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 - 6/15/19

This has been one of those weeks...I seem to have a lot of them, lately. I've barely been online -- as this short list will demonstrate. Still, some good stuff.


Also, I've been trying to adjust to Progressive lenses. Trying being the operative word. I'm spending a lot of time with my new lenses in my pocket, to be honest. Which is not what I spent the money for. My old glasses took up space in my pocket while I read for a lot less money. Any glasses that interfere with my reading are not going to spend a lot of time on my face. Anyone else out there dealt with Progressive lenses? Anyone have better success? Tips to share?


Still, I cobbled together 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:




  • Disability and writing -- Friend of the blog, writer par excellence (and his book recommendations are almost as good!), Ian Patrick wrote a great piece on writing life when you have a disability (hopefully the first of many) that contains some smart advice for everyone.





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

4 Stars
A Con, A Vet, A Dog and Small Town Corruption trying to Crush Them.
Deception Cove - Owen Laukkanen

Since 2012, I've known a couple of things about Owen Laukkanen -- he can write engrossing thrillers and he can fill them with compelling characters. He's proven it again and again and again. Either one of those traits would likely keep me coming back for more, but you put the two of them together? Fughetaboudit. So when I read the premise for Deception Cove I figured I was in for a treat.


Boy howdy.


So, Jess Winslow is a multi-tour Afghanistan Vet, one more Marine with PTSD and too many memories that will haunt her dreams (and waking life). She's sent home after word comes that her husband's died, but isn't really ready for civilian life. She gets a service dog, Lucy, and tries to move home. Sadly, her dead husband was desperate to better their circumstances and made some very foolish and criminal choices. One of these choices put her husband in the crosshairs of the corrupt local deputy sheriff (and soon to be corrupt local sheriff). Now that he's gone, the deputy focuses on Jess -- she has something he wants (don't ask her what or where it is), and he'll try to break her until she gives it to him. For starters, he takes Lucy from her, exaggerates the circumstances and severity of her biting him and schedules her destruction.


On the other side of the country, a convicted felon is released from prison, after spending about half of his life there. He's not one of those who claims he was innocent, he knows what he did and takes full responsibility for it. But he's paid his debt to society and wants to try to build something. The first thing he does outside of prison is to contact the people behind a dog training program he'd been a part of. He'd spent months training Lucy, getting her to trust him and getting her ready to help out someone like Jess. When Mason hears that Lucy's about to be put down, he can't believe it. He refuses to believe his girl would attack someone and wants to find out what happened. He borrows money from his sister and takes a bus from Michigan to the end of the road in Washington to see what's going on.


Jess and Mason form an uneasy alliance -- Mason only wanting to help Lucy (but he knows helping Jess helps Lucy), and Jess is unable to trust anyone, but knows she needs help saving Lucy (and maybe herself). They set out to find out what her husband took from the criminals the deputy works for, where he hid it and how they can get out of this jam intact. They're not out to set things right, they're not trying to bring criminals to justice (they're not against it, don't get me wrong), they don't even care about vengeance -- they just want to survive.


I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the corrupt deputy and his flunkies -- or the people they all work for -- but a quick word. They feel very real, high school bullies who find themselves in positions of adult power, and no reason to act any differently. Big fish in a small pond, but who want something better. Like Jess' husband, they make some foolish and wrong choices to get that. It's understandable that they find themselves in the situation they're in, but that doesn't excuse their actions for a moment. Beyond that, you really need to see Laukkanen's treatment and development of them.


Laukkanen has pulled a Bradley Cooper and cast his own dog, Lucy, as the common ground for these two characters. It's easy to see why. She's a good girl, one of the best, but she's not a super-dog (no offense to Walt Longmire's Dog or Peter Ash's Mingus). She gets scared, and runs from danger. But she's loyal, and knows what Jess needs from her. And she knows a creep when she sees/smells one.


I want to pause for a moment and say, yeah, this hits some similar beats to Spencer Quinn's The Right Side -- an injured Vet who finds herself helped by a dog as she struggles with civilian life -- and some small town injustice. But Jess and LeAnne are very different women -- as Goody and Lucy are very different dogs -- and their situations aren't the same. But if you liked one of these novels, you should check out the other.


Yes, a lot of this book plays out the way you know it will from the description. But not all of it. More than once, Laukkanen will make you say, "Wait--what?" But even better, you will keep turning the pages as fast as you can, absolutely riveted -- even during the largely predictable parts. That's no mean feat, but Laukkanen will make it look easy (note the use of the word "largely" -- none of it is as predictable as you think, and the plot takes some unanticipated turns). More than anything, you will care about this odd pair and the canine glue that holds them together.


The last chapter just seals things for me -- great ending. It's not like I was on the fence about whether I liked the book or not, because I did. It's not even something that made me like the book more -- it's more like it ratified my opinion. "You know all the positive thoughts and inclinations you had about this book? Well, guess what, Sparky? You were right."


From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades -- you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability -- and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He's got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel. Go, get this one.

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1 Stars
Jinkies, that was a bad book
The Big Kahuna - Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich

>♪ ♫ ♬ Where have you gone, Lee Goldberg
Readers turn their lonely eyes to you
Wu wu wu
What's that you say, Ms. Evanovich
Lee Goldberg has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey ♬ ♪ ♫


(with apologies to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Lee Goldberg, Janet Evanovich, Mrs. Robinson,  Joe DiMaggio, my parents, teachers, Vogon poets... but dang, I spent a day and a half singing that to myself)


I've (purchased and) read all the previous novels at least once, read most of the short stories/novellas, and listened to all of the audiobooks of the series up to this point. I was a fan, maybe not the biggest fan -- I expressed issues and reservations from time to time, but I knew I could expect a fun adventure, some fun banter, a little ridiculousness, and a clever crime story when I picked up a Fox and O'Hare novel. But when the inimitable Lee Goldberg departed, I got nervous -- Evanovich has slipped in recent years (as I've discussed), and I don't think she cares or notices. Still, I wasn't sure how much of the success of these books were up to Goldberg and how much was Evanovich finding a spark in new characters that wasn't there anymore in her Plum franchise/cash cow. Well, I think I've solved that mystery to my satisfaction -- it was Goldberg.


I'm so, so relieved that I didn't buy this thing. I'm sorry the local library did, too, although I'm glad I was able to take advantage of this.


First off, there wasn't much of a con. It's an adventure story -- there was a little bit of a con at the end, but on the whole, there's no reason for Nick Fox to be around for the whole book. As such, we don't get most of the team showing up. Only Kate's father, Jake, comes along.


Which is fitting, really -- he belongs in adventure story. His basic approach of this retired guy who can pull off the occasional save with military equipment/connections while not liking to talk about that kind of thing has been exchanged for an older super-soldier that gives no evidence of being reticent about anything or all that old.


