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text 2017-08-19 23:30
Halloween Bingo 2017: My Reading Pool / Shortlist -- and My Bingo Marker!

 

Aaaargh ... decisions, decisions.  Ask a Libra to make a snap decision, and you'll be waiting 'till doomsday.

 

So, in true Libra style, I haven't managed to narrow my list down to a single book for most of my card's squares yet -- but I've at least come up with a pool from which to pick my reads, with several books that would qualify for more than one square and a resulting short list with a certain preference per square. Which still doesn't mean I won't end up reading something completely different for one or more squares eventually, of course, judging by how things went last year. -- My 2017 pool / shortlist list includes mostly books I have not yet read, though augmented by a few audio versions of books that I've read before, but where I'm really, really interested in the audio version, which I'm not yet familiar with.

 

Anyway, this is the plan for now:

 

Most likely: Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

Alternatively:

* Diane Mott Davidson: Catering to Nobody
* One or more stories from Martin Greenberg's and Ed Gorman's (eds.) Cat Crimes
* ... or something by Lilian Jackson Braun




Most likely: Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights
(audio return visit courtesy of either Michael Kitchen or Prunella Scales and Samuel West)

Alternatively:

* Wilkie Collins: The Woman In White
(audio version read by Nigel Anthony and Susan Jameson)

* Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
(audio return visit courtesy of Anna Massey)
* Isak Dinesen: Seven Gothic Tales
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* ... or something by Daphne du Maurier




Candace Robb: The Apothecary Rose




Most likely: Simon Brett: A book from a four-novel omibus edition including An Amateur Corpse, Star Trap, So Much Blood, and Cast, in Order of Disappearance

Alternatively:

* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes




Most likely: Something from James D. Doss's Charlie Moon series (one of my great discoveries from last year's bingo)

Or one of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries

Alternatively:

Sherman Alexie: Indian Killer




Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum




One or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes




Most likely: Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty's Dead
(audio return visit courtesy of Hugh Fraser)
Or one or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes

Alternatively:

* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, To Love and Be Wise, or The Singing Sands
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Peter May: The Lewis Man
* S.D. Sykes: Plague Land
* Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mystery of Cloomber
* Michael Jecks: The Devil's Acolyte
* Stephen Booth: Dancing with the Virgins
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Martha Grimes: The End of the Pier
* Minette Walters: The Breaker




One of two "Joker" Squares:

 

To be filled in as my whimsy takes me (with apologies to Dorothy L. Sayers), either with one of the other mystery squares' alternate books, or with a murder mystery that doesn't meet any of the more specific squares' requirements.  In going through my shelves, I found to my shame that I own several bingo cards' worth of books that would fill this square alone, some of them bought years ago ... clearly something needs to be done about that, even if it's one book at a time!




Isabel Allende: Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna) or
Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)




Most likely: One or more stories from Charles Dickens: Complete Ghost Stories or
Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

Alternatively:

Stephen King: Bag of Bones




Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms




Obviously and as per definition in the rules, the second "Joker" Square.

 

Equally as per definition, the possibles for this square also include my alternate reads for the non-mystery squares.




Most likely: Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

Alternatively:

* Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely or The Long Goodbye

* James M. Cain: Mildred Pierce
* Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
* David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player or Dark Passage
* ... or something else by Cornell Woolrich, e.g., Phantom Lady or I Married a Dead Man




Most likely: Ruth Rendell: Not in the Flesh
(audio version read by Christopher Ravenscroft, aka Inspector Burden in the TV series)

Alternately:

* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills




Most likely: Peter May: Coffin Road

Alternatively:

* Stephen King: Bag of Bones or Hearts in Atlantis
* Denise Mina: Field of Blood
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Breaker
* Jonathan Kellerman: When The Bough Breaks, Time Bomb, Blood Test, or Billy Straight

* Greg Iles: 24 Hours




Most likely: Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

Alternatively:

* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Greg Iles: Sleep No More




Most likely: Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)

Alternatively:

* One or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
* Georgette Heyer: They Found Him Dead
* Ellis Peters: Black is the Colour of My True-Love's Heart




Most likely: Something from Terry Pratchett's Discworld / Witches subseries -- either Equal Rites or Maskerade

Alternatively:

Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers

Shirley Jackson: The Witchcraft of Salem Village




Most likely: Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea

Alternatively:

* Rory Clements: Martyr
* Philip Gooden: Sleep of Death 
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes
* Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy

* One or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Capital Crimes: London Mysteries




