Summer Reading: The Rowan

Cover The Rowan

So I guess summer must be over, because I have just finished the last book in my summer reading list. The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey is the first book in the Tower and the Hive series, and I’ve read itcountless times, though it has been years since I last picked it off the shelf.

The Rowan is the sole survivor of a natural catastrophe in a small mining community on Altair. Buried in a mudslide, her plight triggers her telepathic abilities on such a massive scale that every talented person on Altair is forced to listen to her psionic wails for her mother. Recognizing her as a Prime, considerable resources is put into rescuing her. She is brought up to be a Prime, to work for the FT and T (Federated Telepaths and Teleporters) using her telekinetic abilities to send and catch what is transported around the Nine Star League.  Lusena, a child therapist, is appointed as her caregiver, and she grows up in her household. When she is 12 she moves into Altair’s Tower to begin her training, training under Siglen, Altair’s current Prime. Rowan grows up lonely, she has no real family, no real friends, and even as an adult she finds it hard to make a connection with people. Well, that is, until she meets Jeff Raven, a new unknown T1 from Deneb. They fall in love and together have to rally the Nine Star League into action when aliens attacks.

Not for the first time during this summer I feel like I have changed since last reading the book. I didn’t like The Rowan as much this time around. It feels  stiff,  arrogant and detached. Rowan’s emotions are explained but not really felt, there are some inconsistencies and don’t get me started on the whole love story thing. Two mental exchanges leaves Rowan and Jeff with a deep and permanent love for each other. It’s just too easy. But what do I know, perhaps a mental link of the sort Rowan and Jeff shares just expedite things along nicely.

I also have real trouble with the importance the book place on physical appearance. As is the case with many books, body size is used to indicate likability and worthiness. Siglen, Rowan’s mentor/teacher, is unbearable, has horrible tastes, lazy,  overbearing,  and  is described as a slab on at least two occasions. Basically she is competent, but invites contempt more than acceptance. Rowan on the other hand is rail thin, tiny, large doe eyes and sweet, wise beyond her years, well-behaved, knows the right thing to do and say even at age 12. She is exceedingly smart and does no wrong at all and everyone loves her.

I feel a little disappointed that I couldn’t find back to the breath-held frantic page-turning I always experienced before, when The Rowan in the past. But it is still a good story, I like the concept, I like the world and most of the characters. Especially Isthia Raven, Jeff’s mother, and Afra Lyon (though I suspect that is mostly because I know what happens in the other books.) and I am definitely putting the sequel Damia on my bedside table.

But! I also have a long list of previously unread books on hold on my kindle. Books I want to read badly. Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig comes to mind. iD by Madeline Ashby as well. God so many books, so little time!

But I am also going to make an effort to read more of my shelved books from now on. There are some early Patricia Cornwell I can’t wait to get re-aquainted with and I have decided to give John Grisham another shot as well, though The Pelican Brief still rankles my mind, hell I might even dig out my old Stephen Kings. 

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Summer Reading: The Danger

The cover of The Danger by Dick Francis

It’s only been two days since I posted my thoughts on A Town Like Alice, and here I am, the next book in my summer reading scheme already devoured. It isn’t very surprising though, The Danger by Dick Francis’s was hard to put down, easy to read, fast paced and great.  Dick Francis never disappoints.

Andrew Douglas is a partner in Liberty Market Ltd., a firm specializing in kidnap-prevention and negotiating with kidnappers once a kidnapping has occurred. At the start of the book he is in Italy, helping Paolo Cenci get his beloved daughter, Alessia, back from the kidnappers, who have been holding her for the past six weeks. Though the local police botch the ransom drop, in the end Alessia is released, shaken but physically unhurt.

When Andrew goes back home to England, Alessia, who is a professional jockey, decides to travel with him, to get away from the memories and to recuperate with a friend.  She wrestles with the psychological aftermath of her weeks as a kidnapping victim, and Andrew does his best to keep her from sinking too deep into depression.

