actions of the king and various events. Not sure how much is dramatic license on Anna/Margaret's part and how much is historical revisionism on the critics part.

30. Devil's Feathers by David Chacko, Completed 3/22/09, Stars: 4
(no touchstone)

Book 2 in the Onur Levent mystery series. It follows a police detective in modern day Istanbul Turkey. In this book Onur is on vacation on the Asian side, in Bodrum on the Aegean coast.

A shady contractor is found burned to death inside his car, in a convenience store parking lot near Bodrum. The man has ties to the shadow government and Onur's boss asks him to help the local police.

I love the main character, and the subtle way the author does Turkey. It is a fast, light read, and I can't wait for the next one in the series.

I have another book of his that is a start of a different series, and I hope to be able to read that soon.

31. Wyrmhole by Jay Caselberg, Completed 3/22/09, Stars: 3.5

Book 1 of the Jack Stein psychic investigator series. A SF book that is set in the future, where people live in habitats that enclose everything (ala Chung Kuo). The habitat uses nano-technology and absorbs and recreates itself as it moves across the landscape.

Jack lives on the Old side of Middle in the Locality, where rents are lower, upkeep is minimal and the place is sliding into Old where things are eventually absorbed. Jack is a loner who is down and out and has been hired by a big company in New to find out what happened to a group of miners who have disappeared. They are on a planet far away and Jack has to investigate from earth.

There are many players trying to manipulate and use Jack. The company demands results but is not sharing everything with him. Jack explores various metaphysical and mathematical theories to explain the disappearances, though they don't bog down the story.

It is written well, the characters are interesting, and the story is good. I will keep reading the rest of the series.

32. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason, Completed 3/28/09, Stars: 4

I saw this book on LT and was hooked. I love historical fiction and ancient history. I have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The book is presented as a lost book of Homer's Odyssey, complete with scholarly introduction and footnotes. The text itself is a series of short stories, some very short -one page, about the Iliad and the Odyssey. Odysseus is in all of them, except maybe 2-3. They take scenes from the books and revise them, or expand on them, or just make new ones up. The writing is very good, and the stories often have a twist or a zinger. There are 2-3 stories that are long after the time of the Trojan war, which of course causes confusion. It is definitely a post modern work.

I enjoyed it very much, though I did find the book too long. I was ready to be done about 3/4 of the way through. It probably should be dipped into and out of, but I read it straight through.

33. Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous, Completed 3/28/09, Stars: 4

I loved the cover of this book and it made me take it home. It was also a very interesting, funny and sad read. It tells the story of a group of residents in an apartment building in modern Rome. One resident has been murdered, and one is missing.

The book is divided into chapters where the others tell their version of what happened. Only one is a Roman the rest are immigrants and those from other Italian cities/regions who are still considered outsiders. In their stories about the incident and the two residents they begin to tell their own stories too. Prejudice and the plight of immigrants strongly impacts their lives, yet they treat others as badly as they are treated. The missing resident has a response chapter for each resident telling his side of their relationship. The final chapter is of the Roman police officer assigned to the case.

Very funny at times, and also very sad at the inability to get along. I liked the writing and the characters. The story was interesting.

34. Firmin by Sam Savage, Completed 3/29/09, Stars: 3.5

Short novel about a rat named Firmin in 1960s Boston who somehow develops the capacity for human language and thought. He doesn't develop any other super rat abilities, so he is unable to share or communicate his thoughts, feelings, and insights. His fellow rats don't care, and the humans around him just want to kill him. He also becomes enamored with human women through the movies, even though he has no hope of any relationships.

Firmin is not quite rat, and not quite human and doesn't really belong or fit in with either. He has to build his life devoid of the support of either group. He also seems to be a metaphor for the quiet life of desperation. His knowledge and the facts he knows can't really help him make a better life.

The writing is good, and the characters are good, but the story just sort of stops or fizzles. Life sucks and then you die. OK. I felt like I got all dressed up and then the party was canceled.

35. My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, Completed 3/29/09, Stars: 5

I saw this on LT and then found it in a local store. It was just so intriguing. I read it in one sitting and it was amazing.

It is the true story of Howard Dully, who was given a lobotomy at 12 years old, in 1960, at the behest of his step-mother. His mother was dead, and his father was only minimally involved with his son. The step-mother was unhappy with Howard, and couldn't change him. She shopped around with doctors trying to get him committed (they said he was normal). She finally found a doctor who pioneered lobotomies in the USA. He told her it would 'fix' Howard.

The book is the story of the lobotomy, what happened to Howard after, and how he eventually wanted to know what had happened and why.

It is very simply written and he has holes in his memory, and his problems as an adult get repetitive, but it is still a riveting book.

It would have to be the best book of the month for me.

11ronincats
Apr. 4, 2009, 7:58pm

You are a great fit for this group, Ficus! Such an interesting array of books read, and such nice long, lovely comments on them! Looking forward to following your thread the rest of the year.

12FicusFan
Apr. 4, 2009, 8:13pm


Thank you for your kind comments. I will have to check your list out too. I hope to have some time tomorrow.

13FicusFan
Apr. 5, 2009, 2:54pm



I will start my April books here.

36. The Art Thief by Noah Charney, Mystery, Completed 4/5/09, Stars: 2

Just a terrible mess of a book. I really wanted to like it, because after reading Provenance by Frank McDonald back in the 70s I have a soft spot for art-centered mysteries.

The writing and the characterization are so bad as to be almost beyond belief. The writing was florid and over-descriptive, he also used long lists of adjectives and way too many analogies. The characters were not real people, they were cartoony, and also behaved in unrealistic ways. I didn't care about them, or the outcome of the book.

The story jumped around and had no coherence it was just a series of scenes. There was no real center to the book, and no real POV. The POV who started the book was obviously a stand in for the author and was presented as a cerebral James Bond of the art world. Please.

Starting with chapter 9, the writing toned down and it became marginally better. I kept reading because I just can't give up once I start. I also was interested in the art and art theft info in the book. Some have complained that there is too much information, but not for me. He did start out badly with them - lifeless and dry, but the info dumps got better too.

Will avoid him in the future.

14FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 11, 2009, 4:21pm

37. The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, Historical Mystery, Completed 4/6/09, Stars 4

I finished this recently and enjoyed it very much. I like historical books and enjoy historical mysteries where the book is meaty. I don't like superficial mysteries that are formulaic. This was not. It had some issues, but was over all very good.

The book is set in 1836 in Istanbul, Turkey at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The main character is the investigator Yashim, who is a eunuch. Because of his condition, he can go into the harem where the imperial women live.

There are 2 mysteries: one is the kidnap, murder and public dumping of four officer cadets in the military. They appear one at a time and Yashim is trying to find them before they are killed and dumped, as well as who is behind the crime and what the purpose is for the public dumping.

Yashim also has to investigate the death of a harem slave girl. She was supposed to bed the Sultan for the first time, and instead is found strangled. The Queen mother or Valide also has jewelry stolen and Yashim must find it.

The setting in Istanbul is done well and the characters are great. Several are quirky and I hope they will be series regulars. The writing was good and I enjoyed the book very much.

My only quibble is at the end, the plot for revolution fails, and it is never explained why ?

I have books 2 Snake Stone and will read it when my reading schedule allows. This is a book for my RL Mystery group.

15FicusFan
Apr. 11, 2009, 4:32pm


38. Hand of Isis by Jo Graham, Historical Fiction (some fantasy), Completed 4/11/09, Stars: 4

This is an LT ER book. It is set in Hellenistic Alexandria and follows the life of Cleopatra, the last Egyptian Pharaoh. It is book 2 in a series, the first was Black Ships. I haven't read it yet. It is a book for my RL Fiction book group in May. So I will be reading it next month.

Although this is book 2 it really stands alone. The setting is different, and the characters are different. Some are reincarnations of characters in book 1, but they come back as different people.

The narrator is Charmian, the half sister and slave/handmaiden of Cleopatra. The story follows the traditional story line pretty well, though there is a bit of magic/fantasy. The gods are real and Isis guides them in life, and Charmain tells them her story when she is dead. It is well done, and worked into the story well.

I loved the characters and the setting. It was a chore at the start to get into (not until 250+ pages), but I ended up riveted by the story, and caring deeply for the characters.

I will read the first book, and then I can't wait for the next book.

16FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 15, 2009, 11:05pm

39. The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson, Non-Fiction, Social Mores, Completed 4/12/09, Stars: 3.5

I am reading it for my RL Fiction group - we do non-fiction as well.

I finished the book.

It was interesting, had lots of details, a narrow focus, but needed a bit more context. It is subtitled 'Just Before the Storm' , but the only thing I can come up with is WWI. It was 3 years off however, so not really 'Just Before'. They were going through social change and conflict over it on several levels, but I imagine that is true all the time everywhere. If not the society would be dead.

I thought she could have set the stage a bit better at the start too. I had some familiarity with the time period, not sure if someone who is new to the subject would be lost or not.

It is a look at the summer of 1911, and the people mentioned are used as examples of the classes, incidents and the tone she was including in the book, their stories are not the point of the book. Have seen reviews were people are confused about that, because it does move around and people and their stories pop in and out.

ETA:

I also would have like a little more analysis and comparison, Collect some stats, what to do they mean, what were other countries at the same time doing, how does it compare to the current day.

17FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 15, 2009, 11:03pm

40. Tell Me Where it Hurts by Dr. Nick Trout, non-fiction, Memoir - Veterinary Surgery, Completed 4/13/09, Stars: 3.5

This was a quick read. It had its light moments, but also serious ones. It looked at a composite day in the working life of a Veterinary Surgeon at Angell Memorial hospital in Boston.

There were funny moments and sad ones too. The book was hopeful rather than traumatic, but it didn't sugar coat the end of life issues: when it can't be fixed or cured, and when the owner can't afford to have it fixed or cured.

He talks about the philosophical issues Vets have, and how best to serve the patient and do no harm.

It was a bit choppy structurally. He would use a new case as a jumping off point for the way-back machine to reminisce about his life, his education, and his earlier working days. It felt sometimes like he forgot the new case.

And I guess when all is said and done - I want to know that Sage is OK, and he never says, not a good sign.

ETA:

I found out that this book was the first author chat back in April 2008. Sadly to say I didn't participate. I did read the thread yesterday.

Turns out that he doesn't know about Sage. Since he is only involved in the surgery, he doesn't know how things went after Sage left the hospital.

http://www.librarything.com/topic/34498#546539

Oh Yeah, I wanted more cats, in the book. Too many dogs.

18FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 16, 2009, 12:38am

41. The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer, Mystery, Completed 4/15/09, Stars: 3.5

Warning may not be PC, read at your own risk.

This is a mystery set in modern day Istanbul. The main character and the murder victims are all transvestites. Its a very odd book. There is a mystery, and lots of details on transvestites and the world they live in.

Sometimes they are men, and sometimes they are women. They seem to have sex with men, so I guess they are gay, but perhaps if they think they are women its not gay. My head spins and I need to lie down when I try to sort it out. In any case the book is not for the faint of heart or those who can't deal with sex/gay sex in books.

The premise is that there are girls in the community who are being killed in horrible ways. The police don't care, and don't really investigate. The main character runs a night club where the transvestites work. She becomes enraged when she hears of the deaths, and starts to snoop around. She views herself as the mother hen ( and superior to all) of the girls who work or hang at the club. By day, he is a computer security guru, though everyone knows that he is also a she, and gay. Both she and he are into kick-boxing and martial arts.

The murdered girls all seem to have their male name as one of the Muslim Prophets, and they die as the prophet did, or how the enemies tried to kill him. Throughout the book the main character, who remains nameless, goes through the girls that she knows and works with, in an effort to find any information that will help her find the killer. She has a friend high in the police, though he is more ceremonial than a crime fighter and she finds a rich businessman as a love interest. She also develops an uneasy relationship with a crippled, masochistic, religious fundamentalist hacker who stalks her on-line and is willing to trade information for sex and violence.

The characters are interesting if a bit cloying in terms of the transvestites' reactions. They all scream, shriek, tweet at the drop of a hat, like they were chew toys being stepped on, and the other person may just have said 'hello'. Very campy, and melodramatic. Not sure if its authentic or just the author's overheated imagination, or inability to dramatize mundane transvestite physicality. The main character is also not very nice. She is cutting, bossy, demanding, likes to demean people, and will even resort to violence if she feels provoked. Not touched or even threatened mind you, just vexed.

I ask myself do I dislike the POV because of the behavior, or because of the behavior coming from a woman ? If she were a straight man throughout the book, would I still be so critical, or would I just accept it as slightly boorish, but believable male behavior ? Or does my dislike stem from the fact that she may dress and gesture like a woman, but she isn't authentically one. Just a veneer and its shallowness is insulting to real women who would never behave in the way she does ? I don't have an answer but the book makes me think about it. It also raises questions about perception, reality, gender roles, and the range of acceptable behavior.

The mystery is interesting if a bit limited due to the fact that the POV isn't in the police, and has very few sources of official information. She decides who the killer is, and looks for proof, rather than taking the evidence and looking for the killer.

The writing is not bad at all, and the translation is good, although there are a few strange words and phrases.

It is a very odd, interesting and edgy book. I have the next and if it is as good as this one will keep reading the series because I like to experience things that I never could in real life. I also like to broaden my reading and outlook.





19MissTeacher
Apr. 16, 2009, 11:28am

Very interesting book, Ficus. I can't decide whether I'm intrigued or confused.

20FicusFan
Apr. 16, 2009, 12:09pm


Sort of like me and I have read the book. Though I am interested, and the confusion isn't so bad, mostly something to pick at because it is a strange world to me (transvestites).

21MissTeacher
Apr. 16, 2009, 1:38pm

I think I'll give it a go on my wishlist. I'm just getting into the world of mystery, but I am very interested in discovering more about transvestites in a Muslim culture, and how they are treated given the norms set in place for women. Hmm. Might not be one I bring for Reading Friday at school, though. I can just imagine how intrigued the kids would be, and how interesting it would be to try to explain!

22FicusFan
Apr. 17, 2009, 11:16pm


It is interesting, but I would hate for you to get in trouble for bringing it to school. It isn't PG.

I hope you enjoy it if you read it, and forgive me if you don't. :)

One of the interesting things I learned from a previous mystery book set in Istanbul in 1836 Janissary Tree at the end of the Ottoman empire, is that there was a class of male entertainers and sex workers who were cross dressers, called köçek. They were also part of some social rituals, but they aren't mentioned in this book.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6%C3%A7ek

23FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 19, 2009, 9:44pm

42. Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer, SF, Completed 4/18/09, Stars: 3.5

This is a book for a RL book group. I originally rated it 4 stars, but then downgraded to 3.5. Sawyer is hit or miss for me, and since this was one of his better ones I got carried away. He usually sets up well and then blows it. This time he didn't so I gave him a high rating, but the book is still a bit on the fluffy side. A combination of science and soap opera. It was a quick read, that flowed well. I didn't care for the main character much though. He was whiny, weak willed and a wimp.

The premise of the book is that in 2009, in CERN in Switzerland they run an experiment on the Large Hadron Collider that takes human consciousness, and sends it 21 years into the future. All over the world people become unconscious and have a vision of the future. Unfortunately no one was prepared for it, and many are killed or kill others when they black out. Car crashes, planes crashes, falling down all take their toll on the human body.

It eventually comes out that everyone who had a vision, had one of the same day in the future. Some who were sleeping in the future, had dreams, and others had nothing - presumably they had no future and were dead. There are technical and social changes that are shown from the future, but they are not the focus of the story.

It struck me as a scientific version of the religious 'Rapture" thing that some believe and is written about in the Left Behind series. Not that I have read it, but the talk is always about being beamed up while driving or flying a plane, leaving the rest to die in fiery crashes. That callousness of the suffering of others is a strong comment on religion and what is acceptable in the relations between those who believe and those who do not.

Sawyer uses The Rapture effect for a big impact at the start of the story. He has a real bone to pick with religion (as evidenced in his other books), so he may have indeed done it on purpose.

The rest of the book is about determination VS free will, as the personal stories of the characters are used to explore the ideas. This is the part that becomes soap opera-ish. One character frets over his vision that shows him married to a different woman than his current fiancee. Another is apparently murdered and spends his time trying to track down the killer and exact circumstances. Different theories of time and space are explored. The legal, political and social reactions are really marginalized and down played, making it seem even more unbelievable.

It was OK, but it didn't really grab me. But as I said it was better than usual for Sawyer. He tends to produce shallow bland characters, and his stories fall apart 2/3 of the way through and fizzle at the end. This one did have dubious characters, but was pretty good the rest to of the way.

Damning with faint praise I guess.

24FicusFan
Apr. 19, 2009, 10:02pm

43. The Fugitive by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Foreign Fiction, Completed 4/19/09, Stars: 4

This book is for a RL book group. It is set in east Java, Indonesia, at the end of WWII. The main character is an Indonesian who once worked with the Japanese, as an Indonesian soldier, but who tries to rebel against them. He and the other leaders are betrayed by one of their own, and he must go into hiding.

He returns to his home to see his family and friends, but he must keep his distance so they will not be arrested or killed by the Japanese. He lives as a beggar, and spends his time hiding. He visits his fiancee's family, though she is not there, he also visits his father. Two other rebel leaders are also there as beggars and they discuss the fate of the fourth who betrayed them.

The family members show what is important to them: love, family, safety, propriety. Various people act in heroic, or cowardly ways. Some lie to themselves and others. One of the betrayed also talks about justice leading to vengeance against the traitors and the collaborators. The main character takes the side of mercy with a view to human frailty and the future when they will need good military men to also free themselves from the Dutch.

The book took me about 40 pages to get into it, even though it is very short. It is translated and very simply written, but the writing flows. The setting and nature are very important and a strong part of the story. Perhaps trying to set the story as a shadow play. I became interested in the story and the characters.

The book was written in prison where the Dutch put the author, over the issue of Indonesian Independence.

25FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 24, 2009, 8:51am

44. The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin, Historical Mystery, Completed 4/24/09, Stars: 4

This is the second book in the Yashim Toglu series set in Istanbul, Turkey at the end of the Ottoman empire. This book is set in 1838, 2 years after the first. The main character is an investigator and a eunuch.

I am still reading, but I just love this book. Had to post. The setting and the characters are just fabulous.

I finally finished, hard to get time to read during the week. Had 2 book groups after work this week.

I just love this series. The characters and the setting are wonderful. There is great detail and description, but it is never dumped on you. The plot meanders along with bits and pieces, and is a subtle part of the story. While it drives everything, there is no sense that they story only exists for the mystery. It might be off-putting to those who prefer the mystery to be the star of the story.

A shady French archaeologist comes to Istanbul, and latches onto the Polish Ambassador. He turns him over to Yashim. The ambassador is afraid he will discover parts of the stolen monument being hidden in the embassy. Yashim has also been asked by a rich Greek merchant's wife to look into the meeting of her husband and the archaeologist. The archaeologist has stirred people up in only a short time in the city.

Various people begin to die horribly: a bookseller, a money lender, a new member of the Waterman's guild. The archaeologist leaves Yashim's hospitality to return home, in great fear. He is sent to the ship to take him home. The next night after the ship has sailed, his dead body is found outside an embassy.

Yashim is the last person known to be with him. Yashim fears just the suggestion of his involvement in the death will spook his patrons in the palace. The power structure is in flux. The Sultan is dying, and the Valide is very old, and will be replaced when her grandson assumes power. Yashim fears if he can't solve the death, he will lose his protection and relationship with the palace.

The French wife of the dead man turns up and she is also searching for information about her husband. Seems he was looking for some relics.

Preen the transvestite also make a reappearance, but she has only minor stage time. The book looks at the layers of history and the different cultures and religions that make up the history of the city. Yashim cooks.

Its just a wonderful visit, and I can't wait for the next one The Bellini Card. It is out, but in hardcover, and I wait for the tradepaper version before buying.

26FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 26, 2009, 12:00am

45. The Glassblower of Murano, Modern Day/Historical Fiction

This is an Early Review book and I am starting it today.

ETA:

I finished the book today. It was a story split between 1681 and the modern day. Story of a bland woman, Leonora, whose life collapses. She moves from London to the city where she was born, Venice, to pursue a career in glassblowing.

Turns out she is the descendant of their most famous glassblower. We get his story in the past thread, and hers in the modern. There is a scandal about him, and it taints her. She has to find the truth of the mystery. Book is the story of her move/life/search for the truth, and attempt to find/keep her new lover and oh yes, she gets pregnant too.

The writing was good, the structure was a bit odd: there would be a paragraph of description, narration and dialog but set apart would be the internal thoughts or reflection of the character who was the POV for it.

The book was presented as historical fiction, but it was more focused on the modern day story. The issues of Leonora were more in the romance category, but it was not a cheesy one. Interesting information about Venice, history and glassblowing, but entry level. I already knew most of it. Story told more as a summary than with a lot of detail or showing.

All in all I did enjoy it, and found it moving.

27FicusFan
Apr. 26, 2009, 12:04am



Not sure what to read next. I am finished all my required reading for the month. So I am free, free to read whatever I want.

Problem is I want to read Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins, it is the sequel to Maledicte which I loved. It was my favorite book of 2007. The problem is the new book just came out. If I devour it now, I will have to wait another 2 years for the next one (hopefully there will be one).

decisions, decisions.



28FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Apr. 27, 2009, 1:24am

46. The kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer, Mystery, Completed 4/27/09, Stars: 3.5

I decided to read this book and catch up on the series. I enjoyed it. It is more focused than the first book, with fewer characters and a tighter plot. The main character is also more polished, but still not all that likable.

This time a transvestite, Buse, is being pressured to turn over incriminating pictures, and letters of her and a prominent straight man, who was once her lover. He is highly placed in a political party that features family values as its claim to power. Buse is killed and the race is on to find the documents and pictures. Buse's blind mother is missing, and an upstairs neighbor is murdered.

There are competing groups: the blackmailers and those who work for the politician are stalking people, spying and threatening/roughing up people to get what they want.

Some of the characters from the previous book are back, and some are missing. The POV's love interest is not in this book or even mentioned. The masochistic crippled hacker is also not mentioned. Several characters do reappear. Hassan the gossipy-nosy club Maitre'D, Husseyn the taxi driver with the puppy-dog crush on the POV. Hassan becomes unreliable, and the POV finally gives Husseyn a chance.

The POV is still arrogant, self-absorbed, and prone to violence. She does seem to be more polished, and less nasty. She also acts a bit dumber in this book however. She refuses to talk to people who might have information or clues, refuses to listen to phone messages, because she is too busy, or tired. Its a common tactic to keep the suspense and mystery simmering, but with the POV talking about how stupid everyone else is, it doesn't sit well.

Still it was an interesting, quick read set in a very different world. The writing was good and the translation worked well. I will read the next one.





29FicusFan
Apr. 30, 2009, 9:26pm

47. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey, Urban Fantasy, Dude-Lit, Mystery, Completed 4/30/09, Stars: 4

It was very good, if a little long and wordy. He starts out having the POV do the same thing over and over (traveling around). He uses it as a way to pass information about the world set up on to the reader, and to paint in the background. Its not bad, but its a newbie thing, and could have been tighter. The author also not only assumes that you are from the UK, but that you are a native of London. I was fine with most of it, but could put others off.

The main character an exorcist, Felix Castor, is down and out. He mistakenly welded a demon into the body/soul of his best friend while trying to exorcise the demon. Because of that he has given up exorcism, and is using his magic to entertain - at kids' parties.

For various reasons he gets sucked into a job of exorcising a ghost from the Bonnington Archive. It houses old documents, not important enough to be on display in museums. The case is more than it seems. He ends up trying to track down who the ghost is, and how she came to be dead, rather than just exorcising her. The trail leads him into the sites of a porn-monger/pimp and East End crime boss. Someone calls up a Succubus to drain him to death and when she is prevented in their first encounter she stalks him, and pops up at interesting moments.

The writing was good, if a bit wordy and occasionally too colloquial. The main character was likable and believable. The minor characters were interesting and not too flat. There were several that should be recurring and they were quirky. The story was interesting.

All in all a very good first book. I will read the next one in the Felix Castor series.

30FicusFan
Apr. 30, 2009, 9:32pm



My next book is The Cutting Season by Arthur Rosenfeld

a Martial Arts thriller with a brain surgeon POV who fights the Russian Mafia, and has to stay ahead of the police.

31FicusFan
Mai 2, 2009, 10:00am


I am reading the Cutting Season, but its not grabbing me yet. I think its a first book, and the author has made the POV a bit too cool and perfect. I should spend time with it today to see if I can get into it, but just now I am on the computer and avoiding it. Oh well. Sooner engaged, sooner done.

32rainpebble
Bearbeitet: Mai 2, 2009, 5:35pm

read from another thread you posted to:

"I almost got Cry, Beloved Country last night. It is in the $3.99 bin at Borders. I got a second copy of A Passage to India by mistake. Maybe they will let me exchange it for the other book ?"

read Today, 5:27pm (top)Message 50: nannybebette

Oh, you really should request that. Although A Passage to is good, Cry, the Beloved Country is a book everyone world wide who has the ability to read it should do so. I believe that it says so much more to one than the writer ever even intended. It speaks beautifully and directly to the theme but also there is so much underneath that one is just left bereft and speechless when done. If I could recommend only one book this would be that one.
Here's hoping for you. (and 3.99---wow!~!)
belva

33jfetting
Mai 2, 2009, 9:01pm

seconding nannybebette. Cry, the Beloved Country is one of the world's greatest books.

34FicusFan
Mai 2, 2009, 9:30pm


Thanks both for the strong recommendations on the book. I will try maybe tomorrow, or if not on Monday.

35FicusFan
Mai 2, 2009, 10:02pm


48. The Cutting Season by Arthur Rosenfeld, Martial Arts Thriller, Completed 5/2/09, Stars: 4

This book took a while to grab me, but when it did it was total. Turned out to be a fabulous story. It is a first book, so the start is a bit rough. Not in terms of writing, but characterization and story. But he settled down, and really did a wonderful job.

It is set in the modern day, in South Florida. The main character a neurosurgeon and student of Chinese martial arts, Dr. Xenon Pearl (Zee), is a native of Florida. Jewish and of Russian descent. His mother died at 4 and he was raised by a Chinese nanny, who also became his martial arts teacher when he was older.

He is in his 30s and his Chinese teacher is long dead. He is trying to save a young 10 year old child, who has had all his bones broken, as well as his skull. The boy dies. He is the son of the local Russian Mafia kingpin, and he was beaten to death, not injured as a result of a fall from his bike as his parents contend.

So starts a series of events that puts Zee in conflict with the Redmen as they are known, it also causes problems with his superior at the hospital who has been bribed or frightened into silence. Zee begins to see and hear his dead teacher as she exhorts him against being a passive actor in his life. He starts to follow her direction and act oddly. He also meets new people as he realizes she is right, his life is empty: dedicated to work and nothing more.

Zee ends up digging up family secrets as he and the Redman trade violence and injury back and forth. He also is being tracked by a police officer who is his new sister. His father has just remarried and she is the grown daughter of his new stepmother.

The supporting and minor characters are well done. Interesting, quirky, believable, and they catch your heart. Zee is a bit more of a problem. He starts out too cool, perfect, and a master of too many trades. Then he starts to do what the ghost tells him, which includes violent, criminal actions. He doesn't reflect about her directives much, or his actions. I found that hard to believe. Also that someone so educated and experienced would just do what he was told, as though he has no spine or opinions in the matter. It seemed that where before he was too cool, now he was too spineless, probably an overcorrection on the author's part.

As the book moved on Zee started to seem more balanced, and more real. He has strengths and weaknesses, doubts and mistakes. This is a martial arts book after all so there is a big violent ending, with Zee the star, but it was not only believable but appropriate.

Along the way there is a lot of discussion about the different martial arts, the physical and spiritual uses and consequences of the training and the use of them in a fight. We also get Chinese history, and a good bit on Chinese medicine and the spiritual and philosophical concepts and outlook of their use. All the information was woven into the story and never was too heavy or distracting.

The writing was good and the story settled down, and I couldn't put the book down. It ended well, on a hopeful note, but not all neatly tied up.

36mckait
Mai 3, 2009, 9:06am

Great thread, lots to read since I just found it..
among other books now on my wishlist is Cry, the Beloved Country

37FicusFan
Mai 3, 2009, 10:54pm



Thank you mckait. Looks like it will be Monday for me to try to exchange the book. I spent all day reading.

38FicusFan
Mai 6, 2009, 8:55pm

I did finally trek to Borders and got Cry, Beloved Country.

39FicusFan
Mai 6, 2009, 10:11pm

49. Chanur's Legacy by C.J. Cherryh, SF - Space Opera, Completed 5/3/09, Stars: 5

This is the 5th book in the Chanur Saga . It is one of my favorites and I hope that at some point there will be more. I also should say I love C.J. Cherryh, and this series, so for me it is a 5 star book, though not particularly serious or life changing.

The Chanur are a clan of cat-like aliens known as Hani. The Hani are clannish, and female oriented. Females go out into the world, run the businesses and households, and the males are kept sequestered and only good for breeding. They are considered flighty, emotional, violent and not too bright.

In the previous books the clan leader of Chanur, Pyanfar, has challenged these ideas, and turned her culture on its head. Through diplomacy, courage, machination and battle she has become the most important person in Compact Space. There are 7 or 8 alien species that live in Compact Space. 2 to 3 are methane breathers, and keep to themselves. The others are air breathers and they compete for trade, power, status and the usual items that along with different cultures and outlook can lead to hostility, violence and war.

The main character of this book is a younger cousin, Hilfy, who has become the clan leader against her will. She heads her own small ship, that is crewed with female relatives. They are traders and trying to establish Chanur as a going concern, without using the power and pull of her Aunt, Pyanfar. In fact Hilfy and her Aunt have some unpleasant history.

In the aftermath of Pyanfar's ascendancy there is nominal peace in Compact Space, but there are unhappy pockets who want the old violent days to return so they can grab power. Besides the Hani. the 3 main alien races are the Kif: They eat live prey, and will kill and eat each other, they have no sense of loyalty, or friendship; The Mahendo' Sat, a bear-like species that are pretty normal, and the Stsho they are physically fragile, have 3 sexes are incredibly formal and dedicated to living in beauty 24/7, and when stressed will Phase into a totally different personality and sex.

The story of the book is how Hilfy in a moment of weakness agrees to a contract that is too good to be true. Her ship will take a religious object from the Stsho Governor of Meetpoint Space Station to the Stsho recipient at another location. The fee is one million credits, and it is a small object that will take a short space jump to deliver. Hilfy reads the contract that runs to 720 pages, which has terrible financial consequences if she fails.

The object arrives and comes with its own Stsho minder. The Stsho live and breathe white and the Chanur have to create a white and lightly tinted cabin for the minder, who will not be parted from the Preciousness. Another part of the agreement was to take a Hani from the station jail off the station. It turns out the Hani is a male, his ship left him when he got in trouble, and the ship he is from is a clan that the Chanur are feuding with.

The Chanur try to find the recipient but gtst is never there. Gtst has always left on a ship that just jumped out, almost as if gtst was avoiding or running from them. They in fact can't find any Stsho, they have all left, or been killed. Hilfy thinks that something is up and worries that she is being used to get to Pyanfar. The male Hani meanwhile is young and trying too hard, and creating problems just by breathing. The ship is also being stalked by a Mahendo' Sat ship. They want to know what the Preciousness is, what it looks like, and even want Hilfy to give it to them. Meanwhile the Kif are circling and Hilfy fears the worst.

The story is about the trips they make to different ports, the politics of trying to catch the fleeing Stsho, without giving anything away, while trying to figure out the bigger political picture They deal with the male who wants to stay on the Chanur ship, but Hilfy doesn't want him, and some of the crew are old-fashioned and don't think males are capable.

There is a high amount of humor in dealing with the Stsho, the contract, the Preciousness, and the threat of a personality switch. The methane breathers pop in an out of the story. They tend to procreate spontaneously when stressed, and they have 5 compartmented brains, so they are unable to think, act, or drive (sealed ground vehicle or space ship) in a straight line. The appearance of the methane breathers prompt something akin to a meteor shower warning whenever they show up, and have unpredictable impacts on the business at hand,

Also I have to say that the way Cherryh describes the space stations is how they will be one day when they exist (real large cities in space - not the puny one we have now).

The writing is great*, the story is wonderful, there is lots of good description, and wonderful characters. A good meaty book. I want more.

* Cherryh is not always easy to read. I found it was something I had to just get used to her style and cadence, and once I did it was fine.


40ronincats
Bearbeitet: Mai 6, 2009, 10:23pm

I love this series! Cherryh always does great aliens, but this has the best combination of originality and story, IMO. So glad you finally found the fifth book.

And a great review, BYW!

41FicusFan
Mai 6, 2009, 10:37pm

Thanks. I want more though. I like her other books too, but I want more Chanur. I love the humor and the reality of the space station......

Cold, large, metal, shadowy, smelling of oil, and volatiles with condensation in spots.

42FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Mai 10, 2009, 4:27pm

50. Geisha of Gion (Geisha: A Life) by Mineko Iwasaki, non-fiction - memoir, Completed 5/7/09, Stars: 3

Interesting in more ways than the author intended. Pathology on a plate. I don't know if she is the world's worst liar, or she really believed what she wrote and didn't spot herself saying the exact opposite a few pages later.

1. Her mother was rich, but her parents sold their girl children to fund themselves.

2. Her mother was sickly and weak at the start, but went on to have 11 children.

3. Mineko worked night and day, never took time off, and wanted time for herself, but then she hated not working every minute and added extra events to her schedule each day.

4. She worked non-stop for years without time off, but then had several vacations she took every year.

5. She had no friends, and the other Geisha of her age hated her, and played nasty tricks on her but she would always say she did this and that with her friends (never identified). She was not allowed out of the quarter or to socialize with servants or untouchables - so who were these friends ?

6. She didn't care about her customers, she only cared about dancing, yet she had customers who were special lifelong friends, and said it was unprofessional not to take care of all the customers.

6. She earned money for her house with her engagements, but she never paid any attention to the amounts (only to the rank based on amount earned), She gave away the envelopes full of cash without looking in them, yet she frets that there was not enough money coming into the house.

7. Keeping the house running was important to those who lived and worked there, and to all the craftspeople who depended on it, but she had no qualms about the craftspeople, and history when she shuts hers down (passed on from her adopted mother - the house owner).

The whole book was like that.

Her family and personal stories also didn't ring true. She supposedly was from an aristocratic family. Her father's family had no money, but her mother was rich. It strikes me the same as those who always say they have kings and queens as their ancestors. No one ever claims porters or ditch diggers as their forbearers, though they are by far more numerous than aristocrats and royalty.

She claimed that she decided and conducted her life at 3 as though she were an adult. She made the decision to go to the Geisha house, not that her father sold her. Though her other sisters were sold, and very bitter their whole lives. She tells all these stories with exact details of who said what and what happened when she is very young (under 10).

Some of her Geisha lore contradicts other sources. I have seen 2 other documentaries and they talk about Maiko as being apprentice Geisha in training, not just 'Dancing' Geisha as Mineko contends. She says Gion is different than other pleasure quarters in the country, perhaps that explains it, but it should be clearer.

She presents so much information about sex and de-flowering virgins of various workers who aren't Geisha, often with the same word for something else that Geisha do, that it really isn't clear what is accurate and what isn't.

Certainly before prostitution was outlawed (1957-59), the teahouses were also often associated with brothels and the Geisha was used as a come on to bring customers into the houses. They were all in the same area and competed against each other for customers. Girls were sold to houses and had no choice in what they did or didn't do.

Many think that one time Geisha were like the high class courtesans that would be kept by one rich man after another. They would never be prolific with men, because that would drive their cachet and value down. How long ago that died out, is not clear.

Still it was a strangely compelling read, despite the above problems and Mineko's selfishness and self-absorption.

43FicusFan
Mai 12, 2009, 7:06am

51. The Clone Republic by Steven L. Kent, SF - Military SF, Completed 5/10/09, Stars 3.5

This was a book for a RL book group, and not something I would have chosen to read myself. I was pleasantly surprised however, it had more depth than I expected for a Military SF book.

It is set in 2508 and humanity has spread throughout the Milky-Way. There are colony worlds scattered throughout, but all is run from earth by the Unified Authority. Based in Washington DC the new government is based on 2 things, the US Constitution and the 3rd book of Plato's Republic. The form of government is really an oligarchy with a Committee composed of Senators taking the place of the Executive branch. The Senators are chosen from elite, wealthy, families who have become UA aristocrats. The House of Representatives is made up of elected representatives of earth, and all the colonies. They make lots of noise, but have no power.

The leaders of the UA keep control by breeding millions of clones who are the military arm and are hardwired, and programmed to follow orders without question. They are also built with a self-destruct mechanism, that if they ever find out they are clones they will die. They are raised in orphanages and given military training from an early age. They see themselves as looking different from all the others, whom they know are clones.

The POV, Wayson Harris, is a human orphan who is very good at his military skills, but slower than a clone, because his brain has to process his orders. The book is about him just starting his military career - he is a Marine.

There are factions within the UA government and the military, and Harris seems to be at point zero whenever something important happens. There are a group of separatists, that are fighting the military; stubborn civilians whose cultural choices invite a massacre; and in-fighting at the command level of the military, as different commanders end up in charge of the fleet with Harris in it.

He moves through the book, trying to do his best, but also questioning the various orders, and plans. It is the first book in a series, and I don't know if I will continue with it. Mostly because I already have so many other books and series to read, that I am reluctant to add another. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't a book that I couldn't put down.

44FicusFan
Mai 12, 2009, 7:14am



Well I am past the halfway point in my book trek for 2009. So far I have been moving well, though I do slow down during the week. Work interferes, and so does the time I spend on the computer. I am on the computer in the morning, and do a little reading. Then when I come home, more computer, and some reading, but I usually fall asleep.

I haven't had any real slow patches yet (knock wood) like only 2 books a month, but I may still hit a slow patch.

I have mostly enjoyed the books that I have read, and a couple I have really loved. I am trying to spread out my reading in terms of genres, though I could probably do more non-fiction.

45FicusFan
Mai 13, 2009, 11:58am


I am reading another book for RL book group. It is for my mystery group and it is more thriller than mystery. It is taking me forever, mostly because I want it to be over, and find it hard to pick up and easy to put down. The writing is good but it doesn't help, its the content that is the problem for me.

I used to like this type of book when I was younger, but now it seems slick, superficial, smarmy and manipulative. I don't know if I have changed and matured, if after 9/11 I am less interested in the casual murder of others, or if this book is just not done well.

Its very simplistic, the good guy can kill people and be called an assassin, because he is killing the bad guy. The bad guy kills people and is called a terrorist. Yet both are committing murder.

The characters are Israelis and Palestinians, very predictably portrayed.

The thing is both are human, both have family and friends who will be the ones to suffer the lingering damage of murder and it will cause another round of killing/dying/suffering.

The murders are payback for previous wrongs and will most assuredly generate new murders.

I supposed I can't fault the writer for not having a better solution or story, since we are struggling with the same issues in real life, but the author adds nothing new to the mix. It feels ghoulish and sad to watch these doomed people for entertainment purposes.

46FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Mai 17, 2009, 5:21pm

52. The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva, Thriller, Completed 5/13/09, Stars: 2

This is the book that I was referring to in post 45. It is a RL book group read or I would have abandoned it.

The story follows Gabriel Allon who is a retired Israeli assassin. In retirement he uses his skill in art to become an art restorer. He of course is very good at it, so he lives a comfortable life, on the outside. On the inside he is troubled by his past actions, kindled by the memory of his wife and son being blown up in a car bomb.

This was were I felt manipulated by the author. I thought Silva used the love of a family to make Allon seem less like a killer and more like a normal person. He is supposed to be seen as morally superior to his boss, the hard, scheming man who plans killings. Please. Then the bomb incident was two-fold, it made it seem like he had paid for his past evil, that he suffered and didn't get off free and of course it meant he could have sexy encounters with beautiful agents all while conforming to modern morality. I wanted to throw the book against a wall.

The story is of the bad guy, Tariq a Palestinian assassin, killing high profile Jewish targets around the world. Allon's boss was also retired, but has been asked back because the current regime was bungling publicly. He of course talks Allon into returning. Allon will come back to hunt Tariq, because he is the one who blew up the car with Allon's wife and child in it.

So this is not just protecting the innocent, avenging the wrongs done to the country of Israel and the Jewish people/religion/culture, but a personal vendetta. Hooks to catch the sympathy of many readers. I just felt the killings were there to provide justification for more killings.

The bad guy Tariq kills an American too at the start. He uses unsuspecting women as cover, and then kills them. Since only American lives seem to be of value, that had to happen to make Tariq a bad guy we will really hate. To be fair, Silva gives Tariq a childhood of suffering extreme violence and the loss of family at the hands of the Israeli's in the refugee camps in Lebanon. Silva can say he is not one-sided, but presents both sides in a bad light. It means Tariq is also working for vengeance, and feels justified in his actions.

The whole thing has the feeling of the calculus of hate and violence balanced so finely to make everything seem justified and inevitable. I just felt sad and dirty reading the book.

