Irresponsible Reader

Irresponsible Reader

I read widely and voraciously, with little discipline (although I have my bouts). And then I write about it -- sometimes a little, sometimes more (not sure how often I get to "a lot", so let's go with "more" instead). I'm a Mystery junkie and have been since I can remember, I love Urban Fantasy, I can't pass up good Science Fiction or Fantasy, I've been known to dabble in Chick Lit ('tho, honestly, I'm more comfortable in "Lad Lit"), even a decent Western will do the trick.

Saturday Miscellany -- 5/18/19

Odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:









  • Bad Bastards by Paul Heatley -- Guy falls in love with a Girl. Girl's father is head of a motorcyle gang and doesn't approve. Gang expresses this disapproval all over the guy. Guy decides to fight back. Problems surely ensue. Sounds like the closest thing Fahrenheit Press can get to a Love Story.


  • If She Wakes by Michael Koryta -- the plot doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy (but wouldn't judge those who do), but Koryta is constitutionally incapable of writing a non-gripping book....



  • Dragons Suck by Benjamin Gamble -- snarky, slacker in Fantasy World gets sent on a quest to save his village from a dragon. Looks like a bunch of fun, really.



  • The Obsoletes by Simeon Mills -- undercover teen robots in high school



Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to flowersinthebrain, tracyvende and Britt Skrabanek for following the blog this week.

4 Stars
Goblin Royalty, Coyote, the Strangest Zombies you've Run Across Combine and an excess of "Next"s
Storm Cursed - Patricia Briggs

Adam grinned at me, "That which doesn't destroy us . . ."


"Leaves us scratching our heads and saying, 'What's next?'" I said.

There's always plenty of things that can answer that "What's next?" question in the land of Mercy Thompson -- but Storm Cursed seems to have extra nexts in it. Briggs is such an excellent series writer -- there's always a great mix of classic favorites (Zee, Uncle Mike, Mary Jo and Ben) and the new (Goblin King, the events of Silence Fallen, the baddies of this book) -- like a favorite band touring in support of their new album that no one's heard yet, she sprinkles in enough of the familiar with the new that you can enjoy the songs you can sing along with and appreciate the new for what they bring to the table.


We start off with the typical mini-adventure featuring Mary Jo, Ben and Mercy -- with a little bit of Larry mixed in. There's a goblin on the run from law enforcement after causing some mayhem in California who thought the Tri-Cities would be a safe place to lay low. Boy, was he wrong. This goblin accomplishes a lot of other things, though. He brings Mercy and the pack into a new part of the area and the law enforcement there, for starters.


This sets things up perfectly for Mercy and Mary Jo to come to the aid of said law enforcement when it comes to a very strange supernatural outbreak. Miniature zombie goats. 'nuff said.


Zombie goats -- no matter their size (as important as it is to Mercy and Stefan) don't just show up one day. They're the product of witchcraft, and with Elizaveta still in Europe following Silence Fallen the Ti-Cities is ripe for new witches to move in and usurp her. I'm not going to tell you if they're successful or not, but they sure make things interesting for the defenders of the area like Mercy and Adam. This also gives Sherwood Post, the mysterious wolf sent by the Marrock to be a part of this pack after something happened that he can't talk about/remember involving witches. He apparently picked up a thing or two, and gets the chance to demonstrate that.


I've liked Sherwood since he showed up the first time, and now I'm super-intrigued by him.


There's a big, summit-like meeting between representatives of the U.S. and the Fae leadership in the making -- and the Pack has a lot to do with making sure it happens without a hitch. Naturally, for reasons that are unclear (at first), the new witches in town are working to disrupt it for their own ends. Because there's not enough going on without that -- an excess of nexts, really.


Speaking of excess -- Coyote is lurking in the background of many of these events and he's determined to keep Mercy in the middle of things, for his own reasons. If he'd just been up front with her, I think she'd have been on-board without hesitation (and certainly seems glad to have helped once she figures out his play). Instead, he manipulates her into doing what he wants -- which is bad for the character, good for the reader, because he's so much fun to read, especially when it comes at Mercy's expense.


No matter what happens in a Mercy Thompson book -- they're filled with fun, and it's easy to fool yourself into only remembering the fun parts and pushing the darkness and trauma aside in your memory until the next book comes along and reminds you just how messed up things can get for Mercy and the rest. This book is no exception -- but in may ways the evil they confront this time is a special kind of Evil that requires at least one capital when you talk about it. What happens throughout this book, what's uncovered here -- especially the last few chapters -- is probably the most inherently disturbing that Briggs has given us yet. I wondered at more than one point, if even Atticus O'Sullivan could hate witches as much as Mercy does (for good reason!). I decided the two would probably end up in a tie, but that Mercy has more recent evidence for her prejudice.


There's something that happens in the climactic battle scene that I want to talk about more than I want to talk about anything else in this book -- because in the long run it's going to be bigger and more important than anything else that happens or I'll eat my hat. It's so small, so quick that it'd be easy to miss -- 2 sentences on one page, then twelve pages later 2 more sentences. And Briggs has at least one novel's worth of plot seeded right there. I love when I see an author do something like that and make it look effortless. And I think I'm underselling it. But I'll have to leave it there -- maybe in book 12 (or 15) when it happens, I'll remember to say, "Remember that thing I didn't talk about in Storm Cursed? This is it."


Overall, this is another very solid entry in an incredibly reliable series, and I'm already excited to see what happens in book 12. Still, I get the feeling that Briggs is holding back a lot lately -- here more than usual. Maybe it's to keep the tone light, maybe it's to keep the page count in check. Maybe it's just me. But it seems to me that the last few books could've easily been deeper, darker, and more exciting, if Briggs would just allow that to happen -- like she's pulling her punches. As much as I love these characters, this world and Briggs' writing, I just can't get as excited about them as I want to. This is a great read -- please don't misunderstand me -- but it could be better, it feels like it'd be easy for her to make it better. So I've got to stick with 4 stars -- which feels like I'm pulling my punches, too.

3 Stars
An oddly contemporary-feeling Fletch novel that's good but not really good.
Fletch and the Widow Bradley (Fletch #4) - Dan John Miller, Gregory McDonald

Fletch checks in to his office before returning from a few days away to find out that he's fired. He'd filled in for an injured colleague to write a profile on a small local business that the Gazette had written an exposé about a few years before, just to see how they were doing in the aftermath. They were doing fine, and Fletch had quoted recent memos from the CEO demonstrating that. The teeny tiny problem there is that the particular CEO had been dead for a couple of years. Quoting corpses is generally frowned upon (unless you're writing about voters' views on Chicago politicians, I guess), and so Fletch is fired. Not only that, he's probably finished forever as a journalist.


