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.

4.5 Stars
Will leave you groovin' all week
Who Killed the Fonz? - James Boice
"Everyone gets old," said Ralph. "No one stays cool forever. Not even the Fonz."

Like almost every American of a certain age -- I have warm memories about the show Happy Days. Granted, my memories are a bit hazy -- the show premiered when I was a few months old, but I was 10 when it ended. So I know I watched a lot of it between the first-run episodes and syndication (surely, someone syndicated those and I watched them) -- I mean, we had 3 channels (plus PBS), what else were we going to do? I remember very little about it -- I thought Potsie was kind of annoying, Ralph was hilarious, I didn't care too much about Joanie or Chachi, and the Fonz? I mean . . . who didn't want to be Fonzie? For everyone in my generation, our first exposure to the concept of "cool" our first symbol of it, the avatar of coolness was Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli.


I have clear memories of being 5 (+/-) and being at a semi-local amusement park riding a Carousel that in addition to animals, had some cars you could ride in -- or motorcycles. I hopped on those motorcycles and every time I went around to where my parents were standing and watching, I'd give them a big thumbs up and an "Ayyyyyyy."


What I'm trying to say is that I am a full-fledged member of the target audience for this book. But then again, pretty much everyone alive who's roughly my age or old is, too.


This novel takes place in late October of '84. Filmmaker Richard Cunningham's career is on the skids, he's got an epic movie he's been trying for years to make, but no one wants him to (today we'd call it Oscar-bait, his agent and movie companies considered it to be Box Office poison); he's just spent time talking to friend/contemporary "Steve" about his new time travel movie with the kid from Family Ties and his agent is trying to get him to write a script for a well-funded Star Wars-knock off.


The poor guy is having a rough day . . . and then he gets home to learn that his old friend, Arthur Fonzarelli has been in a wreck on his beloved motorcycle and is dead. Granted, the two had lost touch, but the knowledge that the Fonz is dead shakes Richard to his core. He quickly makes arrangements to head back to Milwaukee to attend the funeral. Neither his mother (who lives in his home) or Lori Beth can make the flight, so he'll stay in Joanie and Chachi's house (they're on vacation and can't catch a flight home in time to attend). Shortly after arriving, he runs into Al, Ralph, Potsie -- and even the jukebox.


Very quickly, Boice has set the tone (nostalgic, amusing, and wistful) and ticked off the major boxes when it comes to fan-service. He's going to have some fun with and even re-examine some aspects of the series (see the conversation that opening quote came from) -- but he's going to do it with respect for the source material. This isn't The Brady Bunch Movie, but it's not a slave to the original (see, Superman Returns).


That accomplished, he puts Richard into new territory -- he's brought out to the home of a Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate, who wants him to write a commercial for the final days of the campaign -- Richard even agrees to direct it. This gives him time to decide if he wants to follow his agent's wishes as well as an excuse to stay in town. Which he needs once he's given some information that leads him to conclude that Fonzie wasn't the victim of an accident, but was murdered.


So Richard has to figure out the direction of his career, convince anyone else that the Fonz was killed and/or find the killer, in a matter of days. All the while coming to terms with being home for the first time since he left for Hollywood, just days after coming home from the Army.


You make this a novel about struggling filmmaker Robert Cummings, returning to Detroit for the funeral of his old friend Frankie -- free and clear of pre-existing pop-culture prejudices and baggage -- and I'd still probably like t his book. Not as much, but it'd still be good. Wrap this up in beloved characters? The pretty good book becomes something else.


The identity of the killer was pretty clear soon after Richard started thinking about it (maybe even before then), and the motive seemed semi-obvious. But a big reveal close to the end changed the stakes significantly and made the motive and identity much more believable. And like with so many mysteries, the "whodunit" is less important than the journey taken to get to the revelation of the identity -- and this journey rocked. Richard's introspection and self-assessment was well-handled, as was his getting re-acquainted with his old high school friends, seeing what they'd made of themselves, etc. There's a good balance of sentiment and story here -- not unlike a certain situation comedy at its best.


I read this in one sitting, which I love doing, and the book moved along so nicely I didn't even think about putting it down for any reason. It's a thoughtful read, but not a ponderous one. It's a murder mystery, but there's only one or two moments of danger -- it's very much on the cozy side of the street, and can easily appeal to people who'd never read a murder mystery. It's lightly told and frequently amusing, but not very comedic. I will say that I laughed once -- thanks to Ralph, of course. While frequently amusing, this wasn't a comedy -- but Boice was able to use Richard's friends to lighten a pretty tense moment -- and to use that incident to push the story along rather than detract from the story. It's not a grab you and won't let go, kind of book -- but it'll easily keep you engaged.


The nostalgia starts with the Table of Contents (I'm serious here) and flows right to the last page, but never dominates anything. Boice keeps it from being schmaltzy or cheap, it' snot just about the show, it's about the characters (which I think would be particularly difficult with this group). This gets a strong recommendation from me -- even if you end up not liking it as much as I do, I can't imagine anyone walking away from this anything but happy about the time they spent with it. It's one of those that gets better the more you think about it -- the way that Boice built-on the foundation of the series and yet created something wholly original (and possibly deserving of a sequel, as long as it didn't involve a murder) is truly impressive.

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Saturday Miscellany -- 3/16/19

Story behind this late post isn't as interesting -- but nicer -- than last week's. If you're curious, check out my other blog in a bit (bit = 1-48 hours). Otherwise, 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:












  • Titan Shade by Dan Stout -- Alien Nation + whatever that Will Smith Urban Fantasy Netflix movie was + Life on Mars (UK version). Or something. UF about a homicide cop in the 70s. Looks like it could be fun.


  • Instant Karma by Todd Morr -- disgraced ex-cop becomes a security advisor to the underworld. Also looks like fun -- it's on my Kindle, hoping to get to it before the end of the year (I wish that was a joke...)


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Erwin Wensley, dragonflybooks, virgoebooks and BOOKVENGER-44 for following the blog this week.

4 Stars
Unintended Consequences Wreak All Sorts of Havoc on the Heroes' Lives
Rogue Superheroes (The Elites #2) - Matt Cowper

When we left Nightstriker at the end of The World Savers, he was trying to apply the new convictions he'd adopted after The Elites encounter with the Giftgiver and his followers. Yes, the primary task for heroes like himself was to take on super-human threats, but other sources of injustice should be in their sights as well. Starting with corrupt politicians and government officials. Nightstriker, who seems to accumulate intelligence on everyone he stands next to in line at Starbucks, had plenty of dirt on them all -- and starts releasing some of this information to the Press. Suddenly, officials are forced to resign in droves -- and the stresses on the fault-lines of society increase exponentially.


