Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu

You know all those times you've heard someone say something along the lines of, "May God strike me dead if I'm lying"? Well, in The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, there's a variation on that theme. The world has changed so that if you tell a lie, water falls on you, ice cold water. With little lies, it's a small amount of water; with whoppers, a deluge. Certain evasions or stretchings of the truth give you a pass on getting soaked, but it's hard to know what you can get away with and stay dry.  In this world of falling water, live Matt and his lover. And it's the holiday time, when Matt's traditional Chinese parents want him to come home, when what Matt is struggling with is if he should "come out."

What really drew me in this story was the English language vs Chinese. In Chinese, apparently, some words are genderless, so Matt has been able to tell his parents about his lover without revealing that the lover is male, not female. He feels tremendous pressure to marry and carry on his family line, yet no desire for a woman; he's found the one he wants to marry and live with forever. There were some instances of Chinese in the text, and though rough interpretations were given or alluded to in the story, I wish the author would have footnoted true translations. All those beautiful characters fascinated me.

I liked the relationships in this story, between lovers, parents and son, and even between siblings, though there was tension. It rang true to me. I liked the device of water falling with lies, and contemplate how much wetter our world would be were this to become the case. This is a story about honestly and finding the dry road between truths.  Many thanks to Tor for offering this Hugo nominated story available for free download.

One more bit which may be somewhat of a spoiler, so don't read on if you don't want to know something that could be a key element to this short story. If it doesn't matter to you, then scroll down and read away.

The thing that touched me the most in this story was something that I've long suspected and experienced with friends who are gay men: parents usually know already and are usually supportive of their son.  I know there are parents who are awful to their children when they come out, but the people I know either aren't awful, or haven't been treated as pariah by their parents. interestingly, in my limited experience, siblings can be more difficult than parents, as was the case here.  Love, honesty, and understanding can help keep that lightening bolt from striking.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wakulla Springs, by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

Wakulla Springs is one of those places I've always dreamed of visiting. It's the largest and deepest freshwater springs (some say in the world). It's been the home of manatees and monsters, and, once upon a time, movie-stars, too. Wakulla Springs is also Hugo nominated original fiction (novella) and I was able to read it as a free download, courtesy of the publisher, Tor.

I read a huge variety of fiction, so something that carries a bit of speculation, magical realism, and history is a treat to read.  To me, the best kind of science fiction is that which can actually dip into our daily lives and swirl around in the undercurrents of our world. Sure, big, scary monsters, or sleek metal warriors are science fiction fun, too, but give me the stuff that lurks in the shadows and I'm happy. This novella took a place that has captured my imaginings since childhood, wrapped them up in a historical context and tied them with a pretty ribbon of surrealism. The story is really a multigenerational one, beginning with Mayola, a young black girl who works at the Lodge at the Springs, when Hollywood came to call. It's a wonderful glimpse into the filming of one of the Tarzan movies, with Johnny Weissmuller. The first part of the novella, Mayola's story, captures not only the days before segregation, but also the last days of Roosevelt's reign. I was not alive then, but the world of my childhood arose from that era, so there were many, many everyday things that caused me to reminisce: buffalo head nickels and mercury dimes, pulling a bottle of RC out of an ice cooler at the store and adding salted peanuts, even the feeling of cotton absorbing perspiration on your back on a sunny summer day. When the author wrote "the air felt thick and close, like it was considering changing it's name to steam.", I knew I'd felt that.

The story moves on, often with abrupt endings between sections, which allows the reader to fill in the blanks. I'm sure it bothered some, but I was okay with it. Mayola's son and her granddaughter take the focus of the next three sections, but always Wakulla Springs weaves through the tale. If you look closely, you can catch a glimpse of something strange and sinister lurking in the waters and forest.

Tags: e-book, i-liked-it, made-me-look-something-up, places-i-have-been, read, set-in-the-south, tor, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Monday, July 28, 2014

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

Let me start of saying that I pretty much figured I'd like this book even before starting it. I've read three Rainbow Rowell books and they've each knocked it out of the park for me. Had I not adored her other books so much, this might have gotten a higher rating. It deals with important stuff -- how we make, break, build. and fail relationships. I've certainly had my share of screw-ups, failing people that hold my heart together, so I'm not faulting the plot line, the author, or the main character, Georgie (though to tell you the truth, I'd rather meet Neal than her, in real life. I go for geeks.) It wasn't the premise of a phone that could call back into the past, either, because that sure could come in handy to straighten out some things that still hang over my head from Junior High, and is a brilliant idea. I guess it's like having a memory from your childhood of something that was so utterly fantastic and then seeing it as an adult, and realizing fine, but lacks the sparkle you'd given it over the years.

Basic plot: Georgie is a comedy writer for a sit com. She and her writing partner/best friend, Seth, who she's been working with since college, has a shot at their own show. If they can get some scripts pulled together and present them in 10 days, their writing dreams could come true. The kicker comes that the 10 days include the time that Georgie, her husband Neal, and their two girls are scheduled to visit his mother in Omaha -- for Christmas. Georgie chooses to stay behind in LA and write. The last time Neal went to Nebraska without her was when they were in college, also at Christmas, after a misunderstanding so severe, she thought they'd broken up. but instead, he'd appeared at her door on Christmas day, and proposed.  Now, 15 years later, he has gone again. Unable to connect with him by phone (she has mobile phone problems, or only is able to reach her daughters or mother in law), she fears this is the end of their marriage.  Her writing suffers, and unable to do much else, she ends up back at her mother's home, in her old bedroom. There, she is able to reach Neal by an old landline phone, but the Neal she reaches is much more like the one she knew before her marriage than the husband to whom she recently said goodbye.

There are some definite strengths in this story. Rainbow Rowell has a gift of creating ordinary guys and casting them as the romantic lead. Neal is not anywhere near the looks of the guys on the cover of romance novels, but he's genuine. And he's a terrific father and husband, even in difficult circumstances. The other peripheral characters also had their strengths. The plot-line is inventive, and the writing good. All together, it's a decent read, just not, for me, a superlative read; a good solid 3.5 out of 5 stars, but not a 4.

Tags: bookshelves: met-the-authorfavorite-authortime-travel-reincarnation-etci-liked-itcolor-me-disappointedok-but-not-great , e-book

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan

The setup of the novel held promise. The central character is a woman suffering from a severe anxiety disorder. She also was permanently disfigured by an abusive husband. Alone, in her grand house on the hill,  she watches the town below her, and becomes involved in the lives of the residents there, but from a distance. Her contact with the outside world is practically nil, except for a local priest who has the odd habit of stealing spoons.

On the whole, I found this book somewhat maudlin. I'd hoped to be more drawn into characters that held promise in the descriptive blurb, and to find depth in the the nooks and crannies of Mill River. As it was, there was a heavy-handedness gave away each plot revelation far before I'd even started to wonder what would happen, so that the by the end of the book, I was just waiting for the characters to get on with it. The nurse educator in me felt this could have been an opportunity to educate about anxiety disorders, which can be life crippling. Instead, there was more of focus on Mary being set up for life, financially, and never having to want for anything, than on overcoming her disability. I found myself thinking over and over how different her life could have been, without taking away from her charitable efforts, if someone had been able to get her the kind of help that could have given her the strength to combat her fears.

Whenever I receive a book from an outside source, or from a debut author, I try to give it an honest review of what I thought. And, I hope that review will be positive. Sometimes it's not. I think there is an audience for this sort of book, though, I am not the correct one.  However, I am extremely thankful to Random House for sending this book to me and for introducing me to the Random House Reader's Circle. And to Ms Chan, should she read this review, please keep writing. Not everyone nails it for all readers, especially on the first try. You had an idea, a story, and a vision, and pulled it together. That's more than most people can do. Apparently enough people liked this book as an ebook when it was self published for a major house to take it on, and I see you have a sequel that comes out in August. Goodonya! I wish you and Mill River, VT well.

Tags: color-me-disappointedcurrently-reading,first-novel-or-bookho-humi-got-bored,random-house-readers-circlethougt-i-was-gonna-like

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

I met Inspector Hector Salgado last year, through Summer of Dead Toys. Our meeting was cordial, as two strangers often are when they first are introduced. His line of work is complex, dangerous; his intelligence strong, perceptive; his temper volatile. And by the end of things, his personal life was in an even deeper turmoil than at the start. I was hooked, but our relationship could not progress -- until I got a copy of The Good Suicides.

The Good Suicides is the second Salgado book by Antonio Hill (the first was translated by the author himself, who, when he is not writing novels, is a translator of English Language fiction into Spanish. I do not know which was the original language of this work,) When I closed the covers of the first book, I was hopeful that this could become a series rich with characters and depth as some of my favorites in this genre. Certainly there were enough interesting interactions between characters, enough realism, enough trueness in the relationships. Salgado, himself, seemed to be that intelligent, flawed central character, that draws me right in. But would it all continue to capture my reader's eye, mind, and heart? To put it simply, yes.

Barcelona skipped over autumn, and into winter with this book. On Reyes Night (which I looked up and I think is Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, the night of the Three Kings' Parade/ Twelfth Night) a young woman throws herself from a train platform into the path of an oncoming train. Gristly, gruesome, and puzzling, as she has no motive. Also puzzling, because of a message found on her mobile phone "never forget", and a picture of three dead dogs hanging in a tree. As the investigation continues, it is discovered that a colleague of hers at work, who was on a retreat with her, also killed himself, and his family. Is there a connection between the suicides?

The secondary story line follows the disappearance of Salgado's wife, which occurred at the end of the first book. This, too, is  an interesting arc, especially as it gives the opportunity for the reader to get to know Agent Leire Castro, also from the first book,  a bit more.   Also of interest to me were the several discussions by the characters of what makes a "good suicide".

And, once again, though certain questions are wrapped up at the end, Hill stirs the pot with more mystery to be chased down in another book. That will be my third date with Salgado. I'm pretty sure he won't stand me up.

Tags: an-author-i-read, blogging-for-books, made-me-look-something-up, not-a-cozy-mystery-more-a-thriller, part-start-of-a-series, read, taught-me-something, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Many thanks to Blogging for Books, and to the publisher, for sending me a copy of The Good Suicides.

Scared Scriptless by Alison Sweeney

Sometimes the stories behind a book are as interesting to me as the book itself. Scared Scriptless, which in itself was an amusing read, turned out to be a "story behind the story" book. The basic set-up centers ib Maddy Carson, originally from a quaint mountain ski village, but now a script supervisor of a hit television series called The Wrong Doctor. Maddy's incredible organization and attention to details make her excellent in her work, and also include her own set of internal rules on dating to keep her life smooth. Things get complicated when her new boyfriend, who is not an actor (top taboo on the dating list) but is in the industry, and technically her boss, gets Maddy involved in the idea of pitching a reality show, this one based on the very town where she grew up. As a bonus to the plot, a new actor has joined the cast of the The Wrong Doctor, and seems to like what he finds in Maddy.

The plot is not all that complicated. It's pretty easy to predict who is going to end up being the good guy, and who the jerk, but the process of getting there is nice. Alison Sweeney has created some very likable, realistic characters, good at their jobs, at being friends, and supporting each other. As she acknowledges in a note at the end of the book, she drew many of the characters from people she has known in her time in the industry. She is both the host of the NBC hit-reality show The Biggest Loser (at this writing, in the 7th season), but has played Sami Brady for over 15 years on the long running NBC soap, Days of our Lives. It is this background that makes this book so different from others with somewhat similar setups. This award winning actress has taken the world she knows so well, and used that knowledge to give attention to details that make the scenes more real for her readers. I like a book where I learn something, and this one taught me a lot about television production. Plus, it had me cheering several likable characters on. And it kept me cosy on a rainy summer day. In my book, that's a wrap.

I received this book as part of the Hachette Showcase Bonus Batch batch over at LibraryThing. I've been following the literary showdown between Hachette and Amazon this summer with interest, and it has made me re-examine my book-buying habits, for while I generally purchase from indie bookstores, I would go to amazon occasionally, as well.  I didn't own an e-reader at all when the battle began, but was gifted one shortly after. It is not a kindle. I hope that the outcome is one that is supportive of the authors caught in the clash.

Tags: early-review-librarything, i-liked-it, made-me-look-something-up, read, sometimes-fluff-is-good, taught-me-something, what-s-another-name-for-chick-lit, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio

It's hard to think of a world without Goodnight Moon in it. That book, and the great green room, escaped my notice as I emerged from childhood, though I suspect it was probably borrowed from the library a time or two and read to me, but didn't make it into our home collection. I expect it might be because my mother strenuously didn't like Runaway Bunny as I learned when I became a mother, and she wouldn't allow the book in her home. She called it "pathological parenting", but that's another story. What this story, Goodnight June is, is one author's idea of what could have been the story behind that childhood classic. There are two story lines blended together, one told through letters, the other a modern day angle centering on June, a brittle financial type person, who inherits a failing children's bookstore from her aunt.

While the idea was decent enough, there were a couple of things that bothered me in the book -- primarily the correspondence between June's aunt Ruby, and her dear friend, Margaret Wise Brown. The device just didn't ring true to me. I expect that, in part, it might be due to the notion that two friends so completely focused on solving the problems of the other, answering point by point issues brought up in a letter. Having kept lively correspondence with friends for many years, and even into the electronic age, I know how much subjects can slide, even with the best intentions. A letter is not necessarily a written conversation..  The other thing was the caviler manner with which June uses her hypertension medication, popping them when she feels tense or when she thinks she might need them. That kind of stuff drives me nuts, as does misinformation in a TV show or something.

