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!
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THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS by Jasper Fforde

This is the third in the Thursday Next series.  I read the first two before I started the blog, and although I had high hopes of writing up my thoughts on those books, I think we can safely say that it is probably  never going to happen.  I am having trouble keeping up the blog with what I am currently reading.  I do have some excuses, but they are not very good ones, so I am just going to get on with the writing.  I have four more to get down on pixels,  and I have an I Want to Read This One Absolutely NEXT list that is growing alarmingly fast.  I used to worry about living long enough to read everything on my To Read List.  Now I worry about living long enough to read everything on my I Want to Read This One Absolutely NEXT list.

Jasper Fforde is a truly gifted writer.  He is clever, funny, and has an imagination that stretches into the infinite mists.  His style is somewhat like that of Terry Pratchett, the writing is serious, but the word play and the situations are really funny.

The Thursday Next series is  a series of comic fantasy, alternate history mystery novels about a young woman named, what else, Thursday Next.  For Americans, we would say, about a day in the following week, next Thursday, but of course, the British use the expression, Thursday next for that, so her name has more ummmm cachet for the folks across the pond.  The first series is made up of the novels The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten.  There is a second collection, consisting of  First Among Sequels, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, and The Woman Who Died a Lot.

In this parallel universe, England is a republic, with George Formby as its first president, elected following the success of Operation Sea Lion (the mooted Nazi invasion of Great Britain), occupation, and liberation. There is no United Kingdom, and Wales is the independent “Socialist Republic of Wales”. The Crimean War is still being waged in 1985, Russia still has a Czar, and the Whig Party still exists in the House of Commons.

Genetic engineering is far more advanced than in our own timeline, and so Thursday has a pet dodo, Pickwick. Re-engineered mammoths can cause damage to local gardens if in their path, and there is a Neanderthal rights movement, given the resurrection of this kindred branch of human evolution. Interestingly, the duck is extinct in this universe. Computer and aviation technology are far behind our own timeline, with the transistor having never been invented (computers are still massive and run on vacuum tubes) and research into the jet engine unfunded as propeller and dirigible technology are viewed as ‘good enough’.

The line between literature and reality is quite thin, allowing characters in the books and those in ‘real life’ to jump in and out of novels. This leads Thursday to change the ending of Jane Eyre, the joke being that the plot we know in our reality is the far superior change caused by Thursday. This also happens to other classic novels: Uriah Heep becomes the obsequious, and generally insincere character we know, due to an accident inside the book world, and Thursday’s uncle Mycroft becomes Sherlock Holmes’s brother.

In this world, the characters in novels are self-aware, knowing they are in a book. They make comments stating they are not needed until page ‘such and such,’ rather like actors in a play, and thus have time to help Thursday.

The world of fiction has its own police force – Jurisfiction – to ensure that plots in books continue to run smoothly with each reading. Thursday ends up hiding in a book, and working for Jurisfiction. The book Caversham Heights  that features in The Well of Lost Plots is a detective novel featuring Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sergeant, Mary Mary, (listed as Mary Jones in WOLP) who swaps with Thursday. Spratt and Mary get their own Fforde series, The Nursery Crime Division books, and appear in The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear featuring crimes against characters in classic children’s literature.

Ok, so that is a brief description of the series, lifted with no shame whatsoever on my part directly from Wikipedia.

From this volume, The Well of Lost Plots,  we have a character named Harris Tweed,  and a fine description of a Grammasite:

Generic term for a parasitic life-form that lives inside books and feeds on grammar.  Technically known as Gerunds or Ingers, they were an early attempt to transform nouns (which were plentiful) into verbs (which at the time were not) by simply attaching an ing.  A dismal failure at verb resource management, they escaped from captivity and now roam freely in the subbasements.

[I would like to add that grammasites can be seen in the wilds of Facebook on posts such as “I am wanting to find a copy of xxxxx….”   “My son is wanting to travel to Barcelona.  Does anyone have any hotel recommendations?”]

We learn that

The twentieth century has seen books being written and published at an unprecedented rate — even the introduction of the Procrastination 1.3 and Writer’s-Block 2.4 Outland viruses couldn’t slow the authors down.   Authors are beginning to write the same books.  There is maybe a year, possibly eighteen months, before the well of fiction runs dry.

We learn of UltraWord™,  which Text Grand Central, the final arbitrators of plot, setting, and other story elements,will release BOOK version 9, code-named UltraWord. UltraWord is touted at a JurisFiction meeting as the greatest advance “since the invention of movable type” because it creates a thirty-two plot story system and allows the reader to control the story.  However, it has its drawbacks — it makes books impossible to read more than three times, thus rendering libraries and second-hand bookstores useless, and the quality of the writing is also substantively poorer.

There are all kinds of threads and twists, and it is all too complicated to tell you all of it, but if you are a Terry Pratchett fan, and a book fan, it is a good bet you will enjoy Fforde and his cast of lovely characters.

 

 

 

HAL SPACEJOCK: JUST DESSERTS by Simon Haynes

hal-space-jockI like my sci fi sciency and with lots of robots.  I mean, really,  I want robots in my life, not just the kind that assemble car parts and deliver packages.  I like the kind of robots that wait on you, clean your house, and are good at clever repartee.  Kind of like Jeeves with replaceable parts.

In this third in its series, Hal Spacejock, free lance space freighter pilot extraordinaire is running out of options and money.  The only jobs available on  Planet Cathua are shady, illegal — not that that’s a bad thing, mind you — but ones pretty likely to land him in hot water, but now that the local loan shark is after him, using for their muscle a huge unpleasant robot with a penchant for destruction, he is forced to take an iffy job from the biggest robot builder on the planet.  That job would be delivering a sealed shipment to a distant yuk-a-toid planet where there is an operation that refurbs parts and reships them.  Along for the ride is an elderly robot, a bit rusty around the seams, but who (which?) still has all his brain parts functioning very well. 

Unfortunately, the place for repairs on that planet turns out to be a chop shop, and poor Clunk, the robot, is supposed to be chopped up, not given a class on modern technology.  Well, Hal can’t let this happen, especially when his return load is all refabbed parts, not the new ones the robot company claims to use.

So there is lots of thriller stuff, lots of funny conversation, and frankly my dears, Clunk is way smarter than his dented parts would suggest.

A totally fun read, a quasi thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so neither should we.  But be prepared, I am neck deep in a Peter Watts sci fi series, and that DOES take itself VERY seriously.

OK, dear ones, see you on the flip side.

FAT VAMPIRE by Johnny B. Truant

fat-vampireI know I shouted from the rooftops that I would never read another vampire book, that the genre was played out, yada yada yada.  But….. a FAT vampire?   How can you resist?  Well, you can’t, and neither could I.

Reginald, and please don’t call him Reggie, he hates that,  is tipping the scales at about 350 pounds.  No friends, no lovers, no nada, just an IT job with coworkers who tease and bully him.   But there is one coworker who doesn’t do these things.  His name is Maurice, he wears a black hoodie all the time, and a cape, for pete’s sake, and a sword.  He works the night shift, but he and Reginald pass in the break room from time to time, say hello, and eventually decide to like hang out together one night before Maurice has to go to work.  They agree to meet at the local bowling alley.

While there, three strange characters walk in looking for Maurice, and they and Maurice have a confrontational conversation, and all end up out back, where the two very strange woman attack Reginald.  There is blood everywhere and just as he is about to die,  Maurice saves him by turning him into a vampire.  Yes.  In case you haven’t guessed it, Maurice is a many thousand year old vampire.

Vampire life is very different these days.  It is total bureaucracy,  there are rules, and not just anyone can be a vampire.  The days of randomly turning mortals is over.  They have to apply, take tests, study, prepare, and go through a physical boot camp, because as a vampire, you spend eternity in the age and shape you were when you were turned.  And now here we have this unauthorized obese person as a new vampire, out of shape, and clueless as to what to do.  Thank goodness for Maurice, who is working to overthrow the current head of the vampires.

It is all very funny, and even if there is a torture scene near the end, we readers don’t take it all that seriously, because there are something like six more books in the series, and how could the story go on if they all die right in the first volume?   And anyway, this is a vampire tale that doesn’t take itself all that seriously, either.  It is fun, clever, and makes you think….. as you are about to bite into your second chocolate covered doughnut of the morning…. about having to spend eternity in clothes that don’t fit and being out of breath all the time.

You will love the other titles in the series: Value Meal; Tastes Like Chicken; All You Can Eat; Harder Better Fatter Stronger,

ANOMALY FLATS by Clayton Smith

anomaly flatsI had great expectations for this book.  The author wrote Apocalyticon,   which I loved.  A goofy post apocalyptic book with a really poignant underlayment.   So you can imagine my delight in coming across his newest offering.

It has all the ingredients for something really cool in the quantum fiction arena:  Clone Lake, where a dip creates an Evil Twin clone of you, or Plasma Creek, glowing green and which will change anything that enters it into something…..else.  Rain that is hard as nickel, because it IS nickel.  the Fields of Insanity, where the corn whispers despairing words and makes you crazy;  two square miles of Mars, right next to the supermarket.  A Walmart with an Evil Aisle 8,  magnetic fields like you wouldn’t believe, rendering all computer components useless,   a visitors center that you certainly don’t want to visit.

As the plot blurb tells us:

Welcome to Anomaly Flats, a mysterious Midwestern town that’s tucked in somewhere between our world and some other. Or others. Others, probably. Yes, almost certainly many other worlds.

Here, you’ll find a bed and breakfast with tentacles in the plumbing; an all-night diner where you have to drink the coffee before the coffee drinks you; a night sky that’s an all-consuming void; an ancient evil that lives in the local Walmart; and oh, so much more.

Anomaly Flats is the story of a woman on the run who makes a wrong turn into the wrong town.

Our gal Mallory, having arrived in Anomaly Flats where here car immediately dies, meets the only other non-local who has come to town in 12 years, a dweeby scientist who finds all of this fascinating and amazing, and has devoted what appears to be his life to investigating all the phenomena in town.   There is the drooling car mechanic who used to be a famous neurosurgeon until lured into the Walmart for cans of cheap beats, where upon he was attacked by something, and forever changed.

Ok, so that is the bones of the story.  As far as plot goes, it went.  The story didn’t so much arc as it wandered and dribbled off into The Land Of Jokes.   Kind of like a comedian who does nothing but one liners.  It had so much potential, none of which was realized,  descending into the trite and true Ancient Evil trope, partnering with the Evil Twin/Clone trope.

I was so disappointed.  If I were his editor/publisher, I would give it back, yell REWRITE AND THIS TIME MAKE SOMETHING OF IT.  A string of goofy jokes do not a decent novel make.

Vector abstract illustration of Sun with wavy rays in orange tone.

CLOVENHOOF by Heide Goody & Iain Grant

ClovenhoofHeaven is a bureaucracy,  God hasn’t been actually seen around the place in a few hundred years, Hell is wildly overcrowded with people pushing and crushing the entrance, like the Japanese subways at rush hour, and Satan hasn’t met his Management Objectives for performance improvement.  He is to come up with a vision statement.

Vision:  To be the provider of choice for corrective torment and to offer “best-in-class” suffering for souls with challenged purity.”

Mission:  Exploit synergies with other providers and expand into emerging markets.”

After a review meeting where he is found wanting in his executive management skills, he is tossed out on his ear…er horn…to live life as a human on earth.  Specifically, in London, England. He gets a resettlement package that the Authorities consider very generous.

He still has his cloven feet, and his horns, but only one person seems to be able to see them, due to the glamour which the authorities have cast over him.

He finds an apartment  in a small building where he becomes friends with Nerys, a promiscuous chick looking for love in all the wrong places, (but she is organized about it, with a spreadsheet and everything), and with Ben, Nerd Extraordinaire, who is deeply involved with gaming and making miniature gaming creatures.  We suspect he is a virgin.

This book is a hoot.  At first, it being so clever and funny and all, I was afraid it was going to be like one of those SNL skits that just goes on too long, long after we get the joke, laughed at it, and are ready to move on.  But, people, NO.  It just was so adept and skillfully written that it never got stale.

A lot of the fun is watching Satan, under his new name of Jeremy Clovenhoof  learn his way around life on Earth.  Kind of like Mork and Mindy in the first season.  He gets into all kinds of scrapes, becomes a rock star for a night, cooks a gourmet meal for friends, complete with blood pudding using the blood from a mortuary where he is employed, takes away a huge money heist from a robber in hiding as he makes his rounds fundraising, and sets the apartment on fire.  And tries to hide a dead body by first dissolving it in acid in the bathtub.

Turns out there is a plot afoot in Heaven, which is also terribly overcrowded, so much so that a tent city has set up outside the gates to house people still trying to get into Heaven.  It seems that St. Peter and ……  no.  No.  I am not telling you any more of the story.  Go read it.  It will cleanse your palette.

satan 2

THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

rosie projectToday’s offering is a guest post from author and cyber friend Deb Atwood, who wrote the delightful Moonlight Dancer.  Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. She also reviews books at her blog Pen In Her Hand. A collection of reviews, 31 Ghost Novels to Read Before You Die, is forthcoming in 2016. She lives in California with her husband and Nala the Naughty, an unrepentant former shelter dog.   She is here to tell us about The Rosie Project.   (I hate it when she does this.  Now I have yet ANOTHER title for my To Be Read In My Next Life list. Dang.)

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If I were bookstore browsing, I would not have picked up this book. For one thing, the Day-Glo yellow cover seems to scream frothy chick-lit—not my usual go-to in reading material.

But I was visiting my daughter and realized to my utter horror that the books I had downloaded for the trip had not appeared on my e-reader (in my family, books stand in for crack cocaine), so she offered me The Rosie Project. Well, I have not guffawed so much since I re-read Paddington by Michael Bond—the original novel, not the dumbed-down picture book.

The Rosie Project is the best laugh-out-loud novel I’ve read in many a year.

Don Tillman, a socially awkward associate professor in genetics, has an epiphany. He could apply his enhanced intelligence and scientific approach to obtaining a wife. At the age of 39, he has concluded he can never be successful at dating because of his ineptitude at interpersonal communication. (Don exhibits some Asperger-like traits.) His solution is to devise a questionnaire for potential wife candidates using “Likert scales, cross-validation, dummy questions”. He calls it The Wife Project. You get the picture.

Then Don meets Rosie, a combat boot-wearing barmaid…correction, bartender…as Rosie is quick to point out. She favors black apparel and heavy silver jewelry and red hair that’s “spiky like some new species of cactus”. Needless to say, Don judges Rosie a completely unsuitable prospect. Yet Rosie has her own project: find her biological father. Don, with his expertise in genetics, is uniquely qualified to aid her in her quest. And because he has eliminated her as a potential wife, he can relax and simply enjoy her company and help her with The Rosie Project. (Don loves to capitalize and categorize.)

What follows is a rollicking good time for Don and readers alike. Rosie challenges him and forces him to experience a more spontaneous life, all the while hampered by her deep trust issues. Don is a kindhearted soul who, while he correctly assesses his intellectual abilities, does not recognize his internal beauty. He is a diamond in the rough, but, oh what a diamond!

The Rosie Project is a lovely, non-frothy novel that honors love and difference and laughter.

My advice? Pick up a copy of The Rosie Project. But do not read it in  the library. If you do, you’ll be escorted from the premises with a lifetime ban for raucous laughter.

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Thanks, Deb.  And now, in addition to The Rosie Project, I have to add Paddington to that ever-growing list.