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Dry Bones in the Valley: A Novel
Dry Bones in the Valley: A Novel
by Tom Bouman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.27
82 used & new from $0.55

4.0 out of 5 stars Strong Pennsylvania Debute, November 24, 2014
Henry Farrell served in the Army in the early 1990s (including Somalia), and returned to roam the West, where he met the love of his life. When his wife died, he drifted east and now lives the introverted life of a widower in rural northeast Pennsylvania. He also happens to be the only cop in the township, and when a body missing an arm turns up on an old man's land, he's got a mystery to solve. Eventually two other corpses enter the story, and Farrell is faced with three different cases -- one recent, one that involves the recent past, and one that dates back a generation or two.

However, those mysteries aren't really what keep the pages turning -- what's really of interest is the portrayal of rural Pennsylvania and the people who live there. Sprinkled into the story are meth labs, natural gas companies seeking lease land, families with old Irish and Welsh names, hunter culture, and all manner of family ties. Far from being a lone wolf cop, Farrell has to negotiate his involvement with law enforcement bureaucracy and colleges from neighboring jurisdictions, state police, the local coroner, etc. The overall vibe is kind of a mix of Daniel Woodrell's Ozark-set books and Craig Johnson's Wyoming "Longmire" series -- I'd definitely read more.

The Sun Is God
The Sun Is God
by Adrian McKinty
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.75
67 used & new from $1.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars White Mischief in New Guinea, November 23, 2014
This review is from: The Sun Is God (Paperback)
Irish crime novelist McKinty turns his hand to something new with this historical mystery based on real events. Set at the dawn of the 20th century, the story features Will Prior, an ex-British Army military police officer who served in the Boer War and has fled to the far Pacific of German New Guinea to escape his nightmares. However, when a man dies under mysterious circumstances on a nearby island inhabited by a colony/cult of nudist "cocovores" (they only eat coconuts), Prior is asked to accompany the local German government representative to investigate.

What follows is a kind of Wicker Man-type investigation, as Prior and the German spent a few days on the island questioning the members of the cult and getting drawn into their odd customs. It's a literally hallucinatory experience, with a moderately interesting outcome. As a mystery, it's fairly mediocre, but as an exploration of a strange cult in a far off corner of the world a century ago, it's moderately interesting. Ultimately, it's probably mainly of interest to those already interested in New Guinea, or the time period.

Hold the Dark: A Novel
Hold the Dark: A Novel
by William Giraldi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.73
58 used & new from $9.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative But Ambiguous Alaskan Adventure, November 8, 2014
This review is from: Hold the Dark: A Novel (Hardcover)
I suppose if I knew anything about ancient Greek drama, I would be able to make some connections to this dark story set in the Alaskan tundra. It certainly carries the weight, darkness, and bloodiness that I associate with Greek tragedies. Alas, I am not steeped in the classics, and am thus forced to draw comparisons with Cormac McCarthy and the underrated Liam Neeson film, The Grey.

The story begins in the small Alaskan town of Keelut, where three children have been taken by wolves. The mother of one of the missing children implores an aging wolf expert to come help her find the one that killed her little boy. Grieving and aimless in the wake losing his wife to Alzheimer's, the wolf expert comes to town and makes a shocking discovery.

Meanwhile, the father of the boy is making his way back from Iraq (Odyssey reference, right?), discharged from the Army with a Purple Heart. As soon as he arrives, the wolf expert who has been the protagonist is kind of dumped to the background and doesn't reappear for the entire middle of the book. Instead, the father and his boon childhood companion hook up and lots of people start getting killed, with the local sheriff in pursuit.

Mixed in with this rampage is a bunch of heavy mumbo-jumbo involving wolf masks which, again, if I'd read my ancient Greeks, might be more meaningful than hokey.The climax brings the father and wolf expert together in the wilderness, as both seek out the missing mother and there's another twist -- albeit one that's been heavily hinted at, so I suspect most readers will see it coming.

I have to confess that although I liked the writing and appreciated the heavy mood of the story, I'm not quite sure what to make of it all by the end. It's tempting to try and find some way to unlock it as an allegory about modern America, but I'm not convinced that's the right direction. It's the rare kind of book that makes me want to find some interviews with the author to see how he talks about it. Recommended for readers who like dark and bloody stories that only involve human monsters.

Death in Breslau: An Inspector Mock Investigation
Death in Breslau: An Inspector Mock Investigation
by Marek Krajewski
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.17
83 used & new from $0.57

2.0 out of 5 stars Weak Debut for Polish Historical Crime Series, November 8, 2014
I love reading crime fiction from other countries, so I eagerly snapped up this first book of a Polish series featuring a police detective working in the German city of Breslau in the years leading up to World War II. As the city (including the police department) is carved up into fiefdoms representing different factions of German politics, the bodies of two women are found on a train. One of them is the teenage daughter of a prominent Baron, and with the murder pinned on a Jew, Inspector Mock sets out to uncover the truth.

As a guide to pre-war Breslau's streets, brothels, bars, and political intrigues, the book is a great success. Very evocative and detailed, even if trying to keep track of just who is allied with who among the mix of characters requires a scorecard. However, as a crime story, it left a lot of be desired. There's a lot of tooing and froing, and threatening and torturing people in the service of justice, but it's kind of hard to care about any of it.

Mock is kind of a nasty antihero, and his sidekick is mostly a nonentity. There are a few colorful characters here and there, but mostly the book is populated with the lost and damned -- drug users, Nazi sympathizers, obsolete Prussian aristocrats, and the like. And when the killings are eventually tied back to the Crusades and the Yazdis, I threw up my hands in frustrated disbelief at the silly conceit.

If the time period and setting is what intrigues, you're better off seeking the first three of Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, packaged as the Berlin Noir trilogy. I'll be skipping the rest of this Inspector Mock series and moving on to try a different Polish crime series, featuring a state prosecutor, starting with Entanglement.

Come, Sweet Death
Come, Sweet Death
by Wolf Haas
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.35
82 used & new from $1.25

3.0 out of 5 stars So-So Story, November 8, 2014
This review is from: Come, Sweet Death (Paperback)
For some reason the "Brenner" series from Austria is becoming available in English out of sequence. I previously enjoyed the chronological seventh (Brenner and God), I couldn't help but feel like there was quite a lot of backstory I was missing. This one is the third in the series, and fills in some of it -- although I had the continual niggling feeling that there were more hidden depths to the character I wasn't getting. In many series, this wouldn't matter, but the Brenner stories are filtered through the narration of the protagonist, and so those absences are more keenly felt.

Brenner is a darkly humorous and digressive narrator, however, he just didn't satisfy in quite the same way as in Brenner and God. It's possible that it just didn't seem as fresh, or perhaps I just wasn't in the same mood for it, but for whatever the reason, this one was a bit of a drag. One thing that is kind of weak in both books is the plot. In this installment, ex-cop Brenner is an ambulance driver who eventually gets dragged into some drama involving a murder or two and a rival ambulance company. Everything in the story felt a bit elaborate and accordingly hard to swallow -- from the mere setup of the ambulance rivalry, to the convoluted scheme behind the killings.

Maybe I'll wait a few years and give the series one last shot, reading it in order once everything's been translated. Until then, I'm taking a break from Brenner.

Library Technicians and Library Assistants: Job Hunting - A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers
Library Technicians and Library Assistants: Job Hunting - A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers
by Stephen Gladwell
Edition: Print on Demand (Paperback)
13 used & new from $22.90

1.0 out of 5 stars "Book" is a Cut-and-Paste from the Internet Sham, September 25, 2014
I am involved in hiring at a large public library system and let me assure you that this "book" is a total sham. It's all information cut and paste from from free websites. Most of it appears to be from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, I believe the 2010-11 edition. The most current version of the handbook is freely available on the Bureau's website. What really makes this a sham, however, is that there are only nine pages of information about library technicians (again, copied from the BLS handbook). The seventy other pages are all generic job searching, interviewing advice and tips that have nothing specific to trying to get a library job. It's not bad info, but it's also not info you should pay for.

The Art of Fielding: A Novel
The Art of Fielding: A Novel
by Chad Harbach
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.46
310 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Your Time -- Even If You Hate Baseball, September 24, 2014
I burned out on playing and watching baseball years ago, and I tend to have zero interest in "campus" novels, so you'd think a book that revolves around a college baseball prodigy would be the last thing I read, right? However, I kept hearing how good this was and in a moment of weakness, managed to overcome my prejudices and try it out -- and am very glad I did.

The book opens with an quietly gripping scene where we meet teenage baseball players Henry Skrimshander and Mike Schwartz, who we will discover to be the book's protagonists. That scene sets the stage for Henry's recruitment to play baseball at the fictional Westish College in rural Wisconsin. The school is a wonderful creation -- an undistinguished small liberal arts that completely rebranded itself based on an innocuous speech given there by Herman Melville. Its wholly invented prestige-by-association is what lured its President, an alumnus teaching at Harvard, back to campus. President Affenlight, his fickle 20-something daughter Pella, and Henry's gay roommate Owen are the book's other three main characters.

I am sure that if I'd read Moby Dick and studied it deeply, this novel would resonate much more deeply and strongly with me. However, even without that context, I completely fell under its spell, absorbed in the baseball plot lines, absorbed in the various love lives, and mostly absorbed by Henry's semitragic affliction of focal dystonia (aka the yips, aka Steve Blass disease, aka Steve Sax syndrome). It's more or less a high-end coming of age soap opera, albeit riven through with serious themes of power, autonomy, free will, ethics, and more. And again, those with more than a passing familiarity with Melville and Moby Dick will find more to chew on. So even if you're like me and kind of hate baseball, give it a shot -- there's a lot there.

Horrorstor: A Novel
Horrorstor: A Novel
by Grady Hendrix
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.82
82 used & new from $6.86

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Decent Premise -- But That's About All, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Horrorstor: A Novel (Paperback)
Hey, Ikea stores are funny and weird right? Wouldn't it be funny to tell a horror story set in an Ikea, 'cause the contrast would be so funny and weird, right? Right...?

Make no mistake, this novel is a one trick pony -- once you've absorbed the premise, there's not a whole lot there. Basically, an Ikea-knockoff chain store is built on top of an old prison site and some strange stuff starts to happen. The story covers what happens one night when a peppy assistant manager decides to get to the bottom of things by keeping slacker Amy and upbeat Sue Ann after hours to see if they can catch the overnight intruder/vandal.

About halfway through the book, the horror is unleashed: insane homeless dude, waves of rats, hidden passages, slime, grasping hands, restraints, etc. All pretty typical stuff, if effectively rendered. The characters all types, not real characters, and the only reason I read all the way to the end is just to see how it was wrapped up. As a satire of consumer culture, corporate culture, and the modern workplace, it's pretty tame stuff.

I will say that the design (size and look of an Ikea catalog) is quite good. Each character opens with a simple Ikea-style diagram of a home furnishing, with item #, etc. and as the book goes on, these get creepier. But ultimately the book is a mildly amusing joke that wears thing pretty quickly.

Captain Alatriste
Captain Alatriste
by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.75
266 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Setting the Stage for the Series, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Captain Alatriste (Paperback)
I've generally really enjoyed most of Perez-Reverte's novels over the years, but hadn't gotten around to this historic swashbuckling series. Based on his other books and my general appreciation for swords-and-adventure type stories, I expected to enjoy it a great deal -- alas, I did not.

Set in 17th-century Spain, the series follows the fortunes of the titular ex-soldier turned sellsword. This first book takes place in Madrid, where the Captain and another swordsman are hired by mysterious masked men linked to the Inquisition to attack some visiting Englishmen. Naturally the English prove not to be simple travelers, but something else entirely. Complications ensue. Swords are crossed. Court intrigue abounds. Historical figures make cameos. Etc.

Despite all these seemingly enjoyable elements, the story never really caught fire for me the way a historical adventure ought to (my gold standard for the genre are the works of Rafael Sabatini). The book feels like a setup for much better things to come: it establishes the backstory of the Captain and his young squire, clearly introduces their nemesis, and sets up various other important relationships that are likely to be key in future tales. I suspect that future books in the series might prove more entertaining, but I'm not very enthused to try the next one (Purity of Blood).

Infantino Roomy Back Seat Storage
Infantino Roomy Back Seat Storage
Price: $12.54
11 used & new from $12.54

4.0 out of 5 stars Wish we had one of these for child #1, September 9, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One of the banes of hauling babies and toddlers around is all the junk (I'm thinking of a different word here...) that you have to haul around with you, and the propensity of that junk to end up all over your car. This is a nice little thingamajig to stow some basics in the car, attaching around the back of the driver or front passenger seat headrest. It works pretty well, and I really like that the grey blends in with the rest of the car interior (we have plenty of "kid-friendly" colored junk in our lives already). It is too bad, as someone else pointed out, that the bottom swings freely, but I can't really figure out how you would solve that without making it way more intrusive. A handy car accessory whose utility seems like it could continue on well after the children are no longer in need of wipes and whatnot.

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