Irresponsible Reader

Irresponsible Reader

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

Review
4.5 Stars
I don't know what 'it' is, but this SF/Fantasy crossbreed's got it.
Skyfarer - Joseph Brassey

I've read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year -- some that were just that, interesting, some that were good -- a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey's Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively -- and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

 

I feel like could go on for pages about this book -- but won't let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself -- which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

 

So you've got this group called the Eternal Order -- a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can't stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here -- they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out -- and it's clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn't being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

 

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we're initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best -- if there's a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she's made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that's been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

 

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn't take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There's The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There's a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There's a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there's, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they'll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

 

This isn't exactly a revolutionary idea for a story -- but man, it doesn't matter. There's a reason everyone and their brother has tried this -- it's a good story. Especially when it's told well. And, I'm here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone's taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted -- either in the present or in flashbacks; there's some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read -- the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it -- not just to find out what's going to happen next, but because it's written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer's day.

 

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out -- which isn't a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he's giving us. What we're given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there's more to learn about everyone -- about their past and their present -- and how those shape their future.

 

You've got magic -- various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you've got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you've got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren't explicable -- tell me why you wouldn't want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

 

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/17/skyfarer-by-joseph-brassey
Review
4.5 Stars
Rebus takes on suicidal criminals and politicians in his best case to date.
Let it Bleed - Ian Rankin

He stood there shivering after the warmth of the pub and his car. He was a few yards from where the boys had jumped. The area was cordoned off with metal barriers, anchored by sandbags. Two yellow metal lamps marked off the danger area. Someone had climbed over the barriers and laid a small wreath next to the broken rail, weighing it down with a rock so it wouldn’t be blown away. He looked up at the nearest of the two vast supports, red lights blinking at its summit as a warning to aircraft. He didn’t really feel very much, except a bit lonely and sorry for himself. The Forth was down there, as judgmental as Pilate. It was funny the things that could kill you: water, a ship’s hull, steel pellets from a plastic case. It was funny that some people actually chose to die.

 

“I could never do it,” Rebus said out loud. “I couldn’t kill myself.”

 

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t thought of it. It was funny the things you thought about some nights. It was all so funny, he felt a lump forming in his throat. It’s only the drink, he thought. It’s the drink makes me maudlin. It’s only the drink.


Yeah, right.

 

Before we get to this moment of self-deception (or self-mockery, it could go either way with his sense of humor), we're treated to what's quite possibly the most action-packed few pages in the series thus far -- more happens in the first 6 pages of this novel than can happen in chapters of Rebus novels. Two suspected kidnappers are leading the police on a high-speed chase, and no one's relishing it more than Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale. No one's hating it more than Inspector John Rebus. Things go really bad from there, but not in the way that anyone expects (least of all the reader, as jaded as we might be from too many crime novels).

 

While the police are still trying to sort out what exactly happened there, a man walks into a (poorly attended) public meeting with a Councilman and shoots himself in front of the Councilman. Once Rebus visits the widow, something starts bugging him. There's just something wrong with that suicide (more than just what has to be wrong to lead to a suicide). Rebus starts asking some questions. Before he realizes it, he's investigating two incidents of suicide connected to two Councilmen.

And then pressure comes down on Rebus to stop. Which works about as well as you'd think. He's "encouraged" to take a few days of leave, which he uses to dive in without restraints to get his answers. This series as dabbled in political intrigue, power brokering and the like before, Let it Bleed takes it up a notch. What can happen to Rebus if he falters -- or what can happen to him if he makes all the right people happy -- shows that he's in a whole other league now.

 

And then after all the action at the beginning of the novel, Rankin gives us an incredibly talky ending. And it works. Not many novels about police officers or detectives end with as much dialogue, as many meetings, as this does, but it's entirely satisfying. No one'll be sitting there for the last couple of chapters just wishing for a car chase, a gun fight, or anything like that. Rebus being smarter, wilier, and unwilling to bend is what makes this ending not only inevitable, but just what the reader needs.

 

There are a lot of criminals in this novel, but most of them aren't your typical mystery novel "bad guys." They're guys who take advantage of the system, manipulate the system, and then try to protect their assets (that last one is the most problematic). There are textbook villains -- and not all of them pay for it -- but with Rebus around, you know that some justice will be meted out.

 

Our favorites are back -- so is Patience -- Rebus' daughter's back in Edinburgh, on her own now. Siobhan Clarke, Farmer Watson, Gill Templer, and Brian Holmes all are involved. Clarke is the most interesting, yet again, her determinism and ability to stay (pretty much) in line with her superiors while helping Rebus make her a fun character to spend time with. She's more involved in these cases than she has been in the past -- and it's good to see Rebus having someone allied with him. Thankfully, she's a good police officer, too. Because, honestly, Rebus is a horrible police detective. He's just too much of a lone wolf, too intuitive, not the kind of detective you want building a case for you. With Templer, Farmer and Clarke around, at least he's got some good, capable help.

 

A gripping, tense, intriguing, and frequently funny, novel. Let it Bleed is just a great book. This series has been growing on me, little by little for seven books now, that's pretty clear. Let it Bleed is above and beyond the best of the bunch, and I am looking forward to what's coming up.

 

2017 Library Love Challenge

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/15/let-it-bleed-by-ian-rankin
Review
3.5 Stars
Convinces me to stay away from the London Underground
Whispers Under Ground - Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Okay . . . man, how to sum this one up. Peter, Lesley and Abigail Kamara (a teen-aged neighbor of Peter's parents) go down into the tunnels of the Underground to look for ghosts, and find one. What we learn here will be important come <b>The Furthest Station</b>. This is a fun little foray into the wider supernatural world of this series.

 

And then we get back to police work -- a man is stabbed at the Baker Street tube and there's enough for Stephanopoulis to bring in Peter just to rule out magic. Which he can't do. It turns out that the victim is an American, which makes everything unnecessarily complicated. And then it turns out that he's the son of a US Senator, and things get worse. The FBI sends an agent -- Kimberly Reynolds -- over to help out/observe/get in the way. So Peter has to handle to non-normal side of the investigation, keep Seawoll from having to hear about magic (because it interferes with actual police work in his mind), and not let Reynolds know that there's anything not run-of-the-mill about Peter and the investigation. All at the same time.

 

Very quickly, it seems clear that there's something going on that Peter and the rest just don't get. Yeah, magic was involved in the killing, but there's no real trace of it in the victim's life -- not with him, his school, his friends, his enemies, or anything. So where's that come into play? The answer comes when it's least expected and in a direction that was impossible to predict.

 

Aaronovich really pulled a rabbit out of his hat this time. Sure, he made both the rabbit and the hat, so it's to be expected that he'd do that. But, there's just something about the way he did this one -- police procedural that accidentally turns up the answers and leads to something bigger than anyone expected. A great balance of UF and Procedural (the last one was a bit too light on the procedural for me).

 

Guleed doesn't get enough to do, but I liked her presence. Lesley really gets to shine a bit here, and her inability to be a regular part of the police force is underlined here for her and Peter -- and just how horrible that is emphasized throughout. When Stephanopoulis is the rational, supportive authority figure for Peter (other than Nightingale), you know that Seawoll is a little over the top in his antagonism to all things Folly. But mostly, this was about characters we know and like getting to do things to keep us liking them, and probably liking them more while introducing some new figures for us to enjoy.

 

Really, the main take away I had from this audio production was a bit of joy over the fact that Holdbrook-Smith isn't perfect. His Agent Reynolds was just bad. At least the American accent part of it. I enjoyed his flubbing of that more than I should have. Meanwhile, everything else he did was just fantastic -- especially Lesley. The range of emotion, sarcasm, etc. that he can put into her voice while still accounting for her lack of face is just incredible. Also, Zach Palmer -- the roommate of the murder victim -- was just hilarious. I know a lot of that was in the text, but the way Holdbrook-Smith brought him to life was wonderful.

 

As impressed as I was with the way that Aaronvich did everything he did, something about this one didn't work for me as much as others in the series do (either in this re-read or originally). I'm not sure why. Still, this was a good, entertaining book that anyone who likes the concept of a Police Officer/Wizard in training should enjoy.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/14/whispers-under-ground-audiobook-by-ben-aaronovitch-kobna-holdbrook-smith
Saturday Miscellany - 8/12/17

Such a good week of books -- reading, listening, and picking up from the library -- just wish I had a few more hours to write things up. It's a week to make me remember why I maintain this blog (not that I'd forgotten, but it's easier some weeks). Also, I just bought my daughter her first Toby Daye novels (having learned from what she's done to my Anton Strout books, she doesn't get to borrow mine). It's nice to see her developing tastes and moving beyond things written for younger readers (nothing against YA, etc.), even when her tastes go in different directions than mine.

