Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire: Jack and Jill’s Final (?) Showdown in the Moors

Come Tumbling Down

Come Tumbling Down

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #5

Hardcover, 206 pg.
Tor Books, 2020

Read: January 8-10, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was an island of misfit toys, a place to put the unfinished stories and the broken wanderers who could butcher a deer and string a bow but no longer remembered what to do with indoor plumbing. It was also, more importantly, a holding pen for heroes. Whatever they might have become when they’d been cast out of their chosen homes, they’d been heroes once, each in their own ways. And they did not forget.

I wanted to do an Opening Lines post for this book, but I couldn’t decide where to stop—maybe around page 6 (which is a little too long for that kind of post). Seriously, it took less than a page for me to fall in love with this book.

It’s a typical day at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children (assuming such a thing exists) when a door appears, but instead of someone getting to go to their “home,” two figures emerge. One is a complete stranger, the other is Jack. Well, sort of. Close enough for our purposes here.

Things on the Moors have gotten to a crisis point where only one of the Wolcott twins can survive—Jack or Jill. Jill has struck first and things are dire. Jack recruits a couple of her friends and classmates to return with her (she was relatively certain she could return them to the school) to aid her in confronting her sister. They used to be heroes, they will be heroes again—as often as needed—much to Eleanor’s chagrin.

Once in the Moors, a dark and nasty place to be sure, dangers that no one (save maybe Jack) could’ve predicted present themselves and threaten the lives of the students in horrible and chilling ways. Culminating in what appears to be a final encounter for the sisters.

I love the way that McGuire writes these books, and Come Tumbling Down is no exception. It is full of the typical whimsical, fantastic and nigh-poetic language and ideas. If you’ve read a Wayward Children book before, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t . . . it’s hard to tell you. Here’s a sample or two:

“This is terrible . . . I mean we knew it was going to be trouble . . . but this is bonus terrible. This is the awful sprinkles on the sundae of doom.”

“A little knowledge never hurt anybody,” said Sumi.

“Perhaps not. But a great deal of knowledge can do a great deal of harm, and I’m long past the point of having only a little knowledge.”

Sumi was Sumi. Spending time with her was like trying to form a close personal relationship with a cloud of butterflies. Pretty—dazzling, even—but not exactly companionable. And some of the butterflies had knives, and that was where the metaphor collapsed.

Jill had always been the more dangerous, less predictable Wolcott, for all that she was the one who dressed in pastel colors and lace and sometimes remembered that people like it when you smiled. Something about the way she’d wrapped her horror move heart in ribbons and bows had reminded him of a corpse that hadn’t been properly embalmed like she was pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside. Terrifying and subtly wrong.

“wrapped her horror movie heart in ribbons and bows” is pretty much worth the purchase price of the book.

I’m glad that I enjoy—relish, really—the language like I do, because there’s not a lot of plot or action here. There’s enough, but there’s an awful lot of talk both around and before the action really gets underway. That’s not a wholly bad thing, and I enjoyed all of it, it just seemed self-indulgent.

It felt to me that McGuire’s reached the point of diminishing returns with this one, it’s been one too many trips to the Moors and it’s time for other Wayward Children to get the focus. Thankfully, that seems to be the plan.

I don’t think this would be a great introduction to this series (but it would function okay that way) if you’re not going to read them all in order, I feel safe in saying that it needs to be read after Down Among the Sticks and Bones. This is a good way to return to the world and revisit some of these characters. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next volume.


4 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2019

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I even looked at my reading log. After my first cut (which was pretty hard), I had 20+ candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was difficult, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad—most were really good and worth the time (sure, a handful should be missed, but let’s forget about them). But these are the crème de la crème.

Not all of these were published in 2019—but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

I should say that I was a little worn out by the time I composed a lot of this and ended up borrowing heavily from my original posts. Hope you don’t mind reruns.
(in alphabetical order by author)

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb

My original post
Lori is kidnapped by the same Mob that wants her dead, giving her basically two choices—do a job for them or else they’re coming for JT and Dakota. Nothing about this book went the way I expected (beginning with the premise), it was all better than that. I had a hard time writing anything about this book that I hadn’t said about the first two in the series. Broadribb’s series about this tough, gritty bounty hunter (who is not close to perfect, but she’s persistent, which is easier to believe) started off strong and remains so.

4 Stars

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh

My original post
One of the best serial killer antagonists I can remember reading. A breakneck pace. An intricately plotted novel. An already beloved protagonist. Genuine surprises, shocking twists, and a couple of outstanding reveals make this fourth Eddie Flynn novel a must-read (even if you haven’t read any previous installments).

5 Stars

Black SummerBlack Summer

by M. W. Craven

My original post
It’s hard to avoid hyperbole in a Best-Of post like this, it’s harder still when talking about this book. But I just did some math, and Black Summer is in the top 1% of everything I read last year—the writing, the plot, the pacing, the tension, the protagonists, the villain(s), the supporting characters are as close to perfect as you’re going to find. The first note I made about this book was, I’m “glad Craven gave us all of zero pages to get comfy before getting all morbid and creepifying.” It’s pretty relentless from there—right up until the last interview, which might elicit a chuckle or two from a reader enjoying watching a brilliant criminal get outsmarted. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it’s so much fun to read.

5 Stars

An Accidental DeathAn Accidental Death

by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator)

My original post
Grainger’s DC Smith couldn’t be more different than Craven’s DS Poe if he tried, and these two books feel so different that it seems strange to talk about them at the same time. What’s the same? How easily they get the reader invested in their protagonists. How easily they get you plunged into their world and caring about what they care about. Grainger has a nice, subtle style (with even subtler humor) that made this novel sheer pleasure to read (well, listen to, in this case).

4 Stars

Dead InsideDead Inside

by Noelle Holten

My original post
When I was about halfway through this novel, I wrote, “While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel…Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate—like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.” This is not an easy read thanks to the characters and circumstances, later I wrote, “This isn’t the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer—rather, it’s the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It’s a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it’s at once satisfying and disturbing—a great combination for a reader. You won’t read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you’ll join me in eagerly awaiting what’s coming next from Holten.” I can’t put it better than that.

5 Stars

Deception CoveDeception Cove

by Owen Laukkanen

My original post
I heard someone describe this as Laukkanen writing fan-fic about his dog Lucy. Which is funny, and pretty much true. From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades—you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability—and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He’s got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel.

4 Stars

HackedHacked

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
Duncan MacMaster is a new (for me) go-to author if I need someone to break me out of a gloomy mood because of books like this. Clever, well-plotted, and filled with more laughs than some “Humor” books I read this year. It also features what’s probably the best secondary character from 2019. Take out the humor (for the sake of argument here, don’t you dare do that really) and this is still a smartly-plotted and well-executed mystery novel. Adding in the humor makes this a must-read.

4 1/2 Stars

The ChainThe Chain

by Adrian McKinty

My original post
There was enough hype around this that I can see where some of my blogger acquaintances were let down with the reality. But McKinty’s breakout novel absolutely worked for me. The tension is dialed up to 11, the pacing is relentless, the stakes are high enough that the reader should make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled. The Chain is as compelling and engrossing as you could want. It’s a near-perfect thriller that doesn’t let up. Winslow calls it “Jaws for parents.” He’s right—I can’t imagine there’s not a parent alive who can read this without worrying about their kids, and reconsidering how closely to track their movements and activities.

4 1/2 Stars

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan

My original post
This is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. The mystery part of this book is just what you want—it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic—I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. But afterward you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course—what else could it have been?” And then you read the motivation behind the killing—and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this. This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more.

5 Stars

The Power of the Dog The CartelThe Power of the Dog / The Cartel

by Don Winslow

My original post about The Power of the Dog, The Cartel should be up soon.
There’s simply no way I can talk about one of these without the other, so I won’t. This is a fantastic story about a DEA Agent’s obsessive drive to take down one of the most powerful, deadly and successful Mexican Drug Cartels around, as well as a devastating indictment of the U.S.’s War on Drugs. Despite the scope and intricacy of the plot, these are not difficult reads. Despite the horrors depicted, they’re not overwhelming. In fact, there are moments of happiness and some pretty clever lines. Which is not to say there’s a light-hand, or that he ever treats this as anything but life-and-death seriousness. They’re not easy, breezy reads— but they’re very approachable. I don’t know if there’s a moment that reads as fiction, either—if this was revealed to be non-fiction, I would believe it without difficulty. I will not say that he transcends his genre to be “Literature,” or that he elevates his work or anything—but I can say that Winslow demonstrates the inanity of pushing Crime Fiction into some shadowy corner as not worthy of the attention of “serious” readers.

