WRATH by E. H. Reinhard

A police procedural type mystery.  It was OK,  almost perfectly written, a couple of booboos, but I am easy about stuff like that.  It is about a guy who suspects his wife has a boyfriend, and then finds it is true.  He murders the boyfriend, then the wife, then goes on to murder others.

It was told in a back and forth manner between following the murderer, and following the homicide lieutenant, the portions about the murderer told in third person, the portions about the detective and the police told in first person.  So, basically, we know right from the beginning who did the murders.  Right there, I am losing interest.  I like my mysteries to be mysteries.  This was more of a thriller.  The second trope I dislike and rarely read has the protagonist and/or his/her family in danger from the villain.  I really prefer my mysteries to be impersonal, and the mystery to be a puzzle.

Boy.  Picky, picky, picky.  So in conclusion, it was fine for what it was, it’s just that what is was wasn’t what I like.  Oh, well.  Every day can’t be Sunday.

It is also the first of a series.

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ICY CLUTCHES by Aaron Elkins

Yippee.  I just discovered another very nice detective mystery series.  It features Gideon Oliver, a  forensic anthropologist,  whom his friends and colleagues call the skeleton detective.  In this sixth volume of an 18-volume series,  Dr. Oliver is in the far reaches of Alaska, Glacier Bay,  with his wife, an annoying creature I must admit, accompanying her while she attends a search and rescue course for park rangers.  It is the site of an avalanche something like 30 years ago, which killed all but two members of a botany research team working on the site.

Coincidentally,  the one survivor of the avalanche, the team’s leader who was found unconscious in a crevasse and rescued, and has since become a well known TV figure presenting a popular nature show, is there, too.  He has written a recounting of the incident, but has some tough things to say about his team, and his publisher wants him to go over it with the family members of the dead members, and with the surviving  team member who actually never made it to the site due to illness.   They are to also go to the site and place a memorial plaque.

Well, this guy is just condescendingly annoying, and in fact, all of the people there with him are annoying.  Well, while they are out there on the site for the plaque, they find some bones (glaciers move and flow. Bet ya didn’t know that, did ya.)  They bring the bones back to the hotel, and golly gee, how convenient that the skeleton detective is there to examine them.  He decides to go out to the site with some help and see if he can find more bones, which he does.

The question becomes to which of the three dead members do the bones belong, and — holy patoly! — it is clear that one of them has been murdered by an ice ax in his head.

This was written in 1990, and was a good mystery, intriguing and clever, and as an added bonus, the descriptions of this part of Alaska were wonderful.  It is the Juneau area, remote and dang cold!   Also interesting were the descriptions of how an  forensic anthropologist goes about examining bones, and how judgments are made about its age and sex.  Think I will dig up (see what I did there?) some more of this series.  I really enjoyed it.

 

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden

This is a modern version of an old Russian folktale, or maybe a compilation of several, but it is fantasy, set in Russia in the 1300s, in the days when Moscow was a remote backwater town with wooden structures.

And, as usual, why should I go through the whole plot thing when it has very conveniently been laid out for us already?  Here it is, heavily edited by me to add more details.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.  The area is full of spirits — house spirits, stable spirits, river spirits, forest guardians, all kinds of creatures.  The village people know they are there, but cannot see them.  However, they always leave food and bedding for them.

Vasilisa is special, because she CAN see them, and talk to them.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. This very very young woman has been hiding  the fact from everyone that she sees demons and spirits.  The only place she does not see them is in church, so natch, she has become fiercely devout. And she forbids her new family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.    A monk who is skilled in icon painting is sent to this small village, because he is becoming too popular in Moscow.  He believes he can save everyone because they still have the old pagan beliefs.  He begins to harangue the people in church, exhorting them to give up their attentions and beliefs in the spirits. And so the villagers do, but bad things begin to happen.

Crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Beautifully written, and if you are into folktales, you will love it.  I am not so much a fan of fantasy, so I was not as much  entranced.  I had decided to read it based on all the talk about how wonderful it is.  I have to keep reminding myself to pay attention to the community doing the cheerleading for any given book.

