Pub Day Repost: The Dead Don’t Sleep by Steven Max Russo: No need to teach these old dogs any new tricks

The Dead Dont Sleep

The Dead Dont Sleep

by Steven Max Russo

eARC, 292 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2019

Read: October 11-14, 2019

This is one of those thrillers that within a chapter or three, you know pretty much how things are going to go for the rest of the book. That’s me being descriptive, not evaluating anything. There’s nothing wrong with this type of thriller—the fun is in seeing the author execute what you know (and think you know) is coming, and just what kind of surprise is in store for the ending. It’s like playing Mousetrap—everyone knows what’s going to happen when you start the machine going, it’s still fun to watch (see also almost every functional Rube Goldberg machine).

That said, there was one death/serious injury that I predicted at least three different times in my notes (one “he” was ambiguous, I really need to be more specific) that didn’t happen and another that I fully expected that didn’t materialize. So I’m not saying that Russo didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve—there were more than those, too. It’s just that on the whole, you know what this book is going to give you pretty soon (see also: just about every Jack Reacher novel).

So what is this set up?

Frank Thompson’s wife died pretty recently, and he’s not dealing well with the loss. After holing up by himself for a while, he visits a nephew (Bill) in New Jersey—really, his first social contact after her death. Frank’s getting up in years himself, but he’s doing pretty well, all things considered.

Frank and Bill go to the shooting range one day. While there, someone confronts Frank, claiming they know each other—Frank pleads ignorance (a white lie), but the stranger soon figures out who he is. They knew each other back in Vietnam while part of a special combat unit. The stranger (Jasper) and his friends are convinced that Frank did a bad thing to one of their own back in ‘Nam. Frank wouldn’t argue with them, but they all were involved in doing very bad things (as they were ordered to), he’d add. Besides, that was a lifetime ago, and he, Jasper and the rest of the unit have all moved on to civilian life and put those atrocities behind them.

If that were true, this would be a much shorter book. Thankfully for us readers, Jasper and his friends carry a grudge. Two of them—Birdie and Pogo (no, really)—are nearby and available. So after Frank goes home to his house on the outskirts of a small Maine town, the three of them head up to pay him a visit. And it ain’t a social call.

Frank knows that Jasper and others (no idea how many others) are coming, and takes steps to prepare. And then the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller.

That’s a little more long-winded than I’d intended, but I haven’t given too much away. So basically, you’ve got 4 septuagenarians carrying small arsenals in the Maine woods drawing on the training they all received decades ago (one or two of them may have been keeping those skills sharp, but that’s beside the point). None of these guys are in their prime anymore, and more than once I wondered if natural causes would beat an act of violence to the punch (I won’t say if I was right).

Don’t go thinking that this is any kind of comic novel—it’s not Grumpy Old Men III: Locked and Loaded, these are hard men doing violent things. After the trio arrives in Maine, the questions that need to be answered are: how many of these four are going to walk away from this showdown, and what kind of collateral damage will there be?

Not all the characters are as well-rounded as they could be, but they’re all close enough that no one’s going to complain—especially when the action kicks in. You can’t say there are really good guys or bad guys here. Well, that’s not true—there are bad guys and some less-bad guys. No one wears a white hat in this book (at least not those at the center of the action), the hats are all black or dark gray.

This next paragraph contains a spoiler—or something spoiler-adjacent. Feel free to skip it and move on.
There’s a [insert your own Latin-y word here] ex machina element to the last action scene of this novel. I don’t think it was necessary (they almost never are), and a resolution was still possible that would’ve satisfied novels without it. The more that I think about it, what that element means for Frank’s world is pretty disturbing—more than anything else that happened in the book, really. As I write this, it occurs to me that if there’s a sequel, this element is likely going to play a central role, and I’ll retract the last 97 words. Still, I’d have liked to have seen things play out without the             ex machina. But that could just be me.
Back to the no-spoiler zone:

This is the kind of thing that should appeal to fans of Gregg Hurwitz, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder or others in that vein. The pacing is tight, the action scenes are well-handled, and the tension is real. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours with some good escapist reading. It’s possible (probable?) for Russo to return to the survivors for a sequel—if he does, I’ll be at the front of the line for it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Down & Out Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this ride.

