Jane Yellowrock 10th Anniversary Sweepstakes

Celebrate 10 years of Jane Yellowrock!

Enter for your chance to win the entire New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock series (so far), plus cool Jane swag!

Wow! Jane Yellowock’s really been around for 10 years?!?! (well, 10 years and 2 days) I came to the series around the time book 3 was published, but even having spent 8 years reading her seems to be hard to believe. Since her debut she’s survived 12 novels (many, many vampires and other supernatural sorts have not), several short stories and has even spawned a spin-off. Slowly but surely through these years, Jane and Faith Hunter alike have become real favorites of mine—finding an Urban Fantasy character/author/series better than theses is nigh impossible.

So I’m more than happy to have been asked to help promote this here 10th Anniversary Sweepstakes.* If you haven’t read this series, what better way to jump in? If you have, well, you know what a Major Award it would be. You’ve gotta go enter this thing—you have until the 14th..

* I just hope by doing so I didn’t disqualify myself.

Skinwalkwer cover“There is nothing as satisfying as the first time reading a Jane Yellowrock novel.” — Fresh Fiction

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and fights vampires, demons, and everything in between in the city of New Orleans.

Enter today for your chance to win all of Jane’s adventures:

Winners will also receive a Shattered Bonds bookmark and an exclusive character card featuring Jane and Beast!

“Jane Yellowrock is smart, sexy, and ruthless.”—#1 New York Times bestselling Kim Harrison

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State of the Union by Nick Hornby: Love on the rocks, Ain’t no surprise

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby


Paperback, 132 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2019

Read: June 4, 2019

           [Louise says,] “Underneath it all, I love you.”

“Underneath it all.”

“Yes.”

“Great.”

“To be honest, I think you should be happy with that. You’re lucky there’s anything still there.”

Tom and Louise are in trouble — they’ve been married for years, have kids, and on the outside seem to be doing fine. But the marriage is in trouble — and it has been for awhile. Recent events have demonstrated just how bad the situation is, and Louise has talked Tom into counseling. Each week before their session, they meet in the pub across the street for a quick drink and to talk about what they’ll discuss in the upcoming session — also reacting to the previous session, what’s gone on in the week since, and discuss their future — if such exists.

Ten sessions. Ten very short chapters. More than 10 pints and glasses of white wine. 10 fantastic, intriguing, character revealing, entertaining conversations.

I guess I tipped my hand a bit there, didn’t I? It’s not much of a surprise that I loved this book because it’s written by Nick Hornby. And even when I’m not crazy about the novel in the end, there are few writers out there I enjoy reading as much as Hornby (alas, most of his novels predate this here blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

But it’s Hornby that takes what could be a maudlin exercise, a too-jokey experience, or an all-around failure and turns it into an experiment that’s successful, entertaining, and emotionally rich. I see Tom’s point of view, understand his pain and get his reluctance to do the work he needs to. I also understand Louise’s take, I get (don’t approve of, but get) her reaction to Tom, and appreciate her willingness to do the work (while seeing her own weaknesses — at least some of them). A lot of times in this kind of scenario, the reader will end up “taking the side” of one of the characters (frequently the one sharing their gender). But very quickly I noticed that I wasn’t rooting for Tom or Louise here, I was rooting for Tom and Louise.

But best of all? I loved reading their conversations — open, honest (an honesty borne from realizing they’ve got no choice at this point, what could would anything else do?) full of that love that’s “underneath it all” for both. And somehow, still entertaining for the reader.

I typically limit myself to one quotation from a book, but I there’s another I want to share to give a flavor for the way the book works on the mechanical level.

           “How are new starts possible?” Louise says. “When you’ve been together for a long time, and you have kids, and you’ve spent years and years being irritated by the other person? But if they stop being irritating, they’re not them anymore.”

“My text was me not being me.”

“Exactly.”

They walk to the door.

“So I’ve got to stay as me.”

“Yes.”

“While at the same time being different, somehow.”

“It’s a conundrum.”

One, count ’em, one dialogue tag. Five words of description. Which is pretty typical of the book (maybe a little heavy on the description). That’s practically nothing — and dialogue tags pretty much only show up after description so you know who’s starting the back and forth — it could easily be a page or more before the next one. It’s like Hornby’s version of an acoustic recording — a story stripped down to its essence. Maybe that’s not the best metaphor — it’s the literary equivalent of espresso, the bare minimum, concentrated. Ian Shane called it “a literary play.” I like that, too.

The minimalism makes this a deceptively quick and easy read — you start flying through the text, caught up in the conversation and then realize just what it was they’re being breezy about, just in time for a line that emphasizes just what’s at stake.

This was also a show on Showtime recently — ten 10-minute episodes, as I understand. I don’t know which came first — the show or the book. If it was the book, I don’t know that a script would really be necessary — just hand them this book and say “go.” And if it was the other way around, it’d be about the easiest adaptation from a script ever.

At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length — I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

Note: I won a copy of this from Riverhead Books via Goodreads — and I thank them both for that. But my library got me a copy first, so I haven’t read it yet. But it will be the copy I re-read (and I think I’ll be doing that a lot).

—–

4 1/2 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work

I’d intended to get this up and ready for Towel Day last week — but, obviously, I failed. Schemes once again, Gang aft a-gley. It’s pretty fitting, really that this is late.

Don't PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Third Edition)

by Neil Gaiman; Additional Material by David K. Dickson & MJ Simpson
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (related)

Hardcover, 207 pg.
Titan Books, 2003
Read: May 22 – 23, 2019

          
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it’s the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it’s the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.

It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered ‘borrowing’ a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn’t have that kind of money).

He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. “Somebody,” he thought, “somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.

Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don’t Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 — I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams’ work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote — and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but “that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker’s book.” The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.

This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it “has been updated and expanded twice.” The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when “MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text.” If you ask me, Gaiman’s name should be in the smaller print and Simpson’s should be the tall letters on the cover — but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it — there’s little of the original book that I recognize (I’m going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson’s version of the book is just as good as the original, it’s just not the original.

This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but it’s certainly not a biography of Adams — maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man’s lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.

Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion — talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we’re talking about — books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects — Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.

It’s told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark — some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It’s not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) — there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it’s never not told with affection for the man or his work.

Don’t Panic is a must for die-hard fans — and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it’ll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do — but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, “I improved on Gaiman’s final draft.”

I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

—–

5 Stars

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg: The Best-Selling Author/Hapless Hero Ian Ludlow Returns to Save the Day Again

I wrote about half of a post about this book to go up yesterday. But I realized I’d spent a lot of time talking about things I really didn’t care about, and hadn’t spent any time talking about the bits I did care about. But I couldn’t turn the ship around (much to my annoyance). So, I let one more day go without a post — a truly annoying trend for the week/month. This isn’t quite what I wanted it to be. But it’s done. So that’s a start.

Killer ThrillerKiller Thriller

by Lee Goldberg
Series: Ian Ludlow Thrillers, #2

Kindle Edition, 277 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2019

Read: May 21 – 22, 2019

           “…I want Ludlow under constant and total visual, audio, digital, and personal surveillance,” Yat added. If anybody in Beijing asked about it, he’d explain that it was part of his ongoing investigation into Wang Kang’s activities, which wasn’t far from the truth. Those were always the most effective lies. “Mobilize every resource that we have.”

“Including the assassins?”

“Especially the assassins,” Yat said.

In True Fiction, Lee Goldberg introduced us to Ian Ludlow — former TV writer, now thriller writer extraordinaire — who discovered (the hard way) that terrorists were using his fiction as a playbook. Then he had to go on the run for his life from these people who didn’t appreciate the fact that he’d be able to identify what they were doing. Running alongside him (frequently behind, more frequently ahead of him) was the poor girl who was supposed to schlep him from bookstore event to bookstore event in Seattle. Margo didn’t like Ludlow, but finding their fates bound together, she threw herself into surviving — and is very likely the reason he did survive.

Not only did they survive, they uncovered and defeated a group within US Intelligence that were actively plotting against the US. It’s a highly improbable story that didn’t feel that improbable — yet was told in a way that played up the tension, the suspense and the fun. It was one of the funniest and most enjoyable books I read last year.

Now it’s time for the inevitable sequel — Killer Thriller — and Lee Goldberg has somehow done what almost every good sequel strives to do (and few succeed) — he tells pretty much the same story with just a couple of differences, yet does so in a way that feels completely fresh and original — in most ways, superior to the original. I don’t think it’d be hard to take a semi-thorough outline of both novels to compare against each other and find that they’re freakishly similar. But I only thought about that when I sat back to think about the book and its predecessor. While reading, I didn’t care about True Fiction or any similarities the current book had to it. I just had too much fun while reading the sequel I couldn’t be bothered to compare it.

Which is a pretty neat trick, really. It’s like when Chandler Bing said, ” Oh–I think this is the episode of “Three’s Company” where there’s some kind of misunderstanding.” Just because every episode of Three’s Company featured a few misunderstandings — it didn’t keep things (usually) from not being funny. The same kind of thing here — just because Ludlow and Margo are once again thrown in to the middle of things they’re not ready for, it doesn’t keep the action scenes from being riveting and the funny bits from being funny.

So, if you haven’t read the first book, let me tell you a little bit about Ian Ludlow. He’s overweight, doesn’t take care of himself in anyway, shape or form. He doesn’t seem to be attractive (and bounces between knowing it and forgetting it). His ego is pretty big, but he’s also realistic about himself. He’s lazy about everything but his writing — and he could likely be more disciplined about it. Okay, based on what we’re told about his greatest creation, Clint Straker — imagine the combination of Bond and Reacher — he’s pretty lazy. Still, he comes up with incredible plots (don’t take my word for it, take the word of people who based terror campaigns on his work). Deep down (Margo would argue very, very deep) he’s a decent guy. Especially for the 15-25 minutes a day he’s not hitting on some unwilling woman, or thinking about hitting on her.

Margo, meanwhile, is a would-be singer/songwriter, a former dog walker, and is really vocationally lost. She’s smart, she’s tough, and adaptable — even if she’s still trying to figure out how to adapt after the events of True Fiction. She’s picked up some self-defense skills along the way, which will prove to be handy.

Ludlow brings Margo with him to Hong Kong to act as his research assistant and hopefully relax a little from the stress that’s eating at her from her recent harrowing experiences (almost being killed counts as harrowing, right?). He’s going to Hong Kong to do a little promotion for the studio that’s turning his first Straker book into a movie. While there, he wants Margo to scope out some places and things he can use in his upcoming novel. In this novel, the Chinese government is waging a secret campaign to take over the US through political manipulation and selling us cheap products they can use to spy on us. Straker’s going to fight against them in Hong Kong, so he needs some local color.

Once in the hotel (and on the hotel’s wi-fi), a group of Chinese espionage agents tap into Ludlow’s laptop and make an unsettling discovery. The plot laid out in Ludlows “novel” is ridiculously close to the plan this same group has spent years devising and implementing to take over the US government through manipulation, cash, and fear. Clearly this man’s novels are just a cover story, he has to be the most wily of secret agents — using this preposterous writer character as a cover for his actual abilities and mission to stop this Chinese plot.

So the Chinese begin their dangerous game of cat and mouse with the “spy” Ian Ludlow. It’s more of a cat-and-clueless-yet-incredibly-lucky-mouse game. But you get the point. But hey, it works. Think Inspector Gadget and Penny — without the robotic arms and sentient dog.

Like Ludlow, Goldberg spent a lot of time as a writer/producer of television. And in both books he does a great job of lampooning the men and women writing, directing and starring in TV and movies. You can’t help but feel Goldberg exorcising some personal demons as he does so — particularly in the table read scene and everything that Damon Matthews (the actor playing Straker) says and does. Incidentally, I’m sure any parallels people might draw between Matthews/Straker and Cruise/Reacher are completely unintentional on Goldberg’s part. For my money, if doing this sort of thing helps Goldberg deal with the frustrations that seem to plague most TV writers/screenwriters, I hope he keeps pouring out his frustrations on the page — I love ’em.

Goldberg seems to have learned a lot from the Fox and O’Hare books he co-wrote with Janet Evanovich — there are huge chunks of this book that feel like they were originally planned for one of them. Whether Goldberg repurposed the scenes or was just influenced by his time with that series really doesn’t matter — the sensibility that made that series work so well is making this one work very well, too.

From the big things — like fight scenes or car chases — to the way he describes a Washington D. C. restaurant, to little touches like the way that someone smuggles information out of China, Goldberg is at the top of his game — which is an accomplishment. I think I’ve read almost 30 of his books and there are maybe one or two that are more satisfying than Killer Thriller. Thrills and laughs together — and maybe maybe a little surprising character depth and development (just a bit, we don’t want Ludlow to stop being a cad and a loser), this is a whole lotta fun. You can come into this one fresh, you won’t appreciate the changes in character (particularly Margo), but you’ll have just about as much fun as the rest of us.

—–

4 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Reposting Just ‘Cuz — True Fiction by Lee Goldberg: A Writer on the Run

Here’s the second of my Lee Goldberg reposts for the day — by the time you read this, I’ve probably finihsed the sequel to this one, which might be even more fun than this. Do yourself a favor and check out these books — but first, let me try to lay out the argument that you should.

True FictionTrue Fiction

by Lee Goldberg
Series: Ian Ludlow Thrillers, #1

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: July 20 – 21, 2018

“Sorry I’m late,” Ian said. “I’ve been on the run all morning.”

It was a line worthy of Clint Straker and Ian knew it. He couldn’t stop being a writer, always thinking of the next line in one of his thrillers. But he was living a thriller now and it was no thrill at all.

This is one of those books that’s super easy to write about — if you like the premise of the book, you’ll like the book. It’s just that simple. The tricky part is finding someone who wouldn’t like this premise.

Ian Ludlow, television writer turned thriller novelist, can’t believe his eyes — a terrorist attack in Hawaii went exactly the way that he designed and he’s pretty sure that someone is trying to kill him. Ludlow was part of a group of writers (movie, TV, novelists) that came up with some scenarios for the CIA that terrorists might use, so the CIA could design counter-measures. This is a thing that actually happened (maybe still does) following 9/11, because writers have much better imaginations than government employees do. One of those scenarios is playing out in real life and Ludlow doesn’t know what to do. Clearly someone out there doesn’t want Ludlow spreading the word that he’s the source for this attack.

Before he realizes what’s happening, Ludlow is running for his life and has dragged Margo along with him. Margo’s a dog-sitter, house-sitter, aspiring musician, and occasionally drives authors visiting Seattle to their signings. That’s how this poor girl gets sucked into Ludlow’s mess — she saves his life (and then he returns the favor), dooming her to having to run with him.

Add in some over-the-top villains (I hope, see below), and Goldberg’s signature wit and solid writing, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

This is a fast fun ride featuring about the most unlikely of all thriller protagonists. Ian Ludlow isn’t really in any kind of shape; he has no skills with hand-to-hand combat, cars, or weapons — his people skills are suspect, really; all he has going for him is a pretty agile mind. Margo’s a little better off, but not much. They quickly run to the home of one of Ian’s friends who lives off of the grid and is paranoid enough he’ll believe their story. Which may not really be the strongest of qualifications, but they can’t afford to be choosy. The three of them will have to figure out a way to survive — and possibly stop whoever it was behind the attack.

Does anyone else remember Condorman? The Disney film about a comic book writer/artist who accidentally (very accidentally) becomes a super-spy? I was 7 or 8 when it came out and loved it. Anyway, I had a flash-back to that when Ludlow stumbles his way into taking out one of the many assassins that come after him — one of the many times I had an honest audible response to this book (not a book I recommend reading in an ICU ward, for what it’s worth, people tend not to like noises there).

Now, I called the villains over-the-top. I’m not really sure they are — they seem over the top, but there’s a little part of me wonders how hard it really would be for someone to pull off something like this. John Rogers, of Leverage, frequently talked about how some of their over-the-top bad guys were watered down versions of the real thing (because no one would believe the real thing). Take my word for it, I don’t have time to track him down saying it. Let’s put it this way — they’re perfect for this book, and like just about every thriller villain ever, it’s best that they stay inside the book.

While he’s telling a very fun story, Goldberg takes a little bit of time to satirize thrillers, thriller writings, and thriller heroes — I loved every bit of that. It helps that Goldberg writes and reads the same books he’s satirizing, so you know he does it with love and honesty. Some of the excerpts from Ludlow’s books are just awful, it must’ve been hard to write (but so much fun). Ditto for the TV shows that Ian’s friend Ronnie starred in, I really hope that those are things that Goldberg made up for this book (and fear they aren’t).

This feels like Goldberg and Evanovich’s Fox & O’Hare books, or maybe The Man with the Iron-On Badge (which features a protagonist only slightly more likely than Ian) — not his more serious work like King City. The story moves quickly, deftly and will leave you smiling — I can’t imagine Goldberg writing a disappointing book at this point, I just don’t think he can. Pick this up, you will be entertained.

—–

4 Stars

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: — King City by Lee Goldberg

So, I couldn’t get anything written tonight — and Lee Goldberg’s on my mind, so I thought I’d repost a couple of the many posts I’ve done about his books (which is probably less than 50% of what I’ve read). Here’s one from Goodreads before I started this here blog.

King CityKing City

by Lee Goldberg

Paperback, 246 pg.
Thomas and Mercer, 2012
Read: July 4-5, 2012

One part Jack Reacher, one part Jesse Stone, this first installment in Lee Goldberg’s new series reads like a Western set in the 21st century.

Tom Wade, a rigorously scrupulous cop is assigned to a part of King City so crime and poverty-ridden that city officials pretend it doesn’t exist. He’s sent there because the police force is overly-politicized where it isn’t overtly corrupted, and they can’t fire such an upstanding cop–but maybe his new post will lead to him being killed.

Wade is fully aware of this, but accepts his new post with gusto–he has a chance to make a difference and sets out to do so in as splashy a way as possible.

This isn’t a subtle book with complex characters–and doesn’t try to be. The characters are pretty much the dictionary definition of “stock,” the good guys are good, the bad guys are really bad–and that’s that. A fun, straightforward testosterone-y action book. Hopefully the first of many.

—–

3 Stars

Opening Lines: Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg:

           Ian Ludlow’s UCLA creative writing professor insisted that the key to being a successful novelist was writing from personal experience. That’s why the professor was the author of five unpublished novels about sexually frustrated novelists who toiled in obscurity while teaching talentless and ungrateful students how to write.

So Ian ignored his professor’s edict and wrote escapist adventure stories that had nothing to do with his own mundane life. That’s how he flunked the class but eventually became a writer for TV shows like Hollywood & the Vine (half-man, half-plant, all cop!) and the author of the internationally bestselling series of action thrillers about Clint Straker, freelance spy for hire.

“And that’s how I ended up here,” Ian said, standing in front of a hundred people at Seattle’s Union Bay Books on a warm Saturday night.

It took precisely two sentences to make me chuckle, and two paragraphs to make me remember just how fun Ian Ludlow is as a character. It doesn’t get much more efficient than that.