Red Dog by Jason Miller

Red DogRed Dog

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #2

Paperback, 316 pg.
Harper Paperbacks, 2016

Read: November 25 – 27, 2017

“And for sixty-flve dollars, too.”

Anci rolled her eyes. “Oh, I know. Usually, you get kicked in the head for free. Why not try it for money this time? Besides, this is your chance to do a good deed, pile up some karma.”

“You can’t eat karma, darlin’..”

“No, but it can eat you.”

I really can’t decide what part of these books I like best — Slim’s dogged determinism when it comes to finishing what he’s started, Jeep’s almost-superhuman capabilities (he’s Hawk + Joe Pike, with a better romantic life while not as tied to reality), or Anci. Okay, that’s a lie. It’s Anci — she’s smart, she’s insightful, she’s sweet, she’s got an attitude that just won’t quit.

In this book, Anci takes time out from critiquing The Hound of the Baskervilles to convince Slim to take a case for a couple of odd strangers that show up on their doorstep. They want him to find their dog for him. They’re pretty sure where the dog is, but they don’t think they could retrieve her.

Slim takes the case, and within hours he’s cut off part of a man’s body, had several threats made against him, and discovers a dead body. Oh, he finds the dog, too. But that doesn’t matter, because he’s arrested before he can return the dog.

Things go haywire from there — Slim’s still bound and determined to find the dog while he clears his name (or vice versa). The hunt for the dog and the real killer takes him to all sorts of places he probably shouldn’t go — many of which make the coal mining he left behind seem like a safe alternative to his current job. I hate to say this, but it’s in the publisher’s description (and on the cover image), but one of the places that Slim shouldn’t go is to dog fights. His reaction to them is visceral, and you almost feel it as much as he did as you read.

The characterizations are as deep and wonderful as before (including a couple of characters that’d make Flannery O’Connor balk), the evil that Slim confronts is very dark and twisted, and Slim’s voice is deadly serious one minute, and seamlessly laugh-out-loud funny without giving the reader a sense of whiplash. There’s some violence — brutal stuff — yet it’s Slim’s brain that does most of the work. Basically, it’s the whole package.

The Bonus Story About Those Danged Chickens, “Hardboiled Eggs,” was a hoot — not strong enough to work as a part of the novel, but it tied in well (and best read after the book) and was nice example of Anci and Slim working together.

I hope there’s more to come in this series, because I just can’t get enough. Miller’s style is great — the prose is smooth and fluid, so much so that you don’t realize just how dark and twisted the events are until it’s too late because you’re having too much fun reading. Take some time to visit Little Egypt and you’ll see what I mean.

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4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

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Bedlam by M. T. Miller

BedlamBedlam

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle, #4

eARC, 210 pg.
2017

Read: November 27 – 28, 2017


I was excited to open my email and see a new book from M. T. Miller waiting for me — but I’m not ready to say goodbye to this series. I do think this was the right point to wrap things up and exit, I just liked life better when I wondered when there’d be a new book about Nameless.

How to talk about this . . . this is really hard without just spilling the beans about everything.

We met Nameless as he seemingly climbed out of his own grave into a dystopian future of the Western US, not knowing anything about himself (inluding, obviously his name), but with a particular set of skills that enabled him to kill — which also seemed restorative. But he didn’t seem to be a monster. After three books of struggle to survive and find some measure of success, Nameless finally succeeded. He accomplished everything he set out to do, and then found a better way to look at life, an equanimity. Life still had challenges, but he has a new way to deal with them, a new confidence.

Then something appears, ready to take it all away — and how will Nameless react? Very differently than he would’ve before (while consistent with the guy we’ve come to know).

Not only that — but a lot of the mysteries surrounding Nameless are resolved. Questions I stopped hoping/expecting to get answers to were answered as we say goodbye to him and the world that Miller has created for us.

There’s a good degree of character development here for both Nameless and Rush — and a believable lack thereof for many others. Characters you liked in earlier books, you’ll still like. Characters that you were ambiguous toward earlier, you’ll probably still be ambiguous about.

About halfway through the book, Miller changes the rules — he does something gutsy and incredibly hard to discuss without ruining. Just when you get to the point where you pretty much accept what he’s doing, he changes it again. Up to this point, this was my favorite of the books — I really got into things. I liked it less with each new tack. Not that I didn’t appreciate the ambition, or Miller’s skill — it just changed Nameless’ story from Story Type X to Story Type Z. And I’ve never been a fan of Z, I don’t hate Z, but it’s just not my cup of tea. The more I think about it, I can see where this is justified by everything that’s happened throughout the series, and I can even defend it. I just don’t like it.

I guess you can compare it to what happened at the end of Lost or Moore’s Battlestar (both of which I liked, I should mention) or — the writers of those made a choice and executed it. I appreciate Miller’s choice and execution, but it’s just not something that’s every going to appeal to me. Basically this series consists of 1 novella and 3.5 novels that I enjoyed with .5 novels that was well done, but not my taste.

Like I said, I do think that this was the time to leave the series, I think Miller had done everything he could with Nameless, Rush and the rest. I wasn’t crazy about how he landed the plane, but I appreciated it for what it was. I can easily see others thinking I’m wrong about Z, and really digging the parts of the book that leave me cold — so please don’t take anything I said as a discouragement from reading either this book, or the series. I’m really looking forward to whatever he ends up doing next, because I do think I can see Miller’s growth over these 5 novels/novellas. It was a heckuva a ride, and I’m glad I came along for the ride. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Thanks, Mr. Miller! This didn’t impact my opinion of the book in any discernible way.

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4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne

The Squirrel on the TrainThe Squirrel on the Train

by Kevin Hearne
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2eARC, 120 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017
Read: November 2, 2017

Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

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

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4 Stars

Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb

Deep Blue TroubleDeep Blue Trouble

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #2

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Orenda Books, 2017

Read: November 18 – 20, 2017


I really could just say, “You know that book that I (and just about everyone else) was so excited about a few months back? Well, the sequel is out now, and it’s just as good, if not better. Everything I wrote before still applies.” That’d be cheating, and not 100% accurate, but close enough I could do it with a clear conscience.

But let’s see if we can give it a bit more justice…

When we left Lori, she was agreeing to work with an FBI Agent to bring someone in, in exchange for this, he’ll help exonerate JT from the crimes he’s been accused of. Lori has brought this particular escaped con in before — Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher, a thief and convicted murderer — and Agent Monroe assumes that should give her a leg up. This hunt takes her from coast to coast (and coast to coast), and even across the border. I’d like to think that her career before these last two cases was a whole lot more benign, because what she goes through in the couple of weeks recorded in these two novels is probably more than most people go through in their lives.

Lori brings a PI she worked with before to track Fletcher in to help with some background, and Monroe hooks her up with a group of bounty hunters that he has experience with. Lori and her PI get along well, and work together even better. The bounty hunters, on the other hand, just don’t seem to want to work with Lori. The contrast between the people she’s allied with in this hunt is striking and helps the reader get a real grasp of Lori’s character. Every other character in this book deserves some discussion — well, most of them do — but I can’t do that without ruining the book. Let me just say that I’d be glad to see everyone that survives this book intact in the future — and maybe even some of those that don’t.

This case is primarily Lori using her brain (and her PI’s) to get her man — yeah, there’s some fisticuffs, some gunplay — but this is about Lori being smarter than anyone else in the case. Similarly, in Deep Down, Lori takes some real physical punishment, but this time the punishment is more mental and psychological — she doesn’t escape without some serious bruising (at least…), but primarily it’s the emotional stress and punishment she’s given while on the hunt for Fletcher that will take its toll.

In Deep Down the threat to Dakota was obvious and immanent — this time out, it’s more abstract, theoretical. Lori’s used a little money she just made to send her to camp. But if Lori can’t keep JT out of prison (or worse), getting him as a donor to help treat Dakota’s leukaemia is going to be near impossible. This is a nice change — you can’t have Dakota in constant peril, nor can you have Lori constantly distracted by her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her to disappear, or be conveniently occupied all the time, but the reader needs it occasionally.

As for JT? Well, being in prison in a state where one of the major crime lords has a hit out on you isn’t exactly easy. We don’t get the flashbacks to his training Lori as much, but Lori is constantly returning to his lessons for guidance — so his presence is felt throughout the book, even if he’s locked up the whole time. That training is what ultimately helps her — even if she has to ignore a good chunk of it, naturally, watching her decide when to ignore his training is painful, because she picks bad times and ways to do so. Lori is keeping something from JT — which is going to come back to bite her. I get why she’s doing it, and can sympathize — but I know she’s a fictional character and I know what usually happens to fictional characters who do this kind of thing. Am truly hoping that Broadribb is going ti zag here when we all expect her to zig — but even if she zigs, I expect the execution of it to be better than my imagination.

It may seem like a little thing, or at least a strange thing to comment on in a post like this — but I really appreciated the way that Broadribb worked in a recap of Deep Down Dead to the opening pages here. It’s a lost art anymore, and I just wanted to take a second and say way to go.

One minor criticism: it was much easier to tell that this was a book written by a Brit writing an American.

This was a fast thriller, with a story that propels you to keep reading — you’ll read more than you should per sitting, because you just can’t put it down. Broadribb writes like a seasoned pro, with panache and skill. Lori remains one of my favorite new characters for this year, and the rest of the cast of characters are just about as good. I can’t wait to see what Broadribb puts poor Lori, JT and Dakota through next.

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4 Stars

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The Midnight LineThe Midnight Line

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #22

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2017

Read: November 23 – 24, 2017

“But this particular guy won’t talk to me?”

“I would be surprised.

“Does he have no manners?”

“I wouldn’t ask him over to a picnic.”

“What’s his name?”

“Jimmy Rat.”

”For real?”

“That’s what he goes by.”

“Where would I find Mr. Rat?”

“Look for a minimum six Hariey-Davidsons. Jimmy will be in whatever bar they‘re outside of.”

Three days after Make Me, Reacher hits the road — and a few hours into that, he’s already trying to track someone down. That conversation leads to the following:

There was a bar in a standalone wooden building, with a patch of weedy gravel for parking, and on the gravel were 7 Harley-Davidsons, all in a neat line. Possibly not actual Hells Angels as such. Possibly one of the many other parallel denominations. Bikers were as split as Baptists. All the same, but different.

(don’t worry, I’m not going to tell the whole story in this detail, I just really enjoyed the writing here).

Reacher goes into the bar and then has a pleasant chat with a member of the local law enforcement community and a productive chat with Mr. Rat. In between those chats he may have engaged in a physical confrontation with the owners of those motorcycles, I’ll let you guess what happened there. It was fun to read, I assure you. What led to him looking for Jimmy the Rat? Pretty simply, he saw a female West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. That’s not an easy thing to earn/deserve. Reacher figures that there’s got to be an interesting story behind such a ring ending up in a pawn shop — and maybe some fellow alumnus needs a hand, one that he can give. Jimmy the Rat is just the first link in a chain of indeterminate length back to this graduate.

Because he’s not an idiot, Jimmy points Reacher in the right direction: a laundromat in Rapid City. Also, because he’s not an idiot, before Reacher is on his way, Jimmy calls in a warning to that laundromat. Jimmy’s a rat, but he’s a survivor, too. This laundromat is owned by a guy named Scorpio, who is absolutely not Rapid City PD’s favorite small-business owner, if they could, they’d shut him down. This warning phone call, they hope, will be the harbinger of something — his downfall, or something to give them enough ammunition to arrange his arrest and downfall. Either way, the PD is fine.

Reacher has a quick conversation with Scorpio, who also points him in a direction. Reacher interacts a bit with a member of the local PD about him, as well — pointing out something that someone should’ve noticed already. There’s a PI who’s also pretty interested in Scorpio, but Reacher doesn’t get to chat with him, at least not then. When he turns up in Wyoming a few hours behind Reacher, on the other hand . . .

Reacher ends up with one of the stranger ad hoc teams he’s had to track down this woman — and the extra-legal steps he has to take to help her aren’t in his normal wheelhouse. But you go the extra mile for some people, and it’s definitely in-character and understandable for him to do what he does. There’s some interesting introspection early-on that I’m not used to seeing, and hope we get more of.

Here’s a major weakness to me (normally, I’d shrug this off, but Child gets held to a higher standard): too many people don’t know what “Bigfoot” is. If this took place in the UK or France or something, I could buy it. But in South Dakota? Sorry, not buying it.

The Midnight Line features more female characters than your typical Reacher novel — and none of them are damsels in distress. Yeah, most of them need a little help — but so do the males. Reacher’s life is even saved by one of the women. These are all strong, confident and capable women — not that the Reacher novels have ever been lacking in that regard, we just don’t normally get that many of them at once.

I don’t keep a spreadsheet or any kind of detailed notes on these things, but this might be one of the least violent Reacher novels ever. Make no mistake, Reacher has not turned into a pacifist and when he needs to punch, elbow, kick or headbutt (so soon after the concussion tests? tsk.) he does so very effectively, but I just think his count is a bit low this time).

Also, thanks Andy Martin, “Reacher said nothing.” now jumps out at me every time it shows up. How it never jumped out at me before, I’ll never know — but wow.

I really enjoyed this — it didn’t blow me away in the same way that Make Me did, but very little does. It was a lot better than Night School, however. Reacher’s knight-errant act is as satisfying as ever — maybe even moreso in this conclusion that features more details on his acts of compassion than his violence (the last violent act happening “off-screen,” although we get to see the aftermath). It was a fast read, full of action, great scenery and believable bad guys. I can’t think of much else to say — Reacher fans should love this, people new to Reacher should finish this with a desire to plunder the back-list, and everyone will start counting the days to #23.

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4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Hidden Face by S. C. Flynn

The Hidden FaceThe Hidden Face

by S.C. Flynn
Series: Fifth Unmasking, #1

Kindle Edition, 350 pg.
The Hive, 2017

Read: November 14 – 15, 2017


There’s so much of the world-building, the overall mythology and political structure of this book that drives the plot and is given in bits and pieces to the reader, that I’m having a hard time knowing how talk about it without taking away anything from your experience in reading the book.

Essentially, you’ve got Dayraven, returning to the Emperor’s court from being a political hostage for 15 years — he’s pretty smart, a better than average fighter, and the son of a legendarily great warrior. He’s been returned to the court at a pivotal time, and he’s also supposed to be meeting his former teacher for reasons he doesn’t understand, but seem possibly more important.

One of those reasons is to be teamed up with Sunniva, a woman making her way through the world disguised as a man to make it easier for her to move freely as she searches for her missing father. I really liked her — from her memories of a childhood where she’d get bored playing the way the other kids wanted to, so she’d make up her own stories of battle and gallantry, to her dealing with her phobias, to her grit, determination, and compassion. She’s not much clearer on why she’s been teamed up with Dayraven, but jumps in with both feet, certain that it’s the right thing to do.

They have puzzles to solve, clues to piece together — which lead to fights with mercenaries, legendary criminals, a conspiracy or two, and others, while they’re trying to piece together more of the clues which should point the way to the Fifth Unmasking. Don’t worry, you’ll find out what that means as you read the book. On the one hand, none of this story is new to you — you’ve read all these elements before. But the way that Flynn has assembled them, and the way he executes them are pretty novel and are interestingly entertaining.

When we first meet the Emperor, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about him — whether he was supposed to be funny, if I was supposed to pity him, or something else entirely. If you react similarly, hang in there, and you’ll learn that both reactions are wrong — and you’ll likely end up really liking the Emperor.
There’s a very Sméagol-y character, a few clearly villain-ish characters, and a pretty cool mercenary to round out the cast. All in all, especially by the time we get to the end of the novel and we understand them all pretty clearly, are as strong a collection that you can ask for.

Flynn does do something that it bugs me so much when Fantasy authors do — he uses words/names/ from English/our world to mean something alien in their world. FOr example, the kingdom of Faustia results in the adjective “Faustian.” Which is used a lot, and each time I had to remind myself that he didn’t mean anything like what is usually meant. It’s pretty distracting. Particularly in the opening chapters there’s a sentence or two of dialogue that made me roll my eyes. But it’s not something that detracts too much from the story or, really, makes up that much of the dialogue. My most significant area of criticism is the way that Flynn unspools the mythology for the reader — I think he could have done it a little faster and clearer to get the reader on board with the theology/government of this world. Is it possible that I was being particularly dense this day? Yes. Is it possible that other readers will pick up on things a lot better than I did? Yes. But I don’t think so — I think it was Flynn trying to avoid an info-dump and to dole out the information to the reader at his pace. Which I absolutely endorse, I just think he could have done it a smidge faster.

