Mike Finn
"Shooting The Apocalypse" by Paolo Bacigalupi - first story in "Loosed Upon The World" anthology

 

John Joseph Adams wants the climate change stories in "Loosed Upon The World" to:

"serve as a warning flare, to illustrate the kinds of things we can expect if climate change goes unchecked, but also some of the possible solutions, to inspire the hope that we can maybe still do something about it before it’s too late."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I bought the anthology because the first story is "Shooting The Apocalypse" Paolo Bacigalupi.

I was introduced to Paolo Bacigalupi by his astonishing book, "The Windup Girl" set in a future Thailand which is under constant threat of flooding.

 

What made him a must-read writer for me, was his book, "The Water Knife", set in a fractured future America, devastated by storms and desperately short of water.

To stem the tide of climate migrants, especially from Texas, movement between the States is now illegal. The story focuses on the fighting between Nevada, Arizona, and California for control of the ever diminishing Colorado River. 

It's a horribly plausible, fundamentally brutal world in which, as his main character explains:

“Some people had to bleed so other people could drink. Simple as that."

 

"Shooting The Apocalypse", set in the same future as "The Water Knife" follows a local photographer and an ambitious Northern journalist as they follow up on what they hope will be the story that makes their careers.

The story centres on the CAP (The Central Arizona Project), a huge canal that brings water through the desert from Colorado to Arizona and the things people are willing to do to protect the water they have from those who have none.

 

The writing is muscular and unflinching in the way that it confronts the violence produced by anger and fear. The hardening of attitudes and the lack of empathy described is grimly convincing but the real push of the story is to show us how rarely we choose to the see things as they are and then act on what we see. Instead of seeing things how they are and adapting to them, we remember how they have been and try to retain or rebuild as much of the old world as we can, no matter how infeasible that is.

 

One of the groups trying to escape from a clear vision of reality is the refugees, mostly from Texas, who have lost everything and are welcome nowhere. They are "ministered" to by a group nicknamed the Merry Perrys, who prescribe a form of roadside spiritual aid that is big on buying friendship beads and earning salvation through repentance. Timo, the photographer, recalls doing a story on one of the Merry Perrys' meeting. He remembers the...:

"...tent walls sucking and flapping as blast-furnace winds gusted over them. The dust-coated refugees all shaking,moaning, and working their beads for God. All of them asking what they needed to give up in order to get back to the good old days of big oil money and fancy cities like Houston and Austin. To get back to a life before hurricanes went cat 6 and Big Daddy Drought sucked whole states dry. "

Of course, there are downsides to seeing the world too clearly for too long. Reality tends to break the polite pretences that allow people to spend time together.

Timo knows how this works. At one point, he loses his temper with Lucy, the Northern journalist because he thinks she's playing him. He calls her on it and she stalks off in anger. Then Timo tells himself...

"She’ll cool off, he thought as he let her go. Except maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe he’d said some things that sounded a little too true. Said what he’d really thought of Lucy the Northerner in a way that couldn’t get smoothed over. Sometimes, things just broke. One second, you thought you had a connection with a person. Next second, you saw them too clear, and you just knew you were never going to drink a beer together, ever again."

It may seem that Bacigalupi is not offering any solutions to the problems that he's describing. The lives of the people in his story are brutal. There is nothing soft or hopeful about them. Yet, I think he is offering something important. He's showing us that we are all weaker if we cling to the idea that we can somehow get around climate change. The shift, when it comes, will be fundamental and irreversible. The future goes to those who adapt and move forward, not to those who bemoan what they've lost or who try to create pockets of wealth where they can pretend nothing has changed.

 

This is an excellent start to the anthology. If the rest are of the same quality, this will be a classic collection. It's also likely to be one that alters my perceptions and priorities.

Review
3.5 Stars
"The Paper Magician" by Charlie N. Holmberg
The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

A bold plot structure and startlingly original magic lifts this, sometimes graphically violent, YA Edwardian adventure into something special

 

SPOILER ALERT
I don't normally reveal plot elements but I can't review this book without sharing some of the early events.

 

"The Paper Magician" takes place in an alternative Edwardian England in which Magicians, people bonded to a particular man-made material, are able to work magic with it, producing bullets that don't miss or animating paper birds so they can fly, are part of the establishment.

 

At the start, the story seemed to be a pleasant but conventional tale of the first days of a talented young woman's apprenticeship to a Magician bonded with paper.

 

I settled down to see how Ceony, our hard-working and talented young apprentice would prove herself to her endearingly eccentric Magician. The tone was light. Ceony was an earnest young woman with a troubled past, a strong spirit and an innocently optimistic view of the world. The magic Ceony was taught to achieve by folding paper was original and imaginative. The Magician was kind-hearted, a little distracted, remarkably unsexist for a man of his generation and clearly had secrets. So far so good.

 

Then, suddenly the story changed both in tone and in structure and took me to somewhere quite unexpected. Ceony's magician is attacked at home, in front of Ceony and has his heart ripped out and taken away by an evil magician.

 

The violence of this was quite unexpected and very effective. From that point on the level of violence increases as Ceony struggles to retrieve her magician's heart.

 

In a further surprise, Ceony's struggle turns out to be a very unconventional one, involving very high concept magic that is well thought through and woven into a clever plot structure that combines the physical rescue of the magician's heart, a review of key moments from his life and from Ceony's and dramatic, very physical conflicts between Ceony and the evil magician who stole the heart.

 

There's a lot going on in this book. The magic is new so there's a lot to explain. The plot structure is a bold concept but the story could have dragged as the mechanics of the plot were followed. Charlie Holmberg keeps it all moving and kept me engaged by focusing on Ceony's experience. Ceony is brave, talented, determined and has a few scars of her own that shape how she responds to the threats that she meets.

 

This was a pleasing adventure that has a lot more to it than action but never got bogged down either in the mechanics of the plot or in existential angst. It was more violent than I expected and the magic was startlingly original but it remained an adventure in which the good can triumph if only they try hard enough.

 

"The Paper Magician" is the first book in a series. I'm interested in reading the rest of the series but I know I have to be in a particular frame of mind to get the most out of this kind of read so I will save it up for the next time that I need an escape into a simpler world where we all know who the bad guys are and we can cheer for the bravery of the good guys.

Reading progress update: I've read 51%.
The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

The tone is light and the characterisation is very YA but the ideas are startlingly original. The magic is very high concept and the plot has just stepped from fairly normal to surprising  and slightly challenging.

Off Topic Post: My Brexit Depression, the Twitter effect and "Assessing Francis Connor" a short story set in England in 2025

Memes have become one of the ways of taking the pulse of the society I live in.

 

That I now regard this as normal suggests that the slide towards a post-literate society is happening faster than I can keep up with it.

 

The 'Keep Calm and Carry On" meme was taken up a few years ago as symbolic of a folk-history faux-memory of British sang-froid when ¨Britain stood alone¨.

 

It captured the belief that what made us British was the calm pragmatism with which we will face any crisis.

 

It made me smile then.

 

I'm not smiling any more.

 

Like many other people around me, my peace of mind has been stolen by Brexit.

 

The stupidity of it. The harm it will do. The cynical sociopathy of the billionaires who funded it. The shameless demagogy of those who promote it. The self-imposed impotence of politicians who cannot or will not figure out how to oppose it. The anger and division and hate it generates each day. My own complete inability to do anything about it except sit like a passenger in a car being driven over a cliff.

I know others feel this because a new meme has emerged:

 

"Now Panic and Freak Out".

 

That one doesn't make me smile either.

 

My Brexit anxiety/depression/inescapable sense of doom is made worse by Twitter.

I should stay away from Twitter but I'm no longer able to do that.

