Independent Bookstore Day 2018 – April 28!

You like books, right? Otherwise, why are you here? You like bookstores, too, right? Nothing against Barnes & Noble or any of the dozens of great online booksellers — but there’s nothing like a good Independent Bookstore. Staff who know their wares; possibly get to know your tastes; care about books, writing, etc.

(and better for the local economy than chains, too, but that’s out of my wheelhouse to discuss)

Basically, they’re great resources, community centers, and places to spend your money. To celebrate/promote them, 400 Indie Bookstores around the country are celebrating Independent Bookstore Day this Saturday. Go, check a local store out — see the exclusive items just for the day. If you’re in Southwest Idaho, Rediscovered Books in Boise is the place to go (there are a couple of other decent shops in the area, but not as good, IMHO).

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Happy (Belated) Shakespeare Day!

There was some sort of mis-communication between me and the good people at Invaluable so this is going up a day late (totally my fault). I didn’t even know that Shakespeare Day was a thing (but of course it is). Still . . . no matter what day it is, this is fun:

Happy Shakespeare Day! What better way is there to celebrate the life and legacy of William Shakespeare than looking back at some of his most famous insults? You are in luck, because Invaluable created a Shakespearean insult generator just in time for Shakespeare Day. The generator includes 70+ of Shakespeare’s snarkiest insults from his most famous works. Whether you wish to insult a friend, enemy, or your significant other, one of these insults is guaranteed to be perfect!

Here’s a couple of samples:

Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee is strange, bizarre, funny, tragic and will make you say “ew” a lot.

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Eraserhead Books, 2018
Read: April 14 – 16, 2018

           “Ready to make it official?” said his father.

Jimbo closed his cuttlefish eyes and prayed the revenge vow.

Let me kill ‘em, he thought. Let me exist only to punish them that wronged me, for such is the pain of my life that only the pleasure of their death will weigh it equal. Amen.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” his dead father said.

Who doesn’t like a good revenge story? Especially one featuring swords and blood and gladiator-like battles, and surgically-enhanced hybrid warriors, and warlord chefs, and . . . oh, man. I don’t know how to summarize this one, I really don’t. So let me just steal from the publisher:

           From the author of Bacon Fried Bastard and A Town Called Suckhole, comes a countrified samurai epic in the vein of Squidbillies if directed by Akira Kurosawa.

A flood of frogs drowned the cities and gunked up all the guns. Now an evil restaurant chain called the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company rules a finger-licking shogunate of seafood mutants and murderous redneck swordsmen like Jimbo Yojimbo. Jimbo wants revenge on the Company for killing his family and stitching a cuttlefish to his face. After a daring escape, he will hack his way through hordes of crawdad soldiers, a church of quacking gun nuts on a jihad, and Bushido Budnick, the master chef who rules them all. But with every step he takes, Jimbo Yojimbo’s sweet revenge will surely begin to taste like shit gumbo.

JIMBO YOJIMBO is [a] fast-paced post-apocalyptic redneck samurai tale of love, revenge, and a whole lotta mutant sumbitches.

I’ve read plenty of imaginative works over the last couple of years where I asked myself “what did I just read?” Typically, that was because as imaginative as the novel might have been, the author didn’t relay the information too well and I just couldn’t follow it (I usually didn’t feel like I missed much). With this book, every time I asked something like, “Did he just say this cult was called the Holy Quackers?” I’d have to answer with, “Giant figures, wearing tattered camouflage kimonos and rubber boots, with giant duck bills on their face? Yup, he did say that.” As strange, as out there, as bizarre as the trappings got — the story made complete sense. It wasn’t overly complicated, it wasn’t overly messy, it was really a straight-forward revenge tale. Just one that felt like it was the offspring of any two randomly selected sentences from My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

Strip away everything and you’re looking at a tale of a guy who was betrayed by his wife and watched his father be butchered by a megalomaniacal dictator, who just wants to rescue his daughter from that dictator’s clutches (and, sure, maybe overthrow the government while he’s at it) while being pursued by his wife and his arch-enemy (who happens to be fixated on his wife, too). It’s a basic story, decently developed and told — effective enough to entertain. But, once you add in the humor, the voice, the panache, the multiple cults, the hybrid warriors, the very strange world all this takes place in — and the tale becomes dazzling.

And you buy it — you buy all of it. Including the fact that Bushido Budnick can create entirely new species in his lab, but can’t figure out how to take guns work anymore because science is hard or something. I’m not even sure it’s that your disbelief is suspended, the book’s just so cool that your disbelief says: “Who cares? I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Just turn the page ‘cuz I want to see what’s next.”

The fight scenes are disturbing, and bloody and . . . you’ll say “ew” frequently. There’s one fight near the end that just might be the grossest thing I read in 2018. There’s another that’s as close as you’ll get to the Bride v the Crazy 88s in The House of Blue Leaves in print (just with robots, warriors with crawdad claws for hands, a samurai with sea anemones attached to his head in place of hair, and so on).

I’m tempted to just list off some of the stranger and/or cooler ideas that are given life in these pages, like the cult that “worshipped ideas and facts, and their relics were strange, ancient items that had mostly turned soggy in the flood: books. . . building a small army of highly literate and lethal fanatics dedicated to discovering and protecting that which would outlive them all: the untouchable truth of knowledge.” But I won’t — just trust me, there are plenty. This book is like the Mos Eisley cantina scene — something strange and interesting to look at everywhere, with a bit of violence and a bit of business going on in the midst of it all.

I’m in danger of going on too long here and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself — if you like bizarre settings, stories told with panache and boldness, and don’t mind a good bit of violence along the way — get this. David W. Barbee is the real thing, I’ve got to get more of his work soon.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this in exchange for my honest opinion — I greatly appreciate it (the book wouldn’t have appeared on my radar if not for that), but it didn’t make an impact on my opinion (beyond giving me something to have an opinion about).

—–

4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 4/21/18

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:

  • Born to the Blade by Marie Brennan, Cassandra Khaw, Malka Older and Michael R. Underwood — a serialized fantasy novel from a heckuva group of writers, I’m almost done with episode 1 and it’s a strong start. Look into this one.
  • The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts — I’m not even going to try to sum this up, click the link to get more info, and then probably go buy it somewhere.

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh is a dynamite legal thriller

The PleaThe Plea

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #2

Hardcover, 358 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2016 (2018 for US Edition)
Read: April 10 – 12, 2017

Lawyers don’t usually question whether or not a client is telling truth. That way lies madness. You do what you have to and trust the system. So, the guilty plead guilty. The innocent fight their case and the jury decides. If a by-product of that process is the emergence of the truth, then so be it, but the truth is not the aim of the process. The verdict is the aim. Truth has no place in the trial because no one is concerned with finding it, least of all the lawyers or the judge.

If that’s not cynical enough for you, try this:

I saw through Dell’s game. It was a familiar one. It’s a game the justice system plays every single day in America–because sometimes it simply doesn’t matter if you’re really innocent of the crime; the only smart move is to plead guilty and make a deal for a lesser sentence.

“You want me to read the new evidence and tell David that irrespective of his innocence, he will definitely be convicted and his only choice is to plead guilty and make a deal to cut his sentence.”

“Bingo,” said Dell.

Happens all the time. I’ve done it myself. Innocent people often don’t want to take the chance of losing and doing fifteen or twenty years when they could make a deal and be out in two. It’s mathematics–not justice, but that’s the reality.

Don’t worry — this book is not a diatribe about the shortcomings of the American judicial system (as appropriate as one might be), little comments like that are just a little bit of flavoring accenting the story, grounding it in the real world despite the craziness filling the book.

Eddie Flynn, for those new to the character, is a con man who went straight and then went to Law School. Following that, he made a couple big mistakes — one cost him the career he had built, the other cost him his family. He’s in the process of rebuilding both — no easy task — but you have to root for the guy trying to recover.

Eddie’s approached (okay, ambushed) by the FBI, who wants Eddie to take on a new client, David Child. Child’s a tech billionaire accused of murdering his girlfriend, and the FBI wants Eddie to convince him to plead to the charges. Then he needs to convince Eddie to help the FBI take down the law firm that currently represents him — and is laundering money on a mind-boggling scale. If Eddie refuses? The FBI has enough evidence to put Eddie’s ex away for a long time (did I mention that she works for the aforementioned firm, totally unaware that she’s incriminated in the laundering?).

