The Last Policeman

10 Aug

Over the weekend I finished the last installment of Ben H. Winter’s “The Last Policeman” trilogy. Since beginning my long commute I have been reading more audiobooks as I have mentioned and mysteries are one type of audiobook that I find I listen to best.

We started the first title of the trilogy last year on a road trip to Missouri. My husband doesn’t usually listen to audiobooks so I knew it was a good pick when we found ourselves lingering in the car to finish just a little bit more of this book.

What it’s about: 

An asteroid, nicknamed Maia, is hurtling toward Earth and will kill everyone on the planet when it strikes. Upon hearing this news it’s only natural that the citizens of earth lose it. Most people simply walk away from their lives or their work to fulfill “bucket lists.” This series takes place over the last 6 months just before the asteroid hits. Panic ensues, infrastructure fails, and soon people are running out of food, gas, and options. Suicide becomes so prevalent that eventually there is no need for detectives to sort out the “whodunit” but instead the need for enforcers rises. Hank Palace, our last policeman, is a new detective, recently promoted, who is called to the scene of a suicide. Because of his natural inclination to solve crimes, Palace of course notices right away that this is not a suicide.

The trilogy follows Palace as he hunts down suspects like a dog. He is unrelenting in his quests. Palace is one of the small percentage of humans left that will simply not quit. Being a detective IS who Palace is. It’s what he does. So, naturally, as the asteroid gets close to earth so too does Palace to the killer. The second installment is a missing person’s case—one that reveals society’s further collapse. Palace’s sister, Nico, is involved in a conspiracy group trying to save the earth by blowing up the asteroid. And in the end of the trilogy we find a broken and battered Hank with his ever faithful bichon, Houdini, still at his side solving crimes. This time looking for Nico and in this book we get the finale we’ve been waiting for.

Why this series is great: 

We’ve had a lot of post-apocalyptic stories recently. A flood of them, in fact. Viruses, zombies, unnamed catastrophes. But we are always given the story of after. Winters instead looks to the just before. What would it really be like if we were given the news that a 6.5 km wide asteroid will hit Earth in October, giving the world the news in January? What would a person do with that information?

Through Henry’s investigations we see many different responses to the asteroid:  desperation, suicide, conspiracy, obsession, religion, and even manipulation. Because Hank—Henry as we come to know him—is so thorough we see the world’s destruction through his eyes. Henry is a good man, one that wants to solve the crime. But he becomes increasingly confused and we learn that his parents died when he and his sister were young causing him to become, as one character suggests, a sort of Bruce Wayne. He is a man who is trying to save the world but in this time of Maia the best he can do is solve a case and do what is right.

Henry is a man guided by his own moral compass and one that is both honest and dogged. He is obsessed with his job but loves his sister, Nico, to the point that even in the final hours she is on his mind. He has charged himself with watching over her and he never gives up on keeping her safe.

This series is great because not only do we receive from Winter’s a complex main character we receive from him an enticing story. Knowing that this series WILL end a certain way makes the story even more desperate and even more intoxicating. Why does Henry Palace even care? We find ourselves following him wherever he will take us, even to the end of the world.

The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters:

  1. The Last Policeman
  2. Countdown City
  3. World of Trouble

The Audio Book

7 Jul

Audio books: How to get started reading them

Before 2014, my commute tended toward an average of 20 minutes a day. Sometimes it was about 30 minutes but generally speaking, it was a short commute. Typically I listened to music because, at the time, I thought audiobooks were just too…..difficult.

I’ve heard the excuse before: I don’t listen to audio-books because I can’t pay attention.

I couldn’t either. The first few audio-books I listened to were tedious. I felt like sometimes I didn’t even care what was going on in the book or sometimes I’d just drift in and out.

In 2014 I started a new job which gave me a new commute time of around 40 minutes. Sometimes it’s even 45 minutes. That’s 90 minutes a day of driving. Music got really old, really fast. So I decided to just give some audio-books a try.

I mentioned fading in and out of audio-books. It’s true, in the beginning I did. But like reading and any other new skill–listening to a book requires patience and time. Listening to a book is much different than reading a book. For one, it’s a lot slower. And two, you’re usually multitasking so listening becomes even more of a skill you’ll need to acquire. For a lot of people I’m sure this isn’t a problem. But because I’ve heard this excuse from not only patrons but friends, too, I’m guessing this is a widespread myth that some people just “can’t do” audio-books.

My recipe:

  • Read when you’ll have 30+ minutes to listen. Anything less and you’re really not going to absorb much
  • Read only when you’re on the highway or on a drive that is very familiar to you: you WILL forget you are listening to a book if you are trying to also navigate and follow a GPS
  • Choose books that you find interesting: EMPHASIS ON INTERESTING. I love reading “big L” literature but I find that I do not love listening to “big L” literature. Maybe this will change as I become a better listening but so far it doesn’t work for me. I get lost in the language and description.
  • Find what you love and go for it but give yourself some time to explore: I have always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy but on audio–it’s perfection for me. Something else I’ve learned: I love mysteries. I only happened upon this because I decided to give “The Cuckoo’s Calling” a listen when my long commute first began. Give yourself some time to explore. You’ll soon learn what kind of narrator you prefer, which narrators you don’t like, and what genres work best for you!
  • Give yourself time to adjust. Listening to a book vs. Reading requires new skills so choose a book you’ve read before so that you can start learning how to follow along. It sounds silly but learning a new skill takes time and the more you can do to set yourself up for success the easier you’ll find it!

Among my favorites are books narrated with a British accent, books with magic or magical realism, mysteries (but so far only magical or sci fi mysteries), and science fiction. I haven’t started in on nonfiction titles yet–but I’ve got some ideas of books I might like.

I’m always looking for new books to try and I’ve stopped feeling guilty when a book does not work for me. I recently tried to listen to “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling, and only 10 minutes in I knew that this was a book I needed to read. It was becoming just too much to listen to.

The joy of listening to audio books is the same (but different!) joy in reading books. It’s only that you are immersed in the book in an entirely new and different way. Where reading is a very private, secluded, and often lonely endeavor, listening to an audio-book can be done with a car full of friends! Listening to “The Martian” by Andy Weir with my husband made the experience so much more fun and interesting! I got to hear his point of view and we were both on the edges of our seats while listening.

Get Listening!

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

30 Jun

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

A while ago I was reading an article about the progression of the series on SyFy called “The Magicians” that would be moving forward in production. Hey! I thought, I read that! That would make a great series!

I decided then that it was time to finish the trilogy in order to be fully prepared for, what I can only imagine, will be a magical and wonderful television series.

The Magicians:

In the fall of 2012 I was living in a new community, had just graduated library school, and I was looking to get involved with my local library. I was in luck because they had just introduced a sort of “books on tap” kind of book club and the first meeting was the next month. The title the librarian chose was “The Magicians” a book I had only sort of seen but not really heard of. I knew that I would love it because I enjoyed Harry Potter and I like stories with magical realism inserted into the plot.

I hated it. What was also going on in my life was that my Mother was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I had time to read “frivolous” books about magic. I needed real big L literature. I went to Madrid for a visit while my husband worked and then, a few months after her diagnosis, my Mother passed away.

But this book kept needling me. It had all of the elements of a book that I would love. And I should have loved it. I ran an experiment: If I read this book a second time and still hate it: well,  I tried. But if I read it a second time and loved it, it would be proven: sometimes we aren’t ready for a book.

I loved it. Quentin was just moody enough and I was just old enough to love this. I was grieving the loss of my Mother and I got it, Quentin. I understood you. I understood what it means to be waiting for something more to happen.

The Magician King

For this title, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to read. I ordered the book used (and scored a used library copy at that–treasure!!!!) so I tried reading it on e-book. But it wasn’t working for me. We hear more from Julie and Quentin is getting older and I just had a hard time reading it. I was busy with a new job and I knew that I was going to really enjoy this book! I didn’t want to rush it.

So I took a chance and downloaded the audiobook. And that is the moment this series became special to me. Mark Bramhall’s voice at first appeared a little off for me. To narrate this story I had always assumed a young voice in my mind. A twenty-something young man’s voice full of sarcasm and wonder and maybe a touch of naivete.

But as the story darkened and as Quentin grew into his own I knew that this was the perfect choice. Bramhall’s voice makes it. The sparkle of wonder at being in Fillory is rightfully shadowed in a dripping sardonic tone that often colors the story much sadder than I think it would be if I were reading it on the page.

