Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Valley TV Mini-Series

Happy Valley
2014
starring Sarah Lancashire
written by Sally Wainwright
directed by Euros Lyn
*****
5 stars - outstanding
ALR Blue - no animal characters or scenes



Here we have an outstanding British mini-series which demonstrates in so many ways how American dramas have fallen off the rails.

The story centers around Cathrine, a Yorkshire village police sergeant. She's trying to raise her grandson after her daughter's death and doing her best to fight the growing drug problems in her community. In the meantime, a kidnap for hire plot is spiraling out of control, her ex-husband is wooing her, and her grandson is getting called to task for angry outbursts at school.

Now then, let's discuss why this was an amazing little TV show and why it was so much better done BBC style than American style.

First off, the main character. Catherine is unapologetically middle-aged and average. She's a bit frumpy, a bit overweight, and she exhibits a complex series of emotions and responses to situations from mother hen to thug. You know why? Because that's how people are. They're complicated. In fact every character (even supporting characters) in this drama is three dimensional and multi-faceted. None of that American nonsense with a couple of strong leads with single dominant character traits and minor characters who seem only to exist to read out lines. Even Catherine's 8-ish year old Grandson is well played. He's angry, but he's also a kid, and really not a bad kid.

Bad guys also get good play. They aren't all bad, they aren't all knowing. They're people. People who do stupid, stupid things and struggle with their choices.

Then there's the violence. Yes, there is some, but it is handled in a tasteful way. By that I mean that the camera play isn't the disturbing, almost pornographic kind that one grows accustomed to in the US. We don't get lingering (loving?) shots of people who have been brutalized, nor do we get the bonus sound effects of mallet on meat. Plus, not all violence is even shown. There were several scenes where the director could have chosen to show us icky things happening, but instead we see brief, clinical shots of the aftermath and either learn what happened from the characters or (even better) have to figure it out.

The series doesn't tell us what to think. It leaves us questioning the characters, wondering what we might have done in the same circumstances. It doesn't tell us when to cringe by showing graphic violence. It doesn't tell us that some people are all good and some are bad. It doesn't assure us that you can pick out good or bad from the crowd. That's awesome.

Finally, the writing and the pacing are marvelous. My husband and I watched all six episodes in the span of three days. Plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested and guessing how it will all end.



Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane

The Old Ways
A Journey on Foot
by Robert MacFarlane
2012
***
3 stars - because it's both 5 stars and 1 star
ALR Green - lots of delightful wildlife descriptions



I'm not a fan of traveling. I find the sudden displacement from point A to point B afforded by plane, train, and automobile to always be disconcerting. But walking, ah, now there is something to enjoy. The journey from here to there, the speed of the passing landscape, fast enough to offer variety, slow enough to examine, that's for me. I've always preferred to walk and before the fast pace of family life took hold of me, walking was how I got to many destinations, ran most of my errands (with the odd hop on the bus should my destination include the accumulation of packages).

And here we have the chronicles of a truly dedicated walker. A man who follows paths throughout the UK. Paths formed for reasons both historically important and arbitrary. 

In The Old Ways, Robert MacFarlane "sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads, and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes that crisscross the British landscape and its waters, connecting them to the continents beyond."

The pacing of his prose is much like a walk itself and one can almost feel the rhythm of one foot before the other, eyes scanning the countryside.

The snow was overwhelmingly legible. Each print-trail seemed like a plot that could be read backwards in time; a series of allusions to events since ended. I found a line of fox pugs, which here and there had been swept across by the fox's brush, as if it had been trying to erase evidence of its own passage. I discovered what I supposed were the traces of a pheasant taking off: trenched footprints where it had pushed up, then spaced feather-presses either side of the tracks, becoming progressively lighter and then vanishing altogether.

That's his walk across a golf course in the winter. I walk that way too. Eyes scanning the environment, trying to know what came before, what might come after. 

He also takes more well known walks, as in the chapter on The Broomway. That's a walk I've heard of before. A path out to sea afforded by a sea level expanse, exposed between tides, strewn with mud holes that will suck you down, and known to have been the site of over a hundred deaths when unfortunate travelers get disoriented in the mist and the tide rolls in.



And yet, and yet...