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight, Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice, Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg, Going Dark/Going Rogue by Niel Lancaster (can’t pick between the two), You Die Next by Stephanie Marland, The Killing State by Judith O’Reilly, Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry, Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin, Paper Son by S. J. Rozan, and How To Kill Friends And Implicate People by Jay Stringer.

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2019

Like last year, while trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels made up approximately half of the novels I read this year and therefore dominated the candidates. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists—one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t—not necessarily the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). But these ten entertained me or grabbed me emotionally unlike the rest.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to books that I’ve loved for 2 decades that I happened to have read this year.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)

My original post
I’ve been telling myself every year since 2016 that I was going to read all of Backman’s novels after falling in love with his My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The closest I got was last year when I read his first novel, A Man Called Ove (and nothing else). It’s enough to make me resolve to read more of them, and soon. The story of an old, grumpy widower befriending (against his will, I should stress) a pretty diverse group of his neighbors. It’s more than that thumbnail, but I’m trying to be brief. The story was fairly predictable, but there’s something about the way that Backman put it together that makes it perfect. And even the things you see coming will get you misty (if not elicit actual tears).

5 Stars

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown

My original post
When I started reading this, I was figuring that Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga was on the downward trend. Boy, was I wrong. Dark Age showed me that time after time after time after time . . . Entertaining, occasionally amusing, stress-inducing, heart-wrenching, flat-out captivating. It was brutal and beautiful and I can’t believe I doubted Brown for a minute.

5 Stars

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen

My original post
One of the best Time Travel stories I’ve ever read, but it’s so much more—it’s about fatherhood, it’s about love, it’s about friendship. Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak—I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline.

4 1/2 Stars

Seraphina's LamentSeraphina’s Lament

by Sarah Chorn

My original post
Chorn’s prose is as beautiful as her world is dark and disturbing. This Fantasy depicts a culture’s collapse and promises the rebirth of a world, but getting there is rough. Time and time again while reading this book, I was struck by how unique, how unusual this experience was. As different as fantasy novels tend to be from each other, by and large, most of them feel the same as you read it (I guess that’s true of all genres). But I kept coming back to how unusual this feels compared to other fantasies I’ve read. The experience of reading Seraphina’s Lament isn’t something I’ll forget any time soon.

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?” These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy—but they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss—and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

(but mostly you laugh)

4 1/2 Stars

Twenty-one Truths About LoveTwenty-one Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks

My original post
It’s an unconventionally told story about a man figuring out how to be a businessman, husband, and father in some extreme circumstances. The lists are the star of the show, but it’s the heart behind them that made this novel a winner.

5 Stars

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

by Nick Hornby

My original post
This series of brief conversations held between a married couple just before their marriage counseling sessions. 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.

4 1/2 Stars

The SwallowsThe Swallows

by Lisa Lutz

My original post
This is not my favorite Lutz novel, but I think it’s her best. It has a very different kind of humor than we got in The Spellman Files, but it’s probably as funny as Lutz has been since the third book in that series—but deadly serious, nonetheless. Lutz puts on a clinic for naturally shifting tone and using that to highlight the important stories she’s telling. From the funny and dark beginning to the perfect and bitingly ominous last three paragraphs The Swallows is a winner. Timely and appropriate, but using tropes and themes that are familiar to readers everywhere, Lutz has given us a thrilling novel for our day—provocative, entertaining, and haunting. This is one of those books that probably hews really close to things that could or have happened and you’re better off hoping are fictional.

5 Stars

PostgraduatePostgraduate

by Ian Shane

My original post
This has the general feel of Hornby, Tropper, Norman, Weiner, Russo (in his lighter moments), Perrotta, etc. The writing is engaging, catchy, welcoming. Shane writes in a way that you like reading his prose—no matter what’s happening. It’s pleasant and charming with moments of not-quite-brilliance, but close enough. Shane’s style doesn’t draw attention to itself, if anything, it deflects it. It’s not flashy, but it’s good. The protagonist feels like an old friend, the world is comfortable and relaxing to be in (I should stress about 87.3 percent of what I know about radio comes from this book, so it’s not that). This belongs in the same discussion with the best of Hornby and Tropper—it’s exactly the kind of thing I hope to read when I’m not reading a “genre” novel (I hate that phrase, but I don’t know what else to put there).

