Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Booklog 37: Murder on Bamboo Lane

Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara
Like most people, I have limited knowledge of Los Angeles, even though it's one of the biggest cities in the country. With Naomi Hirahara's Murder on Bamboo Lane, the first in a series, we get the city behind the glitz of the TV and movie industry, the light rail (which I read about and then forget, just because it's a juxtaposition I don't expect), the various small neighborhoods with their distinct personalities. And the ethnicities. Thank goodness we have authors interested in the various and numerous ethnicities of major cities! 

Ellie Rush is a young college graduate, a rookie cop assigned to the bicycle unit, related to a high muckety muck in the police force, and is half-Japanese American, half-Caucasian. That last is going to get my attention. But the story, full of rich detail about a city filled with Asians of all kinds coexisting with each other, is more; it reminds me that although I've never lived there, Los Angeles is a diverse city, as interesting as New York, worthy of exploration. I actually want to go visit again, now that I know there's something more to see than Hollywood and its surrounds.

I can't wait to read more about Ellie Rush and her adventures!

Coming up: Who knows? Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book log 36: Raging Heat by Richard Castle

Raging Heat by Richard Castle        
I should state upfront that I watch the show "Castle," I am a fan of Nathan Fillion, and yes, I have read each and every one of the Nikki Heat Castle novels. So suffice it to say that I Am A Fan. You're not? That's fine, but you're missing some fun stuff. 

Until my current unemployment, I also bought each and every Heat novel, either in digital form or print. Sadly, tightening the ol' belt means that the public library has been getting a workout, and so I actually had to wait -- WAIT! -- to read the latest. (That's fine, because I've been getting caught up on a lot of overdue reading.) But mostly digital form. The library, however, in the case of RAGING HEAT only -- only! -- had the book in print, so when I got notified the hardback novel was ready for me to pick up, I did. Weird, weird, weird.

Well, having to deal with a hardcover. I'd forgotten how cumbersome they can be. Mind you, my Webster's is hardcover, as are my atlas and Webster's Geographical Dictionary (very useful -- a few years out of date by now, but when you don't want to take the time to look something up online, when you can just turn and pick up your Geographical Dictionary), but fiction? This was the first novel I'd read in paper form in a long time. I kept flipping pages and marveling how that can be such an exotic experience.

Anyway, the story itself. On occasion the plotting for these books have been a little iffy, but this was well written, tightly plotted, and as always, whoever the ghostwriter of the day (since I have read that there are various well-known mystery writers who have written as Castle for these works), did a nice job of working in references to various episodes of the series, and in this book, managed to work in a reference to Castle himself as an unnamed drunken mystery writer showing up from time to time. So it was in-joke within an in-joke within an in-joke, and I appreciated that thoroughly. A little meta can go a long way. (Considering the character Richard Castle, I'm surprised the Powers That Be haven't done this before, actually.) This novel had subplot within subplot within subplot, and whoever was playing Castle the writer this time did an excellent job of working them together. 

COMING UP: The Amazons!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book log 35: Death Comes to Pemberley

by PD James

Like so many other books, this one, a mystery continuation of the classic Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice, was announced, published, and life went on without my having gotten around to reading it. Of course, right now, having a little more time on my hands than I have in previous years, I finally saw a five-minute snippet of the BBC version of this (I think the five minutes were recorded to see how Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman looked as Lydia) and was finally inspired to read the book.

Reader, I...oh, sorry, wrong author of the same approximate period. It is a universal truth yadda yadda yadda that a book based on another is most often not as inspired as the original, and I am sorry to say that it is the case here (and of course, the late author herself apologized for taking liberties with the classic), but it's clear that a large part of that is due to the topic—a murder mystery—brought to an original story meant as a light, humorous, sharp-witted work. That's why it's a much beloved book, after all. 

But in itself, Death Comes to Pemberley is a well-worked story. Yes, it takes historical characters well established in fiction, and it drives them farther than many would have imagined could be done (even though many, many variations on that theme have been published, mostly in the erotica bent). But the journey is a safe one, doesn't wander into alleyways or roads that don't appear on the map, and the characters do not suddenly become unfamiliar ones. It's a weird juxtaposition, though, for them to be involved in murder. Scandal, of course, but surely not murder!

Overall, I enjoyed it. James did a nice job of tipping her hat to other well-known Jane Austen stories and characters with occasional mentions and working those mentions into revealing the workings of the mystery. Glad I finally got around to reading it!

Coming up: AMAZONS!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Book log 34: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs

by Adrienne Mayor

I found this book as I was checking up on another of Adrienne Mayor’s works about Amazons. I put myself on a waiting list for that book, but then I found this, and after running into so many references to Greek fire in pop culture, the simple title of this book intrigued me. If nothing else, I’d never heard of a “scorpion bomb.” Was it as simple as a thrown insect? Really? I had to find out!

Warfare is nothing new, obviously. As long as mankind has been around, man has been trying to kill man. In primitive times, fists and rocks and sticks were employed to try to do the job, but later on, when mankind got a little more sophisticated, so did the weaponry. Not hidden in the recent scare about ebola was a nasty little whisper about “someone” sending infected people to infect others, but neither the vicious suggestion nor the technique is new; according to this book by historian Adrienne Mayor, the strategy was employed more than 3,000 years ago, and “poison maidens” were used to try to assassinate Alexander the Great and other key soldiers. (And of course, the use of poisonous gossip is nothing new.)

Types of weapons don’t change, but how the weapon is expressed of course has over the millennia. For instance, I didn’t know until I read this book that napalm, that thing of the modern era and the scourge of the Vietnam War, has properties similar to Greek fire. This in itself was an amazing fact, but then my attention went immediately to the passage about using flaming pigs to wage war, training sea lions to be sentinels and assassins, and using bees to find enemies and chemical agents. (Yes, I almost wrote “beeline,” but I caught myself. You’re welcome.) Flaming pigs nearly wiped everything else from my mind for a few seconds. Almost.

And yes, there’s more! Wasps’ nests thrown over walls, pleasing neither the recipient nor the wasps, I’m sure, poisonous snakes catapulted onto opposing ships, and scorpion bombs (yes, my attention finally went back to that) thrown at the enemy. Author Mayor uses a familiar phrase, “weaponizing nature,” and this book gives you a good idea of how that worked, thousands of years ago.

COMING UP: Christmas Delights by Heather Hiestand