Irresponsible Reader

Irresponsible Reader

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

3.5 Stars
A PI, a Horrific Death, and a Magical High School combine for a solid novel
Magic For Liars - Sarah Gailey



But this? A real murder case? This was the kind of thing that private detectives didn’t do anymore. It was what had made me get my PI license in the first place―the possibility that I might get to do something big and real, something nobody else could do. I didn’t know the first thing about solving a murder, but this was my chance to find out if I could really do it. If I could be a real detective, instead of a halfway-there failure. If this part of my life could be different from all the other parts, all the parts where I was only ever almost enough.


I won’t try to pinpoint the first lie I told myself over the course of this case. That’s not a useful thread to pull on. The point is, I really thought I was going to do things right this time. I wasn’t going to fuck it up and lose everything. That’s what I told myself as I stared at the old picture of me and Tabitha.


This time was going to be different. This time was going to be better. This time, I was going to be enough.

I can't describe the book more succicently than the blurb does, so let's use it and save us all some time (if you ignore the 4 drafts of it that I've abandoned):

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself.

Ivy is a PI (much more on that in a moment), a Muggle (if you will allow me to import a term), who is totally not jealous of her twin sister, Tabitha, a gifted magic user. Except that she's absolutely jealous and angry with her sister for somethings she did and didn't do back in high school. But she knows about the world of magic―at least that it exists―which makes her the best candidate to come in and investigate the murder that has been officially described as an accident.


There's a Hogwarts joke on page one, which was a relief for me―it was going to be that kind of book. Yeah, there's magic and fantasy elements, but there's also SF/F fiction and an awareness of it. So there's a Potter-esque element to this, but there's a very The Magicians feel, too. The magic in it is at once like most Fantasy/Urban Fantasy magic, but Gailey puts a distinctive stamp on it―it's as fantastic as you want it to be, but it's also pretty dull (except in a couple of scenes). Dull's not the right word, but most of the time you see magic, it's not as exciting as it was the first few times you saw it in Hogwarts (or Diagon Alley) or in Brakebills. Which is because the focus isn't on the magic―the focus is on the relationship between Ivy and Tabitha, Ivy coming to terms with her Muggle-ness/place in the world, and events and relationships with the students. Now, when the story calls for magic to take center stage, it does so in a wonderful way―but typically, the magic takes a back seat to other things.


Ironically enough, given the setting, Ivy Gamble might be the most realistic PI that I've read about lately. The types of cases she works, her financial situation, her awareness of her liabilities (as quoted above, she knows the case she's taken on is beyond her grasp―but that doesn't mean she won't try), the way she thinks about life. She screams authentic―at least compared to most fictional counterparts. She's good at what she does, but she's no Spenser, Elvis Cole or Lydia Chin―she's close to Kinsey Millhone, but not quite. I love listening to her talk about being a private detective:

Here's the truth about most detective work: it’s boring, grueling, and monotonous. It involves a lot of being in the right place at the wrong time. But if you spend enough hours being in the right place, eventually, it’ll be the right time. You have to be able to recognize it.


The other active cases were small potatoes-two disability claims, three cheating spouses, one spouse who wasn’t cheating after all but whose husband couldn’t believe that she had really taken up pottery. She was pretty good at it too.


I’ve always had a good memory for names. Someone once told me at a conference that’s all it really takes to be a private detective: a good memory for names and faces, an eyeball for details, and. a halfway decent invoicing system.

And while Ivy may not be the best detective in the world, she's good―and she knows how to put on enough of a show that she can convince everyone else that she's good enough for the task at hand. While she's lying to herself about a lot, she's lying to everyone around her, too. She's not the only one who's gifted at self-delusion/self-deception. The word "Liars" is in the title for a reason, and the attentive reader (even the half-awake reader) will see why.


The book's about a lot more than self-deception, there's a lot about the role of/importance of family to one's identity―and how a lack of communication coupled with poor assumptions can warp that.


Gailey kept the plot moving quickly―even as the emotional and familial aspects of the story took their time to work things out. Which is a pretty neat trick, a lot of authors would've let things slow down so Ivy and Tabitha could rebuild their relationship, so Ivy could do the soul-searching she needed to, to get deeper into some of the high school relationships, etc. And Gailey hits all those beats (and more), but she does it while keeping the pace going, so you're turning the pages as fast as you can even while you want to explore the quieter aspects of the story.


Magic for Liars is well-written, well-paced, with a great solution―both to the main plot and to the other storylines, in a wonderful world told in a creative way. But I wanted a little more from it. I can't put my finger on just where it came up a little short for me, but it did. But make no mistake―I recommend people go read this, because I think most readers will like it more than I did. And I did like the book, I just wanted to like it more. I can't imagine that Gailey will return to this world (or to these characters, anyway)―but if I'm wrong, I'll definitely read a sequel. Either way, I'll definitely be on the lookout for whatever Gailey's got coming next


2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Iron Gate (Break Kickstarter)

Iron Gate Break Kickstarter


Next year will see the publication of the next story in one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series, the criminally underselling Twenty Palaces. This is music to these ears, I will read just about anything Harry Connolly puts out, and will read Twenty Palaces until he stops. Kickstarter is trying something new, and Connolly is taking advantage of it. He's running the campaign on a on a per-word rate.


So here's the deal: the minimum pro rate for short fiction is five cents/word, so for every five bucks pledged to this campaign, I'll write a hundred words. Upper limit... let's say two hundred thousand words, which would be two new Twenty Palaces novels.


Not that I expect to reach that limit--to be honest, I'm half-expecting that I won't make the basic goal.


The good news: he hit the bottom level of funding in less than an hour, and is over 600% of it right now. I've got to wait a couple of days to figure out how much I can kick in, but I'll be sponsoring over 100 words. You should, too!


Saturday Miscellany -- 7/20/19

Here's a facepalm moment, I thought I posted this before I closed my browser this afternoon. But...well, what are ya gonna do? Better later than never, eh?

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:













  • Bark of Night by David Rosenfelt -- one of the stronger non-Christmas-related installments in years. A fast, fun mystery. As I said using more words
  • The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter -- for reasons beyond my ken, I've become resistant to jumping into a new Epic Fantasy series, but this Game of Thrones meets Gladiator, drawing on African traditions adventure just might make me give it a go. Looks great, and my feeds have been glowing about it.


