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.

3 Stars
A Fun & Compelling Refreshed Origin Story
Shadow of the Batgirl - Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux

Cassandra Cain has intrigued me for quite a while now, but as I've limited my comic reading (for financial and time considerations), I haven't read nearly enough about her to satisfy my curiosity.


Enter Sarah Kuhn and her YA graphic novel to take care of that. It was a brilliant idea to have Kuhn write this—as she explains herself in the introduction, Cain is exactly the kind of super-hero that Kuhn writes.


This retelling of Cain's origin story from the moment she decides to leave the life of crime she'd been born into and trained for (not that she knew that's what she'd been doing), through her meeting Barbara Gordon and (a new character for this telling) Jackie, and into her first steps as Batgirl.


Jackie is an elderly Asian Aunt figure who provides emotional security for Cassandra while Barbara is helping with intellectual stimulation (there's also a boy she meets at the library, but Jackie and Barbara are the foci).


I really enjoyed watching Cain make connections with people, learning how to redefine herself—it's an atypical origin story and exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of.

Goux's art wasn't the style I expected—I expected something darker, more angular, with a lot of shadows. Instead, we get something almost playful and joyful, while not detracting from the serious story. Goux's art fits Kuhn's voice (both here and in other works) perfectly and won me over right away.


This was a fun read, establishing Cain as a person and as a hero while telling a compelling story. I recommend this and would eagerly read any follow-ups that might come along (like the upcoming The Oracle Code.)


2020 Library Love Challenge

4 Stars
George Orwell Goes Shopping
QualityLand - Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle

When you boil it down, QualityLand is simply the epic tale of a man trying to return something he didn't order (and doesn't want) to an online retailer. Peter Jobless's tale involves a paranoid hacker, a blackmail scheme, an armed stand-off, a smitten sex-bot, a TV news panel show, a revolutionary tablet computer, swaying a presidential election, and a revival of interest in the films of Jennifer Aniston. We've all been there, right?


There's no way I could describe the plot in a way to do it justice—so we'll stick with the broad sweep. Before much gets underway story-wise, there's a lot of set up required. When the dominoes start to fall in earnest, they go quickly. But so much of the book is devoted to setting them up, establishing/explaining the culture, government and everyday life of the QualityLand's citizenry.


Here's the best part about the set-up time: it's totally worth it, and the way the dominoes are being placed is enjoyable/entertaining enough that even if the results were duds, I wouldn't really have minded all that much. The icing on the cake is that the plot works well (we've all seen too many examples of elaborate worldbuilding that accompany a story that's not worth it).


This is a world given over to algorithms, a world where the algorithms of various retail entities know so much about their customers that they no longer have to wait for a customer to order something to provide it—no, the algorithm will know what you're going to want and will deliver it before you know you want it.


Not only are all your possessions provided for you in this manner, the algorithm decides what kind of career you will pursue, but it will also guide and govern your romantic life, your health care, and so on and so on.


It even gets into politics—so much so that during the course of this novel, there is an android running for president—because, we're told repeatedly (mostly by the candidate), "machines don't make mistakes." An android chief of state (the theory goes) will better all of society because the android will know what's needed.


At each step of the way, as each aspect of society is introduced and explained, as each character appears for the first time, it's done in a way that will make you grin, chuckle, or laugh. The world is so zany, so...out there—and yet, completely recognizable as a natural progression of our world/society/culture.


Unlike so many satirical novels, the ending of this novel doesn't get out of control. The plotlines come to natural conclusions and resolve in a satisfying way.


The characters—from the Everyman Peter Jobless, to the campaign manager (she can give Malcolm Tucker some lessons on the use of words as weapons), to the history teacher's trouble-maker daughter (in-person to public officials or in online comments), to Peter's collection of electronic companions—are wonderful. They're a little better rounded than I'm used to in satires.


There's a wonderful playful quality to the language, making the whole thing a barrelful of fun. I'm assuming that Searle captured the feel of the original in that, and did a great job. There's an acronym that's used a couple of times, that I think may be funny in the original, but doesn't translate into anything (at least as far as I can see). That one thing aside, the ability to make a translated text feel so natural, so easy is no small feat.


QualityLand is a fun read t's a thought-provoking read, it is (occasionally) a frightening read as you realize how close to this dystopia we are (and how fast we're running to it). I strongly recommend this one.

Saturday Miscellany—2/15/20

Not much to say, I'm 604 miles away from home this weekend and haven't been able to write more than three sentences so far, which is about two posts under my goal (have read more than a few, however). Thankfully, this post doesn't require a lot of writing. It's probably the elevation, because that's a thing, right? (or maybe it's just spending time with my wife and daughter...) 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:


















  • The Once & Future Podcast, Ep. 204: Jeanine Cummins—Anton Strout talks to his old friend about American Dirt in an interview recorded before the controversy about the book (and promotion of it) got as big as it has. I had a suspicion that many of her critics didn't know that much about Cummins/her work before I listened to this. Now I'm convinced.



The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK II., viii.-Book III., ii.

Tom Jones Original CoverNow this was more like it! We start off with getting a bit more insight into Capt. Blifil, who when not having to spend time with his wife, spends his time lost in his own thoughts, which were


were entirely employed on Mr. Allworthy's Fortune; for, first, he exercised much Thought in calculating, as well as he could, the exact Value of the whole: which Calculations he often saw Occasion to alter in his own Favour: And, secondly and chiefly, he pleased himself with intended Alterations in the House and Gardens, and in projecting many other Schemes, as well for the Improvement of the Estate as of the Grandeur of the Place. For this Purpose he applied himself to the Studies of Architecture and Gardening, and read over many Books on both these Subjects; for these Sciences, indeed, employed his whole Time, and formed his only Amusement. He at last completed a most excellent Plan: and very sorry we are, that it is not in our Power to present it to our reader, since even the Luxury of the present Age, I believe, would hardly match it.

Y'know, just in case anyone forgot what he was really in love with when he entered into this marriage. One evening, while strolling by himself, "his Heart was exulting in Meditations on the Happiness which would accrue to him by Mr. Allworthy's Death, he himself—died of an Apoplexy." Yup. That's right. Forty-seven pages after his introduction—seemingly as a major impediment for Tom to overcome—he's dead. We spent so much time on him, his relationship with his wife and brother-in-law, etc. and he just dies in a sentence. Well, that's not true, it seems like he does, but we end up spending a few more pages on his being pronounced dead after this, but that's beside my point. In some books, I'd be annoyed by this, but I was amused by this little bit of fakery on Fielding's part.


The hullabaloo surrounding finding his body, trying to resuscitate him and so on does give Fielding a chance to satirize the practice of medicine, which I enjoyed.


Which brings us to Book III, which is wonderfully entitled, "Containing the most memorable Transactions which passed in the Family of Mr. Allworthy from the Time when Tommy Jones arrived at the Age of Fourteen, till he attained the Age of Nineteen. In this Book the Reader may pick up some Hints concerning the Education of Children." That last sentence just made my day, really (as did the title to Chapter 1 "Containing little or nothing," I like some honesty in labeling)

The Reader will be pleased to remember, that, at the Beginning of the Second Book of this History, we gave him a Hint of our Intention to pass over several large Periods of Time, in which nothing happened worthy of being recorded in a Chronicle of this Kind.


In so doing, we do not only consult our own Dignity and Ease, but the Good and Advantage of the Reader: for besides that by these Means we prevent him from throwing away his Time, in reading without either Pleasure or Emolument, we give him, at all such Seasons, an Opportunity of employing that wonderful Sagacity, of which he is Master, by filling up these vacant Spaces of Time with his own Conjectures...

Now that Tommy is a young man, we get to meet him "...shall now bring forth our Heroe, at about fourteen Years of Age, not questioning that any have been long impatient to be introduced to his Acquaintance." Yup, I'm not alone in getting fed up with this. For the record, "Heroe" (like all the weird capitalization) is what my book has.


Tom Jones is, apparently, "universally disliked" in his community (unlike Master Blifil, who is the model citizen), in fact,


we are obliged to bring our Heroe on the stage in a much more disadvantageous Manner than we could wish; and to declare honestly, even at his first Appearance, that it was the universal Opinion of all Mr. Allworthy's Family that he was certainly born to be hanged.

"Born to be hanged..." I've got to find a way to use that line.


Tommy has a propensity to many vices, but a strong tendency to robbery—and at this point has already been convicted of three of them. We get a little information about them and his refusal to name names. It's not really commended (but you can read it between the lines), that he doesn't give up his accessories or accomplices—even under corporal punishment. Mr. Allworthy calls it a "mistaken Point of Honour" for him to be that way, but others don't agree.


To help get him to confess (and implicate others), his tutor is brought in to whip him,. This tutor is named, most fittingly, Mr. Thwackum. That right there is the way to name a character, ladies and gentlemen. Sure, he may go on to play an important role, he may end up showing wisdom and insight, but at the end of the day, let's not forget—his main role is to Thwack 'em around.


In these chapters, we get Capt. Blifil killed off, we meet Tommy—and see right away that he's going to be an atypical "Heroe" at best—and the story starts to pick up, all with some fun narration and asides (most of which I left for you to discover for yourself). Once again, I'm very tempted to keep going here. At the very least, this makes up for last week's chapters.


Down the TBR Hole (1 of 24+)

Down the TBR Hole


This meme was created by Lia @ Lost in a Story—but Jenna at Bookmark Your Thoughts is the one that exposed me to this, and as my Goodreads "Want To Read" shelf is scarily long, I had to do this.


The Rules are simple:


  1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
  2. Order on ascending date added.
  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  4. Read the synopses of the books.
  5. Decide: keep it or should it go?
  6. Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week! (or whenever)


What distinguishes this series from the Mt. TBR section of my Month-end Retrospectives? Those are books I actually own while Goodreads contains my aspirational TBR (many of which will be Library reads). The Naming of the two is a bit confusing, but...what're you going to do?


I'll probably be tackling 5 of these at a time, but this time I'm going for 10 because the first 3 are in one series, and it seems like cheating to have the first 3 of 5 to be answered together. I'll probably slow down in the future.


(Click on the cover for an official site or with more info about the book)

The Ghost Brigades The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
My Thoughts: This is the sequel to Old Man's War which was plenty of fun, but after I read it I couldn't quickly get my hands on the sequel (although I could've gotten 3 & 4), and then I got distracted and...well, here I am 8 years later.
Verdict: Yeah, I'll have to re-read Old Man's War first, but that should be a good time anyway.
Thumbs Up
The Last Colony The Last Colony by John Scalzi
My Thoughts: See above.
Thumbs Up
Zoe's Tale Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
My Thoughts: See above.
Thumbs Up
The Naming of the Beasts The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey
My Thoughts: Similarly, I've read the first two of this series 3+ times, and the second two once, but couldn't get my hands easily on this one (and it's the only one not in my library system, how horrible is that?). Felix Castor was such a fun character, I really should get to this one—even if it means I have to spend a little money.
Thumbs Up
This Dog for Hire This Dog for Hire by Carol Lea Benjamin
My Thoughts: A P.I. Novel with a Canine sidekick. This should be a slam-dunk for me. But when I read the blurb, something fails to grab me. Don't ask me what. Just don't think I'm going to get around to it. Possibly my loss.
Thumbs Down
To Speak for the Dead To Speak for the Dead by Paul Levine
Blurb: The first mystery in Paul Levine’s best-selling series, To Speak for the Dead, introduces trial lawyer and ex-Miami Dolphins linebacker Jake Lassiter, who has an uncanny knack for digging up the truth – and the danger that comes with it.
My Thoughts: About 15 years ago, I gobbled up Levine's Solomon vs. Lord series and probably should've jumped on this one at the time. I didn't and have kicked myself for it frequently since. Maybe it's the football thing? Odds are these are just as fun as the Andy Carpenter books.
Verdict: I don't know when I'll get around to it, but I can't bring myself to cut this.
Thumbs Up
Devil in a Blue Dress Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Blurb: Set in the late 1940s, in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles, Devil in a Blue Dress follows Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran just fired from his job at a defense plant. Easy is drinking in a friend's bar, wondering how he'll meet his mortgage, when a white man in a linen suit walks in, offering good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Monet, a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs.
My Thoughts: In casual conversation, I'd tell you I've read this. But a quick look at the blurb tells me that I haven't. It's more than a little unthinkable, really. I need to change this.
Thumbs Up
Pelham Fell Here Pelham Fell Here by Ed Lynskey
My Thoughts: I have no idea how this one ended up on my radar in April '12, but it did (the author's name rings a bell for some reason...maybe people on a Nero Wolfe discussion group have mentioned him?). The blurb is semi-interesting, but a couple of the quotations on Goodreads make me leary.
Verdict: No idea what drew me to the book, leary quotations = time to go.
Thumbs Down
A Cold Day in Paradise A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton
Blurb: Other than the bullet lodged near his heart, former Detroit cop Alex McKnight thought he had put the nightmare of his partner’s death and his own near-fatal injury behind him. After all, the man convicted of the crimes has been locked away for years. But in the small town of Paradise, Michigan, where McKnight has traded his badge for a cabin in the woods, a murderer with the same unmistakable trademarks appears to be back. McKnight can’t understand who else would know the intimate details of the old murders. And it seems like it’ll be a frozen day in Hell before McKnight can unravel truth from deception in a town that’s anything but Paradise.
My Thoughts: I remember reading that Hamilton has come back to this series after a while away. That blurb, my impression of Hamilton from his Nick Mason books, and the fact that Hamilton has been drawn back to the books make this a no-brainer.
Verdict: If anything, I need to prioritize this.
Thumbs Up
Detective Detective by Parnell Hall
Blurb: Stanley Hastings, the world’s most unlikely private eye, a struggling actor/writer trying to support his wife and kid in New York City, who chases ambulances for a negligence lawyer and carries a camera instead of a gun and photographs accident victims and the cracks in the sidewalk that tripped them, tackles his first real case, tracking down the murderers of a client he could not save because he wasn’t a real detective.
My Thoughts: Like the Lynskey book, I have no idea how this ended up on my radar.
Verdict: I dunno, just not feeling this.
Thumbs Down


Books Removed in this Post: 3 / 10
Total Books Removed: 3 / 240

Anyone out there read any of these books? Did I make the right call with any of them?


(Image by moritz320 from Pixabay)

3 Stars
Like and Subscribe to Watch Her Gank Witches
Burn the Dark - S.A. Hunt

I'm struggling to not over-share here, so I'm just going to cite the official book blurb to explain the set-up for this novel:

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Stranger Things in award-winning author S. A. Hunt’s Burn the Dark, first in the Malus Domestica horror action-adventure series about a punk YouTuber on a mission to bring down witches, one vid at a time.


Robin is a YouTube celebrity gone-viral with her intensely-realistic witch hunter series. But even her millions of followers don’t know the truth: her series isn’t fiction.


Her ultimate goal is to seek revenge against the coven of witches who wronged her mother long ago. Returning home to the rural town of Blackfield, Robin meets friends new and old on her quest for justice. But then, a mysterious threat known as the Red Lord interferes with her plans....

I really love the concept for this book/series. No matter what I may end up saying below, I just want to say that Hunt deserves all sorts of kudos for coming up with it and executing the idea so well.


The Sabrina bit mentioned above comes from Robin, a childhood friend and someone new to town she meets when she returns. The Strange Things bit comes from a kid who has just moved to town (and into Robin's old house—old bedroom) and the neighborhood kids he's become friends with. Either group could probably be the focus of a book, the two of them together is what really works. I thought all the characters were well-drawn and interesting, and I would like to spend time with them all (except the witches, I think they could be developed a bit more—but that risks making them less threatening).


The magic system in this book is fantastic. Hunt gives us enough to understand it (and to see that it's well-developed), but doesn't drown us in the details that govern it. There's something very raw, very rooted, almost tangible about it.


Hunt's writing could be described the same way. It's almost impossible not to see everything she's describing; when she writes a tense scene, you feel it; and it's engrossing.


Compelling writing, strong characters, a killer hook, and fast-moving plot with a great magic system—S. this is basically a recipe for a book that I'll celebrate. But the entire time I read it, I kept thinking "I just don't like this." I kept reading because it's precisely the kind of book I should rave about and I kept waiting for the switch to flip. But it's just not my thing.


It's not often I have this reaction, but it made me feel like Wendig's Miriam Black books, Kadrey's Sandman Slim, or Stross's Laundry Files. In theory, each of those series is exactly my cup of tea. And I didn't enjoy any of them (and I've read multiple volumes in two of those series). It's an odd phenomenon, and I wish I understood it.


Still, it's so well done that I can't rate it lower than 3 Stars. I didn't like it, but I respect it enough to recognize that it deserves at least that.


Eh, what do I know? Go read a post by someone who really dug this book instead.


2020 Library Love Challenge

Pickett Battles Winter and Paranoia to Find Justice
Winterkill  - C.J. Box

I wish I knew what it was about Joe Pickett novels that made them difficult for me to write about. I ended up not writing anything about the first two books in the series and it took me three attempts to get this done (which was followed, naturally, by saving this as a draft rather than scheduling the post...). In the end, I was a bit more spoilery than I like to be, but the book has been out since '04 (the audiobook since '14), with 17 more books in the series. I'm giving myself a little more leeway with it than I'd normally grant myself.
Joe Pickett is wrapping up a pretty routine day when he stumbles on to a U.S. Forest Service Supervisor acting in an irrational (at best) manner. While Joe's trying to apprehend him (I'll spare you the details, but it's similar to the incident that kicked off the first book, and will give Joe's critics plenty to mock him about), he's murdered in a noteworthy manner.


As he was a witness (and the only one who can lead anyone to the crime scene), Joe's attached to the investigation that features state officials, the Sheriff's office and a Forest Service official (who brings a reporter in her wake). They quickly identify a suspect and make a fast (and brutal) arrest. Something in the way that the suspect reacts makes Joe wonder if they've got the right guy.


This wondering is compounded when the suspect reaches out to Joe a couple of days later to ask him two favors. Nate Romanowski is, among other things, a falconer who left two birds behind when he was arrested. Favor one is to feed the birds. Favor two is to get him out of jail—Nate and Joe have never met before, but Nate's read about him and figures Joe's his best shot after the events of the last two novels.


From a thing or two I've read, I think Nate's going to be around for awhile. Which is fine with me, I enjoyed his character a good deal. He's a former special-ops guy who wants nothing to do with any governmental entity anymore. He just wants to live on his own terms and take care of his birds. I could be wrong, but at this point, it looks like Box is establishing Nate as Joe's Hawk/Joe Pike/Bubba Rogowski/Henry Standing Bear-figure. Although really, to qualify as Joe's lethal pal, is a low standard—it's not like Joe can use a firearm with any kind of accuracy. If my hunch is right, and he'll be around more in the future, I'll be very happy to know him better.


As before, Joe's daughter Sheridan is a Point-of-View character as well. She doesn't play as large a role in this novel, but when she shows up, it matters. Her appearances in the narrative are also a pretty good signal that it's time for something heart-wrenching to happen.


Before I forget, I want to say something about Joe's family. I love, love, love his family. His wife, Marybeth, may be the best Significant Other in crime fiction—supportive, tough, she's not a wilting flower nor an obstacle to his work. His other daughter, Lucy, is as cute as you could hope for (am sure we'll get something more than cuteness from her in a while). And how many crime fiction heroes are plagued by a mother-in-law like his—the dynamic between the two is wonderful.*


* Wonderful to read, that is. It'd be a miserable, unhealthy, and precarious situation to live through.


There are three factors that make it difficult for Joe (or anyone else) to investigate a murder. The first is snow. The novel takes place in the days before and after Christmas and even for this section of Wyoming, the snow is heavy. The second complicating factor is the arrival in town of a large group of people trying to shake off their pasts and find a peaceful place to live (I'll explain in a bit). The third factor is that one of this group is Lucy's mother—we saw her last in the first book when she abandoned Lucy after her husband's murder. In the ensuing two years, Joe and Marybeth had taken her in as a foster daughter and were trying to adopt her. Until Mom showed up with a court order form a crooked judge demanding Lucy be turned over to her.


One of these would be difficult for Joe to overcome—all three? That's just mean.

The group of people that came to town (technically, a campground outside of town) could be considered Survivalists, I'm not sure the best way to describe them. Most are those who were around during the biggest law enforcement stand-offs in recent history: e.g., Waco, Ruby Ridge, Montana Freemen. Their leader assures Joe (and would assure others if they'd listen) that they're just looking to live a quiet life outside of Federal control.


But Strickland (the Forest Service official) doesn't see them that way. She's convinced that they're anti-government activists, probably terrorists. They're a threat that she'll do anything to put down. And she (and her FBI cronies) are looking for a way to create another stand-off. Given the out-of-the-way nature of their location—and the snow—it'll be a stand-off they can end without the press interfering. No press means the Feds can do whatever they think they need to in order to stop the stand-off.


By and large, the people working for the Federal Task force looking into the murder, the Survivalists, etc. are decent people trying to do their job—but Strickland and her cronies (and the Sheriff) are focused on their goals. The Survivalists/Freemen/whatever are antagonistic to the government, but they're not necessarily trying to overthrow anything. Box does a truly commendable job of being sympathetic to their concerns/issues without coming down in their favor. It's a real tightrope he's walking along here, and he pulls it off magnificently.


I've now read six books by Box—the first three in two series.* And three of those (you could argue four of those, I guess) Box does something almost unthinkable to his protagonists/their family/friends. So many authors would do the kind of thing I'm talking about once very 5-8 books, and it'd be a big deal (think of the Battle in the Ministry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). But Box does it routinely. Does this lessen the impact? Not for me yet. In fact, I couldn't believe that he'd done what he did in this book for a few minutes, I kept waiting for something to happen revealing X had only appeared to have happened. It's just brutal. How Pickett can make it to book 20 boggles my mind given the beating these people take. I'm not sure I'll survive that long, given only The Highway Quartet Book 2, and Winterkill (I'm honestly still reeling from the first Pickett novel, Savage Run.


* Okay, I read a stand-alone back in 2009, but that's beside the point.


I do not think that Box did a sufficient (or credible enough) job explaining the odd behavior of the victim in the books opening pages. He does spend all of a sentence or two giving us Joe's theory about it. I don't buy it. This single point has been driving me crazy since the murder—yes, it's overshadowed by the rest of a very strong book that shocked, surprised and entertained me so well.'s going to be a long time before I can read a Pickett novel without hoping that he'll revisit this and explain it better (I don't expect Box will do so, but I'll hope for awhile).


I really don't have a lot to say about Chandler's narration. It's good, without drawing attention to itself. I'm pretty sure that when/if I get to the point I'm reading the novels rather than using an audiobook, I'm going to hear Chandler's voice in my head. He is the voice of Joe Pickett for me.


At the end of the day, most of the "White Hat" guys really were "Black Hats." The suspected "Black Hats" mostly wore a dirty gray. And almost everyone was just trying to do the right thing with limited knowledge (some of those with the most knowledge were deliberately taking illegal and immoral steps, but they're the exception). There are a lot of moral questions to wade through in this novel and it'll keep you thinking about it for a good amount of time.


In the midst of all that, Box managed to tell a pretty decent Crime Story, a compelling family story, and introduced us to a fascinating new character—while developing characters we've known and liked (or known and distrusted) already. It's not going to be long at all before I'm fully addicted to these books if the next few are almost as good as this one.



2020 Library Love Challenge


4.5 Stars
Love, Uh, Finds a Way in this Optimistic Dystopian Novel
A Beginning at the End - Mike Chen

“Mommy’s not coming home.”


“No! Mama now! Want Mama!” Desperation had taken over the child’s face, eyes pooling With the Whiplash turn of raw emotions. She tossed the plastic spoon across the prison-cell-turned-living-space, her voice ramping up in volume and intensity. His arms wrapped around his daughter, even though she punched at his thigh in frustration; he held her as if she was the last thing in the world.


Rob blinked as the realization came to him. She was.


His home, his old life was gone. His parents and brother, killed by MGS. Their friends, their community, scattered and ravaged. And now Elena gone too.


Sunny was all he had left.

Well, I really painted myself into a corner with my In Medias Res post about this book a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure what else there is to say! Oops.


I was more right than I was wrong about where Chen was taking some of the story—but while I had the destination correct the route he took totally caught me off-guard (and it was so good!). The parts of the story I was wrong about, however. I could not have been further off the mark if I'd tried. Both of those results are so satisfying to me, Chen nailed the nuts and bolts bits of plotting—conclusions that seem right and expected (and earned) while being very unexpected.


While Chen knows how to plot a book, characters are his strength (see also Here and Now and Then).

I could absolutely see where Moira was coming from and understood (and applauded) what she did to change her life. I felt like I got Krista's pain and the way she reacted to her mother and uncle made sense to me (I'm not sure she was fair to her college boyfriend, even if he should've known better than to do what he did). And Sunny should win over even the most jaded reader. But Rob? The way Chen wrote him made me empathize with Rob to a degree that I wasn't prepared for. That sentence I quoted above, "She was," just about broke me.


I assume that other readers will gravitate to other characters (and Moira is probably my favorite in the novel), and they should. But Rob is going to stick around in my subconscious for a while.


All of this happens against the backdrop of a world trying to recover from a global pandemic that wiped out an unimaginable number of people. Sure, other apocalyptic scenarios seem worse (zombies, whatever lead to Panem, the First-through-Fifth Waves, etc.)—but what makes this scenario chilling is just how possible it really seems. And I'm not just saying that with one of my sister's kids dealing with being quarantined in Asia around the time I read this.


Nevertheless, Chen's novel is optimistic. Human beings, human society, human families prevail. Like Dr. Ian Malcolm famously said, "Life, Uh, Finds a Way." So does humanity in Chen's world.


Like all good Science Fiction, this is more about our present than it is our future. In a survivor's group, Rob has a lot to say about living in fear with the source of the past hanging over is and letting the two dictate our lives. Without trying I could think of a dozen ways that could be applied to pre-apocalyptic Americans (who knows how large the number would be with some effort).


There's more I feel like I should say, if only just to flesh out some of what I've put down—but at this point, I think I've said enough about this book over the two posts, so I'm going to stop here (so much for that corner I painted myself into). I want to do 400-600 words on the title alone (many of which would be devoted to the indefinite article).


A Begining at The End is the kind of SF that should appeal to SF readers. It's the kind of SF that should make non-SF readers (including those antagonistic to genre fiction) think there's something to the genre after all. Because this isn't "just" a SF novel. It's a novel about humans being very human, with hopes, fears, loves, joys, sorrows, failures, and successes—it just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic future. Chen's first novel was among the best I read in 2019. I fully expect that this will be among the best I read in 2020. I'm going to jump on whatever Chen has coming in 2021 without bothering to note the title or even skim the blurb. He's earned an auto-read from me for at least the next two novels.



2020 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany—2/8/20

A lighter load after last week's mega-list. This ended up being one of those weeks that I had no energy at all after work, and I ended up writing/surfing less than I'd expected to. There's probably a link there. I'm not sure why so many things about kids and reading popped up on my feeds this week, but I always enjoy reading/sharing these articles.


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:



  • How to raise a reader—In my not-so humble opinion, the last point is the key (and I know I could've done better with it myself)




  • Interview with Joseph Finder—CrimeSpree Mag interviewed Finder about his new book, and more. Incidentally, I'm about 60% done with the book and it's a solid thriller, am enjoying the heck out of it.





  • A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne—the second of the Seven Kennings trilogy. Sadly, it's going to be a month or so before I can get to it (barring some calamity that makes me bedridden and unable to go to work for a month, I should say. If that happens, it'll only be three weeks before I can get to it).



Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to waytoofantasy, Betty, Matt Kaster and jellyfishentity for following the blog this week. Don't be a stranger, and use that comment box, would you?

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK II., iv.-vii.

(for the pedants here wanting to point out that this is Saturday, I actually wrote this on Friday, but between distractions and being called away from my computer for a bit, didn't get to hit "Publish.")

Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original CoverIt was good that we got the warning a couple of chapters back about chapter length and focus on long/short time periods, because we got some pretty long chapters (longest yet) about a brief period of time here.


Mrs. Wilkins, Tom's chief caretaker, is no fool. She sees a future wherein Capt. Blifil has taken the place of Mr. Allworthy as her employer and starts to curry favor with him and gives him more reasons than he already had to disapprove of Tom, which leads to a trial for a suspected father of "little Tommy." It seems to me that an innocent man was the victim of a smear campaign started by his wife and was railroaded. But honestly, I had a hard time caring about this part and my eyes glazed over a bit—I'll come back and revisit the chapter if it turns out to be important.


The Narrator gives a few humorous observations about marriage leading to the observation that as the Captain grows in his antipathy for little Tommy, he does so in a way that it ends up moving Mrs. Blifil to love him more—to the point that she loves him "almost equally with her own Child."


I really didn't connect with anything in these chapters, honestly. The writing was charming and it did make me smile a few times, but I just didn't see why I should care about anything here. Which probably means that this is vital and in 400 pages I'll be kicking myself for not understanding something that Fielding laid the groundwork for here.


February Plans

Feeling a little daunted by this month (already!). Here's my Library stack:



There are 4 books I'm doing tours for/promised an author I'd read this month (plus one from December that I thankfully didn't give a firm commitment to).


My NetGalley Shelf needs to get cleaned out this month:


aaaaand A Blight of Blackwings and The Border (paperback) release today (each of those should take me 4-8 days to read); False Value and Imaginary Numbers come out the last week of the month--and who knows what else will come out in the meantime (well, anyone who looks at Release Schedules do, but I haven't done that yet).


Anyone have a couple of extra days they could loan me?

3 Stars
A Modern-Day Privateer (and his dog) takes on a Powerful Drug Cartel
San Diego Dead: An Action Thriller (Jake Wolfe Book 4)  - Mark Nolan

Jake Wolfe is a former photojournalist, ex-Marine, ex-CIA asset, lawyer, Mafia "Made Man" and modern-day privateer. He recently saved the life of the new First Lady (before the election), and is on a first-name basis with her (and her husband). Men (who don't want to kill him) admire him, women (who don't want to kill him) swoon over him. But for Wolfe, none of that matters, as much as spending time with Cody, who is another Marine vet. Cody shares in most of Wolfe's accomplishments—and gets the same reaction from men and women. The significant difference between the two is that Wolfe comes from Irish and Italian roots, and Cody is a yellow Labrador and Golden Retriever mix.


Together these two make a seemingly unstoppable force for truth, justice, and the American way. Apart they are capable but diminished, distracted, and less emotionally whole. Wolfe considers Cody a partner and makes it clear to any and all that they're a package deal.


While on assignment for the Secret Service, the pair assassinates a man who provides boats for a Mexican Drug Cartel to smuggle drugs into the U.S. Around the same time a dear friend and fellow Vet crosses the same cartel, putting both men (and Jake's girlfriend) in the cross-hairs pg of the leader of that cartel.


The cartel cuts a deadly and destructive swath from Mexico to L.A. attempting to eliminate these two, pushing the pair until they retaliate.


Most of the book is told from Wolfe's point-of-view, with dips into the POV of his girlfriend or Cartel members. There are a couple of noteworthy sections told from Cody's perspective—he's closer to Crais' Maggie than Quinn's Chet in these, but he's more thoughtful (and more human thinking) than Maggie. I wish we had a few more segments from Cody's POV.


There are two paragraphs in which a ghost appears and saves the day. These two paragraphs have had me thinking far too much about them in contrast to the rest of the novel. They're proverbial sore thumbs sticking out from the rest—but they also worked better than you'd think.


Recently, listening to interviews with Lee Goldberg, I was reminded of a genre that's not really out anymore (and I'd totally forgotten about)—"Men of Action" or "Men's Adventure." These used to be at grocery stores, convenience stores and the like offering easy-to-read adventures featuring manly men doing manly (frequently super-patriotic) deeds, and deadly (and incredibly attractive) women. Years ago, Goldberg wrote a few of this type under the pen name Ian Ludlow—and now Goldberg's protagonist of the same name writes that kind of book. See also: Mack Bolan, the Executioner; Remo Williams; and the like. Thanks to that reminder, I was able to see San Diego Dead for the return to that kind of story-telling and enjoy it for what it is. If not for that reminder, I'd have been annoyed, bothered, underwhelmed by the book. But realizing the inherent goals of this kind of writing, I was able to ignore that annoyance and channel it into reuniting such entertaining tropes/themes for contemporary audiences. It's silly, cheesy fun—which is all it tries to be.


Would much of this work better if you'd read the previous novels? Probably. Does it work fine as a stand-alone? Yes. I'm not going to say that this is for everyone—it's not (but what is?). If you (or someone you know) need a break from intense, serious, deliberate thrillers and could use solid action that places the emphasis on entertainment factor over all other considerations, give yourself a treat and check out Mark Nolan's Jake Wolfe.


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

3.5 Stars
An Unusual Mother and Son are at the center of this charming family drama.
Be Frank With Me - Julia Claiborne Johnson, Tavia Gilbert

A few decades ago, M. M. Banning took the literary world by storm with her first (and, so far, only) novel, married a movie star just before his career died, and then vanished from the public eye. Her novel is still imposed upon students throughout the country/taught in High School.


Banning's recently hit some financial woes and has reluctantly contracted with her publisher to produce a second novel. To help Banning, her editor sends his personal assistant, Alice, out to L.A. to live with her, digitize her pages, do some minor cleaning, and help out with Banning's son, Frank.


Alice quickly learns that there'll be no discussion of (much less seeing and/or digitizing) the book's progress, but essentially she'll be Frank's caretaker, freeing Banning to work on the novel.


The thing is, Frank's . . . um, a handful. The word "Autism" is never used (I'm 97% sure), nor is any other diagnostic term. But I'd be willing to bet he's on the spectrum somewhere—think Don Tillman (from the Rosie books). He has a lack of affect, trouble sleeping, an almost encyclopedic knowledge of classic Hollywood films (1930s-60s, let's say)—which is where all his slang and fashion sense comes from, an amazing memory for things outside of films, and no sense of humor. Frank's social circle consists of his mother, his school's secretary (he eats lunch in her office and talks movies with her), his therapist, and a piano teacher/handyman who sporadically appears at the house. How Banning made it through the first nine years of his life is beyond Alice's comprehension, and she's not sure how she'll survive however long it'll take Frank's mother to write her book.


Banning herself is pretty socially awkward (whether this is due to constant exposure to Frank, hiding from the rabid public, or just the way she's been her whole life) and rarely treats Alice like anything but a pest. This whole endeavor is a real trial for Alice, who handles it fairly well (better than I would have, I can say with a great deal of certainty).

The novel is essentially about Alice trying to navigate the mine-field that is dealing with Banning and struggling to connect with Frank and help him develop a social skill or three.


I enjoyed Frank's character—he's like Bernadette Fox without the dangerous wit (in a way, so is his mother) mixed with the aforementioned Don Tillman. Banning herself grates a little bit, but I'm almost positive she's supposed to. Alice is a strong character, as well—she's not sure what her role is supposed to be, but she keeps trying to do what's needed. Her response to the imposed social isolation is both realistic, understandable and relatable. I really enjoyed spending time with Alice and Frank, particularly once Frank warmed a little to her.


There's a good deal of foreshadowing throughout the book to a calamitous event, and once it happens the novel resolves fairly quickly. I don't think the novel concludes as much as it stops, and that bothered me (it still does, actually)—I'd prefer a better sense of what will happen to any of the characters after the book ends (whether one day, one year, or a decade after—I'm clueless all around).


Gilbert's narration was impressive—it'd be impressive if only for her delivery of Frank's dialogue. She perfectly grasps his lack of affect, patterns (and speed) of speech, as well as the ineffable charm that's part of his character.


Be Frank With Me is a charming novel that faltered a little at the end, but the pleasures of the journey was still worth the time. I'll keep my eyes out for something else by both Johnson and Gilbert and will gladly give them another try. I expect most readers will enjoy their time with Frank and Alice (and many won't agree with me about the ending).

3 Stars
A Guide to White Male Writers for White Male Writers (or those who want to be one)
The White Man's Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon - Dana Schwartz, Jason Adam Katzenstein
If you want to be a writer, you should attend an Ivy League university, where you roommate happens to be the nephew of a senior editor at Knopf, and you should go on to get a summer internship in New York City. This internship will not be paid, and unfortunately you will have to suffer the indignity of living in an apartment that your parents pay for. But soon, your struggles will pay off, and you will be accepted at one of the nation's most prestigious MFA programs.


If you can't do all of that, I hate to say it, but it sounds like you won't have the commitment and discipline necessary to make it as a writer.

Nice guy, the narrator of this book, right? I didn't know this when I picked it up, but this is a book inspired by a parody Twitter account Schwartz runs @GuyInYourMFA, I wish I knew that going in—it might have helped me appreciate the book more. Probably not, really, the book speaks for itself, but it the humor in it screams Twitter. Anyway, that account is the voice behind this book.


This is a guide to:


teach you everything you need to know to become the chain-smokin, coffee-drinking, Proust-quoting, award-winning writer you've always known you should be...


Not a white man? Not to worry. The White Male Writer isn't a hard-and-fast demographic; it's a state of mind...

There's a brief discussion of topics like how to dress like a writer, what the Western Canon is, how to identify "Chick Lit" (the last identifier is "By Jennifer Weiner", which is a pretty good clue, you have to admit), and ends with a nice reading list of White Male Writers.


The heart of the book consists of thirty-two 6(+/-) page profiles of the greatest White Male Writers that make up the Western Canon. These consist of a brief biography, a discussion of some major works ("Works You Need to Know"), and some lessons from the work or life of the Writer that should be applied by the reader in their effort to become a Writer (drink recipes, how to respond to a rejection letter, how to write a love letter like James Joyce, etc.).


The writers are male, white, and largely published in the Twentieth Century (Shakespeare, Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Lord Byron, Dickens, Thoreau, and Tolstoy would be the exceptions). I can virtually guarantee that you've heard to them all—not that you've read them all, however. And in between the snark and intentionally sexist lessons, there's some decent information to be gleaned. That isn't the point of the book, the point is the snark, sexism, and general parodying the idea of the young, pretentious, white male would-be literary genius.


Every chapter includes at least 3 lines that should bring some level of amusement to the reader (some will have many more)—which is a pretty decent and consistent number. Sadly, all the jokes are around a theme, and so can get repetitive. If you don't read cover to cover, if you only read a 2-3 chapters at a time, and bear in mind that all the jokes will be similar, you can have a lot of fun with this book. If you neglect any of that, it can get tiresome. Once I figured that out (it didn't take long, thankfully, before I recognized the symptoms), I had a lot of fun with this book.


The illustrations are wonderful—each chapter (except the Pynchon chapter) features a great caricature of the artist, and a handful of other illustrations that do a wonderful job of augmenting the text.


This is not the subtlest of books I'll read this year (it doesn't try), but it is insightful, amusing and (accidentally?) informative. All of which makes it a fun, book-nerdy, read. Give it a shot, you'll probably be glad you did.

January 2020 in Retrospect: What I Read/Listened to/Wrote About Template

January in sum: 17 books read, 4,453+ pages (two books—1 audio, 1 e-ARC—don't have that information available), with an average of 3.8 rating (4 5-star reads!!). I'd have preferred a few more books in general and the ratio between print and audio favors audiobooks more than I'd like, but work's been so heavy I haven't been able to read as much (and I can listen while I work most of the time), that trend may continue for the next couple of months. Not going to complain (too much)...probably.


As per usual, I didn't write quite as many posts as I wanted to, particularly the review-ish kind. But adding a section about non-review-ish posts to this wrap-up makes me feel a lot more productive because I don't normally think of those posts when I look back at the month. So that's a cool thing (although most months won't be as filled with them, I realize).


Anyway, here's what happened here in the first month of 2020:
Books Read

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction The Bookish Life of Nina Hill Audiobook Junkyard Cats
5 Stars 5 Stars 3 Stars
Not Dressed The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues Come Tumbling Down
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
A Plague of Giants Audiobook Deep Dark Night Wizard Ring
5 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 2 Stars
Be Frank With Me Operation Large Scotch: O.L.S. Lost Hills
3.5 Stars 1 Star 4 1/2 Stars
Stone Cold Magic The Godwulf Manuscript The Winter Long Audiobook
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars
The White Man's Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon Winterkill  
3 Stars 3.5 Stars  

Still Reading

Tom Jones Original Cover Institutes of Christian Religion vol 1 The Identity and Attributes of God
A Beginning At The End Bloody Acquisitions  


5 Stars 4 2 1/2 Stars 0
4 1/2 Stars 2 2 Stars 1
4 Stars 3 1 1/2 Stars 0
3.5 Stars 4 1 Star 1
3 Stars 1    
    Average = 3.8

TBR Pile
Mt TBR January 20

"Traditionally" Published: 12
Self-/Independent Published: 5

Genre This Month Year to Date
Children’s 1 (5%) 11 (5%)
Fantasy 3 (16%) 3 (16%)
General Fiction/ Literature 3 (16%) 3 (16%)
Horror 1 (0%) 0 (0%)
Humor 1 (5%) 1 (5%)
Mystery/ Suspense/ Thriller 6 (32%) 6 (32%)
Non-Fiction 1 (5%) 1 (5%)
Science Fiction 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Steampunk 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Theology/ Christian Living 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Urban Fantasy 4 (21%) 4 (21%)
Western 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Review-ish Things Posted


  • Find Your Weigh by Shellie Bowdoin: A No-Nonsense, but not overly-demanding, approach to Eating right/Weight loss


  • Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer: A delightful guide to style, grammar, spelling and other things English Language-related that you didn’t realize you wanted to know.



  • Not Dressed by Matthew Hanover: If this book doesn’t bring a smile to your face, something’s broken




  • Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter, Khristine Hvam: Hunter tries SF with Predictably Entertaining Results




  • Wizard Ring by Clare Blanchard: A Subtle Take on Contemporary Fantasy


  • Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb: High Stakes Danger for Lori Anderson in the Windy City



  • Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg: A Dynamite Beginning to a New Series from One of the Most Reliable Scribes Around


  • Stone Cold Magic by Jayne Faith, Amy Landon (Narrator): Meet The City of Trees’ Resident Demon Hunter



Other Things I Wroteotherwriting
Other than the Saturday Miscellanies (5th, 11th, and 18th), I also posted:












How was your month?

Saturday Miscellany—2/1/20

Okay, I'm back with a mega-list that comes from two weeks of saving ideas. Lots of good stuff to be read in these odds 'n ends about books and reading that caught my eye. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:








  • Authors on a Podcast Talking Books Ep. 11 - Marc Thompson—I don't think I've heard an audiobook by him before, but I enjoyed hearing about his process and career. Also, listening to Daria's Mr. DeMartino reading an Amazon review was wonderful, could just that be a half-hour bi-weekly podcast?



  • Authors on a Podcast Talking Books Ep. 12 - Mike Chen—much of the same territory as the previous link, but they're both worth listening to. A lot of bonus Star Wars discussion.



  • Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith—Noir on an North Dakota reservation, looks brutal, intense and good.



  • High Fire by Eoin Colfer—I typically enjoy Colfer's stuff and I only needed to read "high-octane adventure about a vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon who’s been hiding out from the world - and potential torch-carrying mobs - in a Louisiana bayou" to grab it. I've yet to read a review, but they seem positive.


  • House on Fire by Joseph Finder—The New Nick Heller novel has him taking on one corner of the opiate crisis. Gonna be good.


  • Hi Five by Joe Ide—Isaiah Quintabe is back, which is all i need to know. If you want more, Lashaan at Bookidote has a few things to say.


  • Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski—a couple of teenage hackers unleash an AI on the world.


  • The Bard's Blade by Brian D. Anderson—a promising looking epic fantasy that I'm trying hard to find time for soon.


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to travelingcloak, clareblanchardbooks (no URL, can't follow-back), Store Of Unicorns, jamesdeeclayton and fluffyluggage for following the blog this week. Don't be a stranger, and use that comment box, would you?