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 Stars
Family disasters bring out the best in this protagonist
Not-So-Common People - T Gamache

" . . . I don't want to surprise you."


Surprise me, hell I'm Captain Blindside lately! Every time I turn around one of my siblings is tossing a proverbial bombshell in my direction. I'm barely keeping this crap together, Calvin! When did it become a good idea to throw your emotions at Nathan? I'll tell you when, NEVER! I'm the introverted, quiet, keep to myself guy in the family. Not the "hey, here's our crazy laundry" guy!


Nate is a self-professed music geek/snob. That's his primary description. He's also a hipster barista with control issues (which he keeps hidden most of the time). He's around thirty now and should really be making an effort to do something with his life/college degree rather than work part-time at a coffee house. This novel isn't so much a coming-of-age novel about Nate, as it is that external forces impose age/maturity upon Nate. Which is a great and novel way to approach this kind of character.


I was trying to come up with something to say about the other characters in the novel, and realized that I really didn't get enough of any of them, except maybe Rick and his parents. I do think they're probably well-developed and three-dimensional, but there's so many of them (including people who are maybe around for one scene—like various co-workers) that they can come across as flat and two-dimensional just because we don't get to spend that much time with them.


For starters, we've got Claire, the BFF and roommate—always good for emotional support and sage advice; Frank, his other roommate; Gary, Frank's fiancé; and Rick, the proprietor of Nate's record shop—a frenemy of sorts. There's Nate's parents and then his siblings—Graham, the Type-A businessman; Calvin, the Lutheran minister; and Marcie, a housewife and mother. Last, but not least, we have the object of his affections, Anne, a little quirky, a little geeky, and driven to succeed.


In the weeks following a fateful Thanksgiving, each of his siblings goes through a major life-changing event (or series of events). And for reasons that he cannot understand, they turn to Nate. Not only do they turn to him, he steps up to help (which might surprise him more than the fact that they came to him for support). Sure, he doesn't always know what to do for them (this is where Claire and Frank come in), but he's willing.


In the middle of all this induced maturing, Nate meets Anne. Who is charming, attractive, and funny. Nate falls for her—probably in a ridiculous way—in a time when that's the last thing he has time for.


While his siblings are reeling and he's twitterpated, Nate realizes that his life needs some less dramatic life-changing, too.


We really need more time with Anne—it's hard to buy how involved he gets given their time together (but, it's cute and you do want to root for them to have a Happily Ever After). And it would be good for us to get more time with the siblings and roommates, too—they all need a little more space.


I have issues with Calvin being a Lutheran minister. If he was some sort of Methodist or non-denominational minister, I'd buy it. But he doesn't seem that Lutheran to me (he's definitely not a Missouri Synod or Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran; and he's not believable as a ELCA minister, either—but that's closer). I definitely am uncomfortable with the way his religious activities are portrayed, but I can understand why an author would characterize them in the way that Gamache does.


This is a sweet story, a touching story, with a very likable protagonist (even if he wouldn't believe me saying that), and you can't help but want to cheer all these characters through their lives being upturned. If my biggest complaint is that we don't spend enough time with the characters, I think that's a pretty decent compliment. Recommended.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. I appreciate getting the book, but not so much that I altered my opinion.

3 Stars
The One Where I Liked 2/3 of a Book.
Friends: A Cultural History - Jennifer C. Dunn

I've only read one other book in this series (Gilmore Girls: A Cultural History), which led to me expecting a few things from this book—most of which I didn't get (which is both a positive and a negative comment). I'm going to try not to spend too much time comparing the two books because it seems unfair—but it's inevitable, so . . .


When I requested that Gilmore Girls book on Netgalley, I noticed the publisher had a similar title about Friends available—and who doesn't like Friends? So, I requested that one, too—really diving into The Cultural History of Television. Granted, Dunn has more episodes to work from, but she does a better job of getting examples from all over the series—using different episodes/lines/characters to make related points rather than grabbing the same episode/line/character over and over and over again. One of the biggest strengths of the book is the depth of examples she musters for almost every point, reading this book is almost like binge-watching the entire series.


She begins with a chapter describing the success of the show, its place in the history of sitcoms—building on what had come before and shaping its successors. Then she moves on to looking at the impact of the show, its characters, and its actors on mainstream American pop culture—I do think she tried to make a little more hay than was warranted with some of the intertextual links she made in this chapter, but it came across as a quirk rather than a flaw. The third chapter discussed the way that the show replaced a biological family for a found family of friends as the core relationships for the characters. I really appreciated this section of the book and it gave me high hopes for the rest.


The third section of the book explores the legacy of Friends on American—and global—pop culture, as seen in fashion, music, memes, the way we talk (e.g., try to tell someone to pivot without invoking Ross trying to get his couch up the stairs), and the actors' future roles and shows. This part wasn't as strong as the first part of the book, but it was entertaining and an interesting way to think about the show. Dunn follows that with her list of the best 25 episodes, including an episode synopsis and a few sentences describing why that episode made the list. Fans will quibble over this list (for example, I think she got 15-18 of them right, and I can't understand why she picked the others)—but I can't imagine any fan not enjoying reading it.


The thing that makes me reticent to heartily recommend the book is the second section of the book, which includes the chapters: "Friends Happy Not Doing Too Much," "Friends Happy Not Thinking Too Much," "Thin, White, Upper-Middle-Class Friends," and "Stereotypes, Sexuality, and Friend-ly Tensions." Dunn states that this section "interrogates cultural identities represented on Friends." There is a lot of interesting material presented in this section—whether you ultimately agree with her analysis or not—and most of it is well-presented. However, it's a pretty problematic section. First, it assumes the readers will share her Progressive views (or at least hold ones close to hers) and that 2019 Progressive positions ought to provide the basis for evaluating the shows portrayal of characters/issues/themes, rather than the standards of the time the episodes were produced.


I'm not going to get into a point-by-point evaluation of these chapters, that's not what this post is about, I'm just looking at this broadly. For example, Dunn begins her chapter on the anti-intellectual bent of some of the humor by pointing to the re-election of George W. Bush as president as one bit of evidence to the rise of anti-intellectualism in the era. I'm not sure I see the wisdom in insulting conservatives, Republicans, or moderates who voted for Bush and who enjoy discussions of a beloved sitcom and might be reading the book.


Yes, the writers couldn't have made many of the jokes they did if the show was being produced now—but I'm not convinced that means they shouldn't have then. At one point (at least) Dunn does concede that 2019 standards are different from those of that era, but it doesn't stop her from criticizing aspects of the show for being products of their time. It seemed to me that at any point where she judged the show's treatment of something in these chapters, she condemned it rather than look for an opportunity to be charitable. Now, there is a certain amount of intellectual stimulation and pleasure to be found in arguing with a book—and my notes indicate that I did a lot of that during these chapters—but at a certain point I started wondering why someone who clearly disapproved of so much of the show would watch it as much as she clearly has. To me, that detracts from the overall experience.


