9.30.2012

Territory, by Emma Bull

Territory
I hate to say it, but Emma Bull's Territory is, ultimately, a pretty disappointing story. She could have done a lot more with this story, but the ending ruins the whole thing. If you don't want spoilers, you can stop reading here.

Territory is set in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881. Those who know their history will recognize that 1881 is when the Earp-Cowboy feud gets started. To this rich setting, Bull adds an interesting sort of magic to spice things up. The story is told in three parts, to build suspense as the different magicians marshal their forces. Mildred Benjamin, a widow who works for a newspaper, serves as a love interest for one of the other narrators and as an explication aid. She sets the scene, meets the major players, and helps piece together the story for the reader, in her role as a nascent reporter. Another part of the story is narrated by Jesse Fox, a mysterious stranger with magical abilities. He intended to stop through Tombstone to visit a friend before heading on to Mexico, but ends up getting tangled up in the Earp/Cowboy mess. The last narrator is Doc Holliday. Bull doesn't make the best use of him as a narrator, unfortunately. Holliday doesn't have much to do but be pushed around by Wyatt Earp.

The plot roughly follows the escalation of the Feud. But it stops well short of what I would have thought would be the natural climax of the story, the O.K. Corral shootout. That ending would have been spectacular with the addition of magic. I was really looking forward to it, but the book just ends with Fox hexing Wyatt Earp before moving on with Mildred. This book could have been really good if Bull had just gone that little bit more.

The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

The Last Werewolf
In The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan gives the furry a literary treatment. Our protagonist spends a lot of the first half of the book moody, feeling emotions that I'm pretty sure only the French have words for. Even though he spends every full moon as a raving monster that eats people. I kind of liked that. Not the cannibalism, of course, but that Duncan didn't try to pretty it up like some other authors have done to other supernatural creatures lately. The fact that the protagonist, Jake Marlowe, actually is a monster gives weight to the plot. On the one hand, Jake's enemies are pretty vile people. But then, Jake regularly eats people. Who the hell are you supposed to root for?

Of course, when he's not eating people, Jake is a fairly nice guy, except for his ennui. For the first half of the book, once Jake gets word that he is the last of his kind. There haven't been any new werewolves for over a century and the penultimate werewolf was shot by WOCOP, an organization that seeks to control the occult around the world--mostly be knocking off werewolves and keeping the vampires' numbers under a certain limit. Jake, still suffering his French depressions, decides to let WOCOP finish him off. After all, he's lived for over 150 years; he figures he's done.

If I hadn't read a review of this book first, I probably would have given up reading it. Even when it's fictional, Jake's malaise was starting to become contagious. Fortunately, Jake gets some news at the halfway point that he's not the last werewolf. Even better, the other werewolf is female. So of course, the next bit of the book contains a lot of sex. Duncan's repeated use of the c word, though, made this part hard to get through. I'm normally okay with swearing, but that word really bothers me.

Duncan does rally towards the end and gets the plot back on track. WOCOP and vampires start to close in. Jake makes a deal with a renegade member of WOCOP to try and get himself and his lover out of trouble. It all comes to a head, in a pretty spectacular fight. I can't say the fight makes up for the ennui and the c word, but it was fun to read.

I don't know who I would recommend this book to. Sure, it's one of the better werewolf books out there. But to enjoy it, you'd have to be a fan of the literary spin on horror stories, not mind animalistic sex, copious swearing, and the aforementioned French depression.

9.22.2012

The Twelfth Enchantment, by David Liss

The Twelfth Enchantment
David Liss' The Twelfth Enchantment is an entertaining mix of magic and Pride and Prejudice romance. It's quite a change from the author of several serious works of historical fiction. When I picked it up, I wondered if the magic part would just be hinted at or explained away. But, no, this really is a work of fantasy. Not that that's a bad thing; it's actually a fun blend. I wonder (and I hope) that Liss turns this into a series.

Our heroine, Lucy Derrick, lives on sufferance at her uncle's house after losing her inheritance and almost ruining herself by running away with a man. (This is 1812.) But after encounters with strange people who disappear, Lucy learns that she has a natural talent for magic. She quickly harnesses that talent to try and improve her lot in life and avoid marriage to a particularly odious mill owner. It soon becomes clear that, for whatever reason, Lucy is a the center of a war between supernaturally backed Luddites and supernaturally backed industrialists for the future of England.

