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Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch – first thoughts

Title:  Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Series:  Book Four, Rivers of London

Copyright:  2013 in the UK; will not be published in the US until February 2014

Cover art from Aaronovitch's web site, www.the-folly.com

Cover art from Aaronovitch’s web site, http://www.the-folly.com

A mutilated body in Crawley.  Another killer on the loose.  The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man?  Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there a connection?

And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

First:  yes, I ordered a copy from the UK and paid the ridiculous shipping fees and the currency exchange rate against the pound for it.

Second:  no, I am not at all sorry and think the book was worth the price.

Third:  I tore through the book in very short order and didn’t really have time to absorb the nuances of the storytelling.  Certainly now that I’ve gone back to the beginning of the series, some things that were sort of casual asides or seemed like throwaway, inconsequential points really aren’t.  Maybe I’ll post a full review then.  But for now, my general thoughts:

  • As I read, the separate story lines felt a little scattered and disjointed, but they all fell together like a puzzle or a rubik’s cube in the end.
  • The copyediting or typesetting, I’m not sure which, missed a fair number of very noticeable blips — spaces between letters and punctuation, dropped articles, etc.
  • Loved the humor, the slang, the reappearance of minor characters like Peter’s parents, Abigail, etc.  Others have said it, but this series has a very distinctive sense of place.

One of my favorite passages — and there were many but this one seemed least spoilerish — is this:

The Met has a tin ear for operations mnemonics, and the one for being the first officer on the scene at a major incident is SADCHALETS.  Survey; oh god there’s a bomb.  Assess; oh god there’s more than one bomb and everyone in the [redacted] will die.  Disseminate; oh god there’s a bomb, we’re going to die, send help.  For the life of me I couldn’t remember the CHALETS bit — Casualties, Hazards, something, something and I remembered that the last S stood for Start a Log because it was such an obvious cheat.

My immediate reaction:  Gobsmacked.  I can’t remember the last time I came to the end of a book, the big confrontation, and was left so utterly blindsided and stunned.

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Gone with the wind?

One of my favorite Nora Roberts’ books, Rising Tides, is on sale as a summer/beach read at various ebook retailers.  \o/  But I’m a little afraid to re-read it and find that it is no longer to my taste.

Looking at the “customers who browsed this book also looked at” panel, I see that NR has a new Irish trilogy coming soon, and it has a paranormal twist.  I miss NR’s plain contemporary romances.  Most of her trilogies or quartets (anymore) have a paranormal bent — ghosts or historic evil — on top of the romance.  There’s nothing wrong with that…but I miss series like the Stanislaski family.  (Wow, I’m seriously dating myself and my reading history with that reference.)

 

Something else that’s gone with the wind:  Jesse Wave’s post about het romance in m/m disrespecting readers.  My taste doesn’t square up with any of JW’s reviewers and I’m not really interested in the industry/craft type posts that go up there occasionally, but for sheer volume in terms of new m/m, I keep the site in my reader for title checks.  I read the disrespect post in my reader and it was jaw-dropping.  Then I saw many tweets about it, including references to what I assume was a giant comment thread.  But when I went to the site today to read both the post and the comments, it was gone.  Deleted.  My reader still has record of it.  The posts before and after it in my reader are on the site, but “On Page Het Sex in M/M Romances:  Why are M/M Readers Disrespected by Some Authors?” is gone.  The site owner has the right to do with her site as she wishes…but did she really think that post wasn’t going to generate backlash in the reader and author community?  Or was that the point?  More traffic and the opportunity to flounce off in a huff?

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Oh, Net Galley, you fail

I found an approval email from Net Galley in my inbox this morning. Which was curious since I have no requests pending. But okay.

When I opened the message, I found I’ve been pre-approved to read an erotic romance novel by an author I’ve never heard of. And the tag line from Net Galley is that readers of the Crossfire and Fifty Shades series will love this book.

Uh, serious misfire there, Net Galley. After reading the first 20 pages of FSoG, I abandoned it because of its crappy writing. And the first Crossfire book was pedestrian and a C- book (not recommended) for me.

What algorithm got my address added to the pre-approval blast email list for that book? Inquiring minds…

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Getting the details right

Sports romances are dangerous things.  Dangerous because they can be hard to do well:  balancing between the fantasy of romance (het or gay) and the reality of the professional sport is difficult.

I love baseball.  (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that before; I’m an Orioles fan who has lived through thirteen consecutive losing seasons, yet still goes to the ballpark.)  So when someone in my feed recommended JF Smith’s The Last Day of Summer, I bought a copy.

First:  if I had realized that I’d tried Smith before, I would have been more cautious about buying, despite the very reasonable price.  I found his Latakia to be problematic (at best) in terms of content and not very well written.

Second:  when it comes to any professional sport, there’s what is technically possible and there’s what is extremely unlikely.  String too many technically possible but extremely unlikely things together, and fans of the sport will roll their eyes.  It weakens the plausibility of the rest of non-sport-related plot.

