Just looking around, till Goodreads does something else spectacularly stupid. On behalf of all the GR refugees, sorry about the disruptions, Booklikes!


I'm here on Goodreads


I'm here on LibraryThing


I'm here on Wordpress


and just ... here, here.

Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues - Kerry Greenwood

This is the first book in the Phryne Fisher series, and it's golden. The introduction is priceless, as the young lady puts Sherlock Holmes to shame in the instantaneous and almost offhand solving of the theft of a necklace. 


The whole book is a bit like that, brisk and breezy and offhand. Phryne Fisher is a creature unto herself, unconcerned by anyone's opinion and a bit puzzled, if anything, if it comes to her attention that someone disapproves; she's the sort who, if disapproval is detected, will proceed to emphasize that trait or behavior being frowned upon. She was born independent, and has no more real need for anyone than a frog needs a harmonica. 


Yet I liked her. Once I got used to her casual attitude toward sex and drugs (rock 'n' roll not having been invented yet), which were so not what I was expecting but which actually slotted into the time period well enough (there are reasons they were called the Roaring Twenties), I liked her. Not as much as I love Kerry Greenwood's other main heroine, Corinna, but I don't regret buying every single one of the books in the series. (Fortunately.)

Consider the Fork – Bee Wilson – Alison Larkin

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat - Bee Wilson
The overriding impression of this book is that it is very, very British. Not entirely because of the reader, Alison Larkin (who is very British), or because of too much of an Anglo-centric focus in the history it covers (maybe a bit, but not enough to take issue with) – but mostly because of… well, there's the casual and frequent mention of kebabs and the *ahem* wrong use of "chips" and so on, but mostly it's the almost patronizing tone taken about the United States.

Everything was going along just fine – I was entertained and informed, always my favorite combination – till I hit the chapter on measurements. According to the author, the US is the only first-world country to inexplicably cling to the bizarre and impossibly inaccurate method of measurement standardized by Fanny Farmer, using cups and teaspoons and tablespoons. Everyone else in the civilized world, she says, measures by weight, which makes SO much more sense and is SO much more accurate.

While I have seen British recipes using weights (and skipped over most of them, not willing to do the work to find the website to help me convert them), I never realized that we are the lone rebels in the cooking world, resolutely measuring a quarter-cup of this and half a teaspoon of that. Interesting. As much as our method seems odd to Bee Wilson, weighing everything seems to me like a huge pain in the butt.

Seriously? The rest of the world weighs, say, a teaspoon of vanilla? How the heck does that work? And doesn't that dirty even more containers or utensils than our way? Doesn't it all take much longer, and where the heck do you stash a scale when you're not using it? I have no counter space as it is; the thought of going from cups-tossed-in-a-drawer to yet-another-appliance-on-the-counter gives me a headache. How big is the thing?

Now, what she says does make sense; I never thought about how different one cupful of whatever can be from the next, depending on a person's method of measurement and the kitchen's humidity and the phases of the moon. The way she tells it, we must be a land of flat cakes and rock-hard cookies and all around complete disasters in the kitchen.

But here's the thing. I've been baking since I was ten, and cooking since a few years after that, and - not to brag, just saying – I'd say 95% of everything I've made has come out just as I'd intended. I've had cheesecakes crack; I've had cookies spread more than I wanted; but every cake I've made has risen (not all as high as I'd like, but they all did rise), and so on. So, while it does make sense that my cupful may differ from yours, and mine today might differ from mine four years ago, and that baking requires exactitude in measuring … um. Sorry. My experience just doesn't bear it out. And you know what? It's not just me. I can't say I remember ever seeing a cooking show on the Food Network or PBS that featured a chef (or plain old cook) using a scale instead of measuring implements. Even the snobbier end of the spectrum, exemplified by Martha Stewart (no relation) and the Barefoot Contessa, use the same old cups and spoons – and so does America's Test Kitchen. If weighing was so very superior, I would expect Martha and Ina to insist upon it, and if ATK – whose primary concern is determining the best and most reliable way to do and make just about everything – doesn't … Then, Ms. Wilson (and Ms. Larkin), you can rid your voices of that tone of marveling condescension. In the end your method is different, not better.

So there.

(I feel constrained to add that one reason an individual baker using the cup-measurement system may achieve a level of consistency is experience. I know when a batter is a bit thin, and add more flour; if it's a bit too floury I know how to correct. There's a natural personal consistency that comes with using the same utensils and measuring devices all the time. And I know how to adjust flavor as I go along. I suppose that's the point of the whole scales-are-better-than-cups argument; my cookies probably aren't going to be the same as yours. I for one prefer it that way. Consistency is necessary for restaurant chains and trying to recreate Mom's scones or such, but otherwise? My cookies are my cookies, and yours are yours, and that's the way it should be.)

Speaking of tones of voice, for the most part Alison Larkin is an excellent narrator. There's a sense of humor to the book, and Ms. Larkin plumbs those depths quite nicely. She has a very pleasant voice, and a very pleasant accent, except … The only objection I have is when she reads a quote from an American writer (seriously, these two do not seem to see Americans as worth much respect) she switches into a pseudo-American accent which sounds more like mockery than a genuine attempt at dialect.

Anyway. Gripes aside, this is (as mentioned) an entertaining and informative exploration of how the preparation and consumption of food has evolved through the millennia. It's fascinating stuff, invaluable to a writer of period pieces, and just fun for those who, as I do, love to look more closely at everyday things. Well done.


