Friday, February 22, 2019

No Beast So Fierce

No Beast So Fierce: the Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History / Dane Huckelbridge, 280 p.

This very fine work of nonfiction brings to mind John Vaillant's The Tiger, about a man-eating Amur tiger in Russia.  In this case, it's a Bengal, the place is the Himalayan border area of Nepal and India, and the time is 1907.  The Champawat, by most estimates, killed 450 humans over many years before it was hunted and killed by Irish-Indian Jim Corbett.  The author does a great job of pulling apart the environmental and geopolitical factors that pushed the tiger to the edge of its habitat and forced it to turn to humans as its primary food source.  My only criticism, and it's one I make frequently, is...maps.  More maps.  Please!

Early Riser

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde, 402 pages

In a world of increasingly cold and snowy winters, humans hibernate through the four-month winter, relying on fat stores created from lavish meals in autumn; winter body-hair growth; and, for the lucky, a dream-avoiding drug that saves precious calories to survive the brutal season. Oh, and there are a few porters and peacekeeping Consuls who hibernate earlier in the year, specifically so they can protect those who are sleeping deeply through winter. Charlie Worthing is a novice Consul, who becomes marooned in one of the most remote areas of Wales while investigating a viral dream involving a blue Buick, disembodied hands, and a pile of rocks. This obviously has something to do with the pharmaceutical company based in that part of Wales, but before Charlie can figure it out, they start dreaming about blue Buicks too.

Oh, how I've missed Jasper Fforde's kooky and seemingly infinite imagination! Fforde is one of my favorite authors, and it's been six years since his last book, so I honestly would have pounced on his next book if it was simply a list of everything he's had for breakfast in the past year. But Early Riser is so twisty, and fun, and full of odd characters! I love the complex world he's created for Charlie, and I'd love to read more about all of the elements in it, from the Campaign for Real Sleep to HiberTech to the Gronk (these will all make at least a bit of sense when you read the book). My only quibble is with the time of year that this book was released: it's not easy to read a book about hibernating through winter when there's ice and snow outside! Other than that, I'm pleased as punch that the Fforde drought is over!

Thursday, February 21, 2019


Newcomer / Keigo Higashino, translated by Giles Murray, read by P. J. Ochlan, 342 pgs.

Detective Kaga is a new transfer to the Nihonbashi section of Tokyo.  He is on the team investigating the murder of a newly divorced woman in her 40s.  The book takes us through the investigation at a deliberate pace.  Kaga has a good reputation but some wonder if he has lost his fire as they watch him wander around and ask seemingly irrelevant questions.  How will this all end up?  We know the crime will be solved but are kept in the dark about what is important to the case and the connections Kaga makes as he goes.  I liked the way this unfolded and agree with Kara that it reminded me of Agatha Christie.  Well done plot and writing.  I did not enjoy the audio version enough to finish so switched to print.

Notes for the everlost

Notes for the everlost: a field guide to grief / Kate Inglis, 196 pgs.

Premature labor results in two tiny twins, one of whom doesn't have much chance.  Liam dies at the hospital but Ben comes home.  How does a mother cope with this loss?  Not very well despite all the helpful people telling her how it could be worse.  A stunning memoir of loss, grief, love and survival, I hope like hell I never say some of the incredibly stupid things that Inglis endured.  She does recognize that people are very bad at condolences but still recounts a lot of pain brought on by others.  All of this just added to the pain that nature provided.  Much here is helpful for anyone who is experiencing grief.


The burglar

The burglar / Thomas Perry, 288 pgs.

Elle Stowell is good at her job.  She is a burglar.  She can case a joint in no time flat and get in and out quickly.  She is in fantastic shape, a tiny blond 25 year old, she looks like she belongs in the toniest neighborhoods.  In the process of stealing, she stumbles on a murder scene.  It takes her a minute to see the camera that has probably recorded it all.  She ends up only taking the camera.  Now she is being followed.  She isn't sure if it is the cops or somehow related to the murder.  She starts investigating.  The pulse of this book keeps ratcheting up as Elle gets closer to the truth.  Will she figure out who committed the murder and why?  Read to find out.

The travelling cat chronicles

The travelling cat chronicles / Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel, read by George Blagden, 277 pgs.

Satoru is a single guy who adopts an injured stray cat that he had been feeding.  The cat looks a lot like one he had as a child.  Nana (as the cat is dubbed) is precocious and independent.  He narrates a large part of the book telling of his owner and their travels together.  Satoru is looking for a new home for Nana and visits a slew of friends to see if any will be a good fit.  The adventures they have together are sweet and heart warming.  We learn a lot about Satoru and his friends.  I found this quirky little book to be a real treasure.  George Blagden does a convincing job with a cat's voice.

The study of animal languages

The study of animal languages / Lindsay Stern, read by MacLeod Andrews, 229 pgs.

Prue and Ivan are professors, each focusing on language and communication but their marriage is failing as their personal communication is on the fritz.  Ivan is dealing with his father-in-law who wants to hear the big lecture his daughter is delivering.  Father-in-law might be off his meds...but Ivan has kind of always felt like he is probably ok.  He starts on the slippery slope by not being honest with Prue about his time with her dad.  Later, he doesn't clarify that the flowers delivered are NOT from him.  After that, he accidentally overhears a message from an acquaintance of Prue's that leads him to believe she is having an affair.  He decides to confront his nemesis in a public venue and hits him before realizing how wrong his is about the situation.  An interesting view of how misunderstandings grow in the dark.  Prue and Ivan might be perfect for each other or maybe not, but without more communication, they might never know.  The audiobook is well done by MacLeod Andrews.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang  276 pp.

This graphic novel is a wry twist on story of a prince falling in love with commoner when he is supposed to choose a princess for his bride. In this case, the Prince Sebastian is enamored with a dressmaker who designs amazing dresses . . . for him to wear as his alter ego Lady Crystallia. When the dressmaker leaves him to design for a new department store, the prince is bereft. Soon his secret is made public and he runs away. The ending includes a marvelous twist that gives a new look to "happily ever after."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The life and loves of a she-devil

The life and loves of a she-devil / Fay Weldon, 241 pgs.

A dark tale of revenge and scorn.  Ruth is happily married until her husband cheats on her with a popular romance novelist. Her life falls apart as she has no income, no husband, no will to continue...until she decides to get revenge.  The revenge ideas come on strong and fast.  She wants to ruin the husband and his lover. The plans are complicated and time consuming but she has nothing but time.  She is obsessed and quite successful in her plans. An interesting read.

We Cast a Shadow

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, 324 pages

The barest description of this book is simple: A black lawyer is doing everything he can to climb the ranks in his law firm, trying to do what he can to make his young son's life easier, both now and in the future. But the intricacies of what he's doing, what he's trying to do, and the hoops he's willing to jump through are what elevate this book to flat-out amazing.

Set in a future where black Americans are not-exactly-forced to live in fenced-off projects and where it's possible (but VERY expensive) to surgically erase blackness through "demelanization" and plastic surgery, our unnamed protagonist must, in turn, become a stereotype and a token POC to "earn" a promotion that will allow his son to get the procedure that will remove a growing dark birthmark from his lighter-skinned face — despite his white wife's protestations.

No matter how many ways I try to type and retype a description of this book, I realize that I'm never going to capture the power of it. All I can say is that, by setting this book in the future, Maurice Carlos Ruffin manages to illustrate the world we live in today better than just about any book I've ever read. This book is incredible, and I'll be shocked if it isn't taught, discussed, and dissected alongside Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in the future.