A new member of the team is introduced -- he's supposed to be the voice of reason keeping the destruction of private property to a minimum, and to do all the paperwork that Kate seems to ignore. First I think they did this already, and it didn't work too well (the character was alright, but a dufus -- I can't remember if it was the same guy or not). Secondly, Kate -- not their boss -- told him about the super-secret arrangement with Nick Fox while in Fox's presence and in a very casual manner. It just felt sloppy. Lastly, the character is the least-realistic character I think this series has ever produced -- there's no universe in which he makes it as an FBi agent for a month -- much less be expected to be an agent that can keep things going well for this partnership.


There are a bunch of non-criminal types that really don't need to be around but keep showing up anyway -- they aren't amusing, they aren't well-conceived characters, they're around to complicate plots and to be funny. They rarely succeed at the latter.


The primary villain (who I won't name because he's not revealed for quite a while) wasn't actually that bad, and if they'd used him better, I wouldn't be complaining about it at all. He just didn't get the chance to be anything but briefly intimidating and then a pawn for Nick and Kate (making you wonder if he really wasn't that intimidating after all). His primary accomplice was the person who did most of the work. She seemed half-baked (maybe three-quarters), and wasn't all that convincing -- her scheme (for lack of a better term) didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Her henchmen were pathetic and uninteresting.


Nick Fox . . . was a shell of the character. He'd traded in his usual between-assignment shenanigans for some dumb scheme about social media coaching, using a pseudonym that showed none of the panache characteristic of Fox. There was little reason for him to be around for most of the book, other than to make bad advances toward Kate.


Kate, meanwhile, seemed less competent than usual. A bit more clueless about criminal activity and Nick Fox, and fairly dependent on her father for the more action-hero-y stuff. Which didn't seem right, either. She said "jinkies" so much I wondered if she'd been Velma in a previous life -- a trait I don't remember belonging to her. Of all the characters, she seemed more herself than the others -- still, she seemed off.


The relationship between the Kate and Nick really doesn't make sense. Some of what's said between the two of them makes me think that this volume takes place between Books 3 & 4 rather than after Book 5. Although that makes the whole explanation for Cosmo even worse, because I think it was Book 3 that got Kate shackled with the paperwork partner last time. The last chapter of The Big Kahuna takes the nice relationship that was developing between the two protagonists during the Evanovich/Goldberg run and ruins it -- and ruins the timeline, too. If this takes place after Book 5, it's meaningless (as is a lot of what happened before). If it takes place after book 3 (which makes the most sense), it ruins the arc of 4 and 5. Then again, it's not like the Plum books have a real timeline, it looks like the Evanovich^2 run will follow that. It's not about development anymore, it's not about growth of character or relationship -- it's about churning out books that'll sell.


The whole thing felt like a Stephanie Plum book that Stephanie, Joe and Ranger forgot to show up for -- but reasonable facsimiles thereof did. One of the great things about the previous novels is that they didn't feel like Evanovich, or completely like a Goldberg. That's out the window. And the book, en toto, suffered for it.


I've spent far more time and space on this post than I intended to (and still haven't touched all my notes), so let me wrap this up. A year or two back after I spent time critiquing a book that I gave two stars to, one of my readers asked if I gave that novel 2, what would it take to get a 1? I said a book would have to make me mad, not just disappoint. Probably, on merit, I should give this two stars -- there were some good moments, I have to admit (although while writing this, I seem to have forgotten them). But as I was thinking about that, I remembered that conversation, and well...this book as made me mad. It took a solid and reliably entertaining series, with good characters and ruined them. Just ruined them. I might give it one more try, just to see if they learned anything from this disaster (my guess is that sales won't suffer much and they'll learn nothing). But, without a different co-author, I can't imagine why anyone would read these books again.


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Saturday Miscellany -- 6/8/19

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:


  • Possible salvation for Barnes & Noble -- The jury's still out, obviously, on what this week's big news is going to mean for B&N, but there's reason for hope. And if B&N does better, books as a whole do better...





  • 18 Books and Series Gen Z Grew Up With -- I've bought copies of most of these for my kids (borrowed a few others from the library) -- read more than my share, too. Not sure why 1977's Bridge to Terabithia made the list -- but it deserves it's place on it, as I recall.





  • O&F Podcast, Ep. 196: Patricia BriggsStrout talks to Briggs about a whole host of stuff -- I appreciated her talking about grief and what it did to her writing, and the pressures of hitting the NYT Best-Seller List. But just an enjoyable chat overall.



  • Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey -- a PI is called in by her estranged twin to solve a murder at a Hogwarts-esque private school? Sign me up.


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

3.5 Stars
A solid noir in Rose City.
Stumptown, Vol. 1 - Matthew Southworth, Greg Rucka

Small confession: while I'd heard of this comic, I wasn't in any rush to read it. But then I saw the trailer for the ABC adaptation and pretty much had to. Glad I did, I have to say.

Dex Parios is a P.I. in Portland, OR; apparently is the guardian for her developmentally delayed (I'm not sure, just guessing) brother; and a very poor gambler. The latter lands her in a great deal of debt to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast. Thankfully(?) the woman who runs her favorite casino is willing to exchange her debt for some P.I. work -- her granddaughter is missing. Dex is a sloppy gambler, but isn't stupid.


But this is no ordinary missing teen/young adult. As soon as Dex starts looking for her, she's threatened away from the case, had the biggest gangster in the state (and probably then some) try to hire her as well (not instead of Grandma, just call him first), locked in her own trunk, shot (thankfully hitting the vest she had on under her clothes), and harassed (and lied to) by said gangster's young adult kids. The danger and the second job offer convince Dex that she need to find the girl-- and fast.


It's a great story, a pretty murky beginning gets worse due to complications and narrative time jumps. The more you learn , the more you want to understand. The solution is quickly arrived at, but it takes a long time to get things in order. Things are tricky and Dex's trying to keep everyone involved alive and maybe even (relatively speaking) honest.


I really liked it, but it felt...slim? As this collection is primarily about introducing the characters and world as well as telling the story, I'm not that annoyed by it. But I hope the next collection is more substantial (not much, but some).


Southworth's art was fitting. It's not the most gorgeous book ever, but it shouldn't be. The word "noir" is the best one I can come up with -- dark colors, lots of shadows, hard lines -- it fits. It's noir. It's also very dynamic, there's a good sense of motion to it. I can't imagine better art for Rucka's story.


Great characters, a good story, art that's a perfect complement to both. This collection nails it. I'm coming back for more Dex and Stumptown.


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5 Stars
Wherein I babble about a smidgen of the fantastic elements of this book
Dead Inside - Noelle Holten

I honestly don't know what to say about this gobsmackingly good mystery. There are so many things I want to say, but I'm quite aware that no one will stick around to read all of them (and, well, I have to go to work, too -- I don't have that much time). I'm very tempted to leave my mid-point check in to stand, I inadvertently hit the essentials that I'd want to talk about now. I'm also thinking of a rant about the really lousy book blurb (no offense to anyone) because you keep waiting for all the events it describes to occur, and it was late in the book for all of it to happen -- which I found distracting. But what do I know, might be too hard a sell without it. There's no way I can do justice to all the characters -- we're talking a cast the size of Abercrombie's The First Law or Martin's A Clash of Kings. I could talk about how this could be an extremely preachy, issues book -- but Holten so skillfully dodges that, letting the circumstances do the work while she tells a compelling story -- and ultimately that's more effective (and affecting) than the alternative. I could go on and on about the way that Holten constructed the mystery component of this novel -- with enough suspects to satisfy Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, cleverly placed clues (and red herrings), and a very satisfying reveal or two. Or I could speculate about why someone who so clearly knows what she's doing could introduce a series character with a book that doesn't focus on the series character.


See what I mean?


Let me start with this and see where I go from here...yup, that's right. It's stream of consciousness time, boys 'n girls. Outlines are for wimps.


The day this released, I wrapped up reading another book -- which had this great ending (that I didn't expect) -- a wistful, romantic, ending to a fun, funny and exciting read. I was in a great mood, and noticed that I had more time before dinner would be ready, so I decided to dip my feet in the water with Dead Inside. I read the prologue -- a first-person near-nightmarish description of a fearing what her drunk husband would do to her when he got home and pretending to be asleep to delay the inevitable (all for the sake of the little girl on the other side of the wall). So much for that happy mood -- this prologue is one of the best bits of writing I've had the pleasure to encounter this year -- it can compete with some of the best of The Power of the Dog -- culminating in two sentences that shattered me. I remember practically dreading returning to the book after that, I wasn't sure I could handle 400 pages of intensity. Thankfully, I was able to get back to that good mood by remembering the other book (and, sure, spending time with the people in my life that aren't fictional creations). But that prologue stuck with me until I was able to get back to the book (although, almost a week later, I haven't totally shaken it).


A quick, but important, aside: I know several of my readers have a pretty strict "No Rape" policy -- and I'm not one to convince anyone against that. Rapes happen in this book -- but you don't get a play-by-play. It's all either in past tense (e.g., "my husband raped me," "sex was forced"), or an expression of fear that it might happen. It's all matter of fact, completely un-exploitative, and necessary. If that's too much, so be it -- spare yourself putting this aside and don't pick it up. But speaking as someone who has DNF'd in the past because of rape scenes, I'm telling you this is the way it should be dealt with in fiction.


Now, following the Prologue, the book drops the first person narrative, pulling us back to a more detached third person as it introduces us to a large cast of characters (the comparison to Martin was hyperbolic, but it doesn't feel that way) -- domestic abusers, domestic abuse victims, people in denial about being either of those, probation officers, police officers, police consultants, and so on.


The novel largely focuses on two characters -- and I will, too -- but there are plenty of other candidates. First, we have DC Maggie Jamieson -- temporarily reassigned from a Homicide team (for reasons alluded to, but not really made clear -- for her good, though) to a new team focusing on domestic abuse. The whole "reassigned to get away from homicide" part doesn't work out too well for her when the domestic abusers her team is supposed to be working with start being killed. She's smart, ambitious, haunted -- an interesting combination, to be sure. She's a good cop, and its nice to see that when it happens. Maggie happens to be the series protagonist, but you'd be excused if you didn't pick that up until the last chapter. Our other person of focus is Lucy, a tough, no-nonsense probation officer working with the same population (largely). At home, however, that toughness disappears to be replaced with a timid spirit focused on placating/not angering her husband so he won't beat her (or worse). The two "versions" of Lucy really couldn't be more different from each other without a MPD diagnosis (or an origin story by Stan Lee). The Prologue, we quickly learn, was from her Point of View and things haven't gotten better for her since then.


These two are surrounded by compelling, damaged, a well-fleshed out characters. Not every man is depicted as an abuser/potential abuser -- and many of those who are depicted in that way are done so with a little bit of empathy for what made them that, while not flinching from condemning their actions and the pleasure they derive from it. Similarly, not every woman is depicted as an abuse victim or enabler. Some are -- and they're shown with the same kind of empathy. Thankfully, some of the damaged men and women are shown as hard workers, trying to make the world better, despite their own circumstances. It's good to be reminded those people exist.


In short, Holten writes humans, not caricatures or types.


Not only is the cast of characters large -- so is the suspect list. The only people in the book not worthy of suspicion were the murdered themselves (and at least one of them would've were on the list for a bit). Holten did a great job of giving the reader reasons to suspect everyone. There was a pretty significant clue introduced about one character and I put in my notes that it was a goof on her part, or the most scarlet of red herrings you could imagine. My favorite candidate turned out not to be the one -- I didn't figure they would be, I was just relishing the idea of one particular dark horse. The perpetrator/perpetrators (I'm not telling) is/are the only real possibility(ies) at the end of the day, everything clicked for me about the time it clicked for the police -- and yes, I'd considered the correct solution, but liked my idea better until I saw what Holten was doing. A very satisfying solution. Better than the solution -- the end of the book is so hopeful it comes as a relief (and feels almost foreign to the rest of the book).


Anyone who's taken an Intro to Psychology class knows the syndrome where you start unconsciously diagnosing everyone you encounter/know with some sort of psychological disorder (those who've gone on to take Intro to Abnormal Psychology are probably aware of the more acute version of this -- how graduate students get through the program with any kind of social life intact is beyond me). I had a version of this thanks to this book -- I kept seeing people I work with, saw in stores, etc. as victims, abusers, enablers, and so on. Hotlen got in my head, no doubt about it. As I said the other day, "While I'm loving every second of this book, I'm having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel....Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you're not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate -- like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas."


Dead Inside is not an easy read -- but that's because of the subject matter, the realism of the characters and circumstances, not a problem with the author. This isn't the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer -- rather, it's the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It's a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it's at once satisfying and disturbing -- a great combination for a reader. You won't read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you'll join me in eagerly awaiting what's coming next from Holten.

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4 Stars
The Title Says Almost Everything You Need to Know About this Rollicking Adventure
The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind - Jackson Ford

Not unlike James Alan Gardner's All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault from 2017, the title, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind tells you all the important things about this book that you need to know before picking it up -- although I think this book does a better job of following through with the tone of the title throughout the book. The voice, the attitude and the defining characteristic of the protagonist (at least as most people are concerned) is all right there. If the title turns you off, don't bother buying/borrowing this novel, you're going to hate the experience. The same goes for the first few pages -- if you're not amused and/or intrigued by Teagan's personality and narration within the first chapter, just stop and go find something else. If you're amused and/or intrigued? You'll be in for a good time. If you're amused and intrigued? Well, my friend, settle back and enjoy.


Teagan Frost is our titular girl, and she...well can move sh...aving cream with her mind. She has psychokinetic abilities (not telekinetic, she's touchy about that distinction) -- or pk, as she calls is. Teagan will slowly describe her abilities to us as she has opportunity -- and eventually will spell out to someone where those abilities came from (surprisingly far from the beginning -- which I appreciated). But for the initial plot all you need to know is what the title said.


She's part of a pseudo-governmental espionage team that acts a lot like judge and jury without bothering with the formalities. No one, or almost none of her team wants to be on it, but the shadow-y figure that calls the shots is forcing them all to be part of it (including Teagan -- don't get the idea that she wants to be some pk wielding super-hero/secret agent -- she wants to work in a kitchen somewhere until she's good enough to start her own restaurant). The rest of the team have various skills that prove handy in their tasks, but she's the only one has any kind of extra-ordinary abilities. Actually, as far as anyone knows, Teagan is the only person alive who can do what she does.


That is, until a dead body is discovered -- and the victim could not have been killed by anyone but a psychokinetic. Naturally, there's a tie to both Teagan's teams recent activities and the location they were in the night before. The police are looking for them (not that they have an explanation for how the victim died, but they expect someone can), and some of the higher ups in the government want to take care of Teagan without worrying about due process (those who live by the sword and all) -- and if that "take care" involves dissection or vivisection so they can figure out how her pk was given to her . . . well, who's to complain? Teagan doesn't have a lot of time to clear her name, but she's going to try. As are most of her associates -- if she does down for this, they will to.


Time prevents me from talking about all the things I want to, but that should be enough to whet the ol' appetite. It's a fun book and not one you need to know much about first. There's a lot of action, plenty of snark, some violence, some banter, some mystery, some heartbreak. There's a very Cas Russel/Peri Reed feel to this book and this world. But something that feels entirely fresh at the same time. I'm not sure that's technically possible, but it seems it. So it can appeal both to fans of Cas and Peri, as well as those who didn't care for them/don't know who they are.


There's a lot of depth to the characters, a lot more than you'd expect -- which is one of the great parts about this book. As you learn more and more about what's really going on around the murder victims the more you learn about Teagan and her team/found family (ditto for Teagan, actually). There are plots revolving around romance and friendship plots that are legitimately surprising -- in a pleasant way, nice to see someone going the way Ford does, making the choices he makes for his characters. While I'm on the subject, it wasn't just in characterizations/relationships that Ford surprised me -- he did it throughout. Even when I was saying "Well of course, ____ was really doing ___, there's no other explanation" to myself, that was a heartbeat after I said, "What??!?! No, that can't be right!" I'm not saying I couldn't see anything coming, but the ratio of surprises to telegraphed moves comes out in Ford's favor.


There are a number of X-Men parallels, going on here -- all of which would appeal to Teagan (some of which she mentions). Which is a nice touch. It's probably also something that deserves more space than I'm giving it -- I'm stopping myself, because I think I could go a long way down this particular rabbit hole. I'd love to ask Ford about it.


Now, there's one character that I think Ford messed up -- he's part of a government clean-up crew that comes to take Teagan into custody. For some reason, he hates Teagan with some sadistic vengeance, and isn't afraid to tell anyone that. It's senseless and motionlessness (yeah, I know sometimes people hate others for no reason -- I can accept that in real life, I can't accept it in fiction. There has to be a reason). Which is strange, as little as we understand this jerk, we know the murderer and the individual prompting them to act. Technically, we know more about the killer than we do about Teagan for most of the book. Which just makes the clean-up guy even stranger.


I expect in future installments, we'll get an explanation for the hatred and I'll shut up. But not until then. Ford may be playing a long game here, but this is a short game world. Ford's set up a lot for future installments, really (you won't figure out just how much until the end -- unless you're smarter than me, then maybe you'll see some of it coming) -- but that doesn't stop this from being a wholly satisfying experience.


So much of the time when I've been reading lately I get wrapped up in evaluating a book (for good or ill), wondering why an author did this or that, and what that might mean for the book as a whole, what that might say about the writer, etc. There's nothing wrong with that -- at all. But every now and then, it's nice to stop the critical thinking and just enjoy a book. I'm not saying I did that wholly (and my lengthy notes can testify to that) -- but in a real sense I did. I got lost in Teagan's voice, the action, and wondering just how far the killer (and the individual pushing him to be one) would go, and who'd be lost in the process. I didn't worry about what I was going to write, but about what Jackson Ford had written. I appreciate that.


I think this is one that could be better on a second (and then maybe on the third) read, once you can take your time and not race to find out what happened, or be dazzled by Teagan's personality. If I'm wrong, and Ford's just razzle dazzle -- well, you're left with a fun read with snappy prose and an more-entertaining-than-most protagonist/narrator. Either way, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind is a book I recommend without a hint of hesitation (if you pass the simple tests from my first paragraph).


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


✔ A book with a curse word in the title.

In Medias Res: Dead Inside by Noelle Holten
Dead Inside - Noelle Holten

<em>As the title implies, I'm in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.</em>


<b>Book Blurb:</b>

When three domestic abuse offenders are found beaten to death, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she is facing her toughest case yet.

The police suspect that Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood – who is connected to all three victims – is hiding a dark secret. Then a fourth domestic abuser is brutally murdered. And he is Lucy’s husband.


Now the finger of suspicion points at Lucy and the police are running out of time. Can Maggie and her team solve the murders before another person dies? And is Lucy really a cold-blooded killer?

I'm at the 55% mark -- and I'm <i>hooked</i>. Holten's got this way to get into your head. While I'm loving every second of this book, I'm having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel.


Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you're not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate -- like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.


This is a slow build of a book -- given the blurb, I figured the bodies would have piled up by now, but they haven't (much). Slow, but things are happening and the story telling is gripping - pulling you further and further in with each chapter. I don't have a clue who the killer is, but I think the motive is clear (but, honestly, if it's something else, I'd be impressed that she did such a great job faking out the reader). I've got a list of candidates for the killer, and could make a case for each one -- but again, I halfway expect Holten to shock me.


Unless everything falls apart in the next 40% or so, this is probably going to end up as one of the best Mystery/Crime Fiction novels of 2019.

3.5 Stars
Out of the Frying Pan and into the . . . Clutches of a Life Siphoning Fae?
Promises Forged  - Devri Walls

I'm about a month late with this one -- every time I sat down to write it, I decided I wanted to chew on things a bit more (and then I arranged to do a Q&A with the author in conjunction with the post and so I bought myself some time to let things stew while she found time to get the answers done). Now that I have her answers in my inbox, I have no excuse to put this off. So, despite some of my thoughts still being half-baked, here we go...


And yes, that was one very convoluted series of food metaphors. That really doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in this post, does it?


So the ending of the previous book (Venators: Magic Unleashed) focused on a dragon being unleashed by the series' (apparent) Big Bad, the sorceress Zio. Not surprisingly, the series central characters survived the encounter. This book starts with a quick recap of that survival from the point of view of Zio -- which is a great way to get the reader back into the moment and build on their understanding of what happened and Zio.


We quickly return to our Earthlings, Grey and Rune and the aftermath of their unauthorized excursion to rescue humans from a werewolf pack, which culminated in the aforementioned dragon attack. Rune's proving to be a quick study of Council politics and was able to turn things to their advantage and buy them some leniency from the Council.


The ways the two humans respond to and interact with Council members is pretty interesting and I suspect will be one of the more interesting developments from this point forward in the series. I suspect the Venator abilities that make these two the warriors they are in this world are in play with Rune's politicking -- no one mentions mental acuity when talking about Venator abilities, but maybe they should. Watching Rune play the games (both successfully and less-so) that the various Council members throw her way is probably my favorite part of the character.


And she has to do a lot of politicking and game playing here, because her co-Venator and friend Grey has found himself in quite the pickle. After their ordeal with the werewolves, the two Earthlings' need for training was even more apparent. They get just a little of it (a good, promising start) before getting momentarily side-tracked. Before they get a chance to build on that, Grey is lured into the one place the two have been told they absolutely cannot go. Because forbidding people from going somewhere always works out (how many Hogwarts students stayed out of the forest? How long did Belle stay out of the West Wing? Even the Federation had to know that forbidding landing on Talos IV wouldn't work for long).


Grey has found himself in the clutches of a powerful Fae, Feena. Feena will spend days/weeks/years sucking the life out of her prisoners to feed her own magics. Given that Grey is more powerful than your typical Eonian, you know she'll drag it out as long as possible. It's a torturous experience for Grey, but he does what he can to resist and fight back. On the one hand, watching him stupidly and blindly put himself in this situation was maddening. But after that, watching Grey endure what he has to and struggle in response is pretty cool. As much as I appreciate Rune's playing politics, I enjoy watching Grey in action.


So the book boils down to this -- can Rune get permission to run a rescue mission -- or at the very least, find a window in which she can pull off another unauthorized mission? Can Grey survive long enough for the cavalry to arrive? Assuming they do, how can Grey be rescued and the Venators get back to their training without causing a diplomatic incident that will shake up everything?


The actions of the Venators' guides, teachers, allies confuse me. They've got these two kids in a world they clearly don't understand, with abilities they don't understand and then expect them to react appropriately in new situations. Even worse, all of them are keeping things from Grey and Rune -- telling them half-truths, deflecting legitimate questions and delaying explanations. It's maddening. It's bad enough that the Council, who are clearly only using these two for their own ends do that, but the people who supposedly are looking to them to change the world? A little honesty, being a little forthcoming, helping them to avoid the minefields they keep running into rather than saying "oh, you shouldn't have done that" -- it would make it a lot easier for this reader to stomach them.


The Council? I need to see more of them. I have little patience for them as individuals or as an entity at the moment, but as individuals and as an entity there's great potential for something interesting to happen. Feena's a good villain -- she's not worth several books, but for one novel? She's a good opponent. The Fae? It's simple -- any universe, any world, any author -- when it comes to Fae politics, Fae dealings with other Fae, Fae dealings with non-Fae? It's complicated, tricky and messy. It's good to know you can count on something.


So much is happening in a very short period of time, it's hard to know what kind of impact the events are having on anyone -- it's been less than two weeks since these two jumped into this world, leaving St. Louis behind. It's hard for them -- or a reader -- to really take it all in. We do know that already both Venators are changing because of their abilities (as well as the experiences in this new world) -- both are self-aware enough to see how it's happening (at least in part) and are both resisting and embracing the changes. Both are, naturally, deluded about how easy it will be to resist this kind of thing -- denial's not just a river on Earth.


I'm enjoying these books -- I do hope that under the new publisher, they're able to come out pretty regularly, it'll help sustain my interest (and, I'm guessing, the reading public's). I know that Walls has several more books planned, so it makes it okay that I'm still on the fence about the series as a whole -- there's a lot of potential to the series and these characters and she has time to help them reach their potential. There are aspects of the books (the prospective -- and lingering -- romantic entanglements, for example) that I'm withholding an opinion on until more happens. And I'm not sure if I should appreciate how little we're getting with Zio and Rune's brother, or if it should annoy me. Is Walls building suspense, or is she simply being obfuscatory? I'm hoping that after Book 3, I'll be more settled with my expectations about these books -- I know I'm enjoying them, I'm just not sure if I should wait on them getting better.


An interesting world, great characters (even if they frustrate me), good action -- and a fast moving plot. This YA fantasy is a crowd pleaser, I'm sure of that -- you should join the crowd.


LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

May 2019 Report -- What I Read/Listened to/Wrote About

...also known as that day my wife gets to see what I've been up to lately.


21 books for 6094 pages. Not my best, but not a bad month. Especially given the full amount of things going on in Real Life™. But man, I had a lot of fun -- and cleared off a good amount of items from TBR (very happy about that). Read some really good stuff this month and it looks like June will be pretty good, too. Hope the same can be said for you.


So, here's what happened here in May.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:


Death at the Dakota Deadly Secrets Grace Defined and Defended
3 Stars 3.5 Stars 3 Stars
Venators: Promises Forged The Liar Late Eclipses (Audiobook)
4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 4 Stars
Storm Cursed Firefly: Big Damn Hero The Killing Joke
4 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Going Dark Fletch and the Man Who The Controller
4 Stars 5 Stars 3.5 Stars
Killer Thriller Don't Panic Instant Karma
4 Stars 5 Stars 4 Stars
Carioca Fletch Josiah's Reformation The Flintstones, Vol. 1
2 1/2 Stars 3.5 Stars 3 Stars
The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind Stumptown, vol 1 How To Kill Friends And Implicate People
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 4 1/2 Stars


Still Reading:


Rediscovering the Holy Spirit Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology      




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


Reviews Posted:




  • Death at the Dakota by M.K. Graff: A pleasant little near-cozy mystery/romance that’s sure to earn some fans


  • Deadly Secrets by OMJ Ryan: A fast, taut thriller that’s sure to please.


  • That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire: Annie at the Crossroads (literally, mystically, metaphorically, and probably a couple of other adverbs, too)


  • The Liar by Steve Cavanagh: Another Fantastic Ride with the Wiliest Lawyer in Print!



  • Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs: Goblin Royalty, Coyote, the Strangest Zombies you’ve Run Across Combine and an excess of “Next”s


  • The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips: The Legendary Graphic Novel Gets the Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Treatment


  • Going Dark by Neil Lancaster: An Action-Packed Thrill Ride, an Interesting Spin on the Hero, and a Dynamite Plot


  • Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg: The Best-Selling Author/Hapless Hero Ian Ludlow Returns to Save the Day Again



  • Instant Karma by Todd Morr: Nasty, brutish, and short (I mean that as a compliment)



  • Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work



TBR Pile/Mound/Heap:

Physical Books: 2 Added (ONLY 2?!?), 7 Read, 25 Remaining
E-Books: 4 Added, 5 Read, 21 Remaining
Audiobooks: 3 Added, 3 Read, 4 Remaining


Book Challenge Progress:


2019 Library Love Challenge

2019 Library Love Challenge

  1. The Flintstones, Vol. 1. by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh

  1. Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (link forthcoming)

While I Was Reading 2019 Challenge

✔ A book with a curse word in the title: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford (link forthcoming)

✔ Read a book with “how to” in the title: How To Kill Friends And Implicate People by Jay Stringer (link forthcoming)

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

#LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

  1. Death at the Dakota by M.K. Graff


  1. Deadly Secrets by OMJ Ryan


  1. Venators: Promises Forged by Devri Walls (link forthcoming)


  1. Going Dark by Neil Lancaster


  1. The Controller by Matt Brolly


  1. Instant Karma by Todd Morr


  1. Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (link forthcoming)

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

  1. Death at the Dakota by M.K. Graff


  1. Deadly Secrets by OMJ Ryan


  1. The Liar by Steve Cavanagh


  1. The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips


  1. Going Dark by Neil Lancaster


  1. Fletch and the Man Who by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller(link forthcoming)


  1. The Controller by Matt Brolly


  1. Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg


  1. Instant Karma by Todd Morr


  1. Carioca Fletch by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller(link forthcoming)


  1. Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (link forthcoming)

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

  1. Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg


  1. Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

  1. Josiah's Reformation by Richard Sibbes link forthcoming

How was your month?


Saturday Miscellany -- 6/1/19

For a week that contained both a sober Monday holiday (I meant in tone, not in day off alcohol consumption for most) and the last week in the month I have a pretty long list today. Odd. I don't know if anyone's picked up on this -- over the past 313 weeks I've developed general outline that I like to follow with this post, and I try to get a flow going from one idea to another. It's hard to describe -- but for those who fixated on making the perfect mixtapes back in the 90's, you know the idea. This week defied almost all of my attempts for any of that. It's not important, and I'm 99.6% certain that I'm the only one who will notice. But I spent too much time last night working on it -- oh the silly things we find to obsess over. It's actually probably almost as much time to write and revise this paragraph than I spent on the effort, in point of fact -- but it distracted me for longer than that last night.


Also, it's just been a strange week around my house -- not good or bad, just strange. All said, I'm in a generally amused frame of mind (which led to me counting how many of these I've done). Hopefully that comes through...


I think I've babbled on long enough -- not quite Harry Knowles length yet, but getting there. On with 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:






  • However, this Announement from Fahrenheit Press about paperback/digital bundling is a great idea, long overdue. Hope more publishers follow suit. (also, the book in this image is a must-read)










  • Dead Inside by Noelle Holton -- First off, if you've ever read or heard her on Two Crime Writers and a Microphone, you know that Holten knows Crime Fiction. And has a great deal of enthusiasm for it. She brings both to bear in this new book. I read the prologue/first chapter, whatever it's called yesterday. It was dark. It was creepy. It left me with a deep sense of foreboding and dread. Which is exactly what it's supposed to do. There's a rash of abusive husbands being killed, and a probation officer (Holten's actual profession, by the way) is a very likely suspect. A killer you're going to sympathize with (at least a bit), an interesting suspect and a smart DC on the case? I can't wait to get further in.


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Sesame Limited, devouringbooks2017, theguywiththebook and geekhutdrone for following the blog this week.

5 Stars
An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work
Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Neil Gaiman


The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it's the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it's the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.
It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered 'borrowing' a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn't have that kind of money).
He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker's Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. "Somebody," he thought, "somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy."
He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.
Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don't Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 -- I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams' work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote -- and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but "that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker's book." The Hitchhiker's Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.


This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it "has been updated and expanded twice." The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when "MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text." If you ask me, Gaiman's name should be in the smaller print and Simpson's should be the tall letters on the cover -- but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it -- there's little of the original book that I recognize (I'm going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson's version of the book is just as good as the original, it's just not the original.


This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker's Trilogy, but it's certainly not a biography of Adams -- maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man's lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.


Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker's Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion -- talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we're talking about -- books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects -- Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.


It's told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark -- some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It's not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) -- there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it's never not told with affection for the man or his work.


Don't Panic is a must for die-hard fans -- and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it'll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do -- but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, "I improved on Gaiman's final draft."


I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

3 Stars
A Yabba-Dabba-Doo time awaits the reader.
The Flintstones (2016-) Vol. 1 - Mark Russell, Steve Pugh

This is a wildly inventive telling of <b>The Flintstones</b> for a contemporary age. Like the original Hanna-Barbera show, it's written with an adult audience in mind -- unlike the original show, it is not written with kids in mind. That was a strength of the original, and a weakness of the comic. Fred and Barney are war vets, dealing with the atrocities they witnessed (as are some others, but not as well). Mr. Slate's an greedy, untrustworthy sort (he was probably that way in the cartoon, but he was at least funny). Pebbles and Bam-Bam are teens, but pretty much what you remember. Wilma's a frustrated artist, Betty's . . . well, Betty. Same for Dino.


Really, all the markers of the show are present -- punny business/location names, animals-as-appliances that talk to each other, the ridiculous clothing choices for Fred and Barney. Russell uses our Modern Stone Age Family to make all sorts of social commentary (again, like the original) while telling pretty episodic stories about religion, marriage, war, consumerism, elitism, and aliens. Russell draws on the source material, but changes it as he sees fit, without mocking much about it -- and while I have giant issues with his social commentary, I think it was the right way to go with this. But man . . . he started with a fairly joy-less perspective (but there was some sense of fun, some sense of play) and he got more series as the collection went on.


I mean . . . how do you not have fun with those folks from the town of Bedrock?


The real saving grace of this collection, <i>the</i> highlight is Pugh's art. I simply love it -- covers, panels, everything. I couldn't get enough of it. I don't know if there was a drawing anywhere in it that I didn't think was in the neighborhood of perfect. And I don't know how much credit Russell gets for background elements (store names, etc.), but since I don't know, I'm going to give it all to Pugh. There sense of play, the sense of fun is present in his drawings (while not betraying the feel of the script). His character design was fantastic, the art was dynamic and he simply captivated me. But man, give Bam-Bam a haircut.


I appreciated the effort -- and figure many people will appreciate it more than me -- and I'm glad I read it. But I can't help but feel that Russell squandered a bit of the opportunity. Still, a Yabba-Dabba-Doo time awaits the reader.

4 Stars
Nasty, brutish, and short (I mean that as a compliment)
Instant Karma - Todd Morr
Teller was the next to clue in, he sprung from his chair drawing his service revolver while Doyle started crawling for the back exit. The shooter was tall, wearing wraparound shades, a black baseball cap turned so it was shading the back of his neck, and a long leather trench coat. He had a gun in each fist, big semi-automatics with extended magazines. Teller was thinking this guy was an idiot, the kind of dumbass who thinks John Woo movies are documentaries, until he took two in the chest.


The gunman alternated firing each gun. Teller fell to floor and bounced the back of his head off the hard tile, putting him to sleep. Jones had just cleared his pistol when a bullet caught him in the shoulder, spinning him around. The next two bullets hit him in the back and sent him sprawling face first to the floor.
Nah, I didn't give anything way (really). That's at the 3% mark. The real action comes later. But that's a good taste.


I hate being trite. I hate being cliche. I don't want to say the same thing that everyone else in the world is saying. I don't want to be the 3487th person to say that Instant Karma is Tarantino-esque. But you read this book and not say something like that, I dare you (like Ralphie's classmate, Schwartz, I'll skip to the coup de grâce -- I triple-dog-dare you to).


Let's start with a underworld organization that may or may not exist -- Instant Karma, Inc. (think of a West Coast Murder, Inc., with a smaller staff) and the intimidation (and worse) they inspire by maybe existing. Then you've got yourself an aging, but still vital, yakuzza Mr. Yasuda (called Mr. Burns by everyone not in his presence due to his age/resemblance to a certain Nuclear Plant owner) who disapproves of the man his daughter is sleeping with (and who expresses that disapproval in extreme fashion). That man is a disgraced ex-cop named Hondo, a security consultant for people like Mr. Yasuda/Burns. His daughter is an ex-kindergarten teacher who decided she was devoting her prime years to a bunch of annoying kids and decided to toss that career to the side to have fun and make bad choices (see: Hondo). Throw in a couple of cops who are hewing a little too close to the line; some people in Yasuda's organization who want to make a name for themselves; a recovered addict and her pastor; and a lot (I mean a lot) of bullets and blood. Throw all that into a blender and this book comes out.


I want to keep this post as snappy as the book, so I'm not going to get bogged down in plot details -- just know that there's a few people just trying to stay alive and get a little bit of happiness in their lives, and there's a whole lot of other people who are willing to stop them (and anyone else who's in the way).


There's a lot of humor in this book, as well as the action -- some nice character moments and a lot of heart (frequently coming from directions you don't expect). It's also one of the most violent books I've read this year (actually, probably the most violent book this year to date). It's about vengeance, hope, justice, love and a hope for a little bit of peace -- but little of that is as flashy as all the violence.


I'm glad this weighs in at a slim 120 pages -- I'm not sure I could've take much more. This is like a good double-shot of espresso -- why waste time sipping a cup or two to get your caffeine fix? Knock back the 60 ml and move on with your day. This quick read feels all the quicker because of the pacing of the narrative, the action of the scenes and the smoothness of the prose -- the adrenaline rush doesn't hurt either. I'm not sure I can say enough good about it, actually. I had a blast, and bet that you will, too.


Okay, I'll stop now and get out of the way so that the the 3488th Tarantino comparison can get underway.


LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

3.5 Stars
The Controller: The Good, The Bad and The Iffy
The Controller -  Matt Brolly

FBI Special Agent Sandra Rose is called out to the scene of a home invasion turned hostage situation. It feels routine, but serious -- and when things go wrong in pretty unexpected ways, it goes really, really wrong -- and lets you know right away that this is not a book for the faint of heart. As nasty as things start out, the tattoo on the perpetrator's back points to things getting worse, "half tattoo, half scar tissue," is how it's initially described. Later we're told a bit more:

It was a Railroad tattoo. Carved by machete onto the man’s back, coloured by blue tattoo ink. Two long parallel lines stretched the length of Razinski’s back interspersed with a number of horizontal lines joining the two lines together.

Yeah, "carved by a machete." You read that right.


Two thoughts spring to mind. I'll never complain again about the needles on a tattoo machine during shading again; and Brolly is really not messing around here.


This tattoo is the mark of an Urban Legend, an "X-file", a Wild Goose, an FBI Snipe Hunt -- one that unfortunately might not be a legend, a Snipe or anything but a reality that the Bureau should've taken seriously years ago rather than writing off as a myth. Immediately Rose arranges for the one man who believed in The Railroad's existence, former Special Agent Samuel Agent to be brought in for a consultation.


Lynch not only believed in their existence, he's a victim of The Railroad. Six years ago -- when he started to make some progress against them (if you ask him), Samuel Lynch's 7 year-old son, Daniel, went missing. Lynch has long believed -- scratch that, known that The Railroad was responsible for that disappearance and that knowledge and drive to uncover the truth about Daniel's disappearance and The Railroad's existence is what led to his dismissal a few months later. Now he's being told that Daniel hasn't been killed by The Railroad, but that he's alive, and still in their custody. There's hope. A small bit of hope.


At this point, I don't know how to talk much about the plot without spoiling things. So I'm going to get vague. Things go wrong in ways that boggle the mind and stretch credulity (not beyond the breaking point, however). Not only is The Railroad real, its influence and power is, too -- its reach extends into the FBI and likely is the reason that Lynch found himself out of the Agency. Things start to happen very quickly once Lynch and Rose begin interrogating the hostage taker, and soon they're working together against the clock for one last shot at The Railroad. Rose working within the system and Lynch once again very far away from it.


The pacing is great, the plot is riveting, the writing is compelling -- and the reader will be with these two right up to the very explosive ending, holding your breath frequently enough that an asthma attack might be triggered. Beyond that, I'm going to do something here I don't normally do (but may begin doing more often, I like it) for "the opinion" portion of this post. As I thought about The Controller in preparation for this post, I found my thoughts falling into three categories -- let's take a look at them in order: The Good, The Bad and The Iffy:


The Good:
I've already talked about the pacing, plot, etc. -- all the mechanics are really well done and serve the mood and tenor well. So let's focus on some of the character work here in this section.


While diving into this investigation with the drive and passion almost equal to Lynch, Rose does have an outside life. Her sister is on her case continually to see their mother, to look in on her -- she's suffering from some sort of dementia. It's so hard on Rose to see her mother that way that she's responded by virtually abandoning her, she's had no contact with her for ages. It's hard to sympathize with, to have empathy for Rose because of this attitude -- but it's as real and understandable as it is despicable. The way that this daughter avoids the mother who has forgotten her stands in stark contrast to the way that Lynch will stop at nothing to see and help his son (who has likely forgotten him after all this time). Brolly could've spent time beating the reader over the head with this, but he doesn't. It's just there for you to see and draw your own conclusions about.


Lynch isn't a broken man -- well, he is, but he's not broken down and beaten by life (although you couldn't blame him if he had been). Life, circumstance and some truly evil men broke him -- he's a shell of who he used to be (in probably every sense). But what's left in the ruins is a hard, almost merciless, near obsessed man on a mission who will not deviate one iota from that mission once he has a glimmer of hope.


Rose, she's flawed, but she's the kind of law enforcement agent you want to believe the world is full of.

She was working on little more than a hunch, and hunches were something she couldn’t abide. Real police work was completed by hard work and diligence, by analysing facts and evidence. Hunches were for a bygone era, for rogue detectives, for fiction and television.

Not that I think many FBI Special Agents consider themselves "police," but I like the sentiment anyway. And while she's this kind of Agent -- she's got all that baggage. She is not a perfect character. She's probably one of my favorite characters this year -- her partner for this case (the official one, anyway), McBride is a fun character, too. We don't get a lot of him, he essentially functions as Rose's assistant, but he's a lot of fun (in a book that doesn't bring the fun very often), and I'm so glad he's around.


The criminals are well conceived of and well executed. There are monsters walking around in human skins -- and we get to see a few of them here. However, this leads us to...


The Bad:
I don't understand The Railroad. I don't get their purpose, their actions, how they accumulate power and how. I do get that they're one of the most evil shadowy conspiracy organizations that I've read about. They don't seem to want to take over the world, or bring down governments or anything -- but they're horribly evil. Monstrous doesn't come close to capturing their brand of evil. My lack of knowledge stems from the fact that we don't get a big motive-explaining, super-villain-gloating, exposition-heavy monologue or three from anyone from The Railroad. And I love that. I also am fine with not understanding the group in a certain way.


But if you're going to give me some big conspiracy that wields influence in at least one national government, I need to believe they have a reason, something. As Walter Sobchak said, "I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos." The Railroad probably as an ethos, but no one tells us what it is, and I have a really hard time accepting it because of that.


Earlier, I referred to something stretching credulity -- that particular event results in far too many dead bodies and far too little fuss surrounding that event. Given the nature of that event, there would be great internal FBI pressures -- and likely Homeland Security reasons to keep it quiet. I'm fine with that, but that wouldn't stop it from kicking off a major -- probably multi-agency -- investigation, preventing almost everything that happens in the FBI offices from happening for the rest of the book. I'm not saying Rose and McBride couldn't have done what they do, and Lynch obviously could've pulled off a lot of what he did -- but there needs to be more Federal Agents of various stripes on the ground making life hard for them to accomplish what they do. That should've been explained away/justified/something. It's not The Railroad's influence, unless their reach extends that far into the Government, and we're not given that indication.


The Iffy:
Let's start with the easy one, and one that bugged me from early on in the book: how has this obsessed and unemployed man paid rent, bought the copious amounts of alcohol he uses and funded his obsessed investigation? Lynch has no visible means of support and a decent amount of expenses. It wouldn't take much to explain it away, but we're not given it.


I get why this is set in the US -- Texas in particular. The Railroad needs the space, the extensive rail system, etc. to exist. The plot demands decentralized law enforcement. But if something is set in the US, the characters shouldn't all talk like people from the UK. The term "Jumper" connotes something very different in Texas than London. Nor should anyone be seeing a lorry on the Texas Interstate, use a Sat-Nav, call their mother "Mum" or "Mummy" and many other things. Brolly is not the only writer to do this kind of thing (many of my favorite novels over the last couple of years do this, too), he just seems to be one of the worst offenders I've run across. It takes me out of the moment, re-engages whatever disbelief I've suspended and draws attention to any other problems there might be.


Lastly, a couple of days after I finished this, I noticed that this is labeled as "Lynch and Rose #1," and it made me re-evaluate a lot. I'm not sure how this works as a series. Maybe a duology -- possibly a trilogy (I can't see it as an ongoing series -- Rose and McBride, on the other hand...). That would likely take care of a lot of my questions about The Railroad, so I'm happy about that. But knowing there's a second book leaves me with a different idea about the end of the book -- the last line particularly. But there's nothing in the novel that makes you think there's another book on the horizon. It's not impossible, and I trust that Brolly has a strong idea about what's next. But I didn't, at any point, think "I can't wait to see what Lynch and Rose do next." I did think, "I wonder what Brolly has coming out next," and am curious how something he writes set in his own country feels.


Now, I'm afraid that given the space I've given The Iffy and The Bad that The Good has been overshadowed -- also I can't talk about all of The Good without removing any reason you might have to read the thing -- which is sort of the opposite of my point. This is an exciting read with some very interesting and flawed characters (flawed by design, not by Brolly messing up), and a kind of evil, conspiratorial organization that ticks every box on your wishlist for evil conspiratorial organizations. Yes, I have questions, and yes, I found the ending less than entirely satisfying. But all that came up when I started thinking about the book for the purposes of this post and in terms of a series. Were this a stand-alone that I just read and hadn't written about? I honestly think I'd have just shrugged off the issues if they'd occurred to me. Also, I'm pretty confident from the way he put this together that Brolly knows precisely what he's doing and that many of my misgivings will be addressed in Lynch and Rose #2 -- and I will be pouncing on that as soon as I know it's available.


It's exciting, I like the characters, I was genuinely surprised and shocked a couple of times, horrified a couple of times and I want to know more about what happened -- Brolly made me curious when he could've easily made me disinterested. I can't list precisely just what it is about his story telling that did the trick, but it worked, and that's what counts. It's by no means a perfect novel, but it's good.



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

Saturday Miscellany -- 5/25/19

Happy Towel Day! (in case you missed my earlier posts -- yup, three posts on a Saturday this one and this other one). Hope you had fun -- the hoopy froods at Re-Pop Gifts in Boise made a nice fuss over the day, and gave out Tea Towels (I now have 2 towels ready to go for next year) -- if you're in the Boise area, you really need to check this store out.


It really doesn't feel like I spent enough time at my computer this week -- as is reflected in my book posts for the week. So when I opened my list o' links last night to start reviewing them for this post, I was really surprised -- I didn't think I'd taken the time to save anything. I ended up not using everything I considered! It may be hard to believe I didn't actually end up using everything from CrimeReads that I thought about -- only so they don't sue me. Also, I'm sure to have a little bit of something for next week (which I anticipate will be really slow).


By the way, am I the only one not ready for May to be this over yet?


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








  • The Books That Made Me - Part 1 -- Derek Farrell pens a great tribute to The Three Investigators. While I pointed out my indebtedness to Encyclopedia Brown recently, there's a sense in which he was only a gateway to The Three Investigators. Every time I think of about the series, which isn't enough, I can see it's shadow on my current reading/taste. I should re-read them...but I'm not sure I want to risk tarnishing the memory.


  • What Makes A Great Book? -- Devouring Books posted this thought provoking post recently. I wish I had time to really interact with it and/or do my own along these lines, I think it'd be profitable.





  • Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus -- if people had a hard time with Cherie Priest's steampunk setting, imagine how they'll feel about Broaddus' Indianapolis. Looks good -- see Paul's Picks post about it for more.


  • Deception Cove by Owen Laukkanen -- The first non-Stevens and Windemere book from Laukkanen was probably not my thing, but was likely really good. This, on the other hand, is totally my bag -- an ex-con, a Marine Vet with PTSD, and a corrupt sheriff fighting over a dog.


  • Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson -- swashbuckling SF adventure, heavy on the humor. Looks so good, I just put the first in the series on hold at the library.


Lastly, I'd like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to TheReadingNook (I use that theme for a different blog myself -- her version looks better), Tony Self and Somik Bndopadhyay for following the blog this week.