The story twists and turns as Lucy learns more about the conspiracy around her. This is a complex story, and Liss writes it in such a way that you feel betrayed or thwarted when Lucy does. I was surprised just as often as she was. And I very much enjoyed Liss' blending of magic and actual history. The Luddite movement was a very serious near revolution, not just a joking epithet for someone who doesn't like technology. The Industrial Revolution was hugely disruptive and this book takes place right in the middle of a paradigm shift in English society. I would have enjoyed this book even without the supernatural plot.  

Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas, by John Scalzi

Redshirts
Some of my favorite books are meta. Since I discovered this genre-spanning fiction, I've been hunting for new ones. I love books that play around with the boundaries of perspective, framing devices, and narrative rules. John Scalzi's Redshirts does all of that, with what I'm coming to recognize as his trademark irreverent humor.

If you haven't seen that much Star Trek (original series), you might not recognize the red shirt plot device. Essentially, a red shirt character is designed to be cannon fodder. They're usually unnamed characters who get killed before the first commercial break for a bit of extra dramatic tension. In Scalzi's novel, the story is told from the perspective of these minor characters.

Shortly after being assigned to the Universal Union ship Intrepid, Andy Dahl realizes that there is something weird going on. Crew members go out of their way to avoid away missions, to the point of tracking the location of high ranking officers so that they can duck into closets or rush off on "urgent" errands. One of these officers has been shot, infected, and severely injured repeatedly, but still manages to be back on duty within a week or so. Physics and biology get impossibly bent to allow for things like time travel, lucky coincidences, and general bullshit. After a few weeks, Dahl meets Jenkins who has the bizarre theory that they are all in a bad science fiction show. Weirdly, it's the only theory that fits. And then the book gets really meta as Dahl and his friends, fellow cannon fodder, try to find the writers of the show to stop them from killing off crew members in ridiculous ways.

I loved reading this book. There are so many jokes about stock science fiction plots and characters that you'll be laughing every couple of pages. And on top of all that genre-bending stuff is a very poignant story. You might not think of this as the kind of book that invites deep analysis (other than to point out the flaws in bad science fiction), but it really is. Once the characters start to come to terms with the fact that they are fictional and real at the same time, they start to suffer from some very serious existential angst. If you know that you were created to die for a little dramatic tension, what's the point of carrying on? If you can't avoid your pathetic fate, why try to find a way out? I like to think that Camus would have enjoyed this book. (You know, if he wasn't fifty years dead.) By the time you hit the three amazing codas, this book gives you all kinds of dilemmas to ponder.

This book is simply amazing.

The Gods of Gotham, by Lindsay Faye

The Gods of Gotham
Lindsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham was a fascinating read of 1845 New York. Though the ending has some problems, the amount of detail and the stunning characters made this a very, very good read. Not only that, but reading this book was like experiencing a bit of time travel. While New York today is still an intimidating and, occasionally, frightening place, New York of 1845 was deadly. In 1845, the city police were just getting started, firefighter companies did battle in the streets, gangs controlled entire neighborhoods, nativist agitators, and various political machines taught new immigrants how to commit voter fraud. As I read Faye's skillful exposition, it was like I could almost smell New York (not pleasant).

We meet our protagonist, Timothy Wilde, just before a devastating fire robs him of his savings and causing him to despair of winning to love of his long time crush. His brother, a rake and political fixer for the Democrats, gets him a job on the newly formed police force*. Wilde reluctantly takes the job, but soon finds that his observational skills make the job a perfect fit for him. A couple of months after starting his beat in Five Points, a blood-covered girl runs into him (literally) in the street after escaping from a brothel. Be warned, there are some pretty shocking vices in this book. Wilde can't help but investigate and uncovers a grisly set of mutilated corpse of children. As it's the first big challenge to the abilities of the police force, the case attracts attention from all the players in the city.

Faye throws plenty of twists and complications at her protagonist, the the point where I couldn't work out who did it. I won't say the solution was a disappointment, because it was highly complicated an original. However, the way it plays out on paper did make me think that the solution was a cop out until Faye kept going to reveal the rest of what happened. The pacing didn't really work for me.But that was the only problem with the book. The rest of it is just fantastic--provided that you have a strong stomach.