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

4 Stars
Move over Murphy, it's Mary Shield's Law now
Worst Case Scenario - Helen  Fitzgerald

When Mary decided to get her diploma [to become a Social Worker], she believed it would be her role to stand on bridges and stop people jumping off. Very soon after qualifying she realised she would never stand on bridges. She and everyone else were too busy catching casualties downstream. Except for sex offenders. If you saw a drowning sex offender being swept with the current you threw a large rock at him. Mary had done her best work in her first five years in the job. Those early cases were the ones she could recall, where she’d made the time and had an impact. She should have been forced to resign at the five-year mark. Every worker should.


Please let me get through today without killing a child, they’d all be thinking, as Mary had thought for the last thirty years. Please help me not ruin a child's life. She’d prayed each day that she’d get through it without fucking up, without turning out to be the bad guy after all. No-one in the office was expecting fame, riches, or even thanks, even though each worker would have made an excellent protagonist in It's a Wonderful Life. They all saved lives, all the time, but no-one ever noticed. Boy did people notice when it went wrong, though.


Mary Shields is a social worker/probation officer, and I can't imagine that there are many in either field that can't recognize themselves a little in those above quotations (I couldn't pick one). It's probably my (understandable) lack of knowledge about Scottish penology/jurisprudence, but I don't get exactly how her job works. She refers to herself as a social worker, and seems to work for a private employer, while she manages people on probation. It didn't impact the novel for me, it's just something I stumbled over a few times.


Before I go on, can I just ask something? Police procedurals and PI novels are never going away, but are we done with Forensic Scientists/CSI-types now and moving on to Probation/Parole Officers? Maybe it's just me, but I've gone my entire life without reading a book focused on/featuring a Probation Officer and now I've read two in the last month and a half. I'm all for it, if the books are as good as these two are, I should stress.


Anyway, Mary is going through several changes in her life -- including The Change. Her adult son has finished school and has found gainful enough employment that he has moved into his own place, her husband—a struggling artist for years is on the brink of making good, reliable money; and her own employment is getting the best of her—the schedule, the clients, the management—it's all too much and with Roddie about to have a reliable income, she's decided to give her notice once things become official for him. Having made that decision, she's being a little less careful than she should be with her clients. Instead of doing everything by the book and diplomatically, she's going to cut to the chase and do what she can to protect society from her clients and do what's right for the people around them (even if they don't want her to.)


The strategy sounds all well and good, but the execution could use a little work. Mary describes her role to one client as imagining the worst case scenario and then working to make sure it doesn't happen. Well, she couldn't imagine this scenario if she'd tried.



Things start to go wrong immediately, and to a degree she can't cope with.

The biggest example of this (but far from the only) is Liam Macdowall, her newest client. He was convicted of murdering his wife, and is on the verge of release. Not at all coincidentally, on the same day, his book is due to be published. It's a series of letters he wrote to his dead wife from prison, essentially exonerating himself and putting the blame for the problems on his life on her. He's become the poster child for Men's Rights Activists throughout the country and his release is the occasion for protests (not necessarily the non-violent kind) for feminist groups as well as his fellow MRAs. Mary lays down the law on the eve of his release, setting forth very strict guidelines and expectations for him. Which is begins openly defying within hours of his release.


Before Mary can do anything about it, thing after thing after thing go disastrously wrong—regarding Macdowall, but with other clients, too. I can't get into the details, but let's just say the best of the things that go wrong is that her own son begins dating Macdowall's oddly devoted daughter and sipping the MRA Kool-Aid. Everything that Mary tries to do to either fix the problems in her life, or just alleviate them, fails miserably. The only thing thing that doesn't blow up in her face is retreating home to her bed and streaming Sex and the City. Her life doesn't go from bad to worse just once or twice, but at every turn, she finds another level of worse for things to go to.


I've never talked about Christopher Buckley on this site, which is a crying shame (if only because I'd like to link to the posts demonstrate this point), but I haven't read anything by him since I started here. I've been reading him since the late Eighties and love his approach to satire. The problem with all of his novels (with one exception) is that the last 5-10% seems to get away from him—like a fully-loaded shopping cart speeding down a hill. No brakes and only gravity and momentum exercising any control over what happens to it, while the wheels are close to falling off. I mention this only because I kept thinking of Buckley's endings while reading this. There are two significant differences—the out-of-control part set in around the 25% mark and somehow (I wish I could understand how) Fitzgerald pulled it off. I do think in the last 15 pages or so, the wheels got a little wobbly, but while things felt out-of-control, Fitzgerald kept things going exactly where she intended.


While I don't understand fully how Fitzgerald kept things from spiraling out of control in the novel (not Mary's life) is the character of Mary Shields. She's just fantastic. She's funny (usually unintentionally); earnest but jaded; angry at so much of what's going on around her; fully aware that she's a mess (and not getting better); yet she pushes on in her Sisyphean tasks to the best of her ability. Her life is a car wreck, and we are invited to rubberneck as we drive by. When we read:

...she didn't want to kill [Macdowall's MRA publisher], as this would mean losing the moral high ground.

we actually understand her frame of mind. She's a woman whose life is crumbling around her and she's doing all she can to hold it together for just a few more days until she can retire.


We don't get to spend enough time with other characters to get a strong sense of them—this is all about Mary and the disaster that is her professional, personal, and family life. I liked the portrayal of almost everyone else in the book, I just wish the style of the novel allowed Fitzgerald to develop them more fully. Particularly the MRAs—I felt that their depiction was rather shallow and lacked nuance, making them rather cartoon-y. Sure, you could argue that she's just being accurate and MRAs are cartoon-y, but I'd like to see a bit more subtlety in their portrayal. But on the whole, things are moving so fast, and Mary bounces from one calamity to another so rapidly that there's no time to develop anyone else.


There's a lot about this book that I'm not sure about, and a significant part of me wants to rate it lower. But I can't largely because of Mary Shields. I've never read anything or anyone like her. This is definitely a Gestalt kind of novel—various parts of it may not make a lot of sense; or may be good, but not great. But the whole of the novel is definitely greater than the sum of its parts—when you take all the parts that may not be that stellar and combine them the way that Fitzgerald did—and with Mary at the core—it works, it all really works.


