Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Really, all I want to say about this book is: “Yes! Atkins did it again — it’s just so good, folks. Long-time fans’ll love it, new readers will likely see the appeal of the series. A lot of fun with a great ending!” But that seems a little surface-y and is just bad writing. But really, that’s everything I’ve got to say.

Little White LiesRobert B. Parker’s Little White Lies

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #45

eARC, 320 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017

Pearl and I were off to Central Square . Her long brown ears blew in the wind as we drove along Memorial Drive against the Charles. Rowers rowed, joggers jogged, and bench sitters sat. It was midSeptember and air had turned crisp. The leaves had already started to turn red and gold, shining in Technicolor upon the still water.

I debated about what quotation I’d open with — I went with this Parker-esque (and Atkins-esque) description. Little White Lies is one of the better of Atkins run on this series, because (like here) he did something that feels like something Parker would’ve written, but not quite what he’d have said (the more I think about it, the less I think that Parker’d have said “bench sitters sat”).

Actually, that’s true of the other quotation I almost used, too:

I nodded , adding water to the new coffeemaker sitting atop my file cabinet. I’d recently upgraded from Mr. Coffee to one of those machines that used pre-measured plastic cups. I placed my mug under the filter, clamped down the lid, and returned to my desk. Demonic hissing sounds echoed in my office. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

This is Atkins sixth Spenser novel, and you’d think he’s got enough of a track record that I could stop comparing him to Parker. Well, you’d be wrong — I can’t stop. This, like most of Atkins’ work on this series, is so reminiscent of early Parker novels that it makes some of the latter Parkers look more like they were written by a hired gun. Still, I’m going to try to keep it to a minimum because it doesn’t seem fair to keep doing.

Susan has sent one of her clients to Spenser for some help that she can’t provide. Connie Kelly had been dating someone she met online, invested in one of his real estate deals — and he vanished, taking the money with him. Could Spenser track him down and get her cash back? Sure, he says. It doesn’t take long for the investigation to show that he owes plenty of people money — a couple of months rent here, hundreds of thousands of dollar there.

Here’s the fun part: M. Brooks Welles, the deadbeat in question, is a silver-haired, silver-tongued mainstay on cable news. He’s former CIA, and an expert on military and national security issues — one of those that producers call on regularly when they need a talking head. Why’s a guy like that flaking out on real estate deals? Spenser knows something fishier than expected is going on — which takes him into a world of mercenaries, gun deals, and the ATF.

Then someone tries to kill him. A couple of times. And the book stops feeling like a semi-light adventure, poking fun at the blowhards on cable TV and the state of American Journalism, and how we shouldn’t trust as many people who have cameras pointed at them as we do. Things take on a different tone, bodies start piling up, and a darkness slips in to the book. This also brings in Belson and his new boss — who’s still not a fan of Spenser. About the same time, Connie starts to waver in her conviction that she wants her money back and Welles punished. Spenser, naturally, doesn’t care and plows ahead. Hawk is able to connect Spenser with some mercenaries that travel in the same circles as Welles and the chase is on. Eventually, the action moves from Boston and its environs to Georgia. Which means that Teddy Sapp is going to make an appearance.

All the characters were great — I would’ve liked some more time with some of Welles’ co-conspirators in Boston, I think it’d have helped round out our picture of his crimes. But it’s a minor complaint. We also got plenty of interaction with his Georgia-based colleagues. Even the characters that show up for a page or two as witnesses to the crimes were interesting — it’s the little things like those that add so much. It was nice to see Teddy Sapp again, too. He was the best part of Hugger Mugger (faint praise, I realize). The Hawk material was very good — maybe Atkins’ best use of the character yet.

I fully expect that people are going to spend a lot of time talking about the ending — it didn’t feel like a Parker ending. That said, it felt like an ending that pre-A Catskill Eagle Parker might have tried. It was satisfying, don’t misunderstand, it’s just not the kind of ending that Parker employed. Honestly, there were two other perfectly acceptable places to end the book — and if not for the progress bar at the bottom of my screen, I might have believed that thee ending was earlier and equally strong.

Now, because Atkins and the Parker estate aren’t stupid, there are certain characters that you just know are safe, no matter what shenanigans that they’ve let Atkins and Coleman get away with when it comes to killing off long-term supporting characters. But there was a definite feeling of peril when it comes to [name redacted] and [name redacted]. Sure I knew they’d live to be read about another day, but I wondered how healthy they’d be in the meantime.

