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 - 11/17/18

If there are problems with any of the links/etc in this post, I apologize. My 27 lb. Pug/Beagle mix decided to jump onto my lap while I was finishing this post -- I saved the laptop by milliseconds -- and I'm typing this with my laptop laying ridiculously high on my chest (my beard is covering the touchpad and space bar). Awkward to say the least.


What a week . . . Stan Lee's death -- while we've been aware it was coming some day -- shook me as much as it did other fans who appreciated his work (if not always his personal ethics) and his legacy. But the news of William Goldman's death yesterday? I was stunned -- which is strange, it's not like he'd produced anything lately that grabbed me, but between his movies (The Right Stuff in particular -- a fantastic adaptation) and his novels, he really affected the way Middle/High School me thought about the written word. The fact that the same mind produced The Princess Bride and Marathon Man/Brothers??? I think I was a sophomore when I read the latter two -- pretty much up to that point everyone I read wrote in the same genre, focusing on the same kind of stories. But Goldman permanently changed the way I thought about the range an author could have -- as well as trips to the dentist. One other note -- did you see this tweet from Jonny Geller about the opening to the Butch Cassidy screenplay? If not, give it a read -- that's writing. The idea that we don't have the man who can do that kind of writing in this world any more is tragic.


Anyway, I've got a good crop of 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:

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to pinnaclemotivation, wittysarcasticbookclub, AlbertHolmes, and The Sunday Feeling for following the blog in some form this week.

5 Stars
This Thriller Left Me Feeling Gobsmacked and Awestruck
Her Last Move - John Marrs
The very fact people were talking about him and taking him seriously was proof he was on the right path. But branding him a serial killer was lazy. Serial killers and psychopaths murder out of compulsion, he reminded himself. They do it because they have no choice. He killed with purpose. And eventually, everyone would understand why.


This is one of those books that I'm not going to do justice to. I know that now, and if not for the deadline of posting in a few hours, I'd probably walk away now and come back daily for until next Tuesday and post something I don't like. But I do have that deadline, so I have to post something I'm not satisfied with in a few hours. I just like this one so much; and have so much that I want to say, but won't because it would ruin your experience, that I know I'll want a couple of mulligans to this post. 


This starts off with one of those chapters we've all read too many times -- a budding serial killer is preparing to make his first kill and is indulging in some interior monologue beforehand. This is where we start to get an understanding of the character, why he thinks he needs to be killing, why he's so wonderful/special/different. But this chapter isn't quite that -- and by the time you realize this isn't following the standard template, Marrs has his hooks in you -- and this book is off to a startling and bloody start.


DS Becca Vincent is a young detective just trying to get somewhere in her career -- it seems that her superiors, including (infuriatingly enough) women, are holding her back because of her devotion to her daughter. Not that her mother considers her that devoted as she's doing most of the hands-on care while Becca is at work. She's in the crowd when the first killing happens and is the first police presence at the scene. She also is the first to tie that victim to another murder victim. She leverages this into a spot on the investigation team, where she hopes she can make enough of a difference to lead to more responsibility in the future.


The first thing she's assigned to do is to go over the CCTV tapes with a "super-recogniser." I don't know if this is a real thing or not, and don't care. It works really well in this book -- these are a select team of people with near-eidetic memories for faces who spend every shift pouring through security footage for faces -- either to track down suspects or identify people who are near too many crime scenes to chalk up to coincidence. We meet DS Joe Russell as he recognizes a suspect on the street while riding a bus and chases him down. Becca meets him in less exciting circumstances -- a dirty squadroom in a less-than-impressive looking building. She doesn't buy the concept originally, but Joe wins her over pretty quickly.


The investigation doesn't move quickly, there's a lot of manpower put into it (more and more all the time), but progress is slow. A friendship develops (not without a few bumps) between Joe and Becca much more quickly, and they clearly work together well.


The killer's spree does move quickly on the other hand. He has a plan, he's been developing it, nurturing it, and getting it ready to carry out for a very long time. He's spent years setting up these dominoes and when he knocks the first over, the rest fall quickly. As we watch him do that, we learn what shaped him throughout his life into the monster he's become. Nothing that happens to him justifies what he's doing -- nothing could -- but it helps the reader understand him, and empathize with him to a degree (until he gets to a certain point and you can't empathize with him anymore).


The book is full of sincere and devoted professionals trying to get the job done in the best way to protect lives and stop the killer -- we focus on a couple of them, but they're clearly all over the place. Unlike the people on TV, these professionals have family, friends, medical issues, children, pasts, problems and joys outside the job who will distract from and inform their performance on the job. Watching Becca and Joe unsuccessfully balance these parts of their life (particularly given the pressures as the number of bodies rises) is just one of the things that Marrs does right. Come to think of it, you can say the same thing about our killer (for most of the book anyway). I'm really impressed at how much genuine tension and drama Marrs is able to mine from this.


Each death is increasingly horrific -- seriously, these are some of the most gruesome murders I've read. Each reveals more about the killer and what's driving him. The reader (as we have more information than the police) will put the pieces together before the Becca and Joe do. But when things start to click for the police, they're able to figure things out quickly. It's a very satisfying moment -- the question is, do they figure things out in time to save anyone on the killer's list?


I've never read Marrs before -- but I will again. There's not a wasted word in these 352 pages, not a throwaway line, useless exchange. My notes are filled with "Is he going somewhere with ____?" and "There'd better be a pay off to ___" Every time, without fail, I could've gone back and added the page/line that demonstrated he was going somewhere with that idea or paid off that observation. Even in my favorite reads of 2018, there are moments we probably don't need -- most of which I'm happy to have -- lines, ideas, scenes that could be cut without hurting things. That's not the case here -- anything you read here is important, even if (maybe especially if) it doesn't seem so.


I'm not sure how this would hold up to repeated reading -- a lot of thrillers don't. And I haven't had time to try this one, but I think it'd hold up pretty well, if you're not distracted by wondering what Marrs (or his characters) are up to, or what's going to happen next, etc. you can focus on all the subtle little things he's doing to create the anticipation and tension, and appreciate the skill involved in grabbing the reader and putting them through the paces.


This will suck you in, keep you entertained through the paces of the investigation, and lull you into thinking you know how things are going just long enough for you to get complacent so he can drop the floor out from underneath you. Marrs makes bold choices and will catch you off-guard at least once -- I can practically guarantee that. This is one of those books that will lead you to shirk responsibilities at home and work; postpone things like eating and sleeping; and momentarily resent your family for interacting with you -- particularly the last thirty percent or so (although you might have to might have to take a quick break to absorb what you just read or catch your breath). One of the best I've read this year -- I hope you give this a shot and I bet you'll agree.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided -- as well as Thomas & Mercer and the fine folks at Netgalley for the eARC.


4.5 Stars
A Great Read about the Less-Glamorous, Less-Successful Side of Silicon Valley
The Place You're Supposed to Laugh - Jenn Stroud Rossmann
Those inclined to irony might find it in the Palo Alto Farmers Market assembled on asphalt, where there had once been an apricot orchard. Each weekend from May through December, the workweek parking lot filled with vendor stands and umbrellas protecting bins of trucked-in garlic cloves, avocados, tomatillos, et al. The University down the street was known as “The Farm,” though it hadn’t been one since the Stanfords donated their country estate and chartered a college in the 1880s. Stanford grads and especially its dropouts had been transforming the Valley ever since; the fruit came from further and further away.


It's really hard to grab a representative quotation from this novel -- but this comes close. There's a hint of the humor, the capturing of a moment in time, societal observation, a hint of wistfulness, and even a modicum of critique.


It's 2002, in many parts of the country the shadow of 9/11 looms large. It's present in Palo Alto, but not to the degree it is other places -- what looms larger is the bursting of the dot-com bubble, everyone around them has been impacted in some way by it -- most people have been impacted in significant ways, although the ripples are still going out from them and affecting the lives of everyone in their community in some way.


Our focus in this novel is on the life of Chad Loudermilk and those who are near him. Chad's 14 and is enduring his first year in high school. His best friend since . . . well, forever, Walter Chen attended there briefly, but was pulled out by his parents to attend the Roman Catholic academy nearby -- for a greater focus on academics, and fewer active shooter drills. Life's hard without Walter around. Chad's mother works with "at risk" youth, on making wise decisions, while she's still reeling from her mother's death a few months earlier. Chad's father, Ray, is dealing with ripples of the burst -- the advertising agency he's part of his dealing with a shift in clientele. There's Scot, Chad's next-door neighbor, the creator of Latte (wink, wink) -- the Macromedia tool -- a big brother figure, dispensing non-parental advice and playing video games (his wife really doesn't have any time for Chad). There's a new girl in school that Chad can't stop talking about, and a couple of guys from the proverbial other side of the tracks that he met at a record store and is spending time with. The major focus of the plot is following Chad's interactions with them over the course of a few months -- we get chapters focusing on his parents and what's going on in their lives, but on the whole, the rest of the characters are seen filtered through Chad's experience.


The other major thread follows Chad's maternal aunt, Diana, a physics professor we meet as she registers for a conference in Barcelona. She's trying to re-establish her career after pressing pause on things to have a child with her best friend. It's not easy for her to get back into the swing of things, but she's close. As Chad's aunt, there's a lot of opportunity for the plotlines to intersect and overlap -- but the sisters aren't that close, so it's not as frequent as it could've been. By the end of the novel, events have transpired enough that Diana's as large a fixture in Chad's life as Scot (maybe larger), so it's easy to intermingle the story lines. But for the first 1/2-2/3 or so, there a clear distinction between the two -- and it's not clear why we're getting both stories.


Another thing that's not clear is what exactly is Chad's story. This is close to a Bildungsroman, but we only really see the beginning of Chad's development -- it's like the first Act of Chad's Bildungsroman. Which isn't to say that it's an incomplete story, it's not. It's just about Chad starting adolescence. You don't want to get the details from me, you want to get them from the book, but a lot of stuff happens. Nothing major like a school shooting, a terrorist attack, or anything. Just life, the ebbs and flows of people's lives. I could actually sum up the major events of the novel in 2 sentences. One of them might be long-ish, but just two sentences.


Don't get me wrong -- there's a plot to this book. But really, you don't see it (well, I didn't see it) until toward the end -- maybe even after the end. This is not a bad thing, it just means you have to think about things a lot. My notes are filled with comments along the lines of "I really don't see where this is going" or "I'm not sure what the point of all this is" -- and they're always followed with, "Don't care, great stuff." I really didn't care where Rossmann was going, I was too busy enjoying the ride -- the voice, the characters, the atmosphere, the little bits like the Farmers Market (above), were enough to keep me engaged, entertained and turning the pages.


I'm not going to drill down and talk about the various characters -- or even just one. I could do a post just about Ray, or Scot, or a long one on Chad or Diane -- I think I'd have to do a series on Chad's mom. Instead I'll talk about them as a collective whole -- they're people. There are things to like about them all, there's plenty to dislike about them all (particularly the adults). A lot of what they do seem inconsistent with the characters as Rossmann has presented them, but that just makes them more human. There's not one character in this book that isn't a human -- no one larger than life (Scot kind of is, but he's larger than life in the way that we all know someone who seems to be that way). Any person in this book could easily be the person next to you in the bagel shop, sipping on their caffeinated beverage of choice. They're delightful in that perceived realism, also in the way that Rossmann talks about them. Without approval of anything, you get the feeling that she has affection for every character in the book.


The clergymen who appeared -- however briefly -- in this book were a couple of the least objectionable depictions of clergy I can remember seeing lately. Not hypocritical, they actually seemed to believe in what they were saying, and were actually trying to help those they encountered. It's not often you get to see that anymore, and it should be acknowledged when you see it.