The Hidden and the Maiden

The Hidden and the Maiden - Eben Mishkin
A pleasant surprise, this. I really, really thought I was going to regret this one after I requested it on Netgalley. There have been several which I abandoned, recently. I don't like doing that; these Netgalley books are obligations. But not even for an obligation will I read a terrible book.

The setting for The Hidden and the Maiden took me off guard; for some reason I expected a typical grim fantasy setting, and instead got a grim here-and-now setting, a horrible and possibly interfered-with pit of urban decay which breeds crime and desperation. And, apparently, wizardry. A cop makes a weird discovery at a crime scene, and things go downhill from there, in the sort of way that can only happen with ghosts and gods involved. These aren't the usual sort of ghosts (or at least not the sort I tend to come across); these break the rule usually followed that they can't harm humans. Yeah, that's not the case here. At all.

One big thing that made a huge difference in this book was that it's smart. I mean, you just don't see a line like "And I’m a scold, not a skald" very often. Or learn the difference between necromancy and nigromancie, and how Tolkien was involved.

Maybe I’ll find something. Maybe the horse will sing,” James said. “Singing horse?” “There’s a story that Mullah Nasruddin…never mind. It isn’t important. It means that anything could happen, so you might as well try,” James said.

I loved what might be called the system of magic used in this book, or at least the system of abilities of ghosts. "As for the tongues of the dead…well, there are a lot of them. It’s our term for our magic. My ability to fly, for example, we call ‘the daughter’s tongue.’ Being able to move something physical in the living world is called ‘the regretful tongue.’ I can do a bit, but I’d be considered an amateur. We call them tongues because they rely on the same kind of thinking as learning a new language. All our powers have a sort of syntax of forms and…things. … Learning to fly was like learning French and Latin in school."

Did I mention how smart the writing was? "Calendars of different systems hung on the walls—apparently it wasn’t only the tenth of this month, but the twenty-seventh of the previous month, the sixth of Lyar, the sixth of the snake, the fifth of Jumada al-Ula, the twenty-second day of Ordibehesht, Beauty’s day of Glory, and minus two days to the first quarter of a planting moon with 38 percent visible."

It was completely different from what I expected, and quite a bit different from my usual cup of tea. It was funny and gruesome, grim and kind of sweet, a little twisted and a little heartwarming. I liked the writing, and the plot, and the characters – and here's something: I even liked the talking cat. THAT isn't an easy accomplishment. I'm really looking forward to more.


Ho ho, bang bang

The Santa Klaus Murder - Mavis Doriel Hay
I actually read this a little while ago, delighted to find an unknown-to-me Golden Age mystery writer. Now, having read and moderately enjoyed it a second time thanks to Netgalley, I don't know whether it's my fault or the book's that I honestly can't remember whodunnit…. It could just be my brain. I do have the memory of a goldfish.

The murder of a crotchety patriarch on Christmas Day, when the entire family is gathered as well as a few extras, leads to an interesting investigation. It's a country house murder with a Yuletide twist. In the classic approved style, everyone – Sir Osmond Melbury's children, in-laws, sister, and guests – has at least some motive to kill him, and equally strong reasons why they would not, and alibis flex and stretch and snap. And one thing that drove me a little crazy about the investigation – though I suppose things were handled very different in the 30's – was that it seemed to take days for anyone to get around to questioning the children in the house. It just seemed nonsensical that the police stalled out over who distributed the Christmas crackers to the children – and yet no one seemed to ever ask said children about it. It never seemed to occur to anyone.

The investigation on the whole was (I hope!) far from realistic. It took, again, days for the police to search the grounds and outbuildings, and when they did it was a half-as- -er -baked job of it. And while it's normal in any mystery novel (or tv show or film) for people to neglect or outright refuse to tell the police certain things, here it was taken to a kind of silly level.

"When you sent for me yesterday afternoon," Caundle explained; "I came up here through the village and by the back drive—much quicker for me than going round by the main gate—and just before I turned into the drive a car came out of it, turned into the road and passed me. Now that's a bit odd?" I inquired why the dickens he didn't tell me yesterday. "It didn't strike me at the moment as odd".

A car leaving the estate immediately after a man was shot? And you didn't think it was odd? Really?

And part of the investigative technique in this – put in motion by a layman, to whom I'll come back – was to have several of the people who were on the scene write up part of their point of view on what happened. This is how the book begins, though then it settles into just one first-person angle. The thinking behind having people write a report is "they would be partly off their guard when they sat down to write" … but … that makes no sense. In a real live interview, an interrogator can surprise a witness, spark memories, pull out unintentional confession and whatnot. But for someone to sit down with a pen or a typewriter and put down in print their take on a situation – well, they're going to be editing themselves. The recipient of the report will never see the "oops, didn't mean to say that" and "wait, that gives away more than I wanted" first drafts crumpled up in people's waste baskets or crumbling to ash in their fireplaces.

