The Closers by Michael Connelly

The Closers.jpgHarry Bosch is back at the LAPD after three years trying to retire and finding it impossible. This time he gets assigned to the Open-Unsolved Unit — the Closers — with his former partner Kizmin Rider.

Bosch and Rider are sucked into a world of conspiracy and racism when they are sent to investigate the long abandoned case of a mixed race teenager’s murder.

To make things even better Harry’s old nemesis is now out for vengeance.

This is a Michael Connelly novel and that means that it is a well-written thriller with a complicated mystery. Characters are interesting and flawed and painfully wrong at times. It’s also a Harry Bosch novel which means he’s going to get himself in trouble by not holding back and he’s going to make enemies and get on people’s nerve but he’s going to solve the case.

Bosch is a strange mix of burning compassion for the families of murder victims and blatant disregard for whoever he has to step on in order to solve the mystery.

Connelly always tells a good story and this is another one.

Blink of an Eye by Gregg Luke

Blink of an Eye.jpgBlink of an Eye is a medical thriller about Joseph Ramirez, a teacher in a small town in California, who suffers traumatic brain injury in a major car accident. Physically he recovers pretty quickly but he is plagued with nightmares about a childhood that he doesn’t remember.

The rest of the book is Joseph trying to find a way to discover what the terrible family secret is that his dreams are making him remember.

There’s a great deal of build up to the ending and it’s a pretty satisfying ending as it neatly explains the trauma that made him forget as well the reason that nobody else seems to know what happened either.

The book is also surprisingly accurate in its use of medical and psychological procedures to tell a story. The author has done his research — or has a background in the medical field.

This is, also a piece of LDS fiction — not a book by an LDS author but one that also has LDS characters and is published by an LDS publisher. This is one of the rare cases where the story is good, the writing is well done and there are no long drawn out moments of religious navel gazing as is common in many of these books.

It was an enjoyable mystery story with some very real and scary personal situations.

Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Takes a Holiday.jpgAfter the events of Kitty’s trip to Washington she decides to hide out in a cabin in a small town in Colorado while she tries to get enough focus to write the book she has a contract to finish.

As you might imagine things don’t go as planned and she gets into a mess of legal battles, skinwalkers, local law enforcement, amateur witchcraft and trauma.

This is the first book of the series that seems to be written as a horror story and draws on some classic horror pacing and tropes to pull off the creepy feelings.

Kitty is a more believable and likable character with every book and the other characters that start to recur more and more frequently are also becoming more interesting as it is revealed that each of them has reasons for the insane things they do.

I enjoy Carrie Vaughn’s voice and writing but I felt like, despite the long list of things going on in this book not much really happens. There isn’t a real plot, as such, there is no villain, no obstacle to overcome except maybe writer’s block. It’s more of a personal story and Carrie Vaughn is a powerful enough writer that she pulls it off but I finished it feeling a need for more.

So far I’ve found each book of the series has built on the previous until the character feels strong and interesting.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

The Dragon's Path.jpgDaniel Abraham is one of the best writers working in fantasy today. His Long Price Quartet contains the most perfect ending to any series that I read.

That left me expecting a lot form this book, perhaps too much.

Don’t misunderstand. I really liked this book. I liked the characters and their completeness. I liked the depth of history and mystery of the past that all the people in the world seem completely unconcerned about. I love the use of economics portrayed in a realistic way. I love that the characters often do shocking or surprising things that always seem in character.

This is the story of Cithrin, an orphan ward of the bank who is tasked with smuggling the wealth of a small nation out of a city so it is not lost in a coming war. Then she finds herself adrift in a foreign town and makes a gamble that will change not only her own fate but possibly the fate of nations.

Geder is a soldier who wants to be a philosopher. When the king gives him a position of authority in order to use him as a scape goat when things go wrong Geder takes things into his own hands with terrible consequences.

Other characters are dealing with tragedy or loss or simply misguided elitism. Some are kind, some are cruel, some are mysterious and some are headed down a shocking path that will start a landslide in this world.