I just couldn't finish. Much like an exquisite article of clothing that somehow just doesn't fit right, this book is magical, amazing, and, for me, ultimately, not readable. It just didn't fit.

Mr. MacFarlane's joy of walking, his thrill of nature, his writing style, all were everything I had expected. But, alas, he is significantly more enamoured with history, archeology, anthropology, than I am. So while there are passages of delight where he describes the sensation of the ground through his shoes, the feel of the wind, the flight of birds, there are also long passages devoted to geological structures and the history of the great walkers. And that, I fear, was my undoing. 

Try as I might to seek out only the portions of the book that glittered for me, I had to admit that the entire endeavor was just weighing me down. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Make No Bones by Aaron Elkins

Make no Bones
by Aaron Elkins
1991
***
3 stars - perfect little cozy
ALR Blue - no animal characters, no animals harmed


Always a delight to find a new cozy series that I can count on to offer respite from more questionable tomes. 

Mr. Elkins has all the requisite elements; benign characters, PG rated murders, lovely settings, minimal mushy stuff, and some educational value (in this case on the topic of forensic anthropology).

Gideon Oliver, forensic anthropologist is off to a conference of similar academics. The setting, however, is in questionable taste as it is the scene where, ten years ago, at a similar conference, one of the scientists met an untimely death. Uh oh. Well, being anthropologists, they plan to mark the decade anniversary of their comrade's demise by interring his bones in the new forensic display at a local museum. 

But things are not all good cheer. There are old grudges aplenty, bristly personalities, and.... MURDER! Time for Gideon to do his thing and figure out what the heck.

When I read a cozy, it is for escape and reading pallet cleansing, so I don't try very hard to figure things out. There were a few clues and red herrings here and there and finally a big "um, hello?" clue (after which the author wraps things up quickly). Exactly what I was looking for after those two appalling one star books. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser

Royal Flash
by George MacDonald Fraser
1970
*
1 star - sometimes you have to bail early
ALR Blue


Yesterday, while at the library, I decided to have a sit down in the stacks and see what the bottom shelves had to offer. It was there I stumbled across the Flashman series. Well, I was quite excited as they promised to offer several books of reading pleasure under the guise of the memoirs of an English gentleman known as Henry Flashman. A person who invariably found himself caught up in great moments in history around the world. 

Judging by the original date due insert (still intact), I also observed that the book had enjoyed frequent circulation from the time it arrived in the early seventies, up until the mid-nineties (when I suppose its alphabetical banishment to the bottom shelf might have caused it to be overlooked by many).

Henry Flashman is "England's Number 1 scoundrel, bully, lier, and womanizer.... Prussia's greatest statesman and Europe's most active lady of the bedchamber are plotting a royal marriage that will change the destiny of a continent. Flashman is their luckless pawn. Blackmailed into doubling for a prince with a most inopportune and unsuitable disease he has to use all his reserves of deceit, low cunningly, and treachery to stay one hop ahead of pursuing death. The Prisoner of Zenda? Here's what really happened."

Oh, what fun, right? Wrong. To think what could have been. Did I really only read 60 pages? Because it seemed closer to 100. That's how slowly things unfold and how dreadfully dull the adolescent Flashman was. I couldn't take it.

Lyrical sentence structure and liberal use of period slang cannot make up for situations which, ultimately, lack humor. As in "I was caught with my pants down at a bordello and now I'm running away from the coppers and getting dressed at the same time." Har har har. Or how about "Hey! I'll bet I can get that 60 something retired boxing champion to beat the crap out of the snotty Prussian." Yuckity, yuck. "Hey! Isn't that the former Mrs. James flouncing about on stage with her bosoms popping out? We can so totally humiliate her. Just watch!" Oh, stop, I'm laughing so hard. 


The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
2012
*
1 star - what the heck happened here?
ALR Blue - if there were any animals, I missed them


Avid readers of this blog will recall that I gave my previous Kate Morton read, The Distant Hours, five stars. Afterwards, I promptly added all of Ms. Morton's novels to my queue, saving them for a time when I required a sure thing. Imagine my horror when, after toughing it out for almost 200 pages, I had to abandon The Secret Keeper (with extreme prejudice).

What went wrong? Well, it was clear from the get go that this was going to be a very similar story to The Distant Hours. A female lead, a story that bounces back and forth between past and present, World War II, family secrets. That's fine. In fact, I found that reassuring. "Yes," I said to myself, "this will be lovely, just like the last one."

Wrong. Whereas I was immediately captivated by the characters in The Distant Hours, the characters in The Secret Keeper didn't hold any charm for me. I became disenchanted almost from the start when the reader was asked to believe that a middle-aged woman could dispatch a fully grown man with a single, well placed thrust of a kitchen knife to the chest. Seriously? What are the chances of that?

Things went from bad to worse when two scenes appeared to have key contextual moments removed. As in, at first I thought I hadn't been paying attention because I'm wondering how the characters got from A to B, whether it was the same day or years later, and was generally confounded. Careful review of the passages showed that I had missed nothing and there was, indeed, a jarring jump within a scene. Ghastly editing.

Still, for a time at least, I was a bit curious to know what events had led up to the plunge of the knife, but as the book progressed with ever increasing flatness, I had to jump ship. 

The story centers around Laurel Nicolson, a successful actress in present day England who is the only person (other than her mother) to know of her mother's well placed kitchen utensil decades before. She and her siblings are united to watch over their mother during her final days. Laurel is determined to understand how her mother came to be a murderess (the crime was quite well turned into a plea of self defense). Turns out that mom had an actual life before she became mom, so we get to see mom as a young woman in love during the second world war. Stuff happens, but who cares?

I'm not giving Ms. Morton the toss. I'll try another one of her books at some point. After all, she's shown she has the chops for a Mango Momma approved book (at least once), but I'll take a closer look at the dust jacket and maybe read the first couple of chapters before I commit.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Devil Wears Scrubs by Freida McFadden

The Devil Wears Scrubs
by Freida McFadden
2013
****
4 stars - would have liked more
ALR Green - one person has a cat who is mentioned mostly via the cat fur stuck to her owner


A delightful little book that goes very quickly. Maybe not the best thing to read when your husband is getting surgery in a few weeks. Certainly not something you want to read when you're killing time in the hospital.

The Devil Wears Scrubs is a blow by blow description of Dr. Jane McGill's first month as an intern at a New York City hospital. After a disastrous first week trying to keep up with her demanding resident's idiosyncrasies, Jane is thrust into the disorienting world of being on call. 30 continuous hours of having to deal with whatever walks through the door as well as the various needs of resident patients.

It's daunting, mind numbing, and gives one a whole new appreciation for why things might take longer than you'd like at the hospital and why it's good to always double check medications and diagnosis (oh, and listen to the nurses).

The writing is very well paced and light. While the reader feels the suffocating tug of sleeplessness (along with missed meals and bathroom breaks), there is also the lighter side of things because even when dealing with life and death, the world offers humor. 

And then there is Dr. Alyssa. Evil Dr. Alyssa. The resident who has Jane under her thumb and is relentless in picking apart everything that Jane does.

Alyssa must be as sleep deprived as I am, but she doesn't look it. Her straight brown hair is swept back into... I think it's a chignon, although I truthfully don't know what the hell a chignon is. Not one little hair is out of place. Her eyes aren't bloodshot and don't have little purple circles under them, like I know mine do without even looking in a mirror. And she smells good. Nothing in this hospital smells good, except somehow Alyssa does.

What didn't I like? The book was too short (when have I ever said that before). MORE! MORE!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
by Maria Semple
2012
****
4 stars - was that supposed to be funny, because I found it depressing
ALR Green - family dog in a very minor role


First of all, for those of you who have made reading recommendations, I thank you. Secondly, note that when I say something is "in my queue" I mean it. This particular recommendation has been in the queue for almost two years, but things do eventually pop to the top and / or show up in the library network (although I do have a somewhat random timer, after which I will break down and purchase a book).

Here's another example where the "hilariousness" of a novel escapes me. Even "satire" would be too strong a word in my book. Maybe I just see things too objectively. Regardless, it's still a good, if ultimately depressing, piece of work.

Bernadette Fox lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter. Bernadette just doesn't seem to be fitting in. Why? Well, she's a bit agoraphobic to start. So much so that she's contracted out her personal life to an online assistant in India. But she doesn't mope around. She seems pretty lively. Her husband is a big shot technologist at Microsoft (and I found all of the depictions of the high tech industry completely plausible). Her daughter is cool and clearly loves her mom.

The problem is with the people around her. Bernadette ops out of parental participation at her daughter's school, which puts her on the "weird outsider gossip" list with the other parents. In particular with her next door neighbor who believes that Bernadette's fixer upper house and property are a blight on the community. They get into a nasty feud over the blueberry bushes that boarder Ms. Neighbor's property which leads to an unfortunate incident. 

Combine that with being accused of assault, having a husband who is forever at the office, and being reminded of a past she thought she left behind, Bernadette finally dumps it all and makes her escape, vanishing from the face of the earth and presumed dead by all but her loyal, loving daughter.

It's a very well written book and I do recommend it (hence the four stars). However, I had to read it quickly just to get on to something a little less real and painful. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day
by David Sedaris
2000
*****
5 Stars - here's a guy who knows how to use the English language
ALR Green - one chapter dealing with family pets, some treated better than others, but none seem to suffer


I doubt I'm the only person who, when first confronted by the acronym LOL, assumed that it meant Lots of Love. Thus my freak out when I started receiving emails from an old high school friend who peppered his text with lots of LOLs, presumably to indicate the benign nature of his contact, but which had the opposite effect of causing me to freak just a little bit.

I bring this up because several reviews and comments about this book characterized it as a LOL read. Now, it is rare that I LOL while watching a movie or reading or listening to a story, even when I am amused. That's just my nature. 

This, however, was not a LOL book (silent or otherwise), but it was darn good.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a series of essays and observations about life, David Sedaris's life. While I suppose that the descriptions of wit and comedy are based on disbelief or shock at how his mind works, for me, I devoured this book primarily because the author reflected so much of my inner dialog.

What I share with Mr. Sedaris (at least from his writing) is a tendency to observe situations without prejudice and to write my own descriptions in my head which know no bounds regarding eloquence or extreme comparisons.

Mr. Sedaris provides us with a series of short stories taken from rather random parts of his life. So we have some childhood stories, young adult stories, and, in the second half of the book, stories about his experiences as an American living in France. The title is derived from his attempts to learn French as an adult. It's not easy and one is often resigned to sounding like an idiot as people babble and shake their heads.

His pacing and turn of phrase is delightful, but it is difficult to find short passages that would be representative out of context. Here's one paragraph where he describes his dining experiences in France (and I have to say he's summed up much of what I have thought about "upscale" dining in the USA).

When the waiter brings our entrees, I have no idea which plate might be mine. In yesterday's restaurants it was possible both to visualize and to recognize your meal. There were always subtle differences, but for the most part, a lamb chop tended to maintain its basic shape. That is to say that it looked choplike. It had a handle made of bone and a teardrop of meat hugged by a thin rind of fat. Apparently, though, that was too predictable. Order the modern lamb chop, and it's likely to look no different than your companion's order of shackled pompano. The current food is always arranged into a senseless, vertical tower. No longer content to recline, it now reaches for the sky, much like the high-rise buildings lining our city streets. It's as if the plates were valuable parcels of land and the chef had purchased a small lot and unlimited air rights. Hugh's saffron linguine resembles a miniature turban, topped with architectural spires of shrimp. It stands there in the center while the rest of the vast, empty plate looks as though it's been leased out as a possible parking lot. I had ordered steak, which, bowing to the same minimalist fashion, is served without the bone, the thin slices of beef stacked to resemble a funeral pyre. The potatoes I'd been expecting have apparently either been clarified to an essence or were used to stoke the grill.

Now some reviewers of the book put Mr. Sedaris's family and experiences in the not quite average category. Seriously? Because while his stories do not exactly mirror my own life in detail, the overall abundance of things inexplicable and confusing is right there for me. 

