Armchair mystery

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fairly standard crime fare with common tropes. Damaged and struggling detective with high moral code. Trusty sidekick. Unlikely case. Potentially difficult copper.

Cormoran Strike is a likeable character, my favourite was Robin though. I was positively surprised.

Ultimately though this was too sedate for my taste and halfway into the story I started to get a bit cored. Too many lengthy, uneventful interviews. Not a lot of suspense. The unlikely reveal at the end, where the good guy lays it all out for the reader and the bad guy snaps and is caught. I read a version of this many times before. Bordering on armchair mystery in the style of Agatha Christie.

The highlight for me was the audiobook narration. Oddly though, he made Strike sound a bit like Michael Caine. Accents are not this narrators strength, but his narration was still very good.

So, 3 “this-is-okayish“ stars, with some boring stretches. A pretty generic crime story, made a bit more interesting by Strike‘s backstory. I doubt I will get the next book of this series anytime soon. However, I might look up the audiobook narrator.

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Weyrd, but good

Vigil (Verity Fassbinder #1)

Vigil by Angela Slatter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was pretty good! I was expecting another UF along the usual lines. Tired tropes, a little paranormal romance thrown in… but the setting in Brisbane is refreshing, the Weyrd are mysterious and there is good world building. It is not corny, there is no silly paranormal romance, Verity is kick-ass and snarky. The sleuthing could be a bit more intense—I like my crime to be a bit more procedural. But bottomline pretty darn good.

This actually seems to be UF for grown-ups, what a nice discovery. I liked the short history lesson, how all the Weyrd happened to end up in Brisbane. Lots and lots of potential.

I would have liked more character development for Ziggi and Bela. I have a pretty good idea, what type of Wyrd Bela is (Tepes, D-oh!), but it is never spelled out or strongly hinted at. His powers also don‘t seem to be quite what I thought. He stays a little too episodic and one-dimensional. And does Ziggy really have a third eye in the back of his head or is that a metaphorical eye?

And how fun is it that she doesn‘t end up with the tall, dark and handsome guy?

The only thing that bugged me a little: It feels as if I missed reading an important prequel. Which doesn‘t exist, as far as I can see. And I really looked. I am a little vexed about this strong feeling of having missed something in the FIRST book of a series.

Anyway, good stuff, the next book of the series is downloaded and ready to go.

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Abominable slog

The Abominable

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First things first: This is not a horror novel, regardless of what the book has been categorized as. It‘s a historical adventure yarn, heavy on mountain climbing, with thriller elements.

I went into this book with some hesitation. Ages ago I started reading Hyperion and abandoned it pretty quickly. It‘s been so long, I can‘t even remember, why I gave up. Earlier this year I read Ilium and Olympos. I gave Ilium 5 stars, although I struggled. The scope of the book was just so great and parts of it were enjoyable enough to take me past the not so enjoyable bits. Olympos, the sequel, ended up as another DNF for me. This time the narrative wasn‘t gripping enough to propel me past the boring bits and parts I did not like. The TV adaptation of The Terror was great, but temptation to try Simmons one more time led me to a buddy read of this chunkster.

So…. the introduction immediately dragged. Might be me. I hate prefaces, forewords and the like. The Arctic, Antarctica and Simmon‘s book The Terror are mentioned. The main character as an old man is introduced. Ok, so he‘ll survive the book to tell the tale.

Part 1 introduces us to the other two climbers that will tackle Everest with him. We explore the Matterhorn and some of its climbing history and get some explanations about climbing and Deacon‘s history with Mallory. Picture me skimming the more lengthy sojourns into matters not relating to the main plotline.

I do like how Simmons intertwines real events and characters with ficticious ones. The first 30 pages of Part 1 for example detail the first ascent of the Matterhorn. I also found it interesting to read up on George Mallory and the 1924 Mount Everest expedition that provides the motivation for our three climbers to tackle Everest.

It probably helps with this book to be interested in mountain climbing and the Himalayas.

From the Matterhorn we sojourn to other parts of Europe, ticking off our to-do-list, before actually getting to the main event, Mount Everest. Which takes roughly 240 pages of perfecting their climbing technique, hunting for the perfect gear, getting the perfect gear, testing said gear… There is one scene in Wales, where they climb a vertical ice wall that I really liked a lot. No question, Simmons can write. It just takes him so bloody long to get anywhere!

Finally, finally, we arrive on the appropriate continent, in Calcutta….

“I just wish this Lord Bromley-Whatsis, his serene buggering Highness, had bloody well buggered himself down to Calcutta from the hills and helped us bandobast these buggering great heavy crates to the bloody freight depot a full buggering day earlier, is what I damn well wish. This is his lousy country, his culture where bloody damn venal bribery is necessary everywhere to get the least bloody thing done, and where no one can keep a simple bloody appointment on time. So where is this ‘commander of the expedition’ when we actually need his fat arse?“

Part 2… Close to 300 pages into the book, we finally glimpse Mount Everest.

And, because climbing isn‘t everything: Thanks for the excursion to the war poets of WWI, Siegfried Sasoon et al. Another great amalgamation of fictional and real characters. And a fun side trip to some of my favourite poems and poets… The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, etc. Reading about Sassoon makes me want to re-read Regeneration or watch the movie again.

Simmons keeps derailing me with arbitrary stuff like this. I wish he would keep the narrative more on target, instead of taking 50 pages on the minutest detail. It bores me.

By the middle of the book I have pretty much had it. Heavy skimming is the only answer to this.

Part 3, close to 500 pages, starts with some screaming and there is the promise of bloodshed and yetis somewhere downhill… Very heavy skimming to get it over with. So, no more research about real characters or events and links to what I found. I just wanted to get it over with this doorstopper.

The story is actually a good one and Simmons writes well. But this was a horribly over-detailed slog through pages over pages of stuff that did absolutely nothing to bring the plot forward. My goodness. If this had been half the length, it probably would have been a great, suspenseful thriller. As it was, I really struggled to stick with it, even with skimming. I am not exactly glad that I read it, but I appreciate what Simmons did here and therefore give it three stars. But, Dan, seriously, I am done with you for the foreseeable future.

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Steampunk mystery

Lady Mechanika, Vol. 5: Clockwork AssassinLady Mechanika, Vol. 5: Clockwork Assassin by Joe Benítez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read Volume 1 some time ago and thought I give this a try. Pretty much the same experience. Pretty nice artwork, if you don‘t mind that the women are built like Barbie and have rubber tire lips. I like the muted colours.

The murder mystery was ok, alas it did not interest me much. There is a twist at the end, but it is not terribly surprising.

If you are into steampunk murder-mysteries with busty women, this might be a great choice.

There is some confusion regrading the numbering. Not quite sure if this is Volume 4 or 5.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

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A face for the Faceless Man

Not uninteresting, but it felt like a really long set-up for the final, frantic third of the book. Which was a good last third. Just the „before“ took its sweet time for me. I also had some trouble to keep the rich families plus daughters apart.

Another highlight besides the ending was the swimming pool scene. Aaronovitch does action very well.

Again a well-done police procedural with a nice pinch of humour.

Aaronovitch is good as well at the more thoughtful, quieter moments. Lady Ty‘s conversation with Peter at the end has stayed with me the most. I am really looking forward to what becomes of that.

Guleed seems to become an integral part of the team, which I like very much. In today‘s present climate in the west a positive representation of a devout muslim woman is a great choice.

Yay! to Nightingale playing a slightly larger role.

Kobna Holbrook-Smith did a great job again narrating the book. Apparently his American accents could be better. I am crap at accents, so I can‘t really tell.

There is an entertaining interview of Ben and Kobna at the end of the audiobook, thanks for that!

Ok, I just convinced myself that this deserves 4 stars.

Valley of Fear

The Valley of FearThe Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written 25 years after my favourite Holmes story, The Sign of the Four. I don‘t think I ever read this!

25 years later! Excuse me while I wander off to read about Doyle‘s life again.

„..the long, low Jacobean house of dingy, liver-coloured brick lay before us, with an old-fashioned garden of cut yews on each side of it.“

…and about English architecture in the 17th century… and yews…. what a cool tree!

Ok, where was I…I liked the main story a lot, it was very entertaining. Holmes was Holmes—“Really, Holmes,” said I severely, “you are a little trying at times.”—, the various police detectives were very likeable and not as stupid as we have come to believe. Perhaps some of the characters were a bit one-dimensional.

The back-story did not keep me interested enough, but had a nice twist.

Maybe not the best Holmes story, but solid.

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Lost interest, marginally…

S.S. by J.J. Abrams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After initial interest in the margin notes, I lost that interest just as quickly. I don‘t care about the developping relationship between those two or about what Straka was up to or what it all means in the end. I have no interest in figuring out this particular puzzle. I don‘t know, it‘s all too academic for my taste. The book/the authors are just trying too hard to be clever. You lost me, sorry.

Still, fabulous looking book, great idea, I just don‘t care for the content.

Out of London and into the sticks…

Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5)Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of the series where I listened to the audio instead of reading it. I liked the audio a lot. Holdbrook-Smith does an excellent job of keeping it lively, real and impersonating the various characters well.

The first of the books not set in London. Nightingale is mostly absent, which is a shame, but the characters that do re-appear or are introduced are fun.

Quite a police procedural (with a twist). I enjoyed the Britishness of it and the countryside setting.

There were two characters that I had expected to play a more pivotal role in the book and who didn‘t. Hopefully they will show up again. For more on their house in Herefordshire go here (after reading the book):

Retiring to the countryside and becoming a beekeeper reminds me of some other great detective. I love all the references to other books and to films that Aaronovitch seeds his books with. And his fascination with architecture.

Why, oh why, did I not like the first book, when I read it a few years ago?

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Battle mages at work

Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4)Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slightly spoilerish.

The beginning confused me. I couldn‘t figure out how we got from the guy in the car accident to him being a suspect. I also struggled a little with keeping some of the other characters straight. Not sure if that was me or Aaronovich. Might be me, as I am still not quite sure about the evolution of the Faceless Man and his various iterations.

Most of the book seemed slower than the other books and the plot a bit directionless. It all sort of meandered along. The spring festival for example felt like a completely pointless addition without any impact on the main plot. Set-up for later books?

Pity that we didn‘t get to see more of Abigail.

Once it all picks up speed at the end, it‘s great. Loved the battle at the farm. Although the best parts happened in the off. Really liked the finale. Great visuals, would make an excellent ending for a movie with spectacular special effects.

Surprising plot twist was surprising. I did not see that coming. Well, there was a small twitch earlier, when you-know-what was mentioned and I though uh-oh, potential for problems! But oh my, that was a shocker.

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