January 2020 — A Wrap-Up

The cover of the book, 44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

So, Mr. Smith’s books are usually a hit or a miss for me. For instance, I loved the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency installment that I read last year. But the book before it was a bore. Thought I’d give another series a try and found it’s the same. In fact, I think this one might be a complete dud.

We meet a set of characters in the eponymous first book. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you one interesting thing about any of them. I didn’t even like most of them actually. But it filled in the requirements in a challenge that I’m doing, so…

Sure, reading about people going about their lives can be interesting. But I do need something to happen to keep things that away. In this book, there was none of that.

In short, I won’t be reading the other books from the series.

The cover of the book, Johannes Cabal the Detective, by Jonathan L Howard

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

Another solid installment in the Johannes Cabal series. From a necromancer to well, mostly, a detective — there’s a scene where Cabal resorts to necromancy to gather information.

There’s something to be said for a fictional adventure that starts by pushing the audience right into the middle of an ongoing scene (here’s looking at you Thor Ragnarok). We instantly become part of the adventure and if the author can keep up the pace…awesome! The book opens on Cabal trying to help a corrupt general with a revolution in a make-believe country. Since the general intends to off Cabal as soon as he’s done um helping, the necromancer doesn’t take to it too kindly. Cabal, thus, runs. And things happen. We meet with a character from the previous book too!

The humor, the puns, and the writing all make up for one interesting read. I dunno why but I imagine Robert Downey Jr. as Cabal as I read these books. He’d be sassy and badass enough to pull it off, I think.

Cannot wait to read the next book!

The Movie Tie-In cover of the book, We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, showing Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I watched the movie even as I read the book that began it all. So, this is going to be a review of both. The movie was different in one big way, which was off-putting for me while I read. There’s a suggestion by the author that the mother was to blame for her son’s actions. I didn’t like it because as I read, I could see that she did all she could do to connect with her son. And that was with her husband belittling her authority and dismissing her doubts at every turn.

Ezra Miller plays Kevin in the movie and he was suitably intense, good-looking, and creepy. Tilda Swinton’s the mom and she was amazing, as usual. I also liked that the movie didn’t actually show the scene in which Kevin shoots eight of his classmates and a teacher. It was tasteful and respectful and no less disturbing.

Now for the book. The epistolary narration worked for me. It is written in the form of Kevin’s mom’s letters to his dad. We find out later about why he’s missing from the picture and it is heartbreaking. What was irritating was the verbosity of the prose. The mom in the book is easier to hate because she sounds pretentious — which was a point that Kevin makes. She looks down on almost everybody. Still irritating to read, though.

A scary book made even scarier by the tragedy of school shootings in real life! But don’t expect there to be any suspense. We get to know what Kevin did in the initial chapters. The rest of the book is about the events that led to the shooting.

The book cover of Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

The first book in the series left me less than impressed. The second is either slightly better or the series is growing on me. In any case, it’s still missing the spark that made me fall for the Weather Warden series. The one that made me care about what happened to Jo or David. Any of these guys can die and I would simply turn the page and keep reading.

It could be that things that should be monumentally difficult for the protags become suddenly too easy, such as Morgan escaping the tower where she’s supposedly imprisoned to visit her friends whenever they really need her. Or that we have yet to see them face any huge losses. It could also be that the main character, Jess, is not interesting enough. The author constantly tells the reader how smart he is or how resourceful. But if you have to give that many reminders… Finally, it might also be that nothing important happens in this book, except for the group rescuing Thomas.

I’ll read the next one, sure. Can’t give up now!

The book cover of Embassytown by China Mieville

Embassytown by China Miéville

This is my second China Mieville read and I thought that my head-over-heels over routine was a one-time thing. I almost stopped reading because while the author does put the readers right in the middle of things, they didn’t bother explaining…anything! All the terms that the humans colonizing an alien planet use were confusing for me. So, just as I was about to give up, a good soul on Goodreads told me this was one of their favorite reads. I decided to stick with it — even if I could whine about it in a review later.

And then, OMG. The alien race who were the Hosts didn’t have many words in their vocabulary before the arrival of the humans — because they never needed to use those words. As a result, though, they never developed the ability to lie. Neither do they have any concept of metaphors or similes. They must get the humans to enact a certain motion, which then makes it true. So, they use it as a roundabout way to metaphorize.

There are descriptions of a festival where the aliens attempt to prevaricate as if it is an extreme sport. Most of them fail; some get halfway there. The outcome is an induction of a high that they cannot get enough of. And then…they literally can’t get enough of it because they get addicted!

The near-genocidal civil and inter-species war that ensues is every bit as interesting as it sounds. And then the speciation that ensues is just beautiful!

In short, I’m SO glad that I didn’t give up on this beautiful book. It makes you work but the payoff is well worth it.

The cover of the book, The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

A quote to start:

A plantation was a plantation; one might think one’s misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality.

Oh, this book broke my heart on so many occasions and yet, I didn’t want to stop reading it. One reason is of course how beautifully it is written. But another is how it makes the suffering come to life without making a spectacle out of it. Felt like this when I was reading Night by Elie Wiesel.

And then there is the uncrushable human spirit. Cora is trying to escape the horror that her life simply because of the color of her skin via the Underground Railroad — a literal track in the book. She is thwarted at every turn or betrayed but she doesn’t give up. Cora also says skin-peeling and completely true things, like:

Once again, Martin apologized for his wife’s behavior. “You understand that she’s scared to death. We’re a the mercy of fate.”
“You feel like a slave?” Cora asked.
Ethel hadn’t chosen this life, Martin said.
“You were born to it? Like a slave?”
That put an end to their conversation that night.

All in all, another all-star book that I read in January!

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Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

I know, I know. I’ve rated a Discworld novel 2 stars. But for good reason. The characters are quirky as heck and the writing retains its lovely humor and depth. The plot, though, was nowhere to be found. I don’t know what this book was about or why it was written, except for laughs. Laugh, I did. Luggage is its amazing and stubborn self. The bad guys are well done. Even the little boy who is the seventh son of a seventh son and a sorcerer was well-written and made you feel sorry for him while he was trying to take over the world.

But the story of Rincewind didn’t advance at all. We don’t see his character develop in any way. Nothing important that would give us a hint about the overall arc of life in Discworld happens.

Hence, two stars. Sad ones.


The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

The lyrical language and the patriotism that is at the root of this author’s protagonists are two things that draw me to his work. Just like with Tigana, they were a part of this book too. I cannot comment on the historical or cultural accuracies but I did notice one thing. The characters followed one of the three main religions that bore a close resemblance to three in the real world.

You may be put off by the perfection of the protags, though. I realize it is there sure, but that doesn’t make me love GKK’s work any less.

Many reviewers also complain about the girth of the book and how much of a slogfest it is. It’s somewhat true because Tigana was a chunkster too. But I don’t really notice the page number when I’m reading something by GGK. I hope I continue to feel this way!

The cover of the book, A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony

Some books, I note sadly, I’d have loved so much more had I read them when I was younger. This is one of them. Sure, it is punny and is fantasy — two things that I usually like. But not being able to care about the characters makes it less of a fun read. I’m sure the younger me would have appreciated it more.

In any case, I intend to try a few others in the Xanth series before I give up on Piers Anthony.

So, this is what I did in January. How did yours go?

7 responses to “January 2020 — A Wrap-Up”

  1. […] Ms. Caine’s writing sucks me in without fail. Whether she is writing about weather-controlling women with a lousy fashion sense or djinn-turned mortal women with ice blond hair, I am willing to listen. This one was no different, even if the premise is nothing like it had been for those other books.Libraries, for us readers, are bastions of knowledge. Even after those who wrote their phenomenal texts or others acting as scribes preserved someone’s memorable words are dead and buried, the libraries guard the work they left behind. Libraries also make it available to the future generations — both the good and the bad.Imagine, if all such houses of knowledge united under a central authority and started controlling what they treasure now. We’d have to say goodbye to new inventions because they may threaten the library’s station, including mass production of books and multiple copies of the same book. The pleasure of holding a book in your hands or owning it would become a crime. That’s the world this book is set in. This Library did so much more, though. It kidnapped people with rare, special abilities and forcibly bred them. It had an army at its command. It razed countries that dared to question its authority. It punished those who ran rings that smuggled books to collectors, readers, and ink-eaters — yeah, it is a whole other gross thing. Oh, and as the final nail to a reader’s sensibilities, the author set the Library of Alexandria in the villain’s role. I lapped it all up greedily. So far, everything was great. There was even a use of the fact that many human minds come up with similar ideas without having met the other thinkers. Factual case in point, Mendel and that other guy. Fictional case in point, Gutenberg’s Press and other characters from this book.Now, if only I could connect with the protagonists. But I didn’t care about which of them died or who survived. To my Potter-riddled eyes, a black-robed professor sounded like Snape Lite. In my defense, that’s how he was introduced minus the Rickmanian hair flip. Later, he evolves into someone who gives a damn — see, very un-Snape-ish behavior! Even then, I found lukewarm concern for him when they arrested him. To conclude, if you like a good story and think, to hell with the characters, then this book is for you! I review the second book here. […]


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