The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan

The Shanghai MoonThe Shanghai Moon

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #9

Hardcover, 373 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: February 16 – 18, 2016


Oh, man . . . things got away from me and I haven’t been able to reconnect with Lydia or Bill for too long now (14 months between books I think) — I missed them. Thankfully, it took no time at all to get back in the groove.

Speaking of breaks, following the shattering events of Winter and Night, Bill Smith pretty much took a break from everything — including Lydia. She understood that but didn’t like it one bit. So when he does come back into he life early on in this book, she doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and makes him jump through a few hoops to get back into her good graces (but not nearly as many hoops as she intended).

But before we get to that, a one-time mentor and occasional colleague, Joel Pilarsky asks Lydia to help with an investigation. Some jewels have recently been uncovered in China, stolen and theoretically brought to New York to be sold. The client wants Pilarsky to track them down — he suggests that he’ll cover the Jewish jewelry shops that might buy them, and hires Lydia to do the same with Chinese jewelers. What makes these jewels special is that they belonged to Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai, and were probably owned by the same person who owned a legendary piece of jewelry from that time — The Shanghai Moon. Not that the client, a lawyer focused the recovery of Holocaust items, bothers to mention The Shanghai Moon (she has a lame excuse for that oversight when Lydia brings it up later).

Yes, I did say Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I felt bad about not knowing anything about that until Lydia confessed it was news to her, too. She’s intrigued by this notion — and the story of the owner of these jewels, much of which is preserved in letters she wrote to her mother after fleeing from Europe and are now part of a collection of Holocaust documents. We get these letters to, and read them with Lydia and slowly we’re drawn in to the saga of this poor woman and the Chinese man she marries while Lydia and Joel search for her heirlooms.

The investigation soon focuses on The Shanghai Moon — and the murders that appear to be connected to this crime. Bill returns to Lydia’s life in time to help with this investigation. Before you know what’s happening, we’re immersed in a mystery that stretches over decades and involves Nazis, Communists, Japanese military, NYC Chinese gangs and much, much more. The threads that connect all these to the jewels and the family tied to them are so many in number and complex in nature, that I wouldn’t try to explain it even if it wouldn’t spoil the book.

I didn’t get as invested in the historical material as Lydia did — but i came close, and I think most readers will, too. If for no other reason than Bill and Lydia do. There’s a history professor that the pair interview for some more context that I’d love to meet again (I can’t imagine how that’d happen) — he’s a fun character that’s much better developed than most characters filling his role would be in detective novels.

I don’t know if I’ve liked Lydia’s mom as much as I did in this book before (or enjoyed her as much) — it took Lydia far too long to understand what her mother was doing throughout the novel, and the growth/change it represented, but I thought it was great. I’m actually looking forward to reading about her in the next novel (I’ve never disliked the character, just have never been that interested in her).

Best of all, as normal, was the banter and other types of conversation between Lydia and Bill. I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again, but I’d read a couple hundred pages of them just talking over tea and snacks. There was a lot unsaid between them about the months between the novels, but Rozan had them not say it in a great way — and what they said was as good as usual.

Throw in a juicy mystery, good characters and a missing treasure? You’ve got yourself a winner. No surprise that I liked the ninth novel in a series I’ve enjoyed the previous eight in — but that doesn’t make it any less good, it just means that Rozan’s consistently on target. I strongly recommended The Shanghai Moon along with its predecessors.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots & CrossesKnots & Crosses

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #1

Hardcover, 256 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1987

Read: February 1 – 4, 2016

Yet there had to be clues. There had to be. Rebus drank his coffee and felt his head spin. He was feeling like a detective in a cheap thriller, and wished that he could turn to the last page and stop all his confusion, all the death and the madness and the spinning in his ears.

After 21 novels and 30 years of being in print, I finally decided to give DS John Rebus and his author Ian Rankin a shot, it looks like they might stick around for a bit. Seriously, I’ve seen the names a lot over the last few years, and despite being unimpressed with his appearance in the Face/Off collection a couple of years ago (I’m sure I’ll change my opinion once I get to know Rebus a bit), when I needed a new mystery series to sink my teeth into, this looked like a good candidate.

In Knots & Crosses we meet DS John Rebus, a former SAS officer, now a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh. He’s scraping by, he has an ex-wife and daughter; a small, dusty apartment; stacks of books; a pretty successful brother that he really has no relationship with; a large capacity for drinking; a surly attitude; and a not-that-successful program to limit his smoking. On the whole, that sounds a lot like many other fictional detectives (police and otherwise) — but there’s something about him that doesn’t seem that cookie-cutter when you read him. Maybe it’s just Rankin’s writing, maybe there’s something else — I’m not sure yet, I’ll have a better idea in a book or two (which will also give Rankin the time to distinguish Rebus). There is one other thing that separates him, but that’s the crux of this book, so I won’t get into it.

There’s a serial killer at loose in Edinburgh, killing girls and sending little notes to Rebus, taunting him about it. Sadly, Rebus doesn’t realize that for quite some time. Whoops. Not that there’s any reason for him to have seen the link, really — the killer was really more clever than he needed to be on that front. Rebus is part of the army of police working on his case, while dealing with some personal demons of his own — hopefully, the latter doesn’t prevent him from doing his part to help with the former.

The best part of the book for me was Rankin’s writing — the book is full of great sentences. Not so much that it distracts from the characters or story, but enough that you can admire his prose while enjoying the rest. This book wasn’t intended to be the beginning of a series, and doesn’t really feel like one — it’s a character study (probably a couple of characters, really), but one that’s rich enough that Rankin could come back to Rebus and build. There’s no way that future cases will be solved the way that this one was, this isn’t a prototype for Rebus’ methods, but an introduction to the detective and his world.

I liked Rebus — well, not “liked,” really. But as a character, he’s someone I want to spend more time with. Like Harry Bosch, he doesn’t seem to be a likable person, but frequently, those are the kind of guys you like reading about. I also liked that he wasn’t some sort of super cop. At one point, he’s described as not “a very good” cop, merely “a good one” (or something quite like that, I don’t have the book on me to get the exact wording). I imagine that over another 20 novels, he’ll get better — and I look forward to seeing that growth.

I really wish I’d known what “Noughts and Crosses” was before the killer mentioned it late in the book, sending me to google. I’m not sure it would’ve improved the book much for me, but I’d have appreciated aspects more and when I should’ve. Stupid “two countries separated by the same language”-thing….

Anyway, a solid beginning to the series, and more importantly, a good read for those who like police procedurals. I’ve already got the sequel on my shelf and will be getting to it in a week or so.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say NothingSay Nothing

by Brad Parks

eARC, 448 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: January 19 – 21, 2016


Since his debut novel, Faces of the Gone in 2009, I’ve considered myself a Brad Parks fan — but when I heard that he was going to step away from his series for a stand-alone, I got a little nervous. Maybe I wasn’t a Brad Parks fan — maybe I was just a Carter Ross fan. Honestly, the parts of the Carter Ross novels that he doesn’t narrate aren’t my favorite. Also, we all know all too well that for every Suspect or Mystic River, series writers can give us a The Two Minute Rule or Shutter Island — maybe grabbing this book was going to be a mistake.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

While working on this post, I saw this from Sue Grafton talking about Say Nothing: “Terrific book. Truly terrific. Tension throughout and tears at the end. What could be better than that?” I’m a little annoyed by this, honestly. That’s pretty much how I was going to sum up things for this post. Frankly, I wish Grafton would focus her efforts on finding another 5 letters between X and Z rather than preemptively stealing my lines.

We meet Judge Scott Sampson a few minutes after the biggest crisis of his life has started — and a few minutes before he leans about it. Once you get to learn Sampson a little, you’ll see that the bar for biggest crisis for him is set a little higher than for most. He’s informed that his twin children have been kidnapped and is provided some pretty compelling reasons to believe that he’s under surveillance (and will soon be given even more reason to believe that). Basically, the message he gets is this: if you want to see you children alive and well, you will do what we tell you to with a case. There are a few tests he has to pass to demonstrate his compliance — tests that may do lasting damage to his career. But Sampson is eager to prove that he will do whatever he’s asked for his children, consequences notwithstanding.

This isn’t going to be an overnight escapade — in fact, for Sampson and his wife (how have I failed to mention Allison?), this is an ordeal of indefinite duration. The stress, the worry, the intense reaction to this situation begins taking its toll almost immediately. These pressures test their individual ethics, bring secrets to light, expose and exacerbate problems in their marriage, and generally bring them both to the breaking point. They are also both driven to discover their inner-Liam Neeson in order to get their daughter (and son) back — neither, really possess a particular set of skills fitting this goal, sadly. These attempts just make their personal and interpersonal woes worse — and their lives continue spinning out of their control.

There is a relentlessness to the pace that’s a pleasure — and a drain. Jack Reacher gets a good night’s sleep and enjoys coffee (and the less than occasional romantic interlude), Harry Bosch has jazz to relax him, Elvis Cole has that cat and Tai Chi — as intense as things may get, by and large these guys get a break. But for Scott and Allison — their children don’t stop being kidnapped, and whatever solace they might find in alcohol, sleep or family — it’s a temporary band-aid at best.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read — Scott is a charming character and you will like him as you learn more about his life and family. You will not approve of every move he makes here (I guess you might, but I hope you don’t), but on the whole you will understand why he makes them and won’t judge him too harshly. Whoops, I was talking about tone here — I had fun with this, even as I was feeling a shadow of the pressure Scott and Allison are under, I even laughed once. There’s a real sense of peril when the narration focuses on the children — but it never feels exploitative.

Like most readers will, I had a couple of pretty compelling theories about who was behind everything (and why), and focused on the correct one pretty early on. Which didn’t stop me from being taken aback when it Parks revealed it — he really handled that well. Another weakness comes in the last couple of pages where Parks ties up a few loose ends, and a couple of them feel too tidy. But it’s instantly forgivable, and you want these characters to have something tidy after all they’ve gone through. On the whole, however, the characters and situations are complex and real (if heightened) — Parks nailed this whole thing. I think this will hold up to at least one repeat reading — the second read might even be more rewarding since you can appreciate what Parks is doing without being distracted by wondering what’ll happen.

The tears that Grafton mentioned? Yeah, she got that part right, too.

This is a thriller filled with real people and situations that you can believe. You’ll run the emotional gamut a time or two while reading this and will wish you could read faster just so you can make sure these kids make it home. I think I like the Carter Ross books more than this, but it’s in Say Nothing that Parks finds his stride as a crime fiction writer. Really well done.

By the way, It turns out that I am a fan of Brad Parks. Phew.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, although my Primary Care Physician probably isn’t crazy about what it did to my blood pressure.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. 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.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

‏Eleanor & Park (Audiobook) by Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park

by Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Lowman & Sunil Malhotra (Narrators)

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 57 min.
Listening Library (Audio), 2013
Read: May 31 – June 1, 2016


Okay, so yesterday I talked about a book that was hurt by the audio narration — this is one that’s helped by it (but not much, because it really doesn’t need much). I read this back when it came out, and gave it 4 Stars — which boggles my mind, was I a harsher grader back then? I remembered liking it more than that, though. Anyway, this audiobook is the perfect example of what the medium can be.

It perfectly captured the flavor, the emotion and the detail of the original. Now, it didn’t become all about the performance, the narrators brought the words to life, but not at the expense of the text.

Lowman and Malhotra were spectacular — they were Eleanore and Park. You fall for them while the characters were falling for each other, and when they expressed emotion, you certainly felt it. Well, I don’t know about “you,” but definitely me.

I’m really not sure what else I can say. This is a perfect story about first love, how it defines who you are in a way you didn’t expect — how it reveals the best of you and improves the worst of you. Using these two social misfits to tell this story grounds it in a way that the Prom King and Queen couldn’t — I just loved it. It’s probably the best thing Rowell’s done, and it’s one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard.

—–

5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt

The Twelve Dogs of ChristmasThe Twelve Dogs of Christmas

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #15eARC, 336 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2016
Read: August 27, 2016

I’m not a big fan of holiday-themed installments of long-running series (see the Holiday Plum novels or the Silent Night Spenser novel as glaring examples of how bad these can be). But you know I’m a completist — and if I could make it through the aforementioned books, I could handle this. Thankfully, this was pretty light on the Christmas theme (sure, there are trees and gifts and whatnot, but it’s not really that different from your standard Andy Carpenter novel. So, if you think like I do — don’t worry. If you don’t mind/like a little holiday cheer — don’t worry, you’ll find it.

A friend of the Tara Foundation, “Pups” (so-called because she takes care of stray puppies until they’re old enough to adopt out, and might be pickier than Willie when it comes to worthy humans). Is facing eviction because of the large number of puppies she has in her home, and a new neighbor is complaining. Pups isn’t really what you call “friendly,” “polite” or someone who “should be allowed to interact with people.” She’s crabby, opinionated, blunt and has no patience for fools — particularly fools that seem intent on messing with her and her puppies. So Pups has said a few things that make it sound like she’d be happy if the neighbor stopped breathing.

Which, naturally, means that he ends up killed and that someone did a really sloppy frame job on ol’ Pups. The frame job is actually bigger than just this one killing, but you can read that for yourself.

Why prosecutors continue to play hardball with Carpenter clients, I just don’t get. I never understood why Hamilton Burger insisted on taking Perry Mason’s clients to trial, and I can’t understand why New Jersey’s prosecutors don’t just dismiss charges the instant that Carpenter and Hike show up on the other side of a courtroom. But they don’t, which means we get to watch Andy do his thing, fret about his jury deliberation superstitions, and annoy a judge. Who could ask for more?

I really think the mystery, the culprit and the way things unfold in Twelve Dogs is better than the last few books in this series. Everything’s clicking just like it should in these pages. This may be some of the best Marcus material in quite a while — the way that the gang leader acts around and talks about “Mr. Marcus” tells you more about Marcus than anything that Andy could possible tell us. The book would be worth reading just for that.

Minor spoiler: and hopefully once the book is published, this’ll be taken care of. It was a shame to see Andy betting since he and Ricky and just made a promise to stop doing that about a third way through the last book (I’m too lazy to look up page number, an approach Andy would probably endorse) — and Laurie made it clear that he was expected to keep that promise. It’s a minor note that I probably only caught because I read the two passages in the same 24-hour period.

It’d be really hard to rank Carpenter books in terms of happy and/or sweet endings. But if you were bored/ambitious enough to take on that task, I’m pretty sure that this would find itself close to the top. A great addition to one of the more entertaining mystery series around.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Minotaur Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars