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Month: February 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 38: One Fine Day You’re Gonna Die (2010) by Gail Bowen

The second “Rapid Read” in Gail Bowen’s Charlie D series, this one gives us more obsessive love, as a clinical psychologist with fascinated with death is threatened on air by a lover scorned. Charlie continues to be suave and well-spoken, as indeed behooves a late-night call in counselor type, and his burgeoning relationship with his producer (and recent single mom) Nova is very well-drawn in very few words.

One thing I find particularly engaging about this series is the call-in show nature of it. For a start, these stories are (so far) somewhat like locked room mysteries, except Charlie D and Nova are the ones locked in the room and all the investigation is done either over the phone, and on the air, or by off-screen police doing the hard work. 

The other thing is just… call-in shows. Especially ones where people call for advice or counsel. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one, outside of Frasier and Sleepless and Seattle. Oh, and that time that one of the Heathers call in in, well, Heathers. But presumably they are a thing, and in this series, sure, love it. These people are completely fascinating.

In real life — no. Ugh. Those people are real, and in pain, and strangers to me, and their difficulties are honestly none of my business. So, in their rapidly read pages, the books of this series have brought to my awareness yet another thing I quite love in fiction, but would heartily dislike in reality.

Like marriage. And zombies.



TBR DAY 38: One Fine Day You’re Gonna Die (Charlie D #2) by Gail Bowen 
GENRE: Mystery
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Garage sale.
KEEP: No, I’ll pass these books on to another mystery fan, I think.

READING THE TBR, DAY 37: Daredevil Noir (2009), written by Alexander Irvine

One of the highlights of the surprisingly splendid Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (come on, did anyone expect it to be as badass and amazing as it was?) for me was Nic Cage’s Noir Spidey, all trench coat and gravelly voice and Sin City black-and-white. And he reminded me that years ago, among the hallowed halls of Forbidden Planet in Manhattan, I had spotted and snapped up Daredevil Noir, a limited run collection that I had never heard of (the Noir series had eight other titles, and yes, Spider-Man was one of them). 

It’s a beautiful book, all hardbound and monochrome with slashes of DD red (see! Sin City!), but it was yet another of those books that I bought because it was pretty and not because I was in a foment to actually read it. (I mean, it collects four comic books. It took me twenty minutes to read the whole thing. Why the HELL had I never read it before? WHY?)

And it’s very good. If a bit confusing, but that’s noir for you. It’s an alternate 20s Hell’s Kitchen, with our Matt Murdock not a lawyer but an errand boy for Foggy Nelson, P. I., while also, of course, he is Daredevil. Caught up in a rum running mobster showdown between Kingpin, a very persuasive and manipulative version of Wilson Fisk, and the man who KILLED HIS FATHER, Matt is also on the case of the inevitable femme fatale — inevitable, because in noir there is always a femme fatale, and also inevitable because, hey, this is Matt Murdock and there is always a femme fatale.

It’s a clever conceit, well-written and drawn and I like this whole alterna-Marvel a lot, but not enough that I feel the immediate need to go out and search comic shops both real and virtual in order to track down the other Marvel Noir series. Okay, maybe the Spidey one–though after Into the Spider-Verse, the Spidey one will doubtless be very hard to find. And Punisher Noir might be interesting, also, except, well, Punisher’s already pretty damned noir. 

For that matter, so was Daredevil. 


TBR DAY 37: Daredevil Noir, written by Alexander Irvine; illustrated by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Forbidden Planet, New York.
KEEP: Yep! It’s hardcover and gorgeous.

READING THE TBR, DAY 36: Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) by George Saunders

The day after my friend Geonn enthusiastically recommended Lincoln in the Bardo as one of the best books of 2017, I saw it prominently featured out front of a bookshop I always pass by. It seemed like fate — I bought it right away.

And now, a mere year or so later, I have read it. And… yeah. I read it.

It’s not that I didn’t like the book. It’s incredibly inventive. It is part history, part fantasy, dealing with the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie during the first year of the American Civil War, but more than that dealing with an afterlife lived by the shades of people long-dead, but not yet willing to admit that fact.  

The book is filled with quotes upon quotes upon quotes from primary and secondary sources, all about Lincoln and about Willie and about the Civil War and the inappropriateness of partying when your kid is sick. It gives us a grief-struck Lincoln and a cast of characters sympathetic and hateful, tragic and amusing. The formatting is unconventional indeed, with much of the book given in first person dialogue, shifting from one to another denoted not by prose but as though by stage direction, as the ghosts who haunt the graveyard — the bardo of the title is the Buddhist tradition of a spirit dwelling between life and rebirth — recount their lives and loves and sufferings. And fears of what comes next. Some of the book is bawdy and comical, but there are abrupt shifts to anguish and despair, and even horror. It is populated with singular souls, each with such a distinct voice (and even spelling) that it is not certain how necessary the stage directions actually are.

This book won the Man Booker Prize, which is a big deal, and I certainly felt proud of myself while reading it, and of having read it. There is something about capital-L Literature that makes you feel that way, isn’t there? Whether you enjoy the book or not, it is an accomplishment just to have gotten through it. When it comes to Lincoln in the Bardo, there is accomplishment as well as enjoyment, and the only times it felt like work were when I was wading through all of those quotations. But, like so many books of its experimental ilk, it is one I have no intention of ever reading again… which, to me, is the difference between a good book and a Good book. And I know which one of those I entirely prefer.


TBR DAY 36: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
GENRE: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Angus and Robertson, Victoria Gardens.
KEEP: Probably not — but I’ll pass it on.

READING THE TBR, DAY 35: The Duchess (1991) by Jude Devereaux

I have never read any Jude Deveraux before, which is a weird thing for an avowed lover of romance novels to admit — and I am the Editor in Chief of Romantic Intentions Quarterly, after all — but there it is. I guess it’s just that I was always vaguely aware that her take on historical fiction was more along the Kathleen Woodiwiss lines than, say, Georgette Heyer, and so I have avoided what I have always believed to be her bodice-ripper-y, forced seduction-y tales entirely.

But when I saw The Duchess on a sale table for 50c at a school fete, I felt like I shouldn’t pass it by. Deveraux does have a place in the firmament of historical romance authors, after all, and surely she deserved a chance?

I wish I had stuck to my guns, now.

At first? Oh, at first I was so into this book! Claire, a bookish American heiress, gets engaged to an oblivious Duke who quite likes her, and travels to his decrepit Scottish castle to meet the family and prepare for the wedding. There, she meets the enigmatic Trevelyan, whom she at first mistakes for an elderly invalid, but it turns out he is actually a) the intrepid explorer and writer of travel tales she has long adored and b) the rightful Duke, whose death had been greatly exaggerated, leading to his brother’s inheritance in the first place.

The second part, actually, Claire doesn’t discover for a long time. But she does find out the part about Trevelyan being her beloved Captain. She also discovers he’s been lampooning her in all kinds of nasty, mean-spirited cartoons, even as she’s been caring for him during an onset of his malaria symptoms.

Then she has all kinds of sex with him, when he sneaks into her room — for, by the way, the second time! — and takes total advantage of her half-asleep, tear-stained state, after she’s had a fight with her fiance about trophy hunting. But let’s not forget, she’s still engaged to his brother.

So, in the 1880s, a time when a woman’s virtue is important and when, again, she is ENGAGED TO HIS BROTHER, this jerk of a guy, whom she hasn’t seen in two weeks since she discovered he’s been writing down their conversations and LAMPOONING HER IN CARTOONS while pretending to be her friend, decides to break into her room and get all happy naked with her, because he wants to. And he doesn’t even want to marry her himself and be, like faithful or anything, though.


For most of the book, I quite loved Claire. She knew her own mind, and that mind was open. Then, not only did she basically let Trevelyan slide for all of his assholery, she then did this total about face when it came to morality and decent Christian values, and she became pretty hateful, too.

I don’t understand how so many people love this book. I checked Goodreads, where I also learned that it is the second book in a series, with the first one set in Medieval times, and I don’t even care that I read them out of order — it has a super-high rating and dozens of 5-star reviews. How is this so? WHY?

I have no idea. All I do know is that Jude Deveraux is one hundred percent OFF my reading list forever, from now on.  

And Trevelyan is a dick.


TBR DAY 35: The Duchess by Jude Deveraux
GENRE: Historical Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: School fete.

READING THE TBR, DAY 34: Heroes (2018) by Stephen Fry

I received this book late last year, an early Christmas gift from the lovely Megan, who knows me very, very well. We’d rhapsodized over Stephen Fry’s 2017 Greek myth-retelling Mythos together, and when she saw there was a sequel she snapped it up for me — I’d had no idea it was even out, to my disappointment in myself. (That’s what happens when you decide you have too many books you have yet to read and consciously stop yourself going into bookshops to browse — you miss the unmissable autobuy new books!) 

Where Mythos gave us Fry’s wry, erudite yet chatty versions of those Greek myths dealing with the gods, Heroes, unsurprisingly, deals with the mortals — most of whom are, however, demigods — with which the tradition is so thoroughly rife. From Heracles (Hercules) to Jason to Perseus to not many more besides (just the Big Three have enough stories about them to cover most of the book’s length), we get stories both well-known and obscure, still full of meddling, fractious and lustful deities but also with a human element — not the gods aren’t pretty damn human themselves.

One of the most fascinating heroes covered herein is Oedipus, he of the Complex fame, as Fry gives us more of his backstory, and more of his adventures, than anyone who knows only the inadvertent father-killing, mother-marrying part might be aware exist. And the monsters! Most of those fought by Heracles and Perseus and Jason, et al, are part of a brood borne by Echidna to her mate Typhon, which is something any mythology buff knows, to be sure, but having it laid out so baldly here, and so matter-of-factly — oh, here’s another one of Echidna’s kids, let’s kill it! — really makes one feel for the mother who does not otherwise even appear in this book, except to note when yet another of her children is slain to prove a hero’s mettle.

Mythology is brutal.

I love it, though, and I thoroughly loved this book. I especially loved Fry’s asides, and the way he injects himself into these stories, with short reminiscences and quips, popping in and out like a classical commentator while also giving a very elegant account of the ancient tales that make up his collection. Several stories in the book were hinted at but lain aside for “another day”, which I can only hope means there will indeed be another day, another mythology-based book forthcoming from this multi-talented author.

I will be sure not to miss the release of the next one.


TBR DAY 34: Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Heroes by Stephen Fry
GENRE: Mythology
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 months.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 33: Ant-Man: Second Chance Man (2015), written by Nick Spencer

In the lead up to the 2015 Ant-Man movie, which became something of a surprise hit for Marvel (oh, that Thomas the Tank Engine scene! Beyond adorable!), the comic house wisely brought out a limited run of Ant-Man comics, to re-introduce — or simply just introduce — reformed thief Scott Lang as the new iteration of a much-repeated hero.

The five issues that make up Second Chance Man perform this task perfectly, not only providing a little backstory on Scott himself but also on the long Ant-Man history. It’s very fun, very funny, it’s pop culture rich and self-referential and even quite poignant. The only complaint I have about it, really, is that Scott’s ex-wife Peggy is presented as something of a nag and an over-protective tartar regarding their teenage daughter, Cassie. But ex-wives of demonstrably irresponsible dads are always presented as such, aren’t they?

Nevertheless. I really enjoyed this run, my first foray into a solo Ant-Man title. It won’t be my last.


TBR DAY 33: Ant-Man: Second Chance Man, written by Nick Spencer; illustrated by Ramon Rosanas and Mark Brooks
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur, Melbourne.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 32: One Sip at a Time (2017) by Keith Van Sickle

Don’t you love those book exchanges that have started popping up all over the place? Take a book, leave a book, it’s the sharing economy at his finest. They simultaneously widen your reading horizons and introduce to you new authors and even genres while also acting as repositories for all the books you don’t want to keep but don’t have anyone specific to pass on certain titles to. 

(Carve the Mark, I would not wish on anyone I know, for example.)

Try as I might, I simply cannot resist the lure of FREE BOOKS, and so always check any time I walk past one of these most excellent installations. Rarely do I walk away without at least one new book — always vowing to return and replenish the stocks with some unwanted copies of my own, or even bring back the book I have just taken. (And sometimes I even do.) And sometimes, the books I choose are utterly charming.

One such find was this book, a genial recounting of American couple Keith and Val — Keith is the storyteller — who decide to go freelance in their IT-centric careers (I think?) and live at least part of each year in Provence. A series of vignettes detailing their valiant struggles with the language, the culture and the mores of the delightful but assuredly different French, the book is sometimes funny, sometimes thoughtful, and at all times envy-inducing. Because who doesn’t want to spend months at a time in Provence?

Crazy people, that’s who. 


TBR DAY 32: One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence  by Keith Van Sickle
GENRE: Travel Narrative
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: The Little Bookroom, Melbourne Central.
KEEP: No, I’ll return it to the Little Bookroom. Probably.

READING THE TBR, DAY 31: Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle (1910) by Victor Appleton

Years ago, at a flea market in New York, I happened upon five gorgeous hardback vintage kids’ books about a boy named Tom Swift. I always meant to read them, but have just been happy to own them — books can be like that. Super pretty, but not really of interest to you. You know?

Today I delved into Tom Swift and His Motorcycle, the first in the series — there are over 100 Tom Swift books, the odds that I happened to, all unknowingly, buy the first installment must be infinitesimal, and is also a miracle for someone like me, who finds it beyond distasteful to begin a series anywhere other than the beginning — and oh, it’s so cute. It’s all about the earnest Tom, teen son of a brilliant inventor whose latest innovation is stolen by nefarious industrial espionage types, and who enlists the help of sundry country folk in order to foil their dastardly schemes. The book is full of an inordinate number of crashes, of bicycles and cars — autos — and motor cycles, and young Tom is a bit of a prig, really. But as a piece of history, as a Boy’s Own Adventure from out of the past, this is like reading a time capsule. And it’s a gas.  

A little bit of research tells me that the Tom Swift books were created by Edward Stratemeyer, who also created the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, among many other kid-aimed adventure and mystery series. Victor Appleton — like Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon — never existed, the books written by a series of ghost writers. 

There are several Tom Swift series, and my other four flea market finds are from a 50s iteration, all about space and science fiction known more properly as Tom Swift, Jr. One day, I will read them, I am sure. But I have about 40 books to read between now and when I can tackle the next one in order that I own, 1953’s Tom Swift and the Giant Robot. Happily, much of the Tom Swift series is available on Scribd, and I, of course, have a Scribd membership–even as I try to work my way through my TBR, I could never deny myself access to all the thousands of TBRs available there so cheaply. It’s a sickness.

Of course, I could just read the Tom Swift books I own, assume they are typical of the series, and have done with the lot of it while also getting them off my TBR shelves. But no. My need for completeness will not allow me to cut such an easy, practical corner.

Sigh. I am so exhausting to me sometimes.


TBR DAY 31: Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle, or Fun and Adventures on the Road (Tom Swift #1) by Victor Appleton
GENRE: Children’s Action Adventure
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 15 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Flea market.
KEEP: Definitely.