Did Not Finish, Vol. 2

The urban fantasy edition. My favorite genre, which is probably why I take so many chances and try so many books, even ones that I doubt I would like in the off chance that it would be a hit. It’s usually not, and that’s why I DNF so many in this genre. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s not, it’s… please see below.

A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark #2) by Kresley Cole (“review“)
This is the second book in the Immortals After Dark series and the only time I will ever read anything by Kresley Cole. Not only is this bad, but it’s bad in a “how did this get published???” kind of way.

Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1) by J. R. Ward (“review“)
This is the first book in the popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series and most likely the only book I’ll ever try by J.R. Ward. Not any better than Kresley Cole, but sort of more interesting? Maybe. Sort of.

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles #2) by Kevin Hearne
Nothing wrong with this book or series; the writing is just not for me–too much “jaded” snark crammed in. The first book was meh with a dash of try-hard, as in it tried too hard to appear “cool” or “cooler” than its urban fantasy counterparts. Case in point? The main character is a 2,000-something years old wizard, yet speaks and thinks as though he’s a hipster millennial, but he’s neither a believable hipster or a believable millennial. He reads like what he is–a young character written by an author who mirrors his characters after what he thinks is “cool.” Being from hipster central myself, I just don’t find that part of the characterization believable, so that’s a deal-breaker.

A Local Habitation (October Daye #2) by Seanan McGuire
After finishing and not liking the first book, I kept this series on my radar because so many friends kept recommending and saying it gets better, but what little I read of the sample chapter failed to capture my interest. Even the title bores me.

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2) by Patricia Briggs
After finishing the first book and was on the fence about it, I gave the second one a try because the world building was pretty good tbh and I didn’t wanna miss out on a series that could very well turn out to be good. First books in urban fantasies are dicey, and long series don’t really take shape until the second or third book (or fourth or fifth). What stopped me from continuing this series was the main character. Simply put, Mercy bores me and I have no interest in following her around for twenty more books.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2) by Max Gladstone
While I liked the first book just fine and enjoy Max Gladstone’s writing in general (A Kiss with Teeth, The Angelus Guns), I had a hard time getting into this one because the main character was a bit boring and there was too much going on at the beginning. Plus, I think at the time I was impatient for a story that I could sink my teeth into without having to work so hard or wade through so much text to get to the good stuff. Temporary DNF for now with promises to return soon… ish.

Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson
Too young for me, just like the first book, but this time I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about the characters to keep reading past the sample chapter. I think this was around the time I was fed up with Brandon Sanderson in general, and reading any more of his particular, repetitive style of fantasy was just too much.

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher
This one bored me right out of the gate because… well, Harry Dresden. I pushed through the first book to prove a point and put an end to doubts. Turned out I was right: this series is not for me. But again, friends kept on recommending it, saying it would get better, so I gave the second one a try and it’s further proof that this series is not for me.

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2) by Laini Taylor
Another one that’s too young for me. The first book had all the irksome quirks of young adult, but the world building was good, so I stuck with it to the end. The second book was more of the same, but I was looking for something with more depth and less YA. I think all the “beautiful” descriptions of all the pretty things just got on my nerves. Why the obsession with beautiful things? What’s wrong with plain fugly things? They need love too… as all things need love…

Cast In Courtlight (Chronicles of Elantra #2) by Michelle Sagara
I read the first book with Beth as a buddy read. She liked it a lot more than I did (her thoughtful and concise review here). I expected to like it, because 1) long series, 2) the description was interesting and 3) several Goodreads friends gave it high ratings, but I found the writing too messy and meandering. Plus I’m not a fan of the stream of consciousness style. Also, the main character, who is a detective, is bad at her job and entirely unbelievable. While I believe she is bad at her job, I don’t believe her as a detective, but the thing is, this whole series revolves around her being a detective and it’s told from her first-person POV… which really sucks.

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1) by Kim Harrison
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book and wondered “have I read this before?” I’m usually pretty good at recalling beginnings, especially beginnings of books I end up abandoning, but with this book, there was a moment in which I couldn’t be sure whether or not I had read it or abandoned it because the writing style was not only familiar, but it’s so familiar that I was sure I’d read this book before. I hadn’t though. It was PNR deja vu. Rachel Morgan is full of sass and snark and has very little substance, and her antics get old very quickly, like around page 10. I think I pushed myself to the 30% mark before call it quits due to recurring boredom.

Pacific Fire (Daniel Blackland #2) by Greg Van Eekhout
I tried reading this one right after the first one, hoping it would get me more into the series. Didn’t work. Only made me more annoyed with the main characters which were too young and teenager-y for my liking. The world building is still fantastic though. I just couldn’t get into the characters or gave a damn about their life-or-death situations or cared about how they’ll save the world. It really is too bad because I really liked the setting, world building, and magic.

Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre #1) by Mike Shevdon
Couldn’t get into this one. Don’t know why. There was something about the writing in the first 10% that didn’t capture my interest, and so reading on felt more like a chore than an escape. Didn’t help that the whole series is about the fae and their courtly politics. Kudos for the middle-aged main character though… perhaps I will give this one another go.

London Falling (Shadow Police #1) by Paul Cornell
I wanted to like this book. Other than Two Serpents Rise, this is the only other book on this list that I regret not finishing. It’s got all the makings of a nice, chewy cop drama with some paranormal thrown in. Also, it’s set in London. But the book opened with too much going on. The writing moved too quickly from scene to scene and very little info is given about what’s going on and the characters involved. I couldn’t follow what was being said, let alone catch all the subtle implications. So I got bored not being able to follow the story or, rather, not being in on the take. Stopped at around 30% with plans to return, but I don’t know at the point. Maybe I’ll audiobook it.

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Rosemary and Rue (October Daye #1) by Seanan McGuire

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: September 2 to October 5, 2015

Never thought I’d say this, but I sort of hate this book and it’s all because of the main character, October (Toby) Daye. She is just so damn infuriating. But the thing is, not liking the MC has never stopped me from reading a book, continuing a series, or even enjoying the writing. But I just can’t do it with this book.

Credit where credit is due, this is not nearly as bad as some of the urban fantasies I’ve read, because there is a lot of potential in the world building and all the mythology woven into the writing is very interesting. However, the book itself is not as well put together as it could have been. It started out okay though, but then half-way through it started to unravel, with each chapter making less sense than the previous. By the end, not much about it made sense to me anymore, least of all the main character herself–the reason for the series, the reason we supposed to care about these books.

There are too many things wrong here–pacing’s too slow, tone too depressing, main character too apathetic and infuriating. Personally I don’t find the fae that interesting; they’re pretty obnoxious tbh. However, in spite of that, Seanan McGuire’s got a good thing going here, such as the interesting modern-day San Francisco setting, an alternate world filled with otherworldly creatures, and a long-term story arc that’s fitting for a long series. I especially like the setting(s), magic, courtly politics, depths and complexity of the world building. I’d like to be optimistic and say maybe this was a fluke. Maybe the next book is better. Maybe I’ll pick up it some time in the distant future when I no longer recall why I hated this book, but let’s be honest, that’s probably not gonna happen because Toby is still the main character and that makes it too difficult for me to care

Also, the first half of this book was too much of an uphill slog and the second half was too weirdly repetitive, especially the action sequences. It felt like the same couple of scenes kept happening over and over again. Toby kept getting almost killed too many times that by the the Nth time, I was like, OK maybe you’re better off dead…? She’s a professional private detective, yet she is no good at detecting, but I’m gonna cut her some slack here since she did spend a good number of years as a goldfish.

Another thing I couldn’t get into was the mystery. Didn’t care about the victim; didn’t care about Toby’s connection to her either.

Last but not least, this book feels like it’s the middle book of an ongoing series, not the first book. It feels like we’re being dumped in the middle of on-going cold war between two huge factions and we’re given very little background to work with. We’re supposed to figure things out as we go along. Too many things crucial to plot and character development are summed up quickly, rather than shown. The relationships between the characters are already well established, and so there’s a ton of history that we’re not privy to and we just have to accept that. Like I said, infuriating.

I can’t imagine how the next book is any different, and based on some of my friends’ reviews, it’s not. And that’s why I’m quitting this series.

Don’t know why I can’t seem to get into Seanan McGuire’s writing though. Feed was meh and a DNF at the sample chapter. Her short stories were also meh. I see so many people on my feed enjoying this series, reading all the way up to book #10, and I just wanna know… how? How do they do it? How did they get through books 2 to 9???

A group I’m in on Goodreads is reading Every Heart a Doorway this month, and I’m tempted to join in because I have the book (thanks, TOR!), but I’m dragging my feet because… Seanan McGuire.