Understandably, Fletch is incensed. He's angry. He's also mystified -- he knows what he read. He knows he did good work -- how did they fool him? More importantly, why? If his career is over, he's going to know why it happened. So he starts interviewing those nearest the dead man -- his business associates, family, and so on -- he eventually flies across the country a couple of times (and up to Alaska, too).


At this point in Fletch's life, he is notoriously dead broke -- recently divorced (again) with attorneys looking for alimony payments, and (as mentioned) fired. So how does he afford the gas and airline travel? Well, he found a walled with a whole lot of money in it and cannot find the owner. So he borrows a little bit. This is a very odd little storyline that I honestly have never fully understood. Not the events in it, but the reasoning behind its inclusion in the book. Other than to give Moxie (more about her in a moment) and Fletch something to talk about, and to give Fletch money for plane tickets.


Now, close readers might pick up a thing or two (if they haven't read the books anyway) -- I said Gazette (the paper that Fletch was almost certainly fired from after Fletch) and "at this point in" his life and "recently divorced." This is the first time where Mcdonald bounces back in time for a novel -- this is why I've noted publication order and chronological order in my post headings for this series. Mcdonald needs Fletch to have a newspaper job to tell this story -- and post Fortune, that's not really likely (it's not like he needs the money). This chronological flexibility is both rare in a series like this one, and will become a hallmark of the books.


The best reason to read this book is the introduction of the character Moxie Mooney. Moxie's an actress -- daughter of the legendary Freddie Mooney -- a major acting star of both stage and screen. Moxie's still struggling to make it at this point, but she's got talent. She's also a long-time on-again/off-again romantic partner to Fletch. There's more chemistry between the two, more genuine feelings and more obvious compatibility between Moxie and Fletch than there is between any two people in this series. She's funny, she's quirky, she's driven -- not unlike Irwin Maurice himself. I'm not sure how often I would have re-read the book without her.


At the end of the day, this one doesn't have the same impact and entertainment value most of the rest of the series does. There are some great moments -- and I love Moxie -- but there's something missing from this one. Still, Fletch books are like that old line about pizza -- when it's good, it's really good; and when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

4.5 Stars
Another Fantastic Ride with the Wiliest Lawyer in Print!
The Liar (Eddie Flynn #3) - Steve Cavanagh

Eddie's being sued in a way to attack the legacy -- and the finances -- of his friend/mentor Judge Harry Ford for a case he had back in his days as a defense attorney. Harry's client was found guilty -- and insane -- and died about a decade later in a treatment facility she'd been sentenced to for murder. This is an important case for Eddie and Harry for multiple reasons, but as interesting as this case is, it takes a backseat to the main case in this novel.


Leonard Howell's a former marine who runs a security company -- who specializes in K&R (kidnap and return) -- that Eddie knew back when they were both kids. His nineteen year-old daughter was recently kidnapped herself and Howell has a plan to retrieve her. He just needs to get around the FBI to pull it off. Enter his need for his old acquaintance Eddie Flynn -- both to help him trick the FBI and to represent him because he'll no doubt be arrested for carrying his plan out. But he doesn't care too much about that, as long as his daughter is saved.


Eddie remembers what it feels like to have your daughter kidnapped and signs on -- let's be honest, he probably would have anyway. It's a good thing he does, because Howell's plan goes awry in fairly significant ways and he finds himself arrested for a lot more than anyone expected. Which is just the beginning of the book -- it gets a lot more tangled, interesting, and exciting after that.


You know, for legal thrillers there's a lot of action in the Eddie Flynn books. Sure, a good deal happens inside the courtroom -- but Eddie's not Perry Mason. What happens outside the courtroom is frequently more interesting than what happens inside. Which is saying something, because Cavanagh captures what's most exciting about the cases and trials procedures as well as anyone does. As exciting -- and important -- as what happens outside the courtroom can be, for me, a legal thriller needs to land the courtroom stuff, or why bother? When Eddie is playing to a jury, interacting with a judge, messing with opposing counsel or questioning a witness? He's fantastic (not infallible, as he proves here) -- I'm not sure Mickey Haller could've handled this one any better (and likely not as well).


Just because the title uses a definite article, don't make the mistake of thinking there's only one in the book. You'd be better off not trusting anyone, including our beloved protagonist -- well, almost anyone (I'll have to leave that vague so as not to ruin anything).


One thing I want to note, and can't think of a smooth way to work this in -- what Eddie accomplishes in this book have more to do with his being a good lawyer and a smart guy than his past as a con man. He gets opportunities to flex those muscles, yes, but it's not what defines him as a character here. Eddie the mostly-reformed con-man is a great character, don't mistake me. But Eddie the scrappy lawyer, appeals to me more.


That said -- early on, Eddie does something to help his client using the principles of Three Card Monte -- and the wise reader would learn from this, because Cavanagh does the same thing. You will think that Cavanagh is doing one thing -- and if you're the type to try to figure out ahead of time where the mystery is going, whodunit, etc. (like I am), you will think you know where he's going. And then when a Major Reveal happens which is pretty surprising, but really confirms all your theories -- you start to feel smug and confident. Which is when Eddie and his creator probably start smiling -- because within thirty pages of that, another Major Reveal comes along and totally blindsides you. I really never recovered from that for the rest of the book, honestly. Most of my theories remained largely intact, but they all had to be interpreted differently, and the motives behind them all changed.


I've never had a complaint about Cavanagh's writing before now, but I didn't realize he was nearly as clever as he is. I absolutely loved the way he fooled me -- without cheating -- and kept the tension mounting throughout this book in unexpected way after unexpected way. It's just a great ride -- right up to the point where Eddie demonstrates, again, just how stupid it is for people to make him angry. You'd think word would get around NYC courts about what happens when people challenge Eddie... A good series that gets better every time -- do yourself a favor and pick this up. It's a decent jumping on point to the series, too -- you don't have to know the first books, I shouldn't forget to note).



2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Saturday Miscellany -- 5/11/19

It's been one of those weeks where I can't just seem to get to the keyboard when I have energy enough to write. Which is frustrating -- I have 2 books I can't wait to talk about (well, 3 after last night), if only I didn't need to move ideas from my brain to my blog via some sort of mediator (in this case, fingers and keyboard, etc.) -- if I could just think them and they'd post, this blog would be busier.


