Saturday Miscellany – 10/3/15

It was the last week of the month, so things are skimpy (thanks, publishers!). Still, there were a few odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

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

  • The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher — really, with this published on Tuesday, does anything else I have to say this week matter? Really enjoying this one so far…

Lastly, I’d like to thank Tim Brooks for the comment — obviously, can’t say I agree, but I do appreciate the input.

Make Me by Lee Child

Make MeMake Me

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacker, #20
Hardcover, 402 pg.

Delacorte Press, 2015

Read: September 22 – 23, 2015

“We should get a cup of coffee.”
Chang said, “I don’t understand how you drink so much coffee.”
“Law of gravity,” Reacher said. “If you tip it up, it comes right out. You can’t help but drink it.”
“Your heart must be thumping all the time.”
“Better than the alternative.”

I’ve got to get that embroidered on a pillow or something…

I’ve said it before, I’ll very likely say it again — it’s really hard to write about Jack Reacher books after a certain point. What can you say? Reacher comes into a town/city/locale, finds himself in the middle of a mess (or sees a mess and puts himself in the middle of it), beats some people up, probably shoots some others, makes sure the bad guys are punished (in one way or another), tries to save as many of the good guys as possible, probably has a brief affair, and then moves on. Same ol’, same ol’ — told in a tight, fast-paced, almost always exciting way. Lather, Rinse, Repeat as needed.

Every now and then you get something a little different — he’s hired to right a wrong/prevent a wrong, we get a flashback to his time in the military, or whatever. But by and large the books follow that pattern. And for the first 200+ pages, that’s exactly what Make Me gave us.

Curious about the name of the town, Mother’s Rest, and full of theories, Reacher rides in on a train to poke around for a couple of days and indulge his curiosity. It’s not like he has anything else to do. He’s briefly mistaken for a retired FBI agent turned private investigator, Keever, who has gone missing. A colleague, Michelle Chang, is also in Mother’s Rest looking for Keever (who she’s never seen in person, obviously). Now Reacher’s curious about a couple of things, and he starts working with Chang to find Keever. The locals don’t like this and threaten violence (naturally, they need to do so en masse for it to work). Par for the course, right?

But then when they start to learn what prompted Keever to be in Mother’s Rest, things get darker than usual. Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of real evil to be found in your typical Lee Child villain. But on the whole, they’re nothing that you can’t find in many mystery/thriller novels/tv shows/etc. Every now and then, however, you get something worse. While it takes a really long time to find out what’s worse about the villains in this novel, once the pieces start to come together — scratch that, when you start to see the pieces, you can tell there’s something twisted and vile going on here. That hunch gets more and more intense each chapter. Until all is revealed and you start to wonder if you left Lee Child behind and wandered into a Thomas Harris or Val McDermid novel.

There will be extended descriptions in a Reacher novel that are this strange mix of repugnant and fascinating — whether he’s describing the mechanism of a particular gun firing, the way a certain punch will affect both the puncher and the punchee, how a particular bone will break, or what have you. But the symposium on suicide methods and Internet culture around them just might have set a new high (or is it low?). Riveting and horrifying.

This book also contains something I’ve never seen in a Reacher novel before. I can’t get into it, but that Child would put Reacher in a situation like this impressed me almost as much as it surprised me.

I’m not 100% convinced this is a 5-star book, but if any Reacher novel is worth it, it’s this one. There are so many of the typical Reacher elements that are tweaked, played with, or broken here — all while telling a heckuva tale, remaining consistent with the character and world. Long time fans will really enjoy this. New readers will want to get their hands on as many of the rest as they can. And all of us will get really frustrated that we have to wait 12 or so months for Jack Reacher #21.


5 Stars

September 2015 Report

So, here’s what happened here in September.

Books Read:

A Well-Ordered Church A Red-Rose Chain Who Let The Dog Out?
3 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars
Last Words Witches of Lychford The Fraud
4 1/2 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.5 Stars
Covenant's End The Devil Wins Time Salvager
4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars
Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament Changeless The Drafter
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 5 Stars
Make Me Yes, My Accent Is Real The Scam
5 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
Hexomancy As the Crow Flies Life Together
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 2 1/2 Stars
How to Write a Novel</a Are We Together?    
3 Stars 3 Stars    

Still Reading:

The Christian In Complete Armour Indexing: Reflections The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Reviews Posted:

How was your month?

Hexomancy by Michael R. Underwood

Hexomancy Hexomancy

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Ree Reyes, #3

eBook, 258 pg.

Pocket Star, 2015

Read: September 25, 2015

So, here we are with the third Ree Reyes novel, the 4th adventure for her, and the end of her first character arc (although the only way really know this now is that Underwood keeps saying it — I doubt I’d have been confident enough to say that until the beginning of her next novel/novella), and what a ride we’ve been on so far. Geekomancy was just ridiculously fun — the style, the voice, the magic system pushed just about every one of my buttons. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great novel, but it was so fun that all the weaknesses can be easily overlooked. Celebromancy was a better novel — as far as construction, character, etc. goes, but wasn’t nearly as fun and entertaining. Attack the Geek was action-packed, pretty fun, but (as it was designed to be) not much else. Hexomancy combines all the pluses from the first three, and smashes them together into the best novel Underwood’s given us so far.

In retaliation for the defeat of their sister in Attack, and the resulting consequences that begin this novel — three Strega are coming to town to get their vengeance on. Their target is primarily Eastwood, who is mentor, unnecessary father-figure, and foil (depending on the day) to our new UF hero, but since Ree was integral to Lucretia’s defeat, she’s not exactly safe either. They’ll be coming to town at regular intervals, each one more powerful and deadlier than the last. Like bosses at the end of levels on a video game. You can argue that this part is either hokey, or perfectly fitting to this world, but that’s the way it’s set up (the latter is the correct answer).

And, these Strega are no joke — nasty, powerful and brutal. Eastwood, Drake and Ree (and the occasional other ally) are pushed to their limits when they take them on — physical, creative and moral — like their videogame counterparts (as I understand it, mostly from watching my sons).

Between these boss battles, Ree and the rest recover, level up, and whatnot (I can only pay so much attention to what my sons do, can’t keep the metaphor going). Ree spends time with her friends, in the rebuilt Grognard’s, and in a little romance.

Drake is one of those characters that I think deserves his own post, if I could only find the time. Better yet, he deserves his own stories — either prequels off in his own world, or some running concurrently to this series. His humor, his bravery, his nobility, his heart — not to mention his cool steampunk tools and weapons, — basically he’s the whole package. Really, most people would consider building a series around him, not have him as a sidekick. But he works well in the role.

We didn’t get nearly enough of Ree’s dad this time — her chats with him were a highlight of the last two novels (although, to be honest, when she did talk to him I had one of those “Oh, right, she does this” moments).

Ree and her friends have to be about the most healthy and well-adjusted groups of fictional characters I’ve ever encountered — people like this may exist in Real Life, but not in fiction. It’s like they’ve spent years in group therapy before this. Which is not a bad thing — in fact, it’s pretty refreshing. But that doesn’t keep it from being weird when they react in mature, reasonable manners to various and sundry challenges presented in this novel. If I wasn’t afraid it’d make me seem like a cad, I’d say the magic is easier to believe than they are.*

What about Ree herself? She’s grown into her roll protecting her city, scratching by, keeping her sanity intact (mostly). She’s grown plenty over these four adventures and you can see the results everywhere — thankfully, she’s still as full of snark and verve now as she was when we first meet her. Just a bit wiser, packing a few more XP, and more sure of herself. She barely references her writing now, which is a shame — but hey, her plate’s pretty full.

In his Acknowledgments, Underwood states, “If you keep reading them, I’ll keep writing them”. Sounds like a good deal. I’m in. Keep ’em coming, Mike!

* And I’d say that if it was a group of 4 guys, too, for the record.


4 Stars

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson

As the Crow FliesAs the Crow Flies

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #8
Hardcover, 308 pg.
Viking Adult, 2012
Read: September 26, 2012

…trying to remember when I’d last prayed for anything. My mind went back to the spring before last, and a time in Philadelphia when I’d sat in a hospital at my daughter’s side. I’d prayed then-like a theological car salesman, I’d made deals, counterdeals, and threatened the very heavens themselves if they didn’t release my daughter from the swollen solitary confinement to which a terrible accident had sentenced her.

After the high of Hell is Empty, it makes sense that this would be a little bit of a step down. And it was — at least as far as intensity, depth, and so on. It was just as entertaining, just as engaging…just not as ambitious.

Walt and Henry are out doing some last minute arranging for Cady’s pending nuptials when they witness a woman falling/jumping/being pushed to her death in a very scenic location on the Reservation. Which leads, naturally to Walt getting involved in the investigation — this time, he’s also shepherding an inexperienced Rez Police Chief (Lola Long) through dealing with police procedure, community relations and dealing with Federal bureaucracies. Lola reminds Walt (and most readers, I’d wager) of Vic — who is conveniently out of state for most of this book — and he does what he can to steer Lola away from some of her more destructive habits into something that’ll make a good police officer.

There’s a lot of ugliness involved in this investigation — there’s abuse, PTSD and other fallouts of military service, drug dealing, welfare fraud, and so on. Not to mention history — family history, personal history, familial squabbles (intra- and inter-).

One of the highlights for me is the hate-hate relationship we see between Walt and Henry’s ancient truck, Rezdawg. I seriously now want a short story – if not a series of them – featuring the adventures of Rezdawg confounding and infuriating Walt. I promise to buy every single one of them, if Mr. Johnson would only write them.

Walt as mentor to Chief Long was good, too. Demanding, yet understanding. Lola responded well to him, too — once she let herself. I hope we see her from time to time in the future. Same goes for all the non-murderers on the Rez that we ran into in these pages.

Naturally, the emotional beats around Cady and her wedding, whether she’s in the scene or if this just Walt thinking about what her marriage means for his role in her life, her future, and so on — just perfect. The book is about the murder of this woman, who did it and why — but Cady’s wedding is in the background of it all.

As the Crow Flies features a good mix of humor and mystery — a pleasant change after Hell is Empty. There’s no real danger to any of our friends from Wyoming, just good procedure, banter, and character moments — the stuff that keeps mystery series readers coming back. This one did it’s job.


3.5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 9/26/15

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:

    Only one New Release caught my eye this week:

  • Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse — most of what I know about Mycroft comes from Baring-Gould’s speculation about a familial tie to Nero Wolfe, looking forward to learning a bit more.

The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The ScamThe Scam

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #4
Hardcover, 286 pg.

Bantam, 2015

Read: September 24 – 24, 2015

“You can never have too many weapons,” Jake said.
“Does that mean you brought your rocket launcher?”
“It’s in the trunk of my car in case of a roadside emergency.”
“What kind of roadside emergency would require a rocket launcher?” she asked.
“You don’t want to find out and not have one hand,” Jake said. “It’s also why you should always have a paper clip in your pocket. You can do just about anything with a paper clip.”

I was prepared — even half-way expected — for this to underwhelm me. There wasn’t anything driving me to that expectation, maybe it was just my mood. Thankfully, this surpassed my expectations/fears — not for one second. This was another breezy, fun, adventure for Nick, Kate and the crew.

From page 1, The Scam was firing on all cylinders. The main mission was a lot of fun, with a believable target, just dangerous enough. The side missions were interesting and did a good job pushing the plot forward, not just being B stories.

There was even some tie-ins to previous cases — up to and including a recurring character that’s not part of the team.

Boyd is pretty much the most annoying character in the series, but this time, they struck the right one with him. He was insufferable as always, but he didn’t get on my nerves at all. Which means the book probably deserves a bonus 1/2 star rating just for that. The rest of the team was used only minimally — just little tastes of them all. I don’t think I’d want that all the time, but it worked here. Kate and Nick were…well, Kate and Nick. I think Kate was a bit more honest with herself about her motivations — both professional and personal — than we’re used to seeing her. Maybe the same could be said for Nick, too.

The ending (always the trickiest part of a con story) worked — Kate’s improvised weaponry was just great. Even if we didn’t get to see either the roadside emergency rocket launcher or pocket paper clip (which doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great line), sorry Chekhov.

There were a couple of things in the closing pages that floored me. I didn’t think Evanovich would do either of them, just doesn’t seem her style. I like the fact that she can surprise me (maybe it’s Goldberg’s influence — maybe not, but I like the guy, let’s give him the credit). Anyway, there were things in these pages I never expected that I’d get out of Fox and O’Hare. Bravo.

Book five needs to arrive soon. I realize my saying so isn’t going to make it happen. But just in case I’m wrong about that, I should get it on the record.


4 Stars