The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

The Dark ProphecyThe Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond
Series: Trials of Apollo, #2

Undabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, and 31 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: October 5 – 11, 2017


I’m not sure how to give a plot synopsis here — basically, it’s the continuation of the Trials of Apollo. He has another task to accomplish — another of the new emperors to take down before the third one, in the next book. It’s the same ol’ set up that has served Riordan so well — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Basically, Apollo/Lester has to go and find another Oracle. To do so, really, he has to face a lot of people that he’s hurt/disappointed over the millennia. He learns a lot about himself, matures a bit. That part was good — and the whole thing was entertaining. But it felt stale. I liked The Hidden Oracle a lot and was excited to see where this series went. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll finish the series, but with greatly diminished expectations.

Not that it got into details, but there was a lot more intimated/flat-out said Apollo’s sexual history than I’m comfortable with for a MG book. The previous books in the Percy-verse suggested sexual orientation and activity, there was some romance, but this went much further than any of those. Honestly, it went a step too far. If this wasn’t a part of the Percy-verse, or was clearly marketed toward older readers, it wouldn’t have been that bad and I wouldn’t have said anything about it. But that’s not the case here.

As far as the audiobook goes, it was rough. Robbie Daymond was very aware that he was reading amusing material and he read it like each line was a punchline. It was the vocal equivalent of mugging for the camera, if you will. Now, there were a couple of serious and poignant moments, and Daymond pulled those off well, but otherwise it was tough to listen to.

I didn’t like the narration, and didn’t think the story/writing was as crisp as the first book in the series. But it was still entertaining enough. This isn’t the one to start reading Riordan. But it’ll do for his older readers.

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3 Stars

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Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

BonfireBonfire

by Krysten Ritter

eARC, 288 pg.
Crown Archetype, 2017

Read: October 6 – 10, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 Stars

A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell

A Long Day in LychfordA Long Day in Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #3

Kindle Edition, 128 pg.
Tor.com, 2017

Read: October 10, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 Stars

All Tucked Inn (Audiobook) by Mindy M. Shelton, Tia Sorenson

All Tucked InnAll Tucked Inn

by Mindy M. Shelton, Tia Sorenson (Narrator)
Series: Elizabeth Burke, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs 46 min.
2016

Read: September 18 – 20, 2017


Lizzie Burke lives with her widowed mother and younger brother in her mother’s B&B, which is near the college she starts when we meet her. She makes a few friends on the first day of classes, and things seem to be going pretty well. Until one of her new friends goes missing — and many (not Lizzie) assume she’s been killed. Especially when another girl goes missing not too long after this. Now, as Lizzie and her friends are Criminal Justice majors, I assumed they’d start investigating things on their own, meddling with the official investigations, and get the killer themselves. But nope. They’re just on the sidelines, worrying about their friend and the others — until things happen, forcing them to action.

Meanwhile, Lizzie deals with several guys expressing various degrees of romantic interest in her. All of whom are creeps of the first order. Seriously, she’s like a magnet for them. Hopefully before the next book in the series, Lizzie takes a long, hard look at herself and comes up with some basic standards — or decides not to date until she gets her Master’s. I wasn’t sure what to think of Lizzie for most of the book really, she was pretty passive as protagonists go. But once she started actively doing things, I liked her a lot.

The tone is light and optimistic — there’s some good relationships established between Lizzie and her family, as well as her new friends. It’s basically a cozy with a few very dark and non-cozy chapters thrown in. I think the serial killer’s POV chapters could be stronger and more nuanced — but man, it’s hard to get that right if you’re not Thomas Harris or Val McDermid. Mostly, it’s a bunch of nice people watching something horrific happen in their midst and trying to keep going, and most of that is something I can really get behind.

But I did have a few problems, and I’m only going to talk about them because I think that the book as a whole demonstrates that Shelton has the good to lose them in future books — and, they all took me out of the moment, ruining whatever illusion she’d built with her storytelling.

The police (and/or FBI) procedural aspects were horrible — FBI doesn’t have detectives, they wouldn’t do a press conference that way, there’s no need to get college kids pouring through public records when there are literally people at police stations and/or FBI offices that have access to the same information (and more) who can get it faster. There’s some other spoiler-y problems, too. On the one hand, the problems don’t destroy the story, but man, they took me out of the moment, out of the story long enough to make me wonder about why the author couldn’t take a moment in revision to fix things like that.

My biggest problem was that I successfully identified the killer when they first showed up — chapters ahead of the first abduction, and I never had any reason to question that identification. Which would be one thing if I thought I was supposed to make that identification, but I don’t think I was. The various herrings weren’t just red, they were crimson, maroon, and fire truck red.

The writing itself was okay — there was one moment that Shelton did a really nice job showing that X was attracted to Y, and then followed it up with telling us X was attracted to Y, absolutely ruining the moment. There were a few more things like that — it’s almost as if Shelton doesn’t trust herself or her readers (or both). Another moment that really stuck out to me was where she described someone’s nickname as “a funny nickname” before describing where it came from — no one gets other kinds of nicknames that aren’t just abbreviations of their names. There aren’t depressing nicknames, memento mori nicknames, etc. Just tell us its a nickname, describe the incident and move on — better yet, say R is called S because . . . and let the reader supply “nickname” and “funny” to it. Most of all, trust your readers — they’re pretty clever.

A few other niggling problems — the chronology at a point or two is hard to follow; Lizzie says a lot with looks, which is fine if that’s how she is, but maybe the sentence structure could change a little when she does it? The other part that was hard for me was trying to figure out when this took place — and yes, it’s possible that the year was given in the opening seconds of the book and I missed it. But almost no one used call phones (and one who did, flipped it closed), students used pencils and paper in class — yet it seemed to be fairly contemporary otherwise. There were enough references to CSI to make it post-2000, but I’m not sure how much so.

Sorenson did an all right job with the narration — although I’m pretty sure she missed a pronoun or two, and at one point she read a word that doesn’t exist — I had to rewind and listen to the sentence 5 times to figure out what she actually said and then translate it into English. Maybe it was a typo in her copy and she just rolled with it, or maybe she just bobbled the word. Either way, that’s just not good.

Yeah, I had a lot of negative(ish) things to say, but I still recommend the book. This book did its job — it entertained me just enough to keep going and it introduced me to some characters I’d like to spend some more time with (and most of them survived), even if I wasn’t crazy about a lot of their choices/actions throughout the book. I am really very curious about what Shelton is going to do with this series, how is she going to put Burke in the middle of another criminal investigation — will she have learned something from this experience that will help her?

Disclaimer: — I received a copy of the audiobook from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. Which may not have gone as well as she hoped. I appreciate the book, and the interaction with her (she’s pretty funny), but the opinions expressed where fully mine.

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3 Stars

The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job by C. J. Williams

The Shadow of Christ in the Book of JobThe Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job

by C. J. Williams

Paperback, 96 pg.
Wipf and Stock, 2017

Read: August 27, 2017


Just some quick thoughts on a quick read…

Williams begins this brief book with a chapter on typology, what is it and why should we use it. Essentially, his definition of a type is: a living prophecy concerning God’s promised (centering on Jesus) for the benefit of God’s people throughout the ages. Which is a pretty handy definition, made more so by the rest of his discussion.

That accomplished, Williams applies it to the book of Job, and its central figure. Essentially, he gives a chronological survey over 10 chapters showing the typology involved. I found these chapters refreshing in their perspective, and instructive for how to look at other biblical texts in the same light. The last chapter, “What the Book of Job Means Today,” applies it to the Christian reader, what can his takeaway be from the book as he seeks sanctification, which was pretty helpful.

This is not a commentary on Job (I’d love to read one in this vein, especially by Williams), he’s brief by design. I think he could’ve been slightly less brief without making the book inaccessible or too involved. This brevity frequently frustrating — he’ll give an idea in a sentence, or disagree with a thought in a sentence, that could easily have been a paragraph (the latter was more annoying to me). Just a little more development of some of these ideas would’ve greatly improved the book.

A helpful way of seeing how typology can be faithfully utilized, as well as a reminder of the character of our Lord seen in the lives of His saints. A good use of an hour or two of your time.

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3 Stars

#Next Level Manners by Rachel Isgar, Ph.D.

#Next Level Manners#Next Level Manners: Business Etiquette For Millennials

by Rachel Isgar, Ph.D., Sarah Lane (Illustrator)
Kindle Edition, 78 pg.
Please Pass the Manners, 2017

Read: July 22, 2017


This isn’t a traditional etiquette book, its focus is on business manners for Millennials. It’s about equipping the reader so that they have

a solid set of manners at hand will give you a basic strategy for the type of interactions that will raise that bar [on your personal brand]. The right business etiquette will make you stand out in all kind of great ways.

Isgar does this by focusing on a variety of scenarios that people in the workplace (well, some of them, anyway) will encounter, giving tips, suggestions, and guidelines to equip the reader to navigate them in a way that will help them at work and lay a foundation for future progress. The writing is crisp, clear, with suggestions of humor — to keep the reader engaged, not to detract from the message. There’s not much more to say about that — the book has a simple focus and achieves it.

Like most writing on etiquette, a good deal of this seems like little more than common sense that someone jotted down — but, also like most writing on etiquette, when you stop and think about it, someone needs to be dispensing the common sense that doesn’t really seem all that common. For example, I frequently wondered if she was spending too much time talking about phone/tablet/etc. use. Then I spent some time at work, looking around and started to wonder if she talked about that enough.

Lane’s illustrations are a nice touch — they don’t distract from the text while making the book more attractive. Outside of illustrations in a children’s book or instructional manual, that’s all I ask.

Could the book have been longer, could it have included Millennials in a wider-range of jobs? Yes. But even things that aren’t directly applicable to most readers are easily made relevant to them. Is it too dependent on buzz words? Yes. But that doesn’t detract from the value. Do the frequent uses of emojis detract from the text? Yes, I think so. But I’ve never seen anything that wasn’t hurt by an emoji — color me a grumpy old man, if you will, I’m simply saying that you should take that note with whatever amount of salt you deem appropriate.

#Next Level Manners is a quick, frank, attractive read. There’s plenty of handy advice delivered in an easily digestible manner. Give it a shot.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity.

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3 Stars

Double Lives by Matt Cowper

Double LivesDouble Lives

by Matt Cowper
Series: Johnny Wagner, Godlike PI, #1

Kindle Edition, 380 pg.
2017

Read: August 23 – 26, 2017


Double Lives takes place in a world as overloaded with super-heroes and super-villains as The Tick (comic or cartoon), Powers (comic) or Powerless (TV). But our protagonist isn’t a super-hero, at least not any more. Now, he’s a P. I. — with a twist. A minor deity (whose name I will not try to type), nicknamed Dak has been merged with him and acts as his right arm.

Dak is a god of destruction, and will use power beams, super-strength and the like to achieve this destruction, as often as possible — even when it works against his host, Johnny Wagner, professionally or personally. He will also, at whim, start an argument with Johnny or anyone nearby, threaten them, or just sound off about whatever he wants to — again, even when it works against his host. Dak is really annoying, but will (mostly) grow on you. I did enjoy his origin story, I should add.

Johnny’s a typical down-on-his-luck P.I., there’s really nothing about him early on that will make you think hes anything but a comic book version of Marlowe-clone. Which is fine to start with, and thankfully Cowper doesn’t leave him that way. He is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged and interested.

The hero Captain Neptune has recently been killed by a laughable member of his rogues gallery, Gray Squirrel. The killing was very public, very definite, and very, very filmed. As such, Gray Squirrel is going away for a very long time. Until Neptune’s widow hires Johnny to investigate. She just doesn’t think that Gray Squirrel intended to kill him, and wants Johnny to uncover the truth about what happened.

Sadly, Johnny just doesn’t uncover that, but he unearths many things that people’d prefer were kept under wraps. There’s a decent bit of investigation that goes on, punctuated with some very well-written comic book fight scenes. I was less than impressed with the dialogue, which was frequently problematic, and the romantic storyline. The rest worked, in a heightened-comic book reality way. Which is not a slam, it’s a description — I’m a comic fan, I wish I could read more. I enjoyed the other characters — minor, allies, villains of various degrees of power, heroes (most of whom come across as real jerks), too.

The climactic battles were really well-executed, and even if I hadn’t been won over by the book by this time, I’d probably recommend the books just for them. Thankfully, I can say that there’s a lot more going for Double Lives than those two battles. It’s a lot of fun, and super-hero fans should find plenty to reward their time if they read this.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity.

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3 Stars