The lack of keyboard time also translates into a short list of odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. But I like these, so I'm okay with the length -- you've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:




  • Can You Read…Too Much? -- I get the point she's making (and it's half the reason I started The Irresponsible Reader), but I think the headline/hook is a misstep. After that, I'm with her.








  • Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs -- The latest Mercy Thompson book -- I finished it yesterday and it's great.


  • State of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts by Nick Hornby -- The basis of/based on the new Sundance series (I'm not sure which came first, honestly). But the concept is great (10 conversations between a couple just before they go to their weekly marriage counseling sessions). And well, Hornby, so duh.


  • The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich and Peter Evanovich -- Fox and O'Hare are back after a 3-hiatus (at least for readers, probably not for the characters). I'm not sure what this series will be like without Goldberg (don't know if I'd have tried it without him), but I'm curious enough to grab this.


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Ailish Sinclair for following the blog this week.

5 Stars
Annie at the Crossroads (literally, mystically, metaphorically, and probably a couple of other adverbs, too)
That Ain't Witchcraft - Seanan McGuire
I didn’t know these woods. I'd never been to Maine before, and [didn’t have any of the family bestiaries to prepare me for what I might find. There are cryptids everywhere in the world, which only makes sense, when you consider “cryptid” means “science doesn‘t know about it yet.” New species are discovered every year, brought into the scientific fold and lifted out of cryptozoological obscurity. These days the word mostly gets used to mean the big stuff some people say is real and other people say is a big hoax, like Bigfeet, unicorns, and the occasional giant snake.

(Always assume the giant snakes are real. The alternative is finding yourself being slowly digested in the belly of something you didn’t want to admit existed, and while I’m as fond of healthy skepticism as the next girl, I’m a lot more fond of continuing to have my original skin. As in, the one I was born with, not the one the snake has left me with after a little recreational swallowing me whole.)

After Annie, Sam, Fern and Cylia leave Florida and the disaster that was left in their wake, they bounce around a little before settling on something that is about as non-Florida as you can get on that side of the country -- central Maine. They find a house that needs a tenant for a few months while the owner is off to Europe and settle in to enjoy a time off the roads to regroup, rest and recuperate.

Ahh, such a good idea.

But first, they meet a neighbor, James Smith. It turns out that he's a sorcerer, who's itching for a fight with the Crossroads for the way they fulfilled (or didn't) a deal with a friend of his from a few years' back. Annie owes the Crossroads something, and it just might come time to pay up -- which isn't good news for James. If that wasn't enough, Leonard Cunningham -- Annie's Covenant connection and the presumptive future leader of the group comes to town on her tail.

So much for the three R's.

Annie's solution to the problems she faces here is so... Annie. On the one hand, this is obvious, she's a different character than Alex or Verity -- and this series has never been the kind where the Price kids are interchangeable. But there is just no way that Verity or Alex would even consider doing what Annie tries. In many ways, she reminded me of Harry Dresden with the way that she dealt with the final problem. No, not by throwing a lot of fire, snark and energy around, but by coming at the problem in a way that you just don't see coming (although, that's not ruling out snark and fire) that seems more than a little reckless. Up to that point, Annie and crew had reminded me a lot of Sam and Dean Winchester and their crew.

This was really such a great way to wrap up this Annie arc -- it's going to be hard to put her aside for a book or three. Verity's a lot of fun, Alex is a great reluctant hero who'd rather be researching things -- but Annie? Annie's really my kind of Urban Fantasy character -- in the vein of Dresden, Atticus O'Sullivan, Ree Reyes, etc. And her friends are a lot of fun, too. The only thing this book is missing that'd really make it fantastic are the Aeslin mice -- their absence is felt, particularly because Annie can't stop thinking about them. Of all the things that McGuire has brought into my life, these mice are my favorite -- and it's been too long since I've had a decent dose of them.

I'm not sure how to talk about this without digging into details -- and I'm this close to tossing out my spoiler policy and pulling an all-nighter to produce 20-30 pages about the InCryptid Dire Straits Trilogy. So much of what makes this book work is as its the culmination of this trilogy-within-the-greater-series. While I don't think the book is perfect, I don't remember a single problem I had with it -- and felt the same way while reading it. Everything worked -- the voice, the characters, the villains, the stakes, the challenges, the solution, the emotions, the quips, the action. I spent a good deal of time unsure how many of Annie's little group were going to survive, and this isn't normally that kind of series. I don't think I actually shed a tear at the height of the novel -- they weren't far from the surface. This met and exceeded every expectation I had for this book and made me rethink my estimation of the series as a whole.

This is easily the best of this very good series -- in fact, were this the final book in the series, I'd be satisfied. I'm very, very glad that it isn't -- please don't misunderstand -- but if it were... Heart, humor, thrills, and a very clever conclusion, pulled off in a way that the whole series has been leading to, but you don't see coming. I don't know how McGuire can equal it -- much less top it. But since we're talking Seanan McGuire, she will, probably not in book 9, but soon. Go get it -- you'll be better off if you start with #1 (Discount Armageddon), but you could get away with starting at #6 (Magic for Nothing), you can still appreciate a lot of the goodness if you jump on here, but you'll miss so much you won't enjoy it the way you could.

Saturday Miscellany - 5/4/19

Happy Star Wars Day!


Here are the odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:











  • Venators: Promises Forged by Devri Walls -- the second in the Venators series is finally out -- and the first 100 pages are really good. I'll probably talk about the next 250+ early next week.


  • Not Famous by Matthew Hanover -- is now an audiobook!


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to SED MADDY, The Happy Book Blog and Justine @ Bookish Wisps for following the blog this week.

3 Stars
A pleasant little near-cozy mystery/romance that's sure to earn some fans
Death at the Dakota (Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery #2) - M.K. Graff

So Trudy Genova, a nurse turned TV medical advisor, is acting as the on-set medical staff for a made-for-TV movie. She's primarily supposed to be keeping an eye on the star to help with her undisclosed pregnancy, but she's available for everyone. Things are going swimmingly for her on set, everything seems fine with the pregnancy, etc. Until towards the end of shooting, the star doesn't come back from lunch and isn't seen for a couple of days. Not long afterward, another member of the cast ends up murdered. Trudy, a would-be mystery novelist, has a Nancy Drew streak compelling her to look into both the disappearance and murder on her own.


