Tall, Dark, and Vampire by Sara Humphreys (Dead in the City #1)

Synopsis:

15942629She always knew Fate was cruel…

The last person Olivia Hollingsworth expected to see at her Greenwich Village vampire club was her one true love, Doug Paxton—whom she believed to be dead for centuries. Olivia thought she had moved on, but when Doug reappears, her heart knows she’d rather die than lose him again.

But this is beyond the pale…

Ever since Doug can remember, a red-haired siren has haunted his dreams. He never thought she could be real until he goes to investigate a murder at Olivia’s night club. However, as the bodies keep piling up at her feet, he must fight to prove her innocence—even if it costs him his life…

Review:

I realize that much of the world has gotten over vampires but I haven’t. Paranormal escapism with sexy men and creatures humanoid enough not to set off my “ew creepy” gag reflex? Yes, please.

But let’s face it, a lot of novels are the same – strong guy vamp gets instalove for mortal girl and fights over the fate of the world ensue with lots of hot lovin’ on the side. There’s nothing wrong with hot lovin’ but the rest grows old after a while.

Enter Tall, Dark, and Vampire. Here the coven is a group of women headed by Olivia, a 300 year old kick butt vamp. None of her brethren dream but for the past twenty years she has spent her days romping around a dreamscape with Douglas, her human lover several centuries dead.

So imagine her shock when a lookalike shows up at the door of her New York City club, The Coven, in the form of detective Doug Paxton. Add in some suspicious murders, cute furry creatures, and the fact that Doug has been having the dreams, too, and we’re off and running.

From the start I knew this wasn’t a debut novel – Humphreys’ voice is self-assured and the world building early on shows promise. I love the gender role reversal and how strong Olivia can be.

As the story moved on a couple of things nagged at me, though. We’re both told and shown over and over again that Olivia has a thing for hopeless cases. Most of the vampires she’s turned were brutally attacked and near death, and even her two pets are rescues. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself but more subtlety would have been appreciated.

Later on Doug makes a rash decision that deeply affects his relationship with Olivia and frankly, his ability to stay alive until the end of the book. Instead of explaining the consequences and helping Doug realize what he’s getting into Olivia just shrugs. Considering he’s the guy in all her sexy dreams I thought she would be a little more invested in his welfare.

I was hoping that this series would follow two main characters so I could watch them develop over time but their happily ever after comes easily enough. I’m guessing the other characters will get theirs at the series goes on but I’m not as interested in their stories (exceptions – Trixie and Damien).

All in all Tall, Dark, and Vampire is interesting for its premise and world building but tapers off into a more usual vampire novel. I won’t be continuing this series but I am interested in checking out more of Humphreys’ books to see if they’re more my thing.

The Passage by Justin Cronin (The Passage #1)

Synopsis:

6690798An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

Review:

There’s 300 great pages in this book – 100 at the beginning, 100 in the middle, and 100 right at the end. For most novels that would be perfect. For the 776 page The Passage, however, it leaves much to slog through.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re 300 really good pages. The world Cronin sets up is contained yet massive, crazy yet believable. The mystery kept me going but a third of the way through the whole thing goes POOF and we’re forced to restart with a ton of new characters in a completely different setting. I was so disgusted that I put the book down for a day, too demoralized to pick it back up.

I liked that:

  • The women were often on equal footing with the men in the later sections of the book. One of the female characters ended up doing most of the driving (gasp) and the best fighter was a woman. I felt like each person in the group filled the most fitting role regardless of gender.
  • Gender wasn’t ignored. In a post-apocalyptic world with few humans fertile females are a commodity, no getting around it.
  • The end was tied up neatly but let you know where the next book is headed.

I didn’t like:

  • How Amy was treated later in the book.  That’s the most I can say spoiler-free.
  • The sheer number of characters dumped on you a third of the way through. I still don’t feel like I have everyone straight.
  • At times the action scenes were confusing. One with moving vehicles in particular left me confused as to who was doing what where.

Part of me says this book should be a four star read for its “literary value” (whatever that is), but the fact that I had to drag myself to the page more often than not makes it a three.