The writing is very good, if shallow and slick. There are lots of summaries so that the information is packed in, but can be read quickly. Allon works with a beautiful high fashion model who is also an operative, and has romantic feelings for him. The guilt he feels about his family, prevents him from accepting her. Ho - Hum. The only interesting character to me, is Peel, a young English child who is an observer of Allon the art restorer.

There is a small amount about art restoration, but not much, it is flimsy window dressing.

The ending at least is not so pat. There is a twist with the final victim, and with the terrorist. Allon and the girl are still circling.

I don't know if the subject - violence in the Middle East was also what put me off. What happens there, impacts the US, even if we are not involved. The thrillers I liked in my younger days, were about Japan and ninjas, subjects that really didn't involve the US. I am too young to view them as the menace of WWII, and I read the books before their brief economic menace. I haven't re-read them as an older adult, so I don't know if they would still interest me, or if I would find them sad, contrived and dirty now too.

I don't plan to read anymore of this author or this series.






47rainpebble
Mai 18, 2009, 2:09pm

Thanks for the heads up on that one. We are glad you did the work for us.

48FicusFan
Mai 18, 2009, 2:20pm

No problem nannybebette, of course other's may have a different reaction. It just didn't work for me.

49FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Mai 23, 2009, 4:19pm

53. Black Ships by Jo Graham, Historical Fiction/Fantasy, Completed 5/16/09, Stars: 5

I really loved this book. It started a bit awkwardly in terms of the writing, but the author worked that out quickly and it was a pleasure to read the rest of the way. I liked the setting, the characters and the story.

The book recounts the tale of the survivors of the fall of Troy. It is a retelling of the Aeneid. The main character of the book is named Gull, a half-Trojan child of rape. She has the gift and is touched by a goddess and she becomes the Pythia/Sybil for the group of Greeks who enslave her mother.

The remnant of the Trojans sail into her life in Black Ships when the men of the town are out raiding. They rescue the Trojan women and children and take a young Gull with them.

The rest of the book is the story of the Trojans trying to find a home, and of Gull learning and growing as a young woman, as an adviser to the Prince/King, and as the representative of the goddess of death.

The Trojans are searching for a place where they can live in peace, as a group, they want to preserve their identity and not become absorbed by other cultures/nations. The leaders have to balance the instant needs for survival with the long-term goals of preserving their culture and building a future.

It was a much quicker and easier read than book 2, I was sucked in very quickly and really came to care about the characters.

I had this book for over a year before I read it. It was chosen for a RL book group for May '09. I like to read the book the month before so I remember enough to discuss. I ended up with book 2 Hand of Isis as an ER book and had to read it first to give the required review. They are connected, but also stand alone.

After the story Graham talks about her ideas regarding the Trojan war and the Aeneid , and why she made the choices she did and the changes. Her reasoning is sound and she did a very good job. Can't wait for book 3.

50ronincats
Mai 20, 2009, 11:28pm

My reading group just chose this book for June last night--I haven't even seen the book yet--but I'm glad to hear how much you liked it, and am looking forward to reading it in a couple of weeks.

51FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Mai 20, 2009, 11:37pm

Cool. I hope you and your group enjoy it.

ETA:

I meet with my group Thursday night, so I will find out if they liked it.

52FicusFan
Mai 23, 2009, 4:19pm

Well my group enjoyed Black Ships . They liked that it was a different take on the Trojan war, most other books focus on the siege and the battles, not the aftermath. It was also much better and refreshing after our last 3 which were not so good.

Interestingly others were also surprised about how they suddenly cared about the characters, when something bad happened. They had no belief before that they really cared.

53FicusFan
Mai 23, 2009, 5:03pm

54. Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace, Mystery, Completed 5/20/09, Stars: 3

This was a RL book group read. It is set in Japan just as the Emperor surrenders. It is about a serial killer who is raping and murdering women, and based on a true story.

I really wanted to love this book, but just couldn't, it was written in a very annoying style. It was effective for what it was trying to convey: the horror of living in war ravaged Tokyo, but it overshadowed the story and the characters.

The POV is a police detective in charge of a 'Room' of detectives at one of the police stations in Tokyo. He is unable to function well under the hardships and deteriorates as the story progresses. He has to deal with heat, the lack of food, the fact that everything has been destroyed, the smell of sewage, the lack of water and sanitation, the fact the police often have to walk everywhere - no cars and the transit system only works sporadically. They don't have guns, cars or proper uniforms, they work long, non-stop days when on a case, even sleeping in their Room at night. Their pay is not enough to keep them and their families alive, they are always being denigrated by their superiors, and the American occupation force is conducting investigations an purges looking for war criminals.

The traditional way the police operate is not accepted by the Americans, they are being told to change. Many of the police are dealing with the black market to survive,and the criminals want things from the police. Many of the other ethnicities living in Tokyo are no longer being repressed by the Japanese, so they are acting out and violence is rampant.

In response, many Japanese have taken new identities to avoid their past, so everyone has secrets. There is a thread throughout the book that hints the POV has done that. Amidst the background horror, the POV is given a case that involves the dead bodies of young women who have been found raped, and murdered, sometimes very decomposed.

The POV detective follows the leads his case brings him, taking the reader through the destruction and into the lives of the witnesses and families of the victims. Mostly old men, woman and children, because they are all that is left. We see their lives of quiet desperation and hopelessness.

The writing issue is that the author uses repetition of words a lot, the format is almost like a poem, and he has random thoughts, dreams, fears, fantasies pop into the text in italics.

Many others who try this type of surrealism do it in a separate thread. Peace does it in the same text as the story. The book is also broken into sections. One side has a picture the other has a stream of consciousness string of words that seem to chronicle the madness that may have overtaken the POV. It is broken up by a count of sleeping pills that gets over 100. Each page of section words is continued on the next one, but you have to go hunting back to find the old one to get the words at the bottom that continue on the new one.

I really felt the horror of living there, and the crushing weight of trying to fulfill all your obligations, with no help. Unfortunately it really left me with little sense of the mystery/crime. It made the story seem disjointed, and the characters never really grabbed me. I felt sorry for them, but they just didn't stand out.

I thought it was a good book, but flawed. It is apparently the start of a trilogy, but I will most likely not be reading anymore.

54FicusFan
Mai 24, 2009, 11:04am

55. How the Dead Live by Derek Raymond, Mystery, Completed 5/23/09, Stars: 3

This is a book I found while looking for another book of the same name by Will Self (from a 100 book read thread recommendation). It looked interesting so I thought I would give it a try.

This book is a mystery, very British. It is a hardboiled noirish type of book. Its the 3rd in the Factory Series . Some of the dialog is also very specialized, criminals and cops, trying to approximate Chandler's patter of 1940s LA (the UK version of course).

The POV is a nameless detective, who is normally London-based, but this book sends him to a remote village. He is a walking insult/argument. The book is one long argument, when he isn't pensively musing about life, love, death, and his life experience. I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch (Silly Walks ?) which mentions the Bureau of Arguments, only not funny.

The story is about the six months' disappearance of a prominent local man's wife - which no one had reported and the local police had not investigated. Their country house, where the locals attended the wife's singing concerts six months before, has become a dying, ruined, derelict. Not exactly believable in such a short time.

The book started out well, but got lost along the way. The writing was a bit awkward, and I didn't really care about the characters. The story was mildly interesting, but the investigation was just an excuse for more insults and arguments. At least it was short, but probably won't read more by this author.

55FicusFan
Mai 25, 2009, 10:25am

56. Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh, Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance, Completed 5/24/09, Stars: 3.5

This book turned out to be more of a romance than an urban fantasy. It was SFF type with angels being some kind of winged super beings, but not associated with heaven. Also a bit of alternate history, because the Angels have always been on earth, ruling humans and vamps.

The story was set in modern day NYC. The angels made vampires as their minions and in repayment the vamps had to serve the angel for 100 years. Some tried to run out on their contracts, so the vampire hunters would find them and return them. Once vamps filled their contracts they were free to live like humans, as long as they didn't kill people.

The story has the Archangel of NYC. Raphael, contacting the POV, Eleni, the best vampire hunter in the Guild to hunt something different and worse than a vampire. Of course sparks fly between them and there is a lot of flashing eyes and heaving loins. The build up is done well, but when they finally have sex, it is written without any tension or drama, no better than writing about a sneeze. Not sure what thats all about. Eleni and Raphael, reminded me of Anita and Jean-Claude - lite.

It was a quick read, the writing wasn't bad, some good characters and a mildly interesting story, though with lots of romance/power cliches. Will probably read more in the series for when I want something light and fluffy.

56FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Mai 31, 2009, 9:02pm

57. The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson, Non-Fiction, Science-Sociology, Completed 5/24/09, Stars: 4

I loved this book. It was interesting, informative, funny, and warm. The book is about Maine Lobsters, but it also gives information and insight into the fishermen and lobster scientists. The writing was very good, with the information presented as stories.

The behavior of the lobsters is presented from what they have learned in the labs. Priceless stuff, they pee in each other's faces to communicate. Who knew! It covers their lives, mating and social behavior and the life cycle from egg to armored bug.

The book looks at a small group of fisher families on Little Cranberry Island in Maine. It also gives the history of several lobster scientists and researchers. It shows how they came to be dedicated to the Lobster, and how they conduct experiments.

It looks at the controversy between fishers and scientists about the use of the Lobster as a resource. It makes a good case for the responsible self-stewardship by the fishermen in Maine, and for the limiting factor of Lobsters on the sea floor: sea temperature and current.

I also love to eat Lobsters, and the next time I get a whole one with the shell on, I am going to check out all the bells and whistles, now that I know what they do.



57FicusFan
Mai 31, 2009, 9:19pm

58. The Last Warrior Queen by Mary Mackey, Historical Fiction, Completed 5/29/09, Stars: 3

I heard about this book on LT. I am a big fan of historical fiction, and really wanted to love it. Unfortunately it just didn't work for me on several levels.

It was written very simply, too simply for my taste. Almost like a fairy tale. It is YA, but that doesn't mean it has to be dumb, and thats how it came across. Perhaps the author was trying to channel the ancientness of the tale and thought fewer words did that, but for me it lacked depth.

The other issue for me was the main character, Inanna. She is supposed to be the last warrior queen and she comes across as passive, selfish, and stupid. Again the author may be trying not to project the sensibilities of a modern woman into the text. But lets face it, 5600 years ago, in a matriarchal culture, we don't know what the women were like.

I think she went too far in the 'old fashioned' direction. If I am reading a book where the main character's name becomes associated with the goddess Ishtar, and who is supposed to be a warrior queen, then I expect her to be made of better, sterner stuff. To be fair Inanna cames from a patriarchal culture, but if she is going to lead a great matriarchal city she needs more on the ball than to continually fall into the right place and the right actions (except when she screws up). I think there is a space between passivity and super hero and that would have made the story more interesting.

The final issue is the pacing of the story. The book is titled The Last Warrior Queen. Inanna spends most of the book being ordinary. She doesn't become queen until almost the end of the book, and her battle that makes her a warrior queen is the end of the book more or less. There is some future vision that lets us see the eventual outcome hundreds of years away, but the actual battle is a letdown and not worth naming the book for.

It wasn't terrible, but it was disappointing to me, and it was a bit of a slog to read.

58mckait
Jun. 1, 2009, 6:26pm

I like the sounds of the Lobster book. I will be adding it to my wishlist.

59FicusFan
Jun. 2, 2009, 11:06am

mckait, it is an interesting and fun read. It changed my mind about Lobster use. I just believed the government when they said they were over-fished.

Hope you enjoy.

60FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 6, 2009, 9:42am

Duplicate post, not sure how I ended up with 2

61FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 2, 2009, 12:16pm

59. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, World Fiction, Completed 5/30/09, Stars: 4

A Season of Migration to the North is about the universal striving for something better. Unfortunately when the journey takes you out of your own culture, the price is very high.

There are 2 main characters in the book. The first is the narrator, a nameless young Sudanese man who has returned to his village after being educated in the West. He returns to a land that is no longer ruled by the colonizers – the British, but their legacy remains and not only helps, but corrupts the native Sudanese. The help is seen in the progress made to ease daily life: water wheels become pumps, cars and trucks take the place of camels and donkeys. The harm is that the pattern for living for success (not just personal but for the country) has been changed from Sudanese to British: Learning English, worshipping statistics, meetings and conferences, buildings that are not able to be finished or supported.

The Sudanese pattern is the family, the tribe or village, and the wise council of the elders, who look to the past for answers. Life is slow and patterned on the Nile which flows by the village. It brings water that sustains life and that destroys (excessive flooding). It mixes all the drops together (people) which enhances their ability to get things done. It changes course as it encounters obstacles, but it keeps moving forward. Eventually it enters the sea (death) and the ‘river’ is lost.

The Sudanese who have brains and talent are educated beyond the village level, but only so they can become little bureaucrats and say ‘yes’ in English for the new masters of the country. Those natives who are smarter, richer, and more well-connected, who live the debauched life of rich Westerners (in comparison to the austere communal life of the Sudanese village on the edge of the river, surrounded on one side by fields and the other by desert).

The narrator returns to Sudan and his village, and he is still Sudanese, but he can see the cracks and the problems in a different non-Sudanese light. He doesn’t know what to do. Should he stay Sudanese and ignore the problems, or should he bring his British education to bear, and help them, but make them less Sudanese in the process and the end result? The book ends with him unable to decide which course to take, but it ends with him in the river asking for the help of the villagers, so they can decide together what is the best course to take. Letting each person take responsibility for the course and form of their own life.

The second main character is less successful at handling the cross cultural difficulty. He is also smarter, wealthier, and more capable intellectually, but he lacked any feeling for his roots, and ultimately for any person. He worshipped knowledge, and the life of the mind. His name was Mustapha and he was the first Sudanese to go abroad to study. He awed all he met with his ease of learning, and his intelligence.

He became a ‘suitable African’ in 1960s Britain because he was seen as a ‘Black Englishman’ and was adopted and made much of by the intellectual set. But since he had no connection to his roots, he had no ability to resist the temptation to act out the ‘noble exotic former savage’. He was particularly at risk with European women who wanted the thrill of the exotic. Lacking any real emotion he settled for sensation seeking, and spent his time stalking, using and eventually abandoning many women as sexual toys. Eventually he finds a woman who turns the table and he becomes both the stalker and the prey, the one begging for attention and the one who spurns the other. Lacking control he eventually kills the woman. He is brought to trial, sentenced to 7 years, and upon his release he returns to Sudan. He lands in the same small village as the narrator, marries, has 2 sons and tries to work within the village structure to make life better. He keeps his past secret and attempts to blend Sudan/Britain, North/South, education/tradition. He dies and they are not sure if he drowned accidentally in the flood or if he committed suicide. He had wrapped his life up, given instructions to his wife, and the care of his wife and sons to the narrator just before dying.

The narrator is unable to act properly because it is not traditional to let your widow do as she wants with only an outside male (narrator) to consult. Mustapha tells the narrator to let her do as she wishes. The wife and the narrator have been influenced by the West. The village meanwhile operates on tradition. The widow has a father and brothers who expect to make important decisions for her. They agree to a marriage offer from an old wealthy man in the village. The widow does not wish to remarry. The narrator does not stand up for her rights, and for his own part in the decision making process. The marriage is forced on the widow and tragedy ensues. The narrator is left alienated from his people and his past. He tried not to force the European way on them, but his letting tradition take its course has fatal consequences to lives he could have saved.

He finally confronts the full extent of Mustapha’s Westernization: his secret room. It is an upscale British drawing room locked away behind a steel door at Mustapha’s house. It contains dark wood, stained glass, marble, statuary, paintings, photos, and walls and walls of books (all European). It was Mustapha’s temple, a place where he could pretend and worship all that he could never really be in the flesh. The Brits only accepted him like a trained monkey – a novelty, and the Sudanese would not understand or value the room and the history and culture that filled the room. Mustapha was never able to integrate the two cultures. The narrator feels the same inability, but eventually it is his connection to the humanity of his village and his emotional connection to his roots that let him take a different path from Mustapha, at the last minute.

Both the narrator and Mustapha end up with a body count. Mustapha killed his European wife, and his behavior led to several suicides. His inability to be truly European, his lack of grounding in his own culture let him act capriciously with the fate of others. The narrator's attempt at being the same person after his education as before, let him act traditionally, but it still resulted in death. Like the river he needed to change course to deal with the obstacle, but he is not strong enough to do so in time to prevent tragedy.

The book has been compared to Heart of Darkness in reverse. It also references Othello. It is a very short, very well written story that presents the dilemma of change and growth using outside cultures, and does so on a human level. You can see the impact on the lives of the characters.

62rainpebble
Bearbeitet: Jun. 5, 2009, 7:54pm

Wonderful review FicusFan, absolutely wonderful. Thank you. One thumb's up from me!~!
belva

63FicusFan
Jun. 6, 2009, 10:14am

Thank you Belva. I fear the review was longer than the book though ;).

64ronincats
Jun. 6, 2009, 12:45pm

It may have been a long review, but it SAID something. When I went to give this a thumb's up, the other reviews were on the order of " I didn't like this" or " I liked this because (2 sentences). Yours really gives me a context and feel for the book and helps me decide whether or not I want to follow it up.

65mckait
Jun. 6, 2009, 12:52pm

what ronin said

66FicusFan
Jun. 6, 2009, 1:12pm

Thank you both, for your kind words and thumbs. :)

67FicusFan
Jun. 6, 2009, 3:06pm

60. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Classic Fiction, Completed 6/4/09, Stars: 3

This is a short story/novella that is about 140 pages. It took me 6 days to read it. I would be reading and my eyes would glaze over, or I couldn't get past some part of the page, or I would fall asleep. It really wasn't a good experience for me, but it is mostly due to the writing style. I am not fond of older books that take the scenic route for everything. Those who like it, or don't mind will have a much better and quicker experience.

I had the book because it is a classic, and I wanted to see what it was about. The previous book I just read, Season of Migration to the North has been called a reverse Heart of Darkness, so I thought while it was fresh, I would tackle HOD.

So as can be guessed, I thought it was horribly overwritten. It also had a preposterous conceit, that seamen of the time would speak in such a manner (narrator). I am sure the sailors on the deck would have been speaking less formally and perhaps with dialect and not with such length or polish.

This book is a story about the clash of civilization and nature, and the horror it produces. It was written in the Victorian era and I think their idea of what was horrible, is very different than our idea of the horrible today.

I suspect that the horror of the Victorians was not anything that happened in the jungle, they didn't expect anything better of the natives, but that a white, christian, educated man was involved in it. That he allowed it to happen and let the natives keep their own culture and didn't force them to adopt the 'civilized' Western way.

In our day, after the holocaust there is very little horror to be had for Kurtz's behavior as a shock to how we expect white, christian men to act. Instead, we see the treatment of the natives as horrible. How they are beaten, killed, treated like animals and discarded to die when they are sick or used up. Even the narrator does next to nothing for the men who have crawled off to die. In the past that treatment of the natives was OK because it was for their own good, to civilize them.

The natives meanwhile have their own violence which they use in service to their own culture. The Westerners considered that evil and barbaric, but never reflected on their own behavior or sense of entitlement.

There is a half-naked native woman, full of passion, and fire, and hinting at wanton sex. She is contrasted against the grieving fiancée who is covered in cloth from head to foot, who has turned herself into a living monument to the dead man. Of course the Western woman has no idea of what really happened or what her intended turned into. She is dedicating her life to a lie, but is seen as proper, dutiful and civilized

For most of the readers of the time the treatment of the natives was acceptable violence, but the violence of the natives for their own reasons was evil. I guess not much has changed. Our violence is OK, but that of our enemies/inferiors is evil.

At this point I can't really comment on the comparison between the 2 books, because I am still trying to cut through the wordyness of HOD and see the book as a whole story and then think about the similarities and differences.



68dchaikin
Bearbeitet: Jun. 9, 2009, 10:02pm

Hi FF, Stopping by to read you HOD review. You have an interesting take. I found Conrad to be less judgmental. I think he was, to an extent, reporting from his own experiences. There is a powerful nonfiction book on Belgian Congo called King Leopold's Ghost. One chapter focus's on HOD and argues that Conrad's story had a lot of factual basis. Conrad had spent time working in Belgian Congo. To me he gets a lot of credit for seeming to tell things as they were - however, I'm not so sure he fully disapproved of what he found there.

I got a much different sense than you did. I found it a tough read, but I also found Kurtz a memorable character.

69FicusFan
Jun. 10, 2009, 6:57am

Hi Dchaikin,

Yes I have read King Leopold's Ghost. I too agree that Conrad got the details from life. I don't know that I think Conrad was judgmental, he was after all foreign to the culture of Victorian England. He was probably just writing a story based on his experiences. I think its what his Victorian era readers would have thought and how they would have reacted.

I have no sense of Kurtz at all, he barley exists for me as a person or a character.

70dchaikin
Jun. 10, 2009, 11:21am

"I have no sense of Kurtz at all, he barley exists for me as a person or a character."

I noticed we don't ever really 'see' Kurtz, which confused me and had me rereading sections to make sure I didn't miss anything. Mainly we only see him through what other characters say and do (and imply). And, it's pretty clear none of them quite understands what he is. In a sense he's a hole in a story that is supposed to revolve around him. But, I think we can reconstruct him from all that.

71FicusFan
Jun. 10, 2009, 3:11pm

I can't reconstruct him much. He is like a cardboard cut-out of the upright Victorian man. But I can't tell if its in earnest, or if its a front for smarmy behavior, or if he started fine and then was twisted.

I know the white people in the story thought he was fine and then twisted, but since our ideas of fine (especially in the treatment of the natives) are so different today, I can't tell if his twisted to the other characters, would be twisted to us, or if he on some level did the unthinkable and thought them human, and thats really the twisted part the other characters can't deal with. Sorry, I'm babbling.

It is probably because of the writing. I am sure it is beautiful and proper for the time, but I just thwarts my attempts to get a clear picture.

72jfetting
Jun. 11, 2009, 11:32am

GREAT review of the Migration to the North book. I have to read it, now!

73FicusFan
Jun. 11, 2009, 12:05pm

Thank you. Hopefully you will enjoy it. And that I didn't say too much and make the reading redundant. I need to practice pith.

74rainpebble
Jun. 11, 2009, 12:58pm

Hmmmm, "pith"; is that where you have to wee or the stuff that sticks to your hands when you touch the trees?

75FicusFan
Jun. 13, 2009, 9:41pm

I must be channeling Daffy Duck and his lisp. :)

OR it could be the white part under the peel of some fruit.

76FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 13, 2009, 11:02pm

61. Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan, Historical Fantasy, Completed 6/7/09, Stars: 4

I had been searching for this book for years. I would see it, and defer purchase and then forget the author and title, and be unable to find it again. I wanted it because I like SFF, and historical fiction.

This book is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England. It moves as the court moves, so sometimes it is in London, and sometimes at other nearby locations. There is a prolog that depicts Elizabeth in the Tower where Mary had placed her ostensibly for her religious beliefs, but really because she was afraid Elizabeth's supporters were going to overthrow her. The premise is that Elizabeth was definitely slated to die, but she made a pact with one of the Fae. Invidiana, was a woman who also wished to be Queen, but of the Fae. She makes Elizabeth an offer she can't refuse.

The story jumps then to a mature Elizabeth who is secure on her throne, and to Invidiana being the Fae queen. It is implied that the poor weather caused the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and that the weather and other combatants were supplied by the Fae.

The POV character for the human court is a poor, socially low level young man who comes to court, Michael Deven. He did some good work for Walsingham, and has been sponsored to become a member of the Gentlemen Pensioner's, Queen Elizabeth's bodyguard. He is loyal to the Queen but he also wants to make his fortune and advance in social rank.

The POV for the Fae is a character named, Lune. She was a lady in waiting for her Queen Invidiana in the Onyx Court. The court was created under human London and protects the Fae from the charms and religious injunctions that humans use against them. The Fae are not open about their existence, they sneak around humans and go in disguise.

Lune is in disgrace because she was responsible for negotiating the deal that had the sea folk helping the English and destroying the Armada. Her Queen felt she gave up too much. In royal disfavor, Lune has become a target in the court. Life in the Onyx Court is dangerous, because the Queen is vicious, capricious and likes to play games. Even living out in the countryside is no protection from the Queen's machinations, so there is no safe place. Because the Queen is that way, her courtiers emulate her, and are very cut-throat.

Deven and Lune do end up together, when Lune is sent to the human court to spy on them. She goes in disguise at the start and latches onto Deven for his inside knowledge. Of course, Lune's plans fall apart, and Deven becomes aware that she is Fae and that they exist.

The story is mostly about how he finds out about Lune, and what they do together to fight Individiana. Her evil influence is felt at Elizabeth's court, and Walsingham instructs Deven to find the secret actor pulling the strings. Walsingham suspects a human agency dabbling in the politics of the realm, not a magical one. He dies before Deven learns of the Fae.

I enjoyed the book. I thought it was well written and gave a good picture of the time period. Brennan is able to balance the past with enough modernity to make it understandable to us, without being jarring or anachronistic.

The characters were very well done. They all seemed believable and real, and like people I want to know more about. The construct of the Fae and their world was interesting, as was the politics and history of the various realms.

The story was good, though a little light on the influence of the Fae on Elizabeth's court. Something more dramatic than meddling in Ireland would have been better. Much of the story of the Onyx Court is told towards the end when they are trying to overthrow Individiana. More information about how and why the court became evil sooner would have been better, since the explanation at the end was not really shown in the story.

Finally the structure of the story is a bit odd. There is a human who has been sucked into the Fae world, and is trapped there. He is a seer, and he has strange passages that describe his dreams, sights and experiences, but he isn't really explained til the end. What is in the passages, doesn't always connect or make sense for a lot of the book.

I think Brennan was trying to gild her story with some of the literary magic that was part of Elizabeth's time period, but it wasn't meaningful for me.

The narrative is also broken up with date, and location lines. It helps break scenes and lets you know when and where the story is, but I didn't find them terribly important.

The problems I have listed are really minor and keep the book from being 4.5 or 5 stars, but the story is still a very good read.

I have the next book in the series, In Ashes Lie which is set in 1666 England.

77FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 22, 2009, 5:54pm

62. Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, SF, Completed 6/8/09, Stars: 3.5

This was a RL book group read for me. Unlike many in the group it wasn't a re-read. I never read this when I was younger. The book was first published in 1973. It is an old fashioned novel that has few women, and finds sexist remarks, and bigamy OK.

The premise is that in the future there is a large object seen entering the solar system. It is assumed to be a asteroid, but it turns out to be a giant manufactured hollow cylinder.

Humanity has spread out into the solar system and has a functioning space force. The representatives of humanity decide to send the closest ship to investigate. The cylinder is on track to pass close to the sun, and then pass out of the system. The human space ship has limited time to explore before it gets too close to the sun and too far too get back.

The story focuses on the human ship and the people who go and explore the object they have named Rama. It is interwoven with story of the human council who represent their home plants/habitats and are trying to decide what to do.

The story should have conflict, and tension and mystery - but it is actually pretty boring. Even when the space ship gets there and inside, it is pointless for quite a while. Nothing happens inside the ship. It is cold, dark, empty.

Meanwhile there is conflict on the council and it too is very tame and lacking in any drama or tension. The planet Mercury becomes anxious because the cylinder will pass very close to them, and they feel threatened. They take action that has consequences for the human ship exploring Rama.

Towards the end things do happen in Rama, and there are spills and what looks like a life or death incident. Still it is very low key, and problems are easily overcome. There is only minimal information/activity from Rama itself and really nothing from or about its creators.

The book can't seem to decide where to focus: on the humans in terms of their politics and social structure or on the alien artifact. It tires to do both, and it is superficial. The characterizations are pretty flat and the story is not constructed well enough to carry the book with the right amount of drama, tension, suspense, and mystery.

I have read Titan by John Varley and Ringworld by Larry Niven. Both are about exploring big alien objects. Frankly neither of the other 2 come close to Ringworld.

The writing is smooth, and coherent. It was a quick read with little in the way of info-dumps.

78FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 22, 2009, 6:41pm

63. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler, Mystery, Stars: 4

This is the first book in the Bryant and May or Peculiar Crimes Unit series. It was a RL book group read for me.

I enjoyed it, but found the writing very dense for some reason. It was not choppy and was well done, but didn't flow quite as easily as other well written books. I can't put my finger on why.

The story is set in the UK in London, and follows 2 police officers, Bryant and May. They are partners, and bicker like an old married couple. The story has 2 threads, a modern day one with the detectives being in their 70s, but still on active duty. The other thread is set during WWII, and chronicles their meeting and first case together. Something bad happens in the modern day thread and it is connected their first case back in WWII.

The first case was set in a theatre that was getting ready to open a play. Actors and family/friends end up dying in gruesome ways as they are there for rehearsing and other work related reasons. In some ways it seems very Murders of the Rue Morgue - ish . The blitz is on, and everything is in very short supply. Both the police and the actors are trying to make ends meet and survive.

The story seems to skip around with multiple POVS, perhaps thats the delay for me. I always knew who the POV was, but while I didn't mind the police, I wasn't so thrilled when some of the actors became POVs. I didn't want to get tangled up in their life story, and so on.

About mid-way through there are enough clues to deduce that the bad thing in the modern thread, didn't really happen as reported. That made me happy. I didn't guess who the killer was, there was a nice red herring that distracted me.

I will say that the explanation for the Peculiar Crimes unit - didn't really have enough substance or reality for me. It was more a case of Bryant being extremely peculiar, and it seemed far fetched that the British Police in the middle of a war, would develop a whole unit just for him.

The unit was going before May joined. Bryant has a history of consulting mediums, psychics, and other fringe spiritualists. He also uses new-fangled and unproven scientific methods to find clues and solve cases. They work on cases the establishment, for one reason or another, don't want the press or anyone to know about.

Bryant is very eccentric and quite an interesting character. May is calm and normal and grounds Bryant. The rest of the characters are OK.

I do have another book that I bought and I will read it. After that I will decide if I am going to continue with the series. I just have so many books to read, and so many series I am already following. Not sure I want to add more.

79FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 24, 2009, 12:13am

64. Quiet Teacher by Arthur Rosenfeld, Thriller, Completed 6/20/09, Stars: 4

This is the 2nd book in the Dr. Xenon Pearl series. Also known as Zee, he is a neurosurgeon in modern day South Florida. Of Russian Jewish heritage he was raised by a Chinese nanny, Tie Mei, after his mother died. His nanny taught him the martial arts she practiced.

In the last book, The Cutting Season Zee had a run in with the Russian mafia; gained a step mother and grown step sister who is a local police officer; found a girlfriend and almost lost her to a violent attack; lost his operating privileges at the hospital he worked at; became a suspect with the police for violent vigilante crimes.

There was a lot of action and change in Zee's life. Much of it is motivated by the appearance of Tie Mei's ghost. She prodded him into actions that started many of the events and had violent and serious consequences. She felt Zee was not being true to his training and his warrior past, by ignoring injustice and evil.

Zee alternated between following her violent advice and thinking that she was a figment of his obviously diseased mind. He began to also have visions and dreams of his past lives down the centuries. He and many of the people in his life form a cohort who are reborn together and take different roles with each life.

Book 2 is a much quieter book. The book is named for his new sword, forged for him by his girlfriend. In it Zee has to deal with the consequences of all the changes in his life. There is no slight of hand magic here where the consequences magically disappear. He also struggles with his inability to grow, and balance his life. He is gripped with the desire to cut.

Zee has to learn to be a team player, and practice humility and diplomacy to get his operating privileges back. Without them he is unable to balance his urges. He needs to heal as much as he needs to hurt.

Zee has to deal with the damage that was done to his girlfriend in the last book. She was mangled by the Russian Mob. It has left her unable to walk, and has changed their budding relationship. Zee feels guilty and responsible, but he also loves her. He pushes her and tries to cheer her with tales of a normal future. She is having trouble deciding who she wants to be, now that she can't walk, or work the forge. Their relationship deteriorates under the weight of Zee's penchant for violence, and her emotional turmoil.

Zee starts to spend more time with his police officer step sister as she tries to steer him back onto the straight and narrow. She wants him to see the danger and damage he causes as a vigilante, even if his cause is justice. Nothing can be proved about his actions, but the police know he was the one involved. His life and freedom are hanging by a thread.

Tie Mei's ghost has stopped appearing and now Zee misses her. He feels the need for guidance and help to calm him. The new business of this book is Zee's quest to find about her past, to find out what discipline of martial arts she came from, and to find a new teacher. He checks out local schools to see if anything they have can help him, but they aren't enough.

He digs up family history with his father and grandfather, and eventually tracks down another Chinese immigrant, Solomon Yu, who knew Tie Mei. The man has become a reptile wholesaler and uses his pharmaceutical training to research the properties of venom. He also is a master of the martial arts that Tie Mei taught.

The story heats up as Zee and Solomon begin to spend time together, and the present is determined by their shared past. Mayhem ensues and Zee is again the catalyst for violence and destruction.

The ending was not something I expected, and one of the most shocking I have read in years. Perhaps the quiet character study of the rest of the book actually magnifies his actions at the end. I am freaked. as in wanting to run away screaming. I can't imagine what will be next in the series, or if there can even be a next one. But if there is another book I will read it.

The book was written well, the characters are fabulous and developed so they seem like real people. The story built slowly and handled all the various threads and plot points well. There were again more details on martial arts, Chinese medicine, the natural drugs they develop, and philosophy of life. It is all worked in, and enhances the story, rather than being a lump that stops it. This book added information about reptiles, snakes and venom. Very interesting.

80mckait
Jun. 24, 2009, 6:02am

This sounds great!

81FicusFan
Jun. 24, 2009, 11:53am

Thanks. They both are great. Book 1 starts off a bit rocky but eventually gets it together. I don't know if the second can be read alone or not.

I did a review of book 1 Cutting Season here and on the book page too.

82mckait
Jun. 25, 2009, 6:48am

I am currently trying to forget the name of any book that sounds too good. I have got to stop this shelf stuffing behavior!!!!

:P

83rainpebble
Jun. 25, 2009, 8:39am

>#82:
mckait;
Here, let me help you mckait, my girl. They are bad books. Just bad, bad, bad books. You do not no how, no way, want them on your shelf.
There, all better now?
Hmmmmmmm, thought not.
Sorry. I just do what I can.
belva

84FicusFan
Jun. 25, 2009, 5:54pm

You can't escape destiny mckait. If they are calling your name then its your time to take them home and shelve them. :)

85mckait
Jun. 25, 2009, 5:58pm

LOL @ ficus and belva

86rainpebble
Jun. 25, 2009, 7:03pm

Ya know--we just do what we can. Right ficus?

87FicusFan
Jun. 25, 2009, 7:07pm

Absolutely. I am in the 'find a book a good home league' and will always come down on the side of the books.

Last night I found out we have an Amazon warehouse in my town. Some people in my RL book group have relatives who work there. They won't let the public in, but I want to go and just put my hands on the building. I am sure the book energy will come through the walls.

88mckait
Jun. 25, 2009, 8:05pm

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh

sooooooooooooooo coooooooooooooooooool!

89FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 27, 2009, 10:15am

I have been in the reading doldrums. I was moving right along and then Collections came out. I wasn't in the 'foaming at the mouth' camp for it, but still got caught up in the posting and excitement, and playing with it. My reading stopped. Its my first slow patch this year, and hopefully my last.

I was reading 2 books for RL book groups. I didn't finish either in time for the groups - bad Ficus. But I kept on for the one I was closest to completing. Yay, I am finally done. Now I have the other book to complete and I am not even half way. Its not a bad book, but I was at the part where something bad is going to happen to the POV so its easy to put down.

Now I can't decide if I should power through or pick up something light and fluffy (new Janet Evanovich in paper - Fearless Fourteen ) to get my reading mojo back. If I delay, I may never finish it, but I can't let it drag out. I still have a book to read for a required review, and a nasty book for my RL SF group that I probably need to start right away to have it done in time (and allow me to read the other 3 for the next month and finish on time).

Argh !!!

90FicusFan
Jun. 27, 2009, 10:47am

65. The Empire of the Wolves by Jean-Christophe Grange, Thriller/Mystery, Completed 6/27/09, Stars: 3.5

This was a book for a RL book group, though I had already picked it before the group did.

It was written in French and translated. The translation was good though there was some awkwardness. There were interminable listings of agencies (police, justice, terrorist, spy) which in French are quite long. The same with streets in Paris. Some paragraphs had very little but streets and agencies. I don't know if it was in the French book or if the translator took French nicknames and expanded them for those who wouldn't understand. The problem is I often stopped caring.

I suppose that is the end result of the book, I really didn't care much what happened.

The story is set in the modern day in Paris and concerns the wife of a police official who seems to be losing her mind. She is blacking out, can't remember faces, in particular her husband, and often has hallucinations.

Her husband wants her to be tested, including a brain biopsy, and she wants to defer the biopsy. She doesn't trust her husband or his friend the neuroscientist who is testing her. She gets a second opinion and is horrified to find she has had total reconstructive plastic surgery to her face. She has no memory of the surgery or accident, and her husband never mentioned it. So who is she, and why and what is she being used for ? Anna's story is one thread.

The other story is about a lowly police captain who has been given the case of 3 women from the Turkish immigrant community who have been tortured, mutilated and murdered. It seems there is a terrible serial killer operating among the Turks. Paul is not able to get anywhere. He doesn't speak the language, and he is unaware of their customs. The victims were illegals and no one will come forward with information. Their faces have been so badly mutilated they are not even sure what the women looked like, just that they are all Turkish, plump, and have red hair.

Paul recruits a retired cop whose beat was the Turkish immigrant quarter and who knows their language and culture. He is also a dirty cop, who is very brutal. Paul and Schiffer start to uncover clues from the community, and it becomes clear that the killers are from the Turkish group the Grey Wolves. They are hunting for someone and will continue until they find the woman whom they have been contracted to kill.

The Grey Wolves are a nationalistic, terroristic right wing group that advocates the linking of all Turkic speaking peoples in Asia, and the destruction of their enemies: Kurds, Armenians ... They also act as muscle for the Turkish mafia.

Eventually the 2 threads, Paul's and Anna's come together. It was sort of interesting, but I really didn't care about the characters or the events in the book. Some of the reasons and connections seemed far fetched to me.

There was interesting information about the underbelly of Paris, both from the immigrants, and from the dirty cops, and those officials who think they can do what they want. The Grey Wolves are real, and there was interesting info about that too. Still overall it was meh.



91rainpebble
Jun. 27, 2009, 10:50pm

Oh, ficus;
I am sympathetic.
A slump and then a meh?
That blows big green goats man!~!
belva


92FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 28, 2009, 9:27am

Thanks Belva. I think the meh book helped cause the slump.

I am now continuing with the book I stopped before. It is a smooth read and I am enjoying it.

ETA:

Big Green Goats ? Ahem, I don't think I have ever been drunk enough to see Big Green Goats. Do you secretly lead a very interesting life ?? :)

93rainpebble
Jun. 29, 2009, 12:48am

verrrrry!~!

94mckait
Jun. 29, 2009, 6:17am

*wants to hear everything*

95FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jun. 30, 2009, 3:36pm

66. The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen, Fiction, Completed 6/28/09, Stars: 4

This is a book for a RL book group. I took time off in the middle to read other books. I got to a point where bad things were going to happen and I just didn't want to face it. I kept putting the book down and delaying my reading. Its not a bad book at all, in fact the characters seem vulnerable so I didn't want to watch them suffer.

It is set in a small town that has been built for logging and the local mill, very bare bones, few amenities. It is in the Pacific Northwest, the fictional town of Commonwealth, Washington. The man who started it wanted to run a mill his way, and treat his workers decently. It is during a time of labor strife, Red scares, and the end of WWI. The flu is also stalking the land, and people are dying fast and horribly.

The isolation of the town will not protect them, if they associate with others by allowing them into Commonwealth, or by visiting other towns themselves. They decide as a town to enact a quarantine and prevent ingress or egress until the flu is gone.

The quarantine sets up a conflict when a sick soldier comes to the log gate and wants in. He is lost, cold, and starving.

There are 2 young men on guard. A mill worker in his 20s with a pregnant wife, and small daughter. Graham remembers the loss of an earlier love, and the violence of labor strikes and the mill owners. He vows to protect his wife and child and his town.

The other guard, Philip is the adopted son of the mill owner Charles Worthy. He is only 16, and he looks up to Graham. Phil had a rootless, fatherless life with his wayward mother until the car crash that killed her, her current low life paramour and crippled and orphaned him. He wants to prove worthy of the love of his adopted family, and the trust of the town.

Both guards are feeling inadequate and they express their anxiety in different ways. Graham is aggressive and will fight. Philip is afraid and wants to avoid making a mistake.

Graham shoots the soldier who refuses to stop advancing. Philip is trying to reason with the soldier, to get him to stop. He freezes at the crucial moment and Graham is the one who acts alone. The action drives Phil and Graham apart. It also introduces an immoral element into the town. Its OK to deny help to strangers, its OK to kill to protect themselves. Eventually the townspeople use that reasoning and unfeeling immorality against each other. Once the line is crossed it is easier to justify everything that comes after.

Philip is standing guard alone and a second soldier arrives at the gate. Philip decides to hide him in one of the empty cabins at the edge of town. He was going to let him sleep, warm up, and bring him food. Once the soldier was rested he was supposed to leave. But Philip is discovered and he and the new soldier are kept in the house together in an internal quarantine. They are supposed to be released in 48 hours if they aren't sick. Phil is fine and so is the soldier, but they decide to keep him prisoner.

The town starts to break down when the flu gets in. The town also has to deal with the actions of a nearby city. They want to shut the mill, kill competition, and prevent Charles from implementing new labor practices.

The writing is light and smooth, and it just flows. The story is interesting, and the characters are well done. There is a lot of great information about the conditions during WWI, the labor issues, and the effect of the flu.



96mckait
Jun. 30, 2009, 6:06am

omg That sounds excruciating.

97FicusFan
Jun. 30, 2009, 9:07am

It was. The POV was the 16 year old boy. I liked him, and didn't want to see him hurt. It was really very good, and interesting. There seems to be many fewer books set during WWI, than WWII so that was illuminating too.

98FicusFan
Jun. 30, 2009, 11:05pm

67. Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich, Mystery/Humor, Completed 6/29/09, Stars: 4

This is a comfort read for me. I love Stephanie Plum . I know its the same story with different details over and over, but it still satisfies. I love the characters, and the humor, and the wacky incidents and the goofy plots.

This time a distant relative of Morelli's named Dom, is getting out of jail for bank robbery. He has served his time, but no one knows where the money is hidden. Dom had partners, and each has something so all of them need to combine to find and get the loot. His partners start dying and Dom goes into hiding.

Stephanie has to arrest his sister, because she failed to appear in court. She held up a liquor store with a light saber for a bottle of gin. Stephanie takes her away, and ends up watching her teenage son until she can make bail. Only she can't and the son named Mario, but who only answers to Zook, moves in with Morelli. He is a computer geek and an illegal spray painter, so he paints Bob the dog, and Stephanie's latest car. He ends ups with his on-line game pals inhabiting the house, and he turns Grandma into a game addicted goth.

Morelli's house used to belong to his Aunt Rose, and he inherited it when she died. She had promised it to Dom, but was upset with his crime and changed her will. Turns out there is something related to the money hidden in the house. So criminals (including a dead one) and treasure hunters show up at the house in all kinds of places and times.

This line *** is the epitome of why I love this series. Stephanie and Zook are having breakfast and discussing the latest man who popped out of the cellar.

Stephanie: Did you let any strangers in the house ?
Zook: Just the Pizza Delivery guy

Stephanie: *** Did he go into the basement and not come out ? ***
Zook: No. He got into his Pizza car and drove away.

I laughed so hard, I almost fell on the floor. Imagine living in a world where it seems reasonable that Pizza delivery men MIGHT move into your basement and never leave.

There is also a side plot that intersects with Stephanie doing Ranger a favor and helping him as personal security for a wild, aging, singer who is on the down slide and comes to town for a concert. They need to keep her alive, from getting into brawls, and sober and drug free for her appearances. They try a female bounty-hunter reality show, but that doesn't work. So she takes up reporting live for the news and blabs about the money maybe being hidden in Morelli's house.

I just devoured this in one sitting and can't wait for the next one to go into paper. I know some people are upset that there is no resolution between the love triangle between Morelli, Stephanie, and Ranger. I don't care. I want her with Morelli and don't mind the flirting with Ranger.

99rainpebble
Jul. 1, 2009, 3:07am

The Last Town on Earth sounds like an incredible and horrific story. And it takes place in my corner of the world. I will have to check and see if I can find it someplace. I can see how it would be difficult not to put it down upon occasion. Sounds like a tough but good read.
Also an excellent review ficus.

100mckait
Jul. 1, 2009, 6:07am

I have read 2 Janet Evanovich books. They both made me laugh... someday I may read more.. my sister has a bunch of them. Don't think I could read them more than one at a time.. but they are LOL books I think.

102FicusFan
Jul. 1, 2009, 9:41am

Thanks mckait and Belva. Love the graphics.

103FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jul. 6, 2009, 9:51am

68. Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie, Historical Mystery, Completed 7/3/09, Stars: 4

This was an ER read, and it is the 3rd in the Medicus series. The series is set in Roman Britain during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. The main character is a Roman doctor/surgeon, Ruso, who is with the Legion stationed there.

In this book he breaks his foot which makes him useless for work. Ruso also gets a letter from his younger brother in Gaul, asking him to come home immediately. Although Ruso is older than Lucius and head of the family, it is Lucius who has been dealing with the family farm/vineyard and the family's debts.

Ruso heads home, and brings his British (barbarian) 'housekeeper' and lover Tilla with him. He has never told the family about her, so they are unprepared for her arrival. He makes a mess of it and they think she is a servant/slave.

Once home Ruso finds out Lucius didn't send for him, and that Ruso's return endangers the family because now that he is not 'away serving the empire', the bankruptcy case in court against them can proceed. Lucius is accused of a short payment on a loan, which he denies.

In an attempt to smooth over the disagreement over whether or not Lucius paid the full amount owed, Ruso goes to visit his father's old friend Fuscus. He is supervising the steward who brought the suit. Getting a semi-positive response from Fuscus, Ruso returns home to find the steward, Severus there waiting for him.

They are working out a new agreement to avoid court, when Severus begins to twitch, complain, and vomit. He collapses and dies. His last words are "The Bitch Poisoned Me.". Ruso is alone with him in his study. He rushes off to send for the steward's family, and to find out if the steward has eaten or had anything to drink in their house. While gone, his stepmother has the maids clean the floor and strip the corpse. Ruso returns and is furious because now it looks like he is covering up something about Sevrus' death.

Ruso has always had problems with his stepmother and she doesn't listen to him. She spends beyond their means and has been treating Tilla badly.

Ruso now finds that Severus was married to his ex-wife, Claudia, and she and her father, the banker Probus, are blaming him for the death, and Fuscus has asked for investigators from the capital. Ruso has to solve the murder before the investigators from Rome arrive. They can torture witnesses they are questioning.

Another thread that seems to be part of the murder is the sinking of a trading vessel that was sponsored by both Probus and Severus. Probus had his steward, Justinius, on the ship to supervise. He died and his sister Cassiana is married to Lucius and determined to find the truth of what happened to the ship.

Cass and Tilla sneak off the question people about the incident after Tilla finds someone who can give her information. She and one of the servants are attending a private meeting of Christians when she hears the news. Tilla also finds a man who can take her to the port town. Cass unexpectedly joins her on the journey at the last minute.

Tilla is happy to be away from Ruso's stepmother who is also trying to fix Ruso up with a rich widow who is their neighbor. She thinks the woman's money will solve their financial woes.

The book goes on to show the family lives of various characters, including the demands of Ruso's sisters who want dowries so they can marry while still young. Cass and Lucius have 5 small children and they romp through the story, since no one can control them. We meet Claudius' ex wife, and get glimpses of her new life, and what Severus' death means to her status.

Ruso is investigating the death, dealing with the various family crises and also takes a job with the local gladiator company. There are big games coming up and they will need a Medicus, with combat-wound experience.

The characters are mostly fun, though a bit cliched, and the story is interesting if a bit too full of positive situations to move the plot along. It is not what I would call meaty, but also not empty fluff. I enjoyed it and cared about the characters. The setting is done well, and Tilla and her forthright outlook is a gem.






104FicusFan
Jul. 9, 2009, 12:31am

69. The Angry Clam by Erik Quisling, Humor, Completed 7/3/09, Stars: 3

This is a very short book that is minimally illustrated (the clam of course). It is about the existential pain of the aforementioned clam. He is angry because he is well, a clam, and unable to partake of all the world has to offer. It has the following strange words to describe it: a bi-valve coming of age story, a limestone warrior. If only it could have lived up to the expectations.

It was cute, but very short and very minimal in the text as well as the drawings. It just didn't slay me with the humor.

It is out of print and I have had it on my wishlist for a long time. It was published in 1998, and has the clam in his anger deciding to embrace Islam (??). But he has to give it up because he has no sense of direction. Sort of a quiet chuckle instead of laugh out loud funny.

105FicusFan
Jul. 9, 2009, 6:16pm

70. Precious Dragon by Liz williams, Fantasy, Completed 7/7/09, Stars: 4

I have been waiting for this book for 2 years. It came out in hardcover in 2007, disappeared and kept pushing back the date for the paperback. It was finally published at the end of June.

It is the 3rd book in the Detective Inspector Chen series. The setting is in the future somewhere on the coast of Asia where its warm. The city is called Singapore 3 and it is the 3rd city franchised from Singapore. The technology is a little advanced from us, and magic is used. The series is very strong on Chinese mythology.

The main character, Chen, is a police officer whose job it is to liaise with Hell (Chinese version). His partner, Zhu Irzh is a demon from the vice squad in Hell (their job is to encourage it) on assignment to earth. Chen is also married to a demon, Inari, in hiding on earth from her family and Hell.

In this book there are many threads. In the main one Chen and Jhu Irzh are joined by a celestial being, Miss Qi, from heaven (Chinese version) and they go on a fact finding mission to Hell. They have been invited by the Ministry of War. While Miss Qi is a pure being, she is also a heavenly warrior.

Another thread is about a young man, Pin, who is poor and lacks connections. He is in the chorus at the Bejing opera. They have come to town and he is practicing his other trade after the show ends: prostitution. He is hoping to make enough money to find a better way to live. He has an engagement in a demon lounge and his soul is sucked out of his body and sent to Hell. He becomes a living ghost in Hell and has many interesting adventures.

An elderly dragon is asked to leave her shelter of hundreds of years and make a great aquatic journey across the planet, looking for the remnants of dragon kind. She finds a pearl of great price and is asked to return it to the Dragon King so the dead guardians can move on.

An old poor lady who cleans houses, Mrs. Pa, is asked by her dead daughter, Mai, who is in Hell to take in her living grandchild and raise him. Though he is supposed to be just born, he comes to earth as a young child, and he too carries a magical pearl. He is named Precious Dragon.

All the threads tie together in the end, and of course there is a lot of fun and romping along the way: Ms Qi is kidnapped, the Ministry of Lust is destroyed, Jhu Irzh has family issues, and his girlfriend invites herself along, Precious Dragon is being stalked by the lords of Hell called Kuei and so is Pin. Even Inari puts in a brief appearance with her familiar badger/teakettle. It turns out Heaven is not as good as it should be and is shirking its responsibility.

I enjoyed the book a lot, but I felt it lacked a single story focus. It seemed to be characters in search of a larger theme. The setting and the Chinese mythology was done well, and the characters are wonderful, though the demons are more interesting than the humans. I can't wait for the next one.

106FicusFan
Jul. 11, 2009, 5:58pm

71. Thirty Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill, Mystery, Completed 7/8/09, Stars: 4

This is the second book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. It is set in the 1970s in Laos after the communists take over. The main character is a doctor and disillusioned party member. He is 72 and wants to retire, he did his time in the hills for 20 years and doesn't like how the party are treating people.

Unfortunately many educated people fled to Thailand when the communists took over, including the National Coroner. The party decides that Siri will take over the job. They don't care that he has no knowledge of taking people apart, or the coroner's specialties and techniques. In the communist party everyone is an interchangeable cog. The trials of Siri working out his job are detailed in the first book The Coroner's Lunch.

Siri is also a reluctant shaman who can see the spirits of the dead. They perform actions and he uses the information to help determine how and why they died. His powers increase with each book, but he has no training and no idea how to harness or use them.

He is given important or suspicious deaths to investigate. The spirits mean that those he works on are real people to him, and not just anonymous slabs of meat. He wants to find justice and dignity for the victims of crime.

In this book there are several threads. There is an animal in town killing people. Some think its the old bedraggled bear who escaped from a hotel 'zoo', others think it might be a tiger (due to bite marks), except no one can image it wandering the city and not being seen. The other option is a weretiger (the spirits switching form between tiger and human).

There is also a strange double death on a bicycle circling a fountain on a deserted street in the middle of the night. They think a man in the Sports Ministry took a flying leap from the top floor and landed on the man on the bicycle. There is a strange box in the upper room with dark and dangerous spirit vibes, and the seal of the Royal family.

Siri is then sent to the capital to determine the identity of two men burned to death. The party won't tell him the details, but he is able to work out broadly who they are and their connection to the deposed Royal Family who are being held there before being moved.

While Siri is away dealing with the deaths with the royal connections, his nurse and assistant Dtui is left with the search for the animal or spirit that is mauling people. She is poor, lacking political connections, female, big and not pretty. She is also very smart and Siri is trying to get her sent to school in the Soviet Union to receive coroner training. The party wants to send party members, and those with connections. In many ways this book is an exploration of Dtui's character, as well as that of Siri.

The people who work in the morgue are very important to Siri, not just Dtiu, but his technician who cleans and does menial work - Mr. Geung, and adult with Down's Syndrome. The judge in charge of them is filled with hate and revulsion towards Mr. Geung, and is always trying to replace him.

The books, although about death and murder are very warm hearted, funny and life affirming. There is also a good bit of cultural and spiritual information about Loas worked into the story. We also see Siri's battles with the party and how they are abusing their power and the common people. The writing is good, and I just love the series.



107FicusFan
Jul. 11, 2009, 6:43pm

72. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill, Mystery, Completed 7/11/09, Stars: 4

Book 3 in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series about a 73 year old National Coroner in 1970s communist Laos, who is also a shaman.

The writing is good, and the books are heart warming, funny and life affirming.

This book is about connections to Siri's past. He and nurse Dtui have been sent to investigate a corpse found in a concrete walkway leading from a war time hide out cave to the President's Villa. In the mountains in Huaphan province the party leaders hid in caves during the war. Once they won they all built fancy houses in front of each of their caves. There is also a hospital cave and a military cave where soldiers were billeted. The military cave has a big open area and a stage.

Laos has signed an agreement with Vietnam and in a week all the high party officials from both countries are coming for a celebration in the military cave. Siri must clear up the strange death before the officials arrive.

Siri ends up dealing with a Cuban doctor he knew during the war, who oversees the hospital, because the dead man appears to be a black Cuban. There is a strong feeling of dark magic, the Cuban version of Voodoo.

They are involved in unraveling events that happened during the war, and other bodies are located. They also have a case of possession among the ethnic minority Hmong.

While Siri and Dtui are away, the judge in charge of the department has Mr. Geung kidnapped. He has soldiers take him and drive 300 miles away to put him to work in a unit doing dangerous work fighting insurgents. The judge hates Mr. Geung and thinks he is a moron and a poor representative of his department.

This book is focused on Mr. Geung and developing his character as he is misplaced by the soldiers and starts back to Vientiane on foot. Although he is limited because of his Down's Syndrome he is very good at specific tasks and knowledge. He cares deeply about his promise to Siri to watch the morgue in his absence. He is motivated by his responsibilities and his deep feeling for his morgue family. We get to follow his journey back to the city and the adventures he has along the way.

Another wonderful entry in the series. I can't wait to finish reading the next ones.

108FicusFan
Jul. 18, 2009, 2:17pm

And I want to let anyone reading this know that they have added a donation link in the LT store. Its at the bottom of the page.

http://www.librarything.com/store.php

It was discussed in the this thread

http://www.librarything.com/topic/67399

109FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jul. 18, 2009, 3:26pm

73. Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer, Fiction, Completed 7/11/09, Stars: 3.5

This was a book for one of my RL book groups. It is set in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. The main character is the head of a Jewish family. He is a jeweler and rich. They are not religious Jews, but they are also not Muslim so the new regime targets them.

The POV Isaac Amin is arrested at his office one day. They don't say why or who is behind it. So begins his journey as a prisoner of the regime. He is moved around, interrogated and accused of being an Israeli spy. He visits Israel and has relatives in the Israeli army (all young Israeli males are in their Army). But they have nothing specific to charge that he has done wrong. He is housed with other men who have been arrested. He tries to work out what is the best thing to do to stay in the good graces of the guards and interrogators. Some of the other men and teens are taken out and shot, some are tortured and returned to the cell broken and bleeding.

The other thread of the book is his wife and daughter as they try to find out what happened to him, where he is, and if they can get him out. His wife Farnaz seems to be useless, she has a maid and normally does nothing. When Isaac is taken she becomes even more depressed. The new regime had already sapped her strength, and she just watched TV and drank. She waits months to tell his parents that he has been arrested.

His daughter Shirin tries to maintain her life at school. She ends up finding files the regime is compiling on those they want to arrest. They are hidden in the basement at a friend's house. Her friend's father is part of the regime. Shirin starts stealing them. While doing so she finds one for her uncle. Her meddling disrupts the friend's father and he loses his job. There is an investigation launched to find who stole the files.

There is also a grown son, Parviz, with his own thread. They sent him to the USA to avoid the draft. They don't want him to fight in the war with Iraq. He is going to college in NYC and lives in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn. He is struggling to survive, and yet thinks getting a job would be pointless. Somehow they had looked at universities in London and Paris and were going to buy him an apartment wherever he decided to go, but he was sent to the USA with no financial support. They are rich and just drift along with no sense of urgency or planning. It makes no sense.

We follow Parviz as as he drifts along. He has a Hasidic landlord whom finally forces Parviz to work for him. Parviz also starts to fall for his daughter, but of course its not possible because Parviz is not even religious let alone Hasidic. We see the committed close-knit religious family who have goals and priorities.

While in prison Isaac reminisces about his younger life and how he spent time in Shiraz. It becomes a symbol for freedom, lightness, love and laughter, but I have no idea why. It isn't really developed that well in the book. Isaac talks about it, but it isn't real for me.

The story follows the family as they deal with Isaac's imprisonment and his eventual release. It looks at the relationships they have with other family members, friends, and the poor Muslims who work for them or in shops they frequent. It was well written and flowed, but seemed to lack something. Perhaps there is no sense of drama, and some of the characters are not real, or interesting.

I enjoyed it but thought it could have been better. Not quite bland but in that neighborhood. Many of the characters just drifted along and didn't have a focus or a goal.

110FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jul. 18, 2009, 4:13pm

74. Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, SF, Completed 7/13/09, Stars: 3.5

This was a read for a RL book group, otherwise I would never have picked it up. I really dislike the mediocrity that is Brian and Kevin. Their writing is poor, and their characterizations are simplistic. They are nothing like Frank Herbert and they should have left the Dune series alone.

That said, I didn't hate this book, as I expected I would. Their writing has improved since the House series, which I couldn't finish. They still have problems with the depth and complexity of the characters and stories that are the hallmark of real Dune , but I don't feel like I am reading something canned and plastic and one size fits all.

This book is supposed to be the ending of the six book original series that Frank wrote. He died before completing it, and they found outlines and are trying to complete it in his absence. Brian and Kevin, with the prompting of TOR I am sure, have split the last book into 2 parts. So there is no real conclusion in this book.

This book looks at the chaos and war that was flourishing as the various groups from the human scattering returned to the old empire. There are 2 main groups that are fighting for control of humanity. The Bene Gesserit Sisters and the Honored Matres, who were a damaged offshoot developed in the scattering. They brought an un-named enemy back with them and now humanity must band together and fight or die.

One of the themes of the book is also the war between the sexes. Many of the organizations in Dune are single sex, and they have a contempt for the worth of the other sex. It is really dated, and frankly offensive.

I know the war still goes on, but not in this manner anymore. If it had been published when it was supposed to, it probably would have been fine. But its 20 years out of date. They refer to one whole group of women as the 'Whores'. Even other women adopt it. The whole aspect of sex and religion are handled in a manner that is dated and sad.

I have the second book, Sandworms of Dune and have even started it. I was hoping the momentum of book 1 would carry me through. It is also bringing back a lot of the main characters from the first 3 books as Gholas, thousands of years after they died.

111mckait
Jul. 19, 2009, 10:46am

wonderful reviews as always ficus!

112FicusFan
Jul. 20, 2009, 9:32am

Thank you mckait. :)

113FicusFan
Jul. 24, 2009, 12:49am

75. Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill, Mystery, Completed 7/18/09, Stars: 4

This is book 4 in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. It is set in 1970s communist Laos. Siri is the 73 year old National Coroner and a reluctant untrained shaman. He hosts a 1,000 year old shaman Yeh Ming. Because of Ming's presence Siri can see the spirits of the dead, which helps him with his work. But Ming also has enemies and these evil spirits are attracted to Siri and try to harm him, to destroy Ming.

In this book Siri and his friends stumble upon a plot to overthrow the government. Although they are unhappy with the way the new communist regime treats people, and its worship of rules, they don't wish a return to the old days. Previous to the communists, there was no chance for anyone not born royal or rich.

Siri and his party-member friend travel south to try to find out who is involved and what is planned. Meanwhile Dtui and policeman Phosey pretend to be married and travel to a refugee camp in Thailand from where messages are being sent by the plotters. The camps hold the many Laotians who cross the river and escape into Thailand.

While investigating in the south Siri relives his earlier days when he and his wife worked with young people organizing and planning for the revolution. Siri finds old friends and memories.

Dtui and Phosey have exciting adventures in the camp. Their time together has future impact. Eventually they join Siri back in Laos. The plot is uncovered and foiled, but some bad news rocks Siri.

Another wonderful book in this series. Filled with great writing, humor, warmth and love. The setting is done so well. The characters are so finely drawn, and the recurring ones grow and blossom. The mix of the spirit world has a light touch that makes it easy to suspend belief. There is also such respect and humor from Siri regarding the different cultures and people that it permeates the whole book.

114msf59
Jul. 24, 2009, 8:05pm

Hey there! Found you and starred you! Thanks again for recommending the Dr. Siri Paiboun series! Great stuff!

115FicusFan
Jul. 25, 2009, 4:45pm

Thanks Mark.

Always happy to find books good homes :)

116FicusFan
Jul. 26, 2009, 1:26pm

76. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Classic Fiction, Completed 7/21/09, Stars: 4

This was a RL book group read. I really struggled with this book. I found the writing to be florid, and the story lacking in focus. It was written back in the 50s and has an old fashioned style, which always causes me trouble.

I also thought Zorba was a lazy, lying, thief and would run off at the first sign of difficulty. The Narrator was vague, diffident and the story was rather undefined. I developed a bad attitude about the book very quickly.

I really disliked Zorba’s attitude to life. He acted as though he was a child in a man’s body, he wanted all the pleasures and opportunities but none of the responsibilities. He thought nothing of using others for his pleasures, especially women. The idea that he had many marriages and families but thought nothing of deserting them, was repellent.

The Narrator is never named, and it is unclear what he is doing or why. He often seems as though he is required to do something and yet he never comes out and says it. I am unclear how he supports himself. He talks about having some money to open the coal mine in Crete. Yet he eventually leaves and seems to drift around, with no explanation of how he survives. Is he rich and slumming in Crete, does he do some kind of work, or is he the one who is the sponger ?

He has these intense relationships with other men that were also perplexing. He exchanges letters and is in love with this one and that one. So why are they separated ? I suspect that the ‘love’ is not necessarily sexual or romantic, but how the Greeks express strong friendship (?).

I found the book to be rather boring until about the middle. I was not interested in Crete, though the descriptions of nature were beautiful. When the mine collapsed, I was sad that it didn’t end the book. I had just about worked myself into quitting (I am a completist).

Suddenly everything changed. I thought I didn’t care for the characters or the story, and wasn’t interested in Crete. Huh, that didn’t sound right (the part about Crete – love to travel by book and in real life). I had put the book down, but it had started to whisper to me.

I kept thinking of the evocative descriptions and the narrative. It had gotten under my skin. I took another look at the story so far and realized that Zorba had faults, but he was loyal, hard working, and a true friend to the Narrator. He also had moments of kindness and valor that showed he could rise to the occasion. He changed in my mind from worthless to someone like one of those big dogs that mean well, but destroy everything (wasted Narrator’s money on a woman; his creation was a disaster; he turned the monk’s mind to arson).

I also got to know the Narrator more and through his musings, he became more interesting to me – though not any clearer as to his goals and methods.

Finally the longer they were there the more the villagers were exposed. You got to see their hardness, and insularity, the suspicion, and hatred of those who were outsiders or different. The horrible disrespect they had when Boboulina died, and the murder of the young widow showed how different they were from Zorba and the Narrator. The casual violence of their lives showed when the monk tried to roast the monastery with the monks in it.

I was sad when they parted, and was glad to have news from Zorba and the Narrator after their time in Crete. It was sad when Zorba died. Again with the Narrator it was unclear what he was doing and why - in the real world. Philosophically he spent the book trying to be what he wasn’t: a man of action. He was a man of thought and words, and felt it was not a worthy mode of living. He wanted to be a man of action, but never figured out how to be, even with Zorba to show him the way. It wasn’t in his nature.

Zorba was a force of nature and lived each minute to the fullest. He didn’t plan or calculate he just experienced. Sometimes he was kind and thought of others, and sometimes he thought only of himself and his enjoyment.

While both ideas of life have value, I think being all one type is not really a recipe for happiness or a full life. The Narrator never thought he was good enough, and Zorba was too restless to settle and enjoy a stable life (until the end).

So in the end I enjoyed it and it will stay with me for a while. I had seen parts of the movie but couldn’t stand to watch much of it. Perhaps after enjoying the book, I will change my mind.

The great thing about reading is it opens your mind and changes attitudes if you let it. I almost didn’t, but was able to in the end. Besides the story, I will always think fondly of Zorba for that.

117FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jul. 27, 2009, 2:14pm

77. Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, SF, Completed 7/25/09, Stars: 3.5

This is the second 'final book' (# 7B) in the original Dune series.

I would probably not have picked it up, but my RL book group picked the first 'final book' (#7A) Hunters of Dune . I am a completist and I just couldn't read only half the ending. I was also surprised that I didn't hate book 1, and that their writing had improved. Still not in Frank's league, but better.

Supposedly Frank left the outline and these jokers 'filled it in'.

This book still has the No-Ship and its inhabitants fleeing from the invisible great Enemy that the Honored Matres led back to the old empire when they came running back from the scattering.

On the ship are Duncan Idaho and the last group of conservative Bene Gesserits, a group of Jews (?) and the last Tleilaxu master, Scytale. He has a capsule of cells and from them they make Gholas. They start resurrecting many of the old characters from 1000s of years ago (first books). That intrigued me, because I am a sucker for the original characters.

Unfortunately, they do nothing with the characters for hundreds of pages. They pop in an out of different places and planets, having adventures, but nothing to advance the story. Most of the book was a slog (another 500+ pager) and it took me 12 days to read it. I just couldn't pick it up a lot of the time.

The book did pick up starting around page 300. They started to deal with the battle at the end of time with the Enemy.

I liked how they wrapped it up. I was happy for the good things that happened to the characters, and sad for the bad things.

118FicusFan
Jul. 30, 2009, 12:37am

78. A Choice of Destinies by Melissa Scott, Historical Fantasy/Alternate Reality, Completed 7/26/09, Stars: 3.5

I saw this book on LT. It is from 1986, and out of print. But it is about Alexander and I had to have it.

This is an historical fantasy that is also an alternate history. The premise is that Alexander the Great never made it into India. He was called home to deal with an uprising and then he went west to Rome instead. That is the alternate part.

The fantasy part is that the gods are real and appear to Alexander in fevers and dreams. There is also a seer who brings him messages from the gods about choices he has to make. Its a very minor part of the story and can be seen as no different than modern people and their belief in religion.

Not going to India meant he didn't get the terrible final chest wound in India, Hephaestion didn't die, and they didn't end up in Babylon in the summer. Alex didn't eventually die of drink/poison/illness or a combination of all 3 in 323 BC.

Instead after he dealt with the uprising in Greece, Alex took on the Romans and won, there was no one who could out-general him. He then had to spend the rest of his time consolidating and pacifying his empire - which meant it was stable when he died.

Because of his principles religion was respected but not the driving factor in civilization, and there were no dark ages. The Alexandrian empire was still around in the 1500s and they were flying because scientific exploration and learning were given priority. They were in space in the 1700s.

Scott uses 2 changes to the history of Alex, before he is prevented from entering India: Thebes was never destroyed (they were needed to rise later with Athens and Sparta to draw him back to Greece) and he ends up with a son much sooner, so he is 10 years old when Alex returns to Greece.

Interestingly the dead Greek wife who is the child's mother is Eurydice and so I wonder if Scott has Alex marrying his father's newest wife (widow) and raising Philip's son (his half-brother) as his son and heir? Olympias is still around, but somehow she didn't kill them when Philip died ? Its never explained.

Neither is how Thebes survived explained, other than they postponed their treachery for about 10 years. I will say that Alexander respecting the Sacred Band rather than slaughtering them seems much better than reality.

The story looks at Alex and his Friends/Companions as they return to Greece, deal with the uprising, and then set out for Rome and deal with politics, and war there. I liked how the settings were done, and how the characters were developed and portrayed.

I thought the writing was a bit clunky, awkward and didn't quite make sense in some scenes. It wasn't terrible, but it was a problem that hovered over the book.

The other issue is that although this was ancient history, there were interlude chapters that followed the development of the empire after Alex's death. Each one was in a different place, a different time, and dealing with different issues. It was a good idea and interesting, but with the writing problems it made the story choppy.

Even with the problems I thought the book was worthwhile and I wish it had followed Alex longer. I enjoyed it.

119FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 1, 2009, 11:30am

79. Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura, Historical Fiction, Completed 7/29/09, Stars: 4

I saw this on LT, maybe even another 100 book challenge thread. It sounded interesting, so I picked it . ETA: It was Judylou's list that introduced me to it.

This book was set in medieval Japan. It is the story of a small, isolated hardscrabble fishing village. They are wedged between the mountains and the sea. Very little grows, so they are at subsistence level, and when the harvest and/or fishing is bad, they starve.

To stave off starvation they often sell themselves or family members into long servitude. Men, women and children once they become teenagers go off to work, and the money is used by the family to buy food. Often the enslaved never return. They may die in service, or become dishonored, or the teenage girls, too old to marry when they return.

The POV of the book is a young boy who has been promoted to head of his family before his time. His father has sold himself and Isaku at 9 has to take his place in the family.

The story follows Isaku as he tries to fill his father's shoes, and learn the ways and secrets of the village. Isaku must fish and collect from the forest to keep his mother, younger brother and baby sister alive.

At the same time Isaku has to make a place for himself outside the family with the men of the village. He has to learn quickly, show proficiency, and respect so he will be accorded the status a head of family must have. He wants to become a trusted member of the village. Isaku loves the village even with all the hardship and work required.

The sea in front of the village is full of rocks and reefs. It is very treacherous and sometimes during storms sailing ships wreck upon the them. When that happens the villagers take advantage of whatever is on the boat - as long as the boat isn't flying the flag of nobles or the emperor. Those boats must have their cargo returned. Merchant ships are fair game and their cargo is taken and any left alive among the crew are killed. Living crew would inform on the village -because what they do is illegal. But the goods, mostly food, can keep the village fed and free for years.

As part of his introduction to manhood and head of family, Isaku finds out a terrible secret, and takes part in it. As the story progresses they seem to have good fortune. Then they have a shipwreck that turns the tables and may be the destruction of the village.

I enjoyed this book. It was well (though simply) written. Isaku was a wonderful and believable character. He tried to keep a spark of life alive in himself, rather than let the poverty, hunger, constant work, and unfeeling mother grind it out of him. You see the struggle they all have to survive and how it drives the decisions they make.

The book is short and yet the story and setting are done well. A wonderful glimpse of medieval Japan. The setting is beautifully described and a clash with the inability of the people to live well, even though they work hard.

You hope against hope that all will be well with the characters in the story, but life and perhaps Karmic justice intervene.

Interestingly the village has developed its own religious practices and beliefs since they would have to chose between religion and life otherwise.

A very quick read that is interesting and enjoyable - though sad at times.

120rainpebble
Bearbeitet: Aug. 1, 2009, 5:28pm

Okay Ficus;
You and Mark have corrupted me and scrambled my brain with all your Jasper Fforde chatter and my broken spirit has gone and done it. I don't do series. (or rarely) But I have ordered:
The entire The Thursday Next series and the 1st of The Nursery Crime series. I couldn't find The Fourth Bear or I am sure I would have ordered that as well. Please tell me that I am going to love these books, please!~!
I cannot believe my lack of will power.
Oh well, I am sure I need a new bookcase anyway. Get me to furniture store quickly.
belva


glitter-graphics.com

121FicusFan
Aug. 1, 2009, 5:55pm

Belva,

I certainly hope you enjoy them. Oh the pressure now :)

I have read the first 3 of Thursday Next , it took me a while to get number 4. I wanted the UK cover but in paper and they didn't publish it, and I waited and waited. So I eventually got a UK hardcover. Number 5 was published in the US quickly so I got that one here. Terrible covers on the US books. The UK ones are so wonderful.

My favorite of Thursday Next so far is The Well of Lost plots.

I have the 2 Nursery Crime books but haven't started them yet. But I have faith.

122jfetting
Aug. 1, 2009, 7:17pm

The Well of Lost Plots is my favorite, too. I love love love all the Thursday Next books, and I loved the first Nursery Crimes book, and I haven't read The Fourth Bear yet but I'll probably love that too. Plus I've pre-ordered the new book (in neither series).

Belva, buying these books wasn't a lack of willpower! You owed it to yourself to get your hands on them immediately.

123rainpebble
Aug. 1, 2009, 11:41pm

Oh Doctor;
Thank you for that validation. I needed that . Not that I was doubting Ficus nor Mark. I was just "askeared". But if the doc says; then it's gospel!~! (they should arrive by week's end)
Whoo Hoo!~! I feel all better now.
Thanx ladies,
belva
P./S/. Now I really can't wait!~!

124englishrose60
Aug. 2, 2009, 11:49am

Patience! Patience! Belva. All good things come to those who wait! :-))

125aquascum
Aug. 2, 2009, 12:25pm

If you love books you will love Fforde!

126ronincats
Aug. 2, 2009, 1:02pm

Some great reviews lately, FicusFan. I really enjoy Melissa Scott, but that is one of hers I've never read.

The Fforde books are favorites of mine, as well. I just keep wishing for the annotated versions, although there are some online sources I'm going to use the next time I reread the series.

127rainpebble
Aug. 2, 2009, 2:28pm

>#124:
englishrose60;
I know, I know and patience is a virtue so I must be virtuous. Thank you for the little reminder. ***heavy sigh***
belva

128FicusFan
Aug. 2, 2009, 9:06pm

Ronin,

I have read 2 of Scott's books so far, (2 left unread) and I enjoy them, but there is something about her writing that is difficult for me to read.

oooh, annotated versions of Fforde, would be a great idea.

Hang in there Belva.

129ronincats
Aug. 2, 2009, 9:37pm

Trouble and her Friends is my favorite book by Scott, although I also have her trilogy and several other books. What is the other one you have read?

130FicusFan
Aug. 2, 2009, 10:12pm

Trouble and her Friends was the other book I read.

Didn't like it all that much, even though it was set on the NH/MA coast. I think it was the writing thing. I have no clear picture in my mind of the characters or the story. It was some kind of cyber thing is all I remember.

I still have to read an omnibus called The Roads of Heaven and an historical fantasy set in Elizabethan times The Armor of Light , which I got when I saw her at MIT. They had a SF authors series for a while and her appearance was one of the ones I went to.

131FicusFan
Aug. 2, 2009, 10:16pm

80. Vicious Circle by Mike Carey, Urban Fantasy, Completed 8/1/09, Stars: 3.5

This book is the 2nd in the Felix Castor series. It is an urban fantasy book set in modern day London rife with the returning dead, the undead, and demons. Felix is an exorcist, but he has some control problems. He welded his best friend to a demon and he has a succubus stalking him. He also has a bad attitude.

Struggling with his magic skills, struggling with life in the real world and sporting a bad attitude ... it seems a bit de rigueur, and I was hoping for something more.

In this book Felix is hired to find a kidnapped ghost, a young girl, by seemingly distraught parents. As the story progresses we find that Felix has been duped by Satanists who want to sacrifice the girl body and soul to raise a major demon.

Felix is also working with the London Met, and the only benefit seems to be that they can more easily decide he is responsible for the crime. His Zombie pal helps him out - with attitude, and his earth witch landlady clucks over him. The succubus has retired and has become his protege (think magic safety blanket).

All very standard stuff. I was hoping for something more in the second book. I read a lot of urban fantasy and want something to make a series stand out from the crowd.

The other issue is the length of the book. Its over 500 pages, and in the middle your eyes glaze over. It seems slow and lacking in focus. There are parts that could be cut out and the story would still work.

Felix's attitude is also wearing for such a long book. You need more than just sarcasm and wise cracks. He had more development in the first adventure. In this story he shows compassion for the young girl, yet he too easily trades one life and soul for another, ho hum another day at the office. It just didn't work that well for me.

It wasn't terrible, but it was one of those books that in the middle all you can think about is that you want it to end.

I will try the next one when it comes out in paper in the US, but if the 3rd book isn't shorter, faster, with better characterization, I will probably say goodbye to this series.

I give new series 3 books to get their act together if there seems to be something worthwhile. I think there is something of value here, but I want to be enthralled and entertained, not have to dig for it, or hang on by my fingernails.

132rainpebble
Aug. 4, 2009, 2:55am

Hi Ficus;
Just wanted to pop in and let you know that all the pressure is off!~!
I dropped into my favorite independent bookshop today and requested The Fourth Bear (as that was the only one of either series that I was unable to find online) and the owner (she and I are usually spot on with our favs and likes and dislikes) said that she doesn't carry Fforde as she has absolutely no call for him and that she doesn't understand why because she thinks he is brilliant. (her word, not mine) So if you hadn't already sold me on the series, that right there would have.
Kind of lets you off the hook, doesn't it? hee hee hee.
later babe,
belva

133mckait
Aug. 5, 2009, 8:02am

no hope of catching up, so just stopping by to say hello...
I will carry on from here..

btw I am afraid fforde might be one of those writers whose books will just not open for me. No luck so far anyway.......

134FicusFan
Aug. 5, 2009, 8:36am

81. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, World Fiction, Completed 8/5/09, Stars: 3.5

This is a book set in Nigeria and looks at life in a village of the Ibo people before and just after the arrival of white men.

It is very simply written with a lot of words in the Ibo language. Many are very difficult, if not impossible to pronounce. They are also often used without explanation, so you don't always know if they are referring to a person, another village, a people, or a god until you read more. It distracts from the experience.

The book follows the head of a family called Okonkwo (OK). He is grown when the story starts, but it looks back and his childhood and his father and their relationship. It is that relationship that defines who OK wants to be, and how he models his life and his demeanor. Unfortunately he is reacting against the laziness, and inconsequential thoughts and actions of his father. OK wants to be big and important in the village. He also abandons the kindness of his father, seeing that as more evidence of weakness.

OK is not a nice man, and not a likable character. He is a bully, hard hearted, and violent. He treats his wives and children badly, often beating them. He even goes so far as to participate in the clan ordered murder of the teen ward who was living in his house and calling him father.

This book doesn't whitewash the deficits of village life: they live in the dirt, they seem to eat Yams exclusively, they are afraid of imaginary beings, they are afraid of the dark, they beat women and kill children, especially twins. Twins must be thrown into the forest right after birth, They believe in evil children that repeatedly are reborn and die, doing so to vex their parents. Brutal actions are allowed to discourage these doomed children from returning.

OK eventually falls victim to his own brutality. He kills a clan member with his gun, during a celebration. Because the clan judges it an accident he is only exiled for 7 years. He and his family flee to the village of his mother.

During his time of exile the white men slowly start to arrive and infiltrate their lives. The whites bring stores and pay money for the items the Ibo gather; they bring their laws and government which are foreign and unknown to the Ibo. The men they use as translators, functionaries, and enforcers are all from other tribes and don't know the Ibo customs. They also have their own power trip going to enhance their own positions, without the knowledge of the white men. The white men bring their religion - which says all are equal. This upsets the society of the Ibo which is based on a hierarchy of the titled/respected ordering the actions of those lower than they are, all the way down to the outcasts.

Because the Ibo let them in, and are even interested in the new stores and religion, they are slowly overwhelmed. The white men impose their laws, judge cases according to white law and enact punishments including the death penalty. OK is unable finally to accept being subject to them and their law. It ends tragically.

It is sad to see a people not given a voice in how their lives are ordered, and given no choice about change. The white men are appalled by the violence of the Ibo, but see nothing wrong with imposing their own violence in the name of the laws of their Queen. A recurring theme in disputes of all cultures even today.

The story shows the Ibo and the others in Nigeria participated in their own destruction, seduced by the new and the different. Some of their own people participated helping the colonization to advance. It seems a timely warning for today, because we seem willing to throw away our culture and freedom for convenience and safety.

135FicusFan
Aug. 5, 2009, 11:09am

Belva,

Glad to be off the hook. But I still hope you like the Fforde books.

136FicusFan
Aug. 5, 2009, 11:12am

mckait,

Thanks for stopping by. Don't worry about catching up, I know the feeling of being overwhelmed. Just dip in here an there as the feeling moves you, or not, whatever works best for you.

Sorry to hear Fforde didn't click with you. But we all have different likes and dislikes so I am sure you found something else you like as much as we fforde-fans like him.

137mckait
Aug. 5, 2009, 7:11pm

I haven't given up on fforde... just put him off for a bit~

138msf59
Aug. 5, 2009, 7:56pm

Good review on Things Fall Apart! My daughter read this in H.S. a couple years ago, so I have it sitting in my tbr.

139mckait
Aug. 5, 2009, 9:54pm

*waves tiredly to mark*

140FicusFan
Aug. 5, 2009, 11:39pm

Glad to hear you are a maybe for Fforde mckait.

Mark, Thank you.

141msf59
Aug. 6, 2009, 7:29am

*a cheery wave back to Kath*

142rainpebble
Aug. 6, 2009, 9:21pm

Kath;
It sounds like you just need a good rest. You have been on the run for a couple of weeks now and honey, we are not as young as we used to be. We need our rest. Be kind to yourself for a couple of days, let the dishes pile up, let the dog hair on the carpet go----it all waits for you.
love ya,
belva

143mckait
Aug. 7, 2009, 3:01pm

too right belva.. starting tomorrow.....

144rainpebble
Aug. 7, 2009, 3:13pm

Diese Nachricht wurde vom Autor gelöscht.

145FicusFan
Aug. 7, 2009, 8:44pm

82. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, YA -Fantasy, Completed 8/6/09, Stars: 3

I read this book for a RL SFF book group. Otherwise I never would have picked it up. It is a YA book and extremely simple, more at a child's level. It reminded me of a written version of a Disney cartoon. It is also a disguised romance. Just not my cup of tea.

We have a tradition of reading fluff books during August and December because of the summer/Xmas holidays. Not something I approve of, but I have been outvoted.

I have read Wynne Jones before and enjoyed her Dark Lord of Derkholm , it didn't seem to be as simplistic.

This book follows the eldest of 3 sisters in a magical realm. They are daughters of a hatter and are still in school, but also help out at the shop. There is a step-mother and one of the girls is her biological daughter. She is actually a good woman and doesn't play favorites.

The father dies unexpectedly and there is not enough money to continue as they were. The daughter have leave school and go to work. One goes to a witch to learn magic, one goes to a pastry shop to become a baker, and the eldest, Sophie, stays and works with the stepmother in the hat shop. Sophie is the POV of the book. She is a frightened, little grey mouse of a person.

Sophie has magical skills but isn't aware of them. She somehow angers the evil witch of the Waste who comes into the shop. She is cursed with old age and the inability to tell anyone about the spell. Sophie as a 90 year old decides to hobble off and figure out how to get the spell removed. As an old woman she develops a backbone and a personality.

Along the way she helps a scarecrow and a dog, which have repercussions later on. She also ends up in Howl's Moving Castle. He is a wizard with an evil reputation and a castle that motors along in the sky. Its really a small house inside with few rooms, an apprentice and a fire demon who powers everything.

Howl turns out to be a young man, and not very evil. He is besotted with women until they return the emotion and then he dumps them. He lives in squalor and Sophie says she is the cleaning lady. They develop a grumpy adversarial relationship that is the bulk of the story.

Howl and the witch of the Waste are enemies and end up battling each other. The book ends with all the sisters pairing up with their true loves.

Throughout the story Sophie says it is pointless to try to better herself, because she is the eldest and destined to fail. It becomes very annoying.

The characters are OK, though there is the obvious going on that the characters can't see and becomes tiresome (Sophie is in love with Howl).

It was a quick heart warming read, but just not satisfying for me.

bah humbug ! :)

146ronincats
Aug. 7, 2009, 9:37pm

That's okay. DWJ writes from the simple through the complex. I enjoy this one, but I like Dark Lord of Derkholm better myself. But I love fairy tales, which predisposes me to like this.

147rainpebble
Aug. 7, 2009, 9:38pm

Hope your next read turns out to be a rip-snorter!~!
Sorry this one didn't do it for you.
Happy dayz girl,
belva

148bluesalamanders
Aug. 8, 2009, 6:51am

I generally love DWJ's books, but I didn't much care for Howl either. Which was particularly annoying when there was a big Howl crazy for a while and half of my friends were going on and on and on about how fantastic it was.

149mckait
Aug. 8, 2009, 7:09am

funny how some books are just so darned annoying!

Thank goodness there is always a next one.. :)

150FicusFan
Aug. 8, 2009, 3:57pm

I am not fond of fairytales (as an adult) so that is probably the other issue for me. I liked Calcifer, and didn't hate the others, but it was just tiresome.

I have the second book for Dark Lord of Derkholm, The Year of the Griffin but haven't read it yet.

I did read 2 good books after. 2 of Ann Cleeves' books in The Shetland Quartet mystery series. I will have to do reviews and post soon.

Thanks for stopping by all.

151FicusFan
Aug. 8, 2009, 9:30pm

83. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves, Mystery, Completed 8/7/09, Stars: 4

The first book in The Shetland Island Quartet a mystery series set on the islands. This book is set during the brutal winter with little light. It is a choice for my RL book group.

The characters are well done, the setting is fascinating and the story is interesting. I thought the writing flowed. I ended up reading it very quickly.

The story is of the murder of a teenage girl. She is found strangled on a hillside. It is near the home of the island outcast. He is an old man with limited mental abilities. He is also suspected of the murder of a 10 year old girl when she disappeared after visiting his mother, 20 years ago. There was not enough evidence to charge him, but in the minds of the islanders he is guilty.

The story follows Policeman Jimmy Perez as he tries to find the killer of the teenager. He tries to keep an open mind, and investigate what happened, not just frame Magnus.

Jimmy is dark, and not of Viking stock, though he and his family are Shetlanders. Supposedly he had an ancestor from the Spanish Armada who swam ashore on Fair Isle. He had to board on the main isle when he was in high school, and he knows what it means to be thought an outcast. He is trying to sort out his life and where he wants to be. During the investigation he meets a divorced woman Fran, with a 5 year old daughter, Cassie. He is getting over his own divorce and also trying to work out if they can have a relationship.

There are police specialists from Inverness who have to be called in for their scientific skills and the joint force takes on the investigation. Jimmy has to make sure the team works together and doesn't compete, and end up fighting each other.

The story is about the murder, but it also looks at the small group of people involved, their lives, pasts, and connections. It looks at how they all know each other's business and are trying to live with their difficulties. It is very interesting and you really think they are real people.

The story deals with prejudice, the separation between those who are born Shetlanders, and those who are from the outside called incomers, what is expected by your family/friends/society and what you owe yourself.

The first murder of the 10 year old girl is also opened up when her body is found as well.

I went on to read the next book in the series immediately after this one.

152mckait
Aug. 9, 2009, 12:33pm

I put this series on my ammy wish list :)

153FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 13, 2009, 11:59pm

84. White Nights by Ann Cleeves, Mystery, Completed 8/8/09, Stars: 4

This is the second book in the Shetland Island Quartet mystery series. It is set on the Shetland Islands in the modern day.

I got my RL mystery group to pick it for this month. I read the first book and then the second. We pick author/series and then read as many or as few in the series as we want.

I enjoyed the writing, the characters and the setting. This book was set in the summer with the almost constant daylight. Many of the same characters appear in both books and the second book allows them to develop more and have expanded personal stories.

Although the books are about a mystery they are also a look at the impact and results that a place can have on a person. The people are isolated, and confined together, and most know each other inside and out. They develop strange ways of coping with the weather, the isolation, the constant sun/dark and the others on the island.

The other interesting issue among the islanders is how they never, never forget who is a native and who is an outsider - called an incomer.

The mystery in this book is an outsider - a tourist has a public breakdown at an art show, and is later found dead. It is determined that he was killed and not a suicide as it was staged. The search is on to find his connection to anyone on the island. The investigation unearths current and past secrets and other murders.

Most of the action is centered on a small remote village and again involves the police team from Inverness.

I did suspect the murderer, though I had a whole cast of suspects. I also really didn't believe that the character who was the killer acted in a proper manner for how the character was developed and lived. Still it didn't really diminish my enjoyment, it was more of a' hmmm' moment. Maybe I just didn't want all the pain and difficulty that was caused by the guilt of that character.

Can't wait for book 3 - Red Bones to go into softcover in the US.

154FicusFan
Aug. 15, 2009, 9:48pm

85. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, Fiction, Completed 8/14/09, Stars: 3

This book was a read for a RL book group.

I am rather ambivalent about it. On the one hand I thought the writing was very good. There was a sensual quality at times that made me want to roll around in it.

On the other hand the characters and story were exceptionally bland and uninteresting for most of the book. It picked up at the end, and the introduction of Melville and his lost book was interesting.

The story is about a young, innocent, unbelievably naive 18 year old girl from Tasmania, named Rosemary. She had no father and after her mother died, a family friend sent her to New York City. There is no year given but I suspect it was in the 70s.

In NYC she stays in a run down, cheap, women's residence. She eventually finds work at the Arcade bookstore (modeled on the Strand). Just by walking in and asking.

The bulk of the story is about her trying to navigate the world of the bookstore, and its strange employees, while also building a life in the city. Internally she is trying to deal with the loss of her mother and the abandonment of her father.

The owner and the employees are all odd, but not really interesting. The only character I find interesting is Pearl the cashier who is about to undergo sex reassignment surgery to become a woman anatomically.

Rosemary develops father fixations on several employees, and a romantic crush on one who does not have romance/sex or emotional attachments to either sex. Oscar is not above using Rosemary's attraction to him, for his own gain.

The owner, Mr. Pike, attempts to control the store and the employees. The employees in the sections they are in charge of, are plotting against each other, and trying to meet their own idiosyncratic needs. The plotting is around customers/collectors, sales, and finding rare or coveted books. Information about books is the lifeblood of the store.

The store manager is an albino dwarf, who is also infatuated with Rosemary, but he repels her for most of the book. She ends up getting a loan to allow her to take an apartment, and part of the agreement is that she will become Mr. Geist's Assistant. It is never clear if the loan is from the store or Mr. Geist, and she is off-balance because of it.

With her new position as his Assistant she becomes aware of a letter sent to Mr. Pike that is offering to sell a copy of Melville's lost work. Mr. Geist has intercepted it. She is unable to keep it to herself and she tells Oscar. Oscar believes that Geist is plotting to get the manuscript for himself and sell it for profit, keeping the store and Mr. Pike out of it. Oscar thinks the book belongs in a library or museum.

Rosemary becomes involved in various deceptions in trying to find out who has the book for sale, and who is going to buy it. She has also told the man in the rare book room, a father figure, about the letter.

The theme of Melville's book is supposed to be about remorse, and it seems that the actual story is about that as well. Rosemary wonders if her father who deserted them is remorseful.

She is often remorseful for the actions she takes or doesn't take. She is spinning tales to each about what she has told the other 2 men about the letter, She has also made promises to each not to tell anyone else.

She also makes friends with the woman at the desk of the women's residence, Lillian. A strange hostile woman who turns out to be from Argentina and the mother of a disappeared son taken by the government who never returned, and whose body has never been found.

Lillian and Pearl try to warn Rosemary about her infatuation and imaginary romance with Oscar. It does no good.

The lost Melville book project becomes pubic and has dire repercussions.

The book finally ends, with Rosemary growing up.

155mckait
Aug. 16, 2009, 8:26am

good review as always.. I do believe I have this one on tbr ( maybe?)

156FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 17, 2009, 1:01am

Thank You.

I only read it because of the RL book group. Some other review said it became The Secret of Lost Interest, for me at times it was The Secret of Lost the Will to Live.

Yet the writing sucked me in.

157mckait
Aug. 16, 2009, 8:46am

LOL @ The Secret of Lost the Will to Live.

158FicusFan
Aug. 17, 2009, 1:03am

86. Tsotsi by Athol Fugard, World Fiction, Completed 8/15/09, Stars: 4.5

This was a book that I read for a RL book group, although I had already purchased it for myself.

It is set in South Africa during apartheid in a township outside Johannesburg. The township, Sophiatown, was destroyed in the 50s, to make way for the white city to expand. The townships are the only place near the city where blacks can live.

The buildings are flimsy shacks made of odds and ends and the roads aren't paved. There is a communal water standpipe that blocks and blocks of people have to share. The only people who should be living there are those who work in the white city and have a pass. If they don't have a pass they are supposed to be go to black homelands, that have even less of the necessities of life.

Periodically the police conduct pass raids and pull people out of their beds, not even letting them get their pass to prove they belong. Mothers are torn from children, and old people are given no slack. Demolition gangs also come in and start destroying shacks, even if they are inhabited, the people with no place to live are carted off.

In this setting the POV character lives. He is a young man, early 20s and he is a criminal. A tough, vicious, thug who preys on those who try to eke out a poor life in the township. These young men are called Tsotsi as a group. Because the POV was a street child he has no past, no parents and no memories -- not even his name. He takes Tsotsi as his name.

He runs with 3 others like him. But one is a time-bomb that will soon shake Tsotsi's life. Boston is not just a thug, but a thinker, and a formerly decent man with a conscious. He infects Tsotsi with questions about his past, and his cruel actions currently.

Tsotsi ends up with a baby when the woman he is trying to rape, shoves a shoe box at him and runs off. Tsotsi has begun to change because he keeps the baby and tries to care for it. It triggers his memories of life before the streets. He makes further changes by breaking with his gang.

The end is quite devastating.

The writing is very simple and it works so well for the characters who are not educated, and who grapple with just trying to live and survive.

There are terrible heartbreaking scenes of the struggles the decent characters have, that show their humanity and dignity. Their world is comprised of simple pleasures: food, shelter, safety, love of family, a moment of peace.

The thugs are shown lazing, drinking, and abusing women while they wait for dark and plan their next job. Their lives are empty regardless of the money and free time they have.

Through it all are the oppressive laws and police that try to force the blacks into the shape the whites want, while denying them the basic status of humans.

Tsotsi's memories show the direct impact of the whites in their lives and of how people are broken and families destroyed all for the crime of being black.

159FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 18, 2009, 8:37am

87. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander, Historical Mystery, Completed 8/15/09, Stars: 4

This was the first of the Lady Emily Ashton series set in Victorian London. I enjoyed it very much.

Lady Emily was recently married when her husband Philip died on a safari in Africa. She didn't know him well, and while sad is not heartbroken at his death. He leaves her with money, social position and the freedom to live her own life. Widows are no longer so tightly chaperoned, and don't need a male relative to make their decisions.

She mainly married to escape her harpy of a mother. Marriages in her class are arranged to secure position, fortune, and ensure the continuation of the line. Partners don't have to love each other, and often don't. Its a plus if they are compatible or even like each other.

In exploring her freedom, she finds out more about Philip from his friends and journals and finds he was in love with her, and a decent, interesting man. She also takes up his interest in ancient Greek culture( sculpture, literature, language). While doing so she finds what seems to be evidence that he might have been involved in stolen antiquities.

There are various characters who try to help her in her quest to educate herself, and some males who are trying to court her although she is still in mourning. Her mother is also plotting how to get Emily another marriage - though Emily is not interested.

The mystery comes in trying to decide who is doing the stealing, and commissioning the copies that are used to replace the originals. The story of Emily is interspersed with journal entries of Philip from just before their marriage, until the day before his death. The more I read about Philip the sorrier I was that he was dead and a character who would not be part of future stories.

The characters are well done, and the setting is interesting. There is a bit of a romance in the story, with hints that it will be part of future stories. The tone of the story is light and fun.

Only one big mistake that I can see: Philip writes in his journal while in Africa of the camp being beset with Howler Monkeys. They are new world monkeys, and not in Africa.

I have the next 2 in the series A Poisoned Season, A Fatal Waltz and will read them. I found out about the series because I saw book 4 Tears of Pearl being offered through LT ER .

160FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 21, 2009, 10:10am

Have had a busy week this week and am still reading my current book. I have had RL book groups this week after work and then have been falling asleep when I got home. Also the troll incident and the discussion around it have distracted me from reading.

Tim has now implemented a way to block users on Talk (similar to what the flagging function does) on a trial basis. Go to the person's profile and click on 'block this member'.

I am also struggling a bit with the book. It is a mystery set in North Korea and the setting intrigued me. The author seems to get it right about the strangeness of living/working under a dictatorship, but it makes for odd reading. Still its not horrible and its not badly written. It is the start of a series and I usually give a new series 3 books to click for me. I hope to finish it soon.

161jfetting
Aug. 21, 2009, 10:07am

Tsotsi was made into a movie, that was also very powerful. I didn't realize it was based on a book, but now I'm going to have to read the book. Great review, Ficus!

162FicusFan
Aug. 21, 2009, 10:17am

Thank You. I knew about the movie but didn't see it.

I think they said this is Fugard's only fiction. I guess he is a playwright. Which of course made me think of The Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan. Also a playwright with one book of adult fiction I think (though the story is based on his experience). Behan used humor and so its not as powerful, but still one of my favorite books.

Touchstone is wrong. This is the link: http://www.librarything.com/work/19329

163mckait
Bearbeitet: Aug. 21, 2009, 5:25pm



just passing through. I am too tired to think.. *waves*

164FicusFan
Aug. 21, 2009, 6:05pm

Hi mckait, *waves* back

165Berly
Aug. 21, 2009, 9:07pm

Read a lot of your messages after I went back to read those threads with all that "stuff" going on and I liked your opinions so I thought I'd stop by and check out your own thread. You definitely have a different set of books, which I find very refreshing. Will come back to visit again! Thanks.

166FicusFan
Aug. 22, 2009, 4:47am

Thank you Berly. Welcome and happy to have you stopping by.

I look at reading almost like eating. :) I like certain things, but every so often you need something different or to clear the palate. I also like books to entertain and educate/inform me. The entertaining part means I am low on classics. The writing in older books is a struggle for me. I have really found that LT and a couple of my RL book groups have let me expand the books and type of books I read.

167Berly
Aug. 22, 2009, 3:11pm

Totally agree about clearing the palate and expanding the type of books I read! So, please give me your fave five so far this year...

168richardderus
Aug. 22, 2009, 3:39pm

*sigh* Oh here you are. *rubs sore feet* Trekking all over the site looking for you. Maybe put links to your reviews in the "What Are You Reading?" threads? It would help...at least, it would have helped me....

169mckait
Aug. 22, 2009, 6:17pm

poor rd.. were you lost in the forest again? was it the mushrooms?

170FicusFan
Aug. 23, 2009, 12:50am

Sorry Richard.

McKait, I would think mushrooms would help sore feet, or at least cause you not to care :) rather than cause them.

Berly,

My fave five so far:

My Lobotomy by Howard Dully (NF)
House to House by David Bellavia (NF)
Chanur's Legacy by CJ Cherryh, (SF) Book 5 of the series
The Snake Stone by JAson Goodwin (Historical Mystery) Book 2 of the series
Tsotsi by Athol Fugard (World Fiction)

Runners up:

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson (NF)
Duplicate Effort by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (SF) Book 7 of the series
Unfallen Dead by Mark del Franco, (SF) Book 3 of the series
Murder is Binding and Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett (Cozy Mystery) (1 & 2 of series - local setting)
Devil's Feathers by David Chacko (Mystery) Book 2 of the series
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (Mystery) Book 1 of the series
Thirty-Three Teeth and Disco for the Departed and Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (Mystery) books 2-4 of the series (#1 Coroner's Lunch read last year )
Plum Lucky and Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich (Humorous Mystery) Plum: Book 3 of series, 14 is Book 14 of the series)
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (Historical Mystery) Book 1 in the series
Black Ships by Jo Graham (Historical Fiction)
And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander (Historical Fiction) Book 1 of the series
Precious Dragon by Liz Williams (SF -F -Chinese Mythology) Book 3 in the series
The Cutting Season and Quiet Teacher by Arthur Rosenfeld (Martial Arts - Thriller) Books 1 and 2 of the series
Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura (Historical Fiction)

I realized you only asked for 5, but its my thread and I have had a lot of good books this year. :)

171judylou
Aug. 23, 2009, 12:52am

Hi FicusFan, I have finally caught up with your thread and have just spent a pleasant hour or so reading through a whole lot of posts. Your reviews, as always, are just wonderful. I would normally not be tempted by many of the titles you have reviewed, but after reading this thread, I have added quite a few to my tbr list.

Happy reading :)

172FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 23, 2009, 1:15pm

Thank you Judylou. Oh the pressure. I am always happy to find books a good home. I hope you enjoy them, and if you don't Please don't stick pins in a voodoo doll of me. :)

I of course an still cloaked - so my whole thread is hidden.

173mckait
Aug. 23, 2009, 7:09am

yes... ficus is hazardous to my wallet and tbr pile s well.

mushrooms.. oh! I meant had he had some then gotten lost , wandered thus sore feet.. :)

174richardderus
Aug. 23, 2009, 11:36am

Mmm...mushrooms...I want a mushroom omelet for lunch today. *drool*

I am #4 on the waitlist for My Lobotomy at the liberry, and #1 for Shipwrecks. May I ask...do you hate me? Did I do some hideous, upardonable thing to an ancestor of yours? If not, must you review and mention only *good* books? I could live to be 200 (I'll settle for 140) and not get through all the things I've got wishlisted already. And some little whisper suggests to me that you won't stop reading good stuff....

*woe*

175FicusFan
Aug. 23, 2009, 1:14pm

Mckait - got it. I was thinking more of wooziness and sleeping rather than wandering.

Richard. - Sorry. But just because they are good doesn't mean you will like them. People have different tastes. That said, I hope you do like them or I will feel like a I let you down.

My cloaking device is gone, and I can see my posts again. Yeah !

I love mushrooms too, though I prefer the canned variety (don't think of the others as real), cooked in butter. Pure heaven. Omelet sounds good, but I don't have any onions so I will have to wait.

176richardderus
Aug. 23, 2009, 1:48pm

The omelet was good, indeed...cooked the mushrooms in a little butter, sauteed the green onion bottoms in the same butter, cooked the eggs in the same pan. Filled with onion/mushroom/sour cream, topped with chopped green onion tops.

A glass of white wine, a piece of sourdough, and I am a fatter, happier camper.

177FicusFan
Aug. 23, 2009, 2:00pm

For me omelets are really just an excuse for cheese. :) I use a blend of Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack. No sour cream. - I like ketchup on my eggs.

178richardderus
Aug. 23, 2009, 2:06pm

Ah! Like french fries are an excuse to eat ketchup, mayo, and Tabasco all mixed up, for me. Sooo yummy.

179FicusFan
Aug. 23, 2009, 2:18pm

The sauce we used was Ketchup, Miracle Whip and Horseradish, but not for fries.

180Berly
Aug. 23, 2009, 7:26pm

Pops in briefly and immediately leaves for the kitchen...my waistline thanks you all!

181mckait
Aug. 24, 2009, 6:43am

177-178

agree, except for the ketchup on eggs...

179 have done ketchup and mayo for fries, Miracle Whip is ewwwwwwwww.

I have to admit an inordinate fondness for ketchup..

Salsa, particularly fresh, home-made, but any salsa is not a condiment....
it is food. yum . I always have salsa.. always use it in everything from chip dip to soup, to meatloaf to.. almost anything.

182FicusFan
Aug. 24, 2009, 7:28am

Mayo is ewwww. Grew up with Miracle Whip, probably didn't taste mayo until I was in my 30s. I thought they were the same. Couldn't believe how tasteless mayo was.

Salsa - ick. Indigestion in a bowl.

183richardderus
Aug. 24, 2009, 8:58am

Tasteless! I never thought of that. I only like mayo because it's rich and creamy and eggy and slightly tart. Miracle Whip tastes, to my palate, like someone accidentally sugared the mayo and then tried to fix it with vinegar. Not appealing.

My mother taught me how to make my own mayo, which is a pain but very interesting. I asked her once if she knew how to make Miracle Whip, too...her response was unprintable here, it violates ToS, but the gist was, "Who would want to make THAT?" So it's all in what you're taught early on, eh what?

Summertime eggs benedetto: slice big supermarket tomatoes thickly, sprinkle with celery salt and lemon pepper to give them some tiny oochkin of flavor, set two per person on a plate. Poach eggs to cover the tomatoes. Mix 1/4c sour cream, hefty dash Tabasco, smaller dash soy sauce. When eggs are on tomatoes, cover in mild salsa and put a *splotch* of sour cream mixture on top.

184FicusFan
Aug. 24, 2009, 9:08am

88. The Corpse in the Koryo by James Church, Mystery, Completed 8/22/09, Stars: 3

This is a mystery set in modern day North Korea. It is also the start of the Inspector O series. I really wanted to like it more than I did. The setting intrigues me,

The writing was good, it flowed well and made as much sense as the story allowed. That was my biggest problem with the book. There were a lot of cryptic comments, a lot of aimless wandering around, and a lot of verbal fencing - talking about a car wreck and 2 murders as if they didn't happen, then ignoring them. There were power players that didn't have explanations as to why they were there and how they all connected together.

I think the author did it to emulate trying to work and live under a dictatorship. And it was effective, it just detracted from the story.

The corpse of the title didn't show up until about page 136. Then his murder was a minor plot point, and the killer and the truth about the murder was never really presented. It was all swallowed in politics, and conjecture.

The story is of powerful heads of the Ministries of Intelligence (Kang) and Security (Kim) showing up in the office of Inspector O's boss. There is something going on, and they are involved. His boss Pak sends him on a tour of remote areas to escape the Ministry plot. Kang from Intelligence pops up and tells O what to do, the Security people have goons follow O. It seems the Security people really want Kang, the Intelligence guy.

It is never explained why O and his boss Pak are drawn in. Or what he is doing on his tour. There is a good bit of detail about his past, his current life and the difficulty of life under the dictatorship. Even the smallest item is considered anti-social if it is different. They have little pay, and few of even the basic essentials to do their job. The cameras may not have batteries, let alone those that work. Their official police cars may not have fuel.

The camera incident comes to light because O is sent to a hillside before dawn to take a picture of a car that is expected to pass by. He is to take a picture of the license plate of the car, for someone higher up who wants to use it for blackmail. That is the life of a police officer there, not just keeping the peace, or enforcing the laws, but meeting the needs of those with more power, regardless of what they want.

The story is very disjointed and never really explained. At the end O comes up with an explanation but it seems not to really come from the story, just something that is used to end the book. It could have just as easily been a different story and it would have seemed as plausible.

Interspersed with the story of O is a section where O is telling the events to a stranger. An Irish agent who is asking questions about the events and recording everything. There is no explanation of why or where they are (until the end) or what the agent wants. Even the retelling makes no real connections.

I have the 2nd book in the series and will read it. I usually give a new series 3 books to sort itself out. I hope this one does because it just seems to have the potential to be both good and interesting.

185Berly
Aug. 24, 2009, 10:23am

I was allergic to eggs until I did acupuncture for it in my middle 30's, so I grew up on Miracle Whip. Prefer mayo now, perhaps because I can! Love scrambled eggs now too, but found Egg Nog, which I had been coveting for years, a total disappointment.

I think you are a very patient reader: giving a series three tries. Hope it improves!

186FicusFan
Aug. 25, 2009, 4:42pm

Berly,

I don't mind eggs, not allergic, but Mayo is still tasteless to me. Enjoy scrambled eggs and Egg Nog. Sorry you are disappointed in it. Perhaps if it had more alcohol :)

I don't give a series 3 tries if I hate it, just if I think it has promise. Sometimes, especially with a new writer, they need the time to work it out.

Of course you can always cut to the chase and start with the 3rd book and see if its worthwhile. I just hate to read series out of order.

187rainpebble
Bearbeitet: Aug. 26, 2009, 1:49pm

Hey Ficus----------I missed you and your posts while I was gone and you have been a very busy little reader and, (***heavy sigh***) I don't do "series" excepting for the "Anne" books and the Outlander ones but you have apparently caught me out at a weak moment for I have garnerd 3 series recx just during this past 2 week period plus the odd books as well. Have you no pity????????????????
I love that in your (wonderfully good, BTW) reviews you give the other titles of books in said series. Makes it much easier on we poor citizens. Don't have to google nearly as much. So thank you for that.
And I must say: "No, no, no to the ketchup on the eggs. One must never do that. I think there is an unwritten law regarding it. In fact, I am sure there is. :-))

#176:
Dear, dear St. Richard;
I am simply drooling with desire for your..................omelet!~!
And regarding your recipe for mayo???????????
Isn't mayo just egg and oil?

love to you both,
xoxoxo
belva

188richardderus
Aug. 26, 2009, 1:21pm

Sauce Mayonnaise is egg, salt, a splodge of prepared mustard, and olive oil, traditionally. Whisk everything non-oily together until frothy, add olive oil slowly in a very thin stream while whisking, get a yellowy, custardy, delicious plop in the bottom of the bowl. I like the original fine, especially with artichokes. The prepared is better for making awful, choking dry bread acceptable as an accompaniment for sandwiches. (Don't really like bread much, unless drenched in fat. Butter, mayo, olive oil...or bust!)

189mckait
Aug. 27, 2009, 6:31am

Don't like bread much? Richard, good bread is wonderful!
Fresh, fragrant, yummy. So many kinds of bread. So many
ways to eat it! Including plain old bread sliced off of a warm loaf...

holy moses on a toothpick man! what are you thinking!?!?!?!?!?

190richardderus
Aug. 27, 2009, 2:00pm

Including plain old bread sliced off of a warm loaf...

Substitute "drenched in butter" for "plain old" and I'm down with it.

191FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 27, 2009, 2:17pm

Bread is good. Don't like the tough chewy bread though. Like mine soft. My favorites are Canadian Brown Bread, and Rye (light colored) with Seeds. The Rye makes wonderful toast.

I have 2 reviews still to do, hopefully I will get to one tonight.

Weather here is wonderful. Sunny, 70s, light breeze, cool even. I wish it were like this all the time.

192mckait
Bearbeitet: Aug. 27, 2009, 4:54pm

well butter can indeed improve even the best bread..

eta

weather humid here..couple that with 30 buses sitting with the engines running for 45 minutes and my asthma is going crazy.. Next month I don't have to do buses. thank the goddess

193FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Aug. 30, 2009, 1:55pm

89. The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley, Historical Fiction, Completed 8/23/09, Stars: 4

I received this book from the LT ER program. It is historical fiction with a psychological bent. I liked the writing and I enjoyed the story. The main character was interesting if not always likable. Her main focus was her enjoyment, safety and needs. Too often historical fiction is little better than a romance in old clothes. This is not your typical 'long-suffering women overcomes trials with womanly virtues, and finds happiness in the end' story. People who want that type of sentimentality or who object to sex, especially a women who initiates and enjoys sex with no interest in marriage will not find this a satisfactory read.

The book is fiction, but based on the true life story of the real person, Eastern Jewel (EJ). She was a Manchu Princess who was shipped off to Japan by her father when she was 8 years old. She came from a Chinese society that didn't value females, and used them without consultation. She was sent to an important family in Japan, who treated women similarly. She was told she was being sent away for bad behavior, but it is likely the Japanese man, Kawashima (her father's blood brother) asked for her. Since she was only the daughter of the 3rd concubine and one of 13 girls she was considered expendable.

EJ was enraged to be disposed of and decided that she was no longer Chinese. She became enamored of all things Japanese, though she was really treated no better there. Sex was the whole official purpose of EJ's life. Her Chinese or Japanese master expected to use her as either a bride, or a whore - in short a bargaining chip in the power plays they lived by in daily personal and political life.

EJ saw nothing wrong with sex, and enjoyed it, but wanted to be in charge of her life and enjoyment. Because of her attitude and actions she was forever removed from the possibility of the Bride option. She was deflowered by Kawashima's father at 15, after she had been adopted by the family, but never really accepted. EJ was also pimped out by Kawashiima to his cronies and those he wished to charm or sway. Later he even slept with her. At one point she becomes pregnant and is forced to abort the child or be outcast. Japan did not have the easy Chinese atmosphere of concubines and excess children. Her doctor is a quack and she survives but is unable to bear children.

EJ did not see the real downside of her life until she fell in love with a young soldier Kawashima sent to her. She thought the feeling was mutual and that they would marry. He told her she was too shameless to ever be a Japanese wife and was known for her actions by all in society. EJ's heart broke but she never thought seriously of marriage again.

She was trying to be in charge of her own life, but she also was always seeking love, acceptance, and belonging in a family. She lost her mother at 8, was not accepted by the women in the Japanese family, and eventually lost her devoted servant to age. She does form some strong female friendships but they are always transitory because they are not family; She often sacrifices or betrays them to her current needs. She doesn't lie to herself about what she does, but she is unable to make the choice to act differently.

Around 18 she was married off, against her will to a dull Mongolian prince who was far away and barely civilized. EJ was sent to the empty Mongolian plains with the endless sky and the wind and freezing cold. She betrays those who befriended her, has an affair, and then runs off.

EJ then moved back to Japan but had to hide from her family. She sold herself to rich men so they could fund her lifestyle. She eventually moves to Shanghai, and there is asked by the Japanese army to spy for them, which she agrees to do. It is during the run up to WWII when there is much intrigue and unrest. The place is full of Chinese, Japanese, White Russians, and Westerners. The Chinese are fighting each other: Nationalists and the Communists, and the Japanese are trying to expand their control in China.

Her life is an empty round of parties, events and high society, and foreign men. She often is depressed and uses opium to hide from her sadness. She has become confused, and thinks that to achieve happiness she must act like a man, since women's roles are so constrained.

As an agent she is sent to Peking and there she stays until Japan loses the war. Once the Japanese are defeated she is doubly wanted as a Japanese agent, and a Chinese traitor. She may or may not have come to a bad end once she is captured by the authorities.

Throughout the book the story focuses on EJ and her internal world. Her attempts to find a place to belong, on her terms are the prism that we see her life through. At the end she has a choice to accept her fate or use someone else to suffer her fate. The book ends before we know which course of action she picks. The reader is left to decide if EJ has grown or if she is still pursuing her 'me first' policy.

I enjoyed the writing and the settings. The characters were well done and EJ was always interesting. The story was good if a little incomplete. Some wonder why the author didn't include some of the actions scenes in EJ's life when she was actually in the field for the Japanese (called Japanese Joan of Arc) ? I would have enjoyed that as well. Still it was an enjoyable read and I would read the author again.

194richardderus
Aug. 30, 2009, 4:11pm

Too often historical fiction is little better than a romance in old clothes.

Oooh! Spot on! Good review, thanks.

195mckait
Aug. 30, 2009, 4:40pm

spot on indeed!!!!! well said :)

196FicusFan
Aug. 30, 2009, 5:28pm

90. Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn, Dystopian SF, Completed 8/26/09, Stars: 4

This is a dystopian SF story set on a domed habitat above a dead planet. It had 2 of my favorite things: Domes and Angels ( no relation to heaven or religion).

The wealthy citizens live above the plate in Khesh City, and the poor, non-citizens live underneath in what they call Undertow. It is a warren of vanes, small rooms, and gaps for water condensation traps, where people have to move carefully or fall to their deaths. The underclass is run by gangs, and like Renaissance Italy the territory and the people wear colors to designate which gang they belong to, and where they are allowed to go.

Khesh City is full of wonders and attracts tourists from all over. They come to see the only Democracy run by assassination. People not only vote politicians into office, but vote to assassinate those who are in disfavor or who get caught breaking the rules. Regluar people can be killed also, because murder is not against the law. The agents of the city who police the rules and do the assassinations are called Angels. They are altered humans who have built-in weapons, faster reflexes, better senses and the ability to hover and fly (no wings). The Minister who rules the city elevates them from the local population.

The story is of a local downsider, Taro, who was related to an Angel - and that link guaranteed his future, but she is illegally killed, and he loses his place in society. He must now kowtow to an underside gang to find shelter, water, food and safety. He is a teen whose job is prostitution.

Elarn Reen is an off-world visitor, and famous musician who chants ancient religious plainsongs. She is normally reclusive but has organized a tour that stops in Khesh City. While there she searches for a young woman lost to her, Lia Reen. But all is not what it seems. Elarn is not acting of her own will, and is an agent for a secret alien power, long thought dead. The dead aliens are the builders of the ancient, self-perpetuating city, and the former masters of humanity.

Another group who are playing games. and not what they seem to be are a politician, Consul Vidoran who was marked for assassination, (the angel missed due to Taro) and his bodyguard Scarrion- an off-world assassin called a Screamer who should not be mixing into the affairs of the city. They become mixed up with Elarn, while lying to her about what they want.

Tario is after the bodyguard Scarrion because he killed his aunt Malia the Angel and stole her weapon.

Complications ensue and the city itself becomes threatened.

I found the story to be a very amusing allegory of where society is heading. Loved the idea of voting for the death of politicians (probably just after televised executions become old hat). Characters were interesting, story was good if a bit standard. The writing was good. Lite on the explanation of the Angels, but still a fun read.

197FicusFan
Aug. 30, 2009, 5:31pm

Thanks Richard and mckait. :)

198FicusFan
Sept. 2, 2009, 8:00am

91. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, Modern Fiction, Completed 8/29/09, Stars: 2.5

I saw this book on LT and it was well praised. The blurb on the back about being marooned in a hotel with its strange occupants, sold me. I was expecting something different. What I wasn't expecting was a 9/11 story. I avoid them like the plague. Its too soon to have anything meaningful to say, and frankly I am tired of wallowing in the tragedy. I also was not expecting to get a tome on Cricket, most of which I found extremely boring.

I did not enjoy the book, and mostly couldn't wait for it to end. I gave it 3 stars, but then downgraded to 2.5.

The story is about a European couple (English & Dutch) who move from England to NYC. They arrive before 9/11. They are close enough to Ground Zero that they have to move out of their loft when the attack happens. It is why they are in the odd hotel with the wacky people. It is a residential hotel, so the odd people live there permanently.

On the one hand their reaction enraged me, they didn't think they had to do anything to protect the country. As ordinary citizens, even visitors they can't expect that it is always someone else's responsibility (police, military) so they can live their lives with no responsibilities of their own. The country was good enough for them to avail themselves of all its benefits, but god forbid they might be frightened or inconvenienced, or expected to change. The average person needs to be calm, brave, and carry on with their lives - which is how they can help to protect the country, not hiding under the bed and whining. Of course I am an Army brat and grew up knowing that we would always be on the front line, especially when overseas.

On the other hand I can sympathize with the uncertainty that 9/11 brought. There is a giant high bridge that goes to Charlestown near Boston. I never use it, but once when they were doing construction I ended up on it by mistake. It was dark and late, and the bridge seemed like an upside down U. I felt like I was climbing to the sky. It was just after 9/11, and I didn't expect the bridge to fall or be blown up (though I did think about it), but previously I never would have doubted a massive structure. We don't have quakes or any really destructive weather. So I can sympathize that it must have been very scary to work in a tall building in NYC after the event.

The POV character is the Dutch husband, Hans. He is weak, wishy-washy, and doesn't know what he wants or how to say it. His marriage falls apart after 9/11, and his wife takes their son and returns to England. He can't really identify the problem, so he has no clue what to do about it. Since he is on his own, Hans starts to hang around with the odd characters in the hotel. He also becomes obsessed with his childhood game of Cricket. He ends up befriending an umpire named Chuck, a man from Trinidad who turns out to have criminal tendencies and who comes to a very bad end once Hans returns to the UK.

Unfortunately Hans is not interesting as a character, his wife is vile and the rest of the cast are not very interesting either. They are small sketches, but not really people. They aren't that odd either - except for the Angel, but he gets very little stage time. Chuck seems to be a stereotypical non-white immigrant. The book in fact is filled almost exclusively with non-white immigrants. Perhaps that is what modern NYC is like, but its not my experience as a visitor to the city, though to be fair I don't wander off the tourist track. I think it is just the sphere Hans hangs out in. He or the author has a need to be the only white man in the group ?

Which brings up the other issue about Hans. He is supposed to be Dutch, but in his life he talks and often thinks as though he were actually English. There are Dutch references, but also English that seem to include him in the group. The narrative also jumps around from far past (childhood), near past (college), and then it hops into the future, when Hans and his wife are reconciled and living in the UK. He will say he hardly spent any time with Chuck, but then spend an entire paragraph describing his thoughts, actions, and motivations; Information that could only have been gained by the end of their relationship, but being applied at the start.

There was a lot of minutiae about Cricket from famous players, to grass type, its care, maintenance, and field construction. Then he went on about different batting, and pitching techniques, and Han's childhood memories of the games. We also got the history of Cricket in the US, and descriptions of games and venues. Even if Cricket was a metaphor for life, its massively boring if you aren't into Cricket or if you know nothing about it. Much of it has a lingo of its own and is incomprehensible.

The final problem was the actual writing itself. The sentence structure is so long, and convoluted, it should have drawn jail time. The story jumps forward and backward, and other than Cricket there is no real focus.

199FicusFan
Sept. 3, 2009, 9:06am

92. The Sluts by Dennis Cooper, Gay Male Porn, Completed 8/29/09, Stars: 4

I saw this book on LT. I was intrigued by the extreme nature of the topics. They were extreme and are likely to be offensive.

The story is told in an epistolary style: a series of emails, though there is a section that could be a chat. The premise is that men are writing in to a web site to rate their dates with male escorts. I don't know if the web sites for men actually exist, but I saw a documentary on high end female sex workers, and they do actually exist for them.

When they write in they use a screen name so its never clear who is who, and some comments could be from the same person using multiple names. The stories could be true, fantasies or complete lies.

The stories about one escort fuel the board, and he becomes the topic of conversation and speculation. Those in California try to 'date' him. The webmaster often steps in to referee, and point out what he has confirmed as true and what isn't. Then dueling customers post different reports and start calling others' reports lies. Everyone in the book is an unreliable narrator. The story follows the escort through real life events, there is a possible murder and investigation, but even that may not be true. One of the 'Customers' hooks up with the escort and begins offering his services, and there are reports that the escort is an impostor. The customer also becomes a topic of speculation.

The book is like a giant game of telephone, except some are deliberately lying. The motivations are never clear, and there are even people who post 'honest retractions' but its not clear if those are any more honest than the 'lies'.

The book looks at the group dynamics of a small number of people who are in a forum that allows them to expand and fuel their sexual fantasies. Some of the fantasies are sick, evil and even illegal. It is to be hoped that people who express their fantasies are not acting on them, and not engendering them in those who had no idea they existed before reading about them. It is well written, interesting, a bit sad, and often gross.

200richardderus
Sept. 3, 2009, 10:48am

>91 rainpebble: Oh goody goody, a book I don't need to read! Wheeeeee

>92 FicusFan: There are indeed rate-the-working-boy sites, Ficus, and I suspect a lot of what they contain is more in the nature of "Letters to Penthouse" than reportage. (I hasten to add that research for a novel about a porn star/escort that wasn't one-handed-reading and therefore failed to find a market is the reason I know this.)

Dennis Cooper's books are tough for me to read, so I don't very often; this one sounds like something I should read one day, though.

201FicusFan
Sept. 3, 2009, 11:53am

Richard,

It was a tough read. Some of the destructive, violent stuff is hard to imagine anyone wanting to do, or the other person agreeing to accept.

Still I am not sorry I read it, but its probably all I need to read from Mr. Cooper.

And though I do not support the actions in real life, I have no objection to a book about them, that is not simply shocking or inciting. Not at all about censorship, just pick what you want to read and ignore what isn't your cup of tea.

I am not surprised there are those real web sites, but haven't gone looking for them.

202ronincats
Sept. 5, 2009, 5:13pm

Well, you've found a good antidote in The Android's Dream. I found it a hilarious send-up of all kinds of tropes. And yes, an interesting start!

203FicusFan
Sept. 6, 2009, 2:24pm

Ronin, yes it was funny. I enjoyed it very much. Had lots of fun twists.

204FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Sept. 9, 2009, 10:51am

93. The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri, Completed 9/1/09, World Fiction, Stars: 3.5

I saw this book on LT and the premise sounded interesting. It is set in modern day Bombay, in an apartment building. It concerns 4 tenants and the homeless man, Vishnu, who lives on a landing in the building. He has been there for years, and he is now dying. He becomes unconscious and the life of the building swirls around him. He also begins to remember his past and then he dreams, and wonders if he is the god Vishnu.

Vishnu relives his past, as a small child with his mother, and as a grown man with the love of his life, the prostitute Padmini. We follow along and learn about him, and his life, and that of the poor. He is considered drunk, and unreliable but he purchased the right to live on the landing from the previous occupant. She finally saved enough money to retire. She did odd jobs and ran errands for the apartment tenants. Vishnu is too unreliable to take over all her functions, but he does some work for them also.

There are 2 families who are just up the stairs from him. They are both Hindu. The Asrani and the Pathak. The Asrani have a grown daughter that is not yet married. The wives of the families are conducting a genteel war of the bourgeoisie against each other. They are overly concerned with status and style. They have lost touch with their younger selves, when they were open and loving. Material things are all they are concerned with now. They each use their husband as a combatant, forcing them to lie and to flee when they can. The only peace for the husbands is out of the house and away from their wives.

The wives are fighting with each other over the use of water - which is limited at times, and the pilfering of ghee (clarified butter) that belongs to one by the other. They don't have kitchens in their apartments, but share a single one located between them.

The wives who are disgusted with Vishnu are shown barely able to deal with him when he is unconscious, and are pretending that he is OK. They fight with each other over his mess, over whether to call a doctor, an ambulance to take him to the hospital, and the expected hospital bill. He is left lying to his fate. Their bickering is the backdrop for Vishnu's simple human recollections of love and happiness as a child and as a man in love.

The next family involved is a Muslim family called the Jalals. They are quietly despised by their Hindu neighbors. They are a family divided. The wife is devout and the husband is a rationalist. The wife spends her time trying to bring her husband and grown son to practice their faith. The son is secretly in love with the Hindu Asrani's daughter and they are sneaking around.

The last person in the building is a widower Mr. Taneja who keeps to himself. He never got over the death of his wife from cancer. He doesn't have to work, and he doesn't socialize.

Each family and person gets stage time to explain their life. It makes for an interesting story, and a look at modern Indian life. They are not rich, and the apartment building has seen better days and more ritzy occupants. They are part of the middle class.

The other people who flit through the story are the poorer people who serve them. They are shown trying to survive, and are much closer to their feelings. They are also volatile and easily led. At one point they become a mob and attack the Muslim Jalals, when they think Mr. Jalal and his son have kidnapped the Asrani's daughter. The son and daughter have actually secretly eloped, but no one knows that.

Mr. Jalal is also trying to find his faith. So he is fasting and sleeping on the floor. He is very uncomfortable, and one night wanders down the landing and falls asleep next to Vishnu. Somehow he and Vishnu dream of the god Vishnu, and though he is Muslim, he thinks that the Hindu god is the truth. He tries to preach the truth of Vishnu, but this also enrages the poor who work in an around the building, convinced that the Muslim is making fun of their religion. It is another reason for the attack.

When Vishnu finishes dreaming of his life, he seems to have an out of body experience, and he wonders if he is Vishnu.

The book was interesting, funny, and sad at how people can be so callous and cruel, often without thought. The writing was good, the setting and the characters interesting. And though set in India the warning about losing sight of what is really important in life applies to everyone.

I also thought the tenants depicted the different responses to life, The Asranis and the Pathaks are engaged fully in life. The wives get sidetracked by the material world, the husbands are more philosophical but they disengage because they want peace. They are willing to accept the fruit of the world, but not to try to deflect that which is wrong, because it would disturb them. The Jalals are the religious option and they too show the range of responses. The wife is devout and will not consider anything outside her faith. The husband is a rationalist and explores many different faiths, but believes in none. Mr. Taneja is the option of withdrawal from life. He tries to do charity work, but he is unable to actually have any emotional interactions, so he gives it up. He is so inwardly focused he doesn't hear a cry for help from someone hanging off his balcony. The son and the daughter are the option of running away from problems, but in the end you are still stuck with yourself so that also doesn't work. Finally the poor are those who have somehow gone from seeking entertainment to brighten their lives, to being ruled by the need for excitement and entertainment. They believe everything they hear, the wilder the better, and they often act upon it to their and others' detriment.

Each option has its problems and its advantages, but being too dedicated to one causes you to miss the other. Perhaps Vishnu with his lack of boundaries and possessions is the closest to happiness. But he is hampered in the end by his lack of money, since the outside world runs on it and he must live in the world.

I enjoyed it, but thought it was a bit too long. Towards the end I just wanted Vishnu to die and the whole thing to be over. The way the book ends also leaves some of the story threads unfinished. I thought after so much time, I at least deserved a better wrap-up, though it may appeal to those who don't want a nice neat ending

I have a back log of books to review. I have been reading and not posting, so I need to catch up. I have 4 more to do. I am getting close to my goal. Woo hoo !

205richardderus
Sept. 9, 2009, 11:17am

Three more after the four backlogged! Go Ficus, go Ficus!!

Good review, thanks for being so thorough.

206FicusFan
Sept. 9, 2009, 11:29am

Thanks Richard. No only 4 more in total, though of course that will grow as I finish more books. :)

207FicusFan
Sept. 10, 2009, 8:14am

94. The Resurrectionist by James Bradley, Historical Fiction - Horror, Completed 9/5/09, Stars: 4

I am not sure how I became aware of this book. But the subject intrigued me: Snatching bodies from the grave for medical dissection in Victorian London. I had it on my wishlist and tried to order it in the USA. No dice. It hasn't been published here. It also has just terrible reviews and ratings, so I wasn't interested in getting a new one from the Book Depository.

I ended up getting a 'used' copy on Amazon.com - but it was one that turned out not to be used at all.

It was with great trepidation that I read the book - expecting the horrible-ness to rear its head at any moment. I read the whole thing and never saw a sign of it. I really enjoyed the book, though the subject was ookie.

The story is told in very simple prose, without a lot of detail or backstory for the minor characters. The setting is done well, and it helps if the reader has some knowledge of Victorian life and the conventions followed in books; though the story isn’t a long dense tome, as some often are. The POV character has the Victorian distance that can come across as lifeless, but in this case it wasn't.

The description of the dead, their retrieval, handling, washing, dissection, and the mopping up afterwards was straightforward, and not drawn out to be ghoulish on purpose. Given the subject it was impossible not to feel squeamish now and then.

The POV is an apprentice to a famous Anatomist in London. Gabriel Swift is an orphan whose guardian sent him to be Mr. Poll's apprentice. It is obvious from the names used that there are issues of class and familiarity between Mr. Poll, his junior associate Charles, and between Mr. Swift, and the other apprentice Robert. They are not spelled out however, and it is up to the reader to be aware of them and watch for the other clues in the text. This is a book you have to work at, perhaps that and the subject is why it has such a low rating.

In any event the house where the dissections are done has another crooked character, Mr. Tyne the Butler, and the same type of men, the Resurrectionists, come to the door at night bringing their wares. What they do is illegal, so they must be furtive, and it takes a person of a certain disposition to retrieve and deliver the dead. When they are done with them, the remnants are taken off and burned, so they are never returned to their graves, and their family is often unaware they are missing.

The story tells of Gabriel's learning the ropes with Mr. Poll and at the house. He has trouble with some of the more sinister denizens, including a Resurrctionist named Lucan who is at odds with Mr. Poll. Gabriel’s difficulties with these men will come back to haunt him.

Gabriel also learns London and how to have a good time as a young man with money and steady employment. Given his standing he spends time with barmaids and actresses. He falls in love with one, and its unfortunate that she is also a prostitute, allowing wealthy men to fund her meager existence.

Mr. Poll charges Doctors and Students to attend his lectures and view the dissections. I am not sure what path to advancement the apprentices have, since without schooling they are unlikely to be able to become doctors or Anatomists. During the daytime the apprentices go with Mr. Poll and Charles as they minister to the sick and dying in the slums, as well as the wealthy in their homes. Throughout all the professional adventures, Gabriel is not happy, comfortable or really interested.

Gabriel does find he likes socializing, and during one of his visits to a friend of Charles, Thomas May, he is introduced to Opium. It is easily bought in a flask at the pharmacists. Gabriel falls under the sway of drugs, drink, and the actress/prostitute. He also ends up keeping Charles' secrets.

By day Charles is a professional with an engagement to Poll's daughter, by night he crawls the pubs and clubs and theaters and is also a fancier of the actress. When her friend's son dies after a terrible injury, Gabriel earns the hatred of Mr. Tyne in the house when the dead body of the child is rejected for dissection.

The rejection costs the Resurrectionist and the 'butler' money, and earn Gabriel their hatred. Gabriel never mentions the child's connection to Charles. Later when the butler has maneuvered to have Gabriel dismissed, Charles never stands up for him.

Once dismissed Gabriel leaves off any pretense at being civilized and wallows in the gutter. He pawns his belongings and gambles to fund his drinking and drugging. We follow Gabriel as he falls lower and lower in both his mode of living, and it what he does to earn money. Eventually he ends up becoming a Resurrectionist himself, and working for the evil Lucan. There is a falling out, and Gabriel becomes involved in murder, and in a new way of supplying bodies to the Anatomists. Eventually he runs afoul of his cohorts and they take drastic revenge. Gabriel survives, barely, but breaks the law by stealing food, is caught and transported to Australia. The authorities are never aware of his previous gruesome activities.

The last part of the book jumps 10 years when Gabriel has completed his sentence and is living in Australia, under an assumed name. He is a drawing teacher and pretending to be the man (Charles’ friend) who was an artist and introduced Gabriel to Opium. Gabriel spent 7 years at hard labor for stealing, but has never confessed or paid for his other crimes. A chance encounter with Robert, the man he was an apprentice with, causes suspicion among the Australians. Many are also former criminals or descendents of criminals, but all their pasts are known. Gabriel in their midst is keeping his past and his crime a secret. It causes them to withdraw from him and he loses his students. The book leaves Gabriel struggling to have to remake his life again, all without benefit of absolution. Where does one go when you have been rejected by Australia, the land of convicts ?

I really enjoyed the book. It was well written, not too long or dense, and it didn’t minimize or exploit the work with the dead. The setting was well done, and the characters who were explored were interesting. It was definitely a horror story and quite effective.


208FicusFan
Sept. 10, 2009, 5:11pm

95. The Android's Dream by John Scalzi, SF, Completed 9/5/09, Stars: 4.5

This was a read for a RL book group. It is a stand alone and quite a lot of fun.

The premise is that aliens abound, and in fact are part of a galactic empire. Earth is pretty low on the rung, and has made an alliance with another species that is also pretty lowly in status. The Nidu are much more technologically advanced (read better firepower) though, so humanity doesn't want to piss them off.

The Nidu are involved in export quota negotiations with Earth. The human diplomat manages to kill the alien diplomat by use of a specifically mixed chemical fart - don't ask how that works. The aliens communicate among themselves using scent, and very susceptible to odors. There is bad blood between the two diplomats, although only the human diplomat is aware of it. He is avenging a family injury from the past. The human becomes so aroused by his victory that he dies of a stroke. No, really.

The government dealing with the aliens (USA) then has to try to avert disaster, placate their anger, and try to pretend it wasn't premeditated murder. The departments of State, Commerce (Trade), Defense are all trying to find out what the others know, what the aliens want, and what really happened. There are government functionaries, Secretaries, and agents tripping all over each other.

Turns out the aliens will only be placated with a specific gift. It is needed for the upcoming coronation of the new alien king. It must be part of the ceremony. It is a sheep.

And not just any type of sheep but a specific breed called Android's Dream, which has electric blue wool. Humans created it for the aliens and only the Nidu have the right to own it. Problem is that there are other aliens who are Nidu, but a different clan than the present royal family, and they wish to stop the coronation so one of their members can become the king instead. These opposition Nidu have killed all the Android's Dream sheep being held by the Nidu.

So now the official Nidu want the humans to search the world and find a DNA match for this rare breed of sheep.

The POV character, Harry Creek is a low level Stat Department employee whose job is to be the bearer of bad news to Aliens: your wife's visa was denied, your car was used in a hit and run. The aliens start to see him as the Angel of Death.

He is tapped to run the secret search for the State Department, who are trying to stay ahead of Defense, and the anti-Alien private group who is also sniffing around. On top of that some of the agents are working for more than one agency/group. One group no one knows about is a rational religious group called The Church of the Evolved Lamb. They don't believe in a higher power, just in themselves making their scripture happen.

The book is a satire on many facets of modern life. It is funny, and quite a good adventure read. There are twists and lots of excitement. The characters are cool, and the settings are interesting. Good writing and a fast pace.



209mckait
Sept. 11, 2009, 6:15pm

I see that you have kept up with the reading.. :)
nothing stops you!

210FicusFan
Sept. 11, 2009, 6:24pm

Actually I have fallen behind with posting. I still have 2 more to do. Yes I am still reading. Hopefully will finish my current book soon. Then I have another RL book group book to read, and an extra one for my mystery group to squeeze in.

I have also fallen behind reading and posting in all the other Challenge threads I am following. Bad Ficus.

211Berly
Sept. 11, 2009, 9:55pm

It's okay Ficus. Now I know it's not just me!! I feel better. LOL

212FicusFan
Sept. 12, 2009, 11:13am

Thanks Berly. We can be delinquent together. :)

213ronincats
Sept. 12, 2009, 11:34am

Hey, better to fall behind with the posting than to do what I have been doing, falling behind with the reading!!

214FicusFan
Sept. 13, 2009, 10:27am

Ronin, I don't fall behind exactly, but I end up slowing down during the week. I have to balance it with work and computer time. Often I read when I come home, and end up falling asleep rather than reading. :(

215FicusFan
Sept. 13, 2009, 10:29am

96. The Cruel Stars of the Night by Kjell Eriksson, Swedish Mystery, Completed 9/6/09, Stars: 4.0

I read this book for a RL book group, but I had already purchased it before the group picked it. I am drawn to the books set in Scandinavia, the cold and the constant dark are interesting to me.

This is book 2 in the Ann Lindell series that has been translated into English, though it is really the 6th book in the series. I don't know why publishers do that, publish them out of order ?

This book was different than the first one, The Princess of Burundi (#1/#4) in a couple of ways. Ann was on maternity leave then, now she is back with a son who is a toddler, and can talk. The previous one also spent almost all the time with the police. This book spends only occasional time with the police. It focuses instead on the daughter of a man who is missing.

Laura Hindersten reports her elderly 70+ year old father missing from their home. He is a retired professor obsessed with his research subject: Petrarch. Laura's mother died when she was young, so it was her and her embittered father living together. He never received the attention or promotions he thought he deserved, so he took it out on the rest of life.

When the story focuses on the police, it shows them investigating a string of inexplicable murders. Elderly men who lived alone, had no criminal involvement and lived quiet tame lives are the victims. They don't seem to know each other and the police besides looking for clues, are trying to find a link between the men. There isn't any excitement to the crimes, rather they are shown to be a disruption to the banality of every day life for the old and forgotten. Even the police are not really moved. We see the sad effect on the few people left behind after the men have died. Small lives becoming smaller and emptier, as modern life passes them by.

Mixed with their professional involvement are the snatches of home life and personal musings of the police. Ann is trying to balance work and her time with her small son; she is also trying to get over her love for the child's distant and oblivious father, who didn't love her. She ends up awkwardly dating a newcomer to their ranks, a forensics man from another city. Her internal dialog tells of her uncertainty in the new man, and in herself.

Laura meanwhile is on leave because of her father's disappearance, but she also has her eye on a man at her workplace. The problem is, he is married to another co-worker, whom Laura hates. We spend time with Laura as she comes to terms with the permanence of her father's absence. She begins to clean out the house which is packed with old items, clothes, broken furniture, books and the detritus of a lifetime. As she cleans the house and throws items into a dumpster we see her relive her early life, and see her plan for a future with the married man. Physically she is also conducting a war with her nosy neighbors, and visiting her workplace to seduce the man.

The writing is good, though the pace is very slow. The characters seem a little bland and tentative, which mirror their lives. The story didn't really grab me until the end when it started to come together. I liked the book, but was also wanting it to end as I was reading.

216FicusFan
Sept. 14, 2009, 5:16pm

97. Jhegaala by Steven Brust, Fantasy, Completed 9/8/09, Stars: 4.0

This is a book in the Vlad Taltos fantasy series. It is book #7 in the story order, and #11 in the publication order, and that is the major problem with the book. The previous book chronologically (#6) was published in 1990 - so I am a bit rusty with all the connecting details in the overall story arc. I suppose I could have gone back to re-read, but these books aren't really worth it.

Vlad is an Easterner, a human, on an alien world. It is a land of 7 foot Elves, who are bigger and stronger. Vlad has the human ability of magic, and it helps him survive. He is an assassin and has a small dragon (Jhereg) familiar, Loiosh, with whom he is mind linked. Loiosh has a mate - and Vlad has a singing or talking sword. Its been a while so the details are vague, and the sword wasn't used in this book.

Vlad doesn't live in the East with the humans but in the Dragaeran Empire. Humans are poorly regarded and have no rights or standing. Except Vlad is almost a pet to several of the members of the Royal Family, so he gets away with a lot. On his own he was the head of a human crime syndicate, until he turns his own group against him. They are trying to kill him, and his wife Cawti has left him. She too is an assassin, but has different politics. For the life of me, I can't remember what he did exactly to piss all the humans off.

In this book Vlad decides to hide out from the assassins his crime syndicate is sending after him, in the East. Since he is originally from there, he decides to look up his lost and forgotten family. They make paper in some small out of the way place.

The story is of his journey, and his attempts to find his family, and fit in with the other humans. Of course he doesn't fit in. He manages to rile everyone up because he doesn't understand the local power structure and the politics between the merchants' guild, the witches' coven, and the local lord and his paper mill. Mayhem and death ensue. Vlad is incapacitated and has to rely on the Jhereg and the kindness of strangers.

It wasn't a bad book at all, but as I said I couldn't remember his crime, and Vlad only alluded to it. It also seemed like characters in search of a story. Vlad just wanders around and spends time eating and drinking at an inn and the story develops from his presence and the questions he asks. Almost as though Brust had the Eastern idea, but couldn't come up with an actual story to set there.

The writing was good, though much of it is wisecracks: Vlad and those he meets, Vlad and Loiosh, Vlad and himself. He is cynical, and a smart mouth, and sometimes it gets tiring. This time it was OK. I enjoyed my time with Vlad and Loiosh, it was a nice cozy time catching up with an old friend. His books are short and a fast read. I missed the Dragaerans though, and didn't like not really knowing what was going on.

217FicusFan
Sept. 19, 2009, 11:37pm

98. Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost, Non-Fiction - Travel, Completed 9/12/09, Stars: 3.5

I read this book for a RL book group; I would probably not have read it otherwise. I have a minimal interest in modern China. I know they are now big players on the world stage, and that their influence will only grow, but still they don't generate great interest in me.

I have Troost's 2 other books (The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned With Savages ) and have read the first book and enjoyed it. I am used to Troost's style which is lightly sarcastic. He points out the foibles of the group he is writing about. I know this tendency upsets the PC crowd, but Troost is incredibly accurate in his observations and depictions, as well as being funny. I have lived in 3rd world countries and agree with his observations on the tropical island book, and one of our group members has been to China to teach, in several cities and she said he was spot on.

The premise for this book is that he is thinking of moving there with his wife and 2 small children and he wanted to find out what it was like, and the best place for a family. He is a self-proclaimed China neophyte and he wanted to find out what was fact, and what was old, stereotypical, and just plain wrong. Occasionally he remembers the reason for the trip/book, but mostly its just a wander around various parts of the country.

He describes his journey, the places he went, stayed, what he ate, and the people he met. He tries to work out the social reasons for what he observes. He doesn't speak Chinese and he didn't have a guide, translator or minder. He points out what he finds that conflicts with what he thought he knew, or heard, or was told.

He talks about change as the main characteristic of China, there is also incredible pollution, crowding and noise. He writes about what he observes of the people he sees and meets and situations he ends up in. Since its such a large country its hard to know how broadly it applies to others in China. He finds the Chinese engaged in a rush for money and wealth. They seem to still revere Mao, even though he was an evil killer. They ignore the Cultural Revolution. They may agitate for local issues, but seem not to be connected to the national political questions. They do seem to know what will draw the police and avoid those who cross the line and bring in the authorities.

The parts about their behavior regarding personal hygiene and what they eat and how they kill it, was gross. Though I had read articles about both by others, so I know he is not making it up or exaggerating.

He travels by car, train and plane. He goes to Hong Kong which is China-lite as the civility of the British still prevails, and to Tibet, where the country is basically overrun with Han Chinese and under military occupation. He also travels in between these 2 extremes. He finds that there are very wealthy people, middle class people, and incredibly poor and abandoned people. As a foreigner he stands out and is treated with kindness, with revulsion, and like a pet, by different groups and individuals.

The book was interesting, funny and well written. It seemed a bit slower than his other book, but it might be that there was just more meat in a book about China than there was in a book about living on a small tropical island.

218mckait
Sept. 20, 2009, 7:20am

I must be hungry
I kept seeing the authors name as toast.

I do believe I will pass on the book.. but didn't want to pass on saying HI
to you this morning :)

219ronincats
Sept. 20, 2009, 3:05pm

Re: Jhegaala.

Actually, Vlad was a small cog in the Jhereg who are the crime syndicate but he is one of the few humans affiliated with it. Each of the houses of the Dragaerans has an animal as its logo, and we come to find out, probably some gene pool as well. So the Jhereg, by definition, are Dragaerans, although the lowest house because they actually seem to be the leftovers of all the other houses. The humans, some of them, are upset at Vlad because he wouldn't get involved in the human rights activities (although it is the Easterner's rights, because the Dragaerans refer to themselves as the humans). That's Cawti's big beef with Vlad. Since Vlad has practically zero interaction with other Easterners in Adrilankha, other than his grandfather, due to his dad doing his best to be an imitation Dragaeran, he's only concerned with a few individuals, namely his grandfather and Cawti. So he cleans up the mess that the protests have made in the human part of Adrilankha, buys up the Organization's interests in that part of town, and makes a present of them to Cawti. And then, since the Jhereg are after him for actions related to that, decides it would be a good deal to leave town and the Empire. Good time to check out his distant roots in the East.

This is not the strongest book in the series. It suffers from having to stick to previous back story and a relative lack of action. But I still really enjoy the series, and recommend it to one and all.

220FicusFan
Sept. 21, 2009, 12:28am

Hi mckait, thanks for stopping by. Toast, a good one.

Ronin, the Dragaerans are poorly described through out the series. Yes they belong in houses and identify with the animal of the house, and have its characteristics, and possibly its genes, but it is Vlad and therefore Brust in Jhegala that calls them Elves - this in the 11th book in the series. I always previously thought of them as evolved dinosaurs.

Vlad ran his own criminal business out of a Tavern in the human enclave at one time, it was a cog in the Jhereg's machine, but he liked to think of himself as independent. If I recall correctly, he was ready to give it up even before the mess with the humans and Cawti happened in book 6. The more time he spent with Morolan and his family members the less Vlad was interested in what he once was. There was also a run in with a goddess at some point.

I find the books to be light fluffy fun, but lacking in depth, detail and not worth a lot of time.

221FicusFan
Sept. 21, 2009, 12:32am

99. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Historical Fiction, Completed 9/13/09, Stars: 5

I read this for a RL book group. I like historical fiction, though prefer mine set in the BC time period. It was a large book, and I was dreading having to read it, expecting it to take a long time. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was blown away. It was a quick, riveting, fun read.

The book is set in Edwardian England, and in the present day. The POV, Grace, is a former servant, a maid, in a big country estate. She lived in the village near the house and goes to work there at 14. Her mother was a maid there before her. There is a secret about her mother's time at the house, and why she left, but no one will speak about it.

In the present day, Grace is in her 90s and living in a nursing home. She is contacted by a woman who is doing a film about a death that happened on the estate in 1924. A poet killed himself at a garden party. The family became notorious is a minor way. The contact stirs Grace's memories of the events and the secrets she alone knows, because everyone else is dead.

The part of the story set in the past, is Grace recalling the events of her life. It is interspersed with present day issues. She is very old and declining as the book progresses. She is dealing with her relationship with her nurse, and her grown daughter, which are at times prickly. She meets and talks with a production assistant and an actress.

Her main reason for dredging up her memories is not just for the film, but for a series of audio tapes she decides to make for her grandson. He is grown and a successful author, but has vanished. He is dealing with the death of his wife, feeling guilty about it, and has abandoned his life. Grace, with her own association with the death at the estate, wants to explain how you can be involved in events, be unable to stop them, but can't let them destroy you.

I think the issue with the grandson is what saved the book for me. It is minor, but it turns the book into a living story, rather than a static recitation of the past. I always find that looking backward exclusively is a boring way to tell a story. You already know that everything works out or the narrator wouldn't be there to tell the story.

Grace's memories bring the family at the estate and her fellow servants to life. The bulk of the past story is focused on them. Grace eventually became a ladies maid to the elder daughter, Hannah, and quite emotionally attached to them all, but especially to Hannah and the younger daughter Emmeline.

Grace also tells of her life, her lost love, her mistaken marriage to another, the birth of her daughter, WW I and WW II, her receiving a Doctorate in Archeology, working on digs, and her discovery of her mother's secret. Most of Grace's personal story is told in a few lines of conversation without a lot of detail. It was sometimes frustratingly limited. The story of her lost love and her discovery of her mother's secret is woven into the story of the family and has depth.

I found everything but the Doctorate and the work on digs to be believable and a good addition to the story. She was no longer in school at 14, yet she went on for a terminal degree ? She earned her degree after the war as a Continuing Education student and divorced working mother, I doubt she would have the time or money. Then she somehow was actually working on digs around the world, with no strong connection to academia, it all seems absurd.

The story is one of family, of loyalty, perseverance and of forgiveness. It had a great emotional impact, the characters were that well drawn, and the stories that interesting. I was worried that the author might try to emulate the writing of the time and that the book would be slow and staid. It was smoothly written and flew by, I read it in almost one sitting, and just loved it. I found the various members of the family to be confusing at times in the beginning, but just let it roll off me.

I only saw 2 questionable items in terms of historical accuracy that struck me. Morton has the aristocratic household using fish knives and forks, and while they came in during this time period, they were considered middle class and not used. Then a ladies maid would have been called by her surname: Reeves, not Grace as they do in the book.

222FicusFan
Sept. 21, 2009, 12:40am

I have 99 books listed - it includes 1 that I quit and didn't read, so I have 98 books read.

Last year I read 97 books and I set my goal for 1 more this year: 98. I have now completed my goal. with a little over 2 months left to the year. Yeah me !.

I started this challenge because I knew that even if I didn't get to 100, 98 would be close enough. I have also met the 100 books read (haven't posted the reviews yet), so I am not sure how far I will get in the rest of the year, but ti will be fun.

Thanks everyone for stopping by.

223mckait
Sept. 21, 2009, 5:35am

I had The House at Riverton, but had somehow acquired it in large print. I gave it to a friend who needs large print. I have got to try to get it from the library, I hear oly good things..

224englishrose60
Sept. 21, 2009, 6:42am

That's another book I covet. Love the books set in late Victorian/Edwardian era.

Congrats on reading 98 books.

225msf59
Sept. 21, 2009, 8:05am

Great job on the 98 reads! I look around at my tbr piles and my extended wish-lists and wish I could tackle that many per year!

226jfetting
Sept. 21, 2009, 8:33am

I really enjoyed The House at Riverton, too. Glad you liked it! And congrats on reaching your goal. Unless you stop reading entirely for the next 3 months, you'll definitely hit 100!

227richardderus
Sept. 21, 2009, 9:34am

Great to have achieved the goal! Congratulations, Ficus!

*bustles off to find The House of Riverton at the liberry*

228FicusFan
Sept. 21, 2009, 9:22pm

100. The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson, Mystery, Completed 9/18/09, Stars: 4

I read this book for myself, and because it was part of the series we were reading for a RL book group. It is the 3rd and last book in the Ann Lindell series that has been translated into English. I had already started the series before my book group picked it.

This book is actually the 7th in the series, the other books in English are #4 and # 6. I don't know why publishers do that, publish books out of order. Its not helpful for recurring character development and the overall story arc.

This is a mystery set in modern day Sweden, in the city of Uppsala. It is for me, the best of the 3 It is still bleak, slow and features recurring characters full of ennui, but the addition of the Mexicans make it almost normal.

The Dakar in the title refers to a restaurant. It is one of two that are run by drug dealers, Armas and Slobodan as a front. They import drugs from around the world, break them down into smaller packs and then have local dealers push the drugs in Uppsala's neighborhoods. The police are unaware of the operation.

The Mexicans are 3 brothers, simple, poor, farmers, 2 of whom were fooled into carrying drugs - thinking they were packages of important papers. Angel died in Germany when the police chased him and he ended up in front of a train. Patricio was caught at the airport in Sweden and is in prison serving a 7 year sentence - since he did not talk about who paid him to carry the drugs.

Manual who didn't participate, comes to Sweden to see his brother in prison and to find out what happened to Angel. Manual is told about Armas, Slobodan and Dakar by his brother and he goes in search of these men. He feels they owe money to Patricio and Manual can use it to make his time in prison better, or for their mother. Manual is a POV character, and very concrete in what he wants, and what he thinks.

Eriksson uses the Mexicans to show the poverty, oppression, and hopelessness that makes the offer attractive to the 2 brothers. The older brother, Manual doesn't trust the men, but can't provide specifics about what he thinks is wrong. He doesn't participate, but the others do.

The other POV character is Eva. She is Swedish and a divorced mother of 2 teenagers. She has been laid off from her job at the Post Office and is not working. She hears about a job as a waitress at Dakar, which she gets. She has 2 perspectives on the story.

As a mother of 2 teen boys, she is worried about drugs, and violence in her neighborhood. One of her sons gets involved in it and she is terrified of the police, and of what his life will become. We get to see the destruction of innocent lives when they are lured into something from which there may be no way back.

Her other perspective is as an employee at Dakar. Even though it is a front,it is also a good, working restaurant. Through her we get to see the staff, who are not involved in drugs. They have lives, and dreams and pride in their food and service, but it can all be swept away by the criminality of the owners. Co-workers and friends have their lives and relationships wrenched and ruined since they are not important to the owners, and are mere bystanders to the police.

Then we get Ann Lindell, Police Officer as a POV. She is more concerned with her personal life, her ex-lover, her son, her recent love affair, and her relationship with friend, neighbor and babysitter, than anything else. I have no idea why she seems full of doubts and in search of misery, but she is. She and her co-workers are trying to unravel the mystery and make adjustments for each other and their likes, dislikes, and personal/professional needs.

Various interesting events happen and there is murder and mystery. The books don't end how you would expect them to, but often you are just glad they are over. In this case I was happy with the ending.

The writing is good, but some how the stories are very slow. I liked Eva and the Mexicans, but often feel the desire to slap Ann and the other police officers. Eriksson has very ordinary characters, and the stories are very intimate trips into their lives.

229bluesalamanders
Sept. 22, 2009, 7:47am

Good job meeting - and surpassing - your goal, Ficus!

230FicusFan
Sept. 22, 2009, 8:07am

Thank you.

231FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Sept. 22, 2009, 8:54am

101. Then Belichick Said to Brady by Jim Donaldson, Non-Fiction, Sports, Completed 9/19/09, Stars: 3.5

I saw this in the store, and I am a sucker for Patriots' books. Unfortunately it is very similar to the previous book Donaldson wrote Stadium Stories: New England Patriots. On top of that, there isn't a lot of narrative. It reads like press clippings pasted in, jumping from one anecdote to another. They are organized in chapters so the subjects seem related.

Its not terrible, and it has interesting stories, and stats. He interviews former players, coaches and owners. It also comes with a CD that has interviews, though I haven't listened to it yet. I guess I am just disappointed that the book is more a retread than something new.

I bought it new in hardcover - not worth it. If you haven't read Stadium Stories then it would probably be fine as long as you don't expect any narrative or analysis.

232FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Okt. 3, 2009, 3:30pm

102. Psycop: Partners by Jordan Castillo Price, Mystery, Fantasy, Gay Male Romance, Completed 9/20/09, Stars: 4

I heard about this book on LT. It is part of a series, but I only ordered the first book, because I wanted to see if I liked it before committing. Of course I did, so now I have to order the rest.

This book is an omnibus of the first 2 books in the series: Among the Living , and Criss Cross . It is good that they are combined because they are both short novels, only 253 pages in a trade sized book.

The stories themselves are multi-genre. They are mysteries, the main character, Victor, is a cop in Chicago. The substance of the stories is about a murder/crime and Victor's personal life. He is not a typical cop, he is more geeky and unsure of himself. The other genre is fantasy. Victor is a psychic and he teams with a non-psychic cop, the idea being that they both won't get wiped out by the same things. Because Victor is a psychic he can see and hear the dead. He has to live very carefully to keep them at bay, and he also can't go certain places where people have died - like hospitals. He often has to medicate himself to keep himself sane. The drugs are legal and prescribed, but Victor uses too many, he also uses alcohol and other drugs to feel like he is alone in his head.

The final genre is romance, because the personal story is how Victor meets Jacob and falls in love and lust. When not dealing with Jacob, Victor is obsessing about his various issues.

Victor's long time non-psychic partner is retiring. Victor is at the retirement party when he meets Jacob. He is the non-psychic half of another partnership from another precinct. They have a quick passionate grope and then get called into the station for a murder investigation. There is a serial killer who is going around and killing and then displaying men after sex. Victor is assigned a new partner, Lisa from New Mexico. Lisa seems to fit right in, and she clicks with Victor, but she also has a secret that comes back to cause her grief.

The investigation moves forward, as does Victor and Jacob's relationship. The ending moves into the fantasy realm again when the bad guy is identified and there is the final confrontation.

In the second book, Lisa is away, and Victor is now partnered with another newcomer, Roger. He is like an annoying puppy, always underfoot. Victor has physical problems in this book. He not only sees and hears the dead, but begins to feel their touch. They also are now flocking to him. Victor over medicates and it causes problems with his internal organs. He ends up on medical leave. Meanwhile - Jacob has to go view an execution and Lisa keeps calling with cryptic warnings.

Victor manages to blunder into the hands of the bad guys, and is kidnapped. The story then is about how to survive, alert others to his predicament, and then escape. The ending again uses fantasy, this time fantasy science. Victor and Jacob come to an positive understanding about their relationship.

The writing was good, I liked the characters, and the fantasy premise, the romance was sweet. It was perhaps a bit light on the mystery and crime aspects of the story. I would have preferred more meat, and more actual mystery. I plan to read the rest of the series.

233richardderus
Sept. 25, 2009, 12:20am

I'll be moving these up to the top of the wishlist after this. Thanks, Ficus! Good review.

234FicusFan
Sept. 25, 2009, 7:51am

Thank you Richard. I enjoyed the stories, but they are on the light and fluffy side - just so you know.

235Berly
Sept. 27, 2009, 12:14pm

Ficus, this one sounds intriguing. Thanks! And I am all in for light and fluffy just now.

236FicusFan
Sept. 27, 2009, 2:52pm

Thank you Berly. I am sorry if you are having troubles. I am very remiss in my reading of the challenge threads I am following. I hope it all works out for the best for you I am sending you hugs and positive vibes.

237FicusFan
Sept. 27, 2009, 4:29pm

103. Bottomfeeder by B.J. Fingerman, Vampire, Completed: 9/21/09, Stars: 4

I saw this book on LT, and had to get it. I am a sucker for vampire stories, of all flavors, and this looked interesting.

This story is set in the modern day, and the flavor is hardboiled and sardonic. The first couple chapters are very funny, in a dark and disgusting way.

The POV is an accidental vampire, Phil Merman, who lives in NYC. He doesn't know what happened to make him into one. It took him a while to figure out his problems (burning in day light, can't eat food, weight loss, general deterioration).

Before becoming a vampire he was married and had a full time job. He lost both, and his normal life when he changed. He also eventually lost the love and respect of his parents: he couldn't visit during the day, ever; he lost his wife; he doesn't have a decent job; he doesn't age - they think he wastes all his time and money on his appearance.

Phil is in his 50s (56 ?) and looks only 27, the age he was when turned. When the book opens he is working part time for an agency that takes hardcopy news photos and digitizes them. Phil gets the gory, nasty ones, sometimes even ones of people he killed. He has a very clinical professional view of the death and dismemberment he sees in the shots. Most photos are of the dregs of society, the bottom.

Besides trying to live as normal a life as possible, he hunts for food, and for answers about what happened to him. He tries to hunt only the marginal, the criminal, the violent, people who won't be missed and whose removal may even be a benefit to society. He makes sure to kill them, because he thinks his attacker didn't finish him off and that turned him. Phil doesn't want to create any vampires. It makes him a bottomfeeder, and he is surrounded by carnage, both professionally and personally.

There is a great deal of disgusting description of those at the bottom. Not just the killing but the conditions they live in, and their physical condition.

One night, in a bar, he is approached by another vampire. He has lived 30 odd years as a vampire, and never seen another of his own kind. Eddie Frye opens up Phil's life. He takes him around to various other groups of vampires, all of whom have different lifestyles. As the reader you get a glimpse of some of the other vampire lifestyle cliches, and a new twist: vampire day care.

Most of the book seems to be more a slice of life story than one with a specific goal or aim. As the book winds down there are some events that end up driving the story and the ending. There is a twist and a sad ending. Phil solves the mystery of his becoming a vampire.

I liked the writing, the humor and the characters. The main character was reflective, and bitter, but not whiny. The make-believe of being a vampire was blended well into real life. I did wish in the middle that there was more of a goal to the story. It seemed to be just work, hunt, socialize, and repeat, and I wanted something more. I didn't think the visits to the different vampire groups really added anything, it was just a way to add decadence to the story.

Fingerman used the modern-traditional version (religion doesn't work, and no changing into mist or animals, no mind control) of vampires, and
he did it well.

I enjoyed it and it reminded me of Huston's books, though not as raw, and the POV vampire here was more of a nerd than hard and cool.

238mckait
Sept. 27, 2009, 5:43pm

mmm sounds good!!

239FicusFan
Sept. 27, 2009, 5:54pm

My Kath, what big front teeth you have ! :) Thanks.

240msf59
Sept. 27, 2009, 8:26pm

Ficus- Loved the review of Bottomfeeder and I have wishlisted it! As I've mentioned to you before, I love Huston's Joe Pike series! BTW, I still have not read Every Last Drop. Why, I have no idea!

241FicusFan
Sept. 28, 2009, 7:37am

Thanks Mark. Hope you enjoy Bottomfeeder.