Meanwhile, the NYPD Detective she met in the first volume of the series and has been dating, Ned O'Malley and his partner have caught a pretty grizzly murder on top of the string of burglaries they're investigating. The murder investigation soon turns to a wealthy family and their potential prodigal son. They're also tasked with the missing person's case (and then the murder) giving plenty of opportunity for Trudy's antics to be discovered and disapproved of. Although the fruits of her time are used by the same detective that doesn't want her getting them.


Either storyline would be enough for a novel, but combining the two of them is a pretty strong move that allows Graff to keep things moving and see these characters in very different worlds. Trudy's chapters are told in 1st person and have a strong sense of immediacy. Ned's chapters are in the third person. The change in voice is subtle, but it's there, and adds to the effect of telling the two stories in the same book. It's like getting two S. J. Rozan Lydia Chin/Bill Smith novels mixed together. For me, the Ned chapters are the most appealing part of the book -- as are his cases. But this is the Trudy Genova series, and the weight of the book falls on her adventures (and I think most readers will find her chapters more appealing)


I had a few issues that I can't not mention in the interests of full disclosure. I'm not opposed to the characters in mystery novels I enjoy having a love life, and even spending a lot of the book talking and thinking about their significant others (or potential significant others). Robert B. Parker was too formative for me to have a problem with that -- and I've seen it done well too often since then to really have a problem with the idea (from noir to cozies and all stops in between). But here the romance story was a touch too much for my taste, I don't need all the space devoted to Trudy's angst over the right wardrobe for her romantic evening and so on. But that's me, I can see a lot of readers loving it.


Dialogue isn't Graff's forte, too often it seems like she learned dialogue writing from Law & Order or Blue Bloods -- particularly the more cop-talk passages. For example, lead detective to his partner: “Sometimes people don’t want to get involved, worried about testifying to what they saw." Because his partner somehow made detective in one of the most competitive departments in the world without noticing that. The sports banter the two detectives reads like someone who knows nothing about baseball imagining what fans saying to each other. As long as you think of this as a TV procedural, you can get through this kind of thing without too much bother beyond a quick eye-roll. But novel dialogue should be better than that -- if you feel you have to hold your audience's hand that much, move those observations to interior monologue.


I think the writing could be a little tighter, another grammar pass would be a good idea, and there were a few too many awkwardly phrased sentences for me to not mention it. When I find myself quoting Inigo Montoya, "... that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." repeatedly, I'm taken out of the story -- forced to analyze rather than just enjoy. Especially when I'm bothered enough that I have to stop and look something up just to see who's right, the author or me. These technical matters didn't ruin the novel for me, but it certainly detracted from my appreciation. I've had a run lately of novels ruined by style and technique, and that wasn't the case here -- I didn't once regret reading this (what a nice change), I just wish Graff had done better by her own work.


Yes, this is a sequel, but it's easy to read as a stand-alone -- you'll pick up everything you need to know. It's completely accessible for anyone who hasn't read the first -- but people who dig this will undoubtedly enjoy Trudy's previous adventure. This was a fine little mystery novel with some fun characters. Ultimately, it's not really my thing -- but I can think of a half-dozen people in my immediate circle who'll really enjoy this and will want more (some of whom I buy books for occasionally, and think I will make gifts of this). Whatever problems I had with character or writing are forgivable and easily passed over -- the characters and writing have a charm and it was a pleasant read. I'm not saying I wouldn't read more Graff or Trudy, I'm sure I'd have a pretty good time. I'm just not going to rush out and look for them.



3 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

4.5 Stars
Possibly the Most Entertaining Entry in this Great Series
Fletch's Fortune (Fletch #3) - Dan John Miller, Gregory McDonald

"I.R.S.," the man said.


Fletch slid the door open. "How do you spell that?"


"Internal Revenue Service."


. . .

"As a matter of personal curiosity, may I ask why you have not filed returns?"


"April's always a busy month for me. You know. In the spring a young man's fancy really shouldn't have to turn to the Internal Revenue Service."


"You could always apply for extensions."


"Who has the time to do that?"


"Is there any political thinking behind your not paying taxes?"


"Oh no. My motives are purely aesthetic, if you want to know the truth."




"Yes. I've seen your tax forms. Visually, they're ugly. In fact very offensive. And their use of the English language is highly objectionable. Perverted."


"Our tax forms are perverted?"


"Ugly and perverted. Just seeing them makes my stomach turn.


It's conversations like this that make this possibly the most entertaining Fletch novel. My memory suggests there's a one or two challenges to that coming up, but at least one of them gets too preachy and disqualifies itself (I'll try to mention that when we get there). Fletch, shed of his fiancé from the previous book, is enjoying life in his home on the Riviera and puttering along on his biography of Edgar Arthur Thorp, Jr. One day, he's accosted by a pair of CIA agents who blackmail him (using the above referenced lack of tax filing) into bugging the rooms of the most influential journalists in the US at a journalism convention.


He's not crazy about this assignment, but at the very least he figures there's a good story in there somewhere. So he heads back to the States and plants his bugs and starts to tape many of the most illustrious members of the press. The catch (of course there's a catch) is that the president of the American Journalism Association and owner of many, many major newspapers is murdered the morning as conventioneers start to arrive.

So, not only does Fletch have to put up with attending a convention, and--under duress--to listen in on his colleagues -- but he also has to compete with some of the most story-hungry people in the US to be the first to break the story unveiling the murderer.


We also meet for the first time Fredericka "Freddy" Arbuthnot -- one of my chief complaints about this series is that we don't get more time with her. She's fun here, and her fans should rest assured that we see her again soon -- used in a better way, too (not a complaint about her appearance in Fletch's Fortune, I rush to say). She's just one of the incredibly colorful characters assembled at this convention -- which allows McDonald to skewer all the foibles and weaknesses of the contemporary media (at least for the late 70's, which just sets the stage for now). I couldn't guess how many times I've read this book, and I still find them all wonderfully fun to watch.


There's a blink and you missed it moment that's incredibly important for the future of the series, and it can't have been planned. But decades later, McDonald is able to use to open up whole new avenues for telling his sores.


It's so easy to get distracted by the fun conversations, the satirizing of the press and the general Fletch antics, to the point that you miss just how clever McDonald is to pull off one of his most clever whodunits. I'd rank this among the best mysteries that McDonald penned, too.


Once again, Miller delivers this one just right. I don't know what else to say -- he was the perfect choice for this series and I'm so glad I gave them a chance.


