Irresponsible Reader

Irresponsible Reader

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

4 Stars
This Inner City Sherlock will knock your socks off
IQ - Joe Ide

The book opens with a criminal in the making, and a very slapstick-y incident. But even while grinning about that, you get the sense that this character isn't going to be good for more laughs. He's not -- but thankfully, we don't have to spend a lot of time on him, because Isaiah Quintabe (a.k.a. IQ) finishes his blossoming criminal career. Which is very effective way to introduce Isaiah, the unlicensed investigator, and his world to readers.


After this, we spend some more time with our modern-day Sherlock of South Central LA. He needs money, not another case that he takes on in return for some homemade cookies or something, he's got a couple of big bills heading his way and requires cash to take care of things. His need for an infusion of cash forces him to align himself with a former friend (there's a very good reason for that "former") with a tie to a well-paying client. The client is a famous rapper who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him -- he happens to be right, I should add, which makes the book a lot more interesting. (obviously, an investigator looking into a paranoid delusion isn't going to be as action-packed as one looking into a person actually trying to kill someone). This investigation will bring Isaiah and Dodson into the not-as-lucrative-as-it-used-to-be music industry, into marital problems, petty jealousies, and a whole lot closer to pit bulls than at least one of them wants to be. The case is at once a showcase for Isaiah's talents and something almost too complex for him.


We also get a series of flashbacks to the events that set Isaiah on this path, how he honed his natural abilities and inclinations to become the man he his -- an unlicensed PI that helps out people in his neighborhood, many of whom wouldn't turn to the authorities. So often with a Sherlock-type character, we just get the finished product -- the Great Detective at the height of his powers, knowing all sorts of arcane information. But Ide shows us how Isaiah gets this information, how he earned it, improved his reasoning and observation skills. Also the why behind it all -- why didn't Isaiah take his genius into something that would make him more money? Why does he stay where he is? The flashbacks also show us Dodson and Isaiah meeting and falling out.


The two stories intertwine and are pretty equally intriguing, which is a real bonus.

There's what seems to be an authenticity to the world Ide portrays -- honestly, what do I know about the realities of LA? But it sure feels real, so either way, I guess Ide did his job. The characters -- all of them, the good, the bad, the creepy, the slimy and everyone else are wonderfully conceived and executed. The crimes depicted are varied sophisticated (making them worth Isaiah's time) -- and at least one method of assassination is something I've never seen before. Ide does a great job of balancing the moods at work, the grim, the hopeful, the silly and all points in between.


There's a passage in this book that is one of the best brief pieces of writing I've read this year, period. As I reread it (at least 5 times), I kept thinking of the Fiction Writing professors I had in college that would've made us study it for at least one class session. It's during the "origin" portion, where Isaiah's Geometry teacher is explaining inductive reasoning -- these four paragraphs give you a strong character, setting, tone, a minor character (and even a brief storyline), a good idea what she looks like, her past, her relationship with her husband -- and you get a good working definition of inductive reasoning, too! It's really great.


This year (most recently, last week), I've also talked about another modern Sherlock -- Victor Locke. How would I compare the two of these? There's some similarities, and more than a few differences. At the end of the day, Victor Locke is a lot more amusing and entertaining. Isaiah, on the other hand, I could believe was real (I know he's not, don't worry). Isaiah is driven, he's brilliant, he's proud, he's haunted, he has no obvious addictions (phew! wonderful change), he's a bit more grounded than your typical Holmes-type. Dodson is the least John Watson-y Watson-figure you've ever seen, more of a hindrance than an assistant. Thankfully, also he's not a narrator, and I'm not sure I could've handled a book from his point-of-view. It's hard to summarize, but he works really well in this role.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, with not a dull moment in between. Isaiah Quintabe is a keeper, and I'm already counting the days until his next book.

2017 Library Love Challenge

5 Stars
Boy howdy. Longmire looks to the past and shakes up his present.
The Western Star (A Longmire Mystery) - Craig Johnson

In the last novel, An Obvious Fact, Johnson plays with lines and themes from Sherlock Holmes while letting us get to know that very important woman in Henry Standing Bear's life while Walt solves a murder. In this book, Johnson plays with Murder on the Orient Express while letting us get to know that very important woman in Walt's life while Walt solves a murder. It struck me while reading that as large a shadow that Martha Longmire cast over the books (particularly the first few), we really don't know much about her. We don't learn that much about her, really, but we see her interact with Walt and Henry -- and you walk away with a much better sense of her as a person, not her as the giant hole in Walt's life.


How do we get this sense? Half of the novel takes place shortly after Walt returns to the States after his time in the Marines, and he's been employed by Lucian as a deputy for a couple of weeks. Lucian is attending the annual meeting of the Wyoming Sheriff's Association, and he brings Walt along. This meeting takes place on The Western Star, a passenger train. Shortly after boarding, Walt meets one Sheriff who is convinced that one (or more) of his fellows is murdering people across the state (sort of a Dexter-vibe to the motive), and he needs someone with fresh eyes and a lack of knowledge of the Sheriffs to help with his investigation. This would be Walt, naturally.


Meanwhile, in alternating passages/chapters set in the present, Walt is in Cheyenne for a highly politicized parole hearing (that becomes something a little different) to keep this particular killer behind bars. Johnson's very good about not tipping his hand about the killer's identity until Walt uncovers it. While doing so, he stays with Cady and his granddaughter, and annoys some pretty powerful people in the state.


I found the Walt on a Train story entertaining more than intriguing, but the final reveal was well done and made me appreciate it all the more. But while I wasn't that into the mystery, I really enjoyed watching Deputy Walt and Sheriff Lucian do their thing. It was sad watching Walt's idealism surrounding the societal/cultural changes that the 60's promised come into contact with the cold reality that humans take awhile to change. I was really intrigued by the present day story, on the other hand, and wished they could get into more of the details about the case, but it'd have been hard to do while keeping the identity of the killer under wraps.


The events that are revealed after the reveal (in both timelines) will leave fans unsure what to do with themselves until Walt Longmire #14 comes out. I have some thoughts about what that book will end up being, but I'll hold on to them for now. But it's going to be something we haven't seen before.


But this book? Very entertaining, illuminating and the whole time, it slowly but surely reels you in and sets you up for the biggest emotional moments that Johnson has penned to date. Johnson earned the 5th star for me in the last 13 pages.

2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany - 9/16/17

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

    This Week's New Release that I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman -- Coleman continues his excellent run on the Jesse Stone series. Here's what I had to say about it.

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

4 Stars
Locke and Doyle's triumphant return is sure to please.
The Song Of The Swan (Victor Locke Chronicles) (Volume 2) - Michael RN Jones

On ending the sentence, his face dropped. “Oh,” he exhaled, “that’s it. I’ve just had one of those TV detective moments.”


“What d’you mean?"


“You know. When some tiny and unrelated fact, like a car door slamming or an answerphone machine flicking on, makes the whole case drop into place. It happens to Jonathan Creek and Adrian Monk all the time..." 

In The Accidental Detective, we met Victor Locke and his court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Doyle -- a modern-day Holmes and Watson in a collection of stories that were partially a tribute, partially a pastiche, partially an update and entirely entertaining. This second episodic novel/short story collection continues in that vein.


This book opens with Doyle and Locke being arrested for bank robbery, which is not really what I'd expected. It's, as is the case with many of the stories in this book, a chance for Doyle to stretch his investigatory skills and do a lot of the work. The two are not equal partners in any sense, but it's nice to see that Doyle is more than just the sidekick (see Archie Goodwin and Joan Watson for other examples of this kind of relationship).


Not only is Doyle on his way to becoming a proper investigator, his write-ups of the cases are gaining him a greater degree of notoriety. I particularly enjoyed watching various characters go out of their way to fawn over him -- or try to work their way into his writings.


At the same time, Doyle is wondering how well he actually knows his friend -- and frequently discovers the answer is, "not that well." At the same time, everyone (including Locke himself) regards him as the world's expert on Victor Locke. Locke is just fun to watch in the varied situations he places himself in. As much as I appreciated Doyle's larger role in things, I missed Locke when he wasn't "on screen." There's a greater depth to the character than we've seen previously (or maybe I just missed it last time -- that's possible).


I've talked a lot about the characters and not much about the cases -- there are two reasons for this, primarily, you read things like this for the characters. Secondly, Jones can tell you about the cases in a much more interesting way than I can. I'll just say that they're clever, enjoyable and Holmesian (in the best sense).


I've gotta say, I didn't like the ending. I thought it was well done, it flowed organically from the events leading up to it, it fit the characters, it was earned -- and so on. I just didn't like it.


I enjoyed The Accidental Detective and if The Song of the Swan had been more of the same, I'd have been satisfied. But, Jones kicked everything up a notch -- Locke was stranger, more clever, and funnier; Doyle was a better version of the guy we'd met previously, and the crimes were more interesting. All in all, a fun read, a great way to spend a few hours and one of those sequels that delivers on the promise of the first. Heartily recommended.

4 Stars
The sequel is just as good as the original (phew!)
The Spirit Mage: Book Two of The Blackwood Saga (Volume 2) - Layton Green

Picking up so soon after the end of The Brothers Three that it might as well just be the next chapter, The Spirit Mage continues the story of The Blackwood brothers and their companions (most of them, anyway).


There are essentially four storylines at work in these pages. There's one focusing on the villains here -- the wizards running the campaign against the rebels, the Romani, the "common born" who aren't content to stay that way -- and a spirit creature invoked to find the sword that Will's been carrying.


Speaking of Will, he and Caleb find themselves -- and Caleb's ex, Yasmina -- in the necromancer's castle. Will and Caleb are set on returning to New Victoria to try to find a way home. Meanwhile, they have to convince Yasmina that this very strange dream is real. Soon after they set out, they are captured by slavers and are headed towards mines that no one has ever escaped from.


Meanwhile, their brother Val was escorted back to Urfe where things got immediately interesting -- just in case the reader might be tempted to think that his story was going to be a repeat of The Brothers Three, Green establishes right off that such will not be the case. Anyway, the only way that Val can determine to find his brothers is to actually figure out how to use the magic he's been trying to master. So he enrolls in the Abbey -- a wizarding training college. He befriends a few wizards, gets involved in some pretty serious extra-curricular activities.


Mala disappeared during their party's assault on the castle with a majitsu -- her story is easily the least predictable, and hardest to summarize without spoiling. It's not as interesting on the whole (primarily because we're used to focusing on the brothers), but man, when it gets weird, it gets weird.


The Brothers Three was your basic Portal Fantasy -- a little different, because most of those feature much younger characters (or at least most that I've read). This book was more of your typical fantasy novel -- wizard in training, heroes on a quest that goes awry. It's that the central characters don't belong in the world. I didn't like Val as much has his brothers last time out, but I really enjoyed his story (as stupid as he frequently was). Will and Caleb I enjoyed as much as before -- maybe more. I thought Yasmina was a great addition to the series, and the way she fits into the world was a big plus.


Mala's story didn't end the way I thought it would, but really it had to end the way it did. The same could be said for Val's, actually. Will and Caleb's ended like I expected (phew! I'm one for three). Thankfully, they were all brought to satisfying points -- in one case, as satisfying as a cliffhanger can be. At this point I'm pretty sure I know how things will end up, but I have no clue how Green will pull it off. I can't wait to see, though.


It's hard to think of this as a separate book than The Brothers Three, really. By the time book 3 comes out, I'm not sure I'll be able to tell you the difference between the two (okay, that's not totally true -- but it seems like it). Which makes it a little difficult to evaluate differently than its predecessor. Basically, if you liked the first book in the series, you'll like this one. If not, well, this won't change your mind. If you haven't read The Brothers Three, you really should.


It's honestly a little frustrating to me that I can't think of much to say about this -- but it's so consistent with the last book that I'm going to sum things up in this post the same way I did with the other book: The Spirit Mageis well-written, skillfully structured, and well-paced -- there are some nice turns of phrase throughout the novel, too. Green is the real thing, giving the readers a good story, great characters, an interesting world (or pair of them), in a well-written package. After these two books, I think I can say that this is going to turn out to be one of my favorite fantasy series in a while.


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

5 Stars
Toby gets put through the wringer, and brings readers with her
The Brightest Fell - Seanan McGuire

I still couldn’t see anything, which was unusual. Fae have excellent night vision. We’re like cats, able to see in the slightest trace of light. For it to be this dark, there had to be no light at all-that, or something had been done to my eyes. The thought caused a brief spike of panic, until I blinked several times and confirmed that I could still feel my eyes. No one had removed them or sealed my eyelids shut.


It says something about my life that this was a concern. 


Surely, at some point, Toby will stop being lulled into a sense that everything is okay with the world -- she starts this book by enjoying life, and a night out with her friends. Which is one of the surest signs that things are going to go horribly awry for her. And they do, before she can finish unwinding after the night out, there's a knock on her door. Amandine, her mother, has stopped by for a visit.


Well, not really a visit. She wants to hire Toby to go find her older daughter, August. Toby's never met her sister and really doesn't want to get mixed up with anything involving August (who's been missing for over a century) or her mother. Amandine has never been one to take no for an answer, instead, she takes hostages.


So, Toby's off to find her sister August -- which makes preventing war (like she's been doing lately) look positively run-of-the-mill. I'm going to leave the plot summary at that. Because, like others, I don't know how to talk about this without spoiling things that shouldn't be. There are a couple of quotations (one from Toby, one from someone else) that illustrate what's going on beyond this missing person hunt:


All my chickens were coming home to roost, and while I didn't want them, I had earned them. I had earned them, every one.
“We are the sum of our actions . . . When desperation sets our course, those actions can blacken with remarkable speed.”

If that doesn't describe the last couple of Iron Druid Chronicles, Dresden Files, and pretty much every Alex Verus book, I don't know what does. The best of Urban Fantasy ultimately puts their protagonists in this situation -- Toby's been close to it before, but she's dancing closer to the line here, sacrificing (or at least being prepared to sacrifice) so much to find her sister -- and the number of things she won't sacrifice is pretty small.


There's not a whole lot of character growth and development here, there's no time. We do see many of our old friends and acquaintances being themselves -- maybe turned up to 11. One character, who will remain nameless, displays a degree of depth that we haven't seen before. Toby grows a bit through this experience, if only to find out what extremes she'll go to. She finds herself capable of changing her mind about someone --not easy for her to do (like most of us).


People are complicated. That’s the problem with people. lt would be so much easier if they could all be put into easy little boxes and left there, never changing, never challenging the things I decided about them.


This was a great read -- in more than just the story, or characters -- there are just some books where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is one of them (though the sum of its parts was pretty good) -- everything just clicked. McGuire drew me in and kept me there between the voice, the fact that we have 10 books of history with these characters, and the drama (and little bit of comedy). There was one point, where Toby does something brave, reckless and potentially stupid (especially if it came back to bite her), where I found myself muttering, "Oh, oak and ash! No!" I figure any book that has you under its spell enough that you end up borrowing oaths and curses from the protagonist is a pretty engrossing read. She didn't listen to me, and she sure should have.

From the fun as all get out opening scene, to the ominous final sentence that should fill every Toby fan with dread (although it promises some great books), McGuire was firing on all cylinders here. Yeah, plenty came home to roost in The Brightest Fell, and it meant that those closest to Toby suffered, but she found a way to be Toby throughout -- she didn't surrender who she was, and she got things done the best she could. All the while bringing the reader along through her highs and lows with her. Can't ask for more than that. (well..I guess you could, but why?)

4 Stars
Same ol' same ol: Rock|Harry|Hard Place -and it's great.
Summer Knight: The Dresden Files, Book 4 - Jim Butcher, James Marsters

So, we get more information on the White Council (not just the vague references in the first couple of books and our buddy Morgan the Warden), as well as our introduction to the Fae Courts. Throw in everything we learned about Marcone in book 2, vampires in book 3, and what we're about to learn in book 5 and we'll have fully established the world of Harry Dresden. And wow, what a world.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. We start off with dealing with the war Harry was tricked into instigating in the last book, he's got assassins after him -- but thankfully, Billy's got his back. A friendship has developed between Harry, Billy and the rest of Billy's pack since Fool Moon which is pretty cool to see. Even if Harry's too blinded by his obsessive need to cure Susan's vampirism to see things like friendship, self-destructive lifestyle, and whatnot. Billy's also minding the store for Harry and has made an appointment for him to meet with a new client.


Harry doesn't want a new client -- but he's about run out of money and is looking at the business end of evictions soon, so he'd better. He doesn't want this new client either, for reasons you can read/listen to for yourself, but she doesn't leave him much of a choice.

Before he can get too carried away with dealing with this, he has to attend a meeting of the White Council -- where he will be a major topic of conversation, thanks to the vampire war. Which isn't going too well for the Wizards. We meet some great characters at this meeting, including Harry's [spoiler] and mentor, Ebenezar McCoy. McCoy is a hoot -- Marsters (no surprise) nails his character, by the way -- he's just one of those guys you like from the moment you meet him on the page and your appreciation for him only increases. In the end, the Council basically puts Harry to a test -- if he doesn't pass, they hand him over to the vampires; if he does, things continue on the way they are now -- and if he dies in the process, well, that'll be inconvenient. The test, naturally, involves him taking the above client he doesn't want.


In a nutshell, a member of one of the Fae Courts has been killed and Harry has a couple of days until the Summer Solstice to find out who did it. Otherwise, the balance of power between the Courts will shift and war break out. A war that'll pretty much decimate the planet's climate in ways that Al Gore couldn't imagine. Which is a bad thing for us humans. So pretty much, Harry has to solve a murder, stop a war/save the earth, while dodging assassins, skeptical wizards, and who knows what else or he'll be tortured and killed by vampires after being abandoned by his people. In just a couple of days.

Oh, and a long-lost (and assumed dead) person from Harry's past shows up in the middle of all this, too.


No big deal, right? Poor, poor Harry. It's a fun adventure (for the reader), the mystery story is decent, the adversaries are fantastic -- and the new characters (even those we never see again, sniff) are great additions to what's just a great cast.


I mentioned the friendship of Billy and Harry earlier -- we get a lot of it in this book, Billy's along for most of the adventure, and he's really turning into someone Harry can count on. Karrin Murphy gets some great action, too -- and Harry finally clues her into what's going on re: Fae, Vampires, White Council, etc. You know, keeping the promise he made to himself at the end of book 2. Well done, Dresden. I can't fail to mention Toot Toot -- he's come a long way since we met him in Storm Front, in no small way thanks to Harry.


I'm talking about an audiobook now, so I really should say something about James Marsters' work. I'm just going to sound like a broken record, though, if I do. I'm trying to think if I wasn't that impressed with anything, or if there was something in particular that I thought he did well, and I can't come up with anything. I really enjoyed his Bob in Summer Night -- nothing different in the characterization, I don't think, but it just came to life in a particular way. Also, he captured the very strong sense of fatigue, of being at the end of his rope that so defined Harry in these pages.


This wasn't my favorite book -- although I really enjoyed it on the whole -- and really relished reliving the establishment of the Council and Courts in the series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the stuff in Wal-Mart (for example), it went on too long and wasn't worth it to the story. There were a few too many moments like that in this book for my taste -- fun in and of themselves, but ultimately, time wasted, so I'll knock this down a star. Also, it proves that as much of a mindless fan-boy I can tend to be about this series, I'm a little discerning. A little.

Saturday Miscellany - 9/9/17

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

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen:
  • Author Stories at Dragon Con – Jim Butcher Q&A Panel -- on The Author Stories Podcast this week, they've posted a few episodes related to Dragon-Con -- including this very entertaining Q&A with Jim Butcher. Got a couple of nice tid-bits about upcoming books, too.

    This week was one of those overwhelming weeks with just too much to keep up with -- I'd have been sunk if I hadn't read a couple of these early. Here are the latest batch of New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire -- the 11th Toby Daye novel (and 1st Hardcover!) starts a whole new story arc, and . . . wow. It was just so good. Stop reading this and go get it.
  • The Western Star by Craig Johnson -- have heard Johnson talk about this one in a couple of interviews while writing it, been looking forward to it for months.
  • Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey -- This Space Opera knocked my socks off -- and it will do the same for you, probably. See my original post here.
  • Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart -- not my favorite of the three Kopp Sisters novels, but that's more about how good the others were, this story about Constance trying to save three very different young women is worth your time. My post about it is here.
  • Sourdough by Robin Sloan -- I've tried and failed for the last two years to talk about Sloan's last novel, hopefully I do better with this one. Having seen what he can do with a font, a bookstore and Google -- I can't wait so see what he does with a sourdough starter, the Bay Area and technology.
  • Luck Favors the Prepared by Nathaniel Barber -- a good collection of short non-fiction stories that are as funny as they are well-written. See the book tour stop promoting the book from this week here.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to His Perfect Timing for following the blog this week.


2 Stars
A riveting exposé lets the reader down
Jamarr’s Promise: A True Story of Corruption, Courage, and Child Welfare - Kristin I. Morris, Joseph J. Zielinski,  Ph.D.

Here's a book that should apply to a wide variety of people -- others who believe that Child Protection Services (using that as a generic term for all sorts of states' services); those who are convinced that the system will work if we trust it and have the right people in it; those who are convinced that New Jersey's state government is impossibly corrupt; those who like True Crime; and many others. Sadly, what all these different potential readers get is a poor book.


Jammarr Cruz was a nine-year-old whose Division of Youth and Family Services case worker was unable to keep his mother and her boyfriend from exercising their legal right to take the boy home. She fought it as hard as she could, but ultimately she was thwarted by those over her -- the boy went home and died a few months later. Kristin Morris, the caseworker, despite a total lack of evidence of her culpability, lost her job because of it. The book details her efforts to clear her name, get her job back, and make changes to prevent this from happening again. Meanwhile her family suffers, her finances suffer, as does her health (mental and otherwise).


Now, I'm supposed to be talking about the book, not about the events in it. Which is a shame, because I'd much rather talk about that.


The book is told in the present tense -- which is a choice that I do not understand. I rarely understand that as a choice in fiction, but in a book that is detailing past events in an actual person's life? It just makes no sense.The biggest problem with this book is the length -- 160 pages is not enough space to do it justice. 260 may have worked, 350 would've been better -- I'm guessing on page length, but I know that 160 just didn't do it. Too much of the book has to be told in summary form, where things had to be compressed and details had to be discarded. Sometimes, it made it hard to follow the sequence, sometimes it made it hard to sympathize with her because months would be brushed aside in a line or two. If they'd taken the time to fully explain how things happened, the reader would have a better sense of the chronology after Jamarr's death, would better be able to understand what she went through, and how this all had a horrible impact on her family.


Oddly, even given space limitation, there'd be a conversation that would recap the narrative we'd just read (or vice versa). Something else that didn't make sense to me.


Given the lack of details, the who so much is summed up and the reader is left to fill in many of the blanks themselves, this frequently comes across as a series of Facebook statuses from that friend who is always going on about how difficult their life is -- not the reasoned defense of actions made my a competent and caring professional -- which is what i think the book was intended to be, and I do think that's what she is. Also, much of what she says seems more open to criticism and doubt since we're just given a brief glimpse from a pretty biased source.


This book could've been so much better. The tragedy it describes, the injustices it describes deserve something more than this. Morris herself should've had a better representation to the world at large than this. But all we're given is this synopsis of a book, not the book itself (or at least what should be the synopsis of the book).


Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel in exchange for this post, my participation in a book tour and my honest opinion. I think it's clear that my opinion wasn't swayed by that.

4 Stars
An impressive collection of short non-fiction stories
Luck Favors the Prepared - Nathaniel Barber

If the title is true, Nathaniel Barber was/would have been one of the worst Boy Scouts in the world. You don't have to read many of these non-fiction short stories to decide that luck and Barber are, at best, passing acquaintances. Which is probably good -- they make for better reading that way (Barber, might disagree about the "good" there -- it is his life).


These stories don't detail his life, they give you glimpses into experiences that have stuck with him for one reason or another, and largely they resonated with me. For example, his first (disastrous) experience with being a landlord. His goals for it were pretty much what I'd envisioned the time or three I thought about trying it. How it turned out for him, is pretty much what I feared would happen to me. A lot of what happened to him as a band geek made me think of what it was like when I was one (thankfully, it was a little tamer for me). I've never had a coworker like Dale Kendrick, but I can name one or two individuals that easily could've been.


Not all of his stories are those the reader will be able to identify with -- but there's something in his telling of them that will allow you to see yourself in that situation, and feel the humanity.


There is one important difference between his life experiences and mine -- or most readers' -- his are funny. Or at least the way he's able to present them is (probably more the latter than the former). Not always in a laugh-out-loud way, sometimes it'll just be a wry smile, or shake of the head. But Barber's been able to mine the humor in most of these situations -- frequently at his expense.


Each story has a different feel to it, so even though they're all about the same central character, they're individual stories. They don't all flow chronologically -- he jumps back and forth though his life, you won't walk away with a "life story" or anything, you'll just get a good understanding of various points in his life. It's like sitting around a table with an old friend, "Did I ever tell you about the time . . . "


Barber's writing chops are evident throughout this, whether he's going for economy of words:


Against the advice of my lawyer and stern warnings from my therapist, I accepted Elsbeth’s invitation to lunch.

or if he's going for a visual that will stick with you:


Mr. Millson was a short, puggish man. He was skinny except for a cantaloupe gut he not only ignored but allowed to lend heft to his wagging swagger. He was short and compensated for this with a simmering, constant temper, always fired up and red-faced. Even when he was just trying to schmooze an extra scoop of Jell-O from the lunch lady. His lips were not lips, but the absence of lips. Sweaty flaps, really. Fleshy bits of face he pursed to a thin, kissy embouchure under a bulbous, alcoholic nose.

you get exactly the idea he was going for -- this isn't some sort of arty-ambiguity here, it's a precise brushstroke. He wants you to feel what he felt, he wants you to see what he saw -- and he wants you to at least grin about it. Sometimes he's not that subtle; infrequently, he could be more skillful about it -- but he's hitting his targets, he's evoking memories about embarrassments of our youth, empathy over similar struggles of young adulthood, or a slight feeling of dread knowing that's exactly how you'd react in that situation. Thankfully, he generally wants that to be followed with a chuckle.



Creative, distinctive, amusing -- this collection will leave you wanting to see more from Nathaniel Barber, while being very glad you have this.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour. I appreciated the book, but my opinions expressed are my own.

5 Stars
A Dark, Gripping Mystery, Rebus comes into his own
Black and Blue - Ian Rankin

I wasn't sure if I should open with:

He went into the toilets again, just to steady his breathing and look at himself in the mirror. He tried to relax his jaw muscles. In the past, he'd have been reaching for the quarter-bottle of whisky in his pocket. But tonight there was no quarter-bottle, no Dutch courage. Which meant for once he'd be relying on the real thing.



...Rebus sat on a char in the interview room, watching his hands shaking.
'You OK?' Jack asked.
'Know what, Jack? You're like a broken record.'
'Know what, John? You're always needing it asked.'

Either one of those works to sum up Rebus' frame of mind in the latter half of this book (and that's largely because things had gotten worse for him by that point). Not that things were ever going his way in this book.


Following his gutsy political moves in the last book he's been assigned to the worst police station in Edinburgh and a case he worked early in his career as a Detective with his mentor has come under increased scrutiny thanks to some media attention, and an underdog convicted of that crime who is able to cast some doubt on the original investigation. Meanwhile, a serial killer from the late 60s (who remains uncaptured) has inspired a copycat. Rebus (like every detective in Scotland, it seems) is on the fringes of this investigation. Oh, yeah, and there's an unrelated suspicious death that Rebus needs to investigate.


Four cases, with more in common than anyone expects until the most tenacious cop east of Harry Bosch starts doing his thing. He starts following threads that take him far from his desk and home -- Glasgow and eventually Aberdeen -- and the oil platforms north. While dodging the press (more persistent that he's used to) superior officers and an internal investigation, Rebus moves around the country picking at clues and hunches while getting under the skin of criminals, cops, oil company executives, and one serial killer.


There are so many police officers running around this book, some we know, some we don't. Siobhan Clarke has a small, but pivotal role to play. Brian Holmes is around helping Rebus unofficially, while things with Nell are at their worst. Jack Morton, Rebus' old drinking pal plays a significant role in this novel -- he's clean and sober now, and is convinced that's what Rebus needs to do, too. Gil Templar needs Rebus' help, very unofficially. There are new detectives and from Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh for readers and Rebus to meet -- the main thing they all seem to have in common is that they don't want Rebus mucking around in their cities.


I don't know if I've seen Rebus more self-destructive. He's drinking more than normal (which is saying something) and seems to care less than ever about what his superiors think of him (which is also saying something). Some of his wry sense of humor remains -- almost entirely buried under cynicism. Rebus has had doubts about what he and his mentor did years ago, and the renewed attention isn't helping his sense of guilt. He is far more interested in the serial killer cases than he ought to be professionally, it's become a habit that threatens to distract him from his actual duties. His personal demons are almost as much of an antagonist than anyone he could possibly arrest in Black and Blue. Yet, he investigates in the same way he always does -- and the way he wraps up most of the cases carry his signature style.


Black and Blue is intense, it is ambitious -- for most of the book, it'd be easy to see this as being the end of the road for Rebus (if I wasn't fully aware that 13 other novels had been published with at least one more announced) -- not that you're all that worried about him living through the end, you're more worried that he'll be unemployed by the end. It's one of those novels that makes you want to ignore obligations, work and family -- none of which can be as interesting or pressing as the book. You could cut out half the murders from this novel and it'd still be a winner, including all of them makes this something more than that.


I went into this one with a mix of trepidation and anticipation -- I've heard that this was where the series took a turn for the better. I recently heard an interview with Rankin where he described it that way -- sales, awards, critical acclaim, all came with this book. So I was worried that I wouldn't see what so many had before -- but was excited to try. This one lives up to expectations, as high as they might be. Just a stunning work. I honestly don't know how Rankin will top this -- I'm not sure how easy it'll be to equal it.

2017 Library Love Challenge

2 Stars
A mess of a YA Fantasy/Romance
The Blue Curtain - L. G. Metcalf

I really want to say something nice about this book -- I don't like to just knock books. I don't mind saying what I think didn't work, but I try to find something to commend in a book. I'm just not sure what positive things I can say about <b>The Blue Curtain</b>.


We've got Mitchell, the heir of a British nobleman in 16th Century England, who begins a revolt against am improbable despot who is being manipulated by a mysterious man. One thing leads to another, and this manipulator turns Mitchell into a vampire. Almost instantly, another vampire, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez -- I mean, Fionn, shows up to instruct him in the ways of vampires. He really reminded me of Ramirez from <b>Highlander</b> -- not only does he teach him to use and understand his new abilities, but he tells him about the history of vampires and the differing and strange factions within the race. Why his maker, who is the leader of the evil cult didn't stick around to initiate Mitchell himself, we're only told at the end. Mitchell doesn't join the crusade against the cult with Fionn, but does share the same goal and works with Fionn throughout his training. Time goes by, things happen, and eventually Mitchell finds himself in present day Portland, ME.


While we've been learning about this, we've also been learning about Emily -- a high schooler in Portland, whose father was recently murdered. She's not having a good time adjusting to this new reality, and like all teens in novels, she decides that she'll find the murderer herself. Through dumb luck and recklessness, she finds the killer -- but has no way to prove it to the police. She also discovers that she's descended from necromancers and has a magical imp to train her. Sure, he's evil and bent on destruction and death, but hey, you take whatever help you can get, right? There's also a lot of High School Drama -- where a certified Mean Girl is causing all sorts of trouble for Emily because out-of-the-blue the hunky, rich, sensitive guy is paying attention to her.


Naturally, Emily's and Mitchell's paths cross and it becomes clear that their goals intersect, so they team up to solve the murder, stop the evil vampires and more.


It'd be great if there was any emotional depth to these characters -- the crazed, hedonist vampire who is a model of emotional shallowness is just as deep as the Emily, who can't seem to hold on to one overriding emotion for more than a few seconds. Emily -- yes, she's under great stress, but if I'm supposed to be rooting for a character, I'd like the character to hold on to an emotional state for more than two pages.


The book could've used a continuity edit -- there are so many hiccups throughout Mitchell's story and vampire history in general that could've been cleaned up with little trouble. There wasn't a strong authorial voice, the dialogue was frequently painful, the characters were poorly drawn and shallow.


I want to say something positive, to find the silver lining, but I can't think of anything. Your mileage may vary, but I can't recommend this to anyone.


<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received a copy of this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Sorry about that, Mr. Metcalf.</i>

3.5 Stars
Pride goeth before . . . well, a whole lot in this gritty historical fiction.
Salt Creek - Lucy Treloar
Memories are just the survivors of complete events and are not easy to interpret; in the recalling they can be used to create a story that is only partially true or not true at all.


It's the mid-1850's and Hester Finch and her family are settling in the Coorong region, after her father's finances fall apart in Adelaide (which follows them falling apart elsewhere before). This is clearly their last chance, but with some luck and determination, they should be able to survive -- even if they can't rebuild their fortunes enough to return to town. It's too much of a step down for their mother, who seems ill-equipped for Australia at this time, much less the Coorong, and Hester has to step up and shoulder more responsibilities for the running of the household and the raising/educating of her younger siblings.


Her father sees himself as a businessman, an entrepreneur, but it doesn't seem that his abilities match his ambitions/self-estimation. He's a strong and pious Quaker, with some fairly (for his time) progressive ideas about the status and nature of the natives. Yes, he wants to help them via Western Civilization and Christianity (whether they want it or not), but he doesn't see them in the same way that many others (including some of this sons) do. At least not in the beginning of the novel -- things continue to not go well for him (I'm being purposefully vague here), and as that happens the broken man inside him is revealed or his ideals and hopes are shattered and something else emerges. He becomes the villain of the piece, or one of the many victims of the environment -- I quite enjoy the fact that I could argue either way on that.


Space and patience (yours and mine) prevent me from talking about all of Hester's siblings (there are several) and the others they come into contact with, so I'll sum up by saying within and without the family display a wide swath of humanity, the good and the bad (and the worst) we have to offer. There is a native (Hester's word), Tull, who lives around the Finch home that is befriended by the family, who comes to occasionally live with them, work alongside them, is educated with them -- and becomes part of the family. Much of the plot revolves around or comes from his presence, his interactions with the Finches and others. Treloar handles the character well -- Tull's not perfect, not all-wise, or a paragon, or anything. He's just as flawed as the rest of the people in this book (well, maybe a little less flawed than some).


This will be seen primarily as a story about love, or about the clash of native cultures and Western colonization in the harshness of pioneer life, or something along those lines. To me, the recurring theme was pride (I'm not sure the word was used all that much, but man, it was all over the place). People broken by pride, motivated by pride, people corrupted by pride, people blocked by pride -- I could probably go on. I don't think of one thing in this book that was motivated by pride that went well -- it was only when pride was ignored or set aside -- for love, for the sake of another -- does anything actually go well (this applies to Hester post-Coorong, too). It was subtle, but it was profound.


There are enough references to Jane Eyre that the reader is forced to draw lines of comparison/contrast between Jane and Hester (and maybe some of the others, as well). This is a nervy thing for an author to do (not just to Jane Eyre, but any classic of that stature), and it rarely works out well for the newbie. I'm not saying the comparisons are invalid, I just am not sure that Treloar should've pushed it. One mention of the book -- maybe two (her receiving a new copy and reading it in secret) would've been enough just to see that Hester draws some inspiration from the literature she's exposed to.


There are passages from this book that rank right up there with some of the best I've read this year -- one scene where Hester is overcome with grief and a sense of futility that'll just wreck your heart. There's another involving an injury on the farm and Hester's tending to the wound (including some stitches), that just curled my toes -- really, give me Thomas Harris describing one of Lecter's snacks rather than make me read that again.* When it comes to pain and hardship, Treloar can write with the best of them.


But I'm not totally taken with her as an author. Early on, Treloar jumps around chronologically between the early months in The Coorang and to various periods of Hester's time in England as an adult. I didn't see the point to this move, unless she was going to continue that as a way to develop the story. But she stops that for several chapters, abandoning the future until the last three chapters -- when it fits easily. I didn't see the point to it, it muddied the waters a little and made it hard for me to get invested in what was happening in the 1850s.


And that ties in with my biggest problem with the book -- I couldn't get interested until slightly after the 50% mark. I really wasn't even that curious about anyone at that point, it was just a matter of me pushing on, wondering if I'd ever get invested. Thankfully, I did. Somewhat, anyway. But that it took so long for me to care about the things that were happening -- much less the people they were happening to/because of, says something about the book. There's a lot to be said for an author taking time to establish the world she's writing in, to develop the characters slowly, patiently -- I'm all for that when it's done well. But it's so much easier to appreciate when I'm given a reason to keep reading beyond wanting to finish a book.


Once I did make that connection -- my enjoyment of and appreciation for the book ratcheted up. I don't think the pacing changed at this point (maybe it picked up a little bit), but everything she'd spent 52% or so of the book setting up was set up, so with all the causes in place, the effects started and that was much more engaging.


Regardless, there were some killer sentences (even in the first half) in this book, demonstrating that Treloar has the right stuff. I think she could do more with it than she has, and would like to see more from her in the future. On the whole, this is a good read -- and I can easily see where some will enjoy it more than me (I can almost bet those who do are engaged more than I was during the first half), a gritty, stark examination of pioneer living in the mid-19th century with just a hint of hope. Recommended.


* I will always take blood and guts and gore that are clearly fantastic over those that really happened or are close enough to reality to have probably happened several times.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

Saturday Miscellany - 9/2/17

Odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye -- fair warning, these are basically all about things I fanboy over. 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:
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo -- after the splash the movie made this summer, it's no surprise that this book is showing up everywhere on all my social media feeds. Oh, and the book looks good, too.
  • Kiss The Devil Goodnight by Jonathan Woods -- the latest from Fahrenheit Press. I'm not going to even try to say anything about it until it gets read. Just click the link in the title there.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to Vinayak Gupta and Matt Cowper for following the blog this week.


(not true about me, it'd ruin the larger book's binding. . . . philistines)

August Report

The end of the month snuck up on me, I kept wondering why I saw all these August Wrap-Up posts Thursday night, and then I looked at the calendar. So I paused my other post and got this assembled (frankly, that worked out pretty well for me, I just didn't have the energy to finish the other post). Turns out that August was a pretty good month -- I liked everything I read, most things I liked a lot. Anyway, here's what happened here in August.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

The Hate U Give (Audiobook) Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith The Dark Horse
5 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.5 Stars
Dead is Good Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook) The Brothers Three
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
Miles Morales Let it Bleed The Driver
3.5 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 4 Stars
Skyfarer Hopcross Jilly Broken Homes
4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions Junkyard Dogs The Blinds
3.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
Christ and Covenant Theology The Last Resort Open and Shut
4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 3.5 Stars
Camp Arcanum Summer Knight (Audiobook) Double Lives
3 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job Wait for Signs Foxglove Summer
3 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
Salt Creek Jamarr's Promise      
(still deciding) (still deciding)      

Still Reading:

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized Planet Grim Hell is Empty

Reviews Posted:


How was your month?

5 Stars
Triumph and Tragedy Mark this Outstanding Book
Grave Peril - Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Wow. There's just so much going on in this book -- so much that sets things in motion that are still shaping the series. Once a series goes on as long as this one, it's easy to mix up your internal timeline about what happens when -- this reread really exposed how much I've done for The Dresden Files. I don't know how many times I asked, "Wait, what? That happens now? I thought it was ____"


Anyway, we start this one with Harry and Michael on their way to rescue a Maternity Ward full of newborns from a ghost. It takes practically no time at all for Butcher to establish Michael, his relationship with Harry, and place in this world. I gotta say, I was shocked at how easy Butcher made that look -- a sure sign that it wasn't effortless for him. Michael is one of my first examples to use when people tell me that paladins are dull characters. I could go on about this particular Knight of the Cross, but no one has that kind of thing.


It's not just the witch in the hospital, there are angry ghosts all over town -- and much more powerful than they normally are. Something's afoot, and Harry's having some trouble figuring out what. It does seem to be targeting Harry, Murphy and some others that were with them when they took down a criminal a few months earlier.


Meanwhile, Bianca is up to something, and Harry's too distracted by the ghosts to figure it out, which will prove to be very bad. On the other hand, he meets Thomas Raith because of this -- and that's good for us readers, as much as the rest of the night his horrible for Harry.


There is just so much that goes wrong here, you have to feel sorry for Harry. Which is not to say that everything goes wrong, Harry unleashes quite a bit of magic in this one -- more than we've seen so far (because of reasons), but there are consequences for this -- consequences that it'll take years for Dresden to clean up.


Marsters . . . pick your superlative and apply it to his work here.


A lot of fun, a lot of heart, a lot of evil, a lot of pain. If this isn't where this series comes together and fulfills the promise of the premise, it's darn close.