Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Place of Execution (by Val McDermid)

This is the audiobook I picked up right after reading her nonfiction Forensics. I think it was partly due to the audiobook format, and partly due to my expectations, but I found this disappointing. It has gotten amazing reviews everywhere so I am in the minority here. I will explain my feelings anyway.  (This review is slightly spoilery so if you think you might like this book, go read it instead of my review.  Just not on audiobook.)

This is divided into two halves. The first half is a crime and its investigation, the second half is 30 years later, when a woman is writing the story of the crime and some new truths are uncovered. First of all, the pace of that first half is glacial. The audiobook thing meant that I couldn't skim, and I think if I'd been able to skim over the endless descriptions of people smoking, or the pages where nothing happens, I would have enjoyed this more. I also knew there was going to be some kind of twist in the second half, and I wanted to  get to the payoff at the end, so that was frustrating.

Plus, Forensics made me think McDermid was going to get in depth into the forensic details of the crime, but as much as the detectives are supposedly "investigating," the few forensic clues that there are kind of seem to be ignored and aren't ever put together in a satisfying way. (There is never a plausible timeline presented for the crime, for example.) It makes sense at the end, because if anyone had put the clues together or paid attention to the plot holes earlier they would have figured out the true story. But I was desperately wishing for an intelligent investigator to show up and do some, like investigating, instead of smoking a million cigarettes while waiting for something to happen.

Did I enjoy the twist at the end? I did think it was interesting, although it strained credulity at points.  I would call it more satisfying than not.  So I don't exactly not recommend this, I just recommend, once again, you avoid the audio version. (The narrator was great though, for what it's worth.)

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Scrappy Little Nobody (by Anna Kendrick)

A quick read via my beloved Overdrive library app.  Funny, real, gossipy, very much in keeping with Kendrick's charming Twitter feed. I loved the behind-the-scenes views of awards shows and the like, and the reality of her life as a "movie star" not quite being an instant ticket to having it all figured out. It's hard to come out of this book not wanting Anna Kendrick to be your best friend.  Anna, call me!

(Oh, and apparently she was in a cult musical about a theater camp -- the movie is called Camp -- and clearly I am some kind of failure because I not already seen and fallen in love with this. I'll get on it immediately.)

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

More Business Trip Reads

This time, it was short trip to Los Angeles, but it did involve airports and flights, ergo, reading, ergo, here are my reviews:

Closed Casket (by Sophia Hannah)

Airplane fluff for sure. This is an "authorized by the estate of Agatha Christie" mystery with Hercule Poirot at the center.  I saw it in the airport bookstore and then checked to see if it was free via my library app. IT WAS. (Still not over it.) So it was easy to take a chance on, and a fun, breezy mystery. It doesn't approach classic Christie (obviously) and really reads more like really excellent Poirot fanfic (yes, it exists).  But I enjoyed it enough to download the other Hannah/Christie novel, The Monogram Murders (see below) for the flight back.

City of the Lost Monkey God (by Douglas Preston)

A non-fiction pick for my work book club. This is the story of the search for a lost city in Honduras, the titular city of the lost monkey god. The author's time spent at the site (on two occasions) was fairly brief and the story wouldn't really work chronologically, so the narrative was choppy as a result, lacking the  tension, depth, or pacing of Into Thin Air. (I immediately downloaded and reread Into Thin Air, one of my all-time favorite books to reread, as you may remember.) It's interesting nonetheless, if ultimately depressing, and I did learn a lot about Honduras and the inevitability of a global pandemic. So that was fun.

The Monogram Murders (by Sophia Hannah)

The other fake Agatha Christie, and equally fluffy and enjoyable. I thought this plot was way too complicated; the reveal didn't have a fun "aha" moment because I'd lost track of who was connected with whom and what, and there was a bit too much going on with the final denouement. But it was a fun library book I read on an airplane, so in that sense, it was perfect! I will definitely gobble up any other entries in this series.

Joy (by S. Kay)

An old online journal acquaintance posted about her novella in our Faebook group, and I noticed that it had been published by a micro-press (Maudlin House), which enabled me to check out the book, support a former journaler, and check off one of the categories of the Read Harder Challenge, all at the same time. This is an enjoyable little novella that reads like a prose poem, with anti-heroine Joy at the center of it all.  Texts, tweets, blog posts, poems, all play a part in this work. I would have enjoyed this if it was many times longer, as I loved Joy, but the small size makes it easy to digest, ponder, and re-read. Thumbs up!

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Fever Dream (by Samanta Schweblin)

I didn't participate in the Tournament of Books summer reading event, but I did pay attention to the final winner, which will automatically get a pass into next year's ToB. When it showed up on my library app* I grabbed it. Hooray, a head start!

Fever Dream is not an exact translation of the original title, but it's an excellent description of what this book is. A woman is in an unknown location, recounting a story in which something bad may or may not have happened to her child, and another child (who is talking her through the story) may or may not have had his soul moved out of his body. Also, this novella may or may not be (but probably is) an allegory for the real-life use in Argentina of a carcinogenic pesticide called glyphosate.

This is a novella, not a novel -- it really can be read in one sitting and I believe is fewer than 100 pages long. It reminded me a bit of Annihilation, in terms of the vague creeping horror.  As a mother to a small daughter, it was a tense experience; I had to keep reading to find out how things would turn out. I'm looking forward to the discussion of this during the Tournament of Books. If you don't mind experimental literature that reads like a prose poem of creeping dread, you may want to give it a go.

*After reading The To-Do List, I made a long to-do list. One of the items was "figure out how to borrow library books on my Kindle." Since the last time I'd tried it, Amazon has built an integration, so it means I can use the Overload app to reserve books via my local library, and then download them right from my Kindle app, which is how I read everything anyway. This is going to save me a fortune on books! I did have to stop by my local branch to renew my library card but it was super easy. That's my PSA for the day for fellow Kindle lovers.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime (by Val McDermid)

This was my latest audiobook, read by a female narrator who had a deep Scottish accent, presumably echoing McDermid's, and whose American accent was not bad but also not great. (Do we really sound like that?) So that was fairly amusing and added a layer of entertainment to the experience. 

I enjoyed the deep dive into forensic science, particularly the chapter on forensic psychology (which could have been even longer; forensic psychology is fascinating).  Some chapters were more compelling than others, some of the crimes were more compelling (or harrowing, or tragic) than others, but it was consistently interesting and a good selection for the "book about science" category of the Read Harder Challenge.

I've moved straight from this audiobook to one of McDermid's mysteries. I enjoyed her writing and she clearly knows her stuff, so I'm hoping there is more forensic goodness to be found in her fiction.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

IQ (by Joe Ide)

The second selection for the book group we started at work. The genre we chose for this round was mystery and this was the book I put in the hat. There's a lot of pressure when your blind recommendation gets chosen! Happily, I thought this was terrific; I hope my fellow clubbies agree.

Joe Ide grew up in South Central Los Angeles and loved Sherlock Holmes. So he's created a character, Isaiah Quintabe, or IQ, who is the South Central version of Sherlock.  The central case here involves a rapper who is afraid someone is trying to kill him, but there are side cases here and there as well, a backstory that unfolds throughout the book, and a nice sense of closure at the end while still setting up for a sequel.

I loved Isaiah (and by the end Dodgson -- his Watson -- as well). Such a likeable hero, a well-drawn setting, a fun mystery, a sprinkling of humor, and an emotional journey for the main character. If you like contemporary mysteries, I highly recommend this one and will be first in (virtual) line for the next one.

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Friday, September 01, 2017

The To-Do List (by Mike Gayle)

Mike Gayle writes a 1200-item to-do list and spends a year trying to check everything off.  You may have noticed how much I love lists -- daily, weekly, monthly to-dos, reading lists, life lists, short-term and long term lists.  So this was the book for me.

As soon as I got to the appendix (where he publishes the full list) I broke out a notebook and pen. I think I ended up with 125 new items to add to my various and sundry lists, and one of my items is "consolidate to-do lists."

I mean this was entertaining, funny, and well-written, but mostly it was inspirational and hit me right in the sweet spot. How much do I love a to-do list? So, so much.  I can't wait to start crossing stuff off!

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