Possibly you are prolonging the series by not reading it, or perhaps you are worried it won't live up to your expectations, but in any case I am sure you will read it eventually. :)

242FicusFan
Okt. 3, 2009, 3:28pm

I have 3 shorts that I read on-line. It seems odd to count them as individual reads, but I added them as individual 'books' (ebooks) so I will give them each a number.

104. Normal: Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price, Mystery, Fantasy, Gay Male Romance, Completed 9/20/09, Stars: 3.5

This is actually 100 word Flash Fiction. It is set in the Psycop universe and concerns the characters Victor and Jacob.

The POV is Victor and he is thinking about the concept of normalcy while he and Jacob are having sex.

You can read it on-line, no ebook reader needed.

http://www.psycop.com/normal.html

Its OK, but way too short, and while its after Victor has seen/experienced something bad, I wish it was anchored into a particular time and place in the stories.

105. Mind Reader: psycop by Jordan Castillo Price, Mystery, Fantasy, Gay Male Romance, Completed 9/20/09, Stars: 3.5

This is a very short story, set in the Psycop Universe. The characters are Victor and Crash, Jacob's ex-boyfriend, and they are visiting an Egyptian Exhibit at a local museum. Crash wants Victor to scan for 'mummy ghosts'.

It is extremely short, and rather unsatisfying. There is nothing that moves the stories/series forward, and it doesn't really hold your interest that well.

Of course it might be me, I have trouble with the shorter forms.

This can be read on-line for free. No ebook reader needed.

http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/mind-reader---a-psycop-short-%28gay-romance%2...

106. Thaw: Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price, Mystery, Fantasy, Gay Male Romance, Completed 9/20/09, Stars: 4

This is a very short story. It is set in the Psycop universe and it concerns Victor and Jacob. It is winter and very cold. They are skating together at an outdoor rink.

This is the best of the 3 shorts that I have read. It is enclosed, but you feel it is a slice of their life. It complements the stories/series and it makes their romance real. Its very sweet.

It is also a free on-line read. No ebook reader needed.

http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/thaw---a-psycop-short-%28gay-male-romance%29/...

I have 2 more books in the Psycop series that just came in from Amazon to catalog and read. The author has also expanded to stories in the same setting, that don't contain Victor and Jacob. Right now I am sticking with those that do contain them.

243FicusFan
Okt. 3, 2009, 5:23pm

107. Geisha by Liza Dalby, Non-Fiction, Completed 9/27/09, Stars: 4

This is a non-fiction book by an American woman who is an Anthropologist and has a history of living in Japan. She speaks the language, has Japanese friends, and understands the culture.

She chose the Geisha as a research subject for her thesis. This book is a narrative of her time with the Geisha, as well as a brief history of the Geisha within the Willow World (pleasure quarter), and the greater Japanese society. She doesn't include a lot of statistics, but summarizes some data. She was there in the 1970s, so the modern portion does not have current information but the book is still interesting and informative.

While conducting her research, she stays mostly in a Teahouse or Okiya in one of the hanamachi or Geisha districts in Kyoto, called Pontocho. She visits other teahouses in Kyoto, in Tokyo and in the country at a mineral springs resort. While in the teahouse in Pontocho she is accepted into the world of the Geisha and ends up working as one.

They lend her kimonos, help her dress and with her makeup, have her hair professionally done, and teach her the basics. She is the first westerner to ever work as a Geisha. Part of the book is looking at how the Geishas and their lives have changed, not just from long ago, but before the war, just after, and into the 70s. The changes in the Geisha world are presented against the changes in overall Japanese society. Geisha history is also presented, and is well done, not a bunch of dry dates.

At one time Geisha were actually bound to their Teahouse, because they were sold by their poor parents. They were expected to observe and learn as waitresses and buss-'boys' in the Teahouse. When they reached 12 or so, if they were good workers, seemed to learn well, and had a personable quality they would be sent to classes to develop a Geisha talent.

Geisha means a person of the arts, and they learn dancing, singing, and playing on traditional instruments. They often specialize in what suits their talent and interest best. Those that didn't make the cut as Geisha were sold to brothels to become prostitutes. In modern times older girls try out the life, but many find the hours and the discipline required too much and quit. Only a few continue with the training, trying to turn their lives into a work of art. Young Geisha in training in Kyoto are called Maiko. They become connected with an established Geisha, an older sister, who mentors them. More learning by observing and doing is required, as they go out and work with customers. Once they are ready they become Geisha themselves. In the past the Geisha's virginity was sold, in modern times she becomes old enough, and has spent 1-2 years as an apprentice.

New Geisha must pay off the debts accrued (mostly for Kimonos) by working for the Teahouse. Once the debts are paid, the Geisha can work for herself, but will still be affiliated with a Teahouse.

The relationship between Geisha and Teahouse has changed from the past to the modern day (70s). Geisha are no longer bound or enslaved, their house can't entrap them in loans, and they are more independent. They also can't start as young, because of child labor laws. While Geisha are considered repositories of ancient culture and tradition, and given respect, many parents do not want their daughter to become one.

Geisha can't be married, so they must give up a husband and children. They are also seen as old fashioned, and by some as repressed. Dalby explains the roles of Geisha and wife and how they are not in conflict, she also spends time explaining that as working, independent women they are not repressed. However in my view, the prime function of a Geisha is to use her art to cater to men. She is at the mercy of their whims, wants and attitudes. Many Geisha parties are given by professional men for business colleagues, and clients - an old boy Teahouse network, that generally excludes women and helps prevent their moving into top business and political roles.

I enjoyed the book, and found it interesting and informative. It was written well and flowed easily. The Japanese terms and language were just right, with explanations of what they meant, but not too much so that you got lost trying to learn the language.

Dalby also presented the Geisha and the Japanese in terms of their own culture, and not as imperfect Americans.

I would have liked more information about the basic Geisha training and more explanation about the hair, makeup and kimonos. I also wish it was up to date, since I understand from other sources, that there has been a decline in the number of Geisha since the 70s.

There is a new edition printed in 2008, that has an new preface by the author, where she talks about changes since the 70s. I may try to find it just to read the preface.

244msf59
Okt. 3, 2009, 5:44pm

Hi Ficus! Yes, I am prolonging the Joe Pike series, by not reading his latest! I heard he is only writing one more in the series. If this is true, bummer! Are you a fan of Karin Slaughter? I have never read her but I heard her interviewed today on a NPR podcast and she sounded very appealing, so I was thinking of giving her a try.
BTW, I'm deeply immersed in The Likeness. French is a heck of a writer. She's very deliberate but sucks you in. Hope you are having a great weekend!

245FicusFan
Okt. 18, 2009, 7:15pm

108. The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog by Nancy Ellis-Bell, Non-fiction, Nature, Completed 9/28/09, stars: 1

I saw this book in the store and had to have it. I love parrots and macaws especially. I had a scarlet once.

The writing was good and the 'story' seemed funny. The story was of how the author rescued a wild-caught, disabled, chronically ill Blue and Gold Macaw. She took in Sarah a bird with one leg, Macaw Wasting Syndrome, and a refusal to allow anyone to touch her.

It seemed a slam dunk as a fun, heart-warming book, until the author opened her mouth as it were. It turned out to be a sad, inaccurate tragedy that could have been prevented.

Unfortunately the funny story was achieved by allowing the bird to terrorize everyone in the family, the author, her husband, their dogs and cats. Just not the way you should allow a macaw to act. They will try to be dominant and if they achieve it they will be badly behaved and dangerous. It may seem to be kind to allow the bird to do what it wants, but it is a false sense of kindness because the bird is looking for safety and structure.

Ellis-Bell compounded her bad decisions by eventually allowing the bird to live outside its cage, even though it was not trained or socialized properly. More terror and destruction ensued. Also very dangerous for the bird. Possibly flying into glass windows/doors, getting bitten or scratched by the dogs and cats, and chewing into wires or toxic household items.

She then decides that the bird should be allowed outside ! She doesn't clip her feathers, she doesn't train the bird to step-up or to come when called. No she just lets the bird do what it wants. They live in Northern California, weather and habitat that is not conducive to survival of a lone macaw, a tropical species.

Which brings us to the other really terrible problem with this book: inaccurate information. She says macaws have no predators, not true. They are large birds, but still preyed upon in their own country and this one by hawks, eagles, and other raptors. She decides that a viral disease, Macaw Wasting Syndrome is really caused by not allowing the bird to fly, because its body starts to digest its own muscles !! She decides lack of flight allows an enzyme to build up and that is why her macaw is sick. She has no medical training, research or information to back this up, she just decides it.

Of course bad things happen. They live surrounded by huge trees 80-120 feet. The bird eventually flies into a huge tall tree, and can't get down. It becomes frightened by the height and the wind and can't move. It is fall coming on to winter and the weather is cold and wet. It ends up in a low 80 foot tree. After several days, the author, rather than try to go to her, or putting up a ladder so she can climb down. gets a tree climbing stranger to go up. The terrified bird flies from tree to tree, deeper into the forest. She spends several more nights outdoors in bad weather, no food, water, or warmth.

This is when the author becomes unbelievable. While her bird is lost, and fighting for her life, Ellis-Bell is shopping for another macaw. I am not making this up. She is told of a hand-fed scarlet that needs a home, and goes to visit it. She eventually gives up on Sarah, deciding that she is still alive, but flew off to be free. She brings home the new bird, and life goes on. Of course Macaw Wasting Syndrome is very contagious, and she doesn't talk at all about cleaning and disinfecting where Sarah was.

At some point they find Sarah's body at the foot of a tree.

Her bio says she had 3 macaws. We know about Sarah and the new one, but that means there is another that she doesn't talk about. what a shame it was probably killed or injured by her stupidity as well.

What I don't understand is why the publisher allowed this book to see the light of day, and to push it as a triumph of love. It is a triumph of shallow, selfish, stupidity.

246FicusFan
Okt. 18, 2009, 7:45pm

109.Ipod The missing Manual (7th Edition) by J.D. Biersdorfer, Non-Fiction Computer Reference, Completed 9/29/09, Stars: 3.5

I got this book because I got a new Ipod Touch, and they don't come with a manual. It covers all the Ipods, and Itunes too. I would have preferred one that was just about the Touch, but this was all they had at the book store and I wanted something immediately.

It is well written and organized, and was helpful. I have a Classic as well as the Touch - and it helped me figure out how to get all my covers on Itunes.

There is a web site that is available for more help.

I would have liked more coverage on file storage and reading/editing which has to be done with an App. Although the book was published not too long ago (7th Edition), it was not accurate with the Itunes interface. I don't know if that is because they were displaying the Mac version, and I have a PC or it it had changed.

I also wish they had talked about Mobile.Me.

Still it was helpful and worthwhile.

247FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Okt. 19, 2009, 4:19pm

110. Departing at Dawn: A Novel of Argentina's Dirty War by Gloria Lise, World Fiction, Completed 10/1/09, Stars: 3.5

I saw this book on LT and it looked interesting. The story of a woman, a medical student, who sees her union activist boyfriend thrown off a balcony, right before the generals take over Argentina. Fearing for her life she flees the city. Her refuge is deep in the country, with her mother's estranged family. It is set in the 70s, and deals with the oppression and terror of the new regime.

The main character, Berta, talks about how her countrymen accept the take over at first, because they are tired of political strife and violence. Slowly they realize this is a different kind of dictatorship than they are used to, or expecting. The new people kidnap, torture, and kill indiscriminately. Berta is wanted because they think she has union money that her boyfriend raised. Oddly her mother and 3 brothers are never threatened or arrested. In fact the whole idea that the regime is after her is treated like an afterthought - something to explain her flight and to try to develop tension.

We see her trip to the family home and how she fits in even though her mother left in anger. We see the rhythm of life and family that gives her a foundation she lacked. They were all shunned by her father's family, because he was already married when he took up with Berta's mother. He eventually marries her, but the damage has been done. Berta's maternal family are also not happy about the relationship, and her mother severs their connections. Berta's father dies, and they are left alone.

Berta gets warnings from her mother and must move again. She goes even deeper into the wilderness to stay with an elderly sick uncle on the farm where they all originated. She meets the head of another family, an Indian family, they squat on the same land as her family and have for generations. The 2 families cooperate and have learned to survive. She uses her medical training and helps a local mid-wife deliver babies for poor, isolated women. Again another warning, and Berta must flee to Spain.

The book tells of her arrival there, but ends rather unsatisfyingly. The whole book is a bit unsatisfying. The writing has flashes of beauty, but is rather amateurish. Most authors write a story to set the scene, explain the background, describe the ambiance. Lise just makes lists. Every dramatic moment, Lise makes lists of adjectives to explain things. Very poor for the story. I don't think the translator can be blamed for a lack in the writing by the author.

The book is also billed as a story about the political oppression of the general's take over of Argentina in 1976. Yet the story is much more about Berta's family situation and re-connecting with her maternal family than it is about the dictatorship. Disappointing. It is very short, and that can be a good thing when the book is mediocre, but also gives no chance for depth and story development. Unfortunately this seems to be an instance where the subject is deemed so important, that the poor execution is not only overlooked, but praised. It does no good to the author, the subject or the book.



248Berly
Okt. 18, 2009, 9:11pm

I am so sad about the macaw! Thanks for the reviews; I think I shall pass on all 3. In stead of a manual for my Itouch, I just ask my 16-year-old! Works like a charm. :)

249FicusFan
Okt. 31, 2009, 4:39am

Sorry, I have been remiss in posting and replying.

Thank you Berly. I am sad about the bird too.

Being a book person, I get a 'how to book' whenever I do something new. Of course, I also don't have a son to ask. :)

Mark, The possible last book in the Joe Pitt series My Dead Body has been published. I have picked it up but not read it yet. I like the series but the last one was repetitive to me, I hope this one is better. It may be time to end the series if he can't do anything new with it. We'll see.

I haven't read Karen Slaughter, but have heard of her. I have both Tana French books, but her series was picked by my RL mystery group for November, 2010, so I won't be reading her books until closer to that date.

http://www.librarything.com/topic/44645#1420769

Hope you have a good weekend too (though not the same one you were talking about).

250FicusFan
Okt. 31, 2009, 4:42am

111. Death Comes As the End by Agatha Christie, Historical Mystery, Completed 10/7/09, Stars: 3.5

This book is an historical mystery set in ancient Egypt. It was the reason I read the book. Unfortunately, although set in ancient Egypt it could really have been anywhere. The setting was mostly an afterthought, and a bit of set dressing. I filled in a lot from my own store of reading and knowledge about ancient Egypt, which caused me to be dissatisfied with the reading experience of this book.

The story is of a funerary priest, Imhotep, who is entering the end of his life. His job is to pray for, and conduct offerings for a dead noble. He has been given an estate and money to insure the upkeep of the tomb and the required rites. He makes a good living, and has responsibilities to his society. His wife died long ago, and he has 3 grown children, 2 sons and 1 daughter. He also has a sulky teen son who has not been recognized as an adult yet. His aged mother lives with him.

The story opens with Imhotep away at his estates in the north. His family is on the estate in Thebes, where the tomb is located. His grown daughter, Renisenb, has recently been widowed and returned to the family with her little girl. She is the POV character. Through her eyes we see her remember the family she thought she knew when she left it as a young girl. Now she is learning it as an adult. She thinks that all is the same, but little differences make her uneasy. She wants to settle into the safety of the past.

Her grown brothers are chaffing at the fact that their father doesn't allow them to make any decisions about running the estate; their wives are contending for status; the younger son is petulant because although he is their father's favorite, no one treats him with respect.

Reni just wants to return to a peaceful life, while she forgets the life she had with her dead husband. She is friendly with the man, Hori, who works with her father and is his business/accounting manager. He is a poorer distant relation, and while older than Reni, he is not as old as her father. She remembers him from her childhood. Another person in the house is a poor woman her mother brought home, Henet. She is not family, and not exactly a servant. She is a busybody, and is always reminding everyone how much she does for the family with no thanks. She has wormed her way into the good graces of Imhotep, but the others dislike her and wish she would be sent away. Esa, the aged mother sees all, and understands much.

When Imhotep returns home, he brings with him, a young beautiful concubine, Nofret. It sends the house into an uproar. She is mercenary and devious, but he only see her false front of love and softness. He also brings a young scribe from his northern estate who has spotted embezzlement there. He is being rewarded and promoted by being moved to the Theban estate.

After a time Imhotep is summoned north again, and he leaves Nofret behind, and enjoins the family to treat her well and care for her. During her time there she has upset, angered and injured most of the family members. Soon after Imhotep leaves, she is found dead at the foot of a cliff. At the top of the cliff is a path they use to travel up to the tomb and chapel that the family must care for and venerate.

Imhotep returns in great distress, and they bury her and try to move on. But suddenly family members begin to die, or fall deathly ill. The hunt is on to find the killer. Some think its one of them, but others think it is the unhappy ghost of Nofret, who died under mysterious circumstances, and yet nothing was done to find out how she died.

Reni, Hori and Esa try to solve the mystery and stop the deaths.

I read mysteries, and have read other Agatha Christie books. They are OK, but I am not a big fan. The small-English-village ones seem too cookie cutter. This book was rather simple. The writing and characters were OK, but again, simple. The mystery was interesting, but the cast of suspects was too small. I didn't hate it, but it just didn't grab me, and I really didn't care.

251FicusFan
Okt. 31, 2009, 4:54am

112. Alexander the Great: A Novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, YA, Historical Fiction, Completed 10/11/09, Stars: 2.5

Smoothly written, can't blame the translator for this. It is a YA book, that whitewashes and romanticizes Alexander.

No conflict with Philip - except one scene for which Philip eventually apologizes
No conflict with Olympias
No conflict between Olympias and Philip
No 'relationship' with Hephastion, other than special friend
Hephastion is left home for many of the battles, because he is 'too delicate' for the field.
No son from Philip's second marriage
Philip's murder was due to 'verbal insult' to Pausanias
No Roxanne at all
No relationship with Bogoas, he becomes a local somewhere who alerts Alexander to a plot
No political killings
No conflict with Aristotle over his adopting barbarian ways
No destruction of Persepolis

Many times the characters talk about 'Greece' a political/national concept that was unlikely to exist at that time.

They also often talk about 'God' or 'God of Greece' when they were polytheists. Christianity sneaks in.

The barbarian ways that have softened the Persians, and that Alexander adopts are called 'Anatolian' ie: Turkish. Modern bias seeps in, with the Greeks blaming the Turks for bad things, when neither political entities even exist yet.

Alka the daughter of the admiral and 'friend' of Stephan, behaves and is treated like a modern girl/woman.

At times almost too sweet to get through.

252FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Okt. 31, 2009, 5:33am

113. A Test of Wills by Charles Todd, Historical Mystery, Completed 10/12/09, Stars: 4

This is an historical mystery set in England after WWI. It is the start of the Ian Rutledge series. This series was picked by my RL mystery book group. I never would have read this book otherwise. I enjoyed it very much and will continue on my own with the series.

The story is about a Scotland Yard inspector, Ian Rutledge. He was in the war, and is just out of the hospital for shell shock. His girl dumped him while he was in the hospital, too afraid to deal with the damaged Ian who returned from the war. Ian is still shaky and brokenhearted, trying to get back to normal. He hopes work will help him. He was good at solving crimes before the war.

The problem with Ian is he seems to be haunted by the dead sergeant he ordered executed for refusal to advance. He also had to administer the coup de grace to Hamish when the firing squad didn't kill him. Hamish talks to Ian, and torments him. Ian has to keep Hamish a secret or he will be considered not just shell shocked, but crazy.

With the record of his illness he can't afford any problems with his new cases or he will be retired, and possibly sent back to the hospital. Unfortunately, Ian's superior, Bowles, hates him. He is not of the upper class, and he feels Ian is too privileged. It makes Bowles angry because he sees how easy it is for those with connections to get help to navigate the problems of life, while people like him slog it out alone. He wants to bring Ian down, while projecting a false front of help and support for him.

Bowles finds the perfect case to sink Ian. It is set in the country in Warwickshire and involves the murder of a retired colonel and local top man. The prime suspect is a decorated war hero pilot who has been hobnobbing with the royals. Not solving it will bring disgrace, and solving it will bring the ire of the establishment and the palace.

Ian is sent along, and not given all the details. He has to feel his way around, and meet all the locals and work out who did it. It is a typical English Country House mystery, though spread out to the local people and village.

Ian struggles with Hamish, with the thought that he may be crazy, with the locals and their secrets and wish to protect their own. It is well written, interesting in terms of the setting, characters and mystery. One of the questions is how real is Hamish, and the author never addresses it directly so you keep guessing is he real or part of Ian's diseased mind ?

I read the second book also for the group.

253aquascum
Bearbeitet: Okt. 31, 2009, 9:17am

re:message 245 (The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog) Thank you for your discussion, it gives me back some hope... I'm a vet, and see the kind of behaviour of the book's author, and their pride in the misshandling of their animals a lot. I am very relieved that others can see throught that, too.

254msf59
Okt. 31, 2009, 7:52am

Ficus- How are you? Missed seeing you around the threads! I'm looking forward to picking up My Dead Body but you might be right, time to wrap that series up, although I still have to read Every Last Drop.

255FicusFan
Okt. 31, 2009, 1:48pm

114. Wings of Fire by Charles Todd, Historical Mystery, Completed 10/14/09, Stars: 4.5

This is the second book in the Ian Rutledge mystery series. I found the series because it was a choice of my RL Mystery book group. I read the first 2 for the group, but will continue the series on my own because they are well written and interesting.

In this story Ian is sent to another village in the country, Cornwall this time. A poet and her brother commit suicide, and then another brother falls down the stairs and dies. Another family member asks a relation, a minor lord in the Home Office (?) to send someone to find out if the deaths were really what they seem. The family is age old local gentry, and the poet was famous for her war poetry, though she used an assumed name.

Ian is sent by his superior Bowles, who is trying to sabotage him. Sent without all the information, Ian and his haunt/illness Hamish, a lasting present from WWI, are supposed to discretely determine if murder is afoot.

Hamish is the sergeant that Ian executed at the front for refusing to advance. He has been verbally 'haunting' Ian since he woke up in the hospital. Ian suffered from shell shock after being buried alive in a bomb blast in a trench at the front. Ian keeps Hamish a secret, otherwise he would be judged crazy and sent back to the hospital.

Hamish is angry and vindictive and tries to upset Ian, but sometimes he forgets and actually helps Ian with his detection. The reader is never sure if Hamish is part of Ian's diseased mind, or is really a separate entity haunting Ian (a bit of fantasy).

Ian is very rattled to learn the dead poet was a woman, since he found that she was spot on about being at war and on the battlefield. The poet a woman, and a cripple, was never at the front even in a supporting capacity, so how does she come by her knowledge ?

This story is a very tangled one about the most recent generation of the family in question. The mother married 3 times and had multiple children and a step son. Those remaining alive are suspects that Ian has to question, but they are all outraged (except for the secret requester) that the police are involved. The locals also have knowledge of the family secrets and wish to protect them. Ian finds that he has to look into many more than 3 family deaths, all while not upsetting the family and the locals.

I really liked it, even more than the first book. The only problem is towards then end the list of suspects is dwindling, and Ian makes a statement that gives it away.

Good writing, great characters, wonderful setting, and an intricate plot, just a great read.

256FicusFan
Okt. 31, 2009, 1:59pm

Thanks Mark. I have been reading and the time seems to slip away. Busy at work, long hours and then I come home and collapse. Haven't even been able to browse much, but I hope to catch up and join the threads again.

Well its just my take on the series, you may find that its all still great and you still love it. Who knows, I could have just been in a cranky mood when I read Every Last Drop. I hope you enjoy both. :)

Thank you for your comment aquascum. I am sorry to hear that there are more-wing nuts out there endangering their pets, though I am not surprised. There are plenty of granola crunchers who think modern medicine, science and rules in general are automatically evil, and they do terrible things to themselves and their children. Probably too much to hope that their pets escape the same fate. I suppose that is the market the publisher was aiming at, scary to think there are enough that they can support a book.

257msf59
Okt. 31, 2009, 2:11pm

Hi Ficus- BTW, I started a Charlie Huston thread in the Crime & Thriller Group, for avid fans. Stop by and say hi: http://www.librarything.com/topic/76122

Mark

258FicusFan
Nov. 1, 2009, 1:41am

115. Death's Daughter by Amber Benson, Urban Fantasy, Completed 10/17/09, Stars: 2

This book was a read for a RL SFF book group. It is an urban fantasy book that takes fantasy/horror elements and makes them true and places them in the modern day real world. It is also written by a celebrity, from the Buffy TV series. It is her first book alone. She really shouldn't have bothered, its awful.

Let me say that the mechanics of the writing are good. The story is a quick read, that flows well. It is understandable, if only the story it was telling was enjoyable, and the characters were believable. The writing was why I rated it 2 stars instead of lower.

I read urban fantasy, so I don't object to the book because of the sub-genre. The big problems are the main character and the back story of the magic element, and the actual story itself.

The main character, Death's Daughter, Calliope, is a twenty something dingbat who acts like she is a brain damaged 15 year old. She is stupid, shallow, and self-absorbed, and very boring to read about. She whines all the time, about everything. One of the standards in this type of book is about difficulties in life and personal relationships the main character has, the problem is that if this isn't handled well, it is not humorous, cynical asides that further characterization, but annoying, selfish, whining that makes you want the character to die, horribly.

She is also an emotional basket case: she wants to left alone, wants to be allowed to make decisions, wants help, and then resents it when it is offered. She is obsessed with fashion and brand names, so that the book reads like a product placement script, and she is only concerned about how she looks and the nearest hot guy. She can't see a male her age without having the hots for him, wanting to have sex right there and then, and simultaneously hating him.

This may be a realistic portrayal of some type of teen girl, but they are not characteristics that make for interesting reading for an adult. This book is not marketed to YA or teens, but to adults in the SFF section.

The back story is not even introduced until well in, when you are already asking how this all works. When you are thinking about how it all hangs together, you are not focusing on the story. Not good. The problem is that Death is a modern tennis playing man with a 30 year old wife and 3 daughters, 2 of whom are in their 20s and one is still in high school. Did I mention they are all immortal ? Okay, so how are they so young and recent? Death is as old as life, so how are they not as old, especially if they are immortal ?

There is some mumbo-jumbo about god and the devil agreeing on a committee to confirm Death the person - huh ? In the offspring of the current Death there is one that has the birthright to be the next Death - but if they are immortal, why do they need more than one ?

Her father has renounced her birthright for her (when she was a child) to protect her from those who want to be Death for the power and immortality. If someone else can renounce it for you, what does it matter if you have this magical birthright or not ? If you are immortal as she is (as one of Death's family), how can someone hurt her ? Why would he raise her magic-free so she is clueless about even simple things like getting around in the magical realm ? AND AGAIN, IF DEATH IS IMMORTAL, WHY DO THEY NEED A SUCCESSOR ?

None of it makes sense.

The actual story is supposed to be a mystery, of who kidnapped Death and all his minions, including her older sister ? Calliope has one short interview with a magical cop and he decides she is the perp, even though she had been away from her family living under a forgetting spell. There is no attempt to set up or solve the mystery realistically. Other characters are shallow and stereotypical. Her mother, younger sister, and family lawyer automatically believe that she is the guilty party, that she conspired with the devil, after treating her as inept and brainless.

It is all set up to stage colorful fantasy scenes and battles. Benson uses Indian and Greek mythology for her magical realm. Its interesting, but its all about Calliope completing challenges to be confirmed as Death, not in trying to find out who kidnapped them, or where they are ? The villain at the end could have been Santa Clause, there was so little set up.

So much of the story was not connected well, or explained how A led to B that meant C had to happen.

It just was an unpleasant experience that I wanted to end as quickly as possible. The only interesting characters were the Hell Hound Puppy, and the goddess Kali.

Will NOT continue with this series.

259DarbyW
Nov. 3, 2009, 8:43am

Thanks FicusFan. I just finished this book and had no one to talk with about it. Your have put into words my scattered thoughts and reactions. I was sort of in a daze about it all until Bouboulina died and now I am haunted by the description of the 3 types of men, those who live for themselves, those who live for others, and those who live for the universe. I keep applying that to everyone I know and try to categorize. I too was thrilled to read the "letters" from Zorba the narrator received after they parted. I appreciate your thoughts on this book. Thanks.

260FicusFan
Nov. 3, 2009, 4:44pm

Thank you for your kind words Darby.

I like your idea of the 3 types of men - very cool.
Not sure if there was a similar idea for the women? I will have to think about it.

261richardderus
Nov. 4, 2009, 6:49pm

Over in "Le Salon Litteraire du Peuple pour le Peuple," Salon founder EnriqueFreeque started a thread called "Thanksgiving" in which he publicly gives thanks for his blessings.

Ficus, I thank you for being so clear and so strong in your presence here on LT. It's a pleasure to see your posts, because in a sometimes wooly and cloudy world, your gift of clarity makes my journey a little bit easier.

262mckait
Nov. 5, 2009, 6:29am

just trying to catch up...

*waves*

263FicusFan
Nov. 6, 2009, 8:16am

Wow Richard, Thank you. I am blunt, and opinionated, but I do try to be clear in what I am saying. :)

Of course there are times when I am ambivalent, but luckily, not often.

Hi mckait *waves back *

264FicusFan
Nov. 10, 2009, 5:20pm

116. Troll by Johanna Sinisalo, Fantasy, Completed 10/18/09, Stars 3

I read this book for a RL book group. I had already picked it up because it had such hype when it came out. I let it sit for a couple of years, and then read it for my group. I really wanted to like it more, but it was rather meh, disjointed and even a bit beyond the pale in some connections its makes.

The story is of a young man who is full of himself. He is a photographer, gay, and personally and professionally hot. He is called Angel, but his real name is Michael. Those in his circle hang out at this cafe and their interactions are like soap operas. He loves someone, who is leading him on and then saying he is not gay; he is loved by others, whom he doesn't even recognize as existing.

One night he is going home and he finds some thuggish teens trying to beat up a small young troll. In this story, though set in modern day Finland, trolls are real. They live in the woods and usually keep away from humans.

Angel adopts the troll, and takes him into his home, and eventually his heart. He names him Pessi. The story follows Angel as he tries to save the troll who is sick at first and then to teach him how to live with humans and in an apartment rather than the wild. Angel becomes strangely attached to him, and plans to keep him, rather than returning him to the forest. Eventually Angel uses him as a model in a photographic spread that becomes wildly successful. The success has a dramatic impact on Angel's human relationships. Pessi and Angel's relationship wanders into forbidden territory and leads to bloodshed.

The writing was fine. Often a translation has issues, but I don't think the problems can be blamed on the translator.

First the story was broken up with little insets of information about trolls. There was religious, historical, folkloric, even scientific information. It was helpful and interesting, but it made the story choppy and lacking in cohesion. Towards the end of the story the insets become newspaper stories about crimes and gun killings of humans in and around the forest.

Second, I really didn't get the characters, and certainly didn't care anything about them. It didn't help that some were referred to by more than one name, so you weren't really sure who was who. They were really self-absorbed and rather flat, not like real people. The guys were all playing games.

The one woman, a downstairs neighbor and mail order Filipina bride, was barely able to communicate. She was also beaten, downtrodden, and living in fear of her abusive husband. She had a strange fantasy relationship with Angel, mistaking his kindness for interest. I really have no idea why she is even in the story at all. Perhaps to show a human who is living and being treated like an animal, with Pessi an animal, living and being treated like a person. In any event she is the only developed character to me.

Pessi doesn't really have a personality to me, and he is ill-defined, perhaps deliberately. The informational insets clearly call him an animal, but the folkloric ones say that at time the Fins treat trolls as people. Angel begins to have a strong emotional attachment, that hints at a physical relationship.

The connections of having a gay character flirt with bestiality as though its no big deal, I find troubling. Even worse is the way Pessi is portrayed as being able to pass as a young boy. So now we have connected gay, bestiality, and pedophilia, as though they are all different aspects of the same thing. Perhaps that wasn't the author's intent, but that was the impression I got as I read the book. The racist 'Black Man' comment is also not cool, but perhaps the author is unaware of the implications of calling an animal a black man.

The ending was just odd, and wandered into fantasy. it did leave you wondering though.

I just didn't really enjoy the book all that much.

265FicusFan
Nov. 11, 2009, 2:36am

117. Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro, SF, Completed 10/23/09, Stars: 4

I enjoyed this book, but the reading of it was not fun. I am not sure why, I wouldn't call it badly written, but it was like trying to walk through deep, quick drying cement. It was very slow and while it was interesting, it didn't grab me until almost the end of the book. Not sure what the issue was.

The story follows a government diplomat, Andrea Cort, who is a virtual prisoner. She is a survivor/perpetrator of a mass tragedy. Being indentured for life to the government is the only thing that keeps her free and alive. Other governments want to prosecute her for what her 8 year old self did.

Her world is made up of various worlds and governments, some human, some not. They have a confederation, that dictates how they treat each other, but allows them to do whatever they want to their own citizens. Many people sell themselves into service with a government to get away from their circumstances. If they survive and complete their term, they get pension benefits that allow them to travel and to live as they like.

Besides the organic lifeforms in their civilization, there are computer intelligences, AIs. They have been around longest, and pursue their own agenda. They are more powerful than the organics, and are treated gingerly.

Andrea is sent to a large enclosed habitat in space. It has been created and is administered by the AIs. They have created a life form just for the habitat, which is primitive, but sentient. The AIs control access and all activities in the habitat. Humans have been chosen as the species that can study the Brachiators. There is a team of indentured scientists there. Andrea has been called in because there is a murder, and given the AI control they are the likely suspect. Because of their power, and ubiquity they can not be charged, or tried as the perpetrator. Her handlers want her to find a scapegoat and close the case. Of course Andrea has other ideas. She wants to find the real killer, and doesn't care who she pisses off in the process.

The habitat has almost no horizontal spaces, everything is vertical, and the Brachiators live by clinging to giant vines. The humans have a platform where they have ships and offices, but they must venture out into the vertical vines to live and work with the Brachiators. They sling cables, hammocks and hanging tents between the vines and it is out in the vines that the murder occurred.

Andrea was told she was specifically asked for, something that those on site deny. There has also been another murder while she was in transit. There are more murders when she is there.

The book is the story of Andrea's investigation, her trying to find out the true story of how the murdered people fit in and interacted in the challenging environment. Many of those left behind have secrets that she must ferret out. Even the Brachiators are involved in one murder. Andrea is also fighting with her own demons, her government handlers who deem her expendable, and with the AIs who are being less than forthcoming.

As I said I enjoyed the book. I liked Andrea and some of the people on the habitat. The habitat and the Brachiators were interesting, as were the AIs. The aliens were well done, and the humans were believable. Andrea was a bit rough, but she warms up towards the end. There are also a couple of a twists at the end, which I thought worked well.

It took a while to really grab me, but it was worthwhile all along. It is the start of a series, and I have the second book and will keep reading. I hope the writing issue will work itself out.

266FicusFan
Nov. 11, 2009, 7:37pm

118. The Gods in Winter by Patricial Miles, YA - Fantasy, Completed 10/24/09, Stars: 3.5

This is a YA book that is set in England after WWII. It is quaint, and it has a touch of magic in the normal English countryside. Some of the Greek Gods in local guise take up with an English family. The family eventually suspect who their housekeeper is, and her magical family visitors, but each side keeps mum about the secret.

The main character is Adam Bramble the young son of the family. He is writing a recap of their experiences. The family has decided that nothing is as accurate about what they have seen as a 9-12 year old boy. So Adam was given the job. They plan to bury the manuscript as a message to the future.

Their housekeeper is the Goddess Demeter in disguise. She is the mother of the Goddess Persephone, who is stolen by Hades into the underworld for part of the year. Mrs. Korngold is there to help Mrs. Bramble around the house. She is about to have a baby, and has the house and 3 other children to care for. Her husband is a government employed scientist and often travels, and can be very forgetful of mundane life.

Strange and scary things happen around Mrs. Korngold; she also causes wonderful things to happen. The family struggles along accepting Mrs. Korngold and trying to be as normal as they can. She comes to them in the fall, when her daughter disappears. She is there through a terrible winter, and she leaves with her daughter in the spring. She has terrible depressions, and strange and violent visitors.

I enjoyed the book. It was a quick read. It was well written, fun and interesting. The family was good, and the kids great. I liked the time spent in their world. The Gods were mysterious, but Mrs. Korngold could also be a good egg.

I saw this on another Challenge thread and it grabbed my interest. I enjoyed it and am glad to have read it.

267FicusFan
Nov. 11, 2009, 8:04pm

119. Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, Speculative History, Completed: 10/25/09, Stars: 3.5

I had heard about this book, but never read it until recently. There was a copy on a central table at a local bookstore, and I decided to give it a try.

Turns out there was nothing new to me in the book. I have seen several speculative history/science TV documentaries that cover the same material.

I have it tagged as both fiction and non-fiction. It seems obsessed with the idea of alien progenitors, which while I can't rule out 100%, seems unlikely. But I imagine many of the naysayers who revile von Daniken believe just as strongly in some god or religion, which is just as far-fetched. I think aliens and gods are the opposite sides of the same coin.

What gets lost in the alien chatter is the many anomalies that are part of the historical/archaeological record for which we have no explanations. So were the ancients much more sophisticated than we believe ? Then you run into the Atlantis crowd, and their naysayers. It seems that there is no serious research attempting to examine the past, without jamming it into the predefined time line and standard script. It may turn out to be the correct depiction of the past, but I would feel better if we at least pretended to look everywhere before we wrote off the 'crackpots'.

The book was a quick read, and only had a few awkward patches due to the translation.

268FicusFan
Nov. 11, 2009, 8:41pm

120. The Gigolo Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer, Mystery, Completed 10/28/09, Stars: 4

This is the 3rd book in the Turkish Delight mystery series. It is set in modern day Istanbul, Turkey and follows a nameless POV who is a transvestite. By day he is a computer guru, and by night she is the manager of a club for transvestites and those who appreciate them. She takes Audrey Hepburn as the center of her world. Because she is well known in the community, people come to her with their problems. Being on the fringes and ignored by society and often justice, there are lots of problems. It seems murder falls into her lap quite often - usually touching friends or those in the community.

In this outing she is chasing a hunky, married lawyer when he receives news that his brother-in-law has been arrested for the murder of a gigolo, who had his hooks into everyone. Trying to score nooky points with him, she decides to investigate. Of course she becomes a suspect when the brother-in-law is eventually murdered too. She explores the under side of society and finds it quite seamy - with connections to the sex trade, blackmail and smuggling.

Although the book is a translation, the writing is fine, and everything makes sense and it is a breeze to read. I found this to be the best of the 3 books in terms of characterization of the POV character. She is less selfish, self-absorbed, rude, stupid, and violent. It also seemed less campy. Unfortunately it seemed to have less of a real detective story.

There was a bit of talking and visiting, about the murders but it seemed to be filler for the rest of the book. The real story seemed to be a day in the life. In this book the gay, crippled, masochistic, religious fanatic computer hacker is back. He too is toned down and the POV hires one of her girls to discipline him as a reward for some illegal information retrieval.

I will keep reading the series, I want to see what happens next. Also it is so unusual.

269FicusFan
Nov. 29, 2009, 3:30pm

121. S.: a Novel about the Balkans by Slavenka Drakulic, World Fiction, Completed 10/25/09, Stars: 4

I found this book browsing a used store. It looked interesting and the subject was certainly meaty. It looks at the inhumanity of war, from the POV of a non-combatant and victim. The inability of one person to make a difference in the determined chaos of an almost matter of fact hatred. How life and routines crumble in the face of a stronger reality when enforced by violence.

The story is set in Yugoslavia I think, ( in one of the splintered parts, Bosnia). It is set during the war and told from the POV, of S., a Muslim woman who was a prisoner of war.

It is the story of her capture and internment in a camp. She is an educated woman from the capital, working in a peasant village as a substitute teacher at their school. Because she is young and pretty she ends up in the camp's Women's Room. Where they keep woman the guards want to have sex with. And not just sex, because they are disposable women not protected by law, some are beaten, tortured, mutilated and even killed.

S. talks about what happens around her, how the men and older boys are taken out and shot, both at the collection point, and later from the men's camp. How the women react to the situation. They are herded into a large empty space with a concrete pad: no beds, no bathrooms, no heat, little food. Some come together to help each other and some begin to prey on each other especially the weak. Through it all the guards and prison officials are
shadowy menaces. There seems to be very little actual hate, and in fact that is for me the biggest problem with the book. Its rather limp.

All the names of Bosnians are just initials; Others are listed by their profession - there is very little humanity in any of the characters, even the victims. The hate from the Serbs (?) is muted, the pain, fear and horror from the victims is muted. They just seem bland and confused. The author is more concerned about the class differences between the educated, classy S. and the ignorant, coarse, peasant woman from the village. Religion is not really explored, and no one in the book seems particularly religious.

Not that I want to read graphic descriptions, and wallow in it, but with such a powerful subject, I should have a much more emotional reaction.

There is also little attempt to explain or understand why neighbors are suddenly turning on neighbors. So the author doesn't do a good job with the emotional content, and s/he doesn't handle the reasons for the war and the hatred.