This is sharply written, as usual. Atkins knows what he’s doing (in this series or anything else) — a great mix of character moments and plot. Spenser’s voice is strong — as are the voices of the other regulars. It was just a pleasure to read through and through. Let me leave you with one more snippet that is could’ve come from an early-80’s Spenser just as easily today’s, a voice like this is enough reason to read the book — the rest is just gravy (and there’s plenty of gravy):

I returned with sore legs back to my seat on the steps. I spent the next fifteen minutes watching women of all ages, sizes, and colors walk past me. I liked the way most women walked. I liked the way they dressed. And talked and smelled. I was pretty damn sure I was a fan of women in general. Did this make me a sexist or a feminist? Or somewhere in between.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books 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.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

This was a little disappointing

I succumbed to one of those things going around Facebook, and rambled enough that I figured it qualified as a short blog post, so . . .

It’s National Book Week (in the U.S.) [And, no, it’s not, but that’s what the silly FB thing says] The rules are, Grab the closest book to you, turn to pg. 56, and post the 5th sentence as your Status.
Don’t mention the title.
Copy the Rules as part of your post:
Here is mine…
“We can’t risk another event like that.”

That seemed boring, so I grabbed the book that one was stacked on top of (making it almost as close) and got: “Every now and then, Warren reached over and leaned on the horn.” Which is only moderately more interesting.

Both books — both pages, really — contain far more interesting sentences, but them’s the rules.

The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee by R. David Cox

The Religious Life of Robert E. LeeThe Religious Life of Robert E. Lee

by R. David Cox
Series: Library of Religious BiographyPDF (will be published as paperback), 259 pg.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017
Read: December 25, 2016 – January 1, 2017

I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world.

So wrote Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife while serving in Texas, and according to R. David Cox it summarizes his theology. If you have to sum up a man’s theology in 3 sentences, that’s a decent one to have.

Robert E. Lee was no theologian, he wasn’t a pastor or preacher or religious scholar of any kind. He was a churchman, however. Seemingly a faithful one who served as he could — and he was a believer in the middle of a tumultuous time for American Protestantism and American as a whole, as such what he thought about the tumult from his religious perspective is instructive and fascinating reading. Which is pretty much why anyone might want to read this (and probably why Cox wrote the thing).

By and large, the book is a chronological look at Lee’s life, what’s going on in the national and ecclesiastical culture, and how Lee (and his family members — particularly his wife) responded to it and how his faith grew throughout his life. It’s not exactly a biography, but it is biographical. There were a couple of chapters that stepped back from the chronological look, and examined Lee’s perspectives on specific topics (the above quotation about providence comes from one of those). I particularly enjoyed and appreciated those.

I was surprised how little space was devoted to the years of The War Between the States, honestly. It may be that there wasn’t that much material — Lee was probably too busy to write a lot of things in letters that he might normally have (like: thoughts about sermons heard, theology, ecclesiastical concerns, etc.), that’d certain be understandable. Cox might be the one historian who doesn’t like writing about that time period. It might just be that his pre- and post- War writings were better material for the book — there are any number of good reasons for it, I was just surprised that the one thing the man is best known for is so little represented in the book.

One of the drawbacks of this book is the author’s perspective on Lee himself (at least what came across to me as his perspective, I could have read him wrong, he could have written it in such a way as to be easily misinterpreted, etc.). I’m not saying that I want a hagiography, nor do I want Cox to be some sort of Lee fanboy. A critical eye is essential. There’s an element of Chronological Snobbery (to borrow Lewis’ phrase) here when reflecting on Lee’s racial and political views. I have no problem with Cox disagreeing with them (I disagree with many of them), but he came across as patronizing (at least on the border of it). To a lesser degree, I thought the same about some of Lee’s religious views. But this didn’t crop up often, and when it did, it was easy to gloss over or ignore. It’s a drawback to the book, but not a reason to avoid it. If anything, Cox came across as detached and neutral when it came to the subject and his religion (it was impossible to tell if Cox shared any aspect of belief with Lee) 98% of the time. It’s just that 2% or so . . .

This is a part of Eerdman’s Library of Religious Biography series — which I hadn’t heard of until now. I have one sitting at the top of my To Be Bought pile (talked about it last month in a Saturday Miscellany post), but I didn’t realize it was part of a series. The books in the series are intended to “link the lives of their subjects – not always thought of as ‘religious’ persons – to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them.” It’s a fascinating concept, and I’m glad this series exists. I hope to get more of them soon.

This was a fascinating read, if a bit dry and detached. Neither’s bad, and may be commendable under the right circumstances (which may include such a divisive figure as Lee), but it doesn’t make for the best read. That, plus my ambivalence towards some of Cox’s attitudes toward the subject, makes me rate this 3 Stars. That’s still a recommendation, and I’ll gladly tell anyone to read it — believer or nonbeliever — if they want to understand Lee better, but I’m not that enthusiastic about the book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.
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.

—–

3 Stars

Cover Release: Deja You

deja you jpeg image

TITLE: Déjà You
PUBLISHER: Emerald Lily Publishing
RELEASE DATE: May 30, 2017

In Déjà You, five authors share stories of second chances, as varied in telling as the writers themselves.

Kelly Cain’s We’ll Always Have Oahu takes us on a whirlwind New Adult romance set in the 80s between a young woman on a high school graduation trip and a handsome Navy sailor.

Bianca M. Schwarz transports us to 1760 in The Pearl with the story of Marcus Landover, who attends a card party and ends up with more than he bargained for in the beautiful Sophia Chelmsford.

Amanda Linsmeier’s Joy and Sorrow reunites lovers separated by death in a Women’s Fiction tinged with the unusual.

The Eyes of the Heart by Jamie McLachlan gives us Rosalina, who is forced to confront her attraction and the truth about her blindness when a new gardener is hired at the Greystone house.

Finally, C.H. Armstrong brings us Mr. Midnight, where tragedy reunites two star-crossed lovers, but misunderstandings soon rip them apart. Now, six years later, the stars are realigning with the help of the smooth voice of a late night radio DJ.

Some of the stories are sweet, some sad, some steamy, but all carry the same theme. Déjà You is a collection of stories for those who believe in love, but most of all, second chances.


The Birth of Déjà You

About two years ago, a group of five novice writers signed with the same small publisher, each inexperienced in the publishing world yet committed to understanding the process and finding success. Through their mutual dive into unchartered territory, Amanda Linsmeier, Bianca M. Schwarz, C.H. Armstrong, Kelly Cain, and Jamie McLachlan reached out to one another and became instant friends, sharing laughs, tears, and the struggles of life and writing. We soon dubbed ourselves “Book Besties.”

During the fall of 2016, we decided to write a book of short stories together. As friends, we wanted to combine our talents to create a collection that would inspire hope and happiness. After much deliberation, we chose the theme “Second Chances” and decided to title this anthology, “Déjà You.” Though each story contains the same theme, they all are as unique as the author who wrote it. Including New Adult, Women’s Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, and Contemporary Romance, each short offers a different take on the theme and involves varying heat levels, from sweet to steamy.


About the Authors

kellycain200x200Kelly Cain has published a multicultural adult and new adult romance, but she writes across genres and age groups, currently penning book one of a young adult urban fantasy series. Most of her stories are set in Texas with frequent travels to her home state of California, and all of her stories have an excess of food weaved throughout.

If she’s not writing, she’s probably reading. Or maybe cooking. Check out her website for recipes for dishes featured in her books, and some other fun stuff. She has two adult daughters and lives in a suburb of Houston, Texas.

Kelly is the author of Altered, a new adult multicultural romance and Connections, a steamy short story exclusively available on Amazon. Visit her on her Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Tumbler.

authorphotoweb

Bianca M Schwarz was born in Germany, spent her formative years in London, and has a US passport, but she considers herself a world citizen. She lives in Los Angeles because that’s where they make movies and she used to work on them. She writes novels because that’s kind of like making a movie in people’s heads and because she just loves books. Bianca has one son, because that’s all she can handle and she tolerates her husband because, well, she loves him and there is no help for that. Visit her on her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

10254015_492271840927359_9159417025130441003_nAmanda Linsmeier is the author of Ditch Flowers and Beach Glass & Other Broken Things. Her writing has been featured in Portage Magazine, Literary Mama, and Brain, Child Magazine. Besides writing Women’s Fiction, she loves reading and writing fables, fairytales, and fantasy, and sometimes she pretends her Hogwarts letter is still coming. She can be found blogging about writing and books at amandalinsmeier.com. When she’s not writing, she works part-time at her local library and brings home more books than she has time to read. Amanda lives in the countryside, surrounded by trees, with her family, two dogs, and two half-wild cats. You can Amanda’s blog for book reviews and random musings, or check her out on Twitter or Facebook for more information.

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Jamie McLachlan is the Canadian author of Mind of the Phoenix, an Amazon Bestseller in Dark Fantasy and the first novel in the Memory Collector Series. The third, Rise of the Phoenix, is set for release in summer of 2017. When not writing, Jamie reads, dabbles in various crafts, and spends time with her family. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

blogging

C.H. Armstrong is an Oklahoma-native transplanted in the Midwest. A life-long lover of books, she made her author debut with the 2016 release of her historical fiction novel, The Edge of Nowhere, which was inspired by her own family’s struggles during the one-two punch that was The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. Armstrong is currently working on two young adult novels and is a regular contributor to the Minnesota-based women’s magazine, Rochester Women. Visit her on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.


For more information on Déjà You or the Book Besties, visit their website, or find them on Twitter or Facebook.

The Black Cauldron (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The Black CauldronThe Black Cauldron

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs, 28 min.
Listening Library, 2004

Read: March 15 – 16, 2017


Of the five books in the Chronicles, this is probably my least favorite installment, still I enjoyed reliving it with this audio. Why Disney chose this one to make a movie out of, I’ll never know (and have never seen).

Prince Gwydion has called a council at Cair Dalben — bringing warriors, royalty and others from across the land to discuss something of urgency. Taran is included as well, thanks to the Prince’s experience in the previous book. One of the attendees, Prince Ellidyr, is a young, proud twit who might as well have been named William Zabka — if he doesn’t remind you of the quintessential 80’s movie antagonist, you’re not reading him right. He and Taran clash immediately, and are predictably assigned to work together.

We also meet the son of Taliesin, the chief bard, Adaon. Adaon is one of those characters that comes out of nowhere, every character loves and so do the readers. He’s wise, kind, and probably a decent fighter. Taran is possibly more taken with him as friend and role model than he was with Gwydion — partially because he’s not a prince, and so is more approachable; but also is just that kind of guy. Thankfully, Taran and he are also assigned to work together so it’s not all about the jousting with Ellidyr.

There were other characters introduced — several actually, but those two are the ones to focus on now. I’m not going to tell you anything about Gwystyl and Kaw, because I’ll not do them justice. But you’ll enjoy both. Gurgi was Gurgi, and Eilonwy was perfect — seriously just perfect. I always liked the character, but maybe never as much as I am this time through the series.

I got distracted by talking about the characters, the purpose of the council is to go hunting for the Black Cauldron, the source of the Cauldron Born warriors of Arawn. These are basically zombies with swords, doing anything their master calls for — and were the source of a good deal of apprehension when I was a kid, and now just seem like a great foe. Their numbers are swelling, making Dalben and Gwydion certain that something bad is on the horizon — now seems like a good time to raid the Dark Lord’s domain and destroy the Cauldon. Which may not derail the plans in motion, but will at least make them easier for the good guys to survive.

So after the Council, the heroes head out. As soon as they launch their strike, they discover that someone has beaten them to it — the Cauldron is gone and they’ve got to regroup before hunting it down. Things go bad there, the companions are separated from each other and on the run from those the Cauldron has already produced.

Taran, Ellidyr, Adaon, Gurgi and Fflewddurr get a lead on the Cauldron and decide to follow it up immediately rather than let their foes get it while they’re off looking for Gwydion. This takes them to the swamps of Morva — one of my favorite places in the series — and to the hut of Orddu, Orwen, & Orgoch. They will chill younger readers and entertain readers of all ages. From there peril, betrayal, redemption, grief and more ensue as the companions try to destroy the titular MacGuffin.

The Lloyd Alexander introduction to this one was better than the previous — I’m such a geek that listening to little bits of Alexander was one of the highlights of my day. I don’t think I have anything to say about Langton’s performance here that I didn’t say last time. It was good, nothing spectacular, though. He kept me engaged, even if he paced it slower than I’d like. Whoever transferred this from audiotape to digital format had an odd approach to dead space between tapes/tape sides — there are times that I feared the file had stopped unexpectedly, either from a corruption in the file or a glitch in the app, and just as I’d grab my phone to check the Langton’s voice would start again.

A needed part of the story, if only for Taran’s growth, and for what it sets up in books to come. It was never my favorite growing up, still isn’t now, but it was still an entertaining few hours.