I've been struggling for a few days -- and I'm not sure I'm succeeding at the moment -- to put into words the experience that is The Place You're Supposed to Laugh. I think I was hooked by the end of chapter 1 -- definitely by some point in the third chapter. I liked the book, I liked the characters, I liked the writing. It's a pleasant, thoughtful experience. It's what reading a book should be like -- skillful writing, wonderfully drawn characters and prose you enjoy immersing yourself in.


The novel talks about a lot of things -- one of the biggest themes is forgiveness. I don't think I've ever seen the topic discussed in quite the same way in any format. I won't suggest that Rossmann exhausted the idea, obviously, but she talked about it, depicted it, and had her characters think about it in ways I found refreshing and encouraging.


I'm not sure what else to say -- The Place You're Supposed to Laugh is a great read. It's a strong novel that will make you think, will make you feel, and will leave you satisfied. Rossman writes with sensitivity, wit and skill. What else are you looking for?


Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which is seen above.

4 Stars
A Great Hook and Subtle Storytelling Make for a Compelling Read
The Twisted Web - Rebecca Bradley

‘So, he talks about crime online and is murdered and left to be found in what is made to look like a crime scene?’ Ross asked, clarifying the situation in his own mind. A situation we all needed to get our heads around.


‘That appears to be the gist of it, Ross...'

I can't come up with a plot summary as succinct as that, no matter how hard I try. As far as hooks go, they don't come much better than that. This is my second Rebecca Bradley novel, and it's the second one with a killer hook. In many ways, a killer hook -- like knowing -- is half the battle.


It's up to DI Hannah Robbins and her team to find this murderer, and from the get-go, the cards are stacked against them. To begin with, social media was aware of the body before the police were (despite the number of CCTV cameras in the area the body was dumped), and Twitter was demanding action. Which means -- like in so many aspects of society today -- the pressure on those seeking to do the work in a professional, careful manner works against them. The online mob (and the politicians that fear getting on their wrong side) demand instant action, instant results and instant justice. Good police work rarely gives you instant anything.


Robbins' team is in a little bit of flux at the moment -- they have a relatively new DCI, who isn't thrilled with the makeup of the team and doesn't trust Robbins' leadership (possibly not her ability at all -- I'm not sure) as well as a newish DC who has started to prove herself (but is still trying to); they're short a vital member due to a recent heart-attack; and Robbins herself is recovering from an injury and isn't quite herself while being distracted by some family drama. But like any good team of professionals, they band together, adapt and get to work. I can easily see versions of this book where the internal problems distract the team from the investigation enough that the killer strikes again (which doesn't mean that the killer doesn't strike again here, but it's not for this reason).


Robbins seems to do a pretty solid job running things, using her personnel and herself efficiently and wisely -- from this particular armchair, the procedural part of this novel is the way things are supposed to go. No maverick detective bucking the system, going their own way, or bending any rules of evidence. How many "police procedurals" can claim that? Through that careful, ticking every box kind of approach -- the stuff that Rebus can't be bothered with, Bosch only gives lip service to, and Peter Grant submits to (grumbling the entire way) -- Robbins team gets the job done. Not that serendipity doesn't play a role, but that happens.


While delivering on that front, Bradley gives us a lot of really good character moments and subtle emotional beats. The observations about witnesses trying to insert themselves into things, the effect that a crime can have on the family of a victim, what goes on in a postmortem, and so on -- elevated this from merely a solid procedural. (not that there's anything wrong with a solid procedural)


One death permanently changed the life of many people.


Those affected by a murder often felt as though their life had also been taken once a loved one had been snatched so ruthlessly. But a court, should a murder ever go to trial, only ever counted one life. The media only counted and reported on the one life. Investigating the murder, you soon came to realise it was a hell of a lot more than one life. You don’t live in a vacuum. You are more than yourself in the world.


There were a couple of times, however, that she ruined the moment (well, diminished it greatly) by following a nice bit of description and showing us what was going on by following it up with an unessential and clunky sentence telling us what she'd just shown. Displaying a little more trust in her readers would help things. But overall, I was really impressed with the way she described the thinking and emotions behind the actions of her characters -- even the tertiary ones.


Her characters are fully-developed and well-rounded. Even many of those we meet for only a few paragraphs. I'm a newbie to this series, but by the end, I thought I had a pretty good handle on almost everyone in Robbins' world, as well as the killer and their family. That's not easy to accomplish in a book like this that really had a lot more going on than just the murder inquiry. I really want to find out how things progress with a few of these people, and would jump on book five in this series tomorrow if it were available for that reason alone (well, okay, December -- but only because I've got the rest of this month tightly scheduled).


I spent most of the novel annoyed by how much time we were spending with the killer -- typically, novelists don't pull this part off well, or at least with enough value added to make it worth my while (and several novelists and novels that are my favorites have this problem). Getting his perspective on the reaction to his crimes and on the official investigation didn't seem to add much to the book, and took time away from the more interesting characters and actions. Because, really, almost all of his reactions were what the reader would've guessed if Bradley hadn't given us this. But, I have to admit by the end, Bradley made almost all of it worthwhile -- it was some pretty clever plotting on her part and a subtle bit of character work -- and turned what was a weak point (for me, not for others) into a strength.


I was impressed with Dead Blind when I read it a few months back -- but this The Twisted Web is so much better. Maybe because she's had more time to create this world and knows her characters better, maybe it's just the world she's created. Either way, this book has insured that I'm going to be on the lookout for whatever she's doing next (and, time permitting, I'll grab the first three in this series). The Twisted Web delivers it all -- some reflection on the driving forces behind our contemporary culture (and a well-deserved critique!), a solid police procedural, a villain with a credible motivation, a crime spree one can actually imagine happening, a couple of legitimate surprises, and human characters (as opposed to cardboard cutouts or stereotypes) driving it all.


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


Saturday Miscellany - 11/10/18

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:

  • Past Tense by Lee Child -- I stopped reading the blurb's for Reacher books years ago, but I read this one for some reason -- I'm already hooked, and I'm still 12 library patrons away from getting my hands on this one. Reacher tries to visit where his dad grew up and things go really bad from there.
  • They Promised Me The Gun Wasn't Loaded by James Alan Gardner -- the follow-up to the comedic-ish take on super-heroes, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault picks up shortly after the first one and looks like it'll continue the fun.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to The Godly Chic Diaries and littleliteraturekc for following the blog this week.

3 Stars
A strong, twisty thriller that will satisfy
The Green Viper - Rob Sinclair

This is the fourth James Ryker novel, but the first I've read. This leaves me at somewhat of a disadvantage -- but not an insurmountable one. Someone from his past reaches out to him -- in an unconventional manner -- for some help. Janet Campbell, the widow of the man who trained Ryker, who molded him into the intelligence agent/assassin he'd become is worried about their son and wants Ryker to step in for his sake.


Now, I don't know if the series has featured Campbell or Charles McCabe (her husband) before -- it's not unheard of for a thriller to introduce an old, dear friend mid-series just to get the protagonist involved in something. I'm sure if they were around early on, returning readers were invested right away. But if this was their first appearance in the series, Sinclair introduced Campbell in such a way that it worked for me as a hook -- I was invested because of Campbell more than because of Ryker.


Scott Campbell really never connected with his father, and his life has gone in a very different direction. He was an accountant at a prestigious London firm until recently, leaving under a cloud. He and his girlfriend, Kate Green, left England to get away from that cloud and moved to New York City for a fresh start. Well, mostly fresh. Kate's father, Henry Green, is a fairly notorious criminal and nightclub owner. To make a little money, Scott does a few odd jobs for Henry (while Kate dreads Scott's participation in her father's business). Those odd jobs grow more serious as Green begins to trust him more.


Which is precisely the thing that Janet Campbell is worried about. So, enter James Ryker -- a former intelligence officer between gigs. Once he arrives in NYC, he spends some time surveilling Scott and Kate to see what exactly is going on, and then he goes all-i to try to extricate them from the dangerous position that Scott has put them in. Which is a lot more dangerous than Ryker knows, as another drug dealer tries to move in on Green's turf, and the FBI are preparing to make a few arrests.


What follows is exciting, tense, fast-paced and full of more surprises than I expected. Okay, that sounds like a tautology -- with a book like this, you expect a few things to occur that you don't expect (whatever that might end up being). The Green Viper gave me more of those things that I didn't expect. A couple of them were pretty big surprises, too -- so more and of greater magnitude than I expected.


The characters were well-drawn, but they all could've been a bit more three-dimensional. No one that we spent much time with at all was exactly two-dimensional (thankfully, I've had too much of that lately), but they all could've had a little more. By and large, for a thriller with this many moving pieces the characters were either as well-drawn as you might assume to meet, or a little better. Still, I want more. Characters are what hook me more than anything else in a book, and these were good enough, but I wanted more. Particularly Ryker -- he's the title character, and I really don't think I know much more about him than I do any of the other characters (I might know Scott the best), and that doesn't seem right.


The other thing I would've liked more of was the actual work done by Ryker. Not just him showing up where Scott doesn't expect him -- but how he got there, why he decides to show himself to Scott then. For example. From Finder to Child to Sharp and beyond, it's the mechanics of their intelligence work that draws me in as much as the fight scenes or whatever. Sinclair is good at delivering the big moments -- gun fights, chase scenes, and the like. But he could do better with the smaller moments -- trailing someone, deciding to follow this line of investigation or reasoning. I guess you could say the story's strong, it just feels like he has to many ellipses in it -- let me see more of the connections between the moments.


Basically, I'm saying that I enjoyed the book -- but I thought Sinclair could've given his readers a little more of everything. It was a good novel, but with a little more it could've been really good. The pacing is good, you get drawn in and the story really doesn't let you go. I technically spent 2 days reading this, but about 80 percent of that was in one sitting -- If I'd put off starting by a day, it would've been a one-sitting kind of book -- start it, get sucked in and ignore the world until the bullets stop flying and the smoke clears. A very satisfying way to spend a couple of hours.


I enjoyed this book, the characters and the world Sinclair has created. Might I have had more appreciation for some of this if it weren't my first Ryker novel? Sure. Am I curious enough about what I read to come back in book 5 (or go back to books 1-3)? Yeah, I think so -- Sinclair's a capable author and he's got himself a fun world to play in. You should give this one a try -- or one of the earlier books -- and I'm willing to bet that you'll end up agreeing with me, Rob Sinclair's James Ryker is an action hero worth your time.


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

4 Stars
Some quick thoughts on Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Lethal White - Robert Galbraith

I just don't have the patience or energy to give Lethal White the kind of post I want to. So let me be brief -- this picks up minutes after the end of Career of Evil and we spend a few pages with Strike and Robin trying to have an actual conversation at her wedding. It almost goes well, but between Matthew, her family, Strike's drinking . . . yeah, well. It was a good start.


Then eleven months and change fly by and we get to the thick of the novel (pun absolutely not intended, but very fitting), so let's cut to the Publisher's Blurb to sum that up.


“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”


When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.


Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott--once his assistant, now a partner in the agency-set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.


And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been-Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.


The most epic Robert Galbraith novel yet, Lethal White is both a gripping mystery and a page-turning next instalment [sic] in the ongoing story of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.


If by "most epic Robert Galbraith novel yet," they mean the longest, well, yeah. That's certainly the case. Wow, this thing was long -- you can argue bloated, even. At the same time -- while lamenting the week it took me to get through this -- I don't know what I'd cut if given the opportunity. Everything I've thought could be lost, can't be without ruining something else. It's real a testament to Galbraith's skill that there's really nothing wasted, everything sets up something else.


But man, I wish that wasn't the case. And, yeah, fill up the comment section with how I'm wrong about that, I'm more than willing to be convinced.


But what makes all of the work worth it? The scenes where Strike and Robin work together, think through things together, or even just talk like friends together. In short -- Strike and Robin together. It doesn't happen enough -- and, honestly, there's some sloppy, soap opera-ish machinations keeping that from happening the way it should (well, okay, the way I want it to). I honestly don't care one way or the other if they ever get together (as inevitable as it seems) -- I just want them working together.


The other great thing is the way that the events of Career of Evil have impacted Robin and the way she's reacting to that impact. I don't want to say more, but I loved this.


Lastly, the nature of the murders at the core of the book stand in sharp contrast to some of the murders in earlier Strike novels. Some novelists get stuck in a rut and all the murderers/motives/methods become variations on a theme -- each one more extreme than the previous. Galbraith dodges that here, and that pleases me a lot.


There's a lot more that could be discussed -- and I hope others do (or inspire me with a comment to do so). Good mystery, good character development (some well overdue), I enjoyed all of the characters, etc., etc. But I'll leave it at that -- I'm glad we got another book, and am looking forward to the next already. I just hope it's a little leaner.

4.5 Stars
Bosch and Ballard Team Up in one of Connelly's best
Dark Sacred Night - Michael Connelly

In a series that's over twenty books long, there's a lot of character development, recurring faces and names, and the like -- there just has to be. But on the whole, there's not a lot of connective tissue between the books, most of what happens in one book stays in that novel, and the next very likely won't even mention those events. Which is really kind of odd, when you think of it. But that's not the case here -- this picks up the action from Two Kinds of Truth a few months later and the central case of this novel is one that Harry had reopened in it. This really is a sequel to Two Kinds of Truth in a way that Connelly really hasn't given us since The Poet/The Narrows.


LAPD politics has moved Lucia Soto off from the case that Harry asked her to pick up -- a murder of a fifteen year-old prostitute, Daisy Clayton -- so she can devote time to something more pressing, but Harry doesn't have to play that game. His own work on that cold case brings him back to the Hollywood Station, where he tries to look at some old files (without anyone knowing what he was up to). He's caught by our new friend, Renée Ballard. Renée being the curious type quickly figures out what he's looking into and pushes her way into the investigation -- unlike Soto, she has time; unlike Harry, she has standing; it's really the best thing that could happen for the case.


While she's poking into this cold case and developing some sort of relationship with Harry Bosch -- Renée has her own active cases, and regular Late Show duties to perform. I really like the way we get several little cases along the way with her in these two books -- sure, there's the big murder mysteries, but there's also a robbery, a rape allegation, and other crimes that she has to deal with. This adds variety to the book (as it did in The Late Show), a touch of realism, and gives the readers multiple ways to see her in action.


Harry also has an official investigation to pursue -- a cold case in San Fernando is heating up thanks to Harry's work uncovering a witness. His prime suspect is now a high-ranking member of a pretty serious gang and the consequences for this witness are potentially huge -- and things go quickly wrong with this case. So wrong that Harry's future with SFPD -- and his own safety -- are in jeopardy.


There are so many balls in the air in this novel that it's a testament to Connelly's skill that they never get confused, he devotes time to each as he should, in a way that does justice to each storyline and the book never feels over-populated. If Dark Sacred Night had nothing else going for it, just the construction would be enough to commend it. But there's so much more to commend the novel, too. There's a little levity, a lot of darkness, a lot of solid procedural material, a couple of bent rules, and some satisfying story telling -- just to name a few of the commendable things. I'm leaving a lot off that list, if only for reasons of space and time.


There's one criminal here -- I'm trying not to spoil anything -- who spouts off about his victims not being anyone, of not counting. He's the philosophical opposite of Harry's "Everyone counts" mission. It's an excellent way to highlight just what makes Harry -- and maybe Renée -- tick and what separates them and some of the gray areas they walk in from those on the other side of the law. We have multiple murderers in this book for whom their victims are just tools, just objects, things go be used. While for Harry, Renée, and those like them -- these are people with hopes, dreams, pain and suffering that need to be protected, defended and avenged.


A downside for me was how little non-case work time we got with Renée. Harry had time with Maddie, Cisco and Elizabeth in addition to all the police. Renée got almost no time with Lola, nothing with her grandmother, and only a little time with anyone outside of the Hollywood Station that wasn't involved in a crime she was investigating. I liked her non-police world just as much as I like Harry's and wish we'd have gotten time in it.


Like many, I knew that Bosch and Ballard would team-up eventually. But no one expected it so soon. Before reading this, I'd said that I would've liked another book or two just to get to know Renée a bit more before bringing Harry in. However, having read this -- I'm glad it happened now (still, wouldn't have minded the other). Having the two of them together emphasizes the non-Bosch-ness of Renée, which is good. Also, it gives her someone she can count on, not overly-influenced by her history, department politics, or any of the nonsense that will follow her for the rest of her career. This also gives Harry a way away from cold cases and San Fernando. Altogether, it's a smart move on Connelly's part. Now I guess we just wait on the inevitable involvement of Mickey.


Between the merging of the two worlds, the strong emotional tie Harry has to Daisy and her mother, the upheaval the other case brings to his life, and the continued development of Renée Ballard as a character -- there's just so many positives to this book that it's hard to enumerate them all. I think this is the best book that Connelly has done -- in any of his series -- in years. It's been ages (if ever) that he's had a clunker of a novel, but this one seems more effective, more entertaining than most. It's just so well done. This is a must-read for Bosch fans, Renée Ballard fans, Connelly fans or anyone who likes seeing one of the masters of the genre at the top of his game.

3.5 Stars
Bosch Enters New Territory and Revisits some Old in Two Very Different cases
Two Kinds of Truth - Michael Connelly
...he had never planted evidence against any suspect or adversary in his life. And this knowledge gave Bosch an affirming jolt of adrenaline and purpose. He knew there were two kinds of truth in this world. The truth that was the unalterable bedrock of one’s life and mission. And the other, malleable truth of politicians, charlatans, corrupt lawyers, and their clients, bent and molded to serve whatever purpose was at hand.

Harry Bosch continues to work as a volunteer San Fernando cold case detective until a very hot case comes in -- a murder. Harry steps in to guide the full-time detectives through this investigation at a family-owned pharmacy. Quickly, they determine that there's a tie between this killing and a criminal enterprise involving prescription drugs (opioids, to be specific). Soon, Harry's doing something he's never really done before to find some answers and hopefully bring the killers to justice. It's a great setup to a story. There's a blast from Harry's past involved in the prescription drug side of the investigation, and I never thought I'd see this character again. It was a nice surprise.


That's not only blast from the past in this novel. An old case of Harry's is being re-opened (by "old" I mean pre-Black Echo, I think) -- supposedly some new evidence has come to light exonerating the man Harry and his old partner arrested. Harry's last LAPD partner, Lucia Soto, is one of the detectives being used by the DA in the re-opening of the case -- but that doesn't mean Harry's getting much of a break. The position of the LAPD and the DA's office is that Harry and his partner put away the wrong man -- framed an innocent man -- and it's just a matter of time until he's released and Harry will be sued for his role. Harry does the smart thing right away and gets Mickey Haller involved, he's going to need legal help -- and emotional support -- to get through this.


The resolution to the Drugs/Murder story was a bit too easy, a bit too rushed for my taste -- which is a shame, because I thought there was a lot more that Connelly could've done with it, and I was really enjoying it. That said, other than the resolution to it -- I thought it was a great story, and if it even skews toward the truth when it comes to how these pills are procured/distributed, it's one of the more disturbing stories that Connelly has ever told.


On the other hand, the resolution of the False Conviction story was never in doubt -- Connelly's not going to do that to Harry. The only question was how he was going to be cleared/how the murderer was going to be proven guilty again. The way it involved the work of Harry, Cisco, and Mickey together -- especially with some wily moves on Mickey's part was a whole lot of fun. I do think Harry's reaction to his half-brother's craftiness reeked of hypocrisy -- he's not above some of the same kind of moves (just not in a courtroom). The difference laying (in Harry's eyes) in that he's a cop, seeking justice and that Mickey's a lawyer, seeking a win. Honestly, that reaction annoyed me a lot -- which is one of the best parts of this series, I frequently am annoyed by Harry Bosch -- he's arrogant, hypocritical, and blind to his own faults. In other words, he's human. He's also dedicated, determined and generally honorable -- qualities you can't help but admire.


I know that this novel is one of the books that's going to be the basis of the next season of Amazon's Bosch, and I couldn't help wondering throughout -- how? Both storylines depend on an older Bosch than Welliver (the wrongful conviction story less-so), and one of them involves Mickey Haller, and I don't see how they could use that character (but it could be done without him, if necessary). There are probably umpteen articles easily found online about how they'll do it, but I'll just wait to watch it. Still, the thought nagged at me throughout reading.


This is typical Connelly/Bosch -- a strong, well=constructed story with compelling characters, a good pace and some twists that you won't see coming. If this was written by anyone else, I'd have likely given it more stars. Maybe that's wrong of me, but . . . something tells me Connelly will be fine no matter what I say. It's a strong book, it's an entertaining book -- there's a lot of good moments, but it could've been better.

Saturday Miscellany - 11/3/18

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:


  • Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly -- Bosch and Ballard team up. 'Nuff said. Well, okay, a little more -- this is the best thing Connelly's done in years, I'm hoping to post on it early next week, but there's the super-quick version.

Just the Clothes on My Back


    Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to mithilamohan0123 and Redeemed Three for following the blog this week.

    4 Stars
    A Healthy Dose of SF Peanut Butter in this Thriller's Chocolate Results in a Very Tasty Book
    Zero Sum Game - SL Huang
    "I'm really good at math," I said. Too good. "That's all."

    I'm not sure how many times I stopped reading this book to ask, "What did I just read?" Not because I'm too dense to comprehend the words on the pages, but Huang's work was so audacious, so confident, so imaginative that i couldn't believe it.


    Cas Russell retrieves things -- all sorts of things. We don't get details, but it's safe to say that things like legalities, procedures and technicalities don't enter into her Cas' thinking. When this book opens, she's retrieving a person -- which is not typical for her, nor that easy. But Cas does it, but before she returns that person to her family, she goes the extra mile to keep the retrieved person safe (she doesn't want to have to get her again).

    This ends up plunging Cas into a world of deceit, conspiracies, secret organizations, and some of the most mind-bending situations I can remember reading.


    Here's what separates Cas from most of the action/suspense heroes we have today -- that line above about being good at math. She's some sort of genius -- maybe beyond that -- at math. She looks at a situation -- say, getting punched in the face -- and while the fist is coming at her, calculates things (velocity, force, angles) rapidly enough to know how to adjust herself to lessen the blow and the injury to herself minimal and how best to counter the attack in such a way to put down her opponent. The same goes for shooting someone, using a knife, jumping into a building, etc., etc. The math is everywhere -- but Huang deals with it in such a way that even an English major like myself can see it, appreciate it, and not get put off by it.


    I'm not sure that makes sense. Let me try this -- I don't know if you watched the recent Luc Besson movie, Lucy, where Scarlett Johansson plays some sort of hyper-intelligent woman who is a near-unstoppable one-woman army, it's kind of like that -- but more successful. Or maybe think Bradley Cooper in Limitless, but without the pills.


    Throw that kind of thing into a gritty, twisty world of damaged PI's, hackers, dubious government agencies and drug cartels -- and you've got an idea about what this book holds. It's a little SF, it's a lot of Thriller -- an action-packed winner. I don't want to talk more about it -- the characters other than Cas are fascinating. I'd be more than happy to spend more time with all of them -- there's a very mysterious figure named Rio that I really want to know a whole lot more about, but I think I prefer not knowing -- he works so well wrapped in mystery. This would've been a fantastic stand-alone, but I'm excited to see that this is listed as the first in a series. Sign me up for a handful of these right now.


    I thoroughly enjoyed this book -- it all worked wonderfully. There was one thing I cracked up at (it was funny, character revealing and oh-so-original) and when I made a note about it, I noticed that I was on page 69. I've never tried the Page 69 Challenge, where you decide whether to read a new book based on reading that page first, because that just seems annoying. But if I'd tried it with Zero Sum Game, it'd have worked for me.


    For a first-time novelist (especially one with a math degree), Huang delivers a fantastic, assured read that's almost sure to please. Give it a shot and you'll see why I struggled to explain why you want to read this, while thinking that you really should.


    2018 Library Love Challenge

    October 2018 Report: What I Read/Listened To/Wrote About

    A lot of highs, a couple of lows -- and a decent amount of stuff in between. I'd hoped to get more written -- but, I'm not beating myself up over it (or so I keep telling myself). I made some decent progress on the reading challenges I'm tackling. All in all, a pretty good month, I think.


    Here's what happened here in October.


    Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

    Voyage of the Dogs The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) Sourdough (Audiobook)
    3.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
    Burning Secrets Lies Sleeping Blood Fued
    4 Stars 5 Stars 3.5 Stars
    Changes (Audiobook) Without Rules Two Kinds of Truth
    5 Stars
    5 Stars
    1 Star 3.5 Stars
    Still Protesting Video Killed the Radio Star The Defense (Audiobook)
    3.5 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 3.5 Stars
    Exit Music Woof (Audiobook) Praying the Bible
    5 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
    Wrecked Changeless (Audiobook) Zero Sum Game
    5 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
    Black Widow: Forever Red The Golden Orphans Time's Up, Afton
    3 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
    So Let It Be Written Dog On It (Audiobook)      
    2 Stars 4 Stars      


    Still Reading:

    John Owen vol 4 By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation Dark Sacred Night


    Reviews Posted:


    Book Challenge Progress:

    Angel's Guilty Pleasures

    Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

    The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne

    Sourdough (Audiobook) by Robin Sloan, Therese Plummer

    The Defense by Steve Cavanagh, Adam Sims Exit Music by Ian Rankin

    Woof by Spencer Quinn, James Frangione

    Wrecked by Joe Ide

    Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

    Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, Julia Whelan

    So Let It Be Written by Mark Eglinton

    Burning Secrets by Ruth Sutton

    The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

    Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

    Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, Julia Whelan

    So Let It Be Written by Mark Eglinton

    Blood Feud by Mike Lupica

    Without Rules by Andrew Field

    Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

    The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne

    Burning Secrets by Ruth Sutton

    The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

    Time’s Up, Afton by Brent Jones

    Without Rules by Andrew Field

    Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster

    ✔ Read a memoir or biography of a musician you like: So Let It Be Written by Mark Eglinton

    ✔ Read a book with your favorite food in the title.: Sourdough (Audiobook) by Robin Sloan, Therese Plummer


    How was your month?

    2 Stars
    A Disappointingly Delivered Account of a Rock Star's Career
    So Let It Be Written: The Biography of Metallica's James Hetfield  - Mark Eglinton

    Here's the Publisher's synopsis:

    The first and only biography of one of the best front men of the modern era.


    With James Hetfield at the helm, Metallica went from being thrash pioneers to heavy metal gods. He overcame adolescent upheaval and personal demons—including his parents’ divorce, his mother’s untimely death and severe alcoholism—to become metal’s biggest star.


    So Let It Be Written does justice to the many hats Hetfield has worn, with his strong leadership, signature vocal style, powerful guitar-playing and masterful songwriting. Author Mark Eglinton uses exclusive, firsthand interviews—with prominent rock stars and key figures in Hetfield’s life—to construct the definitive account of Hetfield.


    There are many problems with this book. If it is a definitive account of Hetfield, it's because there's not a lot of competition. The firsthand interviews seem to be with people who knew Hetfield in school or shortly thereafter -- or friends of former bandmates. For insights from people closer to him, Eglinton seems to rely on interviews published in magazines or done on TV or in a documentary. I could be wrong about that -- there might be more original research performed by him, but given the utter lack of citation, it's hard to say for sure.


    This book is primarily about Hetfield's professional life, following the account of Hetfield's mother's death, we maybe get two full paragraphs (scattered over chapters) about Hetfield's family (but repeated statements that family is the most important thing to Hetfield), and his friendships outside the band aren't given much more space.


    Rather than a biography of James Hetfield, this comes across as the story of Metallica with a focus on the input, influence, and antics of Hetfield. With a special emphasis on glorying in the music and lyrics of the albums leading up to Metallica/The Black Album, and in denigrating everything from Load through the build-up for the release of Hardwired... to Self-Destruct, which wasn't released in time for him to come up with a strong opinion about (with some okay words directed to the documentaries and films produced in that time).


    It's clear that Eglinton was a fan of early Metallica, and has a wide appreciation for and knowledge of the metal scene. He has the knowledge base and the passion to produce a strong book about the band -- but he seems to lack the ability to focus on the life of one man. Somehow, the author wrote a similar looking book, James Hetfield: The Wolf at Metallica's Door, seven years earlier than this -- and it was longer. I'm not sure how he pulled that off -- my guess is more analysis of the contents of albums and/or his estimation of their worth. I'm curious about the differences between the two, but not enough to put up with reading it to compare.


    James Hetfield is a deeply flawed, incredibly talented, and interesting figure. A biography of him should be intrinsically and automatically fascinating, and it takes a certain kind of author to take that potential and turn it into a disappointment. Sadly, Eglinton is just that kind of author.


    Don't bother.

    2018 Library Love Challenge

    4 Stars
    Jones Wraps Things Up with a Suspenseful and Successful Conclusion
    Time's Up, Afton  - Brent D. Jones
    She tugged at the edges of her apron, giving me a facetious and halfhearted curtsy. “We all wear masks, Afton. Sometimes it’s worth finding out what’s hiding underneath.”


    Tia's words to her unexpected friend encapsulate the core of this book -- we find out what's underneath several masks. But first we've got to tie up some plotlines, see the fall-out and repercussions of the third installment (well, all of them, but the third particularly), and deal with a a few more grisly deaths.


    This picks up right after Nice Try, Afton where we see Afton try to come up with an explanation that anyone will believe for the bloodbath surrounding her. From there, she has to design and implement her endgame to -- once and for all -- stop her tormentor before she leaves town.


    This volume is really Afton pulling back the mask little by little to those around her -- library patrons, her brother, friends, and even herself. While that occurs, she learns a lot about her brother, friends, and her enemies. A lot makes sense that didn't before -- even if you didn't realize it needed the explanation until you got it.


    I was less than satisfied with what was hidden under one mask -- but not enough that it ruined things for me. And, hey it leaves a door open (at least a crack) for Jones to use if he wants to return to Afton's world. So I'm really not going to complain.


    I'm going to keep this short because I'm afraid I'll spill something if I keep going. This ends up nowhere near where I thought it was going when I finished Go Home, Afton some four months ago -- it's far better. I really encourage you all to pick these novellas up. Some interesting characters, some very compelling action scenes, and a story that will take you places you don't expect.

    3.5 Stars
    An Artist, A Mysterious Russian and an Enigmatic Island
    The Golden Orphans - Gary Raymond

    I thought for a moment. “I think I am about to do something stupid.”


    “In Cyprus you only need ask yourself one question,” Tara said, deadly serious. “Is it out of desperation?”

    I keep running into artists in the novels I read -- like in Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher, Russo's Bridge of Sighs, or even Hawley's Before the Fall -- there are other examples, I'm sure -- but they're not coming to me right now. I've never understood the appeal, really, but I hold out hope that one day I'll get it. And I shouldn't be running out of opportunity anytime soon -- it's a vocation that draws authors like flies to honey.


    Gary Raymond's artist protagonist is a little different than the typical depiction. He's a successful artist -- to some extent, anyway -- but not a genius (misunderstood or not), he's not a superstar. In fact, his best days are probably behind him, and he knows it. But he's still plugging away at it, while pursuing an otherwise self-destructive lifestyle. He's invited to a funeral in Cyprus at just the right time -- his finances are in shambles and his relationship is in a similar state, the largest question being which will fall apart first.


    Not only is he invited, but his trip is paid for -- so he can go. Francis Benthem is the deceased, and at one point in time he was a teacher, a mentor for the narrator (I should say that Raymond didn't name him, I'm not being negligent) -- he was like a father to him, really. So he goes to the funeral, and for most of it, is the only one present besides the priest. Eventually, Mr. Prostakov (Benthem's employer, who paid for everything) and a few other people show up and leave quickly. Their appearance both confuses and intrigues the narrator.


    Actually, that describes just about everything about Cyprus -- it confuses and intrigues him. So he spends time getting to know the island, the people on it and, when given the opportunity, Mr. Prostakov. Illie Prostakov is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a hint of a stereotypical wealthy Russian with a murky past and revenue stream. He presents the narrator with a business proposition -- take up residence in his home and replace Benthem. He's a little vague as to the artistic duties required, so I will be, too. But the money's good enough to take care of problems back home, so the narrator takes the job -- not realizing the trouble and mystery that he's put himself in the way of.


    Unlike Bentham, the narrator won't just take things at face value -- he asks questions, and when he doesn't get answers, he tries to find them (he might not be great at it, but he tries). Who is Prostakov? What's he doing? Who are the people he surrounds himself with? Asking these questions isn't the safest thing he could do -- getting answers is probably worse.


    The island of Cyprus isn't just the setting of the novel, it's practically a character. While the narrator is trying to understand his employer and his employer's aims, most people are more concerned with getting him to understand Cyprus. Everyone's description (I don't have a hard count, but I'd guess at least a dozen are given) is different, but combined you begin to get an idea what life on the island is like. In the end, I think we get a fuller understanding of Cyprus than we do anything that the narrator is looking into.

    Which is not to say that he doesn't get any answers. He does, as does the reader. Raymond doesn't leave you frustrated like that.


    There's a feel to this book that makes you think it'll be one thing, but it's not. The characters seem to be certain types, and most are -- but they don't act the way you think they will. The conclusion seems surely to be headed in one direction, but it ends up giving you a different ending. Everywhere you look, Raymond doesn't do what you expect -- which is both refreshing and annoying (you'd like to be right occasionally).


    I'm not that convinced this is really a thriller -- but it's being marketed as one. As a thriller, I think it's missing a sense of urgency, of real danger. But I think things moved too quickly, and without the depth called for in a literary book. A little more time after our narrator took the job and trying to accomplish it before the plot moves forward, more time spent on the painting (and talking about the process) would've helped. A greater sense of hazard, of peril from Viktor or Illie would've helped a lot on the thriller front. In the end, the book wasn't quite sure it knew what it wanted to be -- and a mix of the two genres would've worked, but it needed to be a bit more of one of them (or both) to really be effective. It was just always lukewarm.


    That said -- it never, not for a minute, failed to hold my interest. I may not have been very invested in the outcome or characters, but I was glued to it. Frankly, I think the narrator was the same way -- he wasn't invested in his relationship back in London, his career (really), or anything that was happening around him on Cyprus -- but he couldn't stop himself from sticking a toe in here and there, from involving himself just a little bit in everything. As he was confused -- so was I. As he was intrigued -- so was I. Raymond did a very effective job in getting the reader (or at least this reader) to see things from his protagonist's eyes.


    Raymond's given us something unique here. I've talked before about books that I can respect and admire more than enjoy. This is one of those -- the writing and approach of this novel exceeds any affection or excitement I might have for it. It's not the kind of thriller you can finish and move on from easily -- I'm going to be thinking about this for a while. The characters will linger in my imagination, but the reality he depicts will stay around longer. This isn't a novel that lends itself to a rating any more than it lends itself to a genre-classification, so take it with a grain of salt.


    My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided, including a copy of this book -- which didn't influence the above post, beyond giving me something to post about.

    Saturday Miscellany - 10/27/18

    Not much this week -- which is typical for the end of the month, but there were a few dds 'n ends about books and reading that caught my eye. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

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