The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver (Book Review)

The Bone Collector (Lincoln Rhyme, #1)The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I figured it out. I don’t want to read about unrealistically extraordinary people. I want to read about realistically ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Bookshelves: oh-puhleeze, the-movie-was-better, crime, detective, mystery, ugh, mary-sue-and-gary-stu, everyone-loved-it-but-me, abandoned, dnf

It starts out with several bangs, impressive feats of deduction and lots of cop-like pizzazz, but quickly settles in to lots of Lincoln Rhyme ordering people to “Do a scale count and medulla pigmentation comparison” and “Check for cellular compression” and “Get a polarized shot of the cellophane” and very little else. And that’s not even consistent. This brilliant criminalist sends a whole bunch of guys around the city buying veal shanks out of their own pockets to make a comparison, but sets an unusual knot aside for later like it’s not important? It doesn’t read like the author thought up a clever crime story and set about having his hero solve it. Rather, it reads like the author gathered together every high-hat forensic analytic test and piece of lab equipment known to man and then cobbled together a series of events to include each and every one of them. Being this impressed by all this amazing crap gets tiresome.

I’m going to make a confession now, and perhaps this is blasphemous for a lover of detective and mystery novels, but – gasp! – I never liked Sherlock Holmes all that much. He was so far above everyone and made so many deductions that were impossibly cerebral (and was so damned arrogant about it too) that I couldn’t connect with Holmes or the solution of the crime. I didn’t participate, didn’t try to figure it out myself; I just read about two geniuses, one good and one evil, pitted against each other, with the force of good winning in a way poor little uneducated and stupid me could never hope to identify with.

Same thing here. Pah.

And then there’s the unbelievability. Lincoln Rhyme has amassed three or four fancy college degrees, risen to the top of NYPD and solved thousands of cases, created a vast database of technical stuff like types of dirt and paint chips and tires, given himself a complete self-education about the history of all of the botanical, chemical, geological, zoological, engineering, and cultural aspects of New York City, written a couple of books, and spent the last three years learning how be a C-4 CSI patient, all before the age of, what, forty? (I know. I cannot suspend my disbelief enough to buy the entire New York City Police Department kowtowing to one retired criminalist and filling his bedroom with every million-dollar piece of equipment in existence and every staff member he asks for so he can single-handedly solve one kidnapping/murder, but I readily buy griffins and wizards and prophecies of The One. Yes, it is funny.) Pah again.

Lincoln Rhyme seems to be the only character who is at all developed, but I have to wonder how realistic he is, given the idiocy that was JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You. The supporting cast of captains and detectives and deputy commanders and whatever are interchangeable. Then we have the oh-so-clichéd saucy-and-obviously-gay personal assistant/nurse (so gay and saucy, apparently, that they made him a woman played by Queen Latifah in the movie) and the undiscovered-genius-and-sultry-beauty (a failed model, even! I am so freaking tired of the women in stories always being devastatingly beautiful) obviously-soon-to-be protégé/love interest. Pah the third.

DNF-ing at 36%.

I do like the references to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Not sure what it has to do with the story, and it doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with it, but that’s one of my favorite paintings. I just found it online and spent fifteen minutes or so immersed in it yet again, so that was nice.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy (Reading Challenge Book Review)

The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good read, especially if you’re looking to bump up your classics cred and get into the original Batman.

No, really. The Baroness Orczy is credited with creating the very first masked hero, the idle millionaire who spends his time and infinite resources fighting the forces of evil from behind a clever disguise. Or if you’re not turned on by Batman, think of Sir Percy Blakeney as the French Revolution’s answer to Schindler’s List — although Sir Percy got here first, rescuing other idle rich from the rapacious Madame La Guillotine during the Reign of Terror.

This particular hero first crossed my radar in movie form. I seem to remember being fairly young, early teens, which would make it the 1934 version, but I also remember color, which would make it the 1982 version, although I could be getting an impression of color from the word “scarlet.” (I was also young enough to pull the “pimp” out of “pimpernel” and snicker at it.) Anyway, a few years ago I downloaded the book free from Project Gutenberg, a noble operation indeed, making electronic versions of the classics free for anyone who wants them (although donations are much appreciated and deserved). The book holds two positions on my 2017 reading challenge, #2, a book that’s been on my TBR list for far too long and #9, an espionage thriller.

I have trouble with classics. I feel that in order to be a well-read, literate sort of person I should have read/be reading a fair number of classics, but so many of them are so stilted, so plodding, so booooooring that I never finish them. (Anna Karenina, I wanted to love you, I really and truly did.) The Scarlet Pimpernel is a good one, though. I can’t remember the last time I read such a pure romp, complete with romance and heartbreak, miscommunication and misunderstandings, intrigue and betrayal, silk gowns and courtly manners. The language is surprisingly fresh considering the book was published in 1905. Yes, it got a bit overdramatic, especially toward the end, and I was disappointed that there was no duel, but I still enjoyed it.

Also note that this was considered historical fiction when it was published, so now it’s like historical fiction inside of historical fiction. Or something.

Anyway, recommended.

Bookshelves: classic, spy-vs-spy, i-am-an-anglophile, brit-lit, merry-old-england, french-revolution, adventure, this-is-all-the-romance-i-can-take, thriller

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Book Review)

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: chick-lit, humor, fluff, rom-com, love-story-not-a-romance, poking-fun-at-serious-stuff, funny, this-is-all-the-romance-i-can-take

Well, I absolutely loved this sharp bit of fluff (I know that’s an oxymoron, but it fits), this laugh-out-loud love story that’s basically “Sheldon Cooper Searches for a Wife.” I mean, it is a howl.

And I sat down and wrote that and a little bit more, and then I checked a couple of negative reviews, because I like to see what the detractors are saying about something I love, and now I just backspaced over a bunch of what I originally wrote because I’m not sure if I should be pissed off instead at a story that is mocking people with Asperger’s Syndrome. I mean, I can see both sides of it. I would certainly not want people with Asperger’s to be laughed at. I wouldn’t laugh at a book that turns the ugliness of racism or rape or religious persecution into a joke.

But on the other hand. This is why we have two hands.

From what I’ve read about Asperger’s (which is limited, I admit), protagonist Don Tillman is not very typical — he ticks off virtually every box in the list of behaviors, which is not common at all. So, do I decide Tillman is a caricature and get even more righteously PC pissed? Or do I realize that this is a really good learning opportunity, and that perhaps this character was created and written exactly the way he is to give the rest of the world a taste of what it’s like to navigate the world as an Aspie? I loved the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which did a bang-up job of showing us the world through the processing of someone with autism. Someone spun me a good story, and I learned a few things. I never felt that I was laughing at him, and I particularly never felt that the author wrote the book as a way of mocking autistic people.

I’ve decided not to be pissed. I’ve decided the author did a great job creating an entertaining character and an entertaining story, one that you can read in one lazy afternoon and that will make you laugh out loud in places and learn something at the same time (flounders’ eyes–who knew?). I would perhaps not marry Don Tillman, but I wouldn’t mind if my best friend did.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Book Review)

The Woman in Cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Drinking game! Take a shot every time Lo whines about how tired she is. On second thought, no. Our heroine can drink you under the table in any case and you don’t want alcohol poisoning before you finish chapter 2.

Bookshelves: whodunit, mystery, thriller, chick-lit, brit-lit, pop-fiction, unreliable-narrator, ugh, wannabe, bad-dialogue

This wants to be The Girl on the Train crossed with Murder on the Orient Express, with the unreliable narrator/unbelievable witness solving a locked-room mystery. Now, I love an unreliable narrator, and I love locked-room mysteries, and this book almost gets there. Ware did a decent job with the mystery, but unfortunately, she took Paula Hawkins’ Rachel Whatsherbucket a step too far.

We have wannabe investigative reporter Laura I-insist-you-call-me-Lo Blacklock, suffering from long-term anxiety attacks and short-term PTSD* from a recent home invasion, who lucks into a press junket on a luxury cruise, combining blackout drinking with psychotropic medication, convincing herself she heard a scream and a body hitting the water (because that is the only possible explanation for a splashing sound at sea), bumbling around “investigating” and being bitchy to pretty much everyone and growing increasingly pissed off that no one believes her.

Uh-huh.

With the way this woman throws back pills and booze and never does a shred of journalistic interviewing or writing, I wouldn’t have believed her either. For the first two-thirds of the book I was like, for God’s sake woman, step away from the mini bar, stop eating seaweed and have a bowl of chicken soup, see a doctor for some Ambien and get some goddamned sleep, act like a professional and maybe, I don’t know, read the fricking press packet for the job you’re being paid to do, and you just might stop hallucinating. I know we’d have no story then, but still. If I’d been standing in front of her as I read one more time about her stabbing headaches and pounding skull and cramping stomach and nausea and vomit and claustrophobia and sleep deprivation, I would have pitched her overboard myself.

And I know I sound unsympathetic, and I feel bad, but I can’t help it. I had my first panic attack when I was 18, and have suffered them, as part of chronic anxiety and panic disorder and PTSD ever since then (I am now 55). I recently went through a period of horrific insomnia where I got anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours of sleep a night, every night, for seven years. And through that I managed to show up for work, do my job, earn a college degree, pay the bills, just generally be a credible grownup. So I know what it’s like. I really do. By the time I found a doctor who didn’t dismiss me outright as an addict pillseeker and was willing to experiment to find what would help me actually sleep, I was close to full-on suicidal. That I can be so unsympathetic toward the intrepid Lo is a measure of just how obnoxious she is.

Aside from that, the mystery was good. A little way in I remembered I’d given only two stars to the other Ruth Ware book I’ve read and wondered why I’d even checked this one out, but I finished it because the story itself was just that compelling. I couldn’t not know how it ended, and a writer gets a lot of credit for that.

Verdict: Two stars for a clever little mystery, dragged down by a protagonist I wanted to choke but who did draw my attention away from the repetition and unrealistic dialogue, with a bonus star for unputdownableness. So if you find Lo bearable, you might love this book. A lot of people do.

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OK, you’ve been warned, so if you read this CLEARLY MARKED SPOILER it’s your own fault:

*I just got done reading a discussion board (which I came across entirely by accident when I was Googling literary tropes in general), which pointed out the actual reason for the burglary at the beginning of the story. I thought it was there to give Lo the PTSD that has her so annoyingly overwrought through the whole book, but nope. The bad guys needed to steal her passport so she couldn’t go on the cruise in the first place, which would have made this The Woman in Cabin 9 and eliminated our heroine entirely. So that burglary does actually have something to do with the plot, but a reader who is a lot smarter than I am had to make that clear to me because it was left out of the criminal-makes-full-confession-and-explains-everything-to-the-imprisoned-protagonist denouement trope. (It had a twist though.)

 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Book Review)

Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: brit-lit, chick-lit, whodunit, detective, heebie-jeebies, i-am-an-anglophile, mystery, psych-thriller

Multiple POV’s, check. Recent mysterious death tied to old mysterious death, check. Bucolic Scottish setting where suspected witches were once drowned, check. Unreliable narrator, eight or nine checks. Hints and foreshadowings and clues dropped like tiny crushed blossoms on the forest path, multitude of checks.

I liked this book rather a lot, considering I didn’t like anybody in it, except for the wacky old goth lady with purple hair–I kept picturing her in striped witch stockings and a cape. If anybody but her had fixed me a cup of tea, I’d have dumped it out when they weren’t looking.

I didn’t think this was quite as compelling as The Girl on the Train, which I found outstanding, but for a tightly plotted, multi-faceted crime/psych thriller, it’s still a good bet.

Bookshelves: whodunit, brit-lit, chick-lit, mystery, psych-thiller-multiple-pov’s, i-am-an-anglophile, heeie-jeebies

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High Fantasy and Ska Do Not Necessarily Mix (Twofer Book Review)

I had never heard of Brandon Sanderson before he did what I thought was a good job finishing Robert Jordan’s massive (and massively loved) Wheel of Time series. And I say that partly so you’ll understand I am not turned off by big books. I love big books. A big thick book, with a big, thick, juicy plot and a fully realized world that I would like to wake up in after I die, that I can dive into and hide inside for days, nay months, because there are 17 sequels…I live for books like that. I also say that so you’ll understand what I expect out of epic high fantasy. I was jonesing for a brand-new-to-me awesome fantasy, and was interested to see what Sanderson can do on his own, and got a free download from Amazon, the first parts of both The Way of Kings and Mistborn.