Insane, fun, insanely fun—and probably a little closer to reality than any one is ready to admit. I have a number of family members and friends in the social work/probation/parole fields—and I'm probably going to insist that most of them read this while I encourage all of you to do the same. I can virtually promise that you won't read anything like this anytime soon.

Indie Crime Fiction: A Niche of One's Own

Douglas Adams once wrote (in a detective novel, btw, so it's fitting), “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” That describes this post—I had a pretty clear idea what I was going to say when I started this—but that's not where I ended up rambling about. Still, I think this'll work.
Since Jo Perry recruited me to take part in this celebration of Indie Crime Fiction, I've been wondering what I can say about the topic as a whole. What is it about Indie Crime Fiction that defines it, what separates it from "mainstream" Crime Fiction (I'm not entirely comfortable with that term -- but it's easier to say than "Crime Fiction Published by one of 'The Big Five'"). I don't mean to pit the two against each other—and I don't think they should be. It's not a Zero Sum Game—the better Indie Crime is written, sells, and is read the better "Mainstream" Crime Fiction will be written, sell, and be read.


So what is it about Indie Crime Fiction that makes it something to focus on—even celebrate? Like other forms of entertainment media—the last decade+ (largely since the advent of the Kindle) has seen an explosion in the number of options the consumer has. We have hundreds of TV channels—and dozens of streaming options ; we have a music industry so segmented by genre and interest it's impossible to imagine a star on the level of those produced in the 60's-80's. Novels have seen the same explosion—there are just so many options, so many choices, that no one can possibly get to read all of the options that appeal to them—truth be told, no one can know the market enough to know what's out there that might appeal to them.


What Independent Publishers—and self-publishers—can do that the Big 5 can't do, is appeal to a niche audience. They don't need a mega-seller to take care of the budget (and pay for mid-list—and lower—authors to get established and build an audience). I don't know—and don't want to know—the economics involved and just what they have to sell to make a profit, but it's not as much as Hachette or Simon & Schuster, that's for sure. But a niche audience tends to be very devoted and likely to proselytize.


Yes, there's not the marketing push behind them that some get from the "mainstream" (but even most of their authors have to do their own), and they have to rely on word of mouth—but word of mouth can be very effective. And in our heavily-curated social media world, word of mouth can be very effective—there's a good chance that someone you follow shares some of your tastes/perspectives/interest (that's why you follow them, right?). So something they talk about is likely in your—or adjacent to your niche. And niches abound in Indie Crime.


A small sample off the top of my head—which is just the tip of the very large iceberg—there's a niche for novels about*:




















*This is off the top of my head, so details might be a bit off, the links are to my own posts, but you can find links to the author/publisher in them


And I could go on (and wish I had the time to)—and those are just niches that I've found—and I know there are more out there that would appeal to me as much (if not more) than some of those. Atypical protagonists, sometimes atypical crimes/cases, told in bold—sometimes unconventional—voices and styles. This is what appeals to me about Indie Crime Fiction. Sure, mainstream publishing does come up with things that are atypical—e.g., a 34-year old woman in Botswana moving to the city and starting a detective agency, a pre-teen girl in post-war Britain who keep stumbling over dead bodies, a dog narrating PI novels, a modern inner-city Holmes, a pre-WWI lady deputy sheriff turning New Jersey law enforcement upside down—and I'm glad they put those things out! But by and large you find the "quirky" (for lack of a better term) in Indie Crime Fiction.


A plethora of voices—and it drives me crazy to know I can't sample all that I want to, and that I won't even know all that I don't get to sample—telling a panoply of stories. This is what Indie Crime Fiction is about, what draws me to it, and won't let me go for the foreseeable future.


4 Stars
The Least Likely Miss Marple Successor Dives into the Murky World of Motorcycle Gangs
Ink to Ashes - Russell Day
For me, the why of it is always the point.

As much as we all like a good whodunit, generally, I'm with Doc Slidesmith -- the whydunit is really what's more interesting. You might have an incredibly clever criminal -- and an equally clever sleuth (professional or amateur) -- a twisty, turny plot with perfect reveals, and the rest -- but if the motive behind the crime is non-existent or non-interesting, the novel just isn't going to be that satisfying. Russell Day's Doc Slidesmith novels are all about the why -- he'll pull the why out at the end and it'll be something you don't expect (but maybe should have), and it will be compelling as you could want.


One of Doc Slidesmiths' oldest friends has died in a motorcycle accident and his widow has very unusual request, which I'll leave for you to read about on your own. But it leads to one of the . . . strangest and most striking first chapters that I can remember.

For those that haven't met Doc before -- he's your standard-issue doctor of psychology, who has embraced voodoo and tarot reading, rides a motor cycle and owns a tattoo shop, while solving mysteries that he stumbles into à la Miss Marple. You know the type. Yakky is his taciturn friend/colleague who works in Doc's shop, and is a backup/wingman when Doc needs one (whether he wants one or not).


The widow has another request -- her husband was one of the founders of a motorcycle club, and one of the newest members has disappeared. Can Doc track him down as a favor to the dearly departed? She can't ask any members of the club so she's counting on Doc to come through for her.


At the moment, things are really tense intra-club membership. There's a move for the club to stop being a tighter association of motorcycle enthusiasts and become a full-fledged outlaw biker gang. This is causing problems in the ranks -- there are many who don't want anything to do with that, preferring to preserve the club as is -- but there are many, typically younger voices who want to go all the way with this. Tied into this move are income streams and dissension about some of them, plus pressure to add in something more illegal than they currently have to worry about.


Doc's not far into his search when he can tell there's a lot of lies around the disappearance of the member, and before Doc can figure out who's lying and why -- the search becomes deadly. It isn't long after that when Doc starts to question the official finding about the motorcycle accident. Leading to more questions and deceit. Yakky and Doc now have to walk through this minefield to find out what happened to the member (and why), what happened to Doc's friend (and why) -- oh, and maybe stop an all-out war between this nascent outlaw gang and an already established one. Just another day in the office for Slidesmith.


I was able to guess the who behind one of the lines of investigation pretty easily, but the why was something I just didn't see. The other line was a mystery for me right up until the reveal, making that particular reveal quite satisfying. Coupled with Day's ear for dialogue and evocative prose, the mysteries -- and the darkness of the human psyche they explore makes this a compelling read -- almost a must-read.


The various club members and those who come into regular contact with them are really well depicted -- and several of them are the kind of character that you hope show up again in a future book in the series. But the core of the book is Doc and Yakky. Now, Needle Song was written from Yakky's perspective, where this is written from Doc's -- and that makes so much difference. A lot of master detective types (amateur or not) need to be written about "by" a friend, associate or assistant. John Watson, Archie Goodwin, Chet, Danny Boyle do more than narrate the stories and relate the exploits of their partners/employers, they also help convey the proper sense of awe and wonder we're supposed to have for the Great Detective. In Needle Song, we got that from Yakky -- both the narration and we were given a proper sense of admiration in response to Doc. Here, we only get Doc's narration -- and he isn't nearly as impressed with himself as Yakky was/is. Which makes it harder for the reader to be.


On the other hand, Needle Song was in many ways, Yakky's story. This is absolutely Doc's story, so who else could tell it to us? And Day is able to get across the kind of guy that Doc is -- like in this testimony from his departed friend:


“Do you know what Dago used to say about you? He said, if you followed someone into a revolving door, you’d walk out in front of them. He thought a lot of you.”


Don't let the fact that I'm not raving give you the impression there's something wrong with this book. Rather, it just reminds me how impressed I was with Needle Song. I wondered if Day could live up to expectations, and I don't think he did. Many will disagree with me (which is a good thing), but while this was a solid, compelling read featuring characters that I can't get enough of -- it didn't knock my socks off. Russell Day remains one of the strongest new voices I've come across in the last couple of years. I know his next novel will be completely different from this, but I hope he comes back to this world soon. In the meantime, go, go get this.



3 Stars
Barnes hunts for a missing woman in a solid PI novel
In the Eye - Robert Germaux
I hung my jacket on the brass coat rack in one corner of the loft, then sat at my desk for a few minutes going through the snail mail that had accumulated since my last time there. There were three checks for services rendered, all of them for background checks I’d run on job applicants for local business owners. The background checks hadn’t taken me very long, which was reflected in the fees I’d charged. Still, three checks in one day. Maybe I should hire an accountant. I glanced down at the checks again. They totaled a little over five-hundred dollars. Maybe hold off on that accountant thing awhile.

Pittsburgh PI, Jeremy Barnes (call him JB), is in the office this day to meet a prospective client. The love of her life is missing, and she assumes -- insists it has to be -- foul play. JB (like his mentor) doesn't like missing persons work -- it's too easy for things to go very wrong. But something about this woman's plight moves him to accept the case. It doesn't take JB long to reach the same conclusion -- she didn't leave on her own, and she's not coming back on her own either. As this is a lesbian couple in a pretty conservative small town, JB doesn't expect a lot of police help (especially once he learns a little about the Chief) -- there's one officer who is doing everything he can, his hands are tied. It's all up to JB.


JB, a former high school English teacher, is a pretty good character. He's got the right balance of smarts, toughness and wise cracks to qualify as a PI protagonist. His girlfriend and friends are as charming and interesting as he is. Basically, they're characters you want to read about. Either hanging out after work or on the job, they're a lot of fun. I do think the criminals in this book -- and those who think like them -- are depicted shallowly, and are largely unfair stereotypes. Far too much time is devoted to JB taking cheap verbal shots at them (in the narration or to their face). But the rest of the characters -- witnesses, other police officers, friends of the victim -- are well done, and add to the story rather than slowing things down or detracting from the pacing.


A quick aside -- I appreciated the way that JB's girlfriend Laura asks about getting too absorbed with a missing persons case and his answer. I wanted to ask her question of JB myself (and a few other PIs, too). More than that, I really liked his answer.


Robert B. Parker's shadow is a long one in contemporary American Detective Fiction, as I'm sure is news to no one. Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Craig Johnson all are clearly influenced by Parker (even Jim Butcher's work had RBP's fingerprints all over it) -- but few show their indebtedness to him as obviously as Robert Germaux. This is not a bad thing, this is just an observation. If you're going to be standing on someone's shoulders, might as well be the best. It was easy to see in Hard Court, but there are times in this book where I felt I was being hit over the head with it. If I was feeling uncharitable, I could describe this as a watered-down update of Looking for Rachel Wallace with a tiny bit of God Save the Child thrown in. But it's a pleasant-enough read that I don't want to be uncharitable -- so I'll just say that the novel wears its influences on its sleeve.


And it is pleasant to read, sometimes with crime fiction, it's hard to remember that this is a hobby I pursue for pleasure. But with JB's narration, it's all about enjoying the ride. I wish more people could pull that off. In the Eye is firmly in the P.I. vein, but isn't so hard-boiled that someone accustomed to reading cozies couldn't slip right in. While it's the second in the series, you don't have to read them in order -- you can (and I'd encourage you to) jump right in anywhere. This is a fun read with a cast of characters you want to spend time with -- I'm willing to bet it's re-readable, too. It inspired me to give the first JB book another read (not sure when I'll find the time, but I want to).


For a fast, easy read that's sure to please, In the Eye is just what the doctor ordered.

3.5 Stars
This collection of short fiction is a great display of Kolakowski's strengths
Finest Sh*t!: Deviant Stories - Nick Kolakowski

I'm going to be kicking off my involvement in #IndieCrimeCrawl with the latest from Nick Kolakowski. About a year ago, he emailed me to take a peek at his novel Boise Longpig Hunting Club, a fast, energetic, visceral read. Then came his Love & Bullets Hookup Trilogy -- which was as entertaining as you could want. Now it's time for his new short fiction collection, which I pre-ordered the instant I heard about it. One of the best things about Indie Crime Fiction is the depth of strong voices with perspectives you don't find every day. Nick Kolakowski is a prime example of this. Check out all of his work, you'll be in for a treat.

With a feral yelp, Raoul worked the dial until he landed on a station thundering drums and guitar, a solid backbeat for Luis and Jesus slicing and shoveling mounds of peppers and onions and pig. The music blasted the asphalt amphitheater of the parking lot, signaling that the truck was officially open for business.


The first customers drifted toward them. Give me your hungry, your nearly broke, your masses yearning for lunchtime deliciousness, Jesus thought as he wiped his hands on his apron and prepared to meet the first of the lunch rush. And I’ll give you two tacos for three dollars.


That's from "Taco Truck," one of the ten short stories that appear with a novella in Nick Kolakowski's latest collection, Finest Sh*t!: Deviant Stories. There are tales of revenge, heroism, thwarted revenge, and people driven to extremes no one should be driven to -- even some SF. Essentially, like with the best of Crime Fiction (no matter when it's set) we have people in desperate situations (sometimes of their own making, sometimes out of their control) doing what they needed to.


As with every short story collection, there are some of these short stories that really, really worked for me, and others that didn't do much for me at all -- that's just how it goes. But even the stories that I didn't appreciate had that Kolakowski quality that I've really come to enjoy.


The novella, The Farm takes up about half of the book. It begins in 1931 and ends in 2008, following one farming family through the generations. This family goes through wars, violent crime, financial hardship, betrayal -- and more than a few of the more positive parts of life, too. There's some poetry, too. I guess that qualifies as one of the more positive aspects, but I'm not always sure. In the end, I really liked this novella -- but it took some effort to get into it. That's probably on me. Kolakowski fits a novel's worth of a family saga into this roughly 100 pages -- which is quite a feat. There's part of me that would like to see it developed into a 350-400 page novel to flush out some of the details, but I think he's right to keep it brief. It alone is well worth grabbing the collection.


This collection covers all sorts of tones, topics and perspectives. As I've come to expect from Kolakowski, I wouldn't have predicted anything that I found in these pages. My rating may be on the low side, but that's just because I couldn't really sink my teeth into anything -- I typically rate short story collections low. But there's gold in here -- a little dross (but what I think is dross will probably appeal to others). If you're not familiar with Kolakowski, this is a great way to introduce yourself to one of the strongest voices in Crime Fiction today. If you are familiar with him, you don't need me to tell you how good these stories can be.

Saturday Miscellany -- 7/13/19

A small (but interesting!) list of odds and ends, a killer bunch of new releases, a nice podcast interview and some new friends. Short intro, good week. Enjoy the post!


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:





  • And the above reminded me of this: Sandwich Ratings -- another odd, but fun post from Friend of the Blog, Bookstooge.


  • 5 Reasons To Start Reading #UrbanFantasy -- A nice lil' post, I read plenty of UF (not as much as I used to, like most everyone, judging by sales), and have only heard of one of the authors mentioned here.






  • The Chain by Adrian McKinty -- The hype for this is huge. And seems desereved. For the 2.7% of you that haven't heard about this, here's the synopsis: "You just dropped off your child at the bus stop. A panicked stranger calls your phone. Your child has been kidnapped, and the stranger explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger. The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child within 24 hours. Your child will be released only when the next victim's parents kidnap yet another child, and most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don't kidnap a child, or if the next parents don't kidnap a child, your child will be murdered. You are now part of The Chain." This is either gonna be fantastic or a waste of time. My money's on the former.


  • The Shameless by Ace Atkins -- how can this be the ninth Quinn Colson novel already? The stakes have never been higher than they are in this book, sure to be a winner.



  • Null Set by SL Huang -- the second installment in this series isn't quite as good as the first, but it develops a lot of what was hinted at while setting up bigger things for the future. I dig this character and even "not quite as good" is still a good book, my fuller thoughts are here.


  • Ash Kickers by Sean Grigsby -- I was blown away by last year's Smoke Eaters' tale of firefighters vs. dragons. And now you add in a Pheonix for the sequel? Come on. . . how do you say no?


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Shana Gorian, Caroline Vincent, Tales of alenshy and The Unseen Library for following the blog this week.

3.5 Stars
A dark comedy with a strong agenda and a sweet center
The Butcher - Nathan Burrows

This is a pretty challenging post to write -- it feels like saying almost anything about this book will be spoiling something -- but that's simply not going to be the case.


We've got four major characters to focus on -- Andy Robertson is an intern in the marketing department of a local grocery store chain. He's as desperate to keep his job as the CEO of the company is to win the hearts and minds of shoppers, too). Emily Underwood is a rookie food inspector, having recently got far enough in her training that she can be let loose to do inspections on her own -- I don't know if this is more a commentary on the area she's assigned to or her luck (probably the latter), but she should have armed backup. The places and staff she's inspecting are so strange, you almost don't need anything else to make a fun read. Frank and Tom Prince are our last two -- they're brothers, struggling to maintain the family pig farm and butcher shop -- neither of which are having the best year, but maybe some good word of mouth an turn things around. When disaster strikes fro them at the farm, something happens that gives Frank the tastiest sausage they've had in ages -- and their customers think so, too.


Mix these people, concerns and places in life together and you end up with one of the zanier (but grounded) dark comedies around. This doesn't start out as Crime Fiction, but in a Fargo-esque turn of events, it ends up as one. (Either the film or the series will fill things for our purposes). Some everyday people get desperate, make some bad choices and things spiral out of control before they realize what they're doing/becoming.


The humor is hard to pull off -- there's some really dark material under consideration, and Burrows is also looking at political and societal trends to talk about here. It's an ambitious undertaking and he acquits himself well. I could've used another 2-4 more inspections by Emily. The book doesn't need them -- and honestly, they would've felt like padding. But I really liked watching that poor girl floundering through her career is fantastic.


This doesn't feel like a 316 page book -- anything north of 200 pages doesn't seem right (but what do I know?). Everything that happens, all the character moments, are tightly packed and blend together in a cohesive whole that seems ready to burst -- not unlike a Pinch's Sausage, I guess. Yet, Burrows keeps this from being convoluted and keeps it just on the complicated side -- given all the moving parts he's juggling that's a pretty decent accomplishment. From the great first chapter until the perfect closing line (I can't think of a better final line that I've read this year) -- this is a wonderfully constructed book.


A dark comedy with a strong agenda and a sweet center, this is a flavorful literary snack that'll be sure to bring a smile to your face and a chuckle along, as well. I had a great time reading it, and you will to.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger ChallengeHumor Reading Challenge 2019

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

4 Stars
Another winner of a case for the lawyer who's gone to the dogs
Bark of Night - David Rosenfelt

I know it's practically de rigueur for me to start off talking about how difficult it is to talk about yet another Andy Carpenter book, but I'm going to try to resist this time (no promises that I won't resort to it next time).


Instead, I want to focus on people who read this blog and haven't picked up a book in this series -- let's see if I can help you come to the light. Andy Carpenter is a defense attorney -- thanks to some high profile cases, some lucrative lawsuits, (and some other things), he's an independently wealthy defense attorney (see the first couple of books for details). He's also lazy. These two traits generate a lawyer/protagonist who doesn't want to take on clients who doesn't want to go to work (he's the anti-Lincoln Lawyer). He'd rather watch sports, hang out with his wife, kid, friends and dog (especially the latter) and maybe check-in on the dog rescue he runs with a former client. He only takes on a case when he likes the potential client, he feels an injustice is being done, his wife talks him into it -- or the life of a dog lies in the balance (there's a strong link between the first reason I listed and the last). This time out, it's pretty much a combination of those motivations. Nevertheless, when he takes on a client, he pulls out all the stops for him or her. Much like with Perry Mason, you have to wonder why prosecutor's don't just drop charges when Andy shows up in court -- you can bet his client will be exonerated.


Andy's vet calls him to his office to talk about something -- namely, this dog that had been brought in to be euthanized. Before he did that, someone in his office scanned the microchip in the dog. The man who paid for the euthanization, wasn't the owner f the dog -- because he'd been murdered shortly before the dog appeared. After some digging, Andy discovers that the man who brought the dog in is very likely connected to the murder (especially when they look at his rap sheet). No one's sure why he wanted a vet to take care of destroying the dog rather than doing it himself. But someone completely different has been charged with the crime, and Andy knows that this man is innocent -- he has to be, there's no other explanation how the would-be dog killer got involved.


From there, Andy and his team (his PI wife, her PI friend/Andy's bodyguard, Andy's CPA/hacker, his associate attorney) set out to defend their client, figure out why anyone would want to kill the victim (a documentary filmmaker, and not a particularly successful -- or good -- one), and maybe answer a few questions about the victim's dog. Like most Carpenter novels, the mystery is just twisty enough to keep you guessing to the end. Andy's courtroom antics are pretty subdued this time, but watching him in action is fun -- particularly as he battles the Assistant D.A.


Andy's team -- and his friends who aren't on the team -- are as enjoyable to spend time with as ever. With some long-running series you stick with it because the characters are so near and dear to you. With some, you put up with characters because the author puts out great mysteries/adventures/whatever. It's with the best series that you get both -- a good mystery (in this case) and a cast of characters you look forward to seeing again. That's definitely what we have in the Andy Carpenter books, and Bark of Night is a prime example of it.


As a capper, if the last few paragraphs don't provoke a warm fuzzy or three in you, there's something wrong with you and you should probably seek professional help. Rosenfelt is good at the heart-warming stuff, and he's at the top of his game here.

Newcomers will get enough information along the way to hop on board here -- there's no need to feel like you need to go back to Book One (Open and Shut) and read them in order to catch all the nuance. Start here, and you'll easily see why this book has charmed and entertained audiences enough to last for 19 books (and counting!). It's a clever mystery, featuring characters that are reliably comfortable and funny -- with just enough moments of seriousness and displays of skill that you can believe they'll be defending someone and bringing a killer to justice at the same time. This is one of the better installments in the last few years (both for being enjoyable and for the mystery) and should move right to the top of your TBR (note that a "lesser" Andy Carpenter book is still fun, engaging and entertaining).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this opportunity.

4 Stars
Bullet Points about Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin
Even Dogs in the Wild - Ian Rankin

This post is overdue, and I can't seem to find time to do it right. So, I won't. Here's a quick and dirty way to get it taken care of. I wish I had it in me to do a better job, but I don't. Here's the blurb taken from Rankin's site:

Retirement doesn’t suit John Rebus. He wasn’t made for hobbies, holidays or home improvements. Being a cop is in his blood.


So when DI Siobhan Clarke asks for his help on a case, Rebus doesn’t need long to consider his options.


Clarke’s been investigating the death of a senior lawyer whose body was found along with a threatening note. On the other side of Edinburgh, Big Ger Cafferty – Rebus’s long-time nemesis – has received an identical note and a bullet through his window.


Now it’s up to Clarke and Rebus to connect the dots and stop a killer.


Meanwhile, DI Malcolm Fox joins forces with a covert team from Glasgow who are tailing a notorious crime family. There’s something they want, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.


It’s a game of dog eat dog – in the city, as in the wild.


Even Dogs in the Wild brings back Ian Rankin’s greatest characters in a story exploring the darkest corners of our instincts and desires.

If I had the time to do this properly, here are the things I'd be talking about.


  • Rebus as consultant/PI -- this is really the perfect role for him, he's not that great at procedure anyway. Calling his own shots, following his instincts, going about things, he's a better fit for this kind of thing than a certain retired LAPD Detective.


  • This proves to be the kind of case made for Rebus -- the solution lays in the past, but the ramifications are in the present.


  • Cafferty isn't the suspect here (he's not innocent, he never is), but he's the victim -- and maybe a concerned citizen?


  • There's little in Crime Fiction better than Rebus and Cafferty on the same page -- that's as true here as ever.


  • Clarke's role seemed diminished in favor of Fox and Rebus (particularly the former), but maybe that's just me -- what she does, however, allows Rebus to do what he does best


  • The Clarke/Fox friendship is an interesting one -- and different from the Clarke/Rebus friendship. I'll enjoy watching this develop.


  • I'm already really enjoying the Fox/Rebus friendship/mentorship. That's not something anyone would've seen coming the first time we met Fox, or the first time we saw the two of them cross paths. The fact that they've got a strange friendship/mentorship going on is just wonderful.


  • There's more going on in Fox's personal life than we've really ever seen with Rebus or Clarke on an extended basis.


  • Fox's share of the story is really strong and displays the character we've come to know over the past few novels, but evolving to take on some of Rebus' better traits, but none of his . . . well, worse.


  • For a period of time, through no fault of his own, Rebus takes guardianship over a small dog. This was just fantastic and one of my favorite things to happen to him in years.


Combine all of the above with Rankin's consummate skill and you've got another winner -- the twentieth Rebus book and the character, the writing, and the perspective is a strong and fresh as it ever was. A sure-fire win for old fans that would probably convert a newbie, too.


2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Saturday Miscellany -- 7/6/19

It seems like half of the things I found for this post this week were links I already posted this year. I guess everyone was having a holiday week. Maybe there's not a lot, but I like what I did see.


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:






  • About half the book bloggers this year seem to be doing a mid-point best-of lists (I have a hard enough time doing these annually, doing them bi-annually? Fuhgeddaboudit.) A couple of my favorite bloggers have posted theirs -- some good things to read here. Check out The Tattooed Book Geek's My Favourite Books of 2019 (so far). and Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub's 2019 Mid-year check-in




  • Ink To Ashes by Russell Day -- technically, one of last week's new releases -- but I somehow missed the news. Doc Slidesmith (possibly my favorite new character of 2019) and Yakky are back for more Miss Marple-y action (if Miss Marple was a voodoo-practicing, motorcycle riding, tattoo artist with a PhD).


  • Heart of Barkness by Spencer Quinn -- It's been four long years since the last Chet & Bernie novel, I'm so looking forward to this new one. Don't know what it's about yet -- don't care.


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to karishmarele Aurore-Anne-Chehoke, Sovely Matters and chapterinmylife for following the blog this week.

5 Stars
Believe the hype. All of it. 352 pages of Joy.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill - Abbi Waxman

I think it's entirely fitting to start my post about this book by talking about another book (Nina Hill would approve, maybe even insist on it). I remember a lot of what I read about High Fidelity in the late 90's (I was a little late to the party), was about guys saying to either hand the book to women to help them understand how we think -- or to keep it out of their hands, for the very same reason. That resonated with me. I never thought for a second that I was Rob, Dick or Barry, but we thought the same way, we had a similar weltanschauung -- their banter was scripted, where mine frequently fumbled -- but overall, they were proof that I wasn't the only one in the world who thought that way. It took me less than two chapters to feel the same way about Nina Hill -- our tastes differ somewhat, she's more clever than I am, and there's the ridiculous affection for felines -- but on the whole, she's my kind of person. In fact, many of the people in this book are -- she's just the best example of it.


The authorial voice -- Nina's voice, too -- is fantastic. I seriously fell head over heels almost instantly with them. The narrative is specific, funny, observant, compassionate, and brutally honest -- mostly funny. It's just so well-written that I knew (and said publicly) by the end of the first chapter that this was going to be in my personal Top 3 for 2019 -- I've had some time to think about this, and have reconsidered. I'm confident it'll be in the Top 5, but I should give the rest of the year a little room to compete. It's one of those books that's so well-written you don't care what or who it's about, as long as you get to read more of that wonderful prose. By chapter 4 -- and several times after that -- I had to self-consciously stop myself from highlighting and making glowing notes -- because if I didn't, I'd end up never finishing the book (I still have a lot of notes and passages highlighted).


Let me try to explain via a tortured metaphor (this is where you see why I blog about books, and not write my own). Say you're taking a road trip, say, to go look at autumn leaves and you know the city you'll be staying in, but know that there are about 18 different ways for the driver to arrive in that city. You know the whole time where you'll end up, but you don't have a clue how you'll get there, what kind of foliage you'll see (hint: it'll be brown, red or orange), what the roads will be like, or what random and surprising things might happen along the way. It's not about the destination, it's the journey -- as the fortune cookies and high school graduation speeches tell you. This book is the same way -- readers are going to know pretty much where this book is going to end up once they've read a few chapters. What they don't know is how they'll get there, what they'll see on the way, what kind of surprises will be along the way, and how fast they'll get there. It's in these things that Waxman excels -- her plotting is pretty obvious, but her execution is dazzling and often unexpected. (I want to stress that this is an observation, not a criticism)

Nina Hill is a reader -- books are how she defines herself, the prism through which she sees and interacts with the world. She has a job (bookseller), a cat, a small home with a lot of shelves, a trivia team, book club, a place she exercises, a visualization corner, a fantastic planner and a love of coffee and quality office products. Her life is pretty regimented, but everything is just how she likes it. She also is introverted, prone to anxiety, and averse to change. Nina's smart with a great memory, a penchant for honesty, and highly-developed sense of who she is.


Her friends are essentially the women she works with and the members of her trivia team -- all of whom are intelligent, witty, well-read and fun. The kind of people I'd love to hang out with over coffee or wine for a few hours a week.


Nina's mother is a noted and award-winning photojournalist and spends most of her time traveling the world being one. Nina was largely raised by a Nanny (although her mother visited frequently). Nina has never known a father.


Until one day her life changes -- a lawyer arrives with some news. Her father is dead. Apparently, her mother discovered he was married and refused to have anything further to do with him. He was absolved of any need to support Nina or her mother as long as he never made contact with her. Which he honored -- but made provisions for him in his will.


Her father was a successful entertainment lawyer, and a serial monogamist. He was married three times (one divorce, one widowing, and one marriage intact), had several children and more grandchildren (there are contextually appropriate and helpful graphics to help you understand the family structure). Nina went from being alone in the world to being a sister, an aunt and a grand-aunt in one conversation. She slowly meets various members of the family -- discovering similar personality traits, interests and physical characteristics. The family she meets is wonderful -- I could easily spend more time with them all. One brother and a nephew (who is older than her) in particular stand out -- she gets to know them sooner and deeper than the rest. But many others are on their heels, and even the least-likable among them turn out to be great (with one exception, but that's by design).


While reeling from the changes of learning she has an extended family, starting to meet them, and learning about her father -- another thing happens in her life. There's a member of a rival trivia team that she finds attractive, and who just may find her attractive. They have similar tastes and many shared interests, but he seems to know a lot about sports (including what "a Don Shula" is) and isn't much of a reader. But there's something about him . . .


There are three significant child characters in the novel -- they're not around much, but when they are, they have a large impact on the plot. They are all pretty unrealistic, talking and (apparently) thinking in ways that are immature, but not how kids talk and/or think. But they're so adorable that you forgive Waxman immediately for these overly-precocious children. It's not a major thing, I just wanted to say something less-than-positive about the book, and this is all I could come up with.