I'm just repeating myself now, so I'll stop. Between entertainment value, construction of the mystery, social/media satire, and audiobook narration I can't say enough good things about this audiobook. McDonald is at the height of his powers here and it's a sheer pleasure to pick up again (no matter the format).


2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

April 2019 Report

Only 18 books, 5515 pages, this month. Oh, well, on the whole I enjoyed it -- and had some health things come up and distract me (and set me back on reading). It's not my best month, but it's nothing to sneeze at, I know. It just seems small when I see it on my screen.


Then once I make peace with that, I see the number of book posts I did. I really can't believe I wrote so few of them. I know I'm behind, but that's gotta be one of my lowest months (I'm not going to spend the time verifying that). I'm stunned and a little embarrassed (yeah, yeah, I'm the only one who cares, but I really do)


Anyway, a couple of great books, some good ones and one not. Here's what happened here in April 2019.


Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:


Dispatches from a Tourist Trap A Man Called Ove Fletch and the Widow Bradley (Audiobook)
3.5 Stars 5 Stars 3 Stars
Breaking the Lore The Future of Everything KA-E-RO-U Time to Go Home
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 3 Stars
Death Before Coffee I Want You Gone Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
3 Stars 3.5 Stars 3 Stars
An Artificial Night Saints of the Shadow Bible Venators: Magic Unleashed
3 Stars 4 Stars 3.5 Stars
You Die Next Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Audiobook) Always Grey in Winter
4 1/2 Stars 4 Stars 1 Star
Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation Fletch’s Moxie (Audiobook) That Ain't Witchcraft
2 1/2 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars


Still Reading:


Rediscovering the Holy Spirit Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology Death at the Dakota




5 Stars 2 2 1/2 Stars 1
4 1/2 Stars 1 2 Stars 0
4 Stars 4 1 1/2 Stars 0
3.5 Stars 4 1 Star 1
3 Stars 5    
                                       Average = 3.5



Reviews Posted:


















TBR Pile/Mound/Heap:

Physical Books: 3 Added, 3 Read, 29 Remaining
E-Books: 3 Added, 1 Read, 22 Remaining
Audiobooks: 2 Added, 2 Read, 4 Remaining


Book Challenge Progress:


2019 Library Love Challenge

2019 Library Love Challenge

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)

  1. Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

  1. Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

  1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, Jim Dale

While I Was Reading 2019 Challenge

  • Didn't have time to do anything here. (again . . . but things are planned)

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

#LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

  1. Dispatches from a Tourist Trap by James Bailey


  1. Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith


  1. KA-E-RO-U Time to Go Home by B. Jeanne Shibahara


  1. Death Before Coffee by Desmond P. Ryan


  1. I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks


  1. Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls


  1. You Die Next by Stephanie Marland


  1. Always Grey in Winter by Mark J. Engels

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

  1. Death Before Coffee by Desmond P. Ryan


  1. I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks


  1. You Die Next by Stephanie Marland


  1. Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin


  1. Fletch and the Widow Bradley by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller -- forthcoming


  1. Fletch's Moxie by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller -- forthcoming

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge


How was your month?

3.5 Stars
Welcome to Eon in this Promising YA Fantasy Introduction
Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) - Devri Walls

Back in 2016, I read and blogged about Venators: Through the Arch, which was later picked up by a new publisher, given a re-write, a spiffy new cover, and was re-born as Venators: Magic Unleashed. I haven't read that old post in a long time, and won't until I finish with this one, I'm only linking out of habit. I hate to say it, but I remember very little about the original version of this book beyond a vague grasp of the plot outline, some vague notions of characters and an overall positive regard. Oh, and a strong interest in volume two. This revamped version is stronger, with some of the rough edges smoothed out, and strengths sharpened. Brown Books and Walls made good use of the relaunch. But let's set aside the comparisons and focus on Magic Unleashed.


This is a portal fantasy about a world called Eon, populated by humans, elves, vampires, werewolves, elves, dragons, etc. There are connections between Earth and Eon, allowing travel between the two -- although they're not as strong as they once were. It turns out some humans from Earth have a certain invulnerability to the kinds of magic employed by the various races (like a werewolf or vampire bite, but not, say, an invulnerability to a werewolf tearing off their head). Thee humans also have other enhanced physical attributes allowing them to go toe-to-toe in combat with members of these races. Which has made these humans a powerful force for good, and a potentially tyrannical force as well. Eon's known more of the latter lately, which has led to a lack of recruitment.


But now, society's on the verge of collapse into chaos, warring tribes trying to wipe out other races in a fight for dominance, and the end of law. So some people have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce these humans, Venators, to Eon. Enter Tate, a warrior who is convinced that Venators are the key to Eon's survival -- he's been to Earth before, and now returns to bring back some people he observed then. Six years ago, he encountered a young teen named Grey Malteer -- who was forever changed by their brief encounter. Now in college, Grey is about as well-read in the lore of the supernatural and weird as is possible for someone to be while stuck on Earth and not being known as a crackpot (although he's regarded as pretty eccentric, probably well on his way to crack-pot status).


An acquaintance of his from childhood, now attending the same college, Rune Jenkins is repulsed by the same things that Grey is focused on (while also drawn to them). Rune is totally unprepared to accept that the supernatural is anything but wild fiction until she's attacked by goblins and rescued by a large blue man (the aforementioned Tate). Which really can only make her a believer -- or drive her to some sort of psychotic break. Thankfully, she goes with the former. Tate brings Rune and Grey into Eon and sets before them the calling of Venator.


To oversimplify things: from here out, the two are introduced to this world, the beings that populate it, the political realities that govern it (and see them only as pawns), and they begin to embrace their new identities, while engaging in a brief battle or two. While Rune and Grey are introduced to all this, so is the reader -- and it's clearly the point of this book -- to bring the reader and these two into Eon, give us all a taste of what's to come and help us get to know the players. There is a clear plotline and definite story here -- don't get me wrong -- but the major function is to provide a foundation for things to come.


The book would have to be a lot longer to serve as anything other than an introduction -- the ruling council alone is made up of enough characters we'd need a few more chapters to really get to know them and their goals -- although they can be summed up in lust for power and influence for themselves and their race to the possible detriment of every other council member/race. Then you throw in Tate; his allies (however temporary) the vampire Veridia and the shapeshifter Beltran; the two humans; and the council's enemy, Zio -- and really, you've got enough players that you really can only skim the surface with in 354 pages.


We get to know Grey and Rune enough to see they're well-developed and three-dimensional, and many of the rest show signs of being that developed, but we don't get to see that fully displayed -- but we see enough to know that given the opportunity, the characters will be easily fleshed out. One thing I noted in particular while reading this is just how many seeds Walls planted in the characters and situations to come back to in future installments. This foundation is built in such a way that several books can be built on it -- it's really impressive to note.


Yes, this is written for the YA market, so there's a bit more action than others might use. There's a focus on certain kinds of emotional beats, and that sort of thing. But it's more of an accent to the storytelling than other writers would've made it. For some reason, Mercedes Lackey's Hunter series and Brandon Mull's Beyonders Trilogy come to mind as I think about similar series -- but the YA-ness of both of those comes through more strongly than it does with this book.


Book Two, Venators: Promises Forged releases today, and I'm hoping to start it in a day or two -- I'm looking forward to seeing how Walls takes all these ideas, characters, and potential and develops them. This is a good starting point, and what comes next can't help but be better when she can focus more on exploring the world she's created and shown us rather than just establishing it here. This is a good book and I do encourage people to read it, but its foundational nature should be borne in mind.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

1 Stars
That's a hard no from me.
Always Gray in Winter - Mark J. Engels

Let's get this over and done with in a hurry, I'm in no mood to belabor things here. Let's just rip off the bandage and just hope I don't lose too much hair in the process.


Here's the blurb from the author's site:


The modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats is torn apart by militaries on three continents vying to exploit their deadly talents. Born in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood following her family's escape from Cold War-era Poland, were-lynx Pawly flees underground to protect her loved ones after genetically-enhanced soldiers led by rogue scientist and rival werecat Mawro overrun her Navy unit in the Gulf of Oman. Pawly's family seeks her out in a desperate gambit to return their ancestral homeland and reconcile with their estranged kinsmen. But when her human lover arrives to thwart Mawro's plan to weaponize their feral bloodlust, Pawly must face a daunting choice: preserve her family secrets and risk her lover's life or chance her true nature driving him away forever.

I honestly couldn't have told you all of that on my own after reading the novel. I just re-read the pitch the author sent me a few months ago, and I learned more from that than I did the whole novel, too. Things make more sense now.


This is a problem. A huge problem. I'm a pretty good reader, I like to think. I'm even a pretty forgiving reader, willing to make connections that I think the author intended when they don't do a good job on doing the job themselves. But, I just couldn't with this book. I'm pretty sure I recognized the tricks of the trade Engels was trying to employ, the techniques he was using to keep this from being over-expository, or too info-dumpy. I applaud the tricks and techniques. When used correctly.


Those last three words are the key. Exposition is your friend. Yes, it can be overdone. Yes, it can be abused. It can be relied on too heavily. But it can't be ignored if you actually want to communicate to your audience.


I'm just going to give bullet points for the rest of this:


  • If you have to resort to all caps to express your character's emotions, you need to write better dialogue.


  • If you have to use that many exclamation points to express your character's emotions, you need to rewrite your dialogue. Nobody yells/screams all the time in conversations.


  • I spent so much time reading scenes trying to figure out where and when they took place that I eventually just gave up, assuming I'd figure it out eventually.


  • A related note: there was a flashback sequence that I couldn't tell when it ended and returned to the present.


  • The characters weren't characters, they were names attached to pronouns and occasionally to family relations. I honestly couldn't tell you what separated some of them from each other. Everyone had the same personality, as far as I could tell (okay, I'm being a tad hyperbolic here...but not much)


  • Did I mention that exposition can be your friend?


  • There was no conclusion, no point. Things just ended. It was, as someone said, much ado about nothing.


  • This is a 184 page book. It took me 4 days to read. I just wasn't interested past the first chapter when it stopped making sense, it didn't hold my attention, my mind kept wandering and I had to force myself to read it.


It seems to me that Engels had a very clear idea of what he was trying to accomplish, he knew his story and his characters. I don't think he communicated any of it on the page. I'm seeing a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews out there, so clearly there's a lot of people who'll think I'm out to lunch. But, I just don't see anything redeeming about this at all -- and I like to think I go out of my way to find positives in every book I talk about. I've got nothing here.


Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, and I really wish I didn't have to give it.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

4.5 Stars
The latest Starke & Bell thriller is a tale of obsession that may leave the reader feeling a little obsessed, too.
You Die Next (Starke & Bell #2) - Stephanie Marland

If you have not read Stephanie Marland's My Little Eye, you shouldn't read this post, because I don't know how much I might let slip, and while you probably can enjoy this book without having read it -- you won't appreciate it the way you should. Also, you should reconsider your life choices from the last year or so, because My Little Eye was one of the best things that was published in 2018.


The tunnel would be pitch-black without the safety lights, but even with them Dom, Parekh and Timber have to tread carefully, using their torch beams to scan the rails for signs of blood. Back on platform five, the CSIs are working their magic. Once Dom’s established the route taken by Thomas Lee, they’ll start work on the tunnel as well. They need to move fast, find leads as to what the hell happened here. This has to be one of the most bizarre crime scenes that Dom’s attended.

Given the crime scenes we know Dom's seen? That's saying something.


I'll admit, I wasn't sure how Marland was going to proceed with Starke and Bell. Sure, teaming up the amateur and the Police Detective once is believable, but how do you do it again without it coming across as contrived? It's not as if DI Bell can call her up, "Say, Clementine...I've got this real puzzler of a case that's got me stumped, you think you and your pals can take a crack at it?" without violating so many rules and regulations that he wouldn't have a job long enough to arrest anyone. Marland makes the smart choice -- she put them in each other's rearview mirrors.


Starke's off on her next research project, lamenting the notoriety that she earned (and enjoyed) after the events of My Little Eye, dealing with university politics, deadlines, and continuing to research her father's death with the True Crime online group. She's currently studying thrill-seekers and voyeurs, the genesis of their obsession and what feeds it. A fan of her work (for lack of a better term), keeps trying to get her to look into Urban Explorers. She finally gives in, just to get him off her case about it (she hopes), and watches a video he insists she watch. While doing so she sees two things -- first, that he's probably right, they'd make good subjects for her research; and second, she's pretty sure she sees a murder. Which settles things -- Clementine Stark dives into the world of Urban Explorers in general and those on the video in particular.


