The Book Stack #8

jumbled books

Let’s jump right in from where we left off….

The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Ship of Magic (1998), The Mad Ship (1999), and Ship of Destiny (2000).

There’s a certain sort of morality play that runs through this trio of books, as the various members of the spotlighted Vestrit family explore and interact with the world, some by choice, some by force, and come to grips with what may be one of the most important moral questions – Myself, or Others? While not preachy about the choices that each of the main characters make, it becomes clear that the author has a preference in the answer to which one leads to a life better lived.

Set in a world with semi-sentient, and often highly emotional, ships made from a mysterious substance referred to as wizardwood, the Vestrits are a seafaring family who “own” their own liveship. It’s a world of conquest, with precious substances to be found, to be traded, to be plundered. There are pirates. There’s a despotic monarch and his retinue. There are strange, “other” sorts of humans who generally keep to themselves, but are integral to the rest of the world’s functioning. There are even sea monsters, of a sort.

Well written, enjoyable, engaging, and… long. ☆☆☆☆

Inspector Erlendur Novels (8 Book Series) by Arnaldur Indridason

I don’t usually review a series until I finish it, but the truth is, I don’t know that I will. I appreciate that this series of police detective novels has won awards all over the place, but I’m not sure that I know why. Maybe it’s just the translation from Icelandic to English, but I found them to be stilted and strangely paced. I read the first two Jar City (2000, also called Tainted Blood in some translations) and Silence of the Grave (2001), and then I just sort of put the rest of the series on hold.

None of the protagonist, Inspector Erlendur, nor his two detective companions, are particularly likable, in fact, at moments, they’re kind of detestable. In their own ways, they’re all bigots, either ageist, sexist, racist, or some sort of ist. They have a bleak view of humanity that they make little effort to hide. They all have their various secret problems, ofttimes as troubling as those of the criminals they’re tracking down. Some might claim it makes them more human, or ordinary, but do we really want to read about those sorts of detectives?

But more to the point as a reader, mostly, they just plod along, and we have to plod with them, until they happen across a clue in that leads to another, and another, and eventually to solving the crime. It’s perhaps a little too “real time” of a pace for going through a mystery novel, giving full meaning to the term “police procedural”, because we’re right there for every little procedure, relevant or not. ☆☆☆

IQ by Joe Ide

Fast paced, gritty, and gripping. Everything the two books in the review above weren’t. A wise-cracking, street-wise detective from southern California takes on the world of rappers, gangsters, cops, robbers, murders, hit and runs, and more, all from a little home office. Now, one could argue that a private eye who has no real credentials to speak of that gets into all of that is far less believable than a plodding police detective, and I couldn’t argue with you there. But I will assert it’s a far more interesting and riveting read.

Isaiah Quintabe is driven by ghosts of his parents and older brother, mostly the latter, who was killed in a hit and run when he was young. IQ, as he’s styled, basically raises himself from that point on, treating his brother’s apartment as his own, and somehow managing to cobble together enough money to live on, pay the rent and bills, and maintain the fiction that he’s still under adult supervision. Somewhere along the way he discovers a talent for noticing when things just aren’t right, and putting together the logic of what’s gone wrong – and builds it into a sort of casual detective service.

In this volume, he takes on solving a murder yet to happen – as he’s engaged by a reclusive rapper who’s convinced that someone is out to kill him. Some of those around him think it’s for real, others think it’s a delusional fantasy, and IQ has to sort his way through the lot. Somehow or other, it all works, and it’s well worth a read, and well deserving of the accolades the book has gotten. ☆☆☆☆

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

There’s a difference between curling up with a good book to just read and enjoy, and sitting down to read a piece of literature. This is the latter. A translation of a South Korean novel that’s taken the literary world there by storm, and had praise heaped upon it internationally, this isn’t the sort of book to meander through with a mug of hot cocoa at your side. I think it best if you slam back a couple of shots of whiskey first, and maybe take the time for another couple between sections.

No question it’s a creepy, and creeping story that will pull you in quickly. It’s basically a first person novella – but from three different first persons, though not all at once. Instead, it’s the same story, that of a woman who decides to become vegetarian after awakening from a terrifying, blood-soaked nightmare, first from her husband’s perspective, then the story picks up from the point of view of her brother-in-law, and finally culminates from the perspective of her oldest sister. The object of the story, Yeong-Hye, is mostly just presented from the outside, though here and there we get a glimpse of her thoughts thrown in as italicized tangents.

Is the book worth a read? Yes. Is it one you’ll come out the other side of having enjoyed? Unlikely. ☆☆☆

Chop Suey by Barry Kalb

I guess I was on a bit of a kick of reading foreign mystery novels. There must have been an article or list somewhere that I read that intrigued me, and I launched into it without making a note of where I saw it. This one comes to us from Hong Kong, where the author was a longtime lecturer (some 35 years) at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. It’s often interesting when a journalist, or at least someone steeped in that writing tradition, turns their hand towards fiction. I can think of numerous books that came across as reportage rather than novels, and lack the appeal of the latter.

That’s not the case here, with a well written story that takes us from the discovery of a body washed up on the shores of Hong Kong through the intricate world of Chinese art and antiquities, and those who pursue it with a passion, and bring in the politics and maneuverings of both the local and mainland Chinese bureaucracy, neither of whom really want the answers sought by our erstwhile detective. In this case, the latter isn’t one by trade, but simply by circumstance, in reality, he’s a reporter who finds himself embroiled in the situation because the aforementioned corpse was one of his best friends.

What? In this day and age, a reporter, a journalist, who actually investigates? It’s nice to know they still exist, even if only in fiction. Well worth a read! ☆☆☆☆

Five books, or at least five reviews, seems to be a good stopping point in a single post. More to come.


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