Tales from Q School: Inside Golf’s Fifth Major by John Feinstein

Synopsis:

2135568It is the tournament that separates champions from mortals. It is the starting point for the careers of future legends and can be the final stop on the down escalator for fading stars. The annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament is one of the most grueling competitions in any sport. Every fall, veterans and talented hopefuls sweat through six rounds of hell at Q school, as the tournament is universally known, to get a shot at the PGA Tour, vying for the 30 slots available. The grim reality: if you don’t make it through Q school, you’re not on the PGA tour. You’re out. And those who make it to the six day finals are the lucky ones: Hundreds more players fail to get through the equally grueling first two stages of the event. John Feinstein tells the story of the players who compete for these coveted positions in the 2005 Q school as only he can. With arresting accounts from the players, established winners, rising stars, the defeated and the endlessly hopeful, America’s favorite sportswriter unearths the inside story behind the PGA Tour’s brutal all-or-nothing competition.

Review:

First clue I made a mistake picking up this book – I did not know how many majors there are in golf.

It only went downhill from there.

This book tries to follow the course of one Q School, the PGA’s qualifying tournament. Feinstein is so loosey goosey with his stories, though, it’s hard to tell there’s any through line at all. Each chapter is filled with stories about players struggling through the three round tourney but most fall into one of two camps:

– Young hotshot gets into the PGA tour easily the first time, then ends back up in the Q School of Hard Knocks

or

– Older, established player becomes injured or otherwise loses their swing, requiring them to go back to Q School even though they were great

After a few chapters it felt like I was reading reruns. Add in Teflon names that just wouldn’t stick (from one page: Steve, Jeff, Joe, Brad, Patrick, Garrett, Steve) and it was reruns.

Feinstein’s memory seemed to fail him now and then, telling the story of Mize’s amazing Masters shot no fewer than three times while leaving out helpful clues when a player reappeared. A little intro like, “so-and-so, the mini tour player that injured his back so dramatically,” or whatever, would have helped immeasurably. I was lucky there were two Japanese guys in the pack or I wouldn’t have remembered anyone.

This book may have a little value for those who are already deep in the sport, but lay people should stay away.

Bollywood Fiance for a Day by Ruchi Vasudeva

Synopsis:

22218056Winning the chance to meet the ultimate Bollywood heart-throb, Zaheer Saxena, is just what Vishakha needs to take her mind off her recent humiliation—being jilted the week before her wedding! And when gorgeous Zaheer offers to be her fake fiancé, the chance to save face with her family is just too tempting…

It’s a deal that benefits them both—Zaheer is warding off any unwanted female attention until his next film is finished—but can Vishakha trust herself not to hope that her dream fiancé for a day will be her forever man?

Review:

The good:

  • The entire plot didn’t turn on a Big Misunderstanding. Both the hero and heroine act rationally… misguided at times, sure, and missing information, definitely, but you understand where they are coming from.
  • It’s wonderful to read a book set in modern day India, written by an Indian author. I was able to slip away into another world, and not one ruled by the limited glimpses tourists manage.
  • While there are a bunch of Hindi words their meaning was always clear from context.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • I’m not used to Indian English and the pacing of some of the banter threw me off. I felt much the same way when I first got into Regencies so I know it’s me, not the author.

The not-so-good:

  • You can tell this is a first novel. Some parts just felt odd, and while I can place some of the blame on my lack of knowledge there are sentences that just go clunk. For example:

Not that there was anything easy about containing desire. The night he’d spent a quarter of in swimming away his restlessness, was proof of that.

  • I didn’t have a strong sense for how characters were moving through space as they talked. The basics were there – “I followed her inside” or “We walked along” – but huge chunks of conversation seemed to hang in the air, not rooted to anything. A few more phrases like “She leaned back in her chair” wouldn’t have been amiss.

It’s great that Mills and Boon/Harlequin is doing this Indian authors line – I’ll be keeping an eye out for more titles in the future.

Cul-de-sac by Daniel MacIvor

Synopsis:

425189In his latest collaboration with director Daniel Brooks, MacIvor plays the role of Leonard, who narrates the events leading up to his murder while trying to understand them himself. Through the course of the play, we peer behind the curtains of his neighbourhood as MacIvor transforms into the multiple characters who bear witness to Leonard’s life and death. Yet each of their stories, while internally consistent, tells a subtly different version of what happened, progressively colouring and transforming our understanding of the characters as we think we had come to know them. In a headlong rush we understand that everyone’s story inevitably dead-ends at precisely the bottom of the preconceptions they brought to its telling.

Punctuated by brilliant lighting and a mood-setting soundscape, this dazzling one-man show is storytelling of the highest order.

Review:

I don’t think I’ve read a single play since my theatre classes in college, but it all came back to me – analyzing parts, coming up with different readings for the same line, imagining what this play must have looked like on stage.

I bet it was interesting. A one man show, Cul-de-sac slowly takes you through a series of character studies of people who all live on the same dead end street. They’re all talking, more or less directly, about an event that happened recently. I’ll just leave it there to avoid spoiling anything.

There are some downright beautiful lines and interesting insights sprinkled throughout. One of my favorites, from a 14 year old girl:

I wish I could be a lesbian. It would be easier. Girls are easier. I mean girls can be bitchy but so can boys just when boys are bitchy they call it highly motivated.

A short read even with the lengthy introduction, this play reminded me that there’s a whole world of drama out there waiting for me.

Fire Season by Philip Connors

Synopsis:

9341909A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and talked his way into a job far from the streets of lower Manhattan: working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. Spending nearly half the year in a 7′ x 7′ tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico, his tasks were simple: keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke.

Fire Season is Connors’s remarkable reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless — it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines — and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smokejumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of buffalo soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.

Review:

This summer I decided to tackle a bunch of fire-related books I’ve been meaning to get to.  I figured that with the AC pumping and typhoons doing their best to aim at the island I call home they would be less threatening, and they sorta were.  Next up – Fire Season.

The book covers one year of lookout duty by Connors, starting with a five mile hike up the mountain with his dog, Alice.  His food and other supplies will be brought in by mule.  The wet spring quickly turns dry and he spends his time reading, writing, entertaining thru hikers, and looking for smoke (natch).  This account is interspersed with asides about the history of the area, the Forest Service, other writers who were lookouts, and the author’s personal life.  Forest management has changed a lot over the past 100 years and it got me thinking about public lands are being taken care of all over the country

Sometimes I liked these diversions better than the main narrative.  Connors talks about his mountain, his tower, his experience.  I would have liked him to take a step back and muse about, say, the human need for solitude instead of just his need for solitude.  Other lookouts are name checked but I’d like to know more about them and how their experience differs.  Is the female lookout as eager to invite hikers up to her tiny tower?  Connors makes it sound like you need to be like him in order to do this job when obviously that is not the case.

Faced with the prospect of training a relief lookout he says,

…the skills required of a person here, aside from the use of the Osborne Firefinder, are more intuitive than mechanical and therefore difficult to impart.  It’s one of those jobs you can learn only by doing.

Despite this we don’t get to see him mess up or learn much of anything.  The book covers his eighth season – he has all the mountain and valley names memorized, he knows exactly when he can get away with taking a nap, he clears rat nests out of his cabin without even wrinkling his nose because hey, he’s done it for the better part of a decade.  Connors meets bad circumstances but they’re acts of nature, not due to a misstep or bad planning on his part.  The whole thing comes off as macho and annoyed me more as the book went on.

I may sound negative but all in all I enjoyed the read.  Now I want to go on and read more about the history of the area as I’m woefully ignorant about the Southwest.  It also persuaded me to extend the Summer of Fire by one book – Smokejumper, here I come!

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Synopsis:

16200Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet

Review:

A clever book about the power of language that made me laugh out loud. While going through a feat of linguistic gymnastics it also touches on liberty, censorship, and what it means to fight the good fight.

I was blown away by the work and level of craft that went into this novel. After things get phonetic things got bogged down for a while, but it didn’t stop me from finishing the book in a couple of hours.

I only highlighted one quote, but I love it. Upon the imminent banning of the letter Q:

Before retiring, though, I shall turn to my dear husband and say, “Today we queried, questioned, and inquired. Promise me that come tomorrow, we will not stop asking why.”

Vacation!

Sad Suitcase on a Train Platform
Photo by Luke Strange, CC BY 2.0

My husband and I are finally going on our honeymoon, huzzah!  Planning is fun wrapped with worry – did I reserve the right dates?  How much rental car insurance do we need? Are bedbugs really that common now?! – but figuring out what books to bring  is the highlight, hands down.

With my ereader bulk isn’t a problem but there’s always the question of content.  Do I want to try out new authors or stick to my favorites?  Will I have the mental stamina for a long, nuanced read or will I need a gripping plot to keep me interested?

The best solution, of course, is to have a little bit of everything:

  • Something plotty for the plane, preferably the next book in a series I love.  A trans-Pacific flight is perfect for swallowing it whole.
  • Something funny for the plane.  Because, plane.
  • Some plane-adjacent non-fiction for the plane.  Think books written by pilots and cabin attendants or the history of air travel (but not disasters!).
  • Essays that I can dip in and out of, in case my attention wanders or I don’t have much time.
  • A book set in the place I’m traveling to.
  • Something meaty for the day it rains and we’re stuck in the hotel.

What kinds of books do you bring on a trip?  Is there anything I’m missing?

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare (Castles Ever After #3)

Synopsis:

23587120On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shyly pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.

A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.

Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

Review:

I’ve had mixed luck with Tessa Dare books, ranging from four-star delights to a Regency that felt like a contemporary plus some fancy dresses.

Well, if there were any historical inaccuracies in When a Scot I’m not versed in the era enough to notice them. The book is laced with Kazen catnip – letters, banter, a marriage of convenience, a woman that wants a career, and a man that wants to see her succeed at it. The energy and playful exchanges propelled me through the first half and left me curious how the plot would resolve. But instead of resolving the obstacles to a happily ever after just… fizzled. This or that ceased to matter, a character decides that xyz isn’t worth the effort any more. The HEA does come, of course, but it feels inevitable for a long time.

Luckily there’s a delightful cast of secondary characters to enjoy, from Logan’s ragtag soldiers to Maggie’s aunt to a pair of pet lobsters (yes really). These characters do more to drive the book than the plot, which may or may not be your thing. Personally the declining action got to me so while this is an utterly enjoyable read I can’t quite give it five stars.

Proper Doctoring by David Mendel

Synopsis:

15823470“People come to us for help. They come for health and strength.” With these simple words David Mendel begins Proper Doctoring, a book about what it means (and takes) to be a good doctor, and for that reason very much a book for patients as well as doctors—which is to say a book for everyone. In crisp, clear prose, he introduces readers to the craft of medicine and shows how to practice it. Discussing matters ranging from the most basic—how doctors should dress and how they should speak to patients—to the taking of medical histories, the etiquette of examinations, and the difficulties of diagnosis, Mendel moves on to consider how the doctor can best serve patients who suffer from prolonged illness or face death. Throughout he keeps in sight the fundamental moral fact that the relationship between doctor and patient is a human one before it is a professional one. As he writes with characteristic concision, “The trained and experienced doctor puts himself, or his nearest and dearest, in the patient’s position, and asks himself what he would do if he were advising himself or his family. No other advice is acceptable; no other is justifiable.”

Proper Doctoring is a book that is admirably direct, as well as wise, witty, deeply humane, and, frankly, indispensable.

Review:

The subtitle says this is “a book for patients and their doctors” but I disagree. It’s aimed squarely at doctors. Not nurses or pathologists, not those who may want to practice medicine someday, and definitely not lay people. Latin phrases are tossed off casually (“Primum non nocere”) and medical vocabulary is left as is:

Thus, if a patient has diplopia, whereas formerly one would have summoned up a list of causes of that condition, one nowadays prefers to think of the function of binocular vision and to picture a lesion, of no matter what nature, which could upset that system.

If you are not medically trained there are a lot of sentences like this that need to be taken on faith.

Proper Doctoring comes to us from a long ago, far away land: 1984 England. A lot has changed since then – cancer is not always the death sentence it used to be, screening tests of all sorts have been improved, and societal norms have changed. The NHS is also very different from the US healthcare system, and some things fail to translate. “Patients rarely sue,” Mendel says, but American doctors practice so-called defensive medicine because litigation’ is a very real threat. In another section Mendel says,

It is undoctorly to present the patient with a list of the complications of therapy and ask him to decide whether he is prepared to take the risks

but today that’s the very basis of informed consent.

If you can somehow manage to untangle this web of era and circumstance there are some gold nuggets. Any training doctor would benefit to hear advice like,

Generally, it is only bad doctors who are too busy to finish the job properly

and

Reliance on scientific medicine alone is like lying on a one-legged couch. The other three legs are wisdom, experience, and caring.

In its current form this work is of some interest to doctors but no interest to anyone else. Even then I’d like to see it updated to reflect the current state of medicine. Reading Proper Doctoring is like reading a 40-year-old copy of The Joy of Sex – accurate enough in its time with a gem here and there, but largely outdated in the modern age.