Saturday Miscellany – 4/18/15

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 that look interesting. A couple of YA titles caught my eye this week:

  • Hit by Delilah S. Dawson — the underlying concept of this book is so good, it almost doesn’t matter what Dawson does with it.
  • The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion by Chris McCoy — looks like the silly kind of fun that could make for a pleasant evening.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to byclarkellis for following the blog and Injoy’s Blogs + Book Reviews for following the uglier mirror at booklikes this week.

Reread Project: The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

The CommitmentsThe Commitments

by Roddy Doyle
Series: The Barrytown Trilogy, #1

Paperback, 165 pg.
Vintage Contemporaries, 1987
Read: April 15, 2015

Will yeh please put your workin’ class hands together for your heroes. The Saviours o’ Soul, The Hardest Workin’ Band in the World, —Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes —The Commitments.

This is a tough one for me to talk about — I’m a long-time fan, I’ve read it a dozen or so times, it’s all I can do to not turn total fan-boy and just gush. eh, I might not try too hard.

My college roommates and I became fans of the music video for “Try a Little Tenderness” from the soundtrack for the movie adaptation, and we waited for what seemed like a interminable amount of time before the movie came to the art-house theater in town. I loved it from the opening sequence on and tracked down the novel the next day. It blew my mind (for reasons I’ll get into in a bit), and I read it a dozen or so times over the few years until I loaned it (and the rest of the trilogy) to someone at work. Naturally, I never saw him again (I ended up with a copy of Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying and another book in the transaction). I finally let myself buy a replacement copy a few years ago (found a used copy with the same cover), and have now read it twice. And, if anything, my appreciation grows each time.

It’s the late 80’s and three young Dubliners (from the poorest part of Dublin) have formed a band — sort of. Not everyone in it are musicians yet, but they’re working on it. Thanks to the direction of their keyboard (defined in the loosest possible way) player, they’re going to play synth-pop and go by the name “And And! And” (and, yes, I got the exclamation point in the right place). Their first order of business (while learning how to play) is to hire a manager. Jimmy Rabbitte is the guy from their school/neighborhood who’s the area’s music/music industry expert. As evidenced by the fact that he’s the first one anybody knew of that was aware of Frankie Goes to Hollywood — and, even greater — he’s the first to realize how bad they were. Jimmie gets things going immediately by dropping the name (especially that !) and the keyboard player.

Instead, they’re going to play American soul music — and then put an Irish twist on it — local slang, geographic references, and so on. Jimmie puts an ad in the paper to recruit some musicians, hits up a coworker he heard at a company party, and so on. As a result, he collects a very strange crew of musicians — including a trumpet player decades older than the rest of them, with plenty of professional experience (the trumpet in “All You Need is Love,” for example). The rest, as they say, is history.

The story of The Commitments is told through a very unconventional prose and dialogue style. It’s like Doyle took Leonard’s 10 Rules to the furthest point possible (other than #7, which he violates in every line). You can hear these characters talk, you can feel the energy in the room — heck, this book comes closer to capturing musical performances better than anything this side of Memorex or vinyl. Couldn’t tell you what anyone looks like (well, The Commitmentettes are pretty attractive — especially Imelda), what their homes are like, the weather, or anything of that other stuff that tends to fill the pages of novels. But I can tell you what happened, to whom, and how all related reacted. Which is good enough for me.

This isn’t one of those books that gives you diminishing returns upon re-reading. It’s fresh (while dated — no idea how Doyle pulls that off), funny, and full of soul. Dublin soul, of course. Just like the rag-tag musicians that come to life in its pages.

Oh, if you can get your hands on the soundtrack albums (or find them streaming somewhere) to listen to while reading, it makes it all better (even though there’s almost no overlap between songs).


5 Stars

Dark Digital Sky by Carac Allison

So . . . here’s where I talk about what a jerk I can be. Last September, I get this email from a pretty friendly author asking me if I’d like a copy of his book in exchange for a review. I said what I always say when offered a free book, “yes, please,” (or words to that effect). I read and enjoyed it — we exchanged a couple messages about the book, he answered a question or two. And then because: 1. it was a little more difficult than I’d think and, 2. I got distracted, I never got around to reviewing it. I noticed this yesterday, while looking for something else and felt horrible — which is the way I should feel, over half a year late with this. Can’t do much to make it up to Allison other than put this up now and promise to buy the next book as soon as it’s possible.