Oh, and the bear and the nightingale?  They are the names for winter and a horse that helps Vasilisa.  This book is just chock full of symbolism, and if you read the book, I do urge you to do a little research on the symbolism in the story.  It is very interesting.

THE SOCKET GREENY SAGA by Tony Bertauski

The Socket Greeny Saga.  Every time I thought of the book in my head, I referred to it as the Lemony Snicket book. Funny how certain language sounds lead you astray, down detours, and away from your terribly serious focus.  Have you read any of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books?  I have, but that was before I started the blog, so it is not included among the books I talk about.  Alas.

But not to fret!  We have another nifty YA in the person of Socket Greeny.  Yes, that is the name of the protagonist, and the ONLY reason I decided to read this book.  Because how can you not read a book titled Socket Greeny?   Although I often say I don’t read YA, the truth is I DO read YA, more than I care to admit to, but usually inadvertently, thinking it is something else.  That’s my story and I am sticking with it.

And yeah, it’s another version of the save the world trope, and the only one who can do it is the teenage principle of the book, but  really, would you rather read about a courageous, curious, interesting, intelligent adolescent, or about some dull-witted kid wasting his life on weed and weaseling out of school?   So I, having no patience with ne’er-do-wells, opt for the zippy teenager saving the world single handedly.

This is fantasy-sci fi.  Kind of Harry Potter meets – oh, I don’t know.  Let me just give you the official plot.  So much easier.

Socket Greeny is not normal.

His funny name and snow-white hair are the least of his problems. When a devious prank goes bad, Socket and his friends realize they are about to lose everything they’ve worked for in the alternate reality universe of virtualmode.

But when the data drain encroaches on Socket’s subconscious memories, some mysterious force erases the event entirely. Subtle clues suggest there’s more to him than he knows and will lead him to discover why his mom is always at work. And just how far from normal he is.

Work has always come first for Socket Greeny’s mother, ever since his father died. But when she shows him the inner workings of the Paladin Nation, he discovers why.

Paladins traverse the planet through wormholes to keep the world safe, but from what, they won’t say. Although his parents were not actually one of them, Socket is different. He soon finds himself in the center of controversy and betrayal when he’s anointed the Paladin Nation’s prodigy. He didn’t ask for the “blessing” of psychic powers and the ability to timeslice and he doesn’t want to be responsible for the world. He just wants to go home and back to school and be normal again.

And when the world is soon threatened and the Paladins are forced into the public eye, Socket discovers what his mother means. If he doesn’t embrace his true nature, life as we know it will change forever.

Paladin Nation.  Every time I read that, the song from the TV show kept popping into my head.  I think this book will appeal to people who are into role playing video games, because it has a lot to do with vitualworld, where they get into a major battle with the Bad Guy of the piece.  Socket and friends seem to incur some real life injuries in that battle, and I am not clear how that happened, because, like, virtual world is virtual, right?.  The Bad Guy reminded me of the Quintessential Enemy,  Harry Potter’s Voldemort — beautiful but deadly.

Anyway, OK, some folks love it, some did not.  I did not love it.  For me, it beat to death that old trope of teen saving the world, so it did not really engage me, although the writing was fine.  I wonder who are the principle target of these kinds of books?  Teen boys?  Pre-teen boys?  Teen or pre-teen girls?

This is a trilogy, but I think I have had enough of teenagers.  Frankly, I think the reason I don’t care for this particular trope is because all the teenagers I know couldn’t be trusted to feed the dog two nights in a row without being nagged, so the idea of any of them actually saving anything other than their leftover pizza is a pretty big stretch.

LOITERING WITH INTENT by Muriel Spark

If you like Muriel Spark, you will like Loitering With Intent.  If you aren’t sure, you will still like Loitering With Intent.   A young woman, working in London on her first novel in 1949, and living in a tiny studio room, bath at the end of the hall, needs a job, takes employment with a certain Sir Quentin Oliver, head of the Autobiographical Society.  He has gathered a number of people together to encourage them to begin writing their memoirs, and our young woman, Fleur Talbot, is to be the secretary to Sir Quentin and the group.