—–

3 Stars

The Person of Jesus by J. Gresham Machen

The Person of JesusThe Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses on the Deity of the Savior

by J. Gresham Machen

Paperback, 101 pg.
Westminster Seminary Press, 2017

Read: March 19, 2017


If it’s J. Gresham Machen, it’s gotta be good! Yeah, that might be an oversimplification, but it’s true.

This book is made up of part of a series of radio addresses Machen gave in 1935 — this selection, obviously, focusing on the Person of Christ — his Deity (and what it actually means to describe him as such), what He says about Himself, and what He demonstrated about Himself. These are warm chapters that must’ve been easy to listen to (at one point Machen apologizes for technical language in a way that brought a smile to my face), but rich in teaching. I only wish we had the recordings. I don’t know how, but even with these addresses coming from eight decades ago, they feel like the could’ve been delivered last week.

My favorite chapter, probably, was on The Sermon on the Mount — it’s a long-standing favorite of liberal theologians, and other non-Christians as a way of talking about the “ethics of the New Testament” apart from anything supernatural, miraculous or theological. Machen directly takes on this idea and shows how it’s baseless and impossible to actually do.

These addresses were given towards the end of this life, after he’s gone through “The Presbyterian Conflict” and all the associated drama and trials. Through that experience, he’s a bit more direct. In Christianity & Liberalism Machen’s no less forthright, but he talks about Liberal Theologians, or “other teachers”, etc. Here, he doesn’t waste time — he just calls them “unbelievers.” It’s the same thing, as he demonstrated in his earlier work, but he doesn’t do that here.

This is how apologetics should look — easy to understand and follow, yet rich in doctrine and the Bible. Welcoming and winsome while not giving an inch to his opponents. As always, with Machen, this is how we should all be doing it.

—–

5 Stars

No Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life by Reformed Forum

No Uncertain SoundNo Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life

by Reformed Forum

Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
Reformed Forum, 2017

Read: March 26, 2017


I’ve been listening to podcasts from Reformed Forum for years now — not as long as I should’ve, no doubt, but for quite awhile — and their guests, discussions and related materials have provided a lot of fodder for my reading lists (both accomplished and planned). So I was excited to hear that they were taking their first steps into book production, not just promotion. Their first book, No Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life is a collection of essays attempting to “set forth the salient features of [their] Reformed identity” and “facilitate the spread of” the gospel. It’s definitely a winner regarding the former, and in the right hands, will help the latter.

Following a brief history of the Reformed Forum, there are six essays from regular contributors to the podcasts, conferences and website sponsored by the Forum. Lane G. Tipton writes about the Redemptive-Historical approach to the Scriptures, focusing on Jesus in the Old Testament’s progressive revelation of the Messiah — this essay also provides some critical interaction with Peter Enns as an added bonus. Camden M. Bucey, writes about the need for theology (professional or personal) to be both Biblical (as in Vosian) and Systematic — an approach I applaud and wish I saw more of. Jeffrey C. Waddington addresses the doctrine of has a great essay on union with Christ and the ordo salutis. Glen J. Clary writes about worship and our need to approach it correctly. James J. Cassidy’s ecclesiastical essay is very helpful and probably not what most people expect from the idea of an essay on ecclesiology. Waddington closes the book with an essay on Reformed apologetics — what’s known as Van Tillian presuppositionalism, or Covenant Apologetics.

All the essays are thought-provoking, and will help those new to thinking in these terms as well as those who’ve been down the path a time or two. At the end of each essay is a listing of podcasts/lectures from the Reformed Forum archives so readers can dive deeper into the topics — a great, and very useful tool. For myself, the essays on the Christ in the Old Testament, Union with Christ and Worship were the more profitable in the collection, but I can easily see where other readers will gain more from the others.

The suggested reading list is great — I’m not 100% convinced that I agree with the levels they assigned to some of the works (some are easier than they suggest, others more difficult). But a great list to have on hand without having to go dig around the website to find it.

This is in many ways an advertisement for their podcasts and website — and it’s good at that. But it is more — thankfully. There’s a lot of meat on these bones for people to chew on — whether they’re regular listeners/readers of the Forum’s output or not. Yes, the material basic, but it’s foundational — both for one’s understanding of what Reformed Forum is about, but for establishing an understanding of Confessional Reformed thought in the Twenty-First Century. This is a good first step into the world of books for Reformed Forum, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.

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4 Stars