THE SCAR by China Miéville

The second volume in the Bas-Lag fantasy series.  Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.

For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.

Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission.

I told you when I was talking about the first book in the series, Perdido Street Station,  that each was a stand alone book.  Our protagonist in this book, Bellis Coldwine, was mentioned VERY briefly in Perdido Street Station,  and in this book, the explanation for her having to leave the city is her tenuous association with Isaac Dan  de Grimmebulin, who is the protagonist of that book.

The Scar is a place in the deeps of the ocean where there is tremendous energy source.  When the ship Bellis is on is taken by pirates, and she and the remaining crew, passengers and slaves are transported to the floating city, I just about went into raptures.  The city is comprised of hundreds of ships of all types and sizes lashed and fastened together, and it covers miles.  I was so taken with this notion!

Armada is ruled by a coupled referred to as the Lovers, and they have matching facial scars, which change almost daily.   Many creatures on this city have scars, both physical and psychological.  It is a great title, with so many layers.

Lots of action, lots of intrigue, lots of lying and betrayal.  You know, all the everyday stuff of Real Life.  And vampires.  Armada has a sub city of vampires.  Just in case the remades, the Cactae and the Cray aren’t weird and fantastical enough for you.

The imagination of the man is just astounding, and his ability to convey what he sees in his mind is well, mind-boggling.

 

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TOMAS by Robert Bedick

When Paul Weber is approached by an intriguing widow to write a book about her “highly influential, but criminally obscure” husband, Paul thinks this is the first step towards achieving literary glory. But the more Weber learns about Tomas, the more he begins to question the quiet family life he leads with his wife Sylvia and their young son Josh.

This quirky book starts off simply enough … a meh writer is approached by the widow of a painter to write the deceased’s biography.  Our writer is quite flattered, and soon receives cartons of papers pertaining to the man, clippings, and a number of notebooks of his personal diary.

The writer goes through a lot of paranoid introspection, first intrigued, then agog, then beguiled, all of which we the readers hear about in detail.  As the story plods on, we find we can’t stop reading because there is something just a little …. off …. about it all.   Why him?  Why not him?  Why him?  And the more he reads the diary, the more he becomes convinced that a woman with whom Tomas had an affair was his (the writer’s) wife, and that his son upon whom he dotes, is not his biological son.

An on it goes.  Yes? No?  Maybe so?  Deftly told, stringing us along, we patiently trudge after the bread crumbs being tossed to us.

Seems like a debut effort of Mr. Bedick.  Not bad, not bad at all.

 

DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY by Craig Johnson

A life without friends means death without company. — Basque proverb.

In the second of the Walt Longmire series, he investigates a death by poison.  We are again in the rugged landscape of Absaroka County, Wyoming, for Death Without Company. When Mari Baroja is found poisoned at the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Sheriff Longmire is drawn into an investigation that reaches fifty years into the mysterious woman’s dramatic Basque past. Aided by his friend Henry Standing Bear, Deputy Victoria Moretti, and newcomer Santiago Saizarbitoria, Sheriff Longmire must connect the specter of the past to the present to find the killer among them.

OK, that was the official blurb.   Here’s the deal.  Lucian, the former sheriff and Walt’s mentor, is now living in an Assisted Living Facilty.  Walt visits the old guy every Tuesday evening to play chess, where Lucian beat his proverbial pants off.  But one day, Walt is called to the facility for a suspicious death.  Turns out the elderly woman was once married to Lucian…. for a few hours, before her brothers caught up with them and had the marriage annulled.  She then was apparently forced to marry some nasty piece of work who made her life a misery until he died.  OK, he didn’t just die, she killed him.  Lucian helped cover up the crime, buried the body somewhere, and it was never found.

The woman outlives her four brothers and inherits a sizable chunk of land with its very lucrative methane production.  She has three kids, who all want that money that they are sure they will be inheriting.  And then, there is a granddaughter, new in town, opening a bakery.  When it is found that the old woman was poisoned and didn’t just die of elderliness, the hunt is on for just who did the deed.

Lots of action ensues, Longmire sees visions in the snow, his BFF Henry, the Cheyenne, is on tap to make sure that his bud doesn’t go to that great tepee in the sky.

Sheriff Longmire acquires another deputy, and none too soon because they are shorthanded.  The young man is Basque, a former corrections officer.  Will he work out?  Absaroka County is not exactly a bustling metropolis, and perhaps he will find it boring and not for him.  And at the end of the book, yet another possibly temporary deputy comes on board, after having lost his job with the methane production company.

Another great book.  On to the next!

 

THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY by Genevieve Cogman

The official blurb:  Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

OK, you know me.  If it has anything to do with books, bookstores, libraries, I’m THERE!   Well, here we have Librarians who travel to different dimensions to retrieve special books which are to be kept in the Library which exists out of time and space, or between time and space, or something like that, so that those books will not be lost.  The Library is so vast that it can take days to travel from one section to another.  Kind of puts me in mind of The Library of Babel by Argentine author and librarian Jorge Luis Borges.  Yeah.  So anyway, our Librarian, who is really just a trainee, although an advanced trainee, is sent on a somewhat dangerous assignment to ahem acquire a special book.  Her sub-trainee who is foisted on her, is a strange, but terribly handsome, dude.  Turns out he is a dragon.  Yeah, dragons have all kinds of powers.  They don’t just breathe fire and smell like char.

Anyway, a fun book, fantasy, of course, interesting and clever premise, and it is the first of a trilogy.  I doubt I will search out the other two books.  Once all the fun surprises are revealed in this volume, I think remaining volumes would only be storylines.  I enjoyed learning about the Library and its world, but one is enough.

THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson

After having read two of the Walt Longmire series way out of order, I decided to get myself a list of the books  and read them in order.  As with all good detective/police procedural series, the protagonists develop and grow, and although each is a stand along mystery, the lives of the principle characters continue as a life does.   So, the first one in the series is The Cold Dish,  named after that old proverb, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’.  We meet Walt, Sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, and learn of his adult daughter Cady, a legal eagle practicing law in Philadelphia, and meet Vic, his tough deputy, a gal with a whole family on the police force in Philadelphia, who is smart, gutsy and has a mouth like a stevedore.

The blurb tells us that the story is about Cody Pritchard, a young man found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all.

So four young men brutally gang rape a young woman who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.  She does not testify against them, because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.  Then one of them is found shot.  And then another of the four.  Things get complicated, but the likable sheriff with the help of his lifelong bff, A Cheyenne native, work together to discover just who seems to be stalking those young men.

I really like Craig Johnson’s writing style.  Clear, with a touch of humor, he creates a decent guy as the protagonist, one we can all like.

PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Miéville

China Miéville is a weird fantasy author.  No, really, that’s what he calls himself:  an author of weird fantasy.  He is also a damn competent sci fi author, (see Embassytown here,)  and a workman of the  odd genre tale (see The Census-Taker  here.)  In his New Crobuzon series, we are introduced to the world of Bas-Lag, a fantasy world full of weird and wonderful creatures and environments.

Each volume in the series is a completely stand alone book.  The only link is the Bas-Lag universe world.  It is fantasy, fantabulism, and yeah, OK, downright weird, but oh, so readable!  I mean, really, who doesn’t get caught up in the world of humans, remades, which are humans being punished by grafting on mechanical devices, or part of other species, which then suits them for various specific jobs.  Or not.  There are frog people who can craft golem made of water, and cactus people, spiny dudes, grumpy and prickly, flying people of various types, and some hybrid bug-human creatures.

So what is Perdido Street Station about?  Um, well, umm,  it’s set in a city called New Krobuzon where there are humans, but other races like I said,  as well as steam-powered robots and cyborgs, though there are also magicians and scientists. The story is about a scientist who is asked to help a crippled bird man fly again but by accident releases a plague of trans-dimensional moths onto the city that eat people’s minds. Oh, and the scientist is involved with a woman who’s head is a scarab beetle and who makes sculptures out of her own spit!”

Yeah, steam punk set in 1799.  Of course, it is not clear whether that 1799 is our universe’s calendar year, or New Crobuzon time, but really, when steam powered machinery work arm-in-arm with magic, but they STILL don’t have indoor plumbing, who cares, right?

Really long work, but the writing is pearlescent.  Description after description, without it feeling like information dump, we come to really know this place.  Maybe more than we wish.

Yep, I am really a fan of Miéville.

THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss

This is a story about a boy in Poland at the start of the Second World War, who falls in love with a girl his age.  But, as happened so often in those times, the girl was sent to New York by her family, as a response to the rumblings around them of the German activities.  The boy, Leo Gursky, at a later time, is hustled to hide in the woods by his mother who says she will join him.  The Germans come to the village and kill everyone.  The boy, saved by another, makes his way, also to New York, hoping to find Alma, his love from the village.  But not having heard from him at all, she assumed, with good reason, that he was dead, and married someone else.

Fast forward to NYC, present time.

Here there are three narrators: Leo Gursky, our Holocaust survivor and sometimes writer, living alone in New York, waiting to die; 14-year-old Alma Singer, a precocious girl who has to deal not only with her father’s death but with her mother’s subsequent depression as well; and a third person omniscent narrator who relates the story of a little-known book called  The History of Love. It goes without saying that these characters are connected in ways they don’t understand which turns out to be the mysterious book) and that somehow this connection, once made, will help everyone involved.
One of those books with several seemingly discrete storylines, which eventually get woven together.  In this case, they got a little confusing, and a little tangled, but it was still a lovely story nonetheless.
Leo has an upstairs neighbor, who is also part of the tangled threads.   Some of the book is a little look into the dilemma of aging and loneliness.  Leo tells us, “I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I’m out, I’ll buy a juice even though I’m not thirsty. If a store is crowded I’ll even go so far as dropping my change all over the floor, the nickels and dimes skidding in every direction.”  We become more and more invisible as we age, but perhaps not so invisible as we think.  
I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  Perhaps you know that Nicole Krause was married to Jonathan Safran Foer, whose work I have talked about here on the blog.  Just put his name in the search window.  The two divorced in 2014.  Just a little bit of trivia for you, to keep you on your toes.