4 1/2 Stars

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

My original post
This is a novel filled with readers, book nerds and the people who like (and love) them. There’s a nice story of a woman learning to overcome her anxieties to embrace new people in her life and heart with a sweet love story tagged on to it. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. This is the only book on this particular list that I know would’ve found a place on a top ten that included Crime Novels as well, few things made me as happy in 2019 as this book did for a few hours (and in fleeting moments since then as I reflect on it).

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Not Famous by Matthew Hanover, Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion, and Lingering by Melissa Simonson

Hacked by Duncan MacMaster: A Smart, Fun Sequel that Topped the One that Went Before

Hacked

Hacked

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Jake Mooney, #2

Paperback, 258 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2019

Read: December 10-11, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“You’re a very different kind of man Jake Mooney,” she said. “It’s almost like you belong here, but don’t belong here.”

“How is that?”

“Your life is like a movie,” she said, “and I think the last thing you want is to live your life like that.” …

“This is my second go-round for this sort of thing,” I said, “and the problem with sequels is that they always have to top the one that went before them.”

I remember really enjoying Hack, our introduction to Jake Mooney. But, I didn’t remember exactly why I did (I guess I could’ve read my post about it, but that sounds too much like research). It took almost no time at all to remember once I dipped into this Hacked (and many of the details about Hack came back to me straight away, too). Hack had a strong voice, fun characters, a clever mystery, with a satisfying conclusion to wrap things up. Hacked gives us more of all that.

For those of you who haven’t met Jake Moody, he’s a former journalist turned ghostwriter. Two years before this novel, he rose to fame by solving multiple homicides. He then finished ghostwriting the autobiography of one of the murder victims. He then writes his own account of what transpired (see Hack for details), as well as a fantasy novel. Now he’s been talked into coming to LA to sell the movie rights to any/all of his books.

Before his days of ghostwriting, Jake lived in LA and still has plenty of friends there and touches base with a couple of them. One of the things everyone is talking about there is the hacking of a movie company and the release of private date from them—supposedly, this is a North Korean retaliation for the portrayal of Kim Jong Un in one of that studio’s movies. A legendary agent who Jake knew years ago inadvertently puts Jake in the middle of the investigation. Not long after that, a P.I. friend of his asks him to consult on the same topic.

When Jake arrives at his friend’s home, however, he finds his friend brutally murdered. The assumption has to be that the people behind the hack are the people who killed his friend. So while he really is content to leave the investigation into the hack to the proper authorities, seeing his friend’s body sets Jake inexorably into finding out who committed the murder (and the hack while he’s at it).

Jake’s assisted in this hunt by his agent friend, his new agent, an accountant turned security guard, a former FBI agent, a ride-share driver who’s always wanted to be up to escapades like this, and an attractive studio exec. Help comes from other directions, too, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you.

It’s not long before someone tries to kill Jake, he’s kidnapped more than once, assaulted, and . . . you know what? You wouldn’t believe me if I listed all that happens to this poor writer (also, why ruin the surprise?)—I couldn’t help imagining MacMaster asking himself, “What else can I do to Jake? A tiger attack? Nah, not sure how to get him in the cage, but I do know how to ….”

The LAPD is eager to pin all of the death and destruction on Jake, but the more they press him, the more adamant he becomes that he won’t leave. Given the strong cloud of suspicion that North Korea is behind the hack, and presumably the murder of his friend, the FBI is involved, too. They’re less inclined to suspect Jake of having anything to do with the murder, but they’d like him away from the case.

There are more than the requisite number of twists and turns to this case, none of them feels forced or gratuitous. And even when you’re faster at putting the pieces together than Jake is, you should probably take a beat before criticizing him, because you’re probably not as right as you think you are.

The tone is what separates this from similar mysteries. This is not a comedy —there’s a brutal murder, including signs of torture to start things off. There are threats of violence, actual violence, and more deaths to come. But the way that MacMaster tells it makes it become one of the funniest and most enjoyable reads of the year. Think Marshall Karp’s Lomax and Biggs Mysteries for tone. That’s probably not the most helpful comparison, come to think of it, because I’m not sure how many people are familiar with them (too few for sure). Okay, think of this as a Shane Black story—just a novel instead of a script, and there’s no tie to Christmas. MacMaster’s Kirby Baxter books are more overtly comical than his Jake Mooney books, but both are just flat-out entertaining and laugh-filled.

Typically, in books/TV/movies, Hollywood Agents are not depicted sympathetically. Which is probably a bit of an understatement, really. But Jake’s old friend and new agent are both depicted as decent people that he can rely on. That’s not really a plus or a minus when it comes to evaluating, but it’s so strange that I felt compelled to mention it. I can’t remember another fictional Agent who wasn’t some sort of duplicitous, manipulative, weasel.