 

 

At first, I thought it might be a way that I could help change things. That I could use it persuade people to stop Brexit. It took me a long time to realise that Twitter's design makes this impossible. It is a medium that only looks like it's about dialogue. Dialogue on Twitter is hard. It's too brief, too antagonistic, too random. It flips from echo chamber to shark pool in an instant. It feeds anxiety and fear. It strengthens the beliefs people came in with. It lives off conflict.

 

Twitter has become a wailing wall that talks back, sometimes saying "I feel that too", sometimes saying "You lost. Get over it." Often simply feeding back other people's amplified rage.

 

So today, I won't be going on Twitter (except to post this of course). Instead, I'll offer you all a short story.

 

Back in 2012, when almost no one in the UK cared much about the EU one way or another, when Twitter was still 140 characters and my timeline was filled with books and movies, before FaceBook started to sell our data to people who want to attack us, I wrote "Assessing Francis Connor".

 

It's the story of Francis Connor, a man in his sixties who is about to collide with the mores of a Modern Britain in which grief is seen as anti-social and participation in social media is a sign of mental health. I am Francis Connor, of course. Or I'd like to be if I could control my anger and keep my courage.

 

At the time, I wondered if I was being too pessimistic in my view of the 2025 England Francis would find himself in. Now, it seems to me, I was just scenting the wind.

 

Here's how it starts:

 

 

"Assessing Francis Connor"

by Mike Finn

©mike.finn.fiction@gmail.com 2012

“Is he the one?”

 

As usual, Dr Roe is pressing  too close and wearing too little. Her sleeveless top, running shorts and obvious lack of underwear are not my idea of what a psychiatrist should wear to work and I don’t want to be able to feel the heat of her against my arm. Yet I know that I am the one out of step here. Roe is a woman of her times. Thirty years younger than me, she was born in this century and understands its norms and nuances in a way I am no longer capable of.

 

Keeping my voice level and my body uncomfortably close to hers, I answer her question.

 

“Yes, he’s the one.”

 

She stares at the old man on the screen with unashamed interest, studying him like a lab specimen, which, in a way, he is.

 

“But he looks so normal. Old of course, but normal.”

 

The man’s name in Francis Connor. He was born in 1957, which makes him, sixty-eight years old. I think about the changes that he’s seen and what they’ve meant to him.

 

“He was normal once,” I say, “Perhaps he still sees himself that way.”

 

“Despite his extraordinary behaviour? “ Roe snorts in disbelief.

 

She reaches behind her head with both hands to tie off her hair into a pony-tail. As she does so, she displays thick dark underarm hair that would have been completely unacceptable a couple of decades ago.

 

“How can he not see how deviant he is?” she asks.

 

“Deviance is in the eye of the beholder, which is why, today, we are going to hold up a mirror and ask him to look into it.”

 

Roe’s eyes flick almost imperceptibly to the cameras that monitor this work station.

 

“You make it sound as if his deviance is only real because we can see it.”

 

There is an edge to her voice that I can’t quite read: stress certainly but I’m not sure if the undertone is alarm or anger.

 

“Do I?” I make myself smile as I say it.

 

She leans across me, not making eye-contact, reaching for the tablet on the workstation behind me. I can feel her nipples against my chest. Her hair smells of lemongrass.

 

“You know that that is very dangerous thought to express,” she says quietly.

It is easy to forget that Roe is dangerous. She knows enough to dumb-down her intelligence and be seen to be a team player but I have never doubted her instinct for self-preservation.

 

“And yet,” I say at normal volume, “it is you, Dr Roe, not I, who has expressed this dangerous thought.”

 

Roe rakes me with her eyes and takes a step back, distancing herself from me in a way that carries more meaning in this crowded decade than it would have done when I was her age.

 

“Perhaps, Dr O’Rourke, you need to take a look in a mirror yourself before you conduct an interview that is predicted to have a Neilson Net Rating in excess of 21.2.”