Meanwhile, a layman inserts himself into the investigation in a manner which I would think would ping the radar of modern investigators. "Now I want you to ask Miss Melbury and Miss Portisham to do the same for Tuesday and Christmas Day. I don't know them well enough to ask them and I don't want to approach them as your emissary." Is there anything else you'd like? "By persisting in the assumption that you're agreeing with everything he suggests, he hypnotises you into doing so. That's the only way I can explain why I trusted him as I did in this case, although I met him with a feeling of suspicion which I didn't shake off for a long time." Wait, Sir Osmond received a letter on Christmas morning? Why did no one mention this to the police? Oh – didn't think it was important. Well, like a car driving away from the scene of the crime, why would it be?

I wanted to like the characters, but there wasn't a whole lot to them, and for some – like the youngest daughter – what there was could be rather annoying. Actually, I kept mixing up Sir Osmond's youngest daughter with his oldest granddaughter. There sometimes wasn't much to choose between them. One of the other daughters was married to a man suffering from shell shock, who took advantage of the holiday to reconnect with an old beau. She is lauded at one point for standing by her erratic husband: it "was really a very honourable determination to stand by her husband and give him what help she could" … it was not, however, quite so hono(u)rable for her to keep leading the old flame on and on. Not pretty.

There was a somewhat annoying red herring, an obnoxious precocious child (who finally was questioned), a pair of Santas, and lots of forgetfulness and covering up before it's all concluded. And no, I still can't remember how it ended…


Darkness on His Bones

Darkness on His Bones: A James Asher vampire mystery - Barbara Hambly
I've been a tremendous fan of Barbara Hambly since her Star Trek novels in the 80's. Her characters, whether they're someone else's creations like Spock or Catherine Chandler, or her people who appear in only one novel like Marcus or Norah, are valued friends. When they're characters who have been appearing in her novels since 1988, like the Ashers and Don Simon, they're practically family.

Darkness on His Bones starts off with one of the family, James Asher, critically wounded, and let me tell you: if as an author you want to create suspense, that's how to do it. I was tearing through the pages to find out if he was all right – because even knowing that Jamie is one of the primary characters the series centers around, still, it felt like his life was not safe. Realistically I doubt Ms. Hambly would ever kill Jamie off. In the context of the book, he might well have been dying. She sold it; I bought it. She's a marvelous writer.

In the commentaries for the late lamented Firefly, Joss Whedon talked about how everyone is the hero of his own story. At risk of being the boring repetitive fangurl, one thing I always say about her is held up in this book: every single character – whether it's one of the Ashers or one of the vampires who looms threateningly to one side but hardly says a word, or Ellen, or the woman mopping the floor, or the magnificent taximan Greuze, or Simon Xavier Christian Morado de la Cadeña-Ysidro – each and every one of them could carry a book on his own, if Ms. Hambly ever got bored and needed a different direction. (I'd love to see a Greuze spin-off.) It is so easy to see each character, named and unnamed, briefly seen or often, as the hero of his own tale, with a life of his own offscreen. I don't want to make it sound like a cluttered landscape, filled with all these heroes fighting for attention. It isn't, any more than your last trip to the grocery store was. All those other people in the aisles, the non-speaking role of the person who stole your parking space or cut in line just ahead of you, the teenager who rang up your order and the senior citizen who bagged it – they're all the heroes of their own story, and however brief their appearance in your story they're real and vivid. That's what Ms. Hambly manages to do in her worlds.

Oh, and the writing. "Dr Théodule, stooped, white-haired, and resembling nothing so much as a wizard who has attempted to transform himself into a goat and had the spell fail halfway." It's funny, and unusual, and – well, I can certainly see him. "‘If you faint from inanition I shall carry you to the curb and leave you there,’ Ysidro had told her last night". How very Ysidro. "Morning sunlight buttered the Avenue du Maine". So beautiful.

Every word pulls its weight, fits into its place as if that place had been built for it when the universe formed. The saying I usually use as a rod to beat poor writers with is, here, a paean: “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” Zeus's got nothing on Barbara Hambly for lightning.

All right, I'm getting a little worshipful here. I can't help it. Put it this way: given a choice between reading 99% of anything else out there and Barbara Hambly, I will, given free will, always opt for Ms. Hambly. Always.

I received this from Netgalley, with thanks, for a review.


Second Hand Stops - Stop!

I'm sorry, this was rather dreadful. I hit a streak of Netgalley books I flat out could not finish, and this might have been the one that irritated me the most.

It slowly and rather painfully is revealed that Julia Malone is one of six young people who were dumped when very young and raised together in a strange sort of foster home. All six – including, apparently, three brothers – are eighteen as the book begins, and are coerced to drink some potion for some reason, which changes all six of them – apparently enhancing already existing characteristics.

Second Hand Stops is another one set in the present tense … sort of. The author seemed to forget that now and then. Or perhaps the writing is just so inadequate that it seemed that way. "She gazes my direction". "He’s heavy with rain, and so is my heart." (Her heart was heavy with rain?)

What I have been known to call reality-show-recapping is recurrent even in the small amount I managed to read. "My father abandoned me on the doorstep of an old English manor when I was three." – Yes, I know. THE PROLOGUE SAID SO, just a second ago. Also, one of Julia's fellow orphans is kind of evil, one's kind of bitchy, and she's all kinds of love with one. I was somehow able to extract and retain this information after being told each thing several times. And like I said, I didn't read all that much.

And like the recapping, the Mary Sue game is strong in the book. The first person narrator is probably the most obnoxious I've ever come across. "My ability to spot the nuances of body language is uncanny" … she said humbly. And this is the most cock-eyed collection of backhanded self-compliment I've ever seen:
" I’ve thought of my future and cross super model off the list because confidence is a prerequisite. I have a hard time imagining myself as anything special. Everyone says I’m gorgeous. So, define gorgeous. I never could. Sometimes I stand before my bedroom mirror, gazing at the willowy body and piercing green eyes, trying to determine society’s definition of beautiful."

Gagging now.

Wait! It actually gets worse!

"Nevertheless, I am the brave one. Impetuous and stormy, mercurial and confusing—but brave." Oh, and she has "radiant emerald eyes, surrounded by a darker ring of jade." Gagging still.

Something keeps showing up in books lately (and, I believe, television) which seems like a new and ugly pattern: adjectival commas where they really, really don't belong. Like "four, twenty-foot windows" or "pale, terra cotta walls". I don't remember this horrible habit happening even a couple of years ago … it must stop.

What else… oh, just generally muddled writing: "giving her lifeless body the illusion of death. We stand in silence, wondering if she’s dead". "Lifeless" does pretty much equal "dead". What on earth are ginger-blue flames? How does one of the teenagers know her own eye color has changed immediately after taking the mysterious potion, when she has no mirror and no one told her? How does one character bow when a second earlier he was "nose to nose" with the heroine? "Lillian didn’t utter a word", says the narrator, when Lillian in fact did utter. This is too convoluted to have the effect that was probably wanted: "It rained last night as if the heavens needed a good cry to clear out emotional cobwebs." And this – this is just nasty: "My relief drips on his shirt until there’s a wet spot the size of an orange." Ew.

So. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity; I'm only sorry I hated it.


A Flower for the Queen

A Flower for the Queen: A Historical Novel - Caroline Vermalle, Ryan von Ruben
A Flower for the Queen was quite a disappointment. It's described in its blurbs as an adventure story set in South Africa in the 1700's, and just seemed like an overall fascinating story. I'll never really know, I guess, because – as I seem to be saying a lot lately – the writing fought me, and – I don't know, did I lose or did the book lose if I quit?

This is apparently a translation; if so, the author Caroline Vermalle was ill served. I trust things like "engaged the break of the coach" or "He always kept the small folding knife close to him, as a constant reminder than for its utilitarian value" will be fixed at some point (though this seems to have already been published), but phrasing is often awkward. "There was no escape from the sun as it bore down mercilessly on Ian Boulton and James Simmons." Things like far too much confusion in where and why characters are described…"..The sullen quiet that had befallen the room", when I can't imagine the applicability of the word "sullen"… "Masson saw Forster steeped over in wretched humiliation", which is odd in context and in general… This whole paragraph was confused:

"Whilst tall and of the same age, where Masson’s looks were unrefined and rough, Banks was remarkably handsome. Where Masson’s class and upbringing had taught him a reflex for deference, Banks deferred to no one, least of all Lord Sandwich, who stood opposite him. The corpulent First Lord of the Admiralty, who constantly dabbed at his forehead and upper lip with a silk handkerchief, was poured over the numerous technical drawings and plans that lay spread out on the desk between them."

There is also a slightly bizarre disconnect in the way the story is told. It opens, italicized, with the book's present day, which I did not make a note of: early 1800's, and an old man (Francis Masson) nearly run over (or actually run over) (by the coach with the breaks), telling his life story to an aspiring journalist. Yet the life story is couched in such a way that this bookending makes no sense: the old man's younger self is described thus: "His eyes were verdant sparkles, at odds with the serious and unsmiling face in which they were set. He was not younger than thirty years of age and was strongly built, but he pulled and fidgeted at his clothes." There is a fair amount of detail of things that happen when Masson is not present. It doesn't work. Why would all of Masson's sparse possessions be "at least a full day’s journey away by stagecoach" from where he works?

And then there are the anachronisms. How is it that Masson and a young female friend call each other by their first names, when the girl's mother calls him "Mr. Masson", and how is it that they walk around holding hands? How is it that someone who can barely afford a change of clothes can manage to fill up a hemp sack with discarded drafts of letters? Paper was still pretty darn expensive in 1770.

Masson is drafted into a mission for the king and popped onto a ship, where "there were definitely those amongst his fellow diners who resented his presence and wondered why he wasn’t messing with the midshipmen or the marines." He's on a mission for the king. It seems a little odd he is so disrespected. It also seems odd that a small ship has a "chief scientist"; are there more, of whom he is the chief?

Disappointingly, this many problems were packed into just the small percentage I read. Then I decided that I had far too many other books waiting to spend any more time here.


Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity.

Yay - a new author to follow

The Demon's Librarian - Lilith Saintcrow
Okay, so I chose The Demon's Librarian on Netgalley expecting a quick, hopefully light and fun read, and probably filled with sex and violence, probably with a Mary Sue heroine. Honestly, my expectations for the sex and violence were stronger than those for the light and fun – and honestly, I couldn't have been more wrong. It was so much fun, and such a quick and enjoyable read – and while yes, it was violent ("He’d broken the floor, he’d hit it so hard"), I was surprised that while there was a huge amount of chemistry and sexual tension, of actual sex scenes there were none.

The book is far from perfect. There are mistakes, in formatting and whatnot, which will hopefully be/hopefully was dealt with before final publication. But where in a lot of cases that can overwhelm the writing, here the writing more than held its own and made reading more than worthwhile. "The shipwrecked, rollicking oaken monstrosity of the bar itself" – nice.

And Chess (short for Francesca, and I love that) is no Mary Sue. Is she special, smart and lovely and physically intimidating and the whole package? Yep. But she reacts to the things that happen to her in a realistic manner. She's a librarian, and a good one, loving her books and occasionally loathing her patrons: "She could feel her cheeks freezing into what Charlie called the Dealing-With-Idiots-Smile. It almost hurt." And terrible things happen around her and to her, things that most of us reading (and writing) this will never, ever, ever remotely experience, and Lilith Saintcrow managed to make her someone who would both respond heroically and then melt down. As one does, when suddenly confronted with almost unstoppable demons taking the forms of people one knows.

I loved her constant self-reassurance: "I am doing really well with this. Don’t get cocky." "I am dealing with this really well, she thought for the fiftieth time, and felt like it might actually be true." She's confident, but not so certain of herself or the new and wildly bizarre and dangerous circumstances she's plunged into. I found it a nice touch that this rather amazing woman uses a technique I've been known to try ("it's ok – you're ok – you can do this") and is occasionally overwhelmed by tears.

And I kind of love that one of the first things our hero, Ryan, falls for in her is that he saw her weeping.

He's a very interesting character. I've seen criticism of how he behaves and how he treats Chess, but I had no problem with it. He's not just some guy; he's not human, quite. There are reasons for his behavior, reasons in keeping with the unique and skillful worldbuilding that's gone on for this book. I look forward to more from this author, hopefully with these characters.


Desolate - Amy Miles

Desolate - Amy Miles
I'm afraid I didn't get terribly far in this book. Even after so many books which have done so much to change my opinion, I still don't like the present tense. It fights me as a reader. It's – well, it's like so many other things – done well, it's irreplaceable, and done badly it's unreadable.

So that was my first negative reaction. The book begins after something terrible has happened at a wedding – and it's not a good sign that what I was thinking in the midst of blood and carnage was "a white wedding in 1690?" (Because they weren't, usually.) A few minutes later is mention of "the clapboard homes nearby"… I don't know. My immediate association with "clapboard" is New England, but who knows? Maybe it's plausible in 1690 Romania. Unfortunately, my trust in the author had already deteriorated by that point, and I didn't buy it.

I've said before that if I highlight a lot a book it's either a really good thing or a really bad thing – either I'm expressing appreciation for phrasing or I'm collecting errors. Here's some of what I highlighted in the small amount I managed to read of Desolate, and I don't think it's hard to tell which was the case here:

"My leg muscles coil and I am sent careening backward"

"A rusty nail impales through Petru’s shoulder"

"My bronze hairs feel heavy laden"

"stunted horror"

Then of course there were the outright errors "the ringing of the bells that peeled" and "leaching blood" and such. The narrator mentions feeling "the dull ache of remorse", when there is absolutely no reason for her to feel remorse. I think the author might have meant grief or mourning or something like that; remorse was what I felt over choosing this book on Netgalley. The beginning was so unrelentingly grim, yet almost comically badly written, that I kept thinking of all the other books sitting waiting on my Kindle and just couldn't spend any more time on it.


At least Forrest Gump didn't take credit.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? - Jack Martin
What an odd book. The description indicated that it was a tale of 20's and 30's crimefighting with a supernatural element … It's good to stress that last part going in, I think, because otherwise it might cause disorientation. Because, to quote the note at the end of the book: "For reasons of the plot, massive liberties have been taken with the historic record"…

I have problems with that. Okay, so dates were changed to make things fit better, and of course the fictional Agent Harry Beirce was shoehorned in all over the place. I was curious, though, about who the real people were whose thunder this fictional character was stealing, and that's when I found out how massive the liberties, or mistakes, were. Now, I mean, granted, I'm only going off Wikipedia and whatever personal websites I stumbled across in cursory searches, but … the kidnap victim featured, Urschel, was taken in a wildly different situation than described here (kidnapped with a friend during a bridge game in front of their wives, not alone on his porch), and was interviewed by Special Agent Gus T. Jones, who was apparently kind of a big deal but never mentioned in this narrative. Discovering this departure from the facts made me go looking for others. I always find trouble this way…

I found small things, such as the fact that the man who attempted to kill Roosevelt (or not), Giuseppe Zangara, did not go to " Miami and buy the Colt .32 automatic", he paid $8 at a local pawn shop for a .32 caliber made by the US Revolver Co. And there were larger things, like the fact that Clyde Barrow did not kill that guard; escapee Joe Palmer did. And Bonnie & Clyde did not free just their two friends, but in the end five prisoners escaped. What is going on here? Is it ignorance, or streamlining reality for the sake of a not-great story?

And see, there's the main problem I had. If you're going to take major liberties with history – which is made up of real people's lives, people who may still be alive, or whose children and grandchildren are – then there had better be a damned good reason, a damned good story at the heart of it. This wasn't bad – it was mostly readable, and held my interest, if for no other reason than that I was baffled about what was actually going on – but in my book the story wasn't powerful enough, big enough, good enough to excuse the liberties.

