The Italian Teacher by Rom Rachman

The Italian TeacherThe Italian Teacher

by Tom Rachman

Hardcover, 336 pg.
2018, Riverrun

Read: April 2 – 5, 2018

I am going to say some nice things about this book, but the thing that kept going through my mind — for at least the first two-thirds — was: haven’t I read this before? There are a couple of Richard Russo books hidden here, one Matthew Norman — and I want to say DeLillo, Tropper and Weiner, too, but I can’t put my finger on which of those — and probably a few others that I don’t recall. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — we’ve all read plenty of books that are just variations on well-established themes. What I had to ask myself was: did Rachman have anything new to say with his take? Did he throw in some interesting twists to the mix? Was it a rewarding experience for the reader? I think my answers were: not really, sort of, and not particularly.

The novel revolves around Bear Bavinsky, a painter of renown, an iconoclast, a rock star in a pre-rock star age — and a serial monogamist on his second marriage when we meet him. He’s essentially a Jeff Bridges character. His son, Charles (nicknamed Pinch) idolizes him (many of his children do, but Charles doesn’t get over it the way most do). Bear is mercurial, irresponsible, unfaithful, arrogant, and incredibly charming. Really, the difference between Rachman’s Bear Bavinsky and Russo’s Donald “Sully” Sullivan is that Bear has money (that’s just to help you understand him, not a commentary on the character). When he turns on the charm, he can get seemingly anyone — detractor, fan, or something in between — to feel important, to feel pivotal, captivating, and so on. Most people shake off this effect after a couple of days (although they seem to hold on to a little bit of it for decades) — Charles never does. He spends his life striving for his father’s attention, favor, affection — anything. He shapes his life around those things which will hopefully get Bear’s approval — and when he fails (or at least, doesn’t succeed as he hopes) in the endeavor, and/or doesn’t get Bear’s approval he has a moment of clarity, stumbles into something else and then eventually falls back into the search for his Father’s approbation.

Ironically, compared to the rest of Bear’s kids, Charles has that approval. He just doesn’t realize it — and maybe it’s because the rest have given up and don’t seek him out as much. We follow Charles’ life from childhood, to adolescence (living with a divorced mother now), in college, early adulthood and then in his 50s. Striving for significance, striving for something beyond his reach — and yearning for his father. It’s a decent, if lonely, life — and could’ve been something better if he hadn’t allowed so much of it to be shaped by his father, what Charles things his father wants, and then listening to his father’s input when he really shouldn’t.

As the jacket copy says, “Until one day, Pinch begins an astonishing plan that’ll change art history forever…” It stops being a book that I’ve read before (mostly), takes on its own flavor — and gets worse. But your results may vary.

I thought Bear was an interesting character — but not one I wanted to spend a lot of time with. I felt too much pity for Charles to really get invested in him. No one else in the book was really worth the effort. The story was unimpressive and oddly paced. Which is not to say it’s a bad novel, it’s just not one I could appreciate that much. There were conversations, scenes, etc. that were just great. I kept waiting for there to be a moment (probably the “Until one day…”) that this book turned for me — like Rachman’s last one did — and it never came.

Maybe it was just my mood, maybe it’s my utter incapability of appreciating visual art, maybe it’s actually Rachman stumbling. I don’t know — this just didn’t work for me. Am I glad I read it? I think so — if only because I don’t have to wonder what the new Rachman book is like. I’m still giving it 3 stars because of the skill Rachman displayed — I just didn’t enjoy what he did with it.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

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Good Guys by Steven Brust

Good GuysGood Guys

by Steven Brust

Hardcover, 316 pg.
Tor Books, 2018
Read: March 30 – 31, 2018

Kind of odd, isn’t it? I’m waiting for my chance to kill a complete stranger, and to kill him in an ugly and gruesome way, so I fill in the time by checking out local architecture and museums. How did I become this person? Well, put that way, it was simple: Some son of a bitch had destroyed my life, and he just didn’t give a shit. To him, I’d been another chance to climb a ladder, add zeroes to his bank account, have more people calling him sir. To him, that’s what mattered. Maybe there really is no satisfaction in revenge, but I can tell you one thing for sure: There’s no satisfaction in letting someone get away with ruining your life, either.

And the Museum of Science and Industry is as good as the hype, so there’s that.

In almost every Urban Fantasy series there’s some sort of explanation for how magic/magic beings/magic users/etc. is/are kept under wraps so that we muggles can keep living our lives unaware of what’s going on all around us. Some of it is a by-product of magic/the supernatural that just clouds our minds, some of it is the result of efforts of the supernatural community (or at least part of it) keeping it under wraps. In Steven Brust’s Good Guys, The Foundation is tasked (among other things) with keeping magic off of the radar of mundane people.

