February 2017 Report

I really thought I read more last month than I did — not sure how I lost track like that. On the plus side, this is probably the highest percentage of winners I’ve had in a while. I did intend to write more than I did, but I could pretty much say that every month. Anyway…

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Knots & Crosses Devoted to God Death Stalks Kettle Street
3 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars
Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Serengeti Jaeth's Eye
3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
No Little Women Dead Gone Legal Asylum: A Comedy
4 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
The Sense Of Humor The Shanghai Moon The Doll (Audiobook)
2 Stars 4 Stars 3.5 Stars
Behind Her Eyes Defying the Prophet Skulduggery Pleasant (Audiobook)
4 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars

Still Reading:

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament Hack The Last Adam

Reviews Posted:

How was your month?

The Sense Of Humor by Max Elliot Anderson

The Sense Of HumorThe Sense Of Humor: Let Humor Fast Track You to Healthier, Happier Living

by Max Elliot Anderson

Paperback, 330 pg.
Elk Lake Publishing, 2016

Read: February 15 – 22, 2017


E. B. White famously said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” And I’ve found no exceptions to this in the couple of decades I’ve looked. Nevertheless, when Anderson asked if I’d read the book, I said yes. Sadly, White’s quip contains more meat than Anderson’s 330 pages.

The central thesis of the book is that humor and laughter are good mentally, physically socially and spiritually. I’m pretty sure most people know that (at least with most of these things) without Anderson’s help. That doesn’t stop him from saying it over and over again — almost every time, it’s like he hasn’t said it before. As it’s such a benefit, he argues, we need to increase our use of it in our family, relationships, professional life, etc. A time or two, he adds a vaguely Christian-ish gloss to this to add some weight to his argument, but those attempts are pretty weak and best ignored for the author’s sake.

His use of sources is laughable — there are no footnotes/endnotes, many of his citations come in the form of “one entertainer said, . . . “, his history is easily demonstrably wrong. In short, the writing is shoddy and in dire need of a capable editing — which would make the whole thing a lot shorter.

The humor used to tell his point? Well, it’s mildly amusing at best. His chapter “Humor that is No Laughing Matter” is basically a narrow-minded nag-fest about sticking to types of humor that Anderson has arbitrarily decided is appropriate and avoiding humor that he doesn’t like. Everything else is just dull. Overall, the tone and content of the book don’t match up to the subject matte.

This would have made a fairly benign and marginally interesting magazine article, or TL;DR blog post — but as a book? Nope, it just doesn’t work — it ends up spreading what material there is too thin to be any good. It’s too filled with what everyone already knows (and repeats it) and shoddy writing to waste your time with.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts, I think it’s pretty clear that such didn’t bias me toward the book.

—–

2 Stars

Dead Gone by Luca Veste

Dead GoneDead Gone

by Luca Veste
Series: Murphy and Rossi, #1

Paperback, 404 pg.
Avon, 2014

Read: February 13, 2017

They say you get used to it. One victim becomes another. An endless array of body parts lit up, wounds, scars blood. If you deal with death all the time, you develop a gallows humour, dark jokes passed around.

Murphy knew differently. When it was bad as this, there was no levity to be found. You got on with the job, and hoped to catch whoever did it before it happened again.

In most series, we’d meet DS Laura Rossi as she joins the detectives, probably partners up with DI David Murphy (who we might have known for a book o more already), we get to know her as she gets to know the job and Murphy. Murphy’s a good detective with some interesting choices in his personal life, she’s an eager (and educated) rookie tied to her family in ways she wouldn’t prefer. Then in the next book, we see a mix of tragedy, crime and bad timing wreak havoc on Murphy’s personal life and it spills over to his career. Now, in Dead Gone, he’s trying to put his life back on track, recovering from whatever career setbacks he’s stumbled into with the help of his sometimes partner and boss.

But Veste jumps us right into book 3 without the foundation work — we get hints (and eventually more than hints) to put it all together — especially as it Murphy’s life becomes fodder for the killer’s taunting of the police. Honestly, I liked that approach. Other writers might not be as successful with it, but Veste pulled it off. You get the idea that Murphy was a really good detective, and if he can get his head back in the game, he will be one again. Rossi is well on the way to being a good one — but she might have hitched her wagon to the wrong mentor.

Oh, yeah, the killer — bodies are starting to show up in Liverpool. Death by multiple means, but left in similar conditions — and with letters attached making references to classic psychology studies — many of which couldn’t be replicated today with contemporary ethical standards. But the killer seems to be taking them further than the original studies. And, well, he’s a serial killer, so ethical research methods aren’t at the height of his concern.

I could’ve used a bit more of Rossi, I liked her as a character, but I enjoyed what we got. I understand that Murphy’s the star of the show, but hopefully she gets a bit more of the focus later on. The rest of the squad is pretty much what you get in any police procedural — I’d be happy if I don’t have to see Det. Bannon ever again, but hopefully he gets what’s coming to him — or a healthy dose of character growth — soon.

Murphy is dealing with a whole mess of personal issues as he’s leading the investigation — but it doesn’t really distract from his work, maybe it even helps it. This is tightly plotted, moves at a good pace — Veste doesn’t waste anything, there’s no fluff, no fat to this prose. Probably because I know there’s another 3 books so far in the series, I didn’t worry about the danger posed to our heroes at any point, but the tension was real. The terror visited upon the victims was more than real — Veste does an outstanding job of getting into the heads of some of the victims without getting exploitative. Too often in serial killer novels the victims are just corpses (or something that’ll be a corpse soon), so no need to really care about them. Not here — and what a nice change of pace that is — they’re people, not props.

This really isn’t a whodunit kind of novel — Veste pretty much gives it away pretty early on. Not that this stops him from dragging a large red herring across the reader’s path. Yeah, it’s pretty obviously a red herring — but he uses it well as such — and then . . . well, let’s just leave it as I didn’t see what he’d do with that particular forage fish after it was clear that the killer they’re hunting for is someone else.

I literally lost sleep staying up to finish this one — dragged myself through the next day at work, leaning on coffee just to seem passably competent. And it was worth it. I will be grabbing the next installment, The Dying Place, very soon.

—–

4 Stars

The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan

The Shanghai MoonThe Shanghai Moon

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #9

Hardcover, 373 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: February 16 – 18, 2016


Oh, man . . . things got away from me and I haven’t been able to reconnect with Lydia or Bill for too long now (14 months between books I think) — I missed them. Thankfully, it took no time at all to get back in the groove.

Speaking of breaks, following the shattering events of Winter and Night, Bill Smith pretty much took a break from everything — including Lydia. She understood that but didn’t like it one bit. So when he does come back into he life early on in this book, she doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and makes him jump through a few hoops to get back into her good graces (but not nearly as many hoops as she intended).

But before we get to that, a one-time mentor and occasional colleague, Joel Pilarsky asks Lydia to help with an investigation. Some jewels have recently been uncovered in China, stolen and theoretically brought to New York to be sold. The client wants Pilarsky to track them down — he suggests that he’ll cover the Jewish jewelry shops that might buy them, and hires Lydia to do the same with Chinese jewelers. What makes these jewels special is that they belonged to Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai, and were probably owned by the same person who owned a legendary piece of jewelry from that time — The Shanghai Moon. Not that the client, a lawyer focused the recovery of Holocaust items, bothers to mention The Shanghai Moon (she has a lame excuse for that oversight when Lydia brings it up later).

Yes, I did say Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I felt bad about not knowing anything about that until Lydia confessed it was news to her, too. She’s intrigued by this notion — and the story of the owner of these jewels, much of which is preserved in letters she wrote to her mother after fleeing from Europe and are now part of a collection of Holocaust documents. We get these letters to, and read them with Lydia and slowly we’re drawn in to the saga of this poor woman and the Chinese man she marries while Lydia and Joel search for her heirlooms.

The investigation soon focuses on The Shanghai Moon — and the murders that appear to be connected to this crime. Bill returns to Lydia’s life in time to help with this investigation. Before you know what’s happening, we’re immersed in a mystery that stretches over decades and involves Nazis, Communists, Japanese military, NYC Chinese gangs and much, much more. The threads that connect all these to the jewels and the family tied to them are so many in number and complex in nature, that I wouldn’t try to explain it even if it wouldn’t spoil the book.

I didn’t get as invested in the historical material as Lydia did — but i came close, and I think most readers will, too. If for no other reason than Bill and Lydia do. There’s a history professor that the pair interview for some more context that I’d love to meet again (I can’t imagine how that’d happen) — he’s a fun character that’s much better developed than most characters filling his role would be in detective novels.

I don’t know if I’ve liked Lydia’s mom as much as I did in this book before (or enjoyed her as much) — it took Lydia far too long to understand what her mother was doing throughout the novel, and the growth/change it represented, but I thought it was great. I’m actually looking forward to reading about her in the next novel (I’ve never disliked the character, just have never been that interested in her).

Best of all, as normal, was the banter and other types of conversation between Lydia and Bill. I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again, but I’d read a couple hundred pages of them just talking over tea and snacks. There was a lot unsaid between them about the months between the novels, but Rozan had them not say it in a great way — and what they said was as good as usual.

Throw in a juicy mystery, good characters and a missing treasure? You’ve got yourself a winner. No surprise that I liked the ninth novel in a series I’ve enjoyed the previous eight in — but that doesn’t make it any less good, it just means that Rozan’s consistently on target. I strongly recommended The Shanghai Moon along with its predecessors.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany – 2/25/17

Skimpy results for 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 Accidental Detective by Michael RN Jones — Meet Victor Jones, Mr. Robot with a less creepy, humorous and Farenheit Press-ish twist.
  • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames — a fantasy novel about a mercenary group “getting the band back together” in a world where they’re treated like rock stars.


Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2017

Read: February 21 – 22, 2017


David and Adele have just moved to London to try to get a fresh start — she’s a stay-at-home wife, gorgeous, and seemingly frail — most of all, she’s deeply devoted to her husband. David’s a psychiatrist who might be a bit too fond of his drink, and doesn’t seem to be as devoted to Adele as she is to him. From the get-go we know there’s a few things really wrong with their marriage, and you can tell that finding out just what they are (and if the drinking is really as bad as it seems) is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Louise is a single mom who needs something fun in her life — things are going well for her ex and his girlfriend, and her son is going away for a month with them. Louise doesn’t have a lot going on in here life other than her son — she has pretty much one friend, a part-time job, and a social life that mainly consists of Netflix, cigarettes and wine. She’s our point-of-entry character, the reason we care about anyone else in the book — she’s relatable, she’s fun, she’s real. On a rare night out, Louise meets and kisses a man (David) who later confesses to be married and leaves.

Naturally, the next day Louise meets her new boss — David. They pledge to forget that night and move on professionally. Soon afterwards, Adele runs into Louise and a friendship develops between them — Louise carefully never admitting that she knows Adele’s husband.

Yeah, up to this point, this could be the fodder for a comedy — something that Jennifer Weiner might write, but with a little more edge, and involving people in London. So maybe it’s a dark Helen Fielding feel. Anyhow, Louise’s relationships with each get deeper. And as that happens, the tone gets darker and darker — everyone involved has secrets, and at least two of the people in this triangle aren’t who we think they are. And before you know it, you’ve left Women’s Commercial Fiction and turned the genre corner into Crime Fiction. There is evil or madness — maybe both — at the core of this story, and it’s dark. But the book never goes as far as it could into the darkness — it’s careful about showing it. Just lets it out every now and then, so you know it’s lurking out there.

The story is told from Adele’s and Louise’s perspective — with flashbacks to earlier in Adele’s life. Adele clearly has some problems, but it’s unclear what they really are. It’s tough to know whose perspective on things is more realistic — particularly their competing ideas about David. Eventually, we start to see that one of these women is manipulating the other two in the triangle and their plans are pretty serious.

Pinborough does a masterful job of drawing you into the story, the characters, their destinies — you can’t help but care, and even before things become a psychological thriller, you’ll find yourself very invested into what’s going on with these people and what will happen. Once things become perilous . . . forget it, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from this book. I loved the tone, the character development — Louise is one of my favorite characters of 2017.

Now, for the first 290 pages I was enthralled and was about ready to call this the best thriller I’ve read in months — maybe years. You can understand the hype about this book — why Two Crime Writers and a Microphone devoted an episode to this book, etc. But the last 16 pages . . . I just don’t know. It’s impossible to really discuss these pages without defying my “no spoiler” policy. Let me put it this way, if you can swallow X — you’ll dig the last 16 pages, and your jaw just might drop in the final 6. Me? I choked on X, and was fed up with the last 6. Since I finished it, I can understand what Pinborough was trying to do — and can even make a decent argument defending it. But I don’t like it — and think that even the best argument in her defense is codswallop.

Behind Her Eyes is a really strong book that will grab you, keep you entertained and will give you a conclusion that you’ll talk about for days (at least).

What I want to give it after the last 16 pages:

—–

2 Stars

Buuuut. . . . I think it really deserves this:

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Jaeth’s Eye by K.S. Villoso

Jaeth's EyeJaeth’s Eye

by K.S. Villoso
Series: The Agartes Epilogues, #1

Kindle Edition, 372 pg.
World Tree Publishing, 2014

Read: February 9 – 11, 2017


There is no doubt in my mind that Villoso had a very clear idea what was going on in these pages — but as I read, I felt like I was constantly e-evaluating what was going on — guessing what I was supposed to understand, and what was supposed to be being revealed to me (either where I was or in the future).

Not only did I not understand where I was, I couldn’t really tell you until the end how everything tied together and what the overall story was. I didn’t get the various cultures/ethnicities, I couldn’t tell how the various moves by the characters — or by those they were talking about — meant anything.

Now, I liked the characters — I liked the interactions, and every time that the story moved on I hated it, because I’d have to reorient myself. The characters seem to change almost every time I encountered them.

Glancing around the internet I see that I’m alone in this — every other reviewer seems to have really dug the way Villoso told the story. Great — that’s a relief. I’d rather that I missed out on something good than the alternative — that Villoso didn’t put out something good.

Well, there’s one thing that you cannot convince me belongs in this fantasy world — dime novels. Nope, that just doesn’t fit.

I’m going to give this a three because the individual scenes, the character moments were great — I just couldn’t put the pieces together. Go read someone else’s take on the book, it’s bound to be better than mine.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post — sorry it worked out this way for you, K. S.

—–

3 Stars