Saturday Miscellany — 3/17/18

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to millennialdrowning, Merv, Danielle The Bookworm and damppebbles for following the blog this week.


My Little Eye by Stephanie Marland

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland
Series: Starke & Bell, #1

eARC, 351 pg.
Trapeze Books, 2018

Read: March 9 – 12, 2018

They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that my world became a different place once every one of those precious seconds had expired.

No matter how gripping the prologue might have been, when those’re the first words you get from a character’s POV, you sit up and pay attention.

The Lover is a serial killer just beginning to plague London, and a semi-distracted DI Dominic Bell with his team are making little progress in apprehending him (he’s trying his level best not to be distracted by the press and the brass won’t let him leave his last operation in the dust). Given that the Lover’s technique is improving as the time between kills is decreasing, the pressure is mounting for Bell and the police. One group dissatisfied with their achievements are the members of True Crime London — a group of True Crime aficionados from (duh) London. Some of them have decided to take matters into their own hands so they’ll investigate these crimes themselves — some for the thrill, some to show up the Police, some to draw attention to the fact that the Police are understaffed and underfunded. Clementine has her own reasons — she’s spent some time studying these people as part of her doctoral work in psychology; she hopes to get a better understanding of online communities through this group and she has a theory about “crowd-sourcing justice” she’d like to establish.

We meet both groups (through Dom’s POV and Catherine’s) as they begin to look into the third victim of The Lover. The race is on (even if only one group realizes there’s a race) to find and put a stop to The Lover. I wouldn’t mind more time getting to know the individuals in the respective teams as this goes along — we do get to know some of the people involved in the investigation a bit, but this book focuses on Dom, Clementine and their hunts — everyone else doesn’t matter as much. I could talk a little more about the context for Dom, Clementine and the hunt for the killer — but you don’t want to know more until you get into this book.

The killer? We learn exactly as much as we need to in order that we know that the right guy has been taken care. He is not the most interesting character in the novel — I guess he might be, but Marland didn’t give us enough detail. This is such a great change from serial killer novels that dwell on the obsessions/fetishes/compulsions/methods of the killer, that seem to relish the opportunity to revel in the depravity. Marland shows us enough to be disturbed and utterly sickened by him, to believe that he’s capable of the heinous acts he’s guilty of — and no more. I’m not saying everyone has to write a serial killer this way, but I love that approach.

The protagonists are far more interesting — possibly more damaged even — than the killer. They are wonderfully flawed characters and repeatedly — and I do mean repeatedly — do things that readers will not want them to — because it’s unwise, stupid, dangerous, unethical, immoral, or all of the above. And as much as I was saying “No, no, don’t do that,” I was relishing them do that because it meant great things for the book. At times it’s almost like Marland wants you to not like Dom or Clementine, maybe even actively dislike them. Set that aside, because you will like them, because they are the protagonists hunting for a serial killer; because despite themselves they are likeable characters; and because they’re so well written, with so many layers, and nuances that it’s impossible for Marland to fully explore them and you want to know more. Both are in the middle of professional and personal crises as the book opens — and all of those crises are going to get worse before we leave them (yeah, Dom’s professional life is in worse shape than Clementine’s and Clementine’s been in crisis since just before those 3,006 seconds, so they’re not exactly parallel).

Sometimes the police investigation and the True Crime London’s investigation dig up the same information at about the same time, but on the whole the two follow very different approaches — one more methodical, careful and predictable. The other is haphazard, reckless and (at times) criminal. But both get results, and for the reader, we get a full-orbed view of the investigation which is almost as engrossing as the protagonists carrying it out.

The book is able to say a lot about online communities, True Crime (and some of those who love it as a genre), public acts of grief, criminal investigations and the media — and even a little about memory. All while telling a great story.

While I enjoyed the whole thing, the last quarter of the book was full of surprises that kept me leaning forward in my chair and completely glued to my screen as the plot raced from shock to shock to reveal to [redacted]. There’s a reveal that took me utterly by surprise, but made sense when you stopped and thought about it. There’s another reveal at the end that seemed fitting but wasn’t what you expected — and it followed an event that I never would’ve predicted. Oh, and that last sentence? I can’t tell you how many times I swiped my Kindle screen trying to get what comes next, unwilling to believe that was it.

I was a fan (almost instantaneously) of Marland’s alter ego’s Lori Anderson and that series. My Little Eye has made me a fan of the author — Broadribb, Marland, whatever names she’s publishing under, it’s an instabuy. This book got its hooks into me straightaway and didn’t let go, I resented work and family as they distracted me (however good or pressing the reason) from Clementine and Dom’s quests. I can confidently say that I’ve not read a mystery novel like this one — and that’s not easy this many decades into my love of the genre. I have no idea how Marland’s going to follow this one up — there’s no way that book 2 is a repeat of My Little Eye, but beyond that? No clue what she’ll be able to do. I don’t care — I just want to read it soon.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


4 1/2 Stars

Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32 by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen

Don't Ever Look Behind Door 32Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32

by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 32 pg.
TaleBlade Press, 2018

Read: March 10, 2018

I was excited — yes, really — to get the email from TaleBlade asking if I’d like a copy of this book. Fegan/Wen’s previous book, Henry and the Hidden Treasure, was one of my favorite books of last year. Could they live up to that one? Thankfully, they could at least come close.

In these pages, Mr. Nicholas Noo takes two children on a tour of “the magical Hotel of Hoo” showing them all the wonderful things in store and repeatedly warning them, “Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32.” He shows what’s behind every other door in between the warnings, most of which is wonderful, some of which is just . . . odd (which I prefer, really). Unlike Disney’s Beast, however, Noo does more than tell the children not to go somewhere, he ultimately tells them why they shouldn’t go there.

I can’t tell you what a pleasant change that is — even if this book is intended for kids — to get a book where a character just tells the others characters everything they need to know to react in a responsible manner. But this isn’t the place for that rant (as tempting as it is).

This book isn’t as good as last year’s Henry and the Hidden Treasure but it’s close — the last page or so of Henry was a sweet note, this ended with a reveal/punchline. Is it bad? No — not at all, it’s just not as good in my eyes. That said, a punchline ending isn’t going to satisfy even a 3-4 year old on the 32nd read through (at least not on its own), but Fegan and Wen don’t rely on that — the book is full of jokes, clever lines, visual wonder, and lots of things to pay attention to along the way.

Sure, you want the book to be appealing to kids, but the real key to success for a kid’s book is appealing to parents/grandparents/caregivers. They’re the ones who have to read, reread, rereread, and rereread again these things. Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boyton enjoy long-lived success because adults enjoy reading them. I think I judge books like this on this standard, but I rarely do it self-consciously. This is one of those books that adults can have fun with even on the fourth “just one more time” of the night. Which has nothing to do with the big reveal at the end, but the trip you take along the way.

Wen’s art is just delightful. Really — the colors are vibrant, the characters look great, there’s something extra to grab your eye on every page. (which is also great for adult readers)

I’d say something neat about the typeface — it’s part of the look of the book, it’s fair game. But I say anything beyond “even the typeface is great looking” I’ll show I have no idea what I’m talking about, so that’s all I’m going to say there.

I can honestly say that I never envisioned having this much to say about a 32 page book, but once I got started, I couldn’t really stop. I really dug this book, you will, too — especially if you have kids to read it to.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinions about this book.


4 Stars

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…David Ahern

David Ahern was nice enough to answer some questions for me when his debut novel, Madam Tulip, came out and somehow, I got him back for another round as we prepare for the release of Book 3 in the series, Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance. I talked about it earlier today, and really recommend you go grab it (pre-orders are being taken now, it releases April 12).

Anyway, here’s the new batch of questions:

So it’s been almost 2 years since your first novel came into the world, How’s the reality of that (and the follow-up book) match up with your hopes/expectations? Other than James Patterson, I’m sure every writer wants better sales, but are readers being generally receptive?
The important thing for me is that readers enjoy the books, especially the characters; and happily people seem to love Derry and her friends. That’ll do. There are a lot of books out there, and anyone who imagines they’ll be an overnight best-seller isn’t paying attention.
Has your writing process changed? Are things coming easier now — or are you finding yourself working harder as your craft improves?
Writing is a funny old thing. Parts are a hoot, and hugely enjoyable. Other parts are a pain, and like any craft hard work. In a way the job does get harder in that you’ve set the bar for yourself and you want each book to be better than the last. At the same time, you’ve got a comfortable storytelling rhythm you can settle into, and that’s nice.
In Madam Tulip, it seemed like most of this fortune-telling was a joke, Derry being a good listener with a flair for the dramatic and possibly a touch of something else (if you believed in that sort of thing). But in each book since, you seem to be emphasizing the reality of Derry’s gift. Unless I’m misreading that, was that your plan all along, or something you stumbled on to? Do you see this continuing, or will there be a resurgence of the ambiguity?
Hey, this is Ireland. We can believe stuff and laugh at the same time. Seriously though, the main thing is that Derry’s modest powers don’t help her solve mysteries – that would be cheating. But a sensitive person, psychic or not, will sense disturbances and respond unconsciously to situations that don’t seem right or are somehow contradictory or even dangerous. Derry has that ability. It can be scary.
Talk to me a little about Bruce — your Hawk/Joe Pike/Wallace Fennel/Ranger character. I’m not really sure I have a question about him — just tell me something about him and/or writing him.
Almost every woman I know has a close gay male friend they love. I guess because there’s the possibility of a strong friendship without romantic complications. It’s a happy kind of relationship and often a lot of fun. The other side of Bruce is his background as a Navy SEAL. When I was a film maker, I developed a tremendous respect for a certain type of military personality. Bruce has the balanced confidence and extreme competence I associate with the best soldiers (and sailors, of course, as Bruce would remind you).
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Ooh, that’s too hard. I’m probably strange, but I only envy non-fiction writers. I read some people and I think, ‘how do you get to be that clever?’ But then I relax, remembering that mostly it’s best not to have a clue.
Thanks so much for the book, these characters and for spending some more time answering my questions — I hope The Bones of Chance is a success!

Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance by David Ahern

Madam Tulip and the Bones of ChanceMadam Tulip and the Bones of Chance

by David Ahern
Series: Madam Tulip, #3

Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Malin Press, 2018

Read: March 5 – 6, 2018

Many people doubt psychic powers exist, but the doubters do not include actors. Everyone in showbusiness knows that as soon as one actor learns of a casting, actors of all ages, ethnicities, creeds and genders are instantly aware of every detail. Einstein claimed that faster-than-light communication is impossible. Einstein was not an actor.

But not even the actors that Derry, Bruce and Bella knew had an inkling of the dash of good fortune heading toward Derry and Bruce — they were given roles in a movie without the need to audition, if they could get themselves to Northern Scotland and Derry might have to give a reading or two. For readers new to this, Derry played the role of Madam Tulip on occasion — giving psychic readings at parties and the like. Derry was initially reluctant to take the role, but she needed the work — and Bruce only got his job if she took hers.

So they find themselves in Scotland — a land not necessarily ready for or welcoming toward people making a film. Which almost describes the director, too. He’s clearly nuts — and not in the genius filmmaker kind of way. Many of the other professionals on set did seem to know what they’re doing, which went a long way to keeping the production running. But mostly, the antics on the set made for good comedy. Derry is given a set of bones on set to add to her gypsy character’s fortune telling routine in the historical drama.

While practicing with the bones, Derry starts to have visions, we’ll get into that later, but it’s clear that she’s gotten herself into more than meets the eye (again).

The most striking and interesting people in the book aren’t on the film set — believe it or not. As the blurb on the back says,

A millionaire banker, a film producer with a mysterious past, a gun-loving wife, a PA with her eyes on Hollywood, a handsome and charming estate manager—each has a secret to share and a request for Madam Tulip.

As usual, Derry’s desire to help people and natural nosiness gets her involved in these people’s lives (okay, she might have less altruistic motives about the estate manager). And that’s before someone tries to kill her and/or one of her new friends. Once that happens, Derry can’t help but dive into finding out what’s going on. Madam Tulip may be able to guide the direction she goes, but it’s Derry’s on cleverness that will carry the day.

In Madam Tulip, her father seems to actually believe that she had some psychic ability, otherwise it seems like a lark, something she does for giggles. But in book 2, it seemed possible that she might actually have some abilities, but there wasn’t much in the novel that was more than a hint or suggestion that she did. But here? That hint, that suggestion is gone — she sees things when she rolls the bones, her Tarot readings do say a lot that’s true (and future) about the person she’s reading the cards for. I think I liked it better when the reader wasn’t sure if she had gifts or not, honestly — but only a little bit.

I’ve been a fan of this series since chapter two or three of the first book, so you’re not getting anything really objective here (not that you ever do). But this is the best that Ahern’s done yet — there’s plenty of good comedic writing (there are lines I tried to shoehorn into this, but couldn’t, that made me laugh out loud), a mystery you can’t really guess the solution to, a little peril, a dash of romance and some fun characters. That’s not even counting Derry and Bruce. Bones of Chance is a strong entry in the series that will please fans, but it’s also a decent jumping on point for new readers. Basically anyone who enjoys light mysteries with a touch of something extra should have fun with this book.

There are times that I fear my enthusiasm towards a book doesn’t come through, and I usually don’t know how to achieve that better — this is one such time. I found myself grinning frequently while reading this — I chuckled, I even laughed out loud. I had a few theories about the trouble that Derry was getting herself into, and failed with almost all of them (a sign of a good mystery/thriller, if you ask me). If you’re not picking up my enthusiasm, that’s on me, just trust me that it’s there.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for my honest opinion..


4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 3/10/18

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen:

  • The Author Stories Podcast Episode 336 | Brad Parks Interview — Hank Garner talks to Parks about Closer than You Know and many other things. I, for one, cheered when he said he hoped there’d be more Carter Ross books in the future (the people in Cost-co near me when I heard that probably thought I was way too excited about the bakery selection).

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks — a thriller to make you lose sleep, make you lose hope, make you distrust almost everyone around you — that you’ll not want to put down. Seriously, thinking about it now gets my blood pressure spiking, and I read it last year. See everything I had to say about it here.
  • Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby — a very original futuristic UF about firefighters and dragons. Not that I should have to say more than that, but here’s my initial post
  • Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs — Charles and Anna’s 5th book brings them back to Montana to hunt a threat to their pack. I’ll hopefully get a post up about this mid-week, but fans’ll dig it.
  • Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire — The latest Incryptid novel. After Magic for Nothing you had to expect a title like this. I can’t wait to read what happens next to Annie.
  • Good Guys by Steven Brust — a snarky procedural about magic and bureaucracy
  • Mr. Neutron by Mr. Neutron — a nifty political satire with a title I misspelled every time I typed it this week, here’s my post about it.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Jess T. and steamstefny for following the blog this week.

Pub Day Post: Mr. Neutron by Joe Ponepinto

Mr. NeutronMr. Neutron

by Joe Ponepinto

eARC, 300 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018

Read: March 1 – 3, 2018

It couldn’t be real. Just couldn’t. Besides, if someone brought a cadaver to life today, it would be under controlled circumstances—in a lab at some university, with the media and religious protesters in attendance. It would go viral on the web. He would have heard about it.

Still, Gray couldn’t dismiss the possibility. His timid psyche often cleaved to the supernatural, if only to explain the failures in his life. And dead men had been elected before, although they typically stayed in their graves and didn’t campaign.

Before I get into this — yes, this is a political satire. But it’s pretty apolitical. There are almost no political points made, few actual policies advanced or discussed, and certainly no mainstream parties are either pilloried or lauded. The satire is of this strange thing called American politics — the campaigns, the process, the press, the people involved. Conservatives, liberals, statists, libertarians, and everyone in between can read this safely without worrying about getting much tweaked by the book.

In the opening paragraphs we meet Gray (Davenport, we’re later told) and Reason Wilder. Gray is running a mayoral campaign and one of his candidate’s opponents is Reason. Right away, you can tell this book isn’t going for subtlety. We later meet Patsy Flatley (the advisor to Gray’s candidate), The Reverend Inchoate Hand, Breeze Wellington, and Randy (of various last names) — all of these names tell you a good deal about these characters (and I could’ve listed other examples). Ponepinto lays his cards on the table right away when it comes to his characters and the type of people they are.

Reason isn’t the best funded, most articulate, or most polished candidate — but there’s some impossibly strong magnetism about him and his simple promise that “Together we will do great things for this city,” without ever giving a specific idea how they’ll do that, or what a great thing might be. Virtually everyone who encounters Reason falls under his spell but Gray. Not only does Gray maintain some sort of skepticism about Reason, he notices a disturbing odor about him, the way his body doesn’t seem to work together organically, and frankly, doesn’t seem to belong together. It’s almost as if someone stitched him together from spare parts.

Once Gray starts speculating down that path, he becomes convinced that’s the case — and sets out to prove it. Along the way, this effort causes problems in his marriage (well, it brings problems in his marriage to a head); brings some powerful people into his life; and puts him in league with the strangest journalists you’ve probably encountered. This kicks off some overdue self-examination to go along with his hunt for information about Reason.

All the while, the campaign goes on: Gray’s duller than dull candidate tries to build a voter base, the well-funded front-runner has to work to remain relevant, and Reason’s cult grows in a way no one can believe (or deny). We see a debate, a fundraiser or two, press conferences, polls, and money — and the ways all of those can alter a campaign, especially the money.

One difficulty I had while reading this book was remembering it was a satire — Ponepinto’s writing frequently comes across as highly-crafted and nuanced, and then he’ll have someone named Randy do something filled with innuendo or something equally obvious or ridiculous and I’d have to remind myself I was reading a book about a Frankenstein’s Monster-like being running for mayor, and perhaps I shouldn’t take it too seriously. I do think that’s a strength of the book — I’d forget I was reading nonsense about impossible tings because the narration was just so serious. It is a funny book, at times, but not told in a way that underscores it, which somehow works.

I didn’t love the ending, honestly. But I absolutely get why Ponepinto did it — and good satires rarely have satisfactory endings anyway. This was better than a lot of them — for example, I’ve read almost all of Christopher Buckley’s novels and there’s only one of them that had an ending I can tolerate. So, “didn’t love” is pretty good. I thought the last couple of paragraphs were far too preachy, and could’ve been cut without really harming the novel and/or its message.

But before all that, we’ve got a very strange ride. You’re not going to see a lot like this — a little supernatural/monster, some pointed commentary on politics, a dash of romance, a nice friendship, and an odd collection of characters bringing all this to you. You should give it a shot. I have no idea what kind of follow-up Ponepinto might have in store, but I’m very curious.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC in exchange for this post and my honest opinions.


4 Stars