Pub Day Repost: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right SideThe Right Side

by Spencer Quinn
eARC, 336 pg.
Atria Books, 2017
Read: May 11 – 12, 2017

Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right SideThe Right Side

by Spencer Quinn

eARC, 336 pg.
Atria Books, 2017

Read: May 11 – 12, 2017


Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Hexed (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

HexedHexed (Audiobook)

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hours and 52 minutes
Brilliance Audio, 2011

Read: June 21 – 22, 2016

This takes place just 3 weeks after Hounded and the dust is still settling. The target on Atticus is bigger than before — funny what a reputation as a god-killer will do to a guy, from attacks to pleas for help, more people than ever want to know where he is.

Last time, I summed up the book with this:

Atticus finds himself in even more trouble–this time there’s a very nasty coven that wants to come in and take over the Tempe area–and their first step will be eliminating all other magic practitioners.

So our hero has to suck up his prejudice against witches and team up with the very same group that threatened him last time out to defend the home turf and maybe even clean up some long unfinished business.

which pretty much holds up.

The couple of additions I’d make are that I loved Coyote, and had totally forgotten that he appeared so early in the series. I miss Mr. Semerdjian — and while I understand why Hearne took the steps he did to prevent us from getting the nosy neighbor in every book, I sort of regret it after getting reacquainted with the character. Another thing that I’d forgotten about, but really enjoyed (probably more than I should’ve) is the scene where Atticus has to go all Three Stooges with the policemen and his camouflaging of his sword, some baseball bats and himself. Seriously funny, while juvenile, stuff.

Speaking of funny, it’s dangerous to listen to these at work — there were at least two times that Oberon’s commentary made me laugh out loud. Thankfully, none of the people who work next to me were at their desks either time, or I’d have gotten a few looks. Just a warning to anyone thinking of it — you may look silly.

Luke Daniels delivers again — he’s so good at this that I’m thinking of shopping for something by him just to hear him read. The only complaint I have is that his Mr. Semerdjian sounds too much like a high-pitched Oberon. Which is just weird, and probably not something that either character would enjoy. Daniels’ Coyote, and the speech patterns Atticus adopts while talking with him are fantastic.

A great edition of a solid sequel.

—–

4 Stars

Hounded (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

Hounded AudiobookHounded (Audiobook)

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hours and 11 minutes
Brilliance Audio, 2011

Read: April 26, 2016


Keeping this brief so I can catch up on other things, I posted a few quick thoughts about the book previously — and that still covers most of my thoughts:

It took no time at all for this book to grab me, and another 15 pages for me to fall in love with this. Right off the bat we get a solid action sequence, get the basics of our hero’s magic system, and meet a goddess. Not a bad start–it helps a lot that Atticus’ personality and charm comes through right away and draws you in.

Then we get a talking dog. Technically a dog (Oberon the Irish Wolfhound) that can communicate telepathically with Atticus, but why get picky? Oberon’s snarky, smart and pop culturally savvy–he runs a close second behind Harry Dresden’s Mouse for coolest pooch in Urban Fantasy. I’d be willing to read a book that’s nothing but Atticus and Oberon hanging out.

Throw in a helpful werewolf pack, a friendly vampire, a troublesome local coven, and a fight with an ancient Celtic deity and you get yourself a dynamic intro to what seems to be one of the best Urban Fantasy series around.

From the point of view of someone who’s read book 8, going back to the beginning like this was a lot of fun. I could see the development in Atticus, Laksha and others (even Oberon — who is now cooler than Mouse), got to see dearly departed friends (like spoiler and other spoiler), and could see a lot of seeds being planted that are still bearing fruit. It was also nice to be reminded why I used to like Granuaile.

So, I guess I should focus on Luke Daniels’ narration. It was great — I’m not crazy about his interpretation of Oberon, but it has an undeniable charm (that goes beyond the incredible amount of charm that Hearne gave him). His characterizations of each everyone are strong — even the accents. In particular, his Widow MacDonagh made me laugh, even after repeated exposure to her (read the book at least two times, and now listened to the audiobook twice).

It’s a fun listen with some great characters — and the beginning of one of my favorite ongoing series. If you’ve still happened to miss The Iron Druid Chronicles, this is a great way to dive in.

—–

4 Stars

Dead is Best by Jo Perry

Dead is BestDead is Best

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #2

Kindle Edition, 296 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016

Read: May 2, 2016

You’d think that having given up the ghost I’d be beyond the grasp of my ex-stepdaughter, the parasite.

Sure, Charlie’s less-than-charitable assessment, doesn’t make it sound like death has mellowed him at all — or that we really want to spend a novel looking into the trials and tribulations of his ex-stepdaughter, Cali. (a quick aside: I loved Charlie’s rant about the pretentious names given to Cali and her peers, “Truth, Canyon, Druid, Turquoise, Vanilla and Road. Don’t tell me those are names–– they’re brands. “) But last time we learned that 1. Charlie has actually mellowed a bit, we just need more time to see it; 2. He’s generally right about his family; and it won’t take long before the reader will actually care about Cali. As difficult as she’ll make it.

Textbooks will tell you that Cali is a “troubled teen.” Which is a pretty vague, and a likely outdated, term. She’s a drinker, a drug user, defiant daughter (although once you meet her mother and current stepfather, you kind of get that) in trouble with the law. But it doesn’t take long once Charlie and Rose start to follow her for her to end up in more trouble than she — or anyone — deserves.

Once again, there’s very little that Charlie and Rose can do other than watch what’s happening and put two and two together in the almost vain hope that Charlie can do something about it. Rest assured, they do, and it doesn’t involve another near death experience (I was a little afraid they’d just be hanging around Surgical Centers waiting for the next opportunity to talk to another ghost). It’s hard to believe that a mystery series where no one knows that the main characters did anything works. But this does.

What can I say about Rose? She’s at once one of the most realistic dog characters I can remember reading lately (she doesn’t talk, narrate, have a point of view chapter, or communicate telepathically), and yet, as a ghost, is the hardest to believe. She’s such a good influence on Charlie, I’m glad whatever or Whoever brought them together after their deaths.

Charlie said something in the last book about death not being about learning anything or insight or growth, that he stays the same. I don’t believe it, he’s not the same guy. But it’s probably a good sign that he doesn’t realize it.

Something I should’ve mentioned when I talked about the previous novel, these chapter epigraphs are great. They represent a truly impressive collection of quotations about death, some funny, some thoughtful, just about all of them keepers. The book is worth the effort just to read these (but you should really focus on the rest of the book).

Perry’s freakishly short chapters make you think Robert Parker was prone to be long-winded and rambling, but they work. You could probably make the case that they’re a commentary on the transient nature of human life or something (if you wanted to, and I don’t). They keep things moving, really keep anything from dragging, and help you get how Charlie and Rose can jump from place to place with ease.

Funny, poignant, all-around good story-telling. Plus there’s a dog. You really can’t ask for more than that. It’s easy to see why people as diverse as Cat Warren and Eric Idle commend these books. I strongly recommend this one (and the predecessor).

—–

4 Stars

Dead is Better by Jo Perry

Dead is BetterDead is Better

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #1

Kindle, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016

Read: March 12 – 14, 2016

In its young life, Fahrenheit Press has put out some great looking titles, not your typical mystery fare. I’ve only read 2 (bought 1 other), so far — but they’ve shared the off-kilter flavor that the Press’ twitter feed/publicity displays (and descriptions for the other books indicate). I don’t typically talk about publishers when I’m talking about books, but there’s something about Fahrenheit’s project — and the books they put out — that draws your attention. Dead is Better is typical of FP — a mix of darkness and light, unlikely protagonists, unlikely crime-solvers, and atypical crimes (at least as far as crime fiction goes).

Charles Stone is our protagonist, but he’s not really the character that will grab your imagination. That’d be Rose — but we’ll get to her in a moment. Charles is dead — very dead, shot several times. His ghost carries the wounds, as well as the clothing, even the hospital ID bracelet, from the time he died. He can’t remember the shooting however, and can’t think of a reason why he’d be shot. He’s (to his reckoning) no one important, and it doesn’t seem anyone around him even cares enough to kill him/arrange for his killing. After a little bit, he starts to come up with a possible motive or two. But his murder doesn’t seem to be the thing he’s most curious about. What he’d really like to know is, why does he have a constant companion?

Rose is a dog. Well, technically, she was a dog, now she’s the ghost of one. We don’t know why she’s alongside Charles, but she’s been with him the entire time he’s been a ghost. It seems that she had a really unpleasant life; and at last, in Charles, has someone caring for her. Rose is not going to challenge Crais’ Maggie, Quinn’s Chet, or Hearne’s Oberon anytime soon as the greatest dog in fiction — which is not a dig. Rose is great, she’s just not legendary. Rose does have one thing going for her that the other’s don’t — she’s pretty realistic (not that the others don’t have their moments — but even Maggie gets Point-of-View chapters), she can only communicate through suggestion — and even then, the people around her have to guess. Sometimes, they guess wrong.

The two begin investigating Charles’ murder — with the occasional glance at his family and former life. But before long, Charles becomes convinced he’s not around to look into his death, but something else. Rose, somehow, seems to know more about what’s going on than Charles, but he’s the one who needs to do the work. The pair do uncover some answers — and others uncover some others (I’m not convinced that all the answers the readers/Charles are given about anything beyond the main crime are correct, but . . . ).

More importantly, Charles finds a measure of redemption — sure, it might be too late, but nevertheless, there is some. You get the idea that if he maybe had a dog while living, he might’ve turned out to be a better person. Sure, that describes most of humanity to me, so I responded to that, but I think Perry sells it well enough that just about anyone would.

I’ve often thought of trying to do an Urban Fantasy for NaNoWriMo featuring a ghost, but I’ve never figured how to bridge the communication gap between the living and the dead without it feeling like a cheat. I liked Perry’s solution to this (I worry about the sequel repeating it — but that’s not my problem, is it?). I’m not convinced that the police could’ve/would’ve used the information that Charles got to them, but in the moment — you don’t care, you’re just glad that someone did something.

This is a fast and lean read — Perry doesn’t waste a word (actually leaves a couple of them out, but nothing too distracting). You’ll grow to like Charles, you’ll want to adopt Rose, and you’ll want to finds out what happens to them next. Thankfully, their story will continue in Dead is Best.

—–

4 Stars

Staked by Kevin Hearne

Sigh. This was supposed to post yesterday morning…been one of those weeks. I have been working on blog-content, though, just nothing for you to see quite yet.

StakedStaked

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #8

Hardcover, 310 pg.
Del Rey, 2016

Read: January 27 – 29, 2016

The Timmie’s on York Street sported a garish green-and-yellow-striped awning, a fire hydrant out front in case of donut grease fire, and a convenient signpost pointing the way to public parking. “What kind of ungodly breakfast meat do you want from here?” I asked Oberon as I tied him up to the sign.

<The religion of the meat doesn’t affect its taste,> my hound replied, a pedantic note creeping into his voice.

“What?”

<Godly bacon and ungodly bacon taste the same, Atticus.>

“Bacon it is. Now be nice to people who look scared of you while I’m in side. Do not pee on the hydrant, and no barking.”

<Awww. I like to watch them jump. Sometimes they make squeaky noises.>

Of course I approach the penultimate novel in one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series with mixed emotions — on the one hand, I’m excited to join Atticus, Oberon, et al. for the first time since June, 2014; on the other hand, penultimate is too close to the end for my taste — I’m going to miss exchanges like the quotation I opened up with if nothing else. Still, it’s Hearne, so it was bound to be a good time, my messed-up feelings notwithstanding.

Once again — the inclusion of a “The Story so Far” introduction — a multiple page summary of the series (wittily recounted) to help readers get re-oriented is just golden and should be a requirement for any series over three books long. Seriously, make this happen publishers.

One thought I keep coming back to while thinking about this book (and the series, I guess, as we approach the end) is what the series would be without Oberon. His personality, his canine-ness, and his relationship with Atticus is what set this apart from everything else early on. Would the series have gone on as long as it has — would Hounded have earned a sequel without him? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, that’s a thought for another time, let’s focus on Staked. There are so many plates spinning in this one that I’m going to spend a little more time than usual on plot.

What Hearne said about the entry in Three Slices being vital? That wasn’t hyperbole. I would’ve been so lost without it. Get it.

Atticus and Oberon are busy, busy bees. They tried to take care of Atticus’ relationship with the Olympians, which mostly worked out. Atticus helped out a ghost. “Merely” helped prevent a genocide, which will have a big impact on the brewing conflict with Loki et al. Then there’s the vampire situation — things are getting worse in Theophilus’ war against the Druids and Atticus decides it’s time to end it all. Thanks to the intelligence he gained in Three Slices, he has a plan. Obviously, given the title of the book, this is his focus. We’ve seen Atticus in some pretty violent situations, but his face-offs with vampires and their helpers in this book might just take things to a different level. There’s some diplomacy for Atticus on various fronts, too — but mostly we get a lot of Atticus as Jack Reacher.

Then there’s Granuaile and Orlaith. I don’t have a lot to say about Orlaith — she’s amusing and I like her, but she’s no Oberon. These chapters are the low-point of the book for me. Granuaile is off running some mini-quests, starting with things that are a result of her confrontation with Loki in Three Slices make sense, and even some of what she does as sort of a spin-off from that, I can understand (but honestly, she could delay them). But there’s a couple of pet projects of hers that seem like things she could put off. It seems selfish and foolhardy of her not to be more involved with Atticus’s problems (not that she’s fully aware of the extent of them, but that’s another issue). I’m not saying that the little missus needs to be at her man’s beck-and-call or anything, but her activities are more long-range in focus, the vampire menace is immediate and large (as we get serious demonstrations of). Actually, a lot of what she does seems foolish and doesn’t work out the way it ought. But I’ll complain more about Oberon’s Clever Girl in a bit.

Owen is starting to settle in to his new time, making plans and starting a life — that’s great, but probably something he should’ve back burnered for a month or two, because he’s also got a pretty big problem in Tír na nÓg that he should be more focused on, there are going to be significant consequence to his half-hearted efforts in that regard. But hey, we got this little bit of wisdom from the Archdruid:

I know that when ye think o’ love you’re supposed to think o’ kissy faces and scented soap and hummin’ happy songs together, but there’s another vital part to it that people rarely admit to themselves: We want somebody to rescue us from other people. From talking to them, I mean, or from the burden of giving a damn about what they say. We don’t want to be polite and stifle our farts, now, do we? We want to let ’em rip and we want to be with someone who won’t care if we do, who will love us regardless and fart right back besides.

It was great to see the Hammers of Zion again — and in a different role, too. We see that the vampires have more tricks up their sleeves than anyone was expecting — as befits a race that’s survived as long as they have. The Sisters of the Three Auroras are back as well, and I’m not so sure it’s wise to be as fully trusting of them as certain Druids seem to be.

I spent most of the book dissatisfied. I understand the need/desire for the three druids to be off on their own, pursuing their own destinies or quests or what have you. But it was just a bit too disparate for my taste. They’re all adults, they’re independent creatures — but fer cryin’ out loud, they should be interacting with each other more. Two of them are supposed to be in a relationship — silence for as long should raise an eyebrow or something, right? Owen’s still learning his way around, and it’s irresponsible to just dump him on Greta. As big, as life-altering (if not life-ending), as important as what Atticus is involved in, he needs to call in backup. Sure he’s been on his own for centuries, but he’s not anymore. How many of the horrible consequences of his war on the vampires could’ve been avoided if he’d just brought in the team?

Whatever my problems, whatever complaints I had, the questions I had about where this book/series were going were wiped away in the climatic battle scenes. Sure, we had to ignore a whole lot of spinning plates that are starting to wobble to get to it, but — Wow! That was just great. From the hirsute magic, the vampires cutting loose, the druids opening up cans of Whoop Ass, to the glamour keeping the muggles oblivious to the bloodbath around them — and all points in between. Just wow. One day, that bit deserves a beat-by-beat breakdown.

Towards the end of the book, Atticus evaluates the state of his relationship with Granuaile, and reaches conclusions that I (and probably many readers) have as well. I’m not sure I’m as at peace with the direction it’s headed in as he is, but it’s probably for the best. Honestly, I’m not so sure I expect Atticus to make it out of Book Number 9, so my misgivings might be moot. Also, for the last couple of books, I’ve stopped enjoying reading Granuaile. While she was a bartender or an apprentice, she was a hoot. Now that she’s moved up to being a full-fledged Druid, I dunno, all the joy’s been sucked out of her character and her interactions with Atticus for me. I think her evolution, her growth, maturation (whatever you want to call it) has been organic and makes sense, I think Hearne’s been honest with her as a character, but it wasn’t necessary for it to go that way. Still, I trust Hearne’s treatment of her, she’s just something I put up with now, rather than enjoy.

So, now the wait begins for the final book — and, I assume, Ragnarok. Because why wouldn’t a series that started with conflict in the Tuatha Dé Danann end with the Norse apocalypse (with a side dish of Olympian revenge, maybe?)?

—–

4 1/2 Stars