Friday, January 27, 2017

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Title: Moriarty: A Novel, Author: Anthony Horowitz Earlier this week I was trying to decide to what to read and realized I had a half-dozen books that were related to, reminiscent of, or inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character. These included A Study in Charlotte, A Study in Scarlet Women, Mycroft, Beastly Bones, Lock & Mori, and Moriarty. So I thought why not make Sherlock Holmes the theme of my reading for the next few weeks and see how they compare. Since Anthony Horowitz's Moriarty was officially authorized by the Doyle estate and thus would likely be the closest to the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I decided to start there. My plan is then to make my way through the other novels and see how Doyle's most famous character has been interpreted and adapted.

The story begins in Switzerland at Reichenbach Falls where Holmes and Moriarty fall to their (supposed) deaths. One body is recovered. Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard goes to Switzerland to ascertain the identity of the recovered body. There he meets Frederick Chase, one of the Pinkerton Detective Agency's senior investigators.

Chase tells Jones that he has been chasing after Clarence Devereux an infamous American criminal. Chase warns Jones that with Moriarty gone a power vacuum has emerged in London's criminal world and we all know how nature abhors a vacuum. A violent group of American gangsters has already started making trouble in London. According to Chase, Devereux and Moriarty were planning an alliance. With Moriarty having gone over the falls, that just leaves the devilish Devereux. Chase and Jones hurriedly return to London, determined to stop the Americans from taking over in London. With Jones doing his best Sherlock Holmes impression (turns out he's a super fan) and Chase playing his Watson, the two men test their wits against the men who would try to fill the hole left by Moriarty.

I thoroughly enjoyed Moriarty although strictly speaking it is not a Sherlock Holmes story. Except for the early pages at the Falls, neither Holmes nor Watson makes an appearance. Instead we get two very good imitators. The more I think about it, I am hard pressed to call this a mystery. Instead I might place Moriarty in the category of a suspense. Jones and Chase find the man (men really) they're looking for fairly easily. The question is more how to lure them out into the open. I suppose there is a bit of a mystery in that there is some confusion over who killed who, with different characters each thinking someone else is responsible. The ending was half surprising. Half because I knew something was off about certain characters but I wasn't able to precisely predict the manner in which they were off (though I was close).  In any case I enjoyed the journey, especially the last hundred pages.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara

Murder on Bamboo Lane (An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery #1)  I love mysteries. The clues, the puzzles, the dark alleys, and shadowy informants - I can't get enough of it. It's fun, challenging, and strangely comforting. Most of the mysteries I've read feature a white person, usually male but not always, as the main detective. One of my ongoing reading goals is to read more diversely. Since mystery is one of my favorite genres I have been looking for mysteries where the main detective - be it police, private, or amateur detective - reflects something other than a white male perspective. I will continue to read and enjoy that perspective, I simply want to experience some others too. On a separate but related note, one of my goals is to read more books of any genre written by Asian and Asian-American authors. For whatever reason I have read relatively few books written by people of Asian descent and I would like to change that. So when I stumbled across Naomi Hirahara's Murder on Bamboo Lane at the Japanese-American National Museum gift shop in Los Angeles I thought this is kismet: a mystery written by an Asian-American women where the primary police detective is also an Asian-American woman. It was just what I have been hoping to find.

Eleanor "Ellie" Rush is a fresh-out-of-the-academy bicycle cop. She spends her days riding around downtown Los Angeles mostly handing out tickets to jaywalkers and listening to neighborhood residents complain about this and that. One day she happens to be nearby when a woman is gunned down - a woman Ellie went to college with. From there Ellie falls in and out of rabbit hole after rabbit hole trying to figure out who killed the woman while not upsetting her superiors too much. She is a bicycle cop after all, not a homicide detective, at least not yet.

Murder on Bamboo Lane was a solid mystery with enough twists to keep things interesting. The story is grounded not just in Los Angeles but in a part of Los Angeles many Angelnos rarely see, let alone non-Angelenos. (I don't recall one mention of a palm tree, the beach, or celebrities.) It features a diverse cast of characters. Ellie isn't the only person of color in a world of white. One of things I appreciated most was the insight into Asian-American cultural politics. For example, one of the main suspects in the murder investigation is a Vietnamese-American artist who courts controversy by making art that is pro-North Vietnam. A group of South Vietnamese people protest the artist's exhibition, with one character claiming that Ho Chi Minh is their Hitler. In another example Ellie notes how her ex-boyfriend, whom she dated for two years, never told his grandmother that his girlfriend (Ellie) was half-Japanese because he didn't want to "rock the boat." This is partly what I meant about getting a different perspective, a different story.

I did have a few minor/medium complaints. Ellie's knee jerk anger to any criticism of the police was annoying but then again perhaps that reflects the attitudes of actual police officers. Ellie's self-pity and inability to accept responsibility for her part in the deterioration of some of her relationships was equally annoying. Cortez, Aunt Cheryl, and other characters could have been fleshed out a bit more. Notwithstanding these issues, overall I enjoyed the story.

Murder on Bamboo Lane is the first in a series. I look forward to following Ellie's further adventures.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #4)  Sinner is a companion to Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. I say companion because it really has little to do with that trilogy other than that the two main characters in Sinner were first introduced in the trilogy. I really liked the original trilogy, which consisted of Shiver, Linger, and Forever. It has been awhile since I read the trilogy but what lingers is the romance between Sam and Grace, two lonely kids who meet and start building a life and a family together. Notwithstanding his surrogate father, Sam was more or less an orphan. Grace had two parents and they were not bad people but they were super in love with each other and with their work (they were artists) to the point that they kind of forget they were parents. This left Grace to more or less raise herself. All of that was set against this wolf problem. Sam turned into a wolf for half the year. Not a monster werewolf, just a regular wolf. Aside from the obvious problems of changing into another species, Grace and Sam's lives were made more complicated by people in town fearing the growing number of wolves in the nearby woods and wanting to kill them. The romance was compelling and the wolf part was interesting, making for an overall good story.

Sinner moves the story from Minnesota where Sam and Grace remain, to California. Isabel and her family moved to California following the death of her brother. His demise has torn them apart. As the story begins Isabel and her mother are in Los Angeles while her father is in San Diego. Enter Cole St. Clair.

Cole St. Clair was a rock star who was always looking for a way out of his life. Drugs didn't work. He thought becoming a wolf might. Fast forward a year or so, Cole leaves Minnesota for California in part to record a new album and in part to see if there is anything left between him and Isabel. Cole is hyperactive, not sure about how to be happy or how to balance being rock star Cole with being regular person Cole. The only thing he is sure of is that he loves making music and he loves Isabel.The wolf thing doesn't make much of an appearance in this book. It is little more than an alternative means of escape. He used to do drugs, now he can change into a wolf but of course the idea is that he has to learn to live without doing either.

I didn't not like this book, but it also wasn't quite what I expected and for that reason I was disappointed. Isabel is an ice queen, permanently pissed off about something, sometimes justifiably so but more often her anger felt misplaced and pointless. She's smart, has plans for life, and the means to make those plans happen. She struck me as the type of person who always thinks she understands the world better than absolutely everyone else. Even when she is right it was irritating, and she wasn't always right.

Cole and Isabel fight. Then they make up. Then they fight some more. Unlike Sam and Grace, I doubt this romance will stick with me. Like I said, I didn't not like this but I didn't love it either. Sinner is not a must read. If anything, read the original The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Image result for tiny pretty things  Do you ever want to read a mystery set in a fantasy world where at least one of the main characters is a person of color? What about a story about an African-American woman trekking through the Amazon on her own, à la Eat Pray Love or Wild? How about an international spy thriller set in Paris with a bisexual Asian female protagonist? I do. I like lots of different genres and am interested in reading about the experiences of people from different backgrounds. Ideally what I want to read more of are ordinary and fantastical (i.e., genre) stories that include diverse main characters, who may be diverse in multiple ways. Bonus if the story mixes genres. I have gone down many rabbit holes looking for books that combined different things that interest me. Maybe some of my combinations are esoteric, but it shouldn't be so hard to find books with POC and female leads, especially when the story is set in the contemporary or futuristic world. Imagine my delight upon stumbling across Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton.

The story is told from the point of view of three young women: Gigi, June, and Bette. Giselle "Gigi" is an African-American dancer newly arrived from California. She is laid back, sweet, naïve, and her dancing is superb. It is not long before she secures leading roles. Unfortunately making friends is much more difficult when you're on top. People hate and envy her as much or more than they admire her. Having heart condition doesn't help either. So far it hasn't stopped her and she she's determined to make sure it never does.

June is a half-Korean native New Yorker with ballet in her blood. Her mother danced but refuses to talk about time at the American Ballet Conservatory, the school the girls attend (a thinly veiled version of the real American Ballet School in New York). June's father also danced. That and the fact that he abandoned June and her mother before June was born is all she knows about him. There are two things June wants more than anything else: to find out who her father is and to be the star instead of the understudy. If she can get back at the former best friend who betrayed her or pick up a boyfriend along the way, even better.

Bette is the seemingly perfect blond who seems to have everything. Her older sister Adele was a star when she attended the conservatory and is now climbing up the ranks as a professional dancer with the American Ballet Company. Bette expected to follow in her sister's footsteps like it was her birthright. She also expected Alec, her male counterpart and friend since childhood to be by her side on and off stage. But things haven't worked out as Bette planned. First came Cassie, another music box ballerina whom teachers and audiences loved. Luckily for Bette Cassie didn't last long at the conservatory. Just when Bette thought she was on top again, Gigi came along and started getting the roles Bette always assumed would be hers.

Tiny Pretty Things combines some of my favorite things: ballet, boarding school, and girls who are as ambitious and talented as they are mean. There was so much I loved about this book. For one, I appreciated that while racism is not ignored the principal conflict among the characters has to do with ambition. Each of the three main characters, along with a few of the side characters, wants the starring role. But there is only room for one Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.

Tiny Pretty Things tackles a lot in its 400 plus pages: eating disorders, sexuality and homophobia (lesbian and gay), teachers taking advantage of students (and sometimes vice versa), parental expectations, first love, bullying, and injuries. The downside and my one criticism is that nothing is completely resolved at the end of the book. It is clear a sequel was intended. I am eagerly waiting for that sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces, to be released in paperback. From what I've read the authors only planned two books but I hope the authors makes this a series. Tiny Pretty Things is just what I need to fill the hole left by Gossip Girl (the TV show more than than the book series).