A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator): A Fantastic, Moving, Fun Tale of a Grieving Widower

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)


Hardcover, 337 pg.
Atria Books, 2014
Read: April 2 – 3, 2019

[His wife] often said that “all roads lead to something you were always predestined to do.” And for her, perhaps, it was something.

But for Ove it was someone.

I’ve been fully intending to read all of Fredrik Backman’s books after I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (3 years ago), but there were a couple of things holding me back. 1. I loved My Grandmother so much that I didn’t want something to eclipse it; 2. I didn’t want to be so disappointed in one of his other books that it tainted my memory of My Grandmother. I finally told myself to get over it and just read him — what did I really have to lose?

That was obviously the right call — this was just fantastic.

If at this point, you haven’t heard of this book and decided if you’re going to read it or not, I’m not likely to persuade you. It’s sold about as many books as a person not named James Patterson, J. K. Rowling or Steven King should be able to expect. There’s been a movie made of it in Sweden and Tom Hanks is working on a version, too. This book is practically a phenomenon, and in the years since it’s publication, the author, Fredrik Backman has practically become an industry. So, if you haven’t read it by this point, there’s probably a reason, I’m not going to convince you otherwise. Nor do I think I can contribute much to the discussion about the book beyond what’s already been said. But I’m still driven to talk about it a bit.

Ove is a recent widower who has decided that it’s time to join his wife, and attempts to kill himself by various means in order to do that. But like an aged (and more dedicated) Lane Meyer, he can’t complete the deed. Something always interrupts him — generally, it’s the fools and incompetents that are his neighbors needing his help. Somehow these people have reached adulthood without learning how to back up a vehicle towing a trailer. bleeding a radiator or any number of things. So he stops what he was doing, helps his whatever neighbor needs it (complaining about it and insulting them all the time) and tries again the next day.

Ove’s struggles with the neighbors and his botched attempts to end his life are interspersed with his life story — his troubled childhood, career, early years of his marriage and the tragic end of it. The writing here is incredibly effective — and Backman doesn’t even try to hide his emotional manipulation — he essentially calls his shots sometimes — and it works. He plays whatever tune he wants and the reader dances to it. Try to get through the paragraph where Ove thinks about missing holding his wife’s hand unmoved, I dare you. I was teary at least once before the midpoint of the work — and about a half hour after finishing the book, I had to go back and re-read the last few pages with dry eyes so I could be certain I read what I thought I read.

Ove in his cantankerousness, his particular and peculiar way of approaching life — and in his grief — is a fantastic character. But I think that his neighbor, a Muslim immigrant mother of three, who deices that her angry old neighbor needs a friend (whether he wants one or not) and then becomes that friend (which he definitely doesn’t want) is an even better character. Parvaneh is smart, kind, fun and loving — and as stubborn as Ove. Next to his wife, she’s the best thing to happen to him. There are plenty of other great characters (the overweight computer tech who lives on the other side of Ove is a fine example).

I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob.

One of the easiest 5-Stars I’ve ever given. If you keep putting off reading this — knock it off, read the book.

—–

5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

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Pub Day Repost: Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter: PsyLED Fights its Biggest and Most Dangerous Foe and Troubles from Within

Time to wrap up our Tour Stop for this book — I hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as I have. I get a little long-winded below, sorry — but when I like a book as much as I did this one, it happens.

Circle of the MoonCircle of the Moon

by Faith Hunter
Series: Soulwood, #4

eARC, 400 pg.
ACE, 2019
Read: February 6 – 8, 2019

I’m going to have to talk about the events at the end of the previous book, Flame in the Dark, a little bit. If you haven’t read that — sorry. You may want to use the time you were about to spend on this post to purchase that/get it from your library instead.

So, with any of these Soulwood books there are three main threads to follow: 1. The PsyLED case(s) and storylines associated with the team; 2. The developments with God’s Cloud of Glory Church and Nell’s family; 3. Nell’s personal evolution as in independent woman and her supernatural development. These will all intertwine and effect each other — particularly the private lives of the PsyLED team and Nell’s own development. I want to touch on all these briefly to give you a good idea what to expect with this book.

Let’s start with God’s Cloud of Glory, which gets a lot less ink than we’re used to. But when they show up, it counts. It’s unclear how much of the church is really in favor of the changes occurring within it — it’s probably not as uniform as I’d been thinking. Which makes sense, any reformation is slow and complicated — and won’t be a straight line of progress, humans are messier than that. Whether this group will actually stumble into orthodoxy is hard to say, and it’ll definitely take years. We get to see a little of the pushback to the reforms here, but it’s nothing severe. I expect in a book or two, something will happen because of what we see in this book. The Vampire Tree on the Church’s land takes a different role in this book than we’ve grown accustomed to — and it’s probably the most important and intriguing development having to do with the Church in Circle of the Moon (possibly the most important in the book as a whole, too — time will tell).