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 9 to 21, 2015
Recommended for: fans of sea monsters and snarky prose

Harrison Squared is perfectly autumn and perfectly Halloween, which is why I’m now putting up a short write-up that I wrote awhile ago. Out of season. In spring. Over 2 years after having first read it.

Anyhow, this is another fun read by Daryl Gregory. I’m convinced he can write anything and I hope he does–write everything, I mean–because he’s got a great way with words, well-timed humor, and a way of turning familiar, tired, old tropes into something new and exciting. They’re still tropes, but he makes them fun to read.

This is my 4th Daryl Gregory book (Afterparty, We Are All Completely Fine, Raising Stony Mayhall), and I still find him exciting. It’s still exciting to see his name on the new release list, and I’m still trying to make room in my reading schedule for his latest, Spoonbenders.

Every autumn, I try to plan a vaguely Halloween-themed reading list, but rarely follow through because I’m a mood reader, forever destined to follow whatever the mood calls for. So I pick up whatever that “feels right.” Some years I get lucky and end up with vaguely autumnal books, and other years I get typical YA paranormals (because people keep recommending them). This year, though, I’ve been lucky in my picks. Almost every book picked up from the beginning of October to now goes quite well with Halloween. They all have that quintessential chilling undertone that I always associate with this time of the year, and this book is among the best of them.

In short, I was thinking about this book today and so just wanted to briefly recommend this book to anyone queuing up their autumn reading list. There’s a good blend of creepiness and humor, and the characters and setting are a lot of fun. If fishy dodgy small towns, open water, Lovecraftian sea creatures, and urban legends are any interest to you, I would highly recommend this book.

She looked up at us. “Who are you?”

“I’m Rosa Harrison,” Mom said.

“This is my son, Harrison.”

“And his first name?” She stared at me with tiny black eyes under fanlike eyelashes.

“Harrison,” I said. Sometimes—like now, for example—I regretted that my father’s family had decided that generations of boys would have that double name. Technically, I was Harrison Harrison the Fifth. H2x5 . But that was more information than I ever wanted to explain.

[…]

Dr. Herbert waved. This gesture was made a bit threatening due to the fact that he was holding a scalpel, and the sleeve of his coat was streaked with blood up to the elbow. His uncovered eye blinked wetly at me. “Have you taken biology?” the doctor asked.

“Freshman year,” I said.

“Oh,” the doctor said. He sounded disappointed. Suddenly he brightened. “Have you taken cryptobiology?”

I grinned. “In my family, cryptobiology isn’t a course, it’s dinner conversation.”

“I like this boy!” Dr. Herbert said.

[…]

This was the problem with a small school in a small town. Not only did the students all look like each other, they’d all developed the same nervous tics. It made me wonder about inbreeding. Take off their shoes, and did they have webbed feet? Was the weird-looking fish boy who’d stolen my book just a relative on the more damaged branch of the family tree?

[…]

Oh no, I thought. Physical Education.

And then I realized it was even more horrible than that. The boys began to pull on swim trunks. This wasn’t just PE; it was swimming.

Some of the boys glanced at me. I stood there, holding my backpack, not moving. I was not about to get naked in front of these ignorami. I waited until one by one they made their way out the far exit. When there were just a handful of boys left in the changing room, I went out to the pool.

[…]

I stood up and stifled a yelp. The pale shape coursed toward the edge of the pool at tremendous speed. At the last moment, the water broke, and the creature threw itself onto the deck. It slid a few feet, then threw out its arms and rose up on its belly like a walrus.

It was a man. A bald man, fat and white as a beluga. He smiled. “Who’s ready for laps?”

[…]

“When the supernatural turns out to be real, it’s not super natural anymore—it’s just nature. Yes, it may be strange, uncanny, or frightening. It’s always scary to find out that the world is bigger and more complex than you thought.”

[…]

They were all sure they’d fulfilled their holy duty and that the destruction of the human world was nigh.

Cults. They always thought the glass was half-doomed.

California Bones (Daniel Blackland #1) by Greg Van Eekhout

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 2 to 5, 2017

Great ideas

  • osteomancy: magic derived from ingesting bones of ancient and mythology creatures (the powers these creatures give off are pretty amazing)
  • post-succession California: CA left the Union some years ago and then split into North and South, and now they’re constantly at war with each other and the Union
  • post-succession Los Angeles is an urban dystopic landscape that isn’t void of life or color
  • LA is still LA after all
  • Southern CA is under the reign of a megalomaniac who’s hoarding power and killing off other magic users
  • these killings are state sanctioned and done in waves
  • cannibalism
  • golems
  • travel by water: the Venice Canals play an important role in the story (I had no idea what these were, so had to look them up–very interesting water system)

So all great ideas, but the execution is just… all right.

I found the writing overall to be decent, but there were a few places where it was tedious and repetitive and oddly YA. Add to that some thin characters and a heist plot that’s wrapped up too quickly, and the whole thing felt incomplete. But this is the first of a trilogy, so that’s okay, I guess…

The heist was fun while it played out. Up to that point–more than half way through–I wasn’t really feeling the story or characters much, and the read was kind of a drag. Once the heist was put in motion though, things got interesting. Too bad they didn’t last long and were rushed toward a quick ending, in which several new elements were added to the story to be played out in the second book. So no satisfactory ending here.

When it comes down to the basics, my biggest issue with this book are the characters, individually and as a group. There’s a weird naivety to them that I found at odds with their experience and hardened criminal exteriors, and I never really got past that. There was always something about them that kept me from getting into the story

It’s very likely I will read the next book, but I’m gonna take a long break and come back to this series once all my residual annoyances clear.

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2) by Daniel O’Malley

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: November 21 to December 1, 2017

A rollicking good read. Not a 5-star book, but definitely one I’ll return to for a good laugh. While I didn’t like the first book as much, I found this one hard to put down from the very first moment.

Sometimes when you come across a book that fits your current mood, everything about it makes sense. I was desperately in need of a laugh when I picked up this book and went into it not expecting much, but as I started reading, humor and alt-history got to me. More on that below.

This series–well, just the 2 books so far–is hard to write about without giving to much away, but I’ve found that comparing it to the X-men makes it easier to explain.

So imagine the X-men:
– as a secret government network
– set in London
– protecting queen and country
– while dealing with cases from the X-files
– and paperwork (lots and lots of paperwork)
– oh and there are monsters of both the supernatural and natural persuasion trying to destroy the UK practically every other day

So imagine all of that not as a superhero drama but a comedy with a strong slapstick air, and you get these books. They’re a much-needed break from my daily grind. Their fictional diplomatic and bureaucratic difficulties are hilarious, yet believable, and for a few moments, I get to not think about… current events. And that’s all I’m looking for these days.

Some quotes and highlights:

Felicity preparing for a mission

“It’s my urine?” Felicity said incredulously.
“Don’t think of it as urine,” Pawn Odgers advised her. “Try to think of it as an olfactory disguise.”
Felicity tried and was not measurably comforted. “But where did you get my urine?” she asked.
“The Checquy has samples of everyone’s everything,” said Odgers cheerfully. “Remember, during your time at the Estate, they kept taking specimens of your every fluid and solid?”
“That was for scientific research!” exclaimed Felicity. “And it was years ago!”
“Would someone else’s fresh urine be better?”

the Checquy being the Checquy

If you gave birth to a child whose breath baked bread, it too belonged to the monarch.
Of course, the monarchy didn’t want these people (and creatures) hanging around the palace, being all unnatural and touching the furniture. Thus, the throne delegated this authority of guardianship to the Checquy, so, by royal writ, the Court of the Checquy held the right and the obligation to take into its custody any person on the British Isles who was possessed of supernatural abilities.

[…]

Naturally, he broke all the Estate records for the throwing sports (except for the javelin, because one girl in his class managed to fold space so that her javelin landed in China).

[…]

She had nine confirmed kills of people and two confirmed kills of creatures who, although they wore trousers, were not counted as people by the Checquy.

[…]

There is no way this conversation is not going to get horrible, thought Odette. No situation is improved by the presence of a gigantic anus.
At that moment, the gigantic anus in question trembled and, before anyone could react, unclenched.

[…]

“They sounded English,” remarked Bishop Alrich. “Tasted English too.” (Bishop Alrich is a vampire.)

[…]

“Louis can draw wasps to him.”
“Very cool,” said Odette. “Wait, so you can both do things with wasps? Are you two related?”
“Oh, no,” said Louis. “Sorry, she does the thing with insects. I can attract white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

Ernst being Ernst

“So, you clone things?”
“We can,” said Marcel. “We don’t, though, not usually. Of course, we grow bits of people, but we don’t make whole people.”
“Why not?” asked Eckhart.
“We prefer to have sex,” said Ernst, causing Pawn Clements to choke on her orange juice. “Plus, anyone who wants to clone himself is usually an asshole. You don’t want any more of those running around than absolutely necessary.”

“My fanny”

“So, darling,” he said to Odette, “are you my fanny?”
“I beg your pardon?” she said, completely at a loss.
“Not ‘my fanny,’ you tosser,” said one of the black guys. “Myfanwy.”
“Oh, whatever,” said the first guy. “Like that’s even a name.”

* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

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The Furthest Station (Peter Grant, #5.7) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 21 to 24, 2017

At the end of my write-up for The Hanging Tree, I said something along the line of wanting a break from the faceless man arc and more adventures of Peter doing some magical policing around London. Lo and behold, my request was granted in the form of this novella, or so I like to think. In truth, Ben Aaronovitch must have had this novella planned long before The Hanging Tree finished downloading in my inbox. The announcement just took me by surprise and the brief summary was basically what I asked for, so naturally I thought it was for me. Naturally.

This book was basically a solid 4-star most of the way through. And then that twist at the end happened that turned the investigation. 5 stars, easily, in the end.

Many spoilers scattered below, so that I don’t forget them.

Sargent Kumar (from Whispers Underground) called Peter and Nightingale in to help investigate what appeared at first to be a ghost infestation in a subway tunnel. Multiple people were reporting brief sightings in which figures clearly not of this world tried to harass or accost them, and what’s weird was it wasn’t the same ghost, but it appeared to be a different ghost each time. What’s weirder still were these people not being able to recall much of the incidents after reporting them; some even forgot they had spoken to the police at all, and the ones who did remember all said, before vanishing, the ghosts had a message to deliver and it had to be delivered to the police.

After following some leads and dead ends, Peter brought Abigail in to help with splicing and deconstructing hours and hours of CCTV footage. So it appears Nightingale has decided to take on another student, when she comes of age, of course. Right now though, she’s showing a great deal of talent for magic and will probably turn out to be a faster learner than Peter. And she has a friend in the foxes, which doesn’t really mean anything at this point. Interesting development; looking forward to seeing more.

On Peter’s end of the case, it was all very standard Falcon procedure, and all of it was hilariously described in his usual dry sardonic voice.

“Preliminary Falcon assessment,” said Jaget.

“We at the Folly have embraced the potentialities of modern policing,” I said

[…]

He would have liked blood samples as well, but we’ve found that people are strangely reluctant to give up their bodily fluids to the police for science.

[…]

From a policing perspective, motive is always going to be less important than means and opportunity. Who knows why anybody does anything, right?

[…]

The woman who answered the door gave a familiar little start when she saw us and hesitated before saying–“Ah, yes.”

We know that reaction well–it is the cry of the guilty middle-class homeowner.

This sort of thing always create a dilemma since the scale of guilt you’re dealing with ranges from using a hosepipe during a ban to having just finished cementing your abusive husband into the patio.

[…]

They started with a bell ring, a police knock, then a fist bang accompanied by shouts of “we’re the police” which was then bellowed through the letterbox.

Peter, being Peter, had quite a few hilarious turns in the investigation. He even managed to lure a ghost to him, using Toby as bait, to get her “statement,” which was the big lead he needed that turned this case from a weird ghost problem to a missing persons investigation, which then lead to a kidnapped woman trapped behind a solid brick wall in a cellar full of empty jars that used to hold ghosts.

Now I feel bad for previously saying Peter was bad at his job. So I wanna go on record and apologize. He may not be as advanced in his career as I’d like him to be, being a slower to catch on to magic than Leslie, but I must give credit where credit is due: he is quick on his feet and always manages to find a workaround for magic he isn’t yet capable of handling. Remembering those glow bats from Foxglove Summer and using Toby as a vestigia detector always make me laugh.

Anyhow. This case did not turn out to be what I expected. It was so much better and a huge surprise at that. I definitely did not see how a paranormal investigation could lead to missing persons during the read, but it was superbly done. What’s more is we’re introduced to a new kind of magic–trapping ghosts. Those ghost jars are no doubt a major development for the Folly, and,hopefully, they will feature in later books because I can’t see Nightingale not tinkering with them until he figures out a way to recreate the ghost traps and then using them for Falcon cases.

Overall, an excellent installment. I wouldn’t mind if there’s more like it in the works. *wink, wink*

Oh, and those little footnotes at the end for Agent Reynolds? Hilarious and very cute. Please add more. As usual, I had to look up a few things during the read like “mispers,” “pret,” “fried chicken stroke,” “waitrose bag,” “Nando’s,” “POLSA,” to name a few. And “refs” are apparently not short for referees, but refreshments.

The only thing I couldn’t find a definitive answer to was “tuck.” There’s a scene in which Nightingale tells Peter about how he used to snuck out to the woods with other boarding school boys to “swap comics and tucks.” What is a tuck?

White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) by Ilona Andrews

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 18 to 21, 2017

So this book.

It’s actually much better than the first one… but I kinda hated the first one, so that’s a very low bar to pass.

Good things first though, before I move onto the unsavory things.

Fast pacing, lots of action, interesting mix of sci-fi and fantasy, that comic-book feel from the first book is still here, and plenty of humor.

Imagine Kate Daniels in an alternate universe, one in which she had a normal, uneventful upbringing and has grown up to be a well-adjusted person who runs a private detective agency with some help from her family. Imagine Kate, but with parents, younger sisters, cousins, and a spunky grandmother who love her. That’s what I think this book is doing–imagining Kate in a world that’s more fun and with a lot less darkness.

Think of it as Kate without her past and burdan, running around Houston, having adventures, and saving people from megalomaniacs intent on destroying the world. Something like this should have appealed to me because I like Kate and I’m all for fun worlds, but somehow the execution doesn’t work here. Although I find this book much better overall than the first one, that’s not really an improvement because there’s this thing. I feel it hanging over every scene between the two leads, and it knocks all the fun right out. Maybe it’s just me though because loads of people seem to enjoy the writing just fine.

Another thing is the main character, Nevada Baylor, comes off as too young, and her gaggle of sisters and cousins are younger still, so you have extended periods in which the writing becomes too YA, filled with talks of high school, infatuation, dating, trends, social media, and the list goes on. This was too much for me, but you know, personal preference, your mileage may vary, and so on and so forth.

If any of that sounds mildly interesting, you might want to give this series a try.

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* * *

* * * * spoilers abound * * * *

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods

Rating: – – – – –
Date read: June 5 to July 15, 2017
Read count: 2

This one gets an honorary 3-star rating because I liked it enough the first time to finish it, but not enough the second time to finish it, not even on audio.

So… is it a DNF if I already read it once but couldn’t make it through a second time?

I still recall a lot from the main story arc, surprisingly. For a book that was just “all right,” it has stayed with me longer than other equally “all right” books. Maybe because the settings and roads traveled were familiar. Maybe it’s the way Neil Gaiman writes scenes, with lots of focus on visuals. It’s been years and I still recall with lots of clarity Shadow’s trip through Spring and that scene on the frozen lake.

But despite all of that, I couldn’t get through the reread. Well, not exactly “couldn’t.” More like wouldn’t, like “ain’t nobody got time for this” kind of thing.

I mean, I tried and there was effort, but there was a lot going on at the time–still going on–and I could have tried harder, sure. But. Lack of time. Summer. Dogs. Broiling heat. Deadlines. New projects. The destruction of the planet. Treason. Institutions dismantling right before our eyes. These things tend to get in the way, you know.

I did, however, finish the TV series which was pretty good–for summer entertainment, with some caveats–so there’s that at least. Just to sum it up, because this was the thing that surprised me the most, I liked Shadow and how he was portrayed. There’s a raw, simmering, subtly volatile quality to the character on screen that really drew me in, and I did not get a sense of that at all in the book. So good on the show for adding interesting dimensions to him.

I’ve been seeing people compare the book and the show a lot over the past few weeks, which they ought to, I suppose. But to me, doing the book-vs-show side-by-side is like comparing apples to those yellow spiky fruit things* at the farmers market. They’re both fruit, but distinctly different flavors and texture. I can’t really say whether people who like/dislike the book would like/dislike the show. Just something you gotta try.

The book is the apple and the show is the spiky fruit in this analogy. Both are fine it in their own ways. I, however, much prefer the weird fruit thing because it’s more interesting overall and not something you see every day unless you frequent the farmers market. The farmers market here is the combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and all those other streaming providers. They’re producing great work and I wish I had more time to enjoy them. If only there’s much less treason so we could all stream a whole series in peace… This month’s been a long year.

 

*called horned melons or desert pears, depending on the region your local supplier is from

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Witches of Lychford (Lychford, #1) by Paul Cornell

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 29 to June 7, 2017

Quaint and very pleasant with a touch of autumn chill, like a brisk stroll through the cemetery at sunset when it’s just starting to drizzle. Not exactly what I expected from books with the urban fantasy label, but this was a nice surprise.

If you like charming small-town stories with a cast of oddball, neighborly characters and more magic than magical realism, give this a try.

But by “neighborly,” I don’t mean friendly, although I’m aware that’s how most people will interpret it. What I mean is they’re more like my neighbors and others I grew up with–somewhat hostile and suspicious of people they don’t know, very straightforward, aren’t really aware of personal boundaries or overstepping them, but caring and hilarious once you get to know ’em.

The writing is contemporary fiction loaded with trivial everyday life things–gossip, relationships, falling outs, homecomings, etc etc–but along the side, there’s a heavy dose of magic and other-worldliness for those who could see it and command it.

The town itself is near the border that separates our world from the underworld, so the people here are used to strange things happening without much explanation. That’s just part of the life, along with the gossips and falling outs.

Of course the big bad that threatens most small towns is a corporate entity. Here, it’s a superstore that wants to build a franchise right on the border, which would destroy it and let all the evil into our world. So the good townsfolk must fend off this superstore to save their town. And a lot funny moments ensue.

The humor is what you’d expect to see from British authors–dry, deadpan, and pointed. Reminds me of The Gates by John Connolly, but with adult characters and adult problems. For those unfamiliar with John Connolly, imagine Terry Pratchett’s humor, but less manic and more evenly paced and with fewer details crammed in.

Out this way there was the lonely last pub, the Castle, which now had an angry chalkboard sign up that said “drinkers welcome” to indicate its dissatisfaction with other establishments’ fads like pub quizzes, bands, food, and, presumably, conversation.

[…]

To human beings it won’t look or feel like a war, it’ll be more like… one of those modernist paintings you lot do, if it melted. Inside all your brains. Forever.

[…]

Judith hated nostalgia. It was just the waiting room for death.

[…]

Judith realised, with horror, that they were heading over to talk to her, and couldn’t find, at a quick glance, anyone else she knew well enough to get into a conversation with. There were, just occasionally, drawbacks to being a nasty old bitch.

Judith is the embodiment of gtfo-my-lawn, and she is very free with her feelings. When I grow up, I hope to be that free.

A couple of years ago, I tried London Falling by Paul Cornell, but couldn’t get into it. It was more like the traditional procedural urban fantasy that I was used to, but I just could not get into the writing. It was too… cold and staccato, too much like a police procedural, and there was nothing about it that pulled me in, not even London itself. So I gave up and didn’t look back. I almost gave up on Paul Cornell altogether, but I’m really glad I didn’t. This book is a gem. So different from that other one in almost every way. Worlds apart even. I’m not sure I believe it’s from the same author…

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 15 to 20, 2017

This is an interesting police procedural with an interesting hook that you don’t find out until somewhat later in the story. Or at least I didn’t find out until it happened. That caught me of guard and, at the same time, pulled me further into the plot. Best way to get into this story, or any short form fiction, is to not know anything about it.

Since it’s so short there’s not much to say without giving the hook away, but I’ll try anyway.

Set in present time Chicago and it actually feels like Chicago and not, say, New York or some other generic urban sprawl. The writing is short, to the point, and what we come to expect from John Scalzi. He doesn’t mince words or beat a morally gray topic to death. He has a minimalist style that I like.

We’re introduced to Tony Valdez just as he’s about to enter the OR, not as a patient or doctor, but a dispatcher. He’s there as insurance, so to speak, to make sure everything goes “smoothly.” What he is and what his job entails is the hook.

Shortly after the operation, Tony finds out that a friend and colleague has gone missing, and he’s pressured by a detective to help her solve the case. She thinks the job has something to do with the his disappearance. The investigation reveals all the gray areas of what dispatchers do off the books and all the ways in which life and death could be just a game.

And I admit I’m hooked. I hope this is just the beginning and that Scalzi has long term plans because there’s still so much left to explore. Crime statistics, law enforcement, religion, politics, the tenuous definition of homicide in this new age of mortality–an endless trove of gray topics to take on. 

I’m not a fan of short form fiction, so this novella feels somewhat incomplete even though loose ends are tied up and most questions are answered. But if this becomes a procedural series and each book an episode, I could totally get behind that.