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

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

This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You

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

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

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

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


When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Not to Die AloneHow Not to Die Alone

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

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

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

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

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

Moving, amusing, hopeful. Great job.
4 Stars


The Right StuffThe Right Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Library Love Challenge

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.

Universal Monster Book Tag


Witty and Sarcastic Book Club tagged me in her little creation—a tag based on Universal’s Classic Movie Monsters. There’s a lot of recency bias in my pics, but oh well—I liked the list. I really need to do more things like this, it was fun.

While trying to come up with the last couple of entries for this, I took a Facebook break and read a couple of posts on a Nero Wolfe fan group, and realized I could fill my blanks from that Corpus. Then it occurred to me that I could do one of these with entries only from the Nero Wolfe series. Or, the Spenser series. Huh. (I’d have trouble with some other series depending how you define “sequel” below). Watch me control the impulse.

bullet Dracula: a book with a charismatic villain
The Silence of the Lambs
My Pick: Gotta go with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, every other charismatic villain I can think of pales in comparison.
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: (yeah, so much for restraint—this was a fun additional challenge) Paul Chapin in The League of Frightened Men (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Gray Man in Small Vices

bullet The Invisible Man: A book that has more going on than meets the eye
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity
My Pick: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Even in the Best Families
Bonus Spenser Pick: Early Autumn

bullet Wolf-Man: A complicated character
Needle Song
My Pick: Doc Slidesmith in Needle Song (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Can I just use Nero Wolfe? Eh, Orrie Cather in A Family Affair
Bonus Spenser Pick: Patricia Utley in Mortal Stakes

bullet Frankenstein: A book with a misunderstood character
The Unkindest Tide
My Pick: The Luidaeg in The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Over My Dead Body (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: Hawk, A Promised Land

bullet The Bride of Frankenstein: A sequel you enjoyed more than the first book
Stoned Love
My Pick: Stoned Love by Ian Patrick (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: The League of Frightened Men (yeah, that’s the second time this shows up, but it’s the sequel…) (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: God Bless the Child

bullet Creature from the Black Lagoon: An incredibly unique book
A Star-Reckoner's Lot

(there’s a better cover now, but this is the first)

My Pick: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Some Buried Ceasar (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: A Savage Place

bullet The Mummy: A book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?)
Every Heart a Doorway
My Pick: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: This applies to almost every one of them, I’m going to go with The Doorbell Rang
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Judas Goat

I’m not going to tag anyone, but I’d encourage any reader to give it a shot. I’d like to see your lists.

Also, I’ve been thinking for awhile I needed to do a re-read of the Spenser series. This post has convinced me I really need to get on that.

Pub Day Repost: Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars

Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The second re-run from 5 years ago this week is from Rainbow Rowell, before she discovered she could make a lot more money on the YA market than she can with “Commercial Women’s Fiction” or whatever silly marketing label this got. I miss that Rowell, oh well.

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Heart of Barkness by Spencer Quinn: Chet & Bernie are Back in Action as they Work to Clear a Country Music Legend

Heart of BarknessHeart of Barkness

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #8
Hardcover, 299 pg.
Forge Books, 2019

Read: July 9 – 10, 2019

It’s been 4 years—4 long years (28 dog years!) since the publication of Scents and Sensibility, so it’s understandable (but personally troubling) that I’d forgotten it ended on something of a cliffhanger. It came back to me rather quickly as Quinn resolved it in the opening pages, but I’d still encourage those whose memory might be equally sketchy to re-read at least the last chapter of Scents before starting this.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Chet’s a very large mixed-breed dog, who flunked out of Police Dog Training at the very end of the course. Since then, he was adopted by Bernie Little, a Private Investigator. The two make a fantastic team, and Chet narrates the novels recounting some of their adventures. Chet’s a fantastic character and a very good dog. He’s got a short attention span and will frequently lose track of what he was talking about, he is utterly devoted to Bernie and is convinced that everything his partner does is the greatest. Bernie seems to be a pretty good PI, thankfully (but you have to read between the hagiographic lines from Chet).

The core of this novel revolves around an elderly legendary country singer, Lotty Pilgrim (I see her as latter-day Loretta Lynn-type). She’s fallen on hard times (a tried and true mix of being too trusting and bad business management) and is playing in a dive bar in Phoenix when she meets Bernie and Chet. Bernie foils an attempt to steal her tip jar, and then when he attempts to follow up on that attempt, he learns somethings that disturb him. Soon after this, Lotty’s current business manager is killed and Lotty is the chief/only suspect — and is even on the verge of confessing to it.

Bernie doesn’t believe it for a second—neither does Chet, I should add—and can’t stomach the idea of her confessing like that. So he launches an investigation of his own—despite very insistent suggestions from local Law Enforcement to mind his own business. Bernie’s investigation involves a lot of digging into the past as well as the expected digging into the present. The more he digs, the more questions it seems to raise Chet would interject here to say that’s Bernie’s plan.

Throughout the series, Chet will compare what they’re doing with to something they did in a past case—usually not one that’s recorded in a novel. We learn a lot about Bernie through these quick flashbacks. Chet seems to reveal a lot more this time then he has in the past, and I’m glad we don’t get the full story about at least one of those cases—it sounds pretty grim.

The one thing I want to mention that separates this from the rest of the series is pretty tricky without giving anything away. But there’s something that happens in every book—a well that Quinn returns to too often for my taste. And it’s absent in this book. I loved that. Variety is good for the fans.

I don’t want to take the time to talk about all the new characters—but as the plot centers around Lotty Pilgrim, I want to talk about her for a moment. She’s not technically Bernie’s client, but his efforts are focused on keeping her out of trouble—especially if she doesn’t deserve it. She’s an intriguing character—an object of admiration and pity at the same time; she’s still actively writing and performing, while relegated to a trivia quiz answer in the culture; she’s fiercely independent and feisty, but she’s also clearly the victim of her past, several people in the music industry, and (as I said before) a trusting nature. She’s ridden with guilt, and a lot of her problems may be self-inflicted in a twisted form of penance. All said, I liked her as a person. I wouldn’t think that there’s more for Quinn to do or explore with her, I’d be happy to be proven wrong

Of course, the book’s not all business for the Little Detective Agency. Bernie’s been divorced for a while and sees his son (Chet’s second-favorite human) regularly, and started seeing Suzie in the first novel. There are big developments on the Suzie front here—but that seems kind of par for the course over the last two or three novels, and while I’m not crazy about them, I don’t know that I’m opposed to it. I think the next book (thankfully, I’ve seen Quinn state it’s finished) will tell me a lot about that

Is this a decent jumping-on point? Yeah, it’d work—almost the entire series works as one (I’m not sure Paw and Order or The Sound and the Furry would be). But obviously, you’d pick up on nuances, background, and so on if you start at the beginning. It was so good to spend time with these two again, and the book itself is one of the best in the series—both in terms of plot and character moments for the protagonists. It’s funny, heartfelt, clever, suspenseful, and satisfying. And it features a dog. Really can’t ask for more.

At one point, Lotty writes a song about Chet, cleverly entitled “Song for Chet.” It was recorded and a video made with clips provided by Quinn’s fans. I just can’t leave this post without sharing it:

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4 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge