The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss ★★★★

The Many Pop-Geek References of Dahlia Moss

This book is a cute fun romp. I feel like it’s the perfect mix of Phryne Fisher and Ready Player One, a mystery series with a heavy theme of geekery and a definite sense of time and place. It’s as if someone took Sharyn McCrumb’s Bimbos of the Death Sun and updated it to match geek culture today (and removed most of the worst awkwardly sexist bits). If none of those references made any sense, then just know that its a light hearted mystery featuring a post-college woman who appreciates a good video game and is trying to find her way in the world.

The book is very full of geeky video game references, and I feel is sort of constantly walking the line of pandering to its audience. But somehow it didn’t irritate me in the same way that Ready Player One did. Perhaps it’s Dahlia’s constant self-deprecation. Perhaps it’s that the author does it with a nod and a wink. Perhaps it’s just me and my fondness for sassy protagonists a la Buffy and Veronica Mars and all the rest. Regardless, it is definitely a book with a certain attitude who know’s its audience.

Dahlia Moss does not have a job, or a boyfriend, or a plan. She does have a wacky roommate, a penchant for video games of all descriptions, and around $10. And once upon a time, she spent about a week as a receptionist for a detective agency. When one of her roommate’s even wackier friends misconstrues this as actual detecting experience and offers her $1000 to retrieve a stolen weapon in an MMORPG game, she figures why not take the easy cash? When her erstwhile client ends up dead, stabbed by a real-life replica of the digital weapon, things get a bit more interesting…

The author chose to follow the time honored tradition of all murder mystery writers. It’s never the first person you think it is, and the Least Likely Suspect rises up to catch you from behind. But that doesn’t make the story any less fun to read.

All the characters in this book are fully realized slight exaggerations of someone you probably already know. You can’t help but say to yourself “yep, I know someone just like that.” Are they real people, with real problems, messy and disjointed and confused? No. But they are fun, and lucky, and plucky, and adventurous caricatures of people you like.

The best part of this book? There’s already one sequel, and another on the way to be released in January. I fully expect them to be much like the first, and if the author continues to write another 10 books that follow the exact pattern of this one I’ll be more than satisfied. There is nothing wrong with potato chip books that fill you up in just the right way, but you always want just one more.

Of course, I’m already waiting for the announcement that this series being turned into a tv show. And if someone picks it up and does it the right way, I think it’d be a huge success. I’d certainly watch it. This series has emerged in the right time and place, and I don’t see why it wont end up being the next popular hit.

Updraft ★★★★★

This book was pressed into my hands by a coworker, who swore it was amazing. In case the 5 star rating didn’t make it clear, she was right.

This book grabbed me right out of the gate. I started it one evening after work, and didn’t come up for air until after 1am. The world in which its set is unique, and complex, and fascinating. I labeled it as “young-adult” because the main character is a girl rising into adulthood, trying to figure out the world around her, and because I would have loved this book as a teen. That said, I love it now, as an adult. This book is in no way simple, or childish, it merely could speak to a very broad audience.

There is something absolutely intriguing about the world in which Kirit lives. Society is a bit broken, damaged, and disconnected. People live in organically growing bone-like towers, in townships high above the clouds. In fact, solid ground isn’t something anyone has ever touched, or even remembered. Fran Wilde is so brilliant at making this notable and different and immersive to the reader, but the characters themselves don’t note it at all. Why would they? It’s not the world they live in, there’s no reason for them to comment on it.

People in this world travel with mechanical wings. Passing the tests to earn the right to fly further abroad, between towers, is a transition into adulthood. They live in fear of invisible monsters, Skymouthes, who travel the skies swallowing citizens. Their society has a long memory of tragic pasts, and live under pretty harsh rules to stay “safe,” follow the laws, and protect the city. Tradition is everything.

There’s a pretty heavy element of classism in this society, the higher you live in your tower, the more important you are. The organic bone towers slowly grow, and as they do the lower apartments get smaller and smaller. In addition, people merely toss their refuse out into the air, so the lower you are the more trash is effectively thrown on your head. People progress by moving into new levels that appear very rarely at the top of the tower, and so lower levels are abandoned as they get too small and dirty. A tower also gains benefits by being closer to the center of the “city.” If your tower is deemed worthy, it might earn a bridge connecting it to a nearby tower, thus increasing trade, communication and travel.

Kirit’s mother is a trader: a lofty role (haha, I’m so funny) for someone who delivers goods and makes deals between towers all across the city. Its a dangerous job to fly such distances, but a glamorous one, for if a trader is good at barter, they will increase the wealth and the luxuries of their tower. Kirit and Ezarit recently gained the highest level in their tower. Kirit’s father disappeared many years ago, and so they were labeled as an unlucky family (the worst of epithets) and considered “lower level.” But Ezarit traveled to the center of the city, the Spire, and “made a deal” to earn her and her daughter the right to live in the highest level. And then, of course, everything changed…

Like I said, this book grabbed me, and didn’t let me go. The characters are compelling and real, the world is so different and creative, the pacing is perfect, the themes feel “right.” And best of all? No love triangles. See, young adult books without love triangles are out there, and hopefully they’re changing the market.

A final note: The copy I borrowed from friend actually had a completely different cover, but poking around on goodreads led me to this amazing cover art for what must be the 2nd edition of the book that hasn’t come out yet. Not that the other cover was bad, but this one actually feels like art. The water color effects, the feeling of “lift,” the tower coming out of the fog, and yes, the main character is not white! She’s gorgeous, she’s powerful, perched about to fly!

This book is excellent! Please read it.

The Gullwing Odyssey ★★★★★

This book review has been waiting for me for a long time. I promised it as part of a birthday present, oh, 8 months ago or so. Well, finally, here we are.

This book was a riot. I actually listened to it on audio book, which I think really made the characters for me. Nominally it is a (young adult?) humor fantasy novel following the adventures of Marco Gullwing. He is a messenger boy, who in the course of a mission accidentally boards the wrong boat and ends up in places doing things he never expected. Its a classic coming of age tale as Marco really starts out as a bit of an ass, but starts coming into his own through various trials and tribulations.

I would call humor the main genre this book fits into. There’s also magic, and dragon people, hence the fantasy. And I assume it is mostly aimed at a young adult audience, as most books with an adolescent main character are, but I waver on that, as the sense of humor is definitely adult. The word-play is fantastic, the satire is delicious, and farce of it all is definitely fun for adults too.

All in all, this book really reminds me of the style of James Branch Cabell, an author in the 1920s who is best known for Jurgen, one of a series of comedy-parody-fantasy-romance novels. Except that Jurgen is chock full of awkward sexism and racism which we try to excuse by saying it is “a product of its time,” but still certainly makes it harder to appreciate in today’s world.

I would equally call The Gullwing Odyssey a product of its time, but in a positive light. This book tackles many of the same problems we face today, sexism, racism and fanatic religion, but is able to do it all with a laugh and a spin because of the overwhelmingly silly and farcical setting. The Gullwing Odyssey has a pretty fantastic female character in Dria, the young dragon princess who is forthright, intelligent, well spoken, and occasionally awkward, young, and normal. Not to mention the pirate queen Maria Giraldinha de Inez, Captain of Far-Reach, Owner-Operator of the Three Skull Privateer Group, Limited Liability Professional Corporation. The two species of humans and dragons definitely have some communication issues and species assumptions to work out. And the character of Barclay, the fanatical Knight, bearer of the word, bigoted and overbearingly righteous, speaks for himself.

As you can imagine, all the characters in the Gullwing Odyssey are parodies of themselves. And yet, the exaggerated characteristics don’t make them any less enjoyable to read about, or imagine in your head. Quite the reverse really. As I said, I listened to this book in audio form, and the narration was just perfect. (Full disclosure, the narrator is actually my dad. So I might be a little biased.) But he does all the voices. And if there’s one thing that makes an exaggerated character even better, its an exaggerated silly accent voice. Oh yes. You can even hear a sample on the audible page, check this out.

See what I mean? The characters come alive in your head, you can practically see the over-the-top costumes they’re wearing as they stride across the back of your eyelids in a vivid colorful world full of snarky dragon princesses, furious pirate queens, and slacker messenger boys.

I would heartily recommend The Gullwing Odyssey to anyone looking for a fun, charming, easy read.

Death Comes To Pemberly ★★

Okay, so I thought I’d hate this book. I decided to read it because I actually did watch the TV series remake. Which I also thought I’d hate, and then actually ended up liking. And then I realized it was written by PD James, who is an actual mystery writer, not just someone who managed to get horrible fanfiction published. So then I thought I might love this book.

I ended up more more in the middle. I’m honestly not sure if I like it more than the show or not, which is a pretty scandalous thing for me to say. The show was super dramatized, as one would expect. It was not subtle. But it wasn’t horrible either, and it had pretty costumes, and the acting was decent. I really enjoyed how they portrayed the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth, I could imagine both of them growing into those people. I also really liked the interactions between Lydia and Wickham, it made sense for them. The characters flowed comfortably from the book into this future. I thought the mystery of it all was glossed over too easily, and a lot of the actions were too dramatized, but thats what I was looking forward to in the book.

Instead, well, I hesitate to call the book a mystery at all. Sure, I guy died, and by the end of it all they figured out what happened. But well, no one was really looking to try to find out what happened. The great reveal moment came from a non-character, and no one actually investigated at all. A letter just magically appears explaining All. That was very unsatisfying.

Also, there were almost NO interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth, or Lydia and Wickham. There was no character development. There was no insight into the intervening years at Pemberly, or anywhere. To say that there was less annoying drama than the TV show is technically a true statement, but a bit unfair. There was nothing there. No characters to feel involved with at all. Elizabeth was barely a character at all.

To be perfectly honest, I felt a bit cheated by it all. I wanted the book to have more detail than the show, and I feel like I actually got less. To add to that, the book didn’t actually do anything offensive or annoying, so I can’t even enjoy hating it! It’s a fast easy unoffensive vaguely interesting read. It was alright. That’s all I can say.

Outlander ★

I must say, I have never been so close to rage-quitting a book halfway through since I read The Courtship of Princess Leia. As I write this now, I’m only halfway through it, and I think the only reason I’m going to keep reading it is to find more things I can hate about it.

People have been recommending The Outlander series to me for many many years, and I’d just never bothered to pick them up. Well, I was out of things to read and figured it was about time I do so, and yes, I heard there was a TV series and I wanted to be a book-snob when I watched it. I don’t know how, but somehow I got the impression that the series was, well, weirder. Darker. Stranger. That it was about people who get lost in the cracks, lost in time, yes, but in the dark weird way of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or Charles deLint novels. I thought the characters would be the outliers to society, people who are foreign wherever they go, who fit nowhere, and so created a land where only the strange was normal. You know…. London Below. Where did I get this impression? I honestly have no idea. Maybe I’m thinking of an entirely different series, and this one just fell into my lap instead.

Anyways, what I was not expecting was a harlequin romance with a lot of extra words and some real history written in as if to make me take it seriously. Even then, I probably would have been okay with it. I’m a big fan of saying as long as a book is entertaining to me, and enjoyable to read, I’ll call it a good book. I don’t necessarily need a deep philosophical message, or a darkly gritty cast of characters, or a unique landscape, or even any originality at all. I can be a big fan of trashy romance novels. I read, and even sort of enjoyed Twilight. That’s right, I’m saying it out loud. She lost me with the later sequels, and I’m not saying its a healthy story for teens or that it should get the attention it’s gotten. But I enjoyed parts of it, and it was not as offensive to me as this book.

Something about this story so far just sets my teeth on edge. I’m only halfway through it, and I had to stop to express my rage while its still this potent. Right, so the main character is Claire. She was living in 1945 with the husband she’d just reconnected with after WWII (he was a soldier, she was a nurse) when wham bam she falls through a time-hole in Scotland and is taken back 200 years.

Where she generally makes trouble by not acting correctly for a woman of the time, and being a mystery in a politically awkward time where people hate mysteries. She finds out that her husband’s ancestor was pretty much an evil dick, and makes friends with a dashingly sexy scotsman who has his own dubious history and dramatic reasons he wants to take revenge on said husband’s ancestor. Whoops, under some very contrived circumstances she is suddenly compelled to marry this sexy scotsman she is so attracted to, to save her own life, of course, yes…. Right, I was totally with you up until that moment. Unbelievably contrived and classic romance novel, sure. Still, I can envision some great costumes, and there’s some fun sex scenes. Sure, the sex scenes make me uncomfortable, because, you know, SHE’S STILL MARRIED TO HER HUSBAND AND ALL. And she dithers, constantly, about oh she misses Frank (husband) but something keeps drawing her to Jamie. His animal magnetism. And, well, she couldn’t NOT have sex with him, they NEED to consummate the marriage or it won’t count and she’ll still be in danger!

But then, of course, given the first time she finds herself alone (really, the FIRST time, in the last three months, that she finds herself alone?) she realizes she can run back to the stone circle where she came through the weird time portal. So off she goes…. and gets captured by the English (and the evil ancestor of her husband). Where he takes her to his office, tries to find out who she’s spying for, and then proceeds to nearly rape her. When (drumroll please) the husband arrives to rescue her! Yipee! Whatever, I’m not entirely enjoying it, mostly because I was expecting something completely different, but it hasn’t lost me yet. My expectations don’t change what’s written, I just have to be in the mood for a romance, so I’ll read it as if I was…

Until of course, the new sexy scotsman husband takes her back to safety and proceeds to beat her. Because its good for her. And she needs to learn the consequences to her actions. Because as her husband its his duty to teach her to right her wrongs, and his men and the soldiers they’re traveling with expect it.

Um, excuse me, what? Oh, she’s angry that he beat her so badly that she couldn’t sit down last night, but then he tells her a story about how his parents beat him when he was a child, and it was very beneficial and helped him learn. And she forgives him, after all, she DID act a bit rashly (by running away from a marriage she was forced into) and she DOES need to think about consequences (like how it made HIM feel to watch her being nearly raped). So yes, she forgive him, for beating her. And then he says, “You should be grateful I went easy on you. I enjoyed beating you so much, I really wanted to have sex with you afterwards. You should be glad I didn’t demand sex from you right then as my husbandly right.”

And she says “Oh, I love you! But if you ever beat me again I will cut your balls off.”

At which point he swears upon his dagger that he will ever be loyal to her, and never beat her again in rebellion or anger (note that he can still totally beat her again if its for her own good), and will she please have sex with him now?

And this is where I stopped reading, so enraged that I needed to get my thoughts down on paper and express my disappointment and hatred RIGHT NOW.

I will keep reading, at least to the end of this book, if not the rest of the series, on the bright side because I want to know if it gets better. After all, so very many people recommended it to me. And on the dark side, because I want to keep finding things to hate about this book.

So far though, I’m mostly curious that the internet has not raged about this book before now. I can’t count the number of hate-filled posts have passed through my tumblr about everything from Twilight, to Frozen, to con girls and costumes and all the rest. And no one has raged out about Outlander before me? Is it just because I wasn’t expecting this and everyone else just already knew about it?

The Shambling Guide to NY ★★★

The Shambling Guide to Female Characterization…

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was definitely one of those books that just by changing one or two things it could have been FANTASTIC. The fresh look at zombies and vampires and fantasy creatures in a modern urban setting was nice. This is no True Blood, or Twilight, or even Charles DeLint, it is definitely its own thing, and I loved that unique view. I loved the concept, a human woman writing a travel guide for unnatural creatures visiting New York, awesome. It had a good sense of humor, definitely some silly moments, some witty lines. I understand that its supposed to be a fluff book, and I wasn’t looking for anything too serious.


But… I got so sick of plot twists that entirely revolved around the romantic history and sex life of the main character. Really? I mean REALLY?! She’s supposed to be a strong intelligent driven woman, so why is it always about the MEN in her life???

Why is it always about the fact that she slept with her last boss who was actually married? Why is her coworker a super sexy incubus who somehow talks her into going to a bdsm sex club and nearly having sex with her in front of a crowd. (Which, of course, she doesn’t protest at the time, but gets pissed about later). And of course, her next door neighbor just HAPPENS to be a super sexy knight in shining armor, employed by Public Works, the secret police force of the unnatural world. And OF COURSE the big evil of the climax of the book just HAPPENS to be her ex-boyfriend’s wife, who is a voodoo queen coming to take over New York City, and also has a personal vendetta agains the main character. I mean, really?!

That just pissed me off no end. The villain of the book is the wife of the man the main character slept with. Think about what that says for a moment. And, by the way, the married guy in question isn’t portrayed as evil, or a true shithead, just a kind of weak, icky womanizer. When the main character runs into him again, not only does she NOT kick him in the balls, or at least punch him in the nose, she saves his life. Twice. I’m not saying he deserved to die, and good for her taking the moral high ground. But she also doesn’t even TELL HIM HE’S A SHIT HEAD FOR LYING TO HER AND CHEATING ON HIS WIFE. Neither woman knew about the other, the guy is the one who’s really a freakin’ jerk AND YET its the two women who end up battling each other with constructs in central park. I’m not saying every woman who’s ever been cheated on by her husband is automatically a good person, but COME ON. That just left a nasty taste in my mouth. Especially since every other plot device was also SOMEHOW related to the main character’s sex life and the fact she slept with her last boss who happened to be married. Ick.

But enough about that. One of the other things I really liked about this book is that the author is local. Not in a super flattering light, but its still mentioned. And that makes me smile, because I love where I live, and I love that interesting people who are succeeding at their dreams are living here too.

While this book definitely had things I didn’t like about it, it had enough things I did like about it that I will continue to read works by this author. I want to support local authors, but also because I think the flaws that so bothered me are somewhat from her being such a new author. This is apparently her first largely published book, I’m excited to see where she goes. Hopefully she’ll find her strengths in her humor, and her fun new look at urban fantasy, and NOT in her sense of “romance” or dependence on male characters as plot points.

The Fantastic Flying Books

This was a very minor character in a short film and children’s book entitled “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” The trickiest part will be getting floating books to look awesome. Luckily I’ll have help.

I’m meeting a friend to help finish the flying books today. I designed the fabric myself, and printed it on spoonflower’s cotton sateen. I call it “Lorem Ipsum” … because I am a dork. You can see the fabric on spoonflower here: Lorem Ipsum Fabric.

With a purchased shirt, and pretty basic shoes, it’s one of the laziest costumes I’ve done in awhile. But if I get the flying books just right, that will make aaaaaaaall the difference.

Also, evidently I’ve been raised on too many princess movies, and believe there is nothing more adorable than a bow in the back. ❤

The Rivers of London ★★★

Midnight Riot(US) or The Rivers of London(UK): A Book of Two Misleading Titles

Before I even opened it, this book had a pretty conflicting set of first impressions. In the negative column: 1. A quote by Charlaine Harris appears on the front cover. Yes, I’ve read most of the Sookie Stackhouse series, but that doesn’t mean I trust her taste in literature. Lets just say that its not a ringing endorsement. And 2. It was described to me as similar to the Harry Dresden series. I very much did not like that series.

However, to balance those facts… Positives: 1. A quote by Peter F. Hamilton appears on the back cover. I am much more likely to trust his opinion on books. 2. It may be just a repeat of the Dresden Files, but this one is set in London. Its true, London is almost always a more interesting setting for a mystery than some random American city. (I think Harry Dresden might have been Chicago, but I would also believe New York. If I can’t even remember, that tells you something about how well the setting was written…) 3. It was suggested to me on my blog. That doesn’t happen often enough, and it still makes me happy and excited when it does. I probably never would have come across this book without intervention on the internet, and in the end I very much enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was suggested to me.

Right, so, those were my thoughts as I cracked open this book. It is the story of Peter Grant, a recent graduate of London’s Metropolitan Police Academy. He wants to be a detective, but his superior thinks he is an ideal candidate for the desk job side of the force. Luckily, he sees a ghost who claims to have been the only witness to a violent murder, and he ends up being apprenticed to an old (who knows how old?) detective (Chief Inspector Nightingale) who is part of a secret agreement to use magic to keep the Queens Peace within the city’s supernatural forces. They proceed to solve a series of murders that seem to have been committed by an enraged ghost.

The book still has some of the same flaws I find unappealing about the Dresden files. First of all, it is written in first person perspective. I really don’t like first person, it’s extremely difficult to do well. The main character always comes off as self-involved and shallow. I always wish I could be reading the thoughts and impressions of some more interesting side character instead. In this case specifically (though not as badly as in the Harry Dresden series), the voice of the writing is so unsubtly male that I find it (unsurprisingly, I suppose) hard to identify with the main character. There are some authors who I’d never be able to guess their gender without looking at their name, and then there are some authors who have an equally female voice. And yes, sometimes that annoys me just as much as the male authors. Whichever way it goes, heavily gendered writing usually makes characters of the opposite gender feel flat and stereotyped. Peter is a nice, competent man, who is just awkward enough to be “adorable” to his coworkers and female friends. Most of whom he has a passive crush on, and would sleep with given the chance. In fact, that applies to just about any female he meets, whether that be his fellow constable Leslie, or a supernatural girl who happens to be a personification of a river “Beverly Brook.” (Pun much?)

One thing I really did like about this novel was the way Aaronovitch created his magic. Which is saying something, because that is usually what turns me off of books in the “urban fantasy” genre. Magic is hard to blend with the modern world: is it just a form of science we don’t understand, or is it the anti-science, powered by ritual and belief? Both of those choices come with solid stereotypes and giant plot-holes. And this is just a personal pet peeve, but I don’t understand why everyone uses Latin as the go-to language for magic. They try to say that magic is old old old, and so they name the oldest language they can think of. Latin? Really? No one says Greek, or Hebrew, or ancient Egyptian? Mandarin? Sumarian? Anything?

The magic in this series seems to have bee mostly developed during the Baroque Era, and that sort of birth of the golden age of science. In fact one of the main books used by Peter is Sir Isaac Newton’s secret second book on the principles of magic. (I guess that sort of justifies the use of Latin in this case, any sort of scholastic works of that time were based in Latin. But I still grate my teeth.) His teacher Nightingale seems to be more interested in the history and tradition of magic, than in the why and how of it. But that fits his character as a who-knows-how-old gentleman who was definitely alive in the Victorian era and doesn’t own a cellphone. Even given its mysterious and unexplained roots (and the apathy of his teacher), Peter Grant does not take the use of magic for granted. He has no idea how it works in our world driven by science, but at least he is curious. He develops tests (they even vaguely follow the scientific method) to better understand the effect of magic on technology. Which, by the way, is not good. Magic seems to negatively affect most higher technologies we use today, and Peter ruins several cell phones figuring this out.

I like that this magic has several rather important flaws built into it. It’s not a catch-all problem solver; it’s not as easy as say this word and no lock will stop you, say that word and you instantly find the one important clue, memorize enough special words and you can rule the world. It is difficult and time consuming to train your brain to appropriately use magic, and spells have limited uses that build on each other. Nightingale tells Peter it will take about 10 years to graduate beyond apprenticeship. And if someone is exposed to more magic than their brain can handle, the inside of their head turns to mush.

Also not following the usual cliches are the supernatural beings that Peter runs into. There are vampires, but they’re not sexy blood sucking cults. (*cough Dresden Files, and a billion other urban fantasies cough*). We don’t have werewolves yet, but I’ll be interested in seeing how Aaronovitch makes them different. (Though the second book is titled “Moon over Soho” and if that’s a blatant werewolf reference I might get annoyed.)

What we do have are the personifications of localities: Mother and Father Thames, and their children the various tributaries and branchings of the rivers of London. (Evidently the UK version of the novel is titled “The Rivers of London,” which has a much prettier ring to it, but has less to do with the full plot of the book. Though now that I think about it the midnight riot isn’t exactly the plot of the book either, but is closer, I guess… However, the rivers are definitely my favorite side-plot.) I like the characterizations of the rivers, and how they have their own family drama they’re dealing with. And if there are personifications of the rivers and sewers of London, what about the old historical buildings? That would be interesting. Do each of the outlying villages and suburbs have their own protector? Perhaps someday we will meet the goddess of London, herself?

All in all, I can’t call this book an enthralling masterpiece of fiction, but I’ll be interested to see if the series improves on the few flaws it has. I hope the characters start to gain a little bit of depth and non-stereotyped-personality. I hope we continue to see creativity in the layers of supernatural life in London. I hope we get to find out more about Nightingale’s past, and his strange maid Molly, with the sharp teeth, taste for blood, and extreme protection of her master. I hope Peter gets some taste and doesn’t try to sleep with two new women in each book (even if he does do it in an endearing and passive way.)

NOTE: After reading back over this review, I definitely took a little too much pleasure in bashing The Dresden Files. That probably wasn’t necessary because this book can stand on its own perfectly fine without being constantly compared to that series. I guess its just because so many people have recommended the Harry Dresden books to me, that when I finally got around to reading them, they were rather a big disappointment. I have trouble seeing why people who’s taste in books is usually so similar to my own actually enjoy those books. Maybe I had too high expectations, or maybe I should have given them more time (though I did get all the way through book one, and halfway through book two before giving up. I’m not going to read six books just to find out if the seventh might get better.) Anyways, the chance to voice exactly what I didn’t like about the series, and the opportunity to compare it to someone who did something similar, but did it RIGHT, was too good to give up. So if you’re a fan of the Dresden series, I’m sorry for bashing your books, and you’ll still probably really enjoy this series because there are lots of similarities. If you’re not a fan of the Dresden series, feel free to give these books a try and see if its any better for you. If you’ve never read the Dresden series, you can certainly enjoy these books all on their own, uninfluenced by any previous bias one way or the other.

My overall rating compared to similar Supernatural Urban Mysteries (Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, etc): * * * * *
(Considering that this is a genre I’m not in love with, this book deserves a great rating. This book proves that the genre has potential, if only people would stop screwing it up.)
Characterization: * * (Still better than Harry Dresden)
Creativity: * * *
Will I continue to follow the series: Yep, unless the author make some stupid plot move that’s too annoying to read. If the second book is all to do with werewolves, or if there starts to be too much Relationship Drama, I’m out.

A Fine and Private Place ★★★★★

I absolutely loved Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place. I was first introduced to Beagle as a child, in the form of the animated movie of The Last Unicorn. Ever since then, I can’t resist a book by him. Especially if its sitting on the shelf in a dusty old used book store; which is how I ran into this one.

A Fine and Private Place is the story of an anthrophobic older gentleman who has been living and hiding in a graveyard for the last eighteen years. Jonathan Rebeck has not once crossed the boundaries of the graveyard in nearly two decades. In so completely removing himself from society, Jonathan has found himself able to see and converse with the recently dead characters he finds in his graveyard. A misanthropic raven has befriended him, and brings him food and other survival items he is able to steal out of the nearby city.

The story is also about two recently dead people, Laura and Michael. Both were unhappy and unlucky in love in their lives, and are completely unsure about what to do with themselves in death. Michael is convinced that his wife murdered him. Laura got hit by a city bus, but seems not entirely convinced that she didn’t step out in front of it intentionally. Laura craves the silence and forgetfulness of true death, but can’t seem to reach that inner peace. While Michael is determined not to let go of a single emotion or memory of life, even though Jonathan warns him that all the ghosts forget everything and fade away eventually.

Jonathan reaches out to the outside world for the first time when he encounters a widow visiting the gravesite of her husband. He befriends her, and suddenly finds himself wondering about the normal things again. He worries about his appearance, and wants to impress her, but he still can’t force himself to step beyond the boundaries of his graveyard.

Eventually, Laura and Michael decide that though they couldn’t find love in life, they have found it after death, in each other. They pledge to love each other, for as long as they can remember what love is. But then it is revealed that Michael’s wife has successfully defended herself in court. She is not a murderer, Michael committed suicide. Since Michael was catholic, his body is going to be disinterred, and moved to a non-catholic graveyard. Michael the ghost is tied to his body, and will not be able to stay with Laura in this graveyard. Laura appeals to Jonathan, as the only living person she knows. She wants Jonathan to secretly dig her up, and transport her to the same graveyard Michael now resides in. But Jonathan still can’t leave the graveyard, he can’t find it in himself to even look beyond the gates. Eventually, Jonathan overcomes his fear, and asks his widow friend for help. With the assistance of a strange night guard at the graveyard (who can also see ghosts; Beagle implies it is because he is mentally ill) Jonathan and the widow dig up Laura’s coffin and take it across the city, to bury it in an unmarked grave within the boundaries of the other graveyard.

The moment the truck passes through the gate of the graveyard, Jonathan can no longer see or hear Laura. He knows she is there, but he also knows that he will never be able to go back to his graveyard. It was not the boundaries of the graveyard that gave him this ability, but his removal from living society. He was only half-alive before, and so walked the line between the living and the dead. But now that he has once again begun to care about the future, and interact with the world outside, he has lost that connection to the dead. He will not be able to sense the reunion between the dead lovers, his friends. But he will return with the widow, and begin a new life with her, and be alive again.

I think what really made this book work for me was the quiet and subdued style that Beagle wrote in. It was not full of drama and emotion, even though the actual events were fairly traumatic. But the dead don’t have strong emotions, and a graveyard is a quiet and private place.

I was also struck by the similarities between this graveyard, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I know Gaiman has said he’s always been a fan of Peter S. Beagle, and I like to think he drew inspiration from this story. Both stories focus on the choices people can make after death, to forget and let go, or to desperately hold onto what made them who they thought they were. Both books show time continuing after death, but not change. The dead are not alive, even if they move and speak, they are frozen in who they were, they cannot change. Life comes through change. Both books also have the unusual perspective of viewing the living world from the outside, from the line between death and life, from inside the graveyard.

In the end, this was a lovely story about overcoming fear, and about living for as long as you can. Not being alive for as long as you can, but about reaching for experiences, and love, and life.

The Cat Who ★★★

I confess, the main reason I decided to pick up this book was not the author; I’m not a huge Heinlein fan, though his books are “classic” sci-fi, and I agree he is definitely necessary to the evolution of the genre. I can admit to his worth as a writer without being an ardent lover of his writing style. I picked up this book on a whim, and because it had the subtitle of “A Comedy of Manners.” If there’s one thing I can almost always enjoy, its a narrative comedy of manners. Add in some science fiction and space travel, and how could I resist?

In my mind, I can break up this book into three distinctly separate books. The first third was filled with all the little details that really make “a comedy of manners” in my mind. We meet an ex-army man and his new (as of two hours ago) wife fleeing from the bureaucracy of space-station life after a complete stranger is awkwardly killed at their table in the finest restaurant after delivering a mysterious message. They pick up a companion in the form of a man from the slums who was paid to kill them, but joins their side after promising not to kill them and help carry their luggage. They teach him about the importance of always being polite, and give him the charge of protecting the little bonsai tree they (for some reason) are determined to save while escaping the space station known as “Golden Rule.” This third of the story is all about adventure, and travel, and about solving the mystery of why Richard and Gwen are being hunted down and who killed the stranger at their table.

The second third of this book is all about some free-loving. Heilein was well known for his very open views on sexuality, and they definitely make an appearance in this book too. Some of the mysteries resolve, as we find out that Gwen has a interesting history, across several time-lines and parallel universes. She takes Richard home several centuries in his future, to her large, complicated, and polygamous family who all happen to be members of the Time Corps who are trying to save various universes by rescuing the first intelligent computer from history.

The final third of the book is shorter in length than the first two, but dense in ideas. Its mostly a philosophical rambling about the possible nature of time and reality. Its rather heavy on the exposition and explanation, but nontheless contains some intereting ideas. In this book, Heinlein claims that all universes are real, everything that could possibly happen has happened, somewhere and somewhen. Even ficitonal universes and characters are real, what Heinlein called “The World as Myth.” Richard meets his the hero of his childhood tv series, and contemplates on the morality of creating fictional villians that will become a reality in some universe. Heinlein fans will enjoy this portion of the book more than those who haven’t read many of his works because a good number of his characters from his previous books make an appearance, furthering his ideas that fiction is just as real as “reality.”

The book ends abruptly, with Richard and Gwen in the middle of the mission to save Mike (the intelligent computer) probably at the cost of their lives. It is revealed that the whole of the story has been narrated by Richard, in this moment speaking into a recording devise. And he poignantly asks the reader, who is the author who is causing such pain and despair? Who is the author who wrote this universe and is forcing him to live, and die, in these circumstances?

While I loved the initial set-up of the story, I ended up rather disappointed with the end. So many of the mysteries that intrigued me were never answered, or even worse, were poorly answered in awkward exposition that left plot holes an elephant could fall through.

The development of the charming and witty relationship that evolved between Gwen and Richard was put aside in favor of annoying justifications for “free love” and polygamous marriages.

Had the story continued in the same vein as that first third of the book, I think this novel could have won five stars from me, but Heinlein lost the thread of the most important piece: the actual plot. His priorities were obviously more on describing his idea free-love society, and on his World as Myth philosophy. While I did find the latter interesting, I think there may have been better ways to incorporate it into the story than pure exposition and long non-plot centric conversations.