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Book Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

Book Review: Bellwether by Connie WillisSummary:
Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep.

Review:
This was given to me eons ago because of how much I love To Say Nothing of the Dog (review) by Connie Willis. This book has a similar sense of humor that definitely kept me entertained but the plot and backstory that ties it all together didn’t hit quite the same loved it nerve with me.

I loved seeing a book set in the mountain range area of the country (Colorado to be precise). I feel like this doesn’t happen often enough in books. I also found there was a real nostalgia quality to the book because it was first published in 1996 and set in its own time-period, so the whole thing just screamed 90s nostalgia to me. This played in well to Sandra’s fad studies. It gave the book a good reason to notice and talk about the fads, and this held up well over time. What originally was a “oh look at this silly thing people are doing right now” became “hey remember when West Coast coffee was first a thing?” I also really appreciated that a social science was featured at the core of a scifi book. Not just that but a scientist of a science deemed more important and sciencey (chaos theory) ends up working with her and respecting her research and its methods. Super cool.

While I thought the research study was cool, I wasn’t as huge of a fan of the competition to receive the grant of a lifetime plot. I appreciated Sandra working to save her job, but the big grant loomed overhead from the very beginning like a deus ex machina. Sandra’s disdain for her coworkers wanting to ban smoking from the building as a fad really didn’t translate well over time. This wasn’t a fad; it was a public health policy, and it rubbed me wrong every time Sandra implied it was like the whole are eggs good or bad for you debate. Second-hand smoke is just bad for you, and unlike a coworker eating an egg, it can actually impact your health if you’re around it. I’m sure it was funnier in the 90s but it didn’t work so well now, and it honestly made me dislike Sandra a bit.

Overall, scifi fans looking for a humorous plot with a female lead, an unusual focus on the social sciences with a dash of 1990s nostalgia will enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

3 Speed Reads for Valentine’s Day (f/f, m/m/, and m/f)

February 14, 2016 Leave a comment

3 Speed Reads for Valentine's Day (f/f, m/m, m/f)Happy Valentine’s Day my lovely readers!

I know, I know, it’s a made-up holiday. But I think there’s something lovely about celebrating romance in the middle of winter. Even if your version of celebrating it is delighting in the quirks of the genre and maybe not necessarily romance in real life.

(Personally I will be celebrating it in real life, but hey, I’m a newlywed.😉 )

So maybe you’re finding yourself at home with no plans for Valentine’s Day. Sure, you could watch re-runs of The Bachelor, but why not spend the wintry day curled up with a quick romance read? Not sure what to read? Here are three speed read romances, vastly different from each other. What makes them a speed read? They are all less than 200 pages. And don’t worry. All three of them got 4 stars or more here on Opinions of a Wolf.

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel
By: Elora Bishop
Mood: You believe in fairy tales and happy endings!
Pairing: f/f
Length: 61 pages
Blurb:
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
Full Review

Sepia image of dust floating up into the sky in the countryside with the book's title "Listening To Dust" in brown in the foreground and the author's name "Brandon Shire" in black at the top.Listening to Dust
By: Brandon Shire
Mood: You like a tragic romance that makes you cry. Keep the tissues handy for this one!
Pairing: m/m
Length: 142 pages
Blurb:
A chance meeting between orphaned British writer, Stephen, and American soldier, Dustin, leads to a passionate love affair in England.  But when Dustin chooses to go back home to his small Southern town to care for his mentally challenged brother, Stephen is left behind, sending letters that are never answered.  He finally decides to follow Dustin home and arrives only to discover that Dustin is no more.
Full Review

Old book cover with man chasing chickens.Love Among the Chickens
By: P.G. Wodehouse
Mood: You enjoy slapstick and want to laugh. A lot!
Pairing: m/f
Length: 176 pages
Blurb:
Jeremy Garnet, a novelist, is living a relatively quiet bachelor life in London when his old school friend Stanley Ukridge shows up.  Ukridge is starting a chicken farm with his wife, Millie, and wants “Garnie old boy” to come stay with them.  He’ll get to write in the country in exchange for a few hours of work a day.  In spite of the fact that Ukridge is planning to run the chicken farm without any prior knowledge or studying “the better for innovation, my boy,” Garnie takes him up on it.  Of course, life with the eccentric Ukridge surrounded by chickens isn’t quite the quiet writing environment Garnie was planning on.  Not to mention the Irish professor neighbor’s lovely daughter that Garnie can’t quite get out of his head.
Full Review