We do learn some interesting things about Nell’s family and how they acted before Jane Yellowrock and the feds upended everything, too. I shouldn’t forget that…

As far as Nell goes, it’s been just a few weeks since she stopped being a tree and started being a human-ish person again. As you can see from the excerpt I posted earlier, things are going well for Nell and Occam, and things are moving quickly on the Mud coming to live with Nell front. But both are bringing their share of challenges for Nell. Her life is definitely not looking anything like what she’d envisioned and the changes aren’t easy for her — she mentions at one point her mixed feelings about coming into the twenty-first century. As much as she relishes some of these changes, none of them are easy.

Nell is forced to confront and re-evaluate her ideas about love, commitment, what it means to be in a romantic relationship. So much of her thinking is still that of a “churchwoman” as she’d put it. She knows other women, other men, don’t think of things in those terms and while she’s rejected her upbringing, she hasn’t yet replaced everything she wants to (she probably hasn’t even figured out everything she wants to change).Occam is the best person for her to be involved with right now (the cynic in me wants to say that he’s too perfect, but I like him too much to listen to my inner cynic) — his patience, kindness and understanding are what’s going to help her the most now.

I’m not gong to say anything else about Mud — but I’m a fan. I don’t think Hunter hit a false note with her character or any scene she was in. Mud’s a great character and knows exactly what she wants in this life (at least for now) and what she needs to do to get it. Primarily that involves manipulating and/or convincing her sister to do a few things — and Mud’s an expert at both of those.

As far a Nell and her powers go? Just wow. If you think the tree thing in the last book was revolutionary, just wait. There’s nothing as cataclysmic this time (thankfully — I’m not sure we readers could take it), but the implications of some of what Nell does in this book that aren’t yet known or seen, and the reverberations from them will be felt for a while.

So that brings us to PsyLED. Rick LaFleur wakes up in the middle of a very strange witch circle with no idea how he got there. He’d been called there somehow — as his cat. There’s a dead cat near and Nell picks up traces of vampires in the circle, too. Clearly, black magic is involved — but how and why, no one knows. It doesn’t take long before there are other circles being discovered — new and made in recent weeks. Rick and some of Ming’s vampires alike being called to them. Either of those happenings would be concerning — but the combination of them is mysterious and troubling. Also, why is Rick being called and nothing happening to the team’s other werecat? The questions and mysteries pile up quickly.

Some trouble in Knoxville law enforcement doesn’t help, either. Supernatural crimes/events — things like strange witch circles — aren’t being reported to PsyLED as they ought to be. The FBI and one particular agent (the witch that Nell met last time) are hovering on the fringes of the investigation in a way that speaks of more than mild curiosity. Changes and upheaval in the local vampire government — Ming of Glass is now a MOC, for example — feeds into some of the confusion.

It’s one of those situations where the more Nell and the team learn, the less they know. Everything points to big trouble, they just can’t figure out what kind of trouble — or even its source. Rick is going to have to explain a lot about things he’s previously been reluctant to discuss, for starters. And still, they may not figure out what kind of black magic is involved — and why — before it’s too late to save innocent/not-so-innocent lives.

This is the best PsyLED story this series has yet given us. Nell running off on her own isn’t going to crack this, solid procedure, a real team effort and some quick thinking (and a few lucky breaks) are the key to things working out. It’s probably the most exciting story, too. There’s a lot of action, there are more guns fired in this book by law enforcement than possibly in the first three books combined. Lainey and her magic, JoJo’s computer wizardry (legitimate and less than), Occam’s cat and trigger finger, Tandy’s abilities, plus Nell’s abilities (including offensive capabilities we haven’t previously seen) are going to have to work more in general and in combination with each other than they have in the series so far just to keep the team in the game — but for them to actually close this case and get some answers, they’re going to need extra help. I loved this part of the book and want to keep talking about it, but I’m going to hold back. I’ve often wondered if the team wasn’t wasting time in the past — not this time. Everything clicked for me with this story and I couldn’t be happier about the whole thing.

I’m pretty sure that I can’t say anything about the people behind the circles without ruining something. There’s some real evil afoot, I tell you what. There’s also a damaged soul (well, a few of them), some well-intentioned moves in the past that result in trauma and worse in the present, a mixture of aligned entities that don’t necessarily have the same ends in mind. You combine those things and you get a lot of damage, heartbreak, and death being dealt. Not only is this the best PsyLED story, it’s got the most compelling opponent(s) for the team yet.