I’m not sure, but I can’t think of many fantasy novels that I’ve read lately that are as short as The Hidden Face. This isn’t a selling point or a word of warning, I’m just saying this is short, and fast paced. Flynn crams a lot of story into this book and does it well. You don’t feel rushed, or that he’s cutting corners — you don’t get the impression he’s doing anything other than telling his story until you stop and think of everything that happens in 350 pages, a good deal of it is what I expected in book 3. I’m not sure how he pulls that off, honestly.

This is a strong, fast and gripping fantasy novel. I cannot wait for the sequel — it’s pretty clear where it’ll start, but I’m not really sure what to expect the story to do after that, and that really appeals to me. The Hidden Face, isn’t perfect, but it’s good — you should give it a try.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, for which I’m grateful, but not so grateful that it colored my thinking.

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4 Stars

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

Paradox BoundParadox Bound

by Peter Clines

Hardcover, 369 pg.
Crown, 2017

Read: November 8 – 9, 2017


Sanders is a typical American small-town, so typical, I felt like I grew up there. Thankfully, unlike Sanders, the place I grew up in has moved on, Sanders has not. There’s still a Video Rental Store there, for crying out loud. Those who work with computers, or want to have much of an idea about contemporary pop culture, have to move away — or at least commute.

Eli Teague is just such a person — but before he commutes to his IT job from his apartment above the Video Rental Store, he grows up in a pretty typical way. With one exception: twice while growing up, he encounters a young woman dressed incredibly oddly while working on an old Ford Model A, which seems to be fueled by water. They spend a little time conversing each time — typically leaving Eli more confused than he’d have thought possible — then she drives off and disappears. This instills in him an obsession with historic cars, that spills over into American History in general.

As an adult, he encounters her again and inadvertently puts her in danger. He abandons everything he knows in an effort to save her from this and ends up joining her on a hunt through history. Harry (this mysterious woman) travels through history — she’s not a time traveler, she’ll be quick to point out, she travels in history. She’s not crazy about bringing Eli along with her, but literally has almost no choice in the matter.

Harry . . . she’s a great character, and I would’ve appreciated a lot more focus on her, and getting to see much more of her past. Maybe not getting to actually helps, because it makes the reader more curious about her — but I’d still have rather had a better look at her life before Eli became a regular part of it. She’s tough, loyal, cunning — but no superhero, just a strong person.

Short of spoiling the whole thing, this is one of those I have to be very vague about the details, but then why should you read it? I’ll leave it to you to read the book to get more about the hunt they’re on, but I’ll just say that it’s a great idea, a wonderful concept. The other hunters (and allies) we meet are interesting, but man, I’d love more of all of them — there’s some great historical cameos, too. Naturally, we need an opposing force to make things more tense — and we have one of the creepiest around in these pages. They’re not evil, not corrupt, not anything but driven (and with a skewed way of looking at things).

There’s a nostalgic, hopeful tone throughout — despite the sharp critique of the stats quo in America. There’s an evident wit behind the words, too, but this isn’t what you’d call a funny novel. I do think that Clines and I would differ a bit on some of the ways he interprets parts of the national character/psyche, but I can appreciate what he was going for (that’s one of those things that’ll make more sense after you read the book). The characters — whether we like them or not — are very human, very relatable, and pretty sympathetic. Clines has again taken some tropes, concepts, ideas that we’re familiar with — some we know very well, but skewing them just a hair and resulting in something we haven’t sen before.

I expected this to be a pretty good read after The Fold a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t expecting something as fresh feeling as this (but with the skill of someone who’s written a few novels). There’s a dash of civics lessons, some cultural commentary, and a lot of hope — things you don’t always get in light(ish) SF. I “bought into” this book much more quickly than I did The Fold, I’m not sure if that’s because Clines earned my trust in the previous book, or if there’s something more accessible about this one — either way, it’s something for the “Plus” column.

Give this one a whirl — you’ll be glad you did.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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4 Stars