I'm not trying to suggest that Dunn's criticisms are baseless, or that I disagree with everything she said in this section. I just think she comes across as unexpectedly antagonistic to the show and doesn't do herself any favors with many of her readers.

It's annoying that I had to spend that much time attempting to explain my problems with that section—it's dicey so I tried to do a good job of that, but now that's taken the majority of my space here. By importance, it should be about 1/3 of what I say about the book (maybe 40%). But to expand my comments on the rest would render this too long to read (and write, honestly).


I had one other stumbling block with the book—but this is more stylistic and is easily forgettable. You've probably read or heard the line: "Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process." I've seen it variously attributed, but E. B. White seems the most likely candidate. It's a trite observation by now, but mostly because it's true. Dunn explains too many jokes for little profit—generally, they're jokes that don't require an explanation in the first place (especially for fans who know the joke, but I think it's true regardless) and her explanations frequently border on condescending. White (or Twain or whoever) would probably have been willing to say "Explaining a joke or a meme" had they been aware of the concept. Neither one of these things is a major issue, but it grates on the nerves and makes the experience less positive


Ultimately, while I enjoyed the Gilmore Girls entry more, I think this book makes the series seem more promising and will likely lead me to read more of it. On the whole, this was a very enjoyable read and die-hard fans will easily dive into most of the book and relish the experience. And even on those points, a reader will disagree with her on, they'll enjoy ransacking their memories for counter-arguments. Really, this is an excuse to think deeply about a favorite show for however long it takes you to read 300 pages, not much wrong with that.

0 Stars
Catch-Up Quick Takes: Best. State. Ever.; Live Right and Find Happiness; You Can Date Boys When You're Forty (Audiobooks) by Dave Barry, Dick Hill
Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry - Dave Barry Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland - Dave Barry

I've mentioned before here that I think that Dave Barry is just about the funniest writer around—I used to gobble up his stuff in the newspaper and bookstore as quickly as it came out. I'm not sure what changed, but there are a handful of books by him that I haven't gotten to yet. Thankfully, my Library had a few of them available to listen to last month. Here are a few thoughts about each of them. Quick reminder: the point of these quick takes post to catch up on my "To Write About" stack—emphasizing pithiness, not thoroughness.

Best. State. EverBest. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

by Dave Barry, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., and 47 mins.
Recorded Books, 2016
Read: November 21-22, 2019

(the official blurb)

The best parts of this one for me were the introduction (explaining some of the phenomena behind the widespread mockery of Florida) and the chapter giving a history of the state. I chuckled a lot at both of those.


When he moved onto looking at various tourist attractions and or locations in the state, it lost a little bit for me. There was something in each chapter to make me grinmaybe even laugh. But not as much as I'm used to from Barry. The Key West chapter came close, but even that stumbled. I do think if I'd ever been in the state to get a feel for some of these places it might have been better.


The biggest revelation for me from this is just how funny Dick Hill can be. No offense intended, but the voice of Jack Reacher and other thrillers is just not what you think of when it comes to silliness. But man, he was really, really good at this.

3 Stars



Live Right and Find HappinessLive Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry

by Dave Barry
Unabridged Audiobook, 3 hrs., and 39 mins.
Recorded Books, 2015
Read: November 26, 2019

(the official blurb)

This is more like it: pieces of wisdom (and other things) Barry's passing on to his daughter and grandson. The driving tips for his daughter were fantastic (not just because my daughter is in the process of getting her license right now). The letter to his infant grandson was funny and touching.


Barry also looks at his parents' generation (the Mad Men generation) and their ability to party, Google Glass, and a trip to Brazil for the World Cup (not being a sports guy, I didn't think that last one would do much for me, but it was really funny). Oh, yeah, then he talks in-depth about a trip that he and Ridley Pearson took to Russia to talk about writing.


As much as I liked Dick Hill, Barry's a better narrator of his own stuff.

3.5 Stars



You Can Date Boys When You're FortyYou Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

by Dave Barry
Unabridged Audiobook, 3 hrs., and 22 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2014
Read: November 8, 2019

(the official blurb)

This one ticked all the right boxes for methe stuff about his daughter dating was the kind of thing that fathers everywhere can relate to and second; taking his daughter to a Bieber concert was even better. It was probably not a good idea for me to listen to his chapter about Fifty Shades of Grey at work, thankfully no one asked me why I was laughing (I did not want to have to explain that). Oh, and his funeral instructions were priceless.


Something I wasn't prepared for was a long piece about a trip his family took to Israel. Listening to Barry juggle travel humor (searching for A/C and Wi-Fi in the midst of historic/cultural wonders), sensitive political discussions, and even getting close to the spiritual was fantastic. It's not the kind of writing that you often see from Barry, and it's easy to forget he can be really effective doing things that aren't just verbal slapstick.


This is probably one of my favorite collections from someone I've been reading for decades. This is just great.
4 Stars

2019 Library Love ChallengeHumor Reading Challenge 2019

3 Stars
Fletch's Ski Trip to Nairobi
Fletch, Too - Gregory McDonald

(this is for the audiobook edition, I'm too lazy to add it)


Up to this point, we know practically nothing about Fletch's personal life—he's been married (and divorced) twice and engaged once or twice in addition to that. He's carried on an on-again/off-again relationship with Moxie Mooney. Served with valor in the Army, made a couple of good friends there. That's pretty much it—most of what we know about Fletch is about his professional life—and then the amateur sleuthing/investigative journalism he's done since he didn't kill Alan Stanwyck. We know next to nothing about his family, his childhood, and so on.


In Fletch, Too McDonald decides to fix that. Picking up right after Fletch Won (like a day or two after) with his first wedding, the revelations start right away. We meet Fletch's mother, a mystery novelist of some renown (but perhaps not of the highest caliber). After the ceremony, he's handed a letter from someone claiming to be his father. Fletch had been told that his father had "died in childbirth," so he's taken aback by this. The letter describes (briefly) why his father had not been around for his life and that he's "mildly curious" about his son. If Fletch is at least "mildly curious" about his father, he's invited to visit him in Nairobi for their honeymoon, tickets are enclosed.


More than mildly curious, and driven to get some answers (or at least a good story), the two hop that plane (bringing their luggage and skis packed for a trip to Colorado). At this point, it stops being a standard Fletch novel and becomes something more akin to Carioca, Fletch. Before they leave the airport, Fletch witnesses a murder (unbeknownst to the murderer).


Fletch makes a couple of attempts to investigate the murder, but due to circumstances, a language barrier, police not given to outsiders' help, and the lack of anything to go off of, he doesn't get far. In fact, minor spoiler, the only reason Fletch "solves" the murder is that he recognizes the killer toward the end of the book. Which makes for a fairly unsatisfying "mystery" novel.


Where this book gets interesting is as Fletch and his wife meet some locals, explore the city, and meet a colleague of his father's. We're treated to a look at the culture, legal system (or lack thereof), history and some speculative Archeology about the area. It's interesting—but it feels more like McDonald had an interesting vacation, read some good books on the region and/or had some great conversations with people from Nairobi and wanted to share what he'd learned (again, see, Carioca, Fletch).


I think I appreciated this more than the other non-standard Fletch because 1. I came in with low expectations (remembering how little I liked it) and 2. the supporting characters are more interesting.


At this point, I assume (and am supported by experience) that Miller will do a capable job with the Narration and he helped me enjoy the experience.


This is one for completists, for those who are curious about Fletch's backstory, or for those who have a hankering for learning about Kenya. It's not a bad book, it's just not as good as it should be.

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

November 2019 in Retrospect: What I Read/Listened to/Wrote About

I literally finished reading the last book I'd committed to read in October on November 29—of course, I haven't had a chance to write anything about it, much less send the author the Q's for him to A. Still, I'm on the verge of catching up. Sort of. That aside, November saw me completing 8,087 pages over 31 books with an average rating of 3.45. That's pretty positive—I've had better months rating-wise, but I'll take a month of plenty of good books with a couple of highlights any day. I'm still behind on my writing, but not as much as I expected to be. I'm calling this a decent month all things considered.


Anyway, here's what happened here in November.

God, You & Sex The Night Fire Dragon Bones
3 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Hands Up Inkheart Undeath and Taxes
4 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain You Can Date Boys When You're Forty Fallen
3 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
Redemptive Reversals Dragon Blood Spell or High Water
3.5 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
Going Rogue Thieves Storm Cursed
3.5 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance Entering God's Rest Hurricane Vacation
3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
An Accidental Death The Lights Go Out in Lychford Angel Eyes
4 Stars 4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
Best State Ever Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 5:Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology Badlands
3 Stars 5 Stars 3 Stars
Dawn of Dreams Live Right and Find Happiness The ABCs of Metallica
3 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.5 Stars
Artemis Not-So-Common-People The Hero
4 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
Wishful Drinking            
3.5 Stars            

Friends A Cultural History Thereby Hangs a Tail      

5 Stars 1 2 1/2 Stars 1
4 1/2 Stars 2 2 Stars 0
4 Stars 6 1 1/2 Stars 0
3.5 Stars 6 1 Star 0
3 Stars 16    
    Average = 3.45


  • Bearded Too by Jeremy Billups: The Bearded Bear is Back on the Road


  • Flying Alone by Beth Ruggiero York: A Young Woman Takes Flight




  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds: A School Bus Falls from the Sky but More Interesting/Important Things are Going On



  • Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch: Emojis, Tweets and Memes May Not be the End of Language…



  • Hands Up by Stephen Clark: The Aftermath of a Police Shooting Seen from Multiple Angles



  • Fallen by Benedict Jacka: Alex finds power and incredible loss as Jacka ramps up the seriousness of the series.


  • Going Rogue by Neil Lancaster: Tom Novak and His Own Brand of Justice are Back!


  • The Night Fire by Michael Connelly: A Superfluity of Cases Hampers Connelly’s Latest


  • Hurricane Vacation by Heather L. Beal, Jasmine Mills: A cute little book with some important hurricane safety lessons for kids






  • Angel Eyes by Ace Atkins: Spenser’s 47th Novel Finds him in L.A. and Feels as Fresh as Ever


  • Thieves by Steven Max Russo: 2 Crooks, 1 Realtor, 1 Housekeeper and a Whole Lot of Thievery


  • Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux: Preventing an Apocalypse in this Futuristic Fantasy


  • The ABCs of Metallica by Metallica, Howie Abrams, Michael Kaves: A Book for Everyone Who’s Wanted to Use “Cute” and “Metallica” in the same thought


  • The Hero by Lee Child: Lee Child Traces the Development and Use of “The Hero”

Physical Books: 7 Added, 8 Read, 36 Remaining (one of those was purchased specifically to be read in 2020, so I actually made progress by 2. Sort of)
E-Books: 4 Added, 2 Read, 26 Remaining
Audiobooks: 3 Added, 3 Read, 1 Remaining

2019 Library Love Challenge

2019 Library Love Challenge

  1. Dragon Bones (Audiobook) by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (link forthcoming)

  1. Inkheart (Audiobook) by Cornelia Funke, Lynn Redgrave (link forthcoming)

  1. Undeath & Taxes (Audiobook) by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (link forthcoming)

  1. Please Don't Tell my Parents I'm a Supervillain (Audiobook) by Richard Roberts, Emily Woo Zeller (link forthcoming)

  1. You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About (Audiobook) by Dave Barry (link forthcoming)

  1. Dragon Blood (Audiobook) by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (link forthcoming)

  1. Storm Cursed (Audiobook) by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King

  1. Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland (Audiobook) by Dave Barry, Dick Hill (link forthcoming)

  1. The Badlands (Audiobook) by C.J. Box, January LaVoy (link forthcoming)

  1. Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry (Audiobook) by Dave Barry (link forthcoming)

  1. Artemis (Audiobook) by Andy Weir, Rosario Dawson

  1. Wishful Drinking (Audiobook) by Carrie Fisher

While I Was Reading 2019 Challenge

✔ A book recommended by someone you trust: An Accidental Death (Audiobook) by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

#LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

  1. Going Rogue by Neil Lancaster

  1. Hands Up by Stephen Clark

  1. Thieves by Steven Max Russo

  1. Hurricane Vacation by Heather L. Beal, Jasmine Mills

  1. An Accidental Death (Audiobook) by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson

  1. Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux

  1. Not So Common People by T Gamache (link forthcoming

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

  1. Going Rogue by Neil Lancaster

  1. Hands Up by Stephen Clark

  1. Thieves by Steven Max Russo

  1. An Accidental Death (Audiobook) by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson

  1. The Badlands (Audiobook) by C.J. Box, January LaVoy (link forthcoming)

  1. The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

  1. Angel Eyes by Ace Atkins

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

  1. Wishful Drinking (Audiobook) by Carrie Fisher

  1. You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About (Audiobook) by Dave Barry (link forthcoming)

  1. Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland (Audiobook) by Dave Barry, Dick Hill (link forthcoming)

  1. Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry (Audiobook) by Dave Barry (link forthcoming)

  1. Spell or High Water (Audiobook) by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

  1. Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 5: Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Translator) (link forthcoming)

How was your month?

Saturday Miscellany—11/30/19

Wow. Everyone really took advantage of the holiday week. I found practically nothing for this post. Oh, well—it gives me a chance to focus on other bloggers, not the pros. Thanks to The Write Reads where I got most of 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:





  • Favourite Books Without 5 Stars—It always surprises me every year when I do my "Best Of" lists that I skip past some 5 Star books to complete them. It shouldn't, as The Narratess helpfully points out



  • I don't have a particular episode to point to, but I listened to a few episodes of this new-ish podcast this week: Under a Pile of Books—It focuses on SF and Fantasy. Sometimes it's just the host, sometimes he chats with a blogger or author. It's pretty good and I can see it falling into my regular rotation, check it out.



  • One Man: A City of Fallen Gods Novel by Harry Connolly—A Fantasy Thriller, is the best way I can encapsulate it. Connolly describes it as: "big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world." It's his first novel in four years, and it's driving me crazy that I can't get to it for at least a week and a half. If there was one Fantasy/UF author that I could convince the world to notice, it'd be Connolly, and this looks like his most ambitious novel to date.