Dark Digital SkyDark Digital Sky

by Carac Allison
Series: Dark Pantheon, #1

Kindle Edition, 302 pg.
Crime Planet Press, 2014
Read: October 02 – 03, 2014

“Your real name is Chaucer?”
“My father was an English Professor. I’m not. Call me Chalk.”

In a genre where the names Marlowe and Spenser cast such huge shadows, of course it’s time for a Chaucer. Better yet? He hates the name.

Allison frequently begins chapters with a lengthy info-dump about something — a mini-essay from Chalk’s perspective. Sometimes the info-dumps these work, other times they’re pretty jarring. The information about say, medical insurance, prior to meeting the analyst for Blue Shield? That one worked for me. The listing of Chalk’s tattoos? Eh, not so much.

This starts off with a new client with a very 21st century kind of case, but still proceeds like something out of Chandler. The further that Chalk gets into it, the stranger and twistier it gets. But in the background, we keep learning about a spree of atypical robberies. The way that the various threads start to integrate is something I didn’t expect. And once integrated? The whole thing gets even more unexpected.

The action of the novel belongs to the present — to Chalk’s case, the drug crimes — but the heart, the grounding of the character? That belongs to the flashbacks, the doomed marriage, the child he doesn’t get to see, the hunt for a serial killer that no one else believes exists. The more outrageous parts of his character, the outlandish abilities, activities — that’s the fun, that’s the fantasy. The book as a whole is a great mix of the two.

Chalk is damaged, an outsider, an underdog in classic noir-style (see also: his name). At the same time — he’s very successful and impossibly gifted, something out of a science fiction novel, really. Giving this sort of a cyberpunk feel — but instead of being set 15 minutes in the future (which is how I see all cyberpunk), Dark Digital Sky is a cyberpunk novel set 15 minutes ago.

I’m not convinced these elements work on their own — but even if they do, this is definitely a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” kind of thing, somehow this all works. I’ve never read anything like this before — which is probably good, because most people would make a wreck of it. Not Allison, this is a strong vision told with a sure voice. Can’t wait for more.


Note: I was provided a copy of this by the author, who seems like a pretty cool guy — which made the fact that I really enjoyed even better. I like it when pretty cool people write pretty cool stuff.


4 Stars

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

Dead HeatDead Heat

by Patricia Briggs

Hardcover, 324 pg.
Ace Books, 2015
Read: March 6 – 7, 2015
One of the biggest difficulties I have here on this ol’ blog is coming up with something to say about later books in a series. What (barring a significant shift in quality) can I say that I haven’t already said? I’m honestly not sure here, but I’ll give it a try.

It’s been three years since the jaw-dropping conclusion of Fair Game, and we’re finally able to get back to Brigg’s Alpha and Omega series. Things seem to have been pretty quiet for these two. We’re not given a lot (or any, as far as I can recall) of information about what’s been going on in the lives of Charles and Anna since then, but we can guess — they’ve grown closer, Charles has done a little enforcing for his father, Anna’s. . . well, honestly, I don’t know, she’s been doing her own thing.

Hunting Game is a nice departure from the typical setup for these books. There’s no assignment, no renegade werewolf, no investigation — just Charles trying to get a gift for Anna and introducing her to an old friend. Sure — something supernatural comes up, there’s something/someone that needs to be stopped before people die. Thankfully, conveniently, fortuitously, Charles and Anna are in town and they (with the help of the local pack) can take charge to protect those who need it the most.

There’s not a lot here that will progress the story of either series, no dramatic character growth or supernatural threat that will shake things up. It’s about spending time with these people, understanding them a bit better — at least in a new light. Seeing Charles away from his family — but amidst friends that might as well be, sheds a good deal of light on his character — not just his past. It’s also interesting seeing the way this particular pack acts together (as opposed to Bran’s or Adams’s).

There’s a warmth to this book, even when things got hairy and tense — which fits a novel about an Omega — the same way that Mercy’s books have a very different feel. A welcome addition to the growing Brigg’s world.


4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 4/11/15

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:

  • The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu — the trilogy concludes. I have high hopes for this.
  • Dark Heir by Faith Hunter — Jane Yellowrock is back.
  • Scent of Murder by James O. Born — a K-9 policeman on the hunt for a kidnapper

Vanished by Joseph Finder


by Joseph Finder

Hardcover, 384 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
Read: April 7 – 8, 2015

I lost sleep over this one. Literally. I had to force myself to put this thing down so I could get a little shut-eye. Which wasn’t easy. After about 70 pages or so, I realized two things very clearly: I was hooked on this book and was going to have to get the next one in the series very soon. Neither feeling went away.

Last year, when I read FaceOff, the Jack Reacher/Nick Heller story was probably my favorite, so when I found myself wandering the library last week, with every thing on my “to get list” unavailable, I figured I’d finally give a full-length Heller story a try. Clearly, one of the better moves I’ve made.

Nick Heller is former Army Special Ops, turned corporate espionage hotshot. His estranged brother, Roger, is abducted (at best) leaving an injured wife behind. His nephew, Gabe, freaks out and calls his uncle for help, not willing to trust the police. So Nick, with “a very particular set of skills,” starts looking for his brother.

Heller’s similar to Reacher, but has more of a cerebral approach to things. I’m not sure that’s necessarily fair, maybe it’s that he takes a less direct approach to Reacher’s bull in a china shop approach. That’s not quite it, either. There’s something similar, yet very distinctive about their approaches. It’s more than just the fact that Heller has money and resources (and friends and family . . . ), while Reacher has a fresh set of clothes, a new toothbrush and whatever weapon he can take off a foe. Heller definitely has a better sense of humor — and a cell phone, maybe that’s it.

Heller definitely has to work — suffers some real investigative setbacks, is flat-out wrong on several fronts, blunders a bit, and has to go through some real emotional hardship. Making him human enough to really engage the reader (in a way that Reacher never can — not that I want to keep comparing the two).

Well paced, intelligent, some cool spycraft, some good fight scenes and a lot less gunplay than you’d expect — this is a thriller well worth your time.


4 1/2 Stars

The Stolen Ones by Owen Laukkanen

The Stolen OnesThe Stolen Ones

by Owen Laukkanen

Hardcover, 358 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
Read: March 24 – 26, 2015

Stevens felt his stomach drop out as he descended from the Black Hawk onto the Atlantic Prince‘s bow. Wondered how a Minnesota state cop found himself in this kind of predicament all the time.

You do kind of have to wonder about that, don’t you, Stevens? The readers, however, are just glad you do find yourself in these predicaments.

I don’t have a lot to say about The Stolen Ones that I didn’t have to say about Laukkanen’s previous novels. But let’s see what I can dig up.

Irina’s from Romania — not having the best life (but not a bad one, no matter what she thinks), so she’s easily suckered by a handsome American man into the chance to come here and become rich and famous. Her little sister, Catalina, comes along for the ride. Sure, they have to be smuggled into the country with a large number of women in a shipping container, but hey — it’s worth it, right? America! (cue the Neil Diamond song)

Once they get here, of course, rich and famous are out the window. The best they can hope for now is, alive and doing more than surviving. The shipping container is loaded onto a truck and driven through a variety of states, with drop offs at various brothels, strip clubs and nastier places, were a selection of the women are left behind. Along the way, Irina and Catalina attempt an escape — Irina makes it, Catalina doesn’t, and an off-duty Minnesotan sheriff’s deputy is dead.

Kirk Stevens is brought in to investigate the deputy’s death, and soon starts to figure out what’s going on. Which is clearly beyond the scope of his office, but hey! He’s conveniently just been named to a task force with the FBI and his buddy, Carla Windermere. The two race around the country, looking for Catalina (who they really don’t expect to find) and the rest of the women — and, more realistically, they want to stop the people who smuggled them into the country.

As always, Laukkanen does a great job with the villains of the piece — whatever the particular crime (or crimes, usually) that they’re committing, he makes them people. People with hopes, dreams, problems — not just committing crimes. In fact, for the most part Stevens and Windermere are distractions, complications — not the enemy, just an irritant (an irritant that gets worse and worse the further we get in the book).

The Stevens family is always a good way to ground these characters — Mrs. Stevens (can’t believe I forgot her name) gets to do more than nag Kirk about being safe and talk dirty to him. The whole 16-year-old daughter with boyfriend parallel to the safety of the Romanians was a bit too one the nose for me, but Laukkanen pulled it off. And when else is he going to have the “first boyfriend” story? In Book 5 with Stevens having flashbacks to this case? Nah, that wouldn’t have worked.

With 158 chapters in 358 pages, The Stolen Ones moves along at a good clip. The pacing’s tight, the narrative gripping — everything you want — and readers have come to expect — from this series. It makes for a decent jumping on point, too. Highly recommended.


4 Stars