Crusader’s Cross by James Lee Burke, read by Will Patton

Read  June 2017
Recommended for fans of Louisiana Bayou
★    ★    ★   


Pairing Will Patton and James Lee Burke’s Cajun protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, was genius. Patton grew up on South Carolina and went to a school for the arts in North Carolina, so he comes by his accents both through upbringing and avocation. The Dave Robicheaux series calls New Iberia, Louisiana, home base, with excursions to other parishes as well as New Orleans. Burke has a touch of Hemingway about him, and his books frequently detour to provide intimate descriptions of the local people and landscape.

I’m still learning to appreciate audio books. Kobna Holdbrook Smith and the Peter Grant series are one of the few that can reliably keep my attention. However, as I’m commuting a little farther these days, I’m giving audio another go. One of the challenges I’ve discovered is that for me, audio versions give equal weight to the entire story. Every chapter evolves at the same speed, as does the entire book. My physical reads pace very differently; the beginning is slow and thorough, but if it’s a great story, I read faster and faster as the tension rises. Dull books get similar treatment–I also get faster, but mostly because I’ve switched to skimming. So one of the aspects of audio for me is that I end up paying far closer attention than I might when reading physical books.

Experiencing the story by audio read made weaknesses in Burke’s storytelling apparent. Primarily, though billed as a ‘mystery’/’detective fiction,’ this barely qualifies. Ostensibly, there are two mysteries, that of a young woman who disappeared soon after meeting Dave and his half-brother, Jimmy, a couple decades ago, and that of a serial killer who seems to be targeting suburban housewives. Dave gets involved in the hunt for the killer by going back to the Iberia sheriff’s department and asking his boss, Helen, for his job as a detective back. They certainly do things different in the south, because this seems perfectly acceptable to all involved and he’s soon assigned to the multi-jurisdiction investigation.

Meanwhile, some incident that happened early on gets Dave rethinking about Ida Rubin. Mostly, it’s a lovely opportunity for Burke to indulge in some memories of when Dave and his brother were working oil rigs pre-college, spending time and money hanging on the coast between jobs. It becomes apparent to both of them that Ida is working as a prostitute, although it turns out, an unwilling one. However, just as she and Jimmy are about to head to Mexico, she disappears.

Yet despite the terrors and horrors happening to these women, long swathes of the book are devoted to Dave’s personal problems. A reporter and, more importantly, brother of a woman who seems to be interested in Dave, come to blows. An incident where Dave gets blackout level drunk becomes the basis for a weak plot point. Given it is book 14 in the series, I had been hoping we’d be past the alcoholic demons of the first few books. Dave makes another impetuous decision that changes his life.

In other words, what I discovered as I listened to Patton’s melodic descriptions, is that I don’t like Dave very much. He’s a dry drunk, about as illogical a detective as I’ve ever seen, and prone to making accusations and getting in fights because of his ‘gut’ feeling. He makes decisions that result in physical violence, and put him in a corner where it’s him against the world, and conveniently, a perfect excuse for either drinking or condescending judgement of others. In this book, he’s particularly hard on women, and the visits to the murder scenes seemed a more about violence-porn than moments of compassion or empathy.

I also have to note–because this is flat-out weird–that there are about four instances of Dave using the word ‘phallus,’ describing a guy in a swimsuit and another guy at the urinal. I’ll be perfectly content to never run into the word again in a mystery novel. I’m honestly not sure what was going on there.

In regards to plotting, I’d have to say this was fairly weak, and couldn’t recommend it to people who are more focused on the mystery-detective plotting. The narrative left Dave a couple of times for viewpoints of two other characters, which was a little confusing. I couldn’t tell if this was Dave speaking ‘as told to me by __,’ or if it was an actual narrative switch.

All of that said, I enjoyed Burke’s descriptions of Louisiana and its people, and Patton’s ability to capture the richness and cadences was lovely. Patton’s voicing of the characters was varied and entertaining; I was surprised by his voice for the impetuous Clete Purcell, but I found I rather enjoyed it. Result? I’ll listen to another of Burke’s books as read by Patton. But I sincerely hope there’s not as much phallus in it.


