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.

Review
5 Stars
The debut of one of the best pair of characters I can think of in a truly compelling novel.
The Puppet Show - M. W. Craven

‘First impressions?’ Flynn asked.

 

He studied the slash marks again. Not including the messy number five, he counted forty-two. Forty-two wounds to spell out 'Washington Poe’. Forty-two individual expressions of agony. ‘Other than the victim wishing I’d been called Bob, nothing.'

 

'I need you to come back to work,’ she said. She looked around at the desolate fells he now called home. ‘I need you to re-join the human race.’

 

He stood up, all previous thoughts of resigning dismissed. There was only one thing that mattered: the Immolation Man was out there somewhere, selecting victim number four.

 

Washington Poe was a Detective Inspector who either made a very, very, very horrible mistake or is a DI or did a very, very, very bad thing -- it depends who you ask. Either way, he's on suspension until he either quits or the internal investigation is complete. He doesn't quit, but he doesn't expect to be brought back to work anytime soon.

 

Until his former DS, now his replacement, shows up -- there's a serial killer afoot, burning people alive -- after some torture, it seems. What led to him being brought back (aside from being the kind of investigator who will be able to track this guy down) is that the last victim had Poe's name cut into him before he was burned. This is a message to him -- and possibly a threat. So, potential bad cop or not -- for his own protection, he needs to get reactivated. Sure, it'll be a little awkward, he'll be acting as a subordinate to his former DS -- but he frankly knows he was better at that anyway, so he'll get used to it.

 

One of the first things he does is meet an analyst working with the police -- she's the one who developed the model to make sense of the wounds and found his name on the corpse. Tilly is a fascinating character -- she's a mathematical genius, a whiz with computers, and socially awkward. That actually is an understatement -- clearly from a young age, Tilly's mom sheltered her from the worst of society so that her genius could flourish. Now an adult, she decides to work with the police so her mathematics could see some immediate benefit to society -- but she still is an outsider (and mom is determined to keep her that way).

 

Almost immediately upon meeting her, Poe shakes up her life. He defends her from some teasing/bullying by some police officers and then he insists that she's coming to the field with him. Tilly's never done anything like that before, but jumps at the chance. The two of them build a strange partnership -- and a strong friendship -- as they work this case, along with DI Flynn and an old friend of Poe's, Kylian Reid) who is one of the few police officers in the country who aren't suspicious of him.

 

Poe is a great character -- there's no two ways about it -- you put him in a novel by himself (or with Flynn or Reid) and I'm reading it. He's in the Bosch/Rebus kind of vein -- he's going to get the job done, and will annoy/offend whoever in the chain of command, city government, press, etc. to get the job done. This quotation describes it best:


He knew some people thought his reputation for following the evidence wherever it took him was because he felt he held some sort of moral high ground. That he had a calling to a purer version of the truth that was unattainable to other, lesser, cops. The truth was simpler -- if he thought he was right, the self-destructive element to his personality took over. It frequently allowed the devil on his shoulder to shout down his better angel. And at the minute, the angel couldn’t get a word in edgeways . . .

 

His face turned to granite. If he didn’t do it, who would? Sometimes someone had to step up. Do the unpalatable so others didn’t have to.


That's the kind of character I can read any time.

 

But what makes this book (on the character front, anyway) a must read is Tilly Bradshaw. Actually, no. It's the combination of Tilly and Poe. Yeah, Poe largely uses her the way he'd use anyone to get the job done (see Rebus/Bosch) -- but there's some genuine affection for her at work, too. He truly seems to like her and wants to protect her -- and maybe push her a little to fend for herself. Tilly clearly adores him -- I should stress that this is a platonic thing for both -- he protects her, treats her like an adult (something her mother doesn't allow anyone to do), and relies on her brain (which most people do). Tilly is a character worth one's time, no doubt about it -- and I can't imagine anyone who reads this book to not like her a lot. But the two of them together are as good a pair as you can imagine.

 

Now, that's all well and good -- but what about the plot? What about the killer? The plot is as intricate as you can hope for in a serial killer novel. As the police start to compile a theory of the case, a profile of the killer, it quickly becomes clear that there's a dark root, a strong motivating factor behind the killings. At one point, I put in my notes "Okay, I'd be absolutely fine not learning anything else about the killer's backstory. Can we just get to his arrest now, leaving the rest of the uncovering to the prosecutor's work after the novel is over?"

 

Naturally, the answer to that was a resounding no. You learn more about what drove this man to kill -- and frankly, it's hard not to wonder if he's justified. Not justified in how he goes about the killing, because that's just horrible. But you might wonder if it'd be okay for him to get away with it. To get to that point -- and to find out if Poe and Bradshaw are able to stop the killing -- there's some great twists and turns to the case, and some very compelling reveals to get through. The reader will be hooked throughout.

 

Not only can Craven create great characters, and tell a good story -- but his writing is compelling, too (yes, there is a difference between those last two). The first description given of one of the corpses The Immolation Man left was horrific, it really made me ill. Another description that stood out was an older suspect -- and her home -- without giving anything else away, Craven's description of the two together was so well done that I felt I could see them as clearly as I could see the room I was in at the time. I loved the voice, the style, his use of words -- really just about everything.

 

Oh, yeah and when -- I can't believe I almost forgot this -- when you figure out why Craven used this title, you're going to need some help picking your jaw off the ground. There's at least one other reveal that may require that as well, come to think of it. Any good Crime Fiction is going to have some good reveals embedded in the story -- the skilled writer revealing them properly is what makes a good Crime Novel into a great one. Craven delivered the latter.

 

Craven's writing, the compelling story, the fantastic characters -- you put these elements together and you have an unbeatable combination and the makings of one of the best crime novels -- novels, period -- that I've read this year. I'm not really sure I read it -- it was more of a semi-controlled devouring. There are few sequels I'm looking forward to as much as the next Washington Poe book. While I'm waiting for it, you should go grab The Puppet Show so you can join me in anticipating its arrival.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/24/the-puppet-show-by-m-w-craven-the-debut-of-one-of-the-best-pair-of-characters-i-can-think-of-in-a-truly-compelling-novel
Saturday Miscellany - 9/22/18

Not my most productive (reading or writing) week, but have had fun with it. Last night I was told I could pass for Rothfuss if I grew my hair out (I'll take that as a compliment) and I got to see and meet Craig Johnson (post to come) -- nothing wrong with an evening like that.