Throughout the novel, Nina learns how little she's really alone in the world and how she might be able to find time for more people in her life -- without losing who she is and too much reading time. This is the core of the novel and everything else is in service to this goal. While this is going on, there are plenty of laughs, chuckles and wit to carry the reader from plot point to plot point.


It's a good thing that I stopped quoting from ARCs (I almost never got around to verifying the lines in the published version), because this post would either never be completed or would be so long that I'd be the only one who'd read the whole thing. I had to stop myself -- repeatedly, actually -- from highlighting great lines. Particularly comments Nina made to others (or the Narrator made on her behalf) about books and/or reading. Book memes are going to be mining this novel for years -- you've seen 357 variations on the Tyrion lines about reading, or the 200+ takes on "Books were safer than people anyway" from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Folks, Nina Hill is going to bury both of them.


According to Goodreads, I've read 122 books so far in 2019. If pressed, I'd easily say this is better than 120 of them, and might tie the other (it's a lot more fun, I can say without a doubt). Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can't imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It's charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. I don't know what else to say other than: Go, go read this, go buy it, expect it as a gift from me (if you're the type to receive gifts from me, I'm not buying one for all of you on my wages, as much as I might want to).


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

WWW Wednesday, 3-July-2019

Welcome to WWW Wednesday!


This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived on Taking on a World of Words -- and shown to me by Aurore-Anne-Chehoke at Diary-of-a-black-city-girl. I couldn't finish what I was writing last night to get anything posted today, and I can't imagine too many people will be reading book blogs tomorrow here in the U.S. So...thought I'd use this fun little thing to get something up before Friday.


The Three Ws are:


What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Easy enough, right?


What are you currently reading?

Today I started a NetGalley eARC of David Rosenfelt's Bark of Night, I'm working my way through Craig Ferguson's Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations, and am listening to The Frame Up by Meghan Scott Molin and Andrea Emmes (Narrator) to remind myself just how much I enjoyed it before the sequel is released.


What did you recently finish reading?

Earlier today I finished the wonderful eARC of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (a strong contender for Book of the Year here) and I finally polished off Finest Sh*t! by Nick Kolakowski (because short story collections take me too long to read).


What do you think you’ll read next?

That's a good question. It'll be either: The Butcher by Nathan Burrows; Heart of Barkness (yes, two Bark-pun titles that close together) by Spencer Quinn (been too long without Chet in my life); or Ink To Ashes by Russell Day, the follow-up to one of the best things I read in 2018. I'm not really sure at the moment, but one of those three.


Hit me with your Three W's in the comments!


4 Stars
An Archaeologist and a Spy Walk Into a Bar . . .
Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb - Jay Stringer

Right after I finished Stringer's How to Kill Friends and Implicate People, I jumped onto NetGalley to request this -- despite being woefully behind on everything else (including NetGalley books!), curiosity prevailed. I had to know how Stringer would approach this particular premise and character.


What a fun, strange, ride! This is pure escapist entertainment. There's no message, there's no pondering foibles of contemporary society, there's no commentary on social ills (or celebration of social triumphs), just a wild and crazy story about a "renegade archeologist" and a spy battling a cult, a plot to take over the government, and historic artifacts that could easily change the course of civilization. (there is some pretty well-done character growth and development -- which grounds the lunacy a bit).


It's difficult -- at best -- to not mention the Pop Culture Icon that Marah Chase will remind readers of, and I've decided that I'm not up for difficult right now (after trying a few times). Marah Chase is essentially a contemporary, female Indiana Jones -- without the legitimate day job. Circumstances forced (well, forcefully encouraged) her to abandon the more scholarly, accepted archeology and to become a "relic runner" or "gold dog." Someone who finds historic, hard to find, artifacts and sells them to private collectors. It's hard to say just how successful she is at it -- enough to be a known figure throughout the Middle East (to people on both sides of the law), but not enough to get overly-choosy about what jobs she takes.


She's on the run from a group that pretends to be an arm of ISIS to cover up their criminal activities after scooping a treasure from their grasp when a British spy recruits her to go on the hunt for an artifact rumored to be a powerful weapon. I'll leave the details to Joanna Mason as she briefs Marah, but what's driving her to get Marah on the hunt is that she's convinced a powerful church has decided that a. the weapon is real and b. they are close to finding it. Marah's always been fascinated by the researcher they're basing their search on and she's in probably the best position to stop them before it's too late.


All she has to do is find the tomb of Alexander the Great -- a location that has stumped archeologists, treasure seekers, and zealots for centuries -- in the next few days. All she has to do is deal with white supremacist soldiers, faux-ISIS goons, a wealthy and powerful church, an ancient secret society, and worst of all, the granddaughter of the one man in history who may have found (and then covered-up) Alexander's tomb -- her ex.

Marah may be the star of the book -- and her name's in the title -- but don't think that Mason doesn't play as nearly vital a role in these events. While Marah's on the hunt for the tomb, Mason's trying to prevent a bloodless coup from within her own government, one that'll pave the way for the church to take over.


Both of these women seem to be the embodiment of an amped-up Murphy's Law -- If anything can go stunningly, horribly, mindbogglingly wrong, it will -- and usually will involve mortal danger, and then leave you in a worse (and more dangerous) predicament. I quickly stopped thinking that anything would work for either of them and just held my breath until things went from precarious to worse. It's a tribute to Stringer's imagination that he was able to keep that up for as long as he did.


Both Marah and Mason are surrounded by a great cast of characters -- enemies and allies alike. Honestly, either story line would've been enough to keep a novel going and be a lot of fun. You stick both of them together and you've got gold on your hands. I'm not sure this is the kind of story that invites in-depth analysis -- it's the kind of story that invites cheers, fist pumps, and would work best with a bowl of popcorn at your side.


For those looking for the Jay Stringer of the Sam Ireland books, they're going to be disappointed. For those looking for a Jay Stringer using his skills to create a new world, new voice with the same quality, they're in for a treat. His sense of humor is still evident, it just shows itself in different ways -- just as delightful, however. The banter between Marah and her smuggler friend is like catnip to me -- I could read it all day long. The action scenes, in particular, are outstanding -- there's one fight on board a plane that will . . . well, no, I'd better not.


Fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled, adventure with a couple of the most marvelous female protagonists you'll find this year -- Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb is a guilt-free pleasure and a fantastic introduction to what had better be a long-running series.


Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this opportunity.