How The Walking Dead failed

I ask my followers’ indulgence in a (surprise!) long rant on The Walking Dead. I’m not a horror fan, at all, but after years of listening to my brother and sister talk about TWD I did get into it. The “tl;dr” of this whole post is that now I’m getting out of it.

Here we go.

Last night was the season premiere of The Walking Dead. Six months ago, on April 2 (it should have been April 1), the show produced the worst excuse for a cliffhanger in television history, as far as I’m aware. The episode was an hour and a half long, and consisted mainly of a large group of the show’s main characters driving about in an RV. Which was actually okay – there was suspense in the situation, when first watched. Spoilers had leaked – even to me, not looking for spoilers at the time – that comic book character Negan was finally going to arrive on the scene, and would in short order bash someone’s brains in. So I was prepared for a death.

After over an hour of other stuff, including a good half hour anyway of driving around in that RV, and then a flurry of activity as Our Gang was captured and bullied into kneeling in a line, and – oh, there he is. Black leather, barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, great entrance … except did he just really say “pee-pee city”? How am I supposed to take that seriously? Okay, whatever … I braced myself. And he began to talk. I was keeping an eye on the clock the whole time, trying to gauge how it would fall out … and he kept talking. And talking. And … talking, to the point where I actually said out loud “For God’s sake just shut up and hit someone already.” From the moment he stepped out of the RV (which was a good touch) to the point when he finally took action, it was just under 11 minutes. I mean … kudos to Jeffrey Dean Morgan for delivering such a long monologue, but it’s not a fun experience to be wound up prepared for something and instead be faced with an endless stream of psychopathic bibble-babble. Behold the definition of “bloviate”.

Finally, finally he got underway, with the “eeny meenie miney moe” thing which I have now heard (in commercials) approximately 4,800 times and hope never to hear again, went randomly up and down the line of Our Gang, and – as most everyone who’s been on the internet or knows a Walking Dead fan knows by now – the POV of the camera switched from his, looking down the bat at terrified or angry faces … to the victim’s. Or, rather, the audience’s, as after weeks of hype and an hour and a half of suspense and over ten minutes of speech, Negan bashed in the head of someone whose identity would be left unknown for six months, until the October 23 Season 7 premiere.

Except of course it wasn’t left unknown. Because everyone wanted to know. So people ramped up their efforts to find out who it was, by any means necessary. And they found out that not one but two actors were conspicuously absent from the set, and in fact one of them was shooting a film in Korea during filming of TWD. So – never mind pee-pee city, it’s spoiler city time, and that’s the last time I will ever use the former phrase, ever – the safe money went on both Glenn and Abraham for the victims; the theory I heard was that he would hit Glenn, and Abraham would try to help him and get pulverized himself.

Here might be a good time to talk about why the death of Glenn was such a stupid idea, but I don’t have the heart to bring the words “dumpster” and “Nicholas” into it. Suffice to say that Glenn has been miraculously not killed several times recently, he was the (only) victim of Negan in the comic book in the equivalent scene, and I honestly didn’t expect it. I was afraid of it, but I didn’t really expect it.

Instead of talking about that, I’ll just mention how utterly furious I was with the way that season finale was handled. As a ridiculous trickle of “blood” ran down the screen and the picture and sound went fuzzy, I used language I wouldn’t like my mother to hear, and came as close as I ever will come to throwing something at a television I can’t afford to replace. I wasn’t happy. And as time went by I did not become happier. If one (or two) of those characters had died at minute 85 of the 90-minute season finale, after the twisting of the screw for the previous hour-plus to the point at which the tension was almost unbearable, I would have been devastated. I would have needed an entire box of tissues. And, in a strange way, I would have been satisfied. I would have felt like I was one of the survivors, having just watched a beloved comrade (or two) beaten hideously to death, and would have been left with just a clean fury aimed where it belonged: at Negan.

Instead I was left with a very messy and more real fury aimed at the producers. Talking Dead immediately after the finale asked people to tweet who they thought the victim was, and my response was a wish for it to be the show’s creator Robert Kirkman and/or executive producer Scott Gimple.

I thought the episode was weak; I thought it was stupid; I thought it was a terrible replay of a terrible idea earlier in the season (the dumpster incident, in which the outcome was not revealed for weeks); I thought it very much represented just what it looked like, the show beating the audience to death. It was not a cliffhanger. It was a “neener neener, we’ve got you where we want you and we’re going to torture you like Negan, nah nah nah” – and it felt almost as childish. That’s actually pretty close to how I feel about it: a child’s version of a cliffhanger.

Wikipedia: “A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction”. Shocking revelation. Not “something terrible just happened but we’re not going to tell you”. Not “we’re using stupid tricks to artificially simulate a cliffhanger instead of relying on good writing and plotting to create a real one”.

Shock – not disgust.

The six (six and a half, but who’s counting) months went by, and the only positive aspect to the long wait from the show’s point of view was that my anger cooled, my disgust faded a little, and sometime during the summer I got curious about what people were saying. I went hunting for theories. They weren’t hard to find. There was the “the character point of view used throughout the episode was either Daryl or Michonne, so logically the POV at the end was the same person”, which was narrowed down to “it was Michonne”, which became my favorite theory because, although I didn’t want to see Michonne killed, it was so logical. (Insert scornful noise here.) There’s the “Eugene said goodbye to everyone and made himself a hero so he’s the one” theory. And of course there was the all-but proven “Cudlitz and Yeun haven’t been on set” theory.

That’s the positive aspect as far as the show was concerned – the long delay settled down the part of me that never wanted to be bothered watching an episode of TWD again. The positive thing for me was discovering the podcast “Dead Fans Talking”, which I love and will probably keep listening to even if I never see another episode, because I enjoy the hosts so much. (They read my iTunes review at the end of episode #76, bless their hearts.)

I’ve gone on long enough with this; I need to start to put a period on it. I put the tv on partway through the afternoon; AMC had been showing the whole series all week, so I left it on in the background to remind myself of why I cared. (Last week they showed a series recap, which was entertaining but didn’t quite get me to give half a damn again.) (If you’re still concerned about spoilers, here’s where they start coming in force.)

To reiterate: what should have happened, what would have happened if things had fallen out differently, was that twelve main characters of the show would be lined up in front of a freak with a baseball bat, and he would have given his monologue, and he would have killed Abraham and maybe Glenn, and the season would have ended with me working my way through a box of tissues and hoping for a slow and painful death for the bastard in the leather jacket. Season 7 would have picked up at some point in that bloody scene, plunging the characters and me along with them back into the moment and building on the emotions, and cemented the bond between viewer and protagonists against the bastard in the leather jacket.

What happened instead was a long, slow summer and autumn, punctuated by the rather lacking Fear the Walking Dead, until finally here it was. They did indeed drop the viewer back into the same scene – in fact, apparently immediately after the last one ended.

Who died?

Who knew?

The scene hobbled on, with a very sweaty Rick in the foreground and some script tap dancing around the victim’s identity, and instead of being anxious for the characters I began to go right back to where I ended Season 6: aggravated with the producers and writers. What the hell, people – six and a half months wasn’t long enough to keep people waiting? Nope – let’s go another fifteen minutes or so. (That was the only good thing about the dumpster debacle – at least when they finally revealed what actually happened it was in the first moments of an episode.)

They managed to produce some tension by playing with Rick and the hatchet; I haven’t read the comics but I know that Rick loses a hand at some point, and that was one of the only two parts that held any suspense for me: waiting to see if Negan was going to take Rick’s hand. (He didn’t.)

If I’d been in charge, that would have been how last season ended: Abraham dead on the ground, and maybe Glenn, and Negan dragging Rick off into the RV with the hatchet. It would have been perfect: shock, horror, and oh-my-God-what’s-going-to-happen-to-Rick, and many tissues and in memoria to the dead – – and an actual cliffhanger.

And then finally came the scene – the scene. Abraham. And where I should have been upset and sad, I was only mildly regretful. (Aw, no more word salad; I’ll miss the dingleberries and the Bisquick and the dolphins and whatever other nonsense came out of his mouth. Bitch nuts.) I was actually mainly disappointed: I had really hoped that the show would pull something off, that the producers would have been smart enough to realize that fans and others would be monitoring who was on set and who wasn’t, and have managed to do something that would be a surprise. But no. There was Abraham, headless. Then came the only other moment of suspense in the show, as Daryl lunged forward to try to stop Negan from babbling on and on and waving the dripping bat under people’s noses, and I decided that if Daryl died I wouldn’t riot, but would turn off the tv and go to bed and never bother again – – as with so much else, not because of the death itself (although that would make the show very boring to me) but because it was so pointless.