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Emergence by David R. Palmer

Read  June 2017
Recommended for classic sci-fi fans
★    ★    ★      

Apocalypse? Hugo nominee? An eleven year-old girl? A pet parrot? Friend recommendation? Sign me up!


The first part of the story was published in 1981 as a novella in Analog Magazine, followed two years later by part two. Both, I think, had well-deserved Hugo noms, and the novel itself was nominated for a Hugo and Locus when published in 1984. Quite honestly, I think I would have loved it had I found it in then or a few years after. Seriously, why on earth was I reading Piers Anthony when I could have been reading about a kick-ass girl navigating an empty world?

“Whereupon, for very first time in entire life, Candy Smith-Foster–plucky girl adventurer; most promising pre-adolescent intellect yet discovered amongst Homo post hominem population; youngest ever holder of Sixth Degree Black Belt; resourceful, unstoppable, never-say-die superkid; conquereror of unthinkable odds… Fainted.”

The story wastes no time into diving into a series of world-scale catastrophes. Candy’s father had been a highly-placed government consultant and doctor, and had the foresight to construct a very comprehensive bunker with just about every resource except hydrophonic gardens. Eventually, she decides to check on life outside and discovers everyone dead, as well as a closely-guarded secret of her neighbor and mentor.

It’s an intriguing beginning, and I might have been a little bothered by the Speshul Snowflake syndrome (Candy is truly capable of everything) except she is so direct and honest about her feelings that her stiff-upper-lip self-talk and overall competence comes off as courageous.

The narrative structure is–how do I say this–interesting, and now that I know the seeds of the story were in a novella, it makes more sense as a ‘hook.’ Candy uses a type of shorthand to write her journals, and the ‘translation’ of it comes across as quite staccato, missing it’s conjunctions and normal sentence structure. Initially, I found it annoying, but found eventually that it grew on me. Surprisingly, it still does a nice job conveying emotion, whether it’s Candy’s distress or her self-depreciating humor.

I admit, one of my favorite characters was Terry, frequently referred to as Candy’s adoptive twin brother. But I’m biased; as the owner of three parrots, I thought Palmer’s characterization was spot-on and hilarious. Terry is a beautiful hyacinth macaw whose “diet is anything within reach, but ideally consists of properly mixed seeds, assorted fruits, nuts, sprinkling of meat, etc. Hobbies include getting head and neck scratched (serious business, this), art of conversation, destruction of world.” I did wonder if the average reader would have appreciated the little throw-away notes about Terry, which captured the psittacine love of drama and propensity for destruction.

All that said, there’s some barriers here. One is the cognitive dissonance between Candy’s mature voice and immature age, although that is acceptably explained within the confines of the story. Two, there’s some parts of this that feel more than a little early 80s, particularly Candy’s characterization of Terry as her “retarded baby brother.” I remember that word being rather prevalent in adolescent vocabulary when I was younger, although even then it was undergoing cultural shift towards unacceptability. On the same note, the general structure of the apocalypse feels a little Cold War Russia-US kind of thing rather than the disseminated violence we see more often more. Third, I don’t know what the hell Palmer was thinking at about page 200 or so (Volume III–Part Two–Portents). The last ‘volume’ of the book takes a fairly significant curve in plotting and ties in opposition (a shadowy opposing agency) along with telepathic-type developments. I think I could have settled for one or the other, but both strained credulity of the world Palmer had created, that of the advanced Homo post hominem.

Overall, generally enjoyed it a great deal until page 200, at which point I was significantly less impressed. The voice is entertaining, it’s an interesting story and it generally avoids the depressing death-decay-violence we see in most apocalypse stories, focusing on self-empowerment and connections. I’d recommend it, especially to younger apocalypse fans who might be more forgiving of the end of the book.

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The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Read  June 2017
Recommended for classic sci-fi fans
★    ★    ★   ★    1/2

An excellent analysis of the Trump candidacy and events leading up to his election as #45. Uses both his perspective and that of the anonymous supporter to chilling effect. Guest appearance by Ivanka near the end.

Forgive me my little joke; when I picked up the classic by Bester, I had no idea what I was in for, except a classic sci-fi–in space, with a rather appealing title.

The main character is Gully Foyle, a spacer with no real motivation in life. Content to be lazy, without purpose beyond existence, he’s a bit of a drifter, until a spaceship he is traveling on is destroyed. Gully discovers a will to live and manages to keep himself barely alive, leaving the tiny reinforced space he exists in to scavenge supplies five minutes at a time in his barely functional spacesuit. At last, he sees a ship passing close by. He sends up a signal flare. The ship slows, almost stops, and then turns away. From here, the story takes off, as Gully discovers the heat of revenge as the one thing that can give him purpose.

One might think that discovering a passion could connect Gully to humanity, and possibly even the reader, a previously amorphous blob of a human who was content to vegetate his way through life. But no, most certainly, absolutely no, because Gully is a psychopath. In his quest for revenge, he meets a woman, Robin, who teaches the previously head-blind the skill of jaunting or limited teleportation. She has the unfortunate distinction of being a one-way telepath, so those around her can hear her thoughts when she isn’t concentrating. Gully, it becomes clear, has a moment where he can understand what she is feeling/thinking, but doesn’t actually empathize, instead choosing to ignore her humanity in his fit of rage and frustration.

Throughout the rather short book, Gully goes through transformations, each a step on his goal, each transformation followed by a fall back into the depths. He is caught, he spends time in prison, he meets another woman and–dare we recognize it?–falls into his version of love. But as is everything with Gully, his love is the negative side of the emotion, and though it can offer salvation, it is obvious what his choice will be.

It is an inverse of the levels of hell; each reinvention has Gully reinventing himself to become more surfacely human, moving up the ladder of society into something that appears more socially acceptable but that remains rotten at the core. Depending on the reader’s point of view, he may become more accessible, but really he is the same single-minded psychopath, single-minded in pursuit of his goal and unable to recognize or empathize with others. At one point he thinks he ‘falls in love’ but as with everything, he’s fallen in love with an idea, an instant of emotion and not anything real.

It’s a brilliant book. Bester does an unbelievable job at getting at Gully’s emotion; I found myself taking a break at each transformation, needing to get a way from the miasma of hate for some untainted air. While Gully transforms, we’re offered commentary on each section of ‘society’ he encounters, from the parody of scientists on an asteroid to the ‘high’ society of the richest men in the universe and their cloistered women. It’s one of those amazing little stories that you understand as you read is offering up a scathing social indictment and yet wraps you up in its fast-paced plotting. I can’t remember the last book I read with a main character so filled with hate and rage, that ignores every opportunity for redemptive actions.

The ending was a little slap-dash and has me wondering if dropping acid at least once during a book was a basic requirement of some of the sci-fi boundary pushers (thinking of Zelazny and Philip K. Dick here). Well, no matter, but I think it would have been more powerful had Bester relied on words instead of word-pictures. The circular nature of the ending is asthetically pleasing, although someone pushing the rules of the book. No matter, it was powerful nonetheless.

We can all only hope that Trump will experience something similar.



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When Gravity Falls by George Alec Effinger

Read  June 2017
Recommended for people who enjoy futuristic detective noir
★    ★    ★   ★    1/2

I don’t even. This book engrossed me, sucked me in, took me to the seediest bar in town, plied me with cheap booze and left without even a kiss. Set in a debaucherous, dangerous slum in a futuristic Muslim country where the tricks might be all-girl, ex-boy or something in between, with more pill popping than Charlie Sheen on a bender, you’ve got to be a bit open-minded to take the ride on this one.

Think hard-boiled noir, crossed with A Scanner Darkly and filled in around the edges with Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon.



A Hugo and Nebula nominee.


“If I examine myself closely enough, I find hints of every objectionable quality known to man.” June 9, 2017 –page 152

“I had just gotten over three horrible days of sweating too much of everything out of my system, and already I was rushing out to buy more. I made a mental note to slow down my drug intake; crumpled the mental note; and tossed it into my mental wastebasket.” June 9, 2017 –page 166

“I looked awful. I looked like I’d died and started off toward hell and then got lost, and now I was stuck nowhere at all, definitely not alive but not decently deceased, either.” June 9, 2017 –page 166

“I looked awful. I looked like I’d died and started off toward hell and then got lost, and now I was stuck nowhere at all, definitely not alive but not decently deceased, either.”



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Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy, M.D.

Read  June 2017
Recommended for people who want to understand more about health and race
★    ★    ★    1/2


If there is one thing that can pull me out of my traditional genres, it’s a meditation on modern medicine. Combine that with a memoir from an under-represented demographic, and it was only a moment before I grabbed it off the library display.

I’ve been working in the hospital setting in the upper midwest for over fifteen years, and I can count on one hand the number of black doctors I’ve met (interestingly, the two that first come to mind are surgeons), so I was particularly interested in what I thought was a memoir from a black physician. Except it wasn’t, not really; it was exactly what it says, a reflection on race and medicine. Tweedy draws from his own experience, but he also connects his book to other autobiographies and comments of notables in medicine, as well as integrating studies and statistics to lend support to his observations. As a result, it felt less intimate to me and more like an overview of public health from a consciousness-raising perspective. On the one hand, this approach might lend itself to encouraging the reader to come along a similar journey of discovery. On the other hand, for people in the field it might lack the breadth and insight that make it a truly moving read.

The book is divided into three sections that roughly mirror Tweedy’s own journey through the medical schooling system. I found I most enjoyed the stories that were about Tweedy’s own experiences, enjoying recognition of a particularly medical-hospital mentality. His story about a puzzling case of weight loss and wasting in a man faithfully married for 25 years and denying all drug use, and was likely HIV, was telling:

“This all seemed callous, to be sure. I was looking at George’s diagnosis as I would a TV mystery, while Adam was focused on the soap opera element. Our medical student, well into her year of clinical rotations, shared our curiosity… trapped inside the hospital vortex where disease, disability, and death were constant companions, our reactions passed for normal behavior.”

Yeah, that happens. Some of us like the puzzle or detection of disease, the process of ferreting out an explanation, some like the human stories, and some–as Tweedy eventually does– discover that there, but for the Grace of God, go I.

“Further, my medical education revealed a certain commonality shared by all people. Even if one sexual, racial, or gender group got a given disease more frequently than another, all of us were vulnerable to sickness, injury, and ultimately, death.”

But I think that quote was one of the most telling parts of Tweedy’s reflections, that he viewed much of this from a uniquely physician (medical school?) perspective, the idea of responsibility, of causality, and of the illusion of control over illness and death, and not that each person had a personal story.

One of the hardest things about memoirs is to critique the work without condemning the author. Tweedy’s approach feels very familiar–the very ‘thinking-centric,’ introverted, and intellectual approach to the world that reminds me of early college, before consciousness-raising days. You know, the days before I actually studied systemic repression and oppression, class consciousness, colonialist mentality, -isms, and all that jazz. His words bring a feeling of naivete to what he discovers, and I found myself surprised that he was surprised. For instance, when it came time to pick medical schools, he choose Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, largely because of a full-ride scholarship. I’m not criticizing him for that, but I admit when he tells his tale about a professor mistaking him for a custodian, I wasn’t surprised. I mean, North Carolina. The Confederacy. Maybe providing full scholarships is a way to increase diversity of an enormously white, upper class school, and maybe there’s a reason for that lack of diversity, from applicants and students who did not feel welcome. In essence, I don’t feel like there was a lot of critical thinking applied to his situation.