 

Lacking a segue, 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:

  • Lethal White by "Robert Galbraith"-- the fourth novel in the Cormoran Strike series -- a mystery novel that's the size of an epic fantasy (enjoying it, but wishes the point could get cut to a bit more often).
  • How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler by Ryan North -- in case you time travel to the far past and accidentally wipe out civilization, this book will show you how to rebuild civilization. Which sounds handy.
  • Soulless (Illustrated Hardcover Edition) by Gail Carriger -- I rather enjoyed the books in this series that I read before getting distracted. Maybe this new edition will help me get back into it.
  • Battlestar Suburbia by Chris McCrudden -- humorous SF, I'm not going to try to summarize in a sentence. Click the link.
  • The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole -- the middle, and likely darker, novel in the Sacred Thrones trilogy.

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/22/saturday-miscellany-9-22-18
Review
3 Stars
A little too zany for me
Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde, Gabrielle Kruger, Hodder & Stoughton Audiobooks

I didn't post about The Eyre Affair a couple of months ago when I listened to it, because I just didn't know what to say about it. I was hoping that a second book would help. I'm not sure it did.

 

Let's just start with the Publisher's Summary (because there's just no way I could do justice to this book):

 

The second installment in Jasper Fforde’s New York Times bestselling series follows literary detective Thursday Next on another adventure in her alternate reality of literature-obsessed England—from the author of Early Riser.

 

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction—the police force inside the BookWorld. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s “The Raven.” What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications.

 

Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth. It’s another genre-bending blend of crime fiction, fantasy, and top-drawer literary entertainment for fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse.

 

There's simply too much going on. This is Douglas Adams (mostly the Dirk Gentley novels) meets Terry Pratchett meets Doctor Who meets . . . something else, but it's not just those elements -- it's those influences without restraint (not that any of those are known for their restraint). It's just too zany ,too strange, too unmoored from reality.

 

There's cloning to bring back extinct species, time travel, vampires, werewolves, interacting with fictional characters, rabid literary fans, characters walking into novels/other written materials to rewrite them, travel, or just to meet with someone else -- and that's just scratching the surface.

 

I realize that this is tantamount to complaining that there's too much of a good thing, and I recently talked about what a foolish complaint that is. But this is different, somehow. The sheer amount of ways that reality can be rewritten/rebooted/changed in this series is hard to contemplate, and seems like too easy for a writer to use to get out of whatever corner they paint themselves into. One of the best emotional moments of this book -- is ruined, simply ruined by time travel unmaking it just a few minutes later.

 

Emily Gray's narration is probably the saving grace of this audiobook -- I'm not sure I'd have rated this as high as I did without it. Her ability to sound sane when delivering this ridiculous text (I mean that as a compliment) makes it all seem plausible.

 

I enjoyed it -- but almost in spite of itself. I can't see me coming back for more. I do see why these books have a following -- sort of. But I've got to bail.

 

2018 Library Love Challenge

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/20/lost-in-a-good-book-by-jasper-fforde-emily-gray-audiobook-a-little-too-zany-for-me
Review
4 Stars
Afton's life gets stranger, more violent, and more open?
Nice Try, Afton  - Brent D. Jones
I could’ve screamed, knowing that I was the only person in the room working toward a peaceful resolution. Me, Afton Morrison, the disturbed murderess, suggesting that everyone take a deep breath, and find an answer that didn’t include violence.

 

Things have gone from bad to worse for Afton Morrison, the would-be murderess -- not only is she being framed for a murder she didn't commit, but didn't; her home has been violated; her understanding of her childhood and family has been shattered; and so many buildings in her town have been burned over the last few days that the police have ordered a lockdown.

 

Again, this is hard to talk about without spoiling Book 1 and/or 2, so I'll dodge it. Afton's pushed about to her limit -- maybe past it. And pushes herself in new ways. Ultimately, she embraces the violent tendencies that almost pushed her into her first kill back in Book 1 and sets out to put an end to the chaos that surrounds her home town and threatens to burn it all to the ground.

 

There is a hand-to-hand fight scene toward the end of the novella that was fantastic. I'd stack it up against Child, Sharp, Finder, or the like any day.

Beyond that there's some compelling character-focused material. There's some interesting discussion between the characters on the eternal nature/nurture debate. Afton gets very self-reflective -- and maybe grows a little as a result. The emotional beats between the Afton and her family/friends (or the closest things she ahs to friends) are deeper than I expected, and hard-earned.

 

I've enjoyed and appreciated the series to this point, but Jones has found a new gear here, and has produced something markedly better than the rest. I'm not sure what he did here that was better -- but every scene, every character, every thing, every theme is better written, better focused, sharper -- if part 4 lives up to this, it's going to be a great ending.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/20/nice-try-afton-by-brent-jones-aftons-life-gets-stranger-more-violent-and-more-open
Review
4 Stars
Another Christmas Tale (Tail?) for Andy Carpenter, Another Win for Rosenfelt
Deck the Hounds - David Rosenfelt

Andy Carpenter sees a homeless man with a dog on the street, gives the man some money and a gift card for dog food (naturally, the dog gets more than the man, because it's Andy Carpenter) and has a brief conversation with him. Not long after that, that same man is on the news -- he'd been attacked by a stranger and his dog defended him. Which resulted in the dog being put in the pound. Laurie's filled with pre-Christmas spirit and insists that Andy help out. So he uses his rescue foundation to get custody of the dog and moves the pair into the apartment over his garage.

