Pub Day Repost: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right SideThe Right Side

by Spencer Quinn
eARC, 336 pg.
Atria Books, 2017
Read: May 11 – 12, 2017

Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

Collared by David Rosenfelt

CollaredCollared

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter>, #16

eARC, 336 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2017

Read: June 13 – 14, 2017

I know I take dog-loving to a somewhat absurd degree, but what he just said pleases me. Someone who doesn’t care about dogs, or this one in particular, would have said, “It’s about the dog being found.” But he said Cody instead of the dog, which to me is a sign of respect and caring.

I may need to get out more.

Cody has been assumed to have been one of two victims of a kidnapping — the other was the baby the dog’s owner had recently adopted. It’s been two and a half years, with no trace of either. The mother’s ex-boyfriend and ex-employee has been convicted for the crime, on some pretty flimsy evidence. Now Cody has been left at the front door of The Tara Foundation. Naturally, once Andy is told about this, he brings in the police and the dog’s owner (a friend of Laurie’s, as coincidence would have it). The question at the front of everyone’s mind is: can the dog somehow lead to answers about her son?

Jill, the boy’s mother and Cody’s owner, asks Andy to look into this for her. Almost as soon as he begins, Andy uncovers some evidence that leads him to become Keith’s attorney and get him a retrial. Andy is pretty clueless (as is everyone) why someone would kidnap the boy and the dog (and return the dog), not to mention frame Keith for the crime. But while he can’t answer that, he can chip away at the evidence that put Keith behind bars — the only hope the boy has is that by doing so, someone may stumble on an explanation for what happened to him.

Along the way, Andy’s associate Hike has to go down to North Carolina to do a little research. While there, something happens to him — I won’t ruin anything for you, but it’s a lotta fun for people who have been around since Hike’s introduction — you will enjoy it. Laurie does what Laurie does, ditto for Marcus (who might be his most-Marcus-y here) and Sam. I do worry that Rosenfelt isn’t doing much with these characters beyond their regular heroics and chuckle-worthy antics, but we got some good Hike material this time, maybe it’ll be someone else’s turn to shine next. I don’t think the addition of Ricky to things added that much to the series, and that’s the last major change since Hike came along.

I really would’ve appreciated a little more courtroom action, but I’m not sure what else could’ve happened. It just seems like less time is being given to the courtroom lately — maybe I’m wrong. I can’t imagine that Andy would approve of someone doing the work to determine if I’m right or not — he sure wouldn’t — so let’s just assume I am.

I sound like I’m complaining about the book — that’s not really my intention. I wouldn’t expect so much from it if I wasn’t such a fan. Collared has a clever mystery, some funny moments, a nice twist or two, and we get to spend time with characters that readers have come to know and like. For a series 16 books in, that’s pretty good. Where else are you going to get a friend of the protagonist describe a potential suspect like this?

“Because Kaiser is a bad guy— a very bad, very dangerous , very evil guy . He might even be a Cardinals fan.”

It’s a fun read — from the moment that Andy assembles the family to help him decide if he’ll renew his law license to the party at Charlie’s, Rosenfelt keeps you turning the pages with a smile on your face.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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3.5 Stars

Opening Lines – The Force

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

The last guy on earth anyone ever expected to end up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Park Row was Denny Malone.

You said the mayor, the president of the United States. the pope–people in New York would have laid odds they’d see them behind bars before they saw Detective First Grade Dennis John Malone.

A hero cop.

The son of a hero cop.

A veteran sergeant in the NYPD’s most elite unit.

The Manhattan North Special Task Force.

And, most of all, a guy who knows where all the skeletons are hidden, because he put half of them there himself.

Malone and Russo and Billy O and Big Monty and the rest made these streets their own, and they ruled them like kings. They made them safe and kept them safe for the decent people trying to make lives there, and that was their job and their passion and their love, and if that meant they worked the corners of the plate and put a little something extra on the ball now and then, that’s what they did

The people, they don’t know what it takes sometimes to keep them safe and it’s better that they don’t.

They may think they want to know, they may say they want to know, but they don’t.

from The Force by Don Winslow

I wanted to keep going, but had to force myself to stop there so I didn’t get sued by the publisher.

Citizen Kill by Stephen Clark

Citizen KillCitizen Kill

by Stephen Clark

eARC, 287 pg.
WiDo Publishing, 2017

Read: June 23 – 24, 2017


Let’s get this out of the way: yeah, this title is just bad. The book is much better than you’d think from the title.

The first chapter really turned me off — the assassin spews some sort of pseudo-patriotic babble before he kills the imam (who really doesn’t seem to be that much of a bad guy) and I was starting to dread the next 250+ pages and wondered if I could fake something to get out of reading the book. Then I remembered the email from Clark a few weeks back where he said something about the assassin becoming disillusioned, and was able to push on. I’m glad I did. (I guess it’s also efficient writing — it took less than a chapter for me to be convinced that what he was up to was reprehensible)

When the inaugural parade following the ceremony is bombed, and the new president’s son is among the dead, she starts looking for new ways to combat terrorism within the US. One of the top men in the CIA has a proposal — Operation Prevent. Rather than waiting for the FBI to arrest and prosecute people after an attack, or even to try to prevent an attack. He suggests going for the people that “radicalize” US citizens into supporting terrorism or into becoming terrorists. And by “going for” I mean, assassinate. He has some pretty flimsy argument to justify the execution of US citizens without trial — and the president sends him off to make some fixes. But before long, he’s empowered (by someone else) to initiate the Operation anyway.

Enter Justin Raines — he’s currently waiting for an internal investigation into a botched CIA op to determine his future, when he’s given the opportunity to join Operation Prevent. He’s not utterly convinced it’s the way to go, but it’s the only chance he sees to stay active, so he takes the position and begins eliminating targets. But doubts start to creep in and when he’s assigned to kill a Muslim educator (who happens to be attractive and witty) everything begins to unravel.

Before long, Justin is teaming with old comrades to get more information on the Operation to expose it to the public and bring it down.

I had a lot of trouble buying some of the mechanics of the book — the Secret Service seemed to talk a lot to the president before doing something to ensure her safety, for example. The same for some other nit-picky things, but you step back from the details and it all worked pretty well (or just pretend that the details are right). Yeah, it’s depiction of the CIA and how it works internally and externally is probably closer to Covert Affairs than reality, but the USA show was a lot more entertaining than reality, so bring it on.

The characters could’ve been a little more fully developed for my tastes, but they were good enough for this kind of book. I liked the fact that it wasn’t just Justin vs. the world — he had allies, some new, some old to get through things. There were also parties acting with the similar goals that had nothing to do with him — too often this kind of story relies on a single protagonist to be the only one standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

There’s some good action and intrigue here, a story that’s timely (and, sadly, will likely be so for a while), with some good characters, a nice pace and a satisfying ending. Give this one a shot the next time you’re looking for a quick thrill ride.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post. I appreciated the book and the opportunity, but it had no bearing on what I said.

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3 Stars

Spellcaster by George Bachman

SpellcasterSpellcaster

by George Bachman

Kindle Edition, 262 pg.
Sublime Ltd., 2017

Read: June 22 – 23, 2017


On a recent Once and Future Podcast episode, Rachel Caine said something about new writers today needing patience — not rushing to publish, just because you can thanks to technology, to take the time to get the book right. Man, I wish Bachman had done that. I think there’s a perfectly fine and probably entertaining novel here — but this needed a few more drafts/revisions, and an editor to come alongside him and give him a hand. Sadly, we have this mess instead.

If you told me that the copy I downloaded was missing several chapters — key chapters, I should note — or that this was a sequel to something that I really should’ve read first, I would absolutely believe that. But given no other titles listed anywhere for Bachman and that the chapters are numbered, I can’t even use that to rationalize the problems.

If I look at the book description, I get a much better idea of what happened in the book that I did from the book itself. Bad sign. I think Bachman was trying to go for mysterious, enigmatic, something to get the readers to dig in to the story. Instead he gave us something confusing, something that obfuscates more than intrigues. I’m not saying the author has to hold my hand and point out everything about the story that I need to understand — but if I have to assume as much as he made me, or just shrug and say, I’m sure that made sense in his head that often, the author failed.

There’s some sort of steam-punk/future tech going on in the setting, but . . . nothing comes from it. It was like he started writing some sort of alt-history or steampunk novel and dropped it, without deleting references to hovercars or two types of showers (one water and the other . . . sonic or something, I don’t recall).

At some point we trade in one set of characters for another — which was fine, but left us with no sense of resolution, or anything for those we left. Aside from 1 character being thought of occasionally, nothing more is said or done with them. I don’t think that was handled well at all.

That goes for the whole book, really. It’s not going to do anyone any good — least of all me — to enumerate all the problems I had with this book. There was some decent writing, a sense of style that should appeal to many, but they were wasted in a horribly plotted and executed novel. Spare yourselves.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post. I think it’s pretty clear that the act didn’t persuade me in any way. I still do appreciate the opportunity.

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1 1/2 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 6/24/17

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 Force by Don Winslow — Winslow writes about a corrupt group in the NYPD — the hype around this one is strong, and it looks good. Probably going to crack this one open Monday — can’t wait.
  • The Deepest Grave by Harry Bingham — Last year, I’d fully intended on reading all the Fiona Griffiths novels after really getting sucked into the first. Whoops — 17 months later and not only haven’t I read another, there’s a new one.
  • Indigo by Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest, James A. Moore, and Mark Morris — no, really — all those authors, one novel. I don’t get it, but I’m intrigued. The story about an investigative reporter/superpowered vigilante seems almost as interesting as see how all this works.
  • Run Program by Scott Meyer — a rogue AI with the intelligence of a 6-year old gets loose and wreaks havoc. Which is an interesting starting point — add in the fact that this is Scott Meyer, so it’ll be well-told and funny. Likely a winner.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to ellabyrde, QuietBlogster, and amandanicolette for following the blog this week.

Bound by Benedict Jacka

BoundBound

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #8

Mass Market Paperback, PAGE pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: April 10 – 11, 2017


I expected this book to start with the equivalent of Voldemort bending Wormtail to his will while Nagini snacks on a Muggle. I couldn’t have been more wrong — Richard (lamest name ever for an arch-enemy, which is why it’s so good) simply lays out his plan and tells Alex and Anne what they are supposed to do. No threats, no maniacal laughter, no giant snakes eating anyone.

“I was expecting . . .” Anne said.
“Expecting what?”
“I don’t know. Something worse.”

Me, too, Anne. Me, too.

Basically, Alex has to act as the personal aide to Morden (the first Dark Mage on the Council) when he’s not being the most ignored Keeper in history. He’s been working on earning the position of full Keeper — now he’s given it, and is resented by the rest. Even when things go well for him, it’s a disaster. Similarly, Anne is the least utilized person in the Healer corps.

Right now I’m fighting Levistus and Richard, and I’m losing. Part of it’s because they’ve got better cards than me, but that’s not all of it. It’s that they’ve got a plan. They‘re always playing the long game, looking to next month, next year. Meanwhile I just wait around until some sort of crisis happens, then I scramble to fix it. It’s like they‘re shooting holes in a boat, and I’m running up and down trying to plug the leaks. Sooner or later there’ll be too many holes, or one of the bullets will hit me, and that’ll be it.

Which is a pretty good summary of how things are going for Alex. He goes to great lengths — some might even say extraordinary — to be proactive. I won’t say how well it works, but if you’ve read any of these books before, you’ll have a pretty good idea.

This book probably has the best use of Luna we’ve seen — I really liked everything Jacka did with her here.

We’ve had Richard looming as a threat since the beginning. Richard in the shadows, a danger that few believed was real. But Alex knew all along he would be back. And now that he is, he’s great. There’s no destroy the world plans, just evil planning and machinations and a calm exterior. You will do what I say, or I will end you — and I couldn’t really care either way. He’s worse than we ever could’ve expected. Love it.

Ultimately, this is pretty much what every Alex Verus book is — Alex struggling to earn and/or gain the trust of the Establishment — particularly those he likes and respects, and any gains he may make towards those ends are jeopardized by his efforts to help others.

Now that I look back on the whole thing, I can see the clues I missed, but that’s how it works with hindsight. When you know what’s relevant and what you can ignore, then everything is obvious, but it’s not so obvious when you’re caught up in surviving from day to day. At least until life reaches out and smacks you over the head.

(not just a commentary on Alex’s methods and life, but on everyone’s).

It was nowhere near as dramatic as the ending to Burned, but poor Alex is actually in a far worse state now than he was at the beginning of the book, which was no mean feat — but I should’ve known that Jacka wasn’t finished beating up his creation. I really don’t know what else to say without indulging in spoilers — so I’ll leave it at this. Bound is another great installment in this series, one of the best and most reliable around.

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4 1/2 Stars