Sunday, December 16, 2012

Philadelphia Story

Title: Kindness Goes Unpunished
Author: Craig Johnson
Bookmark: same lizard, same stick

I may have mentioned that one of the reasons I love the Longmire series is that it makes me homesick for the West.  Despite taking place in Philly, Kindness Goes Unpunished still managed.  Weird, huh?

Walt thinks he's going on vacation.  He expects to be gone from his post two weeks, maybe three.  Henry Standing Bear is driving Lola (the powder-blue T-bird) across the country to exhibit the Mennonite photographs of life on the Reservation (discovered in the previous book) at an art museum in the City of Brotherly Love, and Walt is riding shotgun, with Dog, who will apparently never get a real name, in the back seat.  Walt hopes to spend some time with his daughter Cady, who works in Philly as The Finest Legal Mind of Our Time.  On their first night in town, Bear lands a date (no surprise there), and Walt is left to his own devices.  He meets Lena Moretti, mother to his trusty deputy Vic, and she is with him when he learns that his daughter will not be returning home that night.

Cady has been hospitalized, in a coma after a head injury, and may not wake up.  As one might expect, Walt  immediately begins investigating, arousing the interest of the local detectives, getting himself in trouble, and quickly gaining able assistance from several Morettis.  They discover a much deeper plot of drugs and corruption whose surface Cady had barely scratched when she met with ill will, and although Walt learns early who hurt his little girl, he stays in it until the finish to find out who has been secretly sending him help along the way.

Johnson always does an incredible job of putting very real, believable characters in very real, dangerous situations, and reminding you of how real it is by not flinching from hurting them, sometimes badly.  Throughout the story, Walt remembers how he, Bear, and Dog have been injured in the earlier books, and worrying how much of his daughter will survive her injury in this book.  Whenever he is not actively pursuing a lead or grabbing a quick bite outside, he sits at his daughter's bedside, tears in his eyes, remembering her childhood and hoping for her future.

By putting Walt in a big East Coast city and putting his daughter in a coma, Johnson lands our hero firmly in territories both alien and terrifying, but Walt proves that determination, love, and a little help from his friends can get him through anything, anywhere.

I love these books.

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posted by reyn at 12:37 PM


Merry Christmas, Flavia

Title: I Am Half Sick of Shadows
Author: Alan Bradley
Bookmark: lizard in a stick

Christmas comes to Buckshaw, riding on the coat-tails of a film crew.  The Colonel, increasingly desperate in his efforts to pay the bills, has allowed a production crew to set up shop in the family manor, with clear rules as to which areas are available to them and which are entirely off-limits (namely, the boudoir of his late wife and life's great love, Harriet).  Hoping to leverage the star power of Phyllis Wyvern, the movie's headliner, the vicar of Bishop's Lacey arranges a showing of Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene in Buckshaw's expansive foyer, selling tickets to the townspeople.  Then a blizzard blocks the roads and seals off the estate during the show.  Naturally, someone goes and gets themselves murdered.

Flavia is in the middle of dual festive chemical schemes: a fireworks show from Buckshaw's roof, and heavy smears of birdlime at the chimney entrances to capture Saint Nick and prove his existence once and for all to her noxious sisters. Luckily, she still has time to investigate the crime.

I love the series.  I'm a big fan of Flavia, and Bradley.  They are both very clever.  This book is not the best showcase of their talents.  Yes, it's still a lot of fun, and it's festively festivish, for what that's worth, but I felt like not as much effort had gone into the mystery of this outing.  (is it still an outing if the entire novel takes place in Flavia's house?)  I wouldn't go so far as to say that I was disappointed, but I wasn't as overwhelmed with this one as I had been earlier in the series.  Maybe that's ok.  You can't get better with every single effort, or you'll burn yourself out, and I look forward to seeing more of Flavia in the future.

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posted by reyn at 12:11 PM


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

3.14 and so on

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Bookmark: the official recycled bookmark of the Union Pacific Railroad

When I started reading this (yes, because of the movie), I remembered that it had been reviewed here previously, but I had forgotten every word of the review.  I just re-read it, and completely agree.  The novel starts by tooting its own horn, with the purported author's tale of how he discovered the story (it's told as though he found Pi as an adult living in Canada and got the story from him) upon meeting a man in a tea shop in India who told him he had a story that would "make you believe in God."  Old man tells writer to go find Pi in Canada, author begins friendship with adult Pi, Pi begins telling his story.  So begins Part Two of the three-part book.

I love a good survival story, and if it's true, even better.  This book has neither quality.  You'd think that putting a boy in a small boat with a large tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would lead to a great survival story, but it doesn't.  I was actually disappointed when he discovered the overwhelming wealth of survival equipment in the lifeboat's storage locker.  Like Kate, I was frustrated that after going to such lengths to make everything about the journey totally believable, there's a sudden sci-fi/fantasy twist in the eleventh hour which hangs around just long enough to make you think, "ok, so maybe the first 321 pages were just a set-up, and this is the real story that gets everybody so worked up," and is then passed over and forgotten.  I was already annoyed that he had bumped into another lonely shipwreck survivor in the middle of the Pacific--that was too much stretch for me--and suddenly he finds a mysterious floating island?  It felt like Martel's publisher told him "we're about thirty-six pages shy.  Can you pad this with something?"  "Well, I have this really fun idea for a sci-fi short story; it's a little like Perelandra, but the island is carnivorous, and chock-full of fish-chomping meerkats."  "Whatever.  Stick it in there."

Yeah, sure, it's a nice, diverting read.  It is not as life-changing as everyone seems to think.  Honestly, it's a little annoying.  There's a couple scenes at the end when two Japanese guys are interviewing Pi in a Mexican hospital, and occasionally have side conversations between themselves in Japanese (translated in the book) so he can't understand.  It's the best part of the whole book.  It shows great humor, and the dialog is entertaining, with funny bits both in the words shared and in the actions described (Pi, after being stuck on a boat with a tiger for almost a year, composing soliloquies about food and hunger, keeps asking them for cookies.  They comply, knowing that he has piles of cookies hidden under his bedsheet.  When they get tired and frustrated about his story, he offers them cookies which they graciously accept.  There's also a funny exchange about how arduous their drive from California was, and he consoles them about their difficult journey.).  But it feels a little like a shaggy dog joke, since it comes after 365 pages of set-up.

I've lost interest in the movie.

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posted by reyn at 11:23 AM