I know that Rick has his detractors going back to early on in the Yellowrock books up until his involvement in this series. I haven’t checked as much as I should have to see if some of them have come around to him or not. I’ve never been as anti-Rick as others have been, but he’s never been a character I liked. As soon as he and Jane split, I would’ve been content to never think of him again — but Hunter had other ideas. I liked him in this role, but I’ve always preferred everyone else on the team (except Paka), and really hoped he’d be in the background for some time. Yeah, well, that’s absolutely not the case in this book. I won’t say that this book wholly rehabilitates the character for me — and I can’t imagine that the extreme anti-Rick contingent will be satisfied. But, I will say that it’ll be hard for people to not soften their opinion of him after this book. Hunter did a lot of good to his character in this book. For people who liked Rick and/or were positively-inclined toward him? You’re going to love this book.

Tandy does a couple of things in this book that intrigued me. Nell’s not the only paranormal on this team whose powers are developing in ways that may prove troubling. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that these two (and maybe others?) are changing, or if there’s another explanation — they’re changing each other, one is changing the other while they evolve themselves — or is there an outside party up to something? It’s also possible I’m reading too much into things.

This is largely an aside for people who are Yellowrock fans. Throughout this book, we brush up against Jane Yellowrock and what happened in Dark Queen, which seems to have happened while Nell was a tree (I think Dark Queen started about the same time as Flame in the Dark, but DQ ended a lot sooner than FitD), and Nell’s not really up on what’s going on with her friend yet. She knows a couple of the bullet points, but doesn’t really have the full picture. According to FaithHunter.net’s Reading Order, this novel actually happens after the next Jane Yellowrock novel. So, we’re about as confused as Nell is. Now, does this impact any of the interaction Nell, JoJo and the rest have with Jane, Alex or any of the vampires in Tennessee? No. But man, it makes me even more curious about what happens after Dark Queen — I didn’t think I could be more curious about that than I was, but man…this book has really intensified all that for me.

Okay, back to Circle of the Moon. I’ve given the first three books in the series 4 1/2 Stars each. I think this time I have to give in and toss that missing half star to the rating. The PsyLED story was great, we didn’t get bogged down in the Church/cult business too much, Mud just made me smile, and while I’m not comfortable with every choice Nell made in her personal and professional life (and a couple of the choices worry me long-term) — I like the fact that she’s making them. I can’t think of a single problem with this book, it satisfied every fan-impulse/desire I had, was a step up from previous installments in many ways, and told a solid and complete story that still drives the reader to want more. I can’t imagine a Hunter fan not liking this book — and it’s the kind of book that should get her some new readers, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions remain my own and are the honest reactions of this particular reader.

—–

5 Stars


My thanks to Let’s Talk Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey: A great Intro to the Canons of Dort and a valuable tool for study

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of DortSaving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

by W. Robert Godfrey


eARC, 265 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019

Read: February 3 – 10, 2019


I’m halfway inclined to just copy and paste the Table of Contents here and say, “If you want to know about any of this, here’s where you start.” Slap a nice little graphic with some stars on it, and we’re done. But I’m not that lazy. This is a historically-based study of the Synod of Dort’s major product — the Canons of Dort (although it does look at some other concerns), the defense of the Reformed doctrines in answer to the challenges of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants that took up and furthered his cause following his death. The Canons gave us the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism” and are often misunderstood because of that and as mischaracterized as those points themselves. If this book only helps people stop doing that, it’d be well worth the effort (it won’t, but it’s pretty to think so) — but it’s so much more.

There are four parts to this book — any one of which can be read independently from the others. I’m not sure why you would do that, but they’re self-contained enough that you don’t have to.

Part I focuses on the historical and theological context for the calling of the Synod, those who attended and the topics it would address. Godfrey is a Church Historian and former History professor, this is his bread and butter, and you can tell that from these chapters. You also get the impression that he could’ve written a book about the same length as this one just on the historical matters without breaking a sweat. This isn’t the best part of the book, but it gets things off to a great start.

Part II is a “Pastoral” translation of the Canons prepared by Godfrey for this book. I’m not familiar enough with other translations to really have much to say about this. I’ve read others, but I don’t have them committed to memory. Besides, I don’t know Latin well enough to evaluate the translation. But I can say that this was a clear translation, it didn’t read like something written in Latin for experts, but something written to help me and other Christians to wade through some weighty topics. As the problems caused by the Remonstrants were in the churches more than in the academy, the language matched that.