Suddenly, the nation seems on the verge of civil war, and Nightstriker comes clean to the team about what he's done. Before they can even decide how to react, their HQ is attacked and the President identifies Nightstriker (and because of him the rest of the Elites) as the source of the leaks and exposé stories. As they try to get out of the rubble that was their HQ, a new, government-controlled, team of heroes comes to arrest them. Before the Elites can really wrap their minds around what's going on they're on the run, hiding and licking their wounds.


So the Elites have to clean up their image, defeat the new team, and try to help fix the mess that Nightstriker inadvertently created by not thinking things through as he should have. It's a good thing they're super-heroes, or this could be very daunting.


That's not the whole book -- like before, a significant portion of the book is devoted to Sam (Blaze's) continued maturing and the growth of his powers. There are heavy prices for him to pay along those likes I have to say, but especially for the reader -- it's all worth it. The rest of the team have strong storylines -- and a good number of people from the previous book make appearances (some pretty significant). It's easy (and right) to focus on his "Big Three" and what's going on with them, but without the rest of these characters, the book wouldn't work.


In the midst of a story where the stakes are so high -- Cowper throws in a lot of smaller stories, a good number of scenes that aren't involved in the overall story, but develop the characters well. It's a well-balanced story, just enough of things that aren't the overarching stories to round out things so you can take in all the details of the rest.


I cannot tell you how many times Cowper did things with these characters I didn't see coming. Things happened to people (powered or not) and then the heroes reacted in ways that were shocking. Despite the fact that this is only the second book in a series, Cowper is clearly playing for keeps and won't be satisfied with simply injuring some characters. More than once, I had to go back and read a couple of paragraphs again just to make sure that Cowper had the chutzpah to do what I thought he did. "I couldn't have read that right, because that's just . . . nope, he did do that." It wasn't deconstruction and shocking moves for the sake of it, there was a reason for it all and it served the story, but wow.


But that's not to say that everything is dark and grim -- yes, Cowper's Super-Hero stories are more like a movie directed by Zack Snyder than one directed by Patty Jenkins or Jon Favreau, but there are moments of joy, of small victories, even a little romance. The moments with Blaze and Metal Girl continue to be enjoyable and are a great break from the Nightstriker drama (even when the moments with the two aren't happy times). The character Anna, introduced late in The World Savers proved to be another source of relief from the tensions -- which is odd, because things don't really go that well for her for most of the book.


Slab and Buckshot continue (in my opinion) to be under-served, but they both had opportunities to shine here, and we saw more aspects of their character. I do understand why they don't get the time devoted to them that Metal Girl, Blaze and Nightstriker get -- I really do. Also, I'll probably complain about Slab's use until Cowper gives him POV chapters that make up at least a third of a novel. Still, Cowper uses the characters well and I like them a lot -- he's probably right to give them the "screen time" that he does. It's better to leave readers wanting more, anyway, right? Rather than a "I don't know why we spent so much time with Buckshot, when we could've got some more awkward flirtation from Blaze" situation.


A quick note -- I thought the original cover for The World Savers was just fine. But the new cover, that matches the look of this cover, is just outstanding (as is this one). It's a small thing, but the covers are great.


I had a blast with The World Savers, but Rogue Superheroes surpassed it on every front, and I was excited to read it. I'm not sure how Cowper continues the story from where it is -- The Elites and the world around them were pushed to such extremes in these pages that topping this book might prove too much to try -- but if instead of trying to climb that mountain, he goes around it just right, it could be very satisfying. I am really looking forward to seeing how he proceeds (and how wrong he proves me).


For solid super-hero action, a dash of intrigue and some jaw-dropping outcomes, Rogue Superheroes will satisfy any reader, and I encourage you to go grab it.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.


LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

3 Stars
A solid, if slow-building, entry point to a spy series.
Slow Horses - Mick Herron

’What you have to bear in mind’--the O.B.’s words--’is that worst sometimes does come to worst.’


The worst had increased exponentially over the last few years.


The O.B.'s words of advice for his grandson turns out to be a bit more. I don't think Herron placed this on page 2 to be a thesis statement for the book -- but it really could be one. River Cartwright was musing about the way things were going for Intelligence officers (and people in related vocations) when it came to predicting what terrorists of various stripes would do. If September 11, July 7, and similar dates have taught Intelligence officers (and people in general), anything it is that sometimes the worst case is actually what happens. (actually, what do I know, maybe it was a thesis for the novel)


Of course, it doesn't just happen for terrorist attacks -- sometimes it happens for someone's career. Take River Cartwright -- after the events on page 2 (and the rest of that first chapter) -- and his colleagues. Each of them had worked for the Intelligence service, many of them were rising stars (or stars that had already risen), until they messed up. Sometimes it's in a large-scale drill, sometimes it was in the course of duty -- but they all made an embarrassing mistake, misstep or failure of another stripe, resulting them being assigned to Slough House. In Slough House, all the officers still technically do intelligence work -- reviewing transcripts of cell phone conversations for certain words and phrases, for example. But it's all low priority, low importance work. Far from the important work that the rest of MI-5 (and the rest) do. They're dubbed the "Slow Horses" and if they aren't forgotten about by the rest of the service, they're mocked.


One day, a Slow Horse brushes up against something that approaches "real" work and River takes the results are taken to MI-5's HQ for them to follow-up on (after making a copy). About the same time that happens, a young Pakistani immigrant is kidnapped by a nationalist group that promises to behead him on the Internet. River decides to try to follow up on this intel, thinking it might lead to the kidnappers. And well, chaos ensues, and let's leave it there.


Honestly, I had a lot of flashbacks to the show MI-5 (aka Spooks), throughout. The story has a very British spy feel, with more clandestine meetings, history and significant looks than an American spy story (which largely revolve around attractive people shooting things). But these Slow Horses aren't the type that Nicola Walker, Peter Firth, and Miranda Raison would deal with -- at best, they're the ones those people would pass in the hall. But all of them wanted to get back to the major leagues -- they all had the drive, the chip on their shoulder, the need to lose the embarrassment. It makes for an interesting motivation -- it's not just about saving the young man, it's about them doing it.


The characters are quite a rag-tag bunch, who really don't like each other much at the beginning -- they all know that Slough House is a dead-end and resent being there -- and transfer that resentment onto the others stuck there with them. An actual team gets forged through the events of this novel and the characters find things about each other that they can relate to -- and maybe even admire.


It's a solid spy story, and one told with restrained humor -- it's not a comedy by any means, but there are comic sensibilities throughout. Herron could've easily turned it into a humorous spy story about rejects trying to save the day. But he plays it pretty straight, there are things to grin about -- or at least smile wryly about. But by and large this is a serious story told seriously. And it's well done -- it's a well-constructed story and by the time the big twist is revealed, you care about the players enough to react appropriately.


But man, it was slow. Once things started happening, it flowed pretty smoothly and quickly. But those early chapters, where Herron was setting up his dominoes, were a slog. It took awhile to figure out why we were spending so much time with X, Y and Z. But when he started knocking the dominoes over? You understood why he'd spent the time and were glad he did. The slow pace of the early chapters were entirely justified, thankfully. Still, I think we could've had a better hook early on.


I do think that the later books in the series will be able to build on what's established here and be less slow, and using the characters we met here get into the action quicker. I'm planning on reading at least a couple more in this series because I did enjoy this one, and think that Herron can build this into a great series. It's a good entry point into something that promises to be better.

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Saturday Miscellany -- 3/9/19

So I was awakened at shortly after 5 this morning with my wife telling me our 20-year-old had severe abdominal pains and needed to go to the ER, 11 hours later, we were home, one appendix lighter. 1. That's really incredible. 2. That's my best excuse for not getting this posted on time that I've ever had 3. I read more today than I typically do on a Saturday, so, that's a nice bonus.


I did manage to accumulate a few 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:










  • That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire -- The 8th InCryptid novel and the 3rd featuring Annie -- after the way the last one ended, I'm very eager (and a little apprehensive) to dive in.



  • Another Kingdom by Andrew Klavan -- a screenwriter finds himself in a fantasy kingdom -- and in trouble. Then he finds himself back in L.A. And then back and forth. Something tells me that Klavan's approach to a portal fantasy ain't that typical.


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

4 Stars
I Can't Suitably Encapsulate this Gripping Thriller
Killing State - Judith O'Reilly

“You should come with me.”

He turned over the offer in his mind.


Why would he?


Because she was stop-your-heart beautiful.


Then again, the world teemed with beautiful women. Because he wanted to know how it ended.


Badly, he predicted.

What happens when an assassin doesn't get the expected reaction from his target? Honor Jones, MP, tells him to let her finish her cigarette and asks him a question, "Where's Peggy?" The assassin in question, Michael North, doesn't know who Peggy is, much less where she is. What he does know is that he can't kill this woman -- maybe it's because (unlike the rest of his targets) he wasn't given a reason for her execution, maybe it's her attitude, maybe he's just getting tired of killing (not to be confused with Martin Q. Blank's newfound respect for life) -- certainly her beauty doesn't hurt.


His refusal to kill her doesn't go down well with his employer -- an extra-governmental body dedicated to the preservation of the British government. That morning, he's contacted in person with strict instructions to get the job done or face the (fatal) consequences. Instead, North tried to get her out of the country and ends up saving her from a different assassin. Not very shockingly, North also finds instructions to kill him on this assassin's corpse. By this point, North is smitten with Honor and is committed (whether either of them consciously realize it) to helping her survive and find her friend Peggy.


At the moment, it's clear that Honor's search for her dear friend is tied to the kill order. Peggy's an astronomer, largely apolitical, and not tied to any endeavor that would normally put her on the radar of anyone outside of astronomical/academic circles. Nevertheless, she's somehow set these dominoes falling, and now Honor and North are running from killers across the country as they seek to learn why Peggy has disappeared.


This hunt for Peggy will push North and Honor to -- and past -- their limits. It will see them both injured. Both under threat of grave bodily harm (and death) through violence -- and both will have to take steps to defend themselves. Around them, the culture and government face shifts and challenges from within that threaten to change everything that Britons know about themselves. On top of all that -- there are some great character moments, real growth and change that happen ways that you can believe -- not just the clear result of authorial fiat, but because that's what happens when people face what they did.


Plots involving large-scale conspiracies frequently leave me cold -- O'Reilly not only convinces me that her conspiracy is worth reading, but she's effective enough with it to make me enjoy it. I struggle to accept plots involving psychiatric professionals and loved ones trying to convince a character that the reality they know (and the audience knows) isn't real, but is the result of delusion brought on by some psychological condition. Now this one isn't as involved as say, "Normal Again" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it's there -- and O'Reilly sticks with it long enough to accomplish what she needs to for her story, but she doesn't milk drama out of it. There are a few other things like this -- tricks, plotlines, tropes -- that I typically avoid or get annoyed by, but I accepted and enjoyed here.


My notes are filled with "O'Reilly isn't going to try ___, is she?" entries, followed by "Yeah, she is -- and it works." She squeezes in so many of these things that I'm tempted to doubt my memory about them -- and I'm writing this less than a day after I read it! For reasons of space, time, and readability I've limited myself in what I've addressed in this post. I had a lot of other things I wanted to say, and even had drafts talking about. But I ended up restricting myself -- not just because of spoilers (though, as always, that's part of it) -- but because O'Reilly stuffs this novel with so many ideas, plot points and details that I can't talk about it all without the post becoming unreadable. I don't know how she manages to put it all in while maintaining the pounding pace. It's truly noteworthy and laudable that she pulls it off. I can't even express this without producing an ungainly paragraph.


Michael North is a larger-than-life character, but honestly more grounded in reality than many assassin/lone warrior types in Thriller fiction. Part of that comes from O'Reilly's restraint in describing him -- he's never depicted as anything superlative. He's simply a skilled and surprisingly dedicated combat veteran in a series of tight situations that even he is shocked that he survives as long as he does.


Similarly, Honor is one of many beautiful women in the world (as North himself notes above) -- she's one of many dedicated elected public servants, she's one of many people who've overcome difficult pasts thanks to the help of a friend/loved one. She also isn't depicted as a superlative anything -- just the right person in the right place at the right time. Even if that right place is in front of Michael North's knife. And yes, the name Honor is ripe with possibilities and symbolism -- O'Reilly takes advantage of it. Not as much as some authors would've, but she gets her money's worth out of the name.


There is an plausibility-stretching character -- a young computer whiz (actually, she's something beyond whiz, but I can't think of a term that fits her), who North allies himself with temporarily. But between her attitude and role in the overall story, I can't see any reader not suspending disbelief enough to embrace her.


Most of this book takes place in moral gray areas (as it almost has to given North's profession), but that doesn't stop O'Reilly's villains from clearly being villains and her heroes clearly being heroic. Killing State doesn't try to go for some sort of situational ethics or a "yes, but" approach to the morality of te characters -- which may or may not have been successful.


The plot moves like the proverbial roller coaster -- ups, downs, rushes, and loops all at a pace that you just hope to keep up with. Fair warning -- once the hook is set (and it'll be early on), you won't want to put the book down and you'll likely get in trouble with deadlines and schedules. Things won't really end the way you expect them to -- I had a handful of expected conclusions that I had to discard along the way (although some I didn't have to discard until the last moments) -- but when you're finished with the book, you'll likely realize that there's no other way for things to have fallen out.


There's a sequel expected later this year -- I honestly can't imagine that it'll be able to live up to this. But I wouldn't put it past O'Reilly to confound my expectations again. I had a lot of fun with this novel and was regularly impressed with O'Reilly (and North and Honor). I expect that I'm not alone, and soon I'll see a lot of very positive buzz surrounding this book.


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

3.5 Stars
A Short Story Collection that'll Gobsmack You at Least Once
Not Everyone is Special - Josh Denslow

I'm not sure what to say about this collection of 15 short stories. They're all really well-written -- there was one or two I didn't care for, two that I really liked -- but they all showed skill, craft, and achieved what I think Denslow intended to achieve. But I'm not sure that I can muster up any excitement over the collection.


Some of the stories fall into the SF/Speculative Fiction category, but by and large these are "General Fiction" (whatever exactly that is). Some are comic, some are very tragic (I think you could make the case for all of the stories containing elements of both).


"Proximity" a bittersweet story about a young man on the brink of maturity (but resisting stepping over it) who happens to be able to teleport is one of the best things I've read in months. A great combination of imagination and story, that sadly, I read the same day I read the best novel I've read so far this year, and completely forgot about until I started flipping through this book again while writing this. (but, man, am I glad I remember it now...)


Then there's "Mousetrap," which starts with the line,

I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent.

And openings don't get much better than that (the story lives up to it).


There are a handful of other really high high points in this collection. I can't talk about "Dorian Vandercleef" beyond encouraging you to read it -- but you really should. "Blake Bishop Believes in Love" is sweet, grotesque and unpleasant (intentionally so). "Extra Ticket," a story about a teenager dealing (and not well) with grieving over a friend's death would serve as a handy example of the concept of "poignant," if you ever find yourself in need of one.


I might not be over-the-moon with this book, but I did like it. I can even see me being in a situation where I'd re-read parts or all of it (I don't normally re-read short story books, but I'm not opposed to the idea). I would absolutely read more by Denslow -- long form or short form. Not Everyone is Special is a good book -- some of the stories might even be more than good. I'd absolutely encourage you to get your hands on this to judge for yourself. I promise you'll find at least one story that'll knock your socks off.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge


3 Stars
An underdeveloped, but powerful memoir of addiction and recovery
And Drink I Did: One Man's Story of Growing Through Recovery - Molly O'Keefe

This is one of those books that's pretty well summed up by the title and subtitle. There's not a lot more to say, really. But I'll flesh it out a little -- the first two chapters are primarily focused on his pre-alcohol life to gain some insight into his alcoholism. He begins by saying that he doesn't know why he's an alcoholic, he doesn't know what made him one -- moreover, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he is an alcoholic. That doesn't stop him from thinking and writing about his childhood -- not in an effort to justify or explain away his alcoholism, but to understand it. He explains some early emotional experiences, as part of this -- and even his earliest memories of OCD.


This might be the closest I've gotten to understanding the compulsion's sensation:


I didn't feel right or complete until I had done specific tasks.


Even after I did them, there was still a lingering sense that something was off. When people ask me to describe it, the best I can do is to say it’s like an itch that can’t be scratched- kind of like when the top of your mouth tickles, and you use your tongue to scratch it, but it doesn’t really help because your tongue just isn’t the right instrument to scratch an itch.


It’s like that.


Kind of. 


Then he explained his initial drinking experiences and how alcohol made him feel. It reminded me of a similar passage in Mose Kasher's memoir of addiction.

I always felt a void and had no idea how to fill it.


Alcohol filled that void perfectly.


It took me out of myself.


I could relax. . . .


Alcohol quelled the OCD too.


I didn’t clean when I was drunk.


It didn’t bother me that things weren’t in their place.


I didn’t sweat the small stuff, so to speak.


And I knew I wasn’t sweating it. That was the beauty of it.


It's so easy for people -- especially for non-addicts -- to pin drugs and alcohol use and abuse to people who are partying or having a good time and can't stop. For Kasher, it was about feeling normal; for Keefe it's about quieting the OCD, about not having the self-doubt and insecurities that plagued him. It's about self-medicating. Addiction's never more understandable to me than when I hear someone talking like that -- who wouldn't want that experience? Forget about feeling good, just getting to neutral -- no problems.


Anyway, from there Keefe spends a few chapters talking about his experiences drinking -- at one point he says that other addicts' war stories never impressed him, and initially you get the feeling that's hypocritical because he talks a lot about some of the stupid or out of control things he did while drinking. But he never glorified the experience, he never celebrates what happened -- it's just a list of things he did. Like reciting the tasks (largely routine) at work you completed one week. More than once I found myself wondering how Keefe is still living -- and he probably did, too, while writing it.


He then talks about his early days of recovery -- his early 12-Step days and when it started to work for him, and how that changed his life. How being sober didn't fix all of his problems, and how he still has impulse control issues and what he's done to minimize the problems that causes him. Then he discusses his current circumstances, with a few years of sobriety behind him -- how he's doing, what he's doing with himself, and that he's still an alcoholic, living in fear of stumbling.


Those last couple of chapters, in particular are really powerful.


I'm a little of two minds about this book -- you can see from what I've quoted how this book reads. Paragraphs that are 1 or 2 sentences long (there are some that are a little longer), some aren't even complete sentences. The book largely reads like a very detailed outline -- at best like a good first draft. Also, the timeline's a little fuzzy and his knack for not using names all the time when talking about his life doesn't help keep things clear.


