Gravity by Maggie Lynch: A Promising Start to a Space Opera Saga

I’d like to take a beat to apologize to Maggie Lynch, I’d intended to get this posted a couple of weeks ago, but other priorities/commitments/energy levels kept intervening.

GravityGravity

by Maggie Lynch
Series: The Obsidian Rim, #1Kindle Edition, 235 pg.
Windtree Press, 2019

Read: July 9 – 11, 2019

Lehana is a smuggler known throughout the Outer Rim as one who’ll take just about any job if the price is right. That’s actually about all that anyone knows about her, really. Thanks to a small computer problem, Lehana crashes onto a mining planet, seriously impeding their production for a couple of days. To appease the owners of the mines, as well as to get a little assistance, she agrees to one of those jobs she has turned down before.

Because of a bad experience she had with the man who runs the mine, Lehana decides to take one of his slaves with her as she leaves. What she doesn’t know is that she helped other slaves—a man and his two cryogenically frozen children—leave the planet. She’d have been well within her rights to turn them over, but that didn’t sit right with her. She’s no supporter of slavery, but she’s not a revolutionary either and would prefer to just do her own thing without getting embroiled in anything. Still, she can’t hand over kids.

Taking that many slaves is enough to get her current clients to send people after her, and the rest of the book revolves around the questions: can she successfully deliver her cargo and make a profit off of it, before those coming to collect the brand new price on her head show up to collect? Can she—does she want to—save the lives of the stowaways? Will she work again after this stunt?

I really appreciated the way that Lynch set up these characters and introduced us to this world. It feels familiar to people who’ve read a smattering of Space Operas before, but it’s not a clone of any that I know of. A mix of the routine and the new makes for an easy entry into the world for the reader. This applies for the way the characters were introduced to each other and became a team, as well as the world they exist in.

Lehana’s a solid character to build a series on, and the other characters that were prominent were pretty strong, too. I don’t feel comfortable getting into the characters as much as usual, I think you should get to know them in the novel rather than me getting into a discussion too deep, I’m just afraid I’d spoil too much. On the whole, I liked the characters—there were a couple of people on Lehana’s crew that were sidelined most of the time, but the others really clicked well for me. I’d have preferred more time with just about all of them over the stuff that I’ll talk about in the next paragraph. Now, the characters that I found the most interesting (at least one of them) were not the characters that Lynch found the most use for. I grant you that I may be more curious about them than I am others because Lynch didn’t focus on them as much, so there are more questions about them.

My biggest gripe would have to be about the way that Lehana and Kash interacted with the ship to help the navigation—it just didn’t make sense. I mean, I got it—both the way it was described and the way that Lynch used it to spur some character development in Lehana. But it’s not something I could really buy/accept. I don’t think this is a reflection on Lynch’s writing, it’s the concept behind it. It’s hard to talk about briefly and without ruining the story for anyone, but I just didn’t like it. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the prominence it took in the storytelling. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I found it annoying and boring at the same time. On a related note, I think the amount and detail of sexual references could’ve been toned down, but I skew prudish, I know.

I had a good time reading this—it was fast, it was fun, set in an intriguing world with well-constructed and entertaining characters. I think I’m curious enough about what’s going on to come back for more—and maybe to check out some other works in this universe, just to see how they’re different/similar. If you’re in the mood for a nice space opera, this could just be the thing for you.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for this post, but I read it because I wanted to and the opinions expressed are my own and not influenced by her.

—–

3 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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Base Cowboys by Mark Farrer: Enjoyable Scottish Crime Novellas about a wandering antihero

Base CowboysBase Cowboys

by Mark Farrer
Series: Cullen, #1

Kindle Edition, 356 pg.
Funny Business Press, 2019

Read: July 22, 2019

This is a collection of three novellas featuring Farrer’s character of Cullen in and around a city near the Scottish border — Dirty Barry, Bronchial Billy and Pale Ale Rider. As you can probably guess from the plays on Eastwood film titles, we’re supposed to be thinking of an Eastwood-hero type, wandering into the midst of someone else’s (or several someone elses) life and setting things right, stopping a crime, etc. Also, from the play in the titles, they’re of a lighter tone — they’re described as comic, I didn’t particularly find them that, but they are clearly written for the fun side of Crime Fiction, not the serious, dark, or brooding side.

Dirty Barry tells the story of the world’s sleaziest dentist. For sport, he has affairs/one night stands/flings with as many married patients as he can — blackmailing them to continue as he sees fit. Until one day, Cullen walks in with some tooth pain. We meet Big Paul here (more on him later), and three other characters who more than make up for the sleaze brought in by Barry.

Bronchial Billy is about a boorish octagenarian would-be-slumlord (if he had more than one house he rented, he might qualify). He annoys Cullen one night due to his drunken revelry, which ends up toppling a series of dominoes — Billy’s family, hobbies, and livelihood will never be the same. Big Paul’s around for some of this and has a connection to one of Billy’s tenants.

Pale Ale Rider is probably my favorite of the three. It’s the story of a teenage petty criminal with the eyes of a serial killer, the young woman who puts him on a trajectory toward more serious crime and the small brewery (and some employees thereof) that unwittingly provide him a home base and the means for his crimes.

The central character, who really isn’t around as much as you might expect is Cullen, an ex-police detective anti-hero type. Homeless by choice, and living entirely off-the-grid (and unaware of much happening on the grid), he wanders around the country righting wrongs and living life on his own terms (like TV’s David Banner — without the gamma-radiation-induced temper issue). I don’t particularly mind or dislike him, I just don’t think he’s that interesting — I see where he’s supposed to be, but he never clicked for me. I think I need a little more of/about him before I could be hooked.

On the other hand, there’s one other character who shows up in each story that I did find pretty interesting, and would happily read more of — Big Paul/Beep (a nickname we see explained repeatedly, but not used) is a laid-back carpenter, with a very casual attitude toward life, money and punctuality. He’s not the most educated of men, but later shows some signs of effort to change that. He’s just a fun character, someone you’d probably like to hang out with.

Almost every other character is pretty well-drawn and fleshed-out. Yeah, we learn a bit too much about them in info dumps, but Farrer does a good job of building on those descriptions and rounding out the characters in the following pages. From the titular characters to their victims, family or friends these characters are what make the novellas compelling and interesting. They’re the real stars of the various novellas and the reason to keep reading.

Aside from a pretty non-compelling protagonist, my major complaint is the amount of crass descriptions and depictions of sex. Yes, sex is very important to one plot and is a powerful motivator in the others, and thankfully we’re not given a detailed description of the act. But it’s too pervasive for me, particularly the way it’s talked about (by both characters and narration). Call me a prude, or whatever, but it just struck me as distasteful.

These are fast, off-beat, readable works full of compelling characters (if you ignore the protagonist, who isn’t bad, he’s just not as interesting as the rest) — this book/these novellas are just the thing for a quick, refreshing read — not a full meal, but a hearty snack. I do recommend reading them separately, I think they’d be more enjoyable not read back-to-back-to-back, but that’s tough to say with any degree of certainty. Give them a shot.

—–

3 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge


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

In the Eye by Robert Germaux: Barnes hunts for a missing woman in a solid PI novel

If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said that this was the third book featuring the private eye Jeremy Barnes. Apparently, it’s the second. I’d have insisted I read two others, however — but my archives, Amazon and Germaux’s website tell me I’m wrong. I’ve also read one of the two books he’s written about Pittsburgh Police Detective Daniel Hayes. With both series, you almost instantly feel like you’re returning to a beloved series that you’ve been reading for years. Already this week, we’ve seen the grittier side of Indie Crime fiction — but here’s another side, light, action-driven, character-oriented, dialogue-heavy. Or, to put it another way — fun.

I read another author last week complain that when his work is characterized as “light” it’s frequently taken as a criticism — so I want to stress that I don’t mean it that way at all. I mean it as a compliment — pleasant, quick, entertaining.

I’m getting off topic and this intro is now far too long — so I’ll shut up now and get on with talking about this particular Indie Crime novel.

In the EyeIn the Eye

by Robert Germaux
Series: Jeremy Barnes, #2

Kindle Edition, 272 pg.
2018
Read: July 12 – 13, 2019

           I hung my jacket on the brass coat rack in one corner of the loft, then sat at my desk for a few minutes going through the snail mail that had accumulated since my last time there. There were three checks for services rendered, all of them for background checks I’d run on job applicants for local business owners. The background checks hadn’t taken me very long, which was reflected in the fees I’d charged. Still, three checks in one day. Maybe I should hire an accountant. I glanced down at the checks again. They totaled a little over five-hundred dollars. Maybe hold off on that accountant thing awhile.

Pittsburgh PI, Jeremy Barnes (call him JB), is in the office this day to meet a prospective client. The love of her life is missing, and she assumes — insists it has to be — foul play. JB (like his mentor) doesn’t like missing persons work — it’s too easy for things to go very wrong. But something about this woman’s plight moves him to accept the case. It doesn’t take JB long to reach the same conclusion — she didn’t leave on her own, and she’s not coming back on her own either. As this is a lesbian couple in a pretty conservative small town, JB doesn’t expect a lot of police help (especially once he learns a little about the Chief) — there’s one officer who is doing everything he can, his hands are tied. It’s all up to JB.

JB, a former high school English teacher, is a pretty good character. He’s got the right balance of smarts, toughness and wise cracks to qualify as a PI protagonist. His girlfriend and friends are as charming and interesting as he is. Basically, they’re characters you want to read about. Either hanging out after work or on the job, they’re a lot of fun. I do think the criminals in this book — and those who think like them — are depicted shallowly, and are largely unfair stereotypes. Far too much time is devoted to JB taking cheap verbal shots at them (in the narration or to their face). But the rest of the characters — witnesses, other police officers, friends of the victim — are well done, and add to the story rather than slowing things down or detracting from the pacing.

A quick aside — I appreciated the way that JB’s girlfriend Laura asks about getting too absorbed with a missing persons case and his answer. I wanted to ask her question of JB myself (and a few other PIs, too). More than that, I really liked his answer.

Robert B. Parker’s shadow is a long one in contemporary American Detective Fiction, as I’m sure is news to no one. Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Craig Johnson all are clearly influenced by Parker (even Jim Butcher’s work had RBP’s fingerprints all over it) — but few show their indebtedness to him as obviously as Robert Germaux. This is not a bad thing, this is just an observation. If you’re going to be standing on someone’s shoulders, might as well be the best. It was easy to see in Hard Court, but there are times in this book where I felt I was being hit over the head with it. If I was feeling uncharitable, I could describe this as a watered-down update of Looking for Rachel Wallace with a tiny bit of God Save the Child thrown in. But it’s a pleasant-enough read that I don’t want to be uncharitable — so I’ll just say that the novel wears its influences on its sleeve.

And it is pleasant to read, sometimes with crime fiction, it’s hard to remember that this is a hobby I pursue for pleasure. But with JB’s narration, it’s all about enjoying the ride. I wish more people could pull that off. In the Eye is firmly in the P.I. vein, but isn’t so hard-boiled that someone accustomed to reading cozies couldn’t slip right in. While it’s the second in the series, you don’t have to read them in order — you can (and I’d encourage you to) jump right in anywhere. This is a fun read with a cast of characters you want to spend time with — I’m willing to bet it’s re-readable, too. It inspired me to give the first JB book another read (not sure when I’ll find the time, but I want to).

For a fast, easy read that’s sure to please, In the Eye is just what the doctor ordered.

—–

3 Stars

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch: Meeting Peter Grant’s German Counterpart

The October ManThe October Man

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #7.5

Hardcover, 208 pg.
Subterranean Press , 2019
Read: June 19 – 21, 2019

So about the time that the one German Magic Practitioner hears that Nightengale has taken on an apprentice in Peter Grant, she decides that it’s time for Germany to do the same — keeping the playing field level, and all — she finds that apprentice in a second generation police officer, Tobias Winter. We meet Tobias a few years into things when he’s called away from leave time to investigate something that may be supernaturally related.

He recognizes vestigia right away — although I think the manner of death would be a pretty big tip off, no matter what. A mysterious fungal rot that covers him in precisely the way that fungus doesn’t cover people. I can’t do justice to how creepy it sounds when Tobias narrates it for us — you’ll have to read it.

Tobias is teamed up with Vanessa Sommer, a local police officer who knows the area, knows a bit about the particular fungus, and is super-curious about magic. Naturally, there’s an encounter with a River or two, and an interesting take on regional history — because this is a Rivers of London novel, what else are you going to get?

It’s a quick read with great story and the kind of people that Aaronovich fills his books with — these just happen to speak German and look at things in a different way from Peter and those he usually runs with — Tobias isn’t as funny as Peter, but he’s amusing to read and handles things in ways that Peter doesn’t. Still, at the end of the day, Peter’d be happy getting the same result (and probably would be jealous how little property damage that Tobias inflicts before wrapping up the investigation).

We’ve been given glimpses of what Nightengale and his fellows got involved in during WWII, but here we get more details — from the German point of view. It’s always been clear that happened wasn’t pretty — but I didn’t realize just how devastating it was until now. It’s also interesting to see just how significant it was for Nightengale to make Peter an apprentice. He essentially kicked off an international magical arms race (of sorts). Don’t get me wrong, the main point of this book is to be introduced to new characters, to see how magic is dealt with somewhere that isn’t London — but man, what we learn about things in London is fascinating.

I don’t know how this qualifies as a novella — even a “long novella,” as I’ve seen it marketed. I have several novels within reach of me right now that are smaller than this. It’s a semantic thing, but book nerds are supposed to be into words — so I don’t get it. Two hundred eight pages does not mean novella to me. If someone can explain it (or point to where Aaronovitch or Subterrerean Press explained it already), I’d appreciate it. Just to scratch that intellectual itch.

Aside from what to call this book, I enjoyed it. Tobias is an good character, he’s no Peter Grant, but he’s not supposed to be (in either Aaronovitch’s mind or the German practitioners’). I’d like he and Peter or he and the Nightengale to brush up against each other — or to have extended contact (like FBI Agent Reynolds and the Folly have had). If Aaronovitch decides on writing another novella/novel/adventure with him, I’d jump on it. But I’m not going to be waiting expectantly — if he doesn’t want to write another (or sales don’t justify it), I can be satisfied with just this much that we’ve been given here.

This’d be a great jumping on point for someone who wants to get a feel for the Rivers of London and Aaronovitch’s style. It’s also a great way for devoted fans of that series to dabble in something new, get a fresh perspective and realize that Peter Grant’s world is smaller than he realizes — while enjoying a creative and fun story.

—–

3 Stars

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: — King City by Lee Goldberg

So, I couldn’t get anything written tonight — and Lee Goldberg’s on my mind, so I thought I’d repost a couple of the many posts I’ve done about his books (which is probably less than 50% of what I’ve read). Here’s one from Goodreads before I started this here blog.

King CityKing City

by Lee Goldberg

Paperback, 246 pg.
Thomas and Mercer, 2012
Read: July 4-5, 2012

One part Jack Reacher, one part Jesse Stone, this first installment in Lee Goldberg’s new series reads like a Western set in the 21st century.

Tom Wade, a rigorously scrupulous cop is assigned to a part of King City so crime and poverty-ridden that city officials pretend it doesn’t exist. He’s sent there because the police force is overly-politicized where it isn’t overtly corrupted, and they can’t fire such an upstanding cop–but maybe his new post will lead to him being killed.

Wade is fully aware of this, but accepts his new post with gusto–he has a chance to make a difference and sets out to do so in as splashy a way as possible.

This isn’t a subtle book with complex characters–and doesn’t try to be. The characters are pretty much the dictionary definition of “stock,” the good guys are good, the bad guys are really bad–and that’s that. A fun, straightforward testosterone-y action book. Hopefully the first of many.

—–

3 Stars

The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips: The Legendary Graphic Novel Gets the Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Treatment

The Killing JokeThe Killing Joke

by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips
Series: BatmanHardcover, 293 pg.
Titan Books, 2018

Read: May 14, 2019

Leland liked to think that she had a finely tuned bullshit detector. It went with the job and–much to the dismay of the men she dated–tended to spill over into her private life, as well. Something about the Joker, however, messed with her ability on the deepest level. Like a magnet throwing off a compass needle.

She’d dealt with more than her share of compulsive liars, narcissists, and psychotics so alienated from reality that they were unable to distinguish truth from fiction. But the Joker was different.

Her testimony in court had led to the judgment that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, and he had been remanded to her care at Arkham. Yet, in her darkest, most sleepless hours she wondered if maybe he wasn’t insane after all. Not in the clinical sense, at last. Perhaps it was all just an elaborate act. A complex joke with an unfathomable punchline they might never see coming. If it ever came at all.

I don’t think I got my hands on the original The Killing Joke in 1988, I think my friend and I waited until ’89 for financial reasons (in your early teens and unemployable, funds were tight), but maybe we were some of the early readers. The when is murky, but our reactions were not. This was a fantastic story with unbelievable art — it blew our young minds. In the years since, I’ve read it countless times, and while I still enjoy the core of the book, there are bits that make me wonder why. Bolland’s art still blows me away.

The animated movie version wasn’t bad, as I recall. I’ve only watched it once and my memory’s not crisp about it. My point is, that I know this story pretty well. When I heard that Titan books was going to be doing a series of new novels about Batman and they’d start with an adaptation of this story, I was skeptical, but at the same time — an extended version of this story? This could be really good — but how were they going to get that much material?

It turns out that the key to that is the same strategy that allowed Peter Jackson to make a smallish children’s novel into a very long movie trilogy — just make up a bunch of stuff and shove it in here and there. Obviously, any novel treatment of the graphic novel (or movie) is going to do that to some extent — but I’d be willing to wager that up to 65% of this book is new, and not even hinted at in the original. Which bothers me on one level, but intrigues me on others — also, I liked the new stuff.

Batman and Batgirl are independently (usually) looking into the appearance and distribution of a new drug on Gotham’s scene — Giggle Sniff. It’s based on the Joker’s venom and is selling like crazy. There’s a lot of bouncing around as the Caped Crusaders tear through the underworld, looking for the sources of the drug — and interfering as much as possible with the sales and distribution. Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock are also nosing around, and turning up the heat on the dealers. There are some great action sequences, some interesting characters introduced.

While that’s going on, the Joker’s breaking out of Arkham and setting the stage for what he wants to do next. Then we get the adaptation of the Killing joke in the last quarter or so of the novel. Here, there’s minimal changes form the source material — some expanding of ideas, but nothing major or objectionable. If you know the graphic novel, then you know exactly what happens at this point, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spill the beans. I even liked their take on Batman’s reaction to the dumb joke told at the end — I think they made that problematic moment work.

The characters are well done, the action moves well — it’s just the execution of the idea overall that gives me any pause. There’s a little bit about the birth of the Internet as we now know it that’s really nicely pulled off.

The bits of this book that were an adaptation of the Moore/Bolland graphic novel were really well done — and the way these authors filled in some of the details and gave a very contemporary backstory to part of it worked in ways I didn’t expect. Also, the Giggle Sniff part of the book was pretty good. And if either one of them had been the core of a novel, I’d very likely be more positive about those books. But shoving the two of these together? It didn’t work that well. I liked the novel, but I can’t recommend it too highly because the two parts of the novel are just too distinct from one another to see why the authors made these choices.

—–

3 Stars

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam: A Very Pleasant Novel of the Elderly Curmudgeon Reevaluates His Life/Attitudes Stripe

Professor Chandra Follows His BlissProfessor Chandra Follows His Bliss

by Rajeev Balasubramanyam


Hardcover, 345 pg.
The Dial Press, 2019

Read: April 11 – 15, 2019


Cambridge’s Professor P. R. Chandrasekhar is an emeritus professor of Economics, and someone who has come so close to winning the Nobel that it’s jarring to many he hasn’t (well. . . “many” might be a stretch, who actually knows leading economists?). But he’s also alone. His ex-wife and youngest daughter live in Colorado, his eldest son is in Japan and his other daughter won’t let anyone tell him where she is. While he has no room to complain, clearly bits of his life could’ve gone better. He seems well-regarded by those still around him, and while he’s a hard teacher, he seems like a good one.

After a health scare (there’s some humor in it, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of book), and due to worries about his youngest daughter’s behavior, he takes a sabbatical to California. Things don’t go so well with the daughter, or his ex, or his ex’s new husband (the man she had an affair with before leaving Chandra). The trouble with the new husband leads Chandra into going to a “spiritual retreat” at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Any type of spiritual retreat is the last place that anyone who knows this irascible conservative would expect him to go — including Chandra himself. But he goes, and as he’s the type to throw himself into anything he’s doing — no matter how silly he thinks it is. He plunges into the exercises.

And he doesn’t experience a giant epiphany turning him into a spiritual kind of guy. Nor does he find the exercises silly and spends the time mocking the experience. Instead, he starts to re-examine some things. Like the way he interacts with his kids, and how they react to him. So he starts trying with them in ways he hadn’t before — and it doesn’t go that well, honestly. But he makes some in-roads.

He ultimately returns to his home in Cambridge and makes some adjustments there, too. Eventually, some things happen that do permit him to further rehabilitate things with his children — and life in general.

I was really worried that this would be about Chandra finding some sort of enlightenment, throwing off all his accomplishments and convictions and becoming a totally different person. Instead, he becomes more thoughtful, more understanding and a better version of himself — with opportunities for further development. I don’t think that’s giving too much away, I hope not anyway. He’s worked hard all his life, and now starts to realize the price he and others paid for him to work as hard and as much as he did, and to achieve the success he has.

Chandra is a fascinating guy — I like the way he thinks. I like the very subtle humor in his approach and response to things, and wish more people in his life could catch it. I’d have liked more time with his daughters, I liked both of them and we only get to see the beginnings of better times between them and their father. Between family, new friends and new acquaintances, there are just too many characters to dig too deeply into. Which is one of the biggest problems this book has — too many great characters to fully appreciate any who aren’t in the title.

This looks like a “lighter” book from the title, cover, etc. — and it is. But it deals with some bigger ideas, just not in an overbearing way. It’s also not as funny as you’d expect from the description (or the blurbs on the cover). But there are subtle bits of humor throughout, and one or two very comedic moments. There aren’t laugh out loud moments — but there are plenty of smile quietly to yourself moments.

Balasubramanyam’s writing is strong, his characters are great, and he can keep the story moving well. He balances the lightness and the darkness of the story well, and while it’s not the kind of book that has a twist or three in the end, there are some things that you probably won’t see coming until they happen (and feel inevitable once they do).

At the end of the day, this was a very pleasant novel with one very interesting character, and a few too many other characters. Some of which had the potential to be just as interesting, but we couldn’t spend enough time with them because of their number. Trim a few of those, so the reader can focus those remaining and this book becomes much better. As it stands — I may not find a lot of bliss in these pages, but I found entertainment and relaxation and would certainly read Balasubramanyam in the future with great interest.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge