See You Soon, Afton by Brent Jones: A Gripping and Eventful Follow-Up

See You Soon, AftonSee You Soon, Afton

by Brent Jones
Series: Afton Morrison, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
2018

Read: August 13, 2018

Argh. I don’t know how to talk about this — it’s so much the second quarter of a story that I’m not sure what to say. Still, I feel compelled to try.

This picks up right after the events of Go Home, Afton and continues the story. It’s almost as good — probably about as good, but since we know this world a bit now, there’s not as much of the joy of discovery. That’s the only negative to getting the story told in novella-length chunks instead of one big book, this part isn’t the next good part of the whole. Still, that’s part of the fun of this kind of story-telling, too.

I’m not crazy about developments and the reveal in the last few chapters, but I’m not sure I get all that Jones is trying to accomplish. I’m prepared to change my mind about it. Even if he doesn’t convince me that this is the right way to go, I can still see myself enjoying the story as a whole.

There’s a crispness, a rawness to the writing that I really appreciate. I’m really enjoying the characters of Afton, her brother and the social circle that she’s found herself with (for lack of a better term), and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Basically, I liked this. You should read the first book in the series, and this one, too.

—–

3 Stars

Advertisements

Pub Day Post — Boise Longpig Hunting Club by Nick Kolokowski: A Gritty, Violent Visit to Idaho

Boise Longpig Hunting ClubBoise Longpig Hunting Club

by Nick Kolakowski

eARC, 320 pg.
Down & Out Books , 2018
Read: July 28, 2018
Jake Halligan is a bounty hunter — more in the Lori Anderson/JT mold, than a Stephanie Plum-type — in Boise, Idaho and the immediate environs. He’s got a kid, an interesting relationship with his daughter’s mother, and a sister that . . . well, you just have to meet her. But think Bubba Rogowski without the size and clinical diagnosis.

Jake’s a Vet, having served in some of the worst conditions Iraq has to offer. He’s smart, he’s careful — he has people he cares about, so he has to be — and he has a conscience. It doesn’t stop him from doing his job, but it can stop him from enjoying it. Early on in the novel, we find Jake after a rough week at work — and a less-than-friendly exchange with the local police — on the whole, his life is looking pretty good, even if Janine (his ex-wife, fiancĂ© and mother of his child) made him pay a social call on some neighbors. When they get home, Jake finds a dead woman in his gun safe. This plunges Jake into a hunt for a killer — as well as an explanation. He’ll find both, and probably wish he didn’t. It’s a violent, nasty hunt full of crazy characters, drug dealers, Aryan assassins, corrupt police — and people who are even worse than them.

Along for the ride are Janine — I can’t say enough about Janine as a character. From her attitude towards a house without books, to her hidden strength and anxieties — and all points in between. Then there’s Frankie, his sister — she’s cocky, funny, and vicious — she’s the biggest gun dealer in Idaho, not even close to legal, and the law can’t touch her. The law can’t even find her. She’s surrounded by associates/employees who are almost as colorful as she is (some even more so) — and is definitely the person you want at your side (or back) in a firefight.

Which is good — because they’re going to find themselves in a few.

Kolakowski has a great way with his characters — they’re real, they’re human — and they’re larger than life in a way that you’ll absolutely buy, as well as enjoy. When the action starts, it is gripping and exciting — you’ll keep turning pages. When there’s a lull in the action, you can bask in the character moments. I’m not really sure what else can I say beyond that. This is the whole package, you get to spend time with interesting people being interesting, and when they take a break from that, it’s because fists or bullets are flying — or maybe something explodes.

My one gripe — and it’s not much of one, before we get back to me saying nice things. The ending is abrupt. I’m not sure if I can think of a well-known book/movie to compare it to. You’re just reading along, hoping that Jake, Frankie, Janine and the rest survive this mess and then before you really realize what happened, it’s over. You know who survives — and who doesn’t — and the book ends with very little wrap-up (actually the wrap up happens before the ending — that remark will make sense when you read it). Kolakowski had a story to tell and he didn’t drag out the ending, much like his protagonist would approach things, I expect. He got the job done and moved on. I would’ve preferred a little more time after the main events are over — there are things I want to know about the immediate aftermath. There aren’t loose ends left untied, I’d just like to see what they look like after they’re taken care of. You can make a strong case that this is the way to end a book — when things are done.

It’s not often that I can evaluate an author’s use of geography — I know that Robert B. Parker and Dennis Lehane have tweaked Boston, I understand that Butcher goofs re: Chicago’s neighborhoods, etc. but I don’t know that reading the books, I learn that later. It’s rare when I’ve been somewhere a book has been set — a little bit with the Mercy Thompson books (but I’m better at noting pronunciation on the audiobooks that no resident would recognize), I noted that Wesley Chu fumbled a smidge Eastern Oregon in the third Tao book, and that Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping was creative with the facts, etc. But by and large, this book takes place in the area I’ve lived in most of my life, so I feel that I can actually comment. — and Kolakowski nailed it. Not just the details, but he’s got the feel, he’s got the atmosphere, the attitude toward change and the out-of-state money that’s bringing the change. he’s changed business names and whatnot, but I can still recognize them — I love seeing this kind of detail brought to life. I’m trusting that his depiction of local crime is hyperbolic, however.

I’m a little worried that it’s as accurate as the rest, actually . . . but we’ll move on.

There’s a visceral feel to this novel and these characters — people in places most don’t think about showing skills, interests, and circumstances that you don’t normally associate with that area. Just a guy trying to make a decent life for his family and himself, who finds himself in dangerous situations. I couldn’t help but think of Jason Miller’s Slim in Little Egypt series while reading his. Jake’s far more capable than Slim, and is far less likely to end up on the wrong end of a beating. But there’s a very similar ethos in the books, and fans of one should grab the other right away.

I’m not going to belabor the point any more, I think it’s clear that I enjoyed the heck out of this — it’s fast, it’s energetic, it’s fun. Go grab a copy of it.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which I greatly appreciate.

—–

4 Stars

Picket Town by Chris von Halle: An Age-Appropriately Creepy SF for the MG reader in your life

Picket TownPicket Town

by Chris von Halle

PDF, 178 pg.
Clean Reads, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

Amanda is bored. Every day is the same — her life isn’t bad, she actually likes it. But she wants more. She’s not sure exactly what it is that she wants — but it’ll be found outside the city limits of New Pines (she calls it Picket Town). She and her friend Sam spend their days after school playing a computer RPG, eating with their families, playing the game some more and repeating the whole thing the next day.

Then something starts happening — some of the kids in town come down with some sort of bacterial infection that requires them to be hospitalized while a cure is worked on. Amanda starts to wonder if everyone is going to be okay — no matter how often she’s assured that the grown-ups have everything under control. She wants to strike out, she wants to learn something — and on the way home from school, they pass the same sign forbidding them to enter the forest that they walk by every day. But this day, this particular day she decides she’s had enough — and then she convinces Sam to come with her. They climb over the fence and explore the forest. This is the most thrilling thing they’ve ever done. Right up until the point that they find a what appears to be a flying saucer (well, a saucer that’s landed). Pretty much everything they’ve ever known ends right there. What follows is exciting, dramatic, and unexpected (well, at least for the target audience — Middle Grade — adult readers will have a pretty good chance of seeing what’s around the corner, most of the time).

I wasn’t so sure that I was going to enjoy this at the beginning, I’m not sure why, it just didn’t seem like it clicked. But it honestly didn’t take long before it reminded me of the better SF I read in grade school, and I was in it for the long haul. Although, honestly, I’m not sure any of the books I read when I was that age would’ve gone where von Halle took this. That’s a compliment, by the way, it may not look like one.

I’m not crazy about the conclusion, I have to say, as much as I liked almost everything that came before. There’s a good twist to it — and I really liked it. But the ending itself? I don’t know — it relied too much on a big info-dump, and then the reveal for Amanda and Sam could’ve been executed a little better. But I think those are quibbles, and I really don’t imagine that there’s a Fourth Grader out there that’ll say the same thing.

This isn’t a MG novel that transcends the label and that’ll appeal to adults — in other words, not everyone is J.K. Rowling. I’ll give you a moment to digest that revelation. This is a MG novel that knows its audience and that will deliver what it wants. Were I in that audience, I’d be re-reading this a few times. I’m not, so I’ll tell people to give it to someone who’ll appreciate it more.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, given above.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Nightwolf by Willie Davis: A beautifully written book about some horrible people

NightwolfNightwolf

by Willie Davis
Kindle Edition, 286 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018
Read: July 12 – 16, 2018

The police thought they collared Nightwolf. The newspapers kept cagey about it, saying the cops book a person of interest in a “prolonged vandalism case.” Prolonged vandalism–like the tagger had writers block and agonized for weeks, and then returned to the scene of the crime to erase a comma.

In the first three paragraphs, our narrator, Milo Byers sets the stage and the tone for what is to follow — a killer introductory section that is irreverent (at best, cynical, jaded, and — simultaneously — honestly optimistic.

We are then thrown into a giant mess surrounding the culture of runaways and poor teens in Lexington, KY. Dropouts, petty criminals, not-so-petty criminals with aspirations of greater crimes, drug dealers, addicts, users, the mentally ill, the ignored, the abused, and their friends create an interesting cultural web for Milo and his associates to move in. At this time, I’m not sure Milo actually has any friends (at least not to his knowledge), but he is constantly surrounded by people.

Milo’s not technically a runaway — he goes home to his mother frequently, but his mother’s dealing with dementia and other problems, so Milo’s practically orphaned. He had (has?) an older brother who left home a few years before, and no one’s heard from him since. Theoretically, that’s why Milo spends time with some of the criminal class — they knew his brother, and he’s sure that he’ll get a clue if he just hangs around enough.

Also running around the city is Nightwolf. He’s a graffiti artist who dabbles in vigilantism (and not wholly successfully) — a folk hero of sorts. For reasons I’ll let Milo explain, he’s got a theory that Nightwolf is his brother. Now he just needs to meet him to unmask him, hopefully finding his brother — and everything will make sense for him. Despite the book’s title, Nightwolf is a relatively minor character — but his presence (or lack thereof) hovers over just about everything we see Milo do.

Now, all this time — I don’t like Milo. He’s not got a lot going for him as a character, he’s a weasel, he lies to himself and everyone else in his life constantly (and frequently without reason) — it’s not that he’s a criminal, there’s at least something defining the character then. I just didn’t care about him, or about what happened to him. Honestly, he’s the best of the bunch — among this cast of characters he’s the most sympathetic, the most reliable, and the most tolerable. Frankly, I spent a lot of time wondering just what the point of this book was — I didn’t dislike the book, just everyone in it and just about everything they did.

(Small spoiler) Now, at 60% there’s a pretty big time jump. I was totally unprepared for that — and enjoyed someone saying, “Time moves too fast” two chapters later. I was initially annoyed because in many ways this jump ended things before I was ready for them to be ended. But it didn’t take me too long to figure out that pretty much everything before was setting the stage for Part Two. Yes, you could argue that sixty percent of a novel is too long to spend on the introduction — and typically you’d be right. But Davis makes it work. The characters have matured enough, have enough distance from the acts of the first part, and have seen what’s happened since then to those involved, etc. The last forty percent of the novel worked for me in ways that the first didn’t, but it wouldn’t have been able to without the foundation laid.

Whenever I’d brush up against “Southern” fiction in my lit classes in college — those stories/novels became my favorite in the course, and I’ve often intended on taking a year or so to do some sort of deep dive into that tradition — but I haven’t gotten around to it. I should see if there’s an iTunesU (or equivalent) covering that. Anyway, I’ve gotten distracted here. My point is that I can see a direct line from Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor to Willie Davis — particularly the latter. She’d be disappointed in Davis’ attitude toward religion, I think, but she’d note a kindred spirit, I think. That should give you a spirit of the flavor of the novel — agnostic, 21st century O’Connor-ish.

Better yet? Davis has the talent to pull that off. Even when I didn’t like the characters (and I mean “actively disliked” not “didn’t appreciate yet”) and wasn’t sure I wanted to know more about what was happening to them — I could not stop reading the writing. When I didn’t mind the characters and felt a certain apathy toward the plot, I couldn’t stop reading the writing. When I sorta kinda maybe liked one or two of the characters and was curious where things were going — I could not stop reading Davis’ writing. I think you get what I’m saying here. Davis’ writing is worth the hassle. I’m not going to try to explain it really — I don’t think I could. Just go with me on this. At the 9% mark, my notes read “horribly ugly world — beautiful prose.”

The book is funny (not really because of events, it’s largely in the narration), sad, thoughtful, mournful, provocative, visceral, offensive and strange (in the most positive sense of the word). It’s not one for a quick casual read, but will reward the effort. For most of the book — and maybe even now (I’m unconvinced) — I didn’t care what happened, ultimately, I just wanted to see what Davis would do with ideas and language (not that I wasn’t ultimately pulling for a few things to happen plot-wise). I’m not wholly satisfied with the novel — not that I can fully articulate why (beyond really not liking anyone or what they were doing for most of the book) but I have a nagging suspicion that the problems are within me, not the text. I will be keeping an eye out for Davis in the future, and suggest you do the same — but read Nightwolf first.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post.

