Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in the Rear View Mirror

Once again, the year ends with approximately 160 books read. Perhaps this is to be my "normal" number now. I think it has something to do with the amount of traveling I'm doing. Out of town for two weeks in New Zealand, then five days in Omaha, another two weeks in Quantico for the holidays, multiple shorter trips to the cabin in the woods, steelhead fishing, and so forth. I just don't finish as many books when I'm on holiday; my routine is disrupted.
The year's winners:

#1 Urban Fantasy Novel - Frost Burned, by Patricia Briggs, trailed by Ever After by Kim Harrison
#1 SF Series by a new author - The Maxwell Saga by Peter Grant (book 3 out in January)
#1 Science Fiction Novel - Midst Toil and Tribulation, by David Weber
#1 Fantasy Novel - The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch, closely followed by Limits of Power, by Elizabeth Moon, and an honorable mention to Imager's Battalion and Antiagon Fire by L.E. Modessit, Jr.
#1 Non-Fiction - No, They Can't by John Stossel
#1 Thought Provoker - The Enemies Trilogy, by Matt Bracken
#1 Travel Book - Tents and Tent Stability, Chris Lown

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Eye of Moloch by Glenn Beck

 This book is the sequel to The Overton Window by Beck. Molly's little band of freedom fighters are on the run from government forces, and not likely to make it to any safe haven soon. Ben has been imprisoned for a while, then conscripted into the armed force pursuing them, though he has no stomach for it. His father's organization continues to manipulate the government and people of the U.S. through its control of the media narrative. As they said in The Princess Bride, "It would take a miracle..."

This story seems pretty unrelentingly dark throughout, which is what the author is going for - to convey the sense of hopelessness that Molly and her bodyguard Thom Hollis and Ben all are feeling against the overwhelming odds.

A great deal of the book is spent exploring the points of view of the bad guys, like white supremacist George Pierce, and Warren Landers, the leader of mercenary corporation Talion, Arthur Gardner's right hand man, and Aaron Doyle, the shadowy figure at the top of the pyramid of Earth's secret masters.

A quote from the lips of Warren Landers, to George Pierce:

"In your own language, then, abortion on demand has murdered seventeen million blacks, and counting...We've normalized the voluntary termination of their babies into just another form of birth control - and a sacred civil right of liberated, empowered women. That's the illusion we've created to make another genocidal weapon in the race war you've always wanted."

Interesting perspective on abortion on demand, eh?

And another interesting bit:

"This 'kill list' to which Mr. Landers referred was a relatively new development, at least among governments that still tipped their hats to the rule of law. Together with a small contingent of advisors the President would regularly meet to nominate and then pass judgement on foreign (and now domestic) 'militant' individuals deemed eligible for termination without the benefit of due process."

If you're not too sure this can actually happen in this country, check out Beck's afterword at the back, with references to all of the scary scenarios he describes in the book. See the National Defense Authorization Act, which legalizes martial law in the U.S., allows the military to indefinitely detain people without trial, and authorizes drone strikes on American soil, if the person is determined to be "engaged in combat" against the U.S. We've already killed American citizens without benefit of a trial overseas, it's a slippery slope to do it here, too. Maybe you trust the current administration not to do it, but what about the next? It's very seldom that the federal government voluntarily limits or recants its powers.

I hope and pray that it never comes to the state of affairs described in this book, but it's just a hop, skip and a jump away if we're not careful about the erosion of our freedoms.

Not quite as good, perhaps, as the first book, so we'll see how things wrap up in the final installment of the trilogy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pet Peeves.

Time for another pseudo rant. Might as well sneak one in before the end of the year, eh?

Several years ago, after traveling overseas, I decided that it would be advantageous for me to buy an e-reader, so I don't have to carry around a stack of paperbacks in my luggage (I took five books on that two week trip). My friend, Stef, had done a great deal of research on readers, and had concluded that, at the time, the best option was the Barnes & Noble Nook. One of the selling points was that it had a feature which allowed you to loan a book to another person who had a Nook, and we were always swapping books back and forth, so I pulled the trigger and bought one.

