Irresponsible Reader

Irresponsible Reader

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

Saturday Miscellany - 6/10/17

I've been quiet over the last week, I know -- I've discarded a couple of posts to try to get them in better shape. I have no illusions that I'm cranking out masterpieces every day or anything. Still, I want to do a decent job, especially with books/authors that I hope people will pay attention to. Hopefully I can either live up to my standards this week (or lower them).


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

    This Week's New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper -- an ex-con kidnaps his daughter from school to save her life. Listen to him do a better job describing it on the last Two Crime Writers and a Microphone episode.
  • Supreme Villainy A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Most (In)Famous Supervillain Memoir Never Published by King Oblivion, Matt D. Wilson -- from the publisher's site: "For eons, King Oblivion, Ph.D., was one of the most ruthless supervillains the world has ever known. As the CEO of the ISS (International Society of Supervillains) for half a century, he was personally responsible for numerous nefarious acts, including Nixon’s presidential election, stealing the country of Japan, Star Wars: Episode I–III, and Milli Vanilli, just to name a few." This is his memoir. 'Nuff said.
  • And I mentioned this last week, because I know that's what I read somewhere, but as I realized when I went to buy it after hitting "Publish," it came out yesterday (and I'm sure about this date -- it's on my Kindle: Pulped by Timothy Hallinan -- Tip of the Hat to Jo Perry for letting me know about this -- what happens to a fictional detective when is series goes out of print and he becomes self-aware?

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to GEORGE SORIN VENETE and The Sound of One Man Laughing for following the blog this week.

3 Stars
A fun kick-off to a SF adventure series
Project Mothership: space marines, robots, and Captain Crunch (The Prince of Qorlec Book 1) - Ash Gray

Rose is on her honeymoon when she's abducted by aliens -- who have abducted her for the express purpose of having her carry one of the many eggs of a Queen struggling to keep her subjects safe and fighting to prevent an invasion force from completely conquering her planet. And, yeah, if everything goes bad, it'll be good to have some descendants of the Queen running around.


A few years later, a woman comes knocking on the door of Rose and her daughter, Quinn, with the news that the enemy is close -- and has been working with the FBI -- to take her daughter from her -- Rose and Zita fight for their escape through human robotic and alien forces, just trying to get off the planet so that Quinn can claim her rightful place helping her people.


There's a sense of fun, despite the dangers, and a great pace with plenty of tense moments throughout this. It was an enjoyable read with some good writing, and I'm pretty curious where it goes from here. It's not perfect, I have a couple of complaints that I'm afraid will overshadow things -- I want to stress: I liked this book, I want to read more -- don't think this post is anything but a recommendation.


But to start with, other than the weaponry, I'm not so sure I see the difference between Gray's 2160 and 2016 -- it's a shame that Gray didn't work harder on that part of the world he built. I'm not saying it needs to be an unrecognizable reality (although it'd be nice), but we should have moved further than just better guns.


One of my biggest beefs in fiction -- TV or books -- are central characters telling their closest family and friends lies to protect them. Yes, I'm looking at you particularly CW DC shows. That's Rose's impulse move, which is understandable, but why not trust those closest to her with the truth? Particularly her husband, clearly head over heels with her. Why make up a ludicrous story to explain what happened to her rather than risk the truth?


My last beef was the sex scene -- there's some romantic tension early on that I'm fine with, I thought it worked in the moment. But running for your life, with various enemies on your heels is not the time to take a quick break for a little whoopie. It didn't need to be as graphic as it was (thankfully brief), but really ill-timed.


Setting that aside, this was a fun, quick read (I couldn't believe I was done when I got to the end) that really made me want to go grab the sequel. Ash didn't create a masterpiece here, but he told an engaging, entertaining story. Which is good enough for me.


<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received this book from the author in exchange for this post, I appreciate it.</i>

3.5 Stars
Geekdom's Nancy Drew is back for more mystery and fun.
The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss - Max Wirestone
"She's just trouble. Dahlia Moss is a nexus of trouble."

Det. Maddocks meant that as a disparaging remark -- but he's pretty much on target. Which is good news for Wirestone's readers.


Dahlia is asked to meet someone at a video game tournament, he's convinced it'd be good to have a detective on hand. Her mysterious client, Doctor XXX, doesn't show where he's supposed to -- but there is a dead body there.


So, while not getting in the police's way, Dahlia needs to investigate the murder, find out just who Doctor XXX is, why he thought a detective would be needed at the tournament -- not to mention, just who's the guy in his underwear handcuffed to a chair nearby?


Concerned for her welfare, Dahlia's roommate, Charice sends her boyfriend Daniel along to act as a bodyguard -- for some reason, people in her life aren't crazy about Dahlia going to meet a stranger named Doctor XXX. I enjoy Charice, but a little of her goes a long way, and one of the biggest issues I had with the previous book was that Charice was just in it too much -- having Daniel stand in for her for most of the book helped a lot. Daniel's goofy enough on his own, but he's much more restrained than this girlfriend. So the whole thing was easier to take. Det. Shuler wasn't around much, and mostly served as someone for Dahlia to get occasional help from. Hopefully, he has a bigger role next time. Of course, we also have Nathan, Dhalia's love interest:


A word about shirtless Nathan. I have a real thing for Nathan-I admit it-but this is not a Janet Evanovich-y romp here where Rick ManSlab takes off his shirt to reveal a sixpack, or an eight-pack, or a seven-pack (which is a six-pack and an abdominal hernia, possibly?), or whatever packs guys have these days. Shirtless Nathan looks like a turtle who has somehow gotten out of its shell. He has no body mass! No fat, which is admittedly appealing, but no anything else. He was a brazen little turtle, though, because he seemed cheered by the turn of events.

Dahlia herself is a blast -- a great mix of confidence, cowardice, competence, and cluelessness -- she's over her head in a lot of the situations she finds herself in -- but doesn't let that stop her -- she just barrels on, sure that things will work out . . . eventually. I love her voice, her attitude -- and ineptitude. Really, all of her. She's probably my favorite female detective since Izzy Spellman.


I know, thanks to that blurb/review of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss , everyone talks about Veronica Mars in relation to Dahlia -- but the more I think of it, the quotation above is closer to the truth -- she's Stephanie Plum with more realistic anatomy. The same heart, a similar humor, the same good intentions and haphazard results, with some loony friends (not as extreme as Stephanie's) and a similar budding triangle.


In the midst of the investigations, Wirestone is able to celebrate the videogame culture and those who are part of it while being able to joke about it and have fun with some of the eccentricities around it. Not just laughing at, but with these characters and their hobbies is a great way to appeal to both those inside geek culture and without. More than that, we have a pretty decent mystery -- one that's not just clever in construction, but in the way it is told.


This is such an enjoyable read -- I didn't make it out of the first chapter without audibly chuckling. I had a lot of fun with the first book, and I think this was a noticeable improvement -- I had more fun reading it. I hope this trend continues to the next book.


Also, I'm hoping this isn't a trilogy -- I don't know that we need 20+ Dahlia Moss mysteries, but three isn't going to be enough.

2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany - 6/3/2017

Very busy week, was barely online for a couple of days, plus it was the end of the months -- which results in not a lot to see. Still 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:

    Only one New Release caught my eye, but man, it looks to be a doozy:
  • Pulped by Timothy Hallinan -- Tip of the Hat to Jo Perry for letting me know about this -- what happens to a fictional detective when is series goes out of print and he becomes self-aware?

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to catskittiesandmore, saisuresh007 and for following the blog this week. And, a belated greeting and welcome to alexankarr1 for following last week (sorry I missed you).



4.5 Stars
Can't be summed up in a title...
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up)
<i>This originally appeared at <a href="" target="_blank">The Irresponsible Reader</a>.</i>
I hadn't even heard of this book until a couple of weeks ago, when it was recommended to me by a loyal reader. And I wasn't given a lot of details, just a strong recommendation and something about it being "about grief." I could've used the warning that it was a YA book, but otherwise, that's all I needed to know (and the YA wouldn't have been a deal breaker or maker -- I just would've liked to know what I was grabbing). I'm not going to say much more than that, really. It's about grief, there's some magic, and it's one of the most effective novels I've read this year.


There's been so much said about this book by others -- I'm almost afraid to say much, I don't want to ruin anyone's discovery.


You've got a 13 year-old boy, Conor, whose mother is undergoing cancer treatment -- and it's not going well. His grandmother (not at all the stereotypical grandmother-type, as Conor is very well aware), comes to stay with them with every new round of treatment, and Conor hates it. His father and his new wife have started a new life in the US. All of this has left Conor isolated, emotionally all alone -- except at school, where he's bullied (when not alone). Somehow in his despair, Conor summons a monster, a monster older than Western Civilization, who visits the boy to help him.


He helps him via stories -- I love this -- not escapism, but through the lessons from stories -- and not in a "You see, Timmy . . . " kind of moralizing -- just from understanding how people work through the stories.


After reading page 15, I jotted down in my notes, "Aw, man! This is going to make me cry by the end, isn't it?" I didn't, for the record, but I came close (and possibly, if I hadn't been sitting in a room with my daughter and her guitar teacher working on something, I might have.


The prose is easy and engaging -- there's a strong sense of play to the language. There's some wonderfully subtle humor throughout, keeping this from being hopelessly depressing. The prose is deceptively breezy, it'd be very easy to read this without catching everything that Ness is doing. But mostly, what the book gives is emotion -- there's a raw emotion on display here -- and if it doesn't get to you, well, I just don't know what's wrong with you.


The magic, the monster and the protagonist remind me so much of Paul Cornell's <b>Chalk</b> (which is probably backwards, <b>Chalk</b> should be informed by this -- oops). Eh, either way -- this is cut from the same cloth.


That's a bit more than I intended to say, but I'm okay with that. I'm not convinced that this is really all that well-written, technically speaking. But it packs such an emotional wallop, it grabs you, reaches down your throat and seizes your heart and does whatever it wants to with it -- so who cares how technically well it's written? (and, yeah, I do think the two don't necessarily go together). A couple of weeks from now, I may not look back on this as fondly -- but tonight, in the afterglow? Loved this.


Love, grief, hope, loss, anger, fear, monsters and the power of stories. Give this one a shot. Maybe bring a Kleenex, you never know . . .


<img class="aligncenter" src="" alt="2017 Library Love Challenge" style="border:none;height:auto;width:200px;">

4 Stars
A Satisfying Collection of Jack Reacher Shorts (not a Cruise joke)
No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories - Lee Child

Over the years, Lee Child has published a number of short stories/novellas featuring Jack Reacher, and finally they're all published in one handy collection. Some are available in non-ebook format for the first time, too. Also, we have a brand-new novella to kick things off. For many, this is the first they've been able to access them -- I haven't read any of them before, but I've listened to most of them in audiobook format.


Now, as I've said before, short stories aren't normally my bag -- and that's very true for the Reacher stories. He just works better in novel-length stories, generally speaking anyway. For those stories I've listened to already, my opinion of them didn't really change as I read them -- the couple I liked, I still liked. The others . . . well, I remained unimpressed -- it's good to know that it wasn't the format or Dick Hill (the narrator) -- it really was the length or story.


But enough about that -- there are three stories that I want to talk about -- the first two are short stories that I really enjoyed. They're just the right length, which is nice, you don't feel short-changed. They also don't feature Reacher that prominently. The first is "James Penney's New Identity" (which apparently was published in a shorter form originally), it's a story about a man who's the victim of changing economic times who has had enough -- at a pivotal point for him, he meets Jack Reacher (still in the Army). By his words and actions, Reacher changes the rest of James Penny's life -- and Reacher doesn't have to fight anyone to do it. This story leaves the reader with more questions than answers -- but in a good way.


"Guy Walks into a Bar" is written from the POV of a new police detective who has the good(?) fortune to run into Reacher in a professional capacity on her first day. I really liked this one -- Reacher was pretty ingenious here dealing with the problem he sticks his nose into in a way that shows more brains than brawn. I think I actually laughed out loud as soon as I realized what he was up to. Pretty clever.


Oddly. there are two Christmas-y stories -- I don't know why I find that so odd, but Reacher doesn't feel like a Christmas character. I liked, but wasn't wowed by, both of them.


Obviously, the big thing here is the new novella, Too Much Time. Reacher's wandering through a town and gets peripherally involved in stopping a petty crime. He allows himself to be cajoled by the police into helping them out for a few minutes afterwards. Things go wrong just a few minutes later. This is as good a novella-length story that I can imagine for Reacher -- there's a pretty good fight, Reacher solving a puzzle while helping the authorities -- and keeping himself out of trouble. A little bit cerebral, a little bit thug. The perfect Reacher recipe. If Andy Martin's book has taught me anything, it's that there's some significance to the law enforcement officials having names that start with A, B, C and D. If I was more clever, I'd know why. Still, I liked it a lot.


A nice, solid collection -- with some strong stand-outs. Reacher fans need to grab it.


2017 Library Love Challenge

May 2017 Report

22 books finished -- not bad. Looking at this, I'm wondering if I gave out too many 4-Star ratings, but I can't think of any of those that I'd change, so I guess I just had a really good month.


Anyway, here's what happened here in May.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

The Defense Startup Strip Jack
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
Hour Game Chalk The Glamshack
3 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Wild Thing The Second Life of Nick Mason The Hammer of Thor
3 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars
The Right Side People of the Sun The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss
4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
The End of Magic Storm Front The Christ of Wisdom
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
The Question of the Absentee Father Fox Hunter On the Line
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
Bone Crossed Gather Her Round Fool Moon
4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
No Middle Name            
4 Stars            

Still Reading:

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament The Self-Disclosure of Jesus      


Wrath of an Angry God            

Reviews Posted:


How was your month?

4 Stars
Charlie Fox is back!! (and as good as you remember)
Fox Hunter: A Charlie Fox Thriller - Zoë Sharp

I honestly had given up on seeing another Charlie Fox novel -- which was a cryin' shame, but I get that authors have to move on sometimes. But then a couple of weeks ago, when I logged onto NetGalley to take care of something, there it was on the front page -- and I jumped to request it (despite promising myself I was taking a NetGalley break to catch up on other things).


“You were a soldier, Miss Fox , and you are now a bodyguard. There is an old saying that is true in both cases : To survive—to protect a life— you have to be lucky every day. But your enemies, they have to be lucky only once.”

Following his near-miraculous recovery from the injuries no one expected him to survive, Charlie Fox's love/boss, Sean, hasn't been the same. Now, it looks like he's settling old debts -- not necessarily his own. The fact that he's doing that is bad enough -- it's not quite de rigueur for someone in his position to go around exacting vengeance. But the way these debts are being settled (if that's what's happening) speaks to someone not in full control. Charlie fights for the opportunity to do the boots-on-the-ground investigation to prove that it's not Sean's handiwork.


This ground is Kuwait and Iraq, and before she knows it, Charlie is dealing with soldiers/mercs that she's annoyed in the past, Russians with a grudge, Iraqis trying to defend cultural artifacts and certain three-letter agencies mucking around in it all -- and every sign is that Sean's up to exactly what Charlie is convinced he's not doing. Before the book ends, she'll come face to face with multiple faces from her past (none of which she ever wanted to encounter again) and will be forced to reassess some of the most formative events of her past and career.


For those new to Charlie Fox -- this would make a pretty good entry point, by the way -- she's former British Army, who received some special forces training, before her career was derailed. Since then she's done plenty of work as a bodyguard and worked other types of security. She's stubborn, loyal, inventive and tenacious. And deadly -- it eats away at her, but when push comes to shove, Charlie's as lethal as you can find.


Killing because your life—or that of another—is in immediate danger is one thing. I’d been trained to accept that possibility right from the start of my army career. But appointing yourself judge, jury, and executioner is quite another. As is doing it anyway, only to discover that it doesn’t trouble your conscience nearly as much as it should.

Sharp has given Charlie a strong voice -- one you can believe can accomplish all she needs to, yet one that's entirely human.


The new characters are well developed -- and we see plenty of old faces, too. One unexpected antagonist is almost too evil to be believable (but, sadly, I imagine that plenty of Armed Forces have people just like him). There's one death that was a real gut-punch for the reader (or at least this one) -- that's a testimony to Sharp's skill that she can create someone like that in a brief period.


I don't remember any of the previous novels being all that tied to current events, but Fox Hunter clearly took place post-Brexit and during the Trump administration. I'm not saying that's bad, but oddly specific -- and changes when the rest of the books happened as well, because this didn't take place long after Die Easy despite the 5 years between the novels -- I'd have had an easier time swallowing the book without that specificity, but not much -- I note it because I found it strange.


That aside, this is exactly what Charlie Fox readers have come to expect from her -- she takes the proverbial licking and keeps on ticking, and kicking, swinging and everything else. Best of all, she thinks -- she plots, she improvises, she keeps on trying. Not to sound cliché, but this damsel finds herself in plenty of distress -- and gets herself out of it (occasionally with help -- but not in a Nell Fenwick sort of way; more like Lt. Templeton Peck way). Plenty of action, plenty of violence, plenty of suspense -- all with some character development, moving ongoing story arcs forward (while re-evaluating everything before).


Not much else to ask for -- except another volume soon.


Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work -- I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

4 Stars
Bill Smith is racing the clock to rescue a hostage
On the Line - S.J. Rozan

Okay, it's Bill Smith's turn as the POV character -- and that's a good thing, because this would be a very short book if it wasn't. A figure from Bill's past is back, looking for revenge. The electronically altered voice on the phone belongs to someone that was sent to prison, in part due to Bill's work, and now he's out and is ready for Bill to pay what he's due. He's demanding that Bill play this game he's devised in order to keep his hostage alive for the next 12 hours (or so).


The hostage, of course, is Lydia Chin. This is what makes this book different from all the other books where the hero is racing against the clock to play the twisted game of the psychopath in order to save the hostage. The hostage isn't someone created just to be in peril, this is someone we've become attached to over the last 9 books (half the time being in her brain, I should add) -- and Bill's got a lot more history with and affection for her than any of us readers do. Again, this is stuff we know, not something manufactured for the purposes of this plot. So the stakes are higher for Bill than most heroes in this plot, and we believe it, too.


Without Lydia to work with, Bill has to get help from others -- there's just no way that he can do this on his own. Enter Lydia's friend Mary, the NYPD detective; and her cousin Linus, the hacker/computer guru. Even with these two replacing Lydia, Bill spends a lot of the time seemingly over-matched. Now that I think about it, he's so distracted by worry that a lot of the thinking is left to others, Bill mostly reacts to things in anger and fear. All believably, I should add.


The kidnapper/tormentor isn't some psychopathic genius, some criminal mastermind -- he's a smart, committed criminal who has spent a lot of time planning. This means that the reader can see why he'd go off the bend like he does, why Bill can defeat him -- and yet spend so many pages clueless. He is clever, I shouldn't downplay that -- the game he's set up, the clues (and what he does with them) show that this is no slouch that Bill's up against. Thankfully, neither are Bill's allies -- for 2010, one of the solutions involves a ingenious use of social media (actually, it'd be a pretty sly use in 2017, too).


The conversations between Lydia and Bill are what I'm always saying are the highlight of these books -- in this book, their chats are brief proof of life kind of things. This means that every word, every nuance counts -- and it's primarily in what these two don't have to say to communicate that is the winning element.


I enjoyed this one so much -- even if Bill wasn't as sharp as he should've been, even if Lydia is practically a non-factor throughout (but when she gets involved, it counts). Rozan knows these two, their world, so well that this story seems effortless (which it just couldn't be).


It seems effortless for her, I should say, the reader is left hanging on every development, every twist, every detail, just hoping that Bill can save the day. One of Rozan's best.

2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany - 5/27/2017

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:

    I ididn't see any New Releases that were up my alley this week -- which means I probably missed some -- and next week doesn't look much better. You guys see anything?

3.5 Stars
Samuel Crosses the Country to find an Answer
The Question of the Absentee Father (An Asperger's Mystery) - E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen

So after reading #3 in this series, The Question of the Felonious Friend last year, I was going to read the first two before the next one came out but you know what they say about the The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men, right? Gang aft agley . . . So, here it is, a few months later and the next book is out. Picking up soon after the last ended -- this time the case is a bit more personal. Not case, of course, Samuel isn't a detective, he answers questions. To be accurate (as Samuel would want), this time the question is a bit more personal. Not that Samuel cares about it, but people in his life do.


(actually, I technically can still read the first two before the book comes out -- I've got a few months, now that I think about it)


I should back up a bit, for those who didn't read what I thought of book 3 (I'll get over the slight) -- Samuel Hoenig isn't your typical mystery protagonist. He runs a business called Questions Answered -- basically, he researches things for you. A human Boolean Search. From the looks of it, this occasionally results in him playing amateur detective. As is indicated by the name of the series, Samuel finds himself on one end of the Autism Spectrum, which helps him focus on his questions, but leads to challenges on the interpersonal level.


Which is where is mother and his associate, Ms. Washburn, come in to play -- Ms. Washburn helps him through the challenges presented by the world around him (as well as helping research his answers). His mother is . . . well, his mother -- she still cooks for him, , still cares for him, pushes him to do new things, while providing a safe environment at home. He has a friend, Mike (no known last name), a taxi driver with some military experience that he relies on when things get sticky. And things get pretty sticky this time around.


Samuel's father left home when Samuel was a kid, he always assumed it was because he was such a difficult child. He never let this define him -- or affect him at all (as far as he's aware). But now, his mother receives a letter from him, and it distresses her. So she asks Samuel the question that she's probably been wanting to ask for a while, "Where is your father living now?" The question is not emotionally wrought for Samuel, but he can tell it is for his mother (and Ms. Washburn keeps trying to make it into something that matters to Samuel).


What Samuel does get emotional about is what this question makes him do -- leave home. Get on an airplane, travel to California, sleep on a strangers bed, ride in a car that he is unfamiliar with, eat at restaurants he's never heard of, deal with LA traffic -- and much more. In the midst of all that, Samuel and Ms. Washburn begin to suspect that his father is mixed up in something nefarious, and potentially dangerous.


The story is really strong, and more complex than I'd assumed it would be. In the last book, Samuel was dealing with other people on the Spectrum or their families. This time, there's none of that -- just strangers who are unused to interacting with people like him and who have no patience. Which serves as a good challenge for Samuel to overcome. There is real character growth evident in this book -- it's not the same kind of growth you expect to see in most books -- because Samuel isn't like most protagonists. But it is there -- and really, he makes some pretty big strides here. It's nice to see him not be treated as static, but someone who can make choices, can evolve.


Once again, Samuel isn't treated as a bag of symptoms or tics, he isn't made a paragon of anything. He's an individual who has to do some things the rest of the populace don't consider. There are some lighter moments in the book, but none of them are at Samuel's expense, just human foibles.


The Question of the Absentee Father is another strong outing for Samuel and his team -- as well as for E.J. Copperman. For those who like a mystery on on the cozy side, with some strong characters, this is the one for you.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.

4.5 Stars
Quinn operates on a whole new level here, with a dynamite protagonist
The Right Side: A Novel - Spencer Quinn

Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I've been a Spencer Quinn fan -- it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it's kind of a given that I'd like this book -- but only "kind of." This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.


Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long -- an oversimplification that'll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan -- as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women -- she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured -- physically and mentally.


Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly -- and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn't have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It's pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else -- as you'd expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci's hometown -- where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose -- bring her friend's daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.


LeAnne is a great character -- not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws -- some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too -- even if you don't necessarily like them (LeAnne's mother would be an example of this -- she's trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne's apprehensions toward her -- and will likely share them). The people in Marci's hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book -- and I'd be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne's going through -- some don't know how to react to her -- but those that come close will endear themselves to you.


The dog, Goody, isn't Chet, he isn't Bowser -- he's a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won't be serving as the narrator in a story any time -- he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.


Like I said, I'm a Quinn fan -- but I didn't think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he's great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn't have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There's a couple of moments that didn't work as well as they should've -- a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book -- so much just works, that you'll accept the things that don't. It wasn't all dark and moody -- there's some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a "feel good" read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.


This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that's where Quinn's readers are -- but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it's flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like -- such a great read.


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

5 Stars
One of the best audiobooks I've heard
Storm Front  - Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Okay, I know myself well enough that I'm pretty incapable of critical thought when it comes to <b>The Dresden Files</b> -- which is not to say I think the books (especially this one) are perfect, but I can overlook all the flaws -- and those I can't I can shrug off. It's been years -- almost a decade -- since I re-read this, and I'd forgotten some details, but the core is pure Dresden. And the best of all is that I know they get better from here.


So I'm not going to talk about the book, really. For the 2 of you who don't know, Harry Dresden is a Marlowe/Spenser-type of P.I. (but not really) who happens to be a wizard. He consults with the police on the supernatural front and does a little business helping private citizens. That's all the setup you need.


What I want to talk about here is the audiobook portion of it -- I've heard for years that the James Marsters narrated audiobooks in this series are fantastic. I was prepared to be thoroughly entertained. But not as much as I was. Marsters was just incredible, almost unbelievably good. This was, as the best audiobooks are, a performance, not just a reading. And this was one of the best performances I've witnessed from Marsters. Had I the means, I'd have bought the rest of the series Friday night after I finished this one.


Butcher fans, if you've only read the book, you need to listen to them, too. Marsters brought our man to life.

3 Stars
Magnus Chase returns to do pretty much what you'd expect
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2 The Hammer of Thor - Rick Riordan

Thor's hammer is missing, so not only can he not stream Netflix (I'd forgotten that was a thing in this series) on it, he can't intimidate the giants into not invading. You can guess which bothers him more. The Valkrie Samira and her pal Magnus have to go find it before things get out of hand.


I didn't like this one as much as the first book in this series -- but I didn't dislike it. It's still the same outline that Riordan is following with these books -- there's a quest; the hero and his friends have to go find the whatever to stall doomsday a little longer; to get the X the group has to beat a series of mini-challenges and then they'll have a shot at the X. Since this is a book 2, they'll get X, but many other things will go wrong, forcing the series into another book. For the most part, the minor challenges worked better for me than I expected.


I enjoyed Magnus' friends -- Samira in particular; although I'm pretty torn about the new character added to Magnus' group: Alex Fierro -- a child of Loki. I understand what Riordan was trying to do with this character, but I'm not sure he succeeded. I'm not convinced that Alex was a person, and not just a conglomeration of traits. But I have hope. Alex's presence, I thought, ended up short-changing some of the other characters when it came to action and involvement in the plot, which I wasn't crazy about.


I really enjoy seeing different authors' take on the same mythological characters. Comparing/contrasting Kevin Hearne's and Riordan's Thors and Lokis would make for a very entertaining piece (I think Riordan's Thor is more comical, but his Loki just might be more sadistic), and I will admit I got distracted a couple of times listening to this by thinking about the differences.


The best part of this was seeing how the problems Magnus, etc. are dealing with intersect some of what Percy, Annabeth and Apollo are going through in Riordan's other series, and the strong hint that we'll see some sort of cross-over soon. We'd understood that the Egyptian gods were threatening the earth about the same time that the Problems with Camps Jupiter and Half-Blood start up, but this was a much more explicit description. I like thinking that the various pantheons are having troubles at the same time, and that Earth could be doom in any number of ways simultaneously.


I bought this in hardcover the week it came out (last October, I think), but haven't been able to find/make the time to read it. When I saw it as available on my library's audiobook site, I figured I'd jump -- just to get that TBR pile a little smaller. I hadn't listened to Riordan on audio before, and was curious ow it translated. I was surprised to hear Kieran Culkin's name (and voice) at the beginning of this -- he didn't strike me as the kind of actor who'd do audiobooks. I'm glad that he did, though. I really enjoyed his work throughout the novel -- the narration, the characters -- he just nailed it. That's how Magnus Chase should sound.


It was entertaining enough to keep going, and I trust that Riordan knows what he's doing, I'm just not convinced that he did all he could to make this book as good as it could be.

Saturday Miscellany - 5/20/17

Things might go better if I stop trying to post this first thing in the morning -- this time my tardiness can be blamed on my 2nd son's high school graduation last night (congrats, my boy) and our new dog being . . . well, a wonderful distraction.


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 welcome to mysteryauthorjamesrnelson for following the blog this week.

4 Stars
Childhood wonder and horror make this dark urban fantasy something else.
Chalk: A Novel - Paul Cornell

There are kids who went through school experiences like mine who will never watch football, and there are those who end up playing for Arsenal. Okay, who will end up with season tickets. Stockholm syndrome will only take you so far.


Enough about what I am now. That comes later. 


Everyone keeps talking about this as a story about bullying -- sure, there's a little bullying here. But mostly, that's like saying that Hannibal Lecter enjoys an unconventional diet. What happens to Andrew Waggoner is so far beyond bullying -- it's flat out assault (but with a psychological component that matches bullying). After a Halloween dance, Waggoner is forced into the woods by the school bullies and is assaulted. Somehow, his trauma links him to some long-dormant forces who take the opportunity to reassert themselves. One manifestation of the mystical/magical works with (compels? coerces? convinces?) Waggoner to take his revenge against those who permanently scarred him mentally and physically.


And over the next 12 months, that's just what happens -- Waggoner and/or his mystical companion (it's never clear exactly how much is done by each) exact their revenge -- Waggoner vacillates in his commitment to this project, and comes close to stopping on many occasions. In the midst of this, he becomes a writer and makes a friend based on shared interest, rather than just being social pariahs. In short, he starts growing up.

Meanwhile, the ancient forces tied to Waggoner are in open conflict with the dominant, more modern/contemporary, forces/beliefs. The school -- and the students' lives -- become the major battleground for them, the final conflict coming on the anniversary of the attack that changed Waggoner's life forever.


I kept seeing the school as the school from <b>Sing Street</b> (except, in the West Country, not Dublin -- but roughly the same era), which I know is inaccurate, but I couldn't stop myself. Pop music plays a large role in the story, and as it's set in the early 80's I didn't have to google most of the songs (there were a couple of tunes that didn't make it to Idaho that long ago) -- which was a plus for me, and probably most readers.


You can tell (well, you can guess) that Cornell and Waggoner had similar experiences in their early lives -- the language he uses to describe the bullying speaks to that. But more than that, the way he describes how the bullying shaped him, both then and when Waggoner reflects on those events from the vantage point of adulthood, resonated with me, and will with many readers.


The characters -- bullies, victims, other children, or adults -- were all wonderfully constructed. I'm not sure that I liked any of them (including Waggoner), but I was drawn into this world, and was very invested in what happened to each of them.


This was intense, gripping, strangely something (I want to say beautiful, but that doesn't seem right) -- there's a <i>je ne sais quoi</i> about <b>Chalk</b> that inspires and repulses at the same time. I know I haven't done a good job describing this book -- I'm trying hard not to ruin anything for future readers. It was one of the more affecting, compelling books I've read this year. Cornell does a masterful job of mixing our reality with his fantasy -- as he's shown in the <b>Shadow Police</b> and <b>Lychford</b> books -- this time you add in a layer of childhood horror and wonder to that combination.


This is something special, you won't read much like it.