Saturday Miscellany – 12/1/18

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:

  • Robert B. Parker’s Blood Feud by Mike Lupica — Sunny Randall’s back (the last of Parker’s series’ protagonists), and was pretty entertaining, as I recently noted.
  • The Wraith by Jeffery H. Haskell — set in his Arsenal universe, Haskell introduces a darker hero.


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They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner: The Newest Canadian Super-Heroes are Back in Action

 They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark vs. Spark, #2

Paperback, 350 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: November 26 – 27, 2018

When I read the first book in the series, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, back in January, I said “the sequel can’t get here fast enough.” I didn’t quite expect to be reading it 11 months later, but I’m okay with that.

It’s just a couple of weeks after the events of the previous book, and the newly formed team of superheroes has gone home for Christmas break. Now with just a few days before classes start up again, the team is coming back. In the last book we focused on Kim/Zircon, this time our protagonist is her roommate/teammate Jools/Ninety Nine.

Jools doesn’t even make it out of the airport before she’s dealing with the police and a powerful Darkling — and maybe a powerful Spark artifact.

(Quick reminder: In this world there are two super-powered groups: the Darks/Darklings and the Sparks. The Darks are all the supernatural-types you can think of (and some you can’t): vampires, weres, etc. The Sparks are Super-Heroes and the like (although some have gone astray))

Jools, with a little help from her friends, gets out of that mess — only to find herself signed up for more.

Soon, in an effort to keep this artifact from falling into the wrong hands — Jools finds herself cut off from her friends and in the secret-hideout with a very maverick group of Sparks — a modern-day Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This gives her an opportunity to watch other Sparks in action, to see how they live and think — and come up with some ways to evaluate her new lifestyle. Also, there’s a lot of fighting and nifty tech to read about.

I wasn’t crazy about how little time we got with the rest of the team because of this, but I think in the long run, it’ll work for the strength of the series. And when we get the team together again, it’s even better to see than it was before.

Again, I had a blast with this book. Gardner’s world is ripe with story-telling possibilities and I’m enjoying watching him develop these characters and this world. Jools is a great character — a solid combination of vulnerable and snarky, unwise and ridiculously intelligent — you’ll probably end up with her as your favorite character in the series (at least until book 3). Go grab this (and the other one, too) now.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

The Summer Holidays Survival Guide by Jon Rance: Heart-warming and Funny Bone-Tickling

The Summer Holidays Survival GuideThe Summer Holidays Survival Guide

by Jon Rance

Kindle Edition, 262 pg.
2018

Read: November 14 – 15, 2018

‘Oh, Dad, how little you know,’ said Liv, her head returning to her phone.

How little I know. I have a feeling this one cold, hard sentence, uttered from my twelve-year-old daughter’s lips, might sum up my life.

Ben Robinson is an art teacher, in his mid-40s, and is trying to figure out how he’ll survive the upcoming summer holidays — 6 weeks with his three kids, and a marriage who’s spark is gone out (possibly for good). Oh yeah, and an aging father with dementia moving in with them, rather than a nursing home. Meanwhile, he’s trying to prepare for a half-marathon, which is about a whole marathon more than he’s ready for.

We get a day by day (or close to it) account of how this goes for Ben. The short version is: not very well. Particularly in the beginning. Ben meddles in his fifteen year old son’s love life (with some really bad sex tips — all of which I’m considering passing on to my kids), cannot understand his twelve-year-old daughter’s social media life (and nascent pubescence), and derails his eight year old son’s summer plans without trying. Things go downhill from there, really.

His dad is having trouble remembering that he doesn’t live in the same home, or that his wife has been dead for a few years — this is a source of strain for both Ben and his father — and the relationship becomes strained. Ben is having trouble seeing his father this way, and his father is having trouble being this way. Both are trying their best, but this

Speaking of a strained relationship, the number of things wrong with his marriage keeps growing, and every thing that Ben tries to do to fix it just makes things worse. He and his wife aren’t communicating well — one of those problems that keeps feeding itself and growing worse.

Throw in an accidental participation in an anti-Brexit demonstration, a road rage incident leading to social media notoriety for one member of the family, teen romance problems, summer-altering injuries, and well — clearly, someone needs to write a survival guide.

