My Favorite 2018 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to — but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2016-17 combined (he reports with only a hint of defensiveness). These are the best of the bunch.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave Barry

My original post
So, I figured given the tile and subject that this would be a heavier Dave Barry read, with probably more tears than you anticipate from his books — something along the lines of Marley & Me. I was (thankfully) wrong. It’s sort of self-helpy. It’s a little overly sentimental. I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too).

5 Stars

 The War Outside My Window The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

by Janet E. Croon, ed.

My original post
LeRoy Wiley Gresham was 12 when he started keeping a diary. LIttle did he know at that point that he was about to witness the American Civil War (and all the desolation it would bring to Georgia) and that he was dying (he really didn’t figure that out until the very end). Instead you get an almost day-by-day look at his life — what he does, reads, hears about (re: the War) and feels. It’s history in the raw. You have never read anything like this — it will appeal to the armchair historian in you (particularly if you’ve ever dabbled in being a Civil War buff); it’ll appeal to want an idea what everyday life was like 150 years ago; there’s a medical case study, too — this combination of themes is impossible to find anywhere else. This won’t be the easiest read you come across this year (whatever year it is that you come across it), but it’ll be one of the most compelling.

5 Stars

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

My original post
I, for one, have never thought that much about my relation to time, my relation to clocks/watches, etc. I know they govern our lives, to an extent that’s troublesome. But where did that come from, how did we get hooked on these things, this concept? These are brief studies/historical looks/contemporary observations — and I’m not selling it too well here (trying to keep it brief). It’s entertainingly written, informative, and thought-provoking. Garfield says this about it:

This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to beat it. . . The book has but two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

He fulfills his intended goals, making this well worth the read.

4 Stars

Everything is NormalEverything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid

by Sergey Grechishkin

My original post
If you grew up in the 80s or earlier, you were fascinated by Soviet Russia. Period. They were our great potential enemy, and we knew almost nothing about them. And even what we did “know” wasn’t based on all that much. Well, Sergey Grechishkin’s book fixes that (and will help you remember just how much you used to be intrigued by “Evil Empire”). He tells how he grew up in Soviet Russia — just a typical kid in a typical family trying to get by. He tells this story with humor — subtle and overt. It’s a deceptively easy and fun read about some really dark circumstances.

4 Stars

Planet FunnyPlanet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

My original post
Half of this book is fantastic. The other half is … okay. It’ll make you laugh if nothing else. That might not be a good thing, if you take his point to heart. We’ve gotten to the point now in society that laughter beats honesty, jokes beat insight, and irony is more valued than thoughtful analysis. How did we get here, what does it mean, what do we do about it? The true value of the book may be what it makes you think about after you’re done.

3.5 Stars

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

My original post
This is an enjoyable, amusing, call to re-examine your priorities and goals. It’s not about ceasing to care about everything (not giving a f^ck), but about being careful what you care about (giving the right f*cks). Manson’s more impressed with himself than he should be, but he’s a clear and clever writer displaying a lot of common sense. Get the audiobook (I almost never say that) — the narration is worth a star by itself (maybe more).

4 Stars

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott

My original post
If you read only one book off this list, it should probably be the next one. But if you pick this one, you’ll be happier. This is a collection of correspondence to pop musicians/lyricists picking apart the lyrics, quibbling over the concepts, and generally missing the point. Then we get to read the responses from the musician/act — some play with the joke, some beat it. Sometimes the Philpott portion of the exchange is better, frequently they’re the straight man to someone else. Even if you don’t know the song being discussed, there’s enough to enjoy. Probably one of my Top 3 of the year.

5 Stars

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

My original post
My favorite US Senator tackles the questions of division in our country — and political divisions aren’t the most important, or even the root of the problem. Which is good, because while he might be my favorite, I’m not sure I’d agree with his political solutions. But his examination of the problems we all can see, we all can sense and we all end up exacerbating — and many of his solutions — will ring true. And even when you disagree with him, you’ll appreciate the effort and insight.

5 Stars

Honorable Mention:

Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to AmericaThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

by Steven Pinker

I started this at a bad time, just didn’t have the time to devote to it (and the library had a serious list waiting for it, so I couldn’t renew it. But what little I did read, I thoroughly enjoyed and profited from — am very sure it’d have made this post if I could’ve gotten through it. I need to make a point of returning to it.

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Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal by Ben Sasse: A Profound and Helpful (and Hopeful) Book I Wish I Could Adequately Discuss

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

Hardcover, 288 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2018
Read: November 27 – 30, 2018

I really do prefer to come up with my own synopsis/summary, but I was struggling to come up with one without this taking 3-4 times as much space as I usually do for an entire post. So, I’ll just use the Publisher’s:

           Something is wrong. We all know it.

American life expectancy is declining for a third straight year. Birth rates are dropping. Nearly half of us think the other political party isn’t just wrong; they’re evil. We’re the richest country in history, but we’ve never been more pessimistic.

What’s causing the despair?

In Them, bestselling author and U.S. senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight—and it bubbles out as anger.

Local communities are collapsing. Across the nation, little leagues are disappearing, Rotary clubs are dwindling, and in all likelihood, we don’t know the neighbor two doors down. Work isn’t what we’d hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships—life’s fundamental pillars—are in statistical freefall.

As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions. We’re in danger of half of us believing different facts than the other half, and the digital revolution throws gas on the fire.

There’s a path forward—but reversing our decline requires something radical: a rediscovery of real places and human-to-human relationships. Even as technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness can heal our lonely souls.

America wants you to be happy, but more urgently, America needs you to love your neighbor and connect with your community. Fixing what’s wrong with the country depends on it.

Now, a lot of people are talking about/writing about negative tweets, hostility between parties, loss of civility, etc. in our contemporary culture. But most of them are discussing symptoms of something deeper — and addressing the symptoms isn’t going to help much. Sasse wants to focus on the underlying issues and spends a lot of time talking about them before describing how he best thinks we can take care of them (and the symptoms).

I am not entirely convinced that he’s diagnosing the problems correctly — but he’s as close as I’ve seen. In short, we’ve stopped seeing our fellow Americans as countrymen that need to be convinced and compromised with, instead as evil opponents that need to be defeated and humiliated. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking politics, social policy, or people who like a TV show you don’t. The loss of civility, decency and humility in our culture is a clear and present danger to our union.

I’ve got a strong, strong desire to spend a week or two posting about this book — going through it a chapter at a time. But this isn’t that kind of blog — and I just don’t have that kind of time. There are places for that sort of conversation, this isn’t one of them. The books thought-provoking, inspiring, discouraging, and entertaining — not usually at the same time, but frequently within a couple of pages. I took pages of notes — really. Some of them just because I liked his phrasing. Some because I wanted to spend some time thinking about what he said, or doing follow-up reading, Some because I thought he nailed the idea.

Now, while Sasse goes to great pains to keep the book a-political (at least when it comes to specific policies), he correctly sees that politics is one of the main ways we’re separating ourselves from one another — or are being separated by them. So he talks about some of the ways that’s happening, and because he’s more familiar with the antics of the Right, he focuses primarily on them (also, it’ll give him more credibility to beat up his “own” team than the other guys). There are some Republicans that he cites favorably, and some Democrats that he puts in negative light — but primarily, Democrats come out of his book looking a lot better than his fellow Republicans do. I liked that a lot. If nothing else, it shows that Sasse’s willing to practice a lot of what he preaches (maybe all of it, I don’t know).

Sasse writes with conviction and compassion, humor and wisdom, even if (maybe especially if) you disagree with his politics, he’ll win you over with his common-sense realism. Some of his proposed solutions seem very pie-in-the-sky, and those are my favorites. Some of them seem more likely to succeed, but either way, just people talking and thinking about them is a step in the right direction. And I can’t help but imagine just that would be enough to satisfy Sasse. Read this book. Get others to read it. Talk about it.

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch: Things get Intense in the Ongoing Conflict between The Faceless Man and The Folly.

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #7eARC, 304 pg.
Daw Books, 2018
Read: October 3 – 5, 2018

I’ve got to say, I’d much rather be talking about this book in detail with someone else who had read the series than talking about it in spoiler-free form, so much of what I feel strongest about with this book cannot be discussed. Aaronovitch has outdone himself this time — it’s the best book of the series thus far, and that’s no mean feat.

It’s easy — far too easy — when thinking about this series to think of the lighter aspects — the humor, the heart, Peter’s growing pains, the snark, the pop culture references, and whatnot. That’s typically where my mind goes, anyway. But time after time, when picking up the latest novel, or even rereading one, I’m struck by how carefully written, how detailed everything is, how layered the text is — and I feel bad for underestimating Aaronovitch. Not that I have anything against breezy, jokey prose — but there are differences. Nor am I saying these books are drudgery — at all — the stories are fun, the voice is strong, and the narration will make you grin (at the very least, probably laugh a few times, too). In Lies Sleeping part of that care, part of the thoroughness of this novel is how there is a tie — character, event, call-back, allusion — to every novel, novella, comic arc involved in the Rivers of London up to this point — if you haven’t read everything, it won’t detract from your understanding of the novel — but if you have read them all, if you catch the references — it makes it just that much richer.

So what is this novel about? Well, after years of chasing The Faceless Man (and The Faceless Man II), Peter Grant (now a Detective Constable) and Nightengale have his identity, have several leads to follow to track him down — or at least his supporters and accessories (willingly or not). Better yet — the Metropolitan Police Force have given them the manpower they need to truly track him down and interfere with his funding and activities.

During this operation, Peter, Guleed and Nightengale become convinced that Martin Chorley (and, of course, former PC Lesley May) are preparing for something major. They’re not sure what it is, but the kind of magic involved suggests that the results would be calamitous. How do you prepare for that? How do you counter the unexpected, but dangerous? There are two paths you follow: thorough, careful, borderline-tedious policework; and bold, creative, innovative thinking. The two of those employed together lead to some great results — and if Peter Grant isn’t the embodiment of both, he’s . . . okay, he’s not perfect at the former, but he can pretend frequently (and has colleagues who can pick up the slack).

Not only do we get time with all our old friends and foes — we meet some new characters — including a River unlike anyone that Father or Mama Thames as yet introduced to. Mr. Punch is more involved in this story than he has been since Midnight Riot, but in a way we haven’t seen before. Most of the character things I want to talk about fit under the “spoiler” category, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed and/or loved the character development and growth demonstrated in every returning character.

There’s more action/combat kind of scenes in this book than we’re used to. I couldn’t be happier — Peter’s grown enough in his abilities and control to not need Nightengale to bail him out of everything. Nightengale and Peter working together in a fast-paced battle scene is something I’ve been waiting to read for 7 years. It was worth the wait.

As I said before, Lies Sleeping is the best and most ambitious of the series — the richness of the writing, the audacity of the action, the widening scope of the novel, the Phineas and Ferb reference, the epic battle scenes, the growth in Peter, Bev, and Guleed (and maybe even Lesley), the ending rivals Broken Homes‘ — all add up to a fantastic read. Yeah, I’m a fanboy when it comes to this series, and Lies Sleeping made me a happy fanboy. I have no idea how Aaronovitch moves on from this point with these books, but I cannot wait to find out.

—–

5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

Her Last Move by John Marrs: This Thriller Left Me Feeling Gobsmacked and Awestruck

(that’s too tiny to read, sorry, click here to embiggen. There are a lot of great writers here — you’re going to want to check out those other posts.)

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

eARC, 352 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: November 8 – 12, 2018

           The very fact people were talking about him and taking him seriously was proof he was on the right path. But branding him a serial killer was lazy. Serial killers and psychopaths murder out of compulsion, he reminded himself. They do it because they have no choice. He killed with purpose. And eventually, everyone would understand why.

This is one of those books that I’m not going to do justice to. I know that now, and if not for the deadline of posting in a few hours, I’d probably walk away now and come back daily for until next Tuesday and post something I don’t like. But I do have that deadline, so I have to post something I’m not satisfied with in a few hours. I just like this one so much; and have so much that I want to say, but won’t because it would ruin your experience, that I know I’ll want a couple of mulligans to this post.

This starts off with one of those chapters we’ve all read too many times — a budding serial killer is preparing to make his first kill and is indulging in some interior monologue beforehand. This is where we start to get an understanding of the character, why he thinks he needs to be killing, why he’s so wonderful/special/different. But this chapter isn’t quite that — and by the time you realize this isn’t following the standard template, Marrs has his hooks in you — and this book is off to a startling and bloody start.

DS Becca Vincent is a young detective just trying to get somewhere in her career — it seems that her superiors, including (infuriatingly enough) women, are holding her back because of her devotion to her daughter. Not that her mother considers her that devoted as she’s doing most of the hands-on care while Becca is at work. She’s in the crowd when the first killing happens and is the first police presence at the scene. She also is the first to tie that victim to another murder victim. She leverages this into a spot on the investigation team, where she hopes she can make enough of a difference to lead to more responsibility in the future.

The first thing she’s assigned to do is to go over the CCTV tapes with a “super-recogniser.” I don’t know if this is a real thing or not, and don’t care. It works really well in this book — these are a select team of people with near-eidetic memories for faces who spend every shift pouring through security footage for faces — either to track down suspects or identify people who are near too many crime scenes to chalk up to coincidence. We meet DS Joe Russell as he recognizes a suspect on the street while riding a bus and chases him down. Becca meets him in less exciting circumstances — a dirty squadroom in a less-than-impressive looking building. She doesn’t buy the concept originally, but Joe wins her over pretty quickly.

The investigation doesn’t move quickly, there’s a lot of manpower put into it (more and more all the time), but progress is slow. A friendship develops (not without a few bumps) between Joe and Becca much more quickly, and they clearly work together well.

The killer’s spree does move quickly on the other hand. He has a plan, he’s been developing it, nurturing it, and getting it ready to carry out for a very long time. He’s spent years setting up these dominoes and when he knocks the first over, the rest fall quickly. As we watch him do that, we learn what shaped him throughout his life into the monster he’s become. Nothing that happens to him justifies what he’s doing — nothing could — but it helps the reader understand him, and empathize with him to a degree (until he gets to a certain point and you can’t empathize with him anymore).

The book is full of sincere and devoted professionals trying to get the job done in the best way to protect lives and stop the killer — we focus on a couple of them, but they’re clearly all over the place. Unlike the people on TV, these professionals have family, friends, medical issues, children, pasts, problems and joys outside the job who will distract from and inform their performance on the job. Watching Becca and Joe unsuccessfully balance these parts of their life (particularly given the pressures as the number of bodies rises) is just one of the things that Marrs does right. Come to think of it, you can say the same thing about our killer (for most of the book anyway). I’m really impressed at how much genuine tension and drama Marrs is able to mine from this.

Each death is increasingly horrific — seriously, these are some of the most gruesome murders I’ve read. Each reveals more about the killer and what’s driving him. The reader (as we have more information than the police) will put the pieces together before the Becca and Joe do. But when things start to click for the police, they’re able to figure things out quickly. It’s a very satisfying moment — the question is, do they figure things out in time to save anyone on the killer’s list?

I’ve never read Marrs before — but I will again. There’s not a wasted word in these 352 pages, not a throwaway line, useless exchange. My notes are filled with “Is he going somewhere with ____?” and “There’d better be a pay off to ___” Every time, without fail, I could’ve gone back and added the page/line that demonstrated he was going somewhere with that idea or paid off that observation. Even in my favorite reads of 2018, there are moments we probably don’t need — most of which I’m happy to have — lines, ideas, scenes that could be cut without hurting things. That’s not the case here — anything you read here is important, even if (maybe especially if) it doesn’t seem so.

I’m not sure how this would hold up to repeated reading — a lot of thrillers don’t. And I haven’t had time to try this one, but I think it’d hold up pretty well, if you’re not distracted by wondering what Marrs (or his characters) are up to, or what’s going to happen next, etc. you can focus on all the subtle little things he’s doing to create the anticipation and tension, and appreciate the skill involved in grabbing the reader and putting them through the paces.

This will suck you in, keep you entertained through the paces of the investigation, and lull you into thinking you know how things are going just long enough for you to get complacent so he can drop the floor out from underneath you. Marrs makes bold choices and will catch you off-guard at least once — I can practically guarantee that. This is one of those books that will lead you to shirk responsibilities at home and work; postpone things like eating and sleeping; and momentarily resent your family for interacting with you — particularly the last thirty percent or so (although you might have to might have to take a quick break to absorb what you just read or catch your breath). One of the best I’ve read this year — I hope you give this a shot and I bet you’ll agree.

—–

5 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — as well as Thomas & Mercer and the fine folks at Netgalley for the eARC.

Wrecked by Joe Ide: Isaiah and Dodson Face Their Most Dangerous Foes Yet

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #3

Hardcover, 340 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2018
Read: October 19 – 22, 2018

At the end of Righteous, Isaiah meets a girl — I don’t remember much about it, but there’s something about her that clearly makes an impression on IQ — and his dog. It was enough to give us a little hope for our intrepid hero after everything he’d just gone through as we wrapped up the book. This book starts with the three of them bumping into each other again — this time IQ definitely is attracted to her and his dog and the woman clearly enjoy each other’s company. Which is great for them, but you feel a little bad for Isaiah.

Before long, Grace comes to Isaiah with a case. Her mother disappeared a decade ago — under a cloud, it should be added — and Grace saw her on the street near her home. Can Isaiah find her? She’s a painter trying to get a start and really can’t afford much — but gives him a painting as payment.

The catch is, Isaiah and Dodson have recently become partners and Dodson is determined to make Isaiah’s business legitimate. They’ve got a web presence, a Facebook page, and a strict policy on minimum fees. These fees have to be money. No lawn care services, cooking, et cetera. Dodson has a wife and child to provide for and he is inflexible on this point. Isaiah makes an exception and ignores Dodson’s complaints, once Dodson figures out Isaiah’s motivation to take the case, he acquiesces — like a good friend would.

What makes this case complicated is that Sarah, Grace’s mom, is trying to blackmail some very dangerous people. It takes a long time for us to get all the details behind the blackmailing (it’s absolutely worth the wait, and Ide does a great job revealing things to us in drips), but what’s important isn’t the why — it’s the reaction to the blackmail. Isaiah, Dodson and their clients have been in dangerous and tough spots before — but I promise you, those pale in comparison to this. These people bring a level of danger, a level of callousness, a level of professionalism, that will demand more from Isaiah than he’s used to — and he’ll have to find new ways to approach things to survive.

Meanwhile, there’s another blackmail story afoot. One of the darkest episodes of the partners’ (and Deronda’s) past comes back to bite them — a criminal act that they’ve gotten away with, primarily because no one knew they got away with anything. Somehow, word has gotten out, and someone wants money from them to stop him from going public with what he knows. If the victims of this crime — a couple of notorious drug dealers — find out, it will likely prove fatal. Dodson attempts to take care of this on his own, with a little help from Deronda.

Clearly, the partnership isn’t off to the strongest start.

There is a drink described here — not that anyone you’re supposed to like drinks it — that is possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve read this year, it’s a mix of vodka, Coke, and things that shouldn’t be consumed with each other. There are scenes of physical violence and torture in this book, horrible things really, but it’s Parks Punch that left scars.

Actually, there is something more painful, now that I think of it. Junior, one of the drug dealers that IQ, Dodson, and Deronda stole from before years ago appears frequently. He’s got the right idea — a better vocabulary can be tied to greater success in business and life in general. Sadly, Junior is better at acquiring words than he is using them. Resulting in sentences like:

My domicile has been exfoliated! Excavate the premises!

(when he discovers that his home has been broken into) or

Did you discover anything irrelevant?

(to Isaiah after searching for clues). Say what you will about waterboarding or Parks Punch — for me, those lines hurt (and I gave tame examples).

Well, they make me crack up — but they’re also painful.

The action is taut, the twists don’t stop and you have to hold on tight so the pacing doesn’t throw you from the vehicle in the last few chapters. But not only is this the best suspense that Ide’s given us, we have the some of the best emotional moments and character growth so far in the series. Some real trauma is visited on Isaiah, and it’ll be interesting to see how this impacts him going forward (there’s some indication that ide has something in mind along these lines). Similarly, I don’t think I’ve liked Dodson more than I did in this book and his character keeps growing and maturing — I am eager to see how Ide helps him grow in the future.