So, somehow Eddie has to separate Child from his current counsel, replace them, and then persuade Child to work with the FBI — within a couple of days. No easy task. Then Eddie becomes convinced that Child is innocent. Which complicates things tremendously. So how does Eddie clear Child, keep his wife out of jail and help the FBI take down the laundering lawyers? Well, it’ll take every bit of his old tricks, and maybe a few new ones.

I’m not a huge legal thriller guy — never read a Grisham — but when you give me a compelling character (particularly a defense attorney) like Eddie Flynn, I’m in. Watching Eddie navigate through the tricky waters of the system — including jail guards, court staff, judges, prosecutors — is a blast. This was like a serious version of the Andy Carpenter books. I would like to see Eddie take on a client he because he wanted to for a change, but that’s not a complaint about this book, it’d just be nice to see.

Sure, it’s your appreciation for Eddie Flynn that’ll determine if you like this book or not, but he’s not the only character to focus on — there’s David Child himself, who is interestingly drawn — he’s a fairly typical computer-genius character, socially awkward, etc. Typical, yes, but used well. My only complaint about Child’s associate, Holly, is that we didn’t get more of her (not that Cavanagh could’ve easily fit more of her in). The villains? Nasty, vile people — believable (with one possible exception, but I liked him enough I don’t care) — all of them were well used, well drawn and just what the doctor ordered.

The Plea isn’t perfect: I figured out the whodunit almost instantly, but it took a little while to get the details of the howdunit right — and Cavanagh fooled me a little bit on that one. But that didn’t detract from the book at all — the fun is in watching Eddie and the rest scramble to survive this horrible situation and figure things out. The plot moves at a relentless pace — which is a cliché, I realize, but I challenge you to come up with another way to describe this plot. Eddie can barely get a moment to rest and think, and when you’re reading this, you feel like you can’t either.

Characters you can’t help but root for (or, in some cases, against), a fast-moving plot, with just enough twists, turns and hurdles. This one’ll grab you by the collar and drag you along as it rushes to the dramatic conclusion (not that you’ll be fighting against it, but the dragging will help you keep up). Keep yours eyes peeled for Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn, they’re something to watch.

—–

4 Stars

Misc. Notes 4/19/18 (a.k.a. Real Life(™) is Interfering with Blogging)

There are 3 books that I really wanted to talk about this week — and so far, I haven’t. I’ve got 1/3 (maybe less) of a post about Steve Cavanagh’s The Plea written, but I just don’t have time to finish it in time to post; I think sleep deprivation might be the best way to write about the insane (and insanely froody) Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee — but that’ll have to wait (alas); and lastly Life Begins When The Kids Leave Home And The Dog Dies by Barb Taub is going to be fun to talk about.

I got Noirville, the short story collection in the mail today from Fahrenheit Press — it looks great. I’m sure the stories are as nifty as the book they’re printed in.

I was reminded yesterday that I hadn’t started, much less posted about, a particular book this month. I’d totally forgotten I’d agreed to it. Which makes 3 more books I have to read this month (plus three from March I ran out of time for). If only I wasn’t in the middle of the busiest month of the year at work. I have to learn how to say no . . . but there’s so many good-looking books out there, it’s so hard to say anything but “yes.”

Lastly, Luca Veste’s The Bone Keeper is chillingly cool. I’m hoping to get to post about it next week (and hoping to finish reading it …well, probably about the time this posts).

The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh by Carolyn Arnold: A would-be Indiana Jones-esque adventure in Egypt

The Secret of the Lost PharaohThe Secret of the Lost Pharaoh

by Carolyn Arnold
Series: Matthew Connor Adventure, #2

eARC, 436 pg.
Hibbert & Stiles Publishing, Inc., 2018
Read: April 6 – 7, 2018

Noted thrill-seeker, adventurer and archaeologist in the Indiana Jones mold, Matt Connor, is contacted by a former colleague with a more-than-tempting offer: she’s pretty sure that she’s on the trail of a fascination of Matt’s — the Emerald Tablets — and would he like to help look for them? Matt jumps at the chance and persuades Dr. Alexandria Leonard to let him bring his two friends along — they’ve come along on many of his previous escapades and will be a helpful addition to this one, too.

He just has to convince them to come. Following the three of them being compelled to find the lost City of Gold, they’ve plunged themselves into their very tame careers and personal lives and away from excitement. Matt convinces them to come along (or the book would’ve been much shorter), and they head to Egypt a couple of days later. Keeping things very secret from just about everyone, of course, because these Emerald Tablets have great power — we’re not told anything about this power, just that no one wants it to fall into the wrong hands. When people first started talking about them in those terms, I rolled my eyes, until I realized that this was a world in which that was a thing — tablets have power, the Ark of the Covenant probably took out a bunch of Nazis and Bobby probably found an ancient tiki that carried a curse. Once I figured out that was the kind of book I was reading, things made a little more sense. We are told almost nothing else about the Tablets, but from the way everyone acts about them (at least everyone that believes in them), you can tell they’re a pretty big deal.

Once they arrive, things start to good poorly for the expedition — and not in small ways, but they struggle through it all (mostly). The Tablets are not easily found — if they even exist, that is. But there’s plenty of other archeological finds to focus on — and some real dangers. Like, say, snakes. Arnold does a great job depicting how snakes can really creep a person out — even a person safely reading about them on their Kindle thousands of miles away from a single asp. Although at a certain point, they just disappear — like Hamlin’s Pied Piper sauntered through Egypt and every asp left with him. It was a bit disconcerting once they stopped being a concern — especially in the last chapters where they really could’ve been a looming presence — after being everywhere for a while.

This was a fun little adventure story, nothing too intense, nothing too serious, just a nice little diversion (which is good thing). But it could’ve been better, too.

Early on, when the characters are getting to know each other and get comfortable in Egypt, I really had some trouble with the conversation. Matt’s friend and photographer (ugh, don’t get me started on the drama surrounding bringing along a photographer), Cal, can serve a great role for the reader. Cal’s only a hobbiest when it comes to this stuff from hanging out with his friend — so he can ask a lot of questions that Arnold can use to plug the reader into the world. It’s a thankless task that characters in books and TV shows have to play letting the “stars” show off their expertise. That’s all well and good, but man, Cal asked some pretty dumb questions — and what’s worse, characters in and around the field of archeology were way too impressed with others answering simple questions — questions I could’ve answered. That was hard to swallow, but easy to get past.

But was really hard to get past — if only because she kept throwing it in your face — was the unsubtle emotional stories. Alex’s other friend, Robyn, is clearly the love of his life — and vice versa. But they broke up years ago, while neither has let go. And one or the other of them (and occasionally, Cal) is thinking about this every few pages, without doing anything about it. And when another romance is kindled in Egypt, the melodrama gets hard to swallow — seriously, in an early draft of Twilight, Stephanie Meyer would’ve cut this kind of stuff for being “too high school.” Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, Arnold can do subtle emotions, this didn’t seem to be the same author who wrote Remnants — and that’s a shame.

The pacing of this was disappointing — we got too much set-up, far too much time establishing the various storylines in Egypt, and then we rushed through the conclusion. I think the heart of the adventure took the last 20 percent of the book! It needed to be longer just to give it the necessary dramatic weight — and to make the last challenges these characters faced seem more difficult and fraught than a run down to Tim Horton’s for donuts and coffee.

The mystery component (for lack of a better word), was far too easy to figure out — but it wasn’t framed as a whodunit, so that’s not a slight on Arnold. But it does make you wonder about the powers of observation displayed by Matt, Cal, Alex and the rest. But the villainous characters did their overall job, keeping things moving and providing a way for Matt and the rest to have the adventure the book they needed.

I’ve given a lot of space here to my relatively minor complaints — but it takes a bit of space to express them. I did have a good time reading the book. Matt’s a fun character — ditto for Cal. I enjoyed the chemistry between the central characters and could’ve easily read another hundred pages or more with them and not really noticed or minded. As long as the high school stuff was downplayed — when that wasn’t a focus, I wanted more time with all the characters.

This is the second in a series, but would be a find jumping-on point. I do recommend this for people looking for a light adventure, and can see myself coming back for another go-round with these characters — I know Arnold can do better than this (and this wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as it could’ve been).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hibbert & Stiles Publishing in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

—–

3 Stars