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Brimstone (by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child)
I think I read the first book by these two (Relic), and quite disliked it. Luckily, I didn't recognize them when I bought Brimstone. It's partly a police procedural dealing with Weird Spooky Deaths, and partly a romp around Italy that reminded me a lot of the Ninth Gate (which I'm very fond of). It doesn't deserve to be as much fun as it is - it makes no sense for the FBI agent and the Long Island cop to spend as much time abroad as they do, but I don't mind. When they throw random thugs into the mix, the authors are kind enough to let the reader know why, without spoiling the main heart of the mystery. There's a bit of cheating, Holmes-like, where the detective knows more than he tells the reader, but I allow it as it's technically a thriller rather than a mystery. I didn't realize this was something like the sixth book in the loose series, but that ended up working better for me - when they kept playing "is it supernatural or not?" I didn't know what genre it was from previous books. Three and a half stars - I subtracted half a star for sending the characters to the "most expensive restaurant in New York City" and charging them a mere $40 per entree, but I gave them half a star for keeping me guessing the whole way through, and another half a star for the guest star from a book published a century and a half ago, which I must now go read.
Crown Duel (by Sherwood Smith)
Darn it, she's just not as good writing solo as she was teaming up with Dave Trowbridge for the Exordium. The comedy of manners in the second half is more fun than the adventure-and-peril in the first half, as the main character got captured a few too many times for me to treat her as a proper heroine. I found the political premise a little odd - if you're rebelling against the Evil Oppressive King, it seems more likely that you ought to want to become independant, and less likely that your only goal is to become King yourself. Two stars for the first half, three and a half for the second half.
Freakonomics (by Levitt and Dubner)
I liked the essay about the sumo wrestlers best, possibly because it did the best at using numbers in ways I approved of. (Initial premise: number number number. But, hmm, that doesn't prove it yet, so here we control for something else, more numbers. And then, this other thing and look, more numbers!) The essay about the real estate agents, though, was junk. "Granite" and "Corian" are not secret real estate agent code to communicate to other real estate agents "Make a higher offer for this house" - granite and corian are things that make buyers say "oooooh!" and offer more. Real estate agents sell their houses for more than non-agents - that doesn't mean that agents are giving bad advice any more than finding that dentists floss more than non-dentists means that dentists give bad advice. The rest of the essays were somewhere between the two extremes. Interestingly, I thought less of the book before I got to the references at the end, because several essays ("Why do Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms?" in particular) read as "I'm going to tell you about some work someone else did", but really they were "I'm going to tell you about the paper I wrote with someone else about his work." Three out of five stars, if only to know what everyone else is talking about.
Furies of Calderon (by Jim Butcher)
This was really quite nice. A fantasy world, where pretty much everyone is an elemental mage of some kind - plus add healing and empathy to the watercrafters, invisibility for woodcrafters, give the firecrafters the ability to instill fear, the earthcrafters to instill lust... it's a lot less Champions than it sounds, for all that everyone is three hundred points. The magic feels integrated into the world ("legionare" roads have earthfuries bound into them for faster travel), though the world doesn't seem to have actually evolved as far as it ought in response (as we learned in Auria, courtyards are tactically iffy when the enemy can fly). The politics is not bad, the barbarians are strangely compelling (sort of like cannibalistic Mongols with honor duels), and the Foreshadowed Mystery never quite advances into the light. There are several very well-handled conflicts that resolve quite cleverly. Maybe a little more Epic Battle than I would have liked, but it's hard to be epic fantasy without the clash of armies. Four out of five stars.
The Family Business (by Charles Stross)
A Connecticut Business Reporter in King Arthur's Amber. Oddly dissatisfying, though not horrid. I couldn't tell what was up with the love plot - was she seducing him to manipulate him? Or falling for him? Nobody complains to the authorities in the second castle at all, even when assassins are jumping out of the woodwork. A little weird. And though I knew it was the first in the Merchant Princes series, I expected a little bit more of a resolution for the end of the book. One character ends on a minor cliffhanger, the other is on a train, most of the way to wherever she's going. I got oddly distracted at the beginning by the location described as a 5+ story office building off of Somerville Avenue in Cambridge. I think that has to be the Galleria, because other than Porter Square, Somerville Avenue is in, well, Somerville - but it's just not tall enough. Maybe by a charitable stretch of the imagination, he meant the Porter Exchange. Two and a half stars.