The women in S.'s camp are exchanged for prisoners the Bosnians had, and they end up in a Bosnian refugee camp, waiting to be resettled. They can't return to their homes because they have been taken by the Serbs, or destroyed. People are waiting for relatives to take them in (though many like S. have had their families killed) or for foreigners to take them in.

The result of the rapes is that a lot of the woman are pregnant, and so is S. The pregnancy is a visible sign of their abuse, and a death sentence for either the women or their attempt to return to their community and have a normal life. The women are blamed for their dishonor, and the author doesn't really deal with that either. S. finds out too late for an abortion, and so she must deal with the alien life in her body. She comes to hate it and wants it gone as soon as it is born.

She applies to go to Sweden as a refugee and is accepted. She meets a former classmate there, who eases her into a quick settlement from the Swedish refugee camp. The story follows her life in Sweden until the birth of her child. Of course there is a redemptive ending, which I found bogus in terms of real life.

I found the depiction of S. to be good and probably accurate for a survivor of such a horror: she is numb and muted. The problem is, it makes for a pale story. It isn't a bad book, in fact its quite good, but it seemed it could have been so much more.

270FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 23, 2009, 3:51am

122. Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea, World Fiction, Completed 10/30/09, Stars: 4

The cover and title of this book grabbed me in the book store. I don't think I have ever read anything set here.

It is a short fast read, that is translated from Spanish. I enjoyed it, but didn't get a lot of emotional connection with the characters.

It is a story set on a train that is traveling overnight from the high plains of Bolivia to the coast in Chile. The main character is a young man who has just finished school for the year, and indeed will be going to college next year. It is the final trip he is taking, and the first on his own without parents or guardians.

He travels this way every year after school is out. Because he is alone for the first time, he sees the trip and the people with fresh eyes. He is from an upper class, rich family, and he knows most of the people on the train in first class with him.

The first class passengers are the focus of the story, but we also see those in the background who are part of the fabric of life in 1950s Bolivia and Chile. The social set float across the top and the poor, and the Indians do the work and the suffering. We also see the official infrastructure with the train, an arm of the government, making life easy for those in charge. It is staffed by mid-level bureaucrats who bow and scrape to the rich, and then take out their spleen on the poor and defenseless.

There is ostensibly a murder on the train among the first class passengers, but its not a serious mystery. The victim is a coarse man who bankrupted his boss, an aristocrat, and then forced his widow to allow him to marry the young and beautiful daughter. The widow and the daughter are saved from disgrace and poverty and the man gets a hot wife and entrée into society, as well as the dead man's money. No one in first class cares that he has been killed, and in fact help the wife and daughter hide the death when crossing the border so they won't be pulled from the train in the middle of the night. In fact they all help to make the death look natural. He was fat, and unhealthy and supposedly went to sleep and died - rather than being smothered.

Several of the first class passengers are actually disguised and not what they seem. There is the vengeful relative, and a supposed priest who is really a labor organizer on the run.

The real first class passengers see themselves as above the law, in fact they see it as the law is supposed to work for them, to make their lives smooth, and to do what they want.

A true slice of life of the place and time.

I enjoyed it and was interested in the world the author created.

271msf59
Nov. 30, 2009, 6:52am

Hi Ficus- As usual some very good reviews! The Drakulic book sounds very interesting and horrifying, especially since I just finished The Cellist of Sarajevo, which also deals with the siege.

272FicusFan
Nov. 30, 2009, 10:50pm

Thanks Mark. I have been so remiss in posting to this thread and doing my reviews. I have 19 books to catch up on. Bad, bad Ficus.

I have heard good things about the Cellist book. Not sure if I will get it or not.

273FicusFan
Dez. 3, 2009, 4:19pm

123. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, YA fiction, Completed 10/31/09, Stars: 4

I heard about this book on LT, when it was still in Hardcover. It seems so many books I read now are LT inspired ! I waited for this book to come out in paperback. When it did I was shocked to learn that it was a YA book. Not that the writing was difficult, but the subject matter just didn't seem to be YA material. Don't we already frighten children enough ?

The book is about a young girl who has been kidnapped by a pedophile, and has spent years with him. Needless to say he abuses her and terrorizes her, so that she goes along with his wishes. He even leaves her alone and she doesn't run. He tells her that he will kill her parents and the new baby they have, which she has never met.

The book opens with "Alice" (the name her abductor gave her) getting too old and too big for him. He starves her to keep her child-like, but she is now a young teen. She is afraid of displeasing him, but also acts behind his back in a furtive manner when she can do so safely.

He decides that Alice will help him find a new little girl for him. Alice knows that when she is replaced she will not be released, but killed. It is what happened to the girl Alice replaced. Alice is not only fine with that idea, but can't wait for it to be over.

The story is told very simply and without a lot of gory detail, but it is still harrowing. I suspect the author is trying to emulate what she thinks a child would talk and think like. Unfortunately, I find Alice to be a very dumb child. I think adults have difficulty seeing young children as real thinking individuals. Or perhaps Alice simply has no backbone. Who knows, but the book left me feeling underwhelmed about Alice, despite her plight.

There are two other troubling issues touched on in the book, besides Alice's treatment.

One is that when she was younger she ran to an adult and tried to escape, but was not believed and was returned to her captor. Still invisible as a teen, she goes to have a bikini wax that removes all her hair, even though she is too young to need such a thing. Not the woman waxing her, or the older women in the waiting room, ever ask any questions.

Alice finds that for all the child-centric talk and rules, no one really wants to get involved, or disrupt their lives and schedules. Her captor says she is being home schooled to explain why she never goes to school. He is always with her, and she is so well behaved that many in their apartment complex think of him as an ideal parent. Adults see what they want to, and what they wish most for their own children.

The other issue is that Alice has no qualms at all about finding, luring and helping him to catch another girl to take her place. Even though Alice knows what a frightening, physically damaging and ultimately fatal relationship it will be. She only wants her own suffering to end, even though it means death.

Of course Alice is only OK with the idea of death, not the reality of it. That revelation may come too late for Alice, as there in not a happy, but an ambiguous ending.

It makes you think of the circle of hate and violence. That often those who are sucked into it young, grow up to do the same to others. There seems to be no way out.

The book was well written, if in a very simple style. It was a quick, riveting read (hard to say enjoyable because of the subject matter).

Spending time with Alice many times seemed realistic, for how a teen would think and act, but at others seemed too idealistic (as though it were Pollyanna who had been kidnapped, not a modern child). I can't say I think it would be good for kids to read, but there are points that parents should talk to their kids about.

274FicusFan
Dez. 3, 2009, 6:37pm

124. Veil of Roses by Laure Fitzgerald, fiction, Completed 10/31/09, Stars: 4.5

I saw this book in the store and fell in love with the cover. I skimmed through it and it seemed to be a feel-good type of story, looking at life in the US from foreign eyes. I brought it home and put it on my TBR pile. It sat there until just the right moment, after reading about child rape and murder; I needed something warm and life-affirming.

It is light and fluffy and could be called romance or chick-lit, though it has a bit more meat than most in either genre.

The story is of the youngest daughter, Tami in an Iranian family. They are well off and she went to college and started a career, accepted moves to delay marriage. Not that she doesn't want to marry, but she doesn't want a man she has never met, chosen for her. She wants to date and fall in love. She doesn't want her life ruled by her husband's parents. Her parents support her in her goal, and also want her to leave Iran. They returned to Iran after the Shah fell, and her father has been denied an exit Visa and he and her mother are stuck there.

Tami has an older sister who lives in the US. She married an Iranian-American and it is what they all hope will happen for Tami. She needs to marry an American to get the right to stay in the country. She has 3 months to do it in. Her visitor's Visa then expires and she will have to return home permanently to an arranged marriage.

The story could be quite dated, with the idea that a modern woman must marry to have any chance at happiness, but it was handled well. Tami didn't want a man to complete her, she wanted a chance to bloom in a new garden where she would be free.

The story follows Tami as tries to adjust to life in the US to navigate the sometimes thorny relationship with her sister Maryam, and to explore freedom. Along the way she meets an American young man, Ike, with whom she has a prickly but charming relationship. The prickly part is that he is forbidden fruit - her sister is only considering a Muslim, Iranian-American man as a possible husband. Tami is drawn to Ike, but knows he would cause an uproar with her sister. Tami also goes to ESL school and meets a group of people from other nations who are trying to fit in and become Americans. She forms friendships and tries out different things on her own, things we take for granted.

There is some humor with her adventures in dating, especially when she attracts on OCD germ-a-phob, whom her sister wants her to marry, and her brother-in-law can't stop making jokes about. There are ups and downs, and some wacky possibilities.

There seems to be some controversy about the portrayal of Iranian woman and culture, with some denouncing it as fake, and others saying it is spot on. The author's husband is apparently from Iran. I wouldn't take anything as gospel with out researching it, but this is a work of fiction, and I suspect that just as there are many different pictures of American life (depending on age, region, class, wealth, education, race, ethnicity, religion), there are a similar number of different pictures of Iranian life.

What I really liked were the characters and the writing. I was rooting for Tami and Ike to get together. I loved the tone of the book and it seemed to have avoided the dreaded plastic perfection of many romances. It was a book that I couldn't put down and the warmth has stayed with me long after reading it.

I will look forward to her next book.

275FicusFan
Dez. 5, 2009, 3:14pm

#271, Mark, I tried to get the Cellist, but my B&N was out.

I did find another book about the Bosnian war, what one person's disappearance in the war does to his loved ones. It is The Evolution of Shadows by Jason Quinn Malott. It may be his first book. I has good reviews here, but I haven't tried it yet.

276mckait
Dez. 6, 2009, 7:08am

good reviews, as always...Veil of Roses sounds really good!

277FicusFan
Dez. 7, 2009, 11:27am

Thanks mckait. Hope you enjoy it if your read it.

278FicusFan
Dez. 19, 2009, 3:03pm

125. Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost, Non-Fiction, Travel, Completed 11/1/09, Stars: 3.5

This is the second travel book where Troost writes about living in the South Pacific. He is Dutch, but has spent most of his time in the USA. After the first book about living in Kiribati, he and his wife moved back to the USA.

He tried to work in the normal rat race, and couldn't. So he got his wife to get another exotic job in the South Pacific and they were off again. This book is the result of their second attempt to live there.

This book seems a little less funny, a little shallower and a little more forced. He is trying to be funny. Its not bad, but it lacked the whimsy of their first adventure.

He spends some time with the natives and their motivations, but it reads more like a series of travel reports of different areas that are set up for tourists. There is less sense that this is the place they are going to live, and more that they are passing through.

It was a quick, fast read. The writing is good, there is humor. Probably will not be appreciated by the PC crowd.

I read the first book The Sex Lives of Cannibals and the most recent one, Lost on Planet China. I enjoyed them all, but prefer the first book out of all of them.

Will try to catch up on posting my reading for 2009. I may run out of year before I finish.

279FicusFan
Dez. 19, 2009, 3:59pm

126. Terminal Cafe by Ian McDonald, SF, Dystopia, Completed 11/7/09, Stars: 2

I saw this book on LT. It looked just right up my alley. I love the idea of the dead and how their return disrupted society and how they dealt with it. The result of nano-tech changes the reality of the world, but the laws, traditions, an politics don't change. It allows the dead to be exploited almost like immigrant/foreign workers now. The problem is this book is incoherent in both writing, character development and story telling.

I am reminded of a dark, intricate stained glass window that has been broken, and reassembled in any order, so that the pictures no longer match up or make sense.

There may be certain fragments of the story that are interesting and written well, but there is no continuity, no focus. The story follows a group of friends. They seem to be rich, spoiled, and dedicated to pleasure. They are bored with life, and whine when they don't get their way.

The story takes place in California which has been over-run with Hispanic words and culture. The living are in gated communities and the dead are let out of their Necrovilles during the day to work as menials for the living. The living can slum in the Necrovilles for excitement, but only during the day. Its not safe for the living to be in Necrovilles at night.

The dead have no rights and no standing in society. The rich have insurance policies to take care of their fees for resurrection. They have family to protect and shelter them (dead can't own property) when they return. The poor and the regular people have to work off their debt to the Death House - the corporate entity that controls the resurrection process. Because death is not a problem, there are no 'worker protections' anymore. Everything is possible, but of course going through the process changes you (dying, resurrection and suffering).

The living can now engage in wild stuff like hunting dinosaurs, and changing their shape so they can fly without a machine.

There are a group of people called the Free Dead and they have escaped the grind of worker enslavement and live their own lives for their own purposes. Their movement started out in space - since the dead were sent to work in space as expendable. As the story opens the Free Dead are returning to earth to liberate the dead, and there is a space battle raging between the living and the dead.

The story is just a bunch of vignettes of the various characters living their lives. They are supposed to all meet in one of the Necrovilles for a party on the Day of the Dead. The man who is hosting the party is the virtual artist Santiago Columbar. He plans a twist to the party that will make it more exciting. They all seek greater and greater excitement levels as their behavior takes them beyond decency, and community, and responsibility and caring.

The characters are not likable, the story is jerky, and the backstory is more implied than explained. I kept hoping for it to be over because it was so frustrating and boring a lot of time.

280FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 19, 2009, 8:20pm

127. The Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia, SF, Completed 11/11/09, Stars: 3

I read this book for a RL book group. And I was the one that inflicted it on them. I gave it a 3 star rating, because it was spelled correctly and wasn't written terribly, but I found it to be boring and lacking a point.

The premise is that in the future they have developed metallic artificial organs that don't cause rejection in the human body. People who are sick get them, and even those who are not sick join in the fun. It becomes a fad to get a new liver that has a computer date book for example (never explained how the extras are accessed or used).

The artiforgs are easily inserted and malls give up selling stuff and become clinics where you can buy new organs and have them installed. Of course the prices are outrageous and people have to buy them on credit with massive interest rates. If people fall behind in paying, their organs can be repossessed.

The main character in this book is an organ repossessor, a bio-repo man, for a major credit union. I don't think he even has a name. Somehow Congress has passed a law allowing repossession of the organs on the spot (not in a hospital) even though removing an important organ will kill the person it is being repossessed from since nothing is inserted in its place. The people removing organs, the repossessors, aren't even required to be doctors.

The book has some funny black humor, but it runs out pretty quickly, and them as a reader you are looking for what comes next. Unfortunately, the answer is nothing. The author has this idea but he never goes into the type of society he posits, or what led up to it. He may be making a comment on current society where money or the lack there of determines who lives and under what conditions, but he doesn't deal with the society. He also doesn't do much with the SF theme of artiforgs. How are they developed, what does it mean to be an artificial human, how they work ...It makes the book ultimately half-baked and boring.

What he does focus on, is the main character. So we see him as a hardcore repossessor and we learn about his current life and his past that leads him to it. He obsesses with his inability to stay married though he wants to (he has been divorced 5 times). Perhaps because he consistently picks the wrong woman ?

We learn about his past life and experience in the military, and his lack of other employment options. We also see him end up in the same trouble as his targets, and how he supposedly grows emotionally. The story is woven from threads of past, current and future so it jumps around. As though the jumping will change the fact that there is nothing there but bad jokes, blood and a loser who can be summed up in a chapter. The author drags it out for over 300 pages. It just bored me.

281FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 19, 2009, 9:20pm

128. Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/13/09, stars: 4

I read this book for a RL book group. I had never heard of the author or the series before we picked it. It is a light book, and the mystery really takes second place to the characters. I didn't mind, and in fact loved it. I quickly got all the books in the series that I could get my hands on, and read them like eating candy.

This book and the series is set in rural NC and the main character is the only daughter in a family with 11 boys. There were 2 wives - both dead now, and the patriarch who was the bootlegger. He is alive but reformed. The main character of the books and the series is Deborah Knott. She is a defense lawyer and in this book runs for judge because of the sexist, racist old timers she has to appear before, and their prejudiced remarks and decisions.

She is trying to deal with the fact that she can't find a romantic partner, and with her overbearing father and her huge family. The characters are just wonderful, and are what made me fall in love and will keep me reading the books.

The mystery in this book is the unsolved death of a young mother who was friends with Deborah's mother. She was murdered 18 years ago, and the grown daughter, who as a baby was there when her mother was killed, wants to find out what happened. During her investigation Deborah uncovers secrets about the people in her set, and her own family.

Although there are 15 books in this series, I could only find this one (book 1) and then it skips to book 8. I like what happens from book 8 on, so I may not go back and read books 2 to 7, but who knows. I would say book 1 is the weakest of the books I have read (8-14), but still very enjoyable. I am waiting for book 15 to go into paperback before getting it. I may not be able to wait, and may get the Kindle version.

282FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 19, 2009, 9:20pm

129. Uncommon Clay by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/14/08, Stars: 4

This is book 8 in the Judge Deborah Knott series. Deborah is sent to the part of NC where they have good red clay, and make pottery. The mystery is around the murders in a family of famous potters. The husband and wife are divorcing, and Deborah has been sent to oversee the distribution of assets. The divorce is not amicable, and the husband is found stuffed into his running kiln on the afternoon when the final division will take place. He is not the only one to die ...

The information on the pots and pot making in the Seagrove, NC area is interesting and woven well into the story. Throughout the books Maron also brings up the changes that outsiders and prosperity are bringing to NC. She focuses on the losses in the lives of the people and their traditions, that the rush for money has brought. Running through the books is also the impact of politicians who don't balance development and tradition, and who acquiesce to the special interests with their money and empty promises.


Deborah is getting over the humiliating and humorous (for the reader) break up with her latest beau. Her interactions with her friends and family are wonderful, as is the setting. Again its not hardcore mystery, but I just loved it.

283FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 19, 2009, 9:29pm

130. Slow Dollar by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/14/09, Stars: 4.5

Book 9 in the Judge Deborah Knott series brings Deborah back home. The mystery and title deal with a small traveling Carnival that comes to town. It comes every year but this year it also brings murder, where the carnies die, while the public has fun.

Another very well done book. It works in the life of a carny and Deborah's family. She discovers a long lost family member. The rest of the family and friends are there too. Just can't get enough.

Fun, light, fast, heartwarming read.

284FicusFan
Dez. 19, 2009, 9:51pm

131. High Country Fall by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed: 11/15/09, Stars: 4.5

Book 10 in the Judge Deborah Knott series. Deborah is again sent to another NC location. Up in the mountains where they have attracted tourists with clean air, wonderful scenery, changing leaves, and rigid zoning. Filling in for the local judge on vacation she gets involved when a local prominent man is murdered. His death brings to light the seething nastiness underneath the enforced quaintness.

Another great book. More info on the packaging and selling of the past and traditions of NC. In particular small family farms and homesteads that families can't afford to keep anymore because the property value and taxes shoot up with the influx of money, outsiders and developments. This book takes particular aim at those places that try to stop time, and zone everything from building color to sign type. When preservation become kitsch.

In her personal life, Deborah and her long time pal Deputy Sheriff Dwight (they grew up together) have become engaged. It is a convenience for both of them.

Dwight is divorced, and both are lonely and tired of being alone and dealing with bozos trying to find the 'right one'. They decide that since they like each other, and after testing it out, since there is a physical spark, they will marry. The engagement happened at the end of the last book, and there are glimmers that all is not what they expected it would be.

Deborah is nervous and worried about having to deal with the reaction of her family. Because it is not a love match, she doesn't want a lot of fuss. Her family of course, not knowing that love is not the reason, and since she is the only girl and they all know and love Dwight, are fussing in a major way. Through much of the book it seems she is developing cold feet.

Another great book filled with interesting characters and a great setting. The mystery is minor until the end when it becomes a thriller. Love the Dwight development and was very worried it would lapse.



285FicusFan
Dez. 20, 2009, 12:15am

132. Rituals of the Season by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/15/09, Stars 4.5

This book is a first for me. It is an ebook and the first full length ebook I have ever read. I thought since I don't like reading a book on the computer, that ebooks would also be a pain. I lose the line at the end and can't move to the next one smoothly. Oddly the smaller screen space of the ebook reader prevents that from happening. I have an Ipod Touch and it runs the Kindle reader on it with an app. I loved the reading experience, and have since downloaded other books.

I was home sick, had finished all the Maron books I had and was desperate for a fix, and to find out about Deborah and Dwight.

This book, number 11 starts with a shocking murder. One of their own is killed (Colleton County justice system) and the investigation points to an inside job.

The main attraction for me and the need to read it right away was to see what happened with Dwight and Deborah and if the wedding went off. I was very happy with the developments on that front.

Another wonderful episode of the friends and family of Deborah Knott.

286FicusFan
Dez. 20, 2009, 12:20am

133. My Dead Body by Charlie Huston, Horror, Vampires, Completed 11/16/09, Stars: 3.5

This is the last book in the Joe Pitt series. The series was quite amazing at the start but for me it has been limping along. The last book, and this one too are sub par. This book is better than book 4, but only just.

The problem for me is that the books have become repetitive. Nothing new happens. Joe is a tough guy who is a loner and only operates under his own rules. The situation is the same, he can't survive on his own, so he has to kowtow to one faction or another. The other factions are led by the same people and Joe has the same snarling, nasty, often violent interactions with them. They try use him, he tries to use them.

Its like watching a bunch of drunken teenage males who are in a pissing contest to see who is biggest, baddest, and toughest. Or like watching someone banging their head against the wall, Eventually you are over the fascinating horror and just wonder when the light will dawn and the banger will try something different - only he never does. Then it becomes boring.

The premise is that vampires are real, and caused by a disease. They live secretly among us. They are very territorial and you must be one of their group to be a vampire and live on their turf. The vampire clans have a specific philosophy or ethos and you have to buy in to belong. Joe is a loner and can't fake allegiance very well. He is used by the gangs to solve problems and investigate issues. In doing so he makes enemies and so everyone is after Joe.

This book actually starts out and if I had to describe it, I would say it was tedious. Joe is living underground, in the sewers of NYC, and stalking a human. He is actually boring as he brings us up to date on what he has been doing since the last book ended.

Eventually the book picks up, and he is again asked to do a job for one of the vampire gangs. He is conned into it. It is to find and save a young woman who is pregnant with a vampire's child. The child may be the key to curing the vampires. The different clans are at war, and Joe is wanted by all of the participants.

The usual Pitt book ensues. Lots of violence, action, bad attitude and snark, twists, double crosses and so on. Its like the verbal representation of a pin ball - he bounces here, is shot off to there, and ricochets off X and Y on the way. All very predictable, all practically scripted.

I say this is the last book because the ending is the start of something new, and anymore books in this series would no longer belong. Not sad to see the last of Joe.

287FicusFan
Dez. 20, 2009, 1:04am

134. Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, Fiction, Completed 11/20/09, Stars: 3.5

I learned about this book on LT. It was quite controversial, so of course I had to read it. It was only available new in hardcover which I don't buy, and it would have had to be ordered. None of my local stores had it. My new Kindle ability came to the rescue and I downloaded it.

It was a short, quick read. The writing was fine (translation). It lived up to its billing it is controversial. It is possibly the most disgusting book I have ever read - so if you are easily grossed out or offended, skip it. There are lots of descriptions of the body and its functions and the fluids and solids it creates and excretes. The main character helps out with the distribution of these fluids and solids and in fact revels in what most would find repulsive.

She is 18 and in the hospital due to an anal lesion she produced when shaving between her butt cheeks. It has become infected and she required surgery to repair it. While she is there she is musing about her life and her beliefs regarding her body, sex, and hygiene. The other issue that drives her is the divorce of her parents and how she feels lost and betrayed by their split. She schemes of ways to bring them back together, like a much younger child would.

As has been described elsewhere she battles with the idea of hygiene that society has imposed on people in general and women in particular. But I also think that her despair at her parents' divorce ties into her behavior and is not just a secondary story line.

She is clearly acting out, possibly because she feels invisible to her parents. They are too busy with their own lives to take her or her feelings into account. Her grossness is her way of shouting for attention with her extreme actions making her stand out and actually 'exist'. She is also showing her anger in how she forces her beliefs on others.

She will interact with others but they don't know that the hand they shake has just been inside her, and has not been washed. She will rub her used tampon on the walls and hand holds in the elevator, all manifestations of anger. She is forcing her beliefs on others without giving them a chance to accept or reject them. That part pissed me off.

Mostly I thought she was interesting, and sad as well as gross. Her treatment of others, rather than her grossness was what lost me her sympathy.

Read at your own risk.

288msf59
Dez. 20, 2009, 9:24am

Hi Ficus- Sorry to hear the last Joe Pitt book didn't go out with a bang! Bummer! I got delayed starting Every Last Drop. Cutting For Stone took up most of my reading time this past week but I will begin today. I heard Huston has a new book coming out next month.

289Berly
Dez. 20, 2009, 2:31pm

Wow! Aren't you on a tear writing reviews! Wishing you Happy Holidays.

290FicusFan
Dez. 20, 2009, 7:12pm

Mark,

It may just be me on the Joe Pitt thing. It wasn't terrible, and the actual ending was OK. You may enjoy it more, I am just easily bored.

Berly,

Thank you and Happy Holidays to you too. I have been bad and letting the books piled up without reviewing and updating my thread. Trying to catch up so that I can start the new year with a clean slate - ha, ha.

291FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 22, 2009, 5:58pm

135. Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett, Mystery, Completed 11/21/09, Stars 4.5

This is the 3rd book in the Booktown mystery series. It is a cozy set in a fictional NH town; based on a town that is just down the road from me. I started with the series because it was a RL book group choice, but have stayed with it due to the writing and the characters, and yes I confess, the setting. Its fun to see your town mentioned and to try to guess what fictional places are based on what real places.

The writing is smooth and warm. Even though the subject is death, the overall feeling leaves you warm and fuzzy from visiting the characters. Normally that type of reaction makes me want to puke, so Barrett must be doing something right in avoiding the cloying that often accompanies warm and fuzzy.

I am not a real fan of cozies, the mysteries and stories are on the light side, but because of the positives listed above, I am fine with this one.

The main character is Tricia Miles, and she owns the mystery bookstore. Stoneham was dying, so they got the idea to bring in a whole town full of bookstores. With the new theme the town ends up on the seasonal tourist bus route.

Tricia is joined in town by her sister, Angelica, a difficult woman on whom Tricia is trying to do a humanity makeover. She is having some success, but the author avoids instant perfection. There are also others from the town, both friends and employees.

The characters are developed well, and very charming without being plastic or perfect. There are even some elderly, and shlubby ones. I like their warmth and concern for each other.

In this story Tricia evicts an old school friend, who has been freeloading and living with her. Pammy steals from Tricia and its the last straw. Of course soon after Pammy leaves Tricia's she is found dead. Tricia feels guilty and decides she must find out what happened.

In this outing the horrible Sheriff from the past 2 books, Wendy Adams is not part of the story. A big improvement. I realize that the formula for a cozy calls for the cops to be negative towards the main character, but Wendy was way overdone. She was much too negative and hateful to the point of lacking in professionalism. In this book a new cop, Captain Grant Baker takes over the investigation. He and Tricia have a sparky relationship that promises well for future books.

The story in this book is based around food and the scarcity for some who are on the edge. One part is about the new Food Pantry, and the other is about a group of locals who dumpster dive. Some do it for monetary reasons, and others for ecological reasons - so much is thrown out that is fine.

I enjoyed the whole thing, the food issues, the mystery, the new relationship with Baker, and the interaction of the characters regarding living life and running bookstores in a small NH town. One of the recurring characters has a change in her life, that I didn't care for, and another set had a happy event. A bit like life I guess. I can't wait for the next one.

292Berly
Dez. 22, 2009, 12:24pm

Nice review! Here's to the next one. :)

293FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 23, 2009, 3:50am

Thank you Berly. I have since cleaned it up a bit ( I hope). I wrote it this morning and it had some problems with the flow.

I too am hopeful for the next one. :)

294iftyzaidi
Dez. 23, 2009, 5:53am

Hi there, just saw your review of Terminal Cafe and the concept reminded me a little of Things Unborn by Eugene Byrne. You seem to have been disappointed by Terminal Cafe, but you may like Things Unborn better. I really enjoyed it, particularly since its set in an England struggling to keep a liberal parliamentary system in the face of a growing population that believes in the Divine Right of Kings! I've noticed that there is no review for this book up right now, so I'll try and write one soon.

295FicusFan
Dez. 23, 2009, 7:38am

Hi to you too. Yes I was disappointed with Terminal Cafe. I will look into the book you suggest. Thanks.

296FicusFan
Dez. 24, 2009, 1:34am

136. City of Refuge by Diana M. Wilder, Historical Mystery, Completed 11/26/09, Stars: 3.5

I am pretty sure this book is self-published. I decided to risk it because it is historical fiction set in Armana after the fall of Akhnaten (spelling in the book similar to the Opera). I am a sucker for Akhenaten. I was not disappointed, after a bit of a bumpy start.

There were some quality issues, but nothing that was a deal breaker for me. The writing at the start was a bit overwrought. Long sentences with multiple commas and many clauses as though Wilder was afraid each sentence would be the last and had to carry way too much. She did get over it eventually though.

The other issue that could be off-putting is character development and storytelling. The good characters are a bit too perfect. I still ended up caring about them, but it felt unreal. The bad characters were pretty obvious but had some shades, so they weren't complete cartoons. The main character a smart man, is oblivious to what is going on for most of the book. In the storytelling it was very obvious who was good, and bad, and in some cases what was going to happen. It also could have been a bit tighter and shorter.

There are some anachronisms that could also be jarring, the worst was a character saying 'It boggles the mind.' - which made me laugh, but could annoy those who are purists. There are others, but I find if I am enjoying the rest of the book, I can accept them.

That said, the flaws weren't terrible, just something to know going into the book, especially if purchasing. I wasn't sorry I bought the book, and will also buy her other book: Pharaoh's Son.

The story could be called an ancient historical mystery, set during the 13th year of the reign of Horemheb. The POV character is Police Commander Khonsu (ahem). He is not rich, or aristocratic, just a working man. He is assigned to a handle security for a priestly delegation going to Armana to investigate if the city can be reopened. Pharaoh has asked the question and the delegation is acting in his name. The man in charge of the party, Lord Nebamun, is a priest of Ptah, related to the Pharaoh and second in rank behind the High Priest. He is a rich aristocrat, a man of honor, but also a man of mystery. He has no past and no immediate family. He appears to have military experience, but claims no service.

The story is of the people they encounter and what happens to them when they arrive in the city. There is a gateway city near Armana run by a man who does not want anything to change. He tells tales of the abandoned city being haunted and unsafe. Mysterious shapes and stalkers on the edge of the city at night, fatal accidents and murder stalk the party once they arrive. There appears to be looting going on in the city and the cliff tombs under cover of the haunting. Within the priestly party are clashes for power and status. The motivation for the visit also has more layers than first presented.

The characters were likable and interesting. There is Seti a General and relation to the Pharaoh who comes to support them. Also a sculptor who worked in Armana when the heretic ruled. He is a source of stories that explore Akhenaten's reign. Lord Nebamun also speaks of the past there as if he experienced it. In many ways the story is about what happened during the heretic's reign, and the repercussions both personal and political.

The story was meaty and interesting. If you are aware of the period you pick up the undercurrents and the possibilities for characters and plot. I don't know how someone with no knowledge of Akhenaten and his successors would feel about the story. If it would seem too limited or too mysterious with no context to fit everything into.

Besides the official actions of the party, the story deals with the personal relationships of the characters, we learn about Khonsu's unhappy past marriage and his sick young daughter. The story of Lord Nebamun's past eventually comes out. We learn about the headman in the gateway city, and about others in the priestly party. The book starts out jumping from the past to the present, but then stays in the same time period. I enjoyed the ending, but some may feel it is too neat.

The author speaks about her interpretation of the period in the afterward. She is much easier on Akhenaten and his behavior than others. She believes in Smenkhara as an older brother of Tut, and that both were sons of Akhenaten with Kiya as the mother. I also believe in Smenkhara, but think they were both nephews rather than sons of Akhenaten. She invents a fictional Pharaoh between Tut and Ay, so he can be the evil one, rather than slander one of the real Pharaohs. There is also an extensive bibliography.

I enjoyed the book, and would actually like to read more about the major characters in the book.

297msf59
Dez. 24, 2009, 6:26am

Ficus- It looks like you are continuing to read some fine mysteries. I have so much crime fiction backed up, it's hard to choose sometimes. Have a wonderful holiday!

298FicusFan
Dez. 24, 2009, 10:49am

Thanks Mark. I am reading more in the mystery genre, and better mysteries. I don't like the real thin ones with no real story or character development. I like a story that has a mystery, rather than it being only about the mystery.

I hope your reading goes well and that you can make a dent in your backlog. (ha, ha)

Thanks for the wishes, and I hope you have a great holiday too.

299FicusFan
Dez. 24, 2009, 10:53am

137. Winter's Child by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/27/09, Stars: 4

This is book 12 in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series. I am continuing my reading and love affair with these books.

The story takes place after Deborah's wedding. There is a murder in NC that Dwight starts to investigate, and then he is called away. A hateful man is shot while driving along a stretch of road that was apparently empty of suspects. There was an older woman on the road collecting trash, her report is that there was no one else visible.

Dwight gets a mysterious call from his son, Cal, who asks him to come to school the next day for something important. His son lives in another state with Dwight's ex-wife. Dwight goes to Virginia, only to discover he is Cal's show and tell presentation.

While there, Dwight finds out that his ex-wife has not been seen since the previous day and their son was home alone the night before. Obviously, Dwight can't leave, so he begins to work with the local police to try to find his ex-wife. Although they are divorced, he knows she is a good mother and would not leave Cal alone voluntarily.

Through the story in this book we get to learn about Dwight's ex-wife, her sister, and her mother. We also learn about her job at a local house that once belonged to her family and is now a museum. We learn about her family's past. It ties into the present and the people who are driven to preserve and collect the past, and those who are not above lying, stealing, counterfeiting, blackmail and murder.

As the search for her goes on, Dwight becomes a suspect as the ex-husband. At one point his son also goes missing. Deborah then drives from NC to join him and help calm his worry.

In NC they continue the investigation into the shooting, and the reader gets to have more time with some of Dwight's detectives.

Eventually they discover what has happened to Dwight's ex-wife, why Cal is missing, and finally where he is. The murder in NC is also solved.

I enjoyed this book and am actually glad that Cal will be joining them in NC. It takes the pressure off of them having to start having children. I think that would sideline Deborah and diminish the stories. Her step son is 7-10 so he fits into the story without becoming the focus.

I also like that in this book, although Dwight and his ex-wife don't see eye to eye, he doesn't demonize her or trash her.

Another good one with the setting and the writing and characters.

300FicusFan
Dez. 24, 2009, 11:44am

138. Hard Row by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/27/09, Stars: 4

This is book 13 in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series. I am reading them like popping candy, and enjoying every minute. This book is no exception.

Back in NC, Deborah and Dwight and his son Cal are settling into their new family life together. Dwight is called out when his officers find body parts on the side of the road. They have little to go on in terms of trying to identify the victim: they think it is a white male around 50-60 years old. They begin searching the reports of the missing.

Deborah meanwhile, is overseeing the asset distribution in a nasty divorce. A rich couple who have a big Agri-Business are wrangling over who gets what. The husband has not been coming to the hearings, so they keep getting postponed. The man has a mistress, and the wife is his business partner. They started with one farm, working in the fields themselves. She is not happy at being replaced by a trophy, or splitting the business.

Eventually after more body parts are found and no one, not even the mistress, can find the husband, the two issues combine. It is the husband who has been hacked up and his body parts scattered along the roads. The story now shifts to the farm that he lived at from time to time and where in a barn, he was hacked up with an axe. It appears he was alive when the dismemberment started.

The search for suspects at the farm brings in the issue of migrant farm workers, mostly Hispanic. We see the conditions they live and work under, and the resentment and hatred they receive from the locals. It doesn't seem to be because they are taking local jobs, no one wants to do back-breaking work in the fields; its because they are foreign, speak a different language, have a different religion (Catholicism) and have darker skin. The workers also have resentment for the locals and at times violence ensues.

The other issue related to farming is the loss of family farms due to development and the diminishing of tobacco as a cash crop. Growing it is their tradition, and many can't see a way to do something different. The younger Knotts want to try growing something organic to make money, to keep the damage to the environment down, and to try their hands at making their own decisions and running their own fields. Deborah's father, Kezzy gets them family land that they can work, so they will stay 'down on the farm' and continue the family farming tradition.

Another good book with interesting information woven in. Again the writing, the characters and the setting are great. The POV is jumping around to more than just Deborah but it really only helps make everything more fleshed out.

301Berly
Dez. 24, 2009, 12:15pm

Hi FF! Nice reviews as always. I think I am going to have to add some more mysteries to my repertoire next year. Thanks! And Merry Christmas.

302FicusFan
Dez. 25, 2009, 8:55am

Hi Berly. Thank you and Merry Christmas. I have come to love a good mystery :)

303FicusFan
Dez. 25, 2009, 10:39am

139. Death's Half Acre by Margaret Maron, Mystery, Completed 11/28/09, Stars: 3.5

I had originally rated this book at 4 stars, but on writing the review, I downgraded it to 3.5.

This is book 14 in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series. It follows Deborah and her family in NC. I love the series, though I didn't care as much for the story and mystery characters in this one. It seemed off somehow. Still I enjoyed Deborah and her friends and family.

I can't wait for the next one, Sand Sharks. It is in hardcover and I am waiting for it to go into paperback.

In this book the story is about the rapid development they are experiencing in what was rural NC and how their way of life along with the farms are being sold. Its a theme that has been running through a lot of the books.

The focus is on Candace Bradshaw, a county commissioner who is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the powerful men on the commission. The men are using their positions to green light any development, as long a they get something in return. People know its going on, but its hidden enough to keep them out of jail.

Candace is from the wrong side of the tracks. She has worked to make something of herself. Unfortunately she is not book smart, not classy, and only interested in making up for past deprivations. She has a husband, from whom she is separated, and a college age daughter from whom she is estranged. Candace is greedy, shallow and only interested in herself. Candace is also a bombshell and perfectly willing to use her body to get what she wants.

I think my problem is that Candace is 2 complete cliches. She is the typical empty-headed (in terms of business and real personal relations) sexpot on the make. She is also the cliche of the poor child who is driven to make up for her past and prevent it from happening again. On top of that, there are lots of portrayals of women using sex to get what they want, I really expected better from Maron.

Candace also has a very successful cleaning business that cleans offices in the area. It was how she became prominent enough to come to the attention of the men on the commission. It was very obvious to me how the cleaning company was used right from the start.

The other thread in this book was a look at religion and how some preachers confuse themselves with the deity they claim to represent. They too are getting in on the land grab, doing it in the name of god to mask their greed. Kezzy Knott, Deborah's father, cooks up a plan to let the greed of one high flying preacher expose what he really stands for. Of course it never deals with the foolishness of the people who are willing to be mislead in their quest for eternal safety. Still I liked seeing Kezzy in action.

Eventually Candace is killed, and becomes the subject of a police investigation to find her killer. It turns out the Candace was also blackmailing someone, so the search is on for the victim and what she had to hold over him or her. Others die too, and Deborah gets involved in sleuthing and is almost killed.

Not one of the better books in the series, but I still enjoyed the time with Deborah and her family.

304FicusFan
Dez. 25, 2009, 11:05am

140. Undead and Unworthy by Mary Janice Davidson, Humor, Completed 11/28/09, Stars: 2.5

I have read the books from the start. They were funny, original, a send up of the serious vampire stories, and the sex/romance was very light (good thing). I also read the side anthologies. I really enjoyed the first 4-5 books, but then things started downhill.

I knew the books were light and fluffy, and I was not expecting great depth or anything thought provoking. I was expecting the humor and the warmth that made them worthwhile to read. It seems to have gotten lost somewhere. This may be the last one for me.

The first major problem was going into hardcover. These books are even too light for PB. They are not worth the price of $7.99 ! There is very little in terms of plot, description, or character development. I could live with all that because of the warm humor, and the quirky look at vampires. But hardcover, over $20.00 no way. Then they obviously didn't do so well because instead of a year between HC and PB it went into 16 months and more. Then the greedy publishers started splitting the books in half. Its the newest way to raise the prices on hardcovers when people won't pay over a certain amount. But even as a whole story they are too light, as half a story there is nothing there at all.

Literally nothing much happens. They don't have jobs or real lives, so they hang around the mansion and argue, or they get in the car and argue, or they go to Nostro's or the night club and .... argue. Its not fun anymore, its also predictable. They have the same arguments over and over. Like those horrible reality shows where people put their worst face forward. Why would you want to spend time and money for them ?

There is nothing new that happens in their lives and its boring. They interact with the same people, and they all react the same. They have the same problems and the solutions follow a similar pattern.

In this outing the author says something about a new direction, and then KILLS off 2 of the regular cast. I think it sucks and I may be done with the whole thing. And oh yeah, the 'mystery' or problem is so anemic it doesn't even register or make any sense. Its like MJD had no idea for a story so they changed to bad artwork, and then added some shocking cast changes and pretended it was an actual story.

In this book the fiends - the incomplete vampires, having been fed on Betsy's and her sister's blood are becoming aware. No longer the feral animals they are now pissed at being treated so badly, and they blame Betsy. Huh ? It was Nostro who created them and mistreated them. Yes, Betsy didn't deal with them, but then she has spent a lot of time being clueless about vampire rules, rituals and powers.

