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.

April 2018 Report: What I Read/Listened to/Wrote

Numberwise, April was better than March, worse than February. Neither of which were that stellar -- but on the whole, what I read was really strong, so that makes up for it. Still, I'm hoping now that things are slowing down at work, they can pick up here. I still have 2 books I was supposed to read for March, and 2 for April -- thankfully, I've only committed to 2 for May. I just might catch up by the end of the month (then again, the new Ace Atkins drops tomorrow, so who cares about commitments).

 

So, here's what happened here in April.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Christianity at the Crossroads Scourged The Italian Teacher
4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars
The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People Fire Touched
3 Stars 2 Stars 4 Stars
The Plea Life Begins When The Kids Leave Home And The Dog Dies Jimbo Yojimbo
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 Stars
Hunter The Bone Keeper A Question of Blood
3 Stars 4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
Arrivals Silence Fallen My Man Jeeves
3 Stars 4 Stars 2 Stars
The Hike Dark Queen The Founding of Los Angeles: Before the Birth of Hollywood
3 Stars 5 Stars 3 Stars

DNF:

Batman: Nightwalker            

Still Reading:

Theophany The War Outside My Window      

 

Books Posted About:

 

Book Challenge Progress:

Angel's Guilty Pleasures The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King, George Newbern Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu, Will Damron

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People by Walter Kerr

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People by Walter Kerr The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh by Carolyn Arnold

✔ Read an audio book with multiple narrators: Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King, George Newbern

 

 

How was your month?

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/01/april-2018-report
Review
5 Stars
Jane Yellowrock's latest has everything -- including the kitchen sink.
Dark Queen - Faith Hunter

This was part of a book tour stop on my main blog -- you should check it out for a chance to win all the Yellowrock books.
---
I've stopped reading the blurbs for the Jane Yellowrock books, so I had no idea what to expect out of this one when I started it. I spent a couple of days planning on how this was a rumination of/celebration of family disguised as an Urban Fantasy novel. Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of action and plot and all the things we have come to expect from a Jane Yellowrock book. But, yeah, family was the overarching theme. But then . . .

 

But then, Hunter kicks it into high gear and the long-awaited Sangre Duello starts. Which I didn't expect -- I figured we'd get an entire novel (minus an introductory and follow-up chapter, maybe) dedicated to it. Man, am I glad I was wrong -- I'm not sure I could've handled more of the tension surrounding it than Hunter gave us. Still, everything I'd planned on saying pretty much went out the window.

 

I've gotten ahead of myself. This series (like any that has gone more than 5 books) needs a "Previously . . ." section. Things have changed so much since Jane rode into New Orleans in Skinwalker that it's almost impossible to remember everything that's happened. Hunter does do enough in the text to remind you who is who and what they've done in the past, so I'm not saying the book is inaccessible. It'd just be nice to have a reminder just where we are in the story without having to re-read eleven novels (not that I have -- I'd probably pick up a few more nuances).

 

The book begins with Leo solidifying his organization. Moving people around, giving promotions, and cleaning house (not as much as he should have, but even someone who's as politically savvy as Leo isn't perfect). Part of this is the official recognition and establishment of Clan Yellowrock -- which was just so strange. One of the groups that Leo is dealing with is a werewolf pack from the Western part of the US, who are doing some work for him related to the Sangre Duello, who are pretty interesting, and I'd like to see more of them in the future. There's also a new PsyLED honcho floating around -- Rick's boss and Soul's underling -- and his presence is almost as disruptive to Jane's world as the European Vampires are.

 

Then before you know it -- there we are, the European Vampires are coming ashore to start the Sangre Duello. Which is basically a series of duels -- some to first blood, some to the death (true death, in the case of vampires) -- and just about everyone connected to Leo ends up fighting at least once. It is clear from the way this is set up, the way it's carried out, the way that just about everyone acts during it -- that vampires act on a different morality than just about anyone else. Jane has a very hard time with it all, and many readers will, too. That's good -- that means you're not a monster. I will say that Leo's psychological games with the EV's are a lotta fun. If you have much of an emotional attachment to the characters in this series, you will stress out during this part of the book. Not all survive. Not all who do survive do so unscathed. Without saying what happens to him, I didn't realize how invested I was in Leo Pellissier's continued existence.

 

Faith Hunter puts all of her experience, all her skill and talent on display here -- and it works. This is really a tour de force for her and it's just a pleasure to read. On the one hand, I thought the pacing was a bit slow at first and wasn't sure what she was doing -- but at a certain point, I recognized that she knew exactly what she was doing and you needed the slow-burn of a start so that you'd be ready for the almost non-stop action to come. There's some brave choices she makes here -- totally shaking up the series, the status is not quo, as a horrible doctor might say. While that might seem like the kind of thing writers need to do (and it is), it can't be an easy choice -- because no matter what we say, we fans want our comfortable series: where we know that Riker will be Picard's Number One for far too long, Lisa will be 8, and that one couch at the Central Perk will always be available for Monica's friends to sit on.

 

Jane continues to grow and mature, embracing -- and even expanding -- the emotional ties she has to people in her life, taking on more people to protect and defend. She's not a loner anymore, and has stopped fighting this reality. It's great to see. And everything I wanted to say about family is present here, and you'll know exactly what I was talking about when you read this. And if you're someone who threatens any of those she's decided to align herself with? I pity you, because, well, Beast is best hunter, and there's nothing really that'll stop Beast/Jane from making you regret that threatening.

 

If I was a better blogger -- or at least one who had better time management, I'd come up with a post just about Eli Younger. I really wish I was that guy -- because Eli deserves more attention. As I write this, I remember that Carrie Vaughn gave Cormac a novel to himself (pretty much) -- Hunter should consider letting Eli have his own.

 

This would've been a great series finale just as it is. I am so glad that it's not -- Hunter's got things set up so well for the next couple fo books (at least) that I'm as excited about this series as I've ever been. But, Dark Queen could've worked as the end. Which is really just to say two things: 1. If you're looking for a new Urban Fantasy series to start, full of magic, vampires, shape-shifters and more? This series is a great one -- but don't start here, start with Skinwalker. 2. Hunter has tied up a lot of loose ends, a lot of long-going plotlines are resolved (or at least brought to a satisfying resting point), which should satisfy long-term readers. I won't say that they'll all be happy about where everything ends up -- I'm not -- but I will say that it's nice to have some sense of closure and resolution.

 

I laughed, I got angry, I cheered, I fretted, I got awfully close to letting water leak out of my eyes -- I loved this book from start to finish.

 

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/05/01/dark-queen-by-faith-hunter-jane-yellowrocks-latest-has-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink
Review
4.5 Stars
Rebus Deals with Gun Violence on Multiple Fronts
A Question of Blood - Ian Rankin

I'm torn between quotations to open with, on the one hand, you have this one which captures the environment this novel takes place in -- it's a perfect encapsulation of the frustration of so many civilians. Particularly the ones in the town near the focal crime.

 

Fear: the crucial word. Most people would live their whole lives untouched by crime, yet they still feared it, and that fear was real and smothering. The police force existed to allay such fears, yet too often was shown to be fallible, powerless, on hand only after the event, clearing up the mess rather than preventing it.

 

On the other hand, this seems to be the perfect encapsulation of the sentiments of Rebus, Clarke, Hogan and so many (most?) of the police in this novel (and most police novels in general):

 

He checked the radio to see if anything bearable was being broadcast, but all he could find were rap and dance. There was a tape in the player, but it was Rory Gallagher, Jinx, and he wasn't in the mood. Seemed to remember one of the tracks was called “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Not much of a defense these days, but plenty of others had come along in Old Nick‘s place. No such thing as an inexplicable crime, not now that there were scientists and psychologists who’d talk about genes and abuse, brain damage and peer pressure. Always a reason . . . always, it seemed, an excuse.

 

So the story is, an ex-SAS soldier walks in to a school, shoots three students and then kills himself. One of the students -- the son of a local politician -- survives. His dad sees this crime as an opportunity to get himself out of some PR trouble and some prominence -- so he keeps popping up in inopportune places to grandstand and shine a negative light on the police. Which goes a long way to make a complicated situation worse for Bobby Hogan -- the detective running the investigation. There's not much to investigate, the only surviving witness has told his story, the culprit is dead -- but there's a lot of why questions floating around, Hogan's got to try to answer some of them. Hogan knows two things: 1. His friend John Rebus was almost an SAS soldier, so he might understand the mindset of this man better than the rest, and 2. Rebus could use an excuse to get out of Edinburgh for a few days. The Army's in town, doing what it can to shape the narrative -- i.e. "this isn't the way we train our men to be, maybe there's something else going on." Hogan's having trouble getting anywhere, the press isn't helping, and the evidence isn't doing wonders for anyone at all.

 

I liked the fact that we're dealing with Rebus's military past again -- it's largely been untouched (at least to any real depth) since Knots & Crosses, and conversations between Rebus and Clarke show that he hasn't talked to her about it at all. As much as the first book might have helped Rebus deal with some of what happened to him, it's clear that there's more t do. Hopefully, this is the start of it -- at least to help him.

 

The more this crime is investigated, the less it looks as cut-and-dry as it was at the beginning. This was all wonderfully constructed, a strong multi-layered story that'll keep the reader glued to the action to find out what happened (or why it happened). And it's really not the best part of the novel -- it could've been, easily. But no.

 

The reason that Rebus could use a few days away from home base is that he has a mysterious injury. One that could have a completely innocent explanation -- or one that puts him at the center of a suspicious death investigation. There's this creep who's been stalking Clarke, threatening her. Rebus is seen at a bar with him one night, and the next day, he's dead and Rebus is getting medical care that suggests he could have been present at the time of death. Clarke and Hogan believe him because he says he didn't do it. Good ol' Gill Templar isn't sure (raising the question: who knows him best? Siobhan or Gill?), and frankly, none of Rebus' legion of enemies in the police or press are less sure than Templar. There's a little question about letting Siobhan fight her own battles rather than take the avuncular and/or misogynistic approach of helping her. The two get past that pretty quickly, but Clarke harbors a doubt or two about Rebus' involvement.

 

Rebus, actually, wasn't that concerned with protecting Clarke -- he just used that situation to help him with another investigation. Which is typical of him. It's this last story that's really -- in a way -- the center of the whole novel. The events investigated, the motives for a lot of it, and the emotional core are all tied (at the very least) to this story. Rankin's structuring of the novel in this way shows him at his best. And that's really all I can say without ruining the experience for anyone (in fact, I arguably said too much).

 

Then there's the last chapter == which is all I'm going to say about it -- I'm torn. On the one hand, it seems to undercut a lot of the emotional weight of the climactic moments. But that doesn't mean it wasn't believable. It's probably more believable than the alternative. Still .. . it left me dissatisfied. On the other hand, Rankin seems to be setting us up to revisit many of these characters in the future. I bet that'll be worth it.

 

It's hard to come up with things to talk about in a series that's 14 books-old. It's got to be hard to come up with things to talk about with a character that's 14 books-old. Which might be part of the reason that Rankin circled back for another look at the end of Rebus' time with the SAS, which definitely could use another look. How he did it -- and the situations the characters found themselves in regarding that case,and all the others going on -- is what makes Ian Rankin the modern legend that he is. A Question of Blood is one of those books that improves, the more you think about it.

 


2018 Library Love Challenge

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/30/a-question-of-blood-by-ian-rankin-rebus-deals-with-gun-violence-on-multiple-fronts
2018 Independent Bookstore Day

I didn't celebrate Independent Bookstore Day in quite the same way I did in 2017. Last year, we went to Rediscovered Books, bought a couple of books and then went elsewhere and adopted a dog. This year, we went to Rediscovered Books -- played a game (which got me a Blind Date with a Book) -- bought a couple of books and chatted with an author.

 

Altogether less expensive, and I didn't have to talk in a higher-pitched voice -- not even once.

Yeah, I clearly need more practice at taking pics like that. Anyway, I grabbed The Vinyl Detective - Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmell (mostly because Ben Aaronovitch talked a lot about the books on Twitter and whatnot). My Blind Date is with Fonda Lee's Jade City, described as "Fantasy/Adult" and "The Godfather but with magic" (or words to that effect). And then I also purchased -- and got signed -- the new version of Devri Wall's Venators.

 

Back in 2016, I read and blogged about Devri Wall's The Wizard's Heir and Venators: Through the Arch, and she was nice enough to answer A Few Quick Questions for me. We got to chat about why there's a new version of the book, when to expect the next in the series, and what not. My wife, who actually thinks about things other than books, suggested getting a picture (ever the rookie, my fingers are covering the title).

 

As part of the game at RD, I had to take a couple of pics, I might as well throw them up here. One task was to take a picture of the bookstore -- here's the rare empty spot today (filled up seconds later). Another task was to take a photo of a Non-Fiction book with a great cover. I don't know that I'll read Best Before: The Evolution and Future of Processed Food, but that's just a great cover.

      

Saturday Miscellany - 4/28/18

I think the busy season at work is over -- only worked 8 hours yesterday (we'll not talk about the days before), so hopefully that gives me more time to focus on things here. But this is another small list of odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You've probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/28/saturday-miscellany-4-28-18
Review
2 Stars
Tales of Rich Fools Fail to Amuse
My Man Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble

This is a collection of eight short stories -- half of them starring Jeeves and Wooster, the other half featuring Reggie Pepper (who is basically Wooster without Jeeves). Like the rest of the books featuring Jeeves and Wooster, this is frequently hailed as a comedic classic, a masterpiece, and has no dearth of fans -- highbrow and lowbrow alike.

 

I am not one of them. Wooster and Pepper are vapid, privileged aristocrats -- vain, insipid, too wealthy and seeming incapable of narrating -- or conversing -- in coherent sentences. Jeeves is a frequently (but not infallibly) conniving and tricky valet, who seemingly knows more than anyone else around him. I honestly don't know if I'd want him working for me, he's too nosy, too duplicitous for my taste. All the characters get into farcical situations that are complicated and entirely of their own devices. If they could just be upfront and honest with others (including each other), their lives would be far less complicated.

 

Prebble did a fine job, I think. Yeah, I had no patience for any of the narrators of the stories -- but that's not on him. That's totally on the characters. I think he grabbed the personalities perfectly. I just don't see why anyone would bother.

 

I'm primarily posting about this experience as a reminder to myself: Just give up, HC. You and Wodehouse are just not compatible. You may have friends (Internet-based and Real Life) that love him, but you just don't understand the appeal.

 

Not funny. Not amusing. Not charming. Pretty much a waste of time. Just can't recommend this to anyone.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/26/my-man-jeeves-audiobook-by-p-g-wodehouse-simon-prebble-tales-of-rich-fools-fail-to-amuse
Review
4 Stars
When an Urban Legend becomes Urban News
The Bone Keeper - Luca Veste
One, two, Freddy's coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, grab your crucifix
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late
Nine, ten, never sleep again


(that's not from this book, it's from The Nightmare on Elm Street movies -- but you're so clever, you probably didn't need me to say that)

 

I've never been a horror movie guy -- but I watched a couple of the Elm Street movies as a kid, mostly because my younger sister was obsessed by them. Still, if I sang this song, played a bit of either The Fat Boys or DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's songs about the movies (the musical bit), she would get freaked out. Something about that song immediately tapped into the fear of that movie for her (and made it very easy for her older brother to torment her).

 

I mention that because the Bone Keeper -- an Urban Legend, a bogeyman story -- has his own song that kids throughout all of Liverpool know and have known for decades/generations. He's a supernatural being, living in the woods near/around the city who captures kids and adults, kills them and keeps their bones (hence the name). Clearly just a story to be told around campfires, etc. Right? One more way for older brothers, cousins, etc. to torment their younger friends and relations.

 

But when an injured, bleeding, and disoriented woman comes stumbling out of the woods singing that song, everyone (police, media, social media users) starts wondering -- is the Bone Keeper real after all?

 

DC Louise Henderson and DS Paul Slater are officially skeptical (okay, more than skeptical) about the Bone Keeper's involvement in the attack on the woman as they begin their investigation. Finding bodies in the area near where she was probably attacked (and inexplicably escaped), with strange symbols carved into nearby trees only fuels the speculation -- and perhaps gets at least one of the detectives thinking that maybe they were too quick to write off the "out of the box" suspect.

 

As the investigation continues, the options are (at least for the reader, even if Henderson and Slater can't think this way): there's a deranged serial killer out there taking advantage of the Bone Keeper legend to mask his crimes; there's a deranged serial killer out there that thinks he's a supernatural creature, killing people; or there's a supernatural being out there killing people. Veste writes this in such a way that every option is a valid conclusion up until the moment he has to make it clear just what's been going on.

 

Like the Elm Street movies, The Bone Keeper isn't my kind of book -- but I gave it a shot anyway. I'm so glad I did. It was gripping, it was addictive, there are many other adjectives I could use here, but they don't seem to be adequate. Let's say that it's the kind of book you read in the waiting room of your doctor's office and hope that he's running late (I was able to read enough to get to an acceptable stopping point so I didn't resent him being pretty much on time).

 

I cannot talk about this book the way I want to -- I'd ruin everything. I've deleted several sentences (or at least the beginnings of several sentences) already -- and I've not typed a few others. Take the premise above and imagine the best way to tell that story -- that's precisely what Veste has given us.

 

The opening chapter is one of the creepiest that I can remember reading -- and things only move quickly from there until the action-packed conclusion and almost-as-creepy coda. Haunted characters, haunted families, haunted woods -- in at least one sense. The Bone Keeper's characters and setting are rife with opportunity and material for Veste to use to tell his story of a literal walking nightmare. A police procedural that brushes up against the horror genre -- this is a thriller that'll stay with you for a while (I'm not sure how long it'll stay with me, but I can tell you I'm avoiding places rich with trees for the foreseeable future).

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/25/the-bone-keeper-by-luca-veste-when-an-urban-legend-becomes-urban-news
Review
4 Stars
This is strange, bizarre, funny, tragic and will make you say "ew" a lot.
JImbo Yojimbo - David W. Barbee

"Ready to make it official?" said his father.

 

Jimbo closed his cuttlefish eyes and prayed the revenge vow.

 

Let me kill ‘em, he thought. Let me exist only to punish them that wronged me, for such is the pain of my life that only the pleasure of their death will weigh it equal. Amen.

 

"Now that's what I'm talking about," his dead father said.

 

Who doesn't like a good revenge story? Especially one featuring swords and blood and gladiator-like battles, and surgically-enhanced hybrid warriors, and warlord chefs, and . . . oh, man. I don't know how to summarize this one, I really don't. So let me just steal from the publisher:

 

From the author of Bacon Fried Bastard and A Town Called Suckhole, comes a countrified samurai epic in the vein of Squidbillies if directed by Akira Kurosawa.

 

A flood of frogs drowned the cities and gunked up all the guns. Now an evil restaurant chain called the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company rules a finger-licking shogunate of seafood mutants and murderous redneck swordsmen like Jimbo Yojimbo. Jimbo wants revenge on the Company for killing his family and stitching a cuttlefish to his face. After a daring escape, he will hack his way through hordes of crawdad soldiers, a church of quacking gun nuts on a jihad, and Bushido Budnick, the master chef who rules them all. But with every step he takes, Jimbo Yojimbo's sweet revenge will surely begin to taste like shit gumbo.

 

JIMBO YOJIMBO is [a] fast-paced post-apocalyptic redneck samurai tale of love, revenge, and a whole lotta mutant sumbitches.

 

I've read plenty of imaginative works over the last couple of years where I asked myself "what did I just read?" Typically, that was because as imaginative as the novel might have been, the author didn't relay the information too well and I just couldn't follow it (I usually didn't feel like I missed much). With this book, every time I asked something like, "Did he just say this cult was called the Holy Quackers?" I'd have to answer with, "Giant figures, wearing tattered camouflage kimonos and rubber boots, with giant duck bills on their face? Yup, he did say that." As strange, as out there, as bizarre as the trappings got -- the story made complete sense. It wasn't overly complicated, it wasn't overly messy, it was really a straight-forward revenge tale. Just one that felt like it was the offspring of any two randomly selected sentences from My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

 

Strip away everything and you're looking at a tale of a guy who was betrayed by his wife and watched his father be butchered by a megalomaniacal dictator, who just wants to rescue his daughter from that dictator's clutches (and, sure, maybe overthrow the government while he's at it) while being pursued by his wife and his arch-enemy (who happens to be fixated on his wife, too). It's a basic story, decently developed and told -- effective enough to entertain. But, once you add in the humor, the voice, the panache, the multiple cults, the hybrid warriors, the very strange world all this takes place in -- and the tale becomes dazzling.

 

And you buy it -- you buy all of it. Including the fact that Bushido Budnick can create entirely new species in his lab, but can't figure out how to take guns work anymore because science is hard or something. I'm not even sure it's that your disbelief is suspended, the book's just so cool that your disbelief says: "Who cares? I'm not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Just turn the page 'cuz I want to see what's next."

 

The fight scenes are disturbing, and bloody and . . . you'll say "ew" frequently. There's one fight near the end that just might be the grossest thing I read in 2018. There's another that's as close as you'll get to the Bride v the Crazy 88s in The House of Blue Leaves in print (just with robots, warriors with crawdad claws for hands, a samurai with sea anemones attached to his head in place of hair, and so on).

 

I'm tempted to just list off some of the stranger and/or cooler ideas that are given life in these pages, like the cult that "worshipped ideas and facts, and their relics were strange, ancient items that had mostly turned soggy in the flood: books. . . building a small army of highly literate and lethal fanatics dedicated to discovering and protecting that which would outlive them all: the untouchable truth of knowledge." But I won't -- just trust me, there are plenty. This book is like the Mos Eisley cantina scene -- something strange and interesting to look at everywhere, with a bit of violence and a bit of business going on in the midst of it all.

 

I'm in danger of going on too long here and I'm pretty sure I'm repeating myself -- if you like bizarre settings, stories told with panache and boldness, and don't mind a good bit of violence along the way -- get this. David W. Barbee is the real thing, I've got to get more of his work soon.

 

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this in exchange for my honest opinion -- I greatly appreciate it (the book wouldn't have appeared on my radar if not for that), but it didn't make an impact on my opinion (beyond giving me something to have an opinion about).

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/23/jimbo-yojimbo-by-david-w-barbee-is-strange-bizarre-funny-tragic-and-will-make-you-say-ew-a-lot
Saturday Miscellany - 4/21/18

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

  • Born to the Blade by Marie Brennan, Cassandra Khaw, Malka Older and Michael R. Underwood -- a serialized fantasy novel from a heckuva group of writers, I'm almost done with episode 1 and it's a strong start. Look into this one.
  • The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts -- I'm not even going to try to sum this up, click the link to get more info, and then probably go buy it somewhere.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/21/saturday-miscellany-4-21-18
Review
4 Stars
A Dynamite Legal Thriller
The Plea - Cavanagh,  Steve

Lawyers don’t usually question whether or not a client is telling truth. That way lies madness. You do what you have to and trust the system. So, the guilty plead guilty. The innocent fight their case and the jury decides. If a by-product of that process is the emergence of the truth, then so be it, but the truth is not the aim of the process. The verdict is the aim. Truth has no place in the trial because no one is concerned with finding it, least of all the lawyers or the judge.



If that's not cynical enough for you, try this:

I saw through Dell’s game. It was a familiar one. It’s a game the justice system plays every single day in America--because sometimes it simply doesn’t matter if you’re really innocent of the crime; the only smart move is to plead guilty and make a deal for a lesser sentence.

“You want me to read the new evidence and tell David that irrespective of his innocence, he will definitely be convicted and his only choice is to plead guilty and make a deal to cut his sentence.”

“Bingo,” said Dell.

Happens all the time. I’ve done it myself. Innocent people often don’t want to take the chance of losing and doing fifteen or twenty years when they could make a deal and be out in two. It’s mathematics--not justice, but that's the reality.


Don't worry -- this book is not a diatribe about the shortcomings of the American judicial system (as appropriate as one might be), little comments like that are just a little bit of flavoring accenting the story, grounding it in the real world despite the craziness filling the book.

Eddie Flynn, for those new to the character, is a con man who went straight and then went to Law School. Following that, he made a couple big mistakes -- one cost him the career he had built, the other cost him his family. He's in the process of rebuilding both -- no easy task -- but you have to root for the guy trying to recover.

Eddie's approached (okay, ambushed) by the FBI, who wants Eddie to take on a new client, David Child. Child's a tech billionaire accused of murdering his girlfriend, and the FBI wants Eddie to convince him to plead to the charges. Then he needs to convince Eddie to help the FBI take down the law firm that currently represents him -- and is laundering money on a mind-boggling scale. If Eddie refuses? The FBI has enough evidence to put Eddie's ex away for a long time (did I mention that she works for the aforementioned firm, totally unaware that she's incriminated in the laundering?).

So, somehow Eddie has to separate Child from his current counsel, replace them, and then persuade Child to work with the FBI -- within a couple of days. No easy task. Then Eddie becomes convinced that Child is innocent. Which complicates things tremendously. So how does Eddie clear Child, keep his wife out of jail and help the FBI take down the laundering lawyers? Well, it'll take every bit of his old tricks, and maybe a few new ones.

I'm not a huge legal thriller guy -- never read a Grisham -- but when you give me a compelling character (particularly a defense attorney) like Eddie Flynn, I'm in. Watching Eddie navigate through the tricky waters of the system -- including jail guards, court staff, judges, prosecutors -- is a blast. This was like a serious version of the Andy Carpenter books. I would like to see Eddie take on a client he because he wanted to for a change, but that's not a complaint about this book, it'd just be nice to see.

Sure, it's your appreciation for Eddie Flynn that'll determine if you like this book or not, but he's not the only character to focus on -- there's David Child himself, who is interestingly drawn -- he's a fairly typical computer-genius character, socially awkward, etc. Typical, yes, but used well. My only complaint about Child's associate, Holly, is that we didn't get more of her (not that Cavanagh could've easily fit more of her in). The villains? Nasty, vile people -- believable (with one possible exception, but I liked him enough I don't care) -- all of them were well used, well drawn and just what the doctor ordered.

The Plea isn't perfect: I figured out the whodunit almost instantly, but it took a little while to get the details of the howdunit right -- and Cavanagh fooled me a little bit on that one. But that didn't detract from the book at all -- the fun is in watching Eddie and the rest scramble to survive this horrible situation and figure things out. The plot moves at a relentless pace -- which is a cliché, I realize, but I challenge you to come up with another way to describe this plot. Eddie can barely get a moment to rest and think, and when you're reading this, you feel like you can't either.

Characters you can't help but root for (or, in some cases, against), a fast-moving plot, with just enough twists, turns and hurdles. This one'll grab you by the collar and drag you along as it rushes to the dramatic conclusion (not that you'll be fighting against it, but the dragging will help you keep up). Keep yours eyes peeled for Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn, they're something to watch.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/20/the-plea-by-steve-cavanagh-is-a-dynamite-legal-thriller
Review
3 Stars
A would-be Indiana Jones-esque adventure in Egypt
The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh - Carolyn Arnold

Noted thrill-seeker, adventurer and archaeologist in the Indiana Jones mold, Matt Connor, is contacted by a former colleague with a more-than-tempting offer: she's pretty sure that she's on the trail of a fascination of Matt's -- the Emerald Tablets -- and would he like to help look for them? Matt jumps at the chance and persuades Dr. Alexandria Leonard to let him bring his two friends along -- they've come along on many of his previous escapades and will be a helpful addition to this one, too.

 

He just has to convince them to come. Following the three of them being compelled to find the lost City of Gold, they've plunged themselves into their very tame careers and personal lives and away from excitement. Matt convinces them to come along (or the book would've been much shorter), and they head to Egypt a couple of days later. Keeping things very secret from just about everyone, of course, because these Emerald Tablets have great power -- we're not told anything about this power, just that no one wants it to fall into the wrong hands. When people first started talking about them in those terms, I rolled my eyes, until I realized that this was a world in which that was a thing -- tablets have power, the Ark of the Covenant probably took out a bunch of Nazis and Bobby probably found an ancient tiki that carried a curse. Once I figured out that was the kind of book I was reading, things made a little more sense. We are told almost nothing else about the Tablets, but from the way everyone acts about them (at least everyone that believes in them), you can tell they're a pretty big deal.

 

Once they arrive, things start to good poorly for the expedition -- and not in small ways, but they struggle through it all (mostly). The Tablets are not easily found -- if they even exist, that is. But there's plenty of other archeological finds to focus on -- and some real dangers. Like, say, snakes. Arnold does a great job depicting how snakes can really creep a person out -- even a person safely reading about them on their Kindle thousands of miles away from a single asp. Although at a certain point, they just disappear -- like Hamlin's Pied Piper sauntered through Egypt and every asp left with him. It was a bit disconcerting once they stopped being a concern -- especially in the last chapters where they really could've been a looming presence -- after being everywhere for a while.

This was a fun little adventure story, nothing too intense, nothing too serious, just a nice little diversion (which is good thing). But it could've been better, too.

 

Early on, when the characters are getting to know each other and get comfortable in Egypt, I really had some trouble with the conversation. Matt's friend and photographer (ugh, don't get me started on the drama surrounding bringing along a photographer), Cal, can serve a great role for the reader. Cal's only a hobbiest when it comes to this stuff from hanging out with his friend -- so he can ask a lot of questions that Arnold can use to plug the reader into the world. It's a thankless task that characters in books and TV shows have to play letting the "stars" show off their expertise. That's all well and good, but man, Cal asked some pretty dumb questions -- and what's worse, characters in and around the field of archaeology were way too impressed with others answering simple questions -- questions I could've answered. That was hard to swallow, but easy to get past.

 

But was really hard to get past -- if only because she kept throwing it in your face -- was the unsubtle emotional stories. Alex's other friend, Robyn, is clearly the love of his life -- and vice versa. But they broke up years ago, while neither has let go. And one or the other of them (and occasionally, Cal) is thinking about this every few pages, without doing anything about it. And when another romance is kindled in Egypt, the melodrama gets hard to swallow -- seriously, in an early draft of Twilight, Stephanie Meyer would've cut this kind of stuff for being "too high school." Unless I'm remembering incorrectly, Arnold can do subtle emotions, this didn't seem to be the same author who wrote Remnants -- and that's a shame.

 

The pacing of this was disappointing -- we got too much set-up, far too much time establishing the various storylines in Egypt, and then we rushed through the conclusion. I think the heart of the adventure took the last 20 percent of the book! It needed to be longer just to give it the necessary dramatic weight -- and to make the last challenges these characters faced seem more difficult and fraught than a run down to Tim Horton's for donuts and coffee.

 

The mystery component (for lack of a better word), was far too easy to figure out -- but it wasn't framed as a whodunit, so that's not a slight on Arnold. But it does make you wonder about the powers of observation displayed by Matt, Cal, Alex and the rest. But the villainous characters did their overall job, keeping things moving and providing a way for Matt and the rest to have the adventure the book they needed.

 

I've given a lot of space here to my relatively minor complaints -- but it takes a bit of space to express them. I did have a good time reading the book. Matt's a fun character -- ditto for Cal. I enjoyed the chemistry between the central characters and could've easily read another hundred pages or more with them and not really noticed or minded. As long as the high school stuff was downplayed -- when that wasn't a focus, I wanted more time with all the characters.

 

This is the second in a series, but would be a find jumping-on point. I do recommend this for people looking for a light adventure, and can see myself coming back for another go-round with these characters -- I know Arnold can do better than this (and this wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good as it could've been).

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hibbert & Stiles Publishing in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/17/the-secret-of-the-lost-pharaoh-by-carolyn-arnold-a-would-be-indiana-jones-esque-adventure-in-egypt
Quotation of the Day
"A man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse.  But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds.  A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend.  The last is much the shabbiest.  It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial proportion of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason."
--Nero Wolfe
Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/16/quotation-of-the-day
Review
4.5 Stars
The Iron Druid Chronicles conclude with a bang.
Scourged - Kevin Hearne

So, in a fast 265 pages Kevin Hearne gives us: Ragnarok; a lot of dead vampires; environmental crises; a friendly sloth; puppies; send-offs to many, many characters; shocking deaths; less-than-shocking deaths; surprise non-deaths; and more discussion of poots (elven and jaguar) than one'd expect in this kind of book. The amount that he accomplishes here is really staggering. Some of it, alas, could've been deeper -- explored more thoroughly -- if he hadn't set out to do so much or if he'd taken more time with some things (and less time with others). Still, this was a heckuva way to end the series.

 

This is not the book to start this series with, go back and read Hounded if you're curious (one of the best series kick-offs around), and I'm not going to get into the plot much. It's Ragnarok. We've all known it was coming and now it's here -- 'nuff said. Along those lines, however, Hearne also gets bonus points for including a "where we are in the series" introduction, summarizing the first 8 novels and the short stories/novellas that got us to this point. Again, this should be a requirement for long-running series.

 

There's no easy way to say it: there was just too much of Granuaile and Owen. Yes, it's the best use of Owen since his introduction, don't get me wrong. But it's the Iron Druid Chronicles -- fine, use the others if you want, but they shouldn't get equal time to the Iron Druid here in the last book. Especially given the number of things -- and scope of action -- that had to be accomplished in Atticus' story, it really should've had more room to breathe. That said -- for End-of-the-World Showdowns featuring deities from multiple pantheons? This rocked. He wrapped up the story he kicked off in Hammered and Two Ravens and One Crow in a fantastic fashion, full of death, blood and tension. At the same time, he maintained the very idiosyncratic characterizations he'd created for the various gods and goddesses.

 

Speaking of Two Ravens and One Crow, a small, but fun, point from that comes back in these pages in a way that no one could have expected and added just the right level of fun to the battle.

 

Hearne did a great job integrating the short stories from Besieged into this book -- I didn't expect to see so much from them carry over to this. It all worked well and set the stage for Hearne to get in to the action of Scourged right away and he took full advantage of that.

 

There were more than a few things that seemed like they needed better explanations -- doesn't the convenient dog sitter find the way that Atticus spoils his dogs more than a little strange? Given that they've known the clock was ticking on Ragnarok, why did Atticus wait until the last second to give Granuaile and Owen their assignments? I mean, it works out well for dramatic purposes, and allows certain plot points to be triggered, but that's not a good reason for the characters to work that way. At the very least, why weren't his former apprentice and his former teacher pestering Atticus to lay out his plans long before this? While I eventually saw what Atticus and Hearne were up to, in the moment, a lot of the plan just didn't make sense. When the world is falling apart, why set someone up for an extended training session (for one example)?

 

I'm not giving away anything about anyone dying -- or living -- but we know this is the finale, so we're seeing the end of stories for these characters. Some good, some shocking, some disappointing, some sad. In no particular order: Laksha got a nice send-off, I really didn't expect to see her here -- and I really appreciated what Hearne did with her. It's not honestly the ending I've had wanted for Atticus -- but it's the kind of ending that Hearne's been building to for a while now, so it's fitting. I can appreciate the way that Hearne accomplished his goals, even if I think Atticus deserved better. Owen's ending was everything you could've hoped for. Granuaile's story was fitting for her -- and a good reminder that I stopped liking her a few books ago (seriously, why couldn't she adopt an attitude similar to Owen or Flidias when it comes to their assignments during the battle?). I would've liked to have seen Perun one more time, but he got a good send off in Besieged.

 

Oberon was sidelined for most of the book -- I understand why: Atticus wanted to keep his buddy safe, and Hearne needed to keep things ominous, dramatic and threatening, which is hard to do with everyone's favorite Irish Wolfhound putting his two cents in (it's hard enough with Coyote around). Still, we got some good Oberonisms, and he elicited more than one smile from me -- and you could argue he saved the day ultimately. If I didn't know that Hearne was writing one more of Oberon's Meaty Mysteries, I'd be despondent over not seeing him again.

 

Scourged wasn't perfect, but it was very satisfying. If I have to say good-bye to these characters, this is a pretty good way to do it. There was enough excitement, drama, and happenings to fill a couple of books and Hearne got it all into one -- no mean feat -- and it was a great read. It's not easy letting go of most of these characters and this world (I mean, apart from re-reads), but I'm glad Hearne got out when he did and the way he wanted to. I'm looking forward to his future projects.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/16/scourged-by-kevin-hearne-the-iron-druid-chronicles-conclude-with-a-bang
Saturday Miscellany – 4/14/18

Worked over 50 hours this week (including today), there were only a few hours of that where I wasn't going full steam ahead. Which meant I came home and pretty much collapsed. Leaving drafts for posts on multiple books in mid-stream. Next week will likely be the same, but I'm trying to get things done. Did manage to read a bit -- some very strong stuff, which helps tremendously.

 

Anyhow, 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:

  • The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe -- Apparently, April is a month of good-byes. First, the Iron Druid. Now, the Tufa. This is one of the best series I've read the last few years -- now, you can read them all. Do so.
  • Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance by David Ahern -- Madam Tulip makes a movie in Scotland and, shockingly enough, becomes embroiled in murder and mayhem. I thought it was plenty of fun, as you can read here.
  • Skyjack by K. J. Howe -- Kidnap and Ransom specialist, Thea Paris, is back in this tale of secret armies, skyjacking, divided loyalties and impending doom. Here's my post about it.

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/14/saturday-miscellany-4-14-18
Review
3 Stars
A Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man (and his son)
The Italian Teacher - Tom Rachman

I am going to say some nice things about this book, but the thing that kept going through my mind -- for at least the first two-thirds -- was: haven't I read this before? There are a couple of Richard Russo books hidden here, one Matthew Norman -- and I want to say DeLillo, Tropper and Weiner, too, but I can't put my finger on which of those -- and probably a few others that I don't recall. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- we've all read plenty of books that are just variations on well-established themes. What I had to ask myself was: did Rachman have anything new to say with his take? Did he throw in some interesting twists to the mix? Was it a rewarding experience for the reader? I think my answers were: not really, sort of, and not particularly.

 

The novel revolves around Bear Bavinsky, a painter of renown, an iconoclast, a rock star in a pre-rock star age -- and a serial monogamist on his second marriage when we meet him. He's essentially a Jeff Bridges character. His son, Charles (nicknamed Pinch) idolizes him (many of his children do, but Charles doesn't get over it the way most do).  Bear is mercurial, irresponsible, unfaithful, arrogant, and incredibly charming. Really, the difference between Rachman's Bear Bavinsky and Russo's Donald "Sully" Sullivan is that Bear has money (that's just to help you understand him, not a commentary on the character). When he turns on the charm, he can get seemingly anyone -- detractor, fan, or something in between -- to feel important, to feel pivotal, captivating, and so on. Most people shake off this effect after a couple of days (although they seem to hold on to a little bit of it for decades) -- Charles never does. He spends his life striving for his father's attention, favor, affection -- anything. He shapes his life around those things which will hopefully get Bear's approval -- and when he fails (or at least, doesn't succeed as he hopes) in the endeavor, and/or doesn't get Bear's approval he has a moment of clarity, stumbles into something else and then eventually falls back into the search for his Father's approbation.

 

Ironically, compared to the rest of Bear's kids, Charles has that approval. He just doesn't realize it -- and maybe it's because the rest have given up and don't seek him out as much. We follow Charles' life from childhood, to adolescence (living with a divorced mother now), in college, early adulthood and then in his 50s. Striving for significance, striving for something beyond his reach -- and yearning for his father. It's a decent, if lonely, life -- and could've been something better if he hadn't allowed so much of it to be shaped by his father, what Charles things his father wants, and then listening to his father's input when he really shouldn't.

 

As the jacket copy says, "Until one day, Pinch begins an astonishing plan that’ll change art history forever..." It stops being a book that I've read before (mostly), takes on its own flavor -- and gets worse. But your results may vary.

 

I thought Bear was an interesting character -- but not one I wanted to spend a lot of time with. I felt too much pity for Charles to really get invested in him. No one else in the book was really worth the effort. The story was unimpressive and oddly paced. Which is not to say it's a bad novel, it's just not one I could appreciate that much. There were conversations, scenes, etc. that were just great. I kept waiting for there to be a moment (probably the "Until one day...") that this book turned for me -- like Rachman's last one did -- and it never came.

 

Maybe it was just my mood, maybe it's my utter incapability of appreciating visual art, maybe it's actually Rachman stumbling. I don't know -- this just didn't work for me. Am I glad I read it? I think so -- if only because I don't have to wonder what the new Rachman book is like. I'm still giving it 3 stars because of the skill Rachman displayed -- I just didn't enjoy what he did with it.

 

<a href="http://angelsguiltypleasures.com/2018-library-love-challenge-review-link-ups/" target="_blank"><img class="aligncenter" style="border:none;height:auto;width:300px;" src="http://angelsguiltypleasures.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2018LibraryLoveChallenge07-400x400-angelsgp.jpg" alt="2018 Library Love Challenge" /></a>

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/09/the-italian-teacher-by-rom-rachman
Saturday Miscellany - 4/7/18

Another week of small lists. Small, but packed with goodness.

 

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:

  • Scourged by Kevin Hearne -- This is the big one of the week, er, month for me. I've been an unabashed fan of this series since the release of Hounded, and devoured this finale. UF readers will want to look for this one (and many probably are). Will be posting about it soonish.
  • School for Psychics by K. C. Archer -- this looks like a variation on a common theme -- secret school for people with extraordinary abilities (Brakebills, Hogwarts, Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, etc.) -- but with an intriguing take.
Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/07/saturday-miscellany-4-7-18