Dusted Off: Mad Mouse by Chris Grabenstein

Mad Mouse (John Ceepak Mystery, #2)Mad Mouse

by Chris Grabenstein

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Carroll & Graf, 2006
Read: November 27 – 28, 2012

Man, this is just such a fun series. Ceepak’s a great superhero cop (though I hope he becomes a bit more rounded in the books to come), and Danny’s one of the best sidekicks around. Watching him grow up is a blast.

I thought it was great that this book didn’t focus on a murder (my wife took a different stance), a serious crime, yes, but not a murder. The sense of urgency was still real, it was a serious crime, but a crime more likely that a small town would face–rather than a Jessica Fletcher-like situation where 3 centuries worth of murders happen to a tiny city in a matter of months.

—–

4 Stars

Dusted Off: Loser’s Town by Daniel Depp

Loser's Town: A David Spandau NovelLoser’s Town: A David Spandau Novel

by Daniel Depp

Hardcover, 290 pg.
Simon AND Schuster, 2009
Read: November 8 – 12, 2012

Um, ugh. This is a really well-written, occasionally clever, disappointment.

See here’s the thing…in a detective novel, the protagonist, or if you will, the detective, should detect things. Spandau did nada. His violent associate (not really a Hawk, Joe Pike or Bubba Rogowski, but close enough) investigated; his boss did; his boss’ secretary did. Spandau? He sat around and mooned over his ex-wife, bullied his client, bullied his associate, bullied the bad guy, was a jerk to just about everyone. And then sorta cleaned up the mess at the end. But even in that, he was pretty passive.

Blech.

A passive hero — no matter how nice of a guy, how thoughtful, whatever — is not something you want to read.

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2 Stars

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

4.5 Stars

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Reread Project: Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais

Stalking The Angel (Elvis Cole, #2)Stalking The Angel by Robert Crais

Mass Market Paperback, 260 pg.
Crimeline, 1992
Read: August 13 – 14, 2014


Okay, here we go with the second Elvis Cole adventure — I hesitate to call this a mystery, the amount of investigating that Elvis performs before finding what he’s been hired to is pretty minimal. What can I say, the guy’s got himself some great instincts.

The book opens with a great visual — Elvis is doing a headstand in the middle of his office when in walks the man who will go on to hire him, and his lawyer — “the best looking woman [Elvis has] seen in three weeks.”

I said, “You should try this. Invigorates the scalp. Retards the aging process. Makes for embarrassing moments when prospective clients walk in.”

Bradley Warren is not amused, but is in a hurry and needs an investigator so he sticks around to hire Elvis.

Crais packs a lot into the description of Warren’s lawyer — giving us his initial impressions of her, as well as revealing a little about himself to (re-)familiarize readers to his character, in addition to the obvious physical description:

Jullian Becker was in her early thirties, slender in gray pants and a white ruffled shirt with a fluffy bow at the neck and a gray jacket. She held a cordovan Gucci briefcase that complemented the gray nicely, and had very blond hair and eyes that I would call amber but she would call green. Good eyes. There was an intelligent humor in them that the Serious Businesswoman look didn’t diminish.

They explain, Warren does a lot of business (he’s a very influential and wealthy man, they make sure Elvis realizes) with Japanese investors — and in a promotional stunt, he’d arranged a loan of one of the few original copies of The Hagakure from the thirteenth-century, and it was stolen from his home safe. He needs it back in a couple of days, and as distasteful as he fins Elvis, he needs his help. He and Elvis spend a little time annoying each other, before Elvis relents — for Jullian’s sake — and agrees to help find the manuscript. While Warren and Becker jet off to Japan, he starts investigating at the scene of the crime, where he runs into Warren’s very drunk wife who makes several passes at Elvis. Tiny spoiler: Elvis keeps it in his pants for the whole book. Maybe having established his noir cred in Monkey, Crais didn’t have to keep that going (not that Elvis doesn’t notice attractive women, flirt, etc).

Elvis taps a source for someone who dabbles in stolen art and leans on him to get an idea who’d have motive and means to steal The Hagakure, he gets a name. Elvis pushes the dabbler to the edge of despair — he know that his world could come crashing down around him and ruin the lives of his family. Elvis is disturbed by that, musing to his cat later,

“You ever notice . . . that sometimes the bad guys are better people than the good guys?”