The story, Jake and the other characters, the fun had a Hollywood’s expense, the twists, etc. would’ve been good enough to make me rave. But there’s a Chinese gentleman that plays a big role in the novel—I don’t want to say much about him, because you just have to meet him yourself. He pops up repeatedly throughout the novel, yet we really don’t spend that much time with him altogether. But he steals every scene he’s in. He’s one of my favorite new characters of 2019. If there’s a Hacked Again or Hack Harder or whatever, I hope MacMaster can come up with an excuse to use him again.

I just had so much fun with this one (a common theme when it comes to MacMaster)—I can’t think of a single reason why someone shouldn’t read this (you don’t have to read Hack first, by the way). Jake was right in what he said before, the problem with sequels is that they have to top the one that went before. Hacked easily does that. It’s smartly-written, cleverly-plotted and just fun to read. Go run and grab it!


4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Fletch, Too (Audiobook) by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller: Fletch’s Ski Trip to Nairobi

Fletch, Too

Fletch, Too

Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #9 (#2 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., and 43 mins.
Blackstone Audio, 2019

Read: August 21-22, 2019


Up to this point, we know practically nothing about Fletch’s personal life—he’s been married (and divorced) twice and engaged once or twice in addition to that. He’s carried on an on-again/off-again relationship with Moxie Mooney. Served with valor in the Army, made a couple of good friends there. That’s pretty much it—most of what we know about Fletch is about his professional life—and then the amateur sleuthing/investigative journalism he’s done since he didn’t kill Alan Stanwyck. We know next to nothing about his family, his childhood, and so on.

In Fletch, Too McDonald decides to fix that. Picking up right after Fletch Won (like a day or two after) with his first wedding, the revelations start right away. We meet Fletch’s mother, a mystery novelist of some renown (but perhaps not of the highest caliber). After the ceremony, he’s handed a letter from someone claiming to be his father. Fletch had been told that his father had “died in childbirth,” so he’s taken aback by this. The letter describes (briefly) why his father had not been around for his life and that he’s “mildly curious” about his son. If Fletch is at least “mildly curious” about his father, he’s invited to visit him in Nairobi for their honeymoon, tickets are enclosed.

More than mildly curious, and driven to get some answers (or at least a good story), the two hop that plane (bringing their luggage and skis packed for a trip to Colorado). At this point, it stops being a standard Fletch novel and becomes something more akin to Carioca, Fletch. Before they leave the airport, Fletch witnesses a murder (unbeknownst to the murderer).

Fletch makes a couple of attempts to investigate the murder, but due to circumstances, a language barrier, police not given to outsiders’ help, and the lack of anything to go off of, he doesn’t get far. In fact, minor spoiler, the only reason Fletch “solves” the murder is that he recognizes the killer toward the end of the book. Which makes for a fairly unsatisfying “mystery” novel.

Where this book gets interesting is as Fletch and his wife meet some locals, explore the city, and meet a colleague of his father’s. We’re treated to a look at the culture, legal system (or lack thereof), history and some speculative Archeology about the area. It’s interesting—but it feels more like McDonald had an interesting vacation, read some good books on the region and/or had some great conversations with people from Nairobi and wanted to share what he’d learned (again, see, Carioca, Fletch).

I think I appreciated this more than the other non-standard Fletch because 1. I came in with low expectations (remembering how little I liked it) and 2. the supporting characters are more interesting.

At this point, I assume (and am supported by experience) that Miller will do a capable job with the Narration and he helped me enjoy the experience.

This is one for completists, for those who are curious about Fletch’s backstory, or for those who have a hankering for learning about Kenya. It’s not a bad book, it’s just not as good as it should be.


3 Stars
2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski: Kolakowski Gets His Crime Fiction Chocolate in this SF Peanut Butter

This is one of those books that I’m uber-excited about, yet I don’t think I do a good enough job at explaining why I am. It’s just good.

 Maxine Unleashes Doomsday

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday

by Nick Kolakowski

eARC, 274 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2019

Read: October 29-31, 2019

“You know the trick to surviving? The one thing you got to do?”

“What’s that?” Maxine asked.

“You got to treat every day like an adventure. Like it’s fun, or a challenge, even when everything’s crappy. Especially when it’s crappy. Because otherwise, it’s all going to crush you.”

“I feel like I spent my whole life being crushed.”

“Well, that’s your fault. A normal job, trying to live a normal life, it’s just inviting people to stomp you. And they do.”

“Yeah.”

“But at least in my line of work, sometimes you get to stomp back…”

In case the author’s name looks familiar to you, yeah, you’ve seen me use it a few times this year—3 novellas, 1 short fiction collection, and now this novel, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday. It occurs to me now, that he was the first author I read this year, and he did a pretty good job setting the tone for 2019’s reading. This book is his first step out of Crime Fiction and into Science Fiction—dystopian SF, to be precise (that really should be obvious to anyone familiar with him, I don’t think he’s got a utopian novel in him).

That said, there’s enough of a Crime Fiction flavor to this SF novel, that fans of either genre will have enough of their drug of choice to be satisfied.

This is set in the near-future, at various points along the fall of the US/Western Civilization. While there are plenty of other characters to keep an eye on, our focus throughout is on Maxine. After a rocky start to life with a drug-addicted mother, and an unsuccessful academic career (although she tried for a little bit), she tries to follow her uncle’s example and become a criminal. She has some success in that, but a large failure resulted in life-threatening injuries to a friend and the loss of one of her arms. Following that, she tries to live a non-criminal life, she gets a job, settles down with a guy and has a kid. But her heart’s not in it, and she ends up dabbling in thievery. At some point, she abandons that life and sets her eyes on a criminal career.

Maxine is one of my favorite characters this year—she’s flawed (not as flawed as she thinks), she’s a fighter (not as good as she thinks), self-destructive, optimistic, and driven. She takes a lot of (metaphorical and literal) punches, and while she may not get up right away after them, she doesn’t stop moving forward. Ever. I love reading characters like that.

Her uncle, who goes by Preacher, is one of the most significant criminals in the New York area—and has some cops dedicated to taking him down, and any number of civilians supporting him. Off and on throughout her childhood, Preacher tried to get Maxine’s mother to leave her addictions behind to provide for and care for her kids. Between his power and influence on the one hand, and being just about the only adult to look out for her and her brother, it’s no wonder that Maxine will want to be part of his life. Readers of Kolakowski’s Main Bad Guy will enjoy playing a compare/contrast game with Preacher and Walker.

There are a number of other characters that greatly influence Maxine’s life and desires, but none so much as her uncle. And to get into them would just push this post beyond the length I want (and would end up spoiling stuff to really talk about).

By and large, this is the story of Maxine’s journey from a struggling public school student to being a wanted criminal (and beyond). But that’s not everything that’s going on. For the first chapter, you get the impression you’ll be reading a book about rival groups fighting for supplies in mid-apocalyptic New York. But then you’ll realize that’s not it at all, it’s a story about how Maxine became the tenacious gun-fighter and would-be criminal mastermind that she is. Eventually you discover that yeah, both of those are true, but Kolakowski’s really writing a different story—and boy howdy, you feel pretty clever when you suss it out, and it’s such a brilliant way of telling this story that you don’t mind being wrong about what the book is trying to accomplish. But even then, you won’t really understand everything until the last line of the book (I’m not sure I actually pumped my fist when I read it, but I probably thought about it pretty hard).

Yes, it’s a pretty violent book (this too, should really be obvious to anyone familiar with Kolakowsi), but most of the truly horrible stuff happens “off-screen,” making it a lot easier to take. The prose moves quickly and assuredly, the writing is sone with a strong sense of style and savoir faire. Frankly, it’s too lively and enjoyable to keep the most readers who aren’t into gunfights, etc. from being turned off by the violence.

It’s a well-realized dystopia, one that’s easier to imagine happening than say, Panem. Kolakowski does a wonderful job of littering this book with little details that tell you so much about the world his characters live in and entertain the reader. Hitting both of those notes regularly is a difficult task. For example:

“Someday I want to go to California,” Michelle told Maxine. “Did you know it used to be a state?”

and

This far north, the concept of local government grew teeth and claws. If you stuck to the highway, you would cross into territory controlled largely by the New York Giants, which had expanded beyond its origin as one of the nation’s most consistently mediocre sports teams to control a big swath of towns northeast of Buffalo.

One of the conceits of the book is that the material is a result of an academic study about Maxine. It’s one of the best moves that Kolakowski makes in this book (and it’s full of great moves). Don’t skim over these notes, you’ll be rewarded for your attention.

Oh, I should warn you: This book might put you off popcorn for a while. I’m just saying…

Rob Hart wrote one of the endorsements for this: “Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” I repeat that for a couple of reasons—1. I love the last two sentences. 2. He’s right, and says everything in 4 sentences that I tried to above. You should listen to one of us. Kolakowski has outdone himself with this one, it was a pleasure from end to end. You really need to read it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. My opinions are my own, and weren’t influenced by this.


4 1/2 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Finally Fall Book Tag


While reading these posts on Bookidote, beforewegoblog, and The Witty & Sarcastic Bookclub, I noticed myself mentally composing this list—so I figure I had to join in the fun. I’d have posted this last week, but my free laborer realized how little he was getting paid and decided to play video games instead of generating my graphic.

Naturally, I only paid half of his fee.

Enough of that, bring on the Autumn! (even if it feels like Winter here in Idaho):

In Fall, the air is crisp and clear. Name a book with a vivid setting.

The Last of the Really Great WhangdoodlesThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards

I had a hard time coming up with something for this one, honestly. But Whangdoodleland was so vivid that I can still picture parts of it, despite having read it only once in the last 30+ years.


Nature is beautiful…but also dying. Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic, like loss or grief.

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

When I posted about it, I said, “I’m not convinced that this is really all that well-written, technically speaking. But it packs such an emotional wallop, it grabs you, reaches down your throat and seizes your heart and does whatever it wants to with it—so who cares how technically well it’s written? (and, yeah, I do think the two don’t necessarily go together). A couple of weeks from now, I may not look back on this as fondly—but tonight, in the afterglow? Loved this.” I still look back on it as fondly, for the record.


Fall is Back to School Season. Name a Nonfiction Book that Taught You Something.

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time by Simon Garfield

If I’m going to read a non-fiction book, it had better teach me something or I’ll end up ranting about it for days/weeks/months! This one popped to mind, though. In my post about the book, I said: “Did I learn something from the book? Much more than I expected to. The chapter on the French experiments alone probably taught me enough to justify the whole book. I didn’t/couldn’t stick with the details of watch-making (I have a hard time visualizing that kind of detail), but even that was fascinating and informative on the surface. Most topics broadened my understanding and taught me something. Also, the sheer amount of trivia that I picked up was great (the amount of time spent recording the first Beatles LP, why pop music tends to be about 3 minutes long, etc., etc.).”


In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love. Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d love to be a part of.

Nero Wolfe trioThe Household of Nero Wolfe from the books by Rex Stout

(yeah, that picture is from the A&E TV show, not exactly the books—but in that image in particular, they look just about perfect)

There were many families/groups/households that I could’ve picked for this, but that Brownstone on West 35th Street is near the Platonic ideal for a place to live—I’d love to spend time with Mr. Wolfe, Archie and Fritz (not to mention Saul, Fred, Orrie, Lily, Lon . . .)


The colorful leaves are piling up on the ground. Show us a pile of Autumn-colored spines.


(I thought this was going to be hard, but in the end, I had to not make the pile bigger!)

Also…wow, clearly, I’m not a photographer. It’s a shame I don’t live closer to my pal, Micah Burke, things around here would look much spiffier.


Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside. Share a book wherein somebody is telling a story.

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

That’s really 90% of the book—a bard telling stories. How he pulls this off, really impressed me.

(Hammered by Kevin Hearne would also qualify, but I liked the storytelling in this one better)


The nights are getting darker. Share a dark, creepy read.

Darkness Take My HandDarkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

This one disturbs me every time I read it (4-6 I think), I still remember having to sleep with the lights on after I stayed up reading it until 2-3 in the morning the first time—I doubt I was a very good employee the next day. (Sacred maybe is creepier, but this is the better book by Lehane)


The days are getting colder. Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

WonderWonder by R. J. Palacio

The “short” in the category is the sticky wicket. But this is a quick read (even if the page number is higher than I’d count as “short.” Formulaic? Yup. Predictable? You betcha. Effective? Abso-smurfly. Textbook example of heartwarming.


Fall returns every year. Name an old favorite that you’d like to return to soon.

Magic Kingdom for Sale — SOLD!Magic Kingdom for Sale — SOLD! by Terry Brooks

Ive been thinking about this book a lot since Bookstooge’s Quick Fire Fantasy post. Gotta work this into the 2020 reading schedule.

I’m tagging any blogger who reads this. Play along.