Even farther back in the mists of prehistory, Baen Books - Bless their souls! - had created the Baen Free Library where their stable of authors could post downloadable versions of their novels (usually the first in a series, or a stand alone). I had used this quite a bit over the years to sample new authors, using the html version they posted. Possibly the best thing about this site, apart from it being free, was that they posted all of the books in as many formats as they possibly could, e.g., Kindle, Epub, Mobi, HTML, etc.

So, no matter what gadget you were using to read, you could enjoy the offerings. No barriers to entry, so to speak.

Later, Baen began to include, in a back pocket in their hardbound books, a Baen Free Library CD that had a collection of novels, often all of the novels currently published in the series that the book you'd just bought belonged to, like all of the Honor Harrington stuff by Weber, or all of the Vorkosigan stuff by Bujold. It was FANTASTIC! Baen was a true visionary, and his passing a tragedy to the world of publishing.

By the time I bought my Nook, there were slightly more than 400 novels which were either available on the CDs, or through the free downloads in the Library, and it made my new Nook immediately usable the moment I unwrapped it on Christmas morning.
With the addition of mountains of free books available on Project Gutenberg, and the occasional free book from Barnes & Noble, I acquired slightly over 700 science fiction and fantasy titles, most of which I already owned in hardback or paperback editions, that I can take with me when I travel. On top of that, I've purchased new titles as they came out from B&N by my favorite living authors, and I have about another 80 or so for which I paid full retail prices.

By the way, kudos to Kim Harrison for regularly releasing $1.99 or $2.99 versions of her Rachel Morgan novels. The last few books I've paid full prices as they came out, but I've been able to add the early books in the series to my Nook collection quite economically. Since I already owned the physical editions, it's a bit less painful to do this than having to pay full price. I see now that Amazon has a program where you can get the ebook version of a hardback you're buying, in a package deal, for a similar price. Just wish they'd make it retroactive.

The most recent statistics I was able to find on Ebook market share show that Amazon, with its proprietary Kindle format, has about two thirds of the market, with Barnes and Noble in second place with between a fifth and a quarter, and the rest tagging along behind. So, I can understand why, in terms of bang for the buck, independent authors are taking advantage of Amazon's easy self-publishing and putting their electronic books up on that site. Perhaps Amazon even demands exclusive rights to sell the books, and the authors can't also place them on B&N.

The problem I have, if I want to try out new authors, is that I can (for the most part) only get their books in Kindle format, which does not work on my Nook. Easily solved, you say, "just get a program to convert them from one format to the other. Have you heard of Calibre?" Well, folks, I've had Calibre installed on my laptop for a couple of years. I got it when I started getting books from Project Gutenberg, as they sometimes didn't have all file formats available. I subsequently have used it to convert a few Kindle books to Epubs, but...

First, if an author doesn't specify with Amazon that the book is to be sold with "Lending Enabled", Amazon puts DRM protection on it and Calibre will not convert it. And sometimes, even when Amazon lists the book as "Lending Enabled" it actually still has DRM enabled, and cannot be converted - this second one really pisses me off, since I won't find out it can't be converted until after I've paid for and downloaded the book. I had that happen, in fact, with the third book in a series I was enjoying. All three books said "Lending Enabled" but the third one Calibre simply wouldn't convert - it said DRM was present. Amazon is pretty good about refunding promptly when you make a purchase by mistake, but ...I wanted to read the book! When this happens, I am actually able to read it on my laptop with an installed Kindle app, but it's really not what I desired - I want it on my Nook so I can take it with me anywhere I travel.

But, "Jon" you say, "just go and download DRM remover XYZ".

Suffice it to say that I've googled DRM removers and haven't been too happy with the options of downloading a non-commercial application that may or may not skirt little legal issues with either the ethics or legality of DRM stripping, plus the fact that I have no idea just who these people are who wrote the software that I'm downloading to install on my personal system. When I finally get up the courage to download one that someone recommended to me, it doesn't work - its plugins won't install with Calibre as advertised, and the software developer's site doesn't have anything in the FAQs about that particular error (and I made sure all the other possible install issues didn't apply), and there's no way to simply email him my question.

In summation, it's all a big, hairy PITA. For no productive results.

If you're a new author, and you want the final third of the ebook market to buy and read your books, you - in my not-so-humble opinion - need to remove as many barriers to doing so as you possibly can. Don't make us jump through hoops; arrogant jerks who are getting six figure advances can do that.

Even just having to convert via Calibre makes me hesitate to buy a book. Possibly having to strip off DRM makes me even more nervous. I'm taking a risk every time I read a new author that I've wasted my money. Please don't make it harder.

More another time on Kindle vs. Nook issues - far too much to cover here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion

 If asked, most people who know me well would say that I'm a bit of a "foodie". That is probably one of the reasons why I enjoy the Capucine Culinary mysteries so much. They provide me with the vicarious pleasure of experiencing haute cuisine in a land long reputed to be the be all and end all of cuisine - La Belle France. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, I probably wouldn't eat in the same types of establishments described in the books, nor would I order the courses lovingly depicted.

My tastes are really quite a bit more basic than that. I tend to enjoy a good plate of fresh-baked biscuits and country gravy, or a simple eggs Benedict with freshly made hollandaise, rather than something with a delicate and complex blend of spices; a hearty and bold Albondigas or Basque paiella rather than a consommé simmered to the point of perfection; a savory bacon and lamb fry pie in a country café instead of an elaborate construction of duck a l'orange at Chez Mitterand.

But I digress.

It's rough being a critic. In fact, it's a killer. One by one, the restaurant reviewers are being snuffed out. Some similarities here between this story and 1978's movie Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe perhaps? The first murder yields a short list of suspects when Capucine discovers that the murder weapons was a curare-soaked poison pellet, and that the Brazilian embassy is missing some indigenes' darts after a reception, and the intersection of the guest lists (think Venn diagram, my math-ee friends) is a small set of Paris' celebrities.

One of the suspects is a childhood friend of Capucine's, which makes things a bit complex, and things become more difficult for her when the juge d'instruction on the case forbids her to interview any of these "delicate" witnesses.

Campion coins a nice turn of phrase when he has Capucine's cousin Jacques say that the first victim was "in flagrante critico" and weaves a wonderful word picture describing Jacques' dinner party guests, "They had all whetted their epigrams well and the conversation tintinnabulated like rapiers ringing against each other at a duel." He also introduces a wonderful new character to the mix this time in the person of Vavasseur, a homeless psychiatrist whose "couch" is behind a police barricade on the banks of the Seine.

The murders hit close to home in the first place because the victims are within Capucine's husband Alexandre's circle of friends, and she also fears that he may end up as a victim as a matter of course. In the end, a serial killer is caught, a blackmailer revealed, and Capucine triumphs once more.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Around the Web

A book review at Sipsey Street Irregulars

Breakthrough by James O'Keefe

 I had been aware of O'Keefe's "sting" videos that exposed the amorality of the ACORN staffers, which subsequently caused Congress to cut off its funding, but I hadn't heard much about some of his organization's, Project Veritas, other capers, which he describes here. O'Keefe seems to have taken a lot of heat for his attempt to expose fraud and and misbehavior at both government agencies and supposed independent organizations that receive government support. It seems that when you offend the powerful and their pet media mouthpieces, being right is no protection from persecution or prosecution.

