The Black Box by Ian Rankin

I thought I’d scheduled this for yesterday, well, I’d intended to, but I typo’ed the date. So, hey, enjoy a bonus post to make up for the recent bits of silence.

The Black BookThe Black Book

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
O. Penzler Books, 1994

Read: June 2 – 5, 2017


As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it — the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame — there’s a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn’t get enough of it. A famous — and infamous — local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn’t die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it — and the people Rebus talked to about this case.

So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It’s suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he’d been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes’ black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes’ recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS’ work.

We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here — Rebus’ other junior detective. She’s driven, she’s tough, she’s English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn’t. She’s got a good sense of humor and duty — both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).

The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty – we’d brushed up against him in Tooth & Nail. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He’s both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) — for both the cold case and current operations. He’s dangerous, and yet not at all — I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.

Lastly, Rebus’ brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he’s crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I’m not sure he’s someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.

A solid mystery novel — with a conclusion I didn’t see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ — with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one’s a keeper.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Bucket List by Emily Ruben

The Bucket ListThe Bucket List

by Emily Ruben

eARC, 383 pg.
Inkitt, 2017

Read: June 14 – 19, 2017


I am absolutely not amongst the audience for this book. I knew that from the title alone, much less the description. Still, I’d read Ruben’s first book and enjoyed it and was curious about her take on this idea.

This is basically a take on the dying teen romance, with a splash of the Rob Reiner movie. I’m tempted to go on a rant about the whole dying teen romance idea — The Space Between Us, The Fault in our Stars, and the like — but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t get it, it seems like a highly artificial way to inflate drama. But whatever — just because it’s an overplayed idea, that doesn’t mean the book can’t be good.

Besides, the central characters in this book are 20 and 21, so by definition this is different.

Leah is surprised one day to find the new guy moving in next door is her old best friend that she hasn’t seen for 5 years. Damon (think Ian Somerhalder) is glad to see her, but before they renew their friendship, has to warn her that he’ll be dead within a year and a half. He has some sort of brain tumor (Ruben intentionally gives few details about this) that cannot be treated. Leah decides that she’ll do what she can to renew their friendship in the time remaining.

Soon after this, the two decide that he’ll write up a Bucket List and that each day, they’ll cross an item off of it until it’s too late. This will lead to all sorts of travel, adventure, changing of existing and/or new romantic relationships and (this isn’t much of a spoiler, you can tell it’ll happen from the get-go) their eventually falling in love.

The worst part about this book is how everything that happens to them is the best, the greatest, the ____est (or the worst). Leah and Damon live in the extremes — they never have a normal day, a blah experience. It’s just too much to handle — a few things that are okay, a few things that aren’t bad mixed in with all this would make this easier to read. Yes, you could say that given the heightened situation, everything they do is given a hint of the extreme, but still . . .

The tricky thing with Damon having an unnamed disease — it’s hard to have any idea how realistic this is. But a brain tumor that causes organs to decay before death, necessitating an ethically/legally-questionable euthanasia method is stretching things beyond the breaking point. Beyond that, the amount of money that these people spend is utterly unbelievable — talk all you want about plundering no-longer-necessary college savings, it’s just not something I could buy.

There’s an element of charm to the writing — but I don’t think that this is as charming as Ruben’s first book — there’s something appealing about the earnestness of her writing. But this just wasn’t for me. Although he probably didn’t say it, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as reviewing a lecture by saying something like, ” People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” I feel like that about this book — if you can find a grain of salt big enough to help you swallow the unbelievable, if you can tolerate the excess of superlatives, and like a love story in the face of certain doom, this is probably a pretty entertaining book. Was it for me? Nope. But I didn’t hate it and can understand why many would.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the publisher in exchange for this post — I do appreciate the opportunity, even if it doesn’t come across that way.

—–

3 Stars

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and BonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2

Hardcover, 187 pg.
Tor, 2017

Read: June 14, 2017

Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

This is the story about how Jack and Jill, the twins in the middle of the events in Every Heart a Doorway, got to The Moors, the dark world they had their adventures in before being returned to ours.

They were born to people that never should have had kids, had miserable childhoods (not that they realized it) — with two bright spots. The lesser, but more constant, bright spot was each other — they always had their twin. Just before this relationship was torn apart by the ways their parents were dividing them, the find themselves in a magic kingdom. They’re split up again, but this time the lifestyles they are immersed in better fit their personalities than what had been imposed on them by the World’s Worst Parents. Jack is trained by a mad scientist, learning to deliver medical care, reanimate the dead and more. Jill is pampered by a vampire that rules The Moors — being coached and guided into becoming one herself. We see them grow into strong individuals in this dark and deadly place before being returned to Earth.

The story is one we know already (assuming we read the first book), and even without that, it’s pretty clear how things are going to go. But that doesn’t make this any less gripping — the character work, the development of these two girls is fantastic. And the world created in The Moors is fantastic, you can see it — practically smell, feel and taste it. Best of all is the way that McGuire tells the story, the way she describes things (emotions, internal actions, external actions). It’s almost as magical as the first book.

It’s not a perfect novella, however. I’d have been tempted to call the previous one perfect, but this doesn’t quite make it. It seemed like half-story, half-manifesto against the kind of parenting McGuire hates.

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

It’s McGuire’s book, I’m not saying she shouldn’t feel free to use the space the way she wants — but it detracted from the story. Their parents have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, McGuire’s usually better than that. I think you could make the case that their shallowness, their utter horribleness fits the fairy-tale-ish story she’s telling. Honestly, I think that was the case — but it just doesn’t feel right. I would’ve like a little more time with the vampire himself — although maybe not getting more time with him, and learning about him primarily from the way that others react to him and his actions does make him creepier.

I was hoping (but didn’t expect) to see a little about what happened to the pair after Every Heart, oh well — hopefully soon.

I thought it a little heavy-handed in some places, but overall, I was just so happy to return to this series that I can get past it and recommend this one almost as highly as the last one.

—–

4 Stars

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeTimmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis, Jared Goldsmith
Series: Timmy Failure, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs. and 44 min.
Recorded Books, 2013
Read: June 14, 2017


A couple of my kids have been reading this series since #1, and since one of my favorite comic strip writers wrote it, I always intended to read it. Then I stumbled upon Steve Usery’s podcast interview with him, and I really wanted to. But haven’t gotten around to it yet. I stumbled on to the audiobook last week and figured it’d be worth a shot — especially with his appearance in town this last weekend. If I can make it amusing enough to bother reading, I’ll tell you the story tonight of how my son and I didn’t make it. But on to the book.

Timmy fancies himself a fantastic detective with a polar bear sidekick (named Total), he believes he’s on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire with offices throughout the world. In reality, he’s a lousy detective who can’t solve even the easiest of cases, like “Who stole my Halloween candy?” when the victim’s brother is literally surrounded by the evidence. You almost get the feeling you’re headed for an Inspector Gadget-style conclusion to the mysteries, where things are solved accidentally, in spite of the detective. Nope — Timmy cannot solve anything. He considers cases closed, but he’s so far from the truth (and so near personal vendettas) that it’s laughable. Which is the point, thankfully.

There’s a level to all of this that’s really sad — Timmy’s the child of a single mom (we don’t know why, at least in this book), struggling to make ends meet, and Timmy’s created this world in which he’s thiiiiiis close to providing financial security for her. She’s at the end of her rope with him, but finds ways to indulge and support his delusions and dreams (and get some actual completed homework from him). She dates a creep for a while, but thankfully, the fact that he and Timmy don’t mesh too well dooms that.

Obviously, the big drawback to the audiobook format is that I don’t get to see the drawings that accompany the text — and that probably detracted a lot. Thankfully, Goldsmith did a great job — the voice was a little annoying, but I’m sure that was intentional. I don’t think I could listen to more than one of these at a time, but that’s probably just me.

A cute story, best suited for younger readers, with enough grin-inducing lines to keep adults reading (and/or listening). I’ll be back for more.

—–

3 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 6/17/17

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:

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episode you might want to give a listen:

  • A Stab In The Dark kicks off its second season with my chatting with Ian Rankin. I’m adding this one to the regular rotation (and listening to some back episodes)

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

  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire — McGuire’s follow-up to the wonderful Every Heart a Doorway is almost as good — this one tells the story of Jack and Jill (the sisters, not the hill-climbers) before they found their door and of the adventures they found on the other side, all leading up to having to go toe Eleanor West’s Home. I tried to post about this yesterday, but sleep won out.
  • The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood — Speaking of prequels, here’s the “lost pilot” to the Genrenauats series. The price is right — free. Check out the link for details.
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan — yes, the gentleman I referred to above. Glad I saw that essay, because it lead me to this: “When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind.” That’s got the makings of a good one.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to pandaduh for following the blog this week.

The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood

The Data DisruptionThe Data Disruption

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #0

Kindle Edition, 68 pg.
2017

Read: May 27, 2017


It’ll come to no surprise to any of my longer-term readers that I liked this — it’s pretty established that I’m a Genrenauts fan. I dig the characters, the world(s), the type of stories Underwood’s telling — the whole kit and caboodle. This story is no exception — I liked it. This takes place just before Leah is recruited, so the team is functioning very smoothly — no growing pains needed — just King, Shireen and Roman doing their thing like seasoned pros.

It’s a pretty straight-forward, classic cyberpunk story (yeah, I’m old enough that cyberpunk can be called “classic”) — notorious hacker, D-Source, has gone missing. Which is causing all sorts of problems for the rest of his crew, and (by extension) all of Cyberpunk world as well as ours. So King and his team (minus Mallery, off in Western world) head out to save the day. They’ve worked with D-Source in the past and therefore have an easier time getting an “in” to the story in-progress. What results is a solid heist story with all the cyberpunk bells and whistles.

Underwood has been modeling this series after TV shows, and wrote this as a “lost pilot” to “serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts.” Here’s my problem with that — no one watches a lost pilot until the show’s been around for a while, and usually only fans see it. No one sits down to watch “The Cage” (or the two-part version, “The Menagerie”) as an introduction to Star Trek, and for good reason. Similarly, Leah Tang is our point-of-entry character, and to remove her from the equation takes something away from the overall story. Also, there’s something that’s slowly revealed over the course of the first few books that’s just blatantly stated. I just think that works better the way that Underwood originally wrote it.

Still, Underwood knows what he’s doing, and if he thinks this will work to bring in new readers, I hope he’s right.

Putting that aside, I’m supposed to be talking about the story, not Underwood’s plans. The story worked really well. It was a little too short for me — but it’s supposed to be short, so I shouldn’t complain. Besides, I almost always complain about short story length — even I’m tired of that. While the story was told in its fullness, I just would’ve liked to see everything fleshed out a little more — also, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with my friends. Fast, fun, with good action — celebrating what makes a cyberpunk story work — and winking at the genre at the same time.

Still, any time with the ‘Nauts works for me. Good story, decent intro to this series that I can’t stop recommending — and a great price (free). Still, reading this after the sixth book would be my recommendation after starting with The Shootout Solution.

—–

3.5 Stars

Devil in the Countryside by Cory Barclay

Devil in the CountrysideDevil in the Countryside

by Cory Barclay

Kindle Edition, 348 pg.
2017

Read: June 10 – 13, 2017


I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — I prefer liking books, I like liking things. I do not enjoy giving anything other than recommendations — but sometimes, I just can’t do anything else. This is one of those times.

This is a historical fiction but the history is bad. Before we even get to the first chapter — in an introductory note we’re told “By the early 1500’s,” Europe was in a time called the Protestant Reformation. The traditional starting point for the Protestant Reformation was October 31, 1517 — but things didn’t really get moving for a few years. So “by” the early 1500’s is not really accurate. The same paragraph says, “while across the ocean in North America witch-hunts were gaining traction.” Now, I guess it’s possible that some of the Spanish colonies or Native American tribes were conducting these hunts, but I’m pretty sure Barclay intends us to think of the Salem Witch Trials, which started more than a century after the events of this novel. We’re not even to chapter 1 and we’ve got a paragraph with two glaring historical flubs — it’d be difficult (but not impossible) to recover from this. Barclay doesn’t.

With historical fiction, you have to decide on the character’s vocabulary — will you attempt to get it chronologically-appropriate, or will you take some liberties and use contemporary language and ask your readers to suspend disbelief to allow for everyone’s ease? Most take the latter, and most audiences play along. It is difficult to get period-dialogue correct if you’re not immersed in it, and many readers find it difficult or boring to read. While it’s understandable to use contemporary phrasing, I’m not sure I’m willing to buy 16th century people talking about “teenage angst.” Nor should we get people drinking coffee, wearing high heels (at least not among the peasant class), or making references to zippers. These kind of anachronisms are just lazy, sloppy — and it takes the reader out of the moment.

If you’re going to set something during the 3rd generation of the Reformation, and make the conflict between Lutherans, the Reformed and Roman Catholics (and the state powers that use those groups to mask their machinations) core plot points — you should, get the theology right. Which is just the same point as above, I realize — but man . . . when it’s such a major component of the book, you owe it to your readers to put in the effort. (also, Barclay suggested I’d like the book as a “theology nerd,” so I should be expected to look at it as one). We shouldn’t have Roman Catholic priests consulting German translations of the New Testament, nor should we have Lutheran ministers conducting baptism by immersion — particularly not of someone already baptized. Martin Luther, like all the Protestant Reformers, had very harsh things to say about that practice. In general, every religious sentiment (at least those expressed by the devout) was in conflict with the point of view it was supposed to be espousing — most of them not sounding like 16th Century Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic believers but some sort of vague 21st Century theism.

This book is also a mystery. As such, um, it wasn’t really a success. There wasn’t real effort put into finding answers, just finding good candidates to pin something on. At least officially — those who actually looked for answers were stopped by one way or another. If we were talking about a novel about 16th Century politics and the ways they impacted lives of individuals — including crime victims and survivors — this might have worked.

I’m just piling on now, and I really don’t want to do that. So, I’ll ignore the grammatical errors, typos, a handful of words that basically demand Inigo Montoya to tap the author on the shoulder to say ” I do not think it means what you think it means.” Nor will I get into the lazy plots revolving around Roman Catholic clergy sexually molestation or father forcing a daughter to marry a horrible person for his own financial gain.

Barclay can probably produce a decent book — there were some good moments in this book, but not enough of them. This is just not worth the time and trouble.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — I do appreciate it, even if the book didn’t work for me.

—–

2 Stars