Saturday Miscellany—9/7/19

Not a big crop this week, but some good stuff. Here are the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire—Toby, the Luidaeg, and Selkies—what more could anyone want out of the 13th Toby Daye? It’s been sitting on my shelf since Tuesday, and I’ve been kicking myself for agreeing to post about things so I can’t get to it yet. I need to plan better.
  • The Nobody People by Bob Proehl—Proehl’s second novel looks like a literary version of the X-Men. Looks good.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites, KATO NASHIF, William Johnson, tourinfonepal and AKidneyStory (I’ve been reading their stuff for a few months, and really appreciate this blog) for following the blog this week.

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Death Before Coffee by Desmond P. Ryan: A Veteran Detective Faces Fresh Challenges


Death Before CoffeeDeath Before Coffee

by Desmond P. Ryan
Series: Mike O’Shea, #2

Kindle Edition, 245 pg.
Copper Press Publishing, 2019
Read: April 9 – 10, 2019

Detective Mike O’Shea is a detective with a couple of reputations — many know him as a cop’s cop, one who gets the job done right. Everyone knows him as one of two detectives who were on the hunt for a prostitution ring (that specialized in underage girls) and one particular runaway teen that came thiiis close to breaking the ring before his partner was killed and he almost was, too. The killer got away and O’Shea was left with a cloud over him. No matter what he’s done since, all his achievements are colored by that failure.

We join O’Shea as he’s transferred to a new platoon, with a new partner (Ron Roberts, who can’t seem to cope with the idea that he’s not in traffic anymore – he’s the only cop that I can remember in Crime Fiction who seems to think that’s a good place to work). Before they can really get a feel for each other (beyond previous knowledge and inherent prejudice), they’re called to the scene of a homicide. A one-legged man was beaten to death and dumped in a residential area.

The uniform on scene is not the shiniest star that the Academy has produced, but O’Shea and Roberts get things started enough that when the Homicide team shows up the investigation is well under-way. DS Amanda Black is tough, smart and driven and directs this investigation like her career depends on it.

We follow — O’Shea and Roberts through the preliminary stages of the investigation, through some hiccups caused by overzealous colleagues up to the hunt for their prime suspect. We also get a few scenes with just Black. Those are insightful, but feel pretty weird — there are so few scenes without O’Shea involved that anytime he’s not “on screen” it feels strange.

Along with this hunt, O’Shea continues to deal with the investigation that made his reputation — as much as he can while staying off the radar of his superiors — a suicidal retired cop, and his family. His marriage is all but over, but his siblings, son and mother are a very present realities for him. We could’ve gotten more time with his son for my taste (and probably O’Shea’s, now that I think of it). This all takes place over the course of a few days and O’Shea seems almost as in need of a good night’s sleep and a good cup of coffee as he is in getting resolution to any of his cases.

The novel is well-paced and it takes no time at all to get sucked into the story. This has all the hallmarks of a solid crime novel and police procedural. O’Shea is the kind of old school detective that readers love, Roberts has a lot of potential as a character and Black could easily dethrone O’Shea as the series’ focus (I’m not suggesting she will, but she’s written in a way that it could happen without anyone complaining).

I do have a few issues with the book, naturally. Things that detracted from my enjoyment, things that kept me from being over the moon with is (and it had that potential), but nothing that ultimately was that problematic.

This is the second of a intended six-book series and really reads that way. Can it be read as a stand-alone? Yes, but it’d be far more satisfying as part of a series (well, I expect it would be, anyway). There are some aspects of the timeline that I’m not convinced I can buy, but maybe with some context I could. Similarly, while this book and the main plotline do have definite conclusions, it feels like Ryan just presses “Pause” on so many other things it’s a little annoying. I’m not talking cliffhangers (minor or otherwise), it’s more of a “well, we’re done talking about this for a bit” kind of feel. Whether it pushes you to the next book is irritating, probably depends on the reader.

That last idea probably ties in to the realism vibe Ryan is going for. Which is great — to a point. We all like the idea of something realistic, no matter the genre, really At least we all say we do — but aren’t so much of us really looking for types of satisfaction that reality can’t provide? Especially in crime fiction — we want the kind of resolution not available in our lives. Ryan’s depiction of himself as a realistic writer works against him as much as it works for him. He has a little note to the reader before the novel assuring the reader “I’m an ex-cop, I’ve done this stuff, this is how it is.” Pretty much insulating himself from criticism of a lot that goes on in the book unless you’re prepared to bring an armload of research to bear. That note actually prejudiced me against the book, it reeked of someone who “doth protest too much,” and just set my teeth on edge. Show me your realism, show me your authenticity and convince me of it — don’t boast about it. It took me a long time to shake that bad first impression, but I do think I was able to push past it — but I’d have liked O’Shea and the rest a lot more if I hadn’t had to.

Ryan has a strong voice and uses it to give the right details to provide a very compelling read — it’s fast, gritty and with characters that’ll stick with you after you’ve moved on to your next read. Was it as good as it could have been? No, but not because of an inherent weakness, just because Ryan didn’t do enough with his strengths — but he’s got four more books in this series to fulfill the promise. I had a good time reading Death Before Coffee and I bet you will, too.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — including the book, which did not influnce my opinion.

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3 Stars

The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo by James Bailey: This Kid’s Struggles will Bring A Smile to Your Face

The First World Problems of Jason Van OtterlooThe First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo

by James Bailey
Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 193 pg.
2018
Read: March 15, 2019

Subject: New worst day of my life

If you have stock in me, sell it now. Or is it buy? Buy low, right? Then buy, buy, buy, because if JVO shares go any lower it can only mean I’m dead. Nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. Very wrong.

It’s been awhile since I read an epistolary novel (maybe Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — oh, and The Summer Holidays Survival Guide from last year — duh — I should stop thinking before I have to rewrite this whole paragraph), but I’ve always enjoyed them. There’s something about the structure, the conceit, the immediacy of it all that really appeals to me, and has since the day I first cracked the cover of Dear Mr. Henshaw 35 years ago or so.

This particular novel is a collection of e-mails from fifteen year-old Jason Van Otterloo (known by some as Otterpop, others just call him Jason) and his friends over the summer of 2003 in Seattle. This is a good setting for the book — it’s before the ubiquity of cell-phones/texting among teens, but at a time they could be emailing several times a day and it not seem strange (like it would in the mid-90s). I don’t know if that was Bailey’s thought process, but it’s what occurred to me. The emails are primarily Jason’s — not just because he’s prolific, but that’s a lot of it. Incidentally, I only caught one thing that jumped out at me as an anachronism — which is about the best that I can think of in an indie book set in the past (I don’t go looking for them, but they jump out at me. Binge-watching wasn’t a thing in 2003. At least not by that name)

Jason’s a pretty bookish kid who loves classic movies — not just AMC (back when that’s what the station was about), but there’s a theater near his home that shows old movies. His best friend, Drew (the recipient of most of his emails), frequently goes to those with him — they also play video games together, generally at Drew’s. Jason’s parents, Janice and Rob, aren’t in the running for Parents of the Year, to say the least. I’m not sure at what point Jason lost enough respect for the that he started calling them by their first name, but it could have been when he was pretty young. On the other hand, there’s enough venom in it (at least the way it reads to me) that it might be a recent development.

Janice shows the occasional burst of maternal activity or instinct, but it’s rare. Rather than a father, Rob seems like the bullying older brother character in most books I read as a kid. But in general, the two of them act like they’re stuck in their early 20’s — coming home from work long enough to greet each other and Jason, then they leave (not together) to meet up with friends and get drunk. Occasionally, they’ll get into a fight with each other, but nothing too serious. It doesn’t appear there’s any intentional abuse — physical or mental. It’s primarily neglect that they’re guilty of. Over the course of the summer, Rob does say a few things that will likely cause emotional scars when Jason has a few years to think about them, but they’re unintentionally mean (one was said when Rob was attempting to be nice and fatherly).