Bell's working various cases, trying to decide what to do with his DS post-My Little Eye, and worried about the internal investigation about that case that went so wrong before the last book that still wreaks havoc on almost every relationship in his life. He's called out to the scene of a car striking and killing a pedestrian -- not really his kind of case, if not for the fact that the pedestrian probably would've been killed by the stab wounds all over him if the car hadn't sped his death along. Meanwhile, as I said, the look into Operation Atlantis continues and the strain on his relationship with his sister is such that it's at the breaking point, and Bell's ex is pushing him for information on the investigation into the operation. Bell's close to putting things together, and when he does, this ugly situation is probably only going to look worse for everyone.


It's on the back-of-the-book blurb, so I feel I can say this without giving away too much -- Bell's pedestrian is one of the Urban Explorers that Starke's looking into. So again, they're working the same case, but don't know it -- and are approaching it from very different angles. But Starke also observes some of the people involved in that Operation Atlantis raid that went so horribly wrong, clearly plotting and planning about what to do about Bell -- how to exploit him at the very least. Whatever went wrong between them, Starke's not going to let anything happen to Bell if she can help it. So, again, the two are working the same case from different angles. There's another thing they will have in common, too -- but I'm not going to get into it beyond saying it exists. But let's just say there are really three mysteries being investigated in this book, and both Starke and Bell have a stake in all three, but aren't really working together on any of them.


That sounds confusing, maybe like a little narrative overkill, too. But it's not, Marland weaves these six storylines together perfectly -- actually, there are more than six, but they can be boiled down to six without losing much, if I tried to diagram it exactly, I'd end up with something looking like one of those cork-boards covered in newspaper clippings, note cards and photos tied together with strings between connections that were so popular on TV a few years ago. (and that Starke has in her apartment, come to think of it). I lost my point there -- Marland artfully weaves/juggles the various stories into a cohesive whole in a way that doesn't overwhelm the reader and keeps the reader engaged with all the various mysteries, plot advances, character moments, etc. It's a real feat that she pulls off with aplomb.


I'm going to be haunted by the conclusion for a while. It reminds me of something I read in December 2017, and frankly, haven't shaken yet (I'll not mention the title, because doing so might tell you more about the conclusion than I want to). It's the only way this book really could end -- and I'm not complaining about it at all -- but it's going to linger longer than most do in the back of my mind.


I want to talk about some of the supporting characters -- and Bell's DS and DC, in particular, really deserve more attention than I'm paying them. But I'm going to skip that this time. I just don't have enough time to do them justice. While Starke and Bell are fascinating, complex characters that any reader will enjoy digging into, the same is true for the people around them. They're pretty well fleshed out, and you can easily imagine that Marland has plans for their future use. Any of the secondary or tertiary characters in this series could become very important in future events and should probably be paid attention to by readers (which is easy, because even the one who might as well be named Lecherous Scumbag is a character you can enjoy reading).


I've managed to only use the word "obsession" once so far -- which is surprising. Not only is it the focus of Starke's research, obsession can be used in some way to talk about every story, every idea, every character in You Die Next.. The person hunting down Urban Explorers is clearly obsessed with whatever their motivation is. Bell's obsession over whatever investigation he's pursuing has damaged romantic relationships, his relationship with his sister, and even his career. Starke's obsessions with her work, Bell, her father's death, this possible murder she saw, and . . . well, really -- what isn't she obsessed with? This book is permeated with notions of, examples of, and the repercussions of obsession.

In both concept and execution, Marland tried to accomplish a lot in My Little Eye and succeeded. You Died Next strikes me as more ambitious than its predecessor, making it harder to pull off -- the bar was set pretty high and she moved it up. I'm not sure Marland was as successful with this novel as she was with My Little Eye, but I can't point at any part of this book and say "this could be better here." I think my hesitancy about this book comes from so much of the conclusion of this novel pointing to the third installment. My Little Eye told a story, with the potential for more. You Die Next told a story, but kept the resolution to much of it dangling. If we didn't get You Die Next, for whatever reason, My Little Eye could stand on its own. Without Starke & Bell #3, You Die Next is the novel equivalent of "Shave and a Haircut"/Tum-ti-ti-tum-tum without the "Two Bits"/Tum-tum.


And by not as successful, I think I'm saying this is more of a 4.25-4.35 than a clear 4.5.


I may not be the biggest fan of every choice that Marland made for these two in this book, but they were honest choices entirely consistent with the characters -- and will lead to a whole lot of exciting narrative possibilities in Starke & Bell #3 (and beyond, if there is a beyond). Either of these characters could anchor a pretty decent series on their own, together they make a special kind of magic. Their continued interaction may not do them a lot of good, but it will prove destructive to more than one criminal in London -- and a whole lot of fun for readers. You Die Next brings the two characters together in a way that highlights their strengths (and weaknesses), pitting them against a cold and clever killer and a criminal conspiracy (or two) more widespread and powerful than they yet realize. I haven't read a whole lot this year that I'd call a must, but this is. Stop wasting your time on my stuff and get this in front of your eyes.



LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Saturday Miscellany -- 4/27/193

This is an odd mix of odds 'n ends about books and reading that caught my eye this week -- a lot of them from CrimeReads, too. The odd (for me, thing) is I saw multiple references to them, it's not like I just hung out at that site for inspiration last night. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:


  • Jake Lacy Joins Hulu Adaptation of ‘High Fidelity’ -- 1. I somehow missed the news that Hulu was doing a High Fidelity; 2. Gender-flipping the main roles? I think my reaction to both is summed up in three little letters (and a bunch of punctuation): WHY?!?!?!?!?!?!???










  • William Shakespeare's Get Thee Back to the Future! by Ian Doescher -- the Shakespearean takes on Star Wars that Doescher has done previously never really spoke to me (but I flipped through a couple and they seemed well done) -- but for some reason this one has me intrigued. Anyone read this or his previous works?


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Crystal Grasso (Ward) and Jocelyn for following the blog this week.

4 Stars
Rebus' Past Comes Back to Haunt Him
Saints of the Shadow Bible - Ian Rankin
Rebus said quietly. "It made sense that we stuck up for one another back then--might not be so true now.". . .
". . . secrets and lies and all the other crap we've dealt out and been dealt. I didn't see you owning up in there to singing your name to statements that weren't yours. But we both know it happened a lot happened back then, and one crack in the dam might be all that's needed . . ." Patterson paused, looking Rebus up and down. "So make sure you know whose side you're on John."

