Thursday, February 19, 2015

2015: Death without Company (Walt Longmire, #2) – Craig Johnson

Unlike the introductory novel, The Cold Dish, Johnson is now working with some established characters. Sure, there are plenty of new people to introduce, but the core of the first novel is back: Walt, Vic, Ruby, Ferg, Lucian, the Bear, Dog, they’re all here. The new novel plays with the idea that this many murders in this little time means maybe it is time for Walt to retire. This is a small county in Wyoming, the least populated as well. Yet, here we are a few months removed from the action of the last book and there is another murder investigation. Most people seem to think it is actually a matter of old age, but Lucian claims this is murder. And as a favor to the old sheriff Walt actually investigates.

What I like about Death without Company is that the characters are consistent. There are no new surprises coming our way as readers. Walt is very Walt. Bear is very Bear. Ferg is very absent. Lucian is very ornery. This is not a scenario where the characters are doing something that seems uncharacteristic. Vic is not all of a sudden this sweet lady trying to get some guy’s attention. Ruby is not all of a sudden withdrawn. It makes for a stable universe. Johnson wrote these characters to be consistent. The world may be changing, but the characters are the same. Also, a few people are introduced that might be easy to draw in in the future. You have doctors, people who do autopsies, the staff at the nursing home. There are plenty of people that you now know that Johnson can draw upon in the future, which is important if there are going to be a lot more crimes in the series. You can’t claim to have a small population with murders every week. You eventually run out of people.

I also like that the theme of Walt's healing remains present. Henry isn’t harping on Walt to get in shape, but at one point Walt laments that he wishes he had been running more lately. There is another lady interested in Walt. Walt's house continues to be repaired. The themes from the first book carry through and are not just left hanging out in space. The relationships between people are real. There are also a couple of new characters introduced that can bring some depth to the story. Sancho and Double Tough seem like interesting contrasts to Walt, Vic and Ferg on the force. Lana, if she stays around is a really interesting character. In other words Johnson is not doing too much too fast, but letting Durant unfold while presupposing that Walt has been here most of his life. It is also interesting to finally meet Cady, Walt’s daughter. She barely figures into the story, but she is back home.

Finally, I love the way Johnson plays with mysticism. It is really an interesting take to have a White man communing with Native American spirits in a way that is typically not seen in popular culture. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the future. Overall, I really liked the book. I plan on reading the third in the series. As I look ahead, Johnson’s novels are well liked by critics and fans alike. That is promising as I agree with their assessments.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015: North! Or Be Eaten: Wild escapes. A desperate journey. And the ghastly Fangs of Dang. (The Wingfeather Saga Book 2) - Andrew Peterson

Like I did with the first books in each of these series I started Books 2 for Longmire, The Wingfeather Saga and The Kingkiller Chronicles at the same time. Unlike the first time it was the Wingfeather Saga that captured my attention causing me to complete it first. The great part about finishing it was that this week Betsy and I are hosting the Webb family, who introduced me to the series. The first night they were in we all sat around saying which actor we thought should play each character. It made Betsy want to read the series.

What I love about Wingfeather is the fast-paced action. There is swift movement from conflict to conflict. What I hate about Wingfeather is the fast-paced action. There is swift movement from conflict to conflict. With Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia there is time for reflection, both for you and for the characters. In Wingfeather the characters learn on the go. Which, seeing that typed here makes me realize, that is more like us. We learn on the go in our busy lives. But it seems much easier to sit, go through seasons of inaction and learn from our success and failures.

What else do I like about Wingfeather? I like the primary team of characters. I like that there are characters that pop in and out of the story. Unlike Kingkiller where you do not know who to invest in, if the person has a name in Wingfeather it is worth remembering. You never know when and where they might show up again. I also like that characters you think you know have these backstories you might never guess. You know the characters, but you find out things about them that may surprise you that they did, but you can totally believe.

Again, like the first book I have to say that I love the healing power of music in the series. I also like the importance of story and memory. These are the threads of so many societies, yet overlooked by a culture that likes facts and consumable information. There is something unlocked in stories and songs that evoke emotive response to diffuse situations. That is not something that you see a lot these days, or at least I don’t.

The second book was quite a bit stronger than the first and I look forward to reading books three and four. The Webb kids let me know that there are new characters to look forward to, but luckily the conversation was so fast that I don’t remember who they are or where they might creep up. I don’t know if Peterson is someone that matured as a writer as he went, or if his intention was to write for someone like his daughter where themes could grow and deepen as she aged. Either way if the next two books grow in the same way, they should be outstanding.