Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters by William Kent Krueger: The second book of the mystery-adventures of former-sheriff Cork O'Connor in northern Minnesota.  In this book, there's a missing country star and numerous parties trying to find and/or kill her.  Cork is ultimately on the team trying to keep her alive.  At least, he is trying to keep her alive.  There are doubts about some of his teammates.  (Except for the poor little hostage kid and his dad.  They're legit.)

I have had this book for years.  Therefore, I did not have to make sad faces about not having the audiobook available when I finished the first book in the series.  I just launched straight into this one.

I don't think I will end up marathoning these books in my traditional book-binge sense (read them all in a row with nothing else in between).  I think I will have to spread them out.  There is a lot of darkness in them because they deal with tough relationships and situations and the darker sides of people and what they will do when cornered.  I can't have too much concentrated darkness without sufficient humor to leaven it.  (Thought I laughed pretty hard both times the phrase "Monkeys will fly out of my butt" made an appearance in the series.)

It's sort of weird to be reading books by someone I went to church with.  I sang with his wife in the choir.  I adored his aging father, who, if I remember correctly, was an atheist and the church custodian.  I went to a high tea he spoke at, and I loved his practical view of writing and his advice and his life stories.  I find myself glad the books are living up to their hype, and I do recommend them to people who like the landscape to be a character in the book and to those who like very human mysteries.

Dykstra's War

Dykstra's War by Kooistra: This was a solid, (mostly) standalone sci-fi novel.  Like a lot of old sci fi, the ideas carry the day (not so much the plot or execution).  There were some guns hanging on the walls unused at the end, making it seem like the author might have written (or intended to write) a third part.  Which I would totally read if it exists because I really want to know what happened to . . .

Well, anyway, the main protagonist is an aged genius physicist enjoying his retirement but a bit bored when some aliens decide to attack, and the government finds that none of their folks can get the job done.  They've been ignoring Dykstra, thinking him over the hill and worthless, but he's still got some life (and a lot of brainpower) in him, and he gets deeply involved.  There are a decent number of characters, most of them very likeable and none of them with names like Smith or Jones.  I kind of appreciated that a lot.  It was done so effortlessly and practically.  I also liked how a lot of the conflict arose from plain old miscommunication.

One of the pleasant surprises of the book was the way that some of the characters were just allowed to be Christians, and that was treated as a natural part of their characters.  (Some Evangelicals might actually take offense because these are mostly Mainline Protestants/Catholics.)  There's not a lot of this room-for-God-and-people-who-believe-in-Him-in sci-fi nowadays, which I find sad.  This is not any kind of theology book.  It's not C.S. Lewis' Space trilogy or Ender's Shadow.  It's just a world where people of faith can do science and muse about the implications as they try to figure out how to save the world from an alien species they simply can't communicate with.

This Rough Magic

This Rough Magic by Lackey, Freer, and Flint: More magic, mystery, treachery, and mayhem in a Renaissance alternate history world where Christianity and magic are intertwined.  (And fewer obvious seams where the authors split the story.)  We venture away from Venice and to an island with its own magic and its own problems.  There's piracy, sieges, satanic rituals, witches, bitches, babies, ill-tempered goats, sword fights, sacrifices, heroism, love, politics, etc.

I have to say that the tension in this book was frequently unbearable.  There's this woman who decided to choose a safe marriage for her coming baby.  The husband is a really nice man, very stable, very kind, very dedicated to his work and his new family.  And you feel terrible because for all that, you are sort of waiting--slightly hopeful and vaguely guilty--for the ax to fall, so she can get back together with the person you suspect is the father of her baby, the man she really loves, the man who went to the far edges of young, stupid, wild, and unstable when she chose the other guy out of left field.  He's still off balance, but he's growing up, becoming a responsible person, the kind of person who can do what's best for the people he loves even if that doesn't lead to his own personal happiness.

Lady Knight

Lady Knight: One of the things I love about this series is the truth that being entrusted with protecting people is hard, dangerous, often unglamorous work, and the people you're sacrificing yourself for are frequently, er, ungrateful at best.  Then there's the youth aspect.  Kel is relatively young to be given the responsibility that she is given.  It's a really tough job, honestly, but those who have been helping her train and watching her grow know that she can handle it.  She's been dealing with hostility for her gender for quite a while, so having people be hostile more because of her age is somewhat novel.  Her development as a good leader is compelling even as her road is hard.  And in the end, her commitment to protecting the small ones who cannot protect themselves is what saves everyone.


(Protector of the Small) Squire: Oh, Raoul. You still crack me up every time you give variations of your little speech about the glory and glamour of being a knight (that there really isn't much, and it's a lot of hard, dangerous work, and nobody really thanks you for the slogging part of it). I love the way the characters in the Tortall universe cross over. It's been a while since we last met Raoul, and he has done a lot of living in between the Alanna books and these. I really want to know what happened in between, but in a lot of ways, these book series are a woman's world (at least as far as the author usually goes), so it remains a mystery. And that's okay because Raoul is great.

I love that the skills that Kel has been developing and the talents she has start to shine publicly here as she grows up. Jousting. Sigh. No way.


(Protector of the Small) Page: No more special (bad) treatment for Kel. She's a legitimate page, and she's still taking on the protecting of the small (the new squires, animals, maids, etc.). Neal is still great, though his constant crushes are wearing. Kel continues to be practical, laconic, self-contained, and heroic.
"It's just--"she shrugged. "No place is perfect."
"She had trouble nodding off that night. She couldn't get rid of her anger with Vinson and with a world in which servants didn't matter. It wasn't right." 
Whenever I read the Alanna books (Pierce's first series), I sometimes find myself wondering how awesome they would be if she re-wrote them now in this time of YA bounty when she's allowed to write a single book longer than the Alanna quartet. How rich the characterization, how lively the world would be!

I don't find myself thinking that so much about the Protector of the Small books. Their more compact length sort of fits Kel. She's very reserved but also somewhat straightforward; she gets to the point and then finishes.  She doesn't say any more than she has to.  She just lets her actions speak.  As a result, the briskness of her books does not necessarily bother me. They don't feel as abridged as Alanna's books. I love reading an author's books in order and watching the author progress.  : )

Yes, I seriously read the Protector of the Small books again

(Protector of the Small) First Test: I like Kel.  She's just so practical.  About everything, really.  She understands choices and consequences.  And then she grits her teeth, makes the choices, and takes the consequences, no matter how unfair.  I like that some of the villains are really villainous for reasons that make sense.  I like that some of the good guys have to make tough choices they don't like because of politics.  And I like that one major antagonist is just a war hero who really thinks he's doing the right thing.  I like that Kel succeeds because of who she is (how she was raised, her innate skills and talents and guts, and her willingness to work hard).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My first mystery in a long time: Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

b Iron Lake: I had forgotten the reason why it is bad for me to listen to audiobooks: I can't stop.  With books, I have to stop.  I mean, you can't sit at your cube at work reading a book instead of doing your work, but you CAN listen to the audiobook disc that you had to stop at an awkward moment at the end of your commute.  And then the next one.  And maybe the next one.  It's a long day, you're doing tedious work that doesn't require much of your brain, and you can handle it.  And you actually have the book, so when you get home, you can binge and read it.  Sigh.
This was a compelling read.  Don't believe the back of the book, because it is full of lies.  It follows a former-sheriff protagonist who's kind of reached rock bottom.  He's lost his job, his best friend is dead, he's separated from his wife and children, he's committing adultery and feeling guilty about it, and Christmas is coming up.  And then someone ends up dead and someone else ends up missing, and  even though it's not his job, Cork O'Connor can't seem to stop trying to find out the truth, no matter how painful it is.

Throw in a lot of tension between the whites in the town and the local native Americans on the reservation, politics, betrayal, murder, adultery, mistrust, and a Catholic priest nicknamed St. Kawasaki, and you have a book full of rich characters, landscapes, history, and culture that is pretty outstanding for a first novel.  I might actually recommend that you try to check out the audiobook because a lot of the names and words will be difficult to pronounce correctly without it.  Also, you may learn the correct pronunciation of words you've been pronouncing wrong for years.