Pub Day Repost: Going Rogue by Neil Lancaster: Tom Novak and His Own Brand of Justice are Back!

Going Rogue

Going Rogue

by Neil Lancaster
Series: Tom Novak Thriller, #2

Kindle Edition, 322 pg.
Burning Chair Publishing, 2019

Read: November 12-14, 2019

I’m a little afraid that this doesn’t sound positive. It should because I enjoyed the book. I shelved the post for a day and tweaked it to help. But, if anything, I think I sound less positive than I did before. So here’s what this post is supposed to say: Great first part, really strong second part, with a couple of hiccups. Hopefully, that’s what you get out of it.

Following his exploits in Going Dark, DS Tom Novak has got himself a new assignment. He’s part of a task force investigating corrupt public figures—politicians, police, military, judiciary and whatnot. This is a much better fit for him than his old job, with a supervisor that he won’t have to battle with (much)—as this series progresses, I really look forward to spending more time with this group.

When a new domestic terrorist group begins attacking Muslim targets, the nation goes on high alert. It’s clear that the terrorists aren’t amatuers—they likely have military training and it’s possible they have assistance from someone in the government or police as well. Enter Novak’s group (every officer in London is looking to get into the hunt for the terrorists, but this team has a legitmate interest).

The man who carried out the first mission is in prison and he’s really the only lead anyone has into the Aryan Defence Front. Novak enters the prison as a Slovenian veteran under suspicion for the murder of a Muslim to gain his trust and hopefully an invitation to enlist. I really can’t describe more of the plot than that, as much as I want to—you need to see what happens from there.

The ADF is a small, but very well organized (and funded) group looking to create and increase divisions between Muslims and Non-Muslims in England—leading to Whites vs. Everyone Else with public riots, mayhem and the rest until supposed Right Thinking and Superior Whites kick everyone else off the island. Something about this group seems easier to believe than similar groups in other novels that I’ve read in the last couple of years—I can’t put my finger on why that is, I’ll just run with it and enjoy it.

There are basically two parts to this book (oversimplification warning) as there was to Going Dark—the undercover work and then what Novak has to do unofficially, using very un-approved methods. The undercover work portion of the book is just great. Yeah, he has to work a little faster than he did in Going Dark, but the short time-frame to get implanted with the group felt legitimate enough (I really hate it when UC officers are put into an inner circle within days of starting). In fact, this part being fast-paced really added to the tension and heightened the drama. Sadly (speaking for the characters’ viewpoint, not the readers’), as effective as the police are—they’re not enough, so Novak ends up Going Rouge to mop up with a little help from his friends that helped him so much last time.

I really have no complaints at all about the part where Novak “goes rogue” to get his man. However, the parts of the book focusing on his undercover work were much more interesting—they’re gripping, taught and seem more realistic. Given that, watching Novak and his allies take the rogue/extraordinary steps to get the job done—it is so hard to talk about this without ruining anything—was a blast. I did (and do) wince at what happens to one of his allies, it’s a relatively minor form of torture, but it literally curls my toes to think about. But aside from that

My biggest complaint is in the dialogue—and it’s not that big of a complaint, I should stress. There were two or three occasions where it seemed to me like that a character essentially repeated themselves. I’m not sure that I was clear there. An example (using the dullest dialogue ever):
George: I watched this TV show last night.
Liza: Good to know.
George: After my evening meal, I viewed a television program.
Sure, people do this all the time in real life, but 1. They are dull to talk to; and 2. I want fictional dialogue to be better than real life (if for no other reason than: editing). Also, some of the threats made by the bad guys toward the end seemed a little lifeless. This is their chance to shine, put some oomph into it.

Then again, if you’re reading a thriller for the sparkling dialogue, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

Again, nothing against Tom Novak, Action Hero; but Tom Novak, Good Policeman is more up my alley. But either Tom Novak is a real pleasure to read—Going Rogue is filled with great action, a strong protagonist with some good supporting characters, and villains you really want to see thwarted and punished. This is just what you want in a thriller.

