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.

Review
4 Stars
A must for Iron Druid fans
Besieged - Kevin Hearne
"Tell me about the old days, Atticus, when you were wee and had to walk both ways uphill in feces because no one had toilets."


Granuaile's request for a story around the campfire during her training sets the stage for this collection of stories from The Iron Druid Chronicles, primarily about events that took place prior to the first time we meet Atticus. Thankfully, we don't get as much fecal matter as she suggests (although, it is there).

 

We see Atticus in San Francisco during the Gold Rush; in Egypt, annoying that pantheon (and setting the stage for complications in a previously published short story); in London, meeting and influencing a certain Bard of Avon; we also get a bit of post-Tricked action and learn why Atticus doesn't spend much time in Nebraska. I enjoyed all of these -- I don't know that I got amazing new insights in to any of the characters, it was just nice to see them in low-risk adventures. Time with Atticus and Oberon (and the rest) is almost always time well spent.

 

Not all of the stories were from Atticus' perspective. These weren't as appealing to me, but I did enjoy them. I wasn't crazy about the story featuring Flidias and Perun -- the setting was pretty off-putting for me. Although I did enjoy Perun's narration and in the end the story won me over. There's a story from Granuaile's perspective about enforcing the agreement to rid Poland of vampires. This was the most I've liked her since Trapped, which was quite a relief. Of the two stories told from Owen's perspective, the one set post-Staked worked better for me than the one about his life before he became anyone's archdruid. I really like watching Owen try to train this group of children while attempting to keep from recreating the mistakes of the past.

 

I can't say much about the last story, because it takes place immediately before the series finale, due next year. It whet my appetite for the last book, for sure (not that I needed it) -- and reminded me that I might need to keep a supply of Kleenex handy.

 

Not as good as a novel, but a satisfying collection of tales in this world. A must for fans -- casual or die-hard.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/28/besieged-by-kevin-hearne
Review
3 Stars
An entertaining, yet tame, fantasy novel
The Coven  - Chrissy Lessey

This book takes place in a small North Carolina town where descendants of some colonial witches still live and practice their craft. For obvious reasons, they are a secret group, but highly self-regulated. Typically, the abilities travel along family lines and crop up in childhood/adolescence, at which point, the witch/warlock is initiated into the Coven and introduced to their history and practice.

 

Stevie is a newly-divorced mom of a young Autistic boy, still struggling to adjust to life without her husband and trying to make an emotional connection with her son, who she's trying everything to help. She's about to learn about her unique heritage, in a way that no one would want to.

 

There's a dark witch who has just returned to town to settle some scores. Her actions will kick off many changes to the coven, as well as the populace of the town. Her return and the advent of Stevie's ability will prove a pivotal moment in the history of this group.

There's a rich -- and frequently delightful -- cast of supporting characters here. Lessey writes them well and with care. I enjoyed them all, frequently grinning at the way a couple of them behave.

 

I can't testify to the accuracy of the depiction of autism -- but it felt real, it felt like the fruit of good research (or first-hand knowledge), sympathetic without pandering; realistic, yet open to the possibilities of a Fantasy novel. Stevie's relationship with Charlie, her son, was easily the best part of this book.

 

The stakes were high, but it there was never a feeling of actual peril, of risk, of there being a chance that things could go really bad. Still, there was plenty of heart and enough likeable characters to keep the reader engaged. A quick read that kept the plot moving at a decent pace. <b>The Coven</b> is the Urban Fantasy equivalent of a cozy -- low risk, decent reward. I'm willing to bet Lessey grows and develops as a writer over the trilogy, and is probably worth keeping an eye on.

 

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

Review
4.5 Stars
The aftermath of last year's novel shapes this winner
Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet (A Jesse Stone Novel) - Reed Farrel Coleman

On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he's going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he's so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open -- how much of a mess would Jesse be?

 

Big. A big mess.

 

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages -- Jesse's pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he's had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he's still the same guy we've been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he'll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

 

But let's set that aside for the moment -- there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There's the titular sonnet -- a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts' answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester's manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can't stand this idea -- he can't stand much to do with Stiles Island -- he just doesn't want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn't have much choice -- for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor's political aspirations. And you don't get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor's political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she's trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester's celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there's a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman's Sonnet master recording, the pressure -- and the urge to drink -- increases for Paradise's Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don't think I gave away too much there.

 

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman's writing into the mix and you've got yourself a winner. There's a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking -- the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work -- and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn't assemble them correctly. There were a couple of "red shirt" criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they're not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable -- and the death was -- but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn't do.

 

I won't say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly -- it hasn't. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) -- but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

 

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that's true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

 

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/26/the-hangmans-sonnet-by-reed-farrel-coleman
Review
3.5 Stars
Rebus dips his toe in an age-old conflict
Mortal Causes  - Ian Rankin
When he’d washed his eyes last night, it had been like washing behind them as well. Always it came to this, he tried to do things by the books and ended up cooking them instead. It was easier, that was all. Where would the crime detection rates be without a few shortcuts?


Before Rebus gets to his shortcuts, he's called to investigate a homicide. A particularly grisly one, reminiscent of some that Rebus saw in Northern Ireland when he was serving there.

 

It's his familiarity with that execution that gets him loaned to a special squad also investigating the homicide, especially as it seems tied into some gun smuggling. Rebus isn't pleased at all to be the new guy -- much less, the temporary new guy -- on a team, as much as he seems to appreciate some of the individuals on the team (while others make him think more fondly of Chief Inspector Lauderdale). The investigation takes him to Northern Ireland to collect some intelligence, to a dangerous neighborhood, and he brushes up against an American who's funneling guns of all kinds to (and through) Edinburgh.

 

In the midst of all of this, Rebus has some drama in his personal life -- nothing involving his tenants or brother, but things with Patience Aitken aren't going as smoothly as one might want (are they ever?) -- and there's another woman who has Rebus in her sights (the guy isn't a catch, from what I can tell -- how does this happen so regularly?).

Throw in an appearance by Big Ger Cafferty while the bodies are piling up and you've got yourself a story.

 

I'm not sure why I don't have much to say about this one. Maybe because we live on this side of the Good Friday Agreement? But that doesn't seem to ring true. Rebus is Rebus, Clarke is Clarke, Holmes is Holmes, Farmer Watson is off the wagon, but still pushing his bad coffee . . . the new squad ha some interesting characters, but we don't spend much time with them. There are some great and colorful characters we brush into during the investigation, too. I don't know. I liked it, but I can't think of anything to say beyond that.

 

There's a lot to commend in this novel, from great lines like: "He'd had wrong hunches before, enough for a convention of the Quasimodo fan club"; to the wide-ranging sources of trouble for Rebus; to the horrible history and equally horrible present behind the crimes -- this is a solid and haunting novel. Something about this was a little off, I'm not sure what -- at least as I think back on it, it doesn't seem as fully developed as the last two. But in the moment I was gripped. I'm not saying that this isn't fine, I just know Rankin can do better.


2017 Library Love Challenge

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/25/mortal-causes-by-ian-rankin
Review
3.5 Stars
Monroe has to use more brains than brawn in this thriller
The Mask: Vanessa Michael Munroe, Book 5 - Taylor Stevens, Hillary Huber, Random House Audio

I spent a lot of time being annoyed with Michael in this novel -- more time being annoyed with Miles, however. Well, that's not true -- events keep Miles off of the board for most of the book, so let me say that I spent more time annoyed with him while he active. I get that communication is hard for them, and I guess it was good to see that Miles was human, too -- even his ability to understand Michael's needs and desires has limits.

 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

So Michael's got her head on right after The Catch and goes to join Miles in Japan. He's there in a strange corporate security consulting gig that he really won't clue her in on. They spend a few months together, him working days and her trying not to get bored and learning Japanese. The latter of those two works a whole lot better than the former. She needs something to do -- and not in the "I've gotta kill someone or take drugs" kind of way she did back in The Vessel. She just needs something to occupy her time while he's putting in 15 hour days. Which isn't dong their relationship any good. Before she can have it out with him, he gets arrested for murdering someone at the tech company he's working for. If she had tried to talk, if he'd explained himself a little better -- if they had communicated at all . . . so much of this novel wouldn't have happened. Too many books/movies/TV shows rely on this poor interpersonal communication to force plots forward, it really gets on my nerves.

 

First, we get a little lesson in Japanese jurisprudence, which by itself was enough to convince me that I don't want to end up arrested in Japan (not that I really want to be arrested anywhere). Then Michael goes to work to clear his name, no one else is going to. The hoops she has to jump through make her previous adventures seem easy -- sure, she was in more peril in most of the previous books, but it seemed easier for her to get around and get the information she wanted. Cultural and corporate protocols are tougher to beat by bribery, sensuality and violence than other things, I guess. Throw in some underworld figures and you've got yourself a thriller worthy of Monroe. I really enjoyed this story once Miles got arrested and things got moving -- Stevens is getting better at plot intricacies.

 

There's a great corporate espionage plot throughout with an operative that could probably sustain her own novel if Stevens ever got around to it. I'm not sure I can say more than that without messing something up. But as despicable as I find (some of) her methods, they made for good reading.

 

About the time that I'd given up on Michael doing more than outwitting her opponents, she got sucked into a very violent confrontation. I didn't spend a second thinking that she was in trouble, but man, she had to work hard to eliminate these guys. There's that scene in The Vessel where Stevens cuts away from the action, and we don't get to see Michael kill her captives, we just know she's about to do something and then Miles comes along later and finds the aftermath. This fight scene was probably pretty similar to that -- but there's no cut. We get the whole thing.

 

I should take a moment to talk about Hilary Huber, but I can't say anything about her narration than I've said before. Now that I'm caught up with these, I'm going to have to track down some other books that she's narrated.

 

I never expected a happily ever after scenario between Michael and Miles -- but I expected something better than this (not that this is in any way, shape or form the end of their relationship), and that took some of the shine off this book for me. Otherwise, this was very entertaining, gripping, and so on -- a Michael Monroe thriller that tops its predecessors, and deepens our understanding of Michael. Not much more to ask.

Saturday Miscellany - 7/21/17

My wife, youngest and I were out of town for a few days last week for some medical tests (the super-curious can click here for details, but that's not the point). I knew I was being overly ambitious when I packed 3 books for my 2.5 days away, but I was unprepared for how busy the waiting areas we were in were. I got a little over 100 pages of reading done. Pitiful number, really. I know I had more important things going on, but I still expected a little more.

 

Anyway, I was away from the Internet for a few days, and so I didn't find that many odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading, but I enjoyed these:

 

 


      A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen:

 

    • Myke Cole Interview -- on The Author Stories Podcast. I've heard Cole interviewed a couple of times before, but Garner got a bit more out of him than I'd heard before.

 

      This Week's New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:

 

 

 

    • The Late Show by Michael Connelly -- I'm about 2/3 done with this and am really impressed with Connelly's new detective.

 

    • Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil -- a UF Police Procedural, some peanutbutter in my chocolate. Looks tasty.

 

 

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/22/saturday-miscellany-72117
Review
3.5 Stars
A fun little mystery that's just this side of a must-read
One by One (A Daniel Hayes Mystery Book 2) - Robert Germaux

Daniel Hays and his Special Assignment Squad -- a Major Crimes squad set up to help smaller cities in the county around Pittsburgh -- haven't had a lot to do since being formed. That changes when the chief him Hampton Township has a strange homicide show up. He doesn't need the help necessarily, but is concerned that the strangeness of the murder indicates that there could be something "big" coming. Another few homicides (at least) with the same strange element.

 

There's a note left on the corpse, it reads "Blue is Better" and has a big, red check mark underneath. Daniel and his partner agree, they probably don't need to be involved, but should be familiar with the investigation, just in case.

 

Good thing, too -- because one week later in a very different part of the county, here's another murder. With another note. Now things are getting serious and the SAS has to jump into action.

 

There's no connection between the victims that they can find, no clues, no anything for them to go on. Just the notes, and repeated homicides on Fridays.

 

From there, we get an interesting twist or two there, some wrong turns, until after a lucky stroke, all the pieces fall together.

 

The characters are nice to spend time with, professionals who get along and work for the common good. They could possibly be a little more interesting if they were a little less professional, if there were a glitch or two in the teamwork. <b>One by One</b> falls into something like a "blue-sky" drama on TV -- like <b>NCIS</b>, <b>Burn Notice</b> or <b>White Collar</b>, not the grittier <b>Homicide</b>, <b>The Wire</b>, or <b>Bosch</b>. This is not a dig at <b>One by One</b> to compare it to those shows -- people love them, I've watched every episode of <b>NCIS</b> and enjoyed over 87% of them. But readers should go into this with eyes open -- just because it's a detective squad working multiple homicides, don't go in expecting Michael Connelly, Owen Laukkanen, or Ian Rankin -- expect Chris Grabenstein, David Rosenfelt, Aaron J. Elkins (check my archives, you'll see that I've really enjoyed all those authors -- again, this isn't a knock, this is me describing where this belongs on a spectrum).

 

That said, Germaux could've given us a little more sense of urgency, had the characters seem less casual in their approach to this work. They did a lot of run of the mill, interviews with people that didn't get them anywhere -- even just showing more of that, would've been something. Maybe all of the smaller departments weren't as cooperative with the task force. It wouldn't have to be much, the book could've used a little something to intensify the drama. This was a good read, a light and enjoyable mystery; it's <i>thiiis</i> close to me saying it's a must read, but instead, I'll leave it as a good read. You will enjoy it.This is a quick, easy story with a nice puzzle and some charming characters. I planned on reading the previous novel in the series, <b>Small Talk</b>, I just hadn't got around to it -- I'm going to work a little harder on that now.

 

If nothing else, read it for the recommendation on your new favorite version of "Over the Rainbow." Wow.

 

<i><b>Disclaimer</b>: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my participation in the Book Tour.</i>

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/20/one-by-one-by-robert-germaux
Review
4 Stars
A strong follow-up novel.
Moon Over Soho  - Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

When I think back over the first books in this series, I remember them being a lot of fun -- pretty funny, really, with moments of tension and drama.

 

I don't know why I think that. Listening to the first two have been a good corrective. Yes, Peter is witty, and some of what he does while learning magic or talking to other police officers is amusing. But these are not light books -- this is solid police work mixed with dark magic. They're still fun, just a lot less light than I recall. Actually, my poor memory extends beyond just the tone. I remembered almost nothing about the plot of this one (I remembered almost everything that wasn't involved in the main plot, the long-term investigation into the Faceless Man, the stuff with Lesley, etc.). Which made it a great experience to re-read.

 

Jazz musicians are dropping dead after performances of a lifetime -- in ways that seem like natural causes, but Peter (and Dr. Walid) can tell there's something more going on -- just what that might be is a touch beyond them. There's another supernatural predator traveling in London hotspots, preying on unsuspecting men. Peter and DS Stephanopoulos work together to get to the bottom of things -- we also meet PC Sahra Guleed. After Guleed's appearance in Body Work, I've been trying to remember where I knew her from, but I couldn't come up with it, so pleased to have that question resolved for me -- I remember now, and I remember what a great character she is.

Peter's spirit, his curiosity, his drive -- they make for a great protagonist, and I quite enjoy spending time with him. I would've liked a bit more Nightingale -- but I understand why he wasn't around. Even Peter's new love interest and his new musician friends are a blast. Really, I can't think of any characters in here I don't dig.

 

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith . . . I'm telling you, this guy is just great. His characterizations of the regular characters, plus the ones that we meet here, are great, he just brings everyone to life. But, the job he does with Lesley May's voice as she recovers from the devastating injuries she sustained at the end of Midnight Riot? I don't know how to talk about how wonderful -- and heartbreaking -- I found that.

 

Another little plus that the audio books bring (not attributable to Holdbrook-Smith) are the interstitial music, that little jazz bit between chapters. It's just perfect for this series. If you could get that on a chip in the paperbacks to play when you turn the page of a new chapter (or on a whim)? That'd be gold.

 

A great installment in the series, solidifying the world and helping every character move forward following Midnight Riot.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/18/moon-over-soho-audiobook-by-ben-aaronovitch-kobna-holdbrook-smith
Review
3.5 Stars
Hard SF shell with a great father-daughter story candy-core
SAUL (The Great Curve Book 1) - Bradley Horner

It just wasn’t fair. This whole fucking situation was downright ironic. The last eighty years had been a non-stop panic about righting all of their ancestor’s wrongs, a comeback after the nearly complete catastrophic dieback right before the turn of the last century.

 

Hadn’t they’d re-seeded the plains and the oceans? They had tried to make amends, hadn’t they? And apparently, the Earth was just a tiny bit slow on the uptake if this an attempt to punish them, that no, they weren’t forgiven, and no amount of flowers would ever be accepted. It was like the Earth was out to destroy their gardens just because they’d destroyed hers.


It turns out, no matter what kind of political, economic, scientific, or social utopia you create, the natural world around you isn't obligated to pay attention or cut you some slack.

 

Saul describes what Saul Rothe goes through in the 28 minutes where the Earth experiences an earthquake more widespread than anyone's experienced, resulting in devastation I can't describe. Saul's basically wrapping up professorial duties for the day, chatting with his wife while she's at work, checking on his daughter and preparing to go home when the quake hits. Basically, at this point, the infrastructure that humanity depends on fails, all of it.

 

Saul does everything he can to get to his daughter and ensure her safety, but just before he can, their apartment building collapses with her in it. Saul, who's been coming from a tower far above throws himself down, following her, doing what he can to save her.

 

Ignoring the wide-scale destruction and suffering all around him (maybe even adding too it unintentionally). To do so, he has to pull out every technological/future science trick he knows, invent a couple of new ones, violate standards, regulations, etc. By doing all this, he becomes a global celebrity and example to others -- leading many to mount their own rescue attempts to save those around them from the calamity.

 

Clarke's Third Law states, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." We've all heard that a million times, and while reading this book, I realized how handy that is for SF writers (I'm sure I'm not the first to realize this). You just imagine a technology impossibly advanced, and you can use it like magic. That's precisely what Horner does here -- and it works out pretty well for him.

 

Saul does so many things that defy physics (well, as I understand them -- apparently, Montgomery Scott was wrong, and you can change the laws of physics), especially time. I had so many notes along the lines of "too much talky-talk, and not enough rescuing here," only to see that a couple of seconds had passed -- part of the tech allows Saul and others to have long conversations about . . . . well, all sorts of things, while he falls, taking no time at all.

 

The world-building was amazing -- it's very easy to see, from the world he describes, the language he uses (much of which is defined in the very necessary glossary), to the technology, to . . . seriously, everything. There are very few SF novels with as fully-realized worldbuilding as Horner has pulled off here. That said, he could've done a better job communicating it all (or even a substantial portion of it all) to his readers. I'm not saying I need pages and pages, or even multiple paragraphs, detailing the history of why object X developed in this way. But a line or two here and there just to fill out our understandings would've been nice. Could I follow it enough to stick with the story? Yeah. Could I easily describe it to anyone else? No.

 

In the end, the SF story just wasn't my cup of tea -- I got it, well most of it, anyway -- but I just didn't like it. The Science was too abstract, too . . . "sufficiently advanced" for me to really enjoy. However, and this is the important part, the story about a father throwing everything he had at saving his daughter -- not caring for his health, reputation, safety, future, or society as a whole's health, future, safety -- I absolutely liked. There are going to be scads of people that eat this up -- and plenty of people that will muddle through the Science-y bits for the really good characters and story.

 

Give this a shot folks, it's worth the effort -- and, while I always want to hear what you have to say about a book, I'm extra curious about what others think of this one. Let's fill up the comment section.

Saturday Miscellany - 7/15/17

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 Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon. I've read 1 of these and 4 of them are calling to me from my shelf/Kindle. A good-looking crop.:
  • Dead Is Good by Jo Perry -- Charlie and Rose are back for . . . who cares what they're back for? They're back! A ghost and a ghost dog solve mysteries, does it matter what the specifics are? The only book 3 I've been looking forward to more is Rothfuss' very overdue one.
  • Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson -- Space-faring dragons in a teen adventure. This is what I had to say about it.
  • Besieged by Kevin Hearne -- 9 Iron Druid short stories (5 of which happen post-Staked)
  • Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn -- a murder investigation in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero -- a spoof of/tribute to teen detectives
  • Song of the Swan by Michael RN Jones -- Victor Locke and Dr. Jonathan Doyle are back, this time Locke's in prison and it's up to Doyle to save the day.

Lastly, I'd like to say hi and welcome to Person of Interest, Brusque and The Hunt and Peck Blog for following the blog this week.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/15/saturday-miscellany-71517
Review
4.5 Stars
A dynamite debut novel. Entertaining and chilling.
In The Still - Jacqueline Chadwick

Maybe the easiest way to describe this book is to say that I had to stay up so late finishing -- because there was no way I was putting it down -- that I fell asleep the next night writing up a post about it.

 

When I'd just started this book, I tried to describe it to my wife and this is what I came up with (and still think it works): Imagine Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, but instead of a delightful novel about a genius architect with zero social skills who leaves her profession to raise her child in Seattle, where she has no friends, no life outside of her house and an antagonistic relationship with her neighbors; this is a delightful novel about a genius forensic psychologist with zero social skills who leaves her profession to raise her children in a small town in Vancouver, BC, where she has no friends, no life outside of her house and an antagonistic relationship with her neighbors -- and there's a serial killer.

 

Yeah, that's glib and shallow -- but it's kinda true.

 

Ali Dalglish is our genius former psychologist, she's enjoying an early morning cigarette when the woman she's been annoyed by and has antagonized for months shows up at her back porch needing to use her phone. Marlene's dog has just found a body on the beach, and she doesn't carry a cell phone. Ali hands her the phone and takes off to try to secure the scene -- a good move, as it turns out, because the local police aren't up to it. They don't even take her name and address, much less a statement, before they send her home. Ali has already seen enough to conclude that this was no accident or a death by natural causes. This was murder. But the only one that hears her is Marlene.

 

Neither woman is inspired to confidence by what they see from the local police, and although police with more experience in this sort of thing are on their way, the two decide to investigate the murder on their own. Probably not the wisest choice they could make, but it's an entertaining one. After a quick glance at the victim, Ali puts together a pretty thorough profile of the killer, and she knows this isn't his first kill. The two ladies play amateur sleuths, nosing around their suspect pool's houses and setting up opportunities to observe them. The specialists agree with their suspect lists and profile -- even if they take longer to compile them than Ali. They're also able to confirm many of her theories. Which only emboldens Ali and Marlene to keep at it -- even as they brush up against reckless and dangerous plans (although they have some very safe ones, too).

 

When the book starts, Ali and Marlene can't stand each other; but events conspire to keep them together, and before either realize it, a friendship is forged -- one that I love, the interplay between the two is just fantastic. There's sort of a Felix/Oscar-vibe between the two, just intensified. Ali also strikes up a friendship/mutual admiration society with one of the investigators that will probably progress interestingly as it continues. In the shadow of the murder, Ali is able to get out of her house and integrate a little with her town in a way she hadn't found possible before.

 

Now, there is a dark side to this novel, there is a serial killer running around, after all. Ali's profile of him is on the mark, we never get as much detail about what makes him tick as other writers give -- and I'm fine with that. I wouldn't have minded a little more, but what we got was good enough. Chadwick stayed on the right side of exploitative writing about the victims and their deaths. We got enough to see that he was a monster, but there's no relishing in the suffering. There's one scene where a stranger accidentally finds his way into the dungeon the killer keeps his victims in. This is such a good scene, it's so powerful and the details are just perfect. What happens to this poor guy, on the other hand . . . On the whole, there's not much in this part of the novel that we haven't seen before (really, aren't most serial killer stories pretty similar?), but it's the way that Chadwick tells the story that sets it apart from the rest and elevates it.

 

There's a great red herring. Dealt with in a way that almost no one else in crime fiction does. The police pretty much know he's a red herring, but they have to spend the time to investigate him so they can write him off. This was done so well -- don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy that character, I really didn't like reading one particular scene with him. But what he does to the overall plot was great -- even once he stops being a red herring, he still has a pivotal role to play.

 

For a first novel, this is put together really well. I was worried in the first few pages, because it was overwritten in a really off-putting way -- thankfully, I realized it was because we opened with the killer's POV. I'm not sure why it is that so many fictional serial killers are written that way, but it works. There were moments where we weren't reading his POV that Chadwick dipped her toe into overwriting, but it was never too much, and after a few chapters it went away (or I got used to it). That aside, the plotting is brisk, the characters are alive, the humor is real and unforced, the pacing is great -- I really can't say enough good things about it.

 

I don't remember ever having as much fun, being so entertained by a serial killer story -- not for a second did this become some sort of feel-good romp, don't misunderstand me. The horror is real, the stakes are high, but there's a humanity running through this that I just fell under the spell of. There are two more books in this series coming out in the next few months, and you can believe I'll be jumping on them.

Review
5 Stars
The Force: A Novel - Don Winslow
Our ends know our beginnings but the reverse isn't true.


If Denny Malone's beginning knew his ending, would it have prevented anything? Or would Malone have convinced himself he could find a work-around? Probably the latter.

 

Denny Malone is a one of NYPD's Finest -- a detective sergeant, and the head of a task force (known as "Da Force") on the front line of the War on Drugs. He and his team -- who've been together for years -- rule Manhattan. Sadly -- and perhaps naturally -- they're corrupt. They take (and are given) money, drugs, weapons and more from criminals (of all levels), lawyers and others. They pass on some of these to lawyers, city officials and other cops -- and keep a whole lot for themselves. Through their methods, they do keep some sort of peace on their streets -- sure, they pass on some of the violence and poison on to other parts of the city, but that's not their concern.

 

After doing this for years, the wheels start to come off -- it's tough to say what the first domino (to mix metaphors) was to fall, but once it does, there's nothing stopping the rest -- as much as Malone may try. The result is one of the most powerful crime novels I've read in years.

 

The characters are rich, fully developed and they seem like they could step out of the book onto the streets of NYC with no trouble. You are sickened by them, want to see them stopped -- yet start to understand them, like them as people, and -- despite yourself -- hope at least some of them get away with it all. At one point, I was laughing at their banter like we were all old friends hanging out, and it bothered me how much I enjoyed them as people (that faded somewhat in a few pages).

 

This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run -- at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they're supposed to run, but the way it really is. He achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic periscopes. Three quick examples: you get Malone musing on how the way that cops have to learn how not to care about citizens and criminals, because otherwise, they'll end up hating them. A great section showing how The Force goes out on the town to celebrate. The following quotation about the attitude of a prosecutor and Malone about his creative use/understanding of the truth while testifying:


Because the real truth that they both know is that without cops “testilying,” the DA’s office would hardly get any convictions at all.

 

This doesn’t bother Malone.

 

If the world played fair, he’d play fair. But the cards are stacked against the prosecutors and police. Miranda, Mapp, all the other Supreme Court decisions, give the advantage to the skels. It’s like the NFL these days--the league wants touchdown passes, so a defensive back can’t even touch a receiver. We’re the poor defensive backs, Malone thinks, trying to keep the bad guys from scoring.

 

Truth, justice and the American way.

 

The American way is, truth and justice maybe say hello in the hallway, send each other a Christmas card, but that’s about the extent of their relationship. 

 

You throw that kind of stuff in with a compelling plot, believable characters, striking details and Winslow's voice? You've got yourself a dynamite book.

 

If someone had told me this was non-fiction, I'd believe it (maybe I'd balk at some of the details of his personal life being told in a Non-fiction book, but otherwise...). It rings true -- and I spent most of the book just hoping that Winslow was exaggerating and fearing that he was holding back. The whole thing feels real, it seems ripped from the headlines, and is beyond engaging -- it's engrossing, it'll take over your mind, make you see deception and corruption everywhere.

 

Winslow nailed it. It's just mindbogglingly good. I'm going to over-hype it if I keep going -- so I'll leave it at that. Get this book and then strap in for one of the best reads you'll have this year.

Review
3.5 Stars
An action-packed SF sequel that satisfies and entertains
Dark and Stars (Serengeti, #2) - J.B. Rockwell

I could've done a better job of keeping track of details, but I really thought that Serengeti was on her own a longer than we're told here. My issues aside, the important thing is that her time alone is over -- her sister ships have found her and have brought her to a spaceport for repairs.

 

She is soon reunited with a crew, and informed about the state of the Alliance Fleet -- which is worse than you might think. Following the devastating defeat in Serengeti, the Fleet turned in on itself, spending the intervening years in-fighting, neglecting its mission and the people it's supposed to protect.

 

Serengeti's recovery has provided the motivation for some to come up with a real solution to the problems within the Fleet. The primary movers here are the ship AIs, with only a little help from the captains/crew. I'd have liked to see more action from humans that aren't part of Serengeti's crew -- but, honestly -- I barely thought of that until after I was done with the book. Anyway, these ships have a plan that'll take care of the problems within the Fleet and enable them all to return to what they're supposed to be doing.

 

If they can just pull it off.

 

Next to McGuire's Aeslin mice, I'm not sure there's a cuter or more delightful character than Oona, the robot that was created in the last book. Not only is she adorable, she's very, very clever. Sign me up for a novel about her. The rest of the characters -- AI or human -- are well-drawn, engaging, and -- typically -- fun. The Fleet's admiral and the spokesman for the stealth ships are just dynamite. Maybe, just maybe, we could've gotten a little deeper with some of those not aligned with our friends -- but the story didn't require that.

 

The action is solid, the more imaginative SF aspects are told in a manner that you just buy, with little regard for plausibility or anything (I don't know, maybe the technologies depicted are plausible). Rockwell takes the solid foundation she laid down in Serengeti and builds on it with a strong adventure story. While I enjoyed all of Serengeti, the most likeable parts were early on, when her crew was still on board. This book gives us that from start to stop (well, with a quick break), with plenty of action and intrigue. There's still the heart, the great characters -- but add in the excitement, camaraderie and intrigue, and this one tops its predecessor.

 

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post -- I really appreciate it, but I made up my own mind about it.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/11/dark-and-stars-by-j-b-rockwell
Saturday Miscellany - 7/8/17

There weren't a lot of odds 'n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye, but these are worth your while:

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen:
  • Fredrik Backman Interview -- on The Author Stories Podcast. I forgot to post this last week -- whoops. Fascinating author, good discussion. Hank Garner's a reliable listen anyway, when you get an author like this, it makes for a very good podcast.

    This Week's New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick -- a former forensic psychologist in a new country gets sucked into a murder investigation. I started this one this morning, really good so far . . .
  • Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine -- a thriller about a serial killer's wife in the aftermath of her husband's conviction.
  • and we even see some books without the word "Still" in the title...
  • Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn -- the sequel to last year's Heroine Complex, now that her PA/friend is her crime-fighting partner, how does Aveda Jupiter deal with things?
  • Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry -- The story of Captain Hook, from his POV

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/08/saturday-miscellany-7817
Review
4 Stars
Walt heads to Philly for this adventure
Kindness Goes Unpunished (Audio) - Craig Johnson, George Guidall

I was going to try to come up with something original for this time through the book, but mostly, I liked what I said <a href="http://wp.me/p3z9AH-1DD" target="_blank">last time</a>, so let's stick to that. I do have a few new things to say at the end, I should note.

 

It's a sure sign that I need to spend more time reading Johnson than watching the show based on this series in that I'm consistently surprised at how funny these books are. Sure Henry Standing Bear's dry wit is there, Vic is brash and inappropriate -- amusing enough -- but the narration, Walt himself? I chuckled a lot.

 

So, Walt and Henry (and Dog!) are off to the City of Brotherly Love to visit Walt's daughter, Cady, meet her boyfriend, and for Henry to do something at a museum (just an excuse to see Cady). Oh, and conveniently enough, to meet Vic's family (three police officers, one former police officer, and one attractive mother). After arriving in town, Walt doesn't even get to see Cady before she's brutally attacked and hospitalized.

 

Naturally, Walt stumbles upon the one person in Philadelphia who's more knowledgeable and interested in Indians than Henry. It's that interest (obsession?) and his connection to Walt that makes Walt the best man to track down the man who put Cady in the hospital (and other assorted nefarious acts). That's a level of coincidence that you just buy -- like Gideon Oliver vacationing somewhere that a set of bones surprisingly shows up; Nero Wolfe needing information from someone who's a sucker for orchids; or that every falsely accused murderers that Andy Carpenter stumbles upon happen to own a cute dog.

 

There's enough twists, turns -- and one seeming unnecessary but entertaining diversion (that turns out to be not so ancillary) -- to satisfy any mystery reader. Even out of water, this fish can swim. There's some very interesting things that go on in the character's personal lives that should make things interesting down the road (and that I can't talk about while remaining spoiler free) -- enough to make this more than a tale of a father's vengeance.

 

The first chapter (only one in Wyoming) is great -- Walt totally failing to connect with an elementary school classroom, a fun and prototypical Absaroka County shootout, and other things that make up a typical day for Sheriff Longmire on the eve of his trip.

 

One thing that I did take note of last time, but didn't write about was the theme of daughters and parents. There's a lot about Vic and her mother, but the focus is on Cady and the place that she has in Walt's head and heart. I'm not sure how you could read/listen to this without your heart melting a bit -- particularly if you have a daughter who's growing up a bit too quickly, like me. Guidall did a solid job with his narration of this book, but his performance in the last chapter just about broke me.

 

Walt in the big city, like Walt in the least populated corner of Wyoming, is just a pleasure to spend time with -- even if things are going horribly for him.

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/07/kindness-goes-unpunished-audiobook-by-craig-johnson-george-guidall
Review
4 Stars
Atkins' Colson is as gripping as ever, although I have a reservation or two.
The Fallen - Ace Atkins

Each of the Quinn Colson books has 3 or 4 things going on (it really depends how you want to break things down): There's a central crime story, a Quinn story, a wider Colson-family story (usually Caddy-centric -- by the way, try writing about Caddy right after listening to a novel featuring Walt Longmire's daughter, Cady, it'll bend your mind), a story about goings-on in the wider Tibbehah County and Jericho area (typically criminal, but not necessarily part of the other crime story). Now, these blend into each other all the time, and are hard to strictly delineate, but that's how I think about these books anyhow. Were a grade or degree on the line, I could define this better -- but we'll settle for this. Now, typically the central crime story is just that, central -- it's the driving force behind the novel and the other things happen around it. With The Fallen, however, it felt like the central crime story functioned mostly to give an excuse to tell the other stories -- sort of a time frame to hang the rest on.

 

Which is not necessarily a bad thing -- but it's not a good one.

 

There's a group of highly efficient, disciplined bank robbers on a spree through the south, and naturally they hit Jericho. They're out of town in a flash, with Quinn and Lillie not able to do much. Still, this is a challenge that Lillie sinks her teeth into (and Quinn, too -- to a lesser extent). The trio is not as amusing as the goofballs from The Redeemers, and thankfully, they aren't has horrifying as some of the others (see The Innocents, for example). I could easily have spent some more time with them, though. Their story is pretty compelling and rings true.

 

Quinn is settling back into his job as Sheriff, with Lillie as his Assistant Sheriff . There's a new county supervisor, Skinner, making life difficult for everyone, although Boom Kimbrough and Fannie Hathcock seem to be top of his list. But it doesn't seem like anyone who doesn't share his vision for Jericho -- a halcyon 50's vision -- will have much of a chance against him. You get the impression even Johnny Stagg prefers his incarceration to dealing with Skinner. We'll be seeing more of Skinner.

 

Caddy and Boom actually get the more interesting investigation in the novel -- with some help from Lillie. Caddy's looking for a couple of teen girls that she's afraid have fallen into Fannie's employment -- but it turns out to be more complicated than that. What they stumble on is disturbing, at the least, and will push Caddy's buttons in a way little else has. Once he learns about it, Quinn's not crazy about what she's up to -- but when is he?

There's a lot of movement in long-term arcs, and while it'd be wrong to say that nothing happens other than moving pieces around on the chessboard to set up for books #8 and on, it frequently feels like it. I'm not crazy about any of the things that did occur in this novel (matters of taste and how I want things to go for particular characters -- Atkins nailed it all, it's not on his execution) -- but man, what it means for the next couple of books has got me ready to fork over money right now.

 

Still, while I found the main crime story wanting, and wasn't crazy about the long-term arc developments, this was a good book. Atkins has infused -- and continues to do so -- this community and these characters with so much life, so much reality, that the reader gets sucked in and can't help but care about everyone. It's only when I stopped to think about and write about the book that I had these issues -- in the moment, I couldn't have cared less about what was going on in actual Idaho -- Jericho, Mississippi was what it was all about.

 

Solid crime fiction from one of the best working today.

 

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

Source: http://irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/06/the-fallen-by-ace-atkins