3.5 Stars

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.

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

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Saturday Miscellany—11/16/19

Good reads, but just a few 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:

  • You Must Have A Death Wish by Matt Phillips—Phillips’ Know Me from Smoke was so good that I don’t care what this is about, I’m excited. (oh, it’s about a rookie hitman, if you must know).
  • Action At A Distance by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Brian Williamson, Stefani Renne—the newest Rivers of London comic paperback looks into Nightingale’s WWII past.
  • Paradox by Jeanne C. Stein—It’s been six years (wow! six years??!?) since Stein has published an Anna Strong novel. Can’t wait to see what brought her back.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to babblingstories, Zoé O’Farrell and kerrimcbooknerd for following the blog this week. Don’t be a stranger, and use that comment box, would you?

Fallen by Benedict Jacka: Alex finds power and incredible loss as Jacka ramps up the seriousness of the series.



by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #10

Mass Market Paperback, 296 pg.
Ace, 2019

Read: November 7-8, 2019

Wars between mages are very different from wars between countries. When countries fight, if they want to attack into enemy territory, they have to go through the other army to do it. Mages don’t. Gate magic let’s strike teams appear anywhere at anytime, attacking and then disappearing back to the other side of the world. You never see mages fighting to take control of a bridge or a mountain pass, because holding those kinds of places doesn’t accomplish anything. When mages engage in combat, it’s for one of two reasons: either they’re fighting over something valuable, or one side is attacking the others base of operations. Otherwise, if one side doesn’t want to fight, they can just leave.

That really sets the tone for this novel—we’re talking all-out war here—the Council vs. Richard Drakh et al. Naturally, because no one really trusts Alex, there are many who still aren’t sure what side of this conflict Alex comes down on.

For the last few books, I’ve been (mistakenly) thinking, “Ah, he’s hit rock bottom now, it’s time for things to get better.” Fallen is, at the very least, Exhibit A for how little I understood things. I was joking the other day with a friend about a theory that Jacka really doesn’t like Alex Verus and is enjoying destroying him bit by bit.

You could make the case that he’s chipping away at Alex’s shell so that he can access who he is at his core. Below how Alex thinks he should act, below how he wants to act—to get to the actual Alex Verus.

That’s probably closer to the truth, but I like my theory a little better.

Early on, Alex tells his readers:

You know things are bad when waking up feels worse than the nightmares.

And that works pretty well as a thesis statement for Fallen. Jacka finds new ways to ruin Verus’ life—up to and including one of the freakiest, strangest and most disturbing magic-induced injuries I can think of.

We’re at the point in this saga where I can’t really say anything about the plot without ruining most of it. So let me summarize it with this: we’re watching that prophecy the Dragon gave Alex work out in his life, he’s figuring out how it’s going to be fulfilled and is working to that end.

Which involves some of the riskiest moves he’s made. Some of which pay off in ways even he couldn’t foresee (some of them don’t work out so well). It’s hard to point to a book when things go as well for our favorite diviner. But as I said before, things go really, really, bad for him, too.

There are two scenes specifically (but, they’re not the only two) that will devastate readers as much as they did Alex. One of which gave us a result I’ve figured was coming (but I figured it would be in book 12, no earlier than 11—again, Jacka shows me how little I know).

While Jacka’s systematically destroying Alex, he weaves in plotlines and characters that you won’t expect, including at least one major magic artifact that you probably assumed we’d never see again. Seeing how Jacka’s using Alex’s past in the way he is was a real plus for me.

You know this was going to be a bad novel for our friends—you don’t call a novel Fallen to fill it with ponies, rainbows and slapstick moments. But man, this was just rough. Hard to read—but totally worth it.

I cannot state this strongly enough—this should not be the first book in the series you read. Horribly entry point, but such a wonderful ride for those who know Alex and his world and struggles. But if you’re a long-time reader, and haven’t had the chance to read this yet—fix that. Pronto.

4 1/2 Stars

The End of The Year Book Tag

This book tag has been floating around the last couple of years, having been started (as far as I can tell) by Ariel Bissett on her vlog. It seemed like a nice pairing with my post on Monday.

bullet Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?
I’ve got two more weeks in my Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 5: Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology by Geerhardus Vos schedule (which will finish off the set), but that’s about it.

bullet Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?
I honestly have never thought of a book in these terms. In the last month or so, it seems like 60% of the blogs I read and at least half of my Twitter feed is talking about Autumn/Fall books. I assume there’s something wrong with me.

bullet Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?
There are four this month alone…Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes by Ace Atkins; The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell; You Must Have a Death Wish by Matt Phillips; and The Hero by Lee Child (non-fiction!). There might be one or two in December, too. But I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

bullet What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?
Well, there are those four for starters. But if I don’t finish The Cartel by Don Winslow, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle by Dec. 31, I’ll be really annoyed with myself.

bullet The Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favourite book of the year?
A few years ago, my best of the year was something I started on Dec. 28, so, yeah, there’s a strong possibility. The Cartel is the likeliest contender, but the Beagle book could be a dark horse contender.

Dark horse…unicorn…HA! I kill me…

bullet Have you already started making reading plans for 2020?
Still very sketchy at this point, but yeah…I’ve started. Just trying to decide what’s the middle ground between a cake walk and overly-ambitious.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Bookmarks

As I’ve been making a point of trying to do more non-review(ish) posts, I’ve been thinking about trying some of these Top Ten Tuesdays that I’ve seen other bloggers doing. And looking over the upcoming topics, this one piqued my interest — do I even have 10 favorite bookmarks? Can I approach that number? So I had to give it a shot.

Turns out that, yes, I had precisely 10 Bookmarks to use. Phew.

This used to be the most common one for me (although #1 has replaced it) — random bits of paper, preferably heavier stock. Movie tickets and coffee (or other) shop punchcards were the best, but whatever receipt/used envelope nearby would do in a pinch.
9 Online bookstore freebie. Love these. Amazon used to send me so many of them, I threw them away or lost track of them (regret that, they were good quality). Thankfully, as they’ve moved past being a “mere” bookstore, there are others out there that haven’t.
8 Better are the ones that authors give away, because, hey — cover art and it’s just good advertising.
7 Not as heavy, and easier to lose — pages out of pocket notebooks are decently sized — and you can write on them. I HATE writing in my books, so this is a major plus.
6 #8, but signed. Who doesn’t like a good autograph? (Anton Strout’s autograph here is blurred, to be nice)
5 Front and back of this one, a nicer take on #6 because I just love the receipt from Atticus’ bookstore being one side of this. (Kevin Hearne’s autograph here is blurred, to be nice)
4 Left over shopping lists (text blurred because I really don’t need you mocking my family’s handwriting), decent sized, room for writing.
3 Yeah, this is technically a repeat of #9. However, these are nicer. I have two of them and use them frequently. WTS bookstore used a nicer paper, heavier than other bookmarks I have, and a little textured. Perfect size. Probably technically the “best” I have.
2 A few years back, my library started using sheets like this for the books on reserve. Minus: it’s a really staticy paper, and super thin, so it’s easy to “lose” the bookmark inside the book. Have wasted too much time hunting for the things. Pluses: Plenty of room for writing (some inks and pencils don’t do well given the paper type); the title is on the sheet, so you can return the book and have an easy time identifying what the notes are about.
1 (I assure you, there is a bookmark imaged there)
My favorite. Get yourself some printer paper that’s perforated (if you’re lazy, or too inaccurate with scissors) into thirds. Plenty of room for taking notes (on both sides), good size (unless you’re reading a mass-market paperback). Not pretty, but ever so handy.

Catch-Up Quick Takes on Audiobooks of This is Where I Leave You, When You Reach Me, How Not to Die Alone, The Right Stuff

Trying to clear the decks here with these quick takes on Audiobooks, like I indicated I would be doing yesterday (which also helps from the deep dive I took on Hands Up yesterday, too).

This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You

by Jonathan Tropper, Ramón de Ocampo (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 17 mins
Recorded Books, 2009
Read: October 9-10, 2019

(the official blurb)
This is not my favorite Tropper novel—but it’s a really good one, and I get why this is his most successful and the only one that’s actually been adapted as a movie (or anything).

From the hilarious (and painful in many senses) opening to the heights of hope, the lows of sorrow, the uncomfortable nature of sitting shiva with estranged family, oh, and the obligatory Tropper awkward fight scene, this is a heartfelt, funny, and entertaining read (or, listen, in this case)

de Ocampo does a better job than I’d anticipated anyone doing with this—he captures Judd’s anger, heartbreak, grief and everything else. He also gets the other characters—including some of the more difficult ones (Phillip, Tracy, Alice). I was really impressed with him, and am a little tempted to get a Wimpy Kid audiobook just to see how he does with that.
4 1/2 Stars

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me

by Rebecca Stead, Cynthia Holloway (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 19 mins.
Listening Library, 2019
Read: October 29, 2019

(the official blurb)
I didn’t realize this was an MG novel when I grabbed it—I thought it was YA—it wouldn’t have made much of a difference, it just would’ve been good to know what I was getting into.

Miranda is in 6th Grade, has one friend (who has just decided not to be friends anymore), and is obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. Her mom is a paralegal and is dating a lawyer in her firm. It’s the late 70’s and latch-key kids are becoming more common, but not as much as they will be.

As Miranda tries to find new people to connect with, she receives odd messages about needing to write a thorough and completely true account of something that’s about to happen. She’ll know the thing when it happens. Totally normal, right?

There’s some time travel, there’s some personal growth, there’s some tribute to L’Engle’s novel. It’s a charming little work, really. Sure, I could see most of it coming from miles away, but that’s because I’m a few decades older than the audience, not because Stead didn’t know what she was doing.

Holloway does a fine job, too. Capturing the bouncing emotions just right. I dug it, upper MG readers probably will, too (L’Engle fans are shoo-ins).
3.5 Stars

How Not to Die AloneHow Not to Die Alone

by Richard Roper, Simon Vance (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 52 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2019
Read: October 14-16, 2019

(the official blurb)
The concept for this novel feels like something that’d happen to George Costanza, but what makes this novel work is that Roper makes Andrew a believable, sympathetic human being—not the dumpster fire of a person that George was. It’s utterly preposterous, really. But you can’t help but believe it happening (and can likely see yourself doing something similar).

I’ve seen repeated—almost ubiquitous—comparisons to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. And I get that, and can kind of agree with it. I found the character and story in this novel better than Ms. Oliphant or her life. Although that book seems much more plausible. (and I quickly decided not to care).

Andrew’s friendship with Peggy is wonderful, I wish we had more time with them working/hanging out. Peggy’s a great character on her own—and if Roper were to write one of those ridiculous “same story just from someone else’s POV” sequels, I’d have to cast aside my prejudice against those so I could spend more time with her.

Vance gives one of those audiobook narrations that convinces you there’s no other way for the book to sound—if you read the text version, the voice in your head would have to be Vance. And if you’d never heard of him before, that’s okay, because your subconscious would invent a voice just like his.

Moving, amusing, hopeful. Great job.
4 Stars

The Right StuffThe Right Stuff

by Tom Wolfe, Dennis Quaid (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 15 hrs., 42 mins.
Audible Studios, 2018
Read: October 29-30, 2019

(the official blurb)
I read this book about 2-3 times a year from Middle School to the first or second year of college, and haven’t been able to do it since (I’ve tried off and on). But when Audible had a sale on this earlier in the year, I had to give it a shot. Especially with one of the stars of the remarkable movie adaptation doing the narration.

Now an audiobook of Wolfe is a tricky proposition (at best). Wolfe’s a master stylist. But so much of it (to me anyway) is how the words are on the page. His idiosyncratic capitalization, punctuation, visual rhythms . . . it’s all about how the text shows up in the book. But Quaid gets close enough. So I was able to fully enjoy and immerse myself in this story about the early years of the US/USSR Space Race—the test pilots around Yeager’s feat and then transitioning into the Mercury Program and a little beyond.

Wolfe educates and then entertains with the way he tells the story, editorializes about the events and people, and captures the essence of the various people involved. Listening to this brought me back to the first time I read this book and reminded me why I fell in love with Wolfe.

Quaid did the near-impossible here, he got as close to humanly possible to capturing Wolfe’s style, sensibilities and je ne sais quoi. He didn’t quite get it, but I can’t imagine anyone doing better. It’s probably one of my favorite audiobook performances to date. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Quaid guy just might have a future in show biz.
4 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge