Book Review – Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead as a Doornail

Author: Christine Harris

Format: Hardback

Published: 2005

 

When I pick up a Sookie Stackhouse novel, many time I feel like I’m putting on warm fuzzy bunny slippers.  There is a familiar comfort to the cadence and the flow of these books that I simply enjoy.  When I read Charlaine’s books I simply just sit back, enjoy the ride and maybe live a little vicariously through Sookie seeing as she gets to be around the types of beings I only get to dream of, vampires and werewolves and the like.

 

While I enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse books and they all have that familiar comfort this book felt a little outside of the norm.  I enjoyed the read and it was just as cozy as I described above but it was lacking at the same time.  In picking up one of these novels I’ve come to expect a good bit of mystery and intrigue, Sookie’s life to be in danger on more than one occasion and for there to be some rather sexy moments between Sookie and a supernatural male of choice.  Sadly this was not the case with the book. It had promise it had intrigue – Sookie’s life was in danger but not in such thrilling ways where I was on the edge of my seat.

 

Sookie also spent most of her time swinging from one even to the next trying to keep her head afloat and not really digging into any mysterious events or deaths even though there was a serial killer roaming around trying to kill shifters.  It was kind of clear at least to me who did the shooting long before Sookie even pieced any of it together and honestly the discovery of who did it was merely by chance.  Additionally the only sexy moment was when Sookie was getting her leg licked by a newly introduced shifter.  It sounds kinky and weird I admit but given the situation it was less kinky and more logical and a bit sexual.

 

Honestly this book in the series was akin to the second movie in a trilogy, lot of important information and filler but a bit lacking in the action.  I will admit it made a lot of sense for Sookie as a character to not get too romantically involved with anyone given everything that had happened in her life.  She had recently been through a lot of drama in the previous books and most people like Sookie would need a break and would sort of swing from event to event as it played in the book – so I can credit Charlene Harris for her use of character development in this book but it was still highly disappointing when you are expecting something a little more both romantically and mystery wise.  I am hoping the next book will pick back up with the romantic interludes and mysterious intrigue.  With that said I’ll have to give this book a 3 out of 5 pages – it is not worth skipping but you don’t want to expect to get much out of this book.

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Book Review – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Author: Thomas Sweterlitsch
Format: Paperback
Written: 2014

Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a truly haunting take on the near future, as it is one that strikes as not only bleak and disconnected, but also truly possible. It’s the story of John Dominic Blaxton, a poet who lost everything when an explosion destroyed the city of Pittsburgh, claiming the lives of millions, including his wife and unborn child. Yet John continues to live in Pittsburgh–emotionally, at least–through a fully immersive virtual reconstruction of the city called The Archive, which taps into a visitor’s memories and video records of the cities to recreate their lost city.

When he’s not reliving every recorded moment with his wife in an endless cycle of desperation and despair, Dominic works as an Archivist, investigating cold cases within the virtual Pittsburgh for insurance companies. However, his latest cold case involves the murder of a woman whose very existence is somehow being deleted from the Archive. Dominic’s obsession with uncovering the truth behind the woman’s fate takes him down a path that begins to blur the line between physical and virtual reality, as he digs deeper into the illusions and the remnant threads of his own sanity.

Sweterlitsch tells the story beautifully, using his own intimate knowledge of Pittsburgh to paint the city in such a grounded, intricate way that the reader easily finds themselves immersed in the Archive. His use of Dominic as a narrator, tapping into his grief and despair, and his persistent instability, adds the factors of an unreliable narrator to the mystery, leaving the reader at times questioning what is really missing from the Archive and what is truly just the delusions of Dominic’s detached obsession with solving the mystery of the lost girl.

This story also provides a great reflection of technology itself and how we use it today. The Archive serves not only as a great plot device but also as a mirror on our own dependence on digital interaction, the escapist mentality of digital culture, and our need to constantly relive the past. Sweterlitsch not only paints a detailed science fiction landscape, but does so while yearning for a more analog age, with real human interaction in a tangible world.

Overall, Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an immersive, thought provoking, and very fun read. I would give it four out of five stars, and would recommend fans of the science fiction or mystery genre give it a good read.

Book Review: Horton Halfpott

TITLE: Horton Halfpott
-or- The Fiendish Mystery of Smudgwick Manor
-or- The loosening of M’lady Luggertuck’s Corset
AUTHOR/Illustrator: Tom Angleberger
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2011

I first stumbled across Tom Angleburger as an author in person at the Southern Festival of Books. He was doing a presentation of another book (Origami Yoda) where he helped all the kids fold Emergency Yodas and called them all Larry. (He wouldn’t tell me why)
I was so taken by him that I bought a copy on the spot to have signed, and found out about this book in line. Too late to have him sign it if I ran and bought one for myself, so I told myself I’d read it later.

Later has clearly been a little late in coming.

The book starts with M’lady Luggertuck deciding to not lace her corset up quite so tight.
Apparently this is such an amazing thing that the shift ripples through the entire house and weird things start to happen as a result.
Horton Halfpott is the kitchen boy, assigned to perpetual dish duty (652 spoons one day alone!) in a house full of servants and opulence. He gets a pay of one penny a week, which is good for just about nothing, the least of which is helping his parents misfortune, so his family suffers away from him, dad needing medical care, and Horton hanging on because something is better than nothing, right?
This is a silly book – I’d put it in the same sort of type of writing as a Series of Unfortunate Events. In fact, one of my favorite paragraph-slash-ridiculous sentences:

Imagine how many plates, how many saucers, how many bowls, brandy snifters, butter trays, ice-cube mimbles, gin jiggers, melon ballers, salad tongs, salt cellars, teacups, teakettles, teapots, teaspoons, and tea strainers were used every day at the fancy Luggertuck table, where five-course meals were eaten three times a day, tea was served twice, and midnight snacks were offered at eleven, twelve, and one o’clock.

In the midst of M’Lady’s corset loosening, something strange starts to happen, and a detective is brought in who is pompous, arrogant, and totally useless. He does have some good lines in him, telling the stable boy once “Mr. Bump, you have about you the fragrance of equus poopus…” (horse manure) and offering him money to solve the case for him – discretely of course.

I’m not going to give it away, of course, but the case was solved, and this was the proper amount of silly for a reader of the target age of this (which is probably somewhere around ten). And the corset does, of course, get re-tightened.

I’m sorry I put it off for so long. This book deserves every bit of praise it gets. Angleberger once again proves that he’s awesome at his market. I hope he keeps writing for a lot of years.

Solidly, this book gets a 5 out of 5 pages.

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2016

Seanan McGuire was a Guest of Honor at a recent convention I was at*, so I requested a copy of Every Heart a Doorway before I left. (It arrived the *day* I left, but let’s not discuss that unless you want me to rant at you.) I had previously attempted to read Rosemary and Rue, the first of her October Daye books, but, well, it’s a me vs. First Person POV thing and I lost.

Every Heart a Doorway was different. Written in third person, it was also much thinner than I’d expected – I hadn’t realized that it was a novella. I’m a fast reader, but once I started it, I had it finished in a little over an hour (granted, some of that was because I couldn’t put it down).

Obviously, I enjoyed the book.

Every Heart a Doorway is a story about what happens to the children who have gone through and then have returned to our world. It’s centered around Nancy, who has recently returned from the Underworld and the Halls of the Dead. And it’s centered around Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the place where a former portal child has made a home for those to come after their adventures, to be in a place where they won’t be told they’re crazy or making it all up. A place where they all want, desperately, to remember their trips and to, if possible, return home.

(There is mention of a sister school, which helps those who want to forget. I hope we get a story set there as well.)

The first half of the story is the strongest, as Nancy arrives and begins, impossibly, to settle in. The second half is a murder mystery, but due to the short nature of the novella, it feels very rushed to me (as an avid mystery novel reader). I didn’t predict the murderer, but there are also very few clues to do so with.

The best things about the book are the characters, and the worlds that they came from. I love that Nancy is explicitly stated to be asexual, and that another character is trans. And while it comes up, both are minor plot points. They’re not the Defining Character Trait for these characters, and the point of the story isn’t discovering this about them.

I have hope that there will be another story (or novel, that would be exciting) set in this world. There are so many places that it could go, and so many other stories that could be told. A solid 4/5 pages.

 

*As a total aside, if you ever have the chance to go see her in a panel, GO. Hysterically funny, insightful, and a genuine pleasure to watch on a panel with other people.

Book Review – Brotherhood in Death

Title: Brotherhood in Death

Author: J.D. Robb

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2016

Another J.D. Robb book, another review. 😉 I apparently can’t stop myself. That said, this was a book that involved one of my favorite secondary characters in this series, so I was pretty pumped to read it.

The book starts with said favorite character, Dennis Mira, going across town to meet/confront his cousin, who is planning on selling a house that they co-own – a plan that Dennis is not on-board with. Instead of getting into it with his cousin, Dennis sees his cousin injured, gets hit over the head, and when he comes to, his cousin and attacker are gone.

Dennis calls Eve, and she must find out who would have hurt him, or his cousin. The secret lies in his cousin’s past, and answers will hurt everyone before she’s done finding them.

While Eve pegs the killer fairly early on, the story is still engaging as we try to figure out why and then how and where the next death will occur. And, continuing with the more recent books, we don’t get a laundry list of favorite side characters – the ones that are brought up all have a role to play – and the killer isn’t taunting us and we’re just waiting for them to get arrested, there’s actually uncertainty on our side as well. (This is also another case where we feel more for the killer than we do the victim, which is always a bit… sad.)

So, all-in-all, writing was what I expected, plot-wise, the story falls upper-middle range of the pack, so this book gets a solid 3/5.

Book Review – Clawed

Title: Clawed

Author: L.A. Kornestky

Format: Ebook

Year Published: 2015

I like mysteries and I like animal stories, so this series was right up my alley. Clawed is the third in the Gin and Tonic mystery series, starring Ginny Mallard and Teddy Tonica, and Ginny’s dog, Georgie, and Teddy’s non-pet cat, Penny. Together, they solve mysteries (or rather, Georgie and Penny allow their humans to think that they solve mysteries, but they know who the real detectives are).

This book takes Ginny and Teddy out of their usual Seattle milieu and puts them in Portland, where Ginny finds herself involved in a police investigation over a dead body that – unluckily – discovers.

The book, like the others in the series, has less of the “here’s a clue in this scene to help you figure out who the killer is,” which is, admittedly, my favorite type of mystery, so I won’t say that this series if my absolute “favorite” but I love the interactions between Ginny and Teddy, and the animal perspectives, where the animals can’t figure out how to communicate what they know to their humans. (And I giggled a lot at Georgie trying to get Penny on the other end of the computer.)

By the time the murderer is truly introduced, it was easy for me peg who it was (but then again, I read a lot of mysteries). Finding out why, and what else was going on, however, kept me reading.

All in all, a solid 3.5/5 stars.

Book Review: The Body Lovers by Mickey Spillane

Title: The Body Lovers

Author: Mickey Spillane

Format: Paperback, Signet Books

Published: 1967

bodylovers

When people talk about classic Private Eye writers, three usually bubble to the top.  It’s normally Dashiell Hammett for refining the classic ‘hard boiled’ detective, Raymond Chandler for bestowing upon the trench coated fedora wearing gumshoe the possibility of being a modern day knight, and then Mickey Spillane for giving a rough, balls to the wall, overtly violent edge to the PI character.  Of course, each has their signature character, Spillane’s being the tough as nails, very nearly psychopathic (according to some) Mike Hammer, ready to deliver death at a moment’s notice to those who deserve it.

‘The Body Lovers’ is the tenth Mike Hammer book in the series and a prime example of what I’ve said for sometime.  I think Mike Hammer gets a bum rap often from supposed experts in the Private Eye Fiction field and maybe even some fans.  Spillane’s Hammer is often, if not nearly always described as some sort of seething, angry monster walking on the edges of justice, ready to strike out at his own discretion with deadly violence against the depraved, be they threats against national security or near demons passing through humanity nearly unnoticed.  He is not seen as ever reaching the sophistication of sorts that Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe seems to be credited with from the first story forward, nor is he ever described as a multifaceted character, something that is normally always said about Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.

In ‘The Body Lovers’, Hammer happens onto a scared kid at a  construction site who has found a dead woman in a negligee.  Insistent to stay on the outside of this particular situation, Hammer ends up pulled in not only when links are drawn between this death and the alleged suicide of another woman previously, also found wearing a negligee, but also when a con Mike sent up the river sends him a message and hires him to find his sister to make sure she’s not the third victim.

What unfolds, once Mike is involved, is a case that involves evil at all stages of society, from foreign dignitaries to the rich upper crust of New York down into the bowels of Greenwich Village and even into the ghetto.  No one is immune from the darkness that seems to be engulfing these women, nor are they protected from the justice seeking Mike Hammer.

This is top of the line Spillane.  Every word is keyed to illicit the perfect reaction, the phrasing is top notch, and the characters are cut from the hardest asphalt any city has to offer.  Mike is on full display here, along with Velda and Pat Chambers.  But, be warned. If You’re reading this to find the unhinged, rather over the top Mike Hammer that you read in ‘I, The Jury’ or ‘One Lonely Night’, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Yes, Hammer has his savage moments in ‘The Body Lovers’, his the rules be damned way of dealing with things.  But that’s not the core of Hammer in this book, not at all.

And why should it be? I think Mickey Spillane is often underrated as an author, especially when compared to others in his field.  Spillane’s Hammer grew and developed with each book, sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically.  Spillane revealed facets to this dark diamond, and Mike often exceeded, but sometimes regressed to the character at his most primal.  To say that Mike Hammer remained the same throughout each book and what changed was the story around him, which several have insinuated, is unfair to both the author and the character, as well as the reader.

‘The Body Lovers’ puts a more methodical, a more detective like Mike Hammer on stage for all to see, a man who doesn’t have to prove how violent he can be or out of control his methods are, because we know that already.  The fact that Mike is the center of most of the news stories when he just stumbles across the body at the beginning of the book establishes that he is good copy, that he has a reputation.  And although that is a recurrent theme in the book, Spillane does not feel like he has to prove to us that Mike can only be that.  We see Mike work a case from the ground up, after spending a few pages trying to not even be involved.  Mike’s street wise intelligence shines through much more in this book than does his reliance on shooting his way out of things that so many people associate with the character.  ‘The Body Lovers’ is definitely Spillane at not only the top of his Mike Hammer game, but showing his chops as a true author with every single page.

‘The Body Lovers’ is an easy five out of five pages.  Not a missed beat anywhere between the covers.

It’s also a fully loaded six out of six bullets.  Spillane balances violence, crime solving, and characterization like the truly professional author he was, and in my opinion, this is what makes him one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century.

 

 

 

 

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