As Ben and his family try to get through their struggles intact — and maybe even better than that — there’s plenty of fodder for humor. There’s a lot of heartwarming material, some real laughs and more than a few chuckles. There’s some really effective writing and characterization.

However, there’s also Rance’s need to go for the big laugh. And here, he basically turns Ben into Basil Fawlty — with all the wild schemes, failing schemes, shouting, misunderstandings and slapstick involved. I don’t think any of these scenes or moments worked for me. When he’s going for subtle laughs, or those that grow from character, I really enjoyed it. When the subject matter is serious (or at least non-comedic), Rance is really strong. It’s when he’s obviously trying that he falters.

‘Marriage,’ said Dad. ‘There’s always ups and downs. You just keep riding it, son. It’s like a rollercoaster. You can’t get off, so you just hold on, and do your best to enjoy it.’

‘I’m holding on for dear life, but life is harder than it was, Dad. The world has changed. The rollercoasters are bigger and scarier now. The drops are bigger, the hills higher.’

‘Oh tosh. The world might change, but people don’t. Love is still love, clear and simple. Don’t blame the world for your problems, son. Hold on tighter. Love stronger.’

That’s one of the more earnest moments — and there are plenty of them in the latter part of the novel, all set up well in the early part — and it shows the heart of the book — and there’s plenty of heart. Rance won me over, and got me to put more of his books on my list because of these kind of moments, and the genuine laughs I got from the smaller moments, I’ve got more of his stuff on the TBR.

It’s a nice, pleasant book that’ll tickle your funny bone and warm your heart.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Blood Feud by Mike Lupica: Sunny Randall’s Back in this Promising Reintroduction

Blood FuedRobert B. Parker’s Blood Feud

by Mike Lupica
Series: Sunny Randall, #7
eARC, 352 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: October 5 – 9, 2018

I have a complicated relationship with Sunny Randall. Readers of this site have been frequently exposed to my love for Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, both by Parker and the continuations by Ace Atkins and Reed Farrel Coleman (let’s overlook Michael Brandman’s contributions for the moment). I enjoyed his stand-alone works, and I thought the first couple of Virgil Cole & Everett Hitch books were fun (I haven’t tried the Robert Knott continuations). Which leaves us with Sunny.

Sunny Randall, the story goes, was written to be adapted into a film series for Parker’s chum, Helen Hunt (incidentally, I’ve never been able to envision Helen Hunt in a single Sunny scene, but that’s just me). She’s a private investigator; a former cop; part-time painter (art, not house); emotionally entangled with her ex-husband, but can’t live with him; lives in Boston; and enjoys good food. But she’s totally not a female Spenser — she doesn’t like baseball, see? I’ve read all the books — some multiple times — and while I enjoyed them, I’ve never clicked with Sunny the way I have with others. Including every other Parker protagonist. Most of her novels are mashups and remixes of various Spenser novels, entertaining to see things in a different light — but that’s about it. Frankly, the most I ever liked Sunny was in the three Jesse Stone novels late in Parker’s run (but both characters are better off without each other).

So when it was announced that Mike Lupica would be taking up the reins of this series I was intrigued but not incredibly enthused. I only know Lupica from having bought a few of his books for my sons when they were younger. I didn’t get around to reading any of them, so he’s really a new author for me. And sure, I was a little worried about a YA/MG author taking the reins of a “grown-up” series. But not much — if you can write a novel, you can write a novel, it’s just adjusting your voice and language to be appropriate for the audience.

Enough blather — let’s talk about Blood Feud. Since we saw her last, Sunny has had to move, Richie (her ex-) has gotten another divorce (giving them the chance to date or whatever you want to call it) and has replaced her late dog, Rosie, with another Rosie. Other than that, things are basically where they were after the end of Spare Change 11 years ago (for us, anyway, I’m not sure how long for her, but less time has passed you can bet).

By the way — does anyone other than Robert B. Parker, Spenser and Sunny really do this? Your dog dies, so you go and get another one of the same breed and call him/her the same name? Is this really a thing?

Then one night — Richie is shot. It’s not fatal, but was done in such a way that no one doubts for a moment that it could have been had the assailant wanted it to be. For those who don’t know (or don’t remember), Richie is the son of an Irish mob boss, although he has nothing to do with the family business. He’s given a message for his father — his shooter is coming for him, but wants him to suffer first. This kicks off a race for the shooter — Sunny, the Burke family and the police (led by Sgt. Frank Belson) are vying to be the one to find the shooter.

Before long, the violence spreads to other people the Burkes employ — both property and persons are targeted by this stranger. It’s clear that whoever is doing this has a grudge going back years. So Sunny dives into the Burke family history as much as she can, so she can get an answer before her ex-father-in-law is killed. Not just the family history — but the family’s present, too. As much as the roots of the violence are in the past, Sunny’s convinced what the Burkes are up to now is just as important to the shooter.

Richie’s father, Desmond, isn’t happy about Sunny sticking her nose into things. Not just because of the crimes she might uncover — but he really wants to leave the past in the past. But as long as someone might come take another shot at Richie, Sunny won’t stop. This brings her into contact with several criminal figures in Boston (like Parker-verse constants Tony Marcus and Vinnie Morris) as well as some we’ve only met in Sunny books.

There are a couple of new characters in these pages, but most of them we’ve met before — Lupica is re-establishing this universe and doesn’t have time to bring in many outsiders, but really just reminds us who the players are. Other than the new Rosie, I can’t point at a character and say “that’s different.” He’s done a pretty good job of stepping into Parker’s shoes. Not the pre-Catskill Eagle Parker like Atkins, but the Parker of Sunny Randall books, which is what it should feel like (( wouldn’t have objected to a Coleman-esque true to the character, just told in a different way). I think some of the jokes were overused (her Sox-apathy, for one), but it wasn’t too bad. Lupica did make some interesting choices, particularly toward the end, which should set up some interesting situations for future installments.

The mystery was decent enough, and fit both the situations and the characters — I spent a lot of the novel far ahead of Sunny (but it’s easier on this side of the page). I enjoyed the book — it’s not the best thing I’ve read this year, but it’s a good entry novel for Lupica in this series, a good reintroduction for the characters/world, and an entertaining read in general. If you’re new to this series, this would be as good a place to hop on as it was for Lupica.

I want better for Parker’s creation (but I think I’d have said that for most of Parker’s run with the series), and Lupica’s set things up in a way that we could get that in the near-future. He’s demonstrated that he has a good handle on the character he inherited, the question is, what can he do with her from here? I was ambivalent about this series coming back, but I can honestly say that I’m eager to see what happens to it next.

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

—–

3.5 Stars

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: A Charming, Dark, and (somehow) Fun Serial Killer Tale

My Sister, the Serial KillerMy Sister, the Serial Killer

by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Hardcover, 223 pg.
Doubleday Books, 2018

Read: November 23, 2018

Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him.

I had hoped I would never hear those words again.

That’s one of the best pair of opening sentences I can recall. How do you not get hooked right there? You get so much in those two sentences, you know that Ayoola has killed multiple times, at least three (otherwise, Korede would’ve said something like “What, again?”); the fact that she says “him,” instead of “someone” or a name suggests that Korede will know who she’s talking about without explanation; and you hear a put upon sibling fed up with their sister’s antics.

And yeah, that’s the book in essence — Ayoola has killed her third boyfriend (in self-defense, she swears . . . again), and calls on her big sister to come help clean up. Korede’s a clean freak — she’s not quite OCD, but close. When life gets stressful, she cleans, and with her little sister, she’s got plenty of stress in her life.

Korede is beginning to think that Ayoola might not just be the innocent girl who has been able narrowly escape assault. Three kills, she’s read online, qualifies you to be a serial killer. And what’s worse — the doctor that Korede has unrequited feelings for has caught her sister’s eye, too (and vice versa) — and that can’t be good for him. I had about a dozen ideas how this was going to end — and I was wrong on every point. Which is good, because Braithwaite’s ideas were far better than mine would’ve been. She zagged when most would’ve zigged and nailed the resolution to this book.

This is enough to make an entertaining and suspense filled book. But then you throw in the characters that Braithwaite has created and things take on a different twist.

Korede’s a nurse — a demanding, dedicated, compassionate one. Ayoola is a vapid knockout who knows that it doesn’t matter what she knows, does, or thinks — she’s convinced that all she has to do is continue to look good and make men feel good about themselves and she’s set. This seems shallow, but neither Ayoola or Korede can prove that she’s wrong.

The dynamic of the long-suffering, responsible, plain(er) sibling doing the right thing and looking out for the spontaneous, outgoing, super attractive one isn’t new. Adding a mother who takes the responsible one for granted and dotes on the other, doesn’t change things, either. But somehow, Braithwaite is able to depict these three in a way that seems wholly familiar (so you can make assumptions about a lot of the relationship) and yet it feels so fresh she might have invented the archetypes.

If Jennifer Weiner lived in and wrote about Lagos, Nigeria and included murders in a tale of sibling rivalry and learning to accept yourself — you’d get something a lot like this book. There’s an intangible, ineffable quality to Braithwaite’s writing that I cannot capture better than that — but it’s better than my illustration sounds. The story goes to some really dark places, and there’s really no reason to find the characters or story so charming — but that’s all down to Braithwaite’s fantastic authorial voice. Yes, it’s about murder, the importance of family, self-sacrifice and what’s more important in this life — skill, intelligence and dedication, or beauty and sex appeal; but you might as well be reading about Bridget Jones counting cigarettes and worrying about Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy.

One other thing — this is just a wonderfully designed book. The size — smaller than your typical hardcover — is distinctive, the typeface used in chapter headings and page numbers are peculiar enough to stand out. The whole thing just feels like a different kind of book. Does this make an impact on your enjoyment of the novel? Probably not, but I appreciated the experience and look.

I can’t think of enough ways to praise Braithwaite — there’s an intangible quality to this book that just won me over pretty much on page one. You will not believe that this is her first novel — and you will hope it’s not her last. The sibling rivalry story was well-told and engaging, the hospital stories were enough to be the core of a very different novel by themselves, the serial killer story was unpredictable. The characters are the kind that you’ll remember for a long time. Stop reading me and go find a copy of this book.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Small Town Nightmare by Anna Willett: A Creepy and Fast Adventure

 Small Town NightmareSmall Town Nightmare

by Anna Willett

Kindle Edition, 227 pg.
The Book Folks, 2018

Read: November 22, 2018

           She wondered how much she should reveal. Her history was painful, and rehashing it for a stranger wouldn’t really help.

“It’s complicated, but I know he wouldn’t not show.”“Not unless something stopped him?” Damon asked, finishing her thought.

“Something or someone.” As she spoke, they rounded a bend and the road tapered downwards. In the distance she could see a cluster of buildings dotted with patches of open fields and circled by forests. Night Town. The sight of it sent a ripple of gooseflesh running up her arms.

“You think he’s down there somewhere?” Damon had turned in his seat and was studying her as if searching her reaction.

“It’s the last place he mentioned before disappearing.” She gripped the wheel tighter. “If he’s there, I intend to find him.”

When your younger brother, the one you spent a few years raising yourself after your parents’ death, goes missing — you throw caution to the wind to go find him. Especially if you’re a gutsy crime reporter like Lucy. She heads of into a part of the country she’s not familiar with, into a town she’d never heard of, to find out what happened to her brother in the week since she’d heard from him last. Along the way, she comes across a helpful stranger — a drifter of sorts, like her brother — who is willing to lend a hand to the search. Lucy doesn’t care (much) why he’s willing to help, she’s just glad someone is taking her seriously.

When she gets to Night Town (such a friendly, welcoming name, isn’t it?), she’s met with general apathy toward her plight — and maybe a trace of antagonism. It’s tough to say why people are so resistant to helping her — maybe because she’s a stranger, maybe they don’t like drifters, Lucy could come up with a dozen reasons, but that wouldn’t change things. None of the local residents seem inclined to help. It’s a good thing she’s found Damon. One of the men at the local police station seems indifferent (at best) to her problem, but the Senior Sergeant is eager to take a report and do what he can to find her brother.

Now, as is the norm for small fictional towns that outsiders find trouble in, there’s one family that owns about half the town, and employs the other half. Samuel Nightmesser is the only living representative of that family at the moment, so Lucy and Damon look into him (lacking any other ideas, hoping they’ll come to them), while Senior Sergent Day investigates in a more official capacity. We don’t see much of the official investigation, but it’s reassuring to know that not everyone in town is necessarily in Nightmesser’s pocket.

It soon becomes evident that there’s more afoot than a missing drifter, and that someone in town is prepared and willing to take steps to dissuade Lucy from turning over any more rocks to see what’s underneath. The reader knows a bit more than Lucy, and learns pretty quickly that there’s more to some of the people in her life than meets the eye. From there, it’s just a matter of Lucy and her associates putting the pieces together, uncovering all that’s afoot and trying to survive — and maybe help her brother to survive, too.

It didn’t take me long to write in my notes that “this is going to get creepy soon.” It did. I also noted “this is going to have an ugly end.” It did, and not necessarily in the way I expected. I also guessed right about a couple of identities. I think most readers will guess these things around the same point I did. Doing this doesn’t make any of the reveals or the novel less effective. If anything, it helped build the tension, because you were waiting for particular shoes to fall. I should also add, that there were at least three reveals and twists that I didn’t see coming, and one of them took me completely by surprise.

The morbid and creepifying elements of this book are really well done — I’d have liked to seen a bit more of them, honestly (and I don’t typically need a lot of that — but it would’ve helped, I think). Willet has a gift for using that kind of thing to reveal character, not just to advance the plot. I should probably note there’s at least one sentence toward the end of the novel that you should probably not be eating anything while you read. Just a friendly tip — set aside your snacks during the last 20 percent of the book.

The action is fast, the book grabs your attention and keeps it throughout — there’s not a lull in the action and there’s nothing dull within a mile of the text. It’s a quick read (perhaps, too quick) and one that’ll keep you entertained.

I want to stress that I enjoyed Small Town Nightmare, and my guess is that I’m not alone in this. However, it felt rushed. It felt undercooked. If things — details, tension, mystery, relationships, etc. — had been given a little more time to develop and grow; if threads hadn’t been left dangling (or had been cut entirely); if motivations were clearer; I can easily see myself excited about recommending it. But, I can’t do that — I can recommend it, and I do think most of my readers will like it. I’m just not over the moon about it.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided, which did not influence my opinion, merely gave me something upon which to opine.

—–

3 Stars

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Small Town Nightmare by Anna Willett

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the thrill-ride Small Town Nightmare by Anna Willett. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Small Town Nightmare by Anna Willett
Publisher: The Book Folks
Release date: August 27, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 227 pages

Book Blurb:

A young drifter is in deep trouble, his sister is his only hope…

Lucy’s younger brother has gone missing. When she sets out to find him, the trail takes her to Night Town. It’s a rural backwater deep in the forests of south western Australia.

Lucy tries to enlist the help of the local police, but she is met with hostility. She befriends a man who might help her cause. Yet he is not quite who he says he is.

As the locals begin to resent her presence in the town, danger quickly mounts. The town has secrets and they seem to centre on the enigmatic Samuel Nightmesser, its wealthy benefactor.

What connects her missing brother to this grim boondock? And why do the townsfolk want rid of Lucy?

As the story unfolds we are immersed in a creepy, claustrophobic drama in which everything is at stake. If you like books with a strong female lead that keep you on the edge of your seat, you’ve found your next favourite read.

About Anna Willett:

Anna WillettAnna Willett is the author of Backwoods Ripper, Retribution Ridge, Forgotten Crimes, Cruelty’s Daughter and the best-selling thriller, Unwelcome Guests. Her new release, Small Town Nightmare is available on Amazon. Raised in Western Australia Anna developed a love for fiction at an early age and began writing short stories in high school. Drawn to dark tales, Anna relishes writing thrillers with strong female characters. When she’s not writing, Anna enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her husband, two children and their dogs.

Anna Willett’s Social Media:

Facebook ~ Website ~ Pinterest ~ Goodreads ~ Amazon Author Page

Purchase Links for Small Town Nightmare:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ BookBub


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.