Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mayhem, by Sarah Pinborough. Quercus, 2013

In 1880s London, grisly murders are taking place: women dismembered and disemboweled. But it's not Jack the Ripper; his modus operandi is very different. They come to the attention of Dr. Thomas Bond, medical examiner, insomniac, and frequenter of the Chinese run opium dens. He is quit the detective and forensics expert, and, haunted by the gruesome murders, sets out to find the killer. The murderer turns out to be both someone and something no one would suspect- or believe.

Pinborough depicts the underbelly of London with creepy and hair raising detail. As Bond discovers who the murderer is and he is put into the place of having to deal with it, tension mounts. The story is fairly tight, although the pacing sometimes lags. This is a very good Victorian horror/mystery with a new supernatural element instead of the usual vampires etc. Recommended.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Land of Painted Caves, by Jean Auel. Crown Publishers, 2011

Back in 1980, ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’ was published; it spawned a genre of prehistoric novels, none of which ever grabbed me the way that book did. Jean Auel not only put an incredible amount of research into her books, but her heroine, Alya, was one of the most engaging protagonists I’ve ever ‘met’. I followed the series as this Cro-Magnon superwoman survived being orphaned at age five and then being raised by a band of Neanderthals, learned to hunt, tamed animals, learned herbal healing, and so much more. Auel showed, in an entertaining way, how various things could have been learned and invented. I read that book at a time when I was going through a back to the land phase, and Ayla’s adventures resonated with me.

I waited eagerly for each new volume. Sadly, the quality dropped as the series went on; the books started to drag. Still, I could not give up on the series, even though I didn’t get to reading ‘Land of the Painted Caves’ until it had been out for two years. I kind of wish I hadn’t read it at all.

There is little in the way of plot; Ayla and the First (the spiritual leader of the caves and her mentor) make a journey to visit all the caves with paintings in the area. There are some personal issues for Ayla, of course, but they seem contrived. And the book is extremely repetitious; every time Ayla is introduced (which, given the travel theme, is very, very often) her entire list of names and affiliations is given as if we have never read them before; as is the fact that she has an accent. We read about every person’s reaction to the horses and to Wolf. While it’s valid that people would have never seen tame animals before, we don’t need to know about every single reaction. Nor about every time Ayla brews up tea. It’s a huge book and I feel would have benefited from some serious editing.

It is almost like Auel felt she needed to finish the series but didn’t really have it in her. It’s a sad ending for the Earth’s Children series. 

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Carniepunk, anthology. Gallery Books 2013

Normally with any anthology they’ll be a few stories I like and some I either hate or just don’t get. ‘Carniepunk’ is an exception; there are a few stories I love, a lot I like and none I hate or don’t get. I’m not sure if it’s because of the subject matter or because of which authors have work included in it, but this is a great collection. These carnival themed stories are very dark, but, for the most part, not gruesome. The only annoyance I found was that a number of the stories were set in worlds that are the settings of series and had some presumption that the reader would be familiar with that world; on the other hand, these stories provided an introduction to some series I might follow up on.

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Dead and Alive: Frankenstein Book 3, by Dean Koontz. Bantam Books, 2013

In this book, the story lines that were created in books 1 & 2 come together and conclude. The beings that Helios/Frankenstein created are having programming breakdown faster and faster with every new batch; the latest Erika (his wife), Erika Five, starts misbehaving after only a few hours, and has made friends with a mysterious dwarf who appears in the backyard. The head maid now thinks she’s the mistress of Manderlay. The minions who run the county dump – where bodies are disposed of by Helios- are thinking for themselves. Something is happening the dump. And people who are supposed to be dead may actually be alive- for a while, anyway. 

Sadly, despite all these things happening, the breakneck pace generated in the second book is not sustained in this one. Sequences that should have been crisp and rapid dragged. Not all of them, mind you, but enough that I felt the book was a little longer than it needed to be. Still a good book with weird events, but not quite as good as it could have been.

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How Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine, by Danielle Ofri, MD. Beacon Press, 2013

Doctors are expected to have a professional demeanor, treating all patients equally and compassionately, without their emotions interfering. But doctors are human beings first and physicians second. They have prejudices. Med school and internship overworks them and burns out their empathy before they ever get their license. Dr. Ofri writes from the perspective of some one who has worked the emergency room in a poor area for some time and she has seen the good and bad sides of what happens when doctor’s emotions guide them.

Common prejudices include those against alcoholics, drug abusers and overweight people, who they feel bring their own problems on themselves. These prejudices can lead to doctors giving these patients less time and less thought- even though what they are in the ER for may have nothing to do with their addiction or weight. On the other hand, sometimes doctors come to care very much about patients and move heaven and earth to get them the treatment they need and grieve when they die. A huge source of stress to doctors is the ridiculous amount of paperwork that doctors have to deal with these days; insurance companies demand that doctors justify every test and then deny tests or life changing treatments; that can suck the joy out of anyone. Ofri tells us of how stress reduction programs in hospitals have decreased problems with doctor burnout and lack of empathy- it looks like every hospital needs such a program, especially for doctors who staff the ER.

That part of the book is good. I appreciate seeing things from the other side of the stethoscope; this sort of book can only improve doctor patient relationships. But on the other hand, MDs are idealized in much of the book. Ofri feels that malpractice suits hurt patients as much as they do doctors; I have no idea if this is true.  She states that doctor rating sites- sort of like Angie’s list but for MDs- shouldn’t exist because a doctor can get a rating about a bad day they were having and it would drive possible patients away and also hurt self esteem. Sorry, but I don’t buy that. The same could be said of anyone, of any career, who gets rated. Bad ratings are part of the system and, if the rater isn’t a crank, could serve as hints that the doctor has some problems, whether it be with their front office procedures or their bedside manner, which could be improved. The world doesn’t owe anyone blind trust.

All in all, the book is good and useful if somewhat slanted in favor of MDs and a bit disrespectful of patients. 

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Warbound, by Larry Correia. Baen Books, 2013

This is the concluding volume in the Grimnoir Chronicles trilogy, and the series goes out on a high note. Jake Sullivan and his motley crew of Knights must save the world again; this time from the Enemy, a powerful alien that is in pursuit of The Power, the being that gave magic to the world not too many years before the story starts. Set in a film noir 1930s of an alternate universe, Jake & company find themselves fighting both the Japanese Imperium and the Enemy while dodging the US FBI agents who want to round up all the magical beings. The good guys are all stretching their magical powers to the limit, learning new things. Throw in airships, a nearly invincible Samurai defector, and a teenager that is so powerful that the head of the Grimnoir Knights wants her killed and it’s nonstop action.

I love this alternate universe that Correia has created. My only complaint is that the characters aren’t always developed enough. The action is what the book is all about. It’s got somewhat the flavor of the old pulp magazine stories that went from one crisis to another and left you wanting more. Which brings me to this: I said it’s the last of the trilogy, but I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing more books in this series. 

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