None of that keeps the book from making an impact. It's moving, it's powerful, and you have a very real sense of what he went through. So Keefe's not Tobias Wolff or Frank McCourt -- who cares? The book accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish, is insightful, touching and inspiring. That's good enough for me.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

3.5 Stars
I don't think John Gray's books cover marriages like this one
My Lovely Wife - Samantha Downing

You've been married for a decade and a half, the kids are in high school, you're pretty established in your careers, middle age is around the corner -- how do you keep the spark in your marriage alive (or reignite it)? There are dozens -- probably hundreds -- of suggestions out there, but probably none quite so . . . homicidal? The couple at the center of My Lovely Wife murders women -- an idea so out there, I can't imagine there's enough wine in the world to get Kathy Lee and Hoda to promote.


They pick the victims together, he goes out and gets the women into a vulnerable situation and then she takes over while he spends time with the kids. This is an over-simplification, but not by much. This joint-project does seem to bring them together, giving them a common goal, something to talk about -- it even seems to rekindle the romance. Sometimes their interaction is pretty sweet -- sometimes, it's a little sad. But at the core, you can see these two featuring in a very different kind of novel if only they had a different . . . activity to bond over.


Meanwhile, their son is acting defiant toward his father's authority and is sneaking around with a girl. Their daughter is becoming more and more anxious -- a media-induced anxiety disorder of some sort. While they're dealing with the difficulties of parenting adolescents, they're focused on their next target and evading the police. You have to feel for them as parents, really. They're doing everything they should and you just can't tell if the children will respond the way they hope. It's a clear sign of their dedication to each other that they keep going.


It's a great premise, really -- and that alone is going to earn it some accolades. Downing does a pretty good job delivering on the promise of it, too. But after the original "What??" moment (which wasn't that much of a surprise if you've read the blurb, but was still skillfully executed), I waited a long time to truly get hooked by this story. I kept feeling like I was alllllllllmost hooked, but I never got past the mildly curious level. I kept waiting for the hook, expecting it, wanting it -- but it just didn't come. Until some time in the last fifth of the book -- and then even though I'd seen two of the big reveals coming, I hadn't seen the reasoning behind the most important one. Also, Downing absolutely nailed the climactic portions of this book -- all the dominoes she'd spent the whole novel setting up came down just as designed and were absolutely riveting to watch.


I want to complain about how long it took for me to really get hooked, to get invested in the outcome of the book -- and I guess I am -- but it was all worth it. I do think it's dangerous to hope that an audience will stick without you that long -- but seeing the design and how she set it all up, I just don't know how to quibble that much. Because the pay off was just that well done.


This isn't your typical story about killers -- it's not over the top and funny, it's not dark and moody, it feels like a book about a fairly stable couple living in the nice part of Atlanta. Which is what the book is, but this couple has some pretty horrible secrets to explore. While it didn't click for me until the very end, I can easily see where many people are going to love this book. Downing is a writer to watch, and I know I'll be eagerly waiting for whatever comes next.


Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this, but it did not affect the substance of this post beyond giving me something upon which to opine.

4 Stars
He's in the jailhouse now. . .
The Last Act - Brad Parks

Inspired by the Wachovia Bank scandal from a few years back, Brad Parks' third stand-alone is a departure in a sense from his previous two. Rather than crimes close to home for his protagonists, this is crime on an international scale, with most of the figures involved never laying eyes on each other.


Mitch Dupree was a high-level bank executive who was convicted of aiding a Mexican drug cartel by laundering a lot of money. He's been sentenced to a minimum security prison in West Virginia. If after reading this -- or even while reading it -- you want a few more details about what happened with Dupree before the novel starts (or more specifics about the events leading up to his arrest), check out the prequel short story, The Whistle Blower. He has made it known both far and wide that he has a large amount of evidence against the cartel tucked away safely -- and as long as he and/or his family are alive, that evidence stays hidden.


Naturally, the DEA, FBI and the cartel want to get their hands on it -- and are willing to do some above and beyond work to get it.


Enter Tommy Jump -- he'd risen to fame and prominence (and a Tony nomination) as a child on Broadway, but as he aged into adulthood the parts dried up. He's on the verge of calling it quits -- at least for a couple of decades. He's approached by a childhood friend, Danny Ruiz, flashing a shiny FBI badge and an interesting job offer. Danny and his partner, Rick Gilmartin, want Tommy to go undercover with an assumed identity of a bank robber and serve time in the same prison. He has six months to get close to Dupree, win his trust and get the location of the documents. If the intelligence he gathers leads to indictments, he gets a hefty bonus on top of the pretty nice initial paycheck (all the funds come from civil forfeiture, and the well seems to run pretty deep). Given that his fiancé -- a painter waiting to be discovered -- just told him she was pregnant, any kind of pay-day sounds good to an out-of-work actor, one with a pay-day that could set them up for years? How can he pass that up?


The early stages of the plan go pretty smoothly -- Tommy's given a new identity, develops a cover story and is sentenced to the same prison. He arrives and gets settled -- not really making friends, but getting well acquainted with fellow inmates, who show him the ropes and help him get acclimated. It goes so smoothly, actually, that it bugged me a little. Sure, he's an actor, but this isn't a play, there's no script, and it seems easy. But, Tommy's such a likeable guy, a winning narrator that I just kept shrugging off my skepticism and rolled with it -- I wanted things to work out for Tommy and Amanda, I wanted to see what happened with Dupree -- so whatever it took to get me to seeing if things would work out for them I could accept.


And then -- because this is a thriller, because Parks is good at torturing his readers (that's why we keep coming back), and because no one is as lucky as Tommy seemed to be -- everything got nearly impossible. On a dime, the momentum changes and suddenly thing look incredibly grim for Tommy, Amanda, Dupree and several other characters. Naturally, at the same time the bottom fell out and I was reeling from a pretty significant reveal, my lunch break ended and I had to get back to work with no time to process things. I know it's stupid, but it felt like Parks planned it that way.


The novel alternates between Tommy chapters and chapters with Amanda, one of the cartel's higher-ups and his efforts to find the evidence, Danny and Rick, and Mitch Dupree's wife. I was honestly surprised how much time we got with Amanda and Mrs. Dupree -- both of whom had their own character arcs independent of (although influenced by) Tommy and Mitch. I could've used a little more of both of them -- not that Parks short-changed them in any way, but their stories were so interesting that I would've enjoyed it. Alternatively, by the end of the book (especially in light of The Whistle Blower), I was surprised how little time we got with Mitch Dupree -- again, it's not that he was short-changed, I just would've assumed we'd have more time with him. And what time we do have with him was by and large mediated through Tommy or his wife.


Beyond that, all the characters are well-drawn, well-developed and the kind that you would like to spend more time with. Parks has always displayed a great knack at creating characters that you can easily imagine coming across in real life -- no matter their walk of life. They're not all good people (particularly those who are aligned with the cartel), but they're all believable people.


Before I get back to what Parks did right, I have a couple of problems that I want to talk about -- as always, I'm afraid that the amount of space I spend talking about them is going to give the idea that I had real problems with the book as a whole. I didn't. It's just a couple of issues -- issues that take more space to explain than the bits I like take. Still, they're worth talking about.


I'm not 100% convinced that Parks adequately gets the point across about how dangerous this cartel that Tommy's mixed up in is. Don't get me wrong, it's not like he portrays them as cuddly or anything. But I'm still not sure I got a large sense of threat and doom from them--Tommy and Dupree carry that sense, they're adequately scared (especially Dupree), but I'm not sure that Parks gets the readers to be. I know he's capable of it, I'm just not sure he did it here.


Similarly, I think he could've done a better job depicting life in the minimum security prison, the daily ins and outs -- the lack of privacy, the loneliness, the hardships. I'm struggling for words here -- the deprivations from a life of liberty that make prison a place you want to avoid, even a minimum security prison.. . It honestly felt like Tommy had an easier time getting up to stuff (including out-of-the-building excursions) in the middle of the night than Harry, Ron and Hermione did at Hogwarts. Or to put it in a different light -- Say Nothing's Scott Sampson's pretty sizeable home and nice office, felt far more confining than the prison did. And the small house that Melanie Barrick called home in Closer Than You Know seemed much more restricting and frightening than Tommy's incarceration (as did the county jail she spent time in).


That said -- what Parks was able to convey very strongly was the life-and-death nature of the situation that Tommy, Dupree, and Dupree's wife was in. Also, the questions of identity, the future consequences of everyone's actions loomed large here and dominated their thoughts, motives and actions. Where Scott and Melanie's stories were much more immediate in their focus (yes, with long-range repercussions, but a very intense focus on the immediate future), Tommy's story and his own focus is on the future. He spends very little time thinking about the now of things, most of his eye is on a decade away -- which is likely tied in to his sentence.


As I mentioned earlier, when things started going bad for Tommy, they went really bad -- and the rest of the book didn't lighten up on him. It's almost as if Parks lulled readers into letting their guard down before hitting them hard (actually, it's probably exactly that). The twists and turns start to come fast and relentlessly. The beginning of the book is interesting and winning -- and then once the hook is set, Parks just messes with you and you can't relax until everything is over. In his previous stand-alones, Parks pretty much kept the tension and suspense going from the first chapter theory the end. In this book, he saved almost all of it until the end, so it hits you harder. So it stops being about characters that you'd like to see succeed or find out more about, to characters that you like and have to know if they're going to survive with their wits, health and family intact -- and you have to know it right now.


About the same time that things got intense, I had a realization -- I think I've figured out what makes Parks' novels work so well, how he gets his readers to commit -- in The Last Act -- and everything else he writes -- what matters most is family. Ultimately, all his books are celebrations of family, and what people will go through for the sake of family. It's tucked away in some of the Carter Ross books -- but, without going back to reread any, I'm pretty sure its there. But especially in his stand-alones, this is Parks' recurring theme. It's the way he connects his audience to whatever his protagonist is going through and to the protagonists themselves. There's something instinctive, primal about the way that Parks portrays family and the lengths that individuals will go through for them -- whether the family is just starting or well-established. something that Tommy and Dupree have a conversation about made that click with/for me -- and thinking about it is the only thing that got me to think about putting this book down for a moment.


I've yet to be disappointed by a Parks book, I've enjoyed all of them -- and this is no exception. I do think there's something special about this one, both in Park's construction of the novel and what it's saying about the characters. He takes some risks, and does some things he hadn't done before, and I was pleased to see the results. There's a lot of heart in The Last Act, a lot of tension, and more hope than you might expect. There's also some things said about the drug war and the prison system that are worth reflecting on. I'm not sure what else I can say to convince you to try this, so I'll just call that good.


Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Dutton Books, which did not influence anything I had to say about it -- it just means I was able to say something about it before the publication date. I do thank them for the opportunity, however.

Saturday Miscellany -- 3/2/19

I didn't have much time for social media, blogs, etc. this week (sadly, it does recharge me), but I was able to scrape up a few links for this here post. Hope you enjoy these 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:


  • Sad news to start with, Janet Asimov died this week -- I wish I could find a better obituary. I really enjoyed the Norby novels that I read (almost half of them, it turns out -- I wish I knew I had more to read back then, and a way to get them. Ahhh, the 80s.) and the anthology of "lite SF" she edited with her husband blew my mind -- at the time, I didn't know people not named Adams and Aspirin could write that kind of stuff.











  • The Border by Don Winslow -- the end of the Winslow's Cartel Trilogy. Looks fantastic. Hope to get to it soon.



  • Death & Honey by Deliah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig -- includes novellas by all three. The only one I care about (which might be a mistake) is the Third Oberon's Murder Mystery!

February 2019 Report

Been a crazy month around here, thanks to Fahrenbruary. More than twice the views and visitors over last February. Which ain't half bad. I have some other thoughts about that part of the month that I'll probably share soon. But even without that, it's been a decent month. I'd have liked to have read a couple of more books and written a couple of more posts -- but I'm not complaining. The quality of what I read was great on the whole, which is the important thing. Still, looking forward to March, I've got some great reads coming up. Anyway, here's what happened here in February.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions Standing in Another Man's Grave The Barista’s Guide to Espionage
4 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Circle of the Moon Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort Black Moss
5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars
Rosemary and Rue (Audiobook) Seraphina's Lament Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper
4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 5 Stars
Dead is Beautiful The Murder Quadrille August
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 2 1/2 Stars
Broken Dreams Back Door to Hell Blameless (Audiobook)
4 Stars 3 Stars 3.5 Stars
Back Door to Hell Not Everyone is Special The Great Brain (Audiobook)
4 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
The Last Act            
4 Stars            

Still Reading:

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Anthropology Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Audiobook)
My Lovely Wife            


5 Stars 4 2 1/2 Stars 1
4 1/2 Stars 1 2 Stars  
4 Stars 7 1 1/2 Stars  
3.5 Stars 2 1 Star  
3 Stars 4    
    Average = 3.9  

Reviews Posted:

TBR Pile/Mound/Heap:

Physical Books: 2 Added, 0 Read, 25 Remaining E-Books: 3 Added, 8 Read, 19 Remaining Audiobooks: 4 Added, 1 Read, 3 Remaining

Book Challenge Progress:

2019 Library Love Challenge

2019 Library Love Challenge

  1. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
  2. Blameless by Gail Carriger, Emily Gray
  3. The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty

While I Was Reading 2019 Challenge

  • Didn't have time to do anything here.
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

#LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

  1. The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair
  2. trong>
  3. Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn
  4. Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry
  5. The Murder Quadrille by Fidelis Morgan
  6. August by Jim Lusby
  7. Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill
  8. A Burdizzo For A Prince by Mark Rapacz
  9. Not Everyone is Special by Josh Denslow(link forthcoming)
  10. Back Door to Hell by Paul Gadsby
2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

  1. The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair
  2. Black Moss by David Nolan
  3. Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry
  4. The Murder Quadrille by Fidelis Morgan
  5. August by Jim Lusby
  6. Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill
  7. A Burdizzo For A Prince by Mark Rapacz
  8. Back Door to Hell by Paul Gadsby
  9. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
  10. The Last Act by Brad Parks (link forthcoming)
Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

  1. Didn't get anything this month.
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

  1. Reformed Dogmatics: Theology Proper by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Translator) (link forthcoming)

How was your month?

3 Stars
A frequently pleasant stroll down memory lane
Great Brain, the (Lib)(CD) - John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty

Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I'd read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom D. About 10 years ago, I read the series to my kids, and enjoyed it (possibly more than they did), but not as much as I remembered. Still, when I saw it listed as a new addition to my library's catalog, I took a second glance and when I saw that Ron McLarty did the narration, I had to try it.


This book is a series of episodes from over a year or so in the life of three brothers, Sweyn D., Tom D. and John D. Fitzgerald. Sweyn is around a little bit as the more mature eldest brother, John's the youngest (8 or 9, I believe) and Tom is 10 and the star. He's Greedy, conniving, and ambitious -- and his ego is bigger than the rest of his attributes combined. They live in a small, largely LDS, town in Utah during the last decade of the 1800s. The episodes feature different ways in which Tom's Great Brain works to make him money and/or notoriety in the community, especially with the kids.


Some of these antics are silly, some are serious. Almost all of them are profitable for Tom. The strength of the stories is the humanity of the rest of the community -- the traveling Jewish merchant, the local farmers, the Greek immigrant family, for starters. The weakness comes from the very laissez-faire approach to parenting the Fitzgeralds take -- allowing Tom D. to pretty much get away with everything he wants.


There is some charm, some heart, throughout -- even from Tom. That part appeals to me, the ego-driven greedy exploits of the Great Brain don't. John's narration occasionally will critique Tom's motives, but mostly John's a little brother thinking his big brother is fantastic no matter what. I know John becomes more disillusioned later, but for now, it was annoying. I want better for him.


How's the narration you ask? Honestly, the chance to listen to Ron McLarty narrate was half the reason I had for grabbing this. McLarty will always be Sgt. Frank Belson to me, despite the many other things he's accomplished in life. He did a fine job, at times a great job. Something about him reading the contraction-less dialogue bugged the tar out of me. George Guidal can make it work when he reads Henry Standing Bear -- although it helps that no one else does it. McLarty can't make it work, probably because despite the fact that slang is used, time appropriate language -- but not a contraction from anyone? I don't lay the fault at McLarty's feet, it's just a prominent feature.


I still recommend the books and enjoyed them. It's just a tempered enjoyment. I'll probably keep chipping away at the series over the next few months -- waiting to see John's disillusionment grow, and the brothers develop a conscience.


2019 Library Love Challenge

4 Stars
Everybody be cool, that was a robbery!
Back Door to Hell - Paul Gadsby
‘Sometimes you gotta take what you need, right when you need it.’

Giving this little piece of brotherly advice might end up being be the worst thing Darren ever did to his younger brother, Nate. Although making a call to his boss back in London for help getting the two of them out of a police cell in Majorca is a contender. Darren's boss, Crawford, is one of the biggest criminals in London and his help comes with a price. We don't know what all Darren had to repay Crawford, but Nate had to go to work in a sleazy bar and pool club for a month. It's nothing major, watch the bar, sell some crisps, wash dishes, don't ask questions, don't pay attention to anything.


This would likely be the first step of Nate following his brother's example and becoming another one of Crawford's men. But Nate meets Jen, an art student trying to make enough money to go back to school. Unlike Nate, Jen's figured out that the real reason this dive is still operational is that as a cash business, it's an ideal way for Crawford to launder money. Not only has she noted this, she's figured out when the safe is full of Crawford's various Ill-Gotten Gains and the best time to relieve him of them. She just needs a partner. Enter Nate.


Jen explains the plan to Nate, and drawing on his need for money, his utter lack of a plan for his life, his brother's bad advice, and the fact that this plan is explained by an attractive young woman with great hair, he's in.


Here's the catch: as anyone who's read Jack Reacher, Spenser, or any number of similar things can tell you, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Jen's plan dissolves after first contact, as you'd expect. Sadly, first contact happens a whole lot sooner than she'd anticipated (Jen, the healthy young woman, underestimates the laziness of an middle-aged apathetic fat guy). Undeterred, Nate and Jen grab the money and run. Due more to luck and circumstance than experience and skill (and better mechanics), Jen's little Fiesta is able to get the pair to safety following a car chase.


As I mentioned the plan is junked by this point -- and they trash it even further. They're supposed to split up for mutual safety, but are so freaked out at this point that they can't think about going on without each other. So the two work together to get out of London, and make preparations to leave the UK entirely to try to escape Crawford's reach.


Crawford meanwhile, is turning over every rock he can to get his hands on the two of them -- and more importantly, the money. Most of which was promised to some associates. Besides, there's the principle of it all -- what kind of crimelord let's a couple of twentysomethings driving a piece of junk car rip him off? We end up spending a lot more time with Crawford than I expected -- not just him, but his wife and kid, too. Crawford's son Ollie is on the Autism Spectrum and watching Crawford try to father him, try to communicate with him is both touching and instructive about the character. It does more than humanize the character, but I don't want to ruin anything with my speculations about Gadsby's intentions, so just know there's a lot going on in the scenes with Crawford's family.


Just because he's human, doesn't mean he's not ruthless or that he doesn't have a large and violent workforce. Nate and Jen are quite aware of that, and get more aware of it by the moment (although they might debate the "human" bit). They bounce around England, trying to stay off the radar while gathering things like passports and undocumented travel to Europe. There are close calls with Crawford's men, dealings with less than savory figures, and the kind of paranoia that comes about when they are out to get you -- their new life isn't easy for the pair.


But that doesn't stop a sweet relationship developing and cementing between the two, while the reader cannot help but sense impending doom, you end up really liking them as a couple and rooting for them -- like Jessie and Celine strolling around Vienna for a few hours. Only Nate and Jen are driving around England with (literal and figurative) blood on their hands and a price on their heads. I guess it's Richard Linklater by way of Chad Stahelski.


I'm not giving anything away, by the way, saying that about sensing impending doom. If you haven't picked up a sense of impending doom on Page One you aren't paying attention to Gadsby. How he manages to make you feel that while telling this sweet story, and making you feel how dangerous Crawford's a great trick.


This is a fast-moving book, and the pages just melt away (not unlike Jen's plan). It'll draw you in and keep you riveted through all the twists and turns. And each time you start to think you know what's going to happen, Gadsby will tell you that you're wrong. And then he'll throw a curveball at you. Yes, there's the looming sense of doom, but there's a hope shining throughout all that like that green light at the end of the East Egg dock. It won't be until the very end until you know what to pay attention to -- the threat or the hope. Gadsby does yeoman's work there.


This is a treat folks, you'd do well to indulge.

3 Stars
A Vengeance Tale with a Lot of Personality
A Burdizzo for a Prince - Mark Rapacz
"Spit it out," I said. I was hoping for an apology, or something. Not every day your best friend is pretty sure he wasn’t going to kill you, which means he was equally as sure he was going to--I think. Semantics were never my strong suit, but when speaking the language of death, these things matter.

J. J. was having a perfectly okay day--he was out getting some supplies for the week, walking around the small Midwestern town he was calling home, when his childhood best friend arrives without pomp or circumstance. This was not a happy reunion--the reason they hadn't seen each other for years because J.J. was on the run from the Jersey crime family they both worked and killed for; and Jackie's presence meant that J.J.'s hiding spot was blown and that Jackie had been sent to kill him. So much for that good day.


Not really a spoiler: Jackie doesn't kill him, or the book would've been much shorter than it is. Instead, he aligns himself with his old friend and partner to survive. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that their former boss has expected Jackie to not follow through on things and sent in a ringer to clean up. It's not long at all before J.J. has to abandon the home he'd made for himself, the life he was on the verge of building and a woman he might love (or not like terribly much--it's one of those things), to voyage down the Mississippi with Jackie and a couple of allies.


Shortly after that, this stops being a story about a couple of hitmen trying to retire and becomes a tale of vengeance and blood. Lots of blood.


Rapacz has a dynamite style -- it's slick, it's fast, it's full of black humor. And despite some distaste I had for J.J. and his personal life and vocabulary, I really got into it. As Jules Winnfield reminds us, "Personality goes a long way," and this novel has personality by the bucket.


Somewhere along the trek down the The Big Muddy, I think you can argue that Rapacz let his style run away with him and parts of the book become too much. At the same time, some of the best moments of the novel -- not just stylistically, but plot and character-wise, are in the middle of this excess. So what do I know?


I didn't end up liking it as much as I started off liking it -- and that might be me, it might be Rapacz, maybe a bit of both. There were some real surprises, some moments of head scratching, and some great tension -- and a fight scene or two that will burn themselves into your mind's eye for at least a week. Which, given the fact that the title is about a castration device, is about what you should expect, right?


A Burdizzo For A Prince might not be your cup of tea -- or you'll love it -- but you won't forget this anytime soon.

3.5 Stars
A Clever, Well-Plotted, Fiasco of Crime
The Murder Quadrille - Fidelis Morgan

Halfway through the dinner party Sarah Beaumont decided that she would definitely leave Martin, her husband of ten years.


As the thought blossomed in her mind she blushed. Bowing her head to hide her flushed cheeks, she toyed with the peas on her plate, chasing one behind a piece of sautéed potato before stabbing it with her fork. To tell the truth, she wished she wasn’t there at all, sitting round the table with a bunch of jabbering strangers, one of whom was Martin.

That's pretty much the high point of the book for Sarah and Martin. Come to think of it, things go downhill for pretty much everyone at the dinner party. Before the meal is even complete, the wheels come off and disaster ensues.


In addition to Sarah and her jerk of a husband, the dinner party is made up of Martin's friend/lawyer and his girlfriend, Martin's bank manager (probably Sarah's, too, but Martin's the only one he deals with), and their temporary neighbor -- a crime writer from the States. Naturally, they spend the bulk of the meal discussing a missing -- and presumed dead -- librarian. We get to spend time with each of them as we watch things fall apart. I'm pretty sure almost anything I say beyond this point will be a spoiler, and I've written and re-written the next sentence a dozen times (and what will be posted will be none of those).


You know those episodes of Frasier where there's a misunderstanding of some sort, and things start to go wrong, and then things snowball out of control until the last couple of minutes when it all seems to get worse as he explains everything? Yeah, I know, that's like 47% of the episodes. So you know what I'm saying.


This is a lot like that -- but instead of Frasier's career, or Niles' reputation, or the fate of Martin's chair; we're dealing with life, death, murder charges, police and decomposition rates.


It's gripping, it's funny, it's chaotic, it's a riot. Morgan's got a great style, an interesting vocabulary, and a plot that will keep you guessing. I probably shouldn't have said chaotic -- this is a carefully choreographed dance, as flashy and exciting as the best contender at the Jackrabbit Slim's Twist Contest (or something less fun, like Dancing with the Stars).


There's one big string left dangling at the end -- which drives me crazy. It's really not important, but she did such a great job tieing up the rest of the loose strings so it's presence is worse. But given as fun as the rest of the book is, it's totally forgivable. This one is a treat, you should give it a read. And if you do, maybe you can do a better job of selling this outrageous novel than I can.