My sense was, actually, that he really wanted to fit in, and thought intellectualism and work was the way to do that, and that good recommendations were more important than conflict and confrontation. It alarmed me quite a bit when I ran into a number of references to Ben Carson (he of notorious 2015-16 presidential aspirations). I supposed–because I don’t think Tweedy ever directly acknowledges this–that he was looking for role models that might reflect his experience as a black man, but it disappointed me that he seemed to cite these stories without analysis (Ben, for instance, likely two decades older and seemingly crazy-pants). I think I get what he’s doing–one, as a medical professional, he’s citing other sources to support his own statements. Two, and this is guessing, he’s linking his own work into a community of other works. Both of which are admirable. But… Ben Carson. And dude–maybe look outside your gender for role models. Free your mind. Dr. Joycelyn Elders?

The strength of the book is in his integration of statistics and studies that connect to his experiences as a black man to health care. Instead of using footnotes, as Evicted did, he has a section at the end where he states the relevant sentence fragment and then provides the citation for it. I suppose it is less intimidating for non-academic readers, but it’s a little weird when you realize some of his statements in the chapter needed ‘proof.’ After a rather recent foray into Public/Community Health, I took all his assertions as givens.

For the general public, this book is probably a solid four or five stars. For the medical professional knowledgeable about disparities and biases (admittedly, not as many as there should be), there’s not a lot new here. The most interesting parts are when Tweedy explores his own -isms, and in how he negotiates that boundary with other professionals and with patients. There’s an interesting story where a black man feels he’s getting short-changed by getting a black doctor. Another story where once Tweedy identifies himself as a doctor when he’s a patient at urgent care, and gets a more thorough treatment (That, my friend, was not racism as much as the white coat fraternity in action). Sadly, I think his reticence prevents him from sharing more beyond a single example for each case, or at really sharing the details that would make his story unique. For me, well-written and interesting, but more a three-star book.


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The Chinese Gold Murders by Robert Van Gulik

Read  May 2017
Recommended for fans of period mystery
★    ★    ★   ★

Judge Dee is looking forward to getting out of the Chinese Metropolitan Court of Justice. He’s  tired of only seeing cases on paper, processing routine documents and copies and has requested a recently vacated district judge position. It doesn’t matter that the Magistrate position will be in the district of Peng-lai, on the seacoast far from the capitol. It doesn’t even matter that the position opened due to the murder of the prior judge, discovered in his library with the doors and windows locked. Though his two friends and co-workers try to convince him otherwise, he remains excited:

“Now he said eagerly, “think of it, a mysterious murder to solve, right after one has arrived at one’s post! To have an opportunity right away for getting rid of dry-as-dust theorizing and paper work! At last I’ll be dealing with men, my friends, real living men!”

Judge Dee is about to get what he asked for and more. There are honorable highwaymen, prostitutes, Korean nationalists, mysterious monks, supercilious scholars and tormented minor officials. Rumors abound with sightings of the supernatural: the ghost of the former judge and a man-eating were-tiger. Though certainly these things existed to the Chinese people in 663 A.D., the Judge feels the mundane must be ruled out before the supernatural is blamed.

I had only read one other Judge Dee mystery to date, and I found this one even more enjoyable than the first. Part of it may have been the erudite and comprehensive introduction by Donald F. Lach that provided both biography of the author, the historical Judge Dee tales in Chinese literature (think something like Paul Bunyan folk tales) and van Gulik’s approach to his version. But I think more likely is that it is a genuinely interesting mystery, wrapped in the atmosphere of historical China, much like Agatha Christie’s mysteries provide insight into the local English culture of that time. As Lach points out, “the smallest items–ink stones, nails in a Tartar shoe, the gongs of Taoist monks, door knobs–are brought into the stories at strategic points… to enlighten the Western reader about these strange objects and their function.” I was afraid these details might intrude, but instead they added depth to the tale. Lach’s insight also made me glad that Van Gulik chose to tailor his tale slightly to Western sensibilities and not reveal the criminal’s identity in the beginning (talk about setting the concept of spoilers on its head!)

Overall, a fascinating tale. I’ll be looking for some of the other stories written by Van Gulik, although I might focus on the ones written after 1958 as they deviate more from the traditional Chinese Judge Dee tales.



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Bone Song by John Meaney. Or, Good Bones, but Needs More Flesh

Read  May 2017
Recommended for fans of UF police detectives
★    ★    ★

An intriguing but wildly inconsistent book.

Imagine, if you will, J.D. Robb’s In Death series redone with the deathworld of Chronicles of Riddick, the sensibility of a Batman graphic novel, and the magic of California Bones (my review). It’s an unusual combination, a Dagwood sandwich of a book if you will, and much of my reading was occupied by puzzling out the details of the world.

“Donal sketched a fingertip salute to the shadows beyond the stone steps. Stuffing his hands in his overcoat pockets, he looked up at the two hundred stories of police HQ rearing upward, dark and uncompromising. It was late and cold and the sky appeared deep purple, heavily opaque. Somewhere near the top, Commissioner Vilnar’s office waited. And reading between the lines of this morning’s phone call, the commissioner had a new job lined up for him–something Donal was not going to enjoy.”

The plot is straightforward: someone is killing artists to use their bones sooner than a natural death would allow. Donal Riordan is a highly respected New York City Tristopolis cop, whose job is his life. If he isn’t on a case, he’s practicing his marksmanship, going for a run or resting in his crummy little apartment in a dangerous side of town. Commissioner Vilnar assigns Riordan the job of protecting a famed opera singer while she is in town. The first half of the book centers around the protection detail, while the second is nominally about finding the conspirator(s). There’s a missing-person side investigation that ends up dominating the majority of the second half of the book. There’s also supposed to be political underpinnings to the main mystery, but it is not well integrated.

It’s the world-building that intrigues here. There’s hints of a chronic, quick-silver rain that is toxic to the skin, to the extent that Donal tends to spend his time running in the sewers catacombs (what isn’t explained is why there are catacombs if the dead are burned for energy?) There are death-wolves that guard the doors of the police precinct, and seem to act as independent police agents. The desk sergeant is literally melded to his desk. There are non-human races, such as the cat-like people that staff the hospital/healing facilities.

However, the flip side to all the ideas is the extent to which they are developed. Much of it feels like ‘sci-fi/fantasy’ in the same way that J.D. Robb’s books do: replace any given object or basic function with something fantastical and call it world-building. There’s a comment about ’25/9′ instead of ’24/7,’ streets go up to the thousands, taxis are purple and instead of armor-piercing rounds, we have chitin piercing rounds with a silver load.

At times, there’s a little more depth, which leads to interesting mental routes. Mechanical devices are powered by indentured wraiths and the dead bones that provide ‘thaumaturgical energy’. Death seems to come in many layers, with the wraiths resembling a disembodied consciousness and the zombies are bodies reliant on the energy from the bones. Wraiths and zombies are viewed as less-than-human, but unfortunately, the writing around it is largely generic and non-nuanced, resorting to obvious -ist comments. It’d be easy to replace ‘zombies’ with any other group and have a non-fantasy story, and the wraiths have a strong parallel in slavery-based cultures.

This is a book that is all over the ratings map, even among reading friends, with two giving it one-star, and two awarding four and five stars. It’s not one that would be easy to recommend, but I can see it appealing to people who enjoyed Two Serpents Rise by Gladstone. I was frequently struck at how vivid some of the scenes were in my mind; I feel like there’s something almost cinematic about it. Recently, I was discussing the concept of stretchy-books that push one’s reading. This felt like one of them, not in terms of ethics or boundary-pushing writing skill, but in the wealth of ideas and their combination. I wanted to play longer in the world, so despite a variety of issues with plotting and world-building, I’ll be giving it a read.



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Voodoo Dues by Stephany Simmons

Read May 2017
Recommended for fans of light PNR
★    ★    ★

A lot like Jello with whipped cream; light, a bit forgettable, and sweet. A few sections felt first novelish, kind of wish-embodiment on the part of the author, but maybe I’m just extrapolating from her costume of hip t-shirts, jeans and Gucci heels. That said, it entertained me enough when my brain wasn’t ready for anything more substantial, and in a final note of semi-endorsement, I went on to the next.

The heroine, Figg, is bartending in a small neighborhood bar when she learns there’s more to the world than she had thought. Liam, bar owner and accomplished scholar on magical traditions spends his days hiding in his office and his memories. Narrative is first person, alternating between the two characters. Of course, any reader can predict the attraction between the two characters, but thankfully, the plot is focused on the missing grandson of a local voodoo priestess and signs that the dead are coming to life in the area. Various characters drop in to the bar but many are kicked out. One of the few who sticks around is Carl the necromancer, a large black man who channels a dead white guy who died of a coke overdose in the 70s; the local coven; a very Hawt bounty hunter; and the head of the local werewolves, identifiable because he refers to Figg as Liam’s ‘mate.’ The plot escalates quickly and gets a bit chaotic near the end.

There’s a few irritations, particularly when Figg vacillates between a gun-toting, sassy confident and an occasional screamer (particularly when Liam is nearby to turn to) but in the end she pulls through. But seriously–why put your lead character in high heels and then refer to her gait as ‘shuffling?’ Most women I know who wear heels by choice are expert at those short little clicky strides. Maybe symbolic of being more enthusiasm than skill/sense? At any rate, she should get to own that. She does have some funny commentary, making me laugh out loud when she said,

“Skip and Carl had been buddying it up for the last hour or so, bonded, I supposed, as the two supes in the room who didn’t have a time of the month.”

Interestingly, there’s also a deleted sex scene that is available as part of the package, or an extra fee. Simmons writes that she was trying to keep the book PG-13 for marketability reasons, but was aware there’s a segment of people that like the occasional more explicit scene.

Overall, I would recommend it to people who enjoy a fun, quick paranormal, and can be forgiving of a few mistakes. It’s quite decent for a first book. Consider that praise from someone who is generally ambivalent about the genre.


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The Lion’s Game by Nelson DeMille. Or Thriller as Ambien?

Attempted May 2017
Recommended for fans of DeMille and reallllly slow burns
★    ★   

Abandoning this book. I just don’t have time in my life right now for this kind of detail. I think this is the kind of book that can appeal to people who watch 12 episode miniseries on Elizabethan England, except it’s nominally a ‘thriller,’ so to be honest, I’m not sure who the target population is. People who are really, really good at waiting for a payoff, I suppose. My mom enjoyed it, but she’s recently retired and was having trouble filling her time, so that’s another possible population (we solved that by getting a 6 month old dog).

It starts wonderfully; snappy pace, ironic dialogue, intriguing plot and decent character creation. John Corey, who was apparently a hundred times more oinky in Plum Island has toned down the sexism. There’s a paragraph aside discussing how he hasn’t hit on anyone at his new job with the Feds, and how he’s discovered life as a confidante for female co-workers. He still tries to provoke response with an assortment of ethnic jokes, however, but it’s pretty clear he’s doing it to be an ass and to show a rebellious spirit, not because he actually cares about someone’s ethnicity. I found much of his commentary to be a great mix of hilarious and insightfulness.

Once the initial series of incidents occur, the pace slows down significantly. The Fed side is taken up with meetings, analysis and flirting between Corey and another member of the team. To compensate, DeMille follows the terrorist, the ‘Lion’ Asad, through a pivotal moment in his upbringing and through following exploits in the U.S. I had a fair amount of trouble with his perspective, because while I found it started well, it segued into zealot/sociopath rather quickly. I’m definitely a fan of subtle and nuance, and while I would have expected a 700 page book to have time to give some development to understanding a terrorist, he ends up being single-note psychopath.

I found myself skimming large swaths to see if there was any improvement in pacing or narrative, but there really wasn’t. I decided to abandon because there really is so much more on Mount TBR to try rather than wading through this.

MrsJoseph nailed the issue in the status comments below, that this is a 300-400 page thriller trapped in a 700 page book. My bookmark was trapped at page 279 when I quit.

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Marked In Flesh by Anne Bishop. Or, chocolate that doesn’t melt in your hands.

Read December 2015
Recommended for fans of Speshul Snowflakes and ecological wins
★    ★    ★   ★  

Oink, oink!


For those who follow my reviews, I’m unable to stop myself from comparing this series to candy. As I learned in Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, food companies spend hundreds of thousands engineering taste to hit that optimal flavor point where taste buds light up without making us feel something is too sugary, salty or rich. It’s the reason we can eat handfuls of M&Ms or Doritos, ostensibly with enjoyment, without feeling satiated. Like its predecessors, Marked in Flesh hits my taste bud sweet spot, giving me the feeling that I’m consuming something delicious without ever filling me up. And, much like candy, I have to say the calories are largely empty; as they say in the nutrition world, these are not nutrient-dense calories.

It’s hard to keep it all the books and subplots straight, but in short, this is The One Where The Chickens Come Home to Roost. In a barely-veiled allegory of our time, the rampant consumerism and selfish ego of the HumansFirst! movement is causing the world to go out of balance and the Powers to be pissed off. Meg, our foretelling Cassandra, is troubled with images of dead Wolves, but in a move familiar to young adult readers everywhere, decides to Lie About Problems to People Who Care.

Meanwhile, the Intuits (get it? Like intuition as Inuit?) are reaching out to the Others in their own communities and another Cassandra being cared for by the Others is also drawing bloody prophecies. It is apparently a race to be the Slowest To Interpret Prophecy ever, because we all already know HumansFirst! are pissing off the natural powers and they’re gonna fuck something up somehow. It doesn’t make it any less shocking or tragic when it occurs, which is a tribute to Bishop.

There’s a few more viewpoints in this fourth book, which by some accounts is irritating Bishop’s fan base. I didn’t think it was done any differently than the last book, and I admit is was interesting to see something other than Meg driving around the compound in her BOW. Although, never fear–there is a discussion about that.

When it comes, the Great Apocalypse is fairly underwhelming to the apocalypse reader. Everyone knows the writer is supposed to draw the damage out so that we can vicariously compare our preparations and reactions to that of the heroes. Bishop apparently doesn’t; although there are lots of veiled warnings about how terrible it will be, apparently laying in a six month supply of toilet paper (P.S., apparently girls need more than boys do) and buying your romance reads ahead of time is adequate. The devastation is over in a blip, but we aren’t sure exactly what happened because communication systems are down. Although the Powers don’t understand satellites and cell phones, so maybe they aren’t completely down. We’re not entirely sure yet. There’s also a super-cutsey moment when one of the Elders is Amused by Meg howling (sigh, must we repeat this storyline again?), and a super-stupid moment when Tess is hurt despite being The Reaper That Sucks the Life Out of Everything.

Things I hate: the sexism. Oh, the sexism. There’s a lot of “human females do…” followed by amusement/puzzlement on the part of the males. The human men are protectors and leaders; the human women nurturers. Apparently, there are no female Hawks, Bears, Cats or Wolves (all predators), although there are female Crows (because Shiny!). Apparently, females can be Weather because we’re all capricious and temperamental. Other things that continue to annoy include this surprising integration of 21st century technology like email into the same world-building where Others need to be taught how to make a cash transaction. Apparently delivery trucks, cell phones and computers will be whittled by Henry out of wood in the future. And, how can I forget–in a nod to Stereotype 101, we have an elderly black woman with a no-nonsense approach brought in to control the human children and clean the office.

Things I love: the environmental theme. Meg’s continued sweetness. The idea that the Others are questioning how much human metaphorically, within themselves–as well as practically. The idea that there will be payback for misdeeds. The glacially-moving relationship between Meg and Simon is a rare romance treat and appropriate given their newness to human experience. The idea that humans are not the dominant life forms.

Yep, this is just a literary One Pound Bag of M&Ms; a little embarrassing and a lot of mmmm-good.

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