Saturday Miscellany – 8/12/17

Such a good week of books — reading, listening, and picking up from the library — just wish I had a few more hours to write things up. It’s a week to make me remember why I maintain this blog (not that I’d forgotten, but it’s easier some weeks). Also, I just bought my daughter her first Toby Daye novels (having learned from what she’s done to my Anton Strout books, she doesn’t get to borrow mine). It’s nice to see her developing tastes and moving beyond things written for younger readers (nothing against YA, etc.), even when her tastes go in different directions than mine.

First, this week I made some snarky comment about the LA County Coroner having a gift shop in my post about Jo Perry’s Dead is Good. Shortly after my post went up, Perry tweeted me the URL for the Gift shop, “Skeletons in the Closet.” Yes, it exists, yes, it’s online — the LA Coroner has knick-knacks and Tshirts! Which I find disturbing, yet oddly compelling. I filled up a shopping cart with over $50 worth of merchandise before forcing myself to close the window and walk away. Something tells me a few of my readers would find the place equally disturbing and shoppable.

Anyway, 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:

  • Fox Hunter by Zoë Sharp — Charlie Fox, the toughest personal security agent you know, is on a manhunt in the Middle East and Europe in a book I can’t sum up in a sentence, read original post on it here.
  • American Ghost by Paul Guernsey — the ghost of a would-be writer and pot-grower dictates the story of his murder and his attempt to solve it via an Ouija Board. Or something like that. I’m going to have to read it, I think.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Priya’s Blog, Books-and-all and Holly B / Dressedtoread for following the blog this week.