But, even with my dissatisfaction and a somewhat contrived nature, the book was a likable enough diversion for a gray day, even when the plot line became somewhat predictable. I am glad, though, that Ms Jio didn't take an easy out, and have someone rich from Seattle bail out the failing Blue Bird book store, even though there was some name dropping periodically in the story-line.  I found myself periodically whispering the lines to the story which starts, "In the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon."

And now this quiet old lady is whispering, "hush".

Tags: thank-you-charleston-county-libraryan-author-i-readbooks-about-booksok-but-not-great , nice cover

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight Texas 1) by Charlaine Harris

I've dipped into a number of series by Charlaine Harris. I find them light and amusing (except when they're not: glares at last couple of the Southern Vampire books) an easy "palate cleanser" for my brain between other books that work the gray matter differently. When I saw the start of a new series, I wondered where the author would go after the phenomenally successful Sookie Stackhouse books, so I picked Midnight Crossroad up to check out.

Midnight, Texas, the town with more supernatural misfits than tumbleweeds. Standard set up: Psychic moves to a new town. Meets his witch-neighbor, local vampire, and a few other characters with unclear motives and possibly shady pasts. There's a bit of a mystery over "what happened to the girlfriend of the antique shop owner" as she upped and disappeared one day. Now, the white supremacist  group from her past is out to find/avenge her, which doesn't bode well for the inhabitants of Midnight. But as I said, there's a witch, a psychic, and a vampire, and some kick-ass others, who will fight to keep the town safe.

My thoughts? An okay start for a series of this sort. It may be telling that my favorite character is Mr Snuggly, a cat. I felt there was a strong effort not to draw on the Sookie elements of vampire-dom, but at the same time, saw references to other series (ie  the Shakespeare one, though it's been a while since I read any of the Lily Bard books or enough of that series,  to pick up more).  I suppose the characters, and their back-stories, will round out and develop. right now, there's just a lot of hints and foreshadow.

I rounded up to 3/5 stars because of Mr Snuggly, who stays true to his catness, even when forced into heroic measures.

Tags: an-author-i-read, fantasy, ok-but-not-great, part-start-of-a-series, read, set-in-the-south, thank-you-charleston-county-library, vampires-ghosts-and-other-creatures

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan

Quirky and colorful, with an endearing central character -- a boy whose eyes see beyond surface of the small delta town in which he lives, and dips into the magic and mystery  of the imagination. Descriptions of the everyday that will knock your socks off. Stories that will have you smiling one moment, before piercing your heart with poignancy. This was the kind of book that captures the mystery of the swamp's edge and transports you there (minus the miasma and mosquitoes). It gives a glimpse of a recently bygone era through the eyes of a ordinary, sensitive, imaginative child.

I grew up around storytellers, many within my family, so it was a gentle homecoming to fall into the rhythms of the tales Lewis Nordan tells in Music of the Swamp. His central character, Sugar Mecklin, tells stories of his life, which overlap, change, grow, and explode, like that remarkable Pinto, which may or may not have blown up in two or three of tales. There is tragedy; there is hope.  There is so much beautiful writing, that my heart wept, while my eyes smiled. As much as I loved the novel, I think my favorite part of the book was  The Invention of Sugar: An Essay about Life in Fiction -- and Vice Versa, written by the author. The Delta is a magical place, filled with life, death, hope, and thankfully, storytellers such as Lewis Nordan.

Many thanks to LibraryThing and the publisher for sending a copy of this book my way.

Tags: idn-t-want-to-put-it-down, early-review-librarything, magic, read, set-in-the-south, southern-author, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Blood Always Tells, by Hilary Davidson

I have enjoyed Hilary Davidson's series centered on Lily Moore, which are not only mysteries, but, since the main character is a travel writer (as the author is) take me on a journey to a new location, as well. When I heard that a new novel was out, I snagged a copy, not even noting at all what it was about. In this case, the novel is a stand alone, but carries with it the same crafting of a mystery that hooked me with earlier writing.

A beautiful woman wants revenge on her charming but deceitful boyfriend and plots for blackmail. That she's a model, and he's a washed up boxer, married to an heiress, makes the situation more interesting. Then the blackmail plot gets complicated by a kidnapping, but it becomes even more daunting.  What starts off as blackmail ends up looking like murder, with twists and turns along the way. The story is told from three points of view, each character with their own motivations and drives. There was one bit that didn't hold for me, but once I decided not to worry about a character's decision making process, I did fine. Keep writing, Hilary Davidson, and I'll keep reading.

Tags: corresponded-with-author, i-liked-it, not-a-cozy-mystery-more-a-thriller, read, tor, will-look-for-more-by-this-author 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith

Apparently, back in October 2013, when I read The Cuckoo's Calling, I decided not to post to my book blog (where I generally only post books that I've either read for review or are new, or I have actual thoughts on.) Much had already been said at the time about Robert Galbraith's debut novel, especially when he turned out to be J K Rowling, and I believe that's the reason I opted out on sharing my somewhat benign thoughts on the book. However, today, one of my favorite sites/strips, Unshelved, shared a synopsis that did the book more justice than I did with my faint praise.  For the record, here's what I wrote back in October over at my book sites (BookCrossing, GoodReads, Librarything): 

Good solid writing, with two lead characters, who, when fleshed out further, will be the sort to draw people back. The mystery wasn't bad either, but for all the hype, I was a little disappointed. Yes, it was good writing, if this was indeed a first time author. For JK Rowling, it was good writing, too, but not exceptional. The back story the leads was the most interesting part for me. The immersion into the world of fashion and celebrity, I found sad. If another in the series comes my way, I'll read it, but I'm loathe to get sucked into another series otherwise.
And here's Unshelved's version (If you need it larger, click the link):

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Dark. Broken. Bent. Depressing. I'm so glad I read this book. Seriously.

I tend to read for comfort and relaxation these days. My reasons for picking The Panopticon were to challenge myself as a reader, and as a reviewer. Jenni Fagan has amassed some pretty serious credits as a writer, enough so to assure me that despite the huge variations in reviews of this book by other readers, that the writing would be stellar. It was. It sustained me through an incredibly bleak story of fifteen year old Anais Hendricks, which begins with her in the back of a police car, blood on her dress, accused of attempted murder of a policewoman now in a coma. Anais is headed for The Panopticon, a home for chronic juvenile offenders.

There's not been much that has been good in Anais's life. The number of foster placements she's  bounced through is is over 3 times her age. Every adult she's known seems to have failed her, and doesn't look like it's going to get better.  But she has carved out some support for herself,  not via social workers and such, but through drugs, sex, and living on the sly. This book had more uses of the word fuck thank any other book I have read. It also makes liberal use of other inventive language, some slang that I had to look up, guess, or ask friends from the UK to help translate. Until I caught the rhythm of speech, it was difficult to get into the book. Then, once I found that, the book was difficult to read because of the gritty nature. It was not something I wanted to read at bedtime. But in the light of day, even with all the references to wanking, boaking, conks, rapes and the liberal sprinkling of language I don't normally use, there were some moments in this book that were fabulous. This girl has a horrendous life, but can still come out with observations like:
They dinnae know this, though: I'd die before I'd pick on someone. I would. You dinnae bully people, ever, 'cause all bullies are cowards and I umnay a fucking coward, I never was. (pg 61) 
The girl has been beaten so often she should be pulp, but she still isn't down; she has her standards and her beliefs, and a kind of scrappy, cynical optimism that kept me reading through some pretty bleak stuff.

So, did I like this book? Not really. Did I like the characters? Yes. Did I like the writing? F--- yes! Would I recommend the read? Only to readers who are willing to take a dark journey.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book. I'm giving it 4/5 stars, not because it made me feel good, or that I really liked it, but it sure made me think about aspects of our society, and also made me think about what, to an avid reader, makes a book worth reading.

Tags: at-least-the-writing-was-goodblogging-for-booksmade-me-look-something-upmade-me-uncomfortablereadread-for-review,taught-me-somethinguncomfortable-reading-but-goodyikes

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Equoid: a Laundry Novella (Laundry Files) by Charles Stross

Downloaded this novella as part of Tor's freebie offerings of all their Hugo nominees for 2014. I knew nothing about the author, or that this was part of a series (referred to as The Laundry, I believe.) I'm not a major HP Lovecraft fan, so that tie-in with this work kind of left me flat. What I did enjoy was the idea that there's a clean-up crew out there for certain sorts of supernatural disasters (sort of like Men in Black, I guess) and that in this case, they're out to clean up unicorns run amok. Nice. Toss out the rainbows, sparkles, and virgins; it's all about life-sucking carnivorous beasties. Seems fair.