Generally, Jason’s e-mails are about whatever antics his parents are up to, arranging to meet Drew or whoever else, Jason’s soliciting Drew for advice about a girl he meets (he ignores almost everything Drew says, to the reader’s amusement and Drew’s frustration), and Jason recruiting Drew or someone to get summer jobs together. There’s an ongoing thread about a new neighbor who enjoys sunbathing, and Jason enjoys (hopefully surreptitiously) watching her. Rob enjoys watching her, too, but doesn’t bother trying to be surreptitious.

Jason’s emails are largely self-centered. Most of the stories told are his, not Drew’s. He does seem to care about Drew and is interested when Drew unloads a little. But largely, the relationship seems to be about Drew listening to Jason. Drew gets something out of it, however — maybe offline — because he seems emotionally-centered enough (for a fifteen year-old) to not put up with Jason as much as he does, if Jason just didn’t contribute anything to the friendship. Just don’t ask me what it is. His self-centeredness seems typical for his age, and it doesn’t make him a bad kid — just a selfish one, and a lot of that is because he’s never been parented by anyone who has a clue. Although, really, I’m not sure how many kids who have been well-parented who don’t act like that.

His parent’s (individually and corporately) show a signs of self-improvement — AA, marriage counseling, and others. Jason is openly skeptical about these efforts — perhaps because he’s seen similar things before. Not only is he skeptical, but he seems to actively subvert these efforts. It seems odd for a kid who spends so much time complaining about his parents to complain about them trying to be better — but it’s honest. He doesn’t believe in them, so why get his hopes up that this time will be any different? Sure, from the reader’s perspective it’s easy to say that these reforms might be longer-lived if he supported them. But from Jason’s? Nah.

There is a little character development over the course of the novel — but not a lot, But it’s just a few months, so there shouldn’t be a lot, right? What’s there seems genuine and true to the character — which is great. At the end of the day, you’ll have enjoyed watching Jason struggle and survive — learning enough to keep going.

Jason’s optimistic and amusing — which is says a lot about him. The whole book is told with a light touch –it’s not overly comic, but you grin as Jason recounts his latest embarrassment with Gina, or Rob’s most recent humiliating escapades — or even as he and Drew talk about their mutual astonishment when another friend has some romantic success. Things are bad, but they’re not bleak. They’re even kind of fun.

The cover, by the way, is perfect. It not only reflects a plot point, but it encapsulates the feel of the book. In a figurative sense the world pees on Jason the way this dog literally does. Yet, it’s kinda cute and amusing while it’s happening. Several good things happen to the boy, but overall, the book is about his problems (right?) and his reactions to them.

I don’t know what a YA reader would think of this — I imagine they’d find Jason relatable and likeable, but I’m not sure. But for those of us with enough distance from their YA days, it’s something that can be read with an air of “I remember when life was like that.” Even if it’s set over a decade later than my own teen years, I know people like Jason, I had friends who had a Gina in their life, and I dreamed of a girl like Sian. I’m probably not alone in this. This is a comfort-food kind of read — it’s entertaining and makes you feel good. I get kind of a Thomas Rockwell or 80’s version of Todd Strasser feel from this, very much a Lad Lit starter kit kind of thing, now that I think about it — which is good. Young Adults need something that’s not dystopian. There’s a sequel coming out in a week or two, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.

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3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy M. Richard: A Solid and Encouraging Introduction to a Complicated Topic

Baptism: Answers to Common QuestionsBaptism: Answers to Common Questions

by Guy M. Richard


eARC, 129 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019
Read: February 3, 2019

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on baptism — it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a new one published, too (but maybe I stopped paying attention), so when I saw this on NetGalley, I had to take a chance. I’m very glad I did. Richard discusses in his introduction that questions about this sacrament are some of the most frequently asked to Presbyterian (and, I assume, Reformed) pastors. Sadly, they’re usually asked when pastors can’t give the kind of answers they should — at least based on his experience.

He begins looking at the meaning of Baptism — both the Greek terms translated as “baptism” and the sacrament. He does so very well, covering all the bases. Following that he moves to the method of baptism — how should the water be applied? Once he’s finished with these matters he moves into the more complicated question — who should be baptised? He begins with the “household” baptisms in the New Testament before turning to the objections and arguments of Baptist and baptistic brothers. He not only examines and explains them fairly well, he responds to them in an irenic manner, but not giving an inch to them.

The conclusion, “What Can We Take Away from All This” is just fantastic. Richard’s meditations on how our baptisms should shape our lives and our faith, to build our faith and give us assurance. It’s easily worth half of whatever you pay for the book, and maybe more.

This is probably not a book that will convince any detractors. It may not be enough to convince the earnest seeker. But it will explain the basics for each topic considered. It will demonstrate the systematic and biblical basis for Richard’s positions exists and they aren’t mere tradition. These are outlines to be filled in with further reflection, reading and research by the reader.

Along those lines, each chapter could really use a “For Further Reading” to help the reader get deeper into the topics covered — or one at the end of the book. But I do think as each chapter is so topic-focused, it’d be very helpful. As good as each chapter is, they are just an overview. Not every reader is going to want to go deeper into, say, the mode/method of baptism but they might want to spend more time on the meaning of Baptism, or his response to Baptist interpretations of Jeremiah 31. For example, I think I agree with his differing from Murray on the former — but I’d like to read more about that, if it’s possible.

Richard’s tone throughout is gracious, kind, yet unbending. It’s not easy to putt off in print, especially on a topic like Baptism. There were many times he could’ve gone for the jugular, rhetorically speaking. He never did, trusting that the arguments would carry the day. And, in my not so humble opinion, he’s right to trust that.

Gracious, encouraging, thorough and easy to read — this introduction to “the waters that divide” Christians is just what you want in a book on this topic. But more than those, it’s deeply biblical in nature. Richard’s focus in bringing the light of the canon to this topic, and he succeeds there. I strongly encourage you to read it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Not Talking Italics by Russell Day: This Short Story contains enough entertainment value to carry a novel.

One of the best short stories I can remember in the last few years — had so much fun with this one. Just revisiting this via this repost brought a smile to my face.

Not Talking ItalicsNot Talking Italics

by Russell Day
Series: Doc Slidesmith

Kindle Edition
2018, Fahrenheit Press
Read: May 7, 2018
In a couple of months, I’ll be taking part in a book tour for Russell Day’s debut novel, Needle Song, and I’m really looking forward to that (and am having a hard time not reading it now). But today, we’re going to look at a short story featuring the protagonist of the book, Dr. James Slidesmith. A little something to whet our collective appetites.

I know very little about Slidesmith after reading this short story, and I can’t wait to find out more. Here’s what I do know — 1. He has a PhD in Psychology, and is touchy about those who don’t consider him to be a “real” doctor; 2. He owns and runs a tattoo parlor/shop; 3. he plays poker; 4. He’s very smart; 5. He has the gift of gab.

All five of these are important, but in this short story, that last one is essential. Everything in this is dialogue — no dialogue tags, no narrative, no descriptive passages — just characters talking. Which will involve all that other stuff, but that’s not how the story is told. It takes place in a police interrogation room — you’ve got a Detective Constable, a Detective Sergeant and Dr. Slidesmith talking about an incident at a poker game earlier that night. Things got nasty and two men died, given the small number of people at the game, the Police are looking to quickly identify the killer(s) and wrap this up quickly.

But first they’ve got to get past the silver-tongued Slidesmith. That won’t be easy. He offers a detailed explanation of the night’s events — including doing some educating on Texas Hold-’em, the ins and outs of betting in the game (and how to manipulate betting). There are a couple of characters that we only learn about from questions and answers in the interrogation, and I feel like I ahve a pretty good handle on them, without seeing them speak for themselves. That’s a nice move.