Most likely: Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
(audio return visit courtesy of Sir Christopher Lee)

Alternatively:

* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau 

* ... or something by Edgar Allan Poe




Most likely: Something from Ovid's Metamorphoses

Alternatively:

* Robert Louis Stevenson: The Bottle Imp
* Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau




Most likely: Jo Nesbø: The Snowman

Alternatively:

* Val McDermid: The Retribution
* Denise Mina: Sanctum 
* Mo Hayder: Birdman
* Caleb Carr: The Alienist
* Jonathan Kellerman: The Butcher's Theater
* Greg Iles: Mortal Fear




Most likely: The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows

Alternatively:

* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
* Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages

* Michael Jecks: The Devil's Acolyte




Ooohhh, you know -- something by Shirley Jackson ... if I don't wimp out in the end; otherwise something by Daphne du Maurier.




 Now, as for my 2017 bingo marker ... it's rather an obvious choice this year; I mean, how could I possibly not?!

 

 

Merken

Merken

Merken

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text 2017-08-17 00:04
Look!! Isn't it pretty? Thank you so much, MR!!

 

Now, as for filling in all those beautiful squares ...

 

 

I think my brain will be going full tilt tonight!

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review 2017-06-03 00:25
Unicorn in Calabria

Note to librarians: Unfortunately, this book is not in the BL database, so I can't put it on my shelf. I'm using the cover from GR.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Unicorns come to Calabria. Not once upon a time in an imaginary land, but now, in the 21st century, a beautiful unicorn comes to a run-down farm on a hillside in Calabria, South Italy, and settles in. The farm owner, a lonely hopeless man, shuns the technology of his times. He ekes out his meager existence from the land and takes care of his few animals, when he witnesses the miracle of the unicorn. The strange, un-earthy creature gives a new meaning to his life, opens his eyes and his heart, and in return, he is willing to protect it from the unicorn hunters, the insatiable media, and the ruthless Mafiosi.

The story reads like poetry, lyrical and dreamy. It’s not a fast-paced fantasy adventure but a slow-flowing feast of words, and despite my preference for quick action of the usual sword-and-sorcery pageant, I couldn’t stop reading it from start to end. Fortunately for me, it is a short book, 174 pages, but it is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It left me oddly happy. Even though I have never seen a unicorn, I felt as if its magic brushed against my skin too, just as it did for the protagonist of this unusual tale.

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review 2017-05-25 06:50
AI and a former slave
A Closed and Common Orbit - Becky Chambers

I’m divided about this science-fiction novel. It consists of two distinct storylines with alternating chapters that don’t intersect until the very end. They even happen decades apart. I loved one of the stories. I was ambivalent about the other.

Let’s start with the one I liked less: the story of Sidra, an AI in a synthetic, human-looking body. She calls it her housing or her kit. Sidra didn’t chose to be housed in the kit. She is an AI intended for a spaceship. She longs to be in a spaceship. But due to tragic circumstances before this story started, someone put her into the kit, and she is trying to adjust to life as a quasi-human.

Her situation is complicated by the fact that such constructs are illegal. If the authorities find out that Sidra, who tries to live like a human, is actually a software, they will terminate her and punish those who made her that way: Sidra’s friends. To prevent such an eventuality, Sidra’s only solution is to pretend. Unfortunately, an AI couldn’t lie – there is a protocol in place. Yeah, tough.

Sidra’s story left me cold. I couldn’t sympathize with her imaginary plight. I was a computer programmer before I became a writer. I dealt with software every day. Not an AI though; I programmed accounting software, but there is not much difference. A soft is still a soft, a complicated system of code that is just a non-linear, nested sequence of multiple ‘if-then’ interspaced with bits of action. It can’t develop emotions. I don’t believe it. So when Sidra started behaving like a hormonal teenager, exhibiting rebellion and self-disgust, I wanted to puke.

The only thing I liked about Sidra’s subplot is world-building. Ms. Chambers started building this complex cosmopolitan world in the first novel of the series – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – and I enjoyed it very much. She deepens her world-building here, gives us more details, more nuances, and more planets. 

The second story, the one I liked best, happens in an entirely different part of this galactic world, on a different planet. It is a much better story with a very likable heroine. It starts when a ten-year-old girl Jane escapes a factory.

She worked at the factory as one of a cadre of girls, all Janes, all numbered. Our Jane’s number is 24. She doesn’t know what is outside the factory walls. She only knows work – sorting scrap – and a little bit of free time for eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene. None of the Janes knows how to play or be children. Trapped inside the four factory walls since they were toddlers, they have never seen the sky or the sun. They have never made any choices – never been allowed. They are slaves without knowing it.

When Jane escapes – practically by accident – she finds herself alone in a hostile world, a humongous scrap yard with no humans. Everywhere around her are things new and frightening. By sheer luck, she finds a disabled space shuttle, discarded as scrap years ago. The shuttle’s AI is still functional, and Jane makes her home in it. Together, a ten-year-old girl and a broken machine form a family of sorts, while Jane learns about the real world around her and tries to keep herself from starving to death.

A Mowgli of science fiction, to a degree, with a computer for a foster mother, Jane’s story is a continual saga of self-discovery. It touched my heart on the deepest levels. I was so sorry for her and so awed by her courage and determination that I wanted to talk to her, to explain, to kiss and make better. This child made me ache for her. I was reading and simultaneously inventing better solutions for her problems. I wanted her life to be easier, but it wasn’t. It was hard and intense and imbued with Jane’s humanity. Her story alone makes this book worth reading.

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review 2017-05-24 07:41
Werewolves are black
The Black Wolves of Boston - Wen Spencer

I like everything written by Spencer, but this book is not my favorite. In fact, I liked it least of all her novels.

This one starts with Joshua, a regular eighteen-year-old high school senior, suddenly becoming a werewolf. Afraid to hurt his family and bewildered by what's happening to him, Joshua runs away from home and ends up in Boston. While Joshua tries to get his act together and adjust to being a werewolf, he meets a variety of characters: Decker, the vampire, Winnie, the medium, Elise, the angelic warrior who fights evil, and finally, other werewolves, the ones responsible for his transformation.

One of the werewolves, probably the most important to this story, is Seth, a sixteen-year-old werewolf and a Prince of Boston. To keep all of Boston from contamination by evil is his reason for existing, and he’ll do anything to keep Joshua safe. Unfortunately, Seth has troubles of his own, one of them being a minor – he is only sixteen.

All of the above are the good guys. Mostly. There are bad guys too, the Wickers, the villainous cabal of witches and warlocks, and Joshua is central to their plan for world-domination. Joshua himself doesn’t realize it, and nobody but the Wickers know what they plan to do with him, except that it would surely be something horrendous. Most of the story is a mad scramble by the other characters to keep Joshua safe, discover the Wickers’ heinous ploy, and stop it before Boston is plunged into darkness. 

 

Bad stuff

  • Too many POVs. There are 4 POV characters – Joshua, Seth, Decker, and Elise - and the chapters for them alternate, which makes for a jumpy ride for the reader. Joshua and Seth are paramount to this story. Their POVs are needed. The other two just dilute the reader’s attention and distract from the protagonists’ struggles. Even worse: less page space for each of the two heroes result in sketchy characterization for everyone. We don’t have time to bond with any of the characters; they are all too distant. I wasn’t emotionally involved with any of them, and that’s a huge flaw in fiction.  
  • Proofreading. Or rather the lack of it. There are too many extra words or missed words or words out of place. I read a hardcover, but it felt like a bad Kindle file.

 

Good stuff

  • Beautiful, full-page B&W illustrations. Almost every chapter has one, and they enhance the reading experience tremendously. In the past, artists routinely illustrated adult literature, but the practice has fallen off the wagon in the past couple hundred years. Modern publishing mostly relegated illustrations to picture books for children, but I hope the tradition will make a comeback soon, and we’ll see the artistic interpretations of our favorite characters on the pages again, not just in the movies.
  • Humor. Oh, yeah! There are many places in the book where I laughed, and chuckled, and giggled, and shook my head at the absurdity of the familiar, as seen through the sharp eyes of the author.
  • World building. It’s a strong aspect of Spencer’s writing in general. Every stand-alone book and every series of hers introduces a world that is unique and interesting. In this one, there are werewolves and vampires, like in many other paranormal fantasy books, but the writer sees them in a different way. Her werewolves are magical creatures who guard the Earth from evil monsters and prevent breaches in reality that spawn the aforementioned monsters. Her vampire is an original. He doesn’t drink blood. To sustain himself, he drinks life-essence through a kiss. Besides, he is depressed and lonely, and his depression manifests as hoarding.
  • Story. Yes, the story is fascinating, and the tension builds the way it should. Despite my general disappointment with the characters, I still want to know what will happen to them next. If there is a second book in the series, I’ll definitely read it.
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