Hurricane Vacation by Heather L. Beal, Jasmine Mills: A cute little book with some important hurricane safety lessons for kids

Hurricane Vacation

Hurricane Vacation

by Dr. Heather L. Beal, Jasmine Mills (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 36 pg.
Train 4 Safety Press, 2019

Read: November 18, 2019


Heather Beal’s back with another book for early readers/pre-readers about natural disasters—this time (in case the title doesn’t give it away), it’s about Hurricanes. I really appreciate this way of educating children about these types of disasters—it’s not about facts and figures, it’s about assuring them that people can be safe in the face of disaster as well as helping them understand what’s going on.

Lily and Niko are visiting their family when a Hurricane watch is issued, so they join their family in preparing the house for the storm and getting ready to go to a shelter. Along the way, they learn about what a hurricane is as well as all the ways that people can protect themselves, themselves, and so on.

As with Elephant Wind and Tummy Rumble Quake, the information is given in an accessible way that’s mildly entertaining. Beal did a good job interweaving the information with interaction with the characters—even young readers/listeners don’t want to put up with infodumps, I guess.

I’m not sure the part of the story about Niko’s missing stuffed animal really fit—it seemed like it was tacked on as an afterthought. It may not have been one, it just felt that way. It was nice to see everyone working to make Niko feel safe (and that his toy would be safe) during this—very reassuring.

The art was cute and helped the story—I particularly enjoyed the “eye” in the storm showing how the term was misunderstood.

Beal delivers another helpful book that should be of good use for parents/grandparents/teachers/caregivers trying to help children cope with and understand the ways this world can terrify them (and adults). Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion (above)..


3 Stars

Flying Alone by Beth Ruggiero York: A Young Woman Takes Flight

 

Flying Alone

Flying Alone: A Memoir

by Beth Ruggiero York

eARC, 202 pg.
2019

Read: October 14-15, 2019


When she was 14 years old, Elizabeth flew for the first time—as she says, it was the first time she’d been that excited since her father died the previous year—and she made a promise to herself that she’d learn to fly.

Her plan had been to join the Navy and become a pilot, which would put her on the fast track to being an airline pilot (her ultimate goal). This was derailed by a diagnosis of probable MS, the Navy would no sooner train a pilot who’d likely develop MS than they would one who had the disease. So, that door closed, she’d go the private sector route—it’d take longer, but it’d still get her where she wanted to go.

The book really takes off (ouch, sorry, didn’t mean that pun, but I can’t bring myself to edit that) as she’s about to get her private license at a small flying school in Massachusetts. The book traces her development as a pilot in a culture not really receptive to female pilots (but not hostile to the idea, it didn’t seem), through various stages in her progress—eventually through different employers. We see her navigating through both successes and setbacks, and how she’d move on from either up to the point of making it to her goal—flying for TWA.

A near-constant presence in the book is her primary flying instructor and eventual significant other, Steve. I never liked the guy, and I am not sure I can understand why anyone would. But, this is written years after Steve and the author had gone their separate ways, and she’s writing with the full advantage of hindsight. So York displays all the warning signs she spent years ignoring while they were together because it seems like she can’t understand all of what she was doing with him either.

If this were a novel, I’d be complaining about how little we get of Elizabeth’s friend and student, Melanie. Melanie sees Steve for who he is and encourages Elizabeth to take some of the early steps she’ll need to advance her career. She also encourages her to get away from Steve—advice that is rejected (but maybe takes root). I enjoyed her presence in the book and can imagine she’d have been fun to hang out with at the time.

For me, seeing the various kind of jobs that a pilot can hold—and what they entail—was the best part of this book. Yeah, it’s disillusioning how many corners were cut (when not ignored) along the way (and I’m guessing the statute of limitations has passed for many of these)—but the various companies and duties were fascinating. It was also refreshing to see some of the pilots worrying about things like that, as well as displaying that there were people around her that had her best interests at heart (or at least would back her when needed).

It’s been a while since I saw anyone do this, but remember back when movies would end by telling us what would happen to various characters in the future? York finishes this book with a quick summary of what befell many of the people/companies we’d met along the way. It’s a nice touch here.

But before that, we get a very quick recap of her life in the last chapter and epilogue. Between the penultimate and the final chapter, she jumps a little over a year in time to get us to her interview (and hiring) by TWA. After taking things so methodically up to that point, it felt abrupt to make that jump, like we’d missed a lot. There’s probably a good reason for York’s choice there, but it felt like she was in a rush to meet a deadline so she skimmed over that year. And then didn’t really give us a lot about the early days with TWA. I think that’s my major criticism of the writing—she just sped past that last year and stopped. I think a little time talking about her initial experience flying for a major airline would’ve been nice—maybe she’s saving that for the sequel? (It didn’t seem like that was the intention, but it’d work)

You really feel like you’re getting behind the scenes of small airports, freight and charter companies. People like Tom Wolfe can make maverick pilots sound exciting and romantic. York makes the idea sound dreadful and a real threat to safety in the air and on the ground below flight paths. Superman tried to reassure Lois when he said, “I hope this hasn’t put you off of flying. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.” Frankly, after reading parts of this book, I could use someone telling me that.

The book feels honest—it doesn’t seem like she glossed over her own faults or highlighted others’ at her own gain (or the other way around). There’s a sense of “here’s some smart things I did,” “here’s a bad decision I/he/they made,” “here’s stuff that happened that could have gone either way and worked out okay.” It’d have been pretty easy to make herself “the good guy”, or everyone else “the bad guy”. Instead, we got a bunch of humans being human.

This is a quick read, an insightful read, and an effective read—I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Flying Alone, but I don’t think I got it. What I got, however, was better—I’d recommend it. A story about a woman succeeding on her terms—while overcoming issues and problems beyond her control and as a direct result of her choices—not overly romantic, not overly sentimental, and not afraid to show her own deficiencies. This is the kind of memoir we need more of.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Which is what she got. Honest, not timely—I do feel bad about not getting this up in late September, or anytime in October. I tried.


3 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

A Bloody Arrogant Power by Malcolm J. Wardlaw: One of the Darkest Dystopias I Remember, with Just a Hint of Light

A Bloody Arrogant Power

A Bloody Arrogant Power

by Malcolm J. Wardlaw
Series: Sovereigns of the Collapse, #1

Kindle Edition, 232 pg.
Plutonic Books Ltd, 2019

Read: October 3-7, 2019


When Wardlaw approached me about reading this book he described it as ” My best effort is to say it is ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Downton Abbey’, although I’m not sure that is really all that helpful.” He’s right—it’s a good effort, and it’s not all that helpful. But it’s close—A Bloody Arrogant Power doesn’t have any of the kind of stories you’d find in Downton, but a dystopian Lady Mary and Mr. Carson could absolutely exist in this world. I’m not sure that’s more helpful than Wardlaw’s pitch, but I think it gets closer.

It’s 2106, and we’re a couple of generations past the societal collapse and the first attempt at rebuilding Western Society—or at least English Society (not really sure what happened in the rest of the world, assuming something did). There are some hints at what led to the economic and political collapse (I think the former precipitated the latter), but what we mostly see are the systems that arose to replace them and how they were designed to ensure the mistakes of the past weren’t repeated (in what’s dubbed “The Glorious Resolution”).

One of the things that developed was the idea that each parcel of land could support X amount of human life. Each year those ruling each territory would have to balance out their resources and the population—eliminating the “surplus” to keep things moving, “discharging them to the public drains.” True to form, to keep people from thinking about this too much, it’s always about the surplus population, never about people, individuals, etc.—no, it’s the dehumanized “surplus.” The most disturbing part of this idea is that the whole of England seems to think this way—it’s not until the last 10% of the book that anyone seems to have a problem with this. I certainly don’t want to suggest that it’s a problem with the book that this is the case, it’s not surprising at all that an entire nation (if not the world) will temporarily buy into a horrible idea to the degree that no one thinks of objecting to it. I can absolutely accept a world where people are officially deemed as “surplus” and disposed of accordingly. In fact, there are those who’ve been warning us about being on that slippery slope. It’s just depressing to see that idea so prevalent. I don’t know if Wardlaw intended readers to fixate on this, but I sure did. It permeated so much of the book and horrified me at each brush with the idea.

On the whole, the infodumps he uses to explain the world to his readers are done very well—he never overwhelms or bogs down the story with them. We get a little here, a little there, scattered throughout. I do think Wardlaw could’ve been a little closer to overwhelming in the beginning—I had to read a little too far into the book before I really had an idea how things worked here (and I’m not convinced I sussed it all out correctly). It’s clear that Wardlaw did a fantastic job creating this world, I just wish he’d done a better job showing it to the reader so we could appreciate it.

The protagonist, Donald Aldingford, is a barrister. He’s not one of the ruling class—but he’s adjacent to it. He gets to see a lot of what goes on behind the scenes in the government and is on the cusp of moving up in society to a position of distinction and honor. Then a few things happen that threaten to derail this.

First, he meets a younger woman who is about as far from privilege as you can get. There’s something about her that appeals to Donald. Secondly, she brings news of his brother. Donald’s spent years pretending he doesn’t exist—in fact, there are few people who are aware Donald has a brother. He’s in legal trouble that seems impossible to fix and there’s a growing chance that this association will become public knowledge and the scandal will probably ruin Donald’s career and family. Thirdly, a reform group is gaining momentum, and there are rumors flying about a Revolution coming.

None of the characters that we spend much time with are in the forefront of the reform party, but they are in the general orbit of that. I like this approach to things, we’re not dealing with Katniss or Tris here—we’re dealing with someone from Katniss’ town, or one of the students that rallied behind Tris—that kind of thing. So we can see what’s going on, but we don’t have to be in the thick of it.

While that’s a nice touch, the characters all could’ve used a little more work. I think it’s largely a space/time issue—there’s so much being established and happening in this book, that Wardlaw doesn’t get a chance to round out the characters—they’re all close (except for the sovereign that Donald spends most of his professional life serving—he might as well be twirling a mustache and tying people to railway tracks), but I never felt like I knew enough about them to care if they survived. It’s an understandable problem given what he set out to accomplish in this book, but it is a problem.

I liked A Bloody Arrogant Power—just not as much as I wanted to. It’s a wonderfully conceived novel—the execution could use a little more work, though. It’s one of the best worlds I can remember (narratively speaking, not literally) in dystopian fiction lately. I expect in future books (there are a couple planned) that Wardlaw won’t have to spend so much time establishing the world/culture and he can just jump into what the characters are doing, who they are and how can they make their way in the world. He sets the stage for some intriguing sequels, too. I really do want to know what happens after the rather abrupt ending and will be watching for the book.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for this post, but as always, my opinions remain my own.


3 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

XYZ by William Knight: A Grouchy Computer Programmer Struggles to Find his Place

XYZ

XYZ: One Man, Two Kids, Ten Devices and an Internet-Sized Generation Gap

by William Knight

Kindle Edition, 216pg.
2019

Read: October 11, 2019

I’m one of the original computer geeks…

I was in the first intake for Computer Science O Level at my local college, and I signed up for a computer programming degree when the rest of the world was still using slide rules and copying documents in purple ink…

I was part of a small wave of silicon-brained cool kids that was destined to become a tsunami. My generation was going to make the world a better place and in record time. We had ideas of perfect information, total transparency, evidence-based-government and university for all. We were the builders of Utopia and the founders of global prosperity…

I hadn’t then realised the destiny for which I was headed. It was nothing more than fun. Fun to spend 10p on a video game and bash the console into submission. Fun to program pretty patterns on a screen and load games from a floppy disk, and fun to be part of the BBC’s Micro Live phenomenon, when the broadcaster sponsored its own computer as part of its remit to educate the masses.

And it remained fun until it became a trap, when computers ceased to be the promise of progress and instead became the terrorists of truth. Somewhere along the way, I turned from God of Silicon to an anorak-wearing dweeb, and from dweeb to a lonely fifty-five-year-old bastard. One at the end of his career, hopelessly out of touch, and unable to operate his own phone.

WTF happened?

What becomes of someone who saw himself as one of those who’d bring in a technological utopia and finds themselves trying to survive in the era of smart phone-ubiquity and social media dumpster fire? Well, judging by our protagonist, Jack Cooper—you get (at best) a curmudgeon who feels alienated in the industry he helped establish, estranged from your family, and hoping to remain relevant and productive (and employed!) long enough to retire.

We meet Jack on his first day at a new employer—a personal finance app corporation. He’s had a number of first days at various corporations lately, and his daughter is concerned that if he’s not careful this could be the last one. Despite his wide-ranging experience lately, he’s still in for a giant dose of culture shock and unclear expectations when he gets to work. Even after a period of acclimation, he’s still feeling like a fish out of water amidst these young people more focused on the internal chat program, employee fulfillment/empowerment, and lack of accountability than they are on actually producing something useful and on-time.

In other words, things aren’t going well for him. But at least he can go home and drink to excess at the pub across the street, right?

Meanwhile, he and his wife are separated (he’s still paying the mortgage on their home, in addition to the rent on his flat), he’s not speaking to his son (Jack can’t accept his life as a furry), and his relationship with his daughter is on the precipice of disaster. Which makes that drinking to excess a lot more tantalizing.

Then, while in a meeting with his superior about his job performance, he finds himself telling her how attracted to her he is. Jack’s last chance is looking pretty slim indeed.

This is a novel clearly in the vein of Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss/A Man Called Ove, where a grumpy older man clashes with a world that’s changing faster than he’s ready for it. Yes, that’s right, Gen Xers are now old enough to get our own books like this, which is depressing enough to suck the fun out of this book. Typically, these books are written from a Third-Person POV, but XYZ is a First-Person Narrator. This puts the reader firmly in his cantankerous, drunken, obstinate, and angry head. Honestly, it’s a little easier to have any sympathy for these types of characters when you’re not drowning in their anger (or at least steeping in it), but seeing it from the outside.

Still, there is plenty of fun to be had in this book. A lot of it is fun at Jack’s expense—laughter is the best way to react to his cringe-worthy behavior, otherwise, you’d end up being pretty censorious. Although you won’t be able to avoid judging Jack a little bit. There are times (the Prologue is a great example) when Jack’s loathing of the cultural moment (particularly in tech corporations) comes through stronger than the humor and it’s hard to take (and I agree with Jack in almost every bit of his counter-cultural thinking).

But, as with Ove/Chandra and the rest of the type, Jack manages to find a measure of acceptance for those around him, and is even able to do some work on repairing familial relationships (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say either of those things, that’s sort of how this kind of book works). As this happens, the book is at it’s strongest and easiest to enjoy/relate to. I do wonder if that portion of the novel is a bit rushed—we get plenty of time to watch Jack make a train-wreck of his professional and personal lives (which weren’t in great shape before he makes it worse), it’d be nice if we could see him get his feet back under him a bit more clearly.

On the whole, it’s a fun book—a great combination of humor, heart, and growth. Sure, some of the edges could be a bit smoother, but on the whole, this is an entertaining read. It can be easily read by a wide-range of readers—those of us who played Space Invaders when it was near the cutting-edge of technology, as well as those who can’t get over its primitive design and game-play. It’s charming, it’ll make you smile, it’ll give you a feel or two (to use a phrase Jack would hate). Recommended.


3 Stars


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

The Dead of Winter by A. B. Gibson: A Creepy Tale Perfect for October Reading

The Dead of Winter

The Dead of Winter

by A. B. Gibson

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Consolidated Gibson, 2017

Read: October 10-11, 2019


I’m going to preface this post with this: The Dead of Winter is not my kind of book. That’s not an evaluative statement—I didn’t read the blurb as carefully as I should’ve, it’s just not the kind of thing I’d typically read. Like collections of haiku, Amish Romances, or Military Fiction. Given that, take what I’m going to say with the appropriately-sized portion of salt, it’s probably better than I think it is.

When I was in junior high/high school, I remembered we’d frequently find ourselves watching some Horror/Thriller kind of movie where a handful of teens/young adults would go on a trip, find themselves in a remote area being terrorized/hunted/killed by locals. Sometimes they’d get away (sometimes they wouldn’t); sometimes they’d stop the locals (sometimes they wouldn’t); more often than not, it’d be a mixture of the two and any victory would be Pyrrhic.

In this case, we have 5 twenty-somethings who agree to meet at the Pumpkin Patch Bed and Breakfast for a weekend of picking apples and pumpkins and having fun with hayrides and the Giant Corn Maze.

One of their number (the one who was supposed to arrive first), isn’t around when the others check-in, they assume she’s uncharacteristically decided to not come at the last minute. Then another guest comes to them with a warning about strange happenings and disappearances around the B&B, which they just laugh off. The hayride features some horror F/X that’s disturbingly real and the scarecrows are dressed really fashionably.

Which gets the friends set on edge and starting to wonder if the other guest was on to something—if only she hadn’t left in the middle of the night so they could ask her some questions.

Before they realize what’s happening, the four are separated and largely isolated; Ma and Pa seem to be less hospitable and down-homey; and their children are less eccentric and not-well-socialized and more menacing and disturbing. Things get worse from there.

The plot was at the same time exactly what you know it’s going to be, yet it kept going in unexpected directions with unexpected results. It plays to the conventions of the genre but not always in the ways you’d predict.

The young professionals and other guests weren’t as fleshed out and developed as you might hope—but they don’t need to be for this kind of story. Their antagonists aren’t either, but they are more multifaceted and are the embodiment of hazardous. Which is exactly what you want.

As I said, the book was never really going to work for me. But it kept me engaged, kept me turning the pages, and kept me wondering just how messed up the ending was going to be (the answer: very). The Dead of Winter didn’t make a fan out of me, but I can easily see where it’d make fans of many other people. I hope it finds its audience—and if you’re the kind of reader who likes this sort of story, you should really give it a shot.


3 Stars

My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

Relief by Execution by Gint Aras: Reflections on Societal Woes from a Different Angle on the Holocaust

Relief by Execution

Relief by Execution: A Visit to Mauthausen

by Gint Aras

eARC, 94 pg.
Little Bound Books, 2019

Read: September 21, 2019


This is a short book (long essay), that to really get into would render the reading of the content pointless, so I’ve got to hold back some of what I want to say. The official blurb is a good starting point for a few thoughts I have in reaction to this essay:

Between the years of 1996-1999, Gint Aras lived a hapless bohemian’s life in Linz, Austria. Decades later, a random conversation with a Polish immigrant in a Chicago coffeehouse provokes a question: why didn’t Aras ever visit Mauthausen, or any of the other holocaust sites close to his former home? The answer compels him to visit the concentration camp in the winter of 2017, bringing with him the baggage of a childhood shaped by his family of Lithuanian WWII refugees.

Thus far, I’m on board with it—Aras blends recollections of the visit with glimpses of his past—the racism, the abuse, the ways of thinking that he was raised in, and then applying that to American society. I think this is a solid idea, but not terribly uncommon. What makes this better is the perspective Aras brings to it. Rather than identifying with the inmates, the victims of the holocaust; he puts himself in the shoes of the guards, of the soldiers carrying out the orders that those of us separated by a distance of miles, years and context can’t imagine.

Or, as the blurb concludes:

The result is this meditative inquiry, at once lyrical and piercing, on the nature of ethnic identity, the constructs of race and nation, and the lasting consequences of collective trauma.

It’s this part that I found wanting. The length of this essay didn’t work for me — Aras either spent too much time on things he didn’t properly develop, or he spent too much time talking about things that didn’t add enough value to the essay. Either fully developing things—which would probably take another 50 or so pages (just a guess)—or trimming about half the length to give a tighter, more controlled argument would have made this a stronger piece of writing.

I enjoyed the writing generally, but too often (not really frequently, but not rarely enough) his writing got in the way of what he was trying to do. His style was too elaborate, his vocabulary obfuscated, and he just got in his own way.

Lastly, I think the essay would’ve been better served with more about his actual time in Mauthausen.

In summary, I think this is a great concept, but I couldn’t get behind the execution—often overwritten, and either too short or too long. Still, this is worth your time. You’ll end up thinking about things in a different way, which is always beneficial. It’s a short read. It’s a compelling read. Sure, it’s a problematic read—but the positives outweigh that.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via Lori @ TNBBC Publicity in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


3 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers: An Unusually Realistic Thriller

Appetite for Risk

Appetite for Risk

by Jack Leavers
Series: John Pierce, #1

Kindle Edition, 352 pg.
Book Guild, 2019

Read: September 13-16, 2019

It’s 2004, Saddam Hussein is out of power and the focus is shifting to rebuilding Iraq (few have any idea of the insurgency just around the corner), which sounds great to John Pierce. He’s a former Royal Marine trying to support his wife and two kids. He’s done the typical security/investigations work, but that isn’t really satisfying to him. He does have a few good contacts in or related to Iraq and decides to try to build a business there.

I intended to provide consultancy services to international companies, using local support and knowledge to help them win a share of the reconstruction contracts. Iraq needed everything after the West had sanctioned and bombed it to a ruin over the previous decade.

It’s not a safe place to be at the moment, but it seems to all that stability is just around the corner, and even after an eventful first trip that might dissuade some from following that path, we’re told:

Despite the risks, there was never any real doubt I would go back. The siren call of adventure was drawing me inextricably to Baghdad. Now I’d started down this road, I remained determined to see where it would lead, hoping desperately that success would be quick to arrive.

The book follows Pierce’s endeavor to find that success from January 2004-December 2005. We travel with him to various locations in Iraq (and surrounding nations) and back home in England. As with most fledgling businesses, there’s a lot of ups and downs, signs of success and trouble alike—when you consider the risks involved in trying to start something in Iraq in 2004-05, the typical struggles of a new venture pale in comparison. Quite inadvertently, Pierce gets the attention of both British and American intelligence and they secure his aid with little regard to the effect that’ll have on his livelihood.

It’s hard to think of this as a novel—it really doesn’t read like one. It reads like a memoir. It may be fiction, but it reeks of authenticity and bears few of the marks of a thriller (or any other kind of novel). This is both a fantastic achievement and a frustration for a reader who expects certain kinds of things from a thriller.

The level of detail is intense—I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever learn anything about how one goes about finding contacts or establishing working relationships in the middle of a war, relying largely on translators and practical strangers to help navigate through the city/populace. On the one hand, it was intriguing and I quite enjoyed being exposed to this kind of thing. On the other hand, there were large stretches where it seemed like nothing was happening—like the dominoes were being set up and instead of knocking them down, the line kept getting longer and more twisty.

I never got bored, but I spent a lot of time wondering “where is this going?” While not every detail or anecdote ended up paying off, enough did to justify reading it and again, the level of detail made it really seem like you were reading the recollection of someone who’d been there. And while the initial 50-60% of the book could be called slow (after the initial chapters, anyway, which dropped the reader into a tense situation before backtracking a few months to establish things), once things picked up, they really picked up.

I don’t know that I ever really made any emotional connection to Pierce—I was pretty unmoved by his marital or financial woes or triumphs. I still wanted to keep reading about what he was going through, but any trouble or danger he encountered didn’t grab me (other than as an obstacle to whatever he was trying to accomplish). I don’t know if this is something Leavers was trying to accomplish, or if it’s the sign of a new author—I tend to think it’s due to the non-fiction-y feel of the work, and I rarely get that connected to actual people I’m reading about.

I think I’m safe when I say that you haven’t read a thriller like this before—it’s a slow burn, but it’s consistently interesting and you certainly feel the imminent threat constantly around Pierce. Once the action kicks into a higher gear, it’s a pretty fast read, but you’ve got to work a little before then. It’s a satisfying read, and one that will reward the time you put in. I recommend it for someone open to an atypical read where the suspense comes from sources you’re not used to encountering (and a few that everyone is used to).


3 Stars

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

Irony in the Soul: Nobody Listens Like the Dying by Pete Adams: Jack Austin’s crusade continues

Irony in the Soul

Irony in the Soul: Nobody Listens Like the Dying

by Pete AdamsSeries: Kind Hearts and Martinets, #2

Kindle Edition, 540 pg.
Next Chapter Publishing, 2019

Read: September 5 – 9, 2019

I’m going to be quick, because it’s late and I’m bushed—also, the more I talk about this, the less I seem to like the book. Which isn’t fair—I do like it—but I have issues with it, too. You ever see the memes or jokes online about someone saying they have 6-pack abs, but they’re just hiding/protecting them under a layer of fat? That’s precisely how this book seems to be constructed.

Picking up some weeks after Cause and Effect: Vice Plagues the City, Jack “Jane” Austen is prepared to come back to work, when something happens to compel him to come back. A priest and an imam are violently murdered, with clear indications that the same people behind these attacks were those responsible for the conspiracy uncovered in Cause and Effect, to cause unrest (at least) between the stagnant Christians and the local Muslims, and hopefully spilling over into a large-scale societal unrest.

You’d think this would be enough to bring Jack back early, so he could try to prevent things from getting worse—and he does. He just has to be eccentric for a while in front of his staff, purposely getting himself in trouble and provoking his new Chief. Because that’s what the situation calls for, I guess. I’m glad we’re told over and over again how brilliant he is, and what a good cop, too—because you might miss it otherwise.

It’s a shame we spend so much time with Jack and Mandy off doing all sorts of non-police things (read: sex, talking about sex, and mooning over each other), because the rest of Jack’s team are some truly interesting characters, and it’d be great to see them work. We catch little glimpses of them at work (and some brief idea about their off-duty life), and I think this novel told about them instead of Jack and Mandy would be a much more interesting work.

The word that kept coming to mind (and my notes) as I read this was “self-indulgent.” Adams clearly enjoys talking about some things and making the same jokes—he made one 3 times in the first 4% of the book (and countless times in the other 96%). We get pages and pages of Jack and Mandy romancing each other (and at least one of their subordinates makes a pointed remark about their priorities), of Jack going out of his way to be obnoxious, and other assorted things that seem to actually hinder the investigation. Now Adams is far from the first to be this way—Robert Galbraith’s latest could use a good trim (of about 150-200 pages), as did many of Robert P. Parker’s later works. So the fact that I want to cut about 300 pages from this book puts him in some okay company. In those 300 pages, little happens t advance the plot and we don’t deepen our understanding of the characters, because it covers the same ground over and over and over (again, see later Parker).

All that said, the last 25%± of the novel is really good. Almost all of the weaknesses of the book that had been bugging me faded into the background and the crime story came to the forefront (finally). This is the kind of thing I’d been waiting for. If the book was this part, plus another 50 or so pages to set the scene, create a tone, and whatnot—this would be a much more enthusiastic post. As it is, this last chunk of the book redeems the rest and almost makes it worth the effort to get your hands on the book.

Am I still curious about where things are going, and how Adams plans to get there? Absolutely. I will keep reading—and I did enjoy these books, I just wish they’d be put on a diet so I don’t have to trudge through all the excess material.


3 Stars

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

Bloodline by Pamela Murray: Entertaining and complex

Bloodline

Bloodline

by Pamela Murray

eARC, 202 pg.
Bloodhound Books, 2019

Read: September 4, 2019


After sitting in a doorway unnoticed for a couple of days, someone finally sees that the homeless man isn’t huddled there for a safe place to sleep, but because he’s been killed. The police begin investigating, determining quickly that he wasn’t killed where he was found—so they know this isn’t going to be a quick case, but things quickly escalate beyond that to make this even more complicated.

Two things happen when they ascertain the identity of the man. First, they learn that he’s a police detective working undercover far from home. Later, when his DNA is checked, they discover a shocking tie between the deceased detective and a cold case murder. The squad investigating the murder is split in direction then—two go undercover themselves to attempt to complete his investigation. The rest follow-up on his murder as well as this cold case, hoping to find a connection.

The undercover operation’s target and the way it’s set up if pretty clever, and not that common, I don’t think, among Crime Fiction (I don’t know, it might be run-of-the-mill in reality). It’s pretty easy for the two new detectives to pick up where their fallen comrade left off—but it’s hard to tell where he was, and how they should proceed in tying their target to this murder. The cold case is even more intricate, and complicated by the space and history between the original crime and the present—this is the highlight of the book, if you ask me—I really enjoyed it. The present-day murder is far less complex once they determine who he is, everything from that point is straightforward (which is not a criticism, even police procedurals need some straightforward cases.

But everything seems too compressed, too easy for the undercover officers to infiltrate enough to get into a trusted position necessary to bring the group down and the murder cases come together pretty easily, too. Everything about the novel—all three cases and the inter-personal character development—seems rushed (and therefore the prose is a little clunky). The characters, also, seemed sketchy and ill-defined (which is a shame, at least 3-4 would be well worth fleshing out). There was a lot of telling, rather than trusting the readers to pick up on subtle showing about them. If the book was another 25-40% longer, I think it would’ve helped tremendously

This book had all the makings of a great read—but it missed. It’s a decent way to spend a few hours, and it’s worth paying for it. I liked it, but I think if Murray had explored things a little, built in some more suspense, and just made all the various officers work a little harder before getting to the closings of the cases, it could’ve been great, not simply good.


3 Stars

My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the novel) they provided.

Life of Christ by J. Gresham Machen: Short, Helpful, to the Point

Life of ChristLife of Christ

J. Gresham Machen

Kindle Edition, 50 pg.
Monergism Books, 2015
Read: August 18, 2019

This short work is extracted from the 1922 work A Brief Bible History: A Survey of the Old and New Testaments by Machen and James Oscar Boyd, and it felt similar to portions of Machen’s New Testament Introduction: An Introduction to its Literature and History. I think I’ve heard of the former, I’ve read the latter a couple of times. So, that took a little bit away from the experience for me.

But that doesn’t take away from the value of it—a concise summary of the Life of Christ (harmonized) and the beginnings of the Church in Jerusalem. I’m guessing this was some of the Sunday School curriculum material written by Machen while teaching at Princeton Seminary, and it includes study questions. There’s not a lot of interpretation or application (except in the questions), it’s largely just a boiled down run-through of the gospel accounts.

Machen’s possibly my favorite twentieth-century theologian — he’s definitely the clearest and crispest (with the possible exception of R. C. Sproul). All the things people like to say about C. S. Lewis’ popular apologetics apply to Machen (without the stumbling into troublesome weirdness), and his more academic apologetic work still holds up. This isn’t Machen at his best, but it still displays his style and approach (even if only a little).

Really not much to say about this, so I’ll just recommend it for a nice refresher.

—–

3 Stars
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge