Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Death Without Company

Death Without Company, by Craig Johnson, is the second book in his series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

First, I have to say that there seems to be a whole genre of mysteries featuring aging sheriffs in podunk places.  Walt Longmire. Bill Gastner.  Dan Rhodes.  I also have to say that I love them, though you wouldn't think that overweight, over-the-hill and often troubled old guys would make very appealing heroes.  And yet. . . they do.

Walt Longmire is no exception.  Death Without Company is the second Craig Johnson book I've read, and the series shows strong promise (I realize that I'm rather behind, and Johnson's written a whole lot more.  But I haven't read them yet).  In this book, the widowed Longmire has begun getting his life together a little more, but since the story takes up only weeks after the first (The Cold Dish) leaves off, he is definitely still working on it.

That feature of timing leads me to the first caveat: you really need to read these in order.  If it hadn't been several months since I read Cold Dish, I'd review it first, too.  But read them in order or there will be an awful lot of references and assumptions you won't get.  For some people, that's a flaw--each book should stand on its own.  I do think that these books stand on their own--but it's a close thing.  I don't really have a problem with that, since I like to read everything in order anyway.  I do also appreciate that the approach lets the author get on with the story without explaining a whole lot of stuff.

Absaroka County, Wyoming is, according to the novel, the least populated county in the US.  This makes for a fairly closed set of characters, in a sense the Western version of the English village.  Longmire's main sidekick is Henry Standing Bear, his connection to the local Native American population, pretty well completing the round of inter-connections.  About the only outsiders in the area seem to be the members of the Sheriff's department. 

When a retired sheriff insists that the death of a neighbor in the local old folks' home is not a natural death, the everyone-is-related-to-everyone-else nature of the community leads in and out of the Basque community, the local tribes, and the old sheriff's past.  Longmire has to follow the tracks, even when they lead where he'd rather not go.  In the process, he gets the snot beat out of him again (I have to wonder about the toughness factor of all these mystery heroes of all ages and genders, because they don't seem to be affected by all the beatings quite the way you and I would), and gets in some more serious flirting with various other characters.

To me, that last is the least believable aspect of the books.  Because Walt Longmire is pretty messed up, he's no beauty, not that young (not yet retirement age, but getting close), and needs to work out.  Yet in two books at least 3 women have demonstrated a significant attraction to him.  What's with that?

Aside from that bit of not-quite-reality, the story is convincing, the mystery well-developed and neither too obvious nor revealed in the end by a bit of divine inspiration or other annoying source of information we could never have.  The writing is strong and clear.  If Johnson isn't yet up to the standards of a Hillerman, he appears to have made a strong start in that direction.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ninja Librarian Returns

Thought I'd pop up a progress report on the sequel to my novel, The Ninja Librarian.

Things are coming along well, but I notice one big difference between writing this and writing the original.  The first time around, I didn't even know if I would publish the stories, and I didn't know for a long time that I was writing a book (as opposed to a few short stories using the same characters).  So this time around, I'm pushing a bit, and I'm also thinking of the whole picture, and inevitably the story line gets more complex.  I'm not sure if this is good, but at this point those characters are pretty real to me (however unreal they really are, as my readers will understand), and I am looking more and more into their pasts.

Progress is creeping along on The Ninja Librarian Returns.  I've written 9 chapters, and am simultaneously editing those and working on the next one.  I would like to aim for a publication date of Feb. 2013--just a year after the first Ninja Librarian book came out, and far and away the fastest I've even done.  We'll see.  Having readers--and feedback--is the best motivator!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Random Thoughts

Often I get random ideas that don't amount to a whole post on their own, but are interesting or fun and I want to share them.  This is a compilation of such ideas, completely random and unrelated.


Is it better to have false hope than no hope at all?  While biking a very long (8 mile) hill, I passed a sign that indicated "squiggly road next 4 miles."  I figured that meant it was 4 miles to the top, since I was pretty sure it didn't straighten out anywhere.  Alas, 1/2 mile later, I saw the next sign: "squiggly road next 6 miles."   For the next 6 miles I wondered if I would have been happier not knowing it was going to be 6 more miles to the top, or if the disappointment of passing the 4-mile mark and still climbing would have been worse.


I work at the local library.  Over the years, I've noticed an inverse relationship between the amount of money a patron owes and the likelihood they will argue over it.  That is, the patron who owes 25 cents is more likely to argue than the one who owes 25 dollars.  I'm pretty sure this is true, but. . . could it just be that we remember the person who argues for ten minutes over 25 cents and forget the dozens who pay with a smile?


Does spending a lot of time wondering what people are thinking mean I'm getting old and cranky?  In the grocery, I see so often that someone has taken something--often from a cold case--and then, changing their mind, just dumped it on a random shelf somewhere.  That item will have to be thrown away, which raises the store's costs, and therefore raises prices for all of us, folks.  Think it through.  Maybe even before you dump it in your cart?


"Acting the age you feel can result in feeling the age you are."


 If I'm not very hungry, I am not very inclined to get started fixing dinner.  If I AM very hungry, I am too impatient to fix a very good dinner.  There must be a balance here somewhere.


How can I be fit enough to ride 122 miles in one day, and be tired but not sore the next day.  A week later, I do an easy, flat, 8-mile hike, and so many things hurt the next day!  Unfair!


In five days I'll be the mother of two teenaged boys.  Would it be unreasonable to run away now, and beat the rush?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Not surprisingly, coming from a Newbery-winning author, The Mighty Miss Malone is both a pleasurable read and a well-researched story.  Set in 1936 and 37, this novel for middle-grade readers (I'm thinking grades 4-8) follows the Malone family as they struggle with the effects of the Great Depression.  Because they are African American, options in 1930s America are limited, even in Gary, Indiana.  We watch through the eyes of 12-year-old Deza as matters go from bad to worse, and the one thing that has always made everything okay--the family--is torn apart.

No matter how bad things get, though, Deza still manages a couple of things: she sticks to and supports her mother, and she keeps reading.  Because Deza is one smart girl, who doesn't even let deeply prejudiced teachers keep her from learning and growing, she seems to be able to keep her chin up--and her head together.

Curtis has created a character whom the reader can root for all the way.  Deza has the faults that make her human, but we know she deserves better than fate is delivering, and Curtis makes us hope she will get it.  Curtis's writing is excellent--what I might call transparent, as in I am not aware of the mechanics of the story or the writing at all--only the story itself.  No faults, errors, or places I would think "I'd use this word instead."

My primary criticism of the story is that I felt it ended without any resolution.  Granted, life is like that, but even though the family is back in a home in Gary, they aren't truly together and it's not clear if they will be.  Also, nearly everyone else who has touched Deza's life has vanished.  Are they permanently gone?  I would think that Deza would have more and stronger reactions to the losses she suffers.  What she does seem to have is the detachment of a writer, even from her own life.

I give Christopher Paul Curtis, Deza Malone, and The Mighty Miss Malone,  four stars.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What we do for fun

Sunday, along with about 3999 other people, I went out and tormented myself for hours on end.  All in the name of fun.

Yup, I participated in an organized non-competitive athletic event.  In this case, the Chico Velo Wildflower Century.  Only I'm some kind of real masochist, because, since they offered a "one-time only!" version that was 125 miles, with an extra couple of thousand feet of climbing, I just had to do it.

I did do it, too, though in the interests of full disclosure I cut one corner and ended my day with a total of "only" 122 miles.  That was, without question, the most physically difficult thing I've done, with the possible exception of childbirth (I was going to say it was worse, but recovery from the ride is proving faster than from delivery, though there are plenty of other factors in that one!).

Why do we do things like this?  I was asking myself that at several points on yesterday's ride, believe me!  I think my motives are a mix of a desire to know just how much I can do--and a feeling that if I keep pushing, I can avoid the effects of age. Plus, it truly is fun, in a sort of sick way, to push yourself to the hairy edge.

6:40 a.m.  Ready to ride.  The sun is just coming up.  I'm smiling because I had a good breakfast and haven't started climbing yet.

Two hours later, arriving at the first rest stop. Still smiling.  Not too hard yet.

The other reason I do the long rides.  For one day, you can eat like a hobbit: often, and everything in sight.
At the high point, with 80 miles to go--and one more big climb.  Smile is wearing a bit thin. 
 Rolling in to lunch, at mile 92 (and way past time for more food).  Mercifully, the spouse didn't take any more photos after this.  Temps were into the 80s by now, and I was feeling it pretty badly.