Night School by Lee Child

Night SchoolNight School

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #21

Hardcover, 369 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2016

Read: January 5, 2016

One of the strengths of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is the way it bounces around in time — sometimes it’s Reacher’s post-military life, sometimes it’s while he’s serving, sometimes you get a couple of books in a row that are clearly tied together, sometimes it’s impossible to tell what chronological relationship a book has to the rest. The central character is what matters — is Reacher essentially the man we met in Killing Floor? As long as the answer is, “yes,” the rest of the details don’t matter that much.

So, following a successful classified mission, Major Jack Reacher is assigned to a training school. Which is just a flimsy cover for an inter-agency task force with Reacher, a FBI agent and a CIA analyst. The Intelligence and Defense world is trying to adjust to a post-Cold War reality, looking towards Middle East threats, rather than the Warsaw Pact. An undercover operative has indicated that something very big is on the verge of happening — no one is certain what, where, or when — but they know that a lot of money is exchanging hands to lead to it.

The White House’s directive is simple: find out what’s afoot and stop it. Whatever it takes.

Since this is Army-era Reacher, first thing he needs is Sgt. Frances Neagley, who continues to be just about as smart, possibly tougher, and more resourceful than Reacher. The CIA analyst and FBI agent are involved, but it doesn’t take long for Reacher to go his own way (with Neagley half a step behind). The other direction makes sense, but this is a Jack Reacher novel, so you know he’s right.

It’s a race against time and unknown calamity in a tense and taut thriller — just what Reacher fans want and expect. Not perfect, but a heckuva ride.

The thing that ties everything together for Reacher, allowing him to figure out what how the target pulled off what he pulled off was both entirely plausible and entirely hard to swallow. I have a hard time believing that no one before Reacher (or the target) figured it out before them. Even in the moment, with momentum driving the plot forward at top speed, I had to roll my eyes at it.

Despite the presence of Sgt. Neagley, Army-era Reacher books don’t work as well for me. He’s far better as a nomad, answerable to no one (save the occasional employer), not under any orders or required to follow certain regulations. Yes, given the setup for this one, he is able to disregard Army SOP, but only so much.

I liked it, but didn’t love it. I had a lot of fun, and was engaged throughout. But it was a little bit of a let-down after Make Me. A mediocre Reacher is still better than so many books — and this was both mediocre and better — I’m glad I read this, and can’t imagine how anyone who likes a suspense/thriller novel wouldn’t. Still, Child is capable of more, and I hope he delivers that next time.

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3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

Rise the Dark
Rise the Dark

by Michael Koryta
Series: Mark Novak, #2

Hardcover, 400 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Read: September 13 – 14, 2016

“If you gave Charles Mason the mind of Nikola Tesla,” she said, “you would find yourself with Eli Pate. Or so he thinks.”

I’m really kind of annoyed that Eli Pate was described this way, because I’d pretty much came up with that comparison a page or two earlier, and thought it’d be a clever thing to say.

But first . . .

Markus Novak is continuing the hunt for his wife’s killer — and he’s starting to make progress, real progress for the first time. Far more than anyone else has in years. Markus’ prime suspect has just been released from prison, so the detective now has full access to him. I think it’s safe to say that the methods he uses aren’t endorsed by anyone. Not only that, but he’s utilizing sources that there’s no way he would’ve trusted before his experiences in the cave in the last book. Still, there’s no way he’s prepared for where the investigation takes him.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Sabrina Garland is kidnapped in an effort to force her husband to do the unthinkable. The way these men come together — with plenty of ghosts from Markus’ past, results in a taught, tense thrill ride. To say more about the plot would be to ruin the thing, if you ask me, so we’ll just leave it here.

I really don’t like most of the plot devices used here — in any of the interweaving storylines. At least, I typically don’t like them — but Koryta pulled them all off. I bought them in the moment, and will still defend Koryta’s use of them (even if I feel like a hypocrite as I’ve thought about the book over the last couple of months or even as I write this). I wish I could be more specific here, but I just can’t.

The one exception to my plot problems is everything relating to Markus’ uncle.

Where plotwise this infuriated me (while entertaining me, I need to stress), on the character front, I really enjoyed this. Most of the criminals involved were interesting and well-drawn. Markus, his new allies and his uncle were so well done. I really liked where Markus went emotionally and psychologically here. Kortya has created a great character here, and I hope we see more of him.

I’m not going to rate this one as highly as I did the previous novel, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think people should read this. Everything that has Koryta’s name on it should be given a chance. In almost anyone else’s hands, this novel wouldn’t work and you’d see me trying to complain about it without giving things away. But Koryta pulled it all off, it works and leaves you wanting to return to this world.

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3.5 Stars

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be DifferentToday Will Be Different

by Maria Semple

Hardcover, 255 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2016

Read: December 2 – 3, 2016


It is 100% completely unfair to compare this book with Semple’s previous novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette — but, man — it’s hard not to. The protagonists, their lifestyles, their problems, their families, their children’s schools, their problems, what got them to Seattle and the career’s they left behind — they all beg comparison. But I’m going to try not to — and it’ll be to Today‘s benefit if I can pull that off.

Here’s the problem with the book — well, the main one — it’s there in the title, Today. It takes place over a day, no real change, no real resolution, no real anything can happen in a day. You can resolve to make changes, you can take steps towards anything happening. But real lasting whatever takes time. Not that you can’t have a good novel in that time frame, but not this kind of novel.

The pluses? The storyline about Eleanor’s sister — there were so many ways this could’ve gone wrong, become cliché, or turned into a mere punchline. It’s uncomfortable, it’s troubling, and it’s real. Eleanor’s kid, Timby was interesting and I enjoyed his relationship with her ex-colleague. Most of all, it’s the voice. Eleanor’s voice is strong, it’s developed, it’s clear, and there’s a confidence to her (while realizing she’s a giant mess).

But that ending? I could write pages about how bad it was.

In the end, while reading Today Will be Different, I had a blast and was hooked throughout — it was funny, tragic, thoughtful, painful. But the instant that I closed the book, all I could think of was how many things I didn’t like and problems I had with the story. It’s not just because Eleanor’s story was different from Bernadette’s — I was relieved, by that — but that this one didn’t deliver what it could have.

—–

3.5 Stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I CanTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between

by Lauren Graham
Hardcover, 205 pg.
Ballantine Books, 2016

Read: December 12 – 31, 2016

This book isn’t a proper autobiography or anything (doesn’t claim to be, either); it’s stories, memories, thoughts and humorous bits that Lauren Graham shares about her life and career.  She uses the revival of Gilmore Girls as an excuse to look back on her both to this point, as her career is marked by looking back this year. I haven’t seen the new Gilmore episodes (still working my way through the series with my kids), so I could’ve read the material discussing that a little closer — although I did think the tributes to Edward Herrmann fitting and touching.

The book covers pretty much what you’d expect from an actor’s memoirs — discussion of her childhood, paying her acting dues, education, her big break and so on. All told with wit and charm. Graham’s personality shines forth and really draws you in. She spends a good amount of time talking about the original run of Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and her novel. I was glad to see that she did that — so many actors/celebrities don’t give that much time or space to the things that made someone want to read their books in the first place.

A few of the highlights of this book are from the parts that aren’t de rigueur. There’s a section on eating and health tips, that made me laugh out loud — Graham learned the same lesson Jim Gaffigan and Weird Al did — food jokes work 99. 6% of the time. There’s some really good writing advice that Graham was given by a friend that helped her to finish this book — and seems like the kind of thing that could help many authors. There’s some recurring jokes about Ellen DeGeneres and the cast of Today. I don’t want to suggest those are all the highlights, but they’re are good sample. 

Most of the book feels like Graham set her phone to “Voice to Text” and cut loose. But there’s no way that it would’ve come out as good if that’s what she did — that kind of feel is the result of a lot of hard work and planning. It all paid off, this was one of the more enjoyable books to read that I’ve tackled recently — don’t get me wrong, the content was good, too — but the writing was as smooth as silk. Unlike that sentence. Between this and her novel, it’s clear that Graham’s really quite a writer, I hope to see more from her.

This was a fast, breezy read — a lot of fun with plenty of heart. Pretty much everything you want from/would expect from Graham. A sure fan pleaser.

—–

3.5 Stars

Bear with Bear by Hagit R. Oron, Galia Armeland

Bear with BearBear with Bear

by Hagit R. Oron, Galia Armeland (Illustrator)
PDF (but you can buy the Kindle Edition), 31 pg.
Orons, 2016

Read: November 30, 2016


Hagit Oron has branched off from her adventures with Elphie to come up with something for slightly older readers. This is the story of Bear, a young man in search of a pet. He has a few hurdles — his parents (his mother in particular), his sister’s qualms about several representatives of the animal kingdom, and reality (he doesn’t ask for a Hippopotamus for Christmas or anything that outlandish, but it wouldn’t have surprised me). I really liked the siblings relationship as depicted here — it felt real, it felt relatable.

I’m not sure that I buy the 6-9 age range for this story — but I’m not an expert, 5-7 would be my guess. But whatever, target ages like that are best used (and/or ignored) by those who know the kid best.

The thing that will appeal most to older readers is that if you click an icon in the lower corner of the page, it’ll take you to another page that gives you some insight into the factual basis behind the part of the story you just read — or showing just how fictional it was. Oron drew from her own family’s pet hunt for inspiration and she details how she went about taking that inspiration and turning it into the story. It’s an added touch that I think could really help a lot of younger readers. Now, my review copy didn’t have that function, so I can’t tell you how well it worked — I assume it’s pretty straightforward in operation — but I did get to read those pages, and appreciated what Oron was trying to accomplish with them.

Armeland’s art pops off the page. It’s simple and attractive, but it feels like there’s something wrong with calling it “simple” — I don’t mean it as an insult, it’s the first word that comes to mind. But there’s a lot of subtle things going on with the illustrations, too — so it’s not simplistic. Ugh, I clearly shouldn’t talk about art — I liked it, I thought it fit the story, and it didn’t feel like the art in kids’ books that I’ve seen a million times before.

It was a nice story, told in a good way that should appeal to younger readers — with a nice twist that’ll capture the imagination of many. Maybe even inspire some young writers out there, now that they’ve seen how their lives can be the basis of fiction. I continue to be a Oron fan, probably more of one now than before.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest take, and I thank her for it.

—–

3.5 Stars

Trapped (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

Trapped Audiobook Trapped

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles, #5

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 2 min.
Random House Audio, 2012

Read: November 7 – 10, 2016


Huh. I apparently didn’t write up anything when I first read this. Not only that, but I couldn’t remember a thing about it. At least while I was downloading — chapter after chapter I kept saying, “Oh, that happens in this book?” Some fan I am.

Granuaile is finally bound to the Earth, Atticus starts making things up to Odin, Bacchus tries to get his revenge, Vampires and Dark Elves have similar ideas — as does a certain recently-freed Norse god. Well, many individuals seem to want Atticus dead — preferably before he can bind Granuaile. And well, many, many other things transpire — both positive and dangerous.

Oberon gets to be a hero, as well as comic relief. Which is all anyone can ask for, really.

The way Hearne ends this book is criminal, really — thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long to get to the next book in the series this time through — I put up with the months of waiting once, I’m not sure I’d have been able to do it again.

I liked the way that Hearne describes the differences between Hermes and Mercury (which carries over to all Olympians both here and the next book) — it reminded me of some of Riordan’s takes in The Heroes of Olympus series, while not duplicating things.

I’ve run out of ways to describe Luke Daniel’s work — it’s just spot-on, not sure what else to say. Hearne’s writing is crisp, well-paced (although I think a couple of the stories from Norse figures drag a bit), and the fight scenes here are among his best. All in all, an important and entertaining installment in this series.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Golden Spider by Anne Renwick

The Golden SpiderThe Golden Spider

by Anne Renwick
Series: The Elemental Web Chronicles, Book One

Kindle Edition, 484 pg.
Anne Renwick, 2016

Read: October 26 – 27, 2016


Wow. Next time some author describes their book as a “Romance,” I really need to ask some follow-up questions before I say yes. Technically, Renwick said “Steampunk Romance,” and I figured it’d be something like The Parasol Protectorate or The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. And it was. But with a whole lot more time on the love story — and a whole lot more description of what a couple of consenting adults consented to.

The central technology — the titular Golden Spider, is just great. One of the niftiest pieces of Steampunk tech that I’ve run across. I have no idea where Renwick is going with it, but I’m pretty sure she’s going somewhere based on the title of the series. Other than that — and a couple of other examples of medical technology — the technology and whatnot are pretty standard-issue Steampunk. Oh, and there are krakens everywhere — I liked that.

Medical student and borderline-scandalous daughter of a member of the gentry, Amanda, is being blackmailed by her father into marriage — he’ll let her go to school as long as she gets married. Her prospects aren’t that bright (if you ignore those who wouldn’t let her study/practice medicine). Lord Sebastian is one of her professors, as well as a leading medical researcher — and a secret agent for the queen — he’s a busy guy. They’re both incredibly attracted to each other, but squabble almost instantaneously and continually. Is it a law that every Steampunk romance start with two people being attracted to each other and sniping constantly while denying said attraction?

Anyway, this one plays out just as you’d expect — but maybe a little faster.

The adventure/mystery is pretty fun, but the solution is pretty obvious, and the rest is pretty predictable. But the characters’ interaction makes up for most of the predictability. In addition to Amanda and Sebastian, we have another prospective suitor or three for Amanda, Sebastian’s much more interesting and/or obvious action hero partner, Amanda’s family, and another scientist or two. None of these characters are great, but Renwick uses them well, and the result is fast-paced and entertaining.

Again, this is a romance, so certain things are going to be accentuated. One of those things, it seems, is sex. There was a lot more of it than I was prepared for (but, I want to stress, that’s on me) — and unlike the last few books I’ve complained about with excessive bedroom activities, Renwick’s scenes are worth reading — well, okay, skimming. I’m not sure why she didn’t think her characters deserved a little more privacy, but what’re you going to do?

I had a heckuva good time reading this — and I expect the same would be true of fans of Gail Carriger, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, Kady Cross, or a handful of other authors I can’t think of at the moment. Renwick drinks from the same wells as the above — but she’s her own author, don’t expect a carbon copy. If you can handle Steamy Steampunk, give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — you have my thanks, Ms. Renwick.

—–

3.5 Stars