AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton

 The blurb says:  this is the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

OK, enough from blurbville.   This is set in England in 1979, and if you like fantasy lite, and sci fi, and reading and witches, you are going to kvell over this book.  Growing up in Wales with a whacko witch mother who is really nasty, our gal and her sister see, cavort and speak with fairies, which are not like any fairies you are familiar with.   At one point, she muses, “I wondered if fairies are a sentient manifestation of the magical interconnectedness of the world.”   Yeah, I often muse that, too.  Even 

She is a voracious reader of sci fi, and throughout the book we are treated (subjected to, if you are not a sci fi fan) of innumerable mentions of the classic sci fi canon from the fifties on.  When she escapes the viscousness of her mother after her sister dies, she goes to live with her strange father, who seems to be under the spell of his two wealthy sisters, with whom he lives.  Our gal comes to the conclusion that these women have a hold over him because they, too, are witches, but of the more benign variety.

Well, me being the sci fi aficionado that I am, loved the references, and had to agree with her when she says, at one point,

Did you ever read so much SF that you start thinking you don’t know quite what’s impossible any more?

The lines blur so much these days between sci fi and reality, and fantasy and reality, that you just have to wonder, don’t you.

I believe this book falls into the category of fabulism, which is a form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting.

It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it immensely.  Because I have never seen a fairy and consider that totally unjust. If the subject of fairies et al interests you, you might take a gander at DAIMONIC REALITY – A FIELD GUIDE TO THE OTHERWORDLY by Patrick Harpur.  I wrote about it here,  but what the gist of what he says about fairies is:

His basic premise is that our psyche extends beyond our physical human bodies.  He leans heavily on Jung’s Archetypes of the collective unconscious,  suggesting that visions and apparitions might well be the projection of those unconscious Archetypes.

He calls all these various paranormal phenomena collectively the daimonic reality, and tells us that although this stuff may have some physical reality, such as crop circles, or Yeti footprints or UFO landing traces, it is not literally real.  It is literally metaphor.  He believes that our modern society has no room for the irrational and the incomprehensible, and that instead of fairy folk myths, or origin tales, we are compelled to convert all that anomalous phenomena into scientificism – scientific and technical explanations.  He points out that even physics, with its ever diminishing size of the foundation of matter – molecules, atoms, quarks, down to claimed entities that have never actually been seen, only postulated, the dual nature of some particles as waves/particles, are really simply more daimonic reality covered over by quasi science.

See what reading fiction does for you?  Sends you off into some other very fascinating non-fiction paths, where your mind can expand on ideas that you haven’t come across before.

 

 

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THE DARK HORSE by Craig Johnson

Yahoo!  Number 5 in the Walt Longmire western sheriff series.  In this tale, Walt investigates on his own when his instincts tell him something isn’t right about a prisoner accused of killing her husband.

Wade Barsad, a man with a dubious past, locked his wife’s horses in their barn and burned the animals alive. In return, Mary shot Wade in the head six times-or so the story goes. Walt doesn’t believe Mary’s confession, and he’s determined to dig deeper. Posing as an insurance claims investigator, Walt soon discovers other people who might have wanted Wade dead, including a beautiful Guatemalan bartender and a rancher with a taste for liquor, but not for honesty.

This was a little hard to read in parts, because, you know, horses and fire.  And in this book, our intrepid sheriff must go undercover to Absalom – population 40 and all of them suspicious of strangers and authorities. The locals are giving him a real hard time, but Walt is not a quitter, and slowly he begins to gather evidence about the victim.

The move away from Absaroka County brings a welcome change of air for the series and an occasion to steer closer to the classic western genre, not only by finally featuring horses, cowboys and Indians, sweeping vistas of Powder River and Twentymile Butte, even a barroom bare knuckles fight, but with the whole plot structure of the Lone Stranger come to bring justice to the lawless frontier town. The regulars of the series (Vic Moretti, Henry Standing Bear, etc) are all there, but they play on the fringes of the main storyline. Dog has a much better exposure than in previous novels and he rises to the occasion admirably. This latest book also has the bonus of offering a glimpse at Walt’s childhood, as his parents’ farm is near Powder River.