Well, I gave him an honest shot.*

Bookshelves: abandoned, epic, fantasy, magic, ugh, was-the-editor-drunk, wannabe, you’re-trying-too-hard
The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Some things I liked, but more things I didn’t like, unfortunately.

Other reviewers are put off by the spren. I think they are a cool concept, visual bits of energy attracted to or created by the physical or emotional environment. Who hasn’t felt the vibe around a garden (lifespren), or walking into a room where people have just broken off arguing (angerspren)? But the execution was lacking.The windspren that has attached itself to Kaladin has taken on the appearance of Tinkerbell, for me. That’s not working well.

Sanderson has a bad way of using the same world-specific term over and over and over and over (“highstorm” or “safehand,” for example, and I’m sorry, but “oathpact” is stupid…why not also have “trouserpants” and “flowerblooms” and “oceanseas”) without ever telling you anything about what it is. Infodumps are annoying, but when you’re dropping us into a completely alien world, some exposition is a good thing. I was impressed when “Oathstone” was more or less explained after only its second use.

And now for my gripes about prologues and preludes. Stop calling a prologue a prelude to make it sound loftier or something. Pieces of music have preludes; books have prologues. I would expect a professor of literature to know this. That’s gripe one. Gripe two is that 99.99999998% of the time, prologues are not necessary. After many years of useless prologues, I stopped reading them unless they’re less than a page long. (If you get anxious about skipping any part of a book, pretend it’s an epilogue and read it after you finish. It might actually make sense then.) For The Way of Kings, I did go back and read the “prelude” after getting to the end of the sample material proper. It was grindingly long and didn’t add a thing to what I’d already read, especially considering everything else. (A good bit on the use of prologues is here.)

The narration flips back and forth between two people, with intermissions for some other people who don’t appear to have anything to do with each other or anyone else in the book, and what story there is just creeps along. A lot of vines and grass pull themselves back into the rock as people pass, and “highstorms” (whatever those are) come and make people miserable and go away again, and Miss Cleverboots draws some pretty sketches and counts her spheres/broams/whatever those things are that are apparently used as both money and a source of light (and that concept is actually pretty cool), while the Fallen Hero manages to survive the unsurvivable on a daily basis, and both of them indulge in various levels of refusing to think about the past while of course thinking about the past, because concentrating on not thinking about it is, actually, thinking about it. I have deduced this is allusion to backstory that will probably be delivered in–well, I see this is planned out for a ten-book series, so…book four? What I don’t see, amidst the endless descriptions of landscape and weird animals, is a plot. I think that almost a fifth of the way into the book, a plot should be in evidence.

But the biggest question I have is…why? Because as far as I can tell, no one has a reason to do anything. This world is dismal. Barren and rocky and full of war and treachery and death. Nothing beautiful, nothing sacred. No relationships between the characters. Why do I want to read about people and a world I wouldn’t even be interested to visit and, as far as I can tell, holds nothing worth fighting for?

Sanderson is capable of patches of brilliance. The part with Nan Balat, who soothes his rioting emotions by pulling the legs off of live crabs, had me squirming. I have no idea what he has to do with the actual story, because I have no idea what the story was, but this character portrait was outstanding. Unfortunately, the really good writing is only in patches; the bulk is ham-handed.

I understand that the beginning of an epic may be slow, because character introduction and worldbuilding take a little time. This, though, is just tedious. It reads like a whole bunch of typing, not writing, from someone whose goal appears to be not telling a good story, but producing an epic fantasy series. Other reviewers assure me the whole thing picks up about 700-800 pages in. Sorry, but I am not slogging through another 500-600 pages to get to a couple hundred pages worth of payoff at the end. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

~deep breath and a break for some Robert B. Parker popcorn reading~

Okay. Many reviewers who didn’t like this book did enjoy Mistborn. I gave Mistborn a chance because it’s considerably shorter, the series is only a trilogy, the sample is already on my Kindle, and dammit, all I want is a decent fantasy. Is that so much to ask?

Apparently so:

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Thank you for getting right into the story. Sincerely. Thank you.

As far as I read, this seems to be a ginormous quest combined with a ginormous heist, kinda like Lord of the Rings meets Ocean’s Eleven. There is a goal: A band of skaa trying to overthrow the oppressive rulership. (And that is “band of skaa,” not “ska band,” and “skaa” are “peasants”, and every time I read the word “skaa” I could hear “She Has a Girlfriend Now,” don’t ask me why, and I like Reel Big Fish but not as a soundtrack to what is supposed to be high fantasy, I mean, why not at least Streetlight Manifesto’s “The Hands That Thieve”?)** I like this goal. I love a righteous rebellion. I like books where the protagonists are a band of thieves. Fun.

The main character is so cliched…the poor little waif who doesn’t know her vast powers until the wise adept hunts her down and rescues her…really? Again? And I could still hang with that, because tropes are tropes because they work, but if Sanderson had hit me over the head one more time with little Vin’s fear of betrayal because she’s been betrayed before and isn’t it horribly wrenchingly awful, I’d have screamed. I get it already.

Another grim world, like in The Way of Kings. Does Sanderson have something against beauty?

The one fight scene I read was plodding. The description of every little spin and kick and turn and grunt took the momentum out of it. It read like a series of D&D moves.

The magical system seems pretty cool: Allomancy, the ability to “burn” different metals in the bloodstream, resulting in different powers, determined by whether one is a Misting or full-on Mistborn. Original. I like it.

My gripes about prologues are on record. For Mistborn I read the sample chapters, then went back to the (correctly labeled) prologue. I did not need it to understand what came after. It could have been Chapter One or left out entirely.

This book is ostensibly for adults but reads much younger. And that’s okay, nothing wrong with simple language and simple structure, some of the best books I’ve ever read are YA, but this kept trying to be something more, like a three-year-old lurching and scraping around in Mommy’s high heels. We’re cruising along with YA-level language when all of a sudden someone is drinking a glass of “rubicund wine” or has “landed maladroitly.” Dude, come on. It’s red wine. He landed clumsily. Stick with your idiom. Similar bitch for attempts at giving the writing complexity while effectively muddling it: “[Their willingness to trust and accept Vin after a relatively short time]…couldn’t be genuine. Still, their friendliness was disconcerting.” That still jerked me right out the narrative. Sanderson does that a lot. Writing is supposed to pull me into the story and keep me there, not make me lose the momentum while I try to figure out why that word is there. And I am aware that a great many storytellers are not experts at the technical aspects of writing, and I maintain that is what editors are for. A well-written book does take a village.

Final verdict: Some good elements, but the things I’m displeased with are pervasive and offputting enough that I’m not going to the massive effort required to get it from the library and finish. Sanderson’s finalization of The Wheel of Time after its creator’s death was decent. I appreciate him for that. But when it comes to creating and writing his own from scratch…sorry, but he’s no Robert Jordan.

*It remains that these books have very high reader ratings and many fantasy fans consider Sanderson the New Messiah of Fantasy Fiction. Your mileage may vary.

**These reviews were written to the accompaniment of the band of skaa ska band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, which may not have helped the process but almost certainly didn’t hurt it either, but is not my fault in any case.

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Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Shadow SpinnerShadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful book. I picked this for #6, a story within a story, for my 2017 Reading Challenge.

Bookshelves: myth-and-legend, once-upon-a-time, retelling-a-classic, reading-challenge, women, ya

This is a perfect example of YA that is so well-written even adults will enjoy it. There is nothing complicated here, a clear and simple retelling of The Arabian Nights, with a new sub-plot and some new behind-the-scenes players. Notably we have Marjan, a young orphan girl with a crippled foot, a storyteller in her own right, who visits the palace by chance and becomes Shahrazad’s secret emissary to the world outside the harem, searching for the completion of this next, great tale — the one that can keep her alive for the next three nights, or every night ever after.

The descriptions are simple and true; I could feel the cool marble under my feet, hear the fountains, feel myself in the bazaar with the dust in my nose and the hawkers’ cries in my ears. The characterizations are wonderful, the intrigue just right for young ones and good enough for us older folk, the lessons about life and love and friendship and the power of words and love are elegant. The story pulled me right along and I was finished with it too quickly.

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