Stranger Danger (A Fumble-Fingered Twofer Book Review)

I’m a klutz with my touch screen. This is third time I’ve been scrolling through the library catalog online and accidentally checked out a book with the same or similar title as the one I was actually going for.

It’s been mostly good. The first time, I wanted The Last Detective by Robert Crais and discovered the talented British mystery writer Peter Lovesey when I clumsily checked out his novel by the same name. The second time, I was after Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and accidentally got James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes and – bonaventura! – stumbled onto what might be my new favourite series.

There was no such serendipity this time with the accidental book, but I liked my original choice, a highbrow, classic work. I feel accomplished and a bit smarter now.

The book I was after:

The StrangerThe Stranger by Albert Camus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: classic, literature-with-a-capital-l, philosophy, translated-to-english

It occurs to me that this would have been a mind-blowing read back when I still got stoned. If you partake, you might want to blaze up a fattie before you start reading.

So, the basic plot is this guy’s mother dies, and then he kills somebody else for no reason, and he feels nothing. The prosecutor is expounding on the narrator’s heinous crime and his utter lack of a soul, and our narrator is — bored.

The plot is a vehicle for some pretty deep stuff, a big surprise with its deceptively simple writing and its brevity. I read the whole thing in one day, a work day, on the metro to my office and home again. I’m still thinking about it and probably will be for awhile.

I decided I was an existentialist for a year or so when I was a teenager, mainly because I thought it sounded cool. While I don’t disregard it completely now, it’s been mooshed together with some other tenets to create my unique Heinz 57 (and thoroughly heathen but hey, it works for me) belief system. As much as I see the principles of living authentically (which phrase has become so overused by 2016 that it’s laughably trite) and being the architect of whatever meaning one’s own life has, I also get that our lives can just as easily mean what other people interpret them to mean and have nothing to do with us at all.

Black? Or white? Gray is not in this palette. Dichotomies abound.

Or maybe Meursault had the meaning of life nailed all along: It doesn’t matter.

New words:

Asphodel: White -flowered plant of the lily family; also said to be an immortal plant growing in the Elysian Fields

My accidental check-out, not so much.

The StrangerThe Stranger by Harlan Coben

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: abandoned, mystery, thriller, ugh

“Adam put on his pajamas, head spinning at the realization that his wife had faked her last pregnancy. Adam’s pajamas were blue and white striped, but Corinne’s were red paisley. Corinne was one of the few women who didn’t like fancy lingerie, opting for men’s pajamas instead, but she and Adam had very divergent tastes beyond that. Corinne’s pajamas were hanging from the set of hooks mounted on the back of the door. They’d found the hooks while shopping together for pajamas in Bed Bath & Beyond. Why would she lie to him about being pregnant? And how did that stranger at the lacrosse meeting know?”

I made that up, it’s not an actual excerpt, but you get the idea. I was intrigued by the story as it started, but was turned off by the telling instead of showing me what upper-middle-class paragons make up this family, with its SUV and a computer in every room and trendy sports and aw-shucks-boys-will-be-boys good-student, star-athlete teenage sons. It reads like an early draft that needed another trip or two past an editor. Other reviewers have noted that this was a poor showing by an author they usually like, but I’m not sure I’ll ever try any other of Coben’s books after this one.

Fortunately, today is one of the days when I didn’t forget my Kindle, so I have dozens of backup books with me. I usually enjoy mystery-thrillers but I’m abandoning this one midway through Chapter 4.

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Rank (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Becca twists in her chair to accept the incoming call. Naturally, when she’s got reams of medical records to index, cross-index, Bates-stamp, and prepare  for the boss to send to opposing counsel by end of day, the caller is just another idiot who believes his life story will convince her he’s entitled to a free lawyer.

She finally gets rid of him and turns back to her work and her deadline, only to hear Jane pipe up, “I’ve always hated those calls the worst.”

My god, does the woman have two cents about everything?

“Well, you don’t rank high enough to worry about it here,” Becca snaps. She sees the shocked hurt on Jane’s face and feels a surge of angry satisfaction.

Unsplash/Pixabay, CCO PD

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. The cue was “rank.”

More fun Six Sentence Stories from other writers are here.

A Different Lens (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch September 21 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens.

LubosHouska/Pixabay, CCO PD

Jane is looking idly around the Metro stop when she sees it.

Here she stands with everyone else, scrolling on her phone, her second-hand boots and Patagonia windbreaker and messy updo indistinguishable from anyone else’s. No way to tell that the thirty-eight dollars in her wallet is her very last, that her bus card is low-income, that the tall Americano she’s sipping is her first such splurge in a month.

Amazing. She’s pulling it off, looking like everyone else, with their Starbucks apps and credit card bills.

How many of these people are, secretly, no different from her?




Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Book Review)

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book only accidentally. It was so good I tore through all 582 pages in less than 3 days, including a work day.

Bookshelves: action-with-a-body-count, creepy-horror-stuff, detective, manly-men-kicking-ass, noir, sci-fi, space, space-opera, futuristic

Leviathan Wakes was waiting among the rest of my library holds, little tag with my name on it tucked between the pages. Huh? Oh, right. I must have accidentally touch-screened this one when I was requesting Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (entirely different but also very good, so my new mission may be to read all books with “leviathan” in the title). I read the jacket blurb, decided it sounded interesting, and lugged it home.

What a ride. In the not-so-distant future, our solar system has been colonized. Detective Miller, working for an Earth-based private security company on Ceres, is assigned to find a young woman whose parents don’t like their daughter being a revolutionary and have the money to have her kidnapped and returned to them, whether she likes it or not. Meanwhile, Executive Officer Holden of the ice mining ship Canterbury unwittingly finds this same woman’s trail when he follows the emergency beacon coming from a derelict ship tucked up by an asteroid, right before his own ship is vaporized and Holden, all by himself, starts an interplanetary war.

That’s, like, the first two chapters. Things move right along from there.

It’s all here: Two big planetary powers nagged by a rebel resistance force and the exploited stations on various moons and big space rocks, g-forces and gadgetry, thugs and smugglers and general bad guys, Epstein drives and stealth transponders. Lots of action, some day-to-day of life in a space colony, some political back-and-forth, smidge of romance, a wee bit of horror vis-à-vis an alien life form (no spoilers!), grand heroics. It’s a bit on the noir side too, with bits such as “If the woman still had a soul, it had been pressed thin enough to see through” and “His voice sounded like it had been dragged down an alley by its ankles.” The alternating POV is well done, with chapters switching off between Miller and Holden.

I see now that this book and its sequels were the basis for the “Expanse” series on the SyFy channel. I might have known that sooner if I ever watched TV, but since I discovered it anyway I’m not going to change my ways. This might be my new favorite series.

“There’s a right thing to do,” Holden said.

“You don’t have a right thing, friend,” Miller said. “You’ve got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong.”

New words:

Waldo: A remote manipulator, like robot hands controlled by a human.

Steganography: Hiding a message within another message, such as secret code in a shopping list, or writing with invisible ink. The message is doubly safe, because to start with it doesn’t draw attention as a possible secret.

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A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Book Review)

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: americana, funny, humor, man-vs-nature, non-fiction, travel, survival, save-our-planet

The only thing I didn’t like was that there was no Bigfoot. Bryson’s tale of hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is funny, self-deprecating, full of beauty and wonder, and never boring.

“But even men far tougher and more attuned to the wilderness than Thoreau were sobered by its strange and palpable menace. Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as “so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror. When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.”

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of this book before, being a fan of A Short History of Nearly Everything, but I only picked up on it through reviewers who panned Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. (They are two different books, written from different viewpoints and for different reasons. I liked them both.)

Bryson’s look at nature and what it takes to hike the AT includes the historical and environmental, the technical, and the recklessness and ludicrousness of our treatment of our planet and its denizens. I came away with a whole new respect for salamanders and moose. Bryson’s hiking partner pretty much made the book, though, what with getting lost and throwing away valuable supplies because they were too heavy, including the coffee filters that fluttered so beautifully.

This book is a treat.

“In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition – either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail. Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit – that, say, a more graceful bridge across the Delaware might actually set off the grandeur around it, or that the AT might be more interesting and rewarding if it wasn’t all wilderness, if from time to time it purposely took you past grazing cows and tilled fields.”

New words:

Denier: unit of weight of silk, nylon, or rayon yarns, often used to describe hosiery thickness

Mesophytic: of of a moderately moist environment

Iapetus: proto-Atlantic Ocean, existing during the Taconic, Accadian, and Alleghenian phases of Earth’s formation (also a Titan in Greek mythology and one of Saturn’s moons)

Ineluctable: inescapable

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Get Back  (Six Sentence Stories)

Jane ducks out the back door, makes for the scabby bench overlooking the water, a couple of blocks down. A sandwich to eat on her so-called lunch hour would be nice, but more than one meal a day is a luxury that will have to wait until her first paycheck; she spends the time taking an inventory.

She already hates this job, no doubt, but she’s grateful for any job at all, so it’s a plus. She’s still crouching in an abandoned house, but she should be able to get her own real place in a few months, another plus. Fall semester starts in two weeks, and she’ll have some student aid funds, along with the return to academia she’s wanted.

Sometimes you can get a dream back, even if you have to back into it.

This is Six Sentence Stories installment from The Life and Times of Jane Doe.

More Six Sentence Stories can be found here.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (Book Review)

High FidelityHigh Fidelity by Nick Hornby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: brit-lit, humor, literary-fiction, love-story-not-a-romance, pop-culture, dick-lit, coming-of-age

This is the first I’ve read that I can recall in the genre opposite to chick-lit and which others have called guy-lit, he-lit, and dick-lit (my personal favorite). I’d have given it a pass if I’d known there was a movie starring John Cusack, so sometimes it’s a good thing that I largely ignore pop culture.

Because this wasn’t a bad book. It’s about love, yes, but it’s also about self-realization, and the nerdy guy coming of age in his thirties, and figuring out that life and love are mostly matters of compromise and diving in and going for it and that’s really not so bad. The top-five lists of various things (TV episodes, records, break-ups) have depth of meaning under the wry surface. Humorous, and full of those little “you-mean-other-people-think-this-stuff-too?” and other weird psychological insight moments.

“It’s like everyone’s a supporting actor in the film of your life story.”

Of course. Isn’t that how it works for everybody?

New words:

Interregnum: Temporary suspension of normal government, such as between successive reigns or regimes (or when the Republicans are throwing a tantrum — okay, I made that up)

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