Rebus is officially un-retired, and very happy (at least by his standards). To be reinstated, he had to agree to be a Detective Constable again, instead of an Inspector. But he was willing (and usually still is) to take the rank cut so that he keep working. For anyone who's read a Rebus book or two, this makes perfect sense. Buying books he doesn't read, listening to his music collection, and police work -- that's all he has in his life. Well, okay, smoking and drinking, too. But those two can only occupy so much time.


Serving as a DC, he investigates a car that went off the road for no good reason on a straight stretch with DI Siobhan Clarke. It doesn't take the two long at all to determine that what happened at the scene is as obvious as everyone else thinks (everyone but readers, because we all know that Rebus and Clarke together at a scene = more than meets the eye). They were called in because someone with influence exerted that influence at got detectives to investigate a seemingly routine auto accident that injured a young woman. Within days, there's a more serious crime related to their investigation, and the two are plunged into a veritable minefield of money, politics, and family secrets.


Meanwhile, Malcom Fox is working his last Complaints case before being reorganized into detective work. He asks Clarke for help in approaching Rebus for some information related to the case. He's looking into a murder case related to the group where Rebus served his first assignment as a rookie detective. Rebus is initially resistant to help Fox nab one of his old friends, but soon begins to think that Fox is onto something and works the case with him.


Watching the rapprochement between Rebus and Fox is great -- at times it feels like things used to when Rebus was working with Clarke (in the latter stages, when they were more like equals). Fox and Clarke's burgeoning friendship is a lot of fun to read, too. Basically, Fox's addition to this world in general is something to be praised. I'm not 100% sold on Clarke's rise, she almost seems more like Gill Templar than herself at times. Now, at one point, Clarke might have taken that as a partial compliment, but I don't think so. She retains her sense of humor and instincts, but her commitment to the job might be more powerful than those instincts.


Over the last couple of books, one of the most interesting things is the rise of Darryl Christie in the Edinburgh crime world. He's back in these pages. Not as Rebus' target, but a presence -- like Cafferty so often was. Time moves on and the young move up on both sides of the law. But as Rebus can't let go, I can't believe that Big Ger will roll over and let Christie take over the entire city without at least some resistance (something tells me that it'll be very effective resistance).


I can't think of another way to talk about Rankin's skill. Here we are in the nineteenth Rebus book and things feel as fresh as ever -- yet this is a world that the reader knows and feels comfort in. These characters and situations are old friends and Rankin's Edinburgh is as real to me as Parker's Boston, Connelly's L.A. or Johnson's Wyoming -- I've never set foot in Scotland, but that city feels like a place I've frequented.


As you can't help but expect, this is a completely satisfying mystery novel full of fantastic characters, tangled webs of lies and motives -- and an excellent look at the ways policing used to be carried out and the changes it's gone through. But more than that, it's a little more time with one of the greats of Crime Fiction as he continues to try to stay active, an old dog learning a couple of new tricks (despite his best efforts) and not forgetting any of the old tricks.


2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

3 Stars
A Very Pleasant Novel of the Elderly Curmudgeon Reevaluates His Life/Attitudes Stripe
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss - Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Cambridge's Professor P. R. Chandrasekhar is an emeritus professor of Economics, and someone who has come so close to winning the Nobel that it's jarring to many he hasn't (well. . . "many" might be a stretch, who actually knows leading economists?). But he's also alone. His ex-wife and youngest daughter live in Colorado, his eldest son is in Japan and his other daughter won't let anyone tell him where she is. While he has no room to complain, clearly bits of his life could've gone better. He seems well-regarded by those still around him, and while he's a hard teacher, he seems like a good one.


After a health scare (there's some humor in it, don't worry, it's not that kind of book), and due to worries about his youngest daughter's behavior, he takes a sabbatical to California. Things don't go so well with the daughter, or his ex, or his ex's new husband (the man she had an affair with before leaving Chandra). The trouble with the new husband leads Chandra into going to a "spiritual retreat" at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Any type of spiritual retreat is the last place that anyone who knows this irascible conservative would expect him to go -- including Chandra himself. But he goes, and as he's the type to throw himself into anything he's doing -- no matter how silly he thinks it is. He plunges into the exercises.


And he doesn't experience a giant epiphany turning him into a spiritual kind of guy. Nor does he find the exercises silly and spends the time mocking the experience. Instead, he starts to re-examine some things. Like the way he interacts with his kids, and how they react to him. So he starts trying with them in ways he hadn't before -- and it doesn't go that well, honestly. But he makes some in-roads.


He ultimately returns to his home in Cambridge and makes some adjustments there, too. Eventually, some things happen that do permit him to further rehabilitate things with his children -- and life in general.


I was really worried that this would be about Chandra finding some sort of enlightenment, throwing off all his accomplishments and convictions and becoming a totally different person. Instead, he becomes more thoughtful, more understanding and a better version of himself -- with opportunities for further development. I don't think that's giving too much away, I hope not anyway. He's worked hard all his life, and now starts to realize the price he and others paid for him to work as hard and as much as he did, and to achieve the success he has.


Chandra is a fascinating guy -- I like the way he thinks. I like the very subtle humor in his approach and response to things, and wish more people in his life could catch it. I'd have liked more time with his daughters, I liked both of them and we only get to see the beginnings of better times between them and their father. Between family, new friends and new acquaintances, there are just too many characters to dig too deeply into. Which is one of the biggest problems this book has -- too many great characters to fully appreciate any who aren't in the title.


This looks like a "lighter" book from the title, cover, etc. -- and it is. But it deals with some bigger ideas, just not in an overbearing way. It's also not as funny as you'd expect from the description (or the blurbs on the cover). But there are subtle bits of humor throughout, and one or two very comedic moments. There aren't laugh out loud moments -- but there are plenty of smile quietly to yourself moments.


Balasubramanyam's writing is strong, his characters are great, and he can keep the story moving well. He balances the lightness and the darkness of the story well, and while it's not the kind of book that has a twist or three in the end, there are some things that you probably won't see coming until they happen (and feel inevitable once they do).


At the end of the day, this was a very pleasant novel with one very interesting character, and a few too many other characters. Some of which had the potential to be just as interesting, but we couldn't spend enough time with them because of their number. Trim a few of those, so the reader can focus those remaining and this book becomes much better. As it stands -- I may not find a lot of bliss in these pages, but I found entertainment and relaxation and would certainly read Balasubramanyam in the future with great interest.


2019 Library Love Challenge