I do think that Going Dark was a slightly more effective and polished work, but I won’t hesitate to recommend this one—and I’m already eager to see what Novak is Going to do next.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I sincerely thank him for this.

3.5 Stars

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The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell: The Stakes and Tension are High in the Penultimate Lychford Novella

The Lights Go Out in Lychford

The Lights Go Out in Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #4

Kindle Edition, 144 pg.
Tor/Forge, 2019

Read: November 19, 2019

Oh, man…I was so glad to be back in this world. Lychford, a tiny little English town that acts as the border between this world and realities beyond our understanding, is a wonderfully conceived and executed setting—just getting to spend time here again was a blast.

I’ve tried three times now to describe this, and I just can’t without letting something slip. So, what’s the publisher say?

The borders of Lychford are crumbling. Other realities threaten to seep into the otherwise quiet village, and the resident wise woman is struggling to remain wise. The local magic shop owner and the local priest are having troubles of their own.
And a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer a solution to everyone’s problems. No cost, no strings (she says).
But as everyone knows, free wishes from strangers rarely come without a price . . .

Judith’s struggle with the effects of aging on her mind—and the way that her use of magic has accelerated them—is wonderfully depicted. Of course, it’s not just Judith dealing with her fading capabilities—her apprentice, her friend and her son also go through a lot trying to help her. This might be the best part of the book.

Autumn is working herself to exhaustion—not to mention loneliness and poverty—trying to rush her preparation for taking over for Judith. She’s also driven by the grave errors of the last book that have really put Lychford in danger.

Something about this one had me on tenterhooks throughout. There’ve been threats to Lynchford and/or the trio of protagonists before, but it all seemed much more likely this time.

The conclusion was simply fantastic and heart-wrenching—with a last line that will drive you to the online bookstore of your choice to try to order the conclusion immediately.

Can you read this without having read the previous entries in the series? Yeah, I guess you could. Cornell provides enough backstory to muddle through. Should you? Nope. I don’t think you’d appreciate everything the way it should be appreciated. Should you read the previous 3 novellas? Yes, and then read this and join me in waiting for the fifth and final one next year.

4 Stars

A Two-Fer: Back of Beyond and The Highway (Audiobooks) by CJ Box, Holter Graham: Thrills and Chills along the Highways & Byways (and wilderness) of Wyoming

Trying something new here—one post about two books. Basically, I got so hooked by the first in this series that I listened to the second before I could write about it. Now I can’t think of them separately, so…

Back of Beyond

Back of Beyond

by C. J. Box, Holter Graham (Narrator)
Series: The Highway Quartet, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs., and 3 mins.
Macmillan Audio, 2011
Read: October 16-17, 2019
3.5 Stars

The Highway

The Highway

by C. J. Box, Holter Graham (Narrator)
Series: The Highway Quartet, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., and 49 mins
Macmillan Audio, 2013
Read: October 24-25, 2019
3 Stars

Cody Hoyt is your typical brilliant, but troubled, maverick cop. But he’s gone a little further than most—his alcoholism has cost him a job, his marriage, and son. He’s managed to find a job as a Sheriff’s Investigator in Montana, and has two months of sobriety. He’s called out to the scene of an apparently accidental fire that resulted in a death.

Sadly, the body is Cody’s AA Sponsor. Cody refuses to believe that he got drunk and accidentally caused a fire. With a fellow investigator, he starts putting the pieces together while trying to prevent the Coroner and Sheriff from rushing to declare it an accidental death.

Meanwhile, we meet Gracie Sullivan, a bookish fourteen-year-old and her older, appearance-obsessed sister Danielle. In an attempt to bond with his daughters during the short time he has custody, he drags them along on a Yellowstone wilderness trip.

This seems like an odd combination of storylines to combine—but Box does it. While unclear about why Hank was killed, the investigators decide the killer is on a Yellowstone Wilderness Trip (yup, that’s the one!). To add to the tension, Cody’s son is also on that trip—he’s with the man his mother is planning to marry, also in an attempt to bond. The idea of his son stuck with a killer is too much for Cody. So he sets off to find the tour while his colleague continues to investigate.

