Category Archives: Craig’s Book Reviews

What Craig thought about the books he’s read

Mercury Review

Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury, Jones. Non-fiction. This seemed at least as much a survey of other writings as an intimate biography, though Jones does eventually get down to a substantial amount of original reporting. I was pleased that there is less tittle-tattle than I feared there might be; with the subject’s prodigious appetites, though, it would be unrealistic to expect any biography not to touch on his various excesses (and disingenuous of a biographer to pretend they did not exist). Given its survey nature, there is quite a bit of “Person A described events this way, but Person B disagreed.” While that was somewhat unsatisfying, I think on reflection I need to give Jones credit for not cherry-picking stories to fit a chosen narrative. After all, people are complicated, and eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Still, I can’t recommend it for any but the most dedicated fans.

Death at La Fenice Review

Death at La Fenice: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery, Leon. Yes. I was reasonably sure I was going to like this when I reached this part, fairly early:

It seemed, in this moment, that he had spent his entire life … telling someone that someone they loved was dead or, worse, had been killed. His brother, Sergio, was an X-ray technician and had to wear a small metallic card pinned to his lapel that would turn a strange color if it was exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation. Had he worn a similar device, sensitive to grief or pain or death, it would have changed color permanently long ago.

It was something of a mixed bag, with delightful passages interspersed with sentences that pulled me out of the story to puzzle out what was wrong—or at least distracting—about them. It was also somewhat the opposite of hard-boiled, with passages such as this one:

… shock of silver hair swept back from his angular face. There was the faint Slavic tilt to the eyes, which appeared curiously light under the dark brows that overshadowed them. The nose was entirely too long for the face, but the effect of those eyes was so strong that the slight defect hardly seemed worth notice. The mouth was broad, the lips full and fleshy, a strangely sensual contrast with the austerity of the eyes.

Overwhelmingly positive, on balance, though I think Leon will probably be on my “reliable standby” list with Pratchett, rather than the “must read” list with Tana French.

Redshirts Review

Redshirts, Scalzi. Yes. This book is so far up its own ass that it would ordinarily be a disqualifying defect. In this case, though, the point of the book is to be further up its own ass than you might think possible. Even so, it rode the edge for me here and there. I have previously found Scalzi very good, and have wished that he would be just a little bit better, and by and large Redshirts continued that tradition. All that notwithstanding, I think I enjoyed this the most of his works that I’ve read so far.

Butcher’s Boy Review

The Butcher’s Boy: A Novel, Perry. Yes. Very compelling first chapter, though it accomplishes that via a device that would get old very quickly.
At first look, copyright looked to me to be 2003, but that turned out to be when the introduction was written. The book is from 1982, which was a simpler, much more innocent time, as it turns out. Mechanically sound (though not perfect), and involving enough that I stayed up way too late to finish it. Michael Connelly’s introduction (which does not give away plot, but does reveal more about the structure than I would) describes it as “relentless”, and that seems fair to me. I shall very likely try Thomas Perry again.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened Review

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), Lawson. Non-Fiction. For roughly the first third of this book, I kept thinking “This is a pretty bloggy.” This was not a surprise, since the online handle of the author is “The Bloggess,” and much of the material originated in blogdom. Either the effect became less pronounced or I just stopped noticing it. Let’s Pretend did for me what a good memoir does: made me glad that someone is having an interesting life, and similarly glad that the most interesting parts were happening to someone else.
Blogginess aside, I found the writing pleasant; I defy anyone not to be charmed by

… we were young and didn’t know how much it hurt to be shot yet …

Distrust That Particular Flavor Review

Distrust That Particular Flavor, Gibson. Non-fiction. Gibson spends quite a bit of the introduction telling us that despite non-fiction not being his strong suit, people keep paying him to create it. I found the collection of short pieces less interesting than his fiction, though interesting enough to finish it. In particular, I perceived that Gibson was not shy about revisiting the same themes for different commissions. And, really, why not get as much mileage out of a thought as you can? Unless you are a bigger Gibson fan than I am, I believe you can skip this without feeling like you’re missing anything vital.

Song of Ice and Fire (so far) Review

A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons; Martin. Yes. This series has been around for so long, and I have been only peripherally aware of it, so when I saw the four-volume paperback boxed set at Costco, I thought “Hey, I guess it’s complete; why don’t I just pick up a set?” Only to find later that not only is there a fifth volume recently released, but there are two more books to come. And each of the last two has taken more than five years in the writing! If you have seen the books, you have seen that they are not thin, either: each is in the neighborhood of 1,000 pages. So I hope that by the time I retire, I will be able to have the last volume beamed into my brain by whatever device Microamazoogle has created for that purpose, and that the embedded ads don’t give me a stroke.
But on to the books themselves. I like them. They do not have break-neck pacing (as you might expect just from the page count), but they did keep my interest (volumes three and four do suffer somewhat from middle-game syndrome: you have all these pieces to get into place for the end game, and it’s hard to keep all their movements vital and involving). Martin does a good job with more point-of-view characters than one customarily sees, though I think I could do without the fanciful naming he introduces in (I believe) volume four.
In some ways, Martin is the anti-Tepper here: where Tepper’s characters are sometimes tiresomely black or white, Martin’s are almost all shades of grey, and in many ways that was refreshing.
Now let’s hope that the success of the TV series is enough motivation to get the last two books out (and not so much motivation that the series expands again).