We meet the ‘miniature stagecoach robber’ Benjamin – a ten years old tough man ( In this country you don’t touch a man’s horse without his permission ). It was lovely the way Walt handled him, never talking down or making fun of the little guy, stern and authoritative, yet open to all questions and considerate of the boy’s feelings.

[in the interests of full disclosure and fair play, some of the above was stolen directly from reviews of the book.  I am so far behind in blogging my reads that I have taken to ethically suspect shortcuts.]

Another superb offering in this series filled with a cross section of the human condition, folks we are drawn to understand and care about.

MURDER IN THE FAMILY by Paula Bernstein

Hannah Kline is a successful Los Angeles obstetrician and the recently widowed mother of a young daughter. She is barely managing to hold it all together, when her life is shattered once again by the brutal murder of her beautiful, bright, zany and recently divorced sister-in-law Beth. Detective Daniel Ross of the LAPD thinks the killer had a very personal motive. Hannah is determined to do whatever she can to assist the police in finding the murderer. She finds herself obsessed with the details of Beth’s life, and as she encounters her sister-in-law’s eclectic collection of friends and former lovers, she discovers that all was not as it seemed.

Beth is stabbed to death. No enemies. No suspects. DNA evidence points to a relative, but who? Not only was Beth a woman with a secret life, but her secrets may have led her to a rendezvous with her killer.

The author has created a fictional story based on the true events of the brutal murder of a beloved friend and cousin. The first version of the story as a psychological novel remained unpublished, and then came a short story written from another point of view, until the novel in its present form was accepted for publication.

Not a bad mystery.  Writing as therapy.  Write away your demons.  I learned that from reading too much.  Also makes one terribly suspicious of one’s family.  But then, isn’t that what families are for?

ANOTHER MAN’S MOCCASINS by Craig Johnson

This is the fourth book in the Walt Longmire series, which is kind of a tribute to the nostalgic cowboy mythology of the old west.  Great series.

When the body of a young Vietnamese woman is found alongside the interstate in Absaroka County, Wyoming, Sheriff Walt Longmire is determined to discover the identity of the victim and is forced to confront the horrible similarities of this murder to that of his first homicide investigation as a marine in Vietnam.

To complicate matters, Virgil White Buffalo, a homeless Crow Indian, is found living in a nearby culvert and in possession of the young woman’s purse. There are only two problems with what appears to be an open-and-shut case. One, the sheriff doesn’t think Virgil White Buffalo–a Vietnam vet with a troubling past–is a murderer. And two, the photo that is found in the woman’s purse looks hauntingly familiar to Walt.

The story is told in flashbacks, a technique I often find tedious, and yes, I found it a bit tediou in this book, too, but I forgive a lot in this Longmire series, because you do when you love someone, right?  Even the astounding coinkydink concerning the dead Vietnamese woman and Longmire.  But I have a forgiving nature.  It’s how I roll.

Moving right along to the next in the series, The Dark Horse.

 

 

THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN by Alexander McCall Smith

This series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, is now up to 17 volumes.  This engaging series, set in Botswana, has the kind of characters you wish you knew in person.  I talked about the first one in the series, here.   I know I read two more, but apparently didn’t get around to blogging them.   Oh, well.  This is why I started the blog — to keep track of what I am reading because I have the memory of a gnat.

In this fourth offering, we learn that life is never without its problems. Will Precious Ramotswe’s delightfully cunning and profoundly moral methods save the day? 

Now that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (the only detective agency for ladies and others in Botswana) is established, its founder, Precious Ramotswe, can look upon her life with pride: she’s reached her late thirties (“the finest age to be”), has a house, two children, a good fiancé — Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni — and many satisfied customers. But life is never without its problems. It turns out that her adopted son is responsible for the dead hoopoe bird in the garden; her assistant, Mma Makutsi, wants a husband and needs help with her idea to open the Kalahari Typing School for Men;  and now a  sexist rival has no trouble opening his Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency across town. 
This was a fairly lightweight plot, not much in the mystery department, but lots going on in the human nature department.  And as always, things work out well in the end.  After all, we have Precious Ramotswe running the show!

DOUBLE WHAMMY by Carl Hiaasen

R.J. Decker, star tenant of the local trailer park and neophyte private eye is fishing for a killer. Thanks to a sportsman’s scam that’s anything but sportsmanlike, there’s a body floating in Coon Bog, Florida — and a lot that’s rotten in the murky waters of big-stakes, large-mouth bass tournaments. Here Decker will team up with a half-blind, half-mad hermit with an appetite for road kill; dare to kiss his ex-wife while she’s in bed with her new husband; and face deadly TV evangelists, dangerously seductive women, and a pistol-toting redneck with a pit bull on his arm. And here his own life becomes part of the stakes. For while the “double whammy” is the lure, first prize is for the most ingenious murder.

That’s the blurb.  What it means if you are reading this before your second cup of coffee, is that in this book, is set in the small Florida town of Harney, which is a bass fishing mecca.  Sort of.  OK, here’s what I know about bass fishing:    0.     But not to fear, this book will tell you everything you never cared about knowing concerning bass fishing.  Like, it is a huge industry, its proponents are are wild eyed fanatics, and in bass fishing tournaments, as in all other areas of life, there are ways to game the system.

Somebody has gamed Harney’s tourney,  and one of it’s most fanatic fishermen is found swimming with the fishies on the local lake.   That is the beginning of the story.  I always like a story that begins with a bloated, fish-nibbled body.  Sets the tone, you know what I mean?

It turns out that a lot of characters are involved in this deal, including the local TV evangelist.  He wants the tourney to go well because he is buying property along the lake,  while industry further upstream is busy polluting it.  Some other super fine characters round out the story, and all in it was a fun read.

Spoiler alert:   you can game the bass tourney system by raising some big a$$ bass elsewhere, and putting them in a cage in the remoter parts of the lake and tah-dah!!!! you have caught the biggest bass.

In spite of my negative zero interest in fishing, I found the info about the sport and the intrigues pretty darn interesting, and it was a darn good mystery, too.

Want a quote?  Sure you do.

He hated trailer parks;  trailer parks were the reason God invented tornadoes.

Oh, and the title, Double Whammy?  That is a lure.  Learn something new every day, right?

Fore!  Oh, wait.  That’s golf.  Never mind.

KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED by Craig Johnson

Reading my way through the Sheriff Walt Longmire series.  This is the third in the series.  I have already read the 6th and the 8th, I think because I got them free.  Don’t remember, it was a while ago.  If you put in Craig Johnson in the blog search window, you will get links to my ramblings on those two books.

So, in this volume, we are again riding along with Walt Longmire,  sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka County for almost a quarter of a century.  Walt tags along with his good friend Henry Standing Bear on a trip to Philadelphia, and he’s in for a shock. When a vicious attack on his daughter Cady leaves her near death, Walt discovers that she has unwittingly become embroiled in a deadly political cover-up.

With Henry, Deputy Victoria Moretti, the entire Moretti clan of Philadelphia police officers, and Dog as backup, Sheriff Longmire intends to introduce a little western justice from his saddlebag of tricks to the City of Brotherly Love, where no act of kindness goes unpunished.

That is the basic blurb.  I now have read 5 of the series.  I liked this one least so far, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the mystery, or any of that.  It is because I am from the Philadelphia area, have friends who live in the city, and I used to have a business in the city.  And there are references to streets that don’t exist, and the geography is a bit wonky from time to time.  I think I recall reading that Johnson has some experience in the city, so that may account for the aspersion on the city’s denizens, which is fine, too.   But I think my real disappointment is that it is not in Wyoming.   I can read a kabillion police procedurals set in big cities.  But one of the things I so like about the Longmire series is it’s setting.  The setting is almost a character in itself.

So, final judgment:  it’s fine.  It is only me being cranky about it.  Ignore me.  Move along.  He is a really good writer;  his style appeals to me.