Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #5

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2017
Read: Jay 29 – 30, 2017

Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Black Box by Ian Rankin

I thought I’d scheduled this for yesterday, well, I’d intended to, but I typo’ed the date. So, hey, enjoy a bonus post to make up for the recent bits of silence.

The Black BookThe Black Book

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
O. Penzler Books, 1994

Read: June 2 – 5, 2017


As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it — the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame — there’s a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn’t get enough of it. A famous — and infamous — local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn’t die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it — and the people Rebus talked to about this case.

So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It’s suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he’d been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes’ black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes’ recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS’ work.

We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here — Rebus’ other junior detective. She’s driven, she’s tough, she’s English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn’t. She’s got a good sense of humor and duty — both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).

The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty – we’d brushed up against him in Tooth & Nail. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He’s both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) — for both the cold case and current operations. He’s dangerous, and yet not at all — I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.

Lastly, Rebus’ brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he’s crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I’m not sure he’s someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.

A solid mystery novel — with a conclusion I didn’t see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ — with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one’s a keeper.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness

Paperback, 225 pg.
Candlewick Press, 2013

Read: June 1, 2017


I hadn’t even heard of this book until a couple of weeks ago, when it was recommended to me by a loyal reader. And I wasn’t given a lot of details, just a strong recommendation and something about it being “about grief.” I could’ve used the warning that it was a YA book, but otherwise, that’s all I needed to know (and the YA wouldn’t have been a deal breaker or maker — I just would’ve liked to know what I was grabbing). I’m not going to say much more than that, really. It’s about grief, there’s some magic, and it’s one of the most effective novels I’ve read this year.

There’s been so much said about this book by others — I’m almost afraid to say much, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s discovery.

You’ve got a 13 year-old boy, Conor, whose mother is undergoing cancer treatment — and it’s not going well. His grandmother (not at all the stereotypical grandmother-type, as Conor is very well aware), comes to stay with them with every new round of treatment, and Conor hates it. His father and his new wife have started a new life in the US. All of this has left Conor isolated, emotionally all alone — except at school, where he’s bullied (when not alone). Somehow in his despair, Conor summons a monster, a monster older than Western Civilization, who visits the boy to help him.

He helps him via stories — I love this — not escapism, but through the lessons from stories — and not in a “You see, Timmy . . . ” kind of moralizing — just from understanding how people work through the stories.

After reading page 15, I jotted down in my notes, “Aw, man! This is going to make me cry by the end, isn’t it?” I didn’t, for the record, but I came close (and possibly, if I hadn’t been sitting in a room with my daughter and her guitar teacher working on something, I might have.

The prose is easy and engaging — there’s a strong sense of play to the language. There’s some wonderfully subtle humor throughout, keeping this from being hopelessly depressing. The prose is deceptively breezy, it’d be very easy to read this without catching everything that Ness is doing. But mostly, what the book gives is emotion — there’s a raw emotion on display here — and if it doesn’t get to you, well, I just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The magic, the monster and the protagonist remind me so much of Paul Cornell’s Chalk (which is probably backwards, Chalk should be informed by this — oops). Eh, either way — this is cut from the same cloth.

That’s a bit more than I intended to say, but I’m okay with that. 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.

Love, grief, hope, loss, anger, fear, monsters and the power of stories. Give this one a shot. Maybe bring a Kleenex, you never know . . .

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

No Middle Name by Lee Child

No Middle Name No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher

Hardcover, 418 pg.
Random House Publishing Group, 2017

Read: May 31, 2017


Over the years, Lee Child has published a number of short stories/novellas featuring Jack Reacher, and finally they’re all published in one handy collection. Some are available in non-ebook format for the first time, too. Also, we have a brand-new novella to kick things off. For many, this is the first they’ve been able to access them — I haven’t read any of them before, but I’ve listened to most of them in audiobook format.