Now I need to talk about the things that I don’t like. The races of people in this book are interesting but I don’t feel that Abraham made them explicit enough. There are hints that all these different races are different from each other in appearance but it is never spelled out enough for me to know what they look like when their race is used as the only descriptor. I would like more detail because it is a seemingly complicated society of different races that resemble other fantasy races but I can not tell them apart because I don’t know what any of the races look like.

My only other complaint is that this book felt somehow less than I was expecting. It has been given some great hype and my own mind has built it up for years as a book that I was excited to read but it fell a little bit short of my expectations — which were admittedly too high. This is a good book and a great start of a new series. I was just looking for the best thing to be published in a decade and it isn’t that.

I liked the book, I would recommend it. It has some very powerful themes and asks some very interesting questions about morality and life. It also has fascinating characters that you will identify with and love.

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Return of the King.jpgThis concludes the third volume of Tolkien’s epic novel, The Lord of the Rings.

It is timely that I finished reading this just after two very disappointing fantasy books that are considered classics of the genre.

When Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy based on these books came out I found the first movie to be the best of the lot. It felt the most like Tolkien’s world brought to life. It still does and I think that is because it is the one that was least changed by a director and writers who had little understanding of what the books were actually about.

By contrast the third movie was my least favorite of all of them because of that same ignorance that was multiplied throughout the ending of the story.

The Return of the King has always been my favorite part of Tolkien’s epic fantasy and nothing has changed that. This is the conclusion of a story that has so much to say and says it so powerfully.

I had a lot to say about the two previous books and I think I mostly said it all.

I will comment on something that I’ve noted before. The hero that so many other writers try to copy, to build a story around is Aragorn. He is the King in exile, the reluctant hero. He slays monsters, raises armies, defeats a dark lord and becomes King after marrying the elven princess.

Tolkien put him in there because he was aware of mythological tropes and wanted to give us one. But Tolkien took his story farther than that because this is not a story about the hero. This is the story of common folk, of hobbits.

Tolkien, whether consciously or not, followed the progression of the hero’s journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell. He put Aragorn on that journey and many people picked up on that.

What often gets missed is that each of the hobbits also is on a hero’s journey. They get the Call to Adventure, move through all the stages of the journey and return home (incidentally Neil Gaiman’s children’s book Instructions is basically a summary of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey).

Hero's Journey.jpg
The Hero’s Journey

The cycle can be applied to each of the hobbits from Pippin and Merry to Frodo and Sam.

Frodo passes through the temptations with the Ring and a symbollic death and rebirth when he refuses to cast the ring into the fire and is consumed by its malice. He is also transformed after, both symbolically with his signs of PTSD at the end and physically with his missing finger. Frodo also returns home at the end only to find it less than it was and move on to the gray havens.

How often in life does that happen? How often do we return to a beloved place only to find it no longer has a hold on us. Frodo has found peace but it has not made him happy. The Shire is no longer home. He has seen too much and, unlike his good friend Sam he cannot go back. The way is shut.

Even Gollum goes through temptations and finally gives in to them and leads the hobbits to Shelob in a hope of stealing back what he covets. However, his story follows a dark and twisted version of the hero’s journey when he returns to his origin. Gollum became Gollum when Smeagol killed his cousin in order to get the Ring and Gollum ends his story when he kills himself in order to steal it yet again. His abyss and rebirth are when he loses the Ring and his transformation and atonement are played out in twisted versions as he wrestles with himself over his relationship with Frodo and Sam. Ultimately he has followed a darker path that leads to his demise in death — which is where his threshold started when he killed Deagol.

Pippin and Merry are captured by Orcs which begins their transformation until Pippin looks into the Palantir and is forever changed by the experience. From then on he is reborn as something more and less than he was and he journeys to Minas Tirith. Where he must pass through the fire that is Denethor’s pyre to save Faramir and complete his atonement.

Merry, on the other hand goes through his death and rebirth when he stabs the Witch King and is nearly killed.

All four hobbits must return home and complete their journey by cleansing the shire. This story doesn’t end with Gandalf performing some great magics, it doesn’t end with Aragorn marrying Arwen or becoming King. Those things are hardly even important. The Shire is the thing, it is the representation of home and the end of the journey. Until the Shire is safe, the heroes have not reached the end.

