Random Notes

New Year Resolution: Avoid trying to predict the future.

Audiobook Review: Keillor - Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny
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Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny

Garrison Keillor

The character Guy Noir comes from a radio show called “A Prairie Home Companion” (http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/about/), a bit of a legend in this part of the world.  The radio show is probably best described as a variety show, featuring usually public radio friendly music (mostly folk music) and some recurring story bits, such as News from Lake Wobegon, a comedic bit about two cowboys, and stories about Guy Noir- an unsuccessful gumshoe detective.

This book is a comedy written in the setting of a pulp fiction detective story.  Emphasis on comedy, the detective stuff is just an environment.  The story line is Guy has engaged in a business deal with Naomi Fallopian (a stripper turned women’s studies professor) and the local gangster named Joey Roast Beef wants in on the deal, threatening to ventilate Guy with a 38 revolver if he doesn’t cave.  The rest of the story involves Guy chasing the unobtainable Naomi and the plot mostly exists to provide a reason to string together the humorous phrases only possible when mixing a pulp fiction era world with modern problems.

This is a book based on a recurring bit in a radio show, it’s a story meant to be listened to and entertained by, not to be taken too seriously or dwelled upon.  As such it comes off very well as an audiobook.


This review has been on my backlog for a while, I'm catching up and posting reviews in the order books (and audiobooks) were finished.  Next up will be David Baldacci's Hells Corner.

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My Live Journal, How You've Changed!
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Live Journal has a new homepage, significant changes.  An impressive volume of work must've gone into this.

behind on book reviews
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I'm behind on writing my book reviews, I've got three queued up and 2 in progress.

Done but haven't written the review:
Guy Noir & the Straight Skinny (audiobook)
Hells Corner
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

In Progress, well underway:
Anathem (audiobook)
Boneshaker

Book Review: Sloan - Annabel Scheme
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Annabel Scheme
Robin Sloan

From the author’s website:
“This is a story about a Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century. Holmes is a woman, Watson is an AI, all the good cases are on the Internet, and something very strange has happened to San Francisco…”

The publisher’s review compared this work to Douglas Adams.  Big talk, but Robin Sloan has delivered with Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, so maybe the comparison is earned.  Completely independent of that other work (as excellent as it was) this book stands on its own and stands tall.  A unique story, the book is a bit of a mystery/adventure story.  Being a novella things happen quickly, with key revelations spread throughout the book.

The book opens with an investigation into an indie rocker who’s songs are climbing the charts in spite of her being dead.  Where could these tracks be coming from? A gamer goes missing in real life, but his avatar continues to wander the MMORPG he was devoted to- who is at the controls?  And what happened at (not-Google) that led to formation of an area called Fog City and the outlawing of quantum computing technology?  It all gets explained in this cross between street smart detective meets futuristic high tech mysteries.

This book is available as a limited print run of about 600 (good luck finding one), a Kindle E-Book ($3), and has been released as a creative commons licensed download-- but I’d suggest you buy it and splash this author some coin.
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Book Review: Sloan - Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan

The publisher’s comments for this book begin with “A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization...”.  I couldn’t agree more.  The author describes it as “This is a novel about books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love. It begins in a mysterious San Francisco bookstore, but quickly reaches out into the wider world and the shadowed past.”

This is a good book.  The story gets rolling inside a strange bookstore where many of the patrons don’t buy typical books- they exchange special volumes from the back stacks like an exclusive library.  These special patrons have numbered accounts and our hero, the night clerk, gets curious about what’s going on.  Peeking in one of these special books he finds the books are encoded.  Figuring out what is going on and why consumes the rest of the book.

The pacing and writing style are excellent.  There’s enough character variety without being overwhelming.  The settings are described in enough detail to make it seem you’re reading a movie, without getting in the way of the story’s pace.  In short, the book has balance.

This book was one I stumbled upon, and am happy I did.  The first thing I did after finishing it was to see if the author had written other books.  I found a novella called Anabel Scheme. The review of that is up next.
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Audiobook Review: Adams - Dirk Gently: The long dark tea-time of the soul (Dramatized)
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Dirk Gently: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (dramatized)
Douglas Adams

It’s been a while, so I’ll cut to the chase.  This was as good as the dramatized version of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.  The dramatized radio show isn’t widely used, and some folks have negative comments on audiobooks that are dramatized.  I think that’s a bit misplaced, particularly when the title of the work clearly says it is dramatized.

A full cast production of a familiar book is a unique kind of entertainment.  I listened to this while commuting home, in about 30 minute chunks.  It became a welcome bit of relaxation and something to look forward to at the end of the day.  A lot of people listen to audiobooks while commuting (possibly the biggest part of the audiobook market).  Dramatized books take that concept a step further, making me wonder if someday we’ll see original content serialized for download.  Consider Netflix and Hulu creating original video content.  Audible has dabbled, commissioning a couple of audio-only books, but I’m thinking the step beyond that.

So what does that have to do with a Dirk Gently review?  Not much, unless you count the out-of-the-box thinking that drives Dirk Gently combined with his philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things (ala Holistic).  The book includes legal contract enforcing goblins, a locked room suicide, a norse god with travel problems rivaling any airport delay known to man, and (I vaguely remember- it has been a while) a talking vending machine with an attitude.

This is a good book to settle in with if you’re looking for entertainment and open to the humor of Douglas Adams as rendered by a cast of strange characters.
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Book Review: O’Donnell - Death of Bees
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Death of Bees
Lisa O’Donnell

This book came to me by way of a Powell’s Indiespensible (yes, spelled that way) subscription.  Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon picks a book and packages it up along with book themed swag and sends it off.  The swag with this book was Beeswax Lip Balm and some honey (along with a booklet capturing an interview with the author and an advance copy of an unrelated book).

The concept here, for me anyway, is to read something I wouldn’t normally find on my own, and hopefully enjoy it.  Two for two in this case.  The book is very different from my typical fair, and I’m glad I read it.  The story is two young girls living in Scotland (in some sort of public housing) find their mother has committed suicide and their father is found dead in bed.  Rather than involve the authorities, the girls take it upon themselves to dispose of the bodies in the garden and attempt to resume life as if things are normal.  Normal in this case is a bit unconventional, with drug dealers, alcoholism, questionable relationships, medical crisis, and the daily difficulties faced by people living at the low end of the economic continuum.

The story is presented in an interesting way with each chapter written from the viewpoint of a character.  The same event may be told two or three times, each with a distinct twist.  Marnie presents the perspective of the big sister/woman of the house now though only 15 years old.  Her sister Nelly ads comic relief with her distinct style of “speech”.  The next door neighbor Lennie provides and adult “looking in but not casting judgement” perspective, and eventually harboring the girls while rebuilding his own life.

Next up:
Book, Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore
Audiobook, Dirk Gently, The Long and Dark Teatime of the Soul (radio dramatized version)
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Audiobook Review: Adams - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Dramatized)
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Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Dramatized)
by Douglas Adams

The reviews made me both hesitant and intrigued about this audiobook.  Hesitant because there were multiple negative comments about deviation from the book.  Intrigued because of the same, after all- variations on the theme of a book I enjoyed could be enjoyable in their own right.

Overall it turned out to be good entertainment.  I had mentioned in a previous review about running out of Hitchhiker’s Guide radio shows.  The dramatized radio shows had become a staple of my commute home in the evening, and a very good way to pass the time.

It’s been awhile since I read the book so whatever deviation there was did not reduce my enjoyment.  The key bits of the story were there, and some parts seemed to be fleshed out in a pleasing way (maybe I just didn't remember those details).

Next up in audible form: The Long and Dark Teatime of the Soul (Dramatized)
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Book Review: Tracy - Monkeewrench
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Book Review - Tracy - Monkeewrench
Monkeewrench
P.J. Tracy

I liked this book.  A nice mystery.  My mini-description is “A software company makes a game containing 20 ‘puzzles’- each puzzle is the crime scene of a serial killer’s murders.  Suddenly the scenes from the game begin occurring in the real world-- who did it?”

When I read the synopsis I was also pleased to see the book was set in a familiar city.  A bit of a letdown for me, that didn't play much into the book-- it could have been any city, this particular one had no influence on the story.

The characters carried the book, there were many, each distinct and fun to read.  Interviews with the authors have touched on this point, saying in essence it is a risk to bring too many people into the story, some people are put off by keeping track of who is who.  The authors acknowledged the point, but I don’t recall their specific answer--  it doesn't matter.  The characters in the book travel in packs, so keeping track of nuances from one person to the next isn't really important.  You really only need to know which pack the character belongs to and you’re good to go.

I keep saying “they” and “their” when referring to the authors-- clearly plural.  P.J. Tracy is a pseudonym (trying typing that five times fast) for a mother and daughter writing team (P.J., short for Patricia, and Traci).  More noteworthy is they don’t live near each other.  Sounds complicated.  Don’t hold it against them, I couldn't really detect the hands of two different authors in the book.

Finally, with all mysteries I like to comment on whether the reader had a chance at solving the crime.  Yes, you do in this case.  I didn't catch it and kicked myself when the big reveal occurred.
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Audiobook Review: Adams - Quintessential Phase
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Quintessential Phase
Douglas Adams

And its a wrap.  The complete radio series completed.  Sad to see it go, but I've got Dirk Gently to ease me down.  When I first started listening to audiobooks my intent was to stick with non-fiction, figuring I would listen to books I'd never read but should.  And for the first year that stuck- for the most part.  The odd Chopin Manuscript, Metatropolis, and William Gibson snuck in there, but for the most part it was A Brief History of Nearly Everything type material.

Now I'm in a minor panic. What happens when I run out of radio plays?  Maybe I can search on "dramatized" versions, but deep down I know it won't be the same.

This audiobook wrapped up nicely some bits that I didn't recall from the books.  An explanation of how the babel fish works and how they relate to dolphins.  Excellent stuff, and more fuel for my thought that there really is  a place in the world for a comprehensive cross-reference of the books, radio plays and scripts (the later two should be close, but I'm guessing there are bits where they deviate from one another).  The big question about this big idea is how-- a wiki of some sort immediately comes to mind, and immediately seems perhaps inferior to the job.  But as you can tell from my "perhaps-ing" I'm not convinced.

I'll have to give it more thought, when I'm not not digging into Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (the radio drama, not the book or the TV show-- yay! More wiki material).
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