O'Keefe is seen as a tool of the Right, but he has this to say about it:

"If my targets seem to skew 'left,' it is for a reason. The left makes huge claims about government and its capabilities. Those who manage the government and other publicly funded social services all too often persuade themselves of their virtuousness, even if their virtue is subsidized with other people's money. Given their idealism, they refuse to cast judgment on their mission and tolerate almost no judgment from others.
Our target has never been the people who consume the benefits, whether they be unwed mothers or crony capitalists. Our target is the system that provides the benefits."

In a section on exposing the flaws in a voter registration system that requires no positive form of identification, there's a quote from Minnesota Representative Mary Kiffmeyer:

"If you have no system that deters and detects fraud and you don't determine the identity of voters, the electoral system cannot inspire public confidence."

It seems to me that this principle applies equally well to many other government "freebie" programs. If the voters as a whole are not confident that welfare fraud is being promptly detected, medicare cheaters are swiftly prosecuted, and disability fakers are kept off the rolls, then how can we support those "safety nets" wholeheartedly?

After O'Keefe's minions exposed "holes" in the voter registration system in North Carolina, the Board of Elections instituted some training for its poll personnel:

"They're talking about O'Keefe right now - exhibit about the video is on the screen at today's statewide, several hundred person training. They're using it as an example of 'red flags' for officials to look out for - lederhosen and arm casts. The recording inside polling stations issue has come up repeatedly..."

Typical government response, attack the superficial symptoms of a problem rather than the problem itself. It reminded me of an anecdote told by Richard Feynman about how he demonstrated the lax security on the Manhattan Project by showing the brass how he could "crack" any safe in their offices. Rather than put in place policies to increase security, the dictate was "Keep Feynman out of your offices."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Come and Take Them by Tom Kratman

Tom Kratman once again delivers a great story of warfare between the nations of Terra Nova. Left to themselves, the Tauran Union leadership might be content to merely restrict the freedoms of the people of Balboa by imposing various economic sanctions and hoping that their barbaric moral philosophy leads to their downfall in the end. Unhappily, UEPF high Admiral Wallenstein isn't willing to wait that long, so she bribes and cajoles the Taurans into provoking a war with Carrera's Legion.

There are still a few honest men left on the Tauran side, and their supreme commander, works directly with Carrera to stand down from the first provocations, hoping to achieve an uneasy peace once more. That hope is shattered later when a group of women from the Tauran Union are captured, tortured and killed, and the video released showing that Balboan security forces were responsible. So, the war begins.

Carrera has spent years preparing for this conflict, setting up multiple lines of ambush and surprise to use when it all hits the fan. We get to see some of the preparations, though only a portion of those become relevant in Come and Take Them, so it is likely that they'll be revealed in all their sneaky glory in another installment of this saga.

There are a couple of "cameo" appearances from primary characters in The Amazon Legion here. The action in that novel is going on in parallel with this one, and some of it becomes crucial to the outcome. The book is pretty clear at the end that this is just the beginning of the war, and there are at least a couple of interesting plot threads left dangling; what's going to happen with Carrera's son, Hamilcar, and his harem who worship him as god? and how is the traitor within Wallenstein's staff going to affect the outcome of things?

One quote I found amusing:

"...do we do well on those (standardized) tests because we are bright, or despite the fact that we're bright? Because most of the people who do well on standardized intelligence tests are, as near as I can figure, incompetent, arrogant morons who are ruining our world. Whatever those tests measure, it is not intelligence, and whatever the schools are delivering that those tests get people into, it is not competence."

If I had a quibble with this book, it's that it jumps around so often that I really had to stop and think and concentrate to keep track of who, when and where things were happening. In a way, I suppose, it was a bit like the fog of war, and I really couldn't be certain at any given time who was winning, in the big picture. I also missed the quotations from History and Moral Philosophy that appeared in earlier books.

Pulling no punches, this is a tough war novel, forget the science fiction.