Now when you have someone like our above narrator, killing complete strangers in ugly and gruesome ways enabled by magic, that particular task gets more difficult than usual. Here enter our protagonists — a Foundation Investigation and Enforcement team consisting of a very skilled investigator, a young sorcerer, and someone who provides security for them — they might also pick up a little extra help along the way. The team works through a combination of old school detective work, magic, high-tech wizardry and gumption to find the connections between these victims and use that to uncover just who might be behind the killings.

The investigation is well-constructed and keeps the reader guessing and invested. Brust’s jumping between various perspectives is well-done — the touch of only the killer being in the first person is an interesting touch (most authors would have one or more of the Foundation team as first person, with the killer in third) — not just with the team, but with various other individuals within the Foundation, giving a real sense of the scope of this group. The characters are interestingly conceived and executed — the killer’s motivation is easy to understand (not saying it’s easy to sympathize with, but you have a hard time wanting him stopped at all costs). When the pieces finally fall into place, it’s very satisfying.

One of the nicest touches Brust gave this world is a tiny budget for the Foundation — for a global security and research enterprise, they seem to be operating on a shoestring budget — they certainly don’t pay their employees very well. I’m not sure why this tickles me the way it does, but unlike the Men in Black, S.H.I.E.L.D., or any of the other clandestine groups that fill our imaginations — these guys can’t just whisk around the world at the drop of the hat. They have to fly coach at one point, rather than use the teleportation ability of the Foundation.

The members of the team make very little, and live pretty solitary lives (it’s not like they can tell anyone what they do) — there was a humanizing moment for each of them at various points through the story considering a pet to help them fight the solitude (all different potential pets, too).

This was a solid thriller with some great Urban Fantasy touches, a very satisfying solution that rings true. Well-paced, well conceived, and well-executed — in short just what you want out of this novel. A very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. I don’t think this is the first of a series — but if I’m wrong, I’ll gladly jump on the sequel.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

Resurrection MenResurrection Men

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #13

Hardcover, 436 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2002

Read: Rebruary 26 – 27, 2018

Another ghost in need of justice. Rebus had confessed to her once, after too many late-night drinks in the Oxford Bar, that he saw ghosts. Or didn’t see them so much as sense them. All the cases, the innocent — and not so innocent — victims . . . all those lives turned into CID files . . . They were always more than that to him. He’d seemed to see it as a failing, but Siobhan hadn’t agreed.

We wouldn’t be human if they didn’t get to us, she’d told him. His look had stilled her with its cynicism, as if he were saying that “human” was the one thing they weren’t supposed to be.

Thanks to sickness, a little bit of travel, and general increased busy-ness in my non-blog life, I almost missed my monthly check-in with John Rebus. Thankfully, for my Bookish-OCD, I made it just in time. Even better? This was one of the best in the series.

Rebus’ drinking and displeasure at Gill Templar’s handling of a murder investigation results in him being sent back to school. Literally. There’s a “retraining” course at the Police College for long-serving officers with discipline problems — sort of a last chance before the end of the road. These detectives are pretty similar, they’ve (mostly) been at this for years and aren’t going to change, no matter what happens in the course. Most of them know each other by reputation, Rebus is well-known, apparently — and he knows another classmate by reputation, he’s “the Glasgow Rebus.” After some counseling sessions, and some class lectures, the detectives are given a cold case to work to help learn something about teamwork. A couple of the detectives were associated with the original investigation in Glasgow, and even Rebus brushed up against it in Edinburgh. It’s not so clear how much teamwork is being learned, it’s clear that there are people who know things about the case that aren’t in the files — and they’re not sharing.

There is something about the case that could involve Big Ger, so guess who gets volunteered to talk to him? Rebus is not the only one talking to Cafferty, Siobhan Clarke (now a DS) has a couple of conversations with him. Watching Cafferty try to treat the two of the similarly, with different results, was quite entertaining — Clarke reacts to him differently than Rebus, but she doesn’t take the same angle with him that I think most would. I look forward to seeing the two of them lock horns in the future.

Speaking of Siobhan — never call her Shiv, by the way — once again, she threatened to take over the book for the first half or so. Rebus’ drinking with the other problem police and their cold case just didn’t grab my attention at first. But Siobhan’s dealing with the investigation — without her mentor to bounce ideas off of — and the various and sundry male detectives around her. Some of which work with her just fine, others . . . not so much — at the end of the day, DS Clarke is the one who puts the case together, and in a pretty compelling way. Did I enjoy things a little bit more when Rebus came along to interact with a bit? Yeah, but it wasn’t necessary. I also like the way that Rebus and Templar were the ones (along with Siobhan herself) noticing her doing things like Rebus this time, not just other police. He’s clearly left his stamp on her — for good or ill, the trick is watching her approach things the way he would, but remaining her own person. Which she has so far — and, I bet, will continue to do so.

But this is a Rebus novel, at the end of the day, and he does get the better material — as I mentioned, he interacts with Siobhan some because he and the others come to Edinburgh to follow a pretty shaky lead (mostly, it’s an excuse to get away from the college and drink somewhere else). Around this point, that storyline became more intriguing — and it did end up being the better part of the novel.

No one will ever say that the Rebus novels are a fun romp, but there was something about Rankin’s writing in Resurrection Men that seemed darker than usual — not a darkness because of violence or anything, just in the telling. Everything seemed worse, everything seemed sinister — it’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but there was something grim going on. Yeah, I laughed a couple of times, smiled more often than that, but overall, the noir in this book was blacker. We see areas of Rebus’ psyche we haven’t seen much of before — ditto for Clarke — we also get some good Rebus/Cafferty backstory.

The structure of this novel is the real star — it was just perfect — we get a couple of mysteries to watch our detectives solve, plus a couple of other things go on. It even seems like Rankin doles out the information in an unusual way, only telling us what we need to know when we need to know it — there are times when we’re more in the dark than Rebus because he’s hiding the information from his fellow Last-Chancers and us (what does that say about Rankin’s readers?), but it works — this isn’t a case of a mystery writer cheating, it’s a deliberate attempt to build suspense. Complex without being complicated, brilliantly plotted but not in a way that feels totally organic. At a certain point, the way that all the storylines end up seem inevitable (even when you’re still not sure who the various killers are going to be), yet you’re surprised when the inevitable happens. But along the way, each step in the stories, each reveal, each development catches you off guard. Just fantastic structure to the book.

I thought it was strange that Rankin started this one off (I’m guessing for the American edition only) with a little description of the Scottish Police’s organization and rankings, which was nice (but most readers can figure it out on their own). Also included was a list of the cast of characters — organized by storyline. That was helpful, too. Unnecessary, but very nice. I’m not sure why these were used, but I’ll take them.

This one checked almost every one of my boxes — at least once, and never didn’t hold my interest. Rankin clearly knows what he’s doing and you should read this one — and the twelve before it.

—–

5 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

February 2018 Report

My numbers should’ve been a little better — but between Iron Gold taking more time than I was prepared for, and ongoing sickness, I got a little behind with reading — and the writing took another hit this month, that I really can’t explain. Oh well. Onward and upward, and all that, right?

Anyway, here’s what happened here in February:

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Like a Champion Golden Gremlin A Blogger's Manifesto
4 Stars 2 1/2 Stars 3.5 Stars
Uber Diva Smoke Eaters Fated (Audiobook)
3 Stars 4 1/2 Stars 4 Stars
Sanctification Iron Gold The Fed-up Cow
3 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Brighton Beach Memoirs (Audiobook) The Meifod Claw The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths
3.5 Stars 2 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
The Late Show (Audiobook) Timekeepers Blood Binds the Pack
4 Stars 4 Stars 4 1/2 Stars
The Ark of Safety Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization Resurrection Men
3.5 Stars“> 3 Stars 5 Stars
The Armored Saint            
3 Stars            

Still Reading:

Volume 9: Sermons to the Church Secular Jewish Culture      

Reviews Posted:

Book Challenge Progress:

Angel's Guilty Pleasures Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon, Max Casella, Peter Michael Goetz, Valerie Harper, Alexana Lambros, Anna Sophie Loewenberg, Jonathan Silverman, Joyce Van Patten
The Late Show by Michael Connelly, Katherine Moennig
Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin (link forthcoming)

Like a Champion by Vincent Chu
Golden Gremlin by Rod A. Walters
A Blogger’s Manifesto: A Modern Day Guide to Blogging by Aman Mittal
Uber Diva by Charles St. Anthony
Smoke Eaters
The Fed-up Cow by Peta Lemon, Maria Dasic Todori
The Meifod Claw by JW Bowe
Timekeepers by Simon Garfield
Illinois Native Americans by in60Learning.com

Like a Champion by Vincent Chu
Golden Gremlin by Rod A. Walters
A Blogger’s Manifesto: A Modern Day Guide to Blogging by Aman Mittal
Uber Diva by Charles St. Anthony
The Fed-up Cow by Peta Lemon, Maria Dasic Todori
The Meifod Claw by JW Bowe
Illinois Native Americans by in60Learning.com
Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby
Timekeepers by Simon Garfield

Whoops. Nothing this month!