I’m not sure why so many adults want to bond with teens for a week in Yellowstone on the back of a horse, but maybe it’s something I should try. Then again, given the body count on this trip…

Bouncing back and forth between Gracie and Cody (and, occasionally, other points of view), we get to see what’s going on with the tour while we feel the tension from Cody’s hunt. No one on the tour is aware there’s any kind of problem, but things start going wrong and people start disappearing. The tour group is an interesting, and pretty believable mix of characters, and when things go wrong for them, it matters. I absolutely loved the contrast between the experienced, yet worried, Cody and the increasingly aware and innocent Gracie (I would’ve been more impressed with this if I hadn’t moved on to Box’s Open Season next where he’d done something very similar years before this).

Despite his many flaws—or probably because of the way that Box combined them and used them—I really liked Cody and was rooting for him. But Gracie? Gracie was fantastic. She’s smart, insightful, clever and determined—and she keeps her head in a dangerous situation.

There’s a lot of good twists (and even the one that you see coming from miles away, you only see part of it—and the motive will catch you off guard). All coming together in a good, solid, satisfying ending.

Then a few years later, in The Highway, we meet Cody again. In the meantime, things have gone really well for him, we can tell. And then things fall apart as we join him—he falls off the wagon, jeopardizing career and family.

Danielle is driving her sister Gracie from their home in Colorado to their father’s for Thanksgiving. Danielle makes a spur-of-the-moment choice to detour to see Cody’s son, Justin. Ever the horrible-teenage-driver, she’s texting him continually through their trip.

Suddenly, the texts stop and hours click by with no contact. Justin enlists his drunken father and a new investigator he’s training to search for them. Cassie Dewall is a driven, single mother, widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan. She’s younger and has a lot to learn (and to prove), but has the making of a good detective.

The girls have been kidnapped by, well, it’s in the official blurb so I can say this—a serial killer. Who does a lot more than kill his exclusively female victims. I think that says enough.

The perspectives jump between Cody, Cassie, Gracie and the killer keeping the tension high throughout the hunt. I almost stopped at several points, however. The looming threat to Danielle and Gracie was a lot to take, and hearing about what the other victims had gone through and endured was horrible. It was just a little too real and not at all entertaining for me.

I stuck with it, though. I wanted to see just how the hunt resolved and assumed (rightly or wrongly) that some sort of justice would be meted out. Also, I had to know what would happen to the girls. In the end, I’m glad I did, but it almost wasn’t worth it. A little more evil and it wouldn’t have been.

That said. I’ll be back for number three. Soon.

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WWW Wednesday, 20-November-2019

Welcome to WWW Wednesday!

This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived on Taking on a World of Words — and shown to me by Aurore-Anne-Chehoke at Diary-of-a-black-city-girl.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Easy enough, right?

What are you currently reading?

I’m working reading Paul Cornell’s The Lights Go Out in Lychford (it’s a blast), and An Accidental Death by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator).

What did you recently finish reading?

I just finished Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes by Ace Atkins and Artemis by Andy Weir, Rosario Dawson (Narrator) on audio.

What do you think you’ll read next?

My next book will either be Not So Common People by T Gamache or Dawn of Dreams by Bronwyn Leroux. I have no idea what audiobook is next for me…scrambling for ideas atm.

Hit me with your Three W’s in the comments! (no, really, do it!)

A Few Quick Questions With…Dr. Heather L. Beal

Earlier, I posted my quick take on Hurricane Vacation, I’ve now read and written about three of Dr. Beal’s books, it’s about time I asked her a few questions, right? I really am impressed with the idea behind this series of books and hope that they find their way into the lives of many children. (while being very glad I live in Idaho, where most of them aren’t applicable). Here’s some more information about the author and her books—I hope you enjoy.

Tell us about your road to publication—you talk about it a little on your website, but how did you make the decision to apply your education in writing books for children? Having made that decision, how did you implement it? How steep was that learning curve behind the first book?
Great questions. First, I tried to explain a tornado watch to my daughter one rainy, stormy, evening when I feared the watch might become a warning. Needless to say, I failed horribly and ended up scaring her. It was then that I realized that not only had I chosen the wrong time to talk with her (right before or during the event).

I started researching what was available and while I found a lot of ‘science of’ types of books, nothing was out there that could teach my daughter what to do ‘just in case’ in an age-appropriate way. Once I realized there was a gap, I decided I wanted to do something about it. I starting learning about book design, formatting, and structure. I had already dabbled in fiction books, but I had never looked at writing children’s books. As a linguist I realized that writing a children’s book was simply talking ‘child’ and the children in my books wanted their voices heard in their own special ways.

The steepest part of the learning curve had to be not so much the writing, the story developed as I wrote, but in how to balance the message, keep the story interesting, make sure children could learn how to be safe, and do it in as few words as possible. I would say that the struggle was, and continues to be, balancing that word count against everything I, and my beta-readers (mostly emergency managers like myself), think should be in the books that teach little ones how to stay safe.

I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But how tricky is it to figure out how to present the topic to your readers? What’s been the hardest (or, if it’s a better story, the most surprisingly easy) of the topics so far to tackle?
When I started, I had a variety of topics I wanted to cover, and I still do. Before starting my third book, Lions, Leopards and Storm, Oh My, I took it to my followers, the 1,000 or so subscribers of my newsletter and asked them – where should the focus be? Hurricanes, volcanoes, severe weather, etc. The consensus was severe weather, followed by hurricanes, so that was where I got my ‘marching orders’ for the 3rd and 4th books.

The trick, or the hardest thing I feel I have to do, is figure out how to introduce all the topics, various disasters, without making my kiddos look like the unluckiest children on earth to experience everything – lol! I find that while some of the experiences can naturally occur within a classroom environment, as it might happen in day-to-day experiences such as the tornado in Elephant Wind, the storm in Lions, Leopards, and Storms, Oh My or the training for earthquakes in Tummy Rumble Quake, not everything would. For this latest book, Hurricane Vacation, the kids are visiting their cousin and we start to explore how a family prepares for a disaster. It’s important that my readers can relate this events to their own lives and different environments.

After a few of these under your belt, do you have an impulse to step out of the natural disaster realm and do something silly or fantasy-based like a rhyming book about unicorns sliding down rainbows?
While I am a huge fan of mermaids, unicorns, and the like, I have to be careful that my characters stay within the realm of what children need to do, and can do, to stay safe. Creatures with special powers or skills wouldn’t necessarily be seen by the children as having to act the same way they would.

That being said I would love to start a series of board books that more playfully look at what to do and not do as during various scenarios, sort of a question – answer short book that allows children to express themselves and laugh at the silly things the character thinks to do. I teach earthquake safety in childcare and use Tummy Rumble Quake as part of that, but my favorite part is asking the kids about how to drop, cover and hold on through a series of questions where I do it wrong. For example, I ask “do I cover here” and alternate covering my head, framing my chin, covering my ears, or my face – which gets them to laugh as the “teach me” how to do it properly. I think that could be a great series of books that would entertain as well as teach even younger kiddos what to do to stay safe.

I’m fascinated by the process of putting together a book like this—and seeing how different children’s book authors answer this. What’s the process like between you and the illustrator behind the scenes? Does it vary a little from illustrator to illustrator?
It’s a very educative one. I have been lucky to work with two different illustrators and have learned a lot about creative license. I provide a page by page guidance document if you will of my vision for the cover and page illustrations, but sometimes I get stuck on what exactly I want to depict and there is a great collaboration with my illustrators on ideas about how to best approach the desired image. There is variance between illustrators, but that too has taught me a lot. For example, my first illustrator brought my vision of different children to life, but her cultural background was different from my own and it was a really fun discussion about how kiddos here are different than where she grew up and it helped me realize the importance of not assuming my writer’s vision would be the same as my illustrator’s vision.
What kind of feedback are you getting from kids, parents/guardians, teachers? Are there one or two items that really stand-out to you?
I do get a lot of feedback from parents, and childcare providers. If I had to pick what was most talked about, it would have to be the songs and the resources and questions in the back if the book. I remember the Berenstain Bears from when I was a kid and that was where I got the idea to have the questions that parents and providers could talk with kiddos about to see if they understood the topics, or just have available to answer their more detailed questions. On my list of ‘hot’ items to do is getting a recording of the songs on my website to compliments the free downloadable certificates of training and song posters that can be used to help kids remember what to do in these scenarios.
Can you talk about your next project yet?
I have a couple of things in the works, but the very next project is the sequel if you will to Hurricane Vacation. When we end Hurricane Vacation the family is on the way to the shelter. Coming up next has to be what happens there. My goal is to help demystify a shelter and make it a less-scary idea. A lot of work has been happening within emergency management and sheltering operations to help create safe, child-friendly spaces within shelters and I want to highlight to positives of shelters. Again, like all disaster situations, there are negatives, but the goal of these books is to focus on the positives and help empower children to be safer and better prepared for what often times cannot be prevented.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Hurricane Vacation. I enjoyed it, and hope it finds its way into the hands of many kids who could use it.

Hurricane Vacation by Heather L. Beal, Jasmine Mills: A cute little book with some important hurricane safety lessons for kids

Hurricane Vacation

Hurricane Vacation

by Dr. Heather L. Beal, Jasmine Mills (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 36 pg.
Train 4 Safety Press, 2019

Read: November 18, 2019

Heather Beal’s back with another book for early readers/pre-readers about natural disasters—this time (in case the title doesn’t give it away), it’s about Hurricanes. I really appreciate this way of educating children about these types of disasters—it’s not about facts and figures, it’s about assuring them that people can be safe in the face of disaster as well as helping them understand what’s going on.

Lily and Niko are visiting their family when a Hurricane watch is issued, so they join their family in preparing the house for the storm and getting ready to go to a shelter. Along the way, they learn about what a hurricane is as well as all the ways that people can protect themselves, themselves, and so on.

As with Elephant Wind and Tummy Rumble Quake, the information is given in an accessible way that’s mildly entertaining. Beal did a good job interweaving the information with interaction with the characters—even young readers/listeners don’t want to put up with infodumps, I guess.

I’m not sure the part of the story about Niko’s missing stuffed animal really fit—it seemed like it was tacked on as an afterthought. It may not have been one, it just felt that way. It was nice to see everyone working to make Niko feel safe (and that his toy would be safe) during this—very reassuring.

The art was cute and helped the story—I particularly enjoyed the “eye” in the storm showing how the term was misunderstood.

Beal delivers another helpful book that should be of good use for parents/grandparents/teachers/caregivers trying to help children cope with and understand the ways this world can terrify them (and adults). Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion (above)..

3 Stars

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly: A Superfluity of Cases Hampers Connelly’s Latest

The Night Fire

The Night Fire

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #22/Renée Ballard, #3

Hardcover, 405 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2019

Read: November 1-4, 2019

…I’m not sure how much I can be involved.”

“You’re dumping this case on me. You changed my radio station and dumped the case on me.”

“No, I want to help and I will help. John Jack mentored me. He taught me the rule, you know?”

“What rule?”

“To take every case personally.”


“Take every case personally and you get angry. It builds a fire. It gives you the edge you need to go the distance every time out.”

Ballard thought about that. She understood what he was saying but knew it was a dangerous way to live and work.

“He said ‘every case’?” she asked.

“‘Every case,'” Bosch said.

In The Night Fire Michael Connelly gives one more piece of evidence that yes, you can occasionally have too much of a good thing. We’ve got a little bit of a Mickey Haller case, something that Bosch works mostly on his own, something that Bosch and Ballard work together, a case that Ballard works mostly on her own, and then a hint of something else that Bosch primarily does solo. Plus there’s something about Bosch’s personal life and a dash of Maddie’s life. Which is all a lot to ask out of 405 pages.

It’s plenty to ask out of 650 pages, come to think of it. But anyway, let’s take a look, shall we?

Haller was drafted to defend an indigent man accused of murdering a judge, and is doing okay in the trial, but not well enough with things coming to an end. Bosch watched a little bit of the trial, waiting to talk to his half-brother and something strikes him wrong. So he takes a look at the files and gives Haller to think about. But it’s clear to Bosch that the LAPD isn’t going to act on anything they turn up, they’ve got their man. So if anyone’s going to expose the judge’s killer, it’s going to be Bosch. While it’s to be expected that the detectives that arrested Haller’s client would resent Bosch’s involvement with the defense—but Ballard is antagonistic toward the idea as well. Just because these two respect each other and can work with each other, they’re not clones, they don’t agree on a lot.

Ballard’s called to the scene of a homeless camp, where someone had burned to death in a tent fire. She’s just there as a precaution, in case the LAFD decides it’s arson (and therefore homicide) instead of an accident. Having been brushed off—and afraid that the LAFD will do the same to the case—she takes a little time to turn up enough evidence to justify treating the case as a homicide. Then she was promptly removed from the case, so her old team at RHD could work it. Naturally, like every character Connelly has ever created, Ballard walks away, right? Yeah, I can’t type that with a straight face—she cuts a corner or two and works the case herself, making better progress than anyone else does, too. This brings her into contact with her old antagonist, now-Captain Olivas. He’s close to retirement, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to her career after that.

But what gets the majority of the attention of the novel is the case that the Ballard and Bosch work together—Harry’s mentor (and father figure) has died and left him a murder book from 1990 that he’d, um, “borrowed” when he retired. John Jack wasn’t assigned to the case in 1990, it’s unclear that he did anything in 2000 when he took the file home. Bosch has no idea why he had it, but convinces Ballard to read it over and look into the case. They start working it, bringing them into contact with retired and not-retired gang members, digging up the past, and the question about why John Jack had taken the file.

Watching Connelly balance these mysteries/storylines is a treat—he does a great job of moving forward with each of them while bouncing back and forth between. I do think each case could’ve used 10-20% time than he gave them. But I could be wrong. They all wrap up satisfactorily, and There’s not a lot of time given for anything that isn’t case related, but we get a little bit. Both the personal material for Bosch (which is what he was waiting in court to talk to Haller about) and what we learn about Maddie make me really wonder what’s around their corners—and it appears we won’t learn anything in 2020 (unless we get a bit of an update in the Haller novel next year). Ballard’s material is always about her work primarily, but we do learn a little more about her life between her father’s death and her time with LAPD. I’m glad that Connelly hasn’t given us her whole biography, but man…what we have been given just makes me want more. Clearly, he’s making sure that fans of all three characters are going to have to come back for more as soon as he produces it.

I appreciated the discussion Bosch and Ballard had about some actions at the end of Dark Sacred Night, I have a friend who will rant at the drop of a hat about Ballard’s choices there (and I trust my email/text messages will get another one when he reads this post). I don’t think this conversation will satisfy him, but it’s good to see the pair acknowledge mistakes they made. While I don’t think either of them do anything quite as misguided in this book, but they both make a couple of reckless moves. Bosch’s always had a little bit of dirt on/leverage with superiors (even some history) to give him some coverage when he gets reckless. Ballard doesn’t. So when she goes maverick, it’s more nerve-wracking than it is when Bosch did/does it. A nice little bit of character work, and a good distinction between the two characters.

There’s a moment in every Michael Connelly novel, no matter how good it is, where something just clicks and suddenly I’m more invested in it than I am in almost any other book. I think I’ve talked about it before, but when That Moment hits—there’s nothing better. I get that with a lot of Thrillers/Mysteries (and even some books in other genres), but never as consistently as I do with Connelly. I knew that moment had hit when my phone told me it was time to put the book down and go into my office and I audibly groaned. How was I supposed to focus on anything else when Bosch and Ballard were on the hunt?

Lastly, and this is very likely going to be only a problem I had. Several right-hand pages in my copy that have very faint—practically missing—letters. It’s like it’d been left in the sun too long, or like when an inkjet printer is running out of ink. Please tell me that Little, Brown has better equipment than I do.

This isn’t the best Connelly can do, but man…it’s so good. Solidly put together, we get to spend time with all our favorites and it hits every button it’s supposed to. Connelly is one of the best around—The Night Fire shows why.

4 Stars

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