  • Evil Valley by Simon Hall—After One Man, I'm diving into this one. I was lamenting recently that FP had seemed to stop with these TV Detective books, I'm so glad I was wrong!




Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to overtherainbowbookblog and simplyclaudianicole for following the blog this week. Don't be a stranger, and use that comment box, would you?

Thanksgiving 2019

Happy Thanksgiving/Turkey Day/Thursday

When I think about all the great things that have happened around the blog and behind the scenes this year leaves me at a loss for words, let me list a few things I'm thankful for—a very incomplete list, I assure you:

          bullet The readers of this blog, the authors who've corresponded with me/provided books for me to read/encouraged me—even promoted this here project.
          bullet The publicists, publishers, book tour hosts, etc. I've been working with this year who've especially made things great—I typically hesitate to mention any by name, so as to not inadvertently miss anyone and cause offense (and make me feel bad). But I want to mention a few by name this year—Lola's Blog Tours, iREAD Book Tours, Bloodhound Books, Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers, Love Books Group, Let's Talk Promotions, Lori Hettler of TNBBC Publicity and Emma at damppebbles blog tours. You have expanded (and pushed) my boundaries this year, exposed me to some great reads I'd have not tried, and put up with my quirks and memory lapses with grace.
          bullet Books
          bullet Authors!
          bullet Books
          bullet Coffee (and other beverages both caffeinated and adult)
          bullet Books
          bullet Time to read
          bullet Books
          bullet Easily finding an appropriate image for this post for the third year in a row—actually, two of them! (it was oddly difficult before)
          bullet Books
          bullet Audiobooks and talented narrators
          bullet The Nampa Public Library (and The LYNX! Consortium)—and their generous grace period, which is now late fine free!
          bullet Books
          bullet Rediscovered Bookshop, Rediscovered Bookshop - Caldwell and
          bullet Books
          bullet Goodreads, WordPress, NetGalley, BookLikes
          bullet Books
          bullet Evernote
          bullet Books
          bullet Organ Transplants and the good people at St. Luke's Lifestyle Medicine (just to get serious for a moment)
          bullet Authors!
          bullet Authors!
          bullet My supportive, understanding and encouraging wife and kids who do a pretty decent job pretending to care when their old man drones on and on about what he's reading or what's going on with the blog.
          bullet Again, all of you who read, follow, like, tweet, comment, email, etc. this page—you have no idea how much every little bit is appreciated.

3 Stars
Preventing an Apocalypse in this Futuristic Fantasy
Dawn of Dreams - Bronwyn Leroux

Jaden is out hiking with his friends on a mountain near their home during a school break. Suddenly, Jaden sees a large, monstrous, hard-to-describe bird-like creature. The rest of the group seems oblivious, and Jaden begins spending a lot of effort to convince himself he's seeing things. Even taking bonus trips to the same point, and trying to record his sightings. The videos show nothing, but the way they show nothing convinces Jaden that he's on to something.


Which really isn't that reassuring. Why can't anyone else see this beast? Why can't the video show it?


Shortly after this, he meets Kayla, a new girl in the neighborhood. They're hanging out at a park when the creature shows up, and not only can she see it—she's been having similar experiences to Jaden. It's somewhat reassuring that there's someone else out there seeing it—but the questions keep piling up


It's not long before they begin to see there are other similarities in their lives—clearly, there's some sort of connection that goes back generations in both of their families. Throw in some artifacts—and other creatures that only Kayla and Jaden can see, and the questions pile up faster than the answers can keep pace with.


In a matter of days, their lives are no longer the same and the challenges that await them personally are so beyond anything they'd previously thought possible or likely.


Jaden is almost too perfect—smart; a real technical wizard (beyond his years and peers it seems); at least moderately popular; humble; a supportive and understanding child/grandchild; very athletic and annoyingly good at video games (just ask his friends). I'm not sure we saw a single weakness to him—despite that, I found myself liking the kid.


Kayla's a bit more realistic—she's clever, too; athletic, really into video games; but she's not as good (at anything) as Jaden. She has skills that he doesn't, thankfully. She's had a harder life, you can sense, but don't get all the details about. She's easier to believe as a character, but I'd like to get a few more details about her past.


Jaden's old friends—and Kayla's new ones—aren't around enough for us to get more than a vague sense about. But their families are involved a lot more than your typical YA families are—this is a pleasant change, but Leroux still spends a frustrating amount of time with the parents (mothers, to be specific) hinting at things going on in their lives rather than coming out and just telling the reader (whether or not the duo learns anything ) what's going on.


The realities the pair discover and are exposed to are interesting, and I'd really like to see what Leroux has planned for them in the future. All the magical/otherworldly/unusual creatures they (and the reader) meet are well-designed and executed.


A couple of things I'm not sure about—first of which is the pacing. The book feels like it's all set-up. All the conflict, all the challenge is in the future—Dawn of Dreams is just setting the stage for the series as a whole. I'm only guessing here, but my gut says I'd be more satisfied if books 1 and 2 in this series were combined into one, lengthier volume. Imagine if Tolkein had stopped The Fellowship of the Ring after the Council of Elrond and then started a second book for the trip through the Misty Mountains and the rest. I didn't really have a problem with the slow pace, until the book ended and I was left wondering why I didn't get more.


I'm not sure what's gained by having this set in 2073 instead of the present day. I'm not saying there was a problem with it—I liked the slightly advanced version of the world, I'm just not sure I get the point of putting things there. I'm also not sure where this took place—there's no reference to local flora or fauna, or even just a geographic place name.


Neither of these points really changed what I thought about the book, they just left me wondering more than I should have. There were some things that bothered me.


Leroux likes her adjectives. She more than likes them—she overloads the text with them (either especially at the beginning as she introduces the characters and world—or I got used to it as the book progressed). I appreciate her attempt to paint a picture with words, but it frequently felt to me like she'd never use one adjective if she could use three instead. Her adverb use is almost as bad at times, but it's not as pronounced.


Beyond that, I'm not crazy about a lot of her word choices. In her attempt to vary her vocabulary, she often ended up grabbing the wrong word for a situation. I'm not talking malapropisms. But words that mean almost what she's clearly going for, but aren't quite right. Almost like Joey Tribbiani's use of a thesaurus when composing a letter of recommendation. The result too frequently proved a stumbling block to the story. It's like if your radio was tuned to 98.8 FM when the station is 98.7—you get a pretty good signal and can hear everything, but occasionally you get too much static with your music, ruining the song.


I don't like bringing up those two points, because there's a real earnestness to the novel. It's not that Leroux is being negligent or careless in her writing, on the contrary, I think she's trying too hard and ends up getting in her way. If she'd dial back on the effort a bit, focusing more energy on the plot and characters, I think the book would be more successful.


I liked the story, I thought the characters were fine—and I definitely want to spend more time with them. I'm just not crazy about the writing—which is a fairly important component of a book. So I can't recommend this as heartily as I want to.

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.

0 Stars
2 Crooks, 1 Realtor, 1 Housekeeper and a Whole Lot of Thievery
Thieves - Steven Max Russo

Last month, I posted my thoughts on Steven Max Russo's second novel, The Dead Don't Sleep, and now I get to focus on his first book.


Skooley (I kid you not), is a small-time criminal with aspirations of greater things (and, let's be honest, delusions of at least a bit more grandeur than he actually possess). He runs afoul of actual bad guys in Florida and makes himself scarce, hiding out in New Jersey for awhile. He gets a job in a restaurant and meets Ray. Ray isn't as an accomplished thief as Skooley, but he'd like to be. And he knows where to start: their fellow co-worker Esmeralda had an idea.


You see, she's got aspirations and dreams of her own. Hers are on the legal side, it's nice to say. She's a housekeeper, a restaurant hostess at night, and does some grunt work at a hair salon when she's not working as either of those. She's trying to save money for beauty school while taking care of her mother and younger siblings. She's making progress, but it's slow and she could really use a little boost.


Esmerelda tells Ray about the owners of a house that she cleans who take off for a month or so every year at this time. They're the kind of people who leave cash and expensive things around with no one to check on them. Ray tells Skooley.


So Ray and Skooley break and enter, with the idea of spending a couple of days carefully and thoroughly pillaging this house. Almost immediately, things don't go according to plan and the three conspirators are mired in distrust, frustration, and assorted moments of larceny.


There's a subplot involving a real estate agent named Loretta. She blows off a little steam one night after work by having a little too much to drink. Somewhere between being one and three sheets to the wind, she runs into Skooley on a break from his plundering. In case there was any doubt at this point for the reader, what happens next definitely qualifies Skooley as a villain. Other than that, it wasn't until the very end of the book that I saw anything redeeming about this storyline. Once I did, it all made sense. But man, I spent a long time wondering just what Russo was trying to accomplish with it.

I wouldn't call this fast-paced, it's more of a slow-build. More than that, it's steady and always tantalizing about what's coming next. Steady enough that you won't want to put it down.


This is really an Elmore Leonard-esque plot and batch of characters, but it has none of Leonard's style. Which is not a complaint—I'm trying to describe, not challenge—if he'd tried, I'd spend a few paragraphs describing the ways that someone who isn't Elmore Leonard shouldn't try to ape his style. Instead, you get the same types of characters in tight situations, which is good enough.


There are really two conclusions to this novel—and both are a lot more satisfying than anything I thought the novel might be leading to. And the last line is a killer, make no mistake.


All in all, a solid Crime novel featuring lowlifes, misguided people, and a few hardcore bad guys. It's also enough evidence for myself that I'm going to grab the next Russo novel in a heartbeat. I dug this one, I think you will, too.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. I am grateful for that, but not so grateful that I changed my opinion.

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4.5 Stars
Spenser's 47th Novel Finds him in L.A. and Feels as Fresh as Ever
Robert B. Parker's Angel Eyes - Ace Atkins
In the passing light, I noticed the welts on her wrists, chapped and bloody.

She'd been tied up for a long time.


Chollo noticed them, too.


"Should we kill him?" he said.


"Too easy."


"You will never change, amigo," he said. When will you learn? Some people live without rules. And sometimes killing a bad man is the only way."


"I have other ideas for [him]."


Chollo nodded. "And I am listening"

The day that Hawk, Chollo (and a few others) stop trying to convince Spenser to just kill the bad guy and be done with it—or the day that he listens to them—is the day we'll all know the series has run its course. Which will hopefully be around the time my future grandchildren start reading the series.


But far before we get to that point, we should probably start at the beginning.

A friend of Susan's is worried about her daughter, who lives in L.A. and has gone missing. She's beside herself, so Spenser flies out to find her with Zebulon Sixkill's help. The book opens with Spenser and Z being let into Gabby's apartment by her ex-boyfriend and still-agent, Eric Collinson. Collinson is typically the kind of twerp that Spenser would enjoy messing with, but he's on his best behavior (probably to keep Collinson talking).


Collinson keeps insisting there's nothing to worry about, that Gabby's probably just off on a quick Mexican vacation or something. Still, he surreptitiously leaves her laptop behind for Spenser to "find." Between what Z's tech-wizard friend finds on the laptop, what Z and Spenser get from the LAPD (in the person of our old acquaintance Samuelson) and Gabby friends/former boss, there are two avenues of investigation for them to dive into. A powerful studio executive and a multi-level personal development group that's somewhere in-between Scientology and NXIVM (far closer to the latter). But before they can dig too far into things, some heavies representing a third party show up and the lead starts flying.


And I ate it all up.


It's dangerous enough that Z isn't enough to help Spenser out. Chollo (now a small-businessman), Bobby Horse and Mr. del Rio put in appearances and render assistance in varying amounts.


I could easily keep going along these lines for 6-10 more paragraphs, but I'd better show some restraint and leave things there and move onto other parts of the book.

In addition to the hunt for Gabby, we get a little bit of Spenser's jaded view of the entertainment industry (largely in the same vein as we saw in A Savage Place and Stardust, just up-to-date); a lot of references to movies and stars that are so irrelevant to contemporary Hollywood that most of the characters don't get them; and a very jaded (but likely accurate) look at "The Industry" post-#MeToo.


Also, we get a hint or two at what Z's been up to since he left Boston and Atkins has completely left the possibility open for someone to start a Sixkill series, already populated with a cast of characters to carry a book or two. I'm ready to buy at least 5 of them in hardcover right now.


The last little things that I'll mention are that we get a nice update on Mattie Sullivan, but we need to see more of her soon. Plus, there's a cameo that filled my heart with joy here—that's all I'm going to say about it.


Atkins is in fine form, which comes as no surprise to anyone. I didn't spend too much time comparing him to Parker as I read it, but you can't help but do it. It's a fast, breezy style, but there are depths to be plumbed (unlike several of Parker's latter Spensers). It's just a pleasure to bask in the language, dialogue, and characters.


At this point, when it comes to an Atkins Spenser novel, it's really just a question of how much I'm going to like it, it'd be impossible (I wager) for him to deliver something that I won't like. I liked this one plenty. A fine story, a setting the character hasn't been in for a while, a chance to catch up with old friends . . . Angel Eyes is as satisfying as you could ask for. Could you start with it? Sure. You wouldn't get all of the references, but none of them would impact your appreciation of the story. The only danger in starting with Angel Eyes is that you'd probably feel compelled to go back and read the previous 46. Which actually sounds like a lot of fun to me.


I hemmed and hawed over the stars on this one. If I had a 4 1/4 graphic, I probably would've employed it. My initial impulse was 4 Stars, but when I stop and think about: there was one page where I laughed out loud (at least a chuckle) multiple times (I really want to talk about it in detail, but don't want to ruin anything); the way Atkins pulled in every L.A. reference possible (plus some other Spenser-canon references) without making it feel like checking off a list; and the feeling of dread and worry Atkins was able to elicit (which really doesn't happen all that often in long-running series)...I've gotta give it that extra bump (and now that I've actually written that list, I'm thinking of bumping it up another).


2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

4 Stars
A Bit of Routine Paperwork with Anything but Routine Results
An Accidental Death: A DC Smith Investigation Series, Book 1 - Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson
‘When you’re in front of a promotion board, one of the favourite questions is ‘So what motivates you in your daily work, Chris?’


‘Promotion? I’ll be relieved if I get through my six months. So what’s the correct answer?’

‘Oh, there are lots, you can buy them in books. But you could think about this,’ and Smith nodded towards the little group still standing at the graveside. ‘I’m just not sure how you put it into words.’


‘Revenge? Justice?’


‘For the victim – for Wayne Fletcher? Not how I see it, he’s beyond all that. Death’s the end of all. But look at the misery we’ve seen today. And it’s endless, it goes on rippling back and forwards through all these lives forever. I don’t know about justice. I’ve never seen myself on a white charger, righting wrongs – but we have to catch people so that they can’t create all this again. And so that other people get the message – you will be caught, you will pay. We never know how many selfish acts we prevent when we show people the consequences, but we have to keep showing them the consequences. These are the consequences.’


Smith had raised a hand, palm open towards the new grave.

Here we meet Detective Sergeant D. C. Smith—which isn't At. All. confusing when listening to an audiobook, "I thought he was a DS, why is everyone calling him DC?" (thankfully, Grainger explains it after a bit). He's a still-grieving widower, a long-serving detective, who has some sort of Intelligence experience in his past, has been of a higher rank, and has broken at least one near-legendary case years before. You wouldn't think this résumé would be a type, but I've read about three Detective Sergeants this year that fit that description. That's not a criticism, it's just odd. DC Smith is my favorite exemplar of this type.


DC Smith is fresh off a brief leave in the aftermath of some case that was clearly divisive in the detective squad—and we never learn the details about it (which is frustrating, yet oddly compelling, and I almost hope we never learn the details about it), and is assigned to a new DI. Alison Reeve used to be a protégé of Smith's, making things a bit awkward, but she also trusts him a lot more than other superiors seem to. He doesn't have a team at the moment but gets to train a fresh DC, Chris Waters. Waters is an excellent device to get readers to see how Smith thinks/acts, because he has to keep explaining to Waters why he's doing what he does.


For his first few days back, Reeve hands Smith some busy work including an anti-drugs presentation at some schools (quick aside—I loved his presentation, reminiscent of Bill Hick's bit about the "this is your brain on drugs") and a final sign-off on the paperwork about an accidental death. There's a note on the autopsy that niggles at Smith and he starts looking into the accident. The initial investigation and paperwork were done just right, but . . .


Smith remembers a former colleague saying:


If you’re going to start turning over stones, you’ve got to turn them all over, every bloody one, even the littlest pebble…

Nevertheless, Smith starts turning over stones. And then more stones and more. Before he knows it, Smith and Waters find themselves mixed up in something nobody could've predicted—international intrigue, military secrets, family secrets, political pressure, and so on.


All leading to a great conclusion/face-off that will show off new sides of Smith (and show a Waters' mettle), with a postscript that seems predictable (but I'm not sure it was supposed to be)—but ties off the novel so nicely that I don't care.


I've listened to one other book narrated by Gildart Jackson (Fated by Benedict Jacka), and while I thought he did fine with that one, he really seemed to connect with the character and the way he handled the narration and character voice seemed to fit the words/tone perfectly. I almost think I couldn't read a future book in this series in print, I might have to come back for more.


There's something about this one that got under my skin more than a typical procedural does—it's maybe DC Smith, it's maybe Grainger's style (there's a lot of subtle humor in a dark text)—it's a Gestalt thing, I think. I really dug it.


Early on, Smith tells a couple of Fletcher's friends:


‘As much as we might like this just to be about the facts, it never is. It never can be because people are always more complicated than facts.

Not only is that a catchy little bon mot, having a character who bases his work on it is about as good as "Everyone Counts or Nobody Counts" for his readers. An Accidental Death is a compelling read exploring an event that is more complicated than just facts and that'll leave you wanting to come back for more.


This is checking off the "A book recommended by someone you trust." box from the While I Was Reading Challenge, so I should probably mention that my friend, Micah, has been telling me to read these books (he additionally recommended the audiobooks, which is why I went audio with this one) since December 2017 (according to Goodreads). I really should've listened to him long before this. Not only does he have great taste, he's a great photographer, take a moment to stop by his spiffy website and see.

✔ A book recommended by someone you trust.


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Saturday Miscellany—11/23/19

Phew. It's been another week where I'm surprised that I've surfed around enough to have any fodder for this post. Clearly I need to work on self-awareness. There's some good stuff here, chums.


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:












  • Why Should We Read the Classics?—Like, maybe, Paradise Lost? I've posted a few things along these lines lately, but Ramona makes a point or two I don't think have been covered.





  • NovelSuspects's podcast—Okay, I haven't listened to anything from this new podcast yet, but there are some really good looking episodes here that you'd probably enjoy.



  • Robert B. Parker's Angel Eyes by Ace Atkins—Spenser returns to L.A. and gets to work with Sixkill again. And, yeah, everything you remember from Spenser and the City of Angels is discussed and old friends/allies are visited. I've read it and will be saying some very positive things about it soon.





  • Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks—It's been a few years since I've read a Dicks novel (nothing against him, I just haven't gotten to them), this looks good enough that I'm going to dip back in.


  • Firefly: The Sting by Delilah S. Dawson and a pack of artists—Yo-Saf-Bridge teams up with River, Zoë, Kaylee and Inara? Say no more.


  • Sabbath by Nick Mamatas—An 11th Century warrior in modern Manhattan to save the world? What could go wrong?


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to tracy cole, lidija.biskup, Notes Kecil, Beth Tabler, and R. for following the blog this week. Don't be a stranger, and use that comment box, would you?

4 Stars
The Stakes and Tension are High in the Penultimate Lychford Novella
The Lights Go Out in Lychford - Paul Cornell

Oh, man...I was so glad to be back in this world. Lychford, a tiny little English town that acts as the border between this world and realities beyond our understanding, is a wonderfully conceived and executed setting—just getting to spend time here again was a blast.


I've tried three times now to describe this, and I just can't without letting something slip. So, what's the publisher say?


The borders of Lychford are crumbling. Other realities threaten to seep into the otherwise quiet village, and the resident wise woman is struggling to remain wise. The local magic shop owner and the local priest are having troubles of their own.

And a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer a solution to everyone's problems. No cost, no strings (she says).

But as everyone knows, free wishes from strangers rarely come without a price . . .

Judith's struggle with the effects of aging on her mind—and the way that her use of magic has accelerated them—is wonderfully depicted. Of course, it's not just Judith dealing with her fading capabilities—her apprentice, her friend and her son also go through a lot trying to help her. This might be the best part of the book.


Autumn is working herself to exhaustion—not to mention loneliness and poverty—trying to rush her preparation for taking over for Judith. She's also driven by the grave errors of the last book that have really put Lychford in danger.


Something about this one had me on tenterhooks throughout. There've been threats to Lynchford and/or the trio of protagonists before, but it all seemed much more likely this time.


The conclusion was simply fantastic and heart-wrenching—with a last line that will drive you to the online bookstore of your choice to try to order the conclusion immediately.

Can you read this without having read the previous entries in the series? Yeah, I guess you could. Cornell provides enough backstory to muddle through. Should you? Nope. I don't think you'd appreciate everything the way it should be appreciated. Should you read the previous 3 novellas? Yes, and then read this and join me in waiting for the fifth and final one next year.

3.5 Stars
A Two-Fer: Back of Beyond and The Highway (Audiobooks) by CJ Box, Holter Graham: Thrills and Chills along the Highways & Byways (and wilderness) of Wyoming
The Highway  - C.J. Box, Holter Graham Back of Beyond (Cody Hoyt) - C. J. Box

Trying something new here—one post about two books. Basically, I got so hooked by the first in this series that I listened to the second before I could write about it. Now I can't think of them separately, so...


Cody Hoyt is your typical brilliant, but troubled, maverick cop. But he's gone a little further than most—his alcoholism has cost him a job, his marriage, and son. He's managed to find a job as a Sheriff's Investigator in Montana, and has two months of sobriety. He's called out to the scene of an apparently accidental fire that resulted in a death.


Sadly, the body is Cody's AA Sponsor. Cody refuses to believe that he got drunk and accidentally caused a fire. With a fellow investigator, he starts putting the pieces together while trying to prevent the Coroner and Sheriff from rushing to declare it an accidental death.


Meanwhile, we meet Gracie Sullivan, a bookish fourteen-year-old and her older, appearance-obsessed sister Danielle. In an attempt to bond with his daughters during the short time he has custody, he drags them along on a Yellowstone wilderness trip.

This seems like an odd combination of storylines to combine—but Box does it. While unclear about why Hank was killed, the investigators decide the killer is on a Yellowstone Wilderness Trip (yup, that's the one!). To add to the tension, Cody's son is also on that trip—he's with the man his mother is planning to marry, also in an attempt to bond. The idea of his son stuck with a killer is too much for Cody. So he sets off to find the tour while his colleague continues to investigate.


I'm not sure why so many adults want to bond with teens for a week in Yellowstone on the back of a horse, but maybe it's something I should try. Then again, given the body count on this trip...


Bouncing back and forth between Gracie and Cody (and, occasionally, other points of view), we get to see what's going on with the tour while we feel the tension from Cody's hunt. No one on the tour is aware there's any kind of problem, but things start going wrong and people start disappearing. The tour group is an interesting, and pretty believable mix of characters, and when things go wrong for them, it matters. I absolutely loved the contrast between the experienced, yet worried, Cody and the increasingly aware and innocent Gracie (I would've been more impressed with this if I hadn't moved on to Box's Open Season next where he'd done something very similar years before this).


Despite his many flaws—or probably because of the way that Box combined them and used them—I really liked Cody and was rooting for him. But Gracie? Gracie was fantastic. She's smart, insightful, clever and determined—and she keeps her head in a dangerous situation.


There's a lot of good twists (and even the one that you see coming from miles away, you only see part of it—and the motive will catch you off guard). All coming together in a good, solid, satisfying ending.


Then a few years later, in The Highway, we meet Cody again. In the meantime, things have gone really well for him, we can tell. And then things fall apart as we join him—he falls off the wagon, jeopardizing career and family.


Danielle is driving her sister Gracie from their home in Colorado to their father's for Thanksgiving. Danielle makes a spur-of-the-moment choice to detour to see Cody's son, Justin. Ever the horrible-teenage-driver, she's texting him continually through their trip.

Suddenly, the texts stop and hours click by with no contact. Justin enlists his drunken father and a new investigator he's training to search for them. Cassie Dewall is a driven, single mother, widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan. She's younger and has a lot to learn (and to prove), but has the making of a good detective.


The girls have been kidnapped by, well, it's in the official blurb so I can say this—a serial killer. Who does a lot more than kill his exclusively female victims. I think that says enough.


The perspectives jump between Cody, Cassie, Gracie and the killer keeping the tension high throughout the hunt. I almost stopped at several points, however. The looming threat to Danielle and Gracie was a lot to take, and hearing about what the other victims had gone through and endured was horrible. It was just a little too real and not at all entertaining for me.


I stuck with it, though. I wanted to see just how the hunt resolved and assumed (rightly or wrongly) that some sort of justice would be meted out. Also, I had to know what would happen to the girls. In the end, I'm glad I did, but it almost wasn't worth it. A little more evil and it wouldn't have been.


That said. I'll be back for number three. Soon.



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4 Stars
A Superfluity of Cases Hampers Connelly's Latest
The Night Fire - Michael Connelly

...I'm not sure how much I can be involved."


"You're dumping this case on me. You changed my radio station and dumped the case on me."


"No, I want to help and I will help. John Jack mentored me. He taught me the rule, you know?"


"What rule?"


"To take every case personally."




"Take every case personally and you get angry. It builds a fire. It gives you the edge you need to go the distance every time out."


Ballard thought about that. She understood what he was saying but knew it was a dangerous way to live and work.


"He said 'every case'?" she asked.


"'Every case,'" Bosch said.

In The Night Fire Michael Connelly gives one more piece of evidence that yes, you can occasionally have too much of a good thing. We've got a little bit of a Mickey Haller case, something that Bosch works mostly on his own, something that Bosch and Ballard work together, a case that Ballard works mostly on her own, and then a hint of something else that Bosch primarily does solo. Plus there's something about Bosch's personal life and a dash of Maddie's life. Which is all a lot to ask out of 405 pages.


It's plenty to ask out of 650 pages, come to think of it. But anyway, let's take a look, shall we?


Haller was drafted to defend an indigent man accused of murdering a judge, and is doing okay in the trial, but not well enough with things coming to an end. Bosch watched a little bit of the trial, waiting to talk to his half-brother and something strikes him wrong. So he takes a look at the files and gives Haller to think about. But it's clear to Bosch that the LAPD isn't going to act on anything they turn up, they've got their man. So if anyone's going to expose the judge's killer, it's going to be Bosch. While it's to be expected that the detectives that arrested Haller's client would resent Bosch's involvement with the defense—but Ballard is antagonistic toward the idea as well. Just because these two respect each other and can work with each other, they're not clones, they don't agree on a lot.


Ballard's called to the scene of a homeless camp, where someone had burned to death in a tent fire. She's just there as a precaution, in case the LAFD decides it's arson (and therefore homicide) instead of an accident. Having been brushed off—and afraid that the LAFD will do the same to the case—she takes a little time to turn up enough evidence to justify treating the case as a homicide. Then she was promptly removed from the case, so her old team at RHD could work it. Naturally, like every character Connelly has ever created, Ballard walks away, right? Yeah, I can't type that with a straight face—she cuts a corner or two and works the case herself, making better progress than anyone else does, too. This brings her into contact with her old antagonist, now-Captain Olivas. He's close to retirement, and it'll be interesting to see what happens to her career after that.


But what gets the majority of the attention of the novel is the case that the Ballard and Bosch work together—Harry's mentor (and father figure) has died and left him a murder book from 1990 that he'd, um, "borrowed" when he retired. John Jack wasn't assigned to the case in 1990, it's unclear that he did anything in 2000 when he took the file home. Bosch has no idea why he had it, but convinces Ballard to read it over and look into the case. They start working it, bringing them into contact with retired and not-retired gang members, digging up the past, and the question about why John Jack had taken the file.


Watching Connelly balance these mysteries/storylines is a treat—he does a great job of moving forward with each of them while bouncing back and forth between. I do think each case could've used 10-20% time than he gave them. But I could be wrong. They all wrap up satisfactorily, and There's not a lot of time given for anything that isn't case related, but we get a little bit. Both the personal material for Bosch (which is what he was waiting in court to talk to Haller about) and what we learn about Maddie make me really wonder what's around their corners—and it appears we won't learn anything in 2020 (unless we get a bit of an update in the Haller novel next year). Ballard's material is always about her work primarily, but we do learn a little more about her life between her father's death and her time with LAPD. I'm glad that Connelly hasn't given us her whole biography, but man...what we have been given just makes me want more. Clearly, he's making sure that fans of all three characters are going to have to come back for more as soon as he produces it.


I appreciated the discussion Bosch and Ballard had about some actions at the end of Dark Sacred Night, I have a friend who will rant at the drop of a hat about Ballard's choices there (and I trust my email/text messages will get another one when he reads this post). I don't think this conversation will satisfy him, but it's good to see the pair acknowledge mistakes they made. While I don't think either of them do anything quite as misguided in this book, but they both make a couple of reckless moves. Bosch's always had a little bit of dirt on/leverage with superiors (even some history) to give him some coverage when he gets reckless. Ballard doesn't. So when she goes maverick, it's more nerve-wracking than it is when Bosch did/does it. A nice little bit of character work, and a good distinction between the two characters.


There's a moment in every Michael Connelly novel, no matter how good it is, where something just clicks and suddenly I'm more invested in it than I am in almost any other book. I think I've talked about it before, but when That Moment hits—there's nothing better. I get that with a lot of Thrillers/Mysteries (and even some books in other genres), but never as consistently as I do with Connelly. I knew that moment had hit when my phone told me it was time to put the book down and go into my office and I audibly groaned. How was I supposed to focus on anything else when Bosch and Ballard were on the hunt?


Lastly, and this is very likely going to be only a problem I had. Several right-hand pages in my copy that have very faint—practically missing—letters. It's like it'd been left in the sun too long, or like when an inkjet printer is running out of ink. Please tell me that Little, Brown has better equipment than I do.


This isn't the best Connelly can do, but's so good. Solidly put together, we get to spend time with all our favorites and it hits every button it's supposed to. Connelly is one of the best around—The Night Fire shows why.


2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

3.5 Stars
Tom Novak and His Own Brand of Justice are Back!
Going Rogue - Neil Lancaster

★ ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up)
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
I'm a little afraid that this doesn't sound positive. It should because I enjoyed the book. I shelved the post for a day and tweaked it to help. But, if anything, I think I sound less positive than I did before. So here's what this post is supposed to say: Great first part, really strong second part, with a couple of hiccups. Hopefully, that's what you get out of it.


Following his exploits in Going Dark, DS Tom Novak has got himself a new assignment. He's part of a task force investigating corrupt public figures—politicians, police, military, judiciary and whatnot. This is a much better fit for him than his old job, with a supervisor that he won't have to battle with (much)—as this series progresses, I really look forward to spending more time with this group.


When a new domestic terrorist group begins attacking Muslim targets, the nation goes on high alert. It's clear that the terrorists aren't amatuers—they likely have military training and it's possible they have assistance from someone in the government or police as well. Enter Novak's group (every officer in London is looking to get into the hunt for the terrorists, but this team has a legitmate interest).


The man who carried out the first mission is in prison and he's really the only lead anyone has into the Aryan Defence Front. Novak enters the prison as a Slovenian veteran under suspicion for the murder of a Muslim to gain his trust and hopefully an invitation to enlist. I really can't describe more of the plot than that, as much as I want to—you need to see what happens from there.


The ADF is a small, but very well organized (and funded) group looking to create and increase divisions between Muslims and Non-Muslims in England—leading to Whites vs. Everyone Else with public riots, mayhem and the rest until supposed Right Thinking and Superior Whites kick everyone else off the island. Something about this group seems easier to believe than similar groups in other novels that I've read in the last couple of years—I can't put my finger on why that is, I'll just run with it and enjoy it.


There are basically two parts to this book (oversimplification warning) as there was to Going Dark—the undercover work and then what Novak has to do unofficially, using very un-approved methods. The undercover work portion of the book is just great. Yeah, he has to work a little faster than he did in Going Dark, but the short time-frame to get implanted with the group felt legitimate enough (I really hate it when UC officers are put into an inner circle within days of starting). In fact, this part being fast-paced really added to the tension and heightened the drama. Sadly (speaking for the characters' viewpoint, not the readers'), as effective as the police are—they're not enough, so Novak ends up Going Rouge to mop up with a little help from his friends that helped him so much last time.


I really have no complaints at all about the part where Novak "goes rogue" to get his man. However, the parts of the book focusing on his undercover work were much more interesting—they're gripping, taught and seem more realistic. Given that, watching Novak and his allies take the rogue/extraordinary steps to get the job done—it is so hard to talk about this without ruining anything—was a blast. I did (and do) wince at what happens to one of his allies, it's a relatively minor form of torture, but it literally curls my toes to think about. 


My biggest complaint is in the dialogue—and it's not that big of a complaint, I should stress. There were two or three occasions where it seemed to me like that a character essentially repeated themselves. I'm not sure that I was clear there. An example (using the dullest dialogue ever):

George: I watched this TV show last night.
Liza: Good to know.
George: After my evening meal, I viewed a television program.

Sure, people do this all the time in real life, but 1. They are dull to talk to; and 2. I want fictional dialogue to be better than real life (if for no other reason than: editing). Also, some of the threats made by the bad guys toward the end seemed a little lifeless. This is their chance to shine, put some oomph into it.


Then again, if you're reading a thriller for the sparkling dialogue, you're probably looking in the wrong place.


Again, nothing against Tom Novak, Action Hero; but Tom Novak, Good Policeman is more up my alley. But either Tom Novak is a real pleasure to read—Going Rogue is filled with great action, a strong protagonist with some good supporting characters, and villains you really want to see thwarted and punished. This is just what you want in a thriller.


I do think that Going Dark was a slightly more effective and polished work, but I won't hesitate to recommend this one—and I'm already eager to see what Novak is Going to do next.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I sincerely thank him for this.


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