Instead, of course, it was actually worse. Daryl was dragged back, Negan pointed out that Glenn had been allowed an outburst and he had promised retribution if there was another one, and turned around and clobbered Glenn. And proceeded to beat Glenn to a literal pulp. So there it was: two deaths, exactly the two which had been the strongest rumor, and … I was nauseated, not just because of the brutality of the scene but because of the disappointment with the show.

I didn’t turn it off; I kept watching, and then came the scene in which Negan tries to force Rick to cut his own son’s arm off. If I had cared more by that point it would have been a third moment of suspense: there was no way Rick was going to mutilate Carl, but going back to the earlier tension I thought maybe he’d turn the hatchet on his own left hand. He didn’t; Negan did a God imitation and stepped in to keep Abraham from sacrificing Isaac once he’d proved he was willing to do so.

And that was about it. Conclude with Rick broken, everyone weeping, and Maggie swearing retribution in the most moronic way possible (as they pointed out to her, she could barely stand up; Negan would have had one of his minions knock her out of the way in two seconds or less). I texted my sister: “Well, that was stupid”. Her response: “It was! So pissed”. And I went to bed. I had expected and planned for a long night, because Talking Dead was following the episode with a 90-minute “counseling session”, featuring almost a dozen cast members and a couple of producers and a big audience (in a cemetery, which just strikes me as tacky and I’m spitefully glad they got rained on). I shut it off: there was no way I could sit through ninety minutes of the producers being either smug or defensive (or both, which they’ve managed in the past), and the cast being depressed or stressed or whatever, and Chris Hardwick and whoever else toeing the party line to portray shock and grief.

I almost wish I could say I’ve rage-quit the show. I haven’t. It’s more a sort of shrug-and-eyeroll sort of walking away.

The end result? I’ll be able to get to bed earlier on Sunday nights now.

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Odds on Miss Seeton

It’s been a while since I tried a Miss Seeton, and for some reason I never read more than one or two. It’s a very cute idea: Miss Seeton is a vague and bumbling elderly lady who is perceived by everyone around her, friend and foe, as a sort of Sherlock Holmes presenting this fuzzy front. And of course it all accidentally leads to the solution of whatever crime is in the offing. It’s ridiculous – and it’s fun. I’m impressed by the author’s ability to pull it off.

She looked at Tom Haley for guidance, but he appeared to be immersed. In thought. What an unpleasant man. Mr. Thatcher, she meant.

I’m not sure the gimmick would be conducive to reading too many back to back, so maybe the way I seem to be reading the series is best: one every great while is more enjoyable than a binge.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye

Agatha Christie points out in one of her titles: “Murder Is Easy”. Not the first one, necessarily; there is usually a basic human revulsion for taking another’s life. But once that first notch is on one’s belt, subsequent murders/executions/assassinations come more readily. Or so she says – I know nothing about the matter personally, of course, dear Reader.

I think I object to this book being called a retelling of Jane Eyre. Jane Steele knows the book, and recognizes her similarities to fictional-for-her-Jane, and indeed the idea to become a governess is pleasing to her because of the book. I think it’s more an homage, a love letter to the book, as This Jane’s life echoes and mimics That Jane’s; who’s to say that some of the decisions This Jane made weren’t influenced by That Jane? (I suspect the epithet “you impudent elf” might have been.)

It took a little while for me to click with Jane. I lost heart in the midst of her childhood, perhaps disappointed that this was not at all like the Lyndsay Faye books I’ve read and loved before. I admit it was purely duty to Netgalley that dragged me back to give it another try. Thank goodness. Once it did click, it clicked, and there was no looking back – I loved every minute.

I loved the writing. “The girl who had broken off from the line was twelve, with a moon face which was so beautiful I had no notion whether she should be congratulated or censured for taking matters a trifle too far.”

I loved learning something new (such as about the aara, which is horrifying and awesome), and relearning something I’d forgotten (like the definition of “ferengi”, which – have I mentioned I’m a Trekkie?).

I loved the horses. I always take note of how a writer handles horses, whether they’re given names, whether they’re given personalities, and – most importantly – with what level of knowledge they’re depicted. They were beautifully handled here.

I loved the entirely unexpected exploration of Colonial – and violently post-Colonial – India. Shades of The Little Princess and perhaps a more accurately drawn Woman in White; fascinating.

I loved the children. You read that correctly: I, who usually can’t stand children in fiction and particularly precocious children, loved Jane-as-child and her poor unfortunate schoolmates, and most especially Sahjara.

I adored Sardar. What a marvelous character. I’m still trying to incorporate his usual response into my daily conversation.

“Your advice is loathsome, Sardar, and it disendears me to you.”
“So often the way with advice…”

And as for Jane and her Charles…

Surprise! I loved them.

So often the way with Lyndsay Faye’s books…

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd – Kyle Keiderling

I loved the 1984 Summer Olympics. (Not as much, though, as the 1984 Winter Olympics, which were slightly life-altering. Torvill and Dean? Come on.) I was a kid; I loved the fact that my country did so well, discounting the fact that so many Eastern bloc countries boycotted. I grew up with my dad watching ABC sports and Jim McKay, and it was glorious. I watched everything from gymnastics to javelin.

I’m not sure anymore if I actually remember the Women’s 3000 race, or if I’m filling in with what I’ve seen since (and of course I’ve watched it in several videos on YouTube), but when I requested this book from Netgalley it was with a vague feeling of “oh right, Zola Budd“, and a hint of a growl. Because that’s how it ran, live: Marty Liquori commented during ABC’s coverage of the race that it was Budd’s inexperience in international competition that caused the incident. Sorry – the capital-I-Incident. And track officials disqualified her. And there was Mary Decker, sobbing and thrashing in pain in the infield, then assisted and finally carried off. On YouTube there’s a nearly half-hour video of the live coverage, and Liquori puts the fault on Zola Budd several times. If that’s all you watch, you’ll never know that the disqualification (moot, since she was well out of medals placement anyway) was reversed, and that the next day Liquori – having watched the video a few more times himself– changed his mind, at least partway. And you’ll never know about the blood pouring down the back of Budd’s leg from Mary Decker’s spikes – I’m baffled by the fact that no one seems to have noticed. You’ll certainly never know why Zola Budd actually dropped back from the lead to end up in seventh place.

In fact, it’s truly weird to read the detailed account of the race in this book and then go watch it, because that’s not all you don’t hear about. Quite a lot happened in that six-minute race.

I’m just not sure if even all the events of this race, and those leading up to it and succeeding from it, quite justify 368 pages. The writing tends toward repetition, with Reality-Show-Style Recaps cropping up now and then and simple duplication of facts and sometimes phrases more often. (Example: Mary Decker seems to have wanted a bodyguard, and the reader is told so twice.) And there was a lot of material that surprised me – including a detailed etymological exploration of “Bedlam”. There were brief (or not-so-brief) biographies of other runners – which makes sense, in context (holy cow, Joan Hansen. I mean really. Her college changed the program she had already earned 129 credits in, and she had to change her tack. Then a coach killed himself. Then two friends died in a car crash. Then a stalker started terrorizing her. Then she had a bike accident, which left her temporarily paralyzed. Then when she had at least partly recovered from that she was in a car accident and was temporarily paralyzed again. Then she developed blood poisoning. Then she got the flu. This was all in something less than a one year period, culminating in a hard fall before Mary Decker’s in the 3000 meter race at the Olympics, from which she got up and finished the race I have to add, as so many have before me…). There was also quite a lot of information about drug use in sports in general, track specifically, and Mary Decker’s veins more specifically. With all of that, though, there’s no information (unless I missed it? I don’t think I was skimming) on what happened to the records set by Chinese athletes during a period in which pretty much everyone in the West knew darned well they were using drugs; basically, they set all kinds of records, then urine testing started to be more serious and the most questionable runners disappeared – so, did the records stand? Were they revoked? I should look it up. (I shouldn’t have to look it up.)

A quirk of the writer’s which irked me a bit, and then a bit more, and then a bit more as the book wore on, was the tendency to provide a chunk of information, followed by a paragraph break and a dramatic statement. Example:

“Her stay in England had been nothing short of an ordeal by fire, and she had managed to survive. She had done so, as she explained, through her ‘ability to dissociate from my surroundings.’
“She had to be.”

It happened over and over. And over. It’s an effective trick now and then; when it appears every other page, the effect is muted.

There is a great deal of exploration of the training programs for Decker and Budd, as in how many miles they ran in a week and how far in each session and so on; I know next to nothing about track and competitive running, and I would have actually loved more basic stuff. I mean, every unimpaired human being can run at some point in her life – what makes a runner? How do you become faster? Maybe it was in there, but I didn’t glean from it what I was looking for. My bad? I don’t know. There was a great deal of data in this book, but not what I wanted, or not delivered in such a way that it stuck.

One focus of a lot of the data was the terrifying number of injuries suffered by these two women, especially Decker. Lord, the sheer number of surgeries she had to have just before the age of 40 is queasy-making. “A reporter visiting her for a profile in People magazine said that an ultrasound photo of Mary’s lower extremities would ‘discourage most people from even a casual jog'” – and she was running tens of miles per day.

The book is very much slanted in favor Zola Budd. This could well be based on all the documentary evidence the author was able to turn up – part of which is Budd’s own autobiography. It could also be based in part on the fact that while Budd made herself available to speak to the author, Decker refused to – apparently she refused several requests. Given the tone of a few narrative comments about her, one wonders what kind of tone those refusals took. (“If she was America’s sweetheart,” Reilly offered, “America needed body armor.”) It’s a chicken-and-egg thing – did Decker’s refusal lead to a bit of a tone in the author’s voice, or did an already existing certain tone to which Decker was alerted lead to her refusal? Certainly the description of Decker’s behavior after she fell, writhing in the infield, was less than sympathetic, and there wasn’t much journalistic detachment. Don’t get me wrong, I took a certain malicious pleasure in it, but I’m not sure it was an appropriate tenor. (“Running her mouth”? “The woman who almost always looks like she just had her parking spot stolen”? Really?)

There were also a handful of fourth-wall-breaking narrative comments. Though I did like “Ever see a fast yak?”

The story was all a bit disappointing. One of my takeaways is See? This is why I read fiction. In this tale there are so many coaches out for themselves, putting their athletes second at best; so many athletes behaving badly, and so many family members behaving even worse … There are so many officials and journalists doing abominable things… It’s saddening. I have to say, I did not know the background of Juan Antonio Samaranch, then president of the International Olympic Committee. I only saw him during the opening and (I think) closing ceremonies, and he was … avuncular. I liked him, the little I saw of him. He was enveloped in the golden glow of my teenaged idealism. And he so did not deserve it. He was kind of horrible. It’s a dent in a treasured memory. Oh well. So often the way with … life…

One more quote: [In South Africa] the small minivans that are used as taxis, and are a principal mode of transport in the predominantly black townships outside major cities, are called Zola Budds because they are small and fast. Some call the larger conventional buses Mary Deckers, because they are bigger and have more accidents.

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The Family Caregiver’s Cookbook – Harriet Hodgson

This is one of those books I havered over on Netgalley, requested, and then regretted. After I clicked on it I had the sinking sensation that this was going to be filled with all the sorts of things a couple of my coworkers obsess over which, quite frankly, make me roll my eyes just a little: chia seeds and soy milk and gluten-free whatever.

It is so very, very not that.

What this is, is one of the most practical and user-friendly cookbooks I’ve seen in a long stretch of days. There are quite a number of recipes I can see myself making soon. I kind of expected the recipes to be even simpler than they actually are, but they are by no means challenging – they’re definitely aimed at someone with limited time and money and will to create cuisine, who still wants something better than tv dinners.

I do wonder, though, about naming a recipe “Make Ahead Chewy Chicken”. Does anyone really want to try chewy chicken?

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Oh, sure Jeopardy guys


‘Cause there’s nothing more relaxing than a countdown clock.

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William Shakespeare: A Popular Life

This … book … was originally released in 2001, and all but states it is meant to ride the doublet-tails of “the success of the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love“. I was puzzled by this for a moment – I don’t usually expect a book received through Netgalley to be fifteen years old. But hey – a Shakespeare biography! How can that be bad?

This. This is how that can be bad.

From the introduction: My aim has been to give Shakespeare a life, not only as a historical figure who can be brought to life, but the dimension of one who is still living. To do this I have dropped the usual tentative approach of scholars (the “might’s”, the “could have’s” and “may have’s”).

That’s a nice idea, to a reader who loves Shakespeare. To a reader who loves Shakespeare and who has read biographies, looking for something new or fresh, it’s horrendous. Because the problem with Shakespeare from that point of view is that perhaps every single aspect of his life, birth to death and everything in between, involves “‘might’s’, the ‘could have’s’ and ‘may have’s'”. That’s why there’s an authorship question in some people’s minds: we just don’t know much about the man at all.

The above quote worried me, a little. What worried me more was the author’s statement that he would be using the plays and sonnets to extrapolate fact. I didn’t make it far into the book, but even in the few pages I read there were at least a couple of statements – not presented as supposition, but absolute fact – which gave me actual pain:

– “Denied, or perhaps ultimately uninterested in, confession to a priest, he came over the years to turn his plays into secret and disguised confessionals, in which he could play both confessor and penitent.”

– “Anne [Hathaway] was nurtured and protected by both Shakespeare and his mother as few women were in Elizabethan times.” Which as far as I know is completely unsupported by anything known about the Shakespeare menage.

I am baffled about why this foundationless bubble of guesses and fantasy is presented as a biography. If it had a plot, this would be a novel; plotless, it’s a tissue of lies.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

ETA: The Goodreads quote of the day is entirely relevant to this book.

“There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot.”
― S.M. Stirling

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Hell Bay – Will Thomas

It’s funny – I didn’t realize till I took a look at the other books in this series that I had requested a sample of the first book, Some Danger Involved, some time ago. I never bought it. I’m glad now.

This started out rather well. I always begin a book with the expectation of giving it at least four stars, and mentally adjust accordingly, and the prologue was darkly entertaining. Those expectations seemed pretty safe.

Before long, though, issues with the writing began to crop up.

The idea is that the great and inscrutable Barker is called in as security for a French ambassador at a secret meeting on an island in the Scillies; this is being camouflaged by a house party. Barker doesn’t like house parties or bodyguard work. I know this, better than perhaps anything else, because I was told so many, many times – between his own grumbling and the main character/narrator’s slightly gleeful commentary, it felt like it was reiterated at least a dozen times. Barker tries to wiggle out of it by suggesting a security force –

“I might make a recommendation to you, it would be to hire a full detail of guards, even if they are not needed. There is too much that could go wrong.”
“The French ambassador insists upon privacy. He wishes to come and see how his favorite goddaughter is doing, and has no desire to see the island full of British men in uniforms.”
“How astute is he? Would he notice a few extra footmen or undergardeners?”
“Too astute to trick so easily.”

So, basically, the ambassador is a moron. This is borne out by the events of the book, in which the island equivalent of a country house party disintegrates into, basically, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, and the ambassador becomes remarkably sulky over taking even basic precautions. He does bring an extra special French James Bond, Delacroix, with him – but Delacroix comes onto the island well after the ambassador, has a quick chat with Barker – and then leaves. He’s a foodie, you see, and he wants to get back to the boat and into the galley. I’m still struggling to understand how someone can be an effective bodyguard when not even on the same land mass. Of course, when the bad guy kills him he has an even harder job being any kind of bodyguard. It’s kind of hilarious when the ambassador insists on heaping praise on him for the rest of the book, considering he did nothing but die en route to a fish dinner.

What really baffled me about this was that the author then has the ambassador commenting that the island was “too large … to be watched over by just two men.” Well … yeah.

The main character/narrator, Thomas Llewelyn, began to annoy me very early on. “I regarded the two young women I was warned against, and found them a trifle wanting.” One reason for the house party, you see, is to marry off the young scion(s) of the house, and Llewelyn had best not interfere with that.

The writing was not terrible (though it does need a good editor to deal with punctuation and homonym errors – a gun shot is not a “rapport”, one does not “stare” an opinion, one does not “fair” better or worse, and when one cannot “bare” to discuss something I begin to lose my grip on my temper) – this is why it gets two stars instead of the one I kind of want to give it. But it did try too hard in places, hammering a point home when a softer touch would have been more than sufficient. And, not to be repetitive, the author has a tendency to repeat himself.

As mentioned (oh no, the repetition is contagious!), people suddenly start getting picked off one by one. I don’t know if the writer was aiming for irony, or trying to create a poignant situation for the Great Hero Barker and his sidekick Llewelyn, or simply wanted to try his own hand at Ten Little Indians, but it was in truth just sad to read on the one hand Llewelyn’s worshipful tributes to his boss, and on the other hand see person after person die on his watch.

“I was hired as security for this event.”
…”You’re not doing very well at it, in my opinion.”

I wouldn’t hire the guy.

And if someone could explain to me why it was only after the violence begins that Llewelyn – hired as security – hurries off to get his gun, I’d … never mind. Not interested. Especially after he later, in the middle of things, curses himself for leaving his revolver in his room. Really? Someone could pop out of any corner or hedge at any moment to try to kill you or, more importantly, one of the people you were hired to protect, and you’re unarmed? Again? I hope these idiots didn’t get paid.

Once I started to dislike the main characters and the story I began to poke at all the holes in the writing, which aren’t really even worth the space here. Except I found it puzzling that it wasn’t till the 21% mark that Barker is described as a Scotsman; I would have thought that if that was important it would have come out earlier. I suppose I should be grateful that dialogue in a brogue is kept to a minimum. Oh, and the whole episode with Llewelyn and a cohort trying to close shutters while under fire from the sniper was silly from beginning to end; he as narrator comments that he made a tempting target against the light, and fails to come to the realization that it might be clever to put out said light. He encounters all sorts of difficulty with getting the shutters secured, and I was almost brought to the point of yelling at the book for him to go get the damned butler who might have a clue.

The killer besieging the house seems, according to Barker’s hypothesis, to have a checklist of victims, and is killing in order. Which means that he passes up opportunities to kill Llewelyn and others – despite the fact that it’s remarkably stupid not to reduce the number of defenders.

The survivors in the house turn against Barker, somehow losing faith in his abilities after several people die. So he moves into the rooms formerly occupied by his now-deceased employer, the lord of the manor. He had some kind of reason for this, but the audacity of it, added to the questionable decision to have his girlfriend in the adjoining room, did not go down well with me or with the other survivors.

There’s more – there’s so much more – like:
“The Sharps is a long-distance rifle, known for its accuracy … [several pages later] … No, the Sharps is not that accurate” … [several pages later] … “he’s carrying what I might consider the deadliest weapon on the planet.”

The same thing happens with the food provided by the cook. It’s bland; it’s wonderful; it’s boring; it’s delicious.

I made many more notes and highlights on my Kindle, but there’s really no point in continuing to beat this dead horse. I managed to finish the book, but what started out with me interested and intrigued ended with me frustrated and relieved to be done.

Also, “Hell Bay”? It’s a cool name – but it has very little to do with the plot.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Unholy Blue – Darby Kaye

What a marvelous book. It is so rare to see relationships done so well as this between father and child, father and new lover, lover and child; it all feels utterly natural and true and believable. And it all serves to inspire affection for these characters. Grief is handled well, not that I’ll go into any details about that for spoilers’ sake, and also the surprise of joy; doubt and worry; battle and friendship.

It’s a wild gallop of a book, this, hitting the ground running and barely letting up before the end. It starts with a father and young son on the run. From what, the reader is not told for a little while – but it’s immediately obvious that this isn’t any mundane danger, and when someone comes to the rescue it’s pretty clear that she’s not exactly mundane either.

The book is the sequel to Stag Lord, but stands on its own very well; the author is very skilled at telling what has gone before without irrevocably spoiling the previous book. The writing is beautiful; the characters are wonderful (including the young boy, which can be a tricky proposition); the secret culture and the evil enemies are engrossing. Love.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson

I’ve always enjoyed Bill Bryson. I loved A Walk in the Woods and The Mother Tongue and his Shakespeare book, etc. This? Not this. I couldn’t manage this.

Yes, it was lovely to learn that we’ve all been pronouncing “Everest” wrong (and that George Everest never went up it). It’s good to know that almost 40% of London is park and the city is almost half as populated as New York, and France and England are only 20.6 miles apart at their closest point, and such. Motopia is a very cool idea and I’m enjoying running it through Google Image. But…

>“It’s not the same thing at all. You can’t be this stupid.”

>“Well, pardon me for saying so, but you’re an idiot,” I said matter-of-factly.

This is Bryson quoting … himself. And both times he was talking to a young person in the service industry. If he’s being honest and not self-mocking or self-parodying or whatever, Bill Bryson is apparently a jackass.

“Do you want fries with that?” the young man serving me asked.
I hesitated for a moment, and in a pained but patient tone said: “No. That’s why I didn’t ask for fries, you see.”

Seriously. I don’t want to spend time with this person. When he calls Leslie Charteris “a recluse and a bigot” it feels very much like a pot and kettle pronouncement.

The humor is forced, and very much largely unfunny. I’m disappointed – and I quit.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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