There were other things I questioned: the family of a murdered man being part of the long line of mourners waiting to see him as he lay in state – why would the family be in line? A priest is shown giving full Catholic rites for the murderer – not likely, especially in 1935. And now I'm finding that the whole Pretty Boy Floyd thread was apparently a total fantasy. I did feel like I learned (or relearned) a bit about Dillinger and Huey Long and Hoover … the problem is, I'm trying my best to forget it all as fast as possible, because I don't trust anything in the book. (Did Ana Cumpana? actually double-cross the the agents escorting her at a baseball game, walk straight out of their hands while they were shooting the breeze, and before they even noticed give Dillinger a warning? I can't find anything about that, and I hope it's pure fiction. If not, it was not one of the law enforcement's finer hours.)

Okay, so this isn't a history book. I won't refer to this any details of this book if I ever get on Jeopardy (and God help the author if I screw up an answer because he screwed with history). (No, seriously. Not joking.) But I'll put that aside. The point of the book is Agent Harry Bierce, who is, shall we say, unusual. If this is ever made into a film he should be played by Tom Hanks, because they could almost just take footage straight out of Forrest Gump; he was everywhere.

How is he unusual? By the end of the book I had a pretty solid guess, but beyond that, I don't know. Because I wasn't told. (See, the whole "show don't tell" thing only works if the showing is effective. If it's not, and you don't tell the reader anything, the reader just winds up baffled.) I'm assuming he joins the ranks of the unkillable, like the two gentlemen in the (quickly-canceled) tv shows New Amsterdam and Forever. When Bierce is shot, he recovers with extraordinary speed. And his doctor says "Much of this recovery seems due to a remarkable immune system." Except … he was shot. Even the most remarkable immune system is never going to mean immunity to bullets. Is he what I think he is? What's the deal with his lady friend and her alarming parties and even more alarming husband (and extremely alarming pigs)? What am I supposed to infer from the references to Arkham? (Not being a fan of Lovecraft, I had to look it up. (I was pretty sure it wasn't referring to Batman.) The biggest question I have is, why am I still asking these questions after finishing the book? Was I supposed to be picking up clues as I went along and figuring it out? What clues? Did I miss ninety percent of them? Or is it all supposed to have whetted my curiosity to prepare for a sequel? (Harry Bierce conquers the Nazis! AND the Italians and Japanese!)

I didn't hate this. I didn't like it much, but I didn't hate it. I did hate the spelling errors, which I pray can be put down to the whole uncorrected proof thing, but … "she handed him the reigns"; "if they tow the line"; "Hoover had made discrete inquiries"…. Please let this be because it's an uncorrected proof… (This was received from Netgalley for an honest review.)



Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1) - Marissa Meyer
Why, on earth, did I buy the next book before I finished this one? That was really stupid. That was really, really stupid. Because by the time I finished this one I hated it so much I wanted to fling my Kindle.

The story was okay. A steampunk-ish retelling of Cinderella – nifty. The additional element of a plague that terrifies everyone – fine. The additional additional element of lunar colonists who have become quite different from those still on earth … okay… There was a lot going on, and at times it was annoying. And I just really, really wasn't interested in the Lunars. The plot would pick up, and I would be engaged for a while – and then Levana would pop up again and I'd sigh. She had to be one of the most cardboard, predictable villains I've seen in recent years: basically, in any given situation think of the worst thing a character could say or do, and wait for her to say or do it. It got old.

Actually, all of the baddies were like that. The wicked stepmother was fairy tale wicked, with no real reason. At least one of the stepsisters was just the same – with the added irritation of a really appalling display of either "behold what an awful character I am" or "oops, the author forgot what should have been going on in this scene": without spoiling anything, there should have been one overriding powerful emotion in the scene (view spoiler)[(grief) (hide spoiler)], but instead the sister was smirking and mocking and being an all-around bully.

I found the writing somewhat shocking. In many places it seemed as though it was written by a teenager (was it? No, according to her blog she's married). The best example: "like tendons stretched to the max". Ew, like totally grody. There were so many odd little did-you-pay-attention-in-English-class errors: "make you look less accusatory at me." "Prime Minister Kamin of Africa grunted most unladylike." Odd – or outright incorrect – phrasing. It was one of the only consistencies of the book.

So maybe I shouldn't have been so very surprised when one character told another, "come meet me in Africa." Well, but gosh;  it's a big country.


Hard Magic (The Grimnoir Chronicles) - Larry Correia, Bronson Pinchot

As with other books I've listened to lately, the narrator is wholly responsible for one full star of my rating. I liked the book; I loved Bronson Pinchot.

Should have been so good

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile - James Jean, Craig Hamilton, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Bill Willingham
I wanted so badly to love this. I absolutely expected to. I've heard great things about Fables, especially with the popularity (and similarity) of the show Once Upon a Time. I love updated fairy tales. I love reconfigured tales. Heck, I love graphic novels.

And I could get into the (rather OUaT-esque) concept of crossover or exile between the world where fairy tales are real and this world. It has a lot of scope, and using the idea in a murder mystery setting seemed like a great idea.

But I hated it. I just hated it. The artwork was rather nice… but I loathed what was done with all of the characters. I disliked the apparent offensiveness for offensiveness's sake in the depiction of a couple of characters. (Also, of course, the feeling of "They're fairy tale characters! Let's make them swear and have sex! People will be shocked! It'll be great!")

Most of all, I despised the "Ha-ha-fooled-you" trickery the plot indulged in; there's misdirection, and then there's outright lying, and by the end of this I had the nasty feeling I'd been lied to. There are ways and ways to mess with a reader, and this is not one I enjoy.


I kind of wish I'd stopped with this one...

Farthing  - Jo Walton, John Keating, Bianca Amato
This was a very odd book. I enjoyed most of it, but it was very odd. It took a bit of mental calisthenics to adapt to a 1949 London in which "Old Adolph admired England and had no territorial ambitions across the channel". Because this world's Old Adolph most certainly had all sorts of ambitions across the channel; he was drooling to get into London and execute the entire royal family.

Rather than that straight-forward and outright horror, the horror in this book is … sneakier.

"In May of 1941, the war looked dark for Britain. We and our Empire stood alone, entirely without allies. The Luftwaffe and the RAF were fighting their deadly duel above our heads. Our allies France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, and Denmark had been utterly conquered. Our ventures to defy the Reich in Norway and Greece had come to nothing, The USSR was allied to the Reich, and the increasingly isolationist USA was sending us only grudging aid. We feared and prepared for invasion. In this dark time, the Fuhrer extended a tentative offer to us. Hess flew to Britain with a tentative offer of peace, each side to keep what they had. Churchill refused to consider it, but wiser heads prevailed…"

Wiser heads prevailed, and those damned isolationists in the US held sway, and Britain made a peace with Hitler, and now most if not all of Europe is under a blanket of fascism. Being Jewish is a very, very difficult thing, when it isn't outright life-threatening, wherever you are. And Orwell imagines his dystopia happening ten years earlier than in this world. (That is a lovely subtle touch.) And the United States is led by President Lindbergh – which … Heaven forbid.

And it is in this universe that Lucy and her Jewish husband David return to her family's estate for a house party, during which there is a good old-fashioned country house murder.

There were things I did not like; Lucy uses a verbal shorthand she had developed, but the reader is not clued into exactly what she's talking about until what seemed like a ridiculous ways in. (Page 96 – looked it up. So a third of the way through the book.) It's pretty clear through context what she means by "Athenian" and "Macedonian" and so on – but not totally clear, and a little baffling as to WHY she would be saying "Athenian" and "Macedonian" and so on.

I never warmed up to most of the characters. Heaven knows Lucy's family didn't deserve warming up to…they are snobs of the first water.
"How many servants do you get by with?"
"Just three," David said. "A cook, a housemaid, and a kitchen maid. …"
"You dress yourselves??"
- Goodness me. And here I thought that was something one was taught to do as a toddler.

And Lucy – one of the two point of view characters – began to grate on me. She says, often, that she isn't too bright, though the plan she comes up with is not terrible … but her speech and behavior thoroughly agrees with the "not too bright". Is it all a front? Does she really think she's stupid (perhaps because her mother has taught her so) when she's not so dumb after all? Who knows? She is rather flighty, and certainly fanciful: to avoid spoilers, I'll just say that she develops an unshakeable certainty of something about which she couldn't possibly have a clue, and proceeds from that first moment of certainty as if what she believes is rock solid truth. Is it? Who knows?

Speaking of servants … Things are a bit odd with them in the country house where the good old country house murder takes place. I mean … they're servants, when all's said and done, employees hired and paid to do specific jobs, in a class structure which requires them to show respect to their social "betters". But here the attitudes are extraordinary – and Mrs. Simons, the housekeeper, is outright offensive. Blatantly, intentionally, viciously rude. Lucy: "I didn't like how quickly I'd resorted to threatening to sack her" – WHY? My God, are you mad? Fire that nasty cow and eject her so hard and fast she bounces twice going down the drive.

The book alternates viewpoints between Lucy, on the scene of the murder, and Inspector Carmichael, in charge of investigating said murder. And it's all rather repetitive – not even just because of dual points of view, which is handled fairly well. "He might have committed suicide." "Why would he kill himself?" then a little while later "He might have killed himself." "Why would he commit suicide?" This happens over and over.

I gave this four stars to start with, but – after some time has passed, and having listened to the ensuing two books, and just looking at the notes I made while listening to this one – I bumped it down to three. Because on the whole I really, really hated this series – and, honestly, with the level of exasperation in what I wrote at the time I'm a little shocked that I did rate it higher.


Some people juggle badgers

Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis, Kevin Pariseau
I didn't intend to read/listen to yet another alternate WWII fantasy novel this spring… (I didn't know there were that many alternate WWII fantasy novels out there…) But there it was in my Audible library, and as I've been using earphones defensively against the onslaught of noise in the office (why do people have to yell at the top of their lungs? And have multiple radios going?) I've been going through a good many audiobooks this year.

It took quite a bit of getting used to, this alternate timeline. After other books I've read this year, between Connie Willis and Erik Larsen, I've become a bit familiar with the ebb and flow of WWII. So this was odd, with so little context for the warlockly doings. It made it difficult to tell how or if the course of the war was altered – the grafting on of what Richard (Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways) has called Magicque. The fleet of private ships that evacuated Dunkirk failed in this reality – or not? It isn't clear – but the evacuation ship City of Benares was sunk, just as it was in the current reality. (Though the latter was almost made to sound like something resulting from the Eidolon and the OKW.) It was interesting to see the Red Orchestra show up. Even something like the "heil Hitler" salute – it came as a surprise when someone used it, which made me realize that was the first one of the book, as far as I noticed. Which, considering some half the book is set in Germany or amongst the Nazis, is odd. I don't think as much was really done with the branching of events as could have been; apparently the war ended in 1940, and there was little exploration of what that meant in the world at large. I came to very much dislike Jo Walton's Small Change series (which featured a non-magicque alternate timeline), but in some ways exposition of what that world was like was done rather better than in this book.

With half the characters being from London and its surrounds, I wish the audiobook narrator had been British. Or perhaps I just wish he had better at accents; main character Raybould Marsh starts out as a street urchin, and faces disdain among politicians because of his origins – but the accent the narrator gives him isn't far off the others' with had much posher backgrounds. Will's was nice, and Lorimer's, but the German accents reminded me alternately of Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Hogan's Heroes. Also, it was distracting and sometimes confusing that characters' internal monologues were in, basically, the narrator's own accent, not at all the characters'.

I keep trying to put my finger on the quality that makes one book perfect for me and another anathema; in a synesthetic sort of way I can almost associate a color with an author's writing. Bitter Seeds felt like a sort of ochre, a little heavy, a little resistant. But there were moments that I loved; one I made a note of was: " The flint in his gaze had been knapped into arrowheads, all aimed at Marsh." That's quite nice, I thought.

Then of course there was the moment it made me smile and think of Firefly: "'Dangerous? That's your question? If you're seeking a new hobby, Pip, you're better off juggling rabid badgers on a street corner. You might even make a few quid.'" Some people juggle geese…

Another flash of amusement came from "Klaus wondered if many great men shuffled around in their dressing gowns and obsessed over their bowel movements." It struck me, based in part on the weird variety of books I've been reading, that … yes, actually, a fair number of great men probably do and have done exactly that. (And not so great men, too.)

All of the senses are attended to in the storytelling. The falling of a syringe makes a distinct sound. Cigarette smoke; the flight of birds; the grip of a handshake; the flavor of chocolate – taste and touch and smell and sight and sound permeate the book, to the point that it stops being a good thing and simply becomes repetitive.

Part of the disconnect I felt with the book was in the fact that despite the attention to detail in description, more information would have been useful in other places, or more specific information. As mentioned above, the alternate WWII timeline could have been made more clear. (Warning: this gets a bit squicky…) One character sacrifices what is specifically described as a fingertip… but the shears "crunched together at the center of [his] finger", and thenceforth he suffers "phantom limb" pain, and there is mention of a "missing finger". In my world, the fingertip is the fleshy bit at the, er, tip of the finger, the bit that will make contact if you bring your finger straight down onto your desk. The end of it. Small area. Tip. Not even necessarily including any nail. My father lost the tip of one finger in an accident long ago, and you'd never have known it. So … Er?

For Will's story alone, this nearly went up to 4 stars, and he would be the only reason I would pursue the series. I became impatient with Marsh, and never could scrape up much interest in the almost dimensionlessly Evil Nazis, but Will was a fantastic character with a compelling arc (though his path might have been too determinedly downhill to form an actual arc). Unfortunately, I don't think he's enough reason to go and seek out Book 2.

Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride - Joe Layden, Cary Elwes, Rob Reiner
I can't think of a single movie which means more to me than The Princess Bride. There are plenty that are important – some of the Star Treks, and Casablanca, and The Great Escape, The Thin Man and the Harry Potters and Holiday (Grant and Hepburn, not the other one). Fellowship of the Ring once meant more, maybe, but then Peter Jackson did what Peter Jackson does and retroactively destroyed even that. But the Bride? Book and film, but especially film, this is dear to me.

So this book, Cary Elwes's tale of the Making Of, was a shoo-in as a necessary book. I had hopes – and they were more than fulfilled. From learning that Sting was considered for the role of Humperdinck (!) to Samuel Becket's close friendship with Andre the Giant (!) to Bill Goldman's trials and tribulations on set (" … " No. I'm not going to spoil it. It's priceless), it was pure geekly rapture to get such a look behind the scenes from casting to wrap party.

It's a generous, affectionate book that serves as proof that the movie was made with love and remembered as one of the best experiences that could be had in a career. Throughout, Elwes extols the virtues of everyone involved, and he gives his co-stars room to speak in his book of memories.

Robin Wright: "My theory is that they were so completely tired of meeting girls—I think I was the five-hundredth girl they saw—at that point they were like, 'Just cast her! Make her the princess!' They were so stunned, after meeting all the ingénues of Hollywood. That was my lucky fate—they were exhausted."

Mr. Elwes is just about as modest as Robin Wright is; they were both so young, and had no idea the movie would become the Thing it is today - that people would cosplay them with great attention to every detail and that the Pope would know the actor from "The Princess and the Bride", and most of the cast probably can't go a week without a quote being demanded of them. (I wonder if anyone has the chutzpah to ask Fred Savage to say "Is this a kissing book?") They had no idea that this film would become a hallmark of The Geek: if you can't quote reams from this film, why, then, your Geek Badge must be a forgery.

There are some wonderful stories in here, and wonderful details. Great literature it is not, ghost writer or no ghost writer – but it doesn't matter. Much like the film, it's all heart, and tremendous fun. It's joyous. "As You Wish"? I love you too, Cary Elwes - thank you.

(Nota bene: the audiobook edition is read by … everyone. I want it. Now.)