 

That, of course, is her main concern. We are about to enter the arena. She’s making it clear that if any blood is shed, it will be mine, not hers.

 

I bow my head slightly and say, “Thank you for support, Dr Roe. I am, as ever, thrilled by the knowledge that so many of my fellow citizens are kind enough to take an interest in what we do here. Shall we begin?”

If you'd like to read more and meet Francis, you can find the story HERE

Reading progress update: I've read 14%.
The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

I was having a bit of a Black Dog day today so needed something cheery to read.

 

I set aside my well-written book about, Emily, an artificial consciousness, because it's set at the end of the world and it's hard to be cheery in those circumstances and picked up "The PAper Magician".

 

That did the trick.

 

It's a little more YA than I'd expected but I can cope with that if it offers an adventure where our heroine overcomes adversity by discovering her inner strength and working well with others, which is where this seems to be going.

 

So far its completely free of existential panic or quiet despair.

 

It reminds me that Carly Simon song that went:

 

"I remember a time when fear could be named

and courage meant not refusing dares"

 

Just what I needed.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 15%.
Emily Eternal - M.G. Wheaton, Therese Plummer

This is off to a strong start. Emily is an engaging and plausible Artificial Consciousness. The pace is fast, the stakes are high and I have no idea where it's going next.

Review
5 Stars
"The Cold Dish - Walt Longmire#1" by Craig Johnson - highly recommended
The Cold Dish - Craig Johnson

Some books just click into a slot in my imagination and light it up. "The Cold Dish" is one of them.

 

From the first chapter of "Cold Dish" I knew that all I wanted to do was settle down and listen to anything Sheriff Longmire had to tell me about anything at all.

 

Now some of that may be because the audiobook is narrated George Guidall in a voice that creates a sense of craggy solidity, tinged with slightly weary self-deprecation and a habit of humour that has been worn threadbare by continued use in the face of the otherwise unbearable.

 

Some of it is because Longmire is a man whose bright future is behind him. He's mourning his wife's death. His wife died three years earlier and, as seems to be the American way, he is being told that he needs to move on. I felt deep empathy with not just his inability to do this but his inability to conceive of why he should want to do this. If my wife died, I know that for me, three years of mourning would pass in a heartbeat and would not be close to being enough. I recognised the truth of what he said about surviving his wife:

"When they are gone, we are left with who we are after we were with them, and sometimes we don't recognize that person."

Walt has been around forever and is beginning to wonder why he's still here. He has a dry sense of humour and low expectations of other people and of life in general. What keeps him tethered to the world are a few long term friendships and an inability to let acts of evil slip by.

 

I was pleased to see that Walt is not the only strong character. Henry Standing Bear, Walt's oldest friend, ex-special forces, current owner of the Red Pony Bar and possible murder suspect is beautifully drawn. Then there's Deputy Vic Moretti, Walt's heir-apparent in his long-planned retirement. She's a hard-charging cop from Philidephilia, marooned in Wyoming after moving for her husband's job. She's tough and direct and takes no shit from anyone. She's also isolated, lonely and surviving mostly on the sheer determination not to give in.

 

The relationship between these characters is human and believable and far away from crime fiction cliché

 

Here's an example of a rate emotionally exchange, at a time of high tension, between Walt and Vic:

I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her in. It was a risky move, but she didn't resist, and I rested my chin on the top of her head. "Thanks for coming up after me." 
Her voice was muffled and sounded strained. "You're the only friend I've got."
"I bet you say that to all the sheriffs."

There's a case, of course. Maybe two cases really, neither of them pleasant. Young white boys doing despicable things to an even younger mentally impaired native girl, getting away with it and then, years later starting to turn up shot dead.

 

The case serves to show us the world from behind Walt Longmire's eyes and understand what he believes being a Sheriff is all about.

 

Craig Johnson's writing is excellent: unhurried, self-assured, nuanced and accessible.

 

Here's an example: Walt is in the Red Pony bar, sitting in the dark because the ancient fuse for the lights has blown, talking to Varney, a woman he has known, albeit slightly, all his life. Varney knew his wife, knows his daughter, Katy and has returned to Wyoming after living in New York. Seeing Walt's depressed mood Varney places her hand on Walt's and says:

"Walter, are you alright?"

It always started like this, a touch and a kind word, I used to feel heat behind my eyes and a shortness of breath but now I just feel the emptiness. The fuses of desire are blown black windows and I'm gone with no pennies to save me.

"Oh, you mean you really want to talk?"

Her eyes were so sad, so honest.

"Yeah, I figured seeing as how we didn't have anything else to do."

So I leaned in and told her the truth.

"I just... I'm just numb most of the time."

She blinked.

"Me too."

I felt like one of those guys in the movies, there in a foxhole asking how much ammo your buddy's got - I got two more clips. How about you?

"I know the things I'm supposed to do but I just don't seem to have the energy. I mean, I've been thinking about turning over my pillow for three weeks."

"I know."

She looked away.

"How's Katy?"

Here I was, on the white-capped Pacific of self-pity and Varney threw me a lifeline, to keep me from embarrassing myself.

I'm sure now that I'll be listening to George Guidall read every book in this series and, when I've done that, I'll take a look at the TV series based on the books.

Film Review "Greta" - one of the best thrillers I've seen in years

Greta is beautifully shot, filled with great performances from strong women and delivers edge-of-the-seat tension all the way through. This is Neil Jordan at his finest.

 

As anyone who has seen "Byzantium"or "The Brave One"knows, Neil Jordan is skilled at delivering a tense, threat-filled story, centred around strong women.

 

In "Greta", as director and co-writer, he has excelled himself. For me, this is a classic thriller with the impact of "Single White Female" but with its own original voice that avoids the retro, focusing instead on how vulnerable the digital world has made us to stalkers.

 

 

Isabelle Huppert gives a chilling performance as Greta, the lonely widow with a brave-but-fragile charm that masks a deeply disturbed mind and a malicious intent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chloë Grace Moretz is perfect as Francis McCullen, the trusting, vulnerable but still strong young woman that Greta attempts to prey on. It was good to see a kind woman who is not a kick-ass superhero but who refuses to be a victim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maika Munroe provides the third strong woman in the cast as Eric Penn, Francis' streetsmart, confident roommate who presents herself as a superficial party girl but who shows her true strength when she is most needed.

 
 
 
 

There was also a great cameo performance by Zawe Ashton as the grieving partner of Greta's first victim. Although she had only one scene, it was delivered powerfully and added to the growing sense of threat in the film.

 

 

Enhance these performances with great camera work and lighting, a subtle soundtrack and a strong script and you have a great movie.

 

 

Take a look at the trailer below and see what you think.

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwSr1KnGPTo
Reading progress update: I've read 77%.
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

This has become quite bleak.

 

I'm reminded of a word used in the English Civil Service to describe s certain class of work: Nugatory. Nugatory work has no value, makes no contribution or has no relevance to the wider world. 

 

It seems clear that the working relationship between these four people, like the work itself, was nugatory. 

 

What I find depressing is that that quietly tedious sham of work and acquaintance has degenerated into something much more desperate once the two women retired. 

 

Majorie has fallen into herself and Letty is turning to face a future that seems to hold nothing beyond an inevitable decline. The men continue to be ineffectual and are reinforcing all the phrases and habits of thought that protect them from owning their own experience or from having any connection to the experiences of Marjory of Letty.

 

It's like watching something wounded limp along.

 

I wonder what Pym's intent was with this novel? There seems to be no narrative thrust. Like real life, there is no plot. Nor does there appear to any .didactic agenda. This is observation that slides towards voyeurism.

Reading progress update: I've read 70%.
Crooked House - Agatha Christie

Charles is... so much of his time.

 

His feelings of comfort on meeting the nanny made me sorry for him and all the others in his generation who lived with this kind of surrogacy.

 

The storytelling is suffering from that fact that Charles has no side-kick to bounce things off, hide things from or make witty remarks to. We have to suffer through his interior monologue, which mostly reveals that he is too close to the family and too conventional in his thinking to uncover the murders. 

 

I continue to like Josephine and rather hope that she will solve the mystery. As for her brother, he and boarding school deserve one another.

Three New Arrivals Today

 

I'm a sucker for pre-ordering books that interest me. Sometimes it's because it's the next book in a series I'm eager for more of. Sometimes it's because I've found reviews that make my inner-book-buyer go: "Preciousssss. We NEEEEDS it." and my finger hits the pre-order button like an inverted glass moving on an Ouija Board.

 

Then, with my imagination absorbed by the books I'm already reading, I forget them until that "Your pre-order is now available in your Library" mail arrives.

 

Today, like buses in an urban myth, THREE pre-ordered books arrived at once and, like the addict I am, I'm filled with the need to consume all three of them RIGHT NOW.

I'm trying to show enough discipline to finish the book I'm reading at the moment, "Blood On The Tracks" by Barbara Nickless. I'm about twenty per cent in and having fun getting to know Sydney Rose Parnell. I think I may have found a good new series here.

 

So, to contain my excitement, I thought I'd share my three new books with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Eternal by M. G Wheaton

Some of the most interesting novels I've read recently feature Artificial Intelligences. OK, it's a topic I have a professional interest in but, in the hands of the right author, it can become something more profound that predicting the next twist in the technology spiral and provide insights into who we are and how we think.

 

I recommend "Speak" by Louisa Hall and "The Unseen World" by Liz Moore as good examples.

What intrigues me about "Emily Eternal" is that it's about something a step beyond Artificial Intelligence - Artificial Consciousness. The publisher's summary says Emily is:

an artificial consciousness, designed in a lab to help humans process trauma, which is particularly helpful when the sun begins to die 5 billion years before scientists agreed it was supposed to.

So, her beloved human race is screwed, and so is Emily. That is, until she finds a potential answer buried deep in the human genome. But before her solution can be tested, her lab is brutally attacked, and Emily is forced to go on the run with two human companions - college student Jason and small-town Sheriff, Mayra.


Wheaton has a solid track record as a screenwriter. This is his first novel. I'm keen to see what he does with it. For example, how does an AI, sorry AC (that doesn't quite work does it- sound like an intelligent aircon) go on the run?

 

"Ragged Alice" by Gareth L Powell

"Ragged Alice" got my Pre-Order Me finger moving because it combines two genres I enjoy, Crime Fiction and Urban Supernatural, AND it's set in Wales. You can't get more unique than that.

 

The publisher's summary says:

In Gareth L. Powell's Ragged Alice a detective in a small Welsh town can literally see the evil in people's souls.

Orphaned at an early age, DCI Holly Craig grew up in the small Welsh coastal town of Pontyrhudd. As soon as she was old enough, she ran away to London and joined the police. Now, fifteen years later, she’s back in her old hometown to investigate what seems at first to be a simple hit-and-run, but which soon escalates into something far deadlier and unexpectedly personal—something that will take all of her peculiar talents to solve. 


I've got high hopes of this one. Somehow, it seems fitting that Welsh Woman would be able to see the evil in a person's soul.

 

"Storm Of Locusts" by Rebecca Roanhorse

I ordered "Storm Of Locusts" way back at the beginning of November, as soon as it was available for pre-order.

This is the second book in Rebecca Roanhorse's "Sixth World" series, that started last year with "Trail Of Lightning".

I am in love with the idea of a Navajo Urban Fantasy set in a dystopian future.

My take on "Trail Of Lightning" was

 

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World concept is a potent mix of post-apocalyptic devastation and Navajo-based Urban Fantasy with a monster-slaying female lead who sees herself not as a hero but as a monster in waiting, someone contaminated and abandoned who knows only how to kill and yet dreds becoming nothing more than a killer...


...“Trail Of Lightning” is the first time I’ve seen Native American culture take centre stage rather than being an atavistic accident that makes the heroine a misfit in mainstream American society.


In the Sixth World, white America has been mostly destroyed by flooding, the Navajo Gods have returned and their lands have been protected from the chaos by four huge walls, raised by magic. For once, the Dineh are not the ones getting the crappy end of everything.


Here's what the publisher's summary says about "Storm Of Locusts"

It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.


"Storm of Locusts" will be my next read.

 

OK. I've shared my excitement. Now I can go back to "Blood On The Tracks" and pay it the attention it deserves.

Reading progress update: I've read 17%.- a book and my insomniac ramblings
Blood on the Tracks (Sydney Rose Parnell #1) - Emily Sutton-Smith, Barbara Nickless

This has found its feet. The main character is interesting. The writing is clear and strong.

 

I'm having an insomniac night. I'm glad to be in the company of a book, even one about broken people and their grief.

 

The main character talks about *the weight" of her dead. She carries them with her. Sees them at her breakfast table.

 

I like "weight" as a description.

 

I'm a civilian. No PTSD for me. But that doesn't mean no weight. I don't see anyone but the living at my breakfast table. I don't get glimpses of the gone.

 

My dead are like potholes in my road, cavities in my teeth, absences that make themselves known from time to time and snag all of my attention.

 

In my experience, grief doesn't move through six neatly labelled stages and then stop. It comes in waves that drench you and then leave. Sometimes it's just a splash. Sometimes they roll you for a while, so you don't know which way is up and breathing becomes difficult.

 

I'm thankful that I don't have the survivor guilt this book focuses on. I haven't survived anything. I just haven't had my turn yet.

 

Grief is bad enough without guilt.

 

Tonight's wave has ebbed. I'm sitting here on the still-damp beach of memory, too awake to sleep, too sleepy to do anything but ramble.

 

And maybe read.

 

I'll go back to that for a while. I have a helicopter waiting to take me to Wyoming. I always liked Wyoming but I've never been in a helicopter.

 

Good night everyone. Thanks for listening to me ramble.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 61%.
Crooked House - Agatha Christie

My, how the rich suffer,

 

Imagine the pain, after having driven a successful business into the ground through a refusal tell your father that you had no talent for business, of having to live simple on the small estate your wife has just inherited in Barbados.

 

How is anyone supposed to cope with such trauma?

 

Then there is the blandness of our investigator. He makes Watson look charismatic and insightful He's SO bland, I struggle to remember his name.

 

I'm beginning to hope Sophia is the murderer just to avoid thinking about her being married to this bland man.

 

Josephine remains interesting. And I too would like to understand why the dogs wouldn't eat Jezebel's palms.

 

This book is more than a little odd. The mystery no longers seems to be "who killed the Patriarch? but how did these people manage to share a house for so long.

Reading progress update: I've read 6%. patience is sometimes rewarded
Blood on the Tracks (Sydney Rose Parnell #1) - Emily Sutton-Smith, Barbara Nickless

This is one of those books where I was disappointed by the end of chapter one. It's a framing chapter, setting up the murder around which the rest of the book will revolve and introducing the main suspect.

 

The suspect is interesting and the potential pathos is high but it was told from a distance, never really letting me inside the suspects head. It read more like the notes I might give an actor who wants to play this part. The text was a little heavy-handed, leaving me in no doubt about what I was supposed to feel but not actually making me feel it.

 

It wasn't a long chapter, so I moved on to the next, already wondering if this book would be another for my DNF pile and asking myself if I was becoming too picky or maybe I was just jaded.

 

Then I met Sydney Rose Parnel and I wanted to ask the author and the editor: "Why didn't you start here?".

