What I Read in January 2017

I made my goal of five books this month, including one that I have been working on for more than four months. I complemented that with a half dozen or so comic collections, but I don’t really have anything to say about them. I am currently reading about four different books, including finally getting starting on my reading project for this year: reading all of Charles Dickens’ novels. I’ve already read quite a few of them, but it has been a long time for most and I might go back to them as a refresher. I am about a quarter of the way through Pickwick Papers. I didn’t read anything nearly so impressive in January, though.


Girl in the Shadows

Gwenda Bond

I read the first book in Bond’s series about the circus, Girl on a Wire, and enjoyed it. Not as much as I enjoyed her Lois Lane books, but it seemed unlikely that I would with no prior affection for it. This sequel changes the focus from high wire acts to a stage magic and also increases the amount of real magic in the series. The first book had a magic coin that gave the person holding it luck; this creates a whole society of real magicians. The central story is along the same lines as the last book, with a young performer out to prove herself on the stage. Moira, the protagonist, runs away from her restrictive father to join a traveling circus as a stage magician. She soon learns that she can do more than just stage magic, as well as a host of family secrets. She is aided by a boy she meets at the circus and a romance is soon kindled. It works, though I found it less engaging than the first volume.


The Demon’s Brood

Desmond Seward

I am very conflicted on this book. It is an enthralling read, but it is very selective about the history it portrays. While reading this overview of the Plantaganet Dynasty of England, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Seward was deliberately including the most shocking and graphic stories of the era, even those that as far as I know have largely been discredited by historians. It all becomes clear near the end, when the writer makes a plea that these older Kings to replace the Tudors for dramatic portrayals, possibly to get some of that sweet Game of Thrones money. He’s not wrong, but it does color what does and does make this already stretched thin book. Less appealing are the writer’s reflections on the quality of each king, weighted heavily in favor of their martial prowess over anything else.

While it can be sensational, The Demon’s Brood does give a good overview of a dozen or so Kings. Even those with a passing knowledge of English history, or Shakespeare in my case, will learn a lot from this book and it is a very easy read. It is certainly nowhere near a comprehensive look at any of these figures, and it all but leaves out some rather important people like Eleanor of Aquitaine, but it definitely worth a look.


A Man of Some Repute

Elizabeth Edmondson

This is supposedly a mystery, but while Edmondson does a lot of work to set up her fairly enjoyable cast of characters, the mystery part frequently gets lost in the shuffle. The personal problems and post-WWII period details are all fine, the book absolutely doesn’t work as a mystery. I do like the characters, but the book slow plays just about everything about them. It sets up a lot of directions things could go for Hugo, Georgina and Freya, but doesn’t give them a lot to do.

Recently injured and forcibly retired from his intelligence work, Hugo moves to Selchester with his younger sister Georgina. There they meet Freya, the niece of the old Earl who went missing seven years before. Soon after they arrive, the Earl’s body is found on the premises of Selchester castle, kicking off a very relaxed investigation. I didn’t hate the book, I liked it enough to pretty much immediately read its sequel, but I wasn’t overly enthralled.


A Question of Inheritance

Elizabeth Edmondson

This is the sequel to A Man of Some Repute. Again, this feels like a slow playing of everything. It does have a stronger mystery, but otherwise is pretty much the same as the previous book. Or what I assume is the previous book, because this one doesn’t exactly pick up where the last left off. This one starts with a new Earl of Selchester moving into the castle with his two daughters. Unfortunately, this unknown American taking the seat is not welcome news to everyone and someone appears to want him dead. When a guest turns up dead at the castle, Hugo and Freya set to work again sorting things out.

This one does feel more like a classic mystery, though that mystery plot still gets sidelined for way too long at certain points. It also delves more deeply into Hugo’s spy past, a turn that could be interesting, but this only barely starts to make it good. It is like a couple of chapters of a spy novel fit into this rather domestic book. I don’t think this series has been very good, but they are still largely pleasant reads.


Republic of Thieves

Scott Lynch

I really enjoyed the first two of Lynch’s Locke Lamora books, but it took me a long time to warm up to this one. It doesn’t help that things don’t really get going until more than halfway through the book. It isn’t that the first half is unenjoyable, but it is very low stakes. A lot of it is focused on cleaning up loose ends from the previous book, which left this series’ anti-heroes in somewhat dire straits. After that, Locke and Jean are engaged in a political game between rival wizard factions to throw the results of a coming election. That is the real problem: the stakes feel very small compared to the two previous books. This one is largely a dive into the relationship between Locke and Sabetha, as she is leading the other party in this contest. That stuff works, but it doesn’t really feel like the protagonists have any direction or goals for most of the book. They take the job because that is literally the only choice and they have no skin in the game, as long as they play by the rules.

Lynch has created a great cast of characters. Characters like the Sanza twins, who only appear in the flashbacks but continue to get more and more fleshed out, making their lack in the present chapters strongly felt. Locke and Jean, and Sabetha for that matter, are all great. I am happy to just read more of their adventures, but I hope that going forward they have a little more at stake.

What I Read February 2016

I got a lot of reading done in February, but I doubt I’ll manage a similar feat in March. It was mostly fantasy, a genre I’ve always loved but have drifted away from somewhat in the last few years. Drifted away from reading, but not so much from acquiring. I’ve ended up with quite the stack of unread fantasy doorstops, so I’ve started wading through them. Actually, most of those I read this month were either recent purchases or digital books. Still, I cut down my reading list quite a bit.


Glamour in Glass

Mary Robinette Kowall

I read the first book in this series a couple of years ago and found I liked it better in theory than in practice. I liked the concept of a fantasy novel that is set up like a classical romance. Really, I like everything about it but that romance. Something about it didn’t ring true to me; I’m having trouble recalling at this point. I liked this sequel a lot more. It continues the story, but here I can just accept the central couple.

This is set in the 18th century (maybe early 19th) and Jane and Vincent take a trip to Europe to study Glamour, their shared passion. While there they make some progress with research about how to trap the illusion of Glamour so it can be moved. However, they are stopped when Jane becomes pregnant and can’t do Glamour any more. While that strains her relationship with Vincent, it is nothing on the encroaching return of Napoleon to France. This is not a particularly long book, but its two central characters are very well drawn. And it feels to come more naturally from the characters than the first book did. It also sets up more for the series going forward than the largely stand-alone first book did. This was a very good read.


The Glass Magician

Charlie N Holmberg

The problem I had with the first book in this series, The Paper Magician, was that it seemed to move a little too fast to its climax. It didn’t give the reader enough time to get to know its central characters before expecting an emotional connection for the big finale. Basically, my problem was that the book was too short, which isn’t the worst problem to have. I enjoyed reading it very much even if it didn’t leave me fully satisfied. The sequel mostly fixes the first book’s problem by not having to introduce all the characters. I ended up liking this one quite a bit more than the first and I’m eager to get to the third one.

In this one, Ceony and Emery have to deal with an even greater threat than last time, this time focused on Ceony instead of Emery. While the elder magicians work to keep her safe, Ceony blunders into trouble that makes things worse. You know, basically how every Harry Potter book goes. Not that this book owes much more to that series other than the concept of a magic school, it certainly does its own thing. Ceony ends up uncovering information that could change everything people understand about magic. The Glass Magician is an improvement on its predecessor, though I would still like a bit more.


The Bands of Mourning

Brandon Sanderson

There is a lot about this book that I like. I like how it gets out of Elendel and how it expands the Mistborn world. Unfortunately, those things happen in a book with some incredibly obvious plotting and one of the most painful supposedly comedic scenes I’ve ever encountered.

The plotting is the bigger problem. Every twist in this book isn’t so much foreshadowed as they are immediately obvious. It plays out exactly how you’d expect. I expect more from Sanderson, this book is just limp. The bad comedy scene is a bad comedy scene. It was reminiscent of his attempts to write Mat in his first book of the Wheel of Time series. That was a character known for being funny and Sanderson failed completely to get that across. Most of the character work in this book is good, but it still left me pretty disappointed. That said, I am still eager to get the final part of this trilogy. This is the first book by Sanderson that I would call a miss, but it wasn’t a bad miss.


Striding Folly

Dorothy Sayers

This short story collection contains the last of Dorothy Sayer’s Peter Wimsey stories. There are still plenty that I haven’t read, but these are chronologically the last ones. It’s just three short stories, but they are interesting ones. The first is just the usual murder mystery, starting with the set-up and a brief investigation before Wimsey wanders in and solves the mystery. The next one is more involved, with Lord Peter leaving the hospital after the birth of his first child and he happens across a bemused police officer. He has witnessed what he thought was a murder. The two of them get drunk and he explains what he saw, which is enough information for Lord Peter to get to the bottom of things. The last story is only barely a mystery, being set several years later and it deals mostly with Lord Peter and his oldest child. There is a mystery, but it is about as low stakes as possible. Still it is an entertaining read.

The most interesting thing about this collection is that two of the three stories don’t have crimes at the center of them. This is going to spoil both stories, by the way. The first is more a prank than anything else, though a convincing one that gets a hapless police officer in trouble. The second is mostly about how Lord Peter disciplines his children.


Red Seas Under Red Skies

Scott Lynch

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, but this one does not quite live up to it. It is two different books mashed together, with the connecting tissue between them not being exactly strong. It starts well, picking up some time after the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, with Locke and Jean in a new city running a new con. As they painstakingly set up their heist, their past catches up with them and they are forced to work for the cities Archon against his enemies. It sets up a good struggle, with the protagonists trying to free themselves from his control while not messing up their other scheme. Then the Archon decides that he needs to send the two of them out to be pirates, despite them not being trained as seamen. What follows is a sequence with them acting as pirates. It’s not bad, but it does take Locke and Jean far away from their more interesting other plots. It all comes together for an ending that doesn’t serve either side particularly well.

I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. While it strays from the books strengths, the best new characters appear in that pirate portion. At times it is a lot of fun even if it feels pointless. And Locke and Jean remain an excellent pair of rogues. I received both this book and its sequel for Christmas and I will be getting to that sequel sooner rather than later.


The Complete Peanuts Volume 3

Charles Schulz

This was part of a Christmas gift, where I got volumes 3 through 6. This is still early Peanuts, but it is just about perfect. It nails that Peanuts tone of somewhat mopey nostalgia; combining silly animal jokes with some dark existential fretting. It’s really good, but you know that. I don’t know how much else I have to add. I guess it’s worth noting that these collections from Fantagraphics are really nice. The books feel good and they come in nice slipcases. The outsides are as nice as the insides.

What I Read January 2016

I read a handful of books in January. It was a good start to the year. I should also have another handful for next month, mostly fantasy and mostly Christmas presents. I still have a backlog of fantasy books from years ago that I hope to get too before too long. This month was odd because I really didn’t like most of the books that I read. All of them fit into genres and styles that I usually enjoy, but a relatively high percentage of them did more to annoy that entertain me. So in the sense of reading books I like it was not that great a start to the year, though it was in terms of the amount of books I read.


The Bootlegger

Clive Cussler & Justin Scott

Another solid adventure in the Isaac Bell series. I really like this series of mystery/thrillers set in the early twentieth century. The main character tends toward the too adept, the too perfect, but the adventures are a lot of fun. This one moves things forward a little, taking place in the early twenties and the Van Dorns, the fictional detective agency for which Isaac Bell works, having to deal with trying to enforce Prohibition, even if many of them don’t really agree with it. It weaves in with Prohibition with the Bolshevik Revolution and a Russian instigator operating in the United States. It all works together reasonably well, though I am left with my eternal complaint about this series that it doesn’t go quite far enough. The combination of the two threads in this one gets as close as the series has before to actually having something to say, but the agent doesn’t end up being as true to his cause as would be interesting. Still, it is a decently enjoyable romp.


Atari: Business is Fun

Curt Vendel & Marty Goldberg

I have some very big problems with this book, mostly to do with the editing and formatting. I would call a lot of Atari: Business is Fun’s construction haphazard. Grammatical and spelling errors abound. It actively hampers getting at the genuinely interesting information in this book. Despite the many flaws in the writing of this book, I was genuinely surprised at how well researched it was. It doesn’t attempt to paint any one as a villain or a saint, only people that frequently have differences of opinion. Nolan Bushnell, the main player for most of this book, comes off as half genius and half huckster. He is painted as a man with talent and ambition and a somewhat inflated sense of himself. It paints a picture of a company that simply grew too fast for itself. It played a big part in creating two separate markets, the arcade video game market and the home console market, but was unable to manage at least one side of that. Still there is a lot of insight into the origins not just of Atari the company of also of the many of the games that they made. Despite its somewhat lacking editing, I would heartily recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about the early days of video games.


The Magicians

Lev Grossman

This book came highly recommended to me, but I abandoned it early last year about forty pages in. Hearing about the upcoming TV adaptation gave me the push I needed to get back to it and finish it up. I maybe shouldn’t have, because I kind of hated The Magicians.

The Magicians stars Quentin Coldwater, a surly youth given to fits of depression. He is moody and unlikeable. It starts with something of a Harry Potter pastiche with Quentin being accepting into Brakebills magic school. Even there he is moody and unhappy, which I understand is the point, but it compresses everything about the school down so much that it is hard to get the sense of exactly what Quentin is learning or how people other than him are taking things. The only other students to get any real sort of character are his eventual lover Alice and his friend Eliot. The rest are at best rough sketches of characters. After graduating magic school, the books moves on to something of a Narnia pastiche, with the characters discovering and then traveling to the magical land of Filory. That at least builds to a memorable climax before a new character comes in to explain to Quentin, and the reader, what has been going on just before the book ends.

My biggest problem is that the book is locked into the point of view of a thoroughly unlikeable character. His depression can make even the most magical of encounters seem terrible. I understand the point of things being the way they are, but it doesn’t actually make the book any more pleasant to read. In the end, it is a book that takes two young adult series and saps all the life out of them in the name of making them adult. The Magicians is abrasively not for me.


Hallowe’en Party

Agatha Christie

A later Hercule Poirot mystery that is among the meanest Christie I’ve encountered. It doesn’t stray far from the form of her detective novels, but it is the victim, and very nearly victims, that is troubling. The victim in this story is a young girl. A young girl that everyone goes out of their way to speak poorly of after she turns up dead. Ariadne Oliver, Poirot’s mystery writer friend just happened to be in attendance and she tells him about what happened, so he agrees to investigate. The book just kind of meanders after that, never really picking up any momentum. It simply goes through the motions, doing exactly as it should and nothing more. The only really interesting part is that it deals with the death of a child and has someone threaten the death of another. There is a certain baseline of quality that Christie doesn’t drop below, but she has so many legitimately good books that only the completist need to bother with this one.


A Dangerous Place

Jacqueline Winspear

I was a pretty big fan of the first nine novels in this series (I never ended up reading the one previous to this) and this book comes as something of a punch to the gut. Beware; I will be spoiling the opening chapters of this book. At more than ten books in, I am more the ready for this series to be drawn to a close. Maisie’s struggle in the last few books, between maintaining her freedom and her business and agreeing to marry was compelling. She had good reasons to want both things and if she had chosen to remain single it would have been an interesting choice. But she chose the other way, which was all well and good. At least until the start of the book details just how her husband died within a few years of marrying her and she descends into grief. Maisie was always a character prone to wallowing in misery, and this book heaps it on her. The mystery contained within is nowhere near strong enough to overwhelm the complete pointlessness of coming back to this series. That mystery did hold some promise, with Maisie staying on Gibraltar as WWII draws near and having to deal with the various rising powers of facism and communism and Britain’s desperate attempts to stay neutral, but other than the setting there isn’t a lot to hold onto. After reading this, I really wish I, at least, would have stopped at ten. The mystery is limp and reading about Maisie being miserable is no longer interesting.

What I read in December 2015

December was a slow month; the holidays did not leave a lot of time for reading.  Still, I got through a couple.  I refuse to go a whole month without reading something.  In December, I read two books, though one of them was very short.  I am really happy with what  I read in 2015.  By my Goodreads count, I read 71 books.  Some were good, some were not.  I’m not sure I’ll hit that number again this year, but I hope to at least read fifty new books.


Arms and the Woman

Harold McGrath

Arms and the Woman is a delightful, if not particularly good, Ruritanian Adventure from an all but forgotten author writing around the turn of the century.  I stumbled onto some of his books after reading The Prisoner of Zenda a few years ago and I have been reading them occasionally ever since.  It takes Zenda’s basic plot points, like the fictional European country and royal look alike, and does things just slightly differently.  What I really liked about it was how proactive, at times, the heroine was.  The protagonist leaves America because his love tells him up front that she doesn’t love him.  So he goes to Europe, as a reporter, and happens upon an inn with a barmaid that looks much like his love from America. He spends time there, only to discover that she is a princess in hiding.  He vows to protect her, but when he is forced to accept a duel with swords, which he is not particularly adept with, she ties him up and takes his place.  Not only is she a secret princess, she is also a master duelist.  He falls in love with her, but she thinks he still loves the girl from America.  After some adventures with her evil suitor, some misunderstandings and secret family members, they live happily ever after.  It is not particularly good, but it was a lot of fun.  The absurdity inherent in this sort of story just keeps snowballing here until it reaches truly terrific proportion. Considering how short it is I have no problem recommending it.


Daughter of the Forest

Juliet Marillier

Oddly enough, I read this one the recommendation of my mother.  She is not usually one to read fantasy and if I’m being honest her recommendations tend to not be all that great.  A book about gladiators she recommended to me a couple of years ago turned out to be one of the most mean spirited things I’ve ever read.  But she read this for her book club and thought it would be something I would like as well. This time, she was right.

Daughter of the Forest is set up like a fairy tale; drawing upon and playing out like folklore. In it, protagonist Sorcha, the seventh child and first daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, must save her family from a curse.  Her father is distant with the children after the death of their mother, and they grow up largely untended.  When he remarries, his new wife turns out to be a witch.  While trying to free their home from her dark influence, they end up cursed.  Sorcha’s six brothers are turned into swans and she must sew them each a shirt to free them without ever speaking lest the curse becomes permanent.

At times the structure of the book doesn’t quite work. For instance, the book spends the first couple hundred pages introducing the brothers, but they don’t play much of a role during the rest of the book. Their connection to Sorcha is vital to how things play out, but a lot of the early parts of the book don’t really establish that connection. Also, it leaves parts of the end of the book feeling a little rushed. That is my biggest problem with this book: it left me wanting more. I wanted to know more about Red, the man that Sorcha falls in love with, and more about Lady Oonagh, the woman who curses Sorcha and her brothers. While the book does build to a conflict, it doesn’t really build to the same conflict it starts with. Still, I liked this quite a bit. It is a fast read that is much less reliant on violent struggles than most fantasy.

What I Read in June ‘14

Another four book month and this one includes a reread. At least I finally got the millstone that is Acacia off my back. I am so glad to not be reading that book any more. I hope to keep up the pace in July, which it looks like I will at this point.



David Anthony Durham

This is the book that has been slowing me down for the better part of four months. It came highly recommended by some people I know, but the more I read it the less I enjoyed it. It follows the royal family of the Acacian Empire: the Emperor and his four children. At the end of the first part, the Emperor is killed, his empire crushed and the children are scattered. It is quite similar in set up to A Song of Ice and Fire. In the second half of the book, the children have grown and they come together to save their homeland. The big twist is that the protagonist’s empire is an awful place. The government distributes drugs to the populace and pays of a distant power with a yearly quota of slaves. Of course, the people that conquer them are no better.

My big problem with this book is that is ponderously written. It features a lot of telling rather than showing. Instead of having the read find out about the drugs or slaves, it just flat tells it in narration. The reader doesn’t get to see the characters mature, they are just told that it happens. It switched between the four, as well as a few other characters so frequently that it is hard for any of them to build any narrative momentum.

SPOILERS. I also don’t buy a lot of the events in the second half of the book. The eldest daughter is captured by the bad guys and spends ten years (or however many it was) a essentially a prisoner trapped in the palace. Suddenly, she goes from hating Hamish Mien, the villain, she falls in love with him. Falling for her captor, that is an understandable development, but having her hate him for all those years before suddenly changing her mind was hard to swallow. Then there is the death of the eldest son. While leading an army, he accepts a duel to the death to determine a battle. Instead of finishing a battle he has already essentially won, he chooses to fight a man he knows he can’t beat in a duel that even he calls a bad idea as soon as it is suggested. It is just a monumentally stupid plot twist. END SPOILERS

Those moments of just flat out stupidity, on top of how far removed the book keeps the reader from the characters, really killed the book for me. I understand why this got recommended to me, but I really didn’t enjoy it at all.


The Five Red Herrings

Dorothy Sayers

Another Wimsey mystery. Possibly my least favorite in the series. There is just no personal stake here. There is no victim to feel for or diabolical criminal to catch. There is just a guy that nobody liked getting killed and everyone is a suspect because nobody liked him. Wimsey also doesn’t get a lot to do in this book. That was also true of Gaudy Night, but there he was replaced by his love interest and an interesting character on her own. Here he is replaced by some bland policemen. The mystery itself is actually quite enjoyable, but most of the Wimsey stories I’ve read have had another layer that this one lacks.


Diamonds are Forever

Ian Fleming

The odd thing about this fourth Bond novel is that the spy stuff doesn’t really get going until past the halfway point of the book, and even then there is very little of it. Bond is investigating a diamond smuggling operation, so he goes somewhat undercover and smuggles some diamonds into America. His payment is arranged by the mobsters he’s smuggling for in a fixed horse race. He meets up with former CIA Agent Felix Leiter, who is investigating the same people. Leiter throws arranges for the fixed jockey to throw the race. So Bond’s mobster employers arrange for him to get paid with fixed gambling. So he goes to Vegas.

I guess the point of the book is Bond’s growth as a character. He feels like he’s moved on from Vesper in Casino Royale and actually connects with her as a person. Most of the book is just Bond touring America and sharing his thoughts. Unsurprisingly, his thoughts tend to be sexist and racist. Shocking, I know. This book was pretty much the opposite of what I want from a Bond story. I would rather have action and monomaniacal villains, not normal gangsters and ruminations on the fleeting nature of life and love.


The Eyre Affair

Japser Fforde

I first read this more than two years ago and absolutely loved it. Now that I’ve read the rest of the series, as well as the rest of Fforde’s body of work, I still love. It is a great book. One of my absolute favorites.

Thursday Next is just a great character. She is highly competent and brave, but also flawed. The big conflict between her and her love interest is that she is unwilling to admit that the tragedy she was involved with in the ongoing, at least in the books reality, Crimean War was at least partly the fault of her brother who died in that tragedy. It is her loyalty to her brother straining everything else because he was at fault. She is also the perfect kind of character to be the lead this sort of screwed up mystery. She is tolerant of nonsense while not stooping to participate in it.

I think on of things that draws me to this is that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classic novels. It is also a weird book, being kind of Gothic and kind of a fairy tale and kind of a romance. It is the prefect book to fiddle with in this sort of meta-fictional manner. Read this.

What I Read in April ‘14

The thing with bloated fantasy epics is that they take a long time to read, even if the reader finds them engaging. When the reader is not such a big fan they take forever. I would have more read for this month if I had been able to force myself to keep reading Acacia. I don’t hate that book or anything, but the more I read it the less I like it. I am completely unable to abandon a book unfinished though. I have only ever found one book bad enough that I will never finish it: Battlefield Earth. Nothing else has been both as truly horrendous and as horrendously long. So it is another four book month, which is what I need to average to hit fifty for the year. I hope the damn breaks and I have a big reading month next month, but we’ll see.


from bossfightbooks.com

from bossfightbooks.com


Ken Baumann

I went in with the wrong expectations for this. I wanted a book about the game, a book that looked closely at what made the game work so well, from plot construction to battle mechanics. Something like a critical, close reading of the game. That is not what this book is. It does have some of that, but it is more the personal recollections of the author. It is as much autobiography as it is an examination of Earthbound.

Judging it for what it is, it is a good read. It is his Baumann’s memory of playing the game mixed with anecdotes of his life growing up. He does of good job of paralleling his life with the different parts of the game. The journey through Earthbound is not unlike the journey through childhood. This is supposed to be the first entry in a series of books like this, books about games from boss fight books. I hope the rest are at least this good, though I tend to prefer my books about game to be a little more about the game themselves.


Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Dorothy Sayers

Back with to the Wimsey mysteries. This one starts with a dead body found in Lord Peter’s gentlemen’s club. For all appearances it is a natural death, the man was very old, but there are some problems with his will. And the will of his sister, who died the same night. If she died first, her money goes to him and then to his sons. If not, it goes to her niece. So the lawyers hire Wimsey to look into it and try to find out exactly when the man died. It is soon uncovered, though, that he had died earlier and been moved to his place in the Bellona Club. It also appears that it wasn’t a natural death.

This is enjoyable as always. This one starts out innocuous, but soon turns deadly and ugly. There are plenty of suspects and nearly all of them are lying about or hiding something. Peter keeps at things with his usual attitude and persistence. Like usual with Sayers, there is more than just a mystery here, there is also some social commentary. The mystery is what keeps things moving, but it casts a quick eye on class and gender struggles. Not enough to distract from the mystery, but enough to make the reader aware of the struggles of the time. It gives the book something extra to entertain, which it certainly does.


The Moon’s Fire Eating Daughter

John Myers Myers

Another Amazon sale title, this one picked up from a glowing recommendation from an internet acquaintance. It seems like just the sort of thing I would like. It is a romp through mythological history, with appearance from famous writers and fictional characters. In theory, it is not unlike the Jasper Fforde books I love so much. However, I didn’t like this much at all. It occasionally amused me, but mostly it frustrated me.

The Moon’s Fire Eating Daughter uses language that is often poetic and highly referential. Most of it is some historical allusion or reference. I would say that the frequent obscurity of said allusions cloud the story, but they are the story. This book only exists for those references. When they work, the book is amusing; when they don’t, it is a dreary slog. The problem is how much the reader has to bring into the book to get anything from it. I am not unknowledgeable about literature or mythology, in fact I would say that I know more than the average person, but I was lucky suss out more than half of the allusions in this story. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to reading easy material, but the reward didn’t feel worth the effort in this case.


Cards on the Table

Agatha Christieas four other guests. During the dinner, while the guests are playing cards, someone manages to murder the host. Poirot and the police immediately start investigating, soon discovering that that the four suspects all have been suspected of murder before.

Poirot is less involved in this than he was in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He asks question about the card game to try to learn what he can about the suspects tendencies, but the bulk of the investigation is left to the police detective. There is also a mystery novelist involved. I can’t help but feel that any time a writer puts a writer in their story that it represents them The mystery writer here tries to be helpful, but I’m not sure how much she help she is. This book lacks the complexity of the Sayers one above, but it might be the better mystery.

What I Read in January ’14

I got 2014 started with a solid month of reading.  A decent number of books, in a wide variety of subjects.  February is shaping up to be just as good, even is the books themselves aren’t as good.  Still, I hope I can keep this momentum up.



Brian Jacques

Salamandastron is yet another entry in Brian Jacques Redwall series.  This one focuses on the mountain fortress that the formidable Badger Lords make their home.  It is one of the better entries in the series, shifting focus enough off the abbey to feel fresh, but still keeping somewhat close to the well-loved setting.  While many of the series constant tropes are present, it rearranges them so they don’t feel stagnant.

Salamandastron has two storylines that begin as separate but eventually intertwine.  There is the titular mountain Salamandastron, where its Lord, the badger Urthstripe, tries to balance ruling with raising his adopted daughter, Mara.   Soon, the fortress is assaulted by a horde of vermin and young Mara and her friend Pikkle the hare end up separated from their home.  Meanwhile, at Redwall Abbey, they are throwing a feast, as they often seem to be doing.  Added to the usual assortment of mice, hedgehogs, mole and squirrels are two rats who have escaped from the same vermin horde assaulting Salamandastron.  While at first trying to appear good, the rats soon commit murder, if only accidently, and leave with Martin’s Sword in tow.  A young squirrel and mole chase after them, while the inhabitants of the abbey start to fall ill.  So an otter must travel to a faraway mountain to retrieve the cure.

The two pairs of youngsters eventually meet up and have the usual sort of growing up adventures that happen in this series.  The events at Salamandastron are more epic, but not surprising.  Those sets of stories dovetail nicely, with the young warriors bringing aid to the beleaguered defenders of the mountain.  It’s the otter’s quest for a cure that seems oddly out of place.  It is a fine story on its own, but it is almost wholly disconnected to the rest of the book.

Still, Salamandastron is a fine adventure.  The characters rarely rise above the generic, but they are a suitably diverse and interesting group and the plot is fast moving and exciting.  Salamandastron is one the better Redwall books.



Diana Gabaldon

I listened to part of this book years ago riding with my aunt to a family reunion.  The part I heard was pretty great, a woman being interrogated and threatened by a man before being rescued by her husband.  My aunt tried to explain what was going on to that point, but her version was muddled and disorganized, but she got across that is was a time-travel adventure romance.  While usually just shrug off suggestions of what to read from family members, I made note of this one.

I read it recently, though not for the first time, and it is still highly entertaining.  The romance aspect does take up a large portion (i.e. there is a lot of boning) but the whole thing is more entertaining than it has any right to be.  Outlander follows the adventures of Claire Beauchamp, a woman who, while on vacation with her husband on Scotland, is transported back in time by a Stonehenge-like circle of standing stones to the mid-18th century.  Believed by everyone to be a spy for everyone else, she is taken by the clan Mackenzie to their castle.  Her attempts to get back home lead her all over the highlands and eventually she is forced to choose between her husband in her own time and the love she has found in the past.

It is melodramatic and romancey most of the time, but there is plenty of adventure in there as well.  Claire and Jamie, the two protagonists, really make everything work.  She is a sarcastic “modern” woman whose reaction to many of the past’s sensibilities is hilarious.  It is the intellectual knowledge of that’s how things were meeting her new reality that that is how things are.  He seems to have been designed to be almost the perfect romantic hero, something of a thoughtful barbarian.  Even his flaws seem carefully chosen to appear attractive.  Despite that, he eventually becomes as real as a character as one is likely to find in any sort of genre fiction.

Outlander is ha hefty tome, being more than 800 pages long, but it reads fast.  There are slow parts, but things move relatively quickly.  It meanders a bit and simply explodes with subplots and side characters, but the end result is a full tale that creates its own believable world.


Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter

Frank Deford

I wasn’t really familiar with Deford before I read this.  I had seen his name in plenty of articles in Sports Illustrated, but I rarely paid attention to the real articles, wanting more to get to the more current rumors, speculation and stats.  This book kind of makes me wish I had paid more attention, so at least I’d know how much I should care about what is written here.

Over Time is a memoir, as the title suggests a collection of anecdotes about Deford’s sports writing career.  This is split between recollections of athletes and events and his ruminations about other sportswriters.  Much is a glimpse into the work of a handful of writers and editors I’ve never heard of.  His genuine admiration of some people shine through, Arthur Ashe, while so does his disdain for others, Rodney Dangerfield.  Since I am not familiar with Deford or many of the people he was writing about, this book did not have the effect on me it could have.  Still, as a look back and a look into how the sausage of sportswriting is made, it is a good enough read.


The Lies of Locke Lamora

Scott Lynch

I have been largely away from the fantast genre for most of the last year.  I did spend a lot of time reading the Wheel of Time series, and many of the books I’ve read would fall into the periphery of the genre, but I’ve been largely avoiding what was once my favorite genre.  So far this year I have been back with a vengeance, and I started with one of the best I’ve read.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy done as a heist.  Sanderson’s Mistborn had a similar starting place, but in the end it felt more like a traditional fantasy story.  This manages to keep that heist the feeling all the way through.  The book follows Locke Lamora in both the present as he and his team of thieves plan and execute daring robberies and in the past when he meets his current friends and learns his trade.  The alternating present and past is sometimes a bit clumsy, with Lynch giving back information about characters just before it becomes relevant.

Locke’s past, while important, is not as good as his present.  While his group, the Gentlemen Bastards, perform intricate grifts, they pose as more humble thieves before the thieves’ guild.  The aging leader of the thieves, Capa Barsavi, is facing a challenge to his authority and while Locke has no problem deceiving him, he sides with him in the conflict.  Unfortunately, the Grey King who is threatening Barsavi’s dominance forces Locke to help him.  As often happens with heists, things don’t go quite as planned.

While they are nominally bad guys, being thieves and all, they are remarkable likeable.  Locke has a different set of skills than the usual fantasy hero, which makes him all the more likeable.  His closest ally, Jean, is also an unusual character for the genre.  While a lot of the world building is standard fantasy’s stuff, well done but the same kind of stuff one would expect from a fantasy novel,  the unique characters make is seem all the more different.

Really, this is just and excellent, fresh fantasy adventure.  I am eager to jump on the sequel. It is just really great.


Capcom’s 30th Anniversary Character Encyclopedia

Casey Lee

It’s not a lot of book, but it counts.  This is just a collection of character biographies from Capcom’s voluminous catalogue of games.  There really isn’t a lot of new information for me here; as far as video game companies go Capcom is second in my heart only to Nintendo.  That’s even with their almost adversarial dealings with their fans over the last couple of years.

This is an excellent primer on the various heroes and villains that populate Capcom’s games.  They do memorable characters better than just about anybody.  The whole cast of Street Fighter 2 are solidly recognizable and Mega Man has two incarnations that are all-time great characters.  This book is not really much of a read, but it is an excellent spotlight on these characters.


A Mind to Murder

P.D. James

More classic mysteries, though this one did not leave much an impression on me.  It was fine, but I never really took a liking to the main character, which makes the while book from his perspective hard to get really into.

There is nothing overtly wrong with this, it just didn’t grab me.  A woman is murdered in a psychiatrist’s office, and Det. Da;gliesh must work his way through her colleagues to find the one who killed her.

What I Read in June

June was a slow month, both because I finished a few books just at the end of May and because I spent a lot of time reading really long Wheel of Time books. I did manage to finish one non-WoT book in the month, though, so it gets a small entry.

Lord of Chaos

Robert Jordan

Reread post forthcoming.

The New World

Michael Stackpole

I read the first two volumes of this trilogy when they were brand new, but due to lack of funds I passed on the final volume. Now I went back to finish the series, but my memories of the first two have faded somewhat since I read them five or so years ago. Still, most of the frustrations and strengths came back to me as I read this.

Stackpole must be credited for creating a genuinely interesting world. In the world of this series, if one does something with enough skill and training it can become magic (more or less). Magic in any cases comes from an intense focus and can greatly affect the surrounding world. There is less a focus on the usual medieval time period of fantasy, instead taking place in something more akin to the times of Columbus, with characters off discovering and mapping new continents.

The writing, in this volume at least, is somewhat mechanical. It gets the job done, but there is little personality in the writing. There are also some plot oddities that didn’t agree with me. It seems too neat at times. The paths that some of the characters must walk seemed arbitrary to me, though that might have had something to do with my vague memories of parts one and two.

It is a good enough conclusion to a highly original series that differentiates itself from the fantasy standards, but not always in good ways. The New World is a flawed, sometimes clunky epic that delivers action and invention on a scale greater than most.

Crown of Swords

Robert Jordan

Reread post forthcoming.

What I Read in May


I know I’m way behind on these. I’ve been writing at them on an off, but I just wasn’t able to get any finished. The same goes for just about anything I’ve tried to post lately. I have a hard drive rapidly accumulating half-finished blog posts and various reviews. But with some time off work, I decided to hunker down and acutally get some work done. Luckily, or not depending, the change in work schedule that left me with less time to write also left with less time to read, so I don’t have as many books to review as usual after May.

Shades of Milk and Honey

Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades is a fantasy version of Jane Austen, which sounds like a great thing to me, at least. Unfortunately, when adding magic Kowal somehow managed to lose all the wit and vitally that Austen characters generally possess. What is left is the unremarkable romantic plotting and a fairly interesting magic system.

Protagonist Jane has a talent for glamour, the magic of this series, but doesn’t really possess any real vitality one the page. She faints through the plot until it comes to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Her sister Melody never rises higher than being a nuisance. Jane’s biggest dilemma stems from her needing to choose between the largely decent Mr. Dunkirk and the ill-mannered artist Mr. Vincent.

The plot plays out with a readable slowness that Austen got away with due to her wit. Kowal focuses on the magic, and it is a well-thought out, interesting magic system, but there is no life in the narrative. Shades of Milk and Honey isn’t precisely bad, but it does show the dangers of hewing too close to a classic source.


Jane Austen

Reading this just after Shades of Milk and Honey made me more aware of Shades’ flaws. Persuasion isn’t Austen’s best, but there is certainly more going on here than in that read alike.

This feels like a novel that Jane Austen wrote for herself, where a somewhat older woman, by those times’ standard, ends up writing the wrongs of her life and living happily ever after. Plus, the supporting characters spring right off the page, with amusing faults and larger than life personalities.

Persuasion is a little more straightforward in the plot department than most of Austen’s other novels, with no big surprises along the way. It really shines on the strength of the incidents it contains. Weak Austen is still better than the best facsimile.

Something Rotten

Jasper Fforde

This is the big final to the first section of Fforde’s Thusrday Next novels, tying up all the loose ends from the previous three books. I loved those books, and I love this one.

It really does tie the whole series together, even the sections that seemed entirely superfluous on my first reading. It is still kind of messy, but that is where the charm to this series is. The rules, for better or worse, are pretty well established by this point, but Something Rotten still manages to have some fun. Hamlet is great, as are the book visits. I don’t know what to say other than I like this books a lot and want to keep reading them forever. The Thursday Next series are books for people who love books, and I am one of those people.

The Thin Woman

Dorothy Cannell

This is a book I have some history with. My mother had a beaten to death old copy of this and I happened to pick it up and start reading. Unfortunately, it was beaten up enough that it was consigned to the garbage, and I was unable to finish it. So with my new Kindle in hand, I used the internet to find the title, my mom’s copy was short a cover, and found the book. While it isn’t one of my favorites, it was pretty good and finally being able to know how it ends was worth seeking out.

Hefty Ellie hires an escort to go pose as her fiancé at a family get together and in an absurd turn of events must play out the ruse, as well as lose weight, in order to get an inheritance. She also must solve a mystery involving the house left to her. Once past the ridiculousness of the premise The Thin Woman is a good mystery.

What I Read in November

I’m limping to the finale this year, but since I’ve already hit my goal for number of books read this year so I am fine with this. Since I was participating in NaNoWriMo last month, even though I petered out with about 20,000 words shy of the goal, I didn’t have time for much reading. I did manage read parts of several books, but I only managed to finish one.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie

This is my first encounter with both Hercule Poirot and with Christie. I have to say that I enjoyed it. I don’t have much to say about it, especially since I don’t have a firm footing on either the author or the genre.

Arthur Hastings stays with a friend of his at Styles, his friends step-mother’s home. While staying there he encounters his friend Poirot and just so happens to witness the mysterious death of the step-mother, despite her being in a locked room. With the help of Poirot, though, the case is solved.

My only problem with it is that it is not the facts of the case that are misleading so much as it is Poirot actively lying to his supposed friend the narrator, as well as hiding facts from everyone for spurious reasons. I know that there is a certain amount of deception inherent to the genre, but Poirot hampers his own case by lying to everyone. Mostly it seems because the book would have been only half the length if he just solved the case, he also had to throw in some meddling. Maybe that is Poirot’s thing, but in this one example it was a touch annoying. Still, I did like the book quite a bit.

And that is it for the month. Hopefully next month is a little more productive on this front, but we’ll see.