* Interestingly, the big argument against having a police force came from people who considered it like having a standing army in New York. I have to wonder how many of these were criminals. Considering conditions in New York at the time, I should think that most people would welcome some peacekeeping.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln:
Vampire Hunter
Yes, I finally read it. When I've mentioned this to friends and family and they ask me how it was, I always end up replying, "Well, it was better than I expected." I've read a few of the mash up novels, enough to know that the quality is highly variable. I didn't have particularly high expectations for this one, but I did enjoy reading it. Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter writes a hidden history behind the actual Lincoln's life, complete with Photoshopped historic photographs (possibly my favorite parts of the book).

Most of the action takes place before Lincoln's election to the presidency. As I read Grahame-Smith's account, I had to keep checking Wikipedia to read the real biographies of Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Seward, and a dozen others--which I always enjoy. The plot revolves around Lincoln's drive for revenge against vampires for murdering his mother. As he slashes his way across the midwest with his trusty ax, Lincoln discovers that vampires are exploiting slavery in a bid to eventually take over the entire country.

That's pretty much it for plot, actually. There are a lot of great fight scenes and plenty of dramatic tension (apart from knowing that Lincoln himself can't die until 1865). It wasn't a bad way to pass the time.

9.16.2012

How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman
You might disagree with her from time to time, but think everyone should read Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, even the guys--perhaps, especially the guys. One thing I've noticed about being a woman myself is that you constantly run into "shoulds," sometimes unspoken, that push you into being a certain kind of woman. They can be as obvious as the pressure to be hairless from the scalp and eyebrows down, to professions that are still hard for women to break into, to subtle sexism, to reproduction. I'm not suggesting that men don't have similar pressures. But I would argue that there are far fewer pressures. There are so many ways for men to be men, but, as Moran points out, woman are so often pushed to be wives and mothers. If we don't become wives and mothers, there is the implication that there's something wrong with us. Moran concludes in her postscript:
But as the years went on, I realized that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human. One of "the Guys." But with really amazing hair. (301*)
That's what I think it should be about, too.

Moran frames her essays about being a woman with a biography of her best and worst moments of being female. I love hearing from people who have a talent for turning their most embarrassing moments into eye-wateringly funny stories. There were several times I had to put the book down because I was laughing so hard I couldn't see the pages. She starts at age 13, an age of significant change for a lot of girls. Moran sums this time up by writing at the end of the book:
When I think of everything about womanhood that had hamstrung me with fear when I was 13, it all came down, rally, to princesses. I didn't think I had to work hard to be a woman--which is scary but, obviously achievable. I though I had to somehow, magically, through superhuman psychic effort, transform into a princess instead. That's how I'd get fallen in love with. That's how I'd get along. That's how the world would welcome me. (292)
I've felt that, too. All through the book there were little pings of recognition. While I haven't gotten up to nearly the kind of shenanigans that Moran has, I had more than a little affinity for her stories about menarche, trying to get kissed for the first time, and trying to learn how to flirt (which I still suck at, but there you go). I'd come to a lot of the same conclusions about how to a woman (namely to figure out who you are as a person), but it's so refreshing to hear it from another woman.

The best lessons in this book revolve around the idea of feminism. It bothers me no end when certain conservatives deride feminism as an attempt to do away with men or other such nonsense. Moran boils it down to:
a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said yes to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist. (75)
I would add that men can qualify if they agree that women should be in charge of themselves without any interference from others or from the law. That's really all feminism is: a desire for equality without being limited by biology. Moran does a great job of arguing back against anti-feminists, and has some great theories about the psychology of women after centuries of living under the pressures of what women should be.

I really loved this book. I read it in one sitting yesterday. When I put it down, I was a little sad to be leaving Moran's company. Reading this book was like sitting down to talk with a best friend, one who is willing to say outrageous things to make you laugh while talking about serious things. If you have any doubts about whether you're being a woman the right way, Moran will reassure you.

* Quotes are from the 2011 Harper Perennial trade paperback edition.

The Android's Dream, by John Scalzi

The Android's Dream
I picked up John Scalzi's The Android's Dream on a whim...and then I finished it within 24 hours because I just could not put the book down. This book is an amazing adventure, cunningly plotted, with sparks of humor that reminded me of Douglas Adams. Granted, it starts with the most uncouth murder I've ever read, but this book was a blast.

The story touches off with a diplomatic incident that brings Earth and their putative allies, the Nidu, to the brink of war. The only thing that can remedy it is a sheep, but not just any sheep. Earth must deliver an electric blue Android's Dream sheep for the Nidus' coronation ceremony. As the story rolls along, you quickly find out that there are a lot of players and what you thought was an act of private revenge is really a complex conspiracy. The Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Nidu, and the curious Church of the Evolved Lamb are all working at cross purposes, making an absurd situation even more absurd.

In the middle of all this is Harry Creek, a State Department employee who specializes in delivering bad news to aliens (of the E.T. variety), and Robin Baker, a pet store owner who though a bizarre set of circumstances has sheep DNA. Harry and Robin get chased from one corner of Washington, D.C. and escape multiple kidnapping and even murder attempts. It sounds demented, but I tell you that the story works amazingly well and that it frequently made me laugh.

Scalzi has a knack for writing his characters into seemingly impossible situations. First, there's only one creature in the universe that has enough sheep DNA to qualify for the Nidu coronation. Then there are warships parked just out of Earth's orbit and the threats of breaking treaties. Then there are the Evolved Lamb prophecies. And then there are all the characters' baggage and desires for revenge. All these conflicts collide repeatedly, but Scalzi manages to get his rather likable heroes out of situations you could have sworn were sheer suicide. I highly recommend this book, especially if you have a well developed appreciation for the silly.

9.09.2012

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go
I read an article recently that posits that some literary writers "slum" by writing genre fiction. It's not a new idea. And as I read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, I wondered if it qualified as another example of this faux genre. This isn't a bad book. I suppose the fairest description would be to call it a literary novel with some of the elements of science fiction. It shouldn't be read as a work of science fiction; you'll only be disappointed if you try.

Never Let Me Go is narrated in a recursive way by Kathy B., a carer in an alternate England. Kathy was cloned and raised to be an organ donor. She, and the other clones like her, were volunteered; they never signed up to donate their organs and die on the operating table in their 20s. This fact looms over the book. It was impossible for me to not think about this as Kathy and her friends, Tom and Ruth, grew up, fell in love, and tried to live during their short years of freedom. Their lives are poignant, but a little banal. You'd think that if you knew you probably weren't going to see 30 that you'd try to cram as much adventure and experience into the years you had. And I would definitely think that these characters would go to great lengths to try and fight their fates. Curiously, they don't. I have to wonder if they were engineered or brainwashed or if someone pulled some Huxley-esque conditioning on them when they were very small in order to make them so cooperative. This is ever explained in the book; it's just not mentioned. But there has to be something to explain this gap in the book's logic.

Kathy cares (like a home nurse) for her fellow clones as they make their donations. This whole process is shrouded in euphemism. In fact, dying the process of donations is called "completion." The term made me shiver every time it was used. I wanted to reach through the pages and shake the characters out of their complacency. It baffled and angered me that no one was asking important questions about the clones' rights to life.

Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth were raised in a curious boarding school. They were encouraged to create art. If you read carefully, you can understand the purpose of the art long before Kathy and her friends do. The guardians at the school and their sponsors were trying to determine if the clones were really human, if they could create something original like real humans can. It's a poorly designed test, by any standard, and its clear that even if the clones aren't creative, they certainly think and feel like real humans do. But because the clones have become a vital part of the world's medical system, it's virtually impossible for anyone to change anything--at least the way Ishiguro writes it.

Ishiguro is mostly concerned about the feelings of his clone characters. There are frequent spats and squabbles and hurt feelings and crushes and misunderstandings. Having the donations and immanent death hanging over them just makes these little emotional moments seem more important and poignant than they would otherwise. Because Ishiguro didn't bother to fully explore the science fiction elements, it seems like that this layer of depth is really the only purpose for the science fiction stuff. I really wish that Ishiguro had stepped out of his own genre a bit more, because I was fascinated by the little clues and hints that kept turning up in the text that showed you what was going on off stage.

Even though I am disappointed in the science fiction part of the book and I find its logic pretty implausible, this book has an ending that makes it worthwhile. It will make some readers (probably a lot of readers) cry when they get to the end.

The Black Isle, by Sandi Tan

The Black Isle
Sandi Tan's debut The Black Isle is a curious mix of the supernatural and the historical. I think this book would have worked just as well as either a horror novel or just a work of historical fiction. But by blending them, I think Tan gave up on fully developing the supernatural side of the story. I wanted to see more there, because that's what drew me to the book in the first place.

The story moves back and forth through time, staying mostly in the past, as Cassandra Ling tells her story to a historian and whatever else might be listening. Cassandra and her twin were born in the 1920s in Shanghai to lower middle class parents. When the Stock Market crashed and her father lost his job, half the family--including Cassandra--upped stakes and headed for the Black Isle. The Isle is fictional, located where Peninsular Malaysia is. When they arrive, the island is controlled by the British. The island's twentieth century history mirrors that of several other southeast Asian nations: dying colonialism, Japanese invasion during World War II, a resumption of colonialism that doesn't last, and turbulent independence.

I would have found this interesting enough, but Tan adds another layer to the story. After a strange childhood incident, Cassandra finds that she can see ghosts. Actual communication is pretty iffy, but she is able to make bargains with the dead. This gives her some measure of power once she figures it out. It's a relief that she does because she spent half her life being used by the men in her life. Even after she discovers her power, Cassandra still lets herself be used until the ghosts start to lash out against all the broken promises. Because she lets herself be used, because she doesn't know how to shake free, this is a hard book to read. There are also some pretty bizarre (but thankfully brief) sexual situations that make the book that much harder to process. Fair warning on that count.

Because Tan blended horror and historical fiction, you can't just chalk this book's message up to "This is the price of independence" or anything simple like that. I suppose you could call this Cassandra's coming of age/voyage of personal discovery story, but The Black Isle is bigger than that. The story is as tangled as the island's jungles and a lot remains un-illuminated.

I did enjoy reading this book. Tan crams a lot of story, and a lot of history, into this book. It's complex and it's original. I'd recommend it to people who like to be adventurous about their historical fiction.

9.01.2012

Cat Daddy, by Jackson Galaxy and Joel Derfner

Cat Daddy
This book is going to make you cry. Be warned.

Cat Daddy is a lot like I imagine sitting down with Jackson Galaxy and letting him tell you his story would be like. It's idiosyncratic. It's messy. But it has heart. It tells the story of his life from his very messed up youth to finding his way as a cat behaviorist, but before his show, My Cat From Hell, aired. I've been a fan of the show for a while. Even though my two cats are angels compared to the cats on that show, I've still learned a lot about understanding the critters.

Galaxy was, at one point, a very messed up person. He lays out all his flaws and addictions in this book without hiding anything. If he hadn't found a job with an animal shelter when he did, Galaxy probably wouldn't be here today. Watching his show, you might think that he's a natural with cats, that they've always made sense to him. But this book lets you see the long years of learning and experimenting and observing that it took for Galaxy to become the expert that he is. I love this about the book. He doesn't just tell you that something works; he tells you why it works.

Along with baring his soul and history to the world at large, Galaxy also shares the story of the "unbondable" Benny. Benny was abandoned by his owner after he broke his pelvis. Galaxy adopted him and nursed him back to health. But Benny has all kinds of behavioral issues. Perhaps, above all, Benny taught Galaxy humility. We'll never have cats completely figured out because they still have more than a touch of the wild about them. In the last chapter, when Benny's life draws to a close, Galaxy writes about saying goodbye in such a way that will make any pet guardian cry. As he wrote about Benny's terminal illnesses, it brought back for me the awful day when my family had to say goodbye to the best dog I've ever known and hugging him for the last time. It made me look at my aging cat and hope that the day I have to say goodbye to him is still a long way off.

I suspect that Galaxy's moments of grace and epiphany will strike some readers as a lot of woo woo. But I think he's really captured something of what it means to really bond with an animal. Making a connection with another species is an amazing thing. It's ineffable, but Galaxy has gotten very close to what this connection means. Pet owners frequently describe their pets as their children. I've done it myself, especially when I'm relating yet another incident of having to rescue my youngest cat from the confines of a dark cupboard. But as I read about Galaxy's experiences at the shelter, I thought back to the times when I adopted my boys. We picked each other. We're each other's companions. It's something another pet owner can understand, but it's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't loved an animal.

You can read Cat Daddy for tips about managing cats. You can read it for its narrative of overcoming multiple addictions. You can read it for its meditations on pet guardianship. There's a lot to take away from this book. Galaxy's perspective on everything, even with the woo woo parts*, makes this book just that much better.

* I don't mean to mock Galaxy's religion. I actually admire his Buddhist inspired faith. I'm just not a very spiritual person.