The heart of the book is in Part III, An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Godfrey beings with some observations about the Canons as a whole — how they’re structured before he dives in to the Canons themselves. In addition to the errors of the Remonstrants, the Canons address other issues related to the doctrines involved, providing a resource for believers for generations not just an answer to their contemporary problems. The pastoral focus of the Canons — and Godfrey — is evident throughout the Exposition, he’s frequently talking about comfort, encouragement, and assurance. It’s not just an explanation and defense of the Reformation and Protestant teaching, it’s an aid and comfort to believers.

It may come as a surprise to see what Godfrey points out as a result of compromise, and the reasoning behind those things that needed no compromise. The behind-the-scenes portions of the book are as interesting as the exposition (giving an indication to those of us who didn’t sit under Godfrey’s Church History lectures that we really missed out on something). Godfrey also points out how the Canons weren’t as successful in some ways as they wanted to be — not as a failure, just that some of their goals were out of reach of the assembly.

Some of this section gets repetitive — because each Head of Doctrine is complete in itself, capable of standing alone — so similar points are covered repeatedly. Godfrey’s exposition both points that out and is written to keep the repetition from being dull, but instead an indication of the importance of the various points. This section is so helpful that I really can’t do justice — my copy is full of highlighted lines/paragraphs. I will be returning to it often, I know that. Concise, clear, insightful — everything you want in this kind of study.

The remainder of the book is Appendices. There’s an outline of the Canons, an explanation for the pattern of each head of doctrine (very similar to the same idea in the Exposition) and a handy guide to the relation of the positive articles to the rejection of errors. The last appendix is a new translation of the Synod’s provisional position on the Sabbath, giving some insight into the relation of the Synod’s stance to that of British Puritanism. The largest, and probably most helpful (and maybe controversial) is an extended look at Arminius and his overall project. Godfrey takes a position that argues against some recent scholarship (as I understand) and insists that he wasn’t a moderate Reformed churchman, but someone seeking to overturn segments of the church’s teaching and introduce serious Pelagian error.

In this anniversary year, I know this will not be the only book about the Synod released (I have another pre-ordered, and am sure I’ll pick up others) — but I can’t imagine that it won’t be one of the better. It is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral — this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you’d do well to study it.

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

Fahrenbruary Repost: Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick
Series: Ali Dalglish, #2

Kindle Edition, 317 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: November 30 – December 1, 2017

Vancouver Island’s Integrated Major Incident Squad has been called out again, and Ali Dalglish is brought along to consult — she’s official now, after the success of the case in In the Still, she got her credentials transferred to her new country. So she can help Inspector Rey Cuzzocrea with his profile of the murderer and get paid for it (which is probably useful after the recent disintegration of her marriage).

There’s a series of murders (not a serial killer, technically) in the perfectly pleasant little city of Cedar River (at least for most of the residents). They’re gruesome, clearly motivated by anger, with a sexual component. Ali and Cuzzocrea quickly note evidence of a pedophilia ring associated with the deaths. Which adds a level of complexity and tragedy to the crime — and makes it difficult to care much about the victims. While no one on the VIIMIS wants to help the killer with their campaign, they want to catch her(?) to help her recover from what they think must’ve happened to her(?). The obstacles standing in their way are not the typical or expected kind, and make this difficult case even more difficult.

As before, Ali is brilliant — not just when it comes to criminology, she’s just smart — she’s witty, she’s a font of trivia, and has a vocabulary that you just want to bask in (and borrow!). [Note: I’m not referring to her “blue”/”adult”/”4-letter” vocabulary, which is enough to put off some readers] Her emotional life is a mess, she’s in a slightly better place after the breakup of her marriage, but not that much. There’s some decent character growth at work here, too. She’s just such a great character I don’t think I can do her justice here.

It would have been very easy to make this a story about Ali, the brilliant psychologist helping out a bunch of cops who are fairly clueless (yet high-ranking and successful). But Chadwick doesn’t do that. The members of the Squad are capable — more than capable — and while they needed the perspective and expertise brought by Ali, there’s a good chance they’d have eventually put a lot of the pieces together on their own. For example, Superintendent Shaw would be easy to depict as a stuffed-shirt, unimaginative, by-the-book, and blind to anything that isn’t obvious — and most writers would depict him that way (I can’t help but think of Irwin Maurice Fletcher’s editor, Frank Jaffe, frequently when Shaw shows up) — but at one point he actually puts things together that no one else on the Squad did (most readers will be faster than him, but we have better information). Ali’s not blind to this either — yeah, she has an ego about her own expertise, but she is ready (if not always eager) to acknowledge when her teammates do good to work.

There were a few mis-steps, but when you’re doing so much right, you can afford a few of those. The one that I don’t understand is how little her friend/neighbor, Marlene, was used. Yes, her contribution was essential, but if Marlene had stayed home, Chadwick could’ve found another way to get those results. If you’re going to bring her along — use her. Her brief appearances were fun or pivotal, but there just weren’t enough.

I’ve spent some time over the last week trying to describe Chadwick’s writing style, because it’s so specific and so original. At one point, I decided that “aggressive” was the best adjective — it’s in-your-face, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your nose into the text, daring you to even consider your Real Life responsibilities (family, eating, work, etc.) so it can smack the back of your head like Leroy Gibbs. But it’s also inviting, enticing, so you’re sucked in and love it — you want to wallow in the experience, desperate to find out what happens while not wanting to walk away from reading book for the foreseeable future. She’s entertaining and fun while writing about some of the most depraved and horrible things you’ve ever read — while never making the depravity or horror into anything other than evil and wrong.

Briefly Maiden is not a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts — but when the sum of its parts is so great, it can seem to be. If it was just Ali’s acerbic brilliance and skewed (skewering?) sensibilities pushing this story, it’d be something I’d tell you to read. Chadwick’s style is something to behold, no matter the subject. If it was just the heart-breaking and horrifying crime story, I’d give this a high commendation. If it was just for the inevitable but shocking conclusion, I’d say this was well worth your time and money. If it was just Ali’s vocabulary, you’d be smarter for having read it (I learned a few terms/words, and I bet you will, too). You put all that together, plus a few other points I should’ve made and didn’t (for whatever reason), and Briefly Maiden is one of the most effective (and affective) novels I’ve read this year. Stop reading this and go grab it — and In the Still, if you haven’t read that yet.

—–

5 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: A Mint-Conditioned Corpse by Duncan MacMaster: I run out of superlatives and can’t stop talking about this Mystery that filled me with joy.

Kirby Baxter is possibly my favorite new-to-me character from 2018, you can probably tell that from these next two reposts…And, yes, I’m sticking with the classic cover, although the paperback I bought myself last year has a niftier cover.

This is one of those times that I liked something so much that I just blathered on for a bit, and I’m not sure how much sense it made. The first and last paragraphs are coherent, I’m not really sure the rest is…

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #1
Kindle Edition, 275 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: July 27, 2018

Is this the best-writing I’ve encountered in a Detective Novel this year? Nope. Is this the most compelling, the tensest thrill-ride of a Mystery novel this year? Nope. Is this full of the darkest noir, the grittiest realism, the starkest exposure of humanity’s depths? Good gravy, no! This is, however, a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.

Think Monk at it’s best. Psych at its least annoying. Castle at it’s most charming. Moonlighting season 1 — I’m going to stop now.

So Kirby Baxter is a comic book writer/artist who breathed new life into a stagnant character which led to the revitalizing of an entire comic book company (not quite as old as DC, nowhere near as successful as Marvel — and somehow hadn’t been bought out by either). He was unceremoniously fired just before he became incredibly well-off (and investments only improved that). Following his new wealth, a thing or two happened in Europe and he gained some notoriety there helping the police in a few countries. Now, he’s coming back to North America to attend OmniCon — a giant comic con in Toronto — returning to see a mentor rumored to attend and maybe stick his toe back in the industry that he loves.

While there we meet his colorist and friend, Mitch — a diminutive fellow, convinced he’s God’s gift to the ladies (most of whom hope he comes with a gift receipt), and just a riot to read about. Molly, a fan, former coworker and friend of Kirby’s who wears her heart on her sleeve (it’s not her fault if people don’t notice it). That needs to be better. Erica is many a dream-come-true — an impossibly good-looking model and would-be actress who is sincere and sweet. Her assistant Bruce is a pretty good guy, too. Her best friend and former mentor, Andi is almost as too-good-to-be-true, and married to a renowned DJ who is providing some of the entertainment at OmniCon. There’s comic dealers, a film director, a crazy actress, Kirby’s former boss, and so many other colorful characters that my notes include a joke about a cast the size of Game of Thrones.

And then there’s Gustav. Words I don’t know how to describe Gustav. Imagine having Batman as your Jeeves. He’s a valet/driver/bodyguard that Kirby picked up in Europe, combining the cool and lethal factor of Spenser’s Hawk, Plum’s Ranger and Elvis’ Pike (except he makes Pike seem chatty). I’d include Wolfe’s Saul Panzer, but Saul isn’t the lethal type that the rest are — but Gustav has the effortless magic about him that makes Saul a winner. If the rest of the book was “meh” and Gustav was still in it? I’d tell you to read the book.

At some point, a corpse shows up — and like the comic book world’s answer to Jessica Fletcher, Kirby identifies the death as a murder — not the accident it appears to be to many. For various and sundry reasons — starting with him being correct, and continuing on to the incidents in Europe — Kirby is roped into helping the police with the investigation. Also, like Fletcher, he’s uniquely gifted to help the police in these circumstances. He’s smart, he has a eidetic memory, can catch a tell or a microexpression like nobody’s business. You throw him into a consulting role with the police, with his friends along for the ride and I’m telling you, you’ve got the most entertaining mystery novel I’ve read this year.

This book’s look at comic conventions reminded me of A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. But where this one is played for laughs, Proehl was serious — but both show an appreciation for, an affection for the culture that surrounds the cons and the people involved. After reading this, I was ready to buy tickets for the OmniCon.

It’s a funny, fast, romp — a very contemporary take on a Golden Age-mystery. Lots of twists and turns, more crimes than you think are happening and more villains than you can shake a stick at. I thought (and still do) that Duncan MacMaster’s Hack showed that he was an author to keep an eye on — this is better.

A Mint-Conditioned Corpse hit the sweet spot for me — a convergence of so many of my likes told with just the right tone (another one of my likes), while maintaining a pretty decent whodunit at the core. I probably smiled for the entire time I spent reading it — well, at least the last 90% once I started to get a feel for things — at 8% I made a note about Kirby “I’m really going to like him,” and a few paragraphs later, I wrote “I already really like him” about Mitch. And I was right about Kirby, and kept liking Mitch — the rest of the characters are about as good as them, and the story is as good as the people in it are. Is everyone going to enjoy this one as much as me? Nope. But I can’t imagine someone not having a ball reading this. Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.

—–

5 Stars

Black Moss by David Nolan: A Mystery that will Haunt You in a Stunning Debut Novel

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan


Kindle Edition, 291 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018

Read: Febryary 11 – 12, 2019

           Danny had never been out here before. He’d heard the moors were bleak, but he wasn’t prepared for the sheer unrelenting nothingness of the area. It was like the world had been horizontally cut in two –sky at the top, moor at the bottom, with nothing to provide any form of relief from the two themes. Not even a tree. Not one. In any direction. Bleak.

David Nolan’s debut novel is one of those that I’m having a hard time gauging how much to say about the plot. If I don’t keep a foot on the brake pedal, I know I could easily go on and on and quickly give away everything — and where’d the fun be in that for you?

Not that “fun” is a good word for about 96% of the experience of this book. This isn’t one of those books (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Half of this book is told in April of 1990. Rookie radio reporter Danny Johnston is assigned to cover a murder miles away from the story that he wants to cover (and that just about every other reporter in the Manchester area is covering), the real-life riot at Strangeways prison. As Danny is watching the police fight the wind, he sees the body they’re trying to cover with a tarp. It’s a young boy, clearly the victim of murder. A few days later, he’ll learn just how brutal the killing is — but it doesn’t matter. From the moment he saw the body, Danny was committed to making sure the killer is caught.

The other half takes place in 2016, when noted television report Daniel Johnston wraps his car around a tree. He’s drunk — he usually is, it turns out — and this is the last time. The iPhone video of his exit from the car and the drunken ranting and falling that ensues doesn’t do his image any favors. He’s facing criminal charges, the collapse of his career and therapy. Between some great medication, someone to listen and a lot of free time, he makes some progress on putting himself back together and decides to go back to Manchester to try to complete the quest he started so long ago. He also explores some of his own demons along the way — we don’t spend that much time with that, but enough to get a better idea what’s behind a lot of his own behavior.

In addition to Danny/Daniel, there’s a small-town newspaper reporter, three police detectives, several Radio Manchester employees, an MP and some residents of a children’s home and the woman who runs the place that serve as the major characters in 1990. In 2016, we still see most of these characters — just at new stages in their lives. Some of them have moved past this crime, others remember it as much as (if not more than) Danny. None of these characters are the kind of splashy or obviously entertaining individuals that many mystery novels are peppered with — they’re simply well-rounded people. Flawed, with obvious issues and strengths.

From the first chapter (see the quotation above) to the end — there is a bleak feeling pervading this work. Between the geography, the situation, and the weather that’s the best word for it. I don’t describe the feel of books often enough — but this is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling.

Which isn’t to say that this is a book you trudge through — you don’t. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. You want to get to the bottom of things with Danny and his friends/allies.

The mystery part of this book is just what you want — it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic. I had an inkling about part of it — but I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. Yet when the reveal is finished you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course — what else could it have been?”

