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Necropolis: London and Its Dead
Catharine Arnold
Progress: 4 %
Throne of Jade
Naomi Novik

No. Just no.

Truly Devious - Maureen Johnson

I paid $9.99 for this and all I got was "To be continue" and NO solution?  Fuck that,  I want my.money back.  if you're going to pull that shit,  it better say so on the cover. SO pissed off I spent half the day reading 423 pages and then NOTHING.  TWO MURDERS and NO solution.  And $10.99 for the NEXT BOOK?  Fuck that. 

the fourth horseman by alan e. nourse

Boy,  this is a GOOD book.  Good old-fashioned medical thriller.  More later. 

The High King

In one of the earlier books in this series, there's a shocking betrayal by one character, and a heartening---yet tragic----turnaround in the other direction by a different character. When Taran, the protagonist, demands to know how these two disparate people can be mourned equally, he is told, "I shall mourn (Character Number One) for what he once was, and (Character Number Two) for what he became." Imagine being ten or eleven years old, and used to a fictional diet of dresses and barbies and adventures, and reading *that.* Even as a kid I knew I had stumbled over a great series of books.

Taran Wanderer has wanted to be a hero, a warrior, his whole life-----till he became one. Through four books, Taran has chased glory but gradually become acquainted with the gritty, deadly, dirty business of fighting wars and battles, slowly realizing that glory is not what it seems and sometimes one can be a hero just for getting up every day, raising a family, growing crops, herding stock, and being a decent human being.

As a kid, he was given the title Assistant Pig Keeper, to make up for the unenviable job of being, well, a pig keeper. Of course, pigs are intelligent creatures, and Prydain's Hen Wen is even more so, being an "Oracular" pig, a pig who can foretell prophecies. Still, the job has been used as an insult repeatedly by bad characters, and Taran has chafed at the insults and the occasional drubbing he's gotten, when more than one high-born character  has deemed his position and station lower than theirs. Taran has also experienced more than one humiliation from such a character,  even though he has genuine affection for Hen Wen.  As the series has gone on, Taran has ridden into battle and seen his friends fall under his leadership, but the true change in his character shows in a simple exchange here, as he agonizes over a difficult decision as a war leader. "Are you a war leader or an Assistant Pig Keeper?" Another character asks him.

"Need you ask, old friend?" Taran responds. "I'm an Assistant Pig Keeper."

In embracing his true place in life, and all his flaws, Taran finally discovers that he can rise above his humble background, and be more than a pig keeper, because if you live more for others than yourself, you have tried something more heroic than many people ever even attempt. Many people truly don't know themselves. It takes some courage to view one's self realistically, not idealistically. Taran does so, and ironically, it's recognizing his own flaws and weaknesses that lessens those things' abilities to drag him down. 

"The High King" is a wrenching conclusion to the series, but it's kind of a cathartic wrench. Taran is impatient, leaps headlong into decisions----or once did---and sees, too clearly, the difficulties of the things he must attempt---even though he knows they have little chance of success. When he succeeds, it is often only with the assistance of others, or with luck. What makes him special is that he is fully aware of this. He is the sort of person who facilitates and makes it possible for others to achieve heroism or glory, but he doesn't begrudge them that. His apprecation for his friends comes from losing so many so tragically, losses that hit the reader here with great effect and realism, if underplayed for the sake of the younger readers. There is no gore or sex or bad language, though Eilonwy experiences an unmistakably ugly confrontation with a believably evil character. It was so real, in fact, that the magical escape was *almost* too magical. *Almost.* Alexander is a miracle worker in how delicately he balances all the threads here.

Even at the end, Gwydion still has a lesson or two for Taran, who is still quite a young man. Reading this series again after decades, I was struck by how elegant and simple Alexander's writing was, hinting enough to give the reader a push, yet making the reader do some of the heavy lifting. If you don't experience some sniveling at various points in this book, I don't think I want to know you.

In an era of Super Special Chosen Ones with mysterious special talents and supernatural skills, it's impossibly refreshing to read about a young man who moves forward not because he's special but because he's ordinary,  yet tries so hard he accomplishes much, who finds the one thing he loves doing, only to realize that he lacks the talent for it, and whose heroism is born, often, of desperation rather than ambition. Taran touches one's heart because he's so much like so many of us. Being ordinary is not what limits you. Never trying is.


"The High King" by Lloyd Alexander, no bad language, no real explicit violence, no sex, but reading of Elionwy's encounter with the robber as an adult was quite startling, given how clearly Alexander managed to write that out. You'll need at least one hankie. 

The Fifth Wave/The Book of Three/The Black Cauldron/The Castle of Llyr/Taran Wanderer

  I tried. I really did.  


  It took me months  to read The Fifth Wave, because I'm one of those readers who must finish books I start, without cheating. I do not read the end unless I arrive there from the beginning. Never before have I been so sorely tested by a book, though. 


It seemed to start out pretty good, though I noticed that the four "waves" in the book closely mirrored speculation in a program I'd seen on the Nat Geo channel, speculation about what would happen should aliens invade and act like they wanted to win instead of provide opportunities for movies. So. There was that. Still, it was different than aliens in space ships.  


  Then there was the fucking love triangle. Show me a teenaged girl in a fucking book and I'll show you a fucking love triangle.  Do teenage girls love books, football, embroidery, writing, reading? Yeah, maybe, but they love boys more. Girls must have a boy or be in love with a boy, is the message, but boys themselves don't view girls the same way. Girls aren't fed to boys as the only way to have self esteem; girls, furthermore, get told no, while boys get told yes. Too many of these bloody YA books seem to promise that this book will be different, that this girl will get told yes.


 It's a lie.


  Boys display no such obsession with girls being necessary to their lives.  It doesn't dominate boys' existence in books they way it does girls. In part that's because our culture pays lip service to 'strong' girls and women but in reality it just shoots them down if they get too uppity.  


   Then there's the secondary plot with her.....relative. Yeah. Relative. Let's just leave it at that. I just didn't feel it. There was no there there. There wasn't a lot of effort here, either, although the heroine did now and then address herself by her own name or think of herself in the third person.   


I had to put the fucking thing down for weeks on end. As a result, I lost the plot and really didn't care much.  The characters were non-descript, the plot was....meh....and the whole book just left me feeling cheated. I cannot think of a single turn of phrase or line of dialogue or emotional moment that stayed with me. That's because there just wasn't anything to recall. 


 The problem with Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain is exactly the opposite. I re-read four of them in as many days, saving The High King to slobber and snivel over because while these books stab you periodically right in the heart, the last book really twists the knife. 


   Where do you start? For starters, the characters are unique and individual, so fresh and different that you can read untagged pages of dialogue without doubting for a second who each speaker is. Not just that, the characters are realistic and recognizable as human,  not in ways that seem pretentious and show offy by the writer, but in actions that remind you or yourself or others in every day life. For fantasy novels, that's quite an accomplishment. 


There's Dallben, the elderly wizard who meditates so extensively and exhaustively that he must frequently accomplish this task lying down; Coll, the gruff farm worker who knows that horse shoes are more practical than swords; Princess Eilonwy, the golden-haired princess who speaks in similes and seems always about to throw things at Taran; Prince Gwydion of Don, the stark, spare, mysterious leader who battles the forces of evil; Fflewdyrr Fflamm, the bard who's really a king but who loves being a bard more than his throne, even if Taliesin did give him a harp that keeps his tale-telling from getting too far from reality. 


And then there is Taran, a character utterly unique in fiction, adult or otherwise. Taran is basically like we all are on bad days, or very young days, wanting something and not realizing how much it will cost in terms of sacrifice and effort, or not realizing that something else entirely is worth far, far more.  Taran is a curious hero, for without his friends he wouldn't really accomplish anything, and recognizing this is what enables him to do what he is able to. When, in the fourth book, he is close to being a  man and he decides to search for his birthright, he journeys to and fro and learning from others, but ultimately, he gets slapped with one of the most tragic, humble fates I can ever recall seeing a hero being put through: he finds something he loves doing, but he has no real talent for it. What he has a talent for, he has no real interest in.  


 Taran starts out impulsive and starry-eyed, and his impulses cost him, when he indulges his fantasies of heroism and finds out things aren't that simple. There's no miracle Chosen One here, no fate already sealed. Whatever Taran's fate is to be is not yet decided, and it can only be seen when he grows up and humbly realizes who he really is, and how with a little hard work,  anyone might be heroic. The hardest lesson Taran learns is that "Hero" is not an identity, but a process, not a title, but one's actions. When this achievement is gained----after great tragedy and loss------only then does Taran get the recognition he once so eagerly sought, now meaningless compared to the things and people he has lost. Taran's essential decency is not heroic or show offy. He's the desperate boy who seizes a hidden sword and doesn't realize till later that in his terror he unsheathed a blade that should have killed him outright. The Tarans of the world learn to find satisfaction in simple things, for the great deeds they wind up doing come not from grand station or importance, but from the basic kindness and decency of their characters. Taran is the one person who does the right thing in the dark, whether there's a witness or not,  because he knows what it feels like when someone else did not do that for him.  


   Rare for a 'children's' novel, there's very few black and white villains.  With one or two exceptions, the villains are all depicted as frail creatures that couldn't fight off temptation, or who at least partially redeemed themselves.  When one good person turns bad and a heretofore bad character effectively switch places, one character says, "I shall remember (this character) for who he once was, and I shall honor (this other character) for who he became."  The bad people are often genuinely unlikable in familiar ways that easily bring to mind common types one sees every day, from the younger son who wants glory and takes refuge in his pride, to other characters who are enigmatic at best.  Seeing bad people try to become good because it's the right thing to do----often at a terrible price-----is almost as bad as watching good people die so that other people might continue the fight. 


 The characters are so much fun that the plots are almost after thoughts,  providing a vague framework for adventures and danger or poignance. Taran Wanderer is a hint of what's to come in The High King, as Taran faces choices he never imagined as a child in Caer Dallben, dreaming of heroics. When he finds out that the old farmer who tends Dallben's garden was once a hero of legend, he cries out, "But he's so....bald!" In the end, the humble things he once scorned as a child become valuable to him as an adult,  because it is by labor and hard work that most of us shape our fates.  Kings and farmers alike may ride off to and die in battle, but it is the farmers who till the battlefield afterward, and grow the crops that keep soldier and Assistant Pig Keeper alike alive and healthy.  


 The Chronicles of Pyrdain will yank the emotional rug out from under you about a zillion times, sometimes in tiny ways, sometimes in huge ones. Taran's grieving list of tasks at the end of the last book might, one suspects, lie uncompleted, because that is what happens with human beings.It's another trick the book pulls, too, for as soon as Taran realizes the importance of keeping those promises,  by virtue of recognizing that responsibility he becomes perhaps too important to do such work himself. It that doesn't make you sniffle---having watched Taran sometimes stomp and shout and sulk his way through five books, only to grow up in the last-----I really have some misgivings. 



The VA has done it again

The VA has done it again.  Periodically when I start to get better,  they decide I don't need something or other.  In this case it's transportation. No more doctors.  Of course,  the problem is,  when the VA fucked me over the first time,  they denied my case and claimed my panic attacks were no big deal.  They regused to treat them and me, and the panic attacks got very bad indeed,  as they do. The damage was done. 


Now they're doing it again. 




If ONE FUCKING PERSON tells me what I should have done I will fucking kill you. 

Gotta love the VA

So for the past ten days my knee has been bugging me,  which is fairly concerning because my knees are two of the few body parts I haven't yet broken.  Or otherwise injured. 


On the Army (and ballet) theory that everything is just a strain,  I gritted my teeth for a week,  because if it's not bleeding,  it must be a sprain,  right?  And the whole time,  I'm limping up and down the stairs,  cleaning litter boxes, getting in the middle of projects. Saturday,  though,  it got bad enough that I tried to talk the VA into permitting an ER visit to a hospital that was closer than the VA.  Nope,  none of that.  


Yesterday,  I coukdn't walk.  The leg wouldn't support me at all,  so I wound up crawling downstairs to feed the cats.  Then I called 911.  


I was at the ER eight hours.  They did X-rays, a sonogram,  but apparently MRIs are only for visiting royalty.  They gave me an ace bandage,  some tylenol,  and some crutches. 


Within two hours of arriving home,  as I came back downstairs, something went SNAP in my knee very loudly,  and I woild up screaming in pain for ten minutes.  It took me twenty minutes to cross thirty feet because the whole leg was sickeningly painful----you know,  the kind of pain where you can tell something is wrong.  


Back to the ER. 


The nurses looked startled when I came back with the paramedics. 


This time they gave me an injection,  still no MRI,  and still no diagnosis.  One $50 cab ride later (including a tip for the sweet Somali driver,  who was BEYOND lovely----and liveral) I staggered home in a thigh-high knee brace.


If they fight the ambulance bill,  it's time for tactical nukes. 

Let The Right One In

Hmmm,  a very hard book to rate. It's almost a writing exercise----stark,  depressing, almost clinical in spots,  depicting the lives of people that contain no hope, no excitement, humor,  creativity, longing,  imagination,  etc.,  etc.,  These people lead not just boring lives,  but empty ones as well.  To add a vampire to the mix is almost sadistic,  because these characters have already been drained.  Even the putative hero is....nondescript, as if he's been emptied conveniently for cleaning.   None of them have character, opinions,  or standards;  all the characters act pettily or passively,  or both.  


  Oskar is a not-exactly little boy living in an artificially-spawned burb located in a bland hellscape in a winter that wasn't bad enough to be interesting.  The original movie Oskar creeped me out more than the American version,  because he looked....undercooked,  like half-boiled pasta.  The American one displayed actual emotion.  Of course,  the American version fudged Eli's gender. 


In a novel like this,  where everything is hints and impressions,  nothing ever feels definite.  Fear intensifies emotion,  but this book evoked little on me,  so disconnected were its characters from....well,  everything,  including every other human they encountered.  I had trouble keeping track of all the depressed,  depressing characters,  from the cat-hoarder too stupid to spay,  to the various middle-aged drunks that made up the victims.  


As an exercise in stark storytelling,  this was a success,   but it didn't scare me,  which ought to be the reason for reading it.  Maybe this is fine literature and I'm too much of a peasant not to see it,  but I still like my old-fashioned movie monsters.  I COULD make room in my personal pantheon for a scarily-logical version of various monsters,  but alas,  haven't found that yet.  


I think part of the attraction for me is the way humans can be made to re-asses life if they're not quite the apex predator we think we are.  However,  in this book,  Eli is just another sad,  little, polyester-clad cypher with no hopes,  fantasies,  or inner life.  Yes,  ironically,  the book comes across as honest,  but why bother?  There's nothing here.


There is some discussion of pedophilia,  which some reviewers at Amazon freaked out over. It's one of those I don't get.....nothing seemed to have a purpose in this novel.  


I didn't hate it ir love it.  I will never reread it again.  It was not interesting enough in the end.  There were no sparks. 

I'm a sadist

"How do I feel about this?",  booklikes?  I'm fucking writing about it,  aren't it? 


I've been deviled by a bad stomach ache for a while so I have little patience for twits, twats, and twerps, and so far,  there's been too many of them out of range. So,  I have decided to torture anybody who stumbles over this. 


Grace Ingram wrote,  I believe,  six books under that name and her real name,  Doris Sutcliffe Adams. Her writing is as tart as her characters,  who are a no-nonsense lot with little pockets of hopes and vulnerabilities.  In the case of the romantic leads,  those intimate little bits are discovered,  revealed, and respected by the romantic foil.  This is both refreshing and touching.  


Adams/Ingram is the sort of fiction writer who actually had the odd footnote in her writing.  Her atmosphere is vivid,  her plots serveiceable,  but the whole is greater than the parts.  She captures the tone and flavor of the times in a way that only Elizabeth Chadwick or Naomi Novik has done,  of more recent writers.  Patricia C. Wrede's "Sorcery and Cecilia" was another good one,  but really,  no competition. 


Ingram/Sutcliffe's books are like a recipe where every flavor blends into a whole in a way that is hard to duplicate or describe.


My hope is that enough people will request her books on Kindle to cause a re-issue.  The rare paperback you can find these days goes for anywhere from $50 to $500 dollars.  Yes,  that's correct.  

The Lion's Game

The Lion's Game - Nelson DeMille

   Obnoxiousness is not or should not be a whole personality.  The lead character sails through life,  being an asshole,  but thinking that he's incredibly funny and amusing. We get frequent boner updates,  as well as assessments of every attractive woman around.  Unattractive women either don't exist, don't matter, or are invisible.  John never experiences any emotions beyond horniness and dick waving,  and the other characters are little better.  There are no distinctive personalities among all the characters. He has no insights,  no imagination,  never changes.  The villain,  if you can believe it,  is even worse. John is wooden but Khalil is plastic---and venom.  The women dress in sensible shoes,  occasionally fuck their coworkers,  and that's it.  Somebody could twist all this and make it horrifying.  


I gave it two and a half because the grammar was decent,  it was spellchecked,  and that's that.


Actually,  I'm going to deduct at least a half because at two points in the book,  John describes two reviewers he hates reading.  These are two people who gave the author's awful book "The General's Daughter" bad reviews.  I simply cannot believe and have not known women who behave like some of DeMille's female characters.  If a woman wanted revenge for a gang rape and had access to guns,  I rather expect she would not cook up some elaborate and manipulative scheme;   she'd take the guns and go to town. 

Reading progress update: I've read 4%.

Necropolis: London and Its Dead - Catharine Arnold

This is a wonderfully informative and interesting book,  quick moving and jammed with facts and vivid bits of business.  Arnold is quite quickly becoming a favorite.  

Reading progress update: I've read 586 out of 720 pages.

The Lion's Game - Nelson DeMille

The plot moved!

The Lion's Game

On page 557,  What's-His-Face is describing every last fucking detail on a fucking plane-----as opposed to updating us on the state of his boner-----when he notes that that inflight movie featured John Travolta as an Army CID agent.  That's "The General's Daughter",  based on a truly offensive book by this same fucking writer.  The character in the book singles out a review by critic John Anderson,  who didn't like it.  How's that for Bookception? 


I MUST conquer this fucking book,  goddamit. 


I think I've read four more pages.  


 I'm up to page 586.  Last time I tried I was at 522.  Books are NOT supposed to be punishing. 

The Madness Underneath

This is book two of the series that started with the book I just reviewed.  Rorie was hurt by the Ripper,  and her newly-acquired skill attracts attention.


This one was slower.  Rorie's skill has gotten even MORE special after the last book's classic villain-explains-it-all scene,  which caused this variation.  Rorie deals with injuries, being weird,  and flunking school.  There is a HUGE cliffhanger,  which is way too typical of YA these days.  There's also an improbable rescue scene that always happens,  and.....other stuff.  


I'd give it a three,  because there was nothing wrong with it,  buuuuut I kept hoping for more.  The cliffhanger?  I'm beginning to hate those. 

The name of the star

Well,  I read this on the recomnendation of a friend,  otherwise I wouldn't have been too eager to read something by a member of that Cassie Claire bunch.  In retrospect,  that bit of knowledge made some things look very different. 


It's an okay book that is genuinely eerie and scary in some parts,  but it's not one you'll want to or need to read twice.  Everything is on the surface:  there are no depths.


Even so,  I still read and finished the bloody thing in a night and a day. STILL HAVE NOT FINISHED THAT BLOODY WHAT'S-HIS-FACE BOOK. 


Aurora (Rory)something-or-other is going to school in London thanks to a move necessitated by her parents something-or-other.  I can't remember that was. While she's there, someone begins to re-enact the Jack the Ripper murders.  You can figure out what's going to happen,  there,  right?  Somehow the Ripper gets focused on her because she has a very unusual skill.  Just once,  could somebody NOT have a special skill or ability or name?  


A fun way to pass a day,  buuuuuuuttt....

Reading progress update: I've read 522 out of 720 pages.

The Lion's Game - Nelson DeMille

God,  I just cannot get anywhere with this book.  Briefings,  blood,  and sexism----was the writer getting paid by murder or every jarring little mention of tits and ass? 


Problem is,  I'm determined to finish it.