How was your month?

Faith: California Scheming by Jody Houser, Pere Pérez, Marguerite Sauvage, Colleen Doran

Faith: Hollywood & VineFaith: Hollywood & Vine

by Jody Houser, Pere Pérez (Artist), Marguerite Sauvage (Artist), Colleen Doran (Artist)
Series: Faith Vol. 2

Paperback, 112 pg.
Valient Entertainment, 2016

Read: January 20, 2018


This picks up right after the stories in Volume 1 — Zephyr establishes herself more strongly as a presence in LA, her alter ego Summer makes some more friends, and Faith goes out on a date to a comic con.

I’ve already had to return this to the library, so I can’t remember character names — sorry. Faith’s a major fan (has had recurring romantic dreams about) this super-hero/action film star who’s some sort of amalgamation of Chris Evans/Chris Pine/Chris Hemsworth. I don’t know if Faith’s obsession with goes back before the limited series, but it’s well established. Faith does meet him in this collection, and . . . I was disappointed. That story felt too rushed, too hurried — at the same time, I’m not sure what else could’ve been done with it — and the brevity of the interaction between the two served the story. Still, I felt cheated after all the build-up.

That’s actually a recurring theme for me when it comes to this collection — I thought the story telling was a bit more shallow in this collection than the previous, but somehow I enjoyed these stories more. Unlike the limited run, there are a variety of stories being told — some about Faith, some about her super-heroing, some about her social life as Summer — so given the width and breadth of the scope, they couldn’t get down too deep. Still, I want more depth; I want richer, more developed characters — but I want them to be as fun as this collection.

Is that asking too much? Yeah, probably. Still this was fun. It made me like the characters more and want to spend more time with them — which sounds pretty good to me.

I don’t think I have anything to say about the art here that I didn’t already say about the previous collection — there’s some good stuff here.

Fun characters; shallow, but entertaining stories; spiffy and attractive art — this collection has everything you’d want. This is a series to get into.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

The Bomb MakerThe Bomb Maker

by Thomas Perry

Hardcover, 372 pg.
Mysterious Press, 2018

Read: January 29 – 31, 2018


Oh man . . . this brings me back to the conflict I felt trying to discuss Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. This is a heckuva read until it’s not — but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I know precious little about Bomb Squads, and have read precious little about them. I think Crais’ Demolition Angel is the only other book with a Bomb Tech in it for more than a few pages that I’ve read. So I was pretty excited to give this one a shot — incidentally, I do think there are areas of overlap between this book and Crais’ that’d make for interesting reading. Sadly, it’s been about 15 years since I read Demolition Angel, so I won’t be writing that. Still, my main point is that there’s not a lot written about Bomb Techs, and that seems pretty strange, because this kind of thing makes for some great tense moments — the kind of thing that thriller readers love.

(feel free to fill up the comments telling me how wrong I am and that there are dozens of great examples of Bomb Tech/Bomb Squad literature out there)

What we have here is a guy, never given a name, or dubbed with one by the media that we’ll call “the bomb maker.” We know nothing about him at the beginning, and learn only a little about him later on — for some reason, he’s decided to kill off every bomb tech in LA. And he does so by making bombs designed to sucker the Bomb Techs into doing X or Y, which will both set off the bomb itself. In his first attempt, he kills half the division — 14 of 28, including the commanding Captain.

What’s the LAPD to do? Thankfully, one of the Deputy Chief’s knows a guy — the last guy to command the Squad still lives in town, running a high-priced security firm. So the Chief recruits Dick Stahl to come back and help the LAPD through this time. Stahl knew most of the people that died, trained many of them himself and would like to help get some justice for them and prevent others from joining them.

So begins a great cat-and-mouse game. The bomb maker is pretty smart and knows how Bomb Techs think, so he fools them into setting bombs off. Stahl doesn’t know much about the guy beyond that, so he goes out of his way to overthink the bombs and finds the tricks that were included and thinks around them. Some of the squad start to think like him, and others don’t. You can guess how that works out for all involved. The bomb maker sees how Stahl is figuring him out, and steps up his game, making bombs that are more clever and more devastating.

This aspect of the book — which really is the bulk of it, thankfully — is just great. Perry could’ve given us another 100 pages or so of it and I wouldn’t have complained.

There’s a little bit romance between Stahl and someone, which complicates things and could’ve bery easily annoyed me because it seems so extraneous. I think the way Perry dealt with it and used in to tell his story ended up working, but I’m not going to argue with anyone who was bothered by it (I easily could’ve been). But for me, when you add these complications into the cat-and-mouse thing, it just makes for a better read.

Which is not to say that this book doesn’t have its share of problems. We get a lot of backstory on a couple of incredibly minor characters. There’s one character whose sole purpose is to find a bomb and call the police, yet we get a lot of detail on the career she gave up, why she did so, and what that costs her to this day, just to have her find a bomb. I liked the character (what we got of her anyway), her part of the book was well-written, but it seems silly to get that much detail on someone who disappears almost immediately. It’s like on award shows when they introduce a minor celebrity just so they can come on stage to introduce the award presenters. It’s just pointless. Perry does this kind of thing more than once here, meanwhile we don’t get a lot of information about most of the Bomb Squad members we do get to see do things. It makes little sense, adds little, and ultimately detracts from the suspense he’s building. I don’t get it.

One thing for sure, I add mostly as an aside, between the mysterious bad guy in Silence and the bomb maker here, I’m sure that Thomas Perry can write a great creep. Not just a bad guy with no respect for life or property or whatever, but a real cad who should never be allowed near a female. I’m not suggesting that describes all of his characters, just some of them — just the fact that the paid assassin is a step-up for Sylvie Turner (also from Silence) compared to the previous guys she was serious about says something about the kind of creep Perry can write.

I’m going to get close to a spoiler or two here, so feel free to skip this paragraph. If you’re still here, in the last 40 pages (less than that, actually, but let’s keep it vague), this becomes a different kind of book. It feels like Perry realized what his page count was and wanted to keep it below 375 so he had to bring the cat-and-mouse thing to an end. The action kicks into high gear, and the very intelligent thriller throws out the intelligence and becomes a couple of action sequences. Well-done and compelling action sequences, but a very different feel from the rest of the book. He also switches from giving us too much detail (like the life story of the lady who found a bomb) to giving us almost no information to help wrap up the closing events of the novel. I won’t even begin to talk about the last four pages, the final chapter almost doesn’t belong in the book — it does give us a teeny bit of resolution, but again, feels like a different book than what had come before. My kids can testify to this, I was yelling at the book during the final few pages, because I just didn’t get what Perry was up to.

This was a solid, smart, compelling thriller about the kind of characters you want to read about — smart professionals, acting for the public good and for the sake of their teammates up against smart professionals out to do wrong. I had a blast with most of this, and could forgive the tangents he went off on, up until the end. I did, generally, still like the end, even so. I still recommend this and think you’ll like it — I just wish Perry’d landed it better. It was almost a 4-star book, possibly more, but that ending . . .

If you have — or eventually do — read this, let me know what you thought of it. I’m really curious to see what others thought.

2018 Library Love Challenge
3.5 Stars

January 2018 Report

My numbers aren’t as strong as I hoped to kick off this year, particularly the writing. I honestly don’t understand why it’s so low — on the plus side, I’ve slept more lately than usual (unscheduled sleep, mostly, but that’s beside the point). Still, plenty of entertaining reads, which is the important thing.

Anyway, on to the more interesting stuff…Here’s what happened here in January.

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

Operation: Endgame Simple Genius Heirs with Christ
4 Stars 2 1/2 Stars 3 Stars
Love Story, With Murders Laughing Eyes All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault
4 Stars 2 Stars 4 Stars
Beneath the Sugar Sky Paddle Your Own Canoe (Audiobook) Where Night Stops
5 Stars 2 Stars 4 Stars
Faith: Hollywood & Vine God without Passions: a Primer The Falls
3 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
Orphan X The Unbelievable Story of How I Met Your Mother Faith: Hollywood & Vine
3.5 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars
Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord Silence The Dying Place
3 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
The Bomb Maker            
3.5 Stars            

Still Reading:

Volume 9: Sermons to the Church Sanctification Like a Champion

The few books I’ve managed to post about:

Book Challenge Progress:

Angel's Guilty Pleasures Simple Genius by David Baldacci, Scott Brick
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman
The Falls by Ian Rankin
Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry (link to come)

Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem Peli
Where Night Stops by Douglas Light
The Unbelievable Story of How I Met Your Mother by Preston Randall
Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord by Dennis Malley
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman
God without Passions A Primer: A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility by Samuel Renihan
Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
Silence (Audiobook) by Thomas Perry, Michael Kramer

Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem Peli
Where Night Stops by Douglas Light
The Unbelievable Story of How I Met Your Mother by Preston Randall
Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord by Dennis Malley
Operation: Endgame by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

✔ Read a self published book: Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord by Dennis Malley

How was your month?