I put this book in my queue after hearing an interview with Mr. Sedaris on my local NPR station. He sounded like an interesting guy. He even shared his impression of Billy Holiday singing the Oscar Mayer song. Don't tell me you don't do stuff like that when nobody is listening. If you don't, you aren't taking full advantage of life.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal

The German Mujahid
by Boualem Sansal
translated by Frank Wynne
2009
*****
5 stars - Wow!
ALR Blue


From the dust jacket:

Banned in Algeria, The German Mujahid is a groundbreaking novel. For the first time an Arab author directly addresses the moral implications of the Holocaust, drawing parallels between Nazism and Islamic fundamentalism.

The Schiller brothers were born in Algeria, separated by more than a decade. At a young age, they are sent to the ghettos of France to be raised by a loving uncle and his wife. Upon the death of their father, Rachel, the elder, discovers a box containing memorabilia which shows that their father was a Nazi war criminal. After Rachel's death by suicide, his brother, Malrich, inherits both the box and a diary left by Rachel which explains the effect of the discovery on him and his subsequent search for peace. Confused, enlightened, confounded, Malrich pens his own journal as he retraces his elder brother's footsteps through the history of the Holocaust and comes to his own conclusions about the similarities between the rise of Nazism and the stranglehold the Islamic fundamentalists have on his neighborhood.

Highly readable and very powerful. Rachel is the more reflective of the brothers. Once he knows that he is the son of a participant in the death camps, he is torn by the knowledge, devastated. His reflections become increasingly dark and filled with despair, yet chillingly true. 

I had been expecting some irrefutable line of reasoning, an alchemy of complex arguments, devastating revelations about a worldwide conspiracy against the German people, a chain reaction linking one chapter to the next, extraordinary circumstances skillfully orchestrated... But there was nothing. All it had taken for evil to triumph was a beardless, blustering soldier, a depressive, syphilitic housepainter, a few well-turned phrases, a muscular title - My Struggle - and a socioeconomic context that fostered grievances, condemnations, recriminations, and hyperbole.

Malrich, is a bit more pedestrian in his speech, yet he, too, suffers a personal crisis as he realizes the import of what is happening around him and confronts the local iman.

Yeah, well, fuck you, and you too, Emir! You want genocide? Well bring it on! Me and my mates, we'll be only too happy to roast some Nazi jihadist fuckers, and we'll invite all the kids on the estate to the barbecue.

In one journal entry, Rachel outlines the mechanics of the death camps. Both horrifying and fascinating. Genocide is not easily accomplished. Rounding up people, running the camps, killing, it was an undertaking of astounding scale and complexity. 

And here we have yet another example of the power of books, the power of ideas. The Algerian author, Boualem Sansal, was born in Algeria in 1949. At the age of 50, he retired from his job in the Algerian government and began writing. During the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria, his writing turned to his country, to present the truth. Despite the controversy of his books, he continues to live in Algeria.

No one dreams of being a torturer, no one dreams of one day being a torture victim. Just as the sun releases its excesses of energy in sporadic sun spots, from time to time history releases the hatred humanity has accumulated in a scorching wind that sweeps away everything in its path. Chance decides whether one is here or there, protected or exposed, on this side of the channel or that.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Handling the Undead
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
translated by Ebba Segerberg
2005
****
4 stars - not what I expected
ALR Green - a pet rabbit is killed, but it is quick and painless


I'll admit it. I was wandering the stacks at the library and came across this volume and I thought "Oh boy, a zombie book! I haven't read a zombie book in a while."

But this isn't really a zombie book. It is much more.

In a town in Sweden, the dead begin coming back to life. They are not angry, not dangerous, just reanimated. Still, it is disturbing. They cannot communicate, they appear confused, and people are, understandably, shocked and frightened.

It soon turns out that the undead are limited to people who have died within the past two months. That's not only a manageable number, but it's easy to figure out who they all are. Graves are exhumed (back a few extra weeks, just to be sure), the undead are rounded up and transported to a detention center for examination and containment. What has caused this? What do they want?

The book is deceptive in how it guides the reader from the first stages of a subtle horror story, to the larger picture of how a community responds to their new citizens, and then to something more. We learn about events through three families. Mahler, his daughter, and young grandson (recently deceased), David and his newly dead wife, and Flora and her grandma Elvy whose husband returns from the grave. Each family deals with the circumstances differently and through each family we learn more about what might (or might not) be going on.

I don't want to give away too much. I will say that if you are looking for a horror novel, this isn't the place to go (despite what the dust jacket implies). I found the story to be ultimately very sad, very moving, as the author explored the loss of loved ones and the possibilities of their return. A return, not of the person one lost, but of something else, something so close, yet different, wrong, impossible.

Don't read this if you are feeling melancholy or worried about sick or aging friends or family. On the other hand, if you do choose to read this when you have the loss of a loved one on your mind, read it through as quickly as possible. The ending is bittersweet. Both comforting and filled with anguish.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dexter's Final Cut by Jeff Lindsey

Dexter's Final Cut
by Jeff Lindsey
2013
****
4 stars - not the best Dexter book, but pretty darn good
ALR Blue - no actual scenes of animal suffering, but there are a couple of cats' heads on stakes


For those of you who might have watched the Dexter television series, but not read the books, I'm telling you there is a world of difference. Sure, the first two seasons were pretty good, but after that, the series veered way off track and substituted foolishness for some of the most delightful developments in the novels.

Book #7 of the Dexter series finds our hero merrily co-habitating with his wife, her two children, and Dexter and Rita's infant daughter. One place the TV show opted not to go was the notion that Rita's kids, Astor and Cody, also have Dark Passengers that Dexter feels somewhat obligated to steer along the Harry Code.

Are you lost? Seriously? In brief, Dexter Morgan is a serial killer. His Dark Passenger is the part of him that delights in killing. Thanks to his dad, Harry, who recognized Dexter's proclivities early on, Dexter has been instilled with a code which leads him to limit his activities to people who do really icky things but are not apprehended by the police. 

For me, it isn't the story as much as the writing that has compelled me to read every book in the series. For this book, Miami PD blood spatter expert, Dexter, and his sister, Sergeant Deborah Morgan, have been assigned as minders and prototypes for two movie stars in town to film a series about, you guessed it, a forensics expert and a cop. In the prelude, Dexter lies upon the ground, a blood soaked corpse, contemplating the peccadilloes of being dead in Miami.

But after all, there was no alternative. I just had to make the best of it, and lie here like a lox until I was discovered - which seemed to me to be a long-overdue event. I had been sprawled here in the direct sunlight for at least half an hour. Can a corpse get a sunburn? I was certain dead people avoided tanning booths - even in zombie movies - but here in the midday sun, was it possible for dead skin to tan? It didn't seem right; we all like to think of cadavers as pale and ghostly, and a healthy sun-kissed epidermis would certainly spoil the effect.

Ah, Dexter, always analyzing the situation. Good man. 

As usual, people get killed, Deborah displays an extraordinary talent for being tense and delightfully foul-mouthed, Dexter struggles with appearing human, and "who done it" abounds. 

Not the best of the series, but, yes, an excellent read.

Oh, and, yes, my dog's official AKC name is "Nightwinds Dexter in the Dark" (but you can call him Dex).


What can I say? My husband and I were going through a Netflix Dexter-fest when we brought home the little guy.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

Ill Wind
by Rachel Caine
2003
***
3 stars - it's like a science fiction cozy mystery
ALR Blue - no animal characters


Did you know there are a bunch of people called Weather Wardens who have the powers of earth, wind, fire, and water and do their darnedest to keep really icky weather things from wiping us off the planet? "Hogwash," you say? Oh yeah? Well how do you know it isn't true?

Meet Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin. She's in deep trouble and on the lam and running both from and into bad stuff as she tries to get her mojo back. Who can she trust? Who will turn her in to the Weather Wardens? And what about those pesky Djinns, those genies in a bottle who get bonded to Weather Wardens and do their bidding (but, as always, with the caution of being careful what you wish for).

As I said above, this is a science fiction cozy mystery. A likable heroine, nothing really icky happens, enough mystery of "who done it" and plenty of plausible plot twists. Also, some requisite hunky guys who are perfect gentlemen. Plus no insignificant amount of information on exactly how weather works as the various wardens manipulate air masses and charged particles. 

"Murder, mayhem, magic, and meteorology..." pretty cool combination. 

I'd rank this as a just about perfect book for light, distracting reading. It's devoid of any icky, haunting images, doesn't require a lot of attention, yet still provides something to busy the brain.