Short Story: The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont by Amanda McNeil

March 12, 2015 1 comment

Note: This short story, which is humorous horror, was originally published in 2011 in the online horror magazine 69 Flavors of Paranoia (volume 3, menu 13).  I recently discovered that 69 Flavors of Paranoia is now defunct.  Their website and Facebook page are completely gone.  An investigation of their twitter finds that they did not delete their twitter but they have not tweeted since evidently announcing on January 13, 2015, that they are now out of commission (view the tweet here).  They did not give advance notice to any of the authors who had been published so that we could archive our stories from their zine, nor did they create an archive themselves.  They, in fact, completely deleted their entire website; they did not even move it to a free host.  It appears that the Internet Archive primarily archived their issue table of contents and not the stories themselves.  You can view the table of contents for the issue that contained my story here.  Since I never gave up my copyright nor can the story be read in their publication anymore, I have decided to re-publish it here myself.  I don’t feel the need to resubmit it to other magazines right now, as I have other projects I am working on.  I do hope you all enjoy it.  You can view links to the rest of my publications on my Publications page

“The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont”
By:
Amanda McNeil

Leroy never saw no need to leave these here backwoods of Vermont, kinda like m’self.  His mama birthed him here when she was only fifteen years old in the family log cabin right up on this here hill.  Her mama done whupped her good when she found out she had a bun in the oven, but her daddy put a stop to it.  Every babe is a gift from God.  Ayuh.  That’s what he’d said.  So he was birthed, and his mama done named him Leroy.

Leroy’s folks; they didn’t trust the gubmint none.  No sir.  The gubmint’s the one that’s been slowly takin Vermont from the good, rignal born, old-timers and handin it over hook line and sinkah to them dammed librals.  Leroy’s pappy–he alwuz insisted he married Leroy’s mama on purpose, but Leroy alwuz suspected that it was more of a shot gun affair–anyhow.  He alwuz tole Leroy, “Boy! Don’t you take nothin from nobody.  We’s bettah than that.  We’s take care of ourselves n our own.  Don’t you be like them dammed useless welfare folk.”

So his mama done taught him right there at home while his pappy went to work in the mill down the road n Gram cooked n kep house.  Sometimes, Grandpappy’d take him out n teach him all’s’bout huntin and fishin and survivin without the food you kin get in a grocery store.  Ayuh.  Course, ventually, the gubmint done made him go to school, but it was only down at the gubmint school close by, and well Leroy, he warn’t never near the top of his class, if you know what I’m sayin.

I was friends with good ole Leroy back in the day.  Ayuh.  You might say that.  I’d scaped from that gubmint school soon’s they let you.  Been out a few years.  Leroy, he was gettin close to it.  Anyway, Leroy’s folks n mine, they was all on us to do our share fer the families.  I’d done took to collectin fiddleheads n beer cans an sech on the side of the road when I warn’t workin in the mill with the rest of the fellers.  That sorta thing’s alwuz more fun with a buddy along, so I done asked Leroy to join me on one sech excursion on a…..well durn.  It musta been a Sat’day afternoon, cuz I don’t recollect havin gone to church in the mornin.

So, we was out on one of them thar back roads.  Y’know, the ones that alwuz have big ole ruts in em n sometimes a farmer or a backwoodsman’ll come puttin along in his ole truck with the sharp edges, nothin like them new trucks with them pussy-ass rounded edges.  An the forest, well it just come right on up near the side of the road with just them thar drainage ditches betwixt the two.  Makes fer more interestin collectin that way.  Sometimes you see a critter or some sech.  Well, it was late spring-like.  I recollect that, cuz I was collectin me some fiddleheads.  They make a durn good supper if you cook em up right good with a big ole dollop of butter, y’know.

Anyway, so I was toolin my way along in one of them drainage ditches that run along the side of them old-fashioned dirt roads.  It was real muddy-like.  Course I didn’t care cuz you gotta wursh the fiddleheads anyway, an I had me some real good boots.  Leroy, he was pokin his way along on the other side of the road.  He done got a bit further down than me when he call out to me.  “Hey, Bobby!”  He done shout it just like that.  “Hey, Bobby!”

“Yeah, what?” I done called back to him.

“Lookee here.  Lookit what I found.”

I sighed n looked up expectin a whole bunch of nothin.  Leroy, he warn’t exactly strong in the head department, if you know what I’m sayin.  Well, thar stood Leroy.  He was a scrawny kid, Leroy was.  Ayuh.  Scrawny n tall topped off with a shock of red hair, but not the tempmint to match.  Anyhow, thar stood Leroy holdin up a squirrel by the tail.  This squirrel, he wuz the deadest durn thing you ever done saw.  I mean his middle was squirshed flat.  His head and hind end looked like two hills with a valley in-between, an little bits of guts all full of road dirt was stuck to the poor thing’s middle.  I done shook my head, cuz, y’know, guts ain’t never a fun thing to see, an I said, “Leroy! Whatchoo doin pickin up the road kill?”

“Road kill?” He let out a he-haw kinda laugh an bent forward.  “This ain’t no road kill. This here’s supper!”

“Leroy, you damn fool!”  I went back to my bizness, searchin fer the good fiddleheads.  “T’ain’t right to eat roadkill.  Them critters done suffered enough gettin squirshed to death without you hackin em up and makin one of yer god-awful stews out of em.  Sides.  Poor critter’s covered in dirt!”

“Bobby, you know better than to waste perfectly good food that you don’t got to pay good money fer.”

I done fixed my gaze back up at him.  He was standin there with his feet planted a good couple feet apart lookin the most stubborn I ever done seen him.  “I don’t believe you will.  Even you ain’t that stupid.”

“It ain’t stupid to eat food God done left in the middle of the road fer ya,” his forehead had got all wrinkled and sech.

I dropped the fiddlehead I’d done plucked into my paper bag.  “Aw, now you’re just joshin me.  You know better than to eat it now.  I can see you thinkin about it.”

Leroy done stomped over from down the road so’s he was leanin down an lookin in my face real close-like.  “I’ll go eat it right now, an you kin watch me.”

Well, it ain’t easy to get good entertainment up in these here hills, so I said I’d come watch.  Leroy figured he’d just tell his mama he done got hungry and et early.  My place was the closest to whar we were, y’see.  Ayuh.  This place rightchere.  He done cooked it up right thar on that same stove.  My mama was out in the garden, an my pappy was over visitin his pappy.  I called out to my mama that we was hungry and was gonna fix us up some of the food we done found on the road.  She just sorta grunted at me.  Mama warn’t never much on words.  I got myself around and warshed and done cooked my fiddleheads up in that butter like I done tole you before right good while Leroy, he went out back to skin and prep that durn squirrel.  He come back in, an he started fricasseein it with some gravy mah mama had left over in the fridge whilst I set myself down and ate me some of them nice buttery fiddleheads.

You warnt to learn how to cook it?  I can teach you later.  Right, right, first Leroy.

So Leroy he done make himself this fricassee.  I was gettin all ready to be mad at him for wastin my mama’s gravy when he done set himself down with a bowl and a spoon, and he just started spoonin that squirrel into his mouth like it was the best dish at the church potluck.  The whole time he was starin at me with this…..weird grin.  Like he was some coyote who knew the farmer left the chicken coop open, n he was about to get himself an easy all you can eat buffet.  I got all froze like watchin that smile in that gaunt face of his.  Watchin him eat that thar fricassee.

His spoon, it clanked at the bottom of the bowl, an he done lifted the bowl up and licked it clean.  He put that bowl down, n he said, he said, “See? I done tole you.  Ain’t nothin wrong with eatin a critter, no sir no way.”

I shook my head.  “I still say. T’ain’t right,” an I got up and started to warsh the dishes when Leroy, he made this funny sound.  Kinda like he got himself stuck in a zipper.  I turned around, n thar’s Leroy, standin next to the table, holdin his bowl with a funny look on his face.  I mean, his face was all twisted up.  One eyebrow up here, another down there, his mouth in a weird twisty line, his nose wrinkled up.

“Leroy!” I snapped.  “What’s wrong with you?  If you gonna puke up that damn fricassee, you better get out the back door and out of my mama’s kitchen!”

An that.  That’s when he sorta half-pointed at his stomach.  It was wigglin.  All on its own.  Kinda like how a lady with a bun in the oven, her tummy will wiggle when the babe moves around?  Well that’s what his was doin, only his belly was flat.

Then Leroy, he done scream and double over.  He started screamin out, “Help me! Help me, Bobby! Oh it hurts; it hurts!”

I dropped the dishrag, right there on the floor, right next to the sink.  I done grabbed him an tried to help him stand up.  “I gotcher,”  I told him.  “I gotcher.”

His eyes, they got all wide like a little kid’s do when he done first see a scary movie.  I dunno why, but I looked down.  Inside his stomach, thar was a shape of a squirrel.  I mean you could see the outline of his head all’s the way down to his fluffy little tail.  Seein that, well, I done lost my grip on Leroy, and he fell down on the floor, writhin in pain.  He looked just like a snake.  Ayuh.  He let out the biggest durn yell I ever heard.  I think the only time I ever heard one close was that time Frank down the road done got his foot stuck in a bear trap.  My mama, she must’ve started to yell an come runnin then, but I didn’t notice.  No way, no how.  Cuz right then a squirrel covered with blood an mucous an bile an whatever all else was in Leroy’s stomach done come bustin out of his gut.  Bits o’ Leroy hung from his teeth, an his beady black eyes done give me the once-over.  I ain’t never seen nothin so frightenin in all my born days then nor since.  No way.  That squirrel, well then that squirrel, it shot me a look.  That look said, it said, “Tit for tat.  Tit for tat.”  Then it skedaddled on out the door.

Leroy, he was writhin on the floor, graspin at that hole in his stomach with one hand an reachin out to me with the other.  Well, I didn’t know what to do.  Just then, my mama, she come runnin in an see the blood an guts all over her nice, clean floor.  Then she sees Leroy with his guts pourin out of him, n she starts screamin.  “What done this? What happened, Bobby? Tell me what happened!”

“It was a squirrel, mama.  A squirrel et its way out of him!”

Leroy, he was slowin down with the movin an the writhin, n he let out a gasp n collapsed back on the floor.  His eyes hangin open.

My mama.  She believed me that a squirrel done it, but we knew them thar cops from down the hill wouldn’t, so we just tole them that Leroy done gutted himself like them Japanese soldier fellers do sometimes.  I dunno if they believed us or not.  Truth be tole, no one from down off the hill missed Leroy that much.

But us?  Us good ole-fashioned Vermont folk up on the hill?  Oh we remember Leroy. Ayuh.  And that, that’s why not even the mangiest, strangest lady or feller up on this hill, no matter how hungry, no matter how skeered of the gubmint, they won’t never eat no roadkill.

© Amanda McNeil 2011

Book Review: Enormity by Nick Milligan

December 31, 2014 3 comments

A colorful nebula.Summary:
When Australian astronaut, Jack, crashlands on a planet during a mission and is the only survivor, he fears the worst.  What he finds is a planet surprisingly similar to Earth–even speaking English–only with a culture of peace and non-violence.  Seeking to survive as a homeless person, he starts busking with a guitar he finds, playing Earth songs.  Before he knows it, he’s discovered and becomes a rock star, introducing the planet to Earth’s greatest rock songs, while claiming to have written them himself.  But rock star is an awfully high profile for someone who is technically an alien.

Review:
This was my final accepted ARC from 2014, and I think it’s a fitting review for the last day of 2014 here on Opinions of a Wolf.  This was an interesting read that kept me moderately entertained, although it wasn’t the rollicking good time I was initially expecting.

The book jumps right in to Jack as already a rock star on Heaven (the alien planet) and tells of his arrival and how he became famous through a series of flashbacks.  This nonlinear storytelling works well with the plot.  Starting with semi-familiar rock star territory, the book slowly reveals what is different about this planet, as well as about Jack.

It is evident that this was originally a three part series, as the plot consists of three distinct parts that, while connected, keep the book from having an overarching gradual build-up of suspense.  Jack has three distinct episodes of action, and that lends the book and up and down quality that feels a bit odd in one novel.  I actually think I might have enjoyed the book more if it was kept as a trilogy with each part’s plot fleshed out a bit and the overarching conflict made more evident.  An overarching conflict does exist, but it is so subtle that the opportunity to build suspense is mostly missed.

Personally, Jack didn’t work for me as a main character.  While I don’t mind viewing the world through a bad guy’s eyes, I usually enjoy that most when I get a lot of depth and insight into who that person is.  Jack holds everyone, including the reader, at arm’s length, so I both saw the world through his objectifying eyes and couldn’t really get to know him at all.  That said, I can definitely see some readers enjoying Jack and his viewpoint.  He lends the unique ability to let people see the world both through a rock star’s eyes and through an astronaut’s.  A reader who is into both famous people’s biographies/autobiographies and scifi would probably really enjoy him.

Similarly, the humor in the book just didn’t strike my funny bone.  I could recognize when it’s supposed to be humorous, but I wasn’t actually amused.  I know other people would find it funny, though.  Readers expecting a Douglas Adams style humor would be disappointed.  Those who enjoy something like Knocked Up would most likely appreciate and enjoy the humor.

There are certain passages that sometimes struck me as a sour note among the rest of the writing.  Perhaps these are passages that would be humorous to other readers, but to me just felt odd and out of place in the rest of the writing.  Most of the writing at the sentence level worked for me.  It was just the right tone for the story it was telling.  But periodically there are passages such as the one below that made me gnash my teeth:

Natalie is a rare beauty. A creature of potent sexuality. Someone you would step over your dying mother to penetrate. (loc 8803)

I take a seat in McCarthy’s desk chair. It’s comfortable. Luxurious in the way a set of stainless steel steak knives might feel to a psychopath. It’s beautiful and firm and smells nice, but in the wrong hands this chair could be used for evil. (loc 6821)

Again, perhaps this is humor that just didn’t work for me.  I’m not certain.  If you like the concept of the rest of the book, there are only a few of these passages that are easy to pass over.  If you enjoy them and find them humorous, then you will most likely enjoy the book as a whole as well.

Overall, this is a piece of scifi with the interesting idea of turning an Earth astronaut into a rock star on another parallel planet.  Potential readers should be aware that the book was originally told in three parts, and that is evident in the book.  They should also be aware that the main character is both a self-centered rock star and a self-centered astronaut, while this viewpoint may work for some, it will not work for others.  Recommended to those who enjoy both celebrity autobiographies/biographies and scifi who can overlook some bizarro coincidences.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 28, 2014 1 comment

Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin BeckerSummary:
Jack Barnes once was a college professor, but now he’s a zombie.  A zombie who can think.  Think, but not talk.  He can, however, still write.  So he keeps a memoir of his quest to gather other thinking zombies and bring their case for equality to their creator, the man who started the whole zombie outbreak.

Review:
I picked this up during the height of the zombie craze in the used book basement of a local bookstore for dirt cheap.  (It looked brand new but only cost a couple of dollars).  I’m glad I got it so cheap, because this book failed to deliver the sympathetic zombies I was looking for.

The idea of thinking zombies who challenge the question of what makes us human is interesting and is one multiple authors have explored before.  It’s not easy to make cannibalizing corpses empathetic.  Zombies are so naturally not empathetic that to craft one the reader can relate to is a challenge.  Without at least one zombie character the reader empathizes with, though, this whole idea of maybe zombies are more than they seem will fail.  And this is where this book really flounders.  Jack was a horrible person, and he’s a terrible zombie.  And this is a real problem when he narrates a whole book whose plot revolves around zombies demanding equal treatment.  Jack is a snob, through and through.  It feels as if every other sentence out of his mouth is him looking down upon someone or something.  This would be ok if he grew over the course of the novel.  If his new zombie state taught him something about walking in another person’s shoes.  But no.  He remains exactly the same throughout the book.  He has zero character growth away from the douchey snobby professor who looks down on literally everyone, including those within his own circle.  This isn’t a mind it’s fun or even enlightening to get inside of.  It’s just annoying.  As annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard.

The plot is ok.  Jack gathers other thinking zombies and heads for Chicago to find the man who created the zombie virus and convince him to advocate for them.  Their standoff is interesting and entertaining.  But the ending beyond this standoff is unsatisfying.

It also bugs me that this is a memoir written by this guy but it is never clear how this memoir made it into the reader’s hands.  With a fictional memoir, I need to know how I supposedly am now reading something so personal.  I also had trouble suspending my disbelief that a slow zombie managed to have time to write such descriptive passages crouched in a corner at night.

Overall, this is an interesting concept that is poorly executed with an unsympathetic main character.  Recommended that readers looking for a zombie memoir pick up Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by SG Browne instead (review).

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Banner for the RIP IX challenge.

Book Review: Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

November 22, 2013 1 comment

Man holding mask out away from his face inside a blue porthole against a red planet.Summary:
When out-of-work actor Lorenzo Smythe is approached in a bar by a space pilot with a job offer, he agrees to at least go meet the man’s boss and discuss it.  Quickly, however, Lorenzo finds himself being kidnapped into outer space and impersonating a missing important politician, John Joseph Bonforte, under slight duress.  They must keep the public from knowing the politician has been kidnapped and successfully participate in a Martian adoption ceremony or face interplanetary war.

Review:
I was excited to pick up another Heinlein, and he definitely didn’t disappoint.  Similar to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein presents a delightful mix of wit, Hollywood glamor, and thought-provoking political speeches all in a well-imagined and engaging future society.

In this version of the future, space exploration has led to the discovery of inhabited other planets and two distinctly different opinions on how to interact with those lifeforms.  Either dominate in a manifest destiny style or come to mutual cultural understanding and trade.  The politician Smythe must impersonate, Bonforte, is the leader of the latter faction.  This novel could easily have turned preachy with such a premise, but Smythe himself isn’t too keen on being friends with the aliens.  As an actor, he is committed to playing his role beautifully.  As a person, he isn’t sure he agrees with Bonforte.  This position allows Heinlein to explore both sides of the question, as well as the gray area in-between.  No easy answers are presented, but slowly what is more just is revealed.

Juxtaposed with the political plot is the whole aspect of Smythe being an actor who believes fully in his craft as an artform.  Smythe takes himself very seriously even when others do not.  At first, others view him as full of himself, but slowly they come to respect him and his talents.  Smythe’s large self-esteem may at first cause the reader to roll their eyes as well, but it gradually becomes apparent that having confidence in yourself and your abilities as a professional is not a bad thing.

I was a professional, retained to do a very difficult professional job, and professional men do not use the back stairs; they are treated with respect. (loc 1660)

Although characters at first seem two-dimensional, the main characters slowly become more fleshed out and well-rounded.  Nothing and no one is quite as simple as it at first seems, and Smythe is a great example of that.

What really makes the book, though, is its unexpected wit.  It’s not so much a laugh out loud book, but it’s very much a snort of amusement style of humor that takes the book from interesting to highly enjoyable.

My vocal cords lived their own life, wild and free. (location 40)

I was as angry as a leading woman with her name in small type. (location 1068)

The romance lacked creativity or sparkle.  It is easy to spot the instant it comes up, but it doesn’t come across as natural or meant to be.  It mostly feels like the woman transferring her affection for Bonforte onto Smythe.  I found it a bit squicky that she fails to ever really see Smythe as Smythe, not even after falling in love with him.  Thankfully, the romance is an incredibly minor part of the book.  The book is also slightly dated by the overwhelming presence of paper and microfilm.  We’re talking the spaceship has a library with print books and microfilm. In general even classic scifi tends to imagine a future with at least slightly different versions of books and information exchange.  I found it a bit odd that Heinlein failed to do that.

The ending is not unexpected entirely but it is satisfying and with enough fun details to entertain.  Of the various options for an ending to this story, the one Heinlein took is enjoyable and makes sense within the world he has created.

Overall, this is a fun piece of classic scifi that tosses together acting and politics in outer space with Martians who look like toadstools and a heavy sprinkling of wit.  The romance leaves something to be desired, and the tech isn’t particularly predictive or imaginative, but these are minor aspects of the story.  Recommended to fans of witty scifi who don’t mind a dash of political intrigue.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: Mulliner Nights by P.G. Wodehouse (Series, #3) (Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge)

Cat with red cheeks and a spilled whiskey bottle in the foreground.  Man with folded arms in the back.Summary:
Mr. Mulliner has a wide variety of eclectic relatives, and he’s more than happy to tell snippets of their life stories over a pint at the local pub.  From a freewheeling artist brought into line by a judgmental cat to a timid fellow who accidentally subscribes to a correspondence course on how to get a backbone to a private detective with such a disturbing smile that criminals readily confess their hijinks keep the patrons of Angler’s Rest in stitches.

Review:
This made it onto my tbr pile thanks to a visit to Harvard Books’ used books and remainders cellar.  This was in the remainders pile, and three things drew me to it.  1) It was under $5, 2) The cover has a cat drunk on whiskey on it, 3) I had just read Love Among the Chickens (review) by Wodehouse, which was my first encounter with him, and found him hilarious.  Given this trifecta, I couldn’t resist.  I’m glad I didn’t, as this short story collection didn’t disappoint.

Don’t worry about this being the third in a series.  The only connection among the short stories is the main characters are all a Mulliner (or married to one).  It was completely unnecessary to have read the first two books in the series to get into this collection, although I intend now to read all of the Mulliner books.  I really appreciated how Wodehouse sets up a structure to hold his short story collection together in one unit.  Although they are all self-contained tales, their being together in one collection actually makes sense.  They have more in common than just the author.  They are literally a family of stories.  This helped it hold my interest in a way that many short story collections can’t.

This collection consists of 9 short stories, most of which have some sort of love element.  One person wants to be with (or marry) another and must overcome some sort of obstacle (usually caused by British upper-class culture) in order to be with them.  Hilarity ensues.  My favorite of these was “The Story of Webster,” the cover’s drunk cat.  In this a freewheeling artist has his religious uncle drop his cat off with him while he goes on assignment to Africa.  The judgmental, sullen cat soon starts to reign in the young artist, much to his and his girlfriend’s chagrin.  Everything about this, from the early 20th century fashion and dialogue to the witty commentary on cats and culture works perfectly, particularly for this cat-lover.  The story that I thought worked least-well, and unfortunately wraps up the book, is “Gala Night.”  A pastor Mulliner accidentally helps a young couple who enjoys dancing to acquire the young woman’s parents’ approval of their union.  I didn’t like the religious Mulliner.  He just wasn’t funny to me.  Similarly the catalyst of a mysterious mood enhancing drink just lacked the creativity found in the other stories.  Fortunately, most of the stories fell much closer to the hilarity of the whiskey drinking cat.  However, a couple did fall a bit flat for me, which is why while I greatly enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t say I was totally in love with it.

Overall, this is a wonderfully witty collection of short stories held together by an elderly Mulliner who enjoys telling (possibly tall) tales about his family over a pint in the local pub.  If you enjoy a dry wit and slapstick humor to top off a cute love story, this collection is for you.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Meet Mr. Mulliner
Mr. Mulliner Speaking

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