Null Set by SL Huang: Cas Russell — the world’s most violent mathematician — gets proactive fighting crime.

Null SetNull Set

by SL Huang
Series: Cas Russell, #2

eARC, 288 pg.
Tor Books, 2019

Read: June 17 – 19, 2019

In the aftermath of Zero Sum Game, Cas and her associates are seeing the fallout from taking down those telepaths who’ve been reigning in expressions of human corruption, and it’s not pretty. So, she takes it upon herself (with a little help from her friends) to fight crime in LA — à la that rich guy in Gotham, that lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, or the sole survivor of the Cavendish ambush of the Texas Rangers. She’s making a difference, but not as much as she wants, until she decides to take a more proactive approach.

I’ll skip the details, but what she comes up with (and talks her team into helping with) is a combination of technology, psychology and her genius. It’s so successful that every major criminal figure in LA would happily kill her several times over if they only knew what she was doing and who was doing it. Of course, many of these people are former/potential future customers. This little dance she does, while trying to get the goods on one player in particular, is a whole lot of fun to watch.

It’s also fascinating watching Cas’ develop a conscience, and then let it take her in ways that bring her into conflict with her team. They go along with her, but with reservations. In many ways, she’s grown from the woman we met in the opening of Zero Sum Game — but in so many ways she hasn’t. The heavy drinking she indulges in/retreats to testifies to that.

One thing that happened at the end of the previous novel was that a telepath triggered something in her — how much of an effect this had, or whether it was time, or something else (probably a combination of the three) has loosened something in her subconscious. Memories — partial, confusing, scattered — are coming back to her — from a time that Cas had given up on ever remembering. The memories come back, unbidden, at the worst possible times and make her vulnerable when she needs to be focusing. They also point to mysteries, questions and so many unknown things that Cas decides she’s not going to acknowledge that this is problematic for her, her work and those who depend on her.

My problem is that I think Huang overestimated how interested people were in Cas’ background and trying to learn about it/deal with it. Maybe it just feels that way to me because I can’t muster up the level of enthusiasm that the novel seems to want me to have, and everyone else will be hanging on every word. What Cas is going through has roots in the conclusion to Zero Sum Game and in her murky past. Instead of dealing with the memories and issues they raise, she spends most of the novel running from the problems, not in denial, just in a refusal to work through them — until she can’t any more (and even then . . . ). If I knew her better, if I was given more of a reason to be curious about her past, I think this could be a very interesting plot line But we don’t, and we’re not — and I had a hard time getting above the level of mild interest in this part of the novel. Which isn’t good — because this is what the novel really wants to talk about, not Cas’ innovative solutions to fighting crime.

For people who haven’t read Taylor Stevens’ Michael Munroe novels, this paragraph won’t do much for you. You should read those, by the way, if you like Cas Russell. In the second book in this series, The Innocents, Stevens takes Munroe — her complicated, almost impossible to believe, hyperviolent protagonist with a self-destructive bent (hmmm, who does that sound like?) — and has her deal with some of her problems, taking a deep dive into her psyche at the risk of the job she’s taken on — and the innocents she’s supposed to be rescuing/saving. I’d liked Munroe in her first book, and continued to, but I struggled getting through that book — but once Munroe had dealt with (in some way) what was getting to her, she was a stronger and more interesting character. I cannot tell you how often while reading Null Set that I thought back to The Innocents. True, very different books, different problems plaguing the protagonists — but their reactions to the issues and how they intend to deal with the problems raised, remind me greatly of each other. I’m hoping what comes next for this series is as strong as it was for Stevens’.

Everything else about this novel was just as absorbing and captivating as Zero Sum Game. The supporting characters were, if anything, more interesting than they were last time — and the two new characters in Cas’ circle were welcome additions. The ethical dilemma posed by Cas’ actions was pretty interesting, and a good twist on the similar conundrum posed in (and, arguably, less clear — although, I’m with Checker in not seeing it that way). The characters’ reactions to her plans (and carrying them out) seemed authentic and not just something to create drama. If Huang had wanted to and just dialed back the A-Story and dialed up the B-Story, I’d have been more enthusiastic about this — probably as much as I was about Zero Sum Game, maybe moreso.

And you just cannot beat Huang’s combination of math and fight scenes — others dabble in it, but most don’t go as far (they’re probably not that good at math) or do it as well. I don’t know why these scenes work so well for me, but I just love them. Think of River Tam wielding a gun in “War Stories” — but if she was able to tell you what she was doing and why without sounding a little . . . well, River-like. I’m not doing a great job of describing it, but it’s hard. But if Huang decided she just wanted to publish a novella or two that really just consisted of fight scenes without a whole lot of plot? I’d be all over them. Nothing against plot or characters, but sometimes they just get in the way.

I did like Null Set — just not as much as I expected to, or wanted to. But I’m still in for more of this series. What Huang’s set up for the next novel (or more) — really has my interest. The possibilities for book three have really got my curiosity churning. Having (somewhat/largely) dealt with these issues around Cas, the door is wide open for what comes next — I literally can’t wait. This isn’t what I wanted from the second Cas Russell novel, but it’s good — and will likely be a strong foundation to build on. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


3.5 Stars


Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth: A solid noir in Rose City.

Stumptown, vol 1Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)

by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (Artist)
Series: Stumptown, #1

Hardcover, 159 pg.
Oni Press, 2011

Read: May 31, 2019

Small confession: while I’d heard of this comic, I wasn’t in any rush to read it. But then I saw the trailer for the ABC adaptation and pretty much had to. Glad I did, I have to say.

Dex Parios is a P.I. in Portland, OR; apparently is the guardian for her developmentally delayed (I’m not sure, just guessing) brother; and a very poor gambler. The latter lands her in a great deal of debt to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast. Thankfully(?) the woman who runs her favorite casino is willing to exchange her debt for some P.I. work — her granddaughter is missing. Dex is a sloppy gambler, but isn’t stupid.

But this is no ordinary missing teen/young adult. As soon as Dex starts looking for her, she’s threatened away from the case, had the biggest gangster in the state (and probably then some) try to hire her as well (not instead of Grandma, just call him first), locked in her own trunk, shot (thankfully hitting the vest she had on under her clothes), and harassed (and lied to) by said gangster’s young adult kids. The danger and the second job offer convince Dex that she need to find the girl– and fast.

It’s a great story, a pretty murky beginning gets worse due to complications and narrative time jumps. The more you learn , the more you want to understand. The solution is quickly arrived at, but it takes a long time to get things in order. Things are tricky and Dex’s trying to keep everyone involved alive and maybe even (relatively speaking) honest.

I really liked it, but it felt…slim? As this collection is primarily about introducing the characters and world as well as telling the story, I’m not that annoyed by it. But I hope the next collection is more substantial (not much, but some).

Southworth’s art was fitting. It’s not the most gorgeous book ever, but it shouldn’t be. The word “noir” is the best one I can come up with — dark colors, lots of shadows, hard lines — it fits. It’s noir. It’s also very dynamic, there’s a good sense of motion to it. I can’t imagine better art for Rucka’s story.

Great characters, a good story, art that’s a perfect complement to both. This collection nails it. I’m coming back for more Dex and Stumptown.


3.5 Stars

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Venators: Promises Forged by Devri Walls: Out of the Frying Pan and into the . . . Clutches of a Life Siphoning Fae?

Venators: Promises ForgedVenators: Promises Forged

by Devri Walls
Series: Venators, #2

Paperback, 428 pg.
Brown Books Publishing Group, 2019

Read: May 3 – 7, 2019

I’m about a month late with this one — every time I sat down to write it, I decided I wanted to chew on things a bit more (and then I arranged to do a Q&A with the author in conjunction with the post and so I bought myself some time to let things stew while she found time to get the answers done). Now that I have her answers in my inbox, I have no excuse to put this off. So, despite some of my thoughts still being half-baked, here we go…

And yes, that was one very convoluted series of food metaphors. That really doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this post, does it?

So the ending of the previous book (Venators: Magic Unleashed) focused on a dragon being unleashed by the series’ (apparent) Big Bad, the sorceress Zio. Not surprisingly, the series central characters survived the encounter. This book starts with a quick recap of that survival from the point of view of Zio — which is a great way to get the reader back into the moment and build on their understanding of what happened and Zio.

We quickly return to our Earthlings, Grey and Rune and the aftermath of their unauthorized excursion to rescue humans from a werewolf pack, which culminated in the aforementioned dragon attack. Rune’s proving to be a quick study of Council politics and was able to turn things to their advantage and buy them some leniency from the Council. The ways the two humans respond to and interact with Council members is pretty interesting and I suspect will be one of the more interesting developments from this point forward in the series. I suspect the Venator abilities that make these two the warriors they are in this world are in play with Rune’s politicking — no one mentions mental acuity when talking about Venator abilities, but maybe they should. Watching Rune play the games (both successfully and less-so) that the various Council members throw her way is probably my favorite part of the character.

And she has to do a lot of politicking and game playing here, because her co-Venator and friend Grey has found himself in quite the pickle. After their ordeal with the werewolves, the two Earthlings’ need for training was even more apparent. They get just a little of it (a good, promising start) before getting momentarily side-tracked. Before they get a chance to build on that, Grey is lured into the one place the two have been told they absolutely cannot go. Because forbidding people from going somewhere always works out (how many Hogwarts students stayed out of the forest? How long did Belle stay out of the West Wing? Even the Federation had to know that forbidding landing on Talos IV wouldn’t work for long).

Grey has found himself in the clutches of a powerful Fae, Feena. Feena will spend days/weeks/years sucking the life out of her prisoners to feed her own magics. Given that Grey is more powerful than your typical Eonian, you know she’ll drag it out as long as possible. It’s a torturous experience for Grey, but he does what he can to resist and fight back. On the one hand, watching him stupidly and blindly put himself in this situation was maddening. But after that, watching Grey endure what he has to and struggle in response is pretty cool. As much as I appreciate Rune’s playing politics, I enjoy watching Grey in action.

So the book boils down to this — can Rune get permission to run a rescue mission — or at the very least, find a window in which she can pull off another unauthorized mission? Can Grey survive long enough for the cavalry to arrive? Assuming they do, how can Grey be rescued and the Venators get back to their training without causing a diplomatic incident that will shake up everything?

The actions of the Venators’ guides, teachers, allies confuse me. They’ve got these two kids in a world they clearly don’t understand, with abilities they don’t understand and then expect them to react appropriately in new situations. Even worse, all of them are keeping things from Grey and Rune — telling them half-truths, deflecting legitimate questions and delaying explanations. It’s maddening. It’s bad enough that the Council, who are clearly only using these two for their own ends do that, but the people who supposedly are looking to them to change the world? A little honesty, being a little forthcoming, helping them to avoid the minefields they keep running into rather than saying “oh, you shouldn’t have done that” — it would make it a lot easier for this reader to stomach them.

The Council? I need to see more of them. I have little patience for them as individuals or as an entity at the moment, but as individuals and as an entity there’s great potential for something interesting to happen. Feena’s a good villain — she’s not worth several books, but for one novel? She’s a good opponent. The Fae? It’s simple — any universe, any world, any author — when it comes to Fae politics, Fae dealings with other Fae, Fae dealings with non-Fae? It’s complicated, tricky and messy. It’s good to know you can count on something.

So much is happening in a very short period of time, it’s hard to know what kind of impact the events are having on anyone — it’s been less than two weeks since these two jumped into this world, leaving St. Louis behind. It’s hard for them — or a reader — to really take it all in. We do know that already both Venators are changing because of their abilities (as well as the experiences in this new world) — both are self-aware enough to see how it’s happening (at least in part) and are both resisting and embracing the changes. Both are, naturally, deluded about how easy it will be to resist this kind of thing — denial’s not just a river on Earth.

I’m enjoying these books — I do hope that under the new publisher, they’re able to come out pretty regularly, it’ll help sustain my interest (and, I’m guessing, the reading public’s). I know that Walls has several more books planned, so it makes it okay that I’m still on the fence about the series as a whole — there’s a lot of potential to the series and these characters and she has time to help them reach their potential. There are aspects of the books (the prospective — and lingering — romantic entanglements, for example) that I’m withholding an opinion on until more happens. And I’m not sure if I should appreciate how little we’re getting with Zio and Rune’s brother, or if it should annoy me. Is Walls building suspense, or is she simply being obfuscatory? I’m hoping that after Book 3, I’ll be more settled with my expectations about these books — I know I’m enjoying them, I’m just not sure if I should wait on them getting better.

An interesting world, great characters (even if they frustrate me), good action — and a fast moving plot. This YA fantasy is a crowd pleaser, I’m sure of that — you should join the crowd.


3.5 Stars
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Deadly Secrets by OMJ Ryan: A fast, taut thriller that’s sure to please.

Deadly SecretsDeadly Secrets

by OMJ Ryan

eARC, 331 pg.
Inkubator Books, 2019

Read: May 2, 2019

Marty had built his career on this kind of ill-informed information delivery derived from minimal facts. Until this moment, he had never appreciated the damage his ruthless ‘hunting’ had inflicted on so many innocent people caught in difficult situations. He had lived by the mantra, ‘throw enough mud and eventually some sticks.’It had never been truer than right now, ironically. The realisation of who and what he had become over the years left him feeling sick to his stomach.

Frequently, I have said that what you think of a particular book’s protagonist is going to determine what you think of the book — for example, if you don’t like Mark Whatney after a few pages, set The Martian aside — you’re not going to like the book. Or a certain protagonist’s charm or whatever is going to make up for some flaws in a book. That is not the case at all here — in fact, OMJ Ryan has pulled off the difficult feat of writing an entertaining and gripping novel featuring a character that I couldn’t stand. Honestly, at more than one point I thought I’d be okay with Marty Michaels spending the rest of his life in prison — if not for the miscarriage of justice and the fact that the real killer got away scot-free.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself — apparently, I needed to get that off my chest. So, Marty Michaels — a superstar of British radio (because, those things still exist?) — wakes up in a hotel room he doesn’t remember checking into after a night of drinking that he remembers almost none of. He stumbles around a bit and finds a dead woman — again, doesn’t remember this woman — in the room. So, naturally, he calls his agent. This is the caliber of person he is. Before his agent can show, the police — who seem to know what to look for — come pounding at the door and throw some cuffs on him and parade him out of the hotel, making sure many cameras get the chance to get photographs. Not that long ago, Marty had done some stories about the local police that had ruined a few careers, and these particular detectives take the opportunity for a little revenge.

In the early stages Marty thinks that his fame will get him out of the trouble he’s found himself in, or that it’ll all blow over quickly (probably aided by his celebrity). But it doesn’t, and he soon has to deal with the reality that he’s bound for prison unless something truly remarkable happens. His agent appears to be as loyal as you could want in a friend, his lawyer is about as smart as you could want (we’re told, I’d appreciate seeing more evidence), but they’re about all he’s got going for him. The evidence against him is overwhelming, the media smells blood in the water and they’re ready to tear him to shreds, and Marty is his own worst enemy doing stupid, reckless, ill-advised things (almost all of which are contra his lawyer’s advice) that keep getting him in more and more trouble.

After a week or so of this, Marty starts doing stupid, reckless and ill-advised things that are also actually constructive — he realizes that he can’t count on anyone else to help him prove his innocence and finds the best kind of ally for this kind of situation — a fellow journalist who believes him and is desperate to uncover what’s happening. Not for Marty’s benefit, but for the story. As far as the police are concerned they have their man — Marty’s two associates aren’t that much help — on his own (or with this ally) do enough to uncover the truth about what happened in that hotel room?

Ryan’s got a very complex novel here for us. Not the kind of complexity that will cost him readers because it’s too much to keep track of, but (thankfully) the kind of complexity that makes you more curious at every turn. The pacing is fantastic, the pages just melt away without you noticing because all you care about is finding out what happened. Everything else — including Marty’s well-being and lack of character — is tertiary at best.

It takes a long time (arguably too long) before Ryan tries to give us reasons for wanting to like Marty — and I don’t think they work (maybe if they’d been presented earlier), he’s a short-sighted, self-involved, self-important numbskull. Now, almost everything he does make sense given the context and are probably the same kind of stupid reactions 98% of people would naturally have in the face of the legal situation. But that didn’t once stop me from muttering (or jotting a note) about what a dunce Marty’s being at any given point.

This is very effective, entertaining and gripping. It’s not a perfect thriller, but it’s really good, and the flaws are minor and easily ignored. I would like to see what Ryan’s capable of with a protagonist I care about, but I’d be willing to try another adventure with a jackwagon like Marty Michaels if Ryan can make the circumstances as interesting. I recommend this one to the thriller readers out there, you’ll enjoy this ride.


3.5 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided (including a copy of the book).

Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls: Welcome to Eon in this Promising YA Fantasy Introduction

Venators: Magic UnleashedVenators: Magic Unleashed

by Devri Walls
Series: Venators, #1

Paperback, 354 pg.
Brown Books Publishing Group, 2018
Read: April 17 – 18, 2019

Back in 2016, I read and blogged about Venators: Through the Arch, which was later picked up by a new publisher, given a re-write, a spiffy new cover, and was re-born as Venators: Magic Unleashed. I haven’t read that old post in a long time, and won’t until I finish with this one, I’m only linking out of habit. I hate to say it, but I remember very little about the original version of this book beyond a vague grasp of the plot outline, some vague notions of characters and an overall positive regard. Oh, and a strong interest in volume two. This revamped version is stronger, with some of the rough edges smoothed out, and strengths sharpened. Brown Books and Walls made good use of the relaunch. But let’s set aside the comparisons and focus on Magic Unleashed.

This is a portal fantasy about a world called Eon, populated by humans, elves, vampires, werewolves, elves, dragons, etc. There are connections between Earth and Eon, allowing travel between the two — although they’re not as strong as they once were. It turns out some humans from Earth have a certain invulnerability to the kinds of magic employed by the various races (like a werewolf or vampire bite, but not, say, an invulnerability to a werewolf tearing off their head). Thee humans also have other enhanced physical attributes allowing them to go toe-to-toe in combat with members of these races. Which has made these humans a powerful force for good, and a potentially tyrannical force as well. Eon’s known more of the latter lately, which has led to a lack of recruitment.

But now, society’s on the verge of collapse into chaos, warring tribes trying to wipe out other races in a fight for dominance, and the end of law. So some people have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce these humans, Venators, to Eon. Enter Tate, a warrior who is convinced that Venators are the key to Eon’s survival — he’s been to Earth before, and now returns to bring back some people he observed then. Six years ago, he encountered a young teen named Grey Malteer — who was forever changed by their brief encounter. Now in college, Grey is about as well-read in the lore of the supernatural and weird as is possible for someone to be while stuck on Earth and not being known as a crackpot (although he’s regarded as pretty eccentric, probably well on his way to crack-pot status).

An acquaintance of his from childhood, now attending the same college, Rune Jenkins is repulsed by the same things that Grey is focused on (while also drawn to them). Rune is totally unprepared to accept that the supernatural is anything but wild fiction until she’s attacked by goblins and rescued by a large blue man (the aforementioned Tate). Which really can only make her a believer — or drive her to some sort of psychotic break. Thankfully, she goes with the former. Tate brings Rune and Grey into Eon and sets before them the calling of Venator.

To oversimplify things: from here out, the two are introduced to this world, the beings that populate it, the political realities that govern it (and see them only as pawns), and they begin to embrace their new identities, while engaging in a brief battle or two. While Rune and Grey are introduced to all this, so is the reader — and it’s clearly the point of this book — to bring the reader and these two into Eon, give us all a taste of what’s to come and help us get to know the players. There is a clear plotline and definite story here — don’t get me wrong — but the major function is to provide a foundation for things to come.

The book would have to be a lot longer to serve as anything other than an introduction — the ruling council alone is made up of enough characters we’d need a few more chapters to really get to know them and their goals — although they can be summed up in lust for power and influence for themselves and their race to the possible detriment of every other council member/race. Then you throw in Tate; his allies (however temporary) the vampire Veridia and the shapeshifter Beltran; the two humans; and the council’s enemy, Zio — and really, you’ve got enough players that you really can only skim the surface with in 354 pages.

We get to know Grey and Rune enough to see they’re well-developed and three-dimensional, and many of the rest show signs of being that developed, but we don’t get to see that fully displayed — but we see enough to know that given the opportunity, the characters will be easily fleshed out. One thing I noted in particular while reading this is just how many seeds Walls planted in the characters and situations to come back to in future installments. This foundation is built in such a way that several books can be built on it — it’s really impressive to note.

Yes, this is written for the YA market, so there’s a bit more action than others might use. There’s a focus on certain kinds of emotional beats, and that sort of thing. But it’s more of an accent to the storytelling than other writers would’ve made it. For some reason, Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter series and Brandon Mull’s Beyonders Trilogy come to mind as I think about similar series — but the YA-ness of both of those comes through more strongly than it does with this book.

Book Two, Venators: Promises Forged releases today, and I’m hoping to start it in a day or two — I’m looking forward to seeing how Walls takes all these ideas, characters, and potential and develops them. This is a good starting point, and what comes next can’t help but be better when she can focus more on exploring the world she’s created and shown us rather than just establishing it here. This is a good book and I do encourage people to read it, but its foundational nature should be borne in mind.


3.5 Stars

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I Want You Gone by Miranda Rijks: The Reports of Her Death are Greatly Exaggerated.

I Want You GoneI Want You Gone

by Miranda Rijks

Kindle Edition, 299 pg.
Inkubator Books, 2019

Read: April 10 – 11, 2019

There is just so much about this book that I can’t say here without ruining it. I can talk about premise, but I can’t talk about the plot much beyond that. As for characters? There’s really only one I can talk about. I really can’t talk about the minor issues I had without ruining a lot. Really, Rijks went out of her way to make this book almost impossible to talk about. Let’s see if I can figure out a way to say a little something, shall we?

Estate agent Laura Swallow gets a phone call from her daughter interrupting a first date — Mel’s away for her first term of University and checks her mom’s Facebook and sees that she’s being reported as dead. So instead of the phone calls she’s been making bewailing her loneliness, how hard it is being at school, etc., she calls to make sure Mom’s okay. Obviously, this casts a pall over the date and they call it a night.

The next day, Laura comes into work and discovers that her death is being reported in the newspaper, too. The description of her life in the death notification is unfavorable to say the least. It’s about as far from the laudatory and hagiographic words usually used as you can imagine. Laura starts to expect that this isn’t a misunderstanding, but there’s something malicious to all this. It doesn’t take too long for things to get worse — there’s someone clearly out to ruin whatever’s left of Laura’s life while trying to convince the rest of the world that she’s dead. Before long, it gets dangerous enough to be Laura that no one could help but wonder if the stories about her death were just a little early.

Laura doesn’t know who to suspect — her ex-husband? her ex-husband’s new significant other? the doctor she just started dating? a creepy client? Someone else? Laura doesn’t know what to do to find out. The reader will be a bit more objective and will have a longer suspect list that’ll include some friends that Laura can’t bring herself to suspect. Now at various points I could make a good case for any of the suspects being the person behind it all. But it turns out that my first guess was right — although there were enough red herrings that I had to keep guessing.

The characters are pretty well drawn and developed — obviously Laura more than the rest. Some of the other characters we get to know nearly as well, but not all of them. Laura’s still recovering from her sister’s death and her divorce, the events of this novel both accelerate the recovery and set it back. All in all, half the fun of this book is getting into her mind. I can’t say that I understand every choice she makes (actually there’s a few I can’t begin to understand), but it’s fun watching her make them.

I’m not convinced I buy the reactions her boss had to the whole situation — and I can’t imagine anyone having the take on the vandalism on her car that her boss and others did have (that one in particular chafed). But that’s pretty much the only false notes as far as characters go, and it did propel the plot. As far as the other characters go are concerned, pretty much anything I say would risk giving something away — so I’ll leave it at that. Even if you guess who’s behind everything, getting their motive right will be trickier, and you’re apt to second guess yourself a few times.

Rijks draws you in pretty quickly by Laura’s likeability and the strangeness of her circumstances, and then she keeps drawing you in more and more as things get stranger and more dire. If you’re not leaning forward a little bit during the last couple of chapters, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

A great, twisty story that’ll keep you guessing as it entertains. It’s just what you want in a psychological thriller — creepy, atmospheric, with a good story with a protagonist and antagonist that you can dig your teeth into. It’s the kind of book that’ll keep you gripped and may make you lose a little sleep right up until the end, well worth your time.


3.5 Stars

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

Dispatches from a Tourist Trap by James Bailey: Jason’s Woes Follow (and Grow) in his new Small Town

Dispatches from a Tourist TrapDispatches from a Tourist Trap

by James Bailey

Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 253 pg.
Read: April 1, 2019

Sometimes lately I feel like life is a chess match, and no matter how hard I look at the board I can’t see the next move. Or maybe I think I see it, but really I don’t. Like my pawn is sitting there, all ready to put the other king in check, and somehow my queen gets swiped and two moves later I’ve lost the game and my pawn is still waiting there, impotent and useless.

So Jason mother’s Janice continues her bad decisions when it comes to men — she leaves her husband for a new guy, who happens to be the dentist she’s started working for. We met him in The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, and they clearly didn’t waste time resuming whatever it was they had back in high school. Janice has moved herself and Jason to her parents’ house, enrolled Jason in a school filled with very friendly people, and tried to move on with her life.

Jason realizes full-well that his choices are a life with his grandparents and a much smaller school, hours away from his friends and girlfriend; or life with Rob, near them. As much as he doesn’t want to be in Icicle Flats, he knows it’s the better choice available. But he complains the whole time about it — this is good for readers, Jason complaining makes for an entertaining read. This time, he’s not just complaining in emails, he’s set up a blog, too. I was wondering how the blog was going to work instead of the emails — it’s actually a really good move, allowing Jason to tell longer stories without the emails being too long.

Which is good — because he has long stories to tell this time. There’s a literature club he’s involved with at school that’s discussing books that ruffle the feathers of many, which leads to all sorts of trouble. There’s a flirtation with pirate radio. A camping trip that is fantastic to read about (and probably not a lot of fun to live through). A disastrous experiment with eBay. And basically, a bucket-load of culture shock. Also, after a few short weeks of dating, Jason’s first real relationship becomes a long-distance one. High school relationships are bad enough, throwing in a few hour bus-ride into things is just asking for trouble. So yeah, between emails and his blog — he’s got a lot to write about, and his friends have a lot to respond to. Somehow, they make it through the school year more or less intact.

Jason feels incredibly authentic — immature, self-centered, irresponsible, but he’s got his moments. He can put others before himself, do the right thing because it’s right — not to stay out of trouble; But man, he can be frustrating the rest of the time. There were a lot of opportunities along the way here for him to be a better friend, a much better boyfriend, son and grandson; and he missed almost all of them. He comes through when necessary, don’t get me wrong and he’s not a bad guy — I just wish he’d grow up a bit faster. Which again, means that Bailey has nailed his characterization, this his how people his age should be.

I’m less than thrilled with Bailey’s approach to religious characters in these two books. I’m not questioning that there are people like the characters he depicts running around everywhere and that the situations would’ve played out a lot like they did here (but some of it pushed believability). I just would like a small indication that there were some sincere people trying to do the right thing in the middle of all this.

Having talked about The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo just two weeks ago, it feels hard to talk about this book beyond some of the plot changes — this feels like the same book, just with new problems. Which is pretty much the point, right? I still like Jason (as frustrating as he can be), his girlfriend is fantastic, I want good things to happen to Drew. Jason’s already complicated life is about to get a lot worse, which should prove very entertaining for the rest of us. A strong follow-up in this series.


3.5 Stars
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