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review 2018-06-25 16:56
The Fuller Memorandum / Charles Stross
The Fuller Memorandum - Charles Stross

Computational demonologist Bob Howard catches up on filing in the Laundry archives when the top secret Fuller Memorandum vanishes - and his boss, suspected of stealing the file. Bob faces Russian agents, ancient demons, a maniacal death cult, and finding the missing memorandum before the world disappears next.

 

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

 

3.5 stars—the best one of the Laundry Files that I’ve read so far.

Perhaps because we’re into historical references that I’ve actually lived through. Younger folk may roll their eyes at all the Cold War references in this volume the way I rolled mine during all the WWII/Nazi references in the first book of the series.

There’s much less computer jargon in this third novel, for which I was thankful. Bob may be a computation demonologist, but he talks more like a regular guy here. There was also a section in the first few pages of the story about “Losing my Religion,” which in Bob’s case means that he must give up his comfortable atheism because of his current knowledge of the eldritch gods who could easily wipe out humanity if their attention was drawn our way. Much more philosophical that you would normally expect from such a fantasy tale.

The series does contain a lot of amusing pop culture references. Bob’s coworkers, Pinky & Brains, show up again in this installment and although Brains is not trying to take over the world, he does take over Bob’s new phone to install beta software that prevents Bob from returning the phone. Bob & Mo also name the phone—the NecronomiPod. Highly appropriate for a series that references Lovecraft in many fond ways. Not to mention Bob’s reading material while on the train, which he describes as “a novel about a private magician for hire in Chicago,” which would seem to me to be Harry Dresden! Plus Bob’s kidnappers at one point ask, “What has it got it its pocketses?” (along with 2-3 “my Precious” occurrences). Stross’ geek cred is maintained with these details.

At least in this installment we learn the significance of paper clips, which perhaps explains the zeal of the Auditors in questioning the Laundry employees regarding their inventories of those office supplies. (It’s not all just the Pointy Haired Bosses trying to make their employees’ lives miserable).

The author (unsurprisingly a former computer programmer) manages to continue to combine elements of James Bond, Lovecraft, and Dilbert successfully to create a funny and readable sci-fi series. The Laundry—successfully defending humanity against the NIAs (Nightmarish Immortal Aliens).

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review 2018-06-25 16:13
The Hazel Wood / Melissa Albert
The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

 

Don’t go into this novel expecting a romance featuring a handsome prince or some fae lord. It isn’t that kind of fairy tale. This is one with a dark overtones, like some of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales that lived up to the grim part.

The first section of the book sets up Alice’s life with her mother Ella. They have spent their lives in transit, trying to stay one step ahead of the weird bad luck that has dogged their lives. Ella refuses to talk about her own mother, Althea Proserpine, or Althea’s property, the Hazel Wood. The book that Althea wrote (Tales from the Hinterland) that made her famous (or infamous) is almost impossible to find and Alice has become quite fixated on acquiring a copy. When Alice’s grandmother dies and her mother is kidnapped, Alice must decide whether to follow her mother’s last instruction: stay away from the Hazel Wood.

Of course if Alice wants her mother back (and she does) there is only one thing to do—find the Hazel Wood and figure out what the heck is going on. She must brave the Hinterland and all its strangeness to learn about her heritage once and for all. She discovers that the Hinterland contains a variety of folk—those who are refugees from her world and those who are native, consisting either of Stories or those who surround the Stories as supporting cast so to speak. If you are a Story, you relive your Story over and over again without end. Can Alice disrupt the Story that holds her life hostage?

It struck me that many of us are caught in similar loops in our lives that we have a difficult time recognizing and breaking out of. Don’t we all have that one woman friend who flees one abusive man only to end up almost immediately in a relationship with another jerk? Or your friend who is so busy collecting people to take care of that her own life goes nowhere? Or the man walks by a room full of nice women directly to the one woman who will never be faithful or committed to a relationship? It’s easy to see these patterns in others, much more difficult to recognize them in our own lives and much, much tougher to actually break those patterns.

So no, this is not a fairy tale romance, but it speaks to the patterns visible in fairy tales and in our own lives.

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review 2018-06-25 11:45
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a history, not a science, text.  But as a history of rain, it's 100% more interesting than a book on rain would generally sound.  Filled with anecdotes that bring the history to life, and raise it a notch above a dry (ha!) academic narrative, once I got past the parts of history I always find slow (ie, any part we have to speculate about) I found it hard to put the book down.

 

The author tries tackle the subject globally, but generally, it's US-centric (which, if I remember right, she disclaims at the start).  There's a certain amount of doom and gloom when she gets to present day human vs. rain (spoiler: rain always wins), but I was incredibly please and very inspired by the stories she told about how certain cities are learning from their mistakes.  In a global culture that is so, I'm sorry, collectively stupid about climate change, it often feels like we're being beat about the head with it; we haven't yet figured out that, just as this tactic doesn't work on children, it doesn't work on humanity in general.  But a story about people learning from the past and taking steps to remediate the problems - that's what, in my opinion - is going to inspire the long-term change we so desperately need.

 

She ends the book with the most telling irony - her trip the the rainiest place on the planet, Mawsynram, where she experiences 5 cloud free, sunny days, while back home in Florida her family lives through the rainiest weather in the state's recorded history.

 

A pleasant, informative and well-written read.

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review 2018-06-24 06:05
Lowcountry Bookshop (Liz Talbot Mystery, #7)
Lowcountry Bookshop - Susan M. Boyer

There aren't many series left I look forward to, but this one is always satisfying.  Lowcountry Bookshop wasn't the strongest of the bunch, but still an enjoyable way to escape.

 

Liz and Nate are hired by an anonymous client, through their attorney, to prove a local mail carrier (Poppy) innocent of a hit and run perpetrated during a massive rainstorm.  This construct felt, for much of the book, forced, as though Boyer couldn't make it work any other way, but by the end, the anonymity makes complete sense and adds an additional layer of complexity to the plot.  By the end, it's only the revealed guilty party that doesn't really mesh with the story; as a lover of mysteries I have come to expect all aspects of the mystery to share context, but as Boyer writes it, it's likely a lot more realistic.  There's a plot twist but too many aspects of it are telegraphed early to be shocking.

 

Where the book shines is with any scene involving Liz's family.  Hand to god, I wish the Talbots were both real and part of my life.  I rarely laugh so hard as I do when I'm reading about what Liz's daddy is currently up to. 

 

The only really true let down in the book was sloppy editing; in the past Henery Press could be counted on for solid editing and proofing but lately standards have slipped.  Hopefully it's just a temporary indication of a growing business, and I still look forward to the the next Liz Talbot book.

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review 2018-06-22 09:46
Bodies in a Bookshop (Professor John Stubbs Mystery)
Bodies in a Bookshop - Cassandra Campbell,Peter Main

A re-issue of a 1940's mystery written by Ruthven Todd; I have to say that in general, I did not like this book.  It probably deserves 2.5 stars but the bookshop setting and plot surrounding books keeps me from doing it.  This is an instance when I know I'm being too kind though, because the writing had me skimming from just about the mid-way point.

 

The book (and series) is hyped to be witty and humorous and in the forward Peter Main mentions that Ruthven Todd wrote these only in order to make money; he felt that they were vastly inferior to his poetry.  I put these two disparate ideas together because I can only think that what is considered funny to others is what I felt was a complete lack of respect for the genre.  Of the three main characters, one is a constantly fatigued Scotland Yard detective, another is a corpulent Scotsman, and the third, our narrator, a botanist and assistant to said corpulent Scotsman, who does not hide his complete disdain for both from the reader.  It's a disdain attached to grudging affection and respect, and I suspect it is supposed to be read as acerbic wit, but it just sounded petulant to me.

 

Never thought I'd say this but: there's such a thing as too much Scottish vernacular.

 

The plot was ok, but too strung out and would have benefited from an editor with fascist work habits.  Dover says upfront that the text is from the original published manuscript as it was printed, so fair enough to them, but that just means the original had many flaws, including a niece that becomes a sister and is then demoted back to niece in the span of 2 pages.

 

Dover have reissued a few others of his work, but I won't be searching them out.

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