It’s a small moment, but reveals a lot about Elvis that the reader needs to know without just telling us the information. The bad guy as a better person (and vice versa) is something we’ll see again in this book — and frequently from here out.

Elvis takes that lead he bullied out of that man and finds someone with ties to the yakuza — and the LAPD task force watching him. Things don’t go well with either group and he has to bring Joe into the picture. Oddly, things escalate with Warren and he starts receiving threats. But he goes ahead with business as usual. After failing to convince him to cancel a public event despite these threats against him and his family, Elvis and Joe help out with security in a location almost impossible to secure.

Pike drifted up to me. “This sucks.”
That Joe.
“I could off anybody in this place five times over.”
“Could you off someone and get away with you here?”
Head shake. “I’m too good even for me.”

Technically, Joe didn’t joke there — but he came close.

Things get worse from there, spiraling out of control and pushing Elvis to the brink. Which allows Crais to explore the friendship between the two — Pike spends a lot of time reassuring Elvis, trying to keep him from going over the edge. With more sensitivity than he showed Ellen Lang in Monkey, Pike’s there, keeping Elvis on track.

“You were doing your best for her, something that no one in her life has ever done.”
“Sure.” Mr. Convinced.
“Ever since the Nam, you’ve worked to hang on to the childhood part of yourself. Only here’s a kid who never had a childhood and you wanted to get some for her before it was too late.”

I know I noticed that theme of protecting childhood — Elvis’ own, and others’ — as I read the series before, but I don’t think I saw how prominent it is, this will be interesting to track.

Speaking of Joe, we get more of the Pike myth — at some point the FBI gets involved in the case. The agent talking to Elvis knows Pike’s name, and understands something of his reputation. He doesn’t want to meet Joe, but he does want to take a look at him. The Agent’s attitude is different than the LAPD’s, Pike’s not despised by him, it’s more like an urban legend that he gets to verify exists. Later, Elvis and Joe have to do a little skulking around a home that the police have staked out, and Pike stays back in case he’s recognized by them. By this point, Crais is making sure you’re wondering what’s going on here.

Elvis — both in dialogue and in narration — is still funny, but I think there are fewer jokes per inch in this book, but I think they’re funnier. Elvis cracks me up, and I appreciate that. He also drops the jokes toward the conclusion, when things get violent and deadly. I noticed that some readers were critical of Elvis’ joking at the similar point in the last book, and Crais must’ve seen something similar twenty years ago — or it’s just him being more disciplined as an author. Hopefully the latter, but I’d assume the former is possible.

Crais seems more confident, more sure of his characters and story this time out — as he should be, this is a stronger book. In addition to a strong hard-boiled detective story, we see themes of friendship, honor; the protection of childhood; criminals acting nobly, “good guys” who need someone like Elvis to threaten to kill them.

A very successful sequel to The Monkey’s Raincoat, Stalking the Angel secures Crais’ place at the top of the field. That’s about all I have to say about it, so I’ll see you next week for one of my favorites, Lullaby Town.

—–

4 Stars

—–

Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.

Saturday Miscellany — 8/16/2014

A quick personal note: As we have for 7 or so years, my kids took part in our local library’s Summer Reading Program — for my family, it’s never actually increased our reading, but it’s a fun little thing for the kids to do (and it gets them a free book). The last few years, they’ve added a program for adults — also, doesn’t do anything to increase my reading, still I like to participate. Turns out that I won one of the drawings from the program this year — a Kindle Fire — and a free book (Fannie Flag’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion). I’d like to give a shout out to the Nampa Public Library as well as a hearty thanks for my new tablet. Remember to support your local library.

Just a couple of 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:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Cursed Moon by Jaye Wells — the sequel to the promising, but not as good as I’d hoped, Dirty Magic
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory — this could be a fun and trippy read

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth by John Moe

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture CorrespondencesDear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences

by John Moe

ebook, 288 pages
Published June 10th 2014 by Three Rivers Press
Read: August 14, 2014

This is an incredibly amusing collection of pop culture-based humor pieces — I’m tempted to call them columns, but that’s not exactly it.

So these are correspondence (in various forms) associated with gems from Pop Culture — the titular notes from Darth Vader to his son; the entire list of Jay Z’s 99 problems (4. Don’t really enjoy rap music; 55. Shamrock Shake only available once a year.; 84. Worry someone will discover that I’m secretly a member of Bon Iver.); internal e-mails when E.T.’s shipmates discover he was left behind; and so on. I cracked up a lot. I made my wife read bits and pieces, but I resisted reading portions/the entire book aloud. Some of the pieces I wanted to read aloud included: The editorial notes on Guns ‘n Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” (“Redundant. You either have a memory or you’re reminded of something. You’re not reminded of a memory. Your heavy-metal supporters won’t stand for such writing”); a note from the bar manager to Billy “The Piano Man” Joel; the development of the lyrics to the “Batman” show theme; Dora the Explorer’s mother’s letter to CPS (“I know that imaginary friends are a perfectly normal part of childhood, but this was different. Dora would speak to an entire group of people, almost like an audience. And she would demand things of them: “Say map! Say map!’ It was like super-bossy, group-oriented schizophrenia”); a list of changes the Hotel California instituted after being visited by Don Henley (“Acquire steelier knives and/or less resolute beast”).

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but your appreciation of a piece will be directly correlated to your appreciation of the pop culture basis. For example, I don’t like The Walking Dead (yeah, I’m the one guy in the U.S.), so Message Board posts by the Walkers didn’t do anything for me, ditto for the Engineer’s Notes from Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” sessions. But I’m willing to bet that fans of either would get a few chuckles.

There are several pieces (perhaps the majority?) that go on too long — maybe two that aren’t long enough. But even with those that do wear out the joke, carry on, More makes persistence worth it.

My only warning is — do not try to read this cover to cover. Read a piece or two. Put the book down. Come back in a day or so. More than that and you’ll stop chuckling, maybe even build up an intolerance. Just sip at this one, no chugging.

I enjoyed it — I laughed, I chuckled, I grinned, I wished I’d thought of that joke first — this is a great coffee table kind of book. I’d buy another volume or three of this just to have around. Give it a shot.

Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book.

—–

3 Stars

Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis

Treasure CoastTreasure Coast

by Tom Kakonis

Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
Brash Books, 2014
Read: August 7 – 12, 2014

I really don’t like writing these kind of reviews. So let’s get this out of the way straight off: this was not a book written for me. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate its strengths — and it certainly could’ve won me over (others I didn’t think were for me have), but it really didn’t. I certainly disliked it less by the end then I did at the beginning.

This is a book that’s very much a tale of two halves. In the first half we get introduced to several characters, all of whom (with one possible exception) are very unsympathetic, and there’s really only one of which I had any hope of becoming a tolerable character by the end of the book. It was a slog to get through, and I really had to force myself. It was a large number of ugly people doing ugly things to other ugly people. But aside from one excessive beating, the ugly things were pretty small — and all just to establish character (and lack thereof). It’s just about 150 pages of setup.

The second half contained most of these characters, though three of them vanished for all intents and purposes; but it moved faster — there was a point to the action, for that matter, there was action. Where the first half could be seen as potential energy, the second half was all kinetic. Sometimes that kind of book can work well — but you run a risk in putting all your eggs in the second half. It’s too easy to just walk away unless that hook is set well at the beginning. And Kakonis didn’t really accomplish that. The characters start interacting, the storylines overlap and intertwine. And all the “best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” get busy fulfilling “Gang aft agley / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!”

While the first half was all set up — it set up a handful of characters and associated storylines that are just abandoned in the second. I didn’t understand that. Why spend extra time putting up dominoes that you don’t intend to knock over?

Ignoring the story problems, the language the novel was told in was deplorable. Orwell said, “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent,” Twain put it more succinctly, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” If they’d read Kakonis, Orwell would’ve included “obscure slang” — thankfully, with maybe one or two minor exceptions were decipherable with context clues, but I had a hard time believing that most of these characters would have so large and varied a vocabulary. But beyond the general slang, was the vulgarity and ugly racism — I learned at least one new derogatory epithet for the police, a couple for females/female genitalia, and was reminded of a couple for Hispanics. Sure, I understand, that these characters were by and large uneducated, lower class, and criminals — not the type that you’re supposed to want to emulate in word choice. But this was just horrible, wretched. A real block to my enjoying — even tolerating — huge passages from the book. It seems to me that Kakonis was inspired by Elmore Leonard in the structure, tone and subject for this book. And Leonard wasn’t afraid to have racial/sexual epithets come out of his characters. But for him, it worked, they never came across as vile, just human.

So, yeah. Not for me — but I can see where some people might enjoy it. If the product description appeals to you, give it a shot. Hopefully it works better for you than it did for me.

—–

2 Stars