 

How heartwarming is this? Clearly, this is fodder for a Christmas/holiday story. But it's also an Andy Carpenter story, so naturally, after Andy does a newspaper interview about the man -- giving his name -- he's arrested for murder. No one was more surprised by this move than Andy's guest, Don. Not only has Don never heard of the victim, he was unaware that he was wanted by the police. Laurie's pre-Christmas spirit is still strong, so she talks him into defending the man. It helps that he's innocent, a dog lover, and an educated, articulate vet with PTSD. The PTSD aspect of the story was told with sensitivity and tact. It didn't feel tacked on to make the character more sympathetic, but it grounded him in reality and may help to inform some readers about the prices that too many vets are paying.

 

There is another storyline -- seemingly unrelated -- running through the novel. Obviously, it's going to tie into Andy's case, but it takes a long time for that to happen. This gives the reader multiple opportunities to guess how the two are connected (and multiple opportunities to be wrong. I guessed what was happening in that story pretty easily, and I think most people who read a lot of legal thrillers will. But how it connects to the main story will likely leave most readers as surprised as I was (surprised, and then filled with a strong sense of, "well, naturally, what else could it be?").

 

The usual gang is back and in their prime form -- Hike is back to his full-time dour self; Ricky is a cute kid; Laurie provides the moral center; Pete is a good cop who continually underestimates Andy's clients; Sam is a wizard with computers in a way that probably defies reality Marcus is his super-hero best here, and possibly faces his biggest challenge yet (I thoroughly enjoyed this scene). What better way to spend a holiday (or at least a book set around one) than with a bunch of friends like these have become over the years?

 

Andy spent more time in the courtroom in this book than he has lately -- it seemed to me, anyway, I didn't do a page count. His courtroom antics and cross-examinations are what drew me to the character in the first place, so this is the stuff in these books I most look forward to. Rosenfelt brought his A-game to the courtroom events here, and I loved it. As far as mysteries go, this in one of the most satisfying cases that Rosenfelt has brought us in years.

 

In my post about the previous "holiday special" I said that I really don't like it when long-running series do a holiday special -- yet, The Twelve Dogs of Christmas and Deck the Hounds have been my favorite installments in the last couple of years in this series. Maybe that means this Grinch's heart is growing a couple of sizes, or maybe it's that Rosenfelt is inspired to work harder in these. My guess? It's the clients -- the Andy Carpenter books are at their best when they focus on the client, not on some large conspiracy. These holiday books have the kind of clients you spend time on, that the reader gets invested in -- and therefore, Andy gets to shine in defending them.

 

Whatever the reason, this is a sure-fire win for Andy Carpenter fans. Particularly if you don't mind a little Christmas celebration (or, if you're like Laurie, and insist on commemorating the holiday for months).

 

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/19/deck-the-hounds-by-david-rosenfelt-another-christmas-tale-tail-for-andy-carpenter-another-win-for-rosenfelt
Review
3 Stars
A Promising Introduction to a series about crime fighting in the Czech Republic
The Tainted Vintage - Clare Blanchard

In the first chapter, we're treated to a better synopsis than I could cook up, so let me just borrow it. One night in the little town of Vinice, in the Czech Republic, the mayor dies during his birthday party:

 

Dvorska was sure that she and Ivan had been sent there for the sake of appearances, because a dead mayor was by definition high profile, and of course because no-one else wanted to touch it. She wondered why they had been called out at all, so soon. The fat feminist and the misogynist - what a team. And of course Dambo, as the senior of the two, would call the shots, so her hands would be tied. Perfect. The sudden death of a rich and powerful local figure was hardly a magnet for rising-star detectives.


Dvorska picks up a clue or two that convinces her -- and then Dambersky -- that this death was not due to natural causes. The Powers That Be don't want to hear such a thing, and rule otherwise. So this very unlikely duo has to embark on an unauthorized investigation -- not just unauthorized, but prohibited -- into the murder.

 

Finding the murderer of a man who died of natural causes isn't the easiest thing to accomplish, obviously -- it's hard to ask too many questions without a "Hey, he wasn't murdered, why are you asking?" coming up. So the partners have to be wily -- not just with their superior officer, but with witnesses, possible suspects, and everyone else they encounter.

 

The investigation takes them to various cities, a variety of social classes, and even ends up giving them a few history lessons. The mayor's home has ties to significant (at least to Vinice) historical movements, going back to World War II, the Communist takeover, and then once the Republic took over. This really helps the reader -- particularly the reader who knows almost nothing about the Czech Republic -- find themselves, not only in the geography but the history (cultural and otherwise). obviously, I'm no expert on the Czech Republic,, but I can understand a little more than I used to. Just the first couple of usages of "Perv" to indicate an illegal drug threw me -- but between the narrator finally calling it Pervityn and a search engine, I got a little lesson in drugs during WWII.

 

It doesn't take long for the book to try to get the reader on the side of these two characters -- maybe there's more to them than the "fat feminist and the misogynist." I really found myself enjoying them as people, not just as detectives. We spend -- for reasons that will become clear when you read this -- more time with Dvorska than her partner, and she is a charming, dedicated detective, fully aware of her limitations and sure how to overcome them.

 

The writing was good but I thought it could be sharper -- there's an odd word choice or two (early on, the detectives start talking about the mayor's death being an execution, not a murder); there's a lot of recapping/rehashing something that was just done/considered/decided a page or two earlier -- the kind of thing that makes sense for serialized novels, but this doesn't appear to be on. Still, the voice is engaging, as is the story -- and you get caught up enough in it that you can easily ignore a few things that'd normally bug you.

 

I was caught totally off-guard by the ending. I didn't expect that to happen at all -- my notes toward the end feature short words like "what" and"why?" But primarily my notes consist of question marks, exclamation points, and combinations thereof. This is a great sign for mystery and thriller novels. Blanchard did a great job setting things up so that there's a dramatic reveal and one that isn't seen chapters away. I do think some more ground work could have been laid early on so that it didn't seem quite so out of nowhere. But it was effective enough, that I really don't want to complain about it.

 

This is a pleasant read -- it's close enough to being a cozy that I could recommend it to friends who predominately read those, and twisted enough that those with more grizzled tastes can sink their teeth into it, too. The characters are winning, charming and the kind that you want to spend time with. It's a good introduction to a series exotic enough for most English readers to feel "alien" and yet full of enough things so you don't feel cut off from what you know. There are obviously future cases for these two in the works, and I plan on getting my hands on them when I can.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/18/the-tainted-vintage-by-clare-blanchard
Saturday Miscellany - 9/15/18

I haven't tried scheduling a post here in years, but I'm out of town and not sure when I'll be able to borrow something to post with, so...let's give this a try, shall we?

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

  • And Aunty Fox reminds us that it's not just authors/books that need our help, but Small Publishers, too.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Episode 461 | Reed Farrel Coleman Interview on Hank Garner's Author Stories Podcast. A lot of this I'd heard before, but not all of it. I also assumed Coleman got the Jesse Stone gig the way he did and was surprised to learn otherwise -- great story.

 

 

  • Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman -- a pivotal book for the series/character and a plot that's eerily timely (but unintentionally so, if you listen to the podcast above). Here's my take on the book



Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/15/saturday-miscellany-9-15-18
Review
5 Stars
Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book
Dear Mr Pop Star - Derek Philpott, Dave Philpott

This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader as part of a book tour that included a really nice Q&A about the book (that's due to the author, not me, I should stress).
---
In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was "almost indescribable" and I really mean that -- the blurb for the book says, "deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs." And that's right, but it doesn't seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don't want to read that (which I get, you're wrong -- but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you'll find here.

 

Let's take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don't feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song "We Built this City" is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their "design project" the "most ludicrous" in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters -- as well-written as these are -- would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh -- I'd give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

 

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song -- full of references to Rock classics as proof. I'll spare the details so you can appreciate Page's inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott's letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way -- some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

 

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses -- Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses -- some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for -- but this is already getting pretty long.

 

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to "Mr. John" about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) -- I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn't support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed -- but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

 

There's an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts -- this isn't an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don't come across as something written for comedic effect -- yes, they're funny. But that's not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They're a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

 

Many of the acts haven't made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don't know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these -- but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I'm not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman's Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

 

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book -- I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it's possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy -- not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy -- without any meanness or cruelty -- Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

Review
4 Stars
A Sweet Story of First Love Wrapped in a SF Shell
Darkside Earther - Bradley Horner

I really didn’t think it could get any better than this.

 

But as with all tales of happiness, there’s always a floating cloud of crap over our heads just waiting for the touch of gravity to send it falling.

 

Axel is a not a typical teen, but he's not a-typical. Hundreds years in the future, he lives on a massive space station in orbit above Earth. His parents are people of influence and importance on the station, and he's being raised to join them. But that's not at all what he wants. He's a middling student, at best, all he really wants to do is make art and fall in love -- hopefully with one particular girl from his classes. Maybe play a few video games (they're far more immersive than anything we can possibly come up with -- and are called something else, but they're essentially what I used to play on an Intellivision).

 

Helen doesn't have his artistic inclinations or abilities, but she shares his political apathy, his love of video games, his odd sense of humor and other interests (I was tempted to say that she shares his obsession with her appearance, but that's not entirely fair to her). Her family is historically (and currently) a pretty Big Deal on Earth. Her immediate family is on this space station in part to work on behalf of the people on Earth. I don't have as strong of a sense of her as I do Axel -- at least not one I could express. That's primarily on me -- but it's also part of the book, it's Axel's story, and we know him much better.

 

The book begins spending a little time with their courtship after setting the stage -- it's very easy to get caught up in the happiness and forget about that floating cloud of crap. Then they hit a pretty major road-bump -- and then just when you get caught up in their clever ways around their obstacles, life for everyone on the station plunges into chaos.

 

Some bar owner once said, "it doesn't take much to see that the problems of ... little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world" with an eye to the horrors of World War II around him. Axel and Helen have a bigger conflict, and more suffering, around them -- and their problems are even smaller in comparison. But that won't stop you from being drawn to their plight (and their joy, determination, and courage, too). What these two (and their friends) go through is enough to derail relationships, families, movements -- and while you'd understand why both of them would bail on their romance, you can't help but root for these crazy kids.

 

It would've been understandable, and so very easy, to turn the parents into the villains of the piece -- even just one set. But Horner resisted that, and even has Axel realizing they're all just doing what they think is right and best -- even if that's diametrically opposed to what their children want/believe.

 

This isn't technically YA, but it's YA-friendly. Maybe even MG-friendly, come to think of it. It's suitable for SF readers of all ages, let's just say. Horner writes like the best SF writers used to in a way that's approachable and appealing to all audiences. I wish more did that. I could say a lot about the science of the space station -- and the cultures created by it, both in orbit and on the ground; or the politics; or the technology; the human biology . . . basically the SF-ness of it. I'm not going to, because of time, space required -- and frankly, the human elements, the characters are what counts.

 

I wasn't that sure this book was going to work for me, but I'm glad I gave it a chance, because this thing won me over (pretty quickly, I should add) -- it had to be Axel and his way of looking at life that drew me in and then pretty much everything else kept me there. It's hopeful, almost optimistic (given the harshness of the reality of humanity's situation, that's an accomplishment), you can enjoy huge swaths of it. It's a love story, it's the beginning of a SF epic, and you will fall under its spell if you give it half a chance. There are some big ideas here, but it's a pretty small story, where people and their feelings are more important (and more interesting) than conflict, technological wonders, and everything else.

Review
4 Stars
Alex Verus takes some of the biggest risks of his life
Marked - Benedict Jacka

“So who was it this time?” Anne asked as I walked over to inspect the device.

 

“I can see the future not the past.” The bomb was a stack of plastique packed into the gym bag, the wires ending in contacts stuck into the blocks. It was crude but powerful, enough to blow apart the house, the victim, and anyone else unlucky enough to be within thirty feet or so of the front door. “I suppose I could get Sonder or someone to track down whoever it was, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

 

“It feels a little bit strange that you don’t even bother identifying the people trying to kill you anymore.”

 

“Who has that kind of time?” 

 

This is one of those books that I wait so long for (not that it was delayed, I simply couldn't wait to read it) and then after reading it, the draft has spent too many days open with out words filling the space. I don't know why -- I had and have many opinions about what transpired here, but can't seem to get them out. So, let's start with the publisher's blurb and see if that helps:

           Mage Alex Verus is hanging on by a thread in the ninth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

 

When Mage Alex Verus ends up with a position on the Light Council, no one is happy, least of all him. But Alex is starting to realize that if he wants to protect his friends, he’ll need to become a power player himself. His first order of business is to track down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages.

 

But when the Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex will have to use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal–and stop the rising tension between the Council, the Dark Mages, and the adept community from turning into a bloodbath.

 

This is not a book for someone to jump into this series with; I guess, technically it could work -- but man . . . there's just so much you wouldn't get. But for those who've dipped their toes in the water -- or have fully submerged themselves in the deep end -- this is going to scratch that itch.

 

Typically, there are more balls in the air than you can easily track -- there's all the new political moves and movers that Alex has to contend with, his continuing efforts to prove to former friends and allies that he's trustworthy (well, that he shouldn't be intensely distrusted anyway), there's a rising sense among the adepts that they need to organize -- and Alex is dumbfounded that none of the Light mages seem to see this as something worth paying attention to -- and then there's Richard's continuing efforts to disrupt Alex's life. And then there's all the stuff that Alex hasn't figured out that's going on around him yet.

 

Due to the political office (however temporary) that he finds himself in, and the nature of the threats he's facing down -- this is one of the least personal stories in the series. At the same time, Alex is driven to risk more of himself to save his friends and maybe even save a foe.

 

I don't know how to talk about this without spoiling much. I can tell you that as nice as it is for Arachne not to have all the answers -- I wanted more of her and that the rest of Alex's friends get to shine in ways they normally don't. Also, given where things end, I'm already impatient to get my hands on the next one.

 

So, I don't have much to say, but it's good. Alex Verus fans should grab it, and people who aren't yet, should check into the series and catch up.

Review
4 Stars
Atkins' take on the Dukes of Hazzard(??) is another stellar installment in the Quinn Colson series.
The Sinners - Ace Atkins

They sat there in silence for a bit, enjoying the warm breeze, the empty, quite sounds of the hot wind through the trees. He and Boom could be together for a long while without saying a damn word, same as it had been hunting and fishing when they were kids. They didn’t feel the need to fill that silence with: bunch of empty-headed talk.

 

“This place is a lot different from when you got back," Boom said.

 

“People in town said for me to burn the house down," Quinn said.

 

“Took us two days just to clear out your uncle's trash,“ Boom said. “Nothing good in here but some old records and guns.”

 

“And a suede coat and a bottle of Fine bourbon from Johnny Stagg."

 

Boom nodded, silent again for a while. Quinn drank his beer watching Hondo, now just a flitting dark speck among the cows as he worked them a little, letting them know who was in charge. Nearly ten years Quinn’d been back and he wasn’t sure he’d made a damn bit of difference.

 

On the one hand, it's easy to argue that with Quinn -- even just one of the seven preceding novels would tell you that. But, it's easy to see where he'd get to thinking that way -- Tibbehah County is a very much poster child for The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same Club. The Sinners is full of nice little moments like this -- quiet, reflective moments with Quinn and Boom, Quinn and Lilly, Quinn and Maggie. While it'd be easy (and understandable) to focus on the storylines featuring the Pritchards or Boom Kimbrough -- the heart of this novel is in these moments. You want to know what Quinn Colson, or this series is about? Focus on these conversations, the quiet in the midst of the storms.

 

But that doesn't mean we should ignore the storms.

 

The first story (not in the book, but here) focuses on Boom Kimbrough, Quinn's oldest friend. Unwelcome at his old job keeping the Sheriff Department's vehicles running (among other things), thanks to the county supervisor we met in last year's The Fallen, Boom's moved on to doing some interstate trucking. Convinced (wrongly?) that a black man with one arm isn't going to be hired by anyone else, he's stuck with one particular company. And once he becomes suspicious about the cargo he's sometimes carrying, he's ready to quit -- but despondent and frustrated about what he'll do as an alternative. His boss doesn't want him to leave -- and uses a couple of tough looking employees to convey that to Boom (Boom's not the only one they'll threaten -- Fannie Hathcock is also a target). Clearly, they don't know enough about Boom, and before you know it, Quinn is informed about it all. Which brings in FBI agent, Nat Wilkins (more about her in a second). Things get hairy from there. This is the secondary story -- and gets that kind of space -- but it's really the more interesting of the two major plots, mostly because it's what forces Fannie and the Dixie Mafia toughs to get involved in the other story.

 

The major plotline involves the anti-Bo and Luke Duke. Tyler and Cody Pritchard are a couple of good ol' boys concerned with racing their stock car, women, and growing/selling the best weed in The South. Things are going fine for them, by and large: they race, they grow and sell, which funds the racing, enabling them to attract women. Sure, they've double-crossed Fannie a bit, but that's really nothing major. Until their Uncle Heath gets out of prison after doing 25 for his part in laying the groundwork of their marijuana growing. Heath, too, is an anti-Duke. He got caught, for one, and he's not in the habit of keeping his nephews out of trouble, in fact, he makes things worse for them and spurs them into bigger and worse crimes than they'd been accustomed to.

Now, long time readers will have done the math here -- Heath did 25 years, Quinn's been around for almost 10, having taken over for . . . that's right, his Uncle, Hamp Beckett. Hamp and Heath apparently were quite the cat and mouse for a while (Hamp perhaps being spurred on by his "Boss Hogg," Johnny Stagg -- I swear I'm done with the Dukes now) until he finally got the goods on Heath and sent him away. That story kicks off this book and is a great way to open. To say that Heath has got a chip on his shoulder toward Hamp and his nephew would be understating things a wee bit.

 

So we've got Heath dragging his nephews into bigger and badder felonies, making them targets for the Dixie Mafia, who are having troubles with things at Fannie's, and one of their transportation venues is being scrutinized thanks to Boom. Oh, yeah, and Quinn and Maggie are a couple of weeks away from tying the knot and Quinn's mother is becoming a pest about the ceremony and reception. It's set to be a good time in Tibbehah.