General criticism of The Last Day of Summer (in short):  narrated by an immature drama queen who likes to play the victim while being a pretty crappy friend and boyfriend; dialogue that was supposed to be snarky and funny (I think) but was just stilted, crass, and unfunny; in need of better pacing; peopled by one-dimensional secondary characters; and riddled with wonky punctuation and language.  It’s self-published; it could have used professional editing or polishing by a critique group IMO.  (To balance:  there are a lot of five star reviews at Amazon, so obviously other readers like this style/voice/writing.)

Worse than all of that is the baseball.  Look, I can tell some research was done:  the narrator infodumps as he “learns” the sport in order to be a physical therapist for an expansion team.  But it’s as if the rules were absorbed without the observation of how they work in practice.

Not quite right things:

  • road trips that mixed AL team series with NL team series (FFS, look at schedules published on MLB.com:  interleague play is bunched up and only happens twice a season, not randomly interspersed.  Unless the author was setting the book in the vague future, after Houston moves to the AL this season and interleague becomes less bunched?  See this wikipedia entry on scheduling.)
  • an AL pitcher taking batting practice (for no apparent reason since NL games weren’t next)
  • a pitcher who red-shirted in college going in the first round of the draft and then skipping the minors entirely (NO. Absolutely not.)
  • the highest batting average on the team being .295 (possible but not really likely for a team with any playoff aspirations)
  • a subpar fielder hitting below the Mendoza line who remains in the line-up as a starter (unless he’s a big name – and he wasn’t in this plot – he needs to be bringing it at the plate or in the field)
  • a rookie coming into to pitch three innings in relief, then pitching a complete game that is a no-hitter into the 10th inning the next day/game (uh, no)
  • the pitching rotation seemed not quite right — somehow the same rookie managed two starts within four days, then came in as relief on the sixth day (unless you are Curt Schilling in the World Series, no)
  • a relief pitcher coming into the game from the dugout rather than the bullpen.  With no warm up. To catch a runner stealing as the third out in the ninth on a trick play.  (*eyeroll*)
  • the expansion team is in a city that, frankly, I’m not sure can support a major league team, even though it has a rich history of producing MLB players.  (Check out this discussion of the possible league expansion after Houston moves to the AL West.) 

There’s only so much disbelief I can suspend, and asking me to buy all this was too much.

Not recommended.

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Ubiquitous

That Book is everywhere and known to everyone. Today at a class on the Administrative Procedures Act, the speaker joked that his publisher (the ABA) wanted to tweak the title of his book to Fifty Shades of Rulemaking to bump up sales. Since the book’s actual title is A Guide to Federal Rulemaking, a title change probably won’t affect sales that much.

Still. Ugh.

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February’s first book and first DNF

If Contract with Consequences were a paper book, I would have tossed it against the wall.  Or maybe torn it in half and then shredded it.  Then buried it not in the recycling bin but the garbage under the smelliest of kitchen debris.  That’s how much it irritated me.  And I didn’t even get that far.

Miranda Lee used to be an auto-buy HP author for me, but as I moved away from categories, I lost track of her work.  So when I saw this one while browsing online, I downloaded it tout suite.  But I should have read the blurb first.

I’m ambivalent about the heroine.  On one hand, it’s brave (and other things) to set out intentionally to be a single parent.  On the other hand, the way she’s painted, as changing her entire life — career that she doesn’t like as much, etc. — in order to catch a man and get pregnant smacks of desperation to me.

I feel no ambivalence about the “hero”: he’s an arrogant prat (who I am sure will remain patronizing and holier-than-thou).  He describes himself as a “selfish, self-centred commitment-phobe”.  Meanwhile, he too thinks the heroine emits a perfume of desperation and would be so much better off if she could lighten up and have casual sex.  With him, of course.

Oh, his expertise also apparently runs to fertility.  He knows best how to get the heroine pregnant — forget about ovulation, etc., all the things that fertility specialists have women track as they attempt to get pregnant.  His magic penis will relax her and solve the mystery of her uterus better than any IVF specialist!

At that point, I was finished.  Done.  Stick a damn fork in me.

Next?

 

~~~

Afterthought:  the hero’s patronizing know-better attitude about fertility obviously rubbed me wrong.  It reminded me of those television commercials in which male actors intrude into predominantly female realms and school them on better products.  Because men (who do less housework and childcare) would still know which household cleaners are best, which diapers are most absorbent, etc.  Please, Every Man, tell me how to do my women’s work better; you don’t do it but even so you must know best by virtue of having a penis.

 

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Placeholder?

Reading about the HSBC money laundering settlement reminded me of Rebeck’s play, Dead Accounts. Accountability, morality, fairness, justice: they all vary when you’ve got money to burn.

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Groupon’s ad fail

When I saw one Groupon advertisement for Father’s Day for “the guy who carried you for nine months”, I thought it was an accident, a cut and paste from Mother’s Day that hadn’t been caught.  But now I’ve gotten another one.  With two ridiculous tag lines:

“Deals to celebrate the man who carried you around for nine months.”

“Father’s Day deals for the man who felt you kick inside him for nine months.”

Really?

Delete and unsubscribe.

ETA:  as zladko notes in the comments, Groupon could be marketing toward transgender dads.  Which is absolutely true, and if they are then I owe their marketing department an apology for assuming this was just sloppy ad copy.  It’s a possibility that I had considered and discarded, as I mention in my response.  But again, if it is considered and planned, then mea culpa.

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Sidebar – Dharun Ravi’s sentence

Okay, I haven’t been paying close attention to the criminal case against Dharun Ravi (who secretly taped his gay college roommate’s sexual encounter and then posted it on YouTube, which contributed to his roommate’s suicide).  But I’m seeing new articles and tweets about how 30 days isn’t enough although deportation would have been draconian.

Stop.  Just stop.  Regardless of the wrong he did Tyler Clementi, deportation is not a form of punishment that can be imposed by a criminal court.  Immigration is a federal issue, and deportation proceedings (or removal proceedings pursuant to a Notice to Appear rather than deportation’s Order to Show Cause) are not and cannot be held in a state court.  Completely different mechanism, completely different judicial system, completely different bureaucracy.  That’s not to say that Ravi couldn’t still be deported or removed based on whatever the ultimate criminal conviction is — is it a crime involving moral turpitude or a crime that would be classified as an aggravated felony regardless of sentence? — but the court imposing his sentence had no authority to deport him.

*steps off soapbox*

(Standard disclaimer: the above should not be construed to be legal advice or to create an attorney-client privilege with anyone.  If you need immigration advice, you should consult with an attorney specializing in the type of immigration issue you may have.)

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Nonfiction: reading about the financial crisis that began in 2008

Greed is good – Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987)

The will to be stupid is a very powerful force — Miles Vorkosigan, “Brothers in Arms” by Lois McMaster Bujold (1989)

What do a Sandra Bullock Oscar vehicle and the financial meltdown of 2008 have in common?  The connection isn’t obvious at first:  Michael Lewis.  The author of The Blind Side and Moneyball, Lewis worked on Wall Street and wrote Liar’s Poker about his experience back in the late 80s (published 1989, reissued 2010).  And he has circled back to Wall Street and the investment industry in The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, (c) 2010, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

When the crash of the U.S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news.

The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread.  The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking.  The crucial question is this:  Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages?

Mortgage bonds. Credit default swaps. Collateralized debt obligations. Synthetic  CDOs.  Asset backed securities. Mezzanine  investments.

Intentionally vague, uninformative, even deceptive based on their common usage versus specific usage in the mortgage-backed securities field.  Until a few years ago, I’d never heard of any of this stuff.  And I would guess that many, many Americans would say the same thing.  As Lewis puts it, “How do you explain to an innocent citizen the importance of a credit default swap on a double –A tranche of a subprime-backed collateralized debt obligation?” (223)

He does so carefully, mapping everything out and repeating parts of it through the use of different perspectives.  Lewis follows the analysis and trading of several smart investors – one Wall Street industry group*, and two outsider individuals or groups – who analyzed the risk of packaging subprime mortgage-backed bonds into derivatives, and bet against them early on when it was contrary to Wall Street’s conventional wisdom.  Much of his criticism (valid IMO) is that everyone on Wall Street was so busy thinking up news ways to make money and creating new “products” to sell that they never actually looked at the underlying value and/or risk of their new baby; they just enjoyed the billion dollar profits.  He uses “fraud” and “ponzi” repeatedly through the book, while also pointing out the sheer ignorance and greed of investment banks and institutional investors.

Highlights (or lowlights as the case may be)

  • Lewis’s characterization of CDOs as “a credit laundering service for the residents of Lower Middle Class America.  For Wall Street it was a machine that turned lead into gold.” (73)
  • On the investment banks:  “Why didn’t someone, anyone, inside Goldman Sachs stand up and say, ‘This is obscene. The rating agencies, the ultimate pricers of all these subprime mortgage loans, clearly do not understand the risk and their idiocy is creating a recipe for catastrophe?’ Apparently none of those questions popped into the minds of market insiders as quickly as another:  How do I do what Goldman Sachs just did?” (78)

The Big Short, ultimately, is a scathing indictment of Wall Street and its culture, and of ratings agencies.  The U.S. federal government, lenders, and borrowers get pretty short shrift, too.  It is compulsively readable as a narrative of the looming disaster, and also educational about complex instruments without being pedantic or verbose.

Recommended.

* The head of the hedge fund who is nominally an “insider”, since he and his two colleagues worked as analysts or auditors earlier in their careers, comes across as very much a skeptic and cynic about Wall Street and the utility of the big three rating agencies.  Through out the book, he is described as being absolutely tactless and unapologetic about what he perceived as the stupidity and poor/non-existent internal controls and risk management of  investment banks and their CEOs.

 

ETA:  WRT credit default swaps, which are essentially insurance contracts, I understand the explanation of what they were and what their impact was…but fundamentally don’t *get* them.  In “real” insurance contracts, the person buying the contract has to have an insurable interest in the person/entity who is the subject of the contract, otherwise it was just gambling and the contracting parties could do unscrupulous things to the unrelated insured third party to “win” their bet.  Jurisprudence developed around insurance preventing that and creating the insurable interest requirement.  With a CDS — not so much…was that an element in their abuse?

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