Saturday Miscellany — 9/20/2014

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:

Doctor Who: Silhouette by Justin Richards

Doctor Who: Silhouette (New Series Adventures, #53)Doctor Who: Silhouette

by Justin Richards

Trade Paperback, 256 pg.
Broadway Books, 2014
Read: September 18, 2014

I’d just said few weeks back how I hadn’t read any tie-in novels for a bit, when the good people at Blogging for Books offered this. Seemed like a good way to get back into them.

Things got off to a rough start when the argument that the Doctor and Clara were having about their next destination (she wants to meet King Arthur, he wants to go somewhere else) reminded me too much of the argument in “Robot of Sherwood” — but there’s a great punchline that redeemed it. They don’t head off to Camelot, because the Doctor finds some sort of sign of nuclear power in Victorian London which seems far more urgent.

The Doctor doesn’t want to trouble Madam Vastra and her crew when they can take care of this themselves. Besides, The Great Detective is investigating a locked-room murder, and Strax is off looking into the death of a friend. I’m sure no one at all will be surprised to discover that the investigations are soon intertwined. And we’re off to the races — peril, aliens, impossible weapons, The Shadow Proclamation, Strax being Strax. Loads of fun.

This story is best suited for a novel rather than a TV episode — it’s just unfilmable. Too many special effects, too large a cast, plot couldn’t be boiled down into the less than 60-minutes necessity. But it feels like an bonus-length episode, right kind of pace, right kind of mix of tension and humor. In other words — exactly what this kind of book is supposed to be.

Here’s the only thing I didn’t like about this — Richard’s characterization of The Doctor. Which, yeah, is a pretty significant piece in a Doctor Who novel. But here’s the thing, this thing came out September 9 and season 8 premiered August 23. So, I’m betting while Richards had plenty of access to scripts and whatnot, he hadn’t seen a final cut of an episode starring Capaldi before he finished this (maybe one or two — definitely not a lot of them). So he couldn’t really capture the full flavor of the Twelfth Doctor. He could get some of it — the stuff that’s in the script — but all the intangibles, gravitas, the full je ne sais quoi that only happens when an actor becomes the character wasn’t available for Richards. I’d like to read something he writes after the end of season 8 just to see if he can capture it — I’m betting he can (he nailed the characterizations of Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Strax).

Still, this is just the sort of thing for the fan who can’t be satisfied with twelve episodes of TARDIS-based adventure.

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

Putting the Irresponsible into the Blog

The “irresponsible” in the blog title is supposed to mean that I read whatever, with only a regard for what catches my eye, not in an effort to better myself or be literary or live up to whatever standard — but it’s not supposed to be a reference to my posting frequency.

So what happened to me this week? Reread Project was up late (2 weeks in a row) and then . . . nothing. I got busy with the non-book part of my life (work, parenting, etc.) and had a hard time finishing that post. Almost decided to give myself a week off, put up a “Gone Reading” sign and let things go silent here. But I decided I needed the pressure of a schedule to get things done — mostly not getting behind again on reviews.

But if you look at the blog, that’s pretty much what I did. I did work on two reviews and one non-review piece that should’ve been up by now (no, really, I did) — the first review, Premonitions by Jamie Schultz is giving me a really hard time for some reason. I really wanted to get that one up, because it’s the kind of book that a lot of people should be saying many nice things about. That one should’ve been up Wednesday afternoon. Maybe, if everything goes perfectly over the next couple of days, it’ll be up Tuesday, with many more to follow next week.

As far as tackling the ol’ TBR pile goes . . . I’m torn between books that I’ve told authors I want to read, books with library due dates, and a few new books I actually bought a couple weeks ago and haven’t even looked at yet. I don’t mean to ignore Jacka’s Hidden. Really. Got it on release day, two and a half weeks ago. Maybe I can start that Thursday of next week. This morning, I technically started M. R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts (read 4 pages before falling in to a much needed coma). Then this afternoon, I had about 15 minutes to sit in my car waiting for my kids at school and realized I forgot to bring it along. Thankfully, I’d just come from the library, so I had something on hand, namely Chelsea Cain’s One Kick. Wow. Just wow. What a beginning. Sure, the first 50 pages or so don’t do much beyond deliver what’s promised on the cover, but they deliver it with a bang. I am so hooked. Expect a rave from me on this one (unless it falls apart in a horrible way).