 

This is told with Atkins' typical skill, eye for detail, good timing and atmosphere. It's hard to find something new to comment on. One thing I really appreciated was how clever he had Quinn act when it came to putting the pieces together. We're all accustomed (especially in film or television) for the police to be close to figuring things out, but needing a vital piece of information from an unconscious, unavailable, or non-communicative witness until the last second. By the time the unconscious witness woke up and started providing the clues and identities needed to put anyone away for their crimes, Quinn had already sussed it out and was in the middle of making the necessary moves. One more Hazzard reference, I lied, get over it -- Quinn is very much the anti-Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

 

I spent so much time feeling bad for Tyler and Cody -- they aren't characters I'd typically like. There's little to commend them -- they're not that bright, not that talented, not that nice, I can't imagine why any woman would want to spend time with them (not that we have proof that any do), and seem destined to lead quiet little lives of no consequence. But once their uncle forces them into things, I just wanted them to find a way back to their petty little pot farm.

 

I spent more than a little time worried for Fannie, too. She's as despicable as they come, too, but as characters go, I like having her around. The way she's treated by her superiors shows how tentative her situation is -- and Quinn could be facing someone worse than her or Stagg pretty soon.

 

Speaking of worries -- I spent most of the novel very concerned about the heath, well-being and longevity of a character that's been around since The Ranger. I don't think for a second that Atkins feels the need to keep any one of these characters alive. Frankly, it's be easy to make the Quinn Colson novels the Tibbehah County Chronicles or the Lilly Virgil novels -- no one is safe, including Quinn. Making it very easy for me to spend a lot of time worried about someone I like. Obviously, I won't tell you how right I was on that front -- but I wasn't wrong.

 

Naturally, Atkins gets the characters right. You know from the beginning how worthless Heath Pritchard is, how nasty the Dixie Mafia toughs are, how lame the Pritchard boys would be without prodding (lame, but amusing). We meet new federal officer here -- Agent Nat Wilkins. I'm glad that Quinn isn't wholly dependent on the DEA Agent (whose name escapes me for the moment) for outside support anymore. But more than that, I'm glad that Wilkins is who we get to see in this role. She's brash, she's smart, she's fun -- she really isn't like any Law Enforcement type we've met in this series to date. I'm sure we'll see her again, hopefully soon. I'm not saying I need to see her next year, but if I don't see her again by 2020, Atkins can expect me to lead an online riot.

 

It was good to spend time back in this troubled county, checking in with our old friends and some new ones (I'm really liking Maggie, and hope she sticks around). As much as I enjoyed Atkins', Old Black Magic, I think this is his better work this year. As satisfied as I was with the story, I'm already impatiently waiting for the next installment -- between how much I liked The Sinners and the way that Fannie's last line promised to make the next book a doozy, it can't come soon enough.

 

2018 Library Love Challenge

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/10/the-sinners-by-ace-atkins-atkins-take-on-the-dukes-of-hazzard-is-another-stellar-installment-in-the-quinn-colson-series
Saturday Miscellany - 9/8/18

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:

  • Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire -- my favorite ongoing UF series (until Butcher starts publishing regularly again) gets a new installment, it's intense, it's good. I'll probably be a wreck when I finish it.
  • Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson -- I've been waiting on the edge of my seat since about 30 seconds after reading the last page of The Western Star. This is gonna be huge. Johnson's doing a reading in town at the end of the month, and a book comes with the ticket, so I have to wait a little longer before I dive in. On the plus side, I didn't have to choose between this and Night and Silence (that's a choice that could turn me into Chidi Anagonye)
  • The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
  • The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette -- a UFO lands and does nothing for 3 years?
  • Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout -- Homeward Bound in space? Whatever, read that Big Idea article linked above and you'll see why I feel like I have to read this.

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/08/saturday-miscellany-9-8-18
Review
4 Stars
A Charming Picture Book about a Bearded Bear
Bearded - Jeremy Billups, Jeremy Billups

Picture books about bears are everywhere -- I have a hard time believing many kids get out of the picture book stage without exposure to at least 4 of them (and that's before they're at the Pooh or Paddington stage). But how many of those bears have been bearded?

 

Enter Jeremy Billups and his little book.

 

This is the story of a little red-haired girl (no, not <a href="http://peanuts.wikia.com/wiki/Little_Red-Haired_Girl" target="_blank">that one</a>) traveling the world with her bearded bear, having all sorts of adventures and meeting a bunch of different animals. There really isn't a lesson, moral or much of a plot -- just a bunch of quick looks at the pair. A few quick lines and a picture on each pair of pages.

 

The art is simple and arresting. They just pop off the page -- this is one of those times I wish I had the necessary vocabulary to describe why I like the drawings, but I don't. I bought a print of what turns ot to be page 16 before I even picked up the book to flip through. I've bought a handful of prints this year, and it's my absolute favorite -- I like it even more now that I've read the book. Also, If you ever see a better picture of someone making buffalo wings, I'll eat my hat.

 

Oh, and the endorsements on the back cover are a lot of fun. If that doesn't convince you to try it out, I can't imagine what will.

 

Great art, cute story, fun rhymes -- everything you want in a picture book. Even better -- animals with beards are the best animals that aren't dogs. This is a charming little book that's sure to please.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/06/bearded-by-jeremy-billups-a-charming-picture-book-about-a-bearded-bear
Review
3.5 Stars
A Great Spin on Contemporary Fantasy Kicks Off a Promising Series
Twisted Magics - J.C. Jackson

I had a brief conversation a couple of weeks ago with J.C. Jackson and she described the book as "Science Fantasy" and told us a little about the series. Something about fantasy characters but with modern technology, but phrased better. Not really getting what she said, I asked why not just call it Urban Fantasy, and she gave a decent answer -- basically that she didn't have enough vampires or werewolves in the books so readers told her she couldn't. I was a chapter or two in to the book when I figured out what she was saying.

 

In your mainstream Urban Fantasy, you have fantasy creatures -- wizards, druids, werewolves, fae -- popping up in our world. On the other end of the spectrum (or an other end, anyway) you have things like the Eddie LaCrosse novels or the Dragon Precinct books that have modern ideas (police squads, private investigators) used in a fantasy series. Jackson takes a different tack -- it's a typical fantasy novel in that there's a lot of magic, elves, halflings, Dark Elves, living next to humans -- very standard kind of thing, but their technology matches ours (actually, it's slightly more advanced). I loved this approach and there's a good chance that I'd have had nice things to say about the book just because of this idea.

 

I do have more reasons to say nice things, though.

 

Ketayl is an Elven mage who works as a a CSI-like lab tech for the Terran Intelligence Organization (a FBI-like organization). Her strength is in finding ways to use devices to do forensic investigation of magical elements of particular crimes. She's not the most socially adept of people, clearly more secure in her lab and with clearly drawn rules governing her interaction with others.

 

Then there's an explosion in the Elven Territories, seemingly magical in origin -- definitely devastating. The TIO director sends Ketayl, along with the rural tracker, Retanei; and Artemis, Retanei's wolf companion to investigate. Along with the local TIO team -- which does their best to bring these agents into their community -- they dive into finding those responsible. It's a kind of magic that doesn't play by the rules that Ketayl is used to, and powerful enough to make her nervous.

 

While they look for what could have caused this destruction, we learn more about the world, the magic system and Ketayl. I still have a few questions about all of those and I think some of them should've been addressed in the first book -- but I never felt lost in this world as I waited for the details to be given. This is a pretty decent thriller when you strip away the fantastic elements, or a pretty decent fantasy tale if you take out the criminal investigation elements. Keep them combined and the whole thing is stronger.

 

Eventually, the TIO hires a consultant from the Paladins -- their kind of music is very different from Ketayl's. The Paladins are also very prejudiced toward other magic users, and other species. Thankfully, the Paladin sent to help the team (Silver) is pretty open-minded and doesn't get driven right into a religious conflict (which doesn't preclude other kinds of conflict). Silver joining the team -- primarily partnering with Ketayl -- brings her out of her shell a bit.

 

Ketayl frequently reminded me of Tilly Bradshaw, the analyst from M. W. Craven's The Puppet Show (one of those books that I somehow haven't had time to blog about, but you should read, if only for the Ketayl-like character). She's a complex character that I look forward to learning more about. The rest of the characters -- with Silver pretty much being the exception -- aren't as developed as you might like, but you get enough of to satisfy just about every itch you might have.

 

There were a few too many typos for me, and the misspellings/unfortunate slips like homonym confusion. It wasn't horrible, but it was bad enough to stick with me.

 

The novel does a good job of introducing us to the characters and world while telling a compelling story. Jackson's particular spin on merging fantasy and a 10-minutes-into-the-future world is refreshingly original. I liked the characters, the world and everything -- I've already gone out and purchased the sequel and am trying to find time on the schedule to get it read.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/06/twisted-magics-by-j-c-jackson-a-great-spin-on-contemporary-fantasy-kicks-off-a-promising-series
Review
3.5 Stars
A Thief Hunts for a Killer in this Original Thriller
The Burglar - Thomas Perry

Elle Stowell is a thief -- a burglar to be precise. She's careful, methodical, careful -- she doesn't use weapons, she focuses on cash and things that are easy to sell. You really can't call anyone in her profession "risk averse," but she's as close to it as you could possibly be.

 

She's a cute, petite blonde working in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in LA. Her appearance gets her over-looked by those who ought to find her suspicious and her size and athletic ability help her get into places that she shouldn't be. She makes enough to finance her lifestyle -- and a little more. But primarily, she lives this way for the thrill.

All that changes one day when she breaks into a home and finds three bodies in the bedroom, clearly the victims of a shooting. She also notices that a video camera in the room which probably caught the murder -- it definitely caught her. So she steals the camera from the scene and runs. She verifies that, yes, it shows the murder and a little bit of what led up to it. After making a few copies -- and removing her self from the footage -- she returns the camera for the police to use the footage.

 

Soon after this, she begins to hear of three people looking for her at some of her usual haunts. She's told that they seem like cops, but she's not sure. Cops or not, she wants nothing to do with them. Once bodies start showing up -- bodies that are related to her in some way -- she knows that she has to find the murderers or she'll never be able to stop looking over her shoulder.

 

I don't really think that I got to the point that I liked Elle -- she's a criminal, not one driven to it or forced to steal or anything. She made a choice at some point to steal and has stuck with it. She's not particularly flamboyant about it -- like Jim DiGriz or Nicholas Fox or anything. Her approach is clinical, serious, no-nonsense. So there's none of the typical fictional trappings that make you like a thief character.

 

However, it wasn't that far into the book when I realized that I was really invested in what's going on with her -- how is she going to escape the ramifications of what she's seen? Is she being paranoid, or is there someone actually after her? Will she be able to bring them to justice without incriminating herself? How did they figure how who she was? Why were the original murders committed? Why isn't anything happening with that video she left the police?

 

There are other characters -- a couple that you get to spend some good time with, too. But this book is all about Elle. Like I said, I don't think I ever liked Elle, but I appreciated her as a character. The other characters that are around for more than a few paragraphs are just interesting enough to justify their presence. Some bring out some interesting sides of Elle's character or past. Others help us understand just what kind of mess she's fallen into.

 

This is my third Thomas Perry book in the last year, and I was far more invested in the events of this than I was in either of the others -- he kept reeling me in page by page. The pacing of this is great -- just like Elle herself, Perry knows when to slow down and let you catch your breath and then when to dash off and leave you hanging on by your fingertips.Perry's been at this for a while and it shows -- he knows how to write a thriller.

Unlike many crime novels (including the other Perry novels), you don't get to know anything about the murderers until the ending -- you have an idea about them before the ending, but it's not until the closing chapters that you actually learn anything. I loved that, I was just as much in the dark as Elle was. Perry didn't get into the killer's mindset or motivation at all. They were just out there, threatening Elle until she's put the pieces together.

