Friday, April 17, 2009

"House of Cards" by C. E. Murphy

Margrit Knight was forever changed by her exposure to the Old Races, and she's still involved with them, whether she wants to be or not. Like the impossible task of unringing a bell, our favorite Legal Aid attorney is once again dragged into the world of the Old Races, and is once again face to face with our favorite gargoyle, Alban Korund.

Margrit still owes Janx, the dragonlord, a favor and it's time to pay up. He asks the impossible of her - protect the djinn in his employ from the men/forces that have been killing his employees. Grit being human, she basically tells Janx that he's crazy. He loves that she'll stand up to him but insists that this is the favor she must pay him, which leads to her straight to vampire Eliseo Daisani; she knows that she'll need help from someone that isn't human. (Remember, djinn can basically disappear into the air at will - how can Margrit protect that?) Her pact with the vampire creates quite a stir and it isn't long before Margrit finds herself a bit in over her head, as usual. Most normal people would run for the hills, but Grit realizes that the Old Races provide her with the special something she's been searching for all her life. They make her life exciting, bringing an otherwise dull existence into technicolor craziness.

Before long, Margrit finds herself asked to negotiate a peace treaty of sorts between the Old Races. There are surprises around every corner, including one race that has replenished its numbers, much to the shock of the other races. There are secret alliances and age-old resentments around every corner. And to make matters worse, Margrit brings a very human aspect to the talks, continuing to deal with things from her human perspective, which may bring the harshest penalty yet upon her.

Tony the cop is back, and the on-again/off-again relationship between him and Margrit is addressed. I appreciated that Murphy didn't drag that plot point out; it's pretty much resolved after this book. Oh, don't get me wrong - I don't think Tony's going anywhere anytime soon. And I'm also anxious to see what happens with Grit's roommates. Yes, the cat (or in this case, the gargoyle) is out of the bag; Grit's male roomie realizes that Alban isn't human and he's having a very, very difficult time understanding her love for the stony creature. It's quite interesting to have a racist theme playing out for a character who is black herself, albeit of a fairly light color. Her roomie claims not to be a racist, but then proves that he is - racist against the ultimate in another Race.

Best of all, the love story between Alban and Margrit takes a huge step forward, which makes me incredibly happy. That was one of my biggest complaints about her other series, the Walker Papers, about the urban shaman. There were hints of romance for the main character, but just when it seemed like we'd finally see the payoff - bupkus. Shut down, no happy endings. (But maybe all is not lost - Murphy is returning to that series after the third installment of this series. Just have to wait and see!) I have greatly enjoyed the blossoming relationship between the scrappy lawyer and the man of stone, and I'm hoping that they'll have a happy ending in the next book. Sure, it's reminiscent of that old "Beauty and the Beast" TV series, but who cares? I loved that show, and I love these books!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Dear American Airlines" by Jonathan Miles

"Bennie Ford, a fifty-three-year-old failed poet turned translator, is traveling to his estranged daughter's wedding when his flight is canceled. Stuck with thousands of fuming passengers in the purgatory of O'Hare International Airport, he watches the clock tick and realizes that he will miss the ceremony. Frustrated, irate, and helpless, Bennie does the only thing he can: he starts to write a letter. But what begins as a hilariously excoriating demand for a refund soon becomes a lament for a life gone awry, for years misspent, talent wasted, and happiness lost. A man both sinned against and sinning, Bennie writes in a voice that is a marvel of lacerating wit, heart-on-sleeve emotion, and wide-ranging erudition, underlined by a consistent groundnote of remorse for the actions of a lifetime - and made all the more urgent by the fading hope that if he can just make it to the wedding, he might have a chance to do something right."

My coworker wanted to read this so badly she got it from a library system one county over since she ponied up and got a card for them, too. (Her hubby works in said county, so it's not like they're out wasting gas or anything.) She said it was really good, so when our system bought a copy, I decided to give it a shot. Obviously, she and I have very different tastes, as I found it to be more of an exercise to get through - and this is not a long book by any means, clocking in at a mere 180 pages (the book is also smaller than your standard hardback, so call it more like 150 pages of regular-page-sized text).

I greatly enjoyed Bennie's rants against American Airlines; I think everyone has had at least one stranded-and-weary traveler story, be it an airline fiasco or otherwise. Mine was long ago and involved a car part, one that took an "overnight shipment" to obtain out in New Mexico, a part that had we had a working car would've taken me just an hour or so to obtain on my own. I could very much relate to Bennie's frustration at being stranded when he had an important engagement, especially when his letter to the airlines says that the "delay due to weather" excuse holds no water with him since the sun is out. I think most of us have wanted to demand a refund of our time, our money or both in such situations.

Where the story failed me was in Bennie's tangent ramblings about his own life. To put it bluntly, Bennie is a loser, and he's one of those losers that blames pretty much everyone else for his sad-sack existence. His mother and father should have never met, and even if they did, they should have never ended up together except for the fact that his mother became pregnant with him. His mother didn't really love his father, his father was there but not there (a fact I would highly argue against after reading Bennie's own words), his mother suffered from mental illness and had several "episodes" that put her in the hospital, etc. All of this childhood drama leads Bennie to his current existence, one of basically sleepwalking through life. And we can't forget his own dalliance with Stella, a fellow poet, which resulted in their daughter Stella, she of the aforementioned wedding. Bennie hasn't seen Speck (as he called her during her infancy, probably being the most honest he's been about his feelings for the girl) since she was mere months old; Bennie and Stella Sr had a rollicking argument (one of many) and the ladies moved out to California to live with Stella Sr's parents. Bennie's letter makes it sound like Stella Sr. was very much to blame for the break-up, but keep in mind that Bennie is also a raging alcoholic. Or maybe it would have been better if he was "raging" - mostly he just got drunk and failed to come home. Or be there for Speck's birth. Or be anywhere when he was supposed to be.

Bennie is not what I consider to be a sympathetic character, and as such it took me a long time to get through this minuscule work. I understand what the author was going for, the whole introspective look at one's life when one is forced to spend time waiting and can do little else, but I can't say this is a good book. The author employs some interesting word styling, and there are humorous sections (again when Bennie is ranting against the airline itself) but overall I have to give this one a thumbs down.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Now You See Him" by Eli Gottlieb

Nick Framingham is having a difficult time dealing with the death of his childhood friend, Rob Castor. Rob was like a brother to Nick, one of the few kids at school who didn't treat him like the nerd he was. As they got older and went to college, they began to drift apart. Nick got married, had two boys of his own, got a steady job, and settled down in their hometown of Monarch. Rob wrote a bestseller and moved to New York City, bringing a different girl with him every time he returned to the little burg, but eventually dating Kate Pierce, also a writer. Everything seemed to be golden for Rob, right up until the moment that the people of Monarch learned of an unthinkable murder-suicide involving their favorite son.

Nick begins to explore his own life through his memories of Rob, and what he finds isn't pretty. His marriage is on the downhill slide. His job is rote. His boys appear to love their mother more than they love him. In fact, he doesn't seem to have much of a life, which is why he has such a hard time coming to terms with Rob's actions. After all, Rob appeared to have "made it" - how could he throw it all away and in such a horrible fashion?

The truth is, of course, that Rob was not living a fairytale existence. As is typical in real life, people saw what they wanted to see. As a trial unfolds (Kate's parents bring a lawsuit of some sort, one that is never really fully explained), it is revealed that Rob was suffering from writer's block. Not only that, Kate was having an affair with a much older man, one who helped further her own writing career. There are other revelations about Rob and Kate, things that make it all the stranger to the people of Monarch that events unfolded the way they did. And the truth is that Nick is about to learn not only a great deal of information about Rob, but also about himself. Was Rob really who he said he was? Is Nick really who he thinks he is?

This was what I would call a "literary read", a quiet book that requires a bit more attention and thought than some. I like the way the author worked around to the ending, but I can't say that I thought it was necessarily a "good book". I found a few of the revelations of Nick's life to be cliched and could pretty much see them revealed long before they really were. The use of first-person narrative was a wise choice, though; it allows the author to reveal only as much information as our protagonist uncovers. Overall, a decent read, and one to pick up if you're looking for something a bit more substantial than the latest bestseller.