Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang: A Healthy Dose of SF Peanut Butter in this Thriller’s Chocolate Results in a Very Tasty Book

Zero Sum GameZero Sum Game

by S.L. Huang
Series: Cas Russell, #1

Hardcover, 334 pg.
Tor Books, 2018
Read: October 22 – 26, 2018

           “I’m really good at math,” I said. Too good. “That’s all.”

I’m not sure how many times I stopped reading this book to ask, “What did I just read?” Not because I’m too dense to comprehend the words on the pages, but Huang’s work was so audacious, so confident, so imaginative that i couldn’t believe it.

Cas Russell retrieves things — all sorts of things. We don’t get details, but it’s safe to say that things like legalities, procedures and technicalities don’t enter into her Cas’ thinking. When this book opens, she’s retrieving a person — which is not typical for her, nor that easy. But Cas does it, but before she returns that person to her family, she goes the extra mile to keep the retrieved person safe (she doesn’t want to have to get her again).

This ends up plunging Cas into a world of deceit, conspiracies, secret organizations, and some of the most mind-bending situations I can remember reading.

Here’s what separates Cas from most of the action/suspense heroes we have today — that line above about being good at math. She’s some sort of genius — maybe beyond that — at math. She looks at a situation — say, getting punched in the face — and while the fist is coming at her, calculates things (velocity, force, angles) rapidly enough to know how to adjust herself to lessen the blow and the injury to herself minimal and how best to counter the attack in such a way to put down her opponent. The same goes for shooting someone, using a knife, jumping into a building, etc., etc. The math is everywhere — but Huang deals with it in such a way that even an English major like myself can see it, appreciate it, and not get put off by it.

I’m not sure that makes sense. Let me try this — I don’t know if you watched the recent Luc Besson movie, Lucy, where Scarlett Johansson plays some sort of hyper-intelligent woman who is a near-unstoppable one-woman army, it’s kind of like that — but more successful. Or maybe think Bradley Cooper in Limitless, but without the pills.

Throw that kind of thing into a gritty, twisty world of damaged PI’s, hackers, dubious government agencies and drug cartels — and you’ve got an idea about what this book holds. It’s a little SF, it’s a lot of Thriller — an action-packed winner. I don’t want to talk more about it — the characters other than Cas are fascinating. I’d be more than happy to spend more time with all of them — there’s a very mysterious figure named Rio that I really want to know a whole lot more about, but I think I prefer not knowing — he works so well wrapped in mystery. This would’ve been a fantastic stand-alone, but I’m excited to see that this is listed as the first in a series. Sign me up for a handful of these right now.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book — it all worked wonderfully. There was one thing I cracked up at (it was funny, character revealing and oh-so-original) and when I made a note about it, I noticed that I was on page 69. I’ve never tried the Page 69 Challenge, where you decide whether to read a new book based on reading that page first, because that just seems annoying. But if I’d tried it with Zero Sum Game, it’d have worked for me.

For a first-time novelist (especially one with a math degree), Huang delivers a fantastic, assured read that’s almost sure to please. Give it a shot and you’ll see why I struggled to explain why you want to read this, while thinking that you really should.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

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So Let It Be Written by Mark Eglinton: A Disappointingly Delivered Account of a Rock Star’s Career

So Let It Be WrittenSo Let It Be Written: The Biography of Metallica’s James Hetfield

by Mark Eglinton

Paperback, 219 pg.
Lesser Gods, 2017
Read: October 29 – 30, 2018
Here’s the Publisher’s synopsis:

           The first and only biography of one of the best front men of the modern era.

With James Hetfield at the helm, Metallica went from being thrash pioneers to heavy metal gods. He overcame adolescent upheaval and personal demons—including his parents’ divorce, his mother’s untimely death and severe alcoholism—to become metal’s biggest star.

So Let It Be Written does justice to the many hats Hetfield has worn, with his strong leadership, signature vocal style, powerful guitar-playing and masterful songwriting. Author Mark Eglinton uses exclusive, firsthand interviews—with prominent rock stars and key figures in Hetfield’s life—to construct the definitive account of Hetfield.

There are many problems with this book. If it is a definitive account of Hetfield, it’s because there’s not a lot of competition. The firsthand interviews seem to be with people who knew Hetfield in school or shortly thereafter — or friends of former bandmates. For insights from people closer to him, Eglinton seems to rely on interviews published in magazines or done on TV or in a documentary. I could be wrong about that — there might be more original research performed by him, but given the utter lack of citation, it’s hard to say for sure.

This book is primarily about Hetfield’s professional life, following the account of Hetfield’s mother’s death, we maybe get two full paragraphs (scattered over chapters) about Hetfield’s family (but repeated statements that family is the most important thing to Hetfield), and his friendships outside the band aren’t given much more space.

Rather than a biography of James Hetfield, this comes across as the story of Metallica with a focus on the input, influence, and antics of Hetfield. With a special emphasis on glorying in the music and lyrics of the albums leading up to Metallica/The Black Album, and in denigrating everything from Load through the build-up for the release of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, which wasn’t released in time for him to come up with a strong opinion about (with some okay words directed to the documentaries and films produced in that time).

It’s clear that Eglinton was a fan of early Metallica, and has a wide appreciation for and knowledge of the metal scene. He has the knowledge base and the passion to produce a strong book about the band — but he seems to lack the ability to focus on the life of one man. Somehow, the author wrote a similar looking book, James Hetfield: The Wolf at Metallica’s Door, seven years earlier than this — and it was longer. I’m not sure how he pulled that off — my guess is more analysis of the contents of albums and/or his estimation of their worth. I’m curious about the differences between the two, but not enough to put up with reading it to compare.

James Hetfield is a deeply flawed, incredibly talented, and interesting figure. A biography of him should be intrinsically and automatically fascinating, and it takes a certain kind of author to take that potential and turn it into a disappointment. Sadly, Eglinton is just that kind of author.

Don’t bother.

—–

2 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Wrecked by Joe Ide: Isaiah and Dodson Face Their Most Dangerous Foes Yet

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #3

Hardcover, 340 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2018
Read: October 19 – 22, 2018

At the end of Righteous, Isaiah meets a girl — I don’t remember much about it, but there’s something about her that clearly makes an impression on IQ — and his dog. It was enough to give us a little hope for our intrepid hero after everything he’d just gone through as we wrapped up the book. This book starts with the three of them bumping into each other again — this time IQ definitely is attracted to her and his dog and the woman clearly enjoy each other’s company. Which is great for them, but you feel a little bad for Isaiah.

Before long, Grace comes to Isaiah with a case. Her mother disappeared a decade ago — under a cloud, it should be added — and Grace saw her on the street near her home. Can Isaiah find her? She’s a painter trying to get a start and really can’t afford much — but gives him a painting as payment.

The catch is, Isaiah and Dodson have recently become partners and Dodson is determined to make Isaiah’s business legitimate. They’ve got a web presence, a Facebook page, and a strict policy on minimum fees. These fees have to be money. No lawn care services, cooking, et cetera. Dodson has a wife and child to provide for and he is inflexible on this point. Isaiah makes an exception and ignores Dodson’s complaints, once Dodson figures out Isaiah’s motivation to take the case, he acquiesces — like a good friend would.

What makes this case complicated is that Sarah, Grace’s mom, is trying to blackmail some very dangerous people. It takes a long time for us to get all the details behind the blackmailing (it’s absolutely worth the wait, and Ide does a great job revealing things to us in drips), but what’s important isn’t the why — it’s the reaction to the blackmail. Isaiah, Dodson and their clients have been in dangerous and tough spots before — but I promise you, those pale in comparison to this. These people bring a level of danger, a level of callousness, a level of professionalism, that will demand more from Isaiah than he’s used to — and he’ll have to find new ways to approach things to survive.

Meanwhile, there’s another blackmail story afoot. One of the darkest episodes of the partners’ (and Deronda’s) past comes back to bite them — a criminal act that they’ve gotten away with, primarily because no one knew they got away with anything. Somehow, word has gotten out, and someone wants money from them to stop him from going public with what he knows. If the victims of this crime — a couple of notorious drug dealers — find out, it will likely prove fatal. Dodson attempts to take care of this on his own, with a little help from Deronda.

Clearly, the partnership isn’t off to the strongest start.

There is a drink described here — not that anyone you’re supposed to like drinks it — that is possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve read this year, it’s a mix of vodka, Coke, and things that shouldn’t be consumed with each other. There are scenes of physical violence and torture in this book, horrible things really, but it’s Parks Punch that left scars.

Actually, there is something more painful, now that I think of it. Junior, one of the drug dealers that IQ, Dodson, and Deronda stole from before years ago appears frequently. He’s got the right idea — a better vocabulary can be tied to greater success in business and life in general. Sadly, Junior is better at acquiring words than he is using them. Resulting in sentences like:

My domicile has been exfoliated! Excavate the premises!

(when he discovers that his home has been broken into) or

Did you discover anything irrelevant?

(to Isaiah after searching for clues). Say what you will about waterboarding or Parks Punch — for me, those lines hurt (and I gave tame examples).

Well, they make me crack up — but they’re also painful.

The action is taut, the twists don’t stop and you have to hold on tight so the pacing doesn’t throw you from the vehicle in the last few chapters. But not only is this the best suspense that Ide’s given us, we have the some of the best emotional moments and character growth so far in the series. Some real trauma is visited on Isaiah, and it’ll be interesting to see how this impacts him going forward (there’s some indication that ide has something in mind along these lines). Similarly, I don’t think I’ve liked Dodson more than I did in this book and his character keeps growing and maturing — I am eager to see how Ide helps him grow in the future.

Unlike IQ or Righteous, we only have one timeline in Wrecked. This is such an improvement — that worked in IQ seemed a drawback in Righteous — but one timeline allows the reader, the pace and the action to focus on Grace and her case.

I’ve been a fan of Ide’s writing and this series since the moment I finished chapter 2 of IQ, but this book worked for me more than his previous work. I don’t know if it’s because I appreciate the characters and style more — or if it’s that Ide has grown with his experience and is delivering something better, I’m not sure. (my money is on the latter, but you never know) This is a fantastic entry very strong series that everyone should hop on board with (start at the beginning, it’s only 3 books — you have plenty of time to catch up).

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Exit Music by Ian Rankin: Rebus has one more shot at Big Ger before he retires

I got off-track with these books when I took my trip out of state for my son’s transplant (I was due to go to the library to pick this up the day we got the call), and it took me a bit to get back on top of things. I’m so, so glad I was able to return to this world. I missed it.

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #17

Hardcover, 421 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2007
Read: October 17 – 18, 2018

Before I get into this, last week my son was playing some EASports game — FIFA something, I think. Anyway, I notice that he’s playing Hiberian, and my first thought is, “Hey, that’s Siobhan’s team.” That’s a sign that I’m probably reading too many Rebus novels, right? Anyway, on with this post…

           “No sign of any abandoned cars in the multistory?”

“Good point, Shiv, I’ll have someone check. Talk to you later.” The phone went dead, and she managed a little smile, hadn’t heard Rebus so fired up in several months. Not for the first time, she wondered what the hell he would do with himself when the work was done.

Answer: bug her, most likely–phone calls daily, wanting to know everything about her caseload.

I think many readers, like DS Clarke, have wondered just what Rebus will do after retirement — which is looming as this book begins. Actually, it’s more than looming — it’s 10 days away. Ten days of Rebus trying to squeeze in any last-second mentoring he can, ten days of him trying to get Clarke invested in cold cases he can’t let go of, ten days of Rebus trying to stay relevant, active . . . ten days of John Rebus trying to remain John Rebus.

John Rebus has no family left, few friends, only a handful of colleagues that trust him, no plans for retirement at all. He’s going to have to come up with something, he knows, but he can’t really contemplate that reality, much less plan for it.

But first, there’s a murder — a man without any identification on him has been found by a few pedestrians out for a late-night walk, apparently beaten to death. A literately-inclined morgue worker recognized him as a Russian exile and poet of note. Plunging Rebus and Clarke (named to lead the investigation, only because of Rebus’ impending retirement *wink*) into an investigation with international implications.

Funnily enough, a contingent of Russian businessmen is in Edinburgh looking for investment opportunities, all of which are welcomed and encouraged by members of Scottish Parliament — especially by those MSPs seeking independence. None of the MSPs have any interest in their Russian friends being hassled by detectives over a pesky little thing by murder. Even if the victim was drinking in the hotel they were staying at shortly before the murder.

But once Di Rebus finds not only a link between the victim and their hotel bar, but a link between the poet and Gerald Cafferty, and links between Cafferty and the Russian delegation? All bets are off. The clock is ticking on his career — and the ticking is getting really loud — but here’s Cafferty with some sort of connection to a murder victim? There’s no way that John Rebus can let this go (not that Siobhan Clarke is that interested in letting this opportunity pass by, either).

The investigation isn’t making too much progress, but maybe is getting far enough, when someone else connected to the case is killed. And the investigation looks like it’s dealing with a web of drugs, prostitution, blackmail, international interests, politics, a large national bank a poet, and Cafferty. Which would be a lot to deal with even without Rebus’ deadline.

While preparing for Rebus’ departure, Clarke takes a uniformed PC under her wing — he has talent and ambition — he was one of the two initial officers at the site of the original murder and wants to be a detective soon. Clarke brings him along with her to many interviews and visits to various places in the investigation, as him run errands and even do some of the grunt work (scouring through hours of audio recordings that may or may not hold relevant information). He’s an interesting character — he adds some emotional weight to some scenes, and comic relief in others.

It’s possible that Rebus is at his most introspective in these pages — he knows his career is finished and that in no time at all he’ll be forgotten by just about everyone. What’s been the point of it all?

           Outside in the car park he unlocked his Saab, but then stood there, hand on the door handle, staring into space. For a while now, he’d known the truth–that it wasn’t so much the underworld you had to fear as the overworld. Maybe that explained why Cafferty had, to all purposes and appearances, gone legit. A few friends in the right places and deals got done, fates decided. Never in his life had Rebus felt like an insider. From time to time he’d tried–during his years in the army and his first few months as a cop. But the less he felt he belonged, the more he came to mistrust the others around him with their games of golf and their “quiet words,” their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm greasing and scratching of backs.

Still, he perseveres, he gets into hot water with his superiors, with Clarke, with government officials, and — of course — Cafferty. In the end, despite the large number of detectives eventually working on the murders, Rebus is the only one to focus on the important facts (it helps that he’s not worried about what happens after the arrest, like everyone else is) and makes the important conclusions so that the cases can be closed in time for him to leave the force. It’s really a nice bit of storytelling by Rankin here, and I’d be very happy reading it even without all the hubbub around Rebus’ retirement. And then Rankin ends it with a jaw-dropping final chapter and a last line that just about floored me.

I’m so glad that I’m discovering these books now — when I know that there’s a future for Rebus (even if I’m not really sure what it is, but there are 5 books to come, at least). It can’t have been easy for Rebus fans to close this book not knowing what Rankin was going to do next.

At the same time, this remains a decent entry-book — like every other book in this series. Sure, you get more of the emotional weight if you’ve been reading about the DI for several books, but Rankin writes them in a way that the weight can be seen regardless.

I think if this were any other Rebus book, I’d rate it 4 stars for the case work, the internal squabbles with the hierarchy and the politics — but when you add in Rebus counting down the last ten days of his career, the hope of this case leading him to one more shot at Cafferty, the reflections on what he’s done and why he’s done it and what it cost . . . essentially, all the intangible things, the parts of a novel that are hard to pin down, much less describe. All that combined with a strong story, some excellent non-Rebus/Clarke/Cafferty character development (not that theirs isn’t strong as usual, but this is a new characters) — and it’s easy. Rebus retires with a 5.

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne: A Mix of Common Sense, Cynicism, Self-Aggrandizement, Clever Writing, and a Great Narrator

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 17 min.
HarperAudio, 2016

Read: October 1, 2018

I’d seen this book around, and let my eyes slide right off given the title. Clearly, it wasn’t for me. Then a couple of months ago, I heard it referenced in a couple of podcast interviews (no, I don’t remember who talked about it — but at least one of them said something thoughtful about it) and my cubicle-mate listened to it at the same time and seemed to enjoy it. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, really.

I’m also glad that HarperCollins’ website gives such a thorough blurb about the book, which will save me so much time — so let’s take a moment to read what they said:

           In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

Sure, some of that is overblown — its point is to sell you the book, right? But, by and large, that’s a good summary of the book’s highlights. Manson’s point isn’t to stop giving a f*ck period, it’s to give fewer f*cks in general and to make sure the f*cks you give are for the right/important stuff in life. That’s pretty basic, but pretty easily ignored advice: everything seems important, but not everything is. Focus on the important stuff, care about that, and let the rest go — if it works out, great. I’m not sure if this is different from Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — but it probably has more laughs and profanity.

Manson is entirely too impressed with himself (or at least he comes across that way), and he never convinces me that there’s a reason to heed his advice over anyone else’s. But on the whole, what he says makes a lot of sense. Do I think that ultimately, this is all a house of cards that won’t stand intense scrutiny? Yup. But I think that of every bit of man-made advice — Manson’s is more amusingly delivered than most, and won’t get the devotee into too much trouble if they apply this recklessly.

Roger Wayne’s narration elevates the entire thing — there’s not a moment that I don’t confuse his voice for Manson’s. It felt like I was attending one of the most intense self-help seminars in history and that Manson got going and just wouldn’t stop (not that anyone tried to make him). Wayne added voices (his Disappointment Panda voice is the best character I’ve heard in an audiobook since Luke Daniel’s take on Hearne’s Oberon), flair and a sense of passion to the text. When Manson approached poignancy, Wayne made it all the more so. Fantastic work.

I’d probably give this 3-stars if I’d read the text — amusing, thought-provoking, with some good advice. But, you add in Wayne’s narration? I’ve got to bump it up to 4. Seriously, he’s just that good. This isn’t a book for everyone (I know several readers of this blog that should avoid it just for the language), but for those who are capable of sorting out the wheat from the chaff — this is a fun and potentially helpful read.

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4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout: An All-Ages SF that is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser

Voyage of the DogsVoyage of the Dogs

by Greg van Eekhout

Hardcover, 208 pg.
HarperCollins, 2018
Read: October 1, 2018

           Of course, the humans couldn’t go alone. There had to be dogs. Because wherever humans went dogs came along. Like rats, only more helpful. Dogs would herd livestock. Dogs would keep watch against the unknown. And, more importantly, dogs would keep the human crew company during the long spaceflight, and on their new home, far away from Earth.

But first they had to get there.

I guess this is technically a “Middle Grade” book — but forget about that. Call it All-Ages instead — that way, adults and YA readers and . . . everyone can enjoy this SF guilt-free. I should also include this line from The Big Idea post Van Eekhout wrote on Scalzi’s blog: “Spoiler: I don’t kill off any of the dogs in this book. Why not? Because I’m not a monster, that’s why not.” It’s important to get that out of the way.

Let’s start with this: the rationale to bring dogs along on a spaceship. It’s brilliant. It also points to one of the biggest problems with Starfleet, the Colonial Battle Fleet, the Serenity, etc. A lack of animals. Sure, NCC 1701-D had pets (not that we saw them often), but they were sealed up in cabins. And Firefly‘s episode “Safe” had cattle, but that was an oddity. The animals aboard Laika are there for purposes — like the main character, Lopside. He’s there to hunt rats — where there are humans and cargo, there are rats. Something small and fast — and with a good nose — is needed to hunt rats down.

The book will do a better job explaining the roles of the other three dogs and what advances in breeding have led to dogs being capable of being more than the dogs we have today — while still remaining dogs — to become Barkonauts.

These poor, brave dogs go into the hibernation state just before the humans do to complete the voyage to a nearby star system as part of human exploration and colonization, the first mission like this humanity has tried. But when the dogs wake up, they notice something’s wrong — part of the ship is missing, as is the crew.

They’re too far into the mission to turn around, too far away for a rescue mission to reach them. At this point, Lopside and the others have to try to salvage what they can and limp along to their final destination.

Lopside is a terrier mix, he’s brave, he has (understandably) abandonment issues — which are not helped at all by the absence of the humans. He’s a little scatter-brained (like a good terrier) and he’s incredibly loyal and has a great heart. The other barkonauts are as well-drawn and lovable.

Van Eekhout is clearly a dog-lover and it comes out in his characters. He’s also a pretty good story-teller, because even with that spoiler, I was invested in the outcome and really wasn’t sure how he was going to pull things off in a way that was satisfying and that wouldn’t reduce semi-sensitive 5th-graders across the globe to quivering balls of tears (a lesson Wilson Rawls could’ve used, I have to say — no, I’m not still torn up about Old Dan and Little Ann, why do you ask?). He does succeed in that — although some might get a bit misty at a point or two. It’s a fun and creative story, and takes some oft-repeated SF tropes and deals with them in a refreshing way.

Ignore the stars — I can’t bring myself to give it more, I don’t know why. Pay attention to what I have said above and this: read the book. It’ll warm your heart, it’ll make you make you a little sad, it’ll give you something to grin about — and it tells a good story, too. What more do you want?

—–

3.5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Trouble Never Sleeps by Stephanie Tromly: Tromly (and Digby & Zoe) saved the best for last.

Trouble Never SleepsTrouble Never Sleeps

by Stephanie Tromly
Series: Trouble, #3

Hardcover, 299 pg.
Kathy Dawson Books, 2018
Read: September 17, 2018

This picks up right on the heels of Trouble Makes a Comeback leaving Zoe and Digby (and their friends) to deal with the social fallout of the events of that party. Then and only then can they start to decide how they’re going to deal with the deal Digby was offered: steal some top-secret research data in exchange for information on his sister’s whereabouts. Sure, it’s technically treason and will likely end up destroying Digby’s life as well as the lives of Felix’s family.

Meanwhile, there’s a complication to the caper in the last book — Zoe left something tied to her in the evidence collected by the police. The repercussions of that caper are also in danger of hurting some of the students they set out to save.

Both stories are good uses of the characters, and were strong stories on their own. While I have enjoyed Digby’s schemes and how they work out (or how they almost do), but I had a hard time swallowing his plan (or how it was carried out) for the non-high school caper. By the way, it took several tries to stay away from spoilers in that sentence. However, once I decided to not care about how outlandish it all was, I enjoyed reading it.

The key to this book — series, really — are in the characters and their interactions. Not just Zoe and Digby (but nothing’s more important, or better, than that), but Zoe and her mom, Zoe and her friends/frenemies/enemies at school, and Digby’s strange interactions with everybody. I don’t know if Tromly hit that better this time, or just as well has she had before — either way, the dialogue sings and you believe it. These relationships are complicated and real and they make the books come alive.

I should probably add that the reason I didn’t listen to the audiobook (unlike the last two) is because my library didn’t have a copy, unlike the last two. It’s not a reflection on Kathleen McInerney’s work — it was good for me to see that it was Tromly’s words and not just McInerney’s great narration that hooked me, though.

It’s hard to talk about this book in any kind of depth without spoiling book 2 and ruining things here. So I’ll stop now. It’s a fun adventure, with laughs, tension, and all the warm fuzzies you could ask for.

The trilogy started off strong, stumbled a bit and then more than recovered with this one. It’s the strongest of the series easily — and sticks the landing (which I worried about, not because I didn’t think Tromly could do it, it’s just easy to miss). I’m going to miss Zoe and Digby. I’m so glad that I found this series this year — it’s been a blast to listen to and read. Great characters, strong character arcs over the trilogy, a good overall story, with some great smaller stories in the individual books. This series is going down as one of my favorite YA series ever.

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4 1/2 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge