The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

This is a fantasy novel – the first in an as yet unfinished trilogy – which was highly (and repeatedly) recommended to me. It’s the life story of Kvothe, who starts off as part of a travelling troupe, becomes a street urchin, and then a somewhat unlikely and down at heel student. The book begins with Kvothe in the role of an innkeeper who, eventually, starts telling his whole story to a travelling scribe. Therefore, we get the first person perspective driving the main narrative, with the occasional intercession as the focus switches back to various scenes with Kvothe taking a break from his story to deal with several issues, like customers, and wandering mercenaries.

The following are worth noting:

  • The world around Kvothe is vast, but more hinted at than completely described
  • The magical system is lovingly rendered, and adds real weight to the sense of awe
  • The characterization is good
  • The storytelling is mostly good, too, though there were a few patches that I thought were over written
  • This is no Tolkien ripoff, nor juvenile fantasy; it’s solid, believable, and gripping

Despite all of the above, while it is a good book, it did not hit me the same way my first contact with Joe Abercrombie or K. J. Parker did. So, while I am happy to say that I enjoyed it, for me it does not quite reach the top rank. It’s absolutely worth reading though, and I do recommend it.

 

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A night with Andreas

Last week’s session saw Azriel, Rosalynn, Sheer, and me have a night of two games by Andreas Seyfarth. Both are classics, of some age, but still endure.

First up was the meaty challenge that is Puerto Rico. To give you an idea of how seriously some people play this, the Puerto Rico sessions at the World Boardgame Championships used to record the players’ moves. Frightening. I don’t think any of us are likely to be in the finals of that event for a while. Anyway, off we jolly well went, and had an engrossing game that ended – surprisingly – in two ways.

The first, and biggest, surprise was that I won. The second surprise was that Sheer later confessed he hated the game. I should have taken the hint when he asked for several rules explanations, though he had played it many times. He really must hate it to have so emptied his excellent gamer’s brain of the Puerto Rico basics. I promise, Sheer, we won’t play that one again! Rosalynn and Azriel had decent scores, but just couldn’t get enough points to claim the win.

Second was Andreas very cut down card game version of Puerto Rico, San Juan. Funnily enough, Sheer likes this game, and he did pretty well. Unfortunately for him, Rosalynn did better, and claimed a memorable win. It was memorable for me, because I so badly played the opening rounds that I was doomed to finish last from then, and knew it. But I smiled sweetly as we played and played and played until we got to the end. Azriel’s got a good handle on the game, but he just lost out to Sheer for the second place. I was so far back, I should have finished fifth…

Despite the San Jaun disaster, I had a great night with Andreas’ games. Thanks to Sheer for playing Puerto Rico, and to everyone for coming along.

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Die of Shame – Mark Billingham

This is a crime novel which features a therapist (Tony De Silva) and the attendees of his Monday night session. These people – all on the road to recovery from one sort of addiction or another – share their feelings and their secrets, guided by De Silva like some form of shepherd with a wayward flock. One of them is murdered, and so far as the police are concerned, it’s obvious that another member of the group must be the killer. But who?

I found this a little underwhelming. First, the police investigation is almost on the periphery. Instead, up front and center stage are the group members. Second, there are pages of dialogue and description covering several therapy sessions. It’s realistic, believable, and also numbing. It went on for too long, and I lost any empathy for the characters. That lasted until the mystery was solved, but by then it was time for the book to end.

SPOILER ALERT!

There’s a bit of a recovery in the closing pages when the author introduces one of his regular police characters, and not so subtly leaves the reader wanting more.

Overall, I was disappointed. It’s well written, clearly been fully researched, and seems grounded in reality. But it largely bored the socks off me, and so I can only say it was OK.

 

 

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The Bone Field – Simon Kernick

Twenty six years ago, a young woman went missing in Thailand. She was never seen again. Back in the here and now, that woman’s bones are discovered in an English field. Shortly after that shocking discovery, her former boyfriend – who reported her disappearance – is dead. The something of a loose cannon that is DI Ray Mason is part of the team investigating the crimes. Inevitably, he goes one way as the team goes another. The action and dead bodies pile up in this relentless tale, which is full of twists and turns, and does a good job of conforming to its page turning description.

So, from one point of view, this was an enjoyable read. However, it’s very much in the light entertainment category as far as I am concerned – think airport reading and you won’t be far wrong – with some clunky writing that sometimes stopped me in my tracks. A sharper edit might have substantially improved the experience. There were times when I almost cried out loud in frustration at the prose.

Mason is the lead character, and is reasonably well done. Private Detective Tina Boyd’s guest appearance – apparently she is a character from other books by Simon Kernick – is also pretty good. But the rest are less believable, and simply did not work for me.

It’s not a bad book, but it is bad in places. One to read and forget.

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The Waters of Eternal Youth – Donna Leon

Commissario Brunetti’s wife’s family are part of Venetian high society. So it is not unusual that our hero occasionally finds himself forced to attend social events in which he has little interest. But, ever the gentleman, he participates with apparent willingness, an easy smile, and constant inward reflection. Following on from one such society dinner, his hostess – Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of his mother-in-law – asks for his help. In her advancing years, the Contessa is increasingly troubled by the sad state of her granddaughter, Manuela. The girl was rescued from drowning, but suffered severe brain damage and lives out her life like a young child, the eternal youth of the book’s title. She cannot remember what happened. But the Contessa believes there must be an explanation, and wants Brunetti to get to the bottom of it.

Opening up an old case with no good reason is typically challenging fare for Brunetti, and it is a challenge he rises to, using his long experience of the system, and his deep understanding of how his boss thinks. Brunetti starts investigating, recruiting a sympathetic fellow policewoman to help him connect to Manuela, thus beginning and developing a friendship that assists the police to slowly make some progress.

While this is ongoing, the backdrop of modern Venice, with all its corruption, cronyism, and peculiarities, are portrayed as lovingly as the central character is. Brunetti’s family are also neatly sketched stars in their own right, offering a clear contrast to the world around them.

This is a fine, gentle, yet powerful book that shows yet again one of the greatest fictional detectives in all his glory.

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What Israel needs…

Parked? Abandoned? (Yes, that’s the pavement.) Who cares about pedestrians anyway?

…more traffic police!

I have this fantasy that as part of an improved diplomatic relationship between Israel and the Scottish National Party, there would be a winning exchange. Israel would send some sunshine, and in exchange Scotland would send some traffic police. Now, wouldn’t that be good?

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Before the Fall – Noah Hawley

At the core, this book is a simple story about a private plane that crashes, leaving two survivors: the four year old son of parents who died in the crash, and Scott Burroughs, a struggling artist. What makes the book that much more enthralling and rewarding is the well crafted way the author takes us through each of the personalities on the plane, and breathes – somewhat ironically – real life into these doomed individuals. Of course, the fact that there’s a mystery to unravel as to what caused the crash, also helps.

The passengers on the plane include a right wing TV news tycoon, and a (er….) high flying business man with lots of money, lots of influence, and lots of dodgy deals to his credit. However, the shining star is Burroughs, as he discovers the joy and pain of suddenly being the center of attention. This is another irony, given that he has spent his life trying to achieve recognition for his art. His canvases portraying disasters, including a plane crash, allow some to form unfavorable opinions about the man. We readers, however, get to see the whole view, and should benefit from the perspective we are given.

There are several strong undercurrents as the author offers a peak into media incitement, power, and corruption, as well as the embattled human spirit trying to cope with a chaotic world. The investigative forces deployed following the crash also get some coverage, with no lack of attention to the quality of the characters and the pitching of their involvement in the story.

It seemed to me that the author’s care and consideration for his characters – good and bad – was reflected in the high quality of the writing, and that the story flowed easily, carrying the reader along. At the same time, there are no flashy flourishes, nor attempts to show how clever the author is. (He’s clever, but he’s not boastful.)

I highly recommend this book as an example of a well written, well rounded, thoughtful, entertainment.

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Charles and Eddie

Would I lie to you baby? is the 1992 hit, written by Mike Leeson and Peter Vale, performed by Charles & EddieCharles Pettigrew and Eddie Chacon. The song is on their album, Duophonic. I heard the song being played on the radio (Galgalatz) recently, more than once. That triggered a desire to hear it again – I do remember when it first came out – so I went to YouTube, found it there, and played it again.

It’s a great song. I don’t typically like this kind of music – R&B? Soul? – but this song calls to me. That’s the best way I can put it. Their voices are wonderful.

Watch the video, and and tell me what you see. (By the way, Charles has the short hair, and Eddie has the long hair.)

I see Charles Pettigrew performing. His smile is inspiring. he is alive, and his outward appearance matches the upbeat, joyful, loving nature of the song. But I see Eddie Chacon hesitating, holding back. It’s as if he didn’t want to be there.

I did some quick research on the internet and found this:

In the late 1990s, Pettigrew was diagnosed with cancer; he succumbed to the disease on April 6, 2001, at the age of 37.

So sad. When I read about his death, it shook me. I mourned his passing. It hurt. Illogical, but that’s how it was.

And then I wondered if I had found an explanation for Eddie’s hesitancy in the video. Did he somehow sense that Charles was going to die an early death? Did he somehow know that Charles’ incredible talent was going to be taken so soon? Did he feel pain about the joy Charles was exhibiting? Was he just camera shy?

The only consolation I can offer is that Charles Pettigrew will live forever because of this performance.

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Bloody Mary – J A Konrath


The second in the Jack Daniels series, this is a bloody, tense, crime book that rarely lets up. It’s another hunt for a serial killer, but one which comes with a genuine mid book twist that turns things completely around. (I am not going to offer any details that might spoil the plot.) The pace builds up again to the inevitable final scene showdown.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, with a good main character, and some real signs of life from the supporting cast. The cat is something new in my reading experience, but that may be because I am not so fond of the damn things. Jack’s partner Herb is a good foil, and the dialog between the partners is one of the strongest parts of the book. The humor sometimes falls flat, but that is often a hit or miss affair, and there were far more occasions when it was laugh out loud funny.

I would like to get a bit more of the city backdrop, though I can well see the author’s clinical devotion to avoiding anything that would unnecessarily slow down the plot or reduce the tension.

I think I’ll keep reading this series.

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Five Players, Four Laps


Azriel, Peleg, Rosalynn, and Sheer came long this week, and we decided to change things a little by playing a longer version – four laps instead of two – of Automobiles. The rules recommended five laps, and I am glad I was able to cut that down by agreement, as for me the game dragged. Primarily this was because I played it badly. Sheer, on the other hand, played it quite well, and was the eventual winner.

In this card management game (that cleverly uses wooden blocks as the cards) the key is to get the right balance in your deck. For example, I had too many cards in my deck, so struggled to get to the few good cards I needed. That having been said, there was one turn when Sheer was completely stumped and could not move – something I will return to – and was at risk of losing. At that point, Rosalynn and Peleg were mounting a real challenge. (By then, I had already been lapped.) However, poor Peleg and Rosalyyn could not maintain the challenge when it mattered most. Azriel brought on a little burst near the end, but it was too little, too late. Well done Sheer.

Now, that thing I wanted to mention. To move on the board, you need to have the right color of cube (card, if you will) or you are stuck. Sheer might have been only stuck once, but it happened to others, and I suffered so badly. In other card management games, it is rare that there are turns when you can do nothing. Here, it can and does happen often. I suspect my criticism derives more from my poor planning and play – and I have actually won a game of Automobiles – but the game is not one of my favorites. Never mind.

Azriel and Rosalynn retired for the night, leaving Peleg, Sheer, and I to have a quick game of Dominion. Sheer went for an all out Witch card strategy. Peleg and I were far too kind and ignored that, allowing him to clobber us with Curse cards. Both Peleg and I were first to grab the key victory point cards, but our decks slowed down with the accumulation of curses, and Sheer ran out the winner. I hate the Witch card!

Despite playing Automobiles, it was still a fun night. That’s the real beauty of gaming.

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