But then a little boy is kidnapped and it becomes evident that his kidnapping is related to Alessia’s.  Andrew, with the help of his partners, and the police, must find the boy and stop the man orchestrating these kidnappings.

I couldn’t put this book down, which is testament to how great a writer Dick Francis was. The characters are believable and likeable and the writing is clear and compelling. As a crime story it concentrates much more on the mechanics of Andrew Douglas’s profession, and the psychological consequences of having been held against your will, than it does on the excitement of the chase. My only real complaint with the book is the bad guy, his motives were a little fuzzy, and he was, perhaps true to the story, not very sinister after all.

And this means I am about to start the last book of my list, The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey. Can’t wait!

 

 

Summer Reading: A Town Like Alice

Cover Town Like Alice

I have a very vivid recollection of being in my grandparent’s spare bedroom, 10 – 11 years old, sitting on their black and blue checkered sofa-bed, arguing with my father about Bryan Brown. We’d just seen him in a movie and I adamantly claimed that Bryan Brown had also been in A Town Like Alice, while my father strongly argued that he had definitely not. In the end, we made a bet and I won a trip to the movies for me and my siblings. I thought Brian Brown was rather hot, and, I think, to prolong the experience of him in A Town Like Alice I went out and borrowed the book, though I have no clear recollection of reading it until when I was around 16.

Bryan Brown. I still think he’s hot actually.

Re-reading it now  -mumble-cough- years later I found that I remember most of it quite well, which didn’t ruin the experience  in the slightest. It is still a great book, though the love story between Jean Paget, a British shorthand typist and heiress to a sizable estate, and Joe Harman, Australian ringer doesn’t make me go all gooey anymore.  In fact I am not sure I would even call it a romance, as the cover claims it to be. Yes, love absolutely drives the actions of the Jean and Joe, but it is also a story of war and hardship and courage and kindness, and it features a strong and strong-willed woman who is not afraid to take risks. A rarity even in 2013.

The story is told by Noel Strachan, a solicitor from London, and trustee of the estate that Jean inherits.  Jean is quite overwhelmed by her inheritance, but ultimately decides to travel back to Malaya where she was a prisoner of war during WWII and where she briefly met Joe Harman. In Malaya she learns that Joe is still alive and she flies to Australia to find him.  When I was a kid the book started a whole Australia-mania that I have never truly let go.

I was actually surprised how well I found Jean to be written, even though the book only offers a second-hand view of her. The only thing that really rings false is Nevil Shute’s portrayal of Jean’s attitude to sex. Times were different, and sex was viewed very differently back then. I do get it, but there are a few phrases in the book, that makes me think that Nevil Shute wrote them with an idolized version of how women were supposed to be in mind and not so much how they would be in reality.  Jean gives Joe almost total control over her willingness to have sex, as if she doesn’t want sex for herself, but would submit to it for his sake. I don’t believe for a second, that even as sexually suppressed as women might have been back in the late forties, that Jean wouldn’t feel aroused when making out with a man that she loves and respects, on a virtually deserted island far from prying eyes. But of course, that is just my opinion, I wouldn’t really have a clue.

Reading A Town Like Alice with 2013 eyes also reveal one major issue with this book, one that I probably wouldn’t have thought about at all, if I had read it back in 1950, when it was written. It is full of jarring derogatory phrases about aboriginals, not in a deliberate malicious way, but as if it is standard, normal, whites are great, abo’s are second class. They don’t talk english well, they don’t cook well, intermarriage is weird, segregation is a must. You get the picture. I had a hard time ignoring it, but made a conscious choice to not let it sway my opinion of the book. It is wrong and mind-boggling stupid,  but back in 1950, that was how the world was.

My issues aside, I still think it is a great book, and I will probably re-read it again in a couple of years.

Next in line is The Danger by Dick Francis

 

Summer Reading: vN

Cover vNI’ve just finished vN by Madeline Ashby, and I’ve got to admit that I felt  a little out of my depth reading it, but now that I am finished, I think I should start reading SciFi a little more.

Amy is a vN, a self replicating humanoid robot, being slowly grown to have a more human childhood in her mixed family of human father and android mother. She is five, graduating kindergarten, when her grandmother make’s an appearance, threatening Amy’s mother. Amy reacts promptly and eats her grandmother alive. And with her grandmother lurking in her memory circuits, authorities, among others, trying to catch her, as her mailfunctioning failsafe means she is a danger to society, she is on the run, trying to come to grips with the world and herself.

Apart from the techno babble about Amy’s composition, which I didn’t get at all (I decided I didn’t have to understand), this book drew me in from the start, making it very hard to put down. Amy’s story is engrossing and exciting, and her experiences are vivid and her reasoning clear. I like the supporting cast, I like most of the world building, though too much is hinted at and not explained/shown.

But at some point I began finding it difficult to keep track of things, like I had been skipping pages (which I hadn’t). Things got too technical without prober clarification, Amy’s goals started to blur, and things just seemed out of sync.

Especially the ending frustrated me, and in several ways.

  • The writing itself is very unclear and abstract. I had to reread paragraphs several times and they still didn’t make sense.
  • The storytelling choices baffled me. Shifting POV in the end was incredibly frustrating, as much as I like Javier, I don’t want to read his view on things, I want to read Amy’s, I want to know what it is like for her, I want her reasoning, I want her emotions. (I think Madeline Ashby wanted clear up any doubt about Javier’s emotions, but since I never doubted them, it was totally unnecesary)
  • And the ending itself is frustrating. It feels like Amy in a way reverts back to who she was when the book started, which is just stupid.

Though vN left me feeling more frustrated than good is, I am going to read the sequel, iD, which I hope will be more concise and hopefully give a little more nuanced view of the human/android relationships.

My summer holiday is coming to an end, and though work is now going to cut in to drain away my time and energy I will still stick to my reading plan. Next up is Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice.

 

 

Summer Reading: Fleshmarket Alley

Cover Fleshmarket Alley

So, I’ve just finished Fleshmarket Alley (my edition is american it seems, and the original title is Fleshmarket Close) by Ian Rankin, which features one of my favorite characters in crime fiction, John Rebus, Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, Scotland. Rebus is a gruff, unpolished, obstinate alcoholic who doesn’t play well on teams, but who underneath it all,  is caring and persistent.

Rebus ‘s old station St. Leonard’s Police Station has shut down it’s CID office and alongside Siobhan Clarke, Rebus has been relocated to Gayfield Square Police Station where no one knows what to do with him, so he is lent out to West End, sent to Knoxland, a high-rise dead-end world, where a man has been found stabbed to death. The dead man has no name, no identification and no witnesses are willing to step forward neither to testify to his identity or to what happened.

Meanwhile Siobhan Clarke has two cases going, a sister of a rape victim, who committed suicide some years back, has gone missing and Siobhan reluctantly agrees to look into the disappearance. At the same time she is curious about the skeletons of a woman and an infant, dug out of the cellar floor of a pub in Fleshmarket Ally. The skeleton of the baby is fake and female skeleton is an old teaching skeleton, that disappeared a few years back from the university’s medical faculty.

This is Ian Rankin at his very finest. Plots weave in and out of each other, there’s a full set of supporting cast to compliment Rebus and Siobhan, who reveal new tidbits about themselves.

A major theme in Fleshmarket Alley is racism/immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and how Scotland treat those who for various reasons seek a new life there. The descriptions of Knoxland are strikingly familiar to what I see and hear daily in Denmark.  Immigrants are unwelcomed, whether they are legal or not, treated with suspicion and a scary off-handed disdain, people’s fear turn right nasty, when it comes to people with different cultures. And the descriptions of how Scotland as a nation treats the illegal immigrants, both as a group and as individuals, in the system and in the old jail Whitemire are absolutely horrifying and sadly recognizable.

Fleshmarket Alley (Close) is a great book, engaging, and thought-provoking.  It is well worth a read, and once I am over my little Summer Reading project here, I think I’ll tuck into the other Rebus books gathering dust on my shelves.

Next up is vN by Madeline Ashby.

Summer Reading: Good Omens

Cover Good Omens

So by ramdom choice, the book next in line to be read in my summer reading scheme was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Now since I haven’t read it before now, I had no real expectations of it, except that it be like the blurbs proclaimed: Funny, eccentric, intelligent, suspenseful and humane.

Its a hard book to describe. It is whimsical and funny, have a wide range of strange, nutty, endearing characters, who are all slowly converging on Tadfield, where Antichrist, in the shape of eleven year old Adam Young, is currently residing.

Adam is going to bring about the end of the world, it has been prophetized by Agnes Nutter, a witch burned on the stake 300 years ago. Adam just doesn’t know it yet. But the motions has been set into gear, the four horsemen are riding, strange things are happening everywhere, such as Atlantis rising, in other words, Armageddon is approaching.

Apart from Adam Young, and his merry gang (called the Them) there’s a wide cast of characters in this book:

Aziraphale, heaven’s main man on earth, book shop owner, enthusiastic rare book collector.

Crowley, of Adam and Eve fame as the snake that tempted Eve, bringing paradise to an abrubt stop. Cool dude, likes earth very much, hell rather a lot less.

Newt Pulsifier, private in the army of Witchfinders, general clumsy guy, don’t do well with electrics.

Anathema Device, witch and occultist, decendant of Agnes Nutter, knows something is about to happen, as she has the only book containing The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter.

Mr. Shadwell, sergant in the Witchfinder Army, general mistrusting of all, especially Madame Tracy next door, who’s rather fond of gentleman company.

Its a fun and entertaining book, but it didn’t really sweep me along. It took way too long to read, simply because I couldn’t keep my focus on it. And while it was funny and whimsical, it was way way too wordy. Too many witty plays with words and conceptions, too many pokes at modern day life, tele marketers, road systems and such. A little less poking fun and a little more attention to the main characters, who I would have loved to get to know a little better, would have made the story much more entertaining. There are a few parts of the books, that could have been cut, to make it a little more engaging.

Next up is Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin

 

 

 

Summer Reads: The Pelican Brief

 

Yeah, so not going to read this again.
Yeah, am so not going to read this one again.

Ok so I finished the Pelican Brief yesterday, and have a few thoughts on it. In my last post I said that I remember reading it like it was going to catch fire, and that I looked forward to rereading. Well, I guess the twenty years that have passed since I bought and read it first time, has changed me considerably, because this time around I honestly thought it was stupid. Not bad per say, just incredibly stupid.

The plot is all legal/political thriller, supposedly centering around Darby Shaw, who has miraculously come up with the one true theory about who and why two supreme court justices have been murdered. She writes a brief (The Pelican Brief of the title) and it gets passed up in the system until it’s in the hands of the president. From there the brief causes all kinds of mayhem, starting off with her lover being killed by a bomb that was meant for her. So Darby is on the run from everybody and only trusts two people. One gets killed and she turns to Gray Grantham, star journalist on the Washington Post. With the promise of the scoop of the century, comparisons are made to Watergate, they help eachother untangle the mysteries of the story, which is more about getting the story confirmed so they can print the paper, than it is an investigation.

There are so many clichees in this story it is mind bending. The political games, the inter agency wars of FBI and CIA, the total corruptness of lawyers, the superiority of the arab hit man, the mad crazy scramble for oil and riches, but the stupidist thing in this book is Darby Shaw. Billed as a main character, she is hardly more than a token woman in the story. Apart from a few single scene occurences, she is the only woman in the story with a story line, every bad guy, every politician, every other main character with a small or big part of the story is male.  Whenever there is another woman in the stor, they are obstacles to overcome. Secretaries who are overly protective of their bosses, a female registrar who is suspicious and glaring, students who has to be tracked down, a widow who isn’t quick enough to overcome her dazed grief to reveal the clue she is holding.

Darby herself is of course beautiful and brilliantly smart,  and on the run from pursuers she manages to foil at every god damn turn. BLA BLA BLA. But it is the way the men, who chase/help/protect her, see her that is truly vomit inducing. Not one man in the book, who lay eyes on her, either in person, or in a photograph, does not  comment in some way on her long long legs, her hair and whatever womanly traits she has stuffed into an oversized sweater. Villans and heroes alike, all admire her amazing beauty and turn to blithering idiots around her.

Gray Grantham is of course her new love interest. Again, it is all about the fatherly protectiveness she awakens in him when he meets her, her vulnerability, her immense beauty and her dazzling smarts. It boggles my mind how I, first time around, saw this as romantic and great, because it is really stupid. It is stilted and unbelievable as hell. When you see the story from Darby’s POV she is afraid, scared, hyped up from running and mourning the loss of her lover. She doesn’t seem to be overly attracted to Gray, though she feels safe with him around. Gray is of course attracted to her, even though most of their conversation is about how she bosses him around. Grisham really writes men as single minded bastards.

One incident stood out particularly well as really weird behaviour in this regard.

Darby has finally made it to Washington after having been chased out of New Orleans and New York. Gray is being followed and bugged and following her orders, moves into a hotel, so he can escape those watching and listening. They meet up at a small Inn.

She was sitting at table thirty-seven, in a dark corner of the tiny restaurant when he found her at exactly nine. The first thing he noticed was the dress, and as he walked to the table he knew the legs were under it but he couldn’t see them. Maybe later when she stood. He wore a coat and tie, and they were an attractive couple.

This is a man who is chasing down the story of a century, and the thing on his mind is her legs and her dress. Come on. The story continues:

He sat close to her in the darkness so they could both watch the small crowd. The Tabard Inn appeared old enough to have served food to Thomas Jefferson. A rowdy crowd of Germans laughed and talked on the patio outside the restaurant. The windows were open and the air was cool, and for one brief moment it was easy to forget why they were hiding.

“Where’d you get the dress?”

“You like it?”

“It’s very nice.”

“I shopped a little this afternoon. Like most of my recent wardrobe, it’s disposable. I’ll probably leave it in the room the next time I flee for my life.”

OH MY GOD. This is a woman who has been tried murdered at least twice, a woman who has been running scared for a couple of weeks and this is the dialogue Grisham makes them have? Talk about her dress? And Darby doesn’t slap Gray down for it?  No she just basks in the glorious attention of a man.

A little further down the same page:

“I’d like to wire some [money] from my bank in New Orleans.”

“We’ll do it Monday. I think you’re safe, Darby.”

“I’ve thought that before. In fact, I felt very safe when I was getting on the boat with Verheek, except it wasn’t Verheek. And I felt very safe in New York. Then Stump waddled down the sidewalk, and I haven’t eaten since.”

Now, here is a woman who is talking about her fears, about how she’s been chased, and she gives off a vibe of uncertainty, fear is getting to her, she is loosing appetite. Guess what Gray chooses to say.

“You look thin.”

Not as a man who is concerned for her well being. As a compliment, as if by talking about her fears and their causes, she is just angling for compliments. Her reply does nothing to persuade me to think differently:

“Thanks. I guess. Have you eaten here?” She looked at her menu.

This is probably the most stupid piece of dialogue that I remember reading, ever.

Its safe to say that I don’t buy into the whole Gray/Darby lovestory. There is a token mention of her former lover here and there, but it’s just not plausible that within two weeks, Darby can go from mourning her lost lover to being in love with Gray Grantham, not on top of everything that takes place around her. It is stupid. Darby starts out as a strong willed character, but I when I turned the last pages I had lost most of my respect for her.

I think if Grisham had written the book, making Darby a guy it would have turned out much more plausible. He could have cut out the love portion of the book and avoided writing from a woman’s POV. It would probably have been a better book for it.

So, I guess The Pelican Brief is a book I don’t need to reread again. I wonder if I reread The Client or A Time to Kill, would they let down as well. I hope not because I really liked those books.