Saturday Miscellany — 1/19/19

Remember when this was posted at about the same time every week? Yeah, me neither. On the other hand, I slept well last night. Even if that started well before I was ready/aware of it.

Oh, btw, the whole “Block Editor” thing that WordPress is trying to get me to use — I don’t see the point and man, there’d better be a whole lotta very accessible help files ready to go when they impose this on us w/o the option to go back to the Classic Editor.

With no further ado or delay, here are the 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:

  • Back Door To Hell by Paul Gadsby — a couple of amateurs try to steal from a crime lord to start their lives. Am thinking the title gives a hint about how that goes.
  • Marked by S Andrew Swann– what a fantastic premise — click the link to read it. A detective, magic, time travel and extra-dimensional bad guys.
  • Tear It Down by Nick Petrie — my goal of catching up on the Peter Ash series this year just got 384 pages harder.
  • Night School: A Reader for Grownups by Zsófia Bán — Click the link to read the description, I can’t do it justice. I’ve only heard good things about this and can easily see it living up to the hype.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Dalindcy Koolhoven and ailishsinclair for following the blog this week.

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Pub Day Repost: The Burglar by Thomas Perry: A Thief Hunts for a Killer in this Original Thriller

The BurglarThe Burglar

by Thomas Perry
eARC, 304 pg.
Mysterious Press, 2019
Read: August 25 – 28, 2018

Elle Stowell is a thief — a burglar to be precise. She’s careful, methodical, careful — she doesn’t use weapons, she focuses on cash and things that are easy to sell. You really can’t call anyone in her profession “risk averse,” but she’s as close to it as you could possibly be.

She’s a cute, petite blonde working in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in LA. Her appearance gets her over-looked by those who ought to find her suspicious and her size and athletic ability help her get into places that she shouldn’t be. She makes enough to finance her lifestyle — and a little more. But primarily, she lives this way for the thrill.

All that changes one day when she breaks into a home and finds three bodies in the bedroom, clearly the victims of a shooting. She also notices that a video camera in the room which probably caught the murder — it definitely caught her. So she steals the camera from the scene and runs. She verifies that, yes, it shows the murder and a little bit of what led up to it. After making a few copies — and removing her self from the footage — she returns the camera for the police to use the footage.

Soon after this, she begins to hear of three people looking for her at some of her usual haunts. She’s told that they seem like cops, but she’s not sure. Cops or not, she wants nothing to do with them. Once bodies start showing up — bodies that are related to her in some way — she knows that she has to find the murderers or she’ll never be able to stop looking over her shoulder.

I don’t really think that I got to the point that I liked Elle — she’s a criminal, not one driven to it or forced to steal or anything. She made a choice at some point to steal and has stuck with it. She’s not particularly flamboyant about it — like Jim DiGriz or Nicholas Fox or anything. Her approach is clinical, serious, no-nonsense. So there’s none of the typical fictional trappings that make you like a thief character.

However, it wasn’t that far into the book when I realized that I was really invested in what’s going on with her — how is she going to escape the ramifications of what she’s seen? Is she being paranoid, or is there someone actually after her? Will she be able to bring them to justice without incriminating herself? How did they figure how who she was? Why were the original murders committed? Why isn’t anything happening with that video she left the police?

There are other characters — a couple that you get to spend some good time with, too. But this book is all about Elle. Like I said, I don’t think I ever liked Elle, but I appreciated her as a character. The other characters that are around for more than a few paragraphs are just interesting enough to justify their presence. Some bring out some interesting sides of Elle’s character or past. Others help us understand just what kind of mess she’s fallen into.

This is my third Thomas Perry book in the last year, and I was far more invested in the events of this than I was in either of the others — he kept reeling me in page by page. The pacing of this is great — just like Elle herself, Perry knows when to slow down and let you catch your breath and then when to dash off and leave you hanging on by your fingertips.Perry’s been at this for a while and it shows — he knows how to write a thriller.

Unlike many crime novels (including the other Perry novels), you don’t get to know anything about the murderers until the ending — you have an idea about them before the ending, but it’s not until the closing chapters that you actually learn anything. I loved that, I was just as much in the dark as Elle was. Perry didn’t get into the killer’s mindset or motivation at all. They were just out there, threatening Elle until she’s put the pieces together.

This was a fun read. It was gripping, it was unique, it was complex — and come to think of it, the motive for the killing and the crimes surrounding the murder aren’t like anything I remember in Crime Fiction. That alone makes it worth your while. Perry really delivered the goods with this one, and I encourage you to give it a shot.

—–

3.5 Stars

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

Awakenings by Edward Lazellari: A Solid Beginning to a Portal Fantasy Series with a Twist

AwakeningsAwakenings

by Edward Lazellari
Series: Guardians of Aandor, Volume One

Hardcover, 348 pg.
Tor Books, 2011

Read: January 12 – 15, 2019


When I heard Lazellari talk about the setup to this novel/series on The Once and Future Podcast, I knew I had to give this a shot. I just love the premise — to secure the future of a war-torn fantasy world, a group of loyal subjects take a royal infant into our world via a great magic working. Once here, something goes horribly wrong and they forget who they are and split up.

Thirteen years later, more people come into our world from theirs — hunting for the now young man. Not as much goes wrong for them — they retain their identities, if not all their magic (this just isn’t the right kind of world in the multiverse for magic to work easily). Once they’ve somewhat acclimatized to Earth (aided by a spell or two), they begin hunting for the protectors and the child, er, teen.

Finally, one more traveler came to Earth — a student mage (almost a full wizard, but not quite), Lelani comes, realizes what’s happened and sets out to protect those being hunted and to restore their memories. Early on, she comes across Seth, who studied with her under the same master. On Earth, Seth’s a deadbeat, drug-using photographer — mostly of desperate young women willing to pose for just about any kind of picture for a few dollars (yup, mostly those kind of pictures). Honestly, you have to work pretty hard to not want to see him eaten by something out of the Monster Manual for D&D.

You really can’t say that Lelani convinces Seth of anything, but he accompanies her as they come to retried the group’s leader. He’d been part of one of the ruling families, and was a star among the Guard. Here, he’s Cal MacDonnell, a police officer — not just a police officer, but in addition to his career, he has a wife and daughter — a whole family, one he doesn’t want to abandon for the sake of a fairy tale (even if he’s pretty sure that Lelani’s telling the truth). I think it’s this aspect of Cal’s story that grabbed me the most — he knows his duty, what’s expected of him, but he can’t just give up his life here to take up that duty. While Lelani tries to help them remember who they are, Seth and Cal set out to find the teen and their former companions.

And what of the child? He’s not officially identified, but the novel spends a lot of time talking about a young man living in a small town in New York. He’s bullied at school, his adoptive mother has married a drunk who abuses him, yet Daniel spends a lot of time defending others — friends and his sister.

The villains of this piece are more reminiscent of the more unsavory characters of Gaiman’s Neverwhere than anything that Weis, Hickman, Eddings, Tolkein, etc. created. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see them roaming around some semi-medieval land, terrorizing the populace.

This book comes across as an Urban Fantasy novel, but it’s not really one — it’s really an Epic Fantasy that takes place in New York. The feel is different than Urban Fantasy (but man, it sounds like I’m splitting hairs — but I bet it won’t when you read it). It’s a portal fantasy, with a twist. A band of heroes in a noble cause, trying to stave off chaos — not only for their world, but ours as well (now that the bad guys know where it is…a whole universe unprotected from magic and monsters).

The ending is clearly designed to propel you to the sequel (and it worked!), with Daniel in peril; Cal, Seth and Lelani poised to find him and the rest of the companions, and their foes preparing to eliminate them all. We’ve learned a lot about their world, but there’s a whole lot more to learn — ditto for the others who came here 13 years ago. Book two, The Lost Prince has a lot to accomplish, and I can’t wait to see how it does.

Here’s a bonus feature for a few readers — this is a complete trilogy, the third volume came out last year. You can dive into this without worrying about Lazellari getting distracted by life/other projects.

—–

3.5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

Opening Lines – A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski

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? How can you not?

Listen.

At some point, a poor sap will look at you and say, “This is the worst day of my life.”

But as long as you have breath in your lungs to say those words, you’re not having your worst day. You haven’t even hit rock bottom, much less started to dig. You can still come back from a car wreck, or that terrifying shadow on your lung X-ray, or finding your wife in bed with the well-hung quarterback from the local high school. Sometimes all you need to solve your supposedly world-ending problems is time and care, or some cash, or a shovel and a couple of garbage bags.

If you see me coming, on the other hand, I guarantee you’re having your worst day. Not to mention your last.

Let me show you how bad it can get. How deep the hole goes. And the next time your idiot friend says something about worst days, as the two of you stand there watching his house burn down with his pets and one-of-a-kind porn collection inside, you can tell him this story. It might even shut him up.

Let me tell you about Bill, my last client.

from A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski

A Few Quick Questions With…Gray Basnight

Earlier today, I talked about Gray Basnight’s thriller Flight of the Fox and now I get to present a little Q&A I did with him so you can get acquainted with him. I did zero prep for this beyond reading the small “About the Author” paragraph at the end of the book, so I appreciated the opportunity to get a peak behind the curtain. I hope you do, too.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I’ve always been a writer and long aspired to be a published novelist. One key reason why I worked in broadcast for three decades was to be in an environment where the written and spoken word mattered. When I was laid off during the financial crisis, I decided it was time to take my fiction writing more seriously.
I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But out of all the ideas floating around in your head, why’d you latch onto “A Math Professor being chased by drones”? (to be highly reductive) — what was it about this character, this idea that drove you to commit months/years to it?
The truth is, I haven’t a perfectly coherent answer about the specifics of how Sam Teagarden came to be. I wanted to create a protagonist who was an Everyman, or at least as far from a secret agent with karate chopping skills as I could make him. A math teacher seemed to fit the bill.

As for drones, I have no idea where they came from, except to say that they began making news while I was starting this novel, related to their potential for mail order package delivery. From there, remote controlled assassins seemed a logical progression. By the way, I’m confident – and I fear – this will become a reality in the not too distant future.

Pangolin is such an interesting character — I can easily see him starring in his own book. Can you talk about where he came from?
Thanks for that. I’m glad you liked good ole Pangolin. In terms of plotting and pacing, he was a bit of a challenge because he’s an important character introduced in the final third of the novel. Technically, that’s a no-no. But when he appeared on my pages, I liked him so much I kept him along for the duration. He’s an ex-Navy pilot who despairs over the evolving intrusion of technology, computers and A.I. into our economy and general way of life. As a kid I always liked a comic book hero called Magnus, Robot Fighter. It’s curious to me that Hollywood hasn’t yet discovered Magnus for the lucrative franchise I believe he would be. So Pangolin is my Magnus.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I’m a voracious reader. With some exceptions (steampunk/boys with swords) I read a little from all genres. As a writer, I think it’s important to do that.

For personal enjoyment, I tend toward crime/espionage and literary fiction, plus well-crafted biography from the non-fiction shelf. Chernow’s bio of Grant was wonderful. What a unique and important American that man was.

I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
True, true, true. As for the absolute worst thing, I haven’t seen it—yet. Nothing has really crushed me, except for a face-to-face insult levied by a famous editor at one of the large publishing houses who hadn’t read my manuscript but was confident it was unworthy of her time, which she let me know in no uncertain terms. As Frank Sinatra sang, “some people get their kicks stomping on a dream.”

As for altering my approach to writing, thankfully, that has not happened. All I can do is sit down and try my best with the skills I possess. And, hey, sometimes the result is pretty good.

What’s next for Gray Basnight?
Lots. I’m putting final touches on a sequel to Flight of the Fox.

I have a finished YA manuscript that I’m confident has commercial viability – I only need one agent or publisher to see what I see!

I’m excited about another project I’m now outlining after having written a crappy first draft a couple of years ago. I’ve never outlined before, but so far, it’s going surprisingly well. The plot centers on an event in the Confederacy that springboards to an adventurous contemporary story.

Behind all that, there’s a bottleneck of about a dozen projects that may or may not get further fleshed out, including some first drafts that are already done.

My hope is to keep writing, and to keep readers interested!

Thanks for your time — and thanks for Flight of the Fox, I really enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.

Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight: An Unlikely Hero. A Credible Threat. A Story You Hope Is Fiction

Flight of the FoxFlight of the Fox

by Gray Basnight
Kindle Edition, 404 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2018
Read: January 10 – 11, 2019

Kill a man’s dog, break a man’s rules.

No, this isn’t a John Wick tribute/knock-off. Not at all. Just another tale about a guy with his priorities right.

A grief-stricken, new widower finally snapped after the death of his dog (no doubt his emotional instability aided by the pain killers he took following the car accident that killed his wife), makes a ranting, angry, delusional phone call to the police, saying something about guns and shooting before killing a neighborhood resident and then running from the police. Authorities consider him potentially armed and dangerous.

Or at least that’s what the authorities want you to think.

In reality, Samuel Teagarden is a math professor who was attacked for reasons that he doesn’t understand by drones at his home. Teagarden makes a panicked call to the police for help but escapes, although his aged dog dies — as does someone from the neighborhood. He has no idea what’s going on (as the book opens), but he knows that someone is trying to kill him. As you can imagine, this is a pretty good motivation to move as quickly as you can — which isn’t easy, because the car accident that took his wife from him left him with two broken knees.

That’s right, he’s 49, he’s a math teacher and he’s running around on two mostly-healed broken knees — you can practically see Tom Cruise or a Hemsworth lining up to get cast as him in the movie, right?

But why would someone want to kill him? Well, back before he got his doctorate, he was an entry-level code analyst for the CIA and he’s dabbled in the field since — and someone had sent him encoded correspondence from the earth twentieth century. Neither Teagarden or the sender realized how sensitive it was and that there were very powerful people in a “three-letter” agency who didn’t want anyone decoding the correspondence, much less knowing it existed.

So, Teagarden has to evade whoever is trying to kill him and the police who think he killed someone — while trying to decrypt this stack of code and figure out who is out for him. He has his wits, a little bit of cash and a little luck on his side, the other side has resources, drones, surveillance equipment, trained assassins and a federal budget backing them.

Sounds like the ingredients of a heckuva thriller right? It is. It’s also one of those that I could utterly ruin for prospective readers by saying just a little more — so I’m going to resist the temptation to give anything but that bird’s eye view.

I can’t tell you how or exactly when the book got its hook set in me – which is a good sign, I prefer not to know how I’m being manipulated. But I can say I was a little skeptical initially, but I remember something forced me to stop reading, and I was annoyed by it, and when I checked, it the progress meter was at 14%. That’s not long at all for me to get as hooked as I was.

Now, all of us have read/watched a thriller where 3 out of the 4 people the protagonist has met in the last month have some necessary knowledge and/or connection that the protagonist needs to survive and/or meet their goal. Flight of the Fox is the same way — Teagarden meets just the right people, catches all the right breaks, and so on — but unlike typical protagonists, he notices this. He doesn’t take it for granted, he sees it happening and it affects him. This is a little touch, but its these little things that shows Basnight’s skill and uniqueness in the field.

Teagarden is a great character — he’s fallible, he’s human, but he’s also creative, smart and resourceful. He has to be to survive this situation. The assassin after him from the beginning is cold, efficient and deadly — you never have any doubt about that. His colleagues and employer are also the kind of people you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. There are a couple of fantastic characters in these pages and the rest are pretty good, too.

The story is the obligatory roller coaster — it’s fun, fast with a lot of twists and turns. You also spend a little time sure that you’re in a free fall only to realize that everything’s been under firm control the entire time. It’s realistic enough to make you a little worried about drones flying overhead and to wonder just how reality-based the correspondence is — but it never sacrifices the sense of a fun (and fictional . . . I hope) story for the reader. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

4 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Not Famous by Matthew Hanover: A Sweet bit of Lad Lit that’ll fill your Heart with Song.

This is now available for pre-order at a discounted price! Take advantage of it while you can!

Not FamousNot Famous

by Matthew Hanover

eARC, 382 pgs.
2019

Read: December 3 – 4, 2018

We meet Nick a couple of months after one of the most embarrassing experiences of his life — a marriage proposal that goes awry. He’s still reeling from that when he meets a very cute, and comparatively young, barista at his favorite Seattle-based Coffee chain shop. Alli’s not just a barista, she’s also a musician — a solo act, just a girl with a guitar — so Nick goes to one of her shows. He falls in love with her music right away, and somehow convinces her to go to dinner with him.

Which is just the beginning of their story. Alli’s a very private person with no romantic past. At all. Which seems hard to believe when you read it here, but when she tells Nick that, you have no problem believing it. Unless she’s singing, she seems nervous, uncertain, and shy. But on stage . . . she’s a different person. And while she seems like a shrinking violet, she has a will of iron when it counts. One of the places it counts surrounds her past — it’s a closed book — and it doesn’t seem likely that she’ll open up until and unless she truly trusts someone. Although she’s put up enough walls to protect herself that it’s going to take quite the guy to get her to let her defenses down.

Now, on the other hand, Nick has some kind of romantic past, but it’s hard to believe it sometimes as he fumbles his way through this relationship. It’s kind of fun to watch him act like he’s an expert on romance, someone guiding Alli through this new territory for her, and then frequently doing and saying the wrong things — almost sabotaging the relationship more times than he’d care to admit. Some of this comes from general ineptitude, some comes from the damage done to him in his last relationship (much of which he doesn’t realize happened).

Now, I don’t want to take any thing away from Nick or Alli — they’re they heart and soul of the novel. But, I want to talk a little bit about Nick’s sister, Lacy. Her father was their mom’s second husband, and about ten years younger. They’re not close, but their mother keeps trying to get Nick to be involved — after his step-father died, Nick’s really the only male influence in her life. Lacy, like their mom, wants them to be close. She sees him as her big brother, even if he only sees her as his much younger step-sister. As the book goes on, Nick’s maturity can be gauged by his relationship to his little sister. Naturally, like just about everything that’s not work in his life, Alli’s influence and action improves things — the friendship between Lacy and Alli forces Nick to play a larger role in his sister’s life. And before long, he doesn’t need Alli’s efforts to want that closeness himself. I thoroughly enjoyed Lacy as a character, and watching how Nick changes in relation to her — she was the added something that made this book more than just a sweet love story. She’s not around much, actually, and there are characters that have a more obvious impact on the plot — but she’s the non-Nick/Alli character that sticks with you.

She’s also the one character whose main role isn’t to serve the Nick/Alli relationship in some way. Now, she does serve that — don’t get me wrong. But that’s not the chief purpose for her. I have nothing against Alli’s Starbucks coworkers, or fellow musicians who only show up to encourage the romance. Or Nick’s roommate, or friend/partner who give him reality checks and the prodding her needs. But they really don’t do much else. But little sister does. If I ever get to interview Hanover, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about her.

I would have appreciated having a better sense of who Nick is outside the relationship. I do have a sense of him as a single guy, as a friend, as a professional — but I’d have liked a bit more of that. It’s really hard to have much of a read on Alli outside their romance, as it’s all told from Nick’s POV. But you do get hints — I’d have liked a few more. But since this is the story of Nick and Alli, it’s appropriate (and enough) that we get a really strong idea about them as individuals relating to each other and them as a couple, and how that dynamic functions. I’m just a reader who almost always wants a little more than an author gives me.

At the end of the day — and long before that, actually — what you think about this book boils down to one thing: Alli. Do you like her as a character — do you fall under the same spell that Nick does? (or can you see why someone would?) Moreover, her secret — do you care? And is that caring based on this struggling artist trying to make her way in the world, or do you care because you’re curious? Nick, his struggles, his ineptitude, Lacey, etc. — you’re appreciation of the book will be flavored by your appreciation of those, but it’s all about Alli when it comes to the question of, “Do you like this book?” And Nick, at least, would have it no other way.

Not Famous is almost as much a tribute to Nick Hornby as it is a story in the same vein as his work. There are nods to Jonathan Tropper and Matthew Norman, too — probably Mike Gayle as well, but it’s been so long since I’ve read him, it’s hard for me to recognize that. This is not a bad thing — in fact, I quite appreciate it, and enjoyed the process of seeing how Hanover reflects his influences in his writing.

At some point, I can’t tell you where, I stopped thinking about Not Famous as something that I was going to post about, or something I was going to provide feedback on. I just got wrapped up in the story and the fate of these two characters (and his sister, actually). I stopped thinking about how Hanover wrote and was only concerned with what he wrote (not that I didn’t notice the former, I just didn’t care). It’s always a good sign when I disengage the critical part of my brain and simply read.

Not Famous — it’s cute, it’s amusing, it’s charming, it’s sweet. It’s the kind of book that you want to bring home to mother (okay, that line’s borderline cheesy, I know — but my mom would really enjoy this book) — and even bring it home to your daughter. I hope this book is successful enough to warrant future novels from Hanover, because I would love to read more.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this ARC by the author in exchange for this post. Which gave me something to opine about, but otherwise didn’t influence my opinion.

—–

4 Stars