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review 2015-09-16 00:00
Murder in Pastel
Murder in Pastel - Josh Lanyon

Oh dear...

I wasn't sure how to rate this. It is a classical Lanyon in a way. Short and sweet and bitter. With quite some similarities to Adrien English with an 'e'. But different enough that I was intrigued. And I liked Kyle. Sure, he reminded me of Adrien in more way then one, but in the end he was still his own "man", so to speak. He is a lonely guy, living a lonely life in an artist community, who never really got over the two most important men in his life leaving him. First his father, who oone day vanished into thin air. And his friend Adam, Kyle's first and somewhat only crush.

But guess what, Adam is back. Unfortunately, he isn't alone. He brought Brett, his lover and wild child.

It was an interesting set-up. I enjoyed getting to know the side characters, and I enjoyed reading about Kyle's inner struggles. But Brett drove me nuts. He was an asshole and in no way amusing or funny or even tolerable. His sob story didn't make that better. I don't care how hot he looked, he opened his mouth and I wanted to punsh him. With a chair. Seriously, at one point I briefly thought about quitting the book, because he annoyed the crap out of me. Of course I didn't but I sure as hell came close.

In a way, it all reminded me of the old Agatha Christie stories. One wild card shows up, turns everybodies world upside down and is then murdered. And everybody has a motive. Granted, it was a very naughty, a little smexy Christie, but still a Christie.

That would have been fine. I loved Christie's mysteries as a teenager and young adult, so like I said, I was intrigued. But in my opinion, Lanyon took it a little too far. There were so many candidates in the end, that everytime Kyle and me figured out that someone didn't do it, I got more irritated. Everything was connected, but then it really wasn't? I was so not happy with that. It was just too much, too crazy, too over the top.

I also had my problems with Adam, to be honest. He just didn't grow on me. Especially after some side-stepping on his part, when he wanted to be considerate of Kyle's feelings. Um... Don't get me wrong, but your are in realtionship with someone else, right? Granted, he is a grade A dick, but still. You might wanna think about his feelings first? Just saying... The relationship as whole didn't really work for me. It seemed, lacking, kind of unfinished? And the timing was so... weird. I was on board with Kyle for most of it, especially when he started to close off again and again. I mean, hello?! Things did have a weird pace, some very surprising moments, everything was happening awfullly fast and sometimes it felt plain wrong, which made me really uncomfortable a time or two.

All in all, a nice little mystery. The ending was a little all over the place, but it suited the story just fine. It just wasn't completely for me. Only 3 stars, because honestly? I'm holding Lanyon to a higher standard. Might not be fair, because this book was written quite some time ago, but it is what it is. I have higher expectations for Lanyon, so I was more then a little disappointed with parts of the story. But it's still a good book, and I'd recommend it to all the Fanyons.

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review 2015-04-19 12:19
One Two Buckle My Shoe- E.J. Lamprey


I could have sworn that Miss Maple was back, in Scottish guise. Is it ever fair to compare, possibly not, but this is very Agatha Christie-esk for the modern century. 'One Two' is a great first in series, introducing some wonderful characters of senior years. Lamprey has a very easy read style and an ironic, subtle humour that says most by what it leaves out.


The plot is complex enough with a couple of classic murders, lots of possible clues and badly attached leads, some more doggy than others. All the bits simply can't be quite put together until Edge gets a grip on the case. The older generation will enjoy this, if they can find their glasses, and the aging youths and middle readers should enjoy noting that at least at the Grasshopper Lawns, 20 miles north of Edinburgh, old age doesn't necessarily mean the end of joie de vivre not to mention a bit of nitty-gritty.


This is a relatively short read, one sitting for those that consume books at burning pace and only two or three steady reads for the plodders like me. It is nice to read about a group of suitably eccentric real feeling, mostly older, characters with hardly a whiff of the current preoccupation with Alzheimer's and other widespread dementias. Great entertainment, of it sort. This is scones and Lady Grey tea, while the daggers are metaphorically wiped clean off set. We have the makings of a very good BBC Scotland drama series to more than rival those beastly Sassenach 'Midsomer Murders'.



