Technical difficulties…not all my image files are showing for some reason. I’m working on it (well, I’m trying to get my hosting company to work on it). Some people see all of them, most people seem to be seeing some of them — but which ones vary from person to person (can’t find a connection between image problems and browser or OS). If it seems like I should have a picture somewhere, there probably should be one. Sorry!
by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #15eARC, 336 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2016
Read: August 27, 2016
I’m not a big fan of holiday-themed installments of long-running series (see the Holiday Plum novels or the Silent Night Spenser novel as glaring examples of how bad these can be). But you know I’m a completist — and if I could make it through the aforementioned books, I could handle this. Thankfully, this was pretty light on the Christmas theme (sure, there are trees and gifts and whatnot, but it’s not really that different from your standard Andy Carpenter novel. So, if you think like I do — don’t worry. If you don’t mind/like a little holiday cheer — don’t worry, you’ll find it.
A friend of the Tara Foundation, “Pups” (so-called because she takes care of stray puppies until they’re old enough to adopt out, and might be pickier than Willie when it comes to worthy humans). Is facing eviction because of the large number of puppies she has in her home, and a new neighbor is complaining. Pups isn’t really what you call “friendly,” “polite” or someone who “should be allowed to interact with people.” She’s crabby, opinionated, blunt and has no patience for fools — particularly fools that seem intent on messing with her and her puppies. So Pups has said a few things that make it sound like she’d be happy if the neighbor stopped breathing.
Which, naturally, means that he ends up killed and that someone did a really sloppy frame job on ol’ Pups. The frame job is actually bigger than just this one killing, but you can read that for yourself.
Why prosecutors continue to play hardball with Carpenter clients, I just don’t get. I never understood why Hamilton Burger insisted on taking Perry Mason’s clients to trial, and I can’t understand why New Jersey’s prosecutors don’t just dismiss charges the instant that Carpenter and Hike show up on the other side of a courtroom. But they don’t, which means we get to watch Andy do his thing, fret about his jury deliberation superstitions, and annoy a judge. Who could ask for more?
I really think the mystery, the culprit and the way things unfold in Twelve Dogs is better than the last few books in this series. Everything’s clicking just like it should in these pages. This may be some of the best Marcus material in quite a while — the way that the gang leader acts around and talks about “Mr. Marcus” tells you more about Marcus than anything that Andy could possible tell us. The book would be worth reading just for that.
Minor spoiler: and hopefully once the book is published, this’ll be taken care of. It was a shame to see Andy betting since he and Ricky and just made a promise to stop doing that about a third way through the last book (I’m too lazy to look up page number, an approach Andy would probably endorse) — and Laurie made it clear that he was expected to keep that promise. It’s a minor note that I probably only caught because I read the two passages in the same 24-hour period.
It’d be really hard to rank Carpenter books in terms of happy and/or sweet endings. But if you were bored/ambitious enough to take on that task, I’m pretty sure that this would find itself close to the top. A great addition to one of the more entertaining mystery series around.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Minotaur Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #14Hardcover, 326 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2016
Read: August 26 – 27, 2016
Last week, I talked about how difficult it is to come up with things to talk about with a long-running series like the Walt Longmire books — at a certain point, series like that hit a good stride and only vary a little in quality or interest for readers. Well, the Andy Carpenter series is even longer and more difficult to write about. I don’t know if I can do much, but I’ll try.
This time out, Andy has inherited a client already in prison, he’s basically supposed to deal with routine things and be ready to help him at the end of his sentence. This is made easier in that the client, Brian Atkins, is working with a dog training program that the Tara Foundation has going with the minimum security prison he’s in.
But then he breaks out of prison and is found leaving the scene of the murder of his estranged wife and his former partner.
But it’s so much bigger than just this (really, the case doesn’t seem as difficult as many of his — finding the actual killer is, but not the case) — Andy’s going to find himself at odds with one of the most dangerous foes he’s tangled with. Speaking of easy, I sort of think that everything ended a bit too easily, a bit too pat — I’m not sure how doing what they did really keeps Andy and his family safe.
I was wondering how Andy and Laurie were going to deal with juggling parenting and these cases, and man, do I hope they come up with better ways than this one. It works once, but not twice. I liked the little bit of fathering we get to see from Andy, though, and Ricky seems like he can be a decent addition to the series.
I don’t want to sound like I’m down on this book — or this series. It was a whole lotta fun, a nice puzzle, and watching the pieces fall into place was pretty satisfying. If you’re not reading these books, you’re missing out.
Believe it or not — this was almost a lot longer, but I trimmed a lot to hopefully make it better.
by Richard Russo
Hardcover, 483 pg.
A few years ago, my parents took a trip through New England in the Fall to look at the leaves — I know, not an original idea, but for people from the Northwest, it’s not as common as it is for others. One of the places they drove through was Empire Falls and were telling me about some HBO series/book based there — I was vaguely aware of the book, having recently finished Russo’s Straight Man and told them that they’d probably enjoy it. I don’t think either of them gave it a shot (I could be wrong).
A few months later, I got around to reading it myself — wow. It so different in style and content from Straight Man, but it took me a long time to read, and (best of all) it was fantastic. It sent me reeling and made me want to read more by Russo. Sadly, the next book I read by him just about killed that (That Old Cape Magic). A couple of years go by and I decide to read all of his novels in order. When I get to Empire Falls, I skipped it. I just couldn’t do it again. I really didn’t enjoy about half of Russo’s novels, but I couldn’t deny the power of them, nor his skill. Nobody’s Fool, for example, I really didn’t enjoy — but here I am a couple of years later, and I still find myself thinking about a couple of characters and scenes at least three times a month. That’s staying power. (no, I haven’t gotten to the sequel that came out this year, for reasons I don’t fully understand)
Incidentally, I liked That Old Cape Magic better the second time around — actually, I think that was true for Straight Man, too. Liking Cape Magic was almost a given (would be hard to like it less), but I really enjoyed Straight Man the first time out — the second time I loved it. Both of those books deal with a different kinds characters than the rest of his books (including Empire Falls, which I’m getting to — I promise). Most of his books are about small towns and their citizens, usually dealing with economic hardships on the municipal and individual level. Frequently, cafes and bars are used to get the characters to interact with each other and there’s typically one guy who drinks too much, is fairly unreliable, yet everyone likes and enables. There’s humor, tragedy, history (actual and fictional), mixed with character and family struggles. Empire Falls checks every single box on the “what makes a Richard Russo novel” list, but does it bigger. If you’ve read Empire Falls, you’ve read almost every one of his books — which is not to say you shouldn’t read the rest (especially Straight Man and Bridge of Sighs) — but you’ll get a good idea what kind of things Russo typically deals with and how he does it.
Richard Russo is what Jonathan Tropper, Nick Hornby and Matthew Norman (and many others, probably, but these are the three I’m most familiar with) could easily become if they got a little more serious and a little darker. On the whole, the latter three are more entertaining (and funnier) — but Russo can pull that off when he wants to. You could also say that Russo is what Jonathan Franzen could be if he lightened up and got less pretentious. But mostly, you can say that I’m a giant fan.
Why am I blathering on? Mostly trying to give context for this post, but partially because it is just daunting to try to talk about this book — especially in something that’d make a decent-length blog post and not a full-fledged dissertation. But I’d better suck it up and get to it.
Empire Falls won Richard Russo his (seemingly) inevitable Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and stands as one of the greatest achievements in his storied career. It is at once a story about a town and a man, microcosms for the state and the nation; it’s both sweeping and epic while being personal and intimate.
The story centers on Miles Roby, manager of the Empire Grill in Empire Falls, ME. He has an ex-wife (who I truly despised), a daughter (who I wanted more of), an ex-mother-in-law that seems to like and respect him a lot more than her own daughter, s (even if they don’t see eye to eye much lately). But more importantly he has a patron — the town matriarch, owner of the Empire Grill, and most of the various places of employment in town. She’s a patron, a would-be surrogate mother (for a select few), and petty tyrant over the city. It’s one of those small towns where the mayor/council/etc. have real power, but it’s only the power she lets them have, you know? Francine Whiting isn’t evil — well, I’ll let you decide for yourself — but at the end of the day, she thinks she’s doing what is right for Empire Falls, the Whiting legacy and her daughter — whether or not anyone wants what she thinks is best. She still could be evil, I guess, and I could very likely made a case for it. Anyhow, let the reader decide.
The trials and dreams and efforts of Miles and his family as he tries to do something different with his life are the core of the novel — but they’re not all of it. The town is full of interesting people — many aren’t vital to the overall story (but you can’t know until the end who those are), but they all add flavor. Most are so fleshed out that you could imagine a short story/novel centered on them. While reading Song in Ordinary Time a few months back, I kept asking myself what made the people in that novel so unlikeable when in many ways they reminded me of Empire Falls‘ cast. I came to this conclusion (and have since reconsidered and still think it’s basically right): Russo uses the flaws in his characters to emphasize their humanity, Morris uses the flaws to emphasize their flaws.
But I come not to bury Morris (again), but to talk about Empire Falls, so let me focus on this a bit more: the flawed humanity isn’t pretty, it’s frequently ugly, people who make mistakes (some tragic, some dumb) are usually trying to do the right/moral/noble thing and it doesn’t work. But it’s real. This could all be real. Even Janice, Miles’ ex, is a well-developed character — and I think I’ve met a handful of people just like her — and I wouldn’t dislike her as much as I did if Russo hadn’t nailed the writing.
There’s an event towards the end — one of the two or three that you ultimately realize the whole novel has been leading up to — that in 2001 would’ve been truly shocking (shocked me a few years ago), but in many ways it’s de rigueur now. 2016 readers might be bored by it, but I can’t imagine that many readers in 2001 were. I’m not going to say more — just if you read this, put yourself in the shoes of readers from 15 years ago when you get to that bit.
Yes, Empire Falls is slow (sometimes), ponderous (sometimes) but it’s also inspiring (sometimes), heartwarming (sometimes) and many other things that I could parenthetically qualify. But every negative about it is utterly worth it for the positives.
What I learned about Maine: (haven’t done this in awhile, whoops). It’s a beautiful state, filled with people who could be better educated, who aren’t vocationally ready for what’s coming for them thanks to the technological shift in jobs. It’s a state where people, nature and industry who have been damaged by reckless policies and practices. It’s a state where nature exerts itself every now and then to remind people how powerful it is. Basically, Maine’s just like every other state in the union — just a little different.
One more thing, not that this’ll surprise many, but I’d advise skipping the HBO miniseries — yeah, it’s a fairly faithful adaptation, it just doesn’t have the heart.
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t read this book for this series of posts — breaking a personal resolution. There were 3 reasons for this: 1. Time; 2. I really wasn’t up for the emotional punches this delivers, and 3. I didn’t need to — I still remember it well enough to discuss at a length greater than I have despite being 4 years and change since I read it. That right there should tell you something about the book — hundreds of books later and I almost feel like I read it a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure that this is the Russo novel I’d tell people to start with (probably Straight Man), and I don’t think it’s his best (probably Bridge of Sighs (tells a story almost as epic in scope, with greater economy and greater depth when it comes to individual characters), but there’s no denying the talent on display here, the greatness of the execution, the vibrancy of the characters, or the impact it has on the reader. No brainer, 5 Stars from me.
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:
- Physical-book sales are staging a comeback after many years of decline — I’ve posted this kind of thing before, but it’s still good to see
- Literary fiction readers understand others’ emotions better, study finds — the details on this are important, and I’m wondering what genre titles were used. Still, intriguing.
- Why I Review Everything I Read — I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, almost to the letter — which is kind of scary. One author asked me why I do the book blog thing, and I’ve been trying to answer her. Will just forward her this (and the next) link.
- Amateur book reviews – my thoughts — Fictionfile nails it.
- 6 Reasons Why It’s Important To Read Books You Hate — Co-sign, especially #5
- This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:
- The Barista’s Guide To Espionage by Dave Sinclair — Fahrenheit Press has another off-the-beaten-path crime/thriller novel out this week, champing at the bit for this one.
- I mistakenly listed this earlier in the month, whoops! Here’s where it belongs: Repo Madness by W. Bruce Cameron — I did not expect The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man to get a sequel, it didn’t need one. But I’ll gladly read it.
by William Galaini
Series: Patron Saints of Hell, #1Kindle Edition, 360 pg.
Scarlet River Press, 2015
Read: August 24 – 25, 2016
This is a well-written, imaginative book with a stack of great characters — they have depth, individual voices and points of view. Coming up with the idea of this book is a stroke of something, I’m not sure what. I trust that Galaini’s parents had him tested as a child.
How do you even give a synopsis of this? Imagine Dante’s After-Life, but fuzzier on morality/religion/ethics than the Alighieri would be comfortable with. Denizens of Purgatory (and the Heavenbound) can move around from place to place (not sure if the damned can, it doesn’t appear so) — at least to “lower” levels than their own. As technology among the living advances, the dead use it, too — but instead of regular old Steam Power, they use Hellfire — which is a much better source of energy (for example). Living for thousands of years gives you plenty of time to refine your science.
Now, Alexander the Great’s right hand man, lifelong friend, and companion, Hephaestion, has decided that Alexander’s been consigned to Hell long enough and is going to liberate him. Hephaestion has been in Purgatory since his death and has spent a millennia or so preparing for his rescue mission. He’s going to sneak into Hell, track Alexander down and slip out the back door. The plan goes awry from almost the beginning and Hephaestion has to rely on newly minted friends and allies to get him where he’s going.
For some reason that’s only made clear at the end, the Jesuits aren’t fans of this, and use a variety of means (bribes, threats, assassins) to dissuade Hephaestion and his friends from their quest. Many of these assassins are ninjas. Which is just cool, I gotta say.
There’s all sorts of strange magic, odd beasts, crazy settings and some great fight scenes here — Galaini can write. Make no mistake.
But man, I just didn’t like it — I didn’t connect with any of the characters (there’s a couple I might’ve been able to, if they’d been around more), the quest seemed wrong-headed and doomed at best (as at least one person tried to tell Hephaestion), and I couldn’t muster up the interest to get invested. I persisted, in case he won me over (and Galaini came close), because I told the publisher I would, and I was mildly curious. My curiosity wasn’t rewarded, sadly. I’m not saying it’s a bad book — it’s not. It’s not a book for me.
I’m giving it 3 because it deserves at least that objectively on merit — my gut says to give it two, it just didn’t click for me — but it’s so well-written than I have to bump it up one. I do expect many would like it more than me, and if I’d read it at some other point in time, I might have liked it more (but I don’t think so).
Disclaimer: – I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. I thank them for the opportunity.
Since the closing pages of Blind Spot, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to fall victim to gravity. Jesse Stone has been, too. Well, after a more typical Stone novel, the wait is over — Mr. Peepers, the sadistic hitman that almost killed Suitcase Simpson and evaded Jesse, is back.
Just in time for just in time for Jesse’s ex, Jen’s wedding.
Before I forget, isn’t that a great move? Build suspense by ignoring the cliffhanger-esque ending for a whole book? In the wrong hands, that’d be annoying, but done right? Very effective.
Jesse and his lady-love, Diana (the FBI agent turned private security consultant) are off to Texas to meet Jen’s fiance, maybe get a little closure, and covertly protect Jen from the special mix of psychological and physical torture that Peepers subjects his victims to before killing them. While Jesse seems to be several steps behind, Peepers seems to be calling all the shots — he’s got all the power and is making Jesse jump through whatever hoops he wants him to.
Meanwhile, changes are afoot with the Paradise Police Department, State Homicide and Suit’s life (and a few other places) — just so we don’t all get too wrapped up in Pepper’s quest for vengeance.
As he has in the previous two novels in this series, Coleman keeps things moving at a great pace, the suspense keeps getting ratcheted up — interspersed by heartwarming, amusing, and troubling moments, so it’s not suspense overkill. There are some great character moments — especially with Diana and Jesse, Suit and a few people, Jesse and a bottle. There’s no mystery here — we all know who the villain of the piece is, the only question is how Peppers will attack and who will remain standing at the end of the book.
In his other major series, Parker introduced a paid assassin, The Gray Man, who almost killed Spenser and plagued him for a while afterwards. Mr. Peepers is far creepier, deadlier, and interesting than the Gray Man ever was. I really didn’t like being in that dude’s head as much as we were — which means that Coleman succeeded in making him a terrible person — I felt like washing my brain out with soap to get over some of the Peepers chapters.
Ace Atkins has returned Spenser to his roots (moved things forward, don’t get me wrong, it’s not just a nostalgia trip), but Coleman has taken Jesse and the rest and shaken things up — he’s stayed true to the characters, the series, the feel — but he’s pushed things ahead and has probably made more real changes to the series than Parker did since book 2 (but making things feel risky and inventive feels like the roots of this series). Actually, he’s not just changed this series — he’s done things that affect the whole of the Parker-verse. Just look at Suit — everything we need to know about what Coleman’s doing to the series is embodied there. I know Coleman’s take is not that popular with some long-time fans, but I couldn’t be happier — either with the series as it is right now, or with this book.
This was riveting, literally never a dull moment — not relentless, you can relax occasionally, even grin. But I had to force myself to put it down to do the responsible adult thing a couple of times. I expect most fans of Jesse and the PPD folks will have similar experiences with Debt to Pay.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
Friend of the blog, Jayme Beddingfield, and her co-writer, Rebecca Clark have a neat looking novel they’re trying to get published. The Shadow Bearers — an expansion of a short-story they co-wrote — is up for funding on Inkshares.
Countless Huditra villages demolished by a darkness spreading throughout the lands. Thousands slain by the falling shadows. Hate looms over the forgotten lands like heavy fog stifling the little life that’s left. Over the years the Nafarat have been casting their magic, destroying all that’s natural. The War From Nowhere forced those who’ve survived the initial attacks into hiding. Nothing alive was safe. Both Tag, the leader of the Nari, river, people and Athea, the future chief of Dagee, the tribe behind the mountains, are all that’s left standing of their kind. With their home grounds no longer safe Tag and Athea hit the traveler’s road, each with individual missions. When their paths cross, they reluctantly team up to seek the answers that will lead them to free the land of shadows.
Once they hit the magic number of 750 preorders, Inkshares will publish and distribute the novel — and if that’s not enough, they’re competing in the Inkshares/Geek & Sundry Fantasy Contest — which just puts the whole Inkshares thing into overdrive. Follow the project over on Inkshares to help them in the contest, and if you can spare a dime, preorder the novel. I bet you’ll (we’ll, actually) be glad you did.