—–

4 Stars

Ophelia Immune by Beth Mattson: The feminist Zombie Book you didn’t know you were missing

Ophelia ImmuneOphelia Immune

by Beth Mattson
Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
2018
Read: July 21 – 22, 2018

We come into this world sometime into the Zombie Apocalypse — or at least Outbreak, it’s tough to say. Most of our information is given to us second or third-hand through the narration of a young girl. Actually, it’s probably more like 52nd or 53rd-hand. North America (who knows what the rest of the world is like) is filled with people traveling from camp to camp trying to make it just another day. Some families drive from camp to camp, others have to risk walking.

These camps, by the way, have fences around them — including overhead. Because at night — the Zombies come. And if you aren’t in a camp, you’d better hope you’re at least in a car, because you’ve got nothing else to stop them than whatever weapon you might have.

Ophelia lost an older sister to the infection, and then her parents had a couple more kids (for people who never leave their car, this is quite the interesting proposition) that she has to look after. At some point, her family is able to get pretty far north (Canada somewhere), where at least in the cold winter, the infected can’t move. They have a house, they start to make a life for themselves — and then disaster strikes.

The title of the book is Ophelia Immune and there’s really only one way to find out if she’s immune, so this isn’t really a spoiler — she gets bitten. But she doesn’t become a mindless people-eating machine. She gets the strength, she gets the ability to carry on while wounded (details are in the book), but she keeps her brain, her personality. Sadly, anyone who looks at her won’t see that unless they get to talk to her.She runs from her family, finds her way to a city and tries to survive. Along the way, she encounters people selling young women — girls — to join polygamous families “for their protection.” She finds corrupt Rangers, who are to protect people from the infected. And much worse. She also finds some scientists, who are happy to experiment on her blood — actual infected blood is hard to find, blood of an immune person? Priceless.

I told Mattson that I didn’t like Zombie stories — by and large it’s the truth, too. And I didn’t like most of this book, because it was a really good Zombie story. It had all the elements and was downright creepy and disturbing. At a certain point, the tenor and focus of the book became something more — it was still creepy and disturbing with mindless ex-humans wandering around eating humans, don’t mistake me — but it shifted. I liked a lot of that.

Next to M. R. Carey’s Melanie, Ophelia is the most interesting Zombie I’ve ever encountered (well, maybe Gwen Dylan . . . ). She’s naive, she’s innocent — which is just strange to say — and idealistic. If you give her half a chance, she’ll win you over. It’s hard to judge the other characters — because Ophelia’s perspective is pretty strange, and you only see them from hers. But there are some good people, and some horrible humans in this world. So many horrible ones that you start rooting for the infection, really. But the rest of them, like Ophelia, give you hope.

Mattson’s writing itself is clear, strong and effective. I’d prefer if she buried the ideology under a couple more inches of narrative, plot and character – but that could just be me. I would definitely check out her next offering.

I’m the wrong person to ask really if you should read this book. If you like Zombie stories, yeah, give this one a shot — I doubt you’ve read anything like it. If you don’t? Ehhhh, think about it anyway, you probably haven’t read anything like it before.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion — and I warned her ahead of time that this was an uphill battle.

—–

3 Stars

Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell: A Fast, Fun Intro to the Southwest US’s Newest Superhero

ArsenalArsenal

by Jeffery H. Haskell
Series: Full Metal Superhero, #1

Paperback, 256 pg.
2017
Read: July 17 – 18, 2018

Amelia Lockheart lost her parents — and the use of her legs — in a horrible automobile accident when she was a child. However, she knows (or thinks she knows) that her parents survived, and that every adult and authority has been lying to her ever since. What’s a girl-genius to do? Become a metallurgist, engineer, computer designer and many, many other kinds of expert, patent a revolutionary aerospace tech — and become rich off the proceeds. Then you turn some of that wealth into developing an Iron Man-esque suit of armor and an AI to help you run it. Finally, using that armor, become a super hero so you can use the connections you’ll gain to investigate your parents’ disappearance. Double duh.

Amelia’s super-hero alter ego, Arsenal, gets recruited to join her state’s super-powered militia. This is one of the best parts about Haskell’s universe — the supers are regulated (but in a better way than DC or Marvel have ever managed to pull off), each state has militia, with certain laws governing the activities of the groups, and there’s a federal-level group as well — these would be the top of the top, the Justice League of almost every era, while the state groups are closer to the Giffen/DeMatteis run. They’re super, just not super.

Anyway, for the first time in her life, Amelia has friends — plural. She’s made one friend from her normal life, but she’s never found acceptance by more than him, between the super-intelligence and wheelchair. She has a job, friends, a dash of fame — and she gets to save the day.

Amelia has in infectious, energetic personality — it’s a first-person narration, so we get plenty of it — I can’t imagine a reader not enjoying the book just because of her. I enjoyed the rest of the characters, too (I’m going to be skimpy on names, because my copy is a few hundred miles away from me) — but I’m honestly not sure how many of them I trust (well, maybe the goofball from before she was Arsenal).

The action is fast, and plentiful. There’s not as much depth to these characters as I’d like, but I don’t think they qualify as shallow. There are also a four sequels thus far, so I think we’ll get there. The plot could be a bit tighter, the science is probably as accurate as, oh, I don’t know — the idea that exposure to gamma rays could make an angry wimp turn into a giant, unthinking monster. In other words, it’s a super-hero story — sit back and enjoy it. Which is really easy to do, Haskell’s prose is lean, the voice is charming and the you’ll find yourself grinning throughout.

I just had a blast with this — there are a couple of things I hope get improved in the books to come — I’d like to see some of Arsenal’s teammates do a bit more to save the day — they did a good job before she came around, it’d be good to see how she augments the team, not supersedes it. I’d like things to slow down a little bit and deepen with the relationships she’s developing with her new teammates — I like every bit of these, I would just like things to seem a bit more realistic on those fronts. I’m not saying I’m out if Haskell doesn’t do something along these lines, those are some thoughts I had while reading, y’know? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Haskell found a different and better way to address those topics than I listed, too.

Solid super-hero story, filled with action and characters you won’t be able to stop yourself from liking (not that you’d want to). This was just scads and scads of fun. I’m not sure what else to say, really. Bring on the sequel!

Disclaimer: I had a very pleasant chat with Haskell at Boise’s first Wizard World where I bought this book and he convinced my daughter and I to read our first Spider-Man comic since the end of the “One More Day” debacle. So I guess you could say I’m biased. But I don’t think so (but I’m very glad he brought me back to Spidey!)

—–

3.5 Stars

Between the Shade and the Shadow by Coleman Alexander: A disappointing fantasy

Between the Shade and the ShadowBetween the Shade and the Shadow

by Coleman Alexander

Kindle Edition, 487 pg.
The Realmless, LLC, 2017
Read: July 24 – 26, 2018
There is some really fine writing, and some decent storytelling in this novel — maybe some of the emotions are overwrought, and there’s some poorly written scenes and whatnot. But on the whole this is an impressive work. The problem is, the only way I know that is because I forced myself to finish the book because I told Alexander I would. If this were a library book, I’d have been done with it by the 10% mark — if I’d bought it? I probably would’ve made myself go on to 20%. But I literally had to force myself to finish this — which was a pain until the last 20% or so, but that’s just because momentum had kicked in and my Kindle was telling me there wasn’t a lot of time remaining to finish.

That might have been mean of me to say, but what else am I supposed to say? I really didn’t like this book — I guess I can see where some would — I was reassured on Goodreads what patience would pay off. And you could argue it did — but I shouldn’t have to be that patient.

Here’s the thing: a reader needs a way in. We shouldn’t have to take notes and flip back and forth to see how an author it using this term or that — especially when some terms are spelled so similarly that it’s difficult to differentiate between them at the beginning. This is truer when you’re using terms that in our world or in similar fantasy worlds can be used to mean something else. I don’t mean you have to hold our hands and spell everything out in the first few chapters, because that can be really dull. But you need to bring us into this world and give us enough tools to figure out what we’re talking about — it shouldn’t be the case where I’m a few hundred pages into something before I figure out that half of my problem is that these characters are mispronouncing things — like elf!

It’s not that I’m stupid. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’ve read plenty of fantasy novels that are stranger, more arcane, less like our world or traditional fantasy than this — the difference is, those authors were able to bring the reader into the world so that I could get oriented enough to follow the story and not have to wonder if what you think you’re reading is anywhere near the story. Maybe if I’d read the description of the book on Alexander’s website, or Goodreads (or the form he filled out on my blog) just before starting the book I’d have been better equipped — but it should be in the book, not on the back-of-the book (metaphorically speaking) where I get grounded in the world.

I’m not saying that people can’t enjoy this, or shouldn’t, either. But it absolutely didn’t work for me in every conceivable way.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author, it clearly didn’t bias me in his favor.

—–

2 Stars