The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth
I'm a big fan of Terry Pratchett and have been for years. But his collaboration with Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth, is very different from any other book of his--at least of the ones I've read. There's little of his trademark humor in this one. It's much more contemplative. (Not that there isn't a lot of think about with his Discworld novels. It's just that those books have a lot more sugar in them to help the medicine go down.) The Long Earth was a very interesting read, but I'm frankly puzzled about what to make of this book.

On Step Day, the world discovers that Earth is mirrored by a seemingly unlimited number of mirror earths. They are all habitable. Some are filled with amazing animals from divergent lines of evolution. But there are no people on any of these other earths. Humanity does what you'd expect and starts to expand into the empty space with predictable collapses in Earth Zero's economy, governments, and social structures. A new Manifest Destiny occurs in the United States as pioneers, with the encouragement of the American government, expand the American aegis across the other earths.

The story is told from various viewpoints, mostly by a loner named Joshua Valiente who spends a much time away from people as he can. The other viewpoints, a Madison, Wisconsin police officer and a pioneer girl, are not as interesting and not as well drawn. Pratchett and Baxter introduce cameos from various other narrators to show the scope of the changes brought about by the new earths. But they aren't clearly delineated in time, so I got the feeling of jumping around in time as much as the narrators were jumping around in space. It was hard to get a sense of how much time the story encompasses. There are casual references to years passing, but you don't get much sense of that the way this book is written.

The most interesting question this book raised for me was about how humans are meant to live. Earth is a crowded place. Opening up the new earths for colonization in this book feels a lot like releasing a pressure valve. Our civilization is complicated and this book shows hundred of thousands of humans upping stakes and heading for the hinterlands just to start over somewhere without all their burdens and obligations. There are some people who try to replicate the wonders of the original Earth, but a lot of people are content to live as hunter-gatherers in the abundant new earths.

As humanity adjusts, Joshua contracts with a mysterious corporation to travel as far as possible to see if there's even an end to the earths. They see earths in all states of evolution, even earths without moons or mass extinctions or with completely different continental drift patterns. They see wondrous creatures and lots of crocodiles. As they get further and further out, they realize that something weird is happening somewhere down the line. All this serves to give some structure to the narrative, but didn't do much for me. I wonder if this concept wouldn't have worked better as a series of short stories.

I want to say a quick word about the ending of this book. I don't want to give too much away, but this book ends on an ungraceful cliff hanger. Since I was reading the Kindle version, I didn't realize how close I was getting to the end. In fact, I thought the ending of the book was just the end of the chapter and I was shocked to "turn the page" and discover that I was out of book. I really, really hate this kind of ending, where it's clearly a set up for another book in a series.

I did enjoy pondering the thought exercise Pratchett and Baxter set up in The Long Earth. I just wish they had executed it better.

Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig

I read an advance copy of this book via Netgalley.

Mockingbird
Chuck Wendig's Mockingbird, the second book in the Miriam Black series, is a fast, frenetic read full of the supernatural and snark. I had a lot of fun reading this. I want to find the first book in the series so that I can spend a little more time with Miriam. She's a blast.

Miriam has more than a little bit of Lizbeth Salander to her. She's punk. She has a hard time being nice. She's always in trouble. But she has more of a sense of humor than Lizbeth does. I was snorting through the whole book because of her observations about people. And then there's the fact that, when she touches people, she knows how and when they'll die. Her life is hard enough, but her psychic ability makes everything harder.

After spectacularly loosing her job at a grocery story, a friend gets Miriam a small gig predicting the death of a private school teacher. It seems a little weird, but knowing gives the teacher some peace. But while she's at the school, Miriam sees the awful, awful death of two of the students at the hands of a serial killer. Of course, no official is going to believe that there's a serial killer in the vicinity because there are no bodies yet.

For the most part, the deaths Miriam sees are immutable. Nothing can be done to stop them. Sometimes, Miriam can change the circumstances. But when she sees a death, someone has to die. This price and her own nature keep her from interfering for the most part. But Miriam starts to track down the killer because no one, absolutely no one deserves to die like that.

By the end of the book, things have built up into an almost intolerable tension. This is the kind of book you can't put down because there is mayhem on every page and you never know when a character is going to die. I honestly wasn't expecting much, given the brevity of the book, but this was a cracking read.