Release Day Blitz: Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

~ Release Day Blitz ~
Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer
12th August, 2017
Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala
Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?
Read an Excerpt
“I am the Queen! This will be my throne!” The seven-year-old chirped leaping from the middle of the porch towards the broken mortar which served as a mock throne. “You will be my guard!”
“Guard?” the man pondered scratching his unkempt beard.
“No.” He shook his head and smiled seeing her indignant eyes. “I will be the Queen’s elephant.” He beamed.
Sukratu stepped out of the house to see his daughter in action, perching herself on the tramp Loha’s back, pretending in all earnestness that he was her elephant. He smiled and was about to set out for his duty as the night guard of the King. A sudden lightning appeared in the eastern skies. Sukratu had barely walked a few paces when a deafening thunder made him instinctively turn towards home. He heaved a sigh, finding Loha shielding the girl as if he would, his own child.
“Father, don’t go.” The girl pleaded.
Sukratu smiled and shifted his gaze towards the sky. He saw dark clouds loom over the city. The monsoon winds had started to make their presence felt. He had to reach the palace soon. “Isn’t my little Queen brave?” He called out.
The girl nodded. He saw the fear fade. From her eyes. From her heart. She knew she was the queen! Pride filled his heart. His mind ached to stay home but duty beckoned. Tearing his gaze away from the one he treasured the most in his life, braving the drizzle that would soon turn into a storm, he unwillingly walked towards the King’s residence. Sukratu’s house was in the third ring of the concentric structure of Vrishabhavati. In the centre, was the structure, that served as the residence of the king and as the centre of all trade activity of the city. Here no wealth or goods could change hands without the king’s knowledge and approval. The residences of the noblemen formed the two rings around it. The guards and soldiers forming the outermost circle with the citizens living around them.
As per the protocol, Sukratu approached General Ugra’s residence quite ahead of his reporting time— an hour before the moonrise. He walked into the empty courtyard. But the rain made it impossible for him to stand there any longer. He knocked at the giant wooden door fervently. The doors creaked as a strange woman clad in a dark indigo garment opened them and glared at him with a frown on her forehead.
General Ugra, Sukratu knew was never faithful to one woman. His superior’s romantic exploits were not his concern either. But something about the woman at the door disconcerted him. “Please let General Ugra know that…”
“He has already left for the palace!” The woman frowned before attempting to shut the door.
“What? How ca…” Sukratu’s words hung in air as the door slammed on his face and the woman disappeared from his line of vision all of a sudden. Something did not feel right. He knocked at the door again. Firmly this time, as though seeking answers. Any change in the reporting time would have been announced the day before and he remembered that nothing of the sort had happened. His knocks went unanswered. Frowning and muttering under his breath, Sukratu hurried towards an empty cowshed three houses away from Ugra’s place hoping to catch his companions who he knew would be equally surprised.
The first to arrive was Khela, the eighteen-year-old guard, holding a metal shield above his head. The newest addition to the King’s guard, Khela was related to General Ugra and Sukratu felt that his position in the King’s guard was largely a result of undue favours that Ugra showered upon an otherwise impudent boy.
“Sukratu! By the great Varuna, I should have come to you earlier!” Khela hurried towards him. Pausing for breath, he added. “Our platoon has been given a relief tonight! It was a sudden decision and I personally informed all the others.”
“Relief for tonight? That happens only when…”
“Our guarding hours change from night to day!” Khela completed in a hurry. “Now, come with me.” He turned towards the western direction and the javelin he held started to sway dangerously and came close to grazing Sukratu’s arm.
The older guard’s instincts made him dodge the cut. “Where?” Sukratu hissed, visibly annoyed, first with the fact that he was kept in dark about the change in guarding hours and then about Khela’s irreverent behaviour. “And watch who your weapon hurts, boy.”
Khela shrugged and changed the position of his weapon. “We are now going to the place.” He winked, stretching his hand in the direction. “Follow me, this is the only night we get to have some fun.”
Sukratu did not move. The place he knew implied the tavern where wine was served. “We cannot drink tonight, Khela. When do we have to report tomorrow? By sunrise?”
“You ask too many questions. The rest of us are there too!”
“That does not answer my question.”
“Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care to. The palace is paying for the wine. Are you coming or not?”
The last sentence sounded more like a threat than an invite. Sukratu had all the mind to give the youth a piece of his mind and storm back home. His daughter would be overjoyed to see him before she went to sleep. It gnawed at Sukratu’s heart every day to leave her under the care of Loha— the tramp who had begged him for shelter about six months ago and then became a part of his life. The girl liked him instantly and had begged Sukratu to let Loha live with them and he, despite his misgivings about the tramp’s origins and his unkempt appearance, could not refuse his only daughter. Over time, Sukratu felt grateful for Loha’s company. Now his daughter did not have to be all by herself every night. The guard’s home would have been unguarded if not for that stranger. Sukratu brushed aside these thoughts and had almost decided to go home when the thought of meeting other senior guards and clarifying the confusion struck him. He followed Khela’s lead, making no attempt to hide his displeasure.
When they reached the tavern, Sukratu to his dismay, found many of his brothers in arms deeply drunk. “When did they reach here and when did they…”
“Quite some time before. I just forgot to tell you in advance!”
Sukratu’s eyes scrutinized the men and women of the tavern who were serving wine to the guards. There were no other citizens or travellers in the tavern.
“Just for us, the whole night!” Khela said as if reading his thoughts, bringing him an earthen goblet.
The older guard accepted the goblet taking his first sip with a sense of foreboding.
“Where were you all the time, old friend?” The voice belonged to Tunga one of the senior guards in the platoon.
The grin on his friend’s face brought a smile to Sukratu’s lips. “Tunga, what is this about the sudden change in our guarding hours?”
“The King… that imbecile, has finally remembered that we are human too!” Tunga guffawed, emptying his goblet, waving vigorously at a woman of the tavern who obliged with a seductive wink.
She approached them, skilfully distributing her attention between both the men, winking at Tunga and pouting her lips at Sukratu. Her brows rose at Sukratu’s filled cup. “Don’t keep the Sura nor this Sundari waiting, my love…” Serving Tunga his wine, she placed her fingers upon Sukratu’s shoulders, digging her nails into his skin for a moment locking her gaze with his and turned around swiftly, letting her light upper garment rest on his face for a fleeting moment.
It was a wilful invitation and Sukratu knew it. His attention though was caught by the colour of the garment. The Indigo hued garment! All the women of the tavern wore clothes of the same colour. So did the woman he saw in General Ugra’s house! Was Ugra at home while the woman lied that he was at the palace? If the General and the whole platoon of the night guard were lying down drunk, who was minding the security of the King? Sukratu looked at the rest of the guards. No one seemed sober enough to talk. The only sober man Khela had disappeared!
“By the great Varuna!” Sukratu exclaimed aloud and rushed out, pushing the woman who tried to stop him away.
He raced to the King’s residence, as fast as his legs could carry him. The huge wooden gates of the structure were closed and secured from inside. The rain lashed drowning his cries. Misgivings regarding the King’s welfare made him shudder. He had to meet General Ugra. Something told him that the General had his own reasons to send the whole platoon of guards to enjoy a drunk night. He was a guard who had sworn to protect the King with his life. The general owed him an answer. Sukratu rushed to General Ugra’s house determined to confront him.
That, Sukratu realized was the biggest mistake of his life.
At the gates of the general’s residence he saw a familiar figure hurrying out of his house, a heavy bundle on his shoulders. “General Ugra!” he called out, feeling relieved.
The figure started, and the bundle fell to the ground. Sukratu came to a sudden halt as he realized it wasn’t a bundle after all, but a blood-drenched corpse. A stroke of lightning from the sky revealed the face and the very familiar greying curls. Sukratu froze for a long moment before he could speak.
 “K… King…”
Something hit him on the head even before he could utter the name. Sukratu staggered, reeling at the impact, clutching at his long sword in a vain attempt to defend the next move.
“Finish him!” The General shout behind him.
Before he turned around, Sukratu felt the cold metal tear into his back. Lightning struck revealing the contours of the person. Khela! The javelin stabbed him again. Thunder drowned his screams. Falling to the ground with the weapon still stuck to his back, Sukratu lifted his sword and managed to slash Khela’s palm though the latter, unlike him was vigilant and alert. Crawling away from the menacing duo, knowing very well that he could not last more than a few moments, Sukratu’s thoughts, went to his innocent daughter. She would now languish as an orphan remaining in dark about the monsters who killed her father. Or would they kill her too?
Sukratu would never know.
About the Author:
Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

