10 January 2017

Books: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic #2) By Patrick Weekes (2014)

“Who would have thought a book of naughty poems by elves could mean the difference between war and peace? But if stealing the precious volume will keep the Republic and the Empire from tearing out each other's throats, rogue soldier Isafesira de Lochenville - "Loch" to friends and foes alike - is willing to do the dishonest honors. With her motley crew of magic-makers, law-breakers, and a talking warhammer, she'll match wits and weapons with dutiful dwarves, mercenary knights, golems, daemons, an arrogant elf, and a sorcerous princess. But getting their hands on the prize - while keeping their heads attached to their necks - means Loch and company must battle their way from a booby-trapped museum to a monster-infested library, and from a temple full of furious monks to a speeding train besieged by assassins. And for what? Are a few pages of bawdy verse worth waging war over? Or does something far more sinister lurk between the lines?”

While I favored the first book in this series, The Palace Job, I do think The Prophecy Con does come out a better book. Perhaps, as with most books in this genre of late, the writer spends so much time world building that the plot, the characters motivations, and growth take a backseat to all the detailed explanations. With the second book, the writer is freer to explore the world they create, but also give us a better look into the main characters. However, while the heroes here are refreshingly diverse, most of the dialogue is in the form of quips and one-liners. What helps, though, is that the characters also have depth that can catch you by surprise, even the villains seem less two-dimensional. Yet there are times I began to wonder how unbelievably clever Loch and fellow team members seemed and there was a lot of times the book lived too closely to the corner of convenience and coincidence. And Weekes creates these fantastic set pieces –though the whole last act involving a card game is laborious. I mean it’s hard to present these scenes in novels, which is why to certain extent they're better suited for the TV or movie screen- but seems unable to stop himself from figuring out a clever, even logical way out of the situations –it’s again, mostly handled with jokes. 

So the books sheer number of things happening at the same time, the shifting point of view, is a bit of distraction. Yet, even as I say this, I still found the book workable as hybrid fantasy novel that also blends some high technology (I wouldn’t call it steampunk per se, but it does have elements of it) within it. The characters are fun, the jokes work (most of the time), and the pages are highly turn-able. It offers, as I noted, a boat load of diverse characters which makes this series not designed for readers of fantasy where everyone is white, male, and straight. 

Again, it’s clear that Weekes agenda is to offer something new within the well worn path that is fantasy.  It’s worthy of read, mostly because it does not offer the same story we’ve seen before, and it’s light, but can be deep as well. To pull that off means something to me.

02 January 2017

Books: Headless by Tristram Lowe (2016)

Before I begin, let me say I know the author and his wife very well. He did not give me this book –I paid for it myself. So I hope to give an honest take here:

“Being a photographer at a Tokyo newspaper is no walk in the park—unless you're Akio Tsukino and only get assigned to shoot parades and park festivals. All that changes when a serial killer starts chopping off heads in nearby Kofu. Akio maneuvers his way onto the assignment in order to prove himself and get closer to enigmatic staff writer Masami Sato. When the investigation takes a supernatural turn, the unlikely partners find themselves caught between solving the mystery and saving their own lives.”

While Headless starts out awkwardly –it’s a debut of a new author and has some rough edges- it eventually settles down become a competent thriller. The character of Akio is extremely annoying, however, a bit of a narcissist, and at times unlikeable. Still he has some enduring traits that fully don’t ruin the book for me. Meanwhile, Masami Sato is certainly a modern feminist struggling to be accepted in a man’s world. She is smart, sexy, and quite capable of getting her way when she needs to –even if it seems to kill her soul to do it.

I don’t think the book is a horror story or even a mystery, though both elements are present. It’s more falls under the urban fantasy genre, especially when we meet up with Lowe’s version of Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Miyahara –and where Mount Fuji seems to be this books version of the Hellmouth. 

Still, I enjoyed the book. It’s well paced and kept me turning the pages -I literally read it in a day- but I had hoped for more explanation of what supernatural themes are about and why they suddenly began to happen –if you’re going to suddenly have demons running around modern Tokyo, one thinks that there should be a reason for it other than a than the demon figured out how to escape Hell (shades of REAPER here). I mean, we do get a brief glimpse into some of it, but I’m a bit disappointed that Lowe never fully explored that aspect, as he spent way too much time dealing with Akio arrogance and libido. To be honest, I liked and wanted to spend more time with Masami’s thoughts than Akio –she’s clearly more interesting. So is Miyahara for that matter, as it’s hinted he appears to be something more than human as well. 

Perhaps will get more background information in the sequel?

01 January 2017

Books: Girl Waits With Gun By Amy Stewart (2015)

“Constance Kopp is a Brooklynite who'd moved to Wyckoff, New Jersey, due to some personal drama. There, one July summer day, she and her sisters are involved in an accident with wealthy silk manufacturer Henry Kaufman. After a terse exchange, Constance vowed to get the man to pay (what a surprise, that even in 1914, wealthy business men never paid their bills) for the damages. She would write to Kaufman several times, invoicing him for the repair work that would need to done to her family's mode of transportation, but when he ignores her, she sues. Instead of repayment, she starts getting threatening letters from Kaufman and his buddies, signed with things like "friends of HK." The letters were similar to those being sent by Black Handers, mobsters who threatened wealthy families in order to extract payment; eventually Kaufman's cohort also demanded money and threatened to kidnap Fleurette, Kopp's teenage sister, to sell her into "white slavery" (sex trafficking) in Chicago. When Kopp continued her refusal to drop the suit, Kaufman and his cronies began prowling around the Kopps' farmhouse at night, shooting at the building and windows.”

Girl Waits With Gun is based on the true story of Kopp, one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs (it does seem a bit too weird of a coincidence that one of the first female cops in America has that last name). Author Amy Stewart draws heavily from contemporary newspaper accounts, web sites like Ancestory.com, and the few living descendants of the sisters, to tell the story of how Constance became that sheriff’s deputy. 

Stewart, who owns Eureka Bookstore with her husband in that Northern, California region, was researching another book featuring a smuggler named Henry Kaufman when she stumbled upon the story of Constance, her sister Norma, and young Fleurette and their real life, year-long tussle with another Henry Kaufman, a wealthy silk manufacturer, who caused the accident. While the book is fiction, it’s rooted in the historical record and Stewart brings the Kopp sisters alive, with an engaging prose that highlights the age when America was still stuck in its parochial roots. 

The books vacillates between the fast-talking style of screwball comedies (though this book is serious, the humor comes from Fleurette who resembles a 1950s teenager) to the sisters struggles to maintain their farm, from the elements as well as Kaufman. It’s a fast read, well researched historical novel that obviously takes many liberties. But even if the dialogue between the sisters and everyone else is mostly made up (beyond what was printed in the newspaper, and they sensationalized it, just like cable news does today) it’s a enjoyable beginning to a trilogy of tales surrounding Constance Kopp.

NOTE: While this is posted on January 1st, I finished the book last night to complete 63 novels read over the year 2016.

28 December 2016

Reading Rainbow: Books Read in 2016

UPDATE:  Finished one more book for 63 total read books in 2016.

So as we are a few days from closing the door on 2016, I post my annual “Books Read in…” I’ve always wanted to read 52 books for 52 weeks but time, tide, and other things prevented me from doing it. Even when I started a new cycle this year, I did not set a goal of accomplishing this goal. In the end, it just sort of happened. I got through 62 books. It even amazes me.

I still love my sci-fi/fantasy novels, though read a few standard fiction titles.

Anyways, the elimination of cable probably helped. Since I've time-shifted what few TV shows I do watch to Netflix and Hulu, it's freed up some more hours to read. I’ve also stopped seeing movies, for the most part, which saved me money and time. Money, as always, was a factor as well. Even though I got a promotion at Goodwill to Team Lead, the money bump was not significant to get me out the hole I got myself into.

Plus, as always, when not reading, I was posting crap on my FB page about this years election.

But I don’t think I’ll repeat this feat in 2017. Part of it is because I don’t think we’ll all be around once Trump takes office on January 20. My dreams and nightmares are full of Death, with him and his Neo-Nazi cohorts leading the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

But at least I lived long enough to see my beloved Cubs win the World Series -which may be the only bright spot for me in this horrible year of loss. 

I do plan on re-reading the Harry Potter novels and Stephen King's Dark Tower series because it's been so long and I just want to do it. Still, I got five books already lined up and two awaiting arrival at the library, so I'm not sure when I'll begin those.  

The best book I read this year, hands down, was The Hike by Drew Magary. It's a great, very odd, very original read. The one the filled me with the most disappointment was The Buried Giant By Kazuo Ishiguro.

That is, if you were wondering...

01. Saturn Run By John Sandford & Ctein

02. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

03. Career of Evil By Robert Galbraith

04. Star Wars: Aftermath By Chuck Wendig

05. Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka

06. Star Wars: The Force Awakens By Alan Dean Foster

07. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards By Kristopher Jansma

08. The Buried Giant By Kazuo Ishiguro

09. Star Wars: The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

10. Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run By Greg Rucka

11. Star Wars: Moving Target By Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry

12. The Universe Versus Alex Woods By Gavin Extence

13. Midnight Riot By Ben Aaronovitch

14. Morning Star By Pierce Brown

15. Arcadia By Iain Pears

16. Medusa’s Web By Tim Powers

17. Why We Came To The City By Kristopher Jansma

18. Me Before You By Jojo Moyes

19. A Darker Shade of Magic By V.E. Schwab

20. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

21. The Pirates of Perilous by John DeChancie

22. A Gathering of Shadows By V.E. Schwab

23. The Crown Tower By Michael J. Sullivan

24. The Crown Conspiracy By Michael J. Sullivan

25. Uprooted By Naomi Novik

26. Boy’s Life By Robert McCammon

27. HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

28. Chicago By Brian Doyle

29. Nobody’s Fool By Richard Russo

30. Star Trek: Elusive Salvation By Dayton Ward

31. A Wrinkle in Time By Madeleine L’Engle

32. The Fireman By Joe Hill

33. Star Wars: Bloodline By Claudia Gray

34. Everybody’s Fool By Richard Russo

35. End of Watch By Stephen King
36. Britt-Marie Was Here By Fredrik Backman

37. Assassin’s Apprentice By Robin Hobb

38. Star Trek: Legacies: Captain to Captain by Greg Cox

39. Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt By Chuck Wendig

40. Dark Run By Mike Brooks

41. One Damned Thing After Another By Jodi Taylor

42. The Hike By Drew Magary

43. Stiletto By Daniel O’Malley 

44. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child By Jack Thorne, JK Rowling, John Tiffany

45. Star Trek: Legacies: Best Defense By David Mack

46. The Nix By Nathan Hill

47. Star Trek: Legacies: Purgatory’s Key By Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

48. Another Day, Another Dungeon by Greg Costikyan

49. The Tripods: The White Mountains By John Christopher

50. The Tripods: The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

51. The Tripods: The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

52. The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold & Larry Niven

53. The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

54. Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square by William Sutton

55. The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

56. The Handmaid’s Tale By Margaret Atwood

57. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

58. The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

59.  The Shadows of What Was Lost by James Islington

60. Moonglow By Michael Chabon

61.  Star Wars: Catalyst by James Luceno

62. Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

63. Girl Waits With Gun By Amy Stewart