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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 41: Dead Witch Walking (2004) by Kim Harrison

I’m not sure how this Urban Fantasy series managed to slip through my UF obsession of the mid- to late-aughts, but somehow until today, while I have owned this first book in the series forever, it seems, I had not previously entered The Hollows, the alternate world of magical creatures inhabited by our heroine, Rachel Morgan. (Confession: I don’t like it when characters have the same name as me, it’s weird.) Rachel is, of course, a private detective-type, which is pretty much a necessity in a certain sort of UF, and there is, of course, a conspiracy among those who wish to either suppress or harness her surprising powers (also an imperative) at whatever the cost.  

When the book begins, Rachel is a bounty hunter, enforcing the law for The Man. And a Bad Man he is. Fed up, she quits her job and takes her frenemy vampire Ivy along with her. But one doesn’t just quit being a bounty hunter for The Man, aka Inderlander Security, oh no. So now there is a hit out on Rachel, and she has to figure out who’s behind it and why while also getting to the bottom of why her blood is so potent to vampires (like Ivy… Ivy’s almost Edward-and-Bella-level obsessed) and also, who has been messing with her spells and why.

There is a lot of “But… why?” in this book. My biggest “But… why?” is directed at the humans of this world, many of whom watched their loved ones die from a plague brought about by genetically modified tomatoes. (Yup.) And okay, sure, that is how the Inderlanders — vampires, witches, pixies, what have you (the pixies are great) — got up the courage to reveal themselves to the world, since all those dead humans made for population parity. But did you really need to outlaw science afterwards, humans? REALLY? 

The humans in the Hollows world are annoying as hell. And the villain could not be more villainy if he was patting a white cat and plotting to kill Rachel with laser sharks. His plan is almost that bad, actually.

Still, the world is beautifully realized, the alternate history is a new one, I loved that Rachel’s magic takes work and discipline, and I especially liked that while she is obviously Secretly Special (a major UF necessity) she is also kind of a doofus, and messes up nine times out of ten. It’s all pretty standard UF stuff, and somewhat forgettable, but I nevertheless had a great time with Rachel — ugh, I wish she had a different name, though — and will definitely be moving onto the next Hollows book (which I already own, along with the two after that) very, very soon.  

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TBR DAY 41: Dead Witch Walking (Hollows #1) by Kim Harrison 
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2004
TIME ON THE TBR: ~11 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Borders, Singapore.
KEEP: No, I’ll probably pass this one on.

READING THE TBR, DAY 40: The Last Dragonslayer (2010) by Jasper Fforde

I fell in love with Jasper Fforde with the 2001 release of The Eyre Affair, the first novel in his Thursday Next series. The alternate history version of 1985 Wales therein gives us a world in which long-dead authors are the subject of heated gang violence, long-extinct animals can be had a pets, and it is possible to enter and interact with literary worlds.  It is insane, it is genius, it is endlessly entertaining.

The Last Dragonslayer — which I bought on its release in 2010, and which has languished on my TBR ever since, for some reason — is unrelated and yet is more of Fforde’s surreal alternate history, this time giving us an England with ancient kingdoms still intact, magic in the world (but on the wane) and a real live dragon. There, we meet teen orphan and predestined Dragon Slayer, Jennifer Strange, who must stand up to the King of Hereford and his cronies, fend off the constant interest of reporters and advertisers, while also running a business (!) and trying to protect the dragon from false allegations from those who want to claim his land. 

It takes a while to really get settled into this parallel dimension, which gave me a wonderful flashback to the early puzzlement and then utter delight engendered by Thursday Next’s world. In many ways, this book is just Thursday Lite, but it does end up having its own purpose, and its own trenchant observations about humanity, and it even gets quite exciting in its final third, which carries the tale through on a wave of equal amusement and adrenaline.

I really liked this book, even if I didn’t love it, and I will certainly be looking into the sequels. Probably in less than the eight years or so it took me to get around to reading this one. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 40: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
GENRE: YA Fantasy/Alternate History
PUBLISHED: 2010
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 39: Big Red Tequila (1997) by Rick Riordan

Wow, two mysteries in a row, though this one is pretty different from yesterday’s. For one thing, I know this author’s work very, very well — his various YA mythological hijinks, from Percy Jackson to Magnus Chase to those Kane kids and the god Apollo are all autobuys for me, though the Kanes’ Egyptian pantheon adventures… less so — and for another, this book is not one I particularly enjoyed.

Oh, there are definite elements of style, and of character-building, that are recognizable to me as a fan of Riordan’s later work. And to be sure, this was his very first novel and it is exactly the kind of crime novel I don’t really seek out, the kind of hard-drinking, womanizing PI stuff that, yes, has its roots in the very beginnings of the genre (and I really must read some of those “she had great gams and was trouble in red lipstick” books some day), but just really doesn’t appeal in a 90s milieu when there aren’t hats and cigarette lighting and general chivalry to ameliorate all the testosterone.

And testosterone there is here aplenty. Too aplenty.

Tres Navarre (his first name is Jackson!) has recently returned home to San Antonio, haunted by his father’s decade-ago death and at the request of a high school sweetheart. Tres is drunk for pretty much the whole book, and his mouth is so potty it is a preschool bathroom. He has some crimes to solve, and as the clues unravel, he does prove to be a fairly decent detective. He’s a very high functioning drunk, it turns out. Lucky, that.

Sadly, though, he’s not an especially entertaining one here.

What he is good at, however, is showing visitors around San Antonio, Texas. I have never been there, and certainly can never go there in the 90s, but I now kind of feel like I have been, and can. This book is like time travel as sponsored by the most forward-thinking tourist board ever. (Well, sure, all the murders aren’t a great advertisement for the city’s safety, but the food sounds delicious.) 

There are six other books in the Tres Navarre series, the last one released two years after the first Percy Jackson book hit shelves. So I am going to assume they get better — and I have enough faith in the author Riordan finally became that I will some day seek them out. However, I bought this book back in 2009, having fallen in love with Percy and eagerly awaiting his next adventure, and only just read it today (I remember giving it a try back then and barely getting a chapter in before giving up in disappointment), so I’m in no hurry.

I am eager to visit San Antonio again, though. Turns out, I love that city I have never been to.    

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 39: Big Red Tequila (Tres Navarre #1) by Rick Riordan 
GENRE: Mystery
PUBLISHED: 1997
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: No.

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.

Huh.

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TBR DAY 38: One Fine Day You’re Gonna Die (Charlie D #2) by Gail Bowen 
GENRE: Mystery
PUBLISHED: 2010
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. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 37: Daredevil Noir, written by Alexander Irvine; illustrated by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes
PUBLISHED: 2009
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.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 36: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
GENRE: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
PUBLISHED: 2017
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.

I FUCKING HATE TREVELYAN.

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.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 35: The Duchess by Jude Deveraux
GENRE: Historical Romance
PUBLISHED: 1991
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: School fete.
KEEP: NO!

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.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 34: Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Heroes by Stephen Fry
GENRE: Mythology
PUBLISHED: 2018
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.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 33: Ant-Man: Second Chance Man, written by Nick Spencer; illustrated by Ramon Rosanas and Mark Brooks
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes
PUBLISHED: 2015
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. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 32: One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence  by Keith Van Sickle
GENRE: Travel Narrative
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: The Little Bookroom, Melbourne Central.
KEEP: No, I’ll return it to the Little Bookroom. Probably.