On the positive side, I finally got to find out what Alex Kilgour of the Sten novels "reeking lums" were. On the negative side, I had to wait too long for it, subjectively speaking.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

 So, according to Charlaine Harris' website, this is supposed to be the last of the Southern Vampire novels about Sookie Stackhouse. I expected that she'd be left truly dead in a gutter at the end of the book, somehow, especially as her old enemies all begin to gather and head back to town, with vengeance in mind. But Harris seems to me to have left the door open at the end for Sookie to have a figurative, if not literal, resurrection, and have more profitable (for the author) adventures some day. Of course, you can't trust a popular character to remain safely dead (or undead) these days, just look at Harry Dresden, for example.

Sookie once again gets the opportunity, living in interesting times in Bon Temps, to find out who's really got her back, versus who's just waiting to plant a blade in it. She and Sam Merlotte, her former boss and now partner in the bar, struggle to figure out what their new roles are going to be, especially since Sam is trying to get used to being alive after his untimely demise in the last Sookie misadventure. Eric is hoping somehow to keep his love affair with Sookie alive, even if he has to divorce her and wed a vampire queen in a prearranged marriage, ordained by his master, Felipe. But Sookie isn't thrilled with the prospect of being his sub rosa mistress for what's left of her life, before Eric decides to "turn" her for her own good - and preserve her youthful beauty, of course.

In the midst of this, her old friend, Arlene, who betrayed Sookie and would have seen her literally crucified, gets out on bail and comes for a visit. Someone decides she's more useful to them dead, and frames Sookie for the murder, so she gets to model an orange jumpsuit for a while. But she gets more support from the community than she expected, and her supernatural allies rally to help her beat the rap, while they also must hunt down the true killers and figure out why our heroine is being targeted.

Unlike what you'd expect from the title, it doesn't wrap up tidily and happily ever after for Miss Stackhouse, but at least the current crop of criminals is disposed of for a time. I'd put the odds of a new novel in the series appearing within three to five years at better than even.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Around the Web

A book review on Nobody Asked Me.

Swords & Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

My friend, Mynx, likes to assert that all "buddy" movies are exploring latent homosexual longings between male partners. As I began re-reading, after many years away, the tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, it came to me that I'd seen this pair of characters more recently, in Jennifer Roberson's tales of Tiger and Del, the Sword series, and I thought that perhaps Roberson had read Leiber's stories and wondered, "what if the Mouser was a woman, and from their first meeting there was always this sexual tension between them?"

In Swords & Deviltry, we get to follow the stories of the adventurous pair from their humble beginnings. Fafhrd comes from the frozen North, where the women weave icy enchantments around their husbands and sons to control them. But Fafhrd has always had an unfortunate fascination with "civilization" in the lands to the South, and when either opportunity presents itself in the form of a damsel, Vlana, in distress, or his "mommy issues" simply become too hard to bear, he breaks away from his roots and journeys to the city of Lankhmar to seek his fortune, and help his lady love to avenge her past there. Though Fafhrd is a callow youth, not at all respected by his barbarian kinsmen, he acquits himself well in a fight against older, stronger members while making his getaway, and uses those and other skills throughout the ongoing saga.

The Gray Mouser began as an apprentice to a hedge wizard, who tried to teach him the whiter magic of life and living things, but he had an unhealthy attraction to the dark side, which serves him well when the local Duke has his men kill the wizard and burn down his hut. The Duke's daughter, Ivrian, also liked to associate with the hedge wizard, and she and the Mouser may have had a bit of a romance budding before the tragedy, but Ivrian's unwitting betrayal of their master makes them enemies for a time, when the Duke's men capture and torture him, until the Mouser's dark magics help him kill the Duke and flee with her to Lankhmar. Where....he meets Fafhrd.

When the pair both target a particular set of thieves from the Thieves Guild for assault and robbery, they immediately recognize a kindred spirit, and set off to celebrate their good fortune together at the Mouser's lair which he has furnished in the heart of the slum to keep Ivrian in something loosely resembling the style to which she was once accustomed. The pair grow boisterously drunk together, and end up being dared by Vlana to invade the Thieves Guild hall and get vengeance on its master, Krovas. They succeed in making their way within, and get an audience with the head thief, but unbeknownst to them, the Guild's black wizard has already sent death stalking the streets to their hideaway, to steal back the jewels from their earlier heist.