The book is spent with the fiends threatening Betsy, with Betsy and crew running away, arguing and occasionally fighting with the fiends. Betsy is the uber vampire with all kinds of powers, so why is she running away ? I guess so they can argue, and then so they can have to 2 recurring characters killed off. Not that anyone in the cast cares much.

305FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Dez. 25, 2009, 12:45pm

141. Second Line Two Short Novels of Love and Cooking in New Orleans, by Poppy Z. Brite, Fiction Collection, Completed 11/29/09, Stars: 5

This is an omnibus edition that has 2 short novels in the Ricky and G-Man series. It is the story of two men, who are passionate about food and each other, set in pre-Katrina New Orleans (PKNO). The first novel in the series is called Liquor, about the restaurant of the same name that they open in PKNO. In Liquor the men are grown and most of the book focuses on their present and future.

The first story in Second Line is The Value of X and it is a prequel to Liquor. It looks at Ricky and Gary in their late teen years as they are finishing high school. They grew up together in a poor, tough section of the city, the lower ninth ward. The story is about how they discover their love and attraction for each other, and how their love of food drives their dreams for the future.

Both sets of parents are concerned that the boys are spending too much time together and try to separate them, so they will learn to be 'normal'. In Ricky's case his father, divorced from his mother and living in California, pays for Ricky to go to the CIA in NYC. It is a offer that Ricky can't refuse. Of course Gary doesn't want him to go, but can't stand in his way.

Gary ends up working in local down-market restaurants while Ricky is gone. He goes from Gary to G-Man. He learns a lot by doing, while Ricky the food artist, is away at culinary school.

The story also follows their personal lives, and how they miss each other, mess up and almost lose each other.

The story is about how they overcome distance, their parents' opposition, and become a couple. Ricky is the one who has the flair with food and the driving ambition to make something of themselves. G-Man is steady and calm and has the chops to back up Ricky, and to smooth over Ricky's at times frantic thoughts and actions.

I love the series, the characters and the setting. Poppy's writing is also great, smooth and emotionally packed without being cheesy. This story is also in the hardcover collection called The Value of X . It was OOP when I found out about it, and I got it used (cheap) from Amazon.

The reason I bought this book is because I wanted the second story, DUCK. It too was published in an expensive hardcover, and I would have gotten it used also, but then I heard about Second Line in tradepaper.

D*U*C*K takes place chronologically after the last novel, Soul Kitchen . In the story Ricky and G-Man riding high on their success in the culinary/restaurant world are asked to cater an important meal for Ducks Unlimited (DU), seating 300 people. DU wants the guys to use different ducks in everything. The kicker is that the guest of honor is Bobby Hebert, the legendary former Saints Quarterback, and a personal hero of Ricky.

Ricky and G-Man argue back and forth about accepting the offer because it is almost impossible to serve gourmet food to 300, and they refuse to do standard banquet 'splooge'. It would not be worth it to them, and would be bad for their reputation. On top of that issue, they have to balance doing a good job for DU and keeping their restaurant, Liquor running. The event is the weekend before Christmas when Liquor is very busy. The DU meal is in the small rural town of Opelousas outside of PKNO. The loony sheriff there has a habit of locking the place down when he runs surprise terrorist drills.

Eventually they decide to do it, and how to handle Liquor and their trek to Opelousas. The story also works in the side stories of some of their current and former kitchen workers, and Ricky's first live Saint's game in the past.

It is another wonderful episode in the series, and I hope not the final one. Brite is having some kind of personal melt down, and at one point said she has stopped writing.

She is from NO and has been traumatized by the events and aftermath of Katrina. She said she can't keep writing the series in PKNO ( though D*U*C*K is set in an alternate universe where Katrina never happened), and for whatever reason can't write it in post-Katrina NO.

Her writing is smooth, and Ricky and G-Man are well done, interesting characters. I hope to read more about them.

306FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 5:30pm

142. The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, Dark Fantasy, Completed 12/3/09, Stars: 5

I have read and loved Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs SF series, so I was very excited to read his first fantasy book. It was very good. In style and scope it reminded me of R.Scott Baker's Prince of Nothing series with the inclusion of politics, religion, culture and war. It was much better written than The Darkness that Comes Before though.

The writing is crisp and smooth. The characters are interesting, and developed, though they develop more over the course of the book. The settings are pretty good, though some places are hard to visualize. The 'enemy' is a bit nebulous for a good part of the book, because Morgan is trying to keep the mystery going. The book ends up being a dark fantasy with SF (aliens from other dimensions) and horror (zombies and ghouls) trappings.

It is very violent, and there is a lot of cussing. There is cynicism and black humor.There is sex, some forced, some straight, some gay, and the intimation of bestiality and necrophilia. Very gritty, Dark Fantasy. Think of a gay Kovacs in a low tech setting with a sword :)

The book has 3 threads and follows 3 characters, who were all in the last big war together. They are having a difficult time with the peace. They were used and discarded, and the evils they fought and won against have been adopted by their own side. They have gone their separate ways to try to make lives for themselves. The story in the book is of events that bring them back together.

The main POV is Ringil, who is a war hero who has not only been discarded by his country, but who would be executed if he weren't part of a powerful, noble family. Ringil is gay and the religion and state are one, and they consider homosexuality an abomination and kill any they find or even suspect.

The next POV character is Archeth, a black, lesbian, alien woman. She is the last of the magical Kiriath. They left the planet but did not take her because she is also half-human. She is an advisor to the Emperor of Yhelteth, trying to stay alive in his court with the factions and his mercurial moods. They too have religion that has political power and is against Arceth because she is not human, a lesbian, and a drug user.

The last POV character is Egar. He is a steppe nomad, a horse riding barbarian and he has returned to the Steppes and his people, but he is no longer a simple nomad. He brings strange ideas and odd behavior to the closed society. He heads his family, but they do not respect him.

Ringil is a big fish in a small pond, in a tiny town in the wilderness, living off his war stories. His mother finds him and recruits him to come home to look for a cousin who has fallen on hard times. He husband has lost all their money, taken out loans he can't pay, and then killed himself. The cousin, his widow has been sold into slavery to repay the debt. Gil's mother wants her back and wants him to find and free her. He has to go home to his old home town to do it. He has issues with his father and the power in the town, though he has contacts with those in the underbelly.

Archeth is being sent with a force of troops to a coastal town that has been ravaged by a mysterious force. Someone or something came ashore, past the magical metal Kiriath defenses and melted and burned almost all the people and the buildings. The Emperor wants to know what happened and who is behind it.

Egar is not traditional enough for the old timers, and too tame for the young who have no experience of war, only legends to excite them. He is more interested in whoring with young teen girls than settling and having a family. He also runs afoul of the local Shaman when his experience of the world makes him ignore the Shaman and his warnings. The Shaman incites his brothers to kill him.

Eventually they all come together to track the beings who came ashore.

I like all the characters, but I thought that Egar seemed the weakest in terms of the a reason and place in the story. This is the first book of the Land Fit for Heroes series, so perhaps he has a bigger role in the other books.

I enjoyed it but will say its not for those who are easily offended or are uncomfortable with gay characters.

I can't wait for the next book.

307FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 6:48pm

143. On Hitler's Mountain by Irmgard A. Hunt, history-biography, Completed: 12/13/09, Stars: 3.5

I read this book for a RL book group. We have a tradition of Nazis for Christmas so that is how the book got picked.

It also sounded so fascinating, an inside look from someone who was there. Unfortunately it was Nazi-lite, very little insight into the whys and wherefores of the German's love of Hitler. I don't know if its because she doesn't know, or if she is afraid of offending her family and fellow countrymen? The result is rather unsatisfying.

I understand that as a small child she would have been oblivious to a lot, but she is writing it as an adult. I think if she wrote: when I was 5 this is what happened, and then added a section that has the adult looking back and re-evaluating, and added: as an adult, I know this is what really happened, or this is what it meant. She seems to have done very little re-evaluation or self-reflection (or is unwilling to share).

The book is pretty standard about tough times, ala the depression, with the Wiemar Republic that affected her parents. The economic relief that Hitler brought in the early years seems to cement their devotion. The town's isolation from the violence and atrocities (but really don't they all say 'We didn't know'), kept them loyal. A few quiet local disappearances that are ignored, because they are foreign or Jews - but there was no hatred in her town. The way a local family hides their 'slightly defective' daughter from official sight once an older 'severely defective' child is forcibly taken to a state hospital and mysteriously dies. Their cultural inability to speak up or stand against authority means there are no questions and no protests. The prevalence of informers as a damper on freedom.

It covers all bases to explain a.) we didn't know, b.) it wasn't that bad, c.) we were too afraid, d.) there was nothing we could do. But really that explains why they didn't object, but does little to explain the infatuation with those who supported Hitler all the way through, and continued to do so in the face of deprivation and personal loss.

There is a little about the arrival and occupation by American troops. I get the impression that she doesn't want to say anything that will insult her new countrymen (she now lives in the USA) so it seems very anodyne.

The book is still interesting, and sad when her father dies in France. She mentions the Holocaust and doesn't deny it. She says it was horrible and they are all guilty and have a debt to pay. Yet she doesn't go into details, or show how it connects to her life or the life of her town. What the impact was on her parents and the older people who were active Hitler supporters.

At one point she says that she wrote the book because the older generation won't talk about it. In this book she talks about it, but in a general and non-specific way, like something from ancient history. Kind of like the non-apology, apology.

308FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 8:04pm

144. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement, Old Hard SF, Completed: 12/15/09, Stars: 3

This is a book that my RL SFF book group picked. It is OOP except in some collections that are in expensive trades. I ended up with an ebook for little over $3.00. This is old (1954) Hard SF. It has all the drawback associated with the form.

It is set on a strangely shaped planet with incredibly heavy gravity, extreme temperatures, and a methane-hydrogen atmosphere. It reminds me of the extreme setting in Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg.

There are humans in the story. They are on a base on a nearby moon that has less gravity. From the moon they send down a probe packed with scientific instruments. The probe has completed its mission but refused to lift and return to the moon. The humans can't get the information remotely and need to physically go and retrieve the instruments. The plan they come up with is to send an ambassador, Charles Lackland, to the natives and ask for their help.

Yes there is intelligent life on the planet, and even civilizations, though at a low technical level. The life form are insects, something worm like with lots of legs - caterpillar maybe. The group that they make contact with is a group of traders who travel the sea in the ship Bree. Their captain, Barlennan, agrees to travel to the remote location of the probe, for the chance to trade with others on his world. It is a location they have never been before. He is open to new ideas and possibilities, and would sell his grandmother for a good trade. He also has an ulterior motive that comes out at the end.

The story is an insect adventure story, with the insects and the humans (by radio) working together to think through and overcome problems. It also becomes an engineering DIY with lots of page time spent on what they are building (and how to do it) to overcome the latest problem.

I found the book tedious to read. It just didn't capture me. The writing and the characters were stiff. Some parts would be interesting, but then it would become boring or predictable. Though I did develop this fancy that the insect traders were really ancient Greeks - though not as interesting :).

309richardderus
Jan. 1, 2010, 8:22pm

Hey Ficus! Happy New Year! Where are you threading in 2010?

310FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 8:39pm

145. By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano, World Fiction, Completed: 12/20/09, Stars: 3

The recap of this book sounded interesting. A dissolute and half-hearted priest is recounting his life and transgressions on his deathbed, a confession. He is Chilean and the book is set during the time of Allende and Pinochet. He hob-knobs with the great and the powerful, rather than taking on pastoral duties.

The priest, Father Urrutia, is more a priest because he needs a clean day job and doesn't know what else to do, than through any calling or belief in God. He is attracted to literature as a writer and a critic. He is from the pampered upper class and has no real concern for the poor or those who are not in his artistic circle.

Unfortunately, the book is rather bland and bloodless. I don't really care about the priest, and I am neither interested nor horrified by his acts of omission and commission.

It is a very short book, but very badly written. Its a translation so I am not sure who is to blame. But it is almost 1 sentence that is 130 pages long. I am serious, there is very little punctuation. Perhaps that is why there is a distance to the events and people in the book.

The story is more of an excuse for his life and the choices he made, rather than a confession. He really isn't sorry. It is a musing on the life he lead and an attempt to justify himself. He was fine with working for the corrupt and the powerful, as long as his goals were met. He appears not to be a literary giant, and he knows it, so he settles for fame as a critic. He is aware that it gives him power to uplift or to crush others, especially those new to the literary scene.

The corrupt dictators also have the power to crush life, but Urrutia is oblivious to that aspect. He seeks out power and wants attention and will take it where he can find it. The implication is that he will even pander sexually to get what he wants.

It was short so it wasn't hard to read, and perhaps there is more than I am getting, but I thought it was a very average book.

311FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 8:42pm

Hi Richard. Happy New Year to you too. I have a 100 book challenge in 2010, but haven't really moved in yet. I have to finish this one first :(.

It is here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/79436

312FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 9:54pm

146. City of God by Cecelia Holland, Historical Fiction, Completed: 12/24/09, Stars: 3.5

I find the Borgias fascinating. I also like historical fiction. I really wanted to like this book more, but something held me back. I guess it was that I never lost myself in the story as I do with the best books. I was always aware I was sitting there reading it, and hoping it would get just a little better. I am not sure exactly what the problem was.

The story is set in Rome in the 16th century during the reign of Pope Alexander the head of the Borgia family. Perhaps its that they were merely minor characters in the book. Rodrigo, Cesare, Lucrezia are the suns around which the characters and the events move, but other than Cesare they are only glimpsed briefly. Cesare does appear more often, but is not fleshed out or developed as character.

The POV character, Nicholas Dawson, is a strange bird. An English, Spanish, Florentine. He is the secretary to the Ambassador of Florence to the Papal Court in Rome. He has had the job for 20 years and he has a weak and stupid boss, Ercole Brunni, who believes in the power of astrology to rule the affairs of men.

It is the job of Nicholas to be everywhere, know everyone and everything, explain it to his politically tone-deaf boss, and then rewrite or forge the dispatches the ambassador sends to the Signory in Florence. Nicholas must walk a fine line. His versions must seem to come from Brunni, must be accurate, give them the way to act, and the cover needed if they decide not to act. The Signory prefers to dither and if they have to act to blame the messenger if the act goes wrong. The government falls and new people are elected in every few months. Its like a game of hot potato and the object is not to be holding the potato when the music stops.

Nicholas is a sneak and it seems he goes out of his way to be nasty to those under him. He always has a reason or an excuse, but he never tries another option. Dawson betrays the people he works for on a regular basis, sometimes double or triple crossing. He often has no choice, but he is not really bothered by it. Just the cost of doing business.

Nicholas is gay and has to keep it secret. It is not acceptable and is a blackmail point. He buys quick sex with anonymous boys who hang around outside taverns. He also has relations with a 'straight' man, a violent thief, he pays for sex. They develop a prickly emotional and sexual relationship. If one begins to care, the other doesn't, and vice versa. There is also violence and theft in their relationship.

Dawson is just not a very nice character, and he isn't interesting enough to overcome that deficit. Perhaps that is why I didn't care for the book more. I don't have to like a character, but then s/he needs to be interesting or I lose interest. I am easily bored.

The story, besides Dawson's work and personal relationships is about the politics of conflict. Italy is a group of independent and feuding city states. The Borgias are trying to annex as much as possible, and the rest are picking sides and changing sides. The French and the Spanish are also moving troops around the countryside as everyone tries to win and outmaneuver the others.

The writing was smooth but odd in spots. It was as though words were missing from sentences, so it made no sense. The characters and dialog were good for the time period. I didn't feel jarred into the modern world. The settings were done really well in terms of period feel.

The ending is also not satisfying, it just starts a new round of sneaking and politic-ing.

Richard has a great and insightful review that probably nails the book better than I can. Never thought of Carter and the Malaise years. Good work Richard.

The only thing that comes to my mind is if Holland is using the title City of God to contrast with St. Augustine's work of the same name. I would assume they treat the same subjects, god, man, civilization and power, and either come to completely different methods, or more shockingly - the same (with Augustine's covered in piety). I don't know the answer cause I haven't read Augustine's.

313FicusFan
Jan. 1, 2010, 10:07pm

147. The Last of the Angels by Fadhil al-Azzawi, World Fiction, Not Completed, Quit

I was intrigued with this book, for the content (based on the back cover) and the vibrant front cover. I even got one of my RL book groups to read it. At the meeting 3 of us didn't like it or finish. 2 liked 75% of the book, but not the ending. They skimmed the ending, because it didn't seem to them to match the rest of the story.

I found the translation to be pretty good, and some parts of it are interesting, in terms of the culture, society, and introduction of modern technology in 1950s Iraq. It also is set in a time when the country was run by the Brits, and colonized by their oil company. We forget about those details.

There are several problems for me though. The book says it is about a man who drives a car for one of the top executives at the oil company. He is an Iraqi and his culture is very different than the Brits. He makes a mistake and is fired for it. Unfortunately, though that is what is blurbed on the back cover, that isn't really what the book is about. It is very much a magical realism type of book, and the premise above is only the way into the story about the community (a neighborhood in Kirkuk).

After the first few pages the story veers off to follow whatever is brought up. A new person, we go and read about his life, family, and dreams. Then it jumps to someone else, and another and another. We even end up following the dreams of a cat. While that could be interesting as a one off, the whole book is like that. The result is that there is no anchor for me. I don't have any feeling or interest in the characters, so the brief events of their lives don't interest me. The stories also don't grab me.

The full names used are also confusing, and often similar so I am never sure who is being referred to. Some people only appear once, and some are recurring, but because you keep jumping around you are never sure.

I got to about page 100 and just couldn't force myself to read more. I feel bad that I couldn't enjoy it and finish it, and I am sure that I am the problem more than the book.

314FicusFan
Jan. 2, 2010, 12:10pm

148. The Winter Thief by Jenny White, Historical Mystery, Completed: 12/26/09, Stars: 5

I got this book through the LT Early Reviewer program. It is book 3 of the Kamil Pasha mystery series. It is set in 1888 in a remote Turkish valley and Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire.

I had it on my wishlist to pick up when it was published in tradepaper, so I was going to read it anyway. I have books 1 (The Sultan's Seal) & 2 (The Abyssinian Proof), but have not yet read them. That lack did not hamper my enjoyment of this book. The characters and relationships are well defined. I am already familiar with the Ottoman Empire, so I understood the undercurrents, politics and social setting.

I loved this book. It took me a bit to get into it, but when I did, I lost myself. I just disappeared and ended up in the world of the story and the characters. White is spot on in depicting the time period, setting and characters in terms of making a seamless whole with nothing jarring you out of the book and back into the modern world.

There are several POV characters, but the main one is Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in the Ministry of Justice in Istanbul. He is a rich and powerful man, but still must be careful of other bureaucrats. There is backbiting, jealousy and intrigue in those surrounding the Sultan. Kamil becomes locked in a battle with Vahid the head of a new secret police agency. The Vizier is under Vahid's sway and he tries to influence the Sultan against Kamil. Vahid is feeding the Sultan's fear of invasion by the Russians and attempted uprisings by ethnic minorities.

The story is about a group of Russian-Armenians who come to Turkey to start a communist worker's commune in a remote valley. They have been hounded out of Czarist Russia. Vahid paints them as revolutionaries and terrorists. He wants to wipe them out along with the people who live in the surrounding villages, also Armenians, whom he feels must be in league with the newcomers. Vahid wants advancement and power and doesn't care who he kills or slanders to get it.

The Russians are dedicated to the idea of an egalitarian workers' commune, and oblivious to the local Armenian political factions, and the enmity of the Ottoman rulers. Politically naive, they try to smuggle weapons for their protection, which are intercepted. Using local Armenians with their own agenda, they rob an imperial bank, which turns deadly. These crimes feed into the idea that they are dangerous to the empire. Kamil tries to untangle the truth to prevent a slaughter since the Sultan is being advised to send in his irregular Kurdish troops to kill everyone in the valley.

One of the POVs is an upper class Russian, Vera, who has married an operative in the new commune. She is dedicated to him and the idea of uplifting the workers - but she is idealistic and has no practical experience. She doesn't know how to do cloak and dagger and falls into the hands of the secret police. We see the secret police, the local Armenian community and the commune through her eyes.

Amid all the professional chaos Kamil is also shown with his family. He dotes on his sister Feride and is smitten by her friend, Elif. He visits Feride and her husband Huseyin, also an Ottoman official, often, since Elif is there a lot. She is Armenian and a refugee from a Turkish police action. She has not recovered from the trip where her husband and son were murdered. She likes Kamil but is unready to move forward with him.

Kamil also has connections with a very powerful older man, Yorg Pasha. He is an Uncle and also a weapons' dealer and he helps Kamil to understand the aims of the new Russian immigrants. Kamil works with Omar, a Police chief in a section of Istanbul who is a good personal and professional friend.

Eventually Kamil's personal and professional life converge when Huseyin is a victim of the aftermath of the bank robbery and goes missing. Feride and Elif are out searching for him, and having to fend of the attacks of Vahid's men. Missing Huseyin has somehow drawn Vahid's ire.

Kamil is framed for a murder committed by the sadistic Vahid and incarcerated. When released he is sent to the remote valley by the Sultan on a fact finding mission; he succeeds in planting doubt about the motives and truthfulness of Vahid and the Vizier. Left on his own, the Sultan changes his mind and sends the troops to attack after Kamil has gone to the valley. Notification recalling Kamil is mysteriously never sent and he and Omar and the tag-along Elif, are caught in the middle of the fight.

The story had many twists and turns with many settings. They were all done well and I was never lost or confused. The setting and people seemed real and I cared about them. The writing was very good and gripping.

I plan to read the first 2 books in the series soon, and will continue to follow the series when the next book comes out.

This was one of my top 5 reads this year. It reminds me in setting and quality of the mystery series by Jason Goodwin, also set in the Ottoman Empire: Inspector Yashim Togalu (The Snake Stone and The Janissary Tree).

315FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jan. 2, 2010, 2:15pm

149. The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato, Historical Mystery, Completed: 12/27/09, Stars: 4.5

I was sent this book to review by the publisher. I had read and enjoyed, eventually, Fiorato's other book The Glassblower of Murano.

This book is completely set in the past, and follows a teenage prostitute named Luciana Vetra around Renaissance Italy. It starts in 1482 in Florence when she poses for a painting called Primavera by Botticelli. She feels insulted by Botticelli at the end of their session, and she steals a smaller unfinished copy of the painting.

Almost immediately bad things begin to happen to Luciana. Her prostitute roommate is killed, her wealthy patron who set up the modeling is killed, and Luciana feels she will be too. It seems someone wants the painting back and will kill to get it. With no where else to go, she runs to the monastery of Santa Croce. She had an earlier interaction with a naive, earnest and handsome novice. Brother Guido was trying to save her soul, and asked her to give up her life of sin and come to the monastery to begin a new life. She decides to take him up on his offer.

It is late at night and past curfew. She sneaks into the monastery and waylays Brother Guido. He is horrified to be alone at night in a chapel with an unauthorized visitor, a woman and prostitute no less. He decides to seek out his superior's advice, the Monastery's Librarian. They are terrified to find he has been killed too. Luciana left a pamphlet from the monastery in place of the stolen painting. Brother Guido believes that they don't just want the painting back, but that it must contain a secret that they don't want others to know. He thinks they will both be killed even if they return the painting. And that starts the race to decipher the code in the painting and stay ahead of the killers.

Brother Guido is related to a wealthy, noble family in Pisa. They flee there, while trying to unravel the clues in the painting. They have good chemistry, though at times fight and hate each other. Luciana is lewd, rude, uneducated and uncultured. Guido is educated, refined and possessed with a strong faith.

Disasters follow them from city to city as they travel to Pisa, Naples, Rome, back to Florence, Venice, Bolzano, Milan, Genoa and finally Pisa again. It is quite the adventure. The book is long and it drags a bit in the middle as you are bouncing around Italy, but then picks up again. The settings and people are done extraordinarily well. The historical details are wonderful. You really feel you are immersed in the time period while reading.

Brother Guido changes his status several times as does Luciana as the secret of her birth and parentage is revealed. Their relationship changes, and there are many interesting and surprising minor characters who pop in and out of the story.

As the book nears the end it becomes so gripping you can't put it down. There are twists, heartbreaks and great recoveries. Yes, the code is deciphered. Several days after I finished the book, I was at work and flashed on a vision of Luciana on a canal, and I wondered what she was doing. Never done that before. The power of the completed book is so strong that the characters seem to live on.

The only drawback to the book is that it has a bumpy start. Luciana seems to be too rude and then too refined in her speech. She also seems too modern in her word choice. Eventually the author finds the right voice and the book moves on. The other annoying thing is Luciana's listing 3 facts to explain or set up new events, and ideas. Got old after the second time, though it petered out after a while and you became inured to it when it returned.

The blurb on the book calls it Dan Brown meets Sarah Dunant. Sarah must be the historical part, because Brown is obviously the code part. Those who find Brown unbearable should not fear, this book has much more depth, nuance and sophisticated writing than he is capable of producing.

Of course all through the book, I wondered why Botticelli would paint a picture with code of a plot that had not happened yet, if they needed it kept secret ? Surely he would have painted it after the plot had succeeded. That bit of foolishness seems to be the only real connection on Brown's level.

One of my best books of the year.

316FicusFan
Jan. 2, 2010, 2:30pm

150. Lost in Translation by Edward Willett, Space Opera, Completed: 12/31/09, Stars: 3.5

A light Space Opera about alien human conflict and the use of empaths and telepaths to try to keep the peace.

There are 7 alien species in the Commonwealth. Humans are the latest addition and are fighting with another low tech, recent new member, the S'sinn. They are cat/bat like aliens that have fangs, claws, wings and they fly. Humans and S'sinn are fighting over the right to planets they both have or want to colonize. They had a brief war and there were atrocities on both sides.

The Commonwealth with its superior fire power has imposed a peace, but the hatred still bubbles. The two peoples are having negotiations but neither side is acting in good faith. The negotiations are being facilitated by the Guild.

The Guild has translators from all species. The only requirement is some Psi ability: empath or telepath. They insert a symbiote into them which takes chemical programming, different for each race they translate for. Each side has a translator of their own species, and the two translators interface. When people enter the Guild they give up their allegiance to their species and pledge to protect the Guild, the Commonwealth and to translate honestly (the chemical programming prevents the translator from injecting their thoughts into the process).

The 2 translators for this negotiation are the human Kathryn and the S'sinn Jarrikk. Both have been touched by the fighting. Kathryn's parents were killed by S'sinn in front of her when she was small. Jarrikk's group of younglings hatched together were all killed by humans. He was also crippled by a human. He can no longer fly. The Flightless have no value or place in S'sinn civilization. They expect him to kill himself, but he did not because he could serve by translating.

The story is of how the 2 translators learn to overcome their pain and hatred to work together, and how they try to stop the next war. There are S'sinn and humans who each want war for their own reasons, as well as a lot of general hate.

There are lots of twists and turns, and I admit I thought it would end up a certain way and take a certain path, and it didn't. It surprised me and was better than I thought it was going to be.

A story that explores the dangers of hate and violence and the value of cooperation, and forgiveness.

A quick read, that was interesting, with good writing and characters. The aliens were done well, and the story kept me reading.

317FicusFan
Jan. 2, 2010, 2:33pm

151. Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich, Humor, Mystery, Completed: 12/31/09, Stars: 3.5

This is a Stephanie Plum book. It is in the Between the Numbers series. That means that Joe and Ranger take a backseat to Diesel. He is a magical hunky being who pops into Stephanie's life when their cases coincide.

Diesel is an enforcer who goes after other magicals who cross the line to the dark side. This series has a light touch of fantasy. It is also like the main series with humor, mystery, and romance. Stephanie is still an incompetent bounty hunter, and Jersey girl. Some are upset that Stephanie never changes, picks a man, gets better at her job ... I see her and both series as the equivalent to comfort food. I don't want change.

In this romp there is also a monkey named Carl. He is a pet and left leashed on Stephanie's doorknob one morning by an annoying acquaintance. Carl doesn't produce the hilarity of the racehorse Doug from the last book Plum Lucky , but its still cute.

One of the important - read more expensive, bail jumpers Munch, is palling around with one of Diesel's evil quarry, Wulf. Munch is nerdy and incompetent at anything but science, Wulf is quite competent and dangerous. Stephanie, Diesel and Carl spend the story chasing Munch and Wulf around Trenton and the Pine Barrens. They encounter the Easter Bunny, Sasquatch and a woman who keeps monkeys she has rescued. She has been kidnapped, and Carl releases the other monkeys.

Stephanie and Lula also try to round up some other bail jumpers with predictable and hilarious results.

A good, light, fun read. Can't wait for the next one.

318FicusFan
Jan. 2, 2010, 3:23pm

Whoo Hoo ! I am done with all my reviews and can finish up this thread !

I will do a little statistical recap, and then list my favorite books and my least favorite of the year. Some of this is from LT, but most is from my Access Data Base.

I have listed 151 books for 2009
I have read 149 books for 2009
I have quit 2 books for 2009

In the 149 books I read 18 that were LT inspired.

of the 149 books read:

10 are Fantasy
9 are Vampire
5 are Smut
39 are Mystery
23 are Historical
19 are SF
1 is Humor
26 are Fiction
17 are Non-Fiction

I added 598 books to my library in 2009 (and yes, I know how much I spent, but won't post it). Of the 598 books new to me in 2009, 86 were LT inspired.
I read only about 18% of my new books. :O

6 are ARCs
6 are Ebooks
1 is Flash Fiction (on-line)
1 is Graphic Novel
23 are Hardcovers
232 are Paperbacks
329 are Trade Paperbacks

I got 566 new books
I got 32 used books

The places I got my books in 2009:

Amazon (new): 17
Amazon Kindle: 4 *
Amazon (used): 19 Total Amazon: 40

(some books from used sources are actually not used, but new)

Annie's Book Stop - North: 7
Author's Web Site: 3*
Barnes & Noble: 338
Barnes & Noble.com: 3
BJs Warehouse: 21
Book Cellar: 7
Book Depository UK: 12
Book Mooch: 7
Book Closeouts.com: 16
Borders: 129
Building 19 1/5: 2
LT Early Review: 6
Publishers: 2
Salvation Army: 5

* 6 are Ebooks, 1 is Flash Fiction

319FicusFan
Jan. 2, 2010, 3:30pm

My STINKERS for 2009

I actually had a better year that last year. I had fewer clunkers, and more good books. Still there are a good number to list. I classify a clunker anything under a 3.0 stars. I have a STINKERS collection. The are listed not by badness, but by the month I read them from January to December.

The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr. It is non-fiction and an LT Early Reviewers book. He tried to do way too much (a new perfume in NYC and Paris). He tried to cover everything and it had no order, and then he was very pretentious with his I lived in France and speak French every other page. The NYC perfume was a celebrity perfume and he was name dropping and ass kissing.

The Story of the Cannibal Woman by Maryse Conde, world fiction
This was a RL book group (#1) read. It was about a Caribbean woman married to college professor from England. They were living in post-apartheid South Africa. He is murdered one night, and it was probably to escape her. Possibly the worst, most pathetic character I have ever encountered in a book.

She hates everyone, won't speak up about anything, won't do anything to help find his murderer. She can't even name her paintings or say what they are about or why she painted them. A total zero.

The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran, a non-fiction and another RL book group choice (#2, not the same group). It is supposed to be a humorous re-telling of Around the World in 80 days. They aren't supposed to use air travel. They are 2 friends who write for comedy TV, each has a thread in the book.

Oh god. They tried too hard to be funny. Vali was smarmy and took drugs. At some point it seemed they decided a book wasn't good enough, because then it became like reality TV. Vali started to cheat and fly. Shallow info about where they were and the people and cultures, and they skipped some places that would have been interesting, to win the race - which the reader could have cared less about.

First Death by Laurell K. Hamilton, graphic novel
Supposed to be the prequel to Guilty Pleasures, to explain how Anita and Jean Claude first met. Total rip-off, flimsy and rehashed.

Sway by Zachary Lazar, fiction
Story set in the 60s. Supposed to bring together the Stones, a follower of Charles Manson, and film maker Kenneth Angier. It purported to explore the dark side of flower power. Boring, bland, disjointed, pretentious, pointless and badly written.

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, historical fiction
A fictional book that is the re-telling of the real writing of the real woman who was the basis for the plays and movies The King and I . Another RL book group choice (#2, same group as Ridiculous Race). Mind-numbingly boring.

The Art Thief by Noah Charney, thriller
Terrible writing ! The characters were plastic and cartoonish, the story telling was poor, and the author modeled the perfect main character after himself.

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva, thriller-mystery
A book that I just hated because of the story and the philosophy and rational behind it. It just glorified hate and excused killing. It was shallow and plastic in terms of writing and characterization. It was a RL book group choice (group #3).

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, fiction
It was supposed to be quirky. It was mostly about cricket ! It was a secret post-911 book. I say secret because it was never mentioned in the recap on the back. Boring.

The Parrot Who Thought She was a Dog by Nancy Ellis-Bell, non-fiction
Story of a woman who 'rescues' a sick, handicapped Blue and Gold Macaw (a tropical bird). She proceeds to keep the bird in an unsafe manner which eventually leads to the bird flying into 80-120 foot trees that surround their home in N.California, in the late fall. The bird is too afraid to fly down and is stranded in the cold and the rain for days.

She goes looking for a replacement bird while hers is still stranded. Eventually the bird's body is found at the foot of a tree. Full of stuff the author makes up about science and bad advice.

Alexander the Great by Nikos Kazantzakis, historical fiction
This is by the same author as Zorba the Greek. It is YA and totally romanticizes everything. The author works in monotheism and the Greek hatred of Turkey. Very shallow, plastic, and inaccurate.

Death's Daughter by Amber Benson, fantasy
An urban fantasy that is about Death's Daughter, who is somehow in her 20s, ( she and the family have immortality, but the kids are 'growing' and Death and the wife are in their '30s'). She was rebelling and living away from her family. Her father - Death, and older sister have been kidnapped and she is called back to help.

The POV character is whiny, stupid, shallow, self-absorbed and unstable. The book reads like a product placement agreement. The story makes no sense and is abandoned half-way through. The back-story makes no sense either. This was a RL book group choice (#4 group).

Terminal Cafe by Ian McDonald, SF
Badly written, jumbled tale of the future where death has been conquered by nano-technology. The dead return, but have no rights or standing, because the laws have not changed. Follows a group of friends who get together in a Necroville for a party every year.

They are spoiled, rich, whiny and lazy. The actual story is a bunch of vignettes of them living their lives as the time draws near for the party. The back story is implied rather than explained.

Undead and Unworthy by Mary Janice Davidson, humorous vampire romance
This is a book in the Queen Betsy series. They are light, fluffy, warm, charming, and funny. Or at least they were. The premise is that a Valley Girl type dies and comes back as Queen of the Vampires. She has no interest in their rules and rituals and because she is the strongest can do what she wants. It freaks the rest of the vamps out.

The books are very light, but the publisher has put them out in HC and split them in 2. So there is really no story, they aren't funny, warm or charming anymore either. They just argue and it is annoying. The story also makes no sense. She is the most powerful around, but now is running away from the Fiends. Huh ?

The Last of the Angels by Fadhil al-Azzawi, world fiction
This is also a book group read (group #2) and I am the one that inflicted it on them :(. It is a story set in 1950s Iraq, when the Brits ruled them through the oil company, though they have a King too.

The story is nothing like the recap on the back. It is middle-eastern magical realism, and jumps from one thing to another. No real main character or even story. More a story of the people living in a Kirkuk neighborhood and the time period than anything specific. I couldn't finish it.

The other book I couldn't finish this year was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Its not a stinker, but it was boring and I couldn't force myself to keep reading about people and events I didn't care about.

320FicusFan
Bearbeitet: Jan. 3, 2010, 1:43am

My BEST Books of 2009

In order of preference:

House to House by David Bellavia *
My Lobotomy by Howard Dully *
Chanur's Legacy by C.J. Cherryh
The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
The Winter Thief by Jenny White
The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato
The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin
Tsotsi by Athol Fugard
Second Line by Poppy Z. Brite
The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson *
Black Ships by Jo Graham
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Quiet Teacher by Arthur Rosenfeld
The Android's Dream by John Scalzi
Wings of Fire by Charles Todd
The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson
The Resurrectionist by James Bradley
Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn
And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura
Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald
Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan
Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh

* non-fiction

I discovered a new mystery series this year: Judge Deborah Knott by Margaret Maron. I read books 8 to 14. Loved them, but can't pick just one.

Also read more in the Dr. Siri Paiboun Laotian Coroner series by Colin Cotterill, and loved them

Edit: I forgot to add Booktown mystery series by Lorna Barrett. It is a light cozy that has wonderful characters. It is also based on a town down the road from me, so the local setting is probably a big part of it.

Also should add The Ian Rutledge mystery series by Charles Todd.

321FicusFan
Jan. 2, 2010, 4:58pm

I think I have wrapped up everything, but I wanted to reflect back on my year.

This was the first time I had done a challenge or a reading log. I enjoyed it, and found it pretty easy as long as I kept up with posting for each book. I did have a few patches were I ran out of gas and got bogged down.

I also found I read more books in the year than I have since I started keeping track (2001). I read 97 books in 2008 and my goal was 98 in 2009. I far exceeded that but am not sure I will have a similar big jump in 2010 (unless more hours are added to the day/week :) ). My goal for 2010 will be the same, 1 book more, so it will be 150.

If I had to comment on my reading content, I would say I need to read more non-fiction - I have plenty of it. I am not a reader of important books, it has to grab me viscerally in some way for me to read it. Though once I start a book I consider it a personal failure if I can't finish it. I am easily bored and don't like long drawn out books written before the 20th century. Classics are something I was forced to read in school.

I am reading more world fiction which seems to be hit or miss, Sometimes its a translation problem and sometimes, I just don't connect with the people or their concerns. But I will keep trying because there is so much that sounds interesting.

I have had a real increase in the number of mysteries that I have been reading. I used to read few because so many seemed cookie-cutter, plastic and only about the mystery. I now approach the genre looking for a good story that just happens to have a mystery.

I want to try to read more books I already own, and perhaps only get books that I really want to read - rather than trying to keep up all the series I have - some of which are, lets face it, meh.

I also am not a reader of new and popular books (at least if they come out in HC), and I am OK with that. I wait to buy the book to read it, and I buy very few new, full price, HCs. So I am always behind the popularity curve. It will be on my wishlist and I will get it, but it often goes on the pile and gets lost.

I belong to 4 RL book groups (SFF, Mystery, Fiction, Armchair Travelers), and that has been a burden at times. I often feel I am reading other people's book choices rather than mine. If we pick books that I have already read, it eases the load. But I have been considering on and off if I want to pare back. No decision yet.

If I were to reflect about my writing: I decided to write in the log and my reviews as each book dictates. Some are pretty straight forward book reports and opinions and some are more like conversations about a topic that I feel the need to talk about. I will probably keep that up. I realize I am wordy, but I am concerned about clarity, so it is a struggle to balance the 2. I hope as I do more writing it will get better.

I wanted to thank everybody who visited my thread this year, both those who posted and those who lurked and read. I appreciate your time and effort to stop by. I hope you enjoyed yourselves here and all had a good 2009 in RL and in reading and hope 2010 is even better.

I apologize to those who were shocked by some of my smutty books, some of whom decided not visit anymore. You aren't here to get this, but I didn't do it to shock. I pick books and subjects that interest me and won't hide the controversial ones, though I did think about it.

I will certainly reply to any posts here, but new books I read will be posted in my 100 Book challenge thread for 2010. I invite you join me, all are welcome.

http://www.librarything.com/topic/79436

Happy New Year !

FicusFan

322ronincats
Jan. 2, 2010, 6:24pm

Nice summaries and reflection. A comment on Mission of Gravity. Forward's book is deliberately modeled on it. It was ground-breaking for its era, being one of the first large-scale extrapolations of scientific principles into modeling a complete world. Granted, it is a little ponderous as a result, as the social interactions are not the primary focus. But our awe at the time for what it was and where it moved sf was well-earned.

The most readable and enjoyable of Clement's books for me is Needle, a young adult book, and its sequel, Through the Eye of a Needle.

323richardderus
Jan. 2, 2010, 6:39pm

I really enjoyed your wrap-up, Ficus, and I hope you'll keep your idiosyncratic choices for the new year...fie on fuddy-duddys.

Sad about City of God's lack of merit in your eyes, though certainly you were both fair and balanced in your assessment. Yes, there were sly refereces to Augustine in the book, but believe me, they're not worth calling out. Too few to appreciate the effort!

324FicusFan
Jan. 3, 2010, 1:50am

> 322 Ronin, I read Forward's book first. It was serialized in Analog which my dad got. Makes sense they are connected, thanks for the information.

I don't read a lot of older SF outside 'Doc'Smith and Heinlein. I don't like most of the others I have tried. Can't say I will read a lot more Clement. I have Fossil and we will see after that.

325FicusFan
Jan. 3, 2010, 1:52am

Thank you Richard. I will continue to do my own thing, never fear.

Its not that City of God lacked merit, it just didn't wow me. Your review was more interesting to me than most of the book.