And then you read the motivation behind the killing — and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this.

This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more. You won’t be sorry if you give this one a shot, you’re not going to read a lot of books better — or as good — anytime soon.

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5 Stars

Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter: PsyLED Fights its Biggest and Most Dangerous Foe and Troubles from Within

Time to wrap up our Tour Stop for this book — I hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as I have. I get a little long-winded below, sorry — but when I like a book as much as I did this one, it happens.

Circle of the MoonCircle of the Moon

by Faith Hunter
Series: Soulwood, #4

eARC, 400 pg.
ACE, 2019

Read: February 6 – 8, 2019


I’m going to have to talk about the events at the end of the previous book, Flame in the Dark, a little bit. If you haven’t read that — sorry. You may want to use the time you were about to spend on this post to purchase that/get it from your library instead.

So, with any of these Soulwood books there are three main threads to follow: 1. The PsyLED case(s) and storylines associated with the team; 2. The developments with God’s Cloud of Glory Church and Nell’s family; 3. Nell’s personal evolution as in independent woman and her supernatural development. These will all intertwine and effect each other — particularly the private lives of the PsyLED team and Nell’s own development. I want to touch on all these briefly to give you a good idea what to expect with this book.

Let’s start with God’s Cloud of Glory, which gets a lot less ink than we’re used to. But when they show up, it counts. It’s unclear how much of the church is really in favor of the changes occurring within it — it’s probably not as uniform as I’d been thinking. Which makes sense, any reformation is slow and complicated — and won’t be a straight line of progress, humans are messier than that. Whether this group will actually stumble into orthodoxy is hard to say, and it’ll definitely take years. We get to see a little of the pushback to the reforms here, but it’s nothing severe. I expect in a book or two, something will happen because of what we see in this book. The Vampire Tree on the Church’s land takes a different role in this book than we’ve grown accustomed to — and it’s probably the most important and intriguing development having to do with the Church in Circle of the Moon (possibly the most important in the book as a whole, too — time will tell).

We do learn some interesting things about Nell’s family and how they acted before Jane Yellowrock and the feds upended everything, too. I shouldn’t forget that…

As far as Nell goes, it’s been just a few weeks since she stopped being a tree and started being a human-ish person again. As you can see from the excerpt I posted earlier, things are going well for Nell and Occam, and things are moving quickly on the Mud coming to live with Nell front. But both are bringing their share of challenges for Nell. Her life is definitely not looking anything like what she’d envisioned and the changes aren’t easy for her — she mentions at one point her mixed feelings about coming into the twenty-first century. As much as she relishes some of these changes, none of them are easy.

Nell is forced to confront and re-evaluate her ideas about love, commitment, what it means to be in a romantic relationship. So much of her thinking is still that of a “churchwoman” as she’d put it. She knows other women, other men, don’t think of things in those terms and while she’s rejected her upbringing, she hasn’t yet replaced everything she wants to (she probably hasn’t even figured out everything she wants to change).Occam is the best person for her to be involved with right now (the cynic in me wants to say that he’s too perfect, but I like him too much to listen to my inner cynic) — his patience, kindness and understanding are what’s going to help her the most now.

I’m not gong to say anything else about Mud — but I’m a fan. I don’t think Hunter hit a false note with her character or any scene she was in. Mud’s a great character and knows exactly what she wants in this life (at least for now) and what she needs to do to get it. Primarily that involves manipulating and/or convincing her sister to do a few things — and Mud’s an expert at both of those.

As far a Nell and her powers go? Just wow. If you think the tree thing in the last book was revolutionary, just wait. There’s nothing as cataclysmic this time (thankfully — I’m not sure we readers could take it), but the implications of some of what Nell does in this book that aren’t yet known or seen, and the reverberations from them will be felt for a while.

So that brings us to PsyLED. Rick LaFleur wakes up in the middle of a very strange witch circle with no idea how he got there. He’d been called there somehow — as his cat. There’s a dead cat near and Nell picks up traces of vampires in the circle, too. Clearly, black magic is involved — but how and why, no one knows. It doesn’t take long before there are other circles being discovered — new and made in recent weeks. Rick and some of Ming’s vampires alike being called to them. Either of those happenings would be concerning — but the combination of them is mysterious and troubling. Also, why is Rick being called and nothing happening to the team’s other werecat? The questions and mysteries pile up quickly.

Some trouble in Knoxville law enforcement doesn’t help, either. Supernatural crimes/events — things like strange witch circles — aren’t being reported to PsyLED as they ought to be. The FBI and one particular agent (the witch that Nell met last time) are hovering on the fringes of the investigation in a way that speaks of more than mild curiosity. Changes and upheaval in the local vampire government — Ming of Glass is now a MOC, for example — feeds into some of the confusion.

It’s one of those situations where the more Nell and the team learn, the less they know. Everything points to big trouble, they just can’t figure out what kind of trouble — or even its source. Rick is going to have to explain a lot about things he’s previously been reluctant to discuss, for starters. And still, they may not figure out what kind of black magic is involved — and why — before it’s too late to save innocent/not-so-innocent lives.

This is the best PsyLED story this series has yet given us. Nell running off on her own isn’t going to crack this, solid procedure, a real team effort and some quick thinking (and a few lucky breaks) are the key to things working out. It’s probably the most exciting story, too. There’s a lot of action, there are more guns fired in this book by law enforcement than possibly in the first three books combined. Lainey and her magic, JoJo’s computer wizardry (legitimate and less than), Occam’s cat and trigger finger, Tandy’s abilities, plus Nell’s abilities (including offensive capabilities we haven’t previously seen) are going to have to work more in general and in combination with each other than they have in the series so far just to keep the team in the game — but for them to actually close this case and get some answers, they’re going to need extra help. I loved this part of the book and want to keep talking about it, but I’m going to hold back. I’ve often wondered if the team wasn’t wasting time in the past — not this time. Everything clicked for me with this story and I couldn’t be happier about the whole thing.

I’m pretty sure that I can’t say anything about the people behind the circles without ruining something. There’s some real evil afoot, I tell you what. There’s also a damaged soul (well, a few of them), some well-intentioned moves in the past that result in trauma and worse in the present, a mixture of aligned entities that don’t necessarily have the same ends in mind. You combine those things and you get a lot of damage, heartbreak, and death being dealt. Not only is this the best PsyLED story, it’s got the most compelling opponent(s) for the team yet.

I know that Rick has his detractors going back to early on in the Yellowrock books up until his involvement in this series. I haven’t checked as much as I should have to see if some of them have come around to him or not. I’ve never been as anti-Rick as others have been, but he’s never been a character I liked. As soon as he and Jane split, I would’ve been content to never think of him again — but Hunter had other ideas. I liked him in this role, but I’ve always preferred everyone else on the team (except Paka), and really hoped he’d be in the background for some time. Yeah, well, that’s absolutely not the case in this book. I won’t say that this book wholly rehabilitates the character for me — and I can’t imagine that the extreme anti-Rick contingent will be satisfied. But, I will say that it’ll be hard for people to not soften their opinion of him after this book. Hunter did a lot of good to his character in this book. For people who liked Rick and/or were positively-inclined toward him? You’re going to love this book.

Tandy does a couple of things in this book that intrigued me. Nell’s not the only paranormal on this team whose powers are developing in ways that may prove troubling. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that these two (and maybe others?) are changing, or if there’s another explanation — they’re changing each other, one is changing the other while they evolve themselves — or is there an outside party up to something? It’s also possible I’m reading too much into things.

This is largely an aside for people who are Yellowrock fans. Throughout this book, we brush up against Jane Yellowrock and what happened in Dark Queen, which seems to have happened while Nell was a tree (I think Dark Queen started about the same time as Flame in the Dark, but DQ ended a lot sooner than FitD), and Nell’s not really up on what’s going on with her friend yet. She knows a couple of the bullet points, but doesn’t really have the full picture. According to FaithHunter.net’s Reading Order, this novel actually happens after the next Jane Yellowrock novel. So, we’re about as confused as Nell is. Now, does this impact any of the interaction Nell, JoJo and the rest have with Jane, Alex or any of the vampires in Tennessee? No. But man, it makes me even more curious about what happens after Dark Queen — I didn’t think I could be more curious about that than I was, but man…this book has really intensified all that for me.

Okay, back to Circle of the Moon. I’ve given the first three books in the series 4 1/2 Stars each. I think this time I have to give in and toss that missing half star to the rating. The PsyLED story was great, we didn’t get bogged down in the Church/cult business too much, Mud just made me smile, and while I’m not comfortable with every choice Nell made in her personal and professional life (and a couple of the choices worry me long-term) — I like the fact that she’s making them. I can’t think of a single problem with this book, it satisfied every fan-impulse/desire I had, was a step up from previous installments in many ways, and told a solid and complete story that still drives the reader to want more. I can’t imagine a Hunter fan not liking this book — and it’s the kind of book that should get her some new readers, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions remain my own and are the honest reactions of this particular reader.

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5 Stars


My thanks to Let’s Talk Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.