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
A good thriller with a bad title
Citizen Kill - Stephen Clark

Let's get this out of the way: yeah, this title is just bad. The book is much better than you'd think from the title.


The first chapter really turned me off -- the assassin spews some sort of pseudo-patriotic babble before he kills the imam (who really doesn't seem to be that much of a bad guy) and I was starting to dread the next 250+ pages and wondered if I could fake something to get out of reading the book. Then I remembered the email from Clark a few weeks back where he said something about the assassin becoming disillusioned, and was able to push on. I'm glad I did. (I guess it's also efficient writing -- it took less than a chapter for me to be convinced that what he was up to was reprehensible)


When the inaugural parade following the ceremony is bombed, and the new president's son is among the dead, she starts looking for new ways to combat terrorism within the US. One of the top men in the CIA has a proposal -- Operation Prevent. Rather than waiting for the FBI to arrest and prosecute people after an attack, or even to try to prevent an attack. He suggests going for the people that "radicalize" US citizens into supporting terrorism or into becoming terrorists. And by "going for" I mean, assassinate. He has some pretty flimsy argument to justify the execution of US citizens without trial -- and the president sends him off to make some fixes. But before long, he's empowered (by someone else) to initiate the Operation anyway.


Enter Justin Raines -- he's currently waiting for an internal investigation into a botched CIA op to determine his future, when he's given the opportunity to join Operation Prevent. He's not utterly convinced it's the way to go, but it's the only chance he sees to stay active, so he takes the position and begins eliminating targets. But doubts start to creep in and when he's assigned to kill a Muslim educator (who happens to be attractive and witty) everything begins to unravel.


Before long, Justin is teaming with old comrades to get more information on the Operation to expose it to the public and bring it down.


I had a lot of trouble buying some of the mechanics of the book -- the Secret Service seemed to talk a lot to the president before doing something to ensure her safety, for example. The same for some other nit-picky things, but you step back from the details and it all worked pretty well (or just pretend that the details are right). Yeah, it's depiction of the CIA and how it works internally and externally is probably closer to Covert Affairs than reality, but the USA show was a lot more entertaining than reality, so bring it on.


The characters could've been a little more fully developed for my tastes, but they were good enough for this kind of book. I liked the fact that it wasn't just Justin vs. the world -- he had allies, some new, some old to get through things. There were also parties acting with the similar goals that had nothing to do with him -- too often this kind of story relies on a single protagonist to be the only one standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way.


There's some good action and intrigue here, a story that's timely (and, sadly, will likely be so for a while), with some good characters, a nice pace and a satisfying ending. Give this one a shot the next time you're looking for a quick thrill ride.


Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post. I appreciated the book and the opportunity, but it had no bearing on what I said.

1.5 Stars
I'm sure there's a decent novel in here somewhere buried under a mess of a plot
Spellcaster - George Bachman

On a recent Once and Future Podcast episode, Rachel Caine said something about new writers today needing patience -- not rushing to publish, just because you can thanks to technology, to take the time to get the book right. Man, I wish Bachman had done that. I think there's a perfectly fine and probably entertaining novel here -- but this needed a few more drafts/revisions, and an editor to come alongside him and give him a hand. Sadly, we have this mess instead.


If you told me that the copy I downloaded was missing several chapters -- key chapters, I should note -- or that this was a sequel to something that I really should've read first, I would absolutely believe that. But given no other titles listed anywhere for Bachman and that the chapters are numbered, I can't even use that to rationalize the problems.


If I look at the book description, I get a much better idea of what happened in the book that I did from the book itself. Bad sign. I think Bachman was trying to go for mysterious, enigmatic, something to get the readers to dig in to the story. Instead he gave us something confusing, something that obfuscates more than intrigues. I'm not saying the author has to hold my hand and point out everything about the story that I need to understand -- but if I have to assume as much as he made me, or just shrug and say, I'm sure that made sense in his head that often, the author failed.


There's some sort of steam-punk/future tech going on in the setting, but . . . nothing comes from it. It was like he started writing some sort of alt-history or steampunk novel and dropped it, without deleting references to hovercars or two types of showers (one water and the other . . . sonic or something, I don't recall).


At some point we trade in one set of characters for another -- which was fine, but left us with no sense of resolution, or anything for those we left. Aside from 1 character being thought of occasionally, nothing more is said or done with them. I don't think that was handled well at all.


That goes for the whole book, really. It's not going to do anyone any good -- least of all me -- to enumerate all the problems I had with this book. There was some decent writing, a sense of style that should appeal to many, but they were wasted in a horribly plotted and executed novel. Spare yourselves.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post. I think it's pretty clear that the act didn't persuade me in any way. I still do appreciate the opportunity.

4.5 Stars
I don't have much to say about this, but I really dug it.
Bound (An Alex Verus Novel) - Benedict Jacka

I expected this book to start with the equivalent of Voldemort bending Wormtail to his will while Nagini snacks on a Muggle. I couldn't have been more wrong -- Richard (lamest name ever for an arch-enemy, which is why it's so good) simply lays out his plan and tells Alex and Anne what they are supposed to do. No threats, no maniacal laughter, no giant snakes eating anyone.

"I was expecting . . ." Anne said.

"Expecting what?"

"I don't know. Something worse."

Me, too, Anne. Me, too.


Basically, Alex has to act as the personal aide to Morden (the first Dark Mage on the Council) when he's not being the most ignored Keeper in history. He's been working on earning the position of full Keeper -- now he's given it, and is resented by the rest. Even when things go well for him, it's a disaster. Similarly, Anne is the least utilized person in the Healer corps.

Right now I'm fighting Levistus and Richard, and I’m losing. Part of it’s because they've got better cards than me, but that’s not all of it. It's that they've got a plan. They‘re always playing the long game, looking to next month, next year. Meanwhile I just wait around until some sort of crisis happens, then I scramble to fix it. It’s like they‘re shooting holes in a boat, and I’m running up and down trying to plug the leaks. Sooner or later there’ll be too many holes, or one of the bullets will hit me, and that’ll be it.

Which is a pretty good summary of how things are going for Alex. He goes to great lengths -- some might even say extraordinary -- to be proactive. I won't say how well it works, but if you've read any of these books before, you'll have a pretty good idea.


This book probably has the best use of Luna we've seen -- I really liked everything Jacka did with her here.


We've had Richard looming as a threat since the beginning. Richard in the shadows, a danger that few believed was real. But Alex knew all along he would be back. And now that he is, he's great. There's no destroy the world plans, just evil planning and machinations and a calm exterior. You will do what I say, or I will end you -- and I couldn't really care either way. He's worse than we ever could've expected. Love it.


Ultimately, this is pretty much what every Alex Verus book is -- Alex struggling to earn and/or gain the trust of the Establishment -- particularly those he likes and respects, and any gains he may make towards those ends are jeopardized by his efforts to help others.

Now that I look back on the whole thing, I can see the clues I missed, but that’s how it works with hindsight. When you know what’s relevant and what you can ignore, then everything is obvious, but it’s not so obvious when you’re caught up in surviving from day to day. At least until life reaches out and smacks you over the head.

(not just a commentary on Alex's methods and life, but on everyone's).


It was nowhere near as dramatic as the ending to Burned, but poor Alex is actually in a far worse state now than he was at the beginning of the book, which was no mean feat -- but I should've known that Jacka wasn't finished beating up his creation. I really don't know what else to say without indulging in spoilers -- so I'll leave it at this. Bound is another great installment in this series, one of the best and most reliable around.

3.5 Stars
A Strong and Entertaining Anthology
Love, Murder & Mayhem: Cosmic Tales of the Heart Gone Deadly Wrong - Michael Jan Friedman, Aaron Rosenberg, Robert Greenberger, Paul Kupperberg, Patrick Thomas, Glenn Hauman, Hildy Silverman, Russ Colchamiro, Mary Fan, Peter David

This is the strongest collection of stories that I can remember reading in the last few years -- 15 stories and only 1 that didn't work for me (it was fine, I just didn't think it took advantage of the SF setting). I really would like to post a few paragraphs about each story -- but wow, that's too much to write and/or read. Especially when you can just go buy the book and read them instead. Each of these stories, all some sort of Science Fiction -- some space opera-ish, some hard SF, some goofy, some super-hero based -- involve the three things mentioned in the title: love, murder and mayhem (all of which can be interestingly defined, but they're there). Despite knowing this about them, I wasn't expecting some of the stories to take the turns they did -- especially the murder part, which frequently showed up when I wasn't expecting it (or at the hands of someone I didn't expect).  Check out the Spotlight post I did earlier today for more details.


So let's focus on a couple of the standouts.


  • A Goon’s Tale by Kelly Meding
    It was clear from the early pages of her MetaWars series that Meding knows how to write super-heroes. This story about the insurance agents that have to clean up after them, as well as Super Villains (and their goons). Nice twists and development of the characters.
  • The Responders by Michael Jan Friedman
    So, what happens when a super-hero team breaks up? What if there's a Yoko figure who may be at the root of it? I don't know how many Star Trek novels by Friedman I read back in the 90's (apparently, it was 2 -- he only has 2 listed on his website, I thought the number was higher), it was nice to see that he still has that touch.
  • The Note on the Blue Screen by Mary Fan
    I think it was this story that really clued me into the fact that this book was going to be good all the way through -- a story about an android that solves mysteries, has a close connection to a human and pays tribute to A. Conan Doyle's most famous creation worked better than I thought it would as I started it (or than it sounds as I describe it). I would absolutely read more stories about Sherlock.
  • As Time Goes By by Patrick Thomas This Mortal Coil by Peter David , Kathleen David , and Sean O’Shea
    Simply put, there's nothing that Peter David can't write, and his co-authors here do a good job honing that. The super-rich and super-responsible are able to get people to sleep and dream for them to maintains high levels of productivity. Great concept and then building on that by asking, what happens when the person you dream for dreams about a murder?
  • DuckBob: Killer Service by Aaron Rosenberg
    What happens when a souped-up version of Alexa gets absolute power. It's funny, as well as fun and thought-provoking.


I left off my favorite from this list, because I don't think I could keep things to just a couple of sentences. But all of these stories (well, 14 of 15) have a great hook, some great characterizations and an ending you wouldn't be able to guess right away. Not a stinker in the batch -- I expect that many readers wouldn't agree with my disappointment with one of the stories, so I'll go ahead and make that bold claim.


I frequently lament the length of short stories -- not any of these, they are full stories, with well=established characters and worlds -- I don't need any more of them. I wouldn't mind revisiting some of these characters in similar stories or full novels, but I didn't object once to the length or depth. Just a really strong anthology.


Go read this.


Disclaimer - I received a copy of this book as part of my participation in the Book Tour.

4 Stars
The latest Tufa novel is another winner.
Gather Her Round: A Novel of the Tufa (Tufa Novels) - Alex Bledsoe

Man, it's hard to write much that doesn't boil down to: It's the new Tufa book by Bledsoe -- it's great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn't that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).


So, what sets this one apart? Well, there's the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don't want to say resolution (because there are a few -- and yet none), I guess the way things end.


The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel -- Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story -- one that's true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved -- including herself (see Ray Parrish).


Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she's attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her -- a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with -- and thought he was the only one -- is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.


The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) -- and the next victim to fall prey to the animal -- Kera's family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we've known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.


While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it's clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse -- which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself -- even though the dead are Junior's -- to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack -- but is that all it was? Her methods aren't exactly anything you'll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.


The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we've never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much -- and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.


Like every novel in this series -- this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don't have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.


There's heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel -- expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren't all that human shines through more than anything else.

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0 Stars
Rebus takes on a cold case
The Black Book - Ian Rankin

As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it -- the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame -- there's a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn't get enough of it. A famous -- and infamous -- local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn't die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it -- and the people Rebus talked to about this case.


So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It's suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he'd been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes' black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes' recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS' work.


We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here -- Rebus' other junior detective. She's driven, she's tough, she's English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn't. She's got a good sense of humor and duty -- both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).


The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald "Big Ger" Cafferty – we'd brushed up against him in <b>Tooth &amp; Nail</b>. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He's both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) -- for both the cold case and current operations. He's dangerous, and yet not at all -- I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.


Lastly, Rebus' brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he's crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I'm not sure he's someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.


A solid mystery novel -- with a conclusion I didn't see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ -- with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one's a keeper.

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3 Stars
A Doomed Love Story
The Bucket List - Emily Ruben

I am absolutely not amongst the audience for this book. I knew that from the title alone, much less the description. Still, I'd read Ruben's first book and enjoyed it and was curious about her take on this idea.


This is basically a take on the dying teen romance, with a splash of the Rob Reiner movie. I'm tempted to go on a rant about the whole dying teen romance idea -- <b>The Space Between Us</b>, <b>The Fault in our Stars</b>, and the like -- but I just don't have the energy. I don't get it, it seems like a highly artificial way to inflate drama. But whatever -- just because it's an overplayed idea, that doesn't mean the book can't be good.


Besides, the central characters in this book are 20 and 21, so by definition this is different.


Leah is surprised one day to find the new guy moving in next door is her old best friend that she hasn't seen for 5 years. Damon (think Ian Somerhalder) is glad to see her, but before they renew their friendship, has to warn her that he'll be dead within a year and a half. He has some sort of brain tumor (Ruben intentionally gives few details about this) that cannot be treated. Leah decides that she'll do what she can to renew their friendship in the time remaining.


Soon after this, the two decide that he'll write up a Bucket List and that each day, they'll cross an item off of it until it's too late. This will lead to all sorts of travel, adventure, changing of existing and/or new romantic relationships and (this isn't much of a spoiler, you can tell it'll happen from the get-go) their eventually falling in love.


The worst part about this book is how everything that happens to them is the best, the greatest, the ____est (or the worst). Leah and Damon live in the extremes -- they never have a normal day, a blah experience. It's just too much to handle -- a few things that are okay, a few things that aren't bad mixed in with all this would make this easier to read. Yes, you could say that given the heightened situation, everything they do is given a hint of the extreme, but still . . .


The tricky thing with Damon having an unnamed disease -- it's hard to have any idea how realistic this is. But a brain tumor that causes organs to decay before death, necessitating an ethically/legally-questionable euthanasia method is stretching things beyond the breaking point. Beyond that, the amount of money that these people spend is utterly unbelievable -- talk all you want about plundering no-longer-necessary college savings, it's just not something I could buy.


There's an element of charm to the writing -- but I don't think that this is as charming as Ruben's first book -- there's something appealing about the earnestness of her writing. But this just wasn't for me. Although he probably didn't say it, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as reviewing a lecture by saying something like, " People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." I feel like that about this book -- if you can find a grain of salt big enough to help you swallow the unbelievable, if you can tolerate the excess of superlatives, and like a love story in the face of certain doom, this is probably a pretty entertaining book. Was it for me? Nope. But I didn't hate it and can understand why many would.


<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received this eARC from the publisher in exchange for this post -- I do appreciate the opportunity, even if it doesn't come across that way.</i>

4 Stars
Before they went to West's, they had to survive the Moors
Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire
Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

This is the story about how Jack and Jill, the twins in the middle of the events in Every Heart a Doorway, got to The Moors, the dark world they had their adventures in before being returned to ours.


They were born to people that never should have had kids, had miserable childhoods (not that they realized it) -- with two bright spots. The lesser, but more constant, bright spot was each other -- they always had their twin. Just before this relationship was torn apart by the ways their parents were dividing them, the find themselves in a magic kingdom. They're split up again, but this time the lifestyles they are immersed in better fit their personalities than what had been imposed on them by the World's Worst Parents. Jack is trained by a mad scientist, learning to deliver medical care, reanimate the dead and more. Jill is pampered by a vampire that rules The Moors -- being coached and guided into becoming one herself. We see them grow into strong individuals in this dark and deadly place before being returned to Earth.


The story is one we know already (assuming we read the first book), and even without that, it's pretty clear how things are going to go. But that doesn't make this any less gripping -- the character work, the development of these two girls is fantastic. And the world created in The Moors is fantastic, you can see it -- practically smell, feel and taste it. Best of all is the way that McGuire tells the story, the way she describes things (emotions, internal actions, external actions). It's almost as magical as the first book.

It's not a perfect novella, however. I'd have been tempted to call the previous one perfect, but this doesn't quite make it. It seemed like half-story, half-manifesto against the kind of parenting McGuire hates.


This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.


It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

It's McGuire's book, I'm not saying she shouldn't feel free to use the space the way she wants -- but it detracted from the story. Their parents have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, McGuire's usually better than that. I think you could make the case that their shallowness, their utter horribleness fits the fairy-tale-ish story she's telling. Honestly, I think that was the case -- but it just doesn't feel right.


I would've like a little more time with the vampire himself -- although maybe not getting more time with him, and learning about him primarily from the way that others react to him and his actions does make him creepier.


I was hoping (but didn't expect) to see a little about what happened to the pair after Every Heart, oh well -- hopefully soon.


I thought it a little heavy-handed in some places, but overall, I was just so happy to return to this series that I can get past it and recommend this one almost as highly as the last one.

3.5 Stars
The Shootout Solution Prequel is a lotta cyberpunk fun.
The Data Disruption: Genrenauts Episode Zero - a Cyberpunk adventure - Michael R. Underwood

It'll come to no surprise to any of my longer-term readers that I liked this -- it's pretty established that I'm a Genrenauts fan. I dig the characters, the world(s), the type of stories Underwood's telling -- the whole kit and caboodle. This story is no exception -- I liked it. This takes place just before Leah is recruited, so the team is functioning very smoothly -- no growing pains needed -- just King, Shireen and Roman doing their thing like seasoned pros.


It's a pretty straight-forward, classic cyberpunk story (yeah, I'm old enough that cyberpunk can be called "classic") -- notorious hacker, D-Source, has gone missing. Which is causing all sorts of problems for the rest of his crew, and (by extension) all of Cyberpunk world as well as ours. So King and his team (minus Mallery, off in Western world) head out to save the day. They've worked with D-Source in the past and therefore have an easier time getting an "in" to the story in-progress. What results is a solid heist story with all the cyberpunk bells and whistles.


Underwood has been modeling this series after TV shows, and wrote this as a "lost pilot" to "serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts." Here's my problem with that -- no one watches a lost pilot until the show's been around for a while, and usually only fans see it. No one sits down to watch "The Cage" (or the two-part version, "The Menagerie") as an introduction to Star Trek, and for good reason. Similarly, Leah Tang is our point-of-entry character, and to remove her from the equation takes something away from the overall story. Also, there's something that's slowly revealed over the course of the first few books that's just blatantly stated. I just think that works better the way that Underwood originally wrote it.


Still, Underwood knows what he's doing, and if he thinks this will work to bring in new readers, I hope he's right.


Putting that aside, I'm supposed to be talking about the story, not Underwood's plans. The story worked really well. It was a little too short for me -- but it's supposed to be short, so I shouldn't complain. Besides, I almost always complain about short story length -- even I'm tired of that. While the story was told in its fullness, I just would've liked to see everything fleshed out a little more -- also, I wouldn't mind spending more time with my friends. Fast, fun, with good action -- celebrating what makes a cyberpunk story work -- and winking at the genre at the same time.


Still, any time with the 'Nauts works for me. Good story, decent intro to this series that I can't stop recommending -- and a great price (free). Still, reading this after the sixth book would be my recommendation after starting with The Shootout Solution.

3 Stars
A Deluded & Lousy Detective (& his polar bear)
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made - Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery's podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven't gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it'd be worth a shot -- especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I'll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn't make it. But on to the book.


Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he's on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he's a lousy detective who can't solve even the easiest of cases, like "Who stole my Halloween candy?" when the victim's brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you're headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope -- Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he's so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it's laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.


There's a level to all of this that's really sad -- Timmy's the child of a single mom (we don't know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy's created this world in which he's thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She's at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don't mesh too well dooms that.


Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don't get to see the drawings that accompany the text -- and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job -- the voice was a little annoying, but I'm sure that was intentional. I don't think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that's probably just me.


A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I'll be back for more.

Saturday Miscellany - 6/17/17

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

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen:
  • A Stab In The Dark kicks off its second season with my chatting with Ian Rankin. I'm adding this one to the regular rotation (and listening to some back episodes)

    This Week's New Releases I'm Excited About and/or You'll Probably See Here Soon:
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire -- McGuire's follow-up to the wonderful Every Heart a Doorway is almost as good -- this one tells the story of Jack and Jill (the sisters, not the hill-climbers) before they found their door and of the adventures they found on the other side, all leading up to having to go toe Eleanor West's Home. I tried to post about this yesterday, but sleep won out.
  • The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood -- Speaking of prequels, here's the "lost pilot" to the Genrenauats series. The price is right -- free. Check out the link for details.
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan -- yes, the gentleman I referred to above. Glad I saw that essay, because it lead me to this: "When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind." That's got the makings of a good one.

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


2 Stars
I struggle to say something nice about this (and fail)
Devil in the Countryside - Cory Barclay

I've said it before, I'll say it again -- I prefer liking books, I like liking things. I do not enjoy giving anything other than recommendations -- but sometimes, I just can't do anything else. This is one of those times.


This is a historical fiction but the history is bad. Before we even get to the first chapter -- in an introductory note we're told "By the early 1500's," Europe was in a time called the Protestant Reformation. The traditional starting point for the Protestant Reformation was October 31, 1517 -- but things didn't really get moving for a few years. So "by" the early 1500's is not really accurate. The same paragraph says, "while across the ocean in North America witch-hunts were gaining traction." Now, I guess it's possible that some of the Spanish colonies or Native American tribes were conducting these hunts, but I'm pretty sure Barclay intends us to think of the Salem Witch Trials, which started more than a century after the events of this novel. We're not even to chapter 1 and we've got a paragraph with two glaring historical flubs -- it'd be difficult (but not impossible) to recover from this. Barclay doesn't.


With historical fiction, you have to decide on the character's vocabulary -- will you attempt to get it chronologically-appropriate, or will you take some liberties and use contemporary language and ask your readers to suspend disbelief to allow for everyone's ease? Most take the latter, and most audiences play along. It is difficult to get period-dialogue correct if you're not immersed in it, and many readers find it difficult or boring to read. While it's understandable to use contemporary phrasing, I'm not sure I'm willing to buy 16th century people talking about "teenage angst." Nor should we get people drinking coffee, wearing high heels (at least not among the peasant class), or making references to zippers. These kind of anachronisms are just lazy, sloppy -- and it takes the reader out of the moment.


If you're going to set something during the 3rd generation of the Reformation, and make the conflict between Lutherans, the Reformed and Roman Catholics (and the state powers that use those groups to mask their machinations) core plot points -- you should, get the theology right. Which is just the same point as above, I realize -- but man . . . when it's such a major component of the book, you owe it to your readers to put in the effort. (also, Barclay suggested I'd like the book as a "theology nerd," so I should be expected to look at it as one). We shouldn't have Roman Catholic priests consulting German translations of the New Testament, nor should we have Lutheran ministers conducting baptism by immersion -- particularly not of someone already baptized. Martin Luther, like all the Protestant Reformers, had very harsh things to say about that practice. In general, every religious sentiment (at least those expressed by the devout) was in conflict with the point of view it was supposed to be espousing -- most of them not sounding like 16th Century Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic believers but some sort of vague 21st Century theism.


This book is also a mystery. As such, um, it wasn't really a success. There wasn't real effort put into finding answers, just finding good candidates to pin something on. At least officially -- those who actually looked for answers were stopped by one way or another. If we were talking about a novel about 16th Century politics and the ways they impacted lives of individuals -- including crime victims and survivors -- this might have worked.


I'm just piling on now, and I really don't want to do that. So, I'll ignore the grammatical errors, typos, a handful of words that basically demand Inigo Montoya to tap the author on the shoulder to say " I do not think it means what you think it means." Nor will I get into the lazy plots revolving around Roman Catholic clergy sexually molestation or father forcing a daughter to marry a horrible person for his own financial gain.


Barclay can probably produce a decent book -- there were some good moments in this book, but not enough of them. This is just not worth the time and trouble.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post -- I do appreciate it, even if the book didn't work for me.

4 Stars
A strong introduction to this series.
The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire) - Craig Johnson, George Guidall

This is by and large what I had to say about the <a href="" target="_blank"> book a couple of years ago</a> -- but I've expanded it a touch.


It's hard to believe this is a first novel. I love it when that happens. Johnson is assured in his writing, he knows his characters and their world, there's no mistaking that. The world and the characters are very well-developed, it's hard to believe that Johnson worked in as much backstory as he did for these characters in such a short space. Walt, Vic, Henry Standing Bear, Lucien -- they're all fully fleshed out and ready to go.


As always, the mixture of Cheyenne Mysticism (for lack of a better word) and Longmire's realism (and Vic's cynicism) is great -- even at this point, Johnson's ready to present things that could be Cheyenne ghosts, or it could be Longmire's mind playing tricks on him as a result of injury and exposure without taking a clear narrative stance. It's not a fast-paced tale by any means--Johnson saunters through his prose like Longmire would through the world. That doesn't mean it's not gripping, though. It's lush with detail, as scenic and expansive as the Wyoming country it takes place in.


It took awhile for Guidall's narration to work for me, I did eventually come around, and I expect I'll enjoy him more fully in the next book.

I figured out whodunit pretty quickly, but it took a while to get the why. The journey to the why was compelling, interesting and well worth the time. Looking forward to the next installment.

4 Stars
Not Butcher's best, but Marsters is still rockin'
Jim Butcher - Dresden Files: Books 1-4: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight (The Dresden Files) - Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Let's keep this short:


I didn't love this one as much as <b>Storm Front</b>, and I remember things as a whole being better. Still, we get the introduction of the Alphas, we get to see a little bit of every type of Werewolf in this world (I'd forgotten 1 of them), Dresden makes some smart choices re: Karrin Murphy (but man, most of what happened between the two of them in this book was annoying to a fan, and poorly constructed I think), and a (in retrospect) dumb one about Susan.


The main story was pretty good -- I'd have liked to see Harry be a little quicker to figure things out, but he's not perfect. Nor is he the investigator he'll become eventually. I need to remind myself these are early days. As I recall, book 3 is a little less-good than this, which doesn't make me look forward to it. But I know I like where things go pretty quickly, so I'll keep going.


Marsters was fantastic -- this would've been a 3 in just about any other narrator's hands, er, vocal cords. I can't say enough good things about him.

4.5 Stars
A sequel that lives up to the original
Exit Strategy (A Nick Mason Novel) - Steve Hamilton

You kill one person, it changes you.


You kill five . . . it's not about changing anymore.


It's who you are

If that's the case, Nick Mason is definitely in a second life that has very little to do with his old one. This is the book's thesis, whether or not it's true is up in the air for most of the book. Certainly Mason's, um, employer and supervisor believe this to be the case.

Mason's trying to deny it, he can't admit it to himself (at least early on in this book),


anyway. Part of Mason's attempts to deny this change hinges on him removing himself and everyone he cares about from Darius Cole's control. Cole is on the verge of being released during a retrial, and he enlists Mason to keep the witnesses from testifying. So you've got Nick hunting down some of the most protected federal witnesses in the nation while attempting to get under from Cole's thumb.


That's about all I can say -- almost nothing happens in this book that I didn't figure would happen at one point or another -- but I assumed we were talking book 4 at the earliest for most of these developments. I can't say more than that.


If you liked The Second Life of Nick Mason, you're going to go gaga over this. That's a really all I can think to say. The action/fight scenes are great -- dynamic, intense, and each one is so unlike the ones that have gone before that you breathe a momentary sigh of relief that Hamilton's not going to give us reruns before reading on (frequently reading through your fingers because you aren't sure you want to see what's going on -- a tactic that worked much better as a kid watching TV/movies than it does with books). How is an assassin so poorly trained, so seemingly unlucky, so successful -- not to mention still breathing?


When it comes to straight-forward, adrenaline fueled, white-knuckling thrillers, it doesn't get better than this. Hamilton took everything he did right in the first book (which was just about everything) and amps it up. I may have to increase my blood pressure mediation before the third book comes out. Don't miss this one, my friends.



2017 Library Love Challenge

3.5 Stars
An unpredictable and daring conclusion to the trilogy
The End of Magic (An Echo Park Coven Novel) - Amber Benson

I don't know how to talk about this book without discussing the series as a whole or getting into plot details that no one wants me to, really. But I'll try.


<b>The Last Dream Keeper</b> left things in a very dark place -- even for the middle installment in a trilogy. So it was with a little trepidation that I started this -- just how much darker were things going to get? Thankfully, not much. Which is not to say that the book took on a euphoric or optimistic feel, but there were glimmers of hope within the darkness. Some small moments of victory in the face of loss before the main action of this particular novel took off.


The Flood is gaining momentum -- the anti-magic movement is getting governments around the world to turn on witches, to start interring them (at best). While running for their lives and liberty, someone they have to unite to take a final stand. Lyse MacAllister, herself still new to magic, takes up the challenge to lead her sisters against the Flood.


When talking about book 2, I said: "And when I say that the plot takes this book in dramatically different directions than you expect, it is almost impossible to believe that the closing pages of this book and the closing pages of <b>The Witches of Echo Park</b> belong to the same series -- much less are separated by only one novel. Somehow, however, Benson pulls it off -- I really have no idea how. When I think about it, it doesn't make any sense -- but in the moment, it absolutely worked." That's even truer for the difference between Book 1 and 3. It's impossible to guess your way through this plot -- but it's all real, it all flows organically.


I (and many others, I realize, I don't claim to be original) have often said it's all about execution. There are plots that when described, I'd say I wouldn't like that I have -- and vice versa. If you gave me either the series outline or the book outline -- I'd have said, "Nope, not for me." But Benson pulls it off in a way that I: 1. enjoyed reading and 2. appreciate. I don't know how to talk about the plot anymore than that.


These characters all seemed real -- all of them (even the pair that really didn't exist in our world) felt like people you could go meet in real life. Well, maybe not the people in The Flood, let's be honest. But everyone else absolutely did. Which is a real strength in a book that got as outlandish as this one.


I've read all of Benson's books (at least her solo books) now -- and it's great to see her develop into the writer of this book. Nothing against <b>Death's Daughter</b> or the rest of that series, but the depth of character and craft in this series is beyond that. Yeah, I maybe didn't like everything she did with these characters or the books, but I liked the way she went about it.


I'm throwing in the towel here, I just don't know how to talk about this book -- strong characters (in every sense of the phrase), honest emotions, a bananas plot, and an ending you won't see coming until it's too late jump out of the way. Heroism, (not just romantic) love, magic, family -- this series has it all. Give it a try.