Open and Shut (Audiobook) by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner

Open and ShutOpen and Shut

by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner (Narrator)
Series: Andy Carpenter, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 50 min.
Listen & Live Audio, Inc., 2008

Read: August 21 – 22, 2017


I honestly can’t believe I’ve talked to little about Andy Carpenter and David Rosenfelt here — it works out, when you look at timelines and whatnot, I’ve been reading him a long time before I started blogging. Still, it’s hard to believe since it’s one of my favorite series, and has been going for so long. Yeah, maybe the series is getting too long in the tooth, but for something to get to book 16+, it’s got to have a pretty solid foundation, right? That foundation is Open and Shut, where Rosenfelt introduces the world to Andy Carpenter, dog lover extraordinaire and pretty decent defense attorney.

Carpenter is a hard-working lawyer, taking on many cases that don’t pay much, but do some good. He’s obsessed with New York sports and his golden retriever. He’s going through a divorce — and has started dating his investigator. He’s got a great sense of humor, is known for a hijink or two in court, and seems like the kind of guy you want in your corner. His father is a big-time D. A., the kind of Prosecutor that people hope/assume theirs is — honest, hard-working, tough on crime. So it shocks Andy when his dad asks him to take on a client for a retrial on a murder case — a murderer his dad put away and his currently on Death Row.

Andy goes ahead with the case, not sure that he should. But it doesn’t take long before he starts to believe in his client’s innocence. About that time, things get interesting and maybe even a little dangerous.

Almost all the elements that go into a typical Andy Carpenter novel are here — even if they’re just being introduced at this point. The jokes are fresh, the clichés have yet to be developed. It’s a good mystery with some good non-mystery story elements. And, best of all, some really fun courtroom moments — not just antics on Andy’s part, but some good depictions of legal/trial strategy and the like. I’ve been thinking lately that the latter Carpenter books have been giving the courtroom short shrift, and seeing what Rosenfelt does here just solidifies that thinking.

Gardner’s narration didn’t blow me away or anything, but it was good work. I can easily believe him as Andy’s voice and can see him really growing on me (not unlike George Guidall and Walt Longmire). He’ll keep you engaged in the story, and deliver a line or two in a way that will bring a smile to your face.

Give this one a whirl, folks — text or audio — you’ll enjoy yourself.

—–

3.5 Stars

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Saturday Miscellany – 10/14/17

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:

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

  • A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell — The Witches of Lychford are back — it wasn’t my favorite, but it’s still soemthing you should read (plus the first 2). Here’s my $.02 on the novella
  • Drawing Dead by JJ DeCeglie — Fahrenheit Press’ latest offering features a drunk, gambling addicted PI in hock to the mob. Probably not the feel-good book of the year, but it has all the makings of a gripping read.

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

BonfireBonfire

by Krysten Ritter

eARC, 288 pg.
Crown Archetype, 2017

Read: October 6 – 10, 2017


When you grow up in a place called Barrens, you want to get out — especially if it’s an area with limited job options, a struggling agricultural industry, and nothing else to commend it. Although, the name alone would probably justify wanting to get out even if the economy and culture were richer. But as is the case with too many small towns like this, few manage to get out. Abby Williams headed for Chicago two days after she graduated from high school, went to college and law school, becoming an associate at an environmental firm — and only sometime after that did she return.

She returns with her friend (a gay black man, who tends to stick out in the small, rural Illinois town), a first-year associate and a couple of students to investigate some claims about the water in the local reservoir. The town’s only major employer is called Optimal Plastics, which has been dogged by rumors of shoddy environmental practices and health problems for years — including before they came to Illinois — and the team is going to see if they can make these rumors and concerns stick this time.

As they dig into records, tests, regulatory reports and whatnot, Abby notices something. Optimal Plastics is clean. Absolutely clean — on paper, there’s never been a company so clean and responsible. Which just seems impossible, no one is this perfect. Abby smells blood in the water and goes on the attack.

At the same time, in a small town, you can’t help but run into people you don’t want to see again — which is pretty much everyone from High School. The girls who used to torment her, the guy she had a large crush on, the people she wasn’t so sure about. It takes mere moments for her to get embroiled (or re-embroiled) in the same relationships, problems, gossip that she’d escaped from. From “the old crowd” (that was never Abby’s crowd), she gets her insight into Optimal Plastics — all the good they’ve done for the town, the numbers of people they employ, the money they pour into the schools, and so on. So much good that no one wants to take a good look into them, the price is potentially too high.

This reminds her (not that she needed the reminder) of some problems potentially tied to the company back when she was in high school — girls that seemed inexplicably sick. What else could it be from? She’s told time and time again by her friend that what happened over a decade ago doesn’t matter,what matters is what the company is doing now. Abby’s not convinced, and keeps digging at this — even if she agrees with him, the ghosts that haunt her will not allow her to let it go. Abby becomes more and more focused on this aspect of the investigation — flirting with and maybe crossing the lines into obsession.

Oh, and did I mention her father? As you may have picked up from the fact I mentioned earlier that she hadn’t returned to Barrens since high school that she’s not that close to anyone there — including her father. The exploration of and changes to their relationship is one of the more emotionally satisfying storylines in the book.

I’m from a small town, I get the feeling of never actually escaping from it — returning to the same place you left. But I’m willing to bet that even readers from larger towns/cities can relate to this. You can take the girl out of High School, but you can never take High School out of the girl, I guess. Ritter deals with the emotional realities and hazards like a pro — there’s not a beat that seems false or forced. The manner in which Abby makes connections, interweaves her look into what happened years ago with what’s going on right now is great (for the reader). The secrets she uncovers are chilling and unthinkable — yet entirely believable.

Would I have liked to have seen more with her colleagues reacting to Barrens, helping her follow the leads she’s interested in, or just interacting with her at all? Absolutely — but I’m not sure how Ritter could’ve done that without more effort than it’s probably worth. Could she have done more with her Chicago-friend sticking out in Barrens? Yup, but it might have distracted from the overall plot (but if she’s going to remark on it as often as she does, she should do something on it — it comes across as urban snobbery). I think that’s almost something I could say about everything in the book. I don’t know that I needed a lot more of everything, but I think every bit of the story, the characters, the mystery, etc. could use a little bit more development, a little more space. Not much, just a little bit.

I liked Abby almost immediately — from the fairly disturbing Prologue, on through to her struggles in town and questionable choices, you root for her and hope that she finds an element of peace. Her coworkers are great. It’s hard to decide what you think about some of her old high school friends right away, and probably best no to decide too much about anyone in town until The Reveal at the end.

The writing is crisp and compelling — Ritter has some really nice turns of phrase as well. There’s a couple of times that Abby is drunk and/or the influence of alcohol plus other things that were just excellent. Abby’s inability to keep her perceptions in line, to have a coherent recollection about everything she experiences through this time — that’s just excellently executed.

I won’t say that it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year — if there’s a plot point here that you haven’t seen, I’ll be surprised. If there’s a character, character arc, or anything like that you haven’t seen before, I’ll eat my hat. Does it matter? Nope. The way that Ritter tells the story, how she treats the characters and shows them to the reader — how she executes things, that’s the key. It all worked really well, I was thoroughly entertained, even held in suspense. Even if in retrospect I decided that I’d seen it all before, I didn’t see a lot of it coming — or I’d seen story elements X and Y a few dozen times, I hadn’t seen them combined the way Ritter did. This is a solid first novel, and I hope there’s at least a second on the way.

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

—–

3 Stars

Planet Grim by Alex Behr

Planet GrimPlanet Grim

by Alex Behr

eARC, 222 pg.
7.13 Books, 2017

I’ve been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now — I just don’t know that I’m up to it. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I’d do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who’s read the stories rather than in the abstract.

In a few sentences — at most a couple of paragraphs — Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations — many of which you’ve never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.

I want to stress the “dark,” — Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There’s not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I’m not suggesting that you’ll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won’t be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It’s hard to slap a genre tag on these — there’s the barest hint of SF (but not really, you’ll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in “Women’s Fiction” (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the “General Fiction” section, but hopefully that doesn’t mean you overlook it.

A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I’d probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed — there’s just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll probably say it again, I”m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There’s not a dud in the batch — there are a couple that I think I didn’t fully appreciate (or even “get”) for one reason or another — but there’s not one that’s not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she’ll convince you of that. I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I’m glad that I got to read it, and I know it’s some of the best writing I’ve come across this year.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell

A Long Day in LychfordA Long Day in Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #3

Kindle Edition, 128 pg.
Tor.com, 2017

Read: October 10, 2017


Lychford’s apprentice witch (not that anyone knows that), and owner of Witches, a magic shop (not that many take it seriously), Autumn has had a bad day. So bad, that a police officer has dropped by the next morning to interrupt an impending hangover with questions about it. She had a fight with her teacher and employee that left both fuming and ready to consider ending the relationships, and then she went to a bar not-really-looking for a fight, but ready for it when it showed up.

But when you’re one of three women responsible for protecting the borders between our world and the rest, and you’re pretty magic-capable, your bad days can have pretty catastrophic consequences. Without getting into the details, she messes up the borders, the protections — the magic that keeps all the things and people and whatevers out of our world that we’re not equipped to deal with (in any sense).

Meanwhile, Judith is dealing with the aftermath of the fight with Autumn in her own way. Which boils down to being crankier than usual, and then dealing with the fallout from Autumn’s error. Judith is primarily concerned with problems that the other two aren’t aware of and have little do to with magic. There were a line or two that I think were supposed to be spooky or creepy in her POV sections that really were just sad (my guess is that Cornell wrote them to work on both levels, but they really only served as the latter for me).

Lizzie got put on the backburner for the most part in this book — not that she’s absent, but she doesn’t have that much to do. Which is fine — she can’t be the center of each entry in this series, but I’d have preferred to have seen a bit more from her. I enjoyed the references to Lizzie’s Fitbit, it was nice to have just the hint of lightness in this otherwise grim story. Actually, the other thing that came close to fun in this book also came from Lizzie’s POV. She’s not the typical source for that, and it’s nice to see that she’s capable of it.

I wish these were longer — I know it’s supposed to be a series of novellas, but this one in particular makes me want for more — more development, more plot, more character interaction. I don’t think I noticed it as much in the previous installments, so maybe it’s something about this one. Still, this is a good story and time spent in Lychford is always rewarding.

In the end, this served primarily to set the stage for Witches of Lychford #4 — and maybe more. Yes, the story was interesting, and it was good to have this look at Autumn, and the whole Brexit tie-in was interesting, but this just didn’t work for me quite the way the others did. I have high hopes for the next, it’s not like I’m done with this or anything, I just wanted more.

—–

3 Stars

How to Think by Alan Jacobs

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at OddsHow to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

by Alan Jacobs
Uncorrected Proof, 156 pg.
Convergent Books, 2017

Read: October 3, 2017

I haven’t read any of them, but over the last few years I’ve seen a pretty good number of books about human thinking processes — how it works, how it can/can’t be changed, and how this can/may/should change the way we approach decision-making, etc. (it’s not that I’m uninterested, there’s only so much time). Unlike me, Alan Jacobs has read many of these — and one thing he notes, that while these books are great on the science of human cognition, there’s also an art to it. Enter this book.

The sub-title is “A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.” Now, while it’s clear that our society is quite divided, I honestly don’t think that the world is really all that much more divided than we’ve been before — even in this society. However, I think it’s safe to say that we’re much more open and aggressive about the divisions that exists, and far less inclined to listen to the other side(s). Jacobs’ writing can help his readers bridge some of the divisions with those they interact with (not every one will want to, I’m sure, but they could try if they want to). I almost think that this book could be called How to Disagree instead, because so much of the book (but not all of it) is about how to disagree with others like civil, empathetic, adults, looking to change minds (or have our own be changed); not simply to attack someone or win an argument.

Jacobs begins by showing what strategies, devices, etc. we all already use in our thinking (taken largely from common sense/experience or all the science-y books mentioned above), and then as we’re aware of these, he shows how we can improve them. Building on ideas from one chapter to the next and showing how something we learned already can inform what he’s discussing now, these are not individual essays, but a cumulative case. I find it difficult to give examples for just that reason — his is a carefully laid out argument, and summarizing some of my favorite components would do little justice to those parts and not work that well out of context. So, I’ll keep it vague. He addresses how the idea of “thinking for oneself” is impossible, how it’s problematic to have an “open mind” always, the importance of waiting, of not having to address everything, and how it’s vital to keep a diverse selection of thoughtful people in your life.

Jacobs doesn’t only draw from social sciences and philosophers (but he does, and frequently — in an accessible way), he cites and draws from Robin Sloan, Walter White, C. S. Lewis, George Orwell and many others. He does so in a way that illustrates his points, strengthens and furthers his arguments. (I point this out, because I just finished a book that seemed only to do this kind of thing to lengthen chapters — no light was added, just space taken up). While readers from High School on up can feel as if the ideas are stretching their minds, the writing will not — Jacobs (as always) is good at convincing the reader they can handle bigger ideas.

Frankly, I wish this book (or one much like it) was required reading for anyone wanting a social media account — I’ve been telling all sorts of people to read it for a few days now, and I probably won’t stop anytime soon. How to Think is helpful, insightful, entertaining, wise, and — dare I say? — thought-provoking. Go get it.

Disclaimer: I received this copy from a Goodreads Giveaway.

—–

4 Stars

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Appointment with Yesterday by Christopher Stratakis

Book Giveaway:
Prize: One winner will receive a print copy of Appointment with Yesterday and a $25 Amazon gift card (Open to USA only)

Ends Oct 28

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