 

Sydney is compelling. She's an ex-soldier who spent fourteen months in Mortuary Affairs in the US Army, scooping up human remains in Iraq. Now she's a railroad cop back in her home city, Denver.

 

I don't know much about her yet but I already know that I want to know a lot more. Now the writing is deft, letting the reader discover and guess rather than signposting meanings. We see her and her ex-army service dog out amongst the homeless she's supposed to roust but who she also feeds. Then we see her at the crime scene. Her approach is credible, pain-filled, more than a little off-centre in a PTSD kind of way and completely human.

 

So now I want to read this and i'm hoping I've found another series.

 

So why not start here?

 

I can see the temptation for the writer to start at the beginning. The writer needs to imagine that beginning in detail in order to write the rest. They probably needed to write this chapter. I would hope that an editor would ask the question: does the reader need to start here?

 

Anyway, it's an example of where judging a book from its first chapter is about as much use as judging it from the publisher's summary.

Review
3 Stars
"Strange Sight - Essex Witches #2" by Syd Moore
Strange Sight - Syd Moore

"Strange Sight" is a slightly disappointing sequel.

 

"Strange Sight" follows on immediately after "Strange Magic" which introduced us to Rosie Strange just as she inherited a museum to Essex witches. This time, Rosie is investigating a rather spectacular haunting of a posh restaurant in the City which seems to have resulted in a brutal killing.

 

For me, this book didn't live up to the promise of the first book. It was a light cosy read with a dash of Carrie-style supernatural (albeit reported rather than seen) but it was slow to start with nothing much happening in the first quarter of the book.

 

The main problem I had with it is that Rosie Strange seems to have lost her edge and is sometimes barely recognisable as the proudly independent, sceptical woman from Essex who made her living tracking down Benefits Fraudsters and tending not to believe in anything that needed a supernatural explanation. In this book, she often obsesses about how things look. She is constantly stealing lusty glances at her we're-just-friends partner, or dissecting the makeup and clothes of other women or contemplating her own sartorial skill. I'm sure this is meant to be amusing but it felt like something shoved into the narrative from time to time for appearance's sake.

 

The second half of the book is much stronger. There's a real plot, with plausible sub-plots, lots of action, some comedy, some drama, some sociopolitical commentary and some great dialogue. There's also a promising set up for the future story arc as Rosie discovers more about her families past and her own links to Essex witches.

 

On the whole, I'm glad I read this but it hasn't left me hungry for more. I'll take a break from Rosie for a while and hope that the next book is stronger and that Rosie stops pressing her bimbo button.

 

The narration was well done, click on the SoundCloud link below to hear an excerpt.

 

 

 

 

https://soundcloud.com/ulverscroft/strange-sight-by-syd-moore

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 18%. - WOW - why has this been on my shelf unread for more than a year?
The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) - Candace Thaxton, S.J. Kincaid

I haven't slid into a book like this in ages. It's grabbed me the same way "Hunger Games", "Divergent" and "The Scorpion Rules" did. 

 

When YA SF is done well, it enables an intense focus that is seldom equalled elsewhere.

 

"The Diabolic" is set in a ruthless far-distant future, with a galactic empire ruled by a new technology denying elite that nevertheless owes its power to the total control of existing technology that their society depends on. 

 

We see this world through the eyes of a Diabolic, a creature bred to be capable of great violence and great loyalty to a single person.

 

The plot moves at a good pace. The main character is engaging and the environment is soaked in threat.

 

I may not get much else done until I've finished this. It's a good job it's the Easter Week-end-

 

currently reading

Progress: 43%
Progress: 7%
Progress: 10%
Progress: 4%
Progress: 31%
Progress: 77%
Dreamland: A Ghost Story - Nick Clausen
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell
The Best American Mystery Stories 2007 -  Otto Penzler (Editor), Carl Hiaasen (Editor)
Dubliners - James  Joyce