We get to know Fillory much more intimately and following Quentin is a pleasure–even if sometimes it’s so very difficult to see him flounder. And the introduction of Julia and her trials and tribulations make this story so much more real than Harry Potter could ever be–because this is a story about growing up. Harry Potter is so much more about what it means to be a child and what it means to tell a good story with characters written with the complex depth reserved for children’s literature. Here, with the Magicians trilogy we are privy to real human characters and what it means to long for one’s childhood. To long for something more–and to realize that even when you get that “more” you may not always be happy with it.

The Magician’s Land:

Because I was so transfixed with Mark Bramhall’s narration I decided to finish the trilogy on audio. I cried many times and I sat in my car on more than one occasion just to finish the chapter. Here Grossman’s talents really shine. He is able to sculpt the story into one that will become (or SHOULD) become a classic. This trilogy allows its characters to make mistakes and to grow from them. Quentin starts this story as a moody teenager who takes love and life and magic for granted. We watch him grow into a man who knows his limits, knows who he is, and understands that even with all of his failings: he matters. He struggles with his failings but he knows in his heart that while he can’t fix everything and he can’t make it right, he can make it good.

This story spoke to me in a such a very real and awe-inspiring way. Much like Harry Potter is to so many readers, this story awoke in me a passion and nostalgia for the story as I closed it’s final pages. I found myself feeling what the characters were feeling and that is a powerful way to immerse oneself into a story.

I know that I will revisit Quentin and his friends soon. I hope that you do, too.

The Long Game

28 Mar

The last couple of years I focused so much on reading as many books as I could. I set high goals on Goodreads–willing myself to read as many as 56 books in one year. To put it in perspective for you, my reader, a friend of mine made the goal on Goodreads to read in 2015 150 books. That is a lot. For a lot of my librarian friends this is the norm, but for me, it really burned me out on reading.

I’ve always maintained the philosophy that anyone can make time in their lives to read. And it’s true! It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do because, like the gym or meditating or yoga, you have to be mindful in adding it in. Suddenly you feel stretched thin, like you’ll never find the time. But once you do, I’ve always maintained, anyone can read at least a book a month or a book every other month. Or a book a year. Whatever your goal: you can do it.

And then between bringing a puppy home and moving into a new home and health troubles my reading life took to the back burner. I was off of work for 6 weeks! Prime reading time but I spent it mostly working on a book (barely) and watching Netflix. Simply, it was difficult to read.

So in December after I had forced myself to make my goal + my personal goal of always making it at least 1 book over my goal it was time for me to plot my 2015 reading life. And I made it small. But with the goal of reading “Don Quixote.”

And when I started “Don Quixote” in January I remembered why I fell in love with reading in the first place. This book is beautiful and it is funny and it is sad. But most of all I enjoy taking my time. I’m only at page 100 and I likely won’t get to 200 until late April but that’s okay I’m telling myself because this is the long game. I’m going to live with this book and highlight and make notes in the margin and thoroughly enjoy myself.

Here’s to falling in love with books again and indulging in reading slowly for a change.

The Bees by Laline Paull

17 Apr

I’m notoriously picky about books so the fact that after reading the delightful and incredibly wonderful novel “The Word Exchange” by Alena Graedon I picked up ANOTHER lovely and engaging book can’t be coincidence. I think this is another year for great debut novels. Especially inventive debut novels.

Before I write this review let me get something off my chest: I’m not afraid of bees and I don’t usually run away from them when they approach but I don’t exactly find them cute or cuddly. After reading this book I’m so excited about bees I had to remind myself it isn’t prudent to start beehives while living in an apartment.

So: “The Bees” by Laline Paull.

What it’s about: A hive. Literally a novel about a particular hive and a particular bee named Flora 717.

What I thought it was about: Not bees. I sort of thought there were be a twist at the end or in the middle that was like JUST KIDDING it’s really about PEOPLE! I’m so glad Laline wrote this book and not me.

“The Bees” is great because it’s an entire beautifully written story about a worker bee (sanitation to be exact) who is sort of different. She can talk and she can think when really every other bee in sanitation doesn’t do that. She’s also curious. And she wants to be near the Queen so badly she does whatever she can to get there. I know it sounds weird that this is an entire book about bees but Paull’s able hand pulls it off. I forgot I was reading about insects and felt like I had been transported into a world where bees were anthropomorphic and looked like bee-people or something. The entire first half of this book I kept thinking of Pilar from “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood–how she loves the bees and talks to the bees and cares for the bees. 

Not only does Paull create an entire bee culture (which I will wager comes from extensive research) she makes it convincing. The language she so beautifully engages the reader with draws the reader in for more so that even when there is a violent battle between wasps and bees you don’t want to miss a single word this woman has written. The description is lovely. Some books I enjoy because the story, characters all come together. Some I love because I become so engaged with the story I can’t stop reading. This was one of those books. I look at flowers differently now, I want to smell the world like a bee (maybe just for a minute). Flora 717 is a strong female character who is full of resolve to do not only what’s right for Flora 717, but what’s right for her beloved hive and her children. 

Fans of dystopian lit and fantasy will eat this up. GO READ THIS! 

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

8 Apr

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me a chance to read this incredibly satisfying book before it was published!

“The Word Exchange” follows the story of Anana as she tries to locate the whereabouts of her recently disappeared father, Doug. Anana works with her father for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) which is about to release the final print edition. Final? That’s because most print is dead. Everyone relies on their Meme for information. Their Meme, a tablet like device that not only gives users text and information but also orders taxis when users think they need one, diagnose user’s maladies (doctors are almost all out of work now), and other (unsettling) features. Anana, like most everyone else, loves her Meme. Doug, and his colleague Bart (who happens to be in love with Anana–but she doesn’t know it) don’t. In fact, Doug still uses email!! And still has pens and paper! While Anana searches for her father, a global pandemic breaks out: people are forgetting how to speak and depending more and more on the popular “Word Exchange” program that, for a fee, will define words for you.

 

This book was awesome. “The Word Exchange” belongs alongside “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary  Shteyngart and “Lexicon” by Max Berry. Equal parts secret society mystery and commentary on the nature of language and the future of society if we continue to depend on our devices to interact with each other and the world around us. This book was thrilling! The character of Anana is the type of female character I enjoy. She’s flawed, does all the things you know she shouldn’t (so many times I just wanted to scream at her for not listening to instructions!!) but because of her decisions takes us on a wild ride. Bart (or Horse) is a character that speaks for those who are in love with the written word, those who are reluctant to accept new things just because they are new. In the end, the characters in Graedon’s book are familiar to all readers and lovers of the written word. Anana and Bart (Bartleby–a great and useful reference in the book) both contract the word flu and through them we experience what it would be like to slowly lose language. Both narrate the book in different chapters (each chapter is a letter of the alphabet and is accompanied by a definition which relates to the chapter) and the breakdown of their language becomes apparent very quickly. It was fun to highlight all of the “nonwords” that they both start using but scary at the same time. The Word Exchange is a program that I could easily see becoming a reality in the far future–so many people seem convinced that words can change meaning when and how they want. Even if a word flu isn’t possible–the ultimate dependance on smart devices and the demise of print (even email!) is a sobering concept and this book will surely light fires in readers everywhere. A smart and entertaining book, I will be purchasing my own physical copy to read and enjoy again.

Capriccio

2 Apr

Capriccio 

 

When I was a child I urged time to move. To become a hummingbird and flit and fly 

as fast as it can. There I am sitting in my Grandmother’s den: if only time could spin 

faster and faster. Then sitting in class–any class, all the classes, every lecture I’ve ever 

been forced to sit through. Then suddenly the capriccio of life, I’m standing at my Mother’s  

funeral urging time to become amber, to preserve me as long as it can, to let me gaze 

out of the caramel lens and to achingly hold every moment in my mind like it was glued 

to every individual cell in my brain. My professor in college told me this would happen 

and like a kid I kept reading Plath, and Dickinson, not thinking that time would ever 

accelerate to the point that I would beg it to slow to the lazy trot of a worm in the garden.

 

capriccio 

\ kuh-PREE-chee-oh; It. kah-PREET-chaw \  , noun;  

1. a caper; prank.  

2. Music . a composition in a free, irregular style.  

3. a whim; caprice.