In fact I am going to argue that Sam is the real hero of this story. The last line of the book is Sam, “Well, I’m back.” A single line that communicates so much melancholy and emotion that it seems impossible in so simple a phrase. However, what Tolkien is showing is Sam, returning at last to his home, his journey complete.

It is Sam who calls out the crossing of the Threshold when he says, “If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest from home I’ve ever been.” This is it. He is moving out into the unknown and setting out on his journey and the journey ends when he mutters those three quiet words that close it all up.

He has helpers along the way, like Aragorn who councils him and Galadriel who gives him gifts — which, by the way are meant to help rebuild the Shire, another sign of what the story is actually about. His moment of rebirth comes when he thinks that Frodo is dead and the Orcs are there to take his body. Sam takes the Ring and proves himself the true hero because he is the only person in the story who takes it not out of desire or lust or greed but out of desperation. (Faramir, Gandalf and Galadriel all refuse to touch it for fear of the temptation it might bring.)

Then, on the slopes of Mount Doom when Frodo can go no further Sam carries him the rest of the way. The act of a true hero to know when his help is needed and in what way. “I can’t carry it for you Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you.”

When it is all over Sam returns to the Shire with the gift of Galadriel (the Goddess) to help him rebuild.

I could talk more about the symbolism of the King coming out of the West bringing healing to the people of Gondor (…come out of the West with healing in his wings…). Or I could talk about Saruman and his power with words or his industrialization of Orthanc vs. the ents and their quiet anger and how it compared with Tolkien’s own oft expressed views on technology and machinery.

I could talk about the battles and war and how they seem to be flavored by Tolkien’s own experiences with wars and battles.

I could talk about the beautiful conciseness of his language and how every word is chosen to convey multiple meanings and build atmosphere while also planting vivid images with short sentences that seem almost sparse in description.

I could talk about a dozen other things about this book but what I really want to say is this: The Lord of the Rings is the best work of fiction in the English language — possibly in the world — and you should read it over and over again because it is truly remarkable and beautiful.

The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

The Claw of the Conciliator.jpgI’m beginning to think that all the ‘classics’ of fantasy are a lie. They have no Eagle Powers. I have heard great things about Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, which technically is actually science fiction in the very far distant future but stays firmly rooted on the ground with swords and horses and caves and ghosts.

I think.

Gene Wolfe’s prose is so dense it is hard to tell what the story is about and even harder to tell why I should care.

The story is told in the first person by Severian who is in possession of a legendary artifact that he got from somewhere and that glows really brightly but doesn’t seem to actually do other things. He sees ghosts but that might have been a dream or a hallucination. He has a new friend, completely out of nowhere. He teams up with some rebels for awhile and may or may not be trying to escape from them because there may or may not be something nefarious going on.

I found the book confusing, boring and filled with characters that I could never bring myself to care about and couldn’t keep straight long enough to try.

I’m stopping here. I can’t put myself through any more of this.

Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

Ship of Destiny.jpgI know that there are people who don’t like what Hobb has done with this series. I know that it is true but I don’t understand it. I find this trilogy to be even better than the previous one and the conclusion is much less bitter and much more satisfying — though, lets face it, this is Robin Hobb, even a good ending isn’t going to be completely happy.

This book is about redemption, redemption of people who thought they were beyond it, redemption of people who thought they didn’t deserve it and redemption of people who were in desperate need through no fault of their own.

There is a lot more going on in this book. We get to see the dragon Tintaglia and her desperate need to save her kind. The description of her is fascinating and beautiful and I love how she plays into the entirety of the plot.

I think I mentioned before that this series about women and the effects that they have. The main cast of characters in made up of the women of the Vestrit family as they struggle to keep their family and interests afloat in a time of crisis and devastation. Even some of the less interesting characters in previous books step up and become three dimensional people in this novel.

Hobb weaves together a hundred moving parts to make a novel that truly sings as she shapes the world of the Bingtown Traders, the Rainwilds families, the dragons, the sea serpeants, the Vestrit family, the slavers and the pirates into a final conclusion that is both satisfying and the very definition of bittersweet.

Read Robin Hobb. She knows how to tell a story.