The Brothers Three by Layton Green

The Brothers ThreeThe Brothers Three

by Layton Green
Series: The Blackwood Saga, #1

Kindle Edition, 332 pg.
Cloaked Traveler Press, 2017

Read: August 4 – 8, 2017


Ever since Edmund, Lucy and Eustace got sucked into that tacky painting and into the sea in Narnia, I’ve been a sucker for a good portal fantasy*. Which is exactly what Layton Green has given us here.

Will Blackwood works for a general contractor, with the occasional shift at a medieval-themed family restaurant where he will engage in stage fighting, and spends a lot of time reading fantasy novels. He’s suffered from panic attacks since childhood and that’s kept him from much more. His buddy, Lance, a New Orleans police officer will occasionally take him on ride-alongs, but he’s just not up for much more excitement. His older brother Caleb, is a bartender and perpetual adolescent (given time and opportunity, I’d have liked to see that explored more, because I suspect there’s more to it than meets the eye). The oldest, Val, is a corporate lawyer in New York who has served as self-appointed guardian to his brothers since their father’s death while they were children.

Until one day, things get a little strange: Will and Lance run into a zombie Rottweiler and the weird guy who controls it. Lance explains it away, but Will can’t. He knows what he saw, and apparently has a willingness to be flexible with his presuppositions about what may be real. Not long after this, the Blackwood’s godfather shows up, tells them that their father was a wizard, gives them some magical weapons and then gets kidnapped by the guy who had the Rottweiler (it was a pretty eventful conversation). Before they can wrap their minds around this, a stranger claiming to be a wizard shows up and talks to Will, telling him that Zedock is the name of the man who kidnapped Charlie — he’s a necromancer from a parallel universe where magic rules, not science.

Not only that, he’s arranged for the brothers to go to that parallel universe to learn a little about magic, their weapons and maybe find a way to defeat Zedock. Will is game, but he knows that he’s not going to be able to convince his brothers that this is a possibility. They’ve managed to convince themselves that they didn’t see anything magical and that there’s a reasonable explanation for everything going on (except Charlie’s statements) — they’re not quite at the level of the explanations that Tommy Lee Jones uses in Men in Black, but they’re close. So Will tricks them into triggering the portal to the other world with him (and Lance gets sucked through it, too).

Even in a world clearly not our reality — with swords, magical creatures, and different looking streets in New Orleans — it takes time for those who aren’t Will to accept what’s going on. But they eventually do, and hire some locals to help them get to a fortress where they should be able to find something they can use to challenge Zedock. I seem to be talking about the willingness of Val, Caleb and Lance to accept what they’ve seen and experience — but that’s a pretty big plot point. I like the way they struggle with this, unlike what goes on with kids in portal fantasies who seem to swallow the whole concept in seconds

The travel isn’t easy — it’s not long before all of them get to learn how to fight with pre-modern weapons. Val shows some signs of magical ability and begins training in its use, while Will learns how to use a sword in a fight that doesn’t happen on a stage, and Caleb picks up a trick or two from a thief. They don’t just train and travel — they see and fight creatures straight out of a D & D manual. A lot more happens, of course, but I don’t want to give it all away — so I’ll just sum up by talking about how the adventurers they travel with are a great collection of characters, pretty compelling, and just what’s needed to keep the story move forward and acclimate the dimension-jumpers to this world.

There is real peril — as demonstrated by enough deaths to satisfy the grimdark fans while not really being a grimdark world. Sure, there were a couple of Red Shirt deaths (Red Tunic deaths?), but characters you assume are safe turn out not to be after all. I read one paragraph a few times just to convince myself that I read about the gruesome death of a major character actually happened. Even without that, the way this story is told isn’t what you expect — there are secrets, ulterior motives, and barrels of denial everywhere. It’s very compellingly and interestingly put together.

The Brothers Three is well-written, skillfully structured, and well-paced — there are some nice turns of phrase throughout the novel, too. Green is the real thing, giving the readers a good story, great characters, an interesting world (or pair of them), in a well-written package. Book 2 comes out next month and it’s on my TBR. I’m resisting the impulse to move it higher, but it’s not easy.


* Yeah, I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader first — I read series out of order in my childhood. As a kid, I was practically feral, it seems.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this copy for an honest review by the author.

—–

4 Stars

Miles Morales (Audiobook) by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard

Miles MoralesMiles Morales

by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs. 53 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: August 7 – 8, 2017


It was Bendis/Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man that brought me back to comics after a decade-plus break, and no matter what else I read, it was one of my Top 2 titles on my pull-list. Financial concerns got me to stop reading/collecting about a year before Miles Morales showed up. I was able to deal with letting everything else go, but USM was tough — especially when I heard about this new kid. I never learned much about him, I know he’s Afro-Hispanic, that his uniform is the best one since Ditko’s original, I heard they did a good job showing Miles and his parents going through a Charter School lottery, I know he’s popular enough they brought him over from the Ultimate universe.

Still, I saw this cover floating around Twitter last week and thought it looked pretty cool, so grabbed it when I had a moment. There’s a lot of Miles, his family and his school, not a lot of Web Head. But when he shows up, it counts.

Miles is having some Spidey Sense problems, which is leading to problems at school — a suspension and some trouble with his History teacher. He’s not sleeping well — tormented by nightmares about his uncle’s death. Miles starts to wonder if people like him — descendants of criminals –should have super-powers, if he should be a super-hero. It’s hard to describe the threat that Miles and his alter-ego face, really it unveils itself slowly throughout the book. But it’s a doozy, and it’s not what it seems to be early on.

I think Miles is a great character, he’s Peter Parker-esque in the best sense of the word, while being his own guy. His parents are fun, his dad in particular is a wonderful character — a great dad, it seems. Miles’ best friend and roommate, Ganke is a hoot. There’s a girl, of course, because he’s 16. I don’t know if Alicia’s a fixture in the comic or not, but it’d be interesting to see how she is outside of this.

Oh, Miles having camouflage powers? That’s just cool.

I think Lockard went over the top occasionally with his narration. Maybe part of that is pandering to the 11-13 year-old audience that Audible tells me this is directed toward. Maybe he and the director are just excitable and/or excited. It didn’t detract from anything, it was just occasionally too much. By and large, his energy kept things moving, lively — just the way a Spider-Man story should be.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those who like the idea of a Spider-Man novel, for fans of Miles Morales, or those who are just curious about him — this’ll entertain. I won’t say I’ve read every Spider-Man novel printed in the last couple of decades — but I’m willing to be my percentage is pretty high. Miles Morales is among the best.

—–

3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Fox Hunter by Zoë Sharp

Fox HunterFox Hunter

by Zoë Sharp
Series: Charlie Fox, #11
eARC, 400 pg.
Pegasus Books, 2017
Read: May 22 -24, 2017

I honestly had given up on seeing another Charlie Fox novel — which was a cryin’ shame, but I get that authors have to move on sometimes. But then a couple of weeks ago, when I logged onto NetGalley to take care of something, there it was on the front page — and I jumped to request it (despite promising myself I was taking a NetGalley break to catch up on other things).

“You were a soldier, Miss Fox , and you are now a bodyguard. There is an old saying that is true in both cases : To survive—to protect a life— you have to be lucky every day. But your enemies, they have to be lucky only once.”

Following his near-miraculous recovery from the injuries no one expected him to survive, Charlie Fox’s love/boss, Sean, hasn’t been the same. Now, it looks like he’s settling old debts — not necessarily his own. The fact that he’s doing that is bad enough — it’s not quite de rigueur for someone in his position to go around exacting vengeance. But the way these debts are being settled (if that’s what’s happening) speaks to someone not in full control. Charlie fights for the opportunity to do the boots-on-the-ground investigation to prove that it’s not Sean’s handiwork.

This ground is Kuwait and Iraq, and before she knows it, Charlie is dealing with soldiers/mercs that she’s annoyed in the past, Russians with a grudge, Iraqis trying to defend cultural artifacts and certain three-letter agencies mucking around in it all — and every sign is that Sean’s up to exactly what Charlie is convinced he’s not doing. Before the book ends, she’ll come face to face with multiple faces from her past (none of which she ever wanted to encounter again) and will be forced to reassess some of the most formative events of her past and career.

For those new to Charlie Fox — this would make a pretty good entry point, by the way — she’s former British Army, who received some special forces training, before her career was derailed. Since then she’s done plenty of work as a bodyguard and worked other types of security. She’s stubborn, loyal, inventive and tenacious. And deadly — it eats away at her, but when push comes to shove, Charlie’s as lethal as you can find.

Killing because your life—or that of another—is in immediate danger is one thing. I’d been trained to accept that possibility right from the start of my army career. But appointing yourself judge, jury, and executioner is quite another. As is doing it anyway, only to discover that it doesn’t trouble your conscience nearly as much as it should.

Sharp has given Charlie a strong voice — one you can believe can accomplish all she needs to, yet one that’s entirely human.

The new characters are well developed — and we see plenty of old faces, too. One unexpected antagonist is almost too evil to be believable (but, sadly, I imagine that plenty of Armed Forces have people just like him). There’s one death that was a real gut-punch for the reader (or at least this one) — that’s a testimony to Sharp’s skill that she can create someone like that in a brief period.

I don’t remember any of the previous novels being all that tied to current events, but Fox Hunter clearly took place post-Brexit and during the Trump administration. I’m not saying that’s bad, but oddly specific — and changes when the rest of the books happened as well, because this didn’t take place long after Die Easy despite the 5 years between the novels — I’d have had an easier time swallowing the book without that specificity, but not much — I note it because I found it strange.

That aside, this is exactly what Charlie Fox readers have come to expect from her — she takes the proverbial licking and keeps on ticking, and kicking, swinging and everything else. Best of all, she thinks — she plots, she improvises, she keeps on trying. Not to sound cliché, but this damsel finds herself in plenty of distress — and gets herself out of it (occasionally with help — but not in a Nell Fenwick sort of way; more like Lt. Templeton Peck way). Plenty of action, plenty of violence, plenty of suspense — all with some character development, moving ongoing story arcs forward (while re-evaluating everything before).

Not much else to ask for — except another volume soon.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 Stars

Dead is Good by Jo Perry

Dead is GoodDead is Good

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #3

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: August 3, 2017

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we’re to believe him — and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art — deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey…that’s not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I’d care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it’s because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you’ve ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn’t work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place — which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together — Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there’s no character growth in death — that’s nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to — or at least acknowledge — a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

I love these characters — even while we readers don’t fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don’t have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn’t). I love how while they can’t interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what’s happening. There’s something about that compulsion — and success they have in figuring things out — that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

This wasn’t as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying — maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn’t anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that’s a crime against tact, right?

—–

4 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook) by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin

There’s just so much I want to say about this book, I know I’m leaving stuff out even as I prepare to hit “Publish.” Also, I know that I’m not doing justice to how good this book is. Given that, here’s my best shot.

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs., 40 min.
HarperAudio, 2017

Read: July 27 – August 1, 2017

I’ll be honest, the hype around this one turned me off initially. It just didn’t seem like my kind of thing. But my wife bought a copy and tore through it and started telling everyone she came across that they needed to read it (especially those of us she lives with). When I saw the library had a copy of the audiobook, I snagged it, because I hadn’t got that far on my TBR. By this time, I only remembered “YA,” “something about Black Lives Matter,” and “Mrs. Irresponsible Reader said I needed to.” Which is about as tabula rasa as one could get when coming to a book.

Our central character is Starr Carter. She attends a very nice private school in the suburbs of whatever unidentified city she lives in. She plays basketball there, has friends and a boyfriend and seems to be generally well-regarded by all. Then there’s her “other life”, that has almost no relation to that one — she and her family live in a poor neighborhood where almost no one knows her by anything but “Mav’s daughter what works at the store” (or something close to that). She has a friend or two in the neighborhood, but mostly works and then goes home. On one of the rare nights she goes out to do something social, she runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil, who she hasn’t seen for a few months. Their reunion is cut short, sadly, while he drives her home and they’re pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop. I’ll leave the details for you to read on your own, but essentially, her unarmed friend is shot repeatedly by the police officer in front of Starr.

In the days that follow Khalil’s death is a nationwide story, Starr’s being questioned by the police and is trying to keep her psyche intact while the wheels of justice grind slowly. There are problems at school, unforeseen challenges at home and in the neighborhood, add in the involvement with the criminal justice system and activists, and it’s clear that neither of Starr’s lives are going to be the same again.

Yes, this book is about the shooting of Khalil and the aftermath. But it’s about more than that, too. Similar to the way you could say that To Kill a Mockingbird is about the trial Tom Robinson and its aftermath. There’s a whole lot of other things going on in both books that are just as much a part of the essence as the shooting/trial. There’s family growth and change, individual characters learning more about the world and changing, there’s the evolution of localities and best of all, there are characters taking all of this in and exercising a little agency to change themselves — and impact everything in around them.

One thing I didn’t expect was how fun this book would end up being. I laughed a lot — her father’s strange theories about Harry Potter, her Fresh Prince of Bel Air obsession, the teasing between her friends, her family’s very cut-throat approach to watching the NBA finals and trying to jinx each other’s teams, are just a start. Even when it’s not being out-and-out funny, there’s a joie de vivre that characterizes the lives of these characters.

When they’re not grieving, being threatened (by criminals or those who are supposed to be protecting them from criminals), being angered at the way that the system seems to be destined to fail them, or scared about their lives, that is. Because there’s a lot of that, too. All of which is justified. The interplay between the emotional extremes speaks volumes to the authenticity of Thomas’ work, and makes it much more effective than it could’ve been in less careful hands.

There are so few YA novels with healthy — or existing families — that Thomas should probably win an award or three just for having so many in one book. None of the families are perfect (though Starr’s comes close), some push the boundaries of “dysfunctional” into something we need a new word for; but at the very least there were at least a core of people caring about each other and trying to help each other, in their own way.

Yes, there are political overtones — or at least ramifications — to this book, but this is first and foremost a human story and can be appreciated by humans from all over the political spectrum. Thomas, as far as I can tell, went out of her way to be fair and balanced. It’d have been very easy to paint some of these characters/groups as all evil, all good, all misunderstood, all [fill in the blank]. Instead, she took the more difficult, more honest, and much more interesting approach and filled the book with people all over the moral spectrum, no matter their profession, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education, etc.

A few words about Turpin’s work. I loved it. She was just fantastic, and rose to the challenge of bringing this kind of book to life. Looking at her credits just now, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for her — she’s clearly a talented heavy-hitter on the audiobook front.

I laughed, I cried . . . it moved me. This is the whole package, really. It’ll challenge you, it’ll entertain you, and give you a little hope for tomorrow (while helping you despair about the time until tomorrow comes).

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5 Stars