 

First, this week I made some snarky comment about the LA County Coroner having a gift shop in my post about Jo Perry's Dead is Good. Shortly after my post went up, Perry tweeted me the URL for the Gift shop, "Skeletons in the Closet." Yes, it exists, yes, it's online -- the LA Coroner has knick-knacks and Tshirts! Which I find disturbing, yet oddly compelling. I filled up a shopping cart with over $50 worth of merchandise before forcing myself to close the window and walk away. Something tells me a few of my readers would find the place equally disturbing and shoppable. Anyway, 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:

    This Week's New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • Fox Hunter by Zoë Sharp -- Charlie Fox, the toughest personal security agent you know, is on a manhunt in the Middle East and Europe in a book I can't sum up in a sentence, read original post on it here.
  • American Ghost by Paul Guernsey -- the ghost of a would-be writer and pot-grower dictates the story of his murder and his attempt to solve it via an Ouija Board. Or something like that. I'm going to have to read it, I think.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to Priya's Blog, Books-and-all and Holly B / Dressedtoread for following the blog this week.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/12/saturday-miscellany-81217
Review
4 Stars
An entertaining and compelling (non-YA) Portal Fantasy
The Brothers Three: Book One of The Blackwood Saga (Volume 1) - Layton Green

Ever since Edmund, Lucy and Eustace got sucked into that tacky painting and into the sea in Narnia, I've been a sucker for a good portal fantasy*. Which is exactly what Layton Green has given us here.

 

Will Blackwood works for a general contractor, with the occasional shift at a medieval-themed family restaurant where he will engage in stage fighting, and spends a lot of time reading fantasy novels. He's suffered from panic attacks since childhood and that's kept him from much more. His buddy, Lance, a New Orleans police officer will occasionally take him on ride-alongs, but he's just not up for much more excitement. His older brother Caleb, is a bartender and perpetual adolescent (given time and opportunity, I'd have liked to see that explored more, because I suspect there's more to it than meets the eye). The oldest, Val, is a corporate lawyer in New York who has served as self-appointed guardian to his brothers since their father's death while they were children.

 

Until one day, things get a little strange: Will and Lance run into a zombie Rottweiler and the weird guy who controls it. Lance explains it away, but Will can't. He knows what he saw, and apparently has a willingness to be flexible with his presuppositions about what may be real. Not long after this, the Blackwood's godfather shows up, tells them that their father was a wizard, gives them some magical weapons and then gets kidnapped by the guy who had the Rottweiler (it was a pretty eventful conversation). Before they can wrap their minds around this, a stranger claiming to be a wizard shows up and talks to Will, telling him that Zedock is the name of the man who kidnapped Charlie -- he's a necromancer from a parallel universe where magic rules, not science.

 

Not only that, he's arranged for the brothers to go to that parallel universe to learn a little about magic, their weapons and maybe find a way to defeat Zedock. Will is game, but he knows that he's not going to be able to convince his brothers that this is a possibility. They've managed to convince themselves that they didn't see anything magical and that there's a reasonable explanation for everything going on (except Charlie's statements) -- they're not quite at the level of the explanations that Tommy Lee Jones uses in Men in Black, but they're close. So Will tricks them into triggering the portal to the other world with him (and Lance gets sucked through it, too).

 

Even in a world clearly not our reality -- with swords, magical creatures, and different looking streets in New Orleans -- it takes time for those who aren't Will to accept what's going on. But they eventually do, and hire some locals to help them get to a fortress where they should be able to find something they can use to challenge Zedock. I seem to be talking about the willingness of Val, Caleb and Lance to accept what they've seen and experience -- but that's a pretty big plot point. I like the way they struggle with this, unlike what goes on with kids in portal fantasies who seem to swallow the whole concept in seconds

 

The travel isn't easy -- it's not long before all of them get to learn how to fight with pre-modern weapons. Val shows some signs of magical ability and begins training in its use, while Will learns how to use a sword in a fight that doesn't happen on a stage, and Caleb picks up a trick or two from a thief. They don't just train and travel -- they see and fight creatures straight out of a D & D manual. A lot more happens, of course, but I don't want to give it all away -- so I'll just sum up by talking about how the adventurers they travel with are a great collection of characters, pretty compelling, and just what's needed to keep the story move forward and acclimate the dimension-jumpers to this world.

 

There is real peril -- as demonstrated by enough deaths to satisfy the grimdark fans while not really being a grimdark world. Sure, there were a couple of Red Shirt deaths (Red Tunic deaths?), but characters you assume are safe turn out not to be after all. I read one paragraph a few times just to convince myself that I read about the gruesome death of a major character actually happened. Even without that, the way this story is told isn't what you expect -- there are secrets, ulterior motives, and barrels of denial everywhere. It's very compellingly and interestingly put together.