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review 2015-04-08 10:54
Reamde - 4 good novels doesn't necessarily make 1 great novel
Reamde - Neal Stephenson

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 3
boobs: 1
bombs: 4
bondage: 1
blasphemy: 1
Stars: 3
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

When I started this book, I was using an AG2 running MoonReader. My pageview wasn't setup to include page or screen counts. I had no idea this book comes in at over 1000 pages (according to Amazon's count), and to be honest if I'dve known that I probably would've DNF'd at 10%. I didn't figure out it was so long until around (virtual) page 250 and I thought to myself, "This has been going on for a long time, and yet more complications are being added and nothing is getting resolved - how is this going to get wrapped up?" By that time I'd become invested in a couple of the characters, and my ego decided to make this into some sort of titanic battle of my will to continue vs. Mr. Stephenson's verbosity.

My ego won. Despite a catastrophe with my AG2 with 100 screens left to go, I finished the book. Do I feel edified? No. Entertained? Meh; there was some great parts and there were a lot of very long stretches that needed an editor's red swipe. Accomplished? You betcha.

There are 4 different 250 page thrillers in this book. Any one of them could stand alone and do well with the techno/thriller/pre-cyberpunk crowd that Neil writes for. Smashing the four of these together was ambitious, and I feel like I understand why Mr. Stephenson felt like this book needed so many storylines, but I don't know if it really needed to be this complicated to say what he was trying to say. I value brevity and succinctness[1] and Reamde had very little of either. Choosing a single plot thread, then backing it up with hints and wisps from the other plotlines would have made for a much stronger product in this reader's opinion. The fact is, some of the plotlines were weak and needed inordinate amounts of filler to shore them up and try to get them stand on their own.

And therein lies the crux of my problem with this book. There is way too much filler. At least 250 pages worth of unnecessary asides and descriptions could be wiped from the book with no detriment to the plot whatsoever. Here's a short list from the top of my head of some descriptive passages that went on for several screens without any advancement of the plot:
    Setting up a TOR node on a shared PC
    Lore regarding grizzly bears' ability to smell
    Building a secured cell inside an RV
    Querying a database
These would all be great if I were looking for documentation on any of these topics, but I wasn't. And that's just what I recalled with a few seconds of effort; the whole book is peppered with a level of detail that is wholly unnecessary.  I was trying to enjoy a story about an unlikely band of characters thrown together by fate and trying to outsmart a caricature of the 21st Century Boogeyman: A dark skinned jihadist who looks and talks just like middle class white folks.

To make these wildly different characters get vested in the same outcome required some serious shenanigans on behalf of the writer. The terms "contrived", "outlandish" and "almost ridiculous" come to mind. Of course the world is full of amazing coincidences and near misses; but relying on whole consecutive steps of unliklihoods to drive a plot feels more appropriate to a comedy of errors than a techno thriller. The characters in this book move through a bubble where normal statistics don't apply. It was fun for the first few hundred pages, then it became tiresome, and by the end it was just another annoyance I had to put up with to get to to the finish line.

The characters themselves don't feel like they're "getting lucky", but neither do comic book heroes. All our main characters are interesting in their own right, and voiced well, but there's a very strong sense the characters get moved around and motivated according to the outline the author sketched before writing the book, rather than organically going where they need to go. Characterization, never one of Mr. Stephenson's strong points, isn't weaker in this book than in the others I've read but it feels like it's worse because it goes on for so long.

I liked the different settings, and the scene building was handled very well. I felt like I had a sense of place in all the locations. The settings were "voiced" like a character, and lent their own flavor to the parts of the story they related to. I wouldn't say the scene building was vivid (except where descriptions went on too long) but it was very evocative. A good chunk of action happens in Seattle, and having lived there for a number of years I can say that he captured the feel of the town and the Cascade Mountains perfectly. I can only assume he was as accurate with the other settings.

The finale, like the rest of the book, was way too wordy and took way too long to wrap up. I wanted to hurry up and finish it just to find out who pulled the trigger that killed the Big Bad Guy; I was still invested in some of the characters but I had no expectations that they would suddenly arc in a surprising direction. By the time the final gun battle shapes up, all the characters are finally in place and it felt like it was just a matter of putting words into my eyes until I reached the end of the book.

I'm feeling a difficulty trying to rate this; my enjoyment of the book declined the closer I got to the end. The beginning was everything I expected from this author and I was set to star the heck out of it, but then it just went on way too long without doing anything clever. In a lot of ways, this book is like that guy you work with who's really smart and mildly autistic - it just drones on and on about the minutae of some inane topic despite every cue that you're ready to wrap up the conversation.

[1] But I don't like poetry - go figure

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review 2015-01-07 07:16
Overtime - Only for fans of the Laundry Files
Overtime - Charles Stross

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 0
boobs: 0
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 3
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

This is a very, very short addition to the Laundry Files series. It pokes a bit of fun at the English Christmas traditions, a lot of fun at corporate bureaucratic culture, and then wraps itself up in a tidy conclusion. All to the tune of "Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas". As I was reading this, I thought my file was corrupted -  I was 20 pages into a 38 page story and I still wasn't sure where the conflict was and had only one clumsily inserted clue about the nature of the antagonist.

To be honest, I didn't think this is a very good example of Mr. Stross's abilities as a writer. If it were longer he could have added more subtlety and mystery, but the very short length meant he had to pare the story down to it's absolute bare essentials. For me, the long setup and short conclusion threw the balance and cadence way off. A crucial read for fans of the Laundry Files series, but not recommended for people who aren't already familiar with the series.

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review 2015-01-04 14:18
Upgraded - Despite a couple of duds, it's totally worth the price of admission
Upgraded - Robert Reed,Peter Watts,Neil Clarke,Madeline Ashby,Tobias S. Buckell

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 1
bombs: 3
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 3
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

This collection is exceptionally well curated; I feel like every story fits the theme and every story is strong enough to stand on it's own and provide it's own interpretation of the topic. I really enjoyed the way each story took off in an entirely new and unexpected direction. Perhaps because the topic is so big there's lots of room for wildly different interpretations (and there are!) but the total collection leaves an impression bigger than just the sum of the stories. This is proper Capital "S" Science Capital "F" Fiction that asks the reader to interpret and define their own humanity.

There were two stories in the collection that I didn't finish. Musée de l’Âme Seule by E. Lily Yu isn't bad, it's just written in that dreamy stream of conscious second person POV that I loathe with an irrational passion. You know the kind of writing: every paragraph tries to stand on it's own like a lone tree in a deserted field, and little details weighted with importance glitter throughout every sentence like shards from a broken bottle in an empty alley. I don't doubt that it's fun to write, but I've never seen an example that's compelled me to pretend I'm someone else long enough to read their story.

The other story I didn't finish was Alex Dally MacFarlane's Coastlines of the Stars. It's written in the third person, but it's too lyrical with new chapter headings every two or three paragraphs. This is another device that I'm just not wired to appreciate properly, and while I'm sure it's an accomplished story I just couldn't bear to sit through it.

The real standouts in this collection, for me, are The Sarcophagus by Robert Reed, who takes the standard question "how much of your humanity can you change and still be human" and extrapolates it out to the nth degree in an engaging and thoughtful way. Taking the Ghost by A.C. Wise is another winner; what could have fallen into every post-apocalyptic cliche actually emerged as an example of how to do paranormal sci-fi correctly. E. Catherine Tobler's The Cumulative Effects of Light Over Time is one of those allegorical "the deeper they go into this cave the deeper they go into their self" stories, but it's done very well and kept me interested right up until the predicted end. I'll definitely be looking for more of her work. Seventh Sight by Greg Egan works for me on a number of different levels; I'm not sure it's remarkable in the objective sense but I felt a number of parallels between the protagonist and myself and that counts a lot for me.

Memories and Wire by Mari Ness sort of fell off my radar, but as I went back through the TOC for this review it sparked a rush of affection. IIRC, it's a brilliant concept but needs a bit more development to really come into it's own.

Also notable is The Regular by Ken Liu isn't as allegorical as most short stories, but it's also the longest story in the book and reads like a simple whodunnit. I liked it well enough, but I think I'd like it a lot more if it were fully developed into a novel length story.

This is a great collection of short stories. There is a depth and breadth represented here that makes the collection feel much larger than just the 26 stories it contains, and any fan of scifi should find more than enough worthwhile writing to justify buying this.

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