Books finished in the last week or so:
The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi
I was late to the Scalzi bandwagon, missing out completely on Old Man's War until late last fall, when Scalzi, in response to this post, linked to a novel he had made available online. It was good enough to get shadesong and me to buy Old Man's War on a $Winterholiday trip to Borders. That novel impressed the hell out of us, and we pre-ordered the follow-up, The Ghost Brigades.
I've already recounted some of my Adventures in UPS Customer "Service" while trying to track down this novel, but it did eventually arrive, and it was completely worth it. Although technically a sequel, it requires almost no knowledge of OMW, and spoils only a few minor points (not enough to make OMW any less of an enjoyable read). Scalzi does a wonderful job of providing exposition for new readers without boring returning fans, filtering much of the novel through the viewpoint of a newly-formed clone coming to grips with his abilities, his society, and his identity. TGB, like its predecessor, is a damned good straightforward "military training/early mission" novel, with nods (overt, in many cases) to such writers as Shelley, Heinlein, and Clarke. I'm not sure I like it as much as OMW -- the protagonist in the former was easier to identify with, and there's a certain world-building aura on reading the first book in a setting that isn't as strong in later ones -- but I still recommend this one highly. Scalzi's future universe (aside -- is there a name for it, other than the Scalziverse?) may be my favorite one since Gardner's The League of Peoples.
Dispatch, by Bentley Little
Anyone who knows my tastes knows that Little is one of my guilty pleasures, but his writing over recent years had fallen into a rut. Something we normally think of as wholesome or neutral -- the mailman, a university, a retail chain, a homeowner's association, an insurance company, a hotel, etc. -- turns out to be inherently evil and destructive. Honestly, you wonder how King, instead of Little, ended up writing Cell.
But Dispatch harkens back to Little's best novel, The Ignored, showing someone who is born different, and gets caught up in something much bigger than he realizes. In this case, it's a man who discovers that when he writes letters, they have the power to cause change. He starts by writing simple complaint letters to get free fast food and movie tickets, but soon escalates to the point of influencing world events, writing letters to newspapers, magazines, and politicians to change public opinion. He soon gets caught up in an organization of Letter Writers, and, as you might expect, Bad Things Happen. The ending itself is a little weak, but this is still his best novel in years, and it's hell of a lot of fun. It also gets bonus points for having the character write a letter to Robert Earl Keen, one of the most under-appreciated singers around.
Micah, by Laurel K Hamilton
The first thing that you notice about Micah is that the spacing between lines is really, really big. There are 25 lines of text per page. By comparison, there are 38 lines of text per page in my copy of Octvia Butler's Dawn, which is also a 245-page mass market paperback. The Hamilton book also sets aside a full page for a new chapter, with the odd page listing the chapter number and the even one left blank. That means that there are anywhere from two to three (if a chapter ends on an odd page) pages left blank or mostly blank between chapters. I can only assume that this is to allow LKH's studious fans to take notes on the events in the novel(la). You get a lot of white space for your $8.
Those events, not surprisingly, include sex, and lots of it. Over half the book is dedicated to Anita Blake getting her freak on (or, as LKH likes to call it, letting loose the ardeur) with Micah, the personality-free hot wereleopard who has been living with her ever since she woke up, met him, and had sex with him two or three or however many books ago I finally gave up on caring. The sex is, well, basically the same sex Laurell's been writing ever since she decided she'd rather write sex scenes than simply have erotically charged moments between action sequences. The character development basically consists of Micah complaining that his penis is too big, and Anita assuring him that he doesn't mind a big penis, and Micah saying that, yeah, he knew she liked a big penis, and then Anita and the big penis attached to the were-leopard do the nasty.
During the first 120 pages or so (my copy's at home, alas), we get a brief mention of the plot, which involves Anita having to raise a zombie (hey, remember when that was her job?), and we meet a new FBI agent for her to spar with, as well as re-visiting Agent Franklin from Obsidian Butterfly. Once Anita and Micah finish examining his big penis, we actually get a reminder of what made LKH a damned interesting author for a while, as the final fifty pages or so contain a decently interesting (if drawn out) short story about a zombie, a hitman, and other fun stuff. We also get Micah's origin, and (as per any LKH novel), one hell of a clusterfuck at the end. It's actually worth reading the final few chapters and the one or two early plot pages if you're a fan of the characters, and if you need yet another long sex scene and can't find enough of them to read online, I suppose you might get something out of the first half as well. Took me about an hour to read, but I'm sure it would have taken longer if I'd stopped to take notes.
Adverbs, by Daniel Handler
First, this is not A Series of Unfortunate Events for adults. It's also, no matter what it might look like, not simply a short story collection. Few, if any, of the stories would be wonderful on their own (although some of them are certainly doozies). Some, in fact, are pretty much nigh-unreadable except in the context of the other stories. But the whole is damned fine, if still flawed.
The stories in Adverbs (each of which has -- surprise! -- an adverb for a title) criss-cross over a series of characters with common names (Adam, Andrea, Allison, Eddie, Keith, etc.) who might or might not be the same characters throughout. Time is equally tricky, as some stories refer to events that happen later in the book, and other stories imply that some of the events we read about might not be real at all. At its core, though, this is a book of love stories, and superbly-told ones. We get a dead man who finds love with an old high-school crush; a man who falls in love with his cab driver after dumping his longtime sweetheart; an author who thinks her husband is cheating on her with his ex, and attempts to find and seduce the ex's boyfriend at a club; and more dark tales of romance. It's highly recommended, but definitely more of a challenging read than the other three books here
Anyway, the first and last books above are highly recommended, the Bentley Little is recommended, and the LKH is worth reading for twenty minutes in Borders while sipping your white caramel decaf soy latte.