 

The Brothers Three is well-written, skillfully structured, and well-paced -- there are some nice turns of phrase throughout the novel, too. Green is the real thing, giving the readers a good story, great characters, an interesting world (or pair of them), in a well-written package. Book 2 comes out next month and it's on my TBR. I'm resisting the impulse to move it higher, but it's not easy.

 

---
* Yeah, I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader first -- I read series out of order in my childhood. As a kid, I was practically feral, it seems.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with this copy for an honest review by the author.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/10/the-brothers-three-by-layton-green
Review
3.5 Stars
A Fun Adventure with the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
Miles Morales: Spider-Man - Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard, Listening Library

It was Bendis/Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man that brought me back to comics after a decade-plus break, and no matter what else I read, it was one of my Top 2 titles on my pull-list. Financial concerns got me to stop reading/collecting about a year before Miles Morales showed up. I was able to deal with letting everything else go, but USM was tough -- especially when I heard about this new kid. I never learned much about him, I know he's Afro-Hispanic, that his uniform is the best one since Ditko's original, I heard they did a good job showing Miles and his parents going through a Charter School lottery, I know he's popular enough they brought him over from the Ultimate universe.

 

Still, I saw this cover floating around Twitter last week and thought it looked pretty cool, so grabbed it when I had a moment. There's a lot of Miles, his family and his school, not a lot of Web Head. But when he shows up, it counts.

 

Miles is having some Spidey Sense problems, which is leading to problems at school -- a suspension and some trouble with his History teacher. He's not sleeping well -- tormented by nightmares about his uncle's death. Miles starts to wonder if people like him -- descendants of criminals --should have super-powers, if he should be a super-hero. It's hard to describe the threat that Miles and his alter-ego face, really it unveils itself slowly throughout the book. But it's a doozy, and it's not what it seems to be early on.

 

I think Miles is a great character, he's Peter Parker-esque in the best sense of the word, while being his own guy. His parents are fun, his dad in particular is a wonderful character -- a great dad, it seems. Miles' best friend and roommate, Ganke is a hoot. There's a girl, of course, because he's 16. I don't know if Alicia's a fixture in the comic or not, but it'd be interesting to see how she is outside of this.

 

Oh, Miles having camouflage powers? That's just cool.

 

I think Lockard went over the top occasionally with his narration. Maybe part of that is pandering to the 11-13 year-old audience that Audible tells me this is directed toward. Maybe he and the director are just excitable and/or excited. It didn't detract from anything, it was just occasionally too much. By and large, his energy kept things moving, lively -- just the way a Spider-Man story should be.

 

This isn't for everyone, but for those who like the idea of a Spider-Man novel, for fans of Miles Morales, or those who are just curious about him -- this'll entertain. I won't say I've read every Spider-Man novel printed in the last couple of decades -- but I'm willing to be my percentage is pretty high. Miles Morales is among the best.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/09/miles-morales-audiobook-by-jason-reynolds-guy-lockard
Review
4 Stars
Charlie and Rose are back to float the mean streets of LA
Dead Is Good (Charlie & Rose Investigate Book 3) - Jo  Perry

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we're to believe him -- and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art -- deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

 

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey...that's not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I'd care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it's because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

 

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you've ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn't work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place -- which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

 

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together -- Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

 

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there's no character growth in death -- that's nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to -- or at least acknowledge -- a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

 

I love these characters -- even while we readers don't fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don't have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn't). I love how while they can't interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what's happening. There's something about that compulsion -- and success they have in figuring things out -- that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

 

This wasn't as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying -- maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

 

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn't anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that's a crime against tact, right?

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/08/dead-is-good-by-jo-perry
Review
5 Stars
Just blew me away. This post won't do it justice.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

There's just so much I want to say about this book, I know I'm leaving stuff out even as I prepare to hit "Post." Also, I know that I'm not doing justice to how good this book is. Given that, here's my best shot.
---

I'll be honest, the hype around this one turned me off initially. It just didn't seem like my kind of thing. But my wife bought a copy and tore through it and started telling everyone she came across that they needed to read it (especially those of us she lives with). When I saw the library had a copy of the audiobook, I snagged it, because I hadn't got that far on my TBR. By this time, I only remembered "YA," "something about Black Lives Matter," and "Mrs. Irresponsible Reader said I needed to." Which is about as tabula rasa as one could get when coming to a book.

 

Our central character is Starr Carter. She attends a very nice private school in the suburbs of whatever unidentified city she lives in. She plays basketball there, has friends and a boyfriend and seems to be generally well-regarded by all. Then there's her "other life", that has almost no relation to that one -- she and her family live in a poor neighborhood where almost no one knows her by anything but "Mav's daughter what works at the store" (or something close to that). She has a friend or two in the neighborhood, but mostly works and then goes home. On one of the rare nights she goes out to do something social, she runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil, who she hasn't seen for a few months. Their reunion is cut short, sadly, while he drives her home and they're pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop. I'll leave the details for you to read on your own, but essentially, her unarmed friend is shot repeatedly by the police officer in front of Starr.

 

In the days that follow Khalil's death is a nationwide story, Starr's being questioned by the police and is trying to keep her psyche intact while the wheels of justice grind slowly. There are problems at school, unforeseen challenges at home and in the neighborhood, add in the involvement with the criminal justice system and activists, and it's clear that neither of Starr's lives are going to be the same again.

 

Yes, this book is about the shooting of Khalil and the aftermath. But it's about more than that, too. Similar to the way you could say that To Kill a Mockingbird is about the trial Tom Robinson and its aftermath. There's a whole lot of other things going on in both books that are just as much a part of the essence as the shooting/trial. There's family growth and change, individual characters learning more about the world and changing, there's the evolution of localities and best of all, there are characters taking all of this in and exercising a little agency to change themselves -- and impact everything in around them.

 

One thing I didn't expect was how fun this book would end up being. I laughed a lot -- her father's strange theories about Harry Potter, her Fresh Prince of Bel Air obsession, the teasing between her friends, her family's very cut-throat approach to watching the NBA finals and trying to jinx each other's teams, are just a start. Even when it's not being out-and-out funny, there's a joie de vivre that characterizes the lives of these characters.

 

When they're not grieving, being threatened (by criminals or those who are supposed to be protecting them from criminals), being angered at the way that the system seems to be destined to fail them, or scared about their lives, that is. Because there's a lot of that, too. All of which is justified. The interplay between the emotional extremes speaks volumes to the authenticity of Thomas' work, and makes it much more effective than it could've been in less careful hands.

 

There are so few YA novels with healthy -- or existing families -- that Thomas should probably win an award or three just for having so many in one book. None of the families are perfect (though Starr's comes close), some push the boundaries of "dysfunctional" into something we need a new word for; but at the very least there were at least a core of people caring about each other and trying to help each other, in their own way.

 

Yes, there are political overtones -- or at least ramifications -- to this book, but this is first and foremost a human story and can be appreciated by humans from all over the political spectrum. Thomas, as far as I can tell, went out of her way to be fair and balanced. It'd have been very easy to paint some of these characters/groups as all evil, all good, all misunderstood, all [fill in the blank]. Instead, she took the more difficult, more honest, and much more interesting approach and filled the book with people all over the moral spectrum, no matter their profession, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education, etc.

 

A few words about Turpin's work. I loved it. She was just fantastic, and rose to the challenge of bringing this kind of book to life. Looking at her credits just now, that doesn't seem like much of a stretch for her -- she's clearly a talented heavy-hitter on the audiobook front.

 

I laughed, I cried . . . it moved me. This is the whole package, really. It'll challenge you, it'll entertain you, and give you a little hope for tomorrow (while helping you despair about the time until tomorrow comes).

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/07/the-hate-u-give-audiobook-by-angie-thomas-bahni-turpin
Saturday Miscellany - 8/5/17

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:

    This Week's New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh -- Set inside " a dusty town in the Texas Panhandle cut off from the outside world and populated entirely by former criminals and witnesses put in protective custody. The twist: None of these people know who they are, because all of them have had their memories of their pasts erased." In this quaint little town, not surprisingly, trouble erupts.
  • After On by Rob Reid -- his Year Zero was a fun humorous SF look at music and piracy, this Silicon Valley novel about an evil social network looks to be equally fun.
  • Urban Enemies edited by Joseph Nassise -- short stories from the villain's point of view from series such as The Dresden Files, Iron Druid Chronicles, Kitty Norville, Toby Daye, Faith Hunter and more.
  • A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon -- a couple of decades ago, Noon's Vurt blew my mind, and I haven't picked up anything by him since. This will hopefully be the end of that annoying trend.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to texaslawstudent and Lauren for following the blog this week.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/05/saturday-miscellany-8517
Review
3.5 Stars
A fast, fun fantasy for the MG crowd
Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith - Shaun Hume

Yeah, so this is a MG Fantasy about an orphan boy with horrible foster parents being recruited to go to a private school where he's trained in mystical arts and gets in all sorts of adventures. But it's totally not <b>Harry Potter</b>. Clearly inspired by that series by Rowling -- but others as well, don't get me wrong (Riordan and Mull leap to mind as examples) -- but <b>Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith</b> is its own thing. Every now and then its non-<b>Harry Potter</b>ness gets in your face and is a bit distracting. At the same time, focusing on how Hume zags when Rowling zigs, or how they approach the same convention differently displays the strengths of this project while making it appealing for the reader missing the Hogwarts crew.

 

Ewan and the others at his school have the rare ability to see all sorts of mythical Creatures, and as such, are trained to deal with them and other exotic threats. Classic boarding school-type hijinks ensue, Ewan makes a couple of really good friends, and a few others. He and Mathilde and Enid, his two best friends, come across some information which they believe indicates that graduates, officials and at least one student are involved in an attempt to kill the Queen. They bend, break, and ignore rules to investigate and try to stop this plot.

 

Meanwhile, they have all sorts of interesting studies -- there's a class involving swords, one hand-to-hand combat, one involving making potions (of sorts), one involving the Creatures (of course), and things of that nature. That's pretty fun.

 

The relationships between Ewan and his two closest friends, as well as those between the other students and some of the teachers are just great. I can easily see fan favorites emerging from among the student body as the series continues. There's a couple of kids in his class that have an irrational hatred of Ewan and his friends. Those two are a little too underdeveloped now, they might as well have mustaches to twirl. It won't take much in book 2 to develop them into something interesting.

 

On the whole, an entertaining, heartfelt, and quick fantasy novel that'll please the MG crowd. The plot is solid, ditto for the characters, and the world is both familiar and foreign. I'd like book 2 to deepened everything a little, but given the worldbuilding and plotting that one had to establish that it won't, that should be easy. Give this one a shot.

<em><strong>Disclaimer:</strong> This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.</em>

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/04/ewan-pendle-and-the-white-wraith-by-shaun-hume
Review
4 Stars
The series continues to impress, and the writing improves.
Strife: Third Book of the Nameless Chronicle - M. T. Miller

The first two books of this series feature Nameless just struggling to survive, while along the way stumbling into adventure, some wealth and other kinds of success. He really never seemed to have much of a plan, but things worked out in his favor (eventually, and at great cost). But after the great success -- if it is that -- after Ascent, Nameless isn't worried about survival, about doing more than subsisting this time. He's got time for plans -- not just plans for himself, but for the citizenry of the Pyramid.

 

Whoops. Maybe he should go back to just eking out a living.

 

Things don't go so hot for him this way -- but man, what character growth. Really, there are depths to Nameless that may not surprise readers, it makes sense that they exist, but we've never had the opportunity to see it before.

 

There are two other cities on the post-apocalyptic landscape, New Orleans and the White City. New Orleans is full of the New Voodoo Movement, and the White City is the home base of the One True Church of America -- religious movements that Nameless doesn't have a good track record with, and has done a lot to try to get rid of. Now both of these cities have plans for Babylon and Nameless -- but it's clear that pretty much all the White City wants out of them is abject surrender and assimilation. That's just not going to sit well with Nameless.

 

Now Nameless has to look at the world that he's helped to create, but he has a chance to reshape it, and save the city he's adopted.

 

There's some soul-searching here, there's a lot of exploration into what makes Nameless tick and his origins. But the focus is on what he's going to do next and why. This is only the third book in the series, so you really can't say what a "typical" Nameless book would be -- but whatever that would be, this isn't it. I don't know how to really talk about it without divulging all the nuts and bolts of the plot, sadly. There are old friends and new, old threats and new (and some old friends are new threats and vice versa). Which is not to say that the core of Nameless -- a ruthless, skillful killer of all in his way -- isn't there, he is and he does. But there's a little more to him than just that.

 

I've enjoyed Miller's writing in the past, but this is at a whole new level for him. There's a complexity to his writing, a subtlety that hasn't been there before. There's a good balance of lightness and darkness in the story, the writing itself. He's clearly maturing as a writer, hopefully people give him a shot to impress them, he will.

 

This isn't the place to jump on for new readers -- the first two books are cheap and pretty entertaining, too, grab them first. I don't know if Miller's going to be able to keep this series going, if so, I can't wait to see where he goes from here. But if not, I'm more than satisfied with where things are left. A very satisfying ending after a good mix of thrills, fighting and character growth.


Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Thanks, Mr. Miller! This didn't impact my opinion of the book in any discernible way.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/03/strife-by-m-t-miller
Review
5 Stars
Thought-provoking. Disturbing. Inspiring. You'll want to argue with it.
The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance - Ben Sasse

I typically don't like to do this, but in the interest of time, I'm just going to use the text from the publisher's page to describe the book:
Raised by well-meaning but overprotective parents and coddled by well-meaning but misbegotten government programs, America's youth are ill-equipped to survive in our highly-competitive global economy.

 

Many of the coming-of-age rituals that have defined the American experience since the Founding: learning the value of working with your hands, leaving home to start a family, becoming economically self-reliant—are being delayed or skipped altogether. The statistics are daunting: 30% of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 graduate. One in three 18-to-34 year-olds live with their parents.

 

From these disparate phenomena: Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse who as president of a Midwestern college observed the trials of this generation up close, sees an existential threat to the American way of life.

 

In The Vanishing American Adult, Sasse diagnoses the causes of a generation that can't grow up and offers a path for raising children to become active and engaged citizens. He identifies core formative experiences that all young people should pursue: hard work to appreciate the benefits of labor, travel to understand deprivation and want, the power of reading, the importance of nurturing your body—and explains how parents can encourage them.

 

Our democracy depends on responsible, contributing adults to function properly—without them America falls prey to populist demagogues. A call to arms, The Vanishing American Adult will ignite a much-needed debate about the link between the way we're raising our children and the future of our country.

 

The first third or so is Sasse laying out the problems with the 30-and-younger set (and the parents and grandparents that got them and their society in the sorry state they're in). The next two-thirds are his suggested solutions, what he believes parents can do to help raise a generation with the necessary rigor and grit to make it. Nothing here can be implemented like blueprints -- these are all just things to get parents thinking. Even if the reader disagrees with Sasse (as I do frequently), you get the feeling that he's more concerned with people and parents thinking about these ideas and doing something about them, even if it's what he doesn't think needs to be done.

 

There's a chapter devoted to helping our children and teens become critical readers -- talking about the necessity of being more than just functionally literate, but people that interact with books -- good books, as well as entertaining books. People reading this blog should find a lot to love (and a little to demur with) in this chapter -- I almost listened to it twice in a row it was so good.

 

The book is largely a-political. Yes, politics does enter into it. Yes, if you agree with him (before or after reading the book), it'll likely lead to certain political moves -- but people on all points on the political spectrum should be able to get something out of this book. Just because Sasse is a U.S. Senator, don't think that this is a book about that. He does highly value "republican" values -- but he usually goes out of his way to stress that it's "small-R republican" he's referring to. Ditto for the Christian point of view he writes from -- Sasse's very up-front about that, but goes out of his way to show how non-Christians (or even Christians from different traditions) can agree with much of the book, or disagree constructively.

 

There was problem with the audiobook -- there's no text to refer to. There's so much that you want to go back and re-read, notes you want to take, quotations/citations you'd like to double check. The literature chapter alone needs to be re-read. And it's just such a pain to do all that with an audiobook. Trust me, get the hardcopy. The audiobook is a very effective advertisement for the hardcover. It is good to hear Sasse read this himself.

There's a lot of this book that I just don't get -- I'm not saying he's wrong, necessarily, but

 

I don't think he's always as right as he thinks he is. But I'm telling you, I thought a lot about what he talked about -- I talked a lot about the content of this book. I'm looking for ways to put some of this into practice, and wish I'd done a better job of doing it years ago.

 

Agree with it or not, this is a book well worth reading.

Review
4 Stars
A Star is Born with Connelly's new protagonist
The Late Show - Michael Connelly

Det. Renée Ballard works the graveyard shift out of the Hollywood Station, nicknamed the Late Show. She and her partner, the veteran detective John Jenkins, are basically place-holders -- they handle the initial investigation of a crime (or sign off on a suicide) and then hand off their notes to one of the other detective squads that work days. It's not demanding work -- Jenkins likes it because there's almost no overtime, and he can go home and be with his sick wife during the day. Ballard is stuck on the Late Show because she made some political waves a couple of years back, she couldn't be fired over it, they could just make sure she found the prospect of another line of work appealing.

 

We meet Ballard on a pretty eventful night, she and Jenkins look into an elderly woman's report of her purse being stolen and people using her credit cards; the vicious assault of a transvestite prostitute; and are involved in a minor role following a night club shooting. She and her partner are supposed to be turning over their involvement in these cases to someone else, but Ballard just can't let go. She works the murder under the radar (as much as she can), gets permission to keep at the assault (which should not be construed as her investigating it according to Hoyle), and is brought back into the robbery organically -- I stress this because it's not all about Ballard skirting regulations, she works within (or near) the system.

 

Connelly constructs this like a pro -- weaving the storylines into a good, cohesive whole. Each story feels like it gets enough time to be adequately told (without the same amount of space being devoted to each), there's no grand way to connect them all into one, larger crime (which I almost always enjoy, but this is a bit more realistic), while something she learns on one case can be applied to another.

 

There's one point where I thought that a plot development meant "oh, now we're going to wrap things up now -- cool." Which I never would have thought if I bothered to pay attention to which page I was on, but it still seemed like the point that most writers would wrap it up. Instead, Connelly plays things out the way you expect, and then uses that to turn the novel in a different direction.

 

The book is full of nice little touches like that -- Connelly's been around enough that he knows all the tricks, knows all the plays -- he can give you exactly what you think he will and then have the result come up and Connelly's you.

 

In the future, I'd like to see a little more about Jenkins -- but then again, how much did Connelly really develop Jerry Edgar or Kiz? Still, this is a new series, so he can develop things a bit more -- I don't think there's a lot that can be done with Jenkins, but he can be more than just the guy who splits paper work with her. I hope that [name withheld] doesn't become Ballard's Irving, but I can think of worse things that might happen, so I won't complain. I also hoped I'd get out of this with only 1 bit of comparison to the Bosch books. Oops.

 

The best thing -- the most important thing -- to say here is that Renée Ballard is <i>not</i> a female Harry Bosch; all too often, an established crime writer will end up creating a gender-flipped version of their primary character -- basically giving us "X in a skirt" (yeah, I'm looking at you, Sunny Randall). This isn't the case here. There's a different emotional depth to Ballard, different lifestyles, different aspirations. Sure, she's driven, stubborn, and obstinate, just like Harry -- but name one fictional detective that <i>isn't</i> driven, stubborn and obstinate. Readers don&#039;t show up in droves for slackers. Is there plenty of room for development and growth for Ballard in the future? Oh yeah. She&#039;s not perfect by any means (as a fictional character or as a person). But what a great start.

 

Same can be said for the series, not just the character -- this book does a great job of capturing L.A. (an aspect of it at least), has a great plot, with enough turns to keep the reader satisfied, and a final reveal that&#039;s truly satisfying. The last thing that Connelly really needed was to start something new -- but I&#039;m glad he decided to.

 

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/02/the-late-show-by-michael-connelly
Review
4 Stars
Adorable, Imaginative and Sweet
Henry and the Hidden Treasure - B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen

It'd be easy for this to contain more words than the actual book -- so I'll try to keep it short. Henry's got a little bit of money, and doesn't want his little sister to get it. So he sets up a series of elaborate traps and challenges (think Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Home Alone) to keep her from it.

 

Along the way, his imagination his on full display and he eventually learns something. There's a very sweet ending that will hopefully teach by example.

 

I cannot say enough good things about Wen's artwork. It's adorable. It's dynamic. It's simple, but eye-catching. It doesn't detract from the story, but shapes and propels it. There's not a lot of detail, but what's there is important.

 

For the younger set, I can't imagine how this won't become a favorite. Thankfully, it should be pretty easy for parents to re-read. Amusing story with great art. That's pretty much what you're looking for in this kind of book, right? Available in hard copy and e-book, it's a great buy.

 

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/02/henry-and-the-hidden-treasure-by-b-c-r-fegan-lenny-wen
July 2017 Report

I didn't finish nearly as much as I'd intended to this month -- every book I've read over the last couple of weeks has taken me at least 1 more day than I'd estimated/planned.

 

There are two books I was supposed to read and write about in July that I haven't started yet -- whoops. Still, I read a lot of pretty good stuff this month, and that's the important thing, right? So, here's what happened here in July.

 

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Gork, the Teenage Dragon Kindness Goes Unpunished (Audiobook) The Hangman's Sonnet
3 Stars 4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
Dark and Stars Grave Peril (Audiobook) Christ Alone
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
In The Still One by One Frost Burned (Audiobook)
4 1/2 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
Saul Henry and the Hidden Treasure Another Man's Moccasins (Audiobook)
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
Mortal Causes Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook) The Late Show
3.5 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
#Next Level Manners Luck Favors the Prepared The Vanishing American Adult (Audiobook)
            5 Stars
Besieged The Coven Rivers of London: Black Mould
4 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God Strife      
5 Stars 4 Stars      

Still Reading:

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized Christ and Covenant Theology Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook)
The Hate U Give (Audiobook)            

Reviews Posted:

 

How was your month?

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/08/01/july-2017-report
Saturday Miscellany - 7/29/17

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:

    This Week's New Release that I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon (yup, month's end, so we got a tiny list):
  • The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock -- Tarantino meets Flannery O'Connor in a western. Or something like that. Sounds good to me.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to Author Maremma Gee for following the blog this week.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/29/saturday-miscellany-72917