Kelley Armstrong: City of the Lost

•August 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

26114566._UY200_City of the Lost: Casey Duncan #1
by Kelley Armstrong
(contemporary fiction, mystery/thriller)

About the book: it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. And there are twists, some of which you see coming and others which you don’t. It’s really hard to write this part of the review because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The “mystery” part was accurate, I feel. It kept me guessing all the way to the end. It wasn’t as much of a thriller as I expected it to be, though. Maybe that’s because I’m used to Kelley’s writing style, but I’m not sure. (For the record, I feel that her Otherworld book HAUNTED definitely fits the bill for the thriller category.)

I enjoyed getting to know these characters, and I look forward to book 2 when I will get to read more about them. There were some predictable moments with the character development, but I still enjoyed reading them even though I knew they were coming. I will admit that the main characters did a couple of stupid but convenient-for-the-plot things, but at least they weren’t unbelievable stupid given that they were done in anger. We all do some pretty dumb things when we’re mad. Their stupid things just happened to serve to further the plot.

The setting was also interesting, and it was a neat look at how someone could theoretically hide a town in the forest somewhere. I’ll be interested to see if we get more of the town’s background in the next book(s) or not – it could happen, but isn’t necessary.

What about the plot? Well, talking about it would be getting into spoilers. Let’s just say that, given a fiction novel, it was believable and easy to follow. It was well-paced, as I have come to expect from Kelley. My only problem with it was that the pacing definitely picked up toward the end (as you would want, of course) and I found the book nearly impossible to put down. And I guess that’s not really a “problem” problem. It’s the kind of not-really-a-complaint that you make while grinning ear to ear.

Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange

•August 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

orangeA Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess
(dystopian, classic fiction)

I finished this book, but it felt like an obligation to do so. I did not enjoy it. It feels like the kind of book you’re not supposed to enjoy, though. It felt like a morality tale. Yes, I suppose at this point it is a classic. And yes, there is enough action in the book that it’s readable for the modern reader, unlike some very slow paced older classics. However, the slang-talk which the narrator uses just grated on my nerves. (Yes, it’s more-or-less understandable and very consistent, once you get used to it. I just didn’t like it.) I also didn’t sympathize with the main character at all, and for me that’s a deal breaker when it comes to enjoying a book. If this one had been a longer book, or had taken me longer to finish, I probably would have returned it to the library unfinished.

So, the plot… there are three acts to this book. In the first one, we follow our narrator around as he (a then-fifteen-year-old boy) gets into trouble by causing all sorts of violence. He beats people up, rapes women (and girls closer to his age), and steals stuff, and gets away with almost all of it. Real likable kid, yeah? Then he gets caught, and Act Two is two years later, in prison. And he doesn’t get any more likable after that. Even the tortuous rehabilitation he undergoes (which felt to me like the reason the author was writing the story) didn’t endear him to me at all. Act Three was noteworthy in that it included the final chapter which was left out of the original American publication (and therefore also left out of the movie). It was interesting to read that and try to figure out why it was left out and why the author wanted it back in.

Is it worth reading? Well, that all depends. If you want to read it (as I did) because “it is a classic” and you want to experience it, then go for it. If you have watched the movie and want to see more of the world or see how the author wanted it to end, then yes, read the book. If you are looking for a fun read or a likable (even sympathetic) main character, however, skip this one.

Anne Canadeo: While My Pretty One Knits

•August 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

knitsWhile My Pretty One Knits: Black Sheep Knitting Mystery #1
by Anne Canadeo
(cozy mystery)

I will admit it: ever since I read my first of Maggie Sefton’s Knitting Mysteries, I have been a sucker for the style. I’ve been trying to find another series that captured my interest the way those early Knitting Mysteries did. (I will admit that Sefton’s series went on long enough that I got bored with them. But the first several – I think the first 7 or 8 – were books I enjoyed reading.) I had hoped that this series would be another like that. It might yet be, we’ll have to see. I may read the next one in the series too, and see what I think of it. This first one, however, I’m not sure about.

So, the basic, spoiler-free plot: a group of friends who met during a knitting class all meet at the yarn store owned by Maggie, one member of the group for a book signing and demonstration by a local girl who’s made it big and moved into the city. (Boston, I think, but it really could have been set anywhere. There was not a big sense of place in this book.) The start of the demo, however, is interrupted by news that the other local yarn shop owner – who considered Maggie her arch rival – has been killed. Police investigate, Maggie is among the suspects, and Lucy (another member of the knitting group and our main/POV character) is determined to help Maggie out because she knows Maggie is innocent.

One of the things that I liked best about this book was that Lucy managed to solve the mystery without too much illegal snooping about. Many cozy mysteries get a bit loose with what the average citizen would be able to do in order to solve the mystery. Lucy managed to solve this one with a bit of luck and some nosy gossip, but without any actual illegal activities, and that was refreshing. However, it was on the predictable side, even for a cozy mystery. I had my suspicions about who dunnit pretty early on, and the only thing that was lacking was the motive. Once a hidden piece of evidence was found, however, the rest clicked into place.

I mostly enjoyed the book, and found it a quick read. The proofing errors, though, were a bit jarring when I came across them. Things like verbs being in the wrong tense grate on my nerves. I know, I know, errors happen. I still don’t like them. I mentioned that the setting was nondescript – fortunately the characters were a bit more fleshed out. I am glad, though, that this was a library rental.

Oh, and about the yarn content of this book: unlike the LAST WOOL AND TESTAMENT which I reviewed earlier, there is plenty of knitting content in this book. Some of it feels real, too. They even mention intarsia. However, I’m glad that the bulk of the knitters in the group are relatively new knitters. None of them (even the teacher) felt experienced. And I must agree with some of the reviews I’ve read: the description of the yarn store and its contents felt like someone had done research about it, but not really talked to passionate knitters. The biggest mention about yarn was how “organic yarn is more expensive”. Wha? You want expensive, where’s the cashmere? Qiviut? Angora blends? Hand-dyed art yarns? So, yeah. This was a fun book, but when I want a knitting mystery, I will still (so far) stick to Maggie Sefton.

(If you have other recommendations for me, please pass them along!)

Molly MacRae: Last Wool and Testament

•August 5, 2016 • 1 Comment

wool.jpgLast Wool and Testament: Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery #1
by Molly MacRae
(cozy mystery, slight paranormal)

I know I started this book before because I remember the beginning, but I picked it up again since I couldn’t remember how it ended. And now, having finished it, I think I started it but never finished it the last time I got it out of the library. Nothing from the middle half of the book on seemed familiar.

This is a fun cozy mystery. However, don’t expect the yarn content to be anything but superficial. Yes, it’s the first in the “Haunted Yarn Shop” mystery series. But unlike some other fiber-oriented cozy mystery series, this book at least (I can’t vouch for the rest of the series) only uses the yarn shop as a setting. It’s still enjoyable, and the “haunted” part was certainly true (and fun). But don’t expect much in the way of yarn in this one.

As to the plot and characters… the plot was what you would expect from a cozy mystery: on the predictable side, with a bit of a twist thrown in. It was a decent-to-good plot for the genre, but it definitely falls into the cozy mystery sub-genre. The characters are the same. They are enjoyable, some more than others, and they behave as appropriate for the genre and setting. I can’t complain about them, because they are perfectly suited for the book. But… well, most cozy mysteries aren’t on my keeper shelf for good reason. I enjoy reading them, but the characters aren’t ones that I want to visit over and over again.

Should you read it? If you like cozy mysteries, sure. If you like ghosts and cozy mysteries and don’t mind yarn as a backdrop, then yes. If you’re looking for something deep, don’t pick this up expecting that. (Though anyone expecting a deep read from a cozy mystery is crazy.) I may or may not be continuing with the series. I have no objections to reading more, but it will be when I’m looking for something silly and fun. It seems that’s what this series is going to be.

Kevin Hearne: Staked

•July 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

61s9Za+blKL._SL300_.jpgStaked: Iron Druid Chronicles #8
by Kevin Hearne
narrated by Luke Daniels

I enjoyed this book, but I find myself hoping that the series ends soon. I still like the characters, but I’m ready for the series arc to be over. I would, in some ways, be happier if the Iron Druid Chronicles ended, and a new series took its place. I guess it’s selfish, but I want the series to finish while I’m still enjoying it.

As you can tell from the title, this book is essentially Druids vs. Vampires. And it’s mostly action, with only a few humorous moments. Fortunately, we do get sections with both wolfhounds being silly, but nothing near as silly as Oberon was in the first couple books. It was good to see some of the characters from early in the series return, but I won’t go into who in case you don’t want spoilers. There were sad moments too, but again I’m not spoiling that.

In general, I feel that this was a good installment in the series, but almost that it was a stepping stone to the endgame. Yes, it had a distinct book plot separate from the series plot. It was well written, has good characters, etc. But it still partly felt like something that had to be done to get us where we need to be for the final battles with Loki.

I really can’t say much of anything about the plot without getting into major spoilers, so I won’t. However, if you are reading this series mostly for the humor instead of the plot or character development, then savor the part with Nigel in Toronto at the beginning, because humor mostly comes in one-liners once the book gets going. There is a lot of plot and character development going on to fill the gaps, though. LOTS going on. I do enjoy the bits of Granuaile’s character development especially. But this is a darker book than many in the series, and not just because they’re fighting vampires at night.

Anyway, I still enjoy the books. And I especially enjoy the narration. Luke Daniels does a great job of keeping all of the characters distinct, and even manages to be understandable when he’s switching between accents. I am glad I started out with this series on Audible. It adds a lot to the enjoyment factor for me.

Marie Kondo: the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing

•July 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

download.jpgthe life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing
by Marie Kondo
(non-fiction, self-help)

I picked this book up from the library after seeing several references to the KonMari Method on Facebook and among the various Bullet Journal groups I follow. I know that it’s been around a while – the book was published in 2011 (though I think the original Japanese was published earlier) – but it’s only recently come to my attention. The premise sounds good: clean up your life by cleaning up your living space. And it’s Japanese: from what I’ve heard, Japanese homes tend to be smaller (sometimes MUCH smaller) than what Americans are used to. With less room, they have to have some trick of keeping everything organized, right? At least, that’s what I was thinking when I picked up the book.

And the truth to it? Well, while I was reading the book, I wasn’t visualizing Japanese living spaces unless Marie specifically described them. I was thinking about (American) homes I’d lived in or seen. I was thinking in terms of Western housing, and the method still (mostly) worked. There were some things that I have a harder time visualizing – for instance, unless it’s a walk-in closet, I don’t know that Western closets will fit everything she suggests storing there. But the way of choosing what to keep and what to discard, which is at the heart of the KonMari Method, will carry over across cultures.

“Does it spark joy?” is what you’re supposed to ask yourself when deciding what to keep. For some people, this doesn’t need any further elaboration. Other people will have lots of questions. Marie tries to cover all aspects of what this could mean, but there’s one category where I think she falls a little short. For me, I have things which don’t spark joy themselves, but which I use for things that make me happy. For instance: my mixing bowls. These are not designer bowls. Yes, I have seen some lovely mixing bowls, and they would probably make me happy to own them. Mine are not like that; they are simple metal mixing bowls. When it comes down to it, they’re just bowls. Useful but basic. However, they are easy to use and make cooking easier, and as such I enjoy my cooking more. Not because of the mixing bowls themselves, but because of their usefulness. I have read other reviews where the readers couldn’t make this leap, and they were complaining that some items were just items and didn’t need to “spark joy” – that joy wasn’t their purpose. In some respects I agree with them, but I think that by taking the implications along with what Marie actually wrote, we can get a better use out of the book.

(Random thought – what if your house itself doesn’t “spark joy”? Or your car? Those are a lot harder to discard and replace, but if I’m understanding the KonMari Method correctly, you’re supposed to discard everything that doesn’t spark joy. Hmm. Interesting thing to consider.)

So, that’s a bit of what I think of the method. What about the book itself?

There are times when it’s clear that the book was translated. Every now and then the word choice seems to be a little more suited to the Japanese then English language. However, in general it is a smooth translation and seems to maintain the author’s original intent. The writing is clear, and I found it to be a fast read. One of the main things which I had to keep reminding myself of was that in this case, “tidying” meant “decluttering.” Day-to-day cleaning wasn’t what was being discussed in this book. This isn’t the magic of vacuuming, but the magic of getting rid of unwanted belongings.

At times I did think there was a little (or a lot) more repetition than was necessary. I had to remind myself, however, that this is a self-help book, and some people need the content described in different ways in order to fully grasp it. Marie could have stuck to one example each, but that would not have been serving her audience well since some of her readers wouldn’t have connected to her examples and therefore would be unable to translate the KonMari Method into their lives. It got a bit annoying to me, but not so much that it stopped me from reading the book. (On the other hand – I had checked out both this book and Spark Joy from the library, and the repetition in this one made me return the second one unread.)

This is definitely worth picking up if you think you need help with getting your house in order, or if you want suggestions on a good way to keep your space tidy. It seems that the KonMari storage method will work quite well, though I’m guessing since I haven’t tried it yet. One word of warning: if you pick this up because someone else thinks you should, I don’t think it will be any use at all. As with most self-help books, it will only do you any good if you actually want it to.

Terry Pratchett: The Carpet People

•July 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment

17836100The Carpet People
by Terry Pratchett
(fantasy)

To start with, I didn’t even know this book existed until I started looking up debut novels by popular authors for a reading challenge. I figured I’d get to re-read the first Discworld book or something. Instead, I found that Sir Terry published his first novel at the age of seventeen and it had nothing to do with Discworld. So of course I had to read it, if for no other reason than to see how his writing style evolved.

After I read the book, I read a few reviews of it, and was a bit surprised by some of them. They complain that the book feels like someone trying to copy Pratchett’s style, except that it’s actually him. Well, duh. Did you not see the publication date, or the note in the introduction that says he was seventeen when it was published? He *was* trying to copy his style. He was trying to figure out exactly what that style was, I suspect. And yes, the version I read was not the first edition, so it had been revised a bit by the author later in life, once he’d figured out his writing style.

Anyway, about The Carpet People: it is an amusing book, as you would expect. It has Pratchett’s typical puns, and though they may not be quite the same as the Discworld puns, they are still enjoyable. I got an impression that there were more puns that I wasn’t aware of, due either to American vs. British pronunciation or due to contextual references that we don’t usually get on this side of the pond. This didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story, however. It was still a quick, fun read. (I read the ebook version, and have no idea how long the book would be in paper format.)

I enjoyed trying to figure out the references to human objects. Sometimes it was easier than others. “Achairleg”, for instance, was an easy one. Others were more difficult – and I’m not going to describe them here, in case you want to read the book yourself. It’s certainly worth checking out, and half the fun is in the discovery.

The illustrations included are also a lot of fun. They were drawn by Pratchett at the same time the book was written. Very silly drawings, and they did add to the story. Speaking of adding to – the ebook version I read also had the very first published appearance of the Carpet People at the back, after the story was over. It was published in serial form, and while it’s not the same story, it has the same character names and basic ideas. Even as it was fun to see how Pratchett’s style evolved from The Carpet People to Discworld, it was also fun to see how the Carpet People themselves evolved.

So, yes: this book is worth checking out. Granted, I think you will enjoy it most if you read it as what it is: the debut novel of a very popular and prolific author, written when he was a teenager. But if you enjoy Pratchett’s style at all, I do think you will enjoy this story.

 
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