But it is the oddest thing.  Events and a number of the people of the Society, and of Sir Quentin’s household, have a striking resemblance to the characters and actions in her book, which she had started writing long before taking this job.

Here’s the basics:  Fleur has been having an affair with this guy, Leslie.  She also becomes friendly with his wife, but Leslie leaves them both for a pale poet of the male persuasion.   Fleur encourages early on the wife to join the Autobiographical Society for the comic diversion, as the members are all either mad, or strange, or simply so ordinary as to be ludicrous.

Sir Quentin has an ancient mother living with him.  Well, actually, it is her home in the city, and he is living with her.  She seems to be mad as a hatter, but as the tale progresses, we become suspicious that she definitely has all her marbles, and possibly some of his as well.

Sir Quentin has a toady-ish housekeeper who is secretly in love with Sir Quentin, and is unhappily in charge of trying to control the batty Mummy.  However, the batty Mummy controls the housekeeper by constantly being incontinent whenever she wants some excitement.

Fleur has been changing the memoirs of the members, adding in bits and pieces and events that are fun but never happened, because she found their writings to be boring in the extreme.  The members are pushed by Sir Quentin to come to agree that these revised memoirs are the real deal and that those things actually did happen.

In her novel, there is a character heavily resembling Sir Quentin, a character who has a group much like Sir Quentin’s group, and who is plotting some terrible things with them.  One of them commits suicide.  The character dies in a car accident.  Sir Quentin gets hold of her finally completed manuscript, and begins plagiarizing parts of it into the memoirs of his members, and then has all copies of the novel destroyed.

It is not particularly confusing in the reading, but I am certainly making a hash of it in the telling.  As with most of Muriel Spark’s books, it is witty, charming, quirky, and full of fun.  Her Fleur is a happy soul, glad to be alive and who tells us  “How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century.”

Mz Spark has a talent for jamming in a whole lot of a whole lot of into a small work. Her prose is tight, spare, and frankly, funny as all get out.  I had read a lot of her work long long ago, long before I started this blog, but here in the blog I did talk about Memento Mori,  and in glowing terms I might add.

 

A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST by Gene Stratton-Porter

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that in addition to sci fi and detective crime fiction, I like works written in the last part of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th.  Just something about their style and content that evokes the America and England that we are all so nostalgic about.  This book was written  in 1909 and is considered a classic of Indiana literature.

A Girl of the Limberlost takes place in Indiana, in and around the Limberlost Swamp. Even at the time, this impressive wetland region was being reduced by heavy logging, natural oil extraction and drainage for agriculture. (The swamp and forestland eventually ceased to exist, though projects since the 1990s have begun to restore a small part of it.)

It seems today to be a YA, yet at the time it was a best seller to a general audience.  It features a teenager, the only child of her widowed mother, whose mother does not want her.  The husband died in the swamp when Elnore was a baby, and the mother has mourned ever since, tuning bitter and miserly.

Elnore wishes to attend high school in the near by city, and is forced to find money for this on her own.  Fortunately, she is supported emotionally by neighbors whom she calls Aunt and Uncle.  She finds she can finance her academic career by selling moths, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects to a local naturalist who writes books, and can sell arrowheads she finds to the head of the bank, who is a collector.

At the end of her high school career, she meets the nephew of a townsman who is staying in the area to regain his health by spending time outdoors.  Although engaged, the young man secretly falls in love with Elnore, and she him.   After a disaster at a terribly fancy formal engagement party in Chicago where the socialite fiancée pitches a hissy fit in front of everybody and cancels the engagement, the young man returns to the Limberlost to claim his love, who also turns him down, worrying that he will eventually change his mind.

Of course there is a wonderfully sweet satisfying ending, and yes, it is really a very sentimental work, but it is filled with wonderful descriptions of the Limberlost Swamp, and the creatures who dwell there.  Wonderful characters to whom nothing really awful happens keeps us content, because sometimes we just want a story where everything works out  beautifully in the end.

Stratton-Porter was “one of the most popular woman novelists of the era, who was known for her nature books and her editorials on McCall’s ‘Gene Stratton-Porter Page’ as well as for her novels.  At the time of her death in 1924, more than ten million copies of her books had been sold – and four more books were published after her death.   She was a Wabash County, Indiana, native who became a self-trained American author, nature photographer, and naturalist. In 1917 Stratton-Porter used her position and influence as a popular, well-known author to urge legislative support for the conservation of Limberlost Swamp and other wetlands in the state of Indiana.

She was also a silent film-era producer who founded her own production company, Gene Stratton Porter Productions, in 1924.  Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including Braille, and at their peak in the 1910s attracted an estimated 50 million readers. Eight of her novels, including A Girl of the Limberlost, were adapted into moving pictures. Stratton-Porter was also the subject of a one-woman play, A Song of the Wilderness. Two of her former homes in Indiana are state historic sites, the Limberlost State Historical Site in Geneva and the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site on Sylvan Lake, near Rome City, Indiana.

 

A future undated in a huge megacity of over 50 million souls called Metropolis, where it rains 80% of the time, so basically it is either raining or about to.   This cyberpunk dystopian story follows Cruz, a young fellow who has made himself a master of vintage hover-car restoration, and lives in a legacy apartment, one that is his for life without rent, in this city of colossal skyscrapers, hover-cars,  bustling skies and gray people walking  below on the grimy, flashy streets of this neon jungle where the dark dank days are made brilliant by the plethora of neon signs.  As Cruz tells us, “If we ever had an Extinction Level Event, it would be that no toilets would flush, and there’d be no one to pick up the trash.”

Cruz, after seeing an acquaintance of his mysteriously shot to death by cops for seemingly no reason, decides to investigate, and in the process, ends up opening up his own detective agency.   Cruz is a dystopian version of Monk, somewhat OCD, and a germophobe, who gets the skeevies when faced with dirt, grime, and general grunge and germs.  He has a mania for being cool, dressing not in the dark overcoat and hood and black umbrella like everyone else, but in a light color snazzy coat and a fedora.  Hence the name of his agency.

The mystery is interesting, if not engaging, but the fun of this book is not in the detecting, but in the world, and the characters who populate it.  They go by names such as Easy Chair Charlie, whose wife is always referred to as Mrs. Easy Chair, Prima Donna, Punch Judy, so named for having bionic arms and having punched someone so severely she ended up in jail for a time, Run-Time, who has a limo, Uber-type service,  Bugs, who does security – “listening device detection, motion detection security, intrusion defense security, video surveillance, door and wall defense security, door and lock augmentation, trap door and panic rooms.”  There is his girlfriend, China Doll, who is part cyborg owing to an accident that decapitated her, and Phishy, a sidewalk character, man of all acquisitions mostly illegal. He tells us that he tries to scam everybody, even his friends.  If he didn’t, that would be like discriminating.  Well, yeah.  I guess he is right.

It is a world of cyborgs, where people don’t often actually die but have parts replaced, and a criminal cartel called the Animal something or other, and each gang in it had an animal name and wore the appropriate masks.  There were the Rabbits, the Hyperpole Hippos, etc.

It is a book that has a cartoon feel and doesn’t take itself all that seriously.  Just a giggle to read.  My only cavel is the current day slang and expressions which appear from time to time.  This author is not the only genre writer guilty of this.  For me, it dates the book, so I guess if you are writing something that you feel won’t last the test of any time at all, so what.  But really, what are readers to think, 20 years from now as they come across expressions  which no longer have any currency?  Oh well, not my problem.

There appears to be six volumes in this series, plus a prequel short.  I think I am done at this one.  Enough coolness for me.