 

This was a fun read. It was gripping, it was unique, it was complex -- and come to think of it, the motive for the killing and the crimes surrounding the murder aren't like anything I remember in Crime Fiction. That alone makes it worth your while. Perry really delivered the goods with this one, and I encourage you to give it a shot.

 

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Grove Atlantic via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/09/04/the-burglar-by-thomas-perry-a-thief-hunts-for-a-killer-in-this-original-thriller
Review
3 Stars
An entertaining thriller follow-up that almost lives up to its predecessor.
The Cleansweep Counterstrike - Chuck Waldron

This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader as part of a Book Tour stop which includes a giveaway and Q&A with the author.
---

Let me preface all this by saying that I enjoyed The Cleansweep Counterstrike, I thought it was a fun return to the characters of the first book. I had some problems with it -- that weren't so bad that they kept me from enjoying this book, but they diminished my appreciation. I do talk about them below, and to adequately express them takes some space -- so much so that it dominates my post. This isn't because I didn't like the book -- it's just that I wanted to be sure I explained my thinking. So I'm stressing at the outset -- I recommend this book, I liked it and I think that other readers will, too.

 

Ahab had his whale, Coyote has his Road Runner and Charles Claussen has Matt Tremain (and the others that helped him out in The Cleansweep Conspiracy). Claussen lost a lot -- not just in terms of influence of money, either -- when Tremain's investigations helped bring his Cleansweep project down. Now on the run from his former bank-rollers and trying to keep under the radar of law enforcement, Claussen risks everything to get his revenge.

 

Tremain and his friends have moved on in their lives and careers -- but you get the impression that they haven't stopped looking over their shoulder for something to come at them for their role in Cleansweeps failure -- not just Claussen, either. He may have been the front man, but no one thinks that he's the only one that might bear a grudge.

After he gets his revenge, Claussen does plan on trying to get some mercy from his benefactors -- and maybe see if he can demonstrate that Cleansweep can work in another country. But first things first.

 

I am so glad that Waldron took this approach to things -- I went in apprehensive that this would be Conspiracy Redux -- somehow the people behind Claussen were trying it in a new city/country (or worse, they were trying again in Toronoto under a different name) and that Tremain and company had taken it upon themselves to head off to the new location to do the same thing they'd done at home. I just wasn't ready for the tortured logic that would make it possible. Instead, it's all about the fallout from Conspiracy -- good and bad for all involved, and all parties trying to go on with their lives, obsessions, and whatnot. Everyone except Claussen, that is. He's still stuck in the moment, making him the proverbial fly in the ointment for everyone.

 

Like in Conspiracy, there's some issues with time -- how much time went by before Claussen starts his efforts at revenge, how long before Tremain and Carling go hunting for Claussen, for example -- there's a couple other spoiler-y items that I'm confused on the timing about, too. Yes, Waldron gives plenty of clues about the time, but some of them are pretty vague and some of them come so late into the game that by the time he says anything about it, it's too late and the reader is already a bit muddled on details. That could just be me, but I don't think so. On the flip side, there's some things in Tremain's personal life that move so quickly (I think) that they're hard to believe. The key there is to not fight it, not insist that everything's crystal clear -- and the book will sweep you up in the hunt and you'll stop caring. And, when it comes to the things that are important -- he doesn't miss a step. It's only in the setup, the subplots, the background, etc. that things get muddled.

 

Once Claussen starts to move in and really gets the four worried about what he's up to and what might happen to them, the book comes together and all the little quibbles vanish. There's danger afoot, hazards everywhere and they all will have to be ready to adapt to any strange circumstance if they're going to get out of this alive and intact.

 

We spent plenty of time with Claussen in Conspiracy -- and we get even more here. Early on, almost every line of dialogue, every thought of his that's recorded is as diabolically evil as it could be -- which made it so hard to swallow. But after a while, that goes away. And you can almost reach the point where you want to see Claussen escape a little longer so that when he does come for Tremain, the whole thing will be a tinge more exciting.

 

My main problem with this novel is that we don't get nearly enough time with Tremain and his allies -- so much of that part of the story feels rushed and under-cooked. I'd like more time with Carling, Remy and Susan. Yes, Tremain is the focus -- and should be -- but we get almost nothing about the other three when they're not playing backup to Tremain. Carling is the most neglected (which I don't think will be a problem in the next book), keeping him the one I want to learn most about -- Tremain's Russian hacker benefactor would be a close second.

Angela Vaughn, Claussen's former security chief, was one of the highlights of Conspiracy for me -- and she has a great moment or two here. But sadly, just a moment or two. I'm glad that Waldron brought her back for this book, I just wish he'd done more with her.

 

The criminals and mercenaries that Claussen surrounds himself with and/or is surrounded with (it's a fine, but important, distinction you can learn about yourself) aren't as compelling. Those that are competent vacillate between almost too capable to believe and have they ever done anything more complicated than hold up a liquor store?

 

Conspiracy felt plausible, maybe some of it was a stretch, but it still struck me as something not too far-fetched, and the stakes felt real. On the whole, Counterstrike is probably closer to plausible, but the stakes didn't -- maybe because it felt so unlikely that someone like Claussen could be so focused on his revenge -- so short-sighted about the dangers inherent in pursuing it (from the government, his backers, other enemies he's made). But it's that Ahab-like focus that drives the novel, so you have to accept it. Once you do -- the rest is easy to buy into.

 

Once again, this novel is close to be a great thriller, but it misses by an inch or two on many fronts -- some are minor quibbles, some are more than that -- but you get enough of those and it's hard to be enthusiastic about the book as you could've been. Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels like this is a draft or two away from being at that point (would a Toronto police detective call the FBI "the Feds"?). For every thing that I grumbled about above (or put in my notes and didn't bring up because I was starting to feel like I was being negative), Waldron nails 3-4 other things. The story is there, I simply don't think that Waldron told it as effectively as he could've.

 

I don't want this post to come across as negative, I'm just underwhelmed. I enjoyed it -- I don't think it's as good as Conspiracy, but it's a worthwhile continuation, and should make the reader keen to get their hands on Book 3. Given where Waldron leaves things, it has the makings of a pretty strong installment.

 

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest thoughts.