STAR ISLAND by Carl Hiaasen

South Beach neighborhood of Miami, Florida.  Home of the crazies, celebrities, celebrity wannabes, paparazzi, happening nightspots and celebrity-chef eateries, chain stores and indie fashion shops, well-preserved art deco architecture, outdoor cafes  and museums such as  the Wolfsonian-FIU, with its collection of modern art and objects.

Twenty-two year old Cherry Pie, a celebrity pop singer known not for her terrible singing ability but famous for being famous, ever since she was 14.  Cherry Pie, formerly Cheryl, is on a fast track for that great stage in the sky, by way of drugs, alcohol, sex and rock n’ roll.  It has surprised all who know her that she hasn’t bitten the big one yet.

Stage mother and manager Mom keeps on the payroll a look alike named Annie for those times when Cherry Pie has to be rushed out of a trashed hotel room to the emergency room due to chemical and/or alcoholic excesses, because the paparazzi are relentless sharks, with the mags paying the most for naughty pics, pics of trashed, wasted celebs, stars gone to the bad.

This is the story of a paparazzi, of the ditzy druggy celebrity and her body double, her maimed body guard with a weed wacker for an arm prosthesis, and the former governor of Florida, a sweet Viet Nam vet who spends only a few days in office when he realizes that the greed and corruption will make him crazy, and one day just disappears.   He now lives in the swamps of Marathon Key, and pops up occasionally to right environmental wrongs.  One wrong he righted was the punishment of a developer who clear cut all the mangos from an area he wanted to develop.  The nutty ex-governor kidnaps him and diapers a stinging sea creature to his privates.  That took care of him, that’s for sure!

I am coming to learn that Hiaasen’s books are about moral outrage, real estate schemers, financiers and others who are laying waste to Florida in the name of “progress,” about the superficial celebrity culture of the day, and above all, a weird kind of humor.

My first Hiaasen book was Double Whammy, which you can read about here.

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SUPER SECRET SPACE MISSION by Chris Lowry

A tongue-in-cheek comedy sci fi tale based on every sci fi trope ever.  Plus a few sit com tropes thrown in for good measure.

A lone driver in Nevada passes by a hitch hiker.  Not far down the road, he gets a blowout, the hitch hiker jogs up to help change the tire, the driver is thereby forced to give the guy a ride.  They do not get along well, and in listening to some music, pass a turnoff on this lonely road.   They end up at what appears to be a government military installation where they are summarily hauled inside having been mistaken for a couple of hot shot space guys who are needed for a mission.

Lift off is nigh, they are forced into space gear and shot off into space to intercept a huge secret space station which has been taken over by aliens.  Guess what they look like.  Right.  Alligators or reptiles.   The only crew member left alive is a woman mechanic, who, coincidentally also is a trained pilot.  The douchebag driver spends the rest of the book hitting on her, in all the sexist tropes you’ve ever read, and the second half of the book is devoted entirely to the battle between the reptile aliens and our little trio.  Don’t forget the potty humor which should appeal the the ten-year-old-boy in all of us.

Of course, the trio manage to escape the space station back into their shuttle and get home.

Don’t know why I bothered reading this whole thing.  Not particularly funny, tedious, predictable, and a couple of hours I will never get back.  And there are sequels.

 

A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black

The fourth in the pathologist Quirke series.  Not so much a mystery as a noir story.

Quirke is called out to sub for the vacationing pathologist on duty to view the body of prominent citizen Dick Jewell, who was found in his home office above the stables with his head blown off, holding a shotgun.  Since it is pretty difficult to commit suicide by using a shotgun, Quirke and Detective Hackett conclude it is murder.

The suspects are the French wife, the yard man in charge of the horses, the dead guy’s ex friend with whom he had a quarrel recently and who wanted to buy out Jewell’s interest in the local paper, the step-sister, and possibly the ex-friend’s ne’er-do-well son, recently back from Canada where he had been sent after some other bad deeds.

Quirke is warned off the case, and his assistant is attacked in the street and a finger cut off and sent to Quirke.

Quirke gets romantically (read sexually) involved with the none-too-grieving widow, and we once again find ourselves with references to the orphanage where Quirke spent a year of his boyhood and with whom the deceased has a philanthropic connection.

Very noir, and one wonders since Quirke is pictured as a huge, lumbering middle aged man, just how he manages to be to attractive to these various lovely and attractive females.

Not a bad mystery, but even I was on the right trail from about halfway through the book.  Pretty much a personal best for me.

 

 

THE OBELISK GATE by N. K. Jemisin

This is the second of the Broken World trilogy, and it is every bit as good as the first.  I have found that trilogy-reading can be dicey.  Usually, the first is great, the second is pretty good, and the third is meh.  Not always, but often enough for me not to get my hopes up.  Well, raise the hope flag, kiddies, because The Obelisk Gate is another page turner.

It continues the story of Damalya/Syenite/Essun, as she travels on to find her daughter, Nessum.

In the world of the Stillness, earthquakes occur with such devastating frequency that their aftermath is called a Fifth Season: a season of ashy skies, boiled oceans, fauna and flora that change their behavior in accordance with the vicious atmosphere. The world has lasted this long because of orogenes, people born with the ability to manipulate thermodynamics such that they can quell shakes and divert disaster. But orogenes are a feared and oppressed minority among the so-called stills, kept in check by Guardians who can resist and disrupt their power.

We now see Essun — who was Syenite, who was Damaya — living underground in a strange crystal-ridden community called Castrima. Essun had been taken in by a community that at least nominally accepted roggas (as orogenes are called, derisively.) The community lives in a geode deep in the earth, a structure undoubtedly of ancient and occult origin. She and her traveling companions—a boy who is not a child, and a woman who has strange talents of her own—attempt to fit in, to grieve and survive this bleak new world. Essen also finds someone from her past: a teacher of sorts, a lover, the strongest orogene in the world. The man who broke the world as it broke him. , learning that her old friend, mentor and lover, Alabaster — the most powerful orogene in the Stillness — is responsible for the current Season. Drawing power from the incomprehensible obelisks that float in the skies, he tore the continent apart trying to use their power to break the sick social order and begin the enormous work of ending the terrible cycle of Seasons.  He is trying to bring the moon back into orbit, from which it was flung eons ago.

But the cost of using the obelisks is high. Alabaster is slowly turning into stone, and Essun needs to learn all she can from him if she’s to complete the work he began, and end the Seasons once and for all.

The Obelisk Gate won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016, and The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015.

ALL THE FLOWERS ARE DYING by Lawrence Block

The sixteenth Matthew Scudder NYC detective series.  Hated it.  It features that same serial killer from the last book, and once again we have the sections told from the perspective of the serial killer and pfffft,  stop, just stop doing that.

Scudder is 62 years old now,  prosperous, semi-to-mostly retired, the book has lost its late 1900s gritty noir feel, he doesn’t live in that hotel room any more, he still goes to AA meetings, and basically, the entire trope feels tired and like the author has gotten thoroughly sick of Scudder and this series.

There is a small side mystery which he solves, but nah.  Oh, well, all good things must come to an end.

There is one more in the series which looks a lot more interesting, so I will read that just to say I read the whole series.

 

THE FIFTH SEASON by N. K. Jemisin

No, this is not a sports book.  It is an epic fantasy, a trilogy, at least so far.  It won the Hugo Award in 2016, which is the top award for sci fi and fantasy.

Not all fantasy genre books are about dragons and magicians and wizards.  The Fifth Season takes place on a planet with a single supercontinent called the Stillness. Every few centuries, its inhabitants endure what they call a “Fifth Season” of catastrophic climate change.  The supercontinent is called the Stillness in contrast to the earth itself, which is in constant motion with plate tectonic movement, volcanoes constantly building, small tremlors always in play throughout the planet.  And the main focus of the story are the  Orogenes: people with the ability to control energy, particularly that of the earth (directly) and temperature (indirectly). They can cause and prevent earthquakes, and when angered can unintentionally kill living things in their “torus”, or area of influence, by stealing the heat from their bodies to use as energy to manipulate the ground. When this occurs, a visible circle of frost appears around them and living things can be flash-frozen solid.

They are widely hated and feared, and many are murdered by small-town mobs when their powers are discovered in childhood. If they are not killed by their family or comm,(village or community),  they are given to a Guardian, to be trained at a location called the Fulcrum inside the city of Yumenes. Fulcrum-trained orogenes are marked by their black uniforms, and are tolerated slightly better than untrained orogenes, in that they are not murdered quite as often. They wear rings on their fingers to denote rank, ten-ring being the highest. The slur “rogga” is used against orogenes, who likewise call non-orogenes “the stills”.

Fulcrum-trained orogenes are sent on missions to various locations to subdue earthquakes, volcanoes, get rid of coral blockages of harbors, etc, and thus are respected if not liked.

This book is all about stone, and geology, and energy lines and sources.  It has some strange creatures, such as the stone eaters, beings who are made of stone and are like living statues who can move through walls and rocks.

The principal character is an orogene who over the course of the book has three identities as her life changes and shifts.  The book opens with the end of the world, but is it really?  It is a book about oppression and power.  I was going to say more, but I think I will just leave it at that.  Extraordinary world building, characters with hearts made of stone and hearts that can actually move stone.  Some really nifty creative ideas, which when you get right down to it, is the only reason to read fantasy — to see what amazing ideas someone can come up with.

Two more to go in this series,  The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky.    I think I will give the next one a try and see how it goes.  My experience with trilogies is that usually the first is great, the second pretty good and the third ho-hum.

HOPE TO DIE by Lawrence Block

Number fifteen of the Matthew Scudder series.  I hated it.  Well, perhaps that was a little strong.  I didn’t care very much for it.  And here’s why.

First of all, the first person down-to-earth style narrative of Scudder was interspersed with third person viewpoint of the serial killer.  OK, and that is the ‘second of all’ thing — serial killer.  Kind of like when all else fails, haul out a serial killer perp.  Anyway, back to my ‘first of all’.   I don’t really like knowing who is the perpetrator.  I especially don’t like long drawn out passages giving us his stream of conscious thoughts.  I prefer to know only what the investigator of the murder knows.

Third of all, …  but wait.  Before I give you a third of all, I should give you some plot.  A prosperous couple is murdered and tortured in a home invasion robbery.  The two perps were shortly thereafter found  dead in an apartment in another neighborhood, a murder/suicide.  Case closed.

But Scudder, being Scudder, can’t quite believe it is all that simple because of several factors.  So he …. and here is the third of all …. he posits a third person involved,  in a completely implausible out of the blue scenario that really felt like the author realized he wrote the P.I. into an impossible corner and the only way to get him out was to come up with the mystery writer’s equivalent of “And then magic happened.”

On the personal front, his ex wife dies, he attends the funeral and sees his two sons from whom he is if not exactly estranged, at least extremely distant from.  One son is doing OK, and the other is an alkie and a ne’er-do-well, who later hits him up for money.

Meh.