Anyway, that’s a lot of blather really — mostly about stuff that no one cares about, but just putting this up there will make me feel better about the posting frequency this week. Thanks for indulging me.

Reread Project: Sunset Express by Robert Crais

Sunset Express (Elvis Cole, #6)Sunset Express by Robert Crais

Hardcover, 288 pg.
Hyperion, 1996
Read: September 10, 2014

There are two stories being told by Crais in this book — yes, interwoven and interdependent — but two stories. The fun one involves Lucy Chenier coming out to LA for work and to see Elvis. She brings along her son to make it a little family vacation. When Elvis gets the news, he becomes a different person than we’ve seen before — or at least a more intense version of something we saw in Voodoo River, but that’s about it. He’s a lovestruck fool — very clearly — and Crais does a great job of portraying him that way. Yes, the World’s Greatest Detective can, of course, get his mind focused on work when necessary, but off the clock, he’s a grinning victim of Cupid. The two of them together are cute, charming, and can’t help but want to see them together a lot more.

The story focusing on Elvis’ professional life isn’t nearly as fun, heartwarming or cute. But Elvis gets to be snarky and ironic, and do the typical Elvis things (investigate, make jokes people don’t get, and even use his fists and gun a little). Jonathan Green — high-profile attorney in the F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, etc. mold — and his team of associates (and a camera crew), hire Elvis to help with the defense in the trial of Teddy Martin. Teddy Martin’s a celebrity restaurateur accused of the brutal murder of his wife — a pretty open and shut case, it seems. But Green’s people are getting tips like crazy and they need additional investigators to comb through them. One of the more promising tips involves allegations of one of the detectives in the case planting evidence in previous cases. Elvis agrees to investigate Det. Angela Rossi and track down other tips, but insists he’ll report the truth, not what will necessarily help the case — Green agrees to this, insisting that’s all he wants. Elvis gets to work and finds some quick results. But it’s not too long before he sees a stark discontinuity between what he finds ot about Rossi and other tips and how that information is being used by the defense.

Sunset Express is hindered by having one of those plots that people who read (or watch) a lot of detective novels will realize is problematic in a way the characters can’t. Everything in Elvis’ case moves along too smoothly. Now, in Lullaby Town and Voodoo River, for example, his investigation goes pretty smoothly, but you can tell that the plot complications are going to come from what happens as a result of his work. Here, you can tell there’s something wrong with the answers he’s finding. Yet, Elvis doesn’t have our perspective, he can’t tell he’s getting yanked around. It’s frustrating, just sitting around waiting for things to dawn on him so he can catch up to us.

As frustrating (please note I didn’t say it wasn’t compelling) as that storyline is, the relationship material with Elvis and Lucy (and, with Ben to a lesser degree) is great. The whole book could’ve been built around that (and arguably was) and I’d have been happy. It’s good to see that the two have kept their long-distance relationship going. She’s clearly good for him (and, I think, him for her) — even if the reader can’t tell that for certain, all you have to do is watch how Joe reacts to her.

It wouldn’t be an Elvis Cole book without some good natured humor at Joe’s expense, for example:

I called Joe Pike to tell him that we were once more employed. His answering machine picked up on the first ring and beeped. He used to have a one-word message that just said, “Speak,” but I guess he felt it was long-winded. Now, there was just the beep. When I asked him how people were supposed to know who they had gotten or what to do, he’d said, “Intelligence test.” That Pike is something, isn’t he?

For a good chunk of this novel, it looks like Joe is going to be relegated to baby-sitting Ben. Now, granted, he seems to enjoy Ben and there are few people your kid is going to be safer with, but what a waste of our friend with the Aviator Glasses-fixation.

Of course, Rossi knows Joe. They used to work together back when Joe was on the force, and as of this point in the series, she is the member of the LAPD that doesn’t hate Joe. For more reasons than that, Joe respects her (although that can’t hurt), so when things start to go off the rails for her, Joe insists that his partner step up and clear her name. Joe’s not much help on the investigation front, but in the gun packing (and more), fast driving, and personal intensity departments? He’s aces.

Other little treats in this box of Cracker Jacks? The return of Ray Depente — I’d completely forgotten he came back in this one, and it was so nice to see him. He’s a lot of fun in his couple of scenes. And, Eddie Ditko is back, unpleasant and omniscient as ever.

As Free Fall featured Elvis’ reaction to/stance/meditation on L.A.’s racial divide and police corruption, this gives us his take on the manipulation of the legal system (and a healthy amount of support for the police — particularly in light of Free Fall). Elvis has understood the difference between the legal system and justice, and has worked outside (if not at odds with) the system before in the pursuit of justice. But this time, he was seeking justice — thought he’d helped various people find it — only to find his work, his self, his name used as a tool to twist the system into preventing justice being carried out. His ultimate solution to this problem is very effective, and would likely be far more effective today than it was 18(!!) years ago. Well done, Mr. Cole.

A strong satisfying read, with two storylines well worth reading, Sunset Express is a solid entry to this series, and the first step away from the Elvis Cole of the first stage of the series and into the next (see previous entry for my discussion of this). Sunset and Indigo Slam are the bridge between these stages, but properly belong to the first. Even ignoring my little theory of the stages/eras in the series, this is a strong and well-deserved follow-up to Voodoo River, our heroes are back in L.A., as are the criminals and Elvis lady friend. It’s enough to get another verse out of Randy Newman.


3.5 Stars


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

Saturday Miscellany — 9/13/2014

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:

  • Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman — Coleman takes over Jesse Stone and saves the franchise. Content-wise, anyway. Hopefully sales are enough to justify more than the few he’s signed up for. Loved this, I’ll add, in case my 5-star review was too subtle.
  • The Witch with No Name by Kim Harrison — I’m tempted to get this one now, after such a good experience with the penultimate novel recently. But, I’ve got 12 of these in paperback, I’m not breaking up the set. I’ll get to it in April.
  • City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett — I’m hearing nothing but praise for this new fantasy.
  • Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg — in case you couldn’t tell by the above two links, I’m pretty intrigued by this one. I’ve read a little of Tod Goldberg’s stuff before, and I’ve liked it, but this looks like it’ll be a stronger, more compelling work from him.
  • Yesterday’s Hero by Jonathan Wood — Think I forgot to mention a couple of months ago, that Wood’s No Hero was being republished, so I’m making sure I talk about this republication. These two books rocked, and I was so disappointed that no one seemed to notice them a couple years ago when they were first published. Cannot wait for the overdue third in this series next year.

The Scriptlings by Sorin Suciu

The ScriptlingsThe Scriptlings

by Sorin Suciu

ebook, 372 pg.
Smashwords, 2014
Read: September 6 – 8, 2014

For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on (it may have something to do with all the Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett references I saw when reading about the book), I came to The Scriptlings with a degree of trepidation. But it didn’t take long for the book’s charm and wit to get me past that and buy into its premise and style.

Scriptlings are apprentice magicians. Magicians are born gifted — either from a magician parent or two, or the occasional child of muggle parents. Well, until now, anyway, but that’s not for me to say. For reasons that aren’t sufficiently described (and don’t need to be), each magician picks a name for themselves, the more disgusting the better. So we focus two Scriptlings and three Masters — Buggeroff, Merkin, Master Loo, Master Dung, and Master Sewer. Yeah, some of those names you really don’t want to spend that much time dwelling on, but thankfully, they quickly lose their typical connotation and just become strange names like something you’d find in any fantasy novel.

I should also mention Gertrude. The sentient and magical goat (Loo’s familiar) who occasionally thinks that she’s snake, and acts accordingly. At first, I thought she’d be a quick throwaway joke that we’d move on from quickly, but in the end, Gertrude’s a pivotal character, and brings a lot of the emotional weight to the plot.

It’s dangerous to try to quantify things like this (aside from actual word counts), but I’d wager that 1/3 of this book is made up of character and story, the other two thirds are style, attitude and jokes. I should stress this isn’t a complaint, or at least not a big one, anyway. Generally, I’d prefer that ratio to be 50/50 at least, but it works for this book. So yes, the plot is pretty slight — but you’re too busy being amused to worry about that. I should add that I really liked his use of footnotes, he’s not quite as good at it as Josh Bazell or Lisa Lutz, but who is?

I’ve seen the blending of magic and computers before, but not quite like Suciu has formulated it. That was clever enough in and of itself — you surround that with his humor and you’ve got yourself a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Ignore the Adams and Pratchett comparisons, think more Christopher Moore in Bloodsucking Fiends or You Suck. If you liked that, you’ll likely enjoy this.

This is billed as the first of a trilogy, I’m not sure I see where Suciu is headed, but I’m interested in seeing it.


Note: The author was kind enough to provide me a copy of this book by the author in exchange for a review.


3 Stars

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

How did I get so far behind that I haven’t written anything on The Forsaken yet? Ugh. When I get behind, I get behind.


The Forsaken (Quinn Colson, #4)The Forsaken

by Ace Atkins

Hardcover, 384 pg.
Putnam Adult, 2014
July 29 – 30, 2014

Atkins is at the point now where these Quinn Colson books seem automatic. Don’t mistake me — these are well-crafted, carefully plotted, richly detailed — Atkins’ labor is more than evident. But there’s something inevitable about the result of that effort. You don’t even have to wonder what you’re going to get anymore. If it’s Quinn Colson, it’s going to be good.

This also tends to make it hard to review these books, but I’ll give it a shot.

This time out Colson and Virgil are asked to investigate a cold case from a year or two before Colson was born, and when his less than ethical Uncle was Sheriff. Two teen girls walking home from Fourth of July festivities in Jericho were raped and one was murdered. Two days later, a black man, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the perpetrator was lynched for the crime. Decades later, one father’s guilt and the mature strength of the survivor ask the now honest (at least when it comes to his job) Sheriff to find the man truly responsible. To say that this makes anyone involved unpopular in Jericho would be an understatement of the first degree.

Which is a shame, because right now, both Deputy and Sherriff could use some popularity. Colson’s feud with Johnny Stagg is getting hotter, a new election is on the horizon, and Stagg’s framing of Virgil for murder is looking stronger and stronger every day. On the other hand, one of the few men in this world that Stagg fears is about to be paroled and is likely to return to Jericho and rekindle their rivalry. Maybe Stagg could use a determined and honorable man in office after all.

Surrounding this is the town and people of Jericho, and their recovery from the recent devastating tornado. Colson’s sister, Caddy, has really seemed to find herself in her leadership in this area. It’s hard to recognize the woman from the first two books in what we see now. Even Colson’s having to admit that there might be something to his sister’s current state of sobriety and responsibility. Their father’s name came up in the course of his investigation, and for the first time in a very long while, Quinn Colson’s being forced to think about the man who abandoned his mother, sister and himself so long ago. Naturally, this is where the real heart of the novel is — the rest of it is merely the life around Quinn, this is Quinn’s inner life, his identity.

Not only are all of these strings in one way or another being woven together now, we begin to see that there might be ways in which they were tied together before and around that fateful Independence Day.

We don’t get a lot of resolution and closure to things in this novel — not unlike life in that regard, but we get to see some trajectories on most fronts, and that’s good enough. Character, setting, story, mood — all of it is just right for this story and this series. Atkins may be getting attention and sales from his Spenser novels, but his strength is here with Colson and the rest.


4 Stars