As it’s just dialogue — and well-written dialogue, at that — this is a fast, breezy read (so fast, you might miss a thing or two the first time through). It’s not so much a book that you read, it’s one you hear with your eyes. I’m not certain that makes a lot of sense, but it’s the best way I can put it. These are fast-moving conversations, they have a certain rhythm, a certain feel — and you just want to keep reading more and more of it. This could’ve been twice as long and I don’t think my attention would’ve wavered an iota. Imagine your favorite scene written by Aaron Sorkin, then imagine it changing into an interrogation in a British Police Station — that’s what this story is.

This is good stuff, my friends — better than good. There’s an extent to which the reveal seems “oh, sure, I should’ve seen that coming” — and it wouldn’t surprise me if many readers get there before Day wants you to (I was not one of them) — but it’s so satisfying, so well-executed, I can’t imagine a soul complaining about it. If Needle Song is anything like this, I’m going to have to go down to the superlative store this weekend to stock up before I write anything about it.

Stop whatever you’re doing — including reading this — and click the links at the top of the page to go get this story. You’re welcome.

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5 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: The Accidental Detective by Michael RN Jones: A fast-paced and fun modern Holmes

The Accidental DetectiveThe Accidental Detective

by Michael RN Jones
Series: The Victor Locke Chronicles, #1

Kindle Edition, 252 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: March 23 – 30, 2017

I have this section of my Kindle, a corner area, where I put Fahrenheit Press titles to gather dust after I buy them (I imagine the drive like a big patch of land — I know that’s not how things work, but I like it). Only Jo Perry and Charles Kriel have managed to avoid that area (Duncan MacMaster’s Hack never ended up there, because FP gave it to me to read — his other book, however . . . ). There are a handful of books there, and on adjacent plots, that I was going to actually read in January of this year, but well, that didn’t work. Maybe by July? (feel free to pause for laughter here).

I bring this up because The Accidental Detective was purchased on release and placed their next to the other titles and was only FP’s releasing of HER: The 1st Victor Locke Story back in March that got me to read this one so quickly. I didn’t realize at the time that HER was the first story in this collection, I thought it was more of a prequel to this novel. Whoops. Still, HER was a fun story and I had to find out more about Victor Locke and his buddy, Dr. Doyle quickly, so I was able to rescue this from FP corner.

Essentially, this is a short story collection — or a very episodic novel, depending how you want to look at it — about a convicted hacker and his formerly court-mandated psychologist solving mysteries. The stories are very much in the updating-Sherlock Holmes vein. Basically, the stories are a Sherlock-like update featuring a Holmes (Locke) with a demeanor more akin to Elementary‘s Holmes while living a Mr. Robot lifestyle (at least early Season One Mr. Robot — look, don’t go examining these comparisons too far, all right?). Some of the ways that the Locke stories are updates of/tributes to/etc. the Holmes canon are obvious, some are subtle, and some are blatant — and all work wonderfully. I’ve read most of the Holmes stories and all the novels at least once, but I’m not an expert by any means; still, I’m familiar enough to catch most of them without work. I laughed hard at this version of Mycroft in his first appearance.

All that’s background — now to the book itself, HER kicks off the collection with Locke (and his not-sidekick Doyle) being drafted into working for the FBI. The story doesn’t end the way the FBI agents would like, but it seems to give Locke the idea that he could do more of this detecting thing. Unofficially, of course. So he goes looking for further opportunities like this. Most of his work is for friends and acquaintances from his neighborhood, but he does get pulled into doing some work for the police.

Locke’s personality pretty much demands that he will have conflict with whatever authority/official-types he encounters, but, like every good Sherlock, most will recognize his talents and let him get away with it. Doyle is more than a sidekick and chronicler of his adventures, but he’s no Joan Watson. Yet. I don’t think Brown will leave him in his current role. Doyle is brilliant, he’s a great observer of people and things, he thinks and talks fast and doesn’t suffer fools gladly (unless he likes them). This doesn’t mean that he won’t have a blind spot or two, that he can’t use some help from others occasionally, either. He usually knows when he needs the help, too.

Few of the stories result in any public success — Locke gets the solution, but sometimes he can’t do anything with it, or has to keep it under wraps. I love this — it’s be so easy to make him some publicity-seeking type. Or someone who doesn’t seek it, but gets it nonetheless. But Jones lets his hero have public failures pretty regularly, keeping him as a struggling detective, not a superstar of deduction.

Fast-paced, clever, charming, funny, clever, and I should repeat clever. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories and gobbled them up pretty quickly. I know Volume 2 is on the way, and it won’t end up in the dusty and ignored FP corner. You should go grab this one if you’re a fan of Holmes or any of his modern incarnations. Even if you’re not a fan of Holmes, you might find yourself changing your mind after reading Jones’ take on the character.

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3.5 Stars

GUEST POST: Action! by Anmol Singh

Sing was kind enough to give me some excerpts from his book to share, this is 4 of 4. I don’t think anyone would take me seriously if I gave my take on this book, if anyone’s going to convince you to read this book, it’s going to be Singh himself, so I’m going to let him — make sure you read them all!

Are you acquiring the patience, self-discipline, and knowledge we’ve talked about in previous blogs? Those qualities are critically important to your success But the truth is, all the self-discipline, knowledge, and patience in the world won’t get you to the finish line. Only action can do that. Are you ready for action?

It’s such a simple concept. And yet people resist taking action on even the smallest of things. Why? Mainly, it’s the Fear Factor. Fear of what, you ask? Think about how many of these fears are getting in the way of your success every single day.

Fear of:

  • Looking bad in the eyes of others
  • Being rejected
  • Making an irreparable mistake
  • Creating even bigger problems
  • And above all, fear of failure

The fear of failure is the #1 cause of failure. Think about that for a moment. You have a goal. But you never get started working toward that goal because you are so afraid you’ll never make it. It’s easier to do nothing. Well, guess what? You failed before you even started!

(If any of these ideas sound like concepts you’d like to explore further, you’ll find an in-depth discussion in my new book, Prepping for Success, available on Amazon on (date).

Here’s the big takeaway: your inbred fear of failure demonstrates itself in your life every single day. It’s called overthinking or “analysis paralysis.” Do you notice that you continually have difficulty making the decisions that will move you toward the success you seek? You’re getting bogged down in the swamp of decision fatigue. It’s exhausting to keep researching, analyzing, and thinking and never arriving at a conclusion. Not only does this decision fatigue inhibit your ability to clearly assess your career and business decisions, it also makes you more likely to sink into bad personal habits, like eating unhealthy foods, skipping the gym, and scanning Facebook or the Internet news feed rather than working on a pet project or learning a new skill. In other words, over-analyzing a decision makes it much more difficult to make high-quality, long-term choices later on.

If you know that analysis paralysis, overthinking your decisions, is an issue for you, consider the impact this tendency is having on your overall success and happiness.

  • Overthinking impairs your performance. You’re putting too much time and energy into analysis. There’s no room left for action.
  • Overthinking stifles creativity. Creativity demands freedom. If you’re stuck in analysis, you’re not free.
  • Overthinkers are less happy. Of course they are. When you consider the lack of creativity, the information overload, the poor performance we’ve described, it’s not a happy picture for the compulsive analyzer.

People think it’s intelligence that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. However, that is not the case. Action is what separates them, and this is easy to prove. Let’s pretend I have an IQ of 100. Can anyone have 10 times my IQ ? History has shown the highest ever recorded IQ to be around the 240 range. So that proves it’s impossible for anyone to have ten times my IQ or even five times. So how do some people achieve ten times the success that others have? How do some people make ten times as much money as others? One simple reason: the leaders of this world, the successful people of this world TAKE ACTION ! Are you ready?

This was an excerpt from the Book Prepping For Success: 10 Keys for Making it in Life by Anmol Singh, Learn more about the book and get a Copy at www.Preppingforsuccess.com/book