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.

Mayyyybe they should’ve picked another book
Fleshmarket Alley - Ian Rankin

 

I don't know if you can read that too well -- it's a picture I snapped of a page from Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin and the defacing left by a fellow Nampa Public Library patron. This particular Rebus reader wrote "LOVE LOVE LOVE" over the word "hate."

 

Every time the word shows up.

 

(well, every time so far -- I've got another 50 pages to go, they might have missed one)

 

Given that it's a book about a cynical, negative detective investigating what looks like a racially motivated murder with a truckload of racist suspects (and maybe a less-than-PC investigator or two on the case), there's a more than a couple of opportunities for this patron to pencil in this correction.

 

I'm not sure that I completely understand the impulse to replace hate with love, love, love -- but I sorta get the gist. However, in almost every case here, it's actually undercutting the subject matter. (I think one of the references was to hating some kind of food or music)

 

If you're this hung-up on that word, maybe crime fiction isn't for you, eh?

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/22/mayyyybe-they-shouldve-picked-another-book
Review
4 Stars
A Murder. A Reporter. A Police Detective. Maybe the beginning of a beautiful friendship
The Tv Detective - Simon Hall

This was posted as part of a Book Tour stop on my main site -- I'm giving away 2 copies of it, too. Click here to learn more about the book and/or enter.

---

The first interview with a witness.

 

Or, as Breen had put it, ‘Initially a witness, anyway.’

 

‘Meaning?’ Dan asked, as they walked down the stairs from the MIR.

 

‘It’s remarkable how quickly a witness can become a suspect in this business.’

 

All it needed was a musical sting to emphasise the drama of the detective’s words. Dan was beginning to suspect his new colleague was a frustrated actor. He certainly enjoyed a little theatre.

 

Dan deposited the thought safely in his mental bank. It might just be useful.


Carter Ross, I. M. Fletcher, Annie Seymour, and Jack McEvoy are my favorite reporters who happen to find themselves in the middle of criminal investigations ("find themselves" is typically code for throw themselves into, slip past the all the blockades surrounding, etc.) -- I think Dan Groves has added himself to the list. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

Dan Groves is a TV Reporter for Wessex Tonight, covering environmental news. With the Christmas holiday rapidly approaching, he's forced to help cover the latest in a string of attacks on prostitutes. He and his cameraman/friend Nigel are found taking a less-than by-the-book approach to getting a colleague of the latest victim on camera (really, Nigel didn't do anything -- but he didn't stop Dan, either). The story they aired was good, but their tactics were reported -- between his editor's need, his skill, and his editor's fresh material for leverage -- Dan's taken off the Environment beat and made the program's new crime reporter.

 

The problem is, he knows nothing about reporting on Crimes. And demonstrates it with a facepalm-worthy performance at his first crime scene (a murder, of course) after getting this assignment. So he pitches this idea to his editor, who in turn runs it by the local police. The police haven't been looking good to the (and in the) press lately, Dan needs a crash course in detective work -- so why doesn't he shadow the investigation, giving the police some good coverage and PR while he learns on the job from the best around. DCI Breen -- and (the underused) DS Suzanne Stewart -- aren't crazy about this idea, but they aren't really in a position to argue with the brass, so they bring him on. Tolerating his presence largely at the beginning, but gradually finding ways to use him.

 

This is one of those cases that the police would probably be okay with not solving -- at least most of the police. Edward Bray was in Real Estate -- he owned many buildings, treated his tenants horribly and evicted them when he could find a way to make more money off of the land/building. He was heartless, notorious, and had an enemies list worthy of a, well, an unscrupulous land-owner. Yet, he also gave generously to a local hospice -- so generously that many people had a reflexive notion to commend him while they suffered cognitive dissonance between his perceived nature as a shark, and his obvious and selfless good work with the hospice center. The list of suspects is long -- former tenants, an employee, competitors he profited from and ruined, his own father -- and the head of the hospice center who chafed under his authoritative hand.

 

So there's the setup -- a pretty good hook, I have to say. It's an interesting pairing -- Castle-ish, but not as goofy. I could totally buy this without suspending a whole lot of disbelief. The reactions of the other police officers help ground this. So who are the investigators?

 

First is Dan Groves -- he seems to be a decent reporter, we're told repeatedly that he has a history of looking out for the little guy in his news stories. He's into the outdoors, hiking and whatnot. He's very single and has been for some time -- there's a hint of something significant in his past that put him there, but we don't get into that in this book. I've never read about a reporter not wanting the crime beat -- it's the most interesting, right? I just didn't get his rationale for quite a while. But by the time we've heard about a few of his past stories, I guess I could see it (and have to admit that Environmental News sounds pretty dull, but wouldn't have to be in the right hands). Lastly, Dan has a German Shepherd named Rutherford, who seems like a great dog. This speaks volumes for him.

 

DCI Adam Breen is your typical driven detective -- stern, unbending (at first, anyway), not that crazy about the unusual staffing on his inquiry. He has a flair for the dramatic (as noted above -- but it's worse), seems to spend more time and money on clothing than most (somewhere, Jerry Edgar is fist pumping the idea that he's not alone). We eventually get to know a little about him outside the job -- and it seems to go well with the character we've met. He seems like the kind of detective most police departments could use more of. Breen will warm to Groves (and vice versa) and will find ways to use his strengths, as Groves finds ways to flex them.

 

DS Suzanne Stewart, on the other hand, is little more than a name and a presence. Hall needs to find a way to use her character in the future or drop her. This character is the biggest problem with the book. Not an insurmountable one, or one that greatly detracts from the book, but still. I get that Hall's priority was establishing the relationship between Groves and Breen -- and he nailed that. But he could've given us more of Stewart along the way. We could also use a little more development with Nigel and Dan's editor, Lizzie -- but I honestly didn't notice how underused they were. Stewart stuck out to me.

 

Hall does a really good job of balancing the murder inquiry and dealing with the characters outside of the case -- Breen off-duty, Dan's blossoming personal life, another story or two that Dan works on. The suspects are well-developed and interesting -- and there are times that you could totally buy all of them (well, maybe all but one) as the actual perpetrator. That's really hard to pull off, many writers will start off with a long list of suspects and really only have one or two that you can believe being the killer after one conversation. They all have similar but individualized reasons to want Bray dead. Most of them also have strong alibis, because you don't want this to be easy. The solution to the case is clever -- and better yet, the way that Groves and Breen have to work together to get the solution proven is well executed.

 

Hall's writing is confident and well-paced. He knows how to use characters and plot to strengthen each other. There are occasional turns of phrase that will really make the day of readers. I have a lot of "oh, that's nice" notes throughout the book. This is a solid start to a series -- the kind that makes me want to read more. I'm looking forward to finding out a little more about Dan's history as well as seeing the relationship between he and DCI Breen grow and change (and be challenged, I assume). Good stuff.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/21/the-tv-detective-by-simon-hall-a-murder-a-reporter-a-police-detective-maybe-the-beginning-of-a-beautiful-friendship
Saturday Miscellany - 5/19/18

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

  • How It Happened by Michael Koryta -- Just reading the pitch for this -- and knowing what Koryta can do with suspense -- makes me think about doubling up on the blood pressure medication the day I start this.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Sritha Bandla, James Remmer and moviewarden for following the blog this week.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/19/saturday-miscellany-5-19-18
Review
3 Stars
Tying up loose ends and loosening some new ones
Trade Deal - Malka Older

After all the excitement last week, we get a little bit of a breather here as we see some of the fallout from what happened in Kris' trials. Michiko has to answer to Lavinia for the way things went against Kris and she finally updates her ancestors on the same events. Not for the first time, I wondered if the advice and counsel she's able to draw upon from her ancestors is really more of a curse and burden than a gift and help. Still, between her own self-doubt and the scrutiny of just about every authority figure in her life, Michikio seems to be reconsidering things and maybe making some positive steps. I have high hopes for her as a character.

 

While Michiko is under the microscope, Kris is could maybe use a little scrutiny. Between becoming a Warder and completing is first acts as one Kris is starting to settle in. It's a lot of fun watching the new reality settle in. There's a sense in which Kris didn't give a lot of thought to how things were going to be after the trials. I can't tell if that's because no one really thought it'd happen, or Kris needed to focus on the immediate challenge first. I'm not sure that Kris has been as interesting before -- showing questionable judgement, and an impressively growing awareness of what the future can be.

 

There's a little bit of action that's not really fallout from the gauntlet, but is what we've been waiting for, pretty much centering on the person of Ojo. Kris and Ojo finalize the trade deal they promised to make, and then the final shoe drops with what's been going on with Penelope. While this is happening Ojo gets some news from home that colors everything he does. He's still the character that interests me the most, even as I'm sure the series really wants me to focus on Kris and Michiko.

 

This installment isn't just wrapping up what was left dangling after episode 4, it sets up the stories the series will be focusing on next. This isn't going to be your typical fantasy series, and will a lot of fun to see what it ends up being -- although reading the characters and plots will be better. Given the last paragraph, it's going to get exciting soon.

 

For me, the character of Takeshi stole this episode. I liked watching him at work in Episode 4, but honestly, I didn't pay all that much attention to him before. But between his attitude, his secrets, and his non-Warder activities, he really seems like quite the guy (watching the reactions of the younger Warders running into the concept of non-Warder activities was great, by the way.).

 

While there wasn't much transpiring in this episode, I really appreciated it for the character moments, and what it seems to be setting up for the future. I'm feeling better about Born to the Blade as a whole, too. In short, this was good stuff.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/18/born-to-the-blade-1-5-trade-deal-by-malka-ann-older-tying-up-loose-ends-and-loosening-some-new-ones
Review
3.5 Stars
A Fast, Strange and Violent Sequel that Tops its Predecessor
The Assassin of Oz - Nicky Peacock

I'm not sure what it says about me/the books I read/the world in general, that given the strangeness of the world depicted in this series -- the serial killer, vigilante organization, imaginary friend that's not that imaginary, Native American legendary creature that's going around killing people -- and the even stranger stuff on the horizon of this book, that the hardest thing for me to swallow came in these opening pages. The Prime Minister imposes mandatory capital punishment for murder? That's just so hard to believe. All the outlandish supernatural stuff just around the corner of that moment seems routine and blasé in comparison.

 

It takes awhile for this novel to show how it's related to Lost in Wonderland, although it shares a sensibility and style from the get-go. Because of a couple of references and a news story, you know that this happens in the same world, but the characters are all new for the first two-thirds or so of this book. So when some of the characters from Lost in show up, it almost feels like they're guest stars.

 

A 17-year old orphan named Halo is living with her horrible step-father who uses her for a punching bag and a cover for him as he sells drugs, she's just not sure how to get out of this life when someone calling himself the Wizard shows up to recruit her for his club -- Oz. The members of this little club are all murderers, many are technically serial killers at least partially responsible for the re-imposition of capital punishment.

 

Gavin is a police detective from the States, working with the British police to stop some of these serial killers -- apparently Britain is recruiting police officers from around the globe to help slow their slide into dystopia. Gavin and his partner are on the hunt for a killer they call Valentine -- who takes the hearts of his victims. A reporter is also trying to get him on board his personal crusade to help exonerate a convicted murder before he's the first execution in decades.

 

These actually have more in common than you'd expect -- a whole lot more than they'd ever expect or guess. Both end up immersed in the activities of Oz. Which is really about all I can say without ruining everything.

 

The prose is sharp and sparse -- there's hardly a wasted word. I mean this as a description, not a criticism, but frequently this reads more like an extended outline than a completed draft. It's a gamble to try it -- but Peacock makes that kind of writing work for her.

 

Fast-paced, focused, imaginative, action-packed and strange. This is an entertaining read -- The Assassin of Oz novel delivers what it promises, a genre-mashup full of excitement. This is a solid sequel and does a nice job of setting up the next installment which seems like it'll be another fun one.

 

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/17/the-assassin-of-oz-by-nicky-peacock-a-fast-strange-and-violent-sequel-that-tops-its-predecessor
Review
5 Stars
I hate to say good-bye to the Tufa, but this is the way to do it.
The Fairies of Sadieville - Alex Bledsoe

For many years [the Tufa] were on the wrong side of the South’s color line, and suffered for it. Their secretive ways and legendary musical aptitude spawned rumor and legend, which in turn prompted more and more withdrawal.

 

But now the twenty-first century, with its pervasive interconnectedness, pushed against this isolation. More and more Tufa risked the consequences of leaving and sought their way in the world. They all knew they would someday have to come back, since all Tufa were inextricably tied to Needsville. But they also knew that the seclusion of the past was no longer practical. Like it or not, the world now knocked on their door. 

 

Such a depressing thought, but a pretty good summary of the State of the Tufa.

 

I still remember some of the reactions I had back in 2011 during my first read of The Hum and the Shiver and met the Tufa. There was something otherworldly, ethereal and haunting -- and yet, very human, and even fun. It was, in short, magic. I thought the same when I re-read it before the sequel, and maybe it impressed me more that time. Each book since has felt the same -- not all have them as successful as the first, but they've all had that same core magic.

 

When it was announced a couple of months ago that this was going to be the final novel in the series I was struck by two thoughts -- the first, and strongest, was lament. The second was, "how?" There's not an overarching narrative that needs tieing up, a goal to meet or anything. Partway through this book, I started to understand how Bledsoe was wrapping things up and concluding the series -- and it felt perfect. I should add at this point that I was wrong about what he was doing, and that the reality was better than my guess.

 

As it's the final book, all bets are off -- the first novel contained many hints about the nature of the Tufa, but the successive books were less and less subtle in that regard, and ended up telling more than the previous. At this point, there's no hinting, no suggesting -- not only that, Bledsoe answers many questions readers have had since the beginning, and probably a few we should've had. And he does so in a way that enriches the series and the Tufa, not just something that reveals. There were so many little tidbits that came out that just made me smile or utter a quiet "Ah ha!"

 

I actually haven't talked much about the plot yet -- how odd. There are a couple of graduate students from a university in Tennessee -- one in psychology (would be parapsychology if she could get away with it) and one in English with a focus in folk music as a way to improve his own music (minor spoiler: I spent a few pages waiting for him to be revealed to be a Tufa -- nope, just a kindred spirit). These two have come across an old film -- silent film old -- shot near Needsville, showing a young woman losing her glamour and flying off on wings. There's no way that it could be silent film quality FX, it's a woman with wings. This town it was filmed in, Sadiesville, disappeared shortly afterwards. The two want to find this town and explore what happened to it.

 

Which brings them into contact with the people of Needsville -- and the night winds have instructed them to help these two find what they're looking for, despite the fact that no one in Needsville has a clue about the town. For readers, the idea that Tufa have forgotten anything that happened in their area is pretty astounding the kind of thing that piques your curiosity.

 

What happens next is wonderful, and horrible, and beautiful -- awful in every sense, archaic and otherwise. I loved it and hated it while admiring how Bledsoe played this out. Structurally, tonally, thematically different from the rest (as each book in this series has been), yet undeniably part of the series. I loved seeing friends who've been around since The Hum and the Shiver or those as fresh as Gather Her Round just one last time (not that the new characters are slouches. For example, Veronica, our aspiring parapsychologist, is someone I'd hope to see if there was going to be a book 7).

 

There are a million little touches here -- none of which I can talk about without ruining something, that make this good-bye the best installment of this series since The Hum and the Shiver. This is a must for Tufa fans (not that they need me to say it), and one more chance for me to suggest that people who haven't started the series yet get on it. I don't believe in actual magic -- but Bledsoe's series make me want to, especially if it looked like this. I hate to say good-bye to this series, but this is the way to do it.

 

Bravo.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/15/the-fairies-of-sadieville-by-alex-bledsoe-i-hate-to-say-good-bye-to-the-tufa-but-this-is-the-way-to-do-it
Saturday Miscellany - 5/12/18

So, as Bookstooge commented yesterday -- I seem to be in a bit of a slump -- "meh"ish books and "meh"ish posts. Even the book I liked this week didn't get my real best writing. Not sure what's up with that. Better books to write about next week (mostly) -- that should help. I've read two things this week that knocked me for a loop, looking forward to writing about them. Anyway . . .

 

Whoops! Going into this post, I thought I had a pretty good selection -- turns out that it was mostly variations on a few themes. Most of which I ended up bailing on, so I can present to you only the most interesting of odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye -- even if it is a short list. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

  • For Those Who Know the Ending by Malcolm Mackay -- an awesome looking Tartan Noir crime novel.
  • Uncharted by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt -- Lewis and Clark in an alternate-history/fantasy novel. Looks pretty cool to me.

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/12/saturday-miscellany-5-12-18
Review
4 Stars
Kris' opportunity finally knocks in the most satisfying episode yet.
The Gauntlet - Underwood Michael

Since Episode One, we've been waiting for this: Kris Denn of Rumika facing the gauntlet. A series of 6 duels against the members of the Warders Circle of Twaa-Fei to gain a seat at the table for Rumika. Failure here means a decade (or so) before the next potential warder from Rumika has an opportunity. That's pretty much the whole episode in a nutshell -- can Kris make it?

 

Ultimately, I don't think anyone will be shocked at the outcome -- it's about the journey, how the outcome is reached. Underwood nails it. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a piece he wrote about how fight scenes can reveal character (he also tweeted about it this week), and this episode is him displaying that theory in practice. It really works -- not only do we get a better idea about who Kris is, but we get a better understanding of the other Warders. Sure, we may not actually learn anything about Lavinia and Ojo -- we just get more evidence of what we already know -- but there are other duels.

 

This is longer than the previous two episodes -- and it helped. The extra length gave things a chance to happen. I assume that's not something we'll see next week, but I can hope, right?

 

I've liked the previous episodes enough to justify the purchase of the season and to keep going, but I just flat-out liked this one. Good fight scenes, good character moments and the plot moves ahead. Where this goes next, I'm not sure, but having concluded this initial arc, I'm ready to see it. These authors took their time establishing this world, and carefully built up to this point and what lies beyond. I'm looking forward to see what else comes on this foundation.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/11/born-to-the-blade-1-4-the-gauntlet-by-michael-underwood-kris-opportunity-finally-knocks-in-the-most-satisfying-episode-yet
Review
3 Stars
Yup. Baby Shower. A literal baby shower, just what every fantasy series needs(?)
Baby Shower - Cassandra Khaw

Huh. I'm still trying to figure out this series, I admit, but the one thing I didn't figure was that one episode would feature a party soaked in political intrigue. But it works -- it really, really works.

 

Yeah, there's plenty of magic and swordplay in this series. But there's almost as much going on when it comes to diplomacy and politics. It's subtle, it's harder to follow in this world than you might be used to (but it's getting easier the more time we spend in this series) -- but it's rewarding. This episode's focal event is the perfect setting to focus on the subtle games and moves going on with these characters.

 

Michiko seems to take a step in a constructive direction -- and if this goes like I think it will, I might actually like her as a character. Ojo's still the most interesting character in this series (with the possible exception of Michiko's secret relative, but he's interesting for completely different reasons), and I continue to like how he's being used. I think I might like Kris a bit more now than I have soon.

 

One thing the series seems clear about is that Lavinia is a bad person -- good warrior, savvy at her job, but she's a bad person. Maybe not King Joffrey bad, but someone in that vein. Which is odd, it seems that the series is going out of its way to show you things from (for example) Ojo's point of view, but also what Penelope, Kris and Michiko think of him and his actions. The same goes for everyone but for Lavinia. There's only one perspective presented for her. Now, honestly, I'm not sure I want to look too far into her head -- so I'm not sure this is a bad thing, but it just strikes me as odd.

 

This has a great closing line -- it definitely made me want to read on. The episode on the whole does that, too -- by the end, I probably feel more settled in this world than I have before and I can start to enjoy things. I wouldn't appreciate a novel taking this long to get me into the story, but given the starts and stops of these episodes, I'm much more willing to go along with it and three episodes doesn't seem as big an investment.If you haven't decided to take the plunge, this might be the time.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/10/born-to-the-blade-1-3-baby-shower-by-cassandra-khaw-yup-baby-shower-a-literal-baby-shower-just-what-every-fantasy-series-needs
Review
3 Stars
I'm still feeling the promise of the series, but want more.
Fault Lines - Marie Brennan

So straight out of the gate, this makes me happy: there's a "previously on" section -- which is great, and something we need to see more of) -- and a Dramatis Personae (with a cast this big, a major plus).

 

The question is, can episode 2 build on the goodwill that the ending of 1 caused?

 

Ehhh...sorta? We get to know the island this takes place on a little better, the culture there -- and some more about the nations represented (and those representing them). There's some revealing interaction with Kris and Michiko, and it's clear that's where our focus should be. but I sorta want more time with Ojo than with them. That's more about Ojo being interesting than the other two annoying me by their actions at the end of the episode. But not much.

 

For a fantasy world, I like the strange governmental structure -- a mix of diplomacy and single combat -- that they've developed for this series. In reality, ugh. But this is fantasy. so sure, why not? But I'm not sure that I'm buying it. There's a seeming lack of advisors for these diplomats, which is hard to swallow (though narratively neater), especially with Michiko and Kris there's a naiveté that screams that these people shouldn't be left to their own devices. They're like college students out on their own. Yeah, they might be capable, but they need some more wisdom. Letting an entire people's futures to be determined by what a young, untried warrior (no matter how talented) who's easily swayed by elders and friendliness is . . . suggestive of problems.

 

I think I like this series, but I'm not sure. Goodwill toward a couple of the authors will carry you for a bit, I'm just not sure how long it'll last without the series doing a better job of entertaining me. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just not totally sold. This many pages in, I should be. I want to be -- but I don't think I am yet. I still assume it's coming.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/10/born-to-the-blade-1-2-fault-lines-by-marie-brennan-im-still-feeling-the-promise-of-the-series-but-want-more
Review
1 Stars
A Character Looking for Love, a Novel Looking for a Plot
Gables Court - Alan S. Kessler

Ugh. Just...ugh. Why? Why would anyone bother publishing this?

 

I like liking things. I want to enjoy books. But every now and then, too often lately, I come across a book that I can't find a redeeming feature in. This is one of those.

 

It is impossible, simply impossible, for someone to get through Law School (and the requisite undergrad program) and come out as naive as Samuel Baas. I would think that'd be particularly true in the 1960's. If, if Baas had been sheltered his entire life and escaped/was released at age 24, many of his conversations would have been appropriate. But for someone with his education? Nope. Conversations at any age, on personal or professional topics.

 

I use the word "conversation" loosely -- primarily, his conversations are monologues with a little bit of interaction between those involved tagged on.

 

There are several attempts at plot lines, but Kessler doesn't seem to commit to them wholly -- or for long. The novel seems listless, bouncing around from idea to idea, trying out this thing and then another and another -- like a college freshman deciding on a major. I'm not suggesting any of these ideas were interesting or well-executed, but there were a lot of them.

 

There's no ending to this book, it just stops. Baas has learned nothing -- any epiphanies he's had or changes he's made evaporate faster than dew in the desert. To say I was frustrated by the ending is an understatement.

 

There's part of me that wants to go on and pick this apart -- but why? No one wants to read that -- maybe if I was more annoyed by it and mustered up some funny comments, but I just don't care enough to. This book induced apathy and a general sense of ennui. Gables Court was aimless, listlessly written, dull and an utter waste of time.

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author, clearly my opinion wasn't influenced by that.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/11/gables-court-by-alan-s-kessler-a-character-looking-for-love-a-novel-looking-for-a-plot
Saturday Miscellany - 5/5/18

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

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Higginbotham Publications and Carla Alexandra Rodrigues (link removed for security reasons) for following the blog this week.

 

 

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/05/saturday-miscellany-5-5-18
Review
3.5 Stars
A fun humor collection looking at family and life
Life Begins When The Kids Leave Home And The Dog Dies  - Barb Taub

Barb Taub, a former Midwest newspaper columnist turned blogger, has released a collection of (I think) previously published and/or posted columns and blog posts around the family-related themes -- kids, relationships, life, travel, holidays, pets, and death.

 

You know how there are hard-boiled mysteries, noir mysteries and cozy mysteries? This feels like cozy humor. (I'm sure there are better designations/genre labels, but I don't know them). There's nothing offensive, nothing boundary pushing, nothing upsetting -- just amusing anecdotes, a slightly off-kilter look at life, and a way with words. Simple entertainment -- pretty much what you're looking for in a collection of humor, right?

 

I wouldn't recommend sitting down and reading this cover to cover. Sample from it, a little here and a little there over a few days. Taub has a couple of phrases that she really likes, anecdotes that she returns to often (for different ends sometimes) -- and I don't blame her for doing so, when it works, it works. But when you read them too close together, it takes a way from the moment. But that's a minor quibble.

 

This is a simple, straightforward, collection of amusing, occasionally heart-warming, pleasantly humorous pieces. I feel obligated to say something else about it, but I can't think of anything else to say. Taub's a funny woman, if you like reading funny things, you should read this book.

 

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post. I appreciate it, but this simple act didn't impact my opinion.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/04/life-begins-when-the-kids-leave-home-and-the-dog-dies-by-barb-taub-a-fun-humor-collection-looking-at-family-and-life
Review
4 Stars
Atkins delivers a solid dose of Old Boston Magic
Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic - Ace Atkins

Wow. The Forty-Sixth Spenser novel. Atkins' seventh, too -- it's hard to believe. I can still remember some of these as clearly as if I read them yesterday -- I'm a little vague on some of them, I have to admit (sorry Bad Business and Painted Ladies), but by and large, this is one of those series that's defined me as a reader. This is one of those that in years to come that I'm going to remember pretty clearly, too, I'm glad to report.

 

Also, I'm pretty sure that 46 books in, nothing I say here is going to get the series a new reader. Still, I want to talk about it some.

 

So here's the pitch: Locke, an older P.I. and friend/associate of Spenser, comes to him for help -- he'd like Spenser to take over one of his cases, as she's fighting a losing battle with a medical problem. Twenty years ago, a Boston museum was robbed -- two paintings and one Picasso sketch were stolen. The Boston Police, the FBI and he have turned over every rock they can think of, he's traveled the word just to find them. But he's gotten no where -- but there's some new information coming to light -- and with the statute of limitations about to kick in, there's probably no better time to find the painting then now. Spenser agree and plunges right into the hunt.

 

Whether you're Spenser or Nero Wolfe, the worst type of client has to be a committee or board* -- a committee that's not entirely sure they want you to work for them is even worse. The museum committee is led by a classic stuffed shirt, Spenser's always fun to read when he's antagonizing the pompous. We've also got another Spenser trope -- a tough, no-nonsense, hard-to-impress client that Spenser slowly wins over -- in the museum director. Putting the two of those together is a good combination. The committee has their own replacement for Locke -- an anti-Spenser. British, polished, cultured (he's probably forgotten more about art than Spenser has ever known), not obviously prone to violence, with an approach to this case that's very different from Spenser's. As much as I disliked him, I wish we'd gotten a little more time with him.

 

This is a novel largely dependent on the non-regular characters -- clients, witnesses, sources, suspects. There's no Hawk, no Sixkill, limited Susan, not enough Pearl -- so who does Spenser talk to? Henry (a little more than usual), Frank, Quirk, and Rita -- and a couple of chats with Vinnie Morris. Things are still not good with Vinnie, but there might be room in that direction -- and common enemies can help a lot. Given the Gino Fish connection, of course we have to have a lot of Vinnie.

 

Spenser's approach to this case is classic -- he goes around talking to every witness, suspect that he can -- annoying some, charming some, learning a very little. Then he moves on to the next and the next, and then circles back to the first. Prying a little more, and a little more. This is a very talk-y book. There's the threat of violence -- and even some actual violence -- but most of the actual violence was associated with the original burglars, so we hear about it, but don't see it. Atkin's solid take on Parker-dialgoue means that this is a fast, fun read. And that's fine with me.

 

Back when Robert B. Parker was writing multiple series, one of the fun aspects was watching characters from one series (typically the longer-running, Spenser books) show up in one of the others. Watching Capt. Healy's interactions with Jesse Stone, for example, provided an interesting counter-point to the way Healy and Spenser got along. Now that there are three authors actively writing the Spenser-verse series, there's an added twist to that. Recently (long enough ago that I don't feel too bad saying it), Reed Farrel Coleman killed off Gino Fish. There are huge chunks of this book that are little else than seeing the effects of that death in Boston's criminal society (for lack of a better term).

 

How do we get to Gino Fish? When it comes to Art Crimes -- especially higher-end stuff -- and the resulting fencing, at that time in Boston everything came through Gino's fingers. Between the references to the late Gino and the fact that the crime in question took place two decades ago, there's a lot of history covered here as Spenser talks to various criminals/criminal associates while hunting for these paintings. I do mean a lot of history -- going back to events in Mortal Stakes (my first encounter with the series) and characters from The Godwulf Manuscript (the first in the series). Yes, there's a certain element of this being fan-service-y nostalgia on Atkins part. As a serviced-fan, I'm not complaining. But I think it's more, it's the kind of series that Parker and Atkins have given us -- one that is very aware of its past and draws on it always. (there's an interesting contrast to be made with the Jesse Stone series on this front).

 

If you're looking at this as a mystery novel, or focusing on the plot -- I'm not sure how successful it is (better than many, but I'm not sure it's up to Atkins' typical standards). But, if you look at it as some time with old friends -- Spenser primarily, but even Quirk, Belson, Henry, etc. -- it gets better, especially if you've got as much history with these characters as many readers do. Throw in the atmosphere, the perfect voice, the longer-term character moves, and you've got yourself a heckuva read. Spenser #46 is as entertaining as you could ask for and I'm already looking forward to #47.

--
* Yes, it bothers me that I can only come up with two names for this truncated list. I can't imagine that other P. I.'s are immune to this kind of client, but I can't think of another example. I'll probably lose sleep over this memory failure.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/04/robert-b-parkers-old-black-magic-by-ace-atkins-atkins-delivers-a-solid-dose-of-old-boston-magic
aka Gotham Season 9, just didn't work for me. DNF'd.
Batman: Nightwalker - Marie Lu, Will Damon

Let me get the Audiobook portion out of the way quickly -- Damron does a capable job. He didn't particularly wow me, but I had no complaints about his work. I could see myself really getting into a book he narrated.

 

This is essentially Gotham, season 9. Bruce is on the eve of graduation, turning 18 (yet his guardian, Alfred, is still treated as if he has any standing in his life), and finds himself on the wrong end of the law and serving probation by doing community service at Arkham Asylum. While there, he becomes fascinated by an accused murderer -- she's part of a criminal/political (technically a terrorist group, but the label was never used) group targeting Gotham's one percenters.

 

The line between the Bruce Wayne of this book and the Dark Knight we all know is pretty weak. You've got Alfred, Lucius Fox, Bruce's dead parents, Gotham City -- sure -- but there's nothing that distinctively Batman about them (as used here). Even when you throw in Harvey Dent as a troubled youth with a strong trust in the legal system as one of Bruce's best friend and numerous references to bats, and you're supposed to thing that you've got yourself the building blocks of the Caped Crusader. But it'd have been incredibly easy for this to be any other rich youth with a knack for electronics. This doesn't have to be a Batman story, it could be almost any generic YA hero.

 

If you want to read an inexperienced, fallible, Batman (as seems to be the case here), read Miller's Batman: Year One or Barr's Batman: Year Two -- they treat the character the way he should be treated. This book just wasn't. I got about halfway through (maybe a little over halfway) before I just couldn't take it anymore and decided to move on.

 

I liked the Wonder Woman installment in this series just fine -- why didn't this one work for me? Well, while Diana wasn't the hero we all know -- she was still clear in her purpose, driven to do right and capable. Bruce is none of those things -- which is odd, because he's typically been depicted as driven and single-minded since childhood. That's the Bruce we all know, and should've seen here.

 

I can see why some people will enjoy this, but I just can't bother to finish.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/03/batman-nightwalker-audiobook-by-marie-lu-will-damron-aka-gotham-season-9-just-didnt-work-for-me-dnfd
Review
3 Stars
The Start of a Promising Series
Arrivals - Michael R. Underwood

Publisher's Blurb:

For centuries the Warders' Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the countries of the sky a way to avoid war, settling their disputes through formal, magical duels. But the Circle's ability to maintain peace is fading: the Mertikan Empire is preparing for conquest and the trade nation of Quloo is sinking, stripped of the aerstone that keeps both ships and island a-sky. When upstart Kris Denn tries to win their island a seat in the Warder’s Circle and colonial subject Oda no Michiko discovers that her conquered nation's past is not what she's been told, they upset the balance of power. The storm they bring will bind all the peoples of the sky together…or tear them apart.

 

So there's the setup for this "season" of 11 novella-length episodes, releasing weekly. Episode 1 -- Arrivals is very much a pilot episode. After an action-packed opening, the story settles into introducing the pretty large cast of characters and the world the inhabit.

 

I found most of what follows pretty dry, and I had a hard time maintaining interest. It reminded me of the Game of Thrones pilot -- at least for those of us who hadn't read the book -- so many names and places to learn that it was hard to pay attention to any story. It's a rich world and most of the characters seem well-developed and complex -- I just don't care about any of it yet.

 

It is not the most accessible world, with a specialized vocabulary, and political and magic systems that the reader has to dig in to really understand. This isn't a complaint -- it's just something to know going in. There's no real pay off for the effort now, but you can assume it's coming.

 

But those last couple of pages? Hoo-boy, there's the hook -- I might have had to wait longer than I wanted to just to get to this point, but it was worth the wait. I think that gave me enough motivation to read at least a couple more episodes. Given the strength of the list of authors involved in this one -- Michael R. Underwood (the author of this installment), in particular -- I'm confident that I'll be singing the praises of Born to the Blade soon. You might want to jump on board now and enjoy the progress.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/03/born-to-the-blade-1-1-arrivals-by-michael-underwood-%e2%98%85-%e2%98%85-%e2%98%85-the-start-of-a-promising-series