The Skinner (by Neal Asher)
This is... a space opera, but in boats? Brightness Falls from the Air crossed by Hyperion and On Stranger Tides? The back of the book says "Dune meets Master and Commander" and that's good too. Anyway, perhaps you can tell from the fact that I'm comparing it to books that I really liked, that I really liked this one. Epic characters chock full of drama careening around their plots at high velocity, dramatic combats, dramatic backstories to be uncovered with people to be damned and redeemed, snarky AIs, Kaufman nanites, hive minds, heads in boxes, a good dollop of horror to give it an edge, and a bunch of "Sucks to be a little fish". And leeches. There's a lot of leeches. Five stars. Ask me if you can borrow this book, unless you don't like leeches.
Angels and Demons (by Dan Brown)
I have found myself ranting more about this book while reading than anything for a while. Then I went through and got rid of the general factual kvetches, and just left the ones that I waved my hands around for. However, SPOILERS COMING! SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!
  • "The idea that a word could be turned into an ambigram [turned upside down and read the same way] seemed utterly impossible. Modern symbologists had tried for years to forge the word 'Illuminati' into a perfectly symmetrical style, but they had failed miserably." I get the feeling Dan Brown just thought of the idea of "ambigrams" (except that the word was coined by Douglas Hofstadter) and seemed sure that nobody else could ever have imagined them. "Illuminati" isn't even that hard. Did these symbologists just write "Illuminati", turn it over, and notice it wasn't the same? [ profile] rifmeister's wife could do it in her sleep! Anyway, go look at, it's totally cool and not nearly as smug.
  • I do really like the ambigram of "Angels and Demons", though. That's very pretty. The guy who did the ambigrams did a really good job.
  • I don't think the people at CERN have secret web powers that let them read people's phone numbers from their web pages, when they didn't put the phone numbers there. Even if they invented the web. Yes, I know they invented the web.
  • So, you summon the Harvard academic to tell you about the Illuminati. Then, you interrupt him in his historical lecture to demand to know who killed the dead body you have. Well, maybe if you had called the police instead of the Harvard academic, he'd be able to tell you! But no, you had to fill the room with freon, and fly someone at Mach 15 from Harvard because they wrote a book on the historical Illuminati, and you're upset because he's talking about the historical Illuminati instead of solving your murder?
  • Surely you can't really reconfigure the CERN particle accelerator and run lots of experiments on it without telling anyone else what you're doing?
  • Why does the antimatter look like a metallic liquid? Especially if its "chemical trace" is hydrogen? (Though I think "olfactory filters" that detect chemicals won't detect antimatter without some sort of highly explosive interaction. Maybe a tricorder would.)
  • Okay, so you're the head of the Swiss Guard trying to explain how an explosive couldn't possibly have gotten past your security. Stop pointing at the batteries and telling us you would have detected them! If you had detected the batteries on the way in, the device wouldn't be hidden, now, would it?
  • "Pshaw. It's a hoax." "It couldn't possibly be a hoax! Look at that rotational symmetry!" Okay, I'll stop beating the dead horse of "Nobody but the Illuminati can make an ambigram", because I suspect there's going to be a lot more of it.
  • "We've been trying to trace him for ten minutes, and getting nothing but splayed ferreting." What? I can figure it out from context, but still, if you're going to make up technobabble, you should make it less silly. The only google match I get for splayed ferreting is copies of the book. I hadn't expected there to be entire copies, actually.
  • The general media has no interest in the news in Vatican City after the death of the Pope. Or the papal election. Heh. Well, there hadn't been a papal death and ascension in a long time when the book was written - just a bad guess rather than a complete noodleheadedness.
  • Crowds in St. Peter's square shouting obscenities and proclaiming that "[having cardinals tortured and killed, and having Vatican City blown up] is what the church deserves" seems a little implausible.
  • He falls out of a helicopter and nothing gets broken? I would give you "survived." But not "unscathed."
  • Okay, thinking aliens were going to steal his precious bodily fluids was funny.
  • All right, so you want to point out that the Diagramma dissolved. Surely there are better ways than having the nurse say "You had some Kleenex in your pocket." Why on earth would you tell your miraculously rescued drowned man that he had Kleenex in his pocket? Why would you think it mattered?
  • "Did you not see what we saw? How can you question that kind of power?" Power? Picking a Pope is different than choosing the next Green Lantern, and I don't think power comes into it.
  • The virgin-birth bit at the end is just too weird. And I don't think deliberately having kids out of wedlock is acceptable to the Church even if you skip the sex.
Two stars.

These are all borrowable except for The Family Business which was a MITSFS book.

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