I was surprised on re-reading the stories at just how "adult" they were. Many of the tales published in the fantasy genre were G-rated in order to get published. These must have danced around the censors' sensibilities to survive the cutting room floor. Unlike some other books I've revisited, these weather the test of time quite well, aside from a rather florid style that Leiber affects when telling the tall tales of high fantasy. Looking forward to grabbing their next adventure off of my shelves and visiting Lankhmar and points beyond with this inimitable duo.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The New American Expat by William Russell Melton

 This is a great reference book for anyone who is considering spending time overseas working. The author has decades of experience doing exactly that, and brings a great perspective to the table. If you've already done some international travel, some of it is perhaps a bit basic, but you can go ahead and skim on to the meaty bits.

I think perhaps some of the best material is regarding some of the attitudes and expectations, i.e., The Right Stuff, that Melton feels a successful expat must have in order to thrive during the experience:

  • Good communication skills
  • Adaptability/Flexibility
  • Openness
  • Tolerance/Patience
  • Sense of Humor
  • Humility
  • Creativity/Resourcefulness
  • Decisiveness
  • Commitment/Perseverance
  • Independence/Self Reliance

His list of reasons folks often become expats:
  • Professional. Career advancement, career expansion, job promotion, more money, increased knowledge of international markets, professional development, resume enhancement and building an international network...
  • Inquisitive. Personal (or family) growth, interest in expanding your personal experiences, interest in expanding your knowledge of the world, adventure, and desire to experience new and different challenges...
  • Remedial. Running away from a difficult personal situation or financial problem...a perceived boring and pointless life...
An amusing bit,
"I found it amazing that most Germans actually obey Walk/Don't Walk signs, whether or not a vehicle is approaching. As a New Yorker, I have always viewed these signs as merely advisory."

A handy tip,
"it is not uncommon in some countries for the lessee to be liable for the cost of repairing appliances if they break down or for routine maintenance costs that are traditionally paid for by the landlord in the United States".

There are some great appendices filled with reference web sites and recommended reading, though much of it seems a bit old, so perhaps updated editions?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Crime Fraiche by Alexander Campion

Despite the amount of reading which I do, I'm not really a literary sort, familiar with the classics and lesser works of the pantheon of Western Lit, so I completely missed the homage to Madame Bovary in the story until it was revealed by Campion about two thirds of the way through the story. Perhaps those of you who are more attuned to such things will catch it on first sight.

So, now that we've experienced crime and punishment along with gastronomic excess in the heart of Paris, Campion takes us out to the countryside, for more rustic fare. Capucine and Alexandre journey to chateau Maulevrier to visit her favorite uncle Aymerie (Jacques' father) at his country estate. It's the heart of the hunting season when they arrive, and their visit falls shortly after a tragic shooting accident, when the manager of a neighbor's beef cattle ranch is killed on a partridge hunt. Though Alexandre is at first not comfortable outside the city, he soon begins to act like a true country squire, strutting about with his walking stick with a flask of spirits concealed in its knob, and hunting partridges and rabbits with the rest of the gentry.

When that death is followed rapidly by several other shootings, Capucine is convinced by Oncle Aymerie that she must bring her Police Judicaire skills to bear and find the guilty parties, thought the local gendarmes have dismissed the deaths as merely the typical toll of the sport of the local nobles and peasantry. At the same time, Capucine's brigade of investigators in Paris are faced with capturing a beautiful thief, dubbed a modern day Robin Hood by the press, who steals from rich artists after gaining their sympathies by fainting of hunger in a public place.

We get to experience simpler dishes at country inns, such as "a tangy dish of marinated herrings cooked with shallots, coriander leaves, herbes de Provence (Jacques Pepin mentioned these on his show last night) , and bay leaves, served on a bed of tiny, round ratte potatoes sautéed in the herrings' oily marinade" or "a carpaccio of raw beef sliced so thin it was translucent, seasoned only with salt, pepper, a trickle of excellent olive oil, and a few drops of lemon juice". Those darned French! It all just sounds too good.

Capucine learns a few things about navigating the political landscape of both the country and the city when she reaps the negative consequences of pulling a few (family) strings to go over the head of the local police and get herself assigned to the case. Some of the old gendarmes turn out to be sharper than you'd expect. It all boils down to the world's oldest motives, sex and money, in the end, but the meandering nature of the investigation gives us plenty of time to savor the hunt - literal and metaphorical.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Once We Were Human by Randall Farmer

 Though it appears to be a new and fresh idea, the central premise of this series, the transformation via a disease into something no longer exactly human, has been used before - the crystal singers' transition in McCaffrey's Killashandra stories comes to mind. The "monsters" need to get "juice" from a special type of transform also reminds me of the Sime/Gen novels from several decades back by Jacqueline Lichtenberg (gotta re-read those one of these days).

We start with the story of a woman who has experienced the transformation unexpectedly, which results in her killing her best friends and her own daughter, and being shackled and led to semi secret research facility where monsters like her are studied and perhaps taught to live with their new powers, if they cooperate and prove useful to the powers that be.

Then we jump to the story of a man who is living in the shadows, and has the ability to consume the dregs or waste product of the "juice" rather than subsist on the juice, itself. He is homeless, and hopeless, but then he is helped by another monster just like himself, who gives him a hand up and some good advice on how to survive in his new life.

Then I thought, "I have more interesting things to read" and I have no idea how it all turns out. Though there are plenty of sequels, I find no motivation to follow up here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Draw One in the Dark by Sarah Hoyt

So, I read According to Hoyt, Sarah's blog, nearly every day, and I find her commentary thoughtful and interesting, but I must confess that so far, though I've read Darkship Thieves, the first 50 pages or so of Ill Met by Moonlight, and a collection of her short stories titled Crawling Between Heaven and Earth, I have yet to find a series novel by her that leaves me thinking "Oh my gosh, I gotta read the next book!"

Kyrie is a waitress in a small café in Goldport, Colorado, who hears a scream in the parking lot out back one night, and steps outside to a scene that totally changes her world, probably forever. For most of her life, since adolescence, she has been able to convince herself that her memories of shifting to the form of a great black panther are merely hallucinations or extraordinarily vivid dreams, but when she encounters a bloody, mauled body outside, her visceral reaction to the blood scent is to immediately shift to her animal form, where she is surprised to find she is not the only shifter on site, there's also a huge Nordic dragon who, in human form, is Tom, a hard luck case that the owner of the restaurant, Frank, hired to cook there. As Kyrie is trying to get a rather stunned and blood soaked Tom away from the crime scene, a third shifter shadows them for a time, in the form of a great golden-maned lion, who later turns out to be a police officer, Rafiel.
(Sorry, folks...missing some paragraphs as originally written here. The following makes no sense without them. Darned laptop touchpad messes things up all too often.)
I kept pushing on through, though, as I really want to give Sarah a fair shake. The dragon triads keep after Mark, and then Sarah, and they eventually force Mark's estranged father (a sleazy lawyer) to try to track him down and convince him to give up the magic jewel, which Mark has hidden in a rather creative location. We later encounter a were-coyote murder victim, and then some were-scarab beetles (what's up with the clues on the identity of the scarabs? The first clue was plenty, she didn't need to show one of them sparing the life of another insect; are they really related, and then should all were-mammals band together to stop killing Bambi?), which for me is where it went even further off kilter. Are there actually any non-shifter humans left in the world, or does everyone have a shifted shape that they merely haven't been forced into yet. Were-slugs? Were-poodles? Were-bunnies?

I love Sarah as an astute observer and blogger, I really wish I could find her books nearly as readable as her essays. I pushed through to the happy ending, but I'm not particularly motivated to find out what happens to Kyrie and Tom and their friends.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

 I think this book was recommended by Alan Caruba, a prolific writer of political columns, and reviewer of multiple genres of books, but I can't be sure at this point. The book reads more like a novel than a bio, with some pretty solid recreated dialogue, well-appointed interior and exterior scenes, and a third party omniscient point of view throughout, although the thoughts and motivations of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, remain obscured here.

It becomes obvious fairly quickly, however, that Mezrich's main sources were all of the "friends" that Zuckerberg screwed over on his way to becoming one of the youngest billionaires ever. The first to bite the dust were a trio of upperclassmen at Harvard who attempted to hire him to develop a social media web site with them, targeted at the dating world. He seemed to agree to work with them, then spent his time developing theFacebook.com, the earliest version of the famed site, limited to Harvard students, instead of working on their idea. He put off their requests for progress reports until his own site was launched, then claimed he'd never agreed to work with them and that their site was substantially different than his own project. Some years later, as a result of a lawsuit they brought, he settled with them for millions of dollars, according to this book.

Perhaps the worst betrayal described in the book was the one he dropped on his best friend at Harvard, Eduardo Saverin. Eduardo was in from the beginning with Mark, and even put up his own money in order to rent servers and support the business in the early days. While Eduardo was in New York between semesters, trying to scare up advertisers for theFacebook, Zuckerberg moved to California and was seduced, so to speak, by the high flying tech star, Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, into the world of venture capitalists. The company was restructured, and Eduardo's 30% interest was diluted away by stock offerings to early employees and Parker, himself. Of course, Zuckerberg screwed Parker over, too, a short time later.

I can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of any of this, but it's an interesting take, anyway, on one of the billionaire bad boys of the era.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion

 The Grave Gourmet is one of those mystery novels that foodies like me, as well as Francophiles, are going to love. Capucine is a young member of the Police Judiciare in Paris who has up to this point been relegated because of her family background and education to investigating financial crimes, and she really really wants to be a "real" flic, investigating murders, robberies and such.

Her husband, Alexandre, is a noted food critic in Paris, so when a murder takes place in a three star restaurant, the commissaire reluctantly decides to assign her to the case, since his main homicide detective is off at a conference in Nice, and her "in" with the restaurant crowd might make this an open and shut case, quickly solved. The victim is the president of Renault, and the probability slowly emerges that his death had something to do with industrial espionage. Fortunately, Capucine also has a cousin, Jacques, who works at the DGSE, one of France's intelligence agencies, who can guide her through that murky world, if she can ignore his feigned? lecherous advances.

We get fun descriptions of menu items like "Hand's version of a BLT-Batavia lettuce, watercress, heirloom tomatoes, and grilled pancetta on a brioche roll delicately anointed with balsamic mayonnaise" and Jacques' sartorial splendor in "a brilliantly striped Turnbull and Asser shirt that fit his torso so perfectly it could only have been made to measure, gold cuff links in the shape of decorative nautical knots, and a solid navy blue tie of rough silk transfixed by a gold hunting pin"or a "cashmere and lamb's wool-blend suit from Lavin and bespoke John Lobb shoes from an Hermes atelier".

I even had to look up a vocabulary word for the first time in a while, and now I know what a "solecism" is, though there was enough context to keep moving along in with the gist of things - I just like to expand my horizons every so often.

Reminiscent of Peter Mayle's mysteries, we get a wonderful sense of French culture, though they tend not to be the sort of story where you are provided the clues at the beginning, and are slowly led to the conclusion, as in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but are perhaps more like a true investigation that meanders gradually around the landscape, eventually flowing to a conclusion that's not too unbelievable.

Campion's first Capucine novel is followed by Crime Fraiche and Death of a Chef, which I hope will be just as savory as this tale.