Dispatches from a Tourist Trap by James Bailey: Jason’s Woes Follow (and Grow) in his new Small Town

Dispatches from a Tourist TrapDispatches from a Tourist Trap

by James Bailey

Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 253 pg.
2019
Read: April 1, 2019

Sometimes lately I feel like life is a chess match, and no matter how hard I look at the board I can’t see the next move. Or maybe I think I see it, but really I don’t. Like my pawn is sitting there, all ready to put the other king in check, and somehow my queen gets swiped and two moves later I’ve lost the game and my pawn is still waiting there, impotent and useless.

So Jason mother’s Janice continues her bad decisions when it comes to men — she leaves her husband for a new guy, who happens to be the dentist she’s started working for. We met him in The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, and they clearly didn’t waste time resuming whatever it was they had back in high school. Janice has moved herself and Jason to her parents’ house, enrolled Jason in a school filled with very friendly people, and tried to move on with her life.

Jason realizes full-well that his choices are a life with his grandparents and a much smaller school, hours away from his friends and girlfriend; or life with Rob, near them. As much as he doesn’t want to be in Icicle Flats, he knows it’s the better choice available. But he complains the whole time about it — this is good for readers, Jason complaining makes for an entertaining read. This time, he’s not just complaining in emails, he’s set up a blog, too. I was wondering how the blog was going to work instead of the emails — it’s actually a really good move, allowing Jason to tell longer stories without the emails being too long.

Which is good — because he has long stories to tell this time. There’s a literature club he’s involved with at school that’s discussing books that ruffle the feathers of many, which leads to all sorts of trouble. There’s a flirtation with pirate radio. A camping trip that is fantastic to read about (and probably not a lot of fun to live through). A disastrous experiment with eBay. And basically, a bucket-load of culture shock. Also, after a few short weeks of dating, Jason’s first real relationship becomes a long-distance one. High school relationships are bad enough, throwing in a few hour bus-ride into things is just asking for trouble. So yeah, between emails and his blog — he’s got a lot to write about, and his friends have a lot to respond to. Somehow, they make it through the school year more or less intact.

Jason feels incredibly authentic — immature, self-centered, irresponsible, but he’s got his moments. He can put others before himself, do the right thing because it’s right — not to stay out of trouble; But man, he can be frustrating the rest of the time. There were a lot of opportunities along the way here for him to be a better friend, a much better boyfriend, son and grandson; and he missed almost all of them. He comes through when necessary, don’t get me wrong and he’s not a bad guy — I just wish he’d grow up a bit faster. Which again, means that Bailey has nailed his characterization, this his how people his age should be.

I’m less than thrilled with Bailey’s approach to religious characters in these two books. I’m not questioning that there are people like the characters he depicts running around everywhere and that the situations would’ve played out a lot like they did here (but some of it pushed believability). I just would like a small indication that there were some sincere people trying to do the right thing in the middle of all this.

Having talked about The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo just two weeks ago, it feels hard to talk about this book beyond some of the plot changes — this feels like the same book, just with new problems. Which is pretty much the point, right? I still like Jason (as frustrating as he can be), his girlfriend is fantastic, I want good things to happen to Drew. Jason’s already complicated life is about to get a lot worse, which should prove very entertaining for the rest of us. A strong follow-up in this series.

—–

3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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A Few Quick Questions With…James Bailey

I’ve had some really good Q&A’s this year — which is entirely due to those providing the A’s. Here’s one of the crème de la crème. Now I wrote about James Bailey’s book, The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo a week or so ago, but I didn’t have time to read and post about the sequel by today, its release date. So instead, I’ve got this little back-and-forth with the author to celebrate the release of Dispatches from a Tourist Trap. I’ll try to get something written about it by the end of this week, but I know better than to promise anything.

So sit back and enjoy this before you go to buy the book, which should have downloaded to my Kindle this morning. I’m going to go verify that as you read Bailey’s thoughtful and funny contributions below.

Most authors have dozens of ideas bouncing around their craniums at once — what was it about this idea that made you say, “Yup — this is the one for me.”? What came first, the choice to go for a YA story instead of your adult novels or the story idea?
I have so many Chapter 1’s on my computer it’s not even funny, so, yeah, I have ideas bouncing around all the time. Some of them never get any further than a few notes jotted down on a scrap of paper. The idea for Jason came to me while re-reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 . I thought it would be fun to try something like that, but more modern. I went with email instead of a diary. I got the image for his parents from my neighbors, who are probably closer to Rob and Janice than most people would want their parents to be. They are prone to fighting, occasionally physically, in their driveway. Any time we see a police car in the neighborhood, we almost expect to see it stop in front of their house. As for Jason, I wanted a likeable (if sometimes mildly self-centered) protagonist. On my last novel, Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed, I started with the concept of a borderline asshole for the main character. He was definitely selfish, sometimes worse. One of my beta readers tabbed him a sociopath. I did soften him a little after that. I wasn’t quite aiming for sociopath. And I think he grew enough by the end that readers wouldn’t throw stuff at him if they met him on the street. But for First World Problems I wanted someone more likeable, and hopefully Jason comes across as a decent kid.

As for the YA angle, I’m not always even sure what counts as YA. I suspect most YA books are read by adults at least as much or more than they are by teens. Is it the protagonist being young, dealing with teen trials and tribulations, or is it the reader being young? Is Nick Hornby’s Slam a YA book? (One of my favorite Hornby novels, btw.) For me, when I read something that falls under the YA umbrella there’s often a nostalgia factor in there somewhere, and sometimes a “man, I’m glad I don’t have to relive all that again” factor. But when you look back on your life, there’s something about those high school years, as good or bad as they were, that never fades. Most of us will remember life as a 14-18 year old much more distinctly than we will life as a 24-28 year old or 34-38 year old, etc. It’s a formative period. Still, once I finish off the series, I’ll probably go back to writing “adult” books. (Though when you say it like that, it sounds like adult films, which have a seriously different meaning.)

I honestly laughed out loud there. Also, I have to confess — I’ve never read Slam. I bought it when it came out, my wife read and enjoyed it. But the Hardcover is sitting on my shelf. I really need to.

Anyway, why did you choose to go with an Epistolary book? What are the specific challenges that come with it — are there specific benefits?

As mentioned in the first answer, I was riffing off Adrian Mole a little when I started this project. The first couple of drafts were all Jason. I didn’t work in replies from the other characters until later. A friend who read an early draft said it was hard to get a feel for anyone else’s personality as it was. I’m really glad I changed course, because it definitely allowed them each to show more of who they are. Drew, especially, but Gina as well. Want a challenge? How about telling your brain to ignore all the spell-checker issues when writing her responses. While I was editing the rest of the book to make sure the spelling and grammar was correct, I had to keep making hers worse. She was fun to write. I only hope everyone can decipher what she said.
Ugh! I meant to talk about Gina’s grammar and spelling — how could I forget about that? It was so nice to read intentional misspellings and atrocious sentences. I’ve read too much of both lately in theoretially edited works.

Why 2003? Why not something more current — or further back? (Feel free to mock any of my rambling about the time)

You answered this one yourself in your review, almost exactly. I had to freeze it back in a time period when it was still realistic that guys like Jason and Drew wouldn’t have had phones. If I had set this in 2018, everything would have been in texts. That would be horrible. As it is, it still requires a minor suspension of disbelief that they would write in complete sentences, but then again, they’re intellectual fellows. I could have gone a little further back in time, but not much beyond the mid-90s. Earlier than that and email would have been a stretch for the opposite reason.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I now have a 1-star review on Amazon for each of my four books. Fortunately, those are the minority. I’m not sure about the “worst,” but I do have a stupidest. A guy gave my first book, The Greatest Show on Dirt, a 1-star review. All he said was, “not about baseball. Its a dumb story about people who work at a baseball stadium,” That’s it. Well, there’s a lot of baseball in the book. Not sure what he was looking for. But here’s the kicker. He’s also the guy who left a one-star review on my second book, Nine Bucks a Pound. For that one he said, “only started it. Not very good.” He posted both reviews on the same day. My question for him would be, if you didn’t like one, why’d you bother with the other? But you can’t respond to reviewers. There’s nothing to gain from it and a lot to lose. You have to just try to tune the negative ones out. Not always easy. Then again, if most of the reviews for a book are 4 or 5 stars, and someone posts a 1 star review, to me that says more about them than it does the author or the book.

And try to find a book on Amazon that everyone liked. My favorite novel of all time, A Confederacy of Dunces, has 221 1-star reviews. That book is brilliant. It’s hilarious, creative, the characters jump off the page. How in the world that all came together in one man’s mind just amazes me. But 221 people hated it enough to rip it on Amazon. When I see people saying “This isn’t funny,” about Ignatius J. Reilly, that tells me all I need to know about them. They have no sense of humor, whatsoever.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
If I thought hard enough about this, I’m sure I could come up with a handful, but the first thing that pops into my head is a book called Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers, by Tom Moran. And while I might wish I had written it, if I’m honest there’s no way I could have. It’s just too zany. It’s about a time traveling detective named Walton Cumberfield, who has to solve the mystery of why an old man broke into his house after Walton beats him to death with a Guinness Book of World Records (2008 edition). It’s a bit silly at times, and if you hate puns you might struggle with it, but it’s clever, creative, and fun. Walton reminded me in some ways of Ignatius J. Reilly (two Confederacy of Dunces references in one Q&A; is that a record?). There was a second book in the series, called A Debt to the Universe, that was enjoyable, but not quite as good.

I’ve loved time-travel movies and books since I saw Back to the Future when I was 15. I’ve toyed around with some ideas for writing one myself, but I haven’t quite hit on the right storyline yet. Maybe someday.

You care to give the elevator pitch for Book Two of the Trilogy? (and maybe a hint about Book Three, if you can)
Okay, I’m hardly kidding when I say it’s easier to write a book than it is to write a blurb about that book. I’ve finally finished rewriting the one that’s going to go up on Amazon, and you’re asking for an elevator pitch, which to me connotes something even shorter, so I’m going to hack it down slightly here. If you want the fuller version, you can find it up on Amazon (the book is available now for pre-order). Anyway, here’s my elevator pitch version:

Thanks to his parents’ separation, Jason is starting his sophomore year of high school in tiny Icicle Flats, a quaint Bavarian-themed mountain village three hours east of Seattle. This town has barely changed since Janice grew up there, and she’s only going back because she has a new boyfriend, who is also her new boss.

Leaving his friends is hard, but the worst part is leaving Sian, right when things were getting good. In between visits, they exchange a lot of email and phone calls, but long-distance relationships are always challenging, especially for someone like Jason who forever seems to be digging himself into a hole. Fortunately, Drew is just an email away. If only Jason would ever heed his advice.

Jason joins an after-school book club, where he hooks up with a couple of other students who love to push boundaries. Mayhem ensues, involving the school board, the town Christmas parade, and a pirate radio station. Who ever said life in a small novelty town would be dull?

As for Book 3, I haven’t started writing it yet, but I do have some ideas. Jason’s family will expand when Rob gets remarried and a new bundle of joy appears. Fortunately for his little brother, his stepmother is a competent adult, which brings the grand total to one in Jason’s circle. His relationship with Sian will be strained once more when she heads off to Ireland as an exchange student. Jason will learn how to drive. And Rob may see a UFO. For now, I’m envisioning the book covering the summer before his junior year (picking up where Book 2 leaves off) and running through the school year. But there’s a lot TBD at this stage.

Thanks for your time — and thanks for introducing me to Jason Van Otterloo.
And thank you, for your time and the opportunity to reach some new readers.

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon, John Hendrix: A Young Irish Police Officer Takes on Leprechauns and other sorts of faerie folk.

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of RiddlesRonan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles

by Thomas Lennon, John Hendrix (Illustrator)
Series: Ronan Boyle, #1

Hardcover, 286 pg.
Amulet Books, 2019
Read: March 20 – 22, 2019

I didn’t tell Captain Fearnly that I was joining the garda as part of a plot to exonerate my parents and find a four-thousand-year-old mummy — and there is no place to enter this type of thing in the online application, so I just kept it to myself.

Last year, when Thomas Lennon was a guest on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show #371, they spent some time talking about this book. I knew I had to give it a shot almost immediately. When I got home and found it on Goodreads, I was a little disappointed to find out it was for the MG crowd — I didn’t get that impression at all from his description (I may have missed something while driving). Still, I put it on the “To Read” list and kept an eye out for its publication. It still sounded like a good time.

And boy, oh, boy it was.

Ronan Boyle is a young man who watched his parents get arrested (in the middle of a family game night) and put into prison. They’re academics, and were found guilty of selling antiquities that belonged to the Irish government. As noted above, Ronan joined the Irish police as an intern, primarily as a way to . Until one night when he was recruited to help dealing with a leprechaun (he was the only one the right size to get where the leprechaun was keeping something). He did well enough with that assignment that he was immediately recruited for Garda Special Unit of Tir Na Nog — the supernatural division.

We follow Ronan through his training — imagine Hogwarts summarized in a hundred pages or so (although this is a shorter course of training) — what he and his fellow cadets (including a girl who thought she was a log for most of her life, and a medium-sized bear that may or may not have been a fellow cadet) go through is unlike any training program you’ve seen or read about. Yet it’s familiar enough that it feels comfortable. Then we see Ronan and his compatriots begin their garda careers in earnest.

Meanwhile, Ronan makes a little progress with the investigation to clear his parents. He also makes friends — from multiple species — and decides that he really likes berets. He’s a very unlikely hero — not terribly coordinated, skinny, as physically un-intimidating as you can possibly imagine with poor eyesight. He also has a strange obsession with Dame Judi Dench (not that Dench isn’t worth obsessing over, it’s just not someone many teen boys fixate on)

All in all, an entertaining story steeped in Irish lore, myth and culture — all very well-researched and lovingly told. I’d probably recommend it just on these grounds.
But it’s the way that Lennon tells this story that seals the deal. His voice is chatty, whimsical and infectious. The imagery, language, and overall feel is hilarious. Yes, I’d recommend the book just on the characters/plot. But I’d also recommend it for voice and style alone. For example:

It was a mysterious garda officer named Pat Finch, whose ghoulish face is so crisscrossed with bright red veins that it looks like a map of hell drawn by a monk in a medieval lunatic asylum. Pat Finch looks like what a heart attack would look like if it could walk around eating fish-and-chips and saying terrible things about Roscommon Football Club’s starting lineup.

“There’s a leprechaun navy?”

“Yes. Probably the least reliable fighting force in the known world,” replied the captain. “The leprechaun navy is basically a heavily armed musical-theater troupe with two boats.”

If you know Thomas Lennon as a performer, you’ll be able to “hear” significant portions in his voice. I think I saw that he does the audiobook,which is good — because otherwise you’d have to find someone who can do a decent impression of him to really pull of the cadence and rhythms of the text.

Oh, you must read the footnotes. All of them. They’re the best use of fictional footnotes since Lutz’ The Spellman Files or Bazell’s Beat the Reaper — except these are MG appropriate.

Hendrix’ illustrations fit the mood perfectly. Intricate, goofy, and skillful. They’re not essential, but they add a very welcome touch to the text.

This is ideal for MG readers who like early Riordan, but wouldn’t mind a bit more silliness and an Irish focus. Or for those who liked Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ignore that (or go read them after you read this). It’s just a fun, goofy read with a touch of adventure. Perfect for MG readers or adults who don’t mind reading MG if it’s well-done. This is. At the end of the day, you need to pick up a copy just so you can read the back cover blurbs by Weird Al and Patton Oswalt, really. Of course, then you’ll want to read the thing based on what they say. So just save yourself the effort and get it.

The ending sets up at least one sequel and you can bet that I’ll be waiting for it.

—–

3.5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

The Great Brain (Audiobook) by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty: A frequently pleasant stroll down memory lane

The Great Brain (Audiobook)The Great Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty (Narrator)
Series: The Great Brain, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 Hours, 41 Minutes
Listening Library, 2002

Read: February 25 – 26, 2019


Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I’d read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom D. About 10 years ago, I read the series to my kids, and enjoyed it (possibly more than they did), but not as much as I remembered. Still, when I saw it listed as a new addition to my library’s catalog, I took a second glance and when I saw that Ron McLarty did the narration, I had to try it.

This book is a series of episodes from over a year or so in the life of three brothers, Sweyn D., Tom D. and John D. Fitzgerald. Sweyn is around a little bit as the more mature eldest brother, John’s the youngest (8 or 9, I believe) and Tom is 10 and the star. He’s Greedy, conniving, and ambitious — and his ego is bigger than the rest of his attributes combined. They live in a small, largely LDS, town in Utah during the last decade of the 1800s. The episodes feature different ways in which Tom’s Great Brain works to make him money and/or notoriety in the community, especially with the kids.

Some of these antics are silly, some are serious. Almost all of them are profitable for Tom. The strength of the stories is the humanity of the rest of the community — the traveling Jewish merchant, the local farmers, the Greek immigrant family, for starters. The weakness comes from the very laissez-faire approach to parenting the Fitzgeralds take — allowing Tom D. to pretty much get away with everything he wants.

There is some charm, some heart, throughout — even from Tom. That part appeals to me, the ego-driven greedy exploits of the Great Brain don’t. John’s narration occasionally will critique Tom’s motives, but mostly John’s a little brother thinking his big brother is fantastic no matter what. I know John becomes more disillusioned later, but for now, it was annoying. I want better for him.

How’s the narration you ask? Honestly, the chance to listen to Ron McLarty narrate was half the reason I had for grabbing this. McLarty will always be Sgt. Frank Belson to me, despite the many other things he’s accomplished in life. He did a fine job, at times a great job. Something about him reading the contraction-less dialogue bugged the tar out of me. George Guidal can make it work when he reads Henry Standing Bear — although it helps that no one else does it. McLarty can’t make it work, probably because despite the fact that slang is used, time appropriate language — but not a contraction from anyone? I don’t lay the fault at McLarty’s feet, it’s just a prominent feature.

I still recommend the books and enjoyed them. It’s just a tempered enjoyment. I’ll probably keep chipping away at the series over the next few months — waiting to see John’s disillusionment grow, and the brothers develop a conscience.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin: A wildly imaginative and creative MG Fantasy

The Assassination of Brangwain SpurgeThe Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin


Hardcover, 523 pg.
Candlewick Press, 2018
Read: January 24 – 25, 2019

Let me start with a hat-tip to Paul at Paul’s Picks for putting this on my radar. Thanks, Paul.

For a MG book, I’m surprisingly intimidated by the prospect of trying to give a synopsis. That’s probably a clue about the book. Brangwain Spurge is an elfin historian of moderate renown — when (as far as he knows) an ancient goblin relic is found in his land, he’s dispatched to present it to the goblin’s king. No elf has survived being in — much lest returning from — goblin territories in more than a century, but the conventional wisdom is that a historian should be safe — even if he is also spying.

The goblins and elves have spent centuries fighting each other, and are in a rare season without warfare — and no one expects it to last for long. Each side distrusts the other in ways that make relations between the USA and USSR in the 1960’s seem warm and cordial. So this mission of Brangwain’s is an unexpected and welcome overture of peace. Or so many people think.

Brangwain’s host is a goblin names Werfel — who’s also a historian. Werfel is a very odd, but seemingly pleasant, person living in the midst of pretty odd, and apparently pleasant, people. Every goblin he meets goes out of their way to welcome Brangwain and try to make him feel comfortable, while celebrating elfin culture. Brangwain’s a nervous guy, who has spent most of his life (going back to childhood) being insulted, bullied and overlooked — he doesn’t really see the efforts of the goblins for what it is. Besides, he’s too busy trying not to get caught while spying on his hosts.

Now, how does this elf — who most people expect is on a suicide mission — get his information back to the elves? I’m glad you asked — this is an ingenious move by Anderson and Yelchin — while alone and resting, Brangwain uses elfin magic and imagines what he’s seen which is transmitted to a device in the office of his king’s military intelligence, that takes these transmissions and “prints” them out. These would be the illustrations that make up a significant portion of this book.

Ultimately, things go awry and Brangwain and Werfel are on the run together, trying to survive and hopefully keep the peaceful overtures alive. A friendship will rise between the two as they depend on each other and realize how much they have in common.

There’s some great commentary on the power of perspective when it comes to history. Werfel and Brangwain differ greatly in their understandings of the same event/person, wholly dependent on their backgrounds. It’s all about who writes the history — even if it’s an obscure scholar — when it comes to establishing “fact.”

A little bit more about the art. First, it’s just great. This isn’t a book directed at the picture book crowd, but the art might as well be for people who can’t read the text — it’s as much of the story telling as the text. Yelchin actually saves them a couple hundred pages telling the more dramatic portions of the story in his pictures. Interestingly enough, the events described in the narration and the events depicted in the art/Brangwain’s reports differ significantly, and part of the fun of the book is comparing them. Yelchin’s art reminds me of Jules Feiffer’s from The Phantom Tollbooth, which is possibly the biggest selling point for me. Well, except the picture of a spider-creature that makes Shelob and Aragog look tame.

It’s a fun story, a little wry, and it will appeal to grade schoolers who have an off-kilter sense of humor. I really enjoyed reading it and recommend it for middle graders and their parents/older siblings alike.

—–

3 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

The Disasters by M. K. England: Some Fun YA Popcorn SF

The DisastersThe Disasters

by M. K. England


Hardcover, 352 pg.
HarperTeen, 2018

Read: January 29 – 30, 2019

           We sit in silence while al-Rihla, the jewel of the colonies, gradually takes over more and more of the viewport. It looks exactly like it did on the pages of my textbooks, only so much more. I let my eyes linger for a moment, taking in green continents outlined in rich red sand and huge, intensely blue oceans that glitter below. I know we’re in a life-or-death situation, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the view. I can see why all the antiexploration crap went away once a few humans actually got out here. Who could look at all this and not want it? It’s bizarre–I’ve only seen Earth from space once, and I was busy trying not to die at the time. Now I’m looking down on a completely different planet, in person, in space, while flying a ship I stole.

I’m actually here. This is all I’ve ever wanted, though I didn’t get it in the way I wanted.

And in a few painfully long minutes, I’ll find out whether I get to live to see the other seven colony worlds one day, or if I get to die in a dramatic crash and kill all my new friends instead.

Fantastic.

Nax Hall is a would-be pilot, would-be space colonizer, and would-be anything but a failure in the eyes of his family. Sadly, after a day at the Ellis Station Academy (the only way to achieve two of those goals, and his best shot at the third), he’s been cut from the program. He’s not the only one — three others have been, too. As they wait for the shuttle to take them back to Earth, a terrorist group of some kind attacks the Academy. With a little luck, the expelled students escape in the shuttle that was destined to take them to Earth.

But they quickly realize that space fighters won’t allow the ship to land on Earth where they can alert the authorities about what happened at the Academy — so they have to hyperjump (or whatever it’s called in this world — I already took the book back to the library and can’t check) to colonial space. They quickly learn that the terrorists have used their escape as a means to frame them for the atrocities committed at the Academy and they now are on the run from the same authorities they were hoping to help them.

Thankfully, between the four of them, they have an almost perfect crew — a pilot, a diplomat, a medic and a technician/copilot. They soon find themselves aligned with a computer expert with ties to black-market entities that can help them spread the word about what happened at the Academy and what it might mean for the future of Earth’s space colonies. These five plucky teens are all that stands between humanity and widespread destruction.

England has a gift for action scenes — they were energetic, dynamic and enough to sink your teeth into. Nax’s flying, in general or in combat, was the highlight of the book for me. I could’ve used a little more of it, even though that would have been gratuitous. I’m not above gratuity in the right place. There’s a strong sense of fun in the narrative — despite being up against impossible odds, these kids are living their dream (just not in the way they wanted, as Nax put it in the quotation above). There’s a good deal of bonhomie between the makeshift crew, which builds gradually over the book to the point where they’re a tight bunch of friends at the end. This sense of fun is grounded by the dangers they face and the costs they’re paying, just enough to keep this from being a romp.

The characters aren’t that complex, although England makes a couple of attempts at it. Their backstories are interesting, to the degree that she explores them (which isn’t much). We get enough of Nax’s crewmates’ backstories to explain their presence on the ship, but not much more. We get plenty about Nax in bits and pieces — which is good enough, he’s the star of the show (and should be). The bad guys aren’t much more than stock villains, mostly a faceless group or two conspiring to do evil things. That’s fine with me, this isn’t the kind of book that promises complex opponents with compelling reasons for their activities, mustache-twirlers with lots of henchmen are good enough.

Here’s my major complaint with the book — the politics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that politics shouldn’t enter into fiction. Particularly Science Fiction. I’d prefer to see more of it — at least more diversity in political views, too much of the politics in SF is so culturally homogeneous one could easily believe no other opinions existed. But before I get gong on that line, let me get back to The Disasters. The politics and societal struggles of the late 22nd Century are apparently identical to those of 2018. Now, I’m not suggesting that Earth’s culture should have worked everything out and the struggles of today will be a distant memory — but they should’ve changed somewhat. The way these problems are seen, expressed and argued about should be different. England just comes across lazy in her approach to these ideas. It’d be like someone writing about Irish cops in 2019 Boston the same way people wrote about them in 1850.

Thankfully, while it flavors much of the book, the characters don’t spend that much time actively discussing it, so it’s easy to forget about. What you’re left with is popcorn fun. A bunch of underdog kids, rejects from society (while really being exceptional), find themselves in a place to save the world (more than 8 of them, technically). There’s some good action — again, the flight scenes are great — a couple of chuckles, and a solid ending. It’s a couple of hours of escapist entertainment when it’s at its best (which is pretty often).

—–

3 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2018

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I looked at just what I’d read in 2018. After going through that list, I had 15 more candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was hard, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad — most were great (I can think of maybe 5 I could’ve missed). But these are the crème de la crème.

Man, I wanted to write the crème de la crime there. But I’m better than that.

Not all of these were published in 2018 — but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

Now that I’m done with this, I can focus on 2019.

(in alphabetical order by author)

The Puppet ShowThe Puppet Show

by M. W. Craven

My original post
A book with some of the darkest moments I came across last year — and some of the brightest, too. The mystery was great, the character moments (not just between the protagonists) were better — great rounded, human, characters. Even after I saw where Craven was going with things, I refused to believe it — and only gave up when I had no other choice. Two (at least) fantastic reveals in this book, very compelling writing and fantastic characters. What more do you want? Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are two of my favorite new characters and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

5 Stars

Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day

My original post
I could pretty much copy and paste that above paragraph for this one. It never gets as dark as The Puppet Show, but the depravity displayed is bad enough to unsettle any reader. What makes this story compelling isn’t really the crime, it’s the way the crime impacts the people near it — those who lost a family member (I don’t want to say loved one) and those who are close to the suspects. Yakky and Doc Slidesmith are characters I hope to see again soon, and I want to bask in Day’s prose even more.

5 Stars

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

My original post
The story of a little girl being surrounded by death and destruction, with both looming and threatening her all the time, and her discovering how to be brave. The story of a man trying to be a good father — or just a father. The story of survival. A story of revenge. A story about all kinds of violence. Wonderfully told.

4 Stars

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide

My original post
Not as entertaining as IQ, but it works as a novel in ways the previous two didn’t. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but it’s there. Wrecked is a clear step in evolution for Isaiah, Dodson, and probably Ide. It definitely demonstrates that the three are here to stay as long as Ide wants, and that these characters aren’t satisfied with being inner-city Sherlock/Watson, but they’re going places beyond that. Some good laughs, some good scares, some real “I can’t believe Ide ‘let’ them do that to Isaiah” moments — a great read.

5 Stars

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
I put off reading this for reasons I really don’t understand and haven’t forgiven myself for yet. But the important thing is that I read it — it took me a chapter or two to really get into it, but once I did, I was in hook, like and sinker. In my original post I said this is “a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.” I also said, “Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.” There are a couple of books that could compete for that line, but I’m not sure they’d win.

5 Stars

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland

My original post
Fantastic, fantastic premise. Great hook. Another great pair of protagonists (although most of their work is independent of each other). A True Crime blogger and a DI racing to uncover a serial killer, while battling dark secrets, dark pasts, and outside pressures that threaten to derail them at every turn. Marland surprised me more often and in more ways than just about any author this year. I was floored by some of them, too. A great puzzle, a great mish-mash of amateur detective and police procedural.

4 1/2 Stars

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

My original post
I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I said yes to this Book Tour request. I’m not sure I could have — no offense to Mr. Marrs, but I don’t think I’d heard of him before. He’s definitely on my radar now. This was brutal, devastating, shocking, and just about every other adjective reviewers (professional and otherwise) overuse when describing a thriller. Marrs did so many things I didn’t think he would do. He didn’t do a lot that I thought he would (and seemed to mock the idea that he’d so some of what I wanted him to do). I spent a lot of time while reading this book not liking him very much, but so grateful I was getting to read the book. I’m still upset by some of it, but in awe of the experience.

5 Stars

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick

My original post
Sam Batford, undercover cop, is back in a sequel that shows real growth from a very impressive debut. Batford is in incredibly murky ethical and legal waters — and that’s not counting what his undercover op is. Any misstep could ruin his career, end his life, land him in prison — or all three. Actually, those options hold true even if he doesn’t make any missteps. There are so many balls in the air with this one that it’d be easy to lose track of one or more. But Patrick doesn’t seem to struggle with that at all — and he writes in such a way that a reader doesn’t either. That’s a gift not to be overlooked. I liked the overall story more than it’s predecessor and think that Patrick’s writing was better here. This is a series — and a character — that you really need to get to know.

4 1/2 Stars (I remember liking it more than that…I’m sure I had a reason at the time)

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin

My original post
I’ve spent enough time with John Rebus over the last couple of years that I knew one of the books had to end p here, I just wasn’t sure which one. Exit Music ended up on the Top 10 not so much for the main mysteries (although they put the book in contention), but for all rest of the things that the novel was about — Rebus’ moving on (not knowing how to or to where), Siobhan moving on (and not sure she wants to), and the dozen or so little things surrounding the two of them and their work. Even Big Ger was kind of moving on here — and that’s just strange to read about. Exit Music would’ve been a great way to say farewell to John Rebus, I’m just glad it wasn’t that.

5 Stars

Trouble is a Friend of MineTrouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)

My original post
If not for Kirby Baxter (above), I could say this was the most fun I had with a Mystery novel this year (not to take anything away from the sequels on that front). This is just the right mix of high school hijinks, teen drama, quirky characters and writing with panache. Zoe and Digby are a great combo of smarts, recklessness and responsibility as they work their way through puzzles surrounding missing kids, drug dealing doctors, and some strange cult-like group. You can feel the chemistry between them — like Remington Steele and Laura Holt, David Addison and Maddy Hays, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Freeman’s Watson. Throw in their friends and frenemies and you’ve got a recipe for fun and suspense. I listened to this on audiobook (and bought the paperback for my daughter before I got to the end, I should add) and McInerney’s narration was perfect — she captured the spirit of the book and made the characters come alive.

4 Stars