Now, as I’ve said before, short stories aren’t normally my bag — and that’s very true for the Reacher stories. He just works better in novel-length stories, generally speaking anyway. For those stories I’ve listened to already, my opinion of them didn’t really change as I read them — the couple I liked, I still liked. The others . . . well, I remained unimpressed — it’s good to know that it wasn’t the format or Dick Hill (the narrator) — it really was the length or story.

But enough about that — there are three stories that I want to talk about — the first two are short stories that I really enjoyed. They’re just the right length, which is nice, you don’t feel short-changed. They also don’t feature Reacher that prominently. The first is “James Penney’s New Identity” (which apparently was published in a shorter form originally), it’s a story about a man who’s the victim of changing economic times who has had enough — at a pivotal point for him, he meets Jack Reacher (still in the Army). By his words and actions, Reacher changes the rest of James Penny’s life — and Reacher doesn’t have to fight anyone to do it. This story leaves the reader with more questions than answers — but in a good way.

“Guy Walks into a Bar” is written from the POV of a new police detective who has the good(?) fortune to run into Reacher in a professional capacity on her first day. I really liked this one — Reacher was pretty ingenious here dealing with the problem he sticks his nose into in a way that shows more brains than brawn. I think I actually laughed out loud as soon as I realized what he was up to. Pretty clever.

Oddly. there are two Christmas-y stories — I don’t know why I find that so odd, but Reacher doesn’t feel like a Christmas character. I liked, but wasn’t wowed by, both of them.

Obviously, the big thing here is the new novella, Too Much Time. Reacher’s wandering through a town and gets peripherally involved in stopping a petty crime. He allows himself to be cajoled by the police into helping them out for a few minutes afterwards. Things go wrong just a few minutes later. This is as good a novella-length story that I can imagine for Reacher — there’s a pretty good fight, Reacher solving a puzzle while helping the authorities — and keeping himself out of trouble. A little bit cerebral, a little bit thug. The perfect Reacher recipe. If Andy Martin’s book has taught me anything, it’s that there’s some significance to the law enforcement officials having names that start with A, B, C and D. If I was more clever, I’d know why. Still, I liked it a lot.

A nice, solid collection — with some strong stand-outs. Reacher fans need to grab it.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

On the Line by SJ Rozan

On the LineOn the Line

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #10

Hardcover, 309 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: May 25 – 26, 2017


Okay, it’s Bill Smith’s turn as the POV character — and that’s a good thing, because this would be a very short book if it wasn’t. A figure from Bill’s past is back, looking for revenge. The electronically altered voice on the phone belongs to someone that was sent to prison, in part due to Bill’s work, and now he’s out and is ready for Bill to pay what he’s due. He’s demanding that Bill play this game he’s devised in order to keep his hostage alive for the next 12 hours (or so).

The hostage, of course, is Lydia Chin. This is what makes this book different from all the other books where the hero is racing against the clock to play the twisted game of the psychopath in order to save the hostage. The hostage isn’t someone created just to be in peril, this is someone we’ve become attached to over the last 9 books (half the time being in her brain, I should add) — and Bill’s got a lot more history with and affection for her than any of us readers do. Again, this is stuff we know, not something manufactured for the purposes of this plot. So the stakes are higher for Bill than most heroes in this plot, and we believe it, too.

Without Lydia to work with, Bill has to get help from others — there’s just no way that he can do this on his own. Enter Lydia’s friend Mary, the NYPD detective; and her cousin Linus, the hacker/computer guru. Even with these two replacing Lydia, Bill spends a lot of the time seemingly over-matched. Now that I think about it, he’s so distracted by worry that a lot of the thinking is left to others, Bill mostly reacts to things in anger and fear. All believably, I should add.

The kidnapper/tormentor isn’t some psychopathic genius, some criminal mastermind — he’s a smart, committed criminal who has spent a lot of time planning. This means that the reader can see why he’d go off the bend like he does, why Bill can defeat him — and yet spend so many pages clueless. He is clever, I shouldn’t downplay that — the game he’s set up, the clues (and what he does with them) show that this is no slouch that Bill’s up against. Thankfully, neither are Bill’s allies — for 2010, one of the solutions involves a ingenious use of social media (actually, it’d be a pretty sly use in 2017, too).

The conversations between Lydia and Bill are what I’m always saying are the highlight of these books — in this book, their chats are brief proof of life kind of things. This means that every word, every nuance counts — and it’s primarily in what these two don’t have to say to communicate that is the winning element.

I enjoyed this one so much — even if Bill wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been, even if Lydia is practically a non-factor throughout (but when she gets involved, it counts). Rozan knows these two, their world, so well that this story seems effortless (which it just couldn’t be).

It seems effortless for her, I should say, the reader is left hanging on every development, every twist, every detail, just hoping that Bill can save the day. One of Rozan’s best.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

The Second Life of Nick MasonThe Second Life of Nick Mason

by Steve Hamilton
Series: Nick Mason, #1

Hardcover, 288 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: May 10 – 11, 2017

After listening to the hype around this book for a year, I finally got around to reading it. I’ll admit, when this came out last year, I didn’t think it was my cup of tea. I think I confused it with something else that came out about the same time. Because after a few pages, I was hooked — it also didn’t even come close to matching the kind of story I thought it was (I didn’t read the jacket copy). I spent the next 280 pages kicking myself for waiting to read this thing.

Nick Mason was a successful, but small-time criminal for years. He and his friends never got violent, but they sure were not “good” in any sense of the world — things happen, people move on and Nick falls for a college girl. She has one rule: Nick picks her or crime. He picks her and the straight and narrow. A few years later, Nick’s making a living, has a wonderful daughter and wife. The friend who moved away comes back and asks Nick to do one final job — one that’ll land him enough money to not have to worry about his family’s future. Nick makes the fatal mistake and goes along — and ends up serving a 25-year sentence.

Darius Cole, a crime boss — the kind you read about or see in movies and hope that doesn’t exist in real life — who’s still running a decently-sized empire from a prison he’ll never leave takes an interest in Mason. He eventually makes Mason an offer — Cole does a few things and Mason goes free. On the outside, he’ll need to serve the remaining 20 years of his sentence, but he’ll do so as Cole’s employee. As his handler will tell him after he’s released:

This isn’t freedom. This is mobility. Don’t get those things confused.

Set up in a very nice house, with a cover job better than he could’ve ever got on his own, Mason looks like he’s got it made — but when Quintero (his handler) calls with an assignment, he has to drop whatever he’s doing and take care of the assignment. Period. His own well-being, as well as that of his (now) ex-wife and daughter, depend on it. The assignment can be as benign as following a rival of Cole’s or as serious as murder — it doesn’t matter, Mason is responsible for carrying it out. Promptly.

His conviction overturned, his ex-still wants nothing to do him — and won’t let him have anything to do with his daughter. One of the detectives responsible for his conviction will not accept what he sees as a travesty of justice and will not stop until he can put Mason back where he belongs.

I cannot stress enough, this is not some tale of a falsely accused man becoming some sort of vigilante working outside the system — we’ve all seen that story and this frequently feels like it. But Mason himself will tell you he deserved what happened to him. He’s under no illusions about what he’s doing and will be doing for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a redemption story, either. He’s not a good man — he’s a criminal who has a set of rules he lives by — even if his new employer forces him to break some of those.

Which is why he’s so compelling — Hamilton has created a great character here. There’s no reason to like Mason, there’s little reason to root for him, we’re supposed to be hoping that Det. Sandoval figures things out, puts Mason and Quintero away and dismantles Cole’s business. But nope. Not a bit. Sandoval’s a good guy, decent cop — and most readers are going to want him to succeed except where it makes Mason’s life difficult. That dynamic is just another part of what makes this book work.

I’m really at a loss to describe how well this book sinks its claws into you. It grabs you by the scruff of your neck (mixing metaphors, I know, hooks, claws, grabs . . . it does all three) and drags you along — and you don’t care. In fact, you enjoy it so much that you try to move faster than the book’s pace.

The one good thing about waiting so long to read this is that I don’t have to wait too long for the sequel — Exit Strategy was released this week, and I’m licking my chops until I can get to it.

I’m on the verge of going overboard here, so I’m going to stop — this is a heckuva thrill ride, and readers of thrillers, crime novels would be foolish to make the mistake I did by not reading this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin

Strip JackStrip Jack

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #4

Hardcover, 206 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1992

Read: May 3 – 4, 2017


This is the one — the book that finally sold me on the John Rebus series (I say “finally” as if it’s been a years’ long effort, not just book 4). Everything worked for me here.

Rebus is trying to track down a rare book thief, and puts as much effort into that as you’d imagine most fictional detectives putting into it. Thankfully, it doesn’t eat up so much of his time that he can’t accompany others from his station — including Chief Superintendent “Farmer” Watson — on a raid of a brothel in a pretty nice part of town. Most of the men can’t believe they’re doing this raid, Rebus is chief among them. But, an order is an order, so they suit up and go in. While there, Brian Holmes finds a pretty popular MP in a room with one of the “employees.”

This is MP is named Gregor Jack — his background is pretty similar to Rebus’ and the detective has always admired him (at least his public persona), and something just doesn’t feel right about the way things went down with the raid and Jack’s involvement (and exposure), so he starts checking in on Jack at home. There’s something strange going on with Jack’s wife, Elizabeth — she’s not at home, and Jack doesn’t know if she even knows about the headlines about the raid and ensuing controversy. Rebus finds it a bit odd that someone like him would know so little about his wife’s whereabouts, between his curiosity and interest in the MP, he starts poking around a bit — which turns out to be fortuitous later on.

The ensuing mystery is pretty good — especially when it becomes Rebus vs. the higher-ups as they narrow the list of suspects. I liked Rebus’ method this time a little more than the previous books, it’s a bit more methodical (even when he’s mostly going with his gut, there’s still thinking behind it). Could the mystery-solving — and the novel as a whole — be a bit meatier? Yeah, but it’s not to sketchy on details. I just think that the Rebus novels would be better if they were Bosch-length.

In the previous books, I thought there were a couple of passages that were so well written that they lifted the quality of the whole book. I didn’t come across anything in particular like that, not that the writing was bad, but there wasn’t anything that jumped out at me. One very nice touch — not in the language, but in the idea and how it worked — was when Rebus was interviewing one of the Jacks’ old friends in a mental hospital and the friend asks Rebus to touch the ground for him, since that’s something he doesn’t get to do any more. When Rebus does this, and when he tells the friend about it later — just perfect.

I really would’ve liked more time with Gregor Jack and his staff — I liked the interactions between Rebus and each of them, but it’d have been hard to pull off. Most of the rest of the suspect pool weren’t terribly interesting. The friend in the hospital, isn’t really a suspect (for obvious reasons), but he does give some insight into the case — he was a well-written character and I liked the way that Rankin was able to work him into the story in a couple of ways.

Holmes reminds me of Luther‘s DS Justin Ripley (although I imagine Holmes as taller — not sure there’s a reason for that) — I like the fact that he’s sticking around, I expected him to vanish after his first appearance. I don’t know if he and his girlfriend will stick around, but I’m enjoying him as an errand boy/accomplice/hindrance for Rebus. He’s not the only returning face — Gill Templer is a pretty significant factor in the off-the-clock Rebus story, which primarily centers around his growing (yet, I expect, doomed) relationship with a doctor.

Oh, I should mention that Rebus does find the book thief (with book obsessed readers like we have on this blog, you have to assure people that the books are okay), and it (naturally) has plays a role in the novel’s greater story.

This tale of the determined and dogged detective who keeps on trying, even when he has no reason to, really worked for me — clicked every one of my procedural buttons. I hope Rankin delivers more like this book.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge