Irresponsible Reader

Irresponsible Reader

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

Saturday Miscellany -- 2/16/19

Busy, busy, busy week around here (here=main blog, not BookLikes)...not much time for grabbing links for this. And I'm so far behind on the blogs I follow that I don't want to think of it. Still, I've got a few 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:









  • Road to Publication -- Benedict Jacka gives an update on Fallen, the next Alex Verus book, and a few other things.




  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas -- the follow-up to something you probably heard of. The Hate U Give, about a sixteen-year-old would-be rapper. It looks promising -- I'm assured by my wife that it's almost as good as her previous. Works for me.


  • Dead Is Beautiful by Jo Perry -- I'd hoped to be finished with this by now, but I'm only about one-third done. It's really, really good. It involves Charlie, his lousy brother, his brother's horrible wife, a protected tree and a protected owl. Oh, and another ghost that's mean to Rose. A whole lotta nastiness in this one, but the book itself is good.


  • Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg -- Ian Ludlow, the thriller writer whose plots became the inspiration for actual terror attacks is in Hong Kong doing research. But the Chinese government believes he's a spy working to thwart their plans. Hijinks ensue. Looking forward to this.


  • Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker -- yes, Tom Baker. I'm guessing this adventure won't be focusing on Tennant's or Whittaker's Doctor (to pull 2 names at random out of the thirteen possible).


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Kanwarpal Singh, sara, Tony H, Simon Veith and K. Alice Compeau for following the blog this week (some interesting links attached to those names...).

(from The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

5 Stars
A Mystery that will Haunt You in a Stunning Debut Novel
Black Moss - David Nolan
Danny had never been out here before. He’d heard the moors were bleak, but he wasn’t prepared for the sheer unrelenting nothingness of the area. It was like the world had been horizontally cut in two –sky at the top, moor at the bottom, with nothing to provide any form of relief from the two themes. Not even a tree. Not one. In any direction. Bleak.

David Nolan's debut novel is one of those that I'm having a hard time gauging how much to say about the plot. If I don't keep a foot on the brake pedal, I know I could easily go on and on and quickly give away everything -- and where'd the fun be in that for you?

Not that "fun" is a good word for about 96% of the experience of this book. This isn't one of those books (not that there's anything wrong with that).


Half of this book is told in April of 1990. Rookie radio reporter Danny Johnston is assigned to cover a murder miles away from the story that he wants to cover (and that just about every other reporter in the Manchester area is covering), the real-life riot at Strangeways prison. As Danny is watching the police fight the wind, he sees the body they're trying to cover with a tarp. It's a young boy, clearly the victim of murder. A few days later, he'll learn just how brutal the killing is -- but it doesn't matter. From the moment he saw the body, Danny was committed to making sure the killer is caught.


The other half takes place in 2016, when noted television report Daniel Johnston wraps his car around a tree. He's drunk -- he usually is, it turns out -- and this is the last time. The iPhone video of his exit from the car and the drunken ranting and falling that ensues doesn't do his image any favors. He's facing criminal charges, the collapse of his career and therapy. Between some great medication, someone to listen and a lot of free time, he makes some progress on putting himself back together and decides to go back to Manchester to try to complete the quest he started so long ago. He also explores some of his own demons along the way -- we don't spend that much time with that, but enough to get a better idea what's behind a lot of his own behavior.


In addition to Danny/Daniel, there's a small-town newspaper reporter, three police detectives, several Radio Manchester employees, an MP and some residents of a children's home and the woman who runs the place that serve as the major characters in 1990. In 2016, we still see most of these characters -- just at new stages in their lives. Some of them have moved past this crime, others remember it as much as (if not more than) Danny. None of these characters are the kind of splashy or obviously entertaining individuals that many mystery novels are peppered with -- they're simply well-rounded people. Flawed, with obvious issues and strengths.


From the first chapter (see the quotation above) to the end -- there is a bleak feeling pervading this work. Between the geography, the situation, and the weather that's the best word for it. I don't describe the feel of books often enough -- but this is one of those books that the adjective "atmospheric" was invented for. There's an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling.


Which isn't to say that this is a book you trudge through -- you don't. You really don't notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. You want to get to the bottom of things with Danny and his friends/allies.


The mystery part of this book is just what you want -- it's complex, it'll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it's fantastic. I had an inkling about part of it -- but I didn't see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. Yet when the reveal is finished you're only left with the feeling of, "well, of course -- what else could it have been?"


And then you read the motivation behind the killing -- and I don't remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There's evil and then there's this.


This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could've been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan's first novel delivers everything it promises and more. You won't be sorry if you give this one a shot, you're not going to read a lot of books better -- or as good -- anytime soon.

3.5 Stars
Well, That Escalated Quickly . . .
Unstoppable Arsenal (Full Metal Superhero) - Jeffery H. Haskell

This book is just pure entertainment -- it's not trying to be anything else. You've got a super-genius whose inventions and investments have made her super-rich (to fund further inventions, primarily) who has used this genius to turn herself into an Iron Man-like superhero. She's pretty much done all this to enable her to find her parents -- which she did at the end of the last book. She starts this book by going to retrieve them from their imprisonment.


But they're not prisoners -- they're content, happy, hard-workers in a lab with utterly no memory of a daughter. Kate, Amelia's friend and telepath determines their minds have been altered and the only one who can restore their memories is the one who altered them. Launching Amelia's next big quest.


She soon discovers that there are a lot of powerful telepaths who are unaccounted for and maybe the conspiracy she's been theorizing about isn't a bunch of evil masterminds undermining the super-heroes of the US. Maybe, there's some mind control shaping the questionable decisions.


As if all this isn't enough, Amelia meets an actual, no fooling, mythological figure who forces her to realize there's more than just science afoot in the world, and she's told that literally the future of the human race depends on choices she's making.


All this is told in the same fast, dynamic and engaging voice and style that characterized this first book. Haskell can tell a story in a way that seems effortless, which is too easy to overlook and take for granted. I put this down and had to fight the impulse to grab the next installment right away and not stop until I'd run out of books in this universe to read.

Oh, and there's a killer last line, and I'm excited about what that development is going to bring.


I don't have a lot to say really -- this is just a fun series. Period. Great super-hero action, with just enough depth to satisfy, without going so far that it slows things down. I don't know what Haskell's long-term plans are, but I could read another half-dozen of these books, easily.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

5 Stars
PsyLED Fights its Biggest and Most Dangerous Foe and Troubles from Within
Circle of the Moon - Faith Hunter

I'm going to have to talk about the events at the end of the previous book, <b>Flame in the Dark</b>, a little bit. If you haven't read that -- sorry. You may want to use the time you were about to spend on this post to purchase that/get it from your library instead.


So, with any of these Soulwood books there are three main threads to follow: 1. The PsyLED case(s) and storylines associated with the team; 2. The developments with God's Cloud of Glory Church and Nell's family; 3. Nell's personal evolution as in independent woman and her supernatural development. These will all intertwine and effect each other -- particularly the private lives of the PsyLED team and Nell's own development. I want to touch on all these briefly to give you a good idea what to expect with this book.


Let's start with God's Cloud of Glory, which gets a lot less ink than we're used to. But when they show up, it counts. It's unclear how much of the church is really in favor of the changes occurring within it -- it's probably not as uniform as I'd been thinking. Which makes sense, any reformation is slow and complicated -- and won't be a straight line of progress, humans are messier than that. Whether this group will actually stumble into orthodoxy is hard to say, and it'll definitely take years. We get to see a little of the pushback to the reforms here, but it's nothing severe. I expect in a book or two, something will happen because of what we see in this book. The Vampire Tree on the Church's land takes a different role in this book than we've grown accustomed to -- and it's probably the most important and intriguing development having to do with the Church in <b>Circle of the Moon</b> (possibly the most important in the book as a whole, too -- time will tell).


We do learn some interesting things about Nell's family and how they acted before Jane Yellowrock and the feds upended everything, too. I shouldn't forget that...


As far as Nell goes, it's been just a few weeks since she stopped being a tree and started being a human-ish person again. As you can see from <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the excerpt I posted earlier</a>, things are going well for Nell and Occam, and things are moving quickly on the Mud coming to live with Nell front. But both are bringing their share of challenges for Nell. Her life is definitely not looking anything like what she'd envisioned and the changes aren't easy for her -- she mentions at one point her mixed feelings about coming into the twenty-first century. As much as she relishes some of these changes, none of them are easy.


Nell is forced to confront and re-evaluate her ideas about love, commitment, what it means to be in a romantic relationship. So much of her thinking is still that of a "churchwoman" as she'd put it. She knows other women, other men, don't think of things in those terms and while she's rejected her upbringing, she hasn't yet replaced everything she wants to (she probably hasn't even figured out everything she wants to change).Occam is the best person for her to be involved with right now (the cynic in me wants to say that he's too perfect, but I like him too much to listen to my inner cynic) -- his patience, kindness and understanding are what's going to help her the most now.

I'm not gong to say anything else about Mud -- but I'm a fan. I don't think Hunter hit a false note with her character or any scene she was in. Mud's a great character and knows exactly what she wants in this life (at least for now) and what she needs to do to get it. Primarily that involves manipulating and/or convincing her sister to do a few things -- and Mud's an expert at both of those.


As far a Nell and her powers go? Just wow. If you think the tree thing in the last book was revolutionary, just wait. There's nothing as cataclysmic this time (thankfully -- I'm not sure we readers could take it), but the implications of some of what Nell does in this book that aren't yet known or seen, and the reverberations from them will be felt for a while.


So that brings us to PsyLED. Rick LaFleur wakes up in the middle of a very strange witch circle with no idea how he got there. He'd been called there somehow -- as his cat. There's a dead cat near and Nell picks up traces of vampires in the circle, too. Clearly, black magic is involved -- but how and why, no one knows. It doesn't take long before there are other circles being discovered -- new and made in recent weeks. Rick and some of Ming's vampires alike being called to them. Either of those happenings would be concerning -- but the combination of them is mysterious and troubling. Also, why is Rick being called and nothing happening to the team's other werecat? The questions and mysteries pile up quickly.


Some trouble in Knoxville law enforcement doesn't help, either. Supernatural crimes/events -- things like strange witch circles -- aren't being reported to PsyLED as they ought to be. The FBI and one particular agent (the witch that Nell met last time) are hovering on the fringes of the investigation in a way that speaks of more than mild curiosity. Changes and upheaval in the local vampire government -- Ming of Glass is now a MOC, for example -- feeds into some of the confusion.


It's one of those situations where the more Nell and the team learn, the less they know. Everything points to big trouble, they just can't figure out what kind of trouble -- or even its source. Rick is going to have to explain a lot about things he's previously been reluctant to discuss, for starters. And still, they may not figure out what kind of black magic is involved -- and why -- before it's too late to save innocent/not-so-innocent lives.


This is the <i>best</i> PsyLED story this series has yet given us. Nell running off on her own isn't going to crack this, solid procedure, a real team effort and some quick thinking (and a few lucky breaks) are the key to things working out. It's probably the most exciting story, too. There's a lot of action, there are more guns fired in this book by law enforcement than possibly in the first three books combined. Lainey and her magic, JoJo's computer wizardry (legitimate and less than), Occam's cat and trigger finger, Tandy's abilities, plus Nell's abilities (including offensive capabilities we haven't previously seen) are going to have to work more in general and in combination with each other than they have in the series so far just to keep the team in the game -- but for them to actually close this case and get some answers, they're going to need extra help. I loved this part of the book and want to keep talking about it, but I'm going to hold back. I've often wondered if the team wasn't wasting time in the past -- not this time. Everything clicked for me with this story and I couldn't be happier about the whole thing.


I'm pretty sure that I can't say anything about the people behind the circles without ruining something. There's some real evil afoot, I tell you what. There's also a damaged soul (well, a few of them), some well-intentioned moves in the past that result in trauma and worse in the present, a mixture of aligned entities that don't necessarily have the same ends in mind. You combine those things and you get a lot of damage, heartbreak, and death being dealt. Not only is this the best PsyLED story, it's got the most compelling opponent(s) for the team yet.


I know that Rick has his detractors going back to early on in the Yellowrock books up until his involvement in this series. I haven't checked as much as I should have to see if some of them have come around to him or not. I've never been as anti-Rick as others have been, but he's never been a character I liked. As soon as he and Jane split, I would've been content to never think of him again -- but Hunter had other ideas. I liked him in this role, but I've always preferred everyone else on the team (except Paka), and really hoped he'd be in the background for some time. Yeah, well, that's absolutely not the case in this book. I won't say that this book wholly rehabilitates the character for me -- and I can't imagine that the extreme anti-Rick contingent will be satisfied. But, I will say that it'll be hard for people to not soften their opinion of him after this book. Hunter did a lot of good to his character in this book. For people who liked Rick and/or were positively-inclined toward him? You're going to love this book.


Tandy does a couple of things in this book that intrigued me. Nell's not the only paranormal on this team whose powers are developing in ways that may prove troubling. I wonder if it's a coincidence that these two (and maybe others?) are changing, or if there's another explanation -- they're changing each other, one is changing the other while they evolve themselves -- or is there an outside party up to something? It's also possible I'm reading too much into things.


This is largely an aside for people who are Yellowrock fans. Throughout this book, we brush up against Jane Yellowrock and what happened in <b>Dark Queen</b>, which seems to have happened while Nell was a tree (I think <b>Dark Queen</b> started about the same time as <b>Flame in the Dark</b>, but <b>DQ</b> ended a lot sooner than <b>FitD</b>), and Nell's not really up on what's going on with her friend yet. She knows a couple of the bullet points, but doesn't really have the full picture. According to <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'s Reading Order</a>, this novel actually happens <i>after</i> the next Jane Yellowrock novel. So, we're about as confused as Nell is. Now, does this impact any of the interaction Nell, JoJo and the rest have with Jane, Alex or any of the vampires in Tennessee? No. But man, it makes me even more curious about what happens after <b>Dark Queen</b> -- I didn't think I could be more curious about that than I was, but man...this book has really intensified all that for me.


Okay, back to <b>Circle of the Moon</b>. I've given the first three books in the series 4 1/2 Stars each. I think this time I have to give in and toss that missing half star to the rating. The PsyLED story was great, we didn't get bogged down in the Church/cult business too much, Mud just made me smile, and while I'm not comfortable with every choice Nell made in her personal and professional life (and a couple of the choices worry me long-term) -- I like the fact that she's making them. I can't think of a single problem with this book, it satisfied every fan-impulse/desire I had, was a step up from previous installments in many ways, and told a solid and complete story that still drives the reader to want more. I can't imagine a Hunter fan not liking this book -- and it's the kind of book that should get her some new readers, too.


<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this. My opinions remain my own and are the honest reactions of this particular reader.</i>

Saturday Miscellany -- 2/9/19

So the lateness today is intentional, I had to take care of Main Bad Guy's post (which you should read, not because I think the post is so good, but the book I'm talking about is). Busy week around here -- but good, on the whole. Hope yours is as well. Getting our first real snow of the season right now -- odd for it to come so late, but I'm glad we finally got some (I'll be less glad when I have to leave the house in a couple of hours, but . . . )


On with things -- 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:




  • Advice to New Bookbloggers -- Mrs Blogs the Average Reader has some uncommonly sage advice that even established bloggers might profit from.





  • Black Summer: Cover Reveal! -- I honestly don't care what the cover looks like, as long as I get to spend more time with The Puppet Show's Poe and Tilly (one of my favorites from last year), but it is a cool cover -- and the blurb is even better.







  • Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond -- The true story about what happened to Eleven's mother. I had this in my hand and put it down today. I'm very curious, but not sure I want to try this. I'm going be looking for reviews on this one. Feel free to point me at some -- especially your own!


  • One Fatal Mistake by Tom Hunt -- another one that I'm curious about, it could be really good. A mother and son cover up an accidental killing, and then things get out of control...


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Kara Skinner, Blood Rose Books, libarah and Matilde Mbulo for following the blog this week.

4.5 Stars
Main Bad Guy - Nick Kolakowski

Yeah, weird day for me to post something like this, but it's what Kolakowski asked for -- and he wasn't a jerk about it like the last guy who wanted a Saturday post. I also did a quick Q&A with the author.


Bill could tell you all about things going haywire.


Like Fiona’s plan, for instance.


How the hell had he agreed to this insanity?


The answer was obvious: They had no choice.

It had to come down to this, didn't it? After being on the run for a book to a book and a half (depending on the character), Bill and Fiona have to face off with the Dean, the Rockaway Mob leader who put out the hits on them both. They really don't much choice, the whole starting over quietly thing didn't work too well. Or at all.


This picks up right after Slaughterhouse Blues, the pair are having a difficult time getting out of New York, and ultimately find themselves locked in a panic room at the top of a skyscraper, surrounded by Crow Man -- "a stellar chemist, and a better botanist" -- his crew, and his product. Which is a pretty awkward place to be. Unsurprisingly, Crow Man works for the Dean (don't you love these names?). The Dean had been having a pretty lousy day up until this point -- and when the Dean has a bad day, a lot of people suffer. Then things start looking up, and the Dean is handed two of his most wanted on a silver platter.


Meanwhile, a mysterious figure named Walker is making his way from Canada to New York. He's seen that the pair found some trouble in Oklahoma and assumed Fiona wold need help. By the time that word got out that they were in New York, he was already on the way, knowing that'd be the case. Walker is one of those classic aged "been there, done that" characters. The old pro who's tried to retire and ends up having to get back into action one more time -- which is good, because they really don't do well with the quiet life anyway. I'd sign up for a series focusing on him in a heartbeat. I'd almost say this is worth reading just for Walker -- even if you know nothing about Bill, Fiona, the Dean, etc. Eh, I'll go ahead and say it, read this just for Walker. But you'll like it more if you've read the others.


Walker's travel is beset by trouble from uneasy allies, his age, and just how much the city has changed. One of the best scenes with him starts with Walker revisiting a favorite dive bar that had been "gentrified into a monstrosity" where he felt like he was "attending a wake for someone that nobody in the room had liked" in the middle of the velvet art, sky-blue walls and pop music. Kolakowski grounds this with reflections on September 11 and the effect it had on the City and its citizens -- making it more than just a fun moment in the book. The intelligence he picks up in the bar justifies his brush with gentrification and enables him to come to Fiona's aid. Hopefully in time.


Bill and Fiona are great together, their dialogue crackles. Watching these two try to get out of Dodge is so much fun, you find yourself wishing that Kolakowski had figured out way to stretch this into a quatrology. One of the problems I had, I now realize, with Slaughterhouse Blues was how little Bill and Fiona were together. They spent a lot of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps apart, too -- but that was different. Bill's a better character with her around, and Fiona works better too -- if for no other reason than she has to be a bad-ass and watch out for him, instead of just being pure bad-ass all the time. I'm not sure that makes sense to anyone not living in my head. Hopefully it does.


There's excitement, there's gunplay, there are explosives, violence, witty dialogue and a whole lot of bad-ass characters facing off with each other (and Bill's around, too). This is the literary equivalent of a Martin McDonagh film (when he's in a more playful mood) -- or, if that doesn't work for you, think Fargo meets Tarantino, but not as long-winded. Kolakowski ties this to A Brutal Bunch so well (and in ways you won't expect), providing a perfect ending to this saga. There are so many quote-worthy lines in this brief novella that it's driving me crazy that I can't work more of them into this.


A lot of novella-series can be read in a clump, like one big novel. This is not one of them. Each novella has its own feel, its own themes and structure -- while being one story. Last year, Kolakowski impressed me with his novel, Boise Longpig Hunting Club, this series has shown me that wasn't a fluke at all and that I need to read anything I can by him.


I can't tell you what's holding me back from making this a full 5 Star, but something is. It's close enough, though (and on Amazon/Goodreads, I round up), so I don't feel too bad about chopping off that half-star here. But focus on the important things here -- it's a great read, a great conclusion and about as much fun as you'll have in a thriller this year. Bill and Fiona are a great couple (at least in fiction, they'd probably crash and burn in real life) -- and a lot of fun to read about.


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

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

5 Stars
Fletch, Flynn, A Murder or two and a Heist. What more can you want?
Confess, Fletch - Dan John Miller, Gregory McDonald

Fletch dialed "0".


"Get me the police, please."


"Is this an emergency?"


"Not at the moment."


The painting over the desk was a Ford Maddox Brown - a country couple wrapped against the wind.


"Then please dial 555-7523."


"Thank you."


He did so.


"Sergeant McAuliffe speaking."


"Sergeant, this is Mister Fletcher, 152 Beacon Street, apartment 6B."


"Yes, sir."



"There's a murdered girl in my living room."


"A what girl?"




Francis. Xavier. Flynn.


Those three words are really all I have to say. This is a clever book, with a few good mysteries and Fletch doing his thing. There are antics galore, witty dialogue, yada, yada, yada. As much as I love I. M. Fletcher, Gregory Mcdonald's greatest creation was Flynn -- Blackstone Audio will be releasing those soon and I'll talk more about him then -- but for now, let's just say that I loved meeting him again and Dan John Miller nailed the character. I was worried about Flynn, really, but I was so relieved that the character came to life as he should.


But let's put Reluctant Flynn aside for a minute. Fletch is visiting Boston -- taking part in a home-share kind of program, staying in a nice apartment while the owner is staying in Fletch's Italian villa (you know there's a story behind that, but we don't really get it at this point). He comes home from dinner the first night to find body lying on his rug. She's very naked and very dead.


Naturally, Fletch is the prime suspect.


Meanwhile, Fletch is trying to track down some stolen art work on behalf of his fiancé, the daughter of a recently kidnapped and (apparently) murdered near-destitute Count. His recently stolen art collection is the only real inheritance she'll get. Assuming her current step-mother isn't named in the will. Fletch is working with the owner of a private gallery to track down what he can of this collection while his fiance and her step-mother wrangle. Fletch's interest in, affinity for and expertise in art is established here and will show up again a few times in the series.


Of course, Fletch is also busy investigating the murder and reconnects with a former editor of his, from before he worked for Frank Jaffe. He uses this connection to dig u information on the man whose apartment he's in, the gallery owner, and just about everyone else he comes across in Boston. Inspector Flynn of the Boston PD makes plenty of investigative headway, too -- but he and the rest of the police are too focused on Fletch as suspect to do much beyond that. So Fletch uncovers the other viable suspects, if for no other reason than to give Flynn someone else to look at.


This is the first mention of I.M. being from Seattle, incidentally. I never remember that.


It's a great plot, with all the twists that you can want. There's so much to enjoy in this book -- Fletch's observations, odd way of approaching his investigation, and banter with Flynn, his editor-friend and anyone else he cares to befuddle is the kind of thing that led me to read this book a few dozen times before now.


As I said, Miller does a great job -- he's good with every character, with the narration and everything. I do think he's a bit slow, but at 1.25 speed his rhythms match what I expect from Mcdonald. This guy is rapidly becoming one of my favorite audiobook narrators -- I expect by the end of this series, he'll be near the top.


2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

3.5 Stars
A Bond Girl à la Amy Sherman-Palladino leads this entertaining action story.
The Barista's Guide To Espionage  - Dave Sinclair

All her adult life, she'd dated men who were bad for her. Men who treated her dreadfully and undervalued her worth. She knew that, she'd always known that, and yet she failed to break the cycle. There had only been one man who'd treated her with respect and as an equal. It was a shame he'd also threatened every government on Earth and drawn UN condemnation.


Eva ran her finger around the rim of her pint. Why were all the best kissers hell-bent on tearing down the world?


This is just your typical story of a feminist, stripper-turned-barista, who falls for an super-rich aspiring super-villain, and ends up holding the fate of the world in her hands. I'm going to stop right there -- my attempts at synopsizing this just aren't paying off. Here's some of the back of the book blurb:

Meet Eva Destruction, the only thing quicker than her mouth is her talent for getting into trouble. It’s true she’s always had an eye for a bad boy but when she falls for billionaire super-villain Harry Lancing, it seems that even Eva may have bitten off more than she can chew.


Eva hurtles headlong into terrorist attacks, assassinations, car chases and the occasional close encounter with a dashing spy who seems as determined to charm Eva into bed as he is to thwart Lancing’s plans to bring down every government on earth.

As the odds begin to stack up in Lancing’s favour the fate of the world lies in Eva’s hands. Luckily for the world, Eva Destruction isn’t the type of girl to let a super-villain ex-boyfriend with a massive ego, unlimited resources and his own secret island get the better of her.


Eva, Horatio Lancing and the MI6 agent are entertaining characters -- the action scenes are exciting. There's a car chase that's remarkably good. But the banter, verbal sparring and jokes are where the real fireworks are found. It's almost like Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote an action film.


A few caveats I should issue for some of the regulars around here: Early on, there's a sex scene that is entirely too graphic, and unnecessarily so. I liked what Sinclair achieved with it and the aftermath. But He could've achieved the same (or practically the same) result with a little less detail. There are further references to sex if you can get past this one, but nothing that comes close to the detail of this one scene. It's probably PG-13 afterwards, actually. Additionally, Evan utilizes some of the more creative swearing you've read. It's not anything you'd care to repeat anywhere near a mother armed with a bar of soap mind you. But creative nonetheless.


Eva is smart, witty and determined -- it's easy to see why men are fawning over her (even without the looks). She's the kind of character you like reading -- she's sure of herself, and yet really, really not. I love reading about someone who is just awesome with zero self-confidence in certain instances. But when push comes to shove, she comes through in a way worthy of Jason Bourne or Frank Martin.


This book is essentially a cartoon -- it's over the top, exaggerated, and entertainingly hyperbolic. But Lancing . . . I tell you. For a would-be global dictator, there's something appealing about him. He's described as "Snowden with an agenda and Assange with charisma," and truly (often) seems to only want to hold governments/government officials to their word. "You promised the voters X," he essentially says, "deliver X, or I'll release the videos of you in a compromising situation with a 14-year old." A motivation that many people would agree with, and a capability that doesn't seem that outlandish -- especially compared to the rest of the story, Lancing seems realistic -- realistic-ish, anyway.


There are so, so many quotable lines in this book -- it's practically impossible to pick one to focus on. This is like early Evanovich -- just with the sex, swearing and violence turned up a bit. I think it went on a bit too long, and could use maybe 50 fewer pages. But it was so much fun, I don't want to complain too much. <b>The Barista’s Guide to Espionage</b> is a big explode-y ball of entertainment and Dave Sinclair is someone to keep an eye out for.

3 Stars
A wildly imaginative and creative MG Fantasy
The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge - M.T. Anderson, Eugene Yelchin

For a MG book, I'm surprisingly intimidated by the prospect of trying to give a synopsis. That's probably a clue about the book. Brangwain Spurge is an elfin historian of moderate renown -- when (as far as he knows) an ancient goblin relic is found in his land, he's dispatched to present it to the goblin's king. No elf has survived being in -- much lest returning from -- goblin territories in more than a century, but the conventional wisdom is that a historian should be safe -- even if he is also spying.


The goblins and elves have spent centuries fighting each other, and are in a rare season without warfare -- and no one expects it to last for long. Each side distrusts the other in ways that make relations between the USA and USSR in the 1960's seem warm and cordial. So this mission of Brangwain's is an unexpected and welcome overture of peace. Or so many people think.


Brangwain's host is a goblin names Werfel -- who's also a historian. Werfel is a very odd, but seemingly pleasant, person living in the midst of pretty odd, and apparently pleasant, people. Every goblin he meets goes out of their way to welcome Brangwain and try to make him feel comfortable, while celebrating elfin culture. Brangwain's a nervous guy, who has spent most of his life (going back to childhood) being insulted, bullied and overlooked -- he doesn't really see the efforts of the goblins for what it is. Besides, he's too busy trying not to get caught while spying on his hosts.


Now, how does this elf -- who most people expect is on a suicide mission -- get his information back to the elves? I'm glad you asked -- this is an ingenious move by Anderson and Yelchin -- while alone and resting, Brangwain uses elfin magic and imagines what he's seen which is transmitted to a device in the office of his king's military intelligence, that takes these transmissions and "prints" them out. These would be the illustrations that make up a significant portion of this book.


Ultimately, things go awry and Brangwain and Werfel are on the run together, trying to survive and hopefully keep the peaceful overtures alive. A friendship will rise between the two as they depend on each other and realize how much they have in common.

There's some great commentary on the power of perspective when it comes to history. Werfel and Brangwain differ greatly in their understandings of the same event/person, wholly dependent on their backgrounds. It's all about who writes the history -- even if it's an obscure scholar -- when it comes to establishing "fact."


A little bit more about the art. First, it's just great. This isn't a book directed at the picture book crowd, but the art might as well be for people who can't read the text -- it's as much of the story telling as the text. Yelchin actually saves them a couple hundred pages telling the more dramatic portions of the story in his pictures. Interestingly enough, the events described in the narration and the events depicted in the art/Brangwain's reports differ significantly, and part of the fun of the book is comparing them. Yelchin's art reminds me of Jules Feiffer’s from The Phantom Tollbooth, which is possibly the biggest selling point for me. Well, except the picture of a spider-creature that makes Shelob and Aragog look tame.


It's a fun story, a little wry, and it will appeal to grade schoolers who have an off-kilter sense of humor. I really enjoyed reading it and recommend it for middle graders and their parents/older siblings alike.

2019 Library Love Challenge

3.5 Stars
Unlikely doesn't begin to describe the heroes of this debut PI novel
The Lion's Tale - Luna Miller

“What did he say? Think. Try to remember. It might be very important.” Gunvor struggles to hide her impatience.


“Something about how even your dreams can be dangerous. About how I should keep my dreams as just dreams. And that if you try to make a dream come true you can mess up everything. You can ruin your life. That’s what he said. That your whole life can be destroyed.”


Gunvor Strom hooked me almost immediately -- she's a feisty woman in her 60s who we meet as she's helping a young woman deal with a handful of teen males harassing her. She's creative, crafty, wily and ruthless in this, and it's a great way to bring in an audience.


We quickly learn that Gunvor is a rookie Private Investigator, forced to leave her career and changing her life after a divorce, she signs on to a Private Investigative Agency and mostly does grunt work -- but does get the opportunity to do some investigative work. As much as she misses her old life, she relishes this new one (although she might like joints that are a little less painful).


Gunvor is assigned to find out what's behind a husband's odd behavior -- the client, his wife, adamantly refuses to accept the idea that he's being unfaithful, but his behavior is different and troubling. Gunvor isn't on the case for long before she decides she could use a few more eyeballs -- so she recruits, oddly enough, Elin (the young woman above) and David -- the ringleader of those harassing her. She's a student, he's unemployed -- and both need something in their life to care about, neither one of them realized that they were interested in investigative work.


Really, this book has two stories -- one is the investigation into this man -- and things get violent shortly after the trio gets to work. It's at this point that the husband talks about the potential of dreams to destroy your life. If anything, this violence causes Gunvor and the rest to work harder -- not long afterwards there's a murder and the number and types of criminal activity that they're investigating grows and grows.


The other story is following the development of Gunvor as an investigator and her two young protégés. Elin discovers sides to her personality that surprise her (and Gunvor, actually), and really comes out of her shell. David, on the other hand, response to the trust and responsibility given him by rising to the occasion and even maturing a little bit. Now, none of these characters grow perfectly or in a straight line -- there are ups and downs to this development == and the suggestion is that this will continue after this book.

Both stories are wholly satisfying and serve each other well. The conclusion is as tense and taught as you can hope for, and at a certain point, you'll forget that the trio you're rooting for aren't the kind of detectives you're used to, all you know is that you're hoping they survive.


This book, time and time again, came so close to wowing me -- the clever twists, the dramatic turns, character development, and so on -- but almost every time that Miller brushed against "great" she ended up settling a few notches down at being really good. Is it possible that if this was written in English, or set somewhere that I understood more than Stockholm that I'd be able to appreciate more nuances and rate it higher? Absolutely. But it wasn't, so I can wish I understood what it means for someone to be from X neighborhood/district versus Y, and missing other things that don't come through the translation as cleanly as they might.


ON the whole, this was just a pleasure to read -- it grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let go. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for the sequels, I can assure you, and I expect most readers will find the book as compelling.


LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge


2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

3 Stars
Some Fun YA Popcorn SF
The Disasters - M. K. England

We sit in silence while al-Rihla, the jewel of the colonies, gradually takes over more and more of the viewport. It looks exactly like it did on the pages of my textbooks, only so much more. I let my eyes linger for a moment, taking in green continents outlined in rich red sand and huge, intensely blue oceans that glitter below. I know we’re in a life-or-death situation, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the view. I can see why all the antiexploration crap went away once a few humans actually got out here. Who could look at all this and not want it? It’s bizarre--I’ve only seen Earth from space once, and I was busy trying not to die at the time. Now I’m looking down on a completely different planet, in person, in space, while flying a ship I stole.


I'm actually here. This is all I've ever wanted, though I didn't get it in the way I wanted.


And in a few painfully long minutes, I'll find out whether I get to live to see the other seven colony worlds one day, or if I get to die in a dramatic crash and kill all my new friends instead.



Nax Hall is a would-be pilot, would-be space colonizer, and would-be anything but a failure in the eyes of his family. Sadly, after a day at the Ellis Station Academy (the only way to achieve two of those goals, and his best shot at the third), he's been cut from the program. He's not the only one -- three others have been, too. As they wait for the shuttle to take them back to Earth, a terrorist group of some kind attacks the Academy. With a little luck, the expelled students escape in the shuttle that was destined to take them to Earth.


But they quickly realize that space fighters won't allow the ship to land on Earth where they can alert the authorities about what happened at the Academy -- so they have to hyperjump (or whatever it's called in this world -- I already took the book back to the library and can't check) to colonial space. They quickly learn that the terrorists have used their escape as a means to frame them for the atrocities committed at the Academy and they now are on the run from the same authorities they were hoping to help them.


Thankfully, between the four of them, they have an almost perfect crew -- a pilot, a diplomat, a medic and a technician/copilot. They soon find themselves aligned with a computer expert with ties to black-market entities that can help them spread the word about what happened at the Academy and what it might mean for the future of Earth's space colonies. These five plucky teens are all that stands between humanity and widespread destruction.


England has a gift for action scenes -- they were energetic, dynamic and enough to sink your teeth into. Nax's flying, in general or in combat, was the highlight of the book for me. I could've used a little more of it, even though that would have been gratuitous. I'm not above gratuity in the right place. There's a strong sense of fun in the narrative -- despite being up against impossible odds, these kids are living their dream (just not in the way they wanted, as Nax put it in the quotation above). There's a good deal of bonhomie between the makeshift crew, which builds gradually over the book to the point where they're a tight bunch of friends at the end. This sense of fun is grounded by the dangers they face and the costs they're paying, just enough to keep this from being a romp.


The characters aren't that complex, although England makes a couple of attempts at it. Their backstories are interesting, to the degree that she explores them (which isn't much). We get enough of Nax's crewmates' backstories to explain their presence on the ship, but not much more. We get plenty about Nax in bits and pieces -- which is good enough, he's the star of the show (and should be). The bad guys aren't much more than stock villains, mostly a faceless group or two conspiring to do evil things. That's fine with me, this isn't the kind of book that promises complex opponents with compelling reasons for their activities, mustache-twirlers with lots of henchmen are good enough.


Here's my major complaint with the book -- the politics. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that politics shouldn't enter into fiction. Particularly Science Fiction. I'd prefer to see more of it -- at least more diversity in political views, too much of the politics in SF is so culturally homogeneous one could easily believe no other opinions existed. But before I get gong on that line, let me get back to The Disasters. The politics and societal struggles of the late 22nd Century are apparently identical to those of 2018. Now, I'm not suggesting that Earth's culture should have worked everything out and the struggles of today will be a distant memory -- but they should've changed somewhat. The way these problems are seen, expressed and argued about should be different. England just comes across lazy in her approach to these ideas. It'd be like someone writing about Irish cops in 2019 Boston the same way people wrote about them in 1850.


Thankfully, while it flavors much of the book, the characters don't spend that much time actively discussing it, so it's easy to forget about. What you're left with is popcorn fun. A bunch of underdog kids, rejects from society (while really being exceptional), find themselves in a place to save the world (more than 8 of them, technically). There's some good action -- again, the flight scenes are great -- a couple of chuckles, and a solid ending. It's a couple of hours of escapist entertainment when it's at its best (which is pretty often).

2019 Library Love Challenge

3 Stars
Broken Antiheroes on a Last Chance Power Drive
Slaughterhouse Blues - Nick Kolakowski

“What’d you put in there?” Don said, nodding at the soiled duffel bag in the backseat.


“About twenty pounds of tobacco, but don’t worry, no leaves, just the little bits. I asked the sweepers to give me the scraps.”


Don laughed. “A couple years back, we tried taking those scraps, making cigarettes out of them. They sold, but not enough. You can’t fight Big Tobacco.”


“You know what’s a good rule for life?” Fiona said. “Don’t fight groups dedicated to killing millions of people.”


It didn't take long for Bill and Fiona to realize that the business relationship they found themselves in at the end of the last novella to be just as unpleasant as the one they'd just left. They hadn't jumped into the fire per se, more like they'd jumped from one frying pan into another. And their new associates took a similar approach to their older associates to their exit -- they wanted them dead. So now the pair are trying to avoid two large-scale criminal enterprises bent on revenge, while trying to secure enough of a nest-egg to retire and disappear.


That doesn't sound fun. At least not for them, for readers on the other hand...

Fiona is off doing a small -- but hopefully profitable -- job for a couple of brothers she's worked for before. They're cigar manufacturers in Nicaragua, where the competition might just be getting lethal. Bill, on the other hand, is in another country trying to hide out among the throngs of tourists. Let's just say that neither of them meet with a lot of success -- but Fiona does manage to get a lead on what should be an easy heist. The catch is, it's in New York. Right in their old backyard.


So we have an easy heist, an uneasy alliance between the couple and a less-than-trustworthy man who can lead them to a big pay, assassins on their tail and some others who discovered that the couple has delivered themselves to their city. Chaos ensues.

It's action-packed, but with a smaller body count than the previous novel. But at least one of the deaths happens in a way that will stay with you. Not in a haunting way -- but in a "wow, what a cool visual" way (something you can appreciate in fiction -- in real life, it'd be horrific and witnesses would likely need therapy).


There's an interesting tie-in here to some things that happened at the end of World War II, reminding the reader just how much moral gray area existed for US troops in those last days of the War in Europe. Well, a lot of gray existed, and some of it might have been made. Either way, it was there.


At the end of the day, I didn't enjoy Slaughterhouse Blues nearly as much as A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, but I think it says more about the latter than the former. It's a solid piece of writing, expanding and deepening the universe of these characters a tad. It gives us another opportunity to see them in action while doing some important things for Fiona's character. If nothing else, Slaughterhouse Blues sets up the third novella (which is better than either of the other two). But most importantly, it tells a good, entertaining story on its own. If I'd read this one not knowing who Bill, Fiona or Nick Kolakowski were -- I'd have sought out more about them and by him. That's good enough for me.


<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.</i>


2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

(finally!!!) January 2019 Report: What I Read/Listened to/Wrote About, etc.

A few things you need to know before I start this: 1. Within the last two weeks, my laptop has stopped giving me warnings when my battery goes below 10%; 2 I am an idiot.


I started this early, I've never done that before. In fact, I had this about 40% done Wednesday night when my laptop battery died. Now, for various and sundry reasons, I use Notepad while I'm building these posts, and I had three different Notepad windows open, and was in a good groove working on this. Now, I hadn't done a good job using the "Save Draft" button in WordPress and had not saved any of the Notepad windows (see #2 above). So when the battery just died on me, I know I yelled. I didn't cuss/swear/curse/whatever you want to call it out loud, my kids were around and I try to be a good example. But I assure you, I thought a long blue streak.


Between the discouragement from that, and my inability to arrange my thoughts about a novel afterwards, I ended up not posting anything Thursday. January in general has seen more days without a post than I like -- this week was pretty typical.


But February will be busier -- guaranteed. Fahrenbruary will be good for that, if nothing else.


Anyway, here's what happened here in January. Good books, some decent posts (if I do say so myself). 2019 is off to a good start.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition The Power of the Dog
3 Stars 3.5 Stars 5 Stars
In an Absent Dream Flame in the Dark (Audiobook) Flight of the Fox
5 Stars 5 Stars 4 Stars
Awakenings Death Valley Superstars Here and Now and Then
3.5 Stars 3 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps Slaughterhouse Blues The Reach of Shadows
3.5 Stars 3 Stars 3.5 Stars
Immoral Code The Lion's Tail Skin Game (Audiobook)
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 5 Stars
The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge Spare Room In Their Own Words
3 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Unstoppable Arsenal Main Bad Guy Confess Fletch
3.5 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 5 Stars
The Whistle Blower The Disasters Shattered Illusions
3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars


Still Reading:

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper            



5 Stars 5 2 1/2 Stars 0
4 1/2 Stars 2 2 Stars 0
4 Stars 3 1 1/2 Stars 0
3.5 Stars 3 1 Star 0
3 Stars 8    
    Average = 3.79  


Reviews Posted:


TBR Heap:

Physical Books: 4 Added/5 Read

E-Books: 2 Added/0 Read

Audiobooks: 3 Added/3 Read

...only 1 net addition. Not bad.


Book Challenge Progress:

2019 Library Love Challenge

2019 Library Love Challenge

  1. Awakenings by Edward Lazellari
  2. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson, Eugene Yelchin(link forthcoming)
  3. The Disasters by M. K. England(link forthcoming)

While I Was Reading 2019 Challenge

✔ An essay collection: Death Valley Superstars by Duke Haney ✔ A book by an author you’ve never read before: Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

#LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

  1. Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight
  2. A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski
  3. The Reach of Shadows by Tony J. Forder
  4. Slaughterhouse Blues by Nick Kolakowski (link forthcoming)
  5. Lions Tail by Luna Miller (link forthcoming)
  6. Main Bad Guy by Nick Kolakowski (link forthcoming)
  7. Death Valley Superstars by Duke Haney
  8. Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition by Russ Colchamiro
  9. Unstoppable Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell (link forthcoming)
  10. Shattered Illusions by J.C. Jackson (link forthcoming)
2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

  1. Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight
  2. A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski
  3. The Reach of Shadows by Tony J. Forder
  4. Slaughterhouse Blues by Nick Kolakowski (link forthcoming)
  5. Lions Tail by Luna Miller (link forthcoming)
  6. Main Bad Guy by Nick Kolakowski (link forthcoming)
  7. Immoral Code by Lillian Clark
  8. Spare Room by Dreda Say Mitchell
  9. Confess Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan Jon Miller (link forthcoming)
Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

  1. Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition by Russ Colchamiro
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

  1. In Their Own Words by David Calhoun (link forthcoming)

How was your month?

Saturday Miscellany -- 2/2/19

No intro today -- no time for love, Doctor Jones -- so let's cut to it: 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:



  • For Sale: Letters and Illustrations From Dr. Seuss -- a collection from 1957 -- the year of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat. Now I can't imagine anyone reading this will be in the market for things like this, but you might want to read about it.







  • Benedict Jacka has revealed the cover of Fallen, the 10th Alex Verus book. More colors than the first 9. I dig it.






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

4 Stars
Be It Ever So Creepy, There's No Place Like Home
Spare Room - Dreda Say Mitchell

I'm going to leave the recap to the Spotlight post, and do something I don't usually do here. I hope it works.


So I spent a lot of this book not wanting to push on -- sure, the prologue was compelling and you knew from the start that Lisa is being lied to by her landlords, and given the genre (psychological thriller) and the fact that we're talking easy-to-spot lies within the first few pages, you just know that the lies are covering up something dastardly. I'm curious about what's going on -- what Jack and/or Martha are up to that's going go be a threat to Lisa; what happened to Lisa before she rented the room (because it's clear from early-on that something did), what's going to happen to her because of/in the room; and if there's actually anyone healthy, sane or well-adjusted in this London -- curious, but not sure I care all that much.


See, there's a moment early on where things get a bit dark and threatening -- and Lisa is very aware how tenuous her situation is, but she gets out of it unscathed. Which is a relief -- until shortly afterward, when Lisa is given the opportunity to leave the house for good. No financial hit, no legal ramifications, no harm/no foul, no muss/no fuss -- and turns it down with an explanation that seems pretty flimsy.


Lisa had her chance to leave, to get out, to escape unscathed and she is determined to stick around for more? Okay, fine. That sounds like natural selection at work. Let it be.

But I've agreed to take part in the book tour, and I am curious about the man in the prologue -- also I want to know what happened to Lisa before she met Jack and Martha (after she met Jack and Martha was obviously going to be ugly and maybe tragic, that seemed a fait accompli). So I kept going. And just what is up with Lisa's parents? They make Robert and Cora Crawley look effusive in affection and touchy-feely with their progeny.


And little by little, I get more curious. And more curious. And started to care a bit, I definitely got invested in the outcome (more invested in the explanation behind everything). When Mitchell (via Lisa) started doling out answers that curiosity increased.


And then I did something I haven't done for months. I go to bed and I'm a little awake still, so I decide to read for a few minutes, which is followed by a few more, and a few more -- and then an hour has passed, and my Kindle is telling me I have about 10 minutes left. So I have to keep going at that point. That early-morning reading ended up being about forty-eight percent of the book. I just couldn't put it down.


I went from wondering what was up with her parents to wondering "just what is wrong with them?" My distrust of homeowners Jack and Martha grew and grew. That applied to just about everyone in the book, actually. I realized at a certain point that I really couldn't trust Lisa, either -- but she eventually got to the point where you could. There's a slightly off-kilter neighbor-lady who seems honest enough, but she clearly has a chip on her shoulder and doesn't seem to want to help anyone. Not to mention the [spoiler redacted] who is connected to both Lisa and the neighbor, in a strange coincidence -- you're as skeptical about them as Lisa is, but pretty soon you get to think that [spoiler redacted] just might be the only one Lisa can really count on.


And with each ensuing revelation you have to reevaluate what you think about every character in the novel. And you start to understand that the events that led to the compelling prologue are even more compelling and with the exception of a couple of "It seemed like the best idea at the time" decisions (which, boy howdy, were horrible choices), everything that happened in the years following the prologue suddenly makes more and more sense.


The pacing on this -- once things get rolling -- is fantastic. The motivations pushing people to moved make sense and seem authentic (no one does anything that seems out of character just to advance the plot), and Mitchell ends up putting the reader just where she wants you. On the whole, the narration, plotting and writing seem effortless (a true sign that the author put a lot of effort into it). The characterizations are rich -- some people are just who you think they are, and others are quite the opposite -- and you will be surprised at who is authentic.


Mitchell knocked this one out of the park and totally won me over despite a lot of initial reluctance to go along with her. This is really impressive and I can see myself rushing to get whatever she does next. Give this one a try, folks, you'll be glad you did - if you're as impatient as I was, hold on, Mitchell will reward you.


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

4 Stars
A Heist Novel where the Heist is maybe the Dullest Part
Immoral Code - Lillian Clark

It's their senior year, their lives are stretching out before them, this incredibly close group of five friends are preparing for graduation, college, etc. -- even (not that they'll confront this quite yet) living without each other. They all excel in one or two ways -- one's a hacker/activist, one's an artist, one's got a real shot at the Olympics -- etc. One is a physics genius (or close enough to a genius to count) who was admitted early to MIT. But there's a catch. She can't afford it. Her mom works two jobs to help the two of them barely make it and her dad hasn't been in her life since he was a poor student and impregnated her mom. Since then he's gone on to become one of the richest of the rich. The kind of rich that people really can't believe exists. So when MIT looks at her financial aid, they roll their eyes and move on to the next student.


Not content to shake their heads sadly at injustice, her friends come up with a plan to hack into her dad's company and skim a little bit of money. Not enough that he'd ever notice -- just enough to pay tuition for a year. Their hacker friend is good, but not good enough to break in remotely -- she has to be physically in touch with the network -- for just a few seconds. Like the tagline on the cover says, "Payback is a glitch." So over Spring Break they take a little road trip -- bigger than their families know -- to get access to the network. It's going to take a lot of nerve, some real disregard for the law, and their combined talents to pull this off.


The question they don't really consider until it's too late isn't what will happen if they fail (although, they all could think of that more), it's what happens if they succeed?


On the whole, I haven't seen many people classifying this as a Crime Novel, despite the Heist story at the core. It's definitely not a thriller. Because the Heist story is just an excuse to talk about friendship, figuring your life out, the pressure on teens to know what they want the next few decades to be about (not the same as the previous item on the list), the complicated relationship that exists between parents and their teens on the cusp of adulthood, and the hugeness of the moment where you leave home/family/friends to start the next phase of your life. Oh, also, morality. Somehow Clark does all that while telling a fast-moving, funny, and heart-felt story.


Which is not to say that the Heist story isn't important, or well executed. And you can read the book just for the Heist. But you'll miss out on a lot -- and you'll probably wonder why I rated this so highly. As fun as the Heist/prep for the Heist is, the heart of the book is the rest.


Each chapter jumps between first-person narration from each kid, keeping things moving nicely. There's plenty to like/identify with in each character. You learn a lot about them as individuals, them as friends, and generally them as children (not that much about them as students, oddly). They're so well-drawn, I'm sure what I respond to in one character or another will not be the same as what another reader responds to. There is one character who serves as the group's Jiminy Cricket -- their vocal and ever-present conscience. Like Jiminy, the character is ignored a lot and fought against. But I appreciated them -- the voice of moral reason, the one trying to save the others from themselves, the only one who demonstrated a sense of right and wrong, not just about what feels right.


The writing is breezy, engaging -- no matter whose POV you're reading. Clark did a fantastic job differentiating the characters, giving them all a unique voice so that you don't even have to pay attention to the indicator at the beginning of the chapter to know whose voice is telling that particular chapter. Now, as each chapter is told from the Point of View of a teenager, and fairly realistically done, that means you have to check your inner grammarian at the door -- so much of this book can drive you around the bend if you don't.


The novel is engaging, it's beyond that really -- it's infectious.There were several points during reading that I asked myself why I was enjoying it as much as I was. Not that I thought I should dislike it, but I liked it a lot more than I should have. I don't mind that I did, I'm just not sure I understand why. I'm just going to chalk it up to Lillian Clark being a very good author -- someone you should check out, starting with her debut, Immoral Code.


Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Children's Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.