Woof by Spencer Quinn


by Spencer Quinn
Series:Bowser and Birdie, #1

Hardcover, 293 pg.
Scholastic Press, 2015
Read: May 14 – 15, 2015

One quick sniff and I knew that BLTs were in that basket. BLTs were an odd human invention, sandwiches filled with weird tasteless stuff no one in their right mind would be interested in — except for the bacon. In case you missed that, I’ll mention it again: bacon!

This is just cute. That’s all there is to it. A cute MG novel, featuring a nice little girl with a lot of spunk and her new dog, Bowser. A fun mystery novel with a lot of heart.

Birdie Gaux is an 11-year-old mix of Flavia De Luce, Izzy Spellman, and Inspector Gadget’s niece Penny (from the original cartoon, natch). Fiery, spunky, determined, far too curious and independent, a little too comfortable with shading the truth/outright lying, with a clever dog friend. While her mother works on an offshore oil rig for months at a time, Birdie lives with her grandmother and helps in the family’s struggling bait shop. She doesn’t remember much about her father, a police detective killed in the line of duty when she was very young.

After getting Birdie her late birthday gift, our new friend Bowser, Grammy and Birdie stop at the bait shop to discover they’ve been robbed, while the comic relief employee napped a bit. The only thing taken was Grammy’s stuffed marlin — a family heirloom passed down from her father after his return from World War II. The adults — Grammy, the Sheriff, and the napper are ready to write the marlin off as a lost cause, but Birdie’s not.

Birdie and Bowser are galvanized into action — she’s sure she smells cigar smoke in the shop, and Bowser finds the remains of a cigar nearby for her, convincing Birdie that she’s right. The Sheriff is a nice enough guy, who’s more than willing to listen to Birdie’s thoughts about the case (listen — not really act upon) — but he’s not going to invest too much energy into investigating the theft of a dead fish, no matter the sentimental value. So Birdie, with the help of some friends (including the Sheriff’s son) and a nice — and easily confused — woman from the local retirement home, sets about hunting for the missing marlin (and some secrets that may be hidden within).

There’s a little danger, peril and excitement along the way, but nothing inappropriate for the age group. Bowser gets the worst of it, honestly, while Birdie is mostly safe. There’s some hints of problems looming for Grammy, some dark events in Bowser’s past, and that sort of thing. The sharper young readers will catch that, others won’t — it’ll either add some nuance and flavoring to the experience or it won’t — nothing that will affect the understanding of the story.

Quinn is much beloved around here for his series of novels about Bernie, the P. I., and his partner Chet the Dog — narrated, as this book is, by Chet. For the sake of diversity, I was hoping that Bowser wouldn’t narrate the novel in Chet’s voice. But he does — which is mildly disappointing for me, because I’d rather get the original. But as for attracting new readers — particularly a new demographic? It’s perfect. And while sure, I grumbled occasionally while reading — and here — about Bowser being Chet without the Police Dog Training, it’s still a fun voice. One that you have little trouble imagining would belong to a dog.

Not the most demanding of reads, nor the most complex of mysteries, Woof is a pleasant introduction to a new series that I hope will be around quite awhile, I look forward to getting to know Birdie, her dog, her friends and family a lot better. I imagine that soon enough, I won’t be alone, and that Quinn has found himself a whole new fan-base.


3 Stars

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry

The Worst Class Trip Eve

The Worst Class Trip Eve http://www.davebarry.com/book-page.php?isbn13=9781484708491
by Dave Barry

Hardcover, 211 pg.
Disney-Hyperion, 2015

Read: May 19, 2015

There’s not a whole lot to say about this one — this is the story of some of clever (and yet dopey) 8th grade students from Miami on a field trip to Washington, D. C., who fall into a strange predicament involving international intrigue, kidnapping, an attack on the White House/President and very, very petty theft. The only other thing you need to know is that Dave Barry wrote it, so it’s goofy and very funny.

The humor is juvenile — even for Barry. Adults who remember the target audience, and can adjust their standards appropriately, should be able to chuckle at this few times. At the very least, you can appreciate the jokes. It’s perfect for the Middle Grade crowd, probably leaning towards the male perspective (or whatever the demographic is that appreciates flatulence-based humor). This is not to say that all kids won’t enjoy it — it’s just that it’ll score better with kids with a particular sense of humor.

It’s silly, fast-paced, some good action, and some ridiculous characters/plotlines. A lot of fun, definitely what anyone who read Big Trouble should expect from the author writing to MG audience. I’m glad I read it, but I suspect that my 11-year-old will enjoy it more than I did.


3 Stars

Kickback by Ace Atkins


by Ace Atkins
Series:Spenser, #43

Hardcover, 292 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons , 2015
Read: May 20, 2015

As you may have noticed yesterday, I read Ace Atkin’s latest novel featuring Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Now, with Ace Atkins/Reed Farrel Coleman taking over Robert B. Parker’s characters it’s really hard for me to be dispassionate/critical — unless they annoy me — or worse (see Michael Brandman, or — <a href="http://irresponsiblereader.com/2014/01/28/murder-in-the-ball-park-by-robert-goldsborough” target=”_blank”>Robert Goldsborough doing that for Rex Stout). I am capable of actual critical thought, I think. I’m pretty sure. But it takes time, and I just want to get this up. Soooo, I’m going to try to throw up some quick thoughts/impressions on Kickback

It started off strong — a couple pages of intro material from a third-person point of view that established a hopeless, inevitable tone. And then we turn the page and get something that might as well be vintage Parker. I smiled like a goofball throughout the note-perfect first chapter. It was like visiting an old, dear friend. Speaking of old friends, loved the callback to The Godwulf Manuscript (which, because I’m that kind of nerd, I feel compelled to point out I recognized before Atkins spelled it out). Atkins has been, and continues to be, skilled at dropping in these bits of Spenser’s background — enough to demonstrate that he knows the world and to satisfy fans like me — but not so much to clutter up things. Still, it’s time for Paul to show up.

As this is the 43rd installment of this series, it’s going to be reminiscent of a few others — there’s a little bit of Small Vices in this, and a couple of others, but this is primarily a new Ceremony, but without the moral ambiguity. In this case, we have judicial (and police) corruption tied to a private prison (in all but name) for adolescents in a small town. Some people have tried to fight this, but it only serves to make things worse — fatally so in some cases. This isn’t anything new to Spenser or crime fiction, in fact, it’s borderline cliché. But Atkins treats it with respect, and uses the tried and true story to reflect on current problems with the prison industry.

Hearkening back to Crimson Joy (maybe others that I’m not remembering), we have some third-person intercalary chapters — more successful than the serial killer’s POV in the earlier work. These trace the arrest, court appearance and detention of one of the town’s youth. Not Spenser’s client — but someone he befriends. The knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter each time. Really well done.

I continue to like Susan à la Atkins, she’d gotten boring during Parker’s later years, but she’s back and fun. Hawk is still Hawk, but Atkins has turned back the clock a bit on him, too. I’m going to stop here before I mention how Belson, Quirk, and so on have received similar treatment. This has reinvigorated the series, renewed my interest (and, from what I’ve seen) and the interest of others — this is just what Spenser needed. Yes, I’d rather Parker had done this — but I’m glad Atkins has in his place.

I do think the last fifty pages or so were rushed — things outside the detention center seemed rushed — another chapter or two spent gathering evidence might have helped me accept things. Still, so many other things in this one worked so well, I was able to overlook it (I might have harsher things to say later on, or with future re-reads).

I’m giving this 5 Stars. I’m not utterly convinced it earned it — if it was another author with another P.I., I might not. At the same time, from page 1 on, I was hooked and only put this down for a few seconds at a time when work required it until I was done. I laughed, I worried about a couple of clients, I had fun — I was thoroughly engaged the whole time. Which pretty much equals 5 Stars no matter who wrote it and who starred in it. I really, really liked it — but I could’ve told you that was probably going to be the case months ago when I ordered it.


5 Stars

Opening Lines – Kickback

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book

On the first day of February, the coldest day of the year so far, I took it as a very good omen that a woman I’d never met brought be a sandwich. I had my pair of steel-toed Red Wings kicked up on the corner of my desk, thawing out, when she arrived. My morning coffee and two corn muffins were a distant memory.

She laid down the sandwich wrapped in wax paper and asked if my name was Spenser.

“Depends on the sandwich.”

“A grinder from Coppa in the South End,” she said. “Extra provolone and pickled cherry peppers.”

“Then my name is Spenser,” I said. “With an S like the English poet.”

“Rita said you were easy.”

“If you mean Rita Fiore, she’s not one to judge.”

from Kickback by Ace Atkins

(technically, not the opening lines, but this is the beginning of Chapter 1, so it sorta counts)

Gone Readin’ – Robert B. Parker’s Kickback by Ace Atkins

Just as soon as I start to make headway on my backlog, I pull something like this…

No post today, unless something big happens — yesterday, I received the latest Spenser novel, Kickback by Ace Atkins and well…nothing’s happening ’til I’m done with that.
Even if you don’t like Spenser, or Atkins, if you’re reading this blog, I trust you understand the impulse.

See you tomorrow.

add atkins to the authors, tag this with current reading, etc.

“Concussion Cover-Up” & “NSA Priest” by Carac Allison

Sure, in the month between downloading these and reading them, they’ve disappeared from Smashwords’ site. Oh well, I read ’em, might as well talk about them a little.

First thing to know is that when Mr. Allison says “Short Story,” he means short. This is annoying when reading both stories, but for different reasons that I’ll get to in a moment. They are, however, a great length for reading while sitting in uncomfortable hard plastic chairs while waiting for an elementary school musical to begin.

Still, both had juuuuuuust enough of good ol’ Chalk to make you want the next novel.

Concussion Cover-UpConcussion Cover-Up

by Carac Allison
Series:Chalk Short Stories

ebook, 12 pg.
Smashwords, 2014
Read: May 18, 2015
2 Stars

Chalk’s trying to track down — or at least confirm the existence of — a report from the 1980’s showing that the NFL was fully aware of concussion (and other) risks. A report that just might be an Urban Legend — or it could be the smoking gun to force the League to pony up the money to pay for medical care/damages to many, many current and former athletes. Sort of like the papers that demonstrated that Tobacco Executives knew about Nicotine’s addictiveness long ago.

I just didn’t get enough to justify Chalk’s reaction at the end, not enough meat to chew on during these 12 pages. This one felt incomplete. I’d need to see more of it before I could really get a handle on it.

NSA PriestNSA Priest

by Carac Allison
Series:Chalk Short Stories

ebook, 11 pg.
Smashwords, 2014
Read: May 18, 2015
3 Stars

This one starts with a nice little paranoid (unless they are out to get you) description of the NSA’s work, and sets up a need for Chalk to get some of that information. He knows how to get it, but it comes with an unusual price — and as Chalk sets off to get what he needs to pay that price, things get interesting.

This was great, this was everything I wanted it to be. Except I wanted more. This feels like the bare bones of something — not an entire novel, but a good setup for one. It’s condensed, it’s the synopsis of something — powdered fiction, just add water. Whereas Concession Cover-Up felt like it was missing a lot, this was complete, it just would be better if there was more detail, more time spent with it all.

Still, glad I read it.

Saturday Miscellany – 5/16/15

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:

  • How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz — doesn’t look like your typical Lisa Lutz novel, but at this point, I don’t care. I’m in.
  • Dry Bones by Craig Johnson — a new Walt Longmire. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably get to it in November.
  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll — I’ve heard nothing but great things about this one, looks great.
  • Goddess of Buttercups & Daisies by Martin Millar — one of the odder looking books I’ve seen lately. Should work on tracking it down rightaway.
  • Rumrunners by Eric Beetner — this looks like it could be a fun read.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to facetioussoup for following the blog this week (possibly the greatest moniker I’ve come across online), and to Nothing better than a good book… for following the BookLikes clone (which I really wish I could make look nicer…). Thanks to Injoy’s Blogs + Book Reviews for the signal boost to a post at said clone. Lastly, big thanks to Joseph Finder for bothering to read my post about his book and for responding on Twitter — don’t think I’ll ever get used to someone doing that.