On The Nightstand: March 2015

Everyday Adventures

That’s a loaded title, isn’t it? When I first envisioned this website (12 years ago, ahem) I always planned for their to be a little section on the sidebar with whatever book(s) I was currently reading and linked to my thoughts on said books. I suppose I could still do that (or use the Goodreads app/plugin or some such), but I’ll be honest: I only remember to check in with Goodreads at the end of the month, I’m not sure I’d be any better with a manual sidebar feature.

Enough blathering about blathering about books, let’s get to the more direct stuff!

Book covers snagged from GoodReads

Book covers snagged from GoodReads

In addition to everything else that was going on in March, I was really ripping through some books!

First up was the Traveler’s Gate Trilogy by Will Wight. Which started out as me just having House of Blades on my Kindle because I met the author’s brother at a convention the weekend it was being released and blah blah blah supporting other creators, etc. I read the first couple of chapters and reminded myself why I don’t read high fantasy as a general rule. That was 2013.

BUT! It was next up on the oldest unread books on my Kindle list, so I dove back in, waded through the world building and character soup, and damn if I wasn’t really interested in who these people were by the mid-point in the book. And by the end? Totally checking to see if book 2 was available. Not only was it, but it was available for borrowing via Prime, so I didn’t even have to break my spending diet to get it!

Oh, another thing, I actually read House of Blades in February, but after I wrote the last book round-up, and I didn’t realize I’d devour it quite so quickly! So I borrowed Book 2 at the very end of February and was able to borrow Book 3 a few days later once the counter had reset for March. Book binge!

Here’s the short version (but no spoilers): In this world, magic-users are called Travelers. Some are born to it, others trained to it. Travelers are affiliated with Territories (usually only one, but there are exceptions) and each Territory comes with certain pros and cons. (There’s a bit of vague Norse references in some of the names and all, but nothing truly one culture or another.) Simon is our main character, ordinary poor kid in his village after his dad is killed by a Traveler and his mother tortured into mindlessness. Cheerful so far, right? It gets better (no, really, it does). Simon’s village is raided and in the scuffle Leah appears to distract the baddies and get captured instead of Simon, so he feels honor-bound to try and rescue her. Now, back when his family had that run-in with dark side of magic, another Traveler stepped in and saved him and his mom (more or less). Simon decides to go back to the spot it all happened and see if he can get the Traveler to train him so he can rescue Leah.

While Simon makes great strides in his training out of necessity, I appreciated that it was accomplished more out of abject stubbornness instead of dumb luck or some hidden ability. Simon kinda sucks at being a Traveler at times, but he’s also not a complete anti-hero or a whiny brat complaining about finding himself in a situation. I respect the character, in other words, and that made it easy to get interested in him. He also doesn’t “drink the Kool-Aide” the way another character, Alin, does when it’s discovered he’s (Alin’s) the first natural-born Traveler of super-Territory Elysia, the prophesied one, and all that. Alin would have made a far less interesting main character, but as supporting character it works better. And Leah, well, she’s got her own secrets. We’ll just leave it at that.

It’s far from a perfect story, but I really enjoyed the hell out of it and so would definitely recommend it if you can get into a story and ignore the details.

Next up was Rushed, by Brain Harmon. Modern day setting with some fantastical/supernatural elements. What it wasn’t, despite the title, was a quick-moving story. 95% or more of the book takes place during a single day. And while there are definite signs of imagination on the part of the writer, there are also so blatant pop-culture reference drops (Steven King, the Shining, Curious George, and Indiana Jones) that work in some ways but not in others. And the perceived antagonist is just referred to as the foggy man. Oookay.

Basically, this guy starts having this dream that wakes him up with this urgency to GO (as in travel, not heed nature’s call). But where and why are elusive. He resists for a couple of nights and then, finally, gives in and decides to get in his car and drive wherever and get it out of his system. His wife takes all of this in stride, almost unbelievably calm. I think this is meant to underscore their loving, trusting relationship. And, again, he’s just gone a day so, really, I suppose you could give their dynamic the benefit of the doubt, once he starts encountering weird stuff in corn fields (of course) and sending her cell phone pictures of the same, I’d expect her to be a little more concerned! In any other book their banter would have been delightful, it just didn’t seem to work for me, here.

I was reminded, more than once, of King’s Dark Tower series–a series I enjoyed, by the way, until that piss-poor ending he threw at us after waiting more than a decade for the damn series to end (apparently I’m still very. opinionated. on that point, ahem). Our main character (whose name I cannot even recall, that should tell you something) is no Roland, but we have a very similar, frustrating, oh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me, side-eye up on side and down the other ending in store and I was not pleased. I don’t think I’ll be reading the other two books in the series.

Now for something totally different!

The peril in downloading book and letting them sit for a while is that you might not remember why you downloaded them in the first place. When I started on Connie Brockaway’s No Place for a Dame I really wondered what I was thinking–it starts out like your typical bodice ripper! With “dame” in the title I was thinking 1920s and here I was about a century off!

While it did turn out to be a historical romance, with all the usual (dare I say formulaic) elements, the characters were engaging and the premise was pretty good. A gamekeeper’s daughter is granted the gift of education by the master of the house. She has a talent for astronomy, discovers a comet, and wants to present it to the Royal Astrological Society (yes, I know, it’s that for reasons), only one thing stands in the way: the fact that she’s a she and not a he. So she enlists the help of Lord Strand in the usual subterfuge, hilarity ensues, and they eventually succumb to the expected attraction. (I really don’t consider that a spoiler, see again: formula).

Now, I did like the way they extricated themselves from the resulting scandal-to-be. And telling would be a spoiler, but I’ll say it was inventive and funny. Turns out this is book 3 in a series, but I don’t think I’ll go back and read the others. I feel like No Place for a Dame stands alone really well and I don’t want to tempt fate with another book in a genre I’m not a big fan of.

The book club selection for the month was The Awakening, a shocking book in its day by Kate Chopin, but like a lot of the “scandalous” books from decades past, it doesn’t hold the same power when read in modern times. It’s all about a woman who realizes that she is unhappy with her life, her husband, and the strictures of Victorian society. And while I can empathize with a need to change one’s situation, her “awakening” didn’t come with any sense of responsibility or purpose, she was just as self-centered and careless in the choices she makes to extricate herself from the unhappiness as she appeared at the beginning of the book.

As is often the case, the secondary characters were far more interesting to me, and the ending of the book was disappointing, but in a different way from Rushed (though I’d still call it a cop-out). The book’s been out for more than a century so I’m going to “spoil” the ending: she kills herself. Why? Because the alternate life she drifted towards didn’t turn out the way she planned. The man she left her husband for had a shred of decency and didn’t succumb to her charms–but not because he didn’t want to, because he knew it wasn’t the right thing to do–and she runs off and ends herself. Oh, sure, she spares a momentary thought for her two young children, but it ultimately didn’t matter.

Even the way she ended it was thoughless and self-centered. She arrives at the resort the frequent each summer unannounced, in the off-season, sending the few people on the island into a tizzy trying to make up a room and meal for her, while she heads off to the beach. She refused offers from friends for help (including a kind doctor that actually seemed to have a clue about what she was going through and appeared ready to listen and talk without judging her thoughts or actions). Even taking into consideration the mores of the day and the narrow roles women could fill, she was weak and lacked character. And that just makes for a frustrating end of a story.

Thank goodness the next book was more my style, featured a strong female lead, and included enough humor to keep things light but without cheapening the suspense of who was really responsible for the death of a student in the admiralty law professor’s office. Long Knives, by Charles Rosenberg, is a pretty interesting legal thriller. There’s sunken treasure ships (or at least the rumor of them), university politics, condo board scheming, and so on and so forth.

I was stymied for most of the book what the title had to do with anything. Again, I had no memory of the book’s description and was expecting something adverture-y, and then maybe pirate-adjacent when the sunken treasure because a plot point. But, no, it’s apparently a metaphor for treachery (a quick search reveals that it dates to the 12th century–guess I missed that one during my SCA days) and was finally mentioned by one of the antagonists during an informal academic hearing that ultimately revealed whodoneit.

Nothing about the book blew me away, but it was an enjoyable read. If there are more novels featuring Jenna James (the lawyer-turned-professor protagonist), I’d probably give them a try. (Oh, looks like this might have actually been a sequel. There’s a lot of history between some of the characters, history that apparently is fully discussed in Death on a High Floor.)

Just one more to go! Even though I finished Back on Murder in April, I’m liable to forget about it by the end of the month, so I’ll go ahead and cover it, now. It’s your basic police procedural starring a fallen-from-grace homicide cop, March, who really wants to get back on the regular rotation but it seems like he’s on his way out, not up. At first I was worried that he was going to be another anti-hero, but I discovered I like him well-enough by the end.

There’s a shoot-out at a drug house and Marsh, trying to make himself useful, actually discovers something at the scene that suggests there was another person there, definitely injured, possibly dead, but why is the body not there? Then there’s a fair haired do-gooder that goes missing, and March is convinced there’s a connection, as incongruous as it seems, and pins his hopes on it being the case that redeems him in the eyes of the department. Things don’t go as planned (it’d have been a short book if they had!) and another couple of opportunities present themself that also seem to fizzle (hope that doesn’t give too much away).

The fact that this is #1 is a series of March mysteries tells you right off that something eventually goes right, but it was pretty damn touch-and-go for a good long while. Would I read the rest of his series? Maybe. Once I catch up on all the other books still in my backlog I’ll consider it.

According to GoodReads I’m 2 books behind schedule my goal of 75 books read this year. Guess I need to step things up a bit more, huh?

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