Unlike IQ or Righteous, we only have one timeline in Wrecked. This is such an improvement — that worked in IQ seemed a drawback in Righteous — but one timeline allows the reader, the pace and the action to focus on Grace and her case.

I’ve been a fan of Ide’s writing and this series since the moment I finished chapter 2 of IQ, but this book worked for me more than his previous work. I don’t know if it’s because I appreciate the characters and style more — or if it’s that Ide has grown with his experience and is delivering something better, I’m not sure. (my money is on the latter, but you never know) This is a fantastic entry very strong series that everyone should hop on board with (start at the beginning, it’s only 3 books — you have plenty of time to catch up).

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry: America’s Funniest Human Tries to Learn a Few New Tricks from an Old Dog

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave BarryeARC, 208 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Read: July 19, 2018

Before I say anything else, Barry has set up an Instagram page (well, probably not him, actually — he states in the book he doesn’t understand Instagram) for his dog, Lucy. You should absolutely check it out and then come back to read what I have to say about the book. Dog Pictures > my blog. Pretty near always.

With that out of the way . . . Dave Barry has been a dog person for most of his life, one of the many reasons I like him. I distinctly, and fondly, remember columns and/or references to Earnest and Zippy (the emergency backup dog) years ago. Those two make a brief appearance in this book, but they aren’t the focus. The focus (if you can’t tell from the title) is his dog, Lucy. At the time of writing, Barry and Lucy are the same age — 70 (or 7 times 10 in her case), which means that both of them have many fewer days ahead of them than behind — which sounds awfully morbid for Dave Barry to talk about, but he does so frequently and purposefully.

As they’re at similar stages in life, Barry notices a huge difference between the two — Lucy is far happier and seemingly better adjusted than he is. So he sets out to try to learn a few lessons about life from her, which he passes on to his readers. Things like Pay Attention to the People You Love; Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Things; and Don’t Stop Having Fun. None of these, Barry knows, are original or ground-breaking — they’re pretty much common sense. Yet, they’re the kind of common sense things that he (like many/most humans) doesn’t actually do a great job at.

The result is a mixture of a Self-Help book and a Humor book — humor about himself, his life, as well as dogs. Sometimes the swing between the two genres can be jarring, but that’s pretty rare. For the most part, he moves easily between the two, taking the readers along with him on this ride. I can’t tell you how many times I went from grinning, chuckling or laughing out loud to getting misty-eyed within a couple of pages. It seems that Barry has learned a little bit about writing over the decades.

I’ve loved Barry’s humor longer than either of us would probably care to admit. One of his strengths is finding a way to take an old joke, or at least a joke everyone’s made before — like, say, I dunno, dogs sniffing each other’s hind-quarters — and make it feel fresh and new. More importantly, funny. He’s also able to make jumps from premise to punchline that no one expects. There is, for example, a Hugh Hefner joke where one doesn’t even come close to belonging — and it works perfectly. Even knowing that, you won’t see it coming until you’re snickering at it.

As for the heart-felt material? It works pretty well, too. I don’t think anyone will walk away from this book thinking “Wow! That was insightful. I never would have thought of it on my own!” Nor do I think Barry was trying for it. But, readers will appreciate the reminders to live like Lucy (or their own dog), and the way Barry phrases things might add some freshness to the concept. Which is all anyone can really ask.

I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. The ratio of Attempted Joke to Funny Joke is pretty high, I’m not sure if I can think of a higher one in his ouvre. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too). Couple that with me being a sucker for a Dog Book — even if it is a semi-Self Help book — and I can’t help but give it 5 Stars. This is a winner, no matter what.

—–

5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for this post — which is my honest opinion and pleasure to give — thanks to both for this.

Exit Music by Ian Rankin: Rebus has one more shot at Big Ger before he retires

I got off-track with these books when I took my trip out of state for my son’s transplant (I was due to go to the library to pick this up the day we got the call), and it took me a bit to get back on top of things. I’m so, so glad I was able to return to this world. I missed it.

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #17

Hardcover, 421 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2007
Read: October 17 – 18, 2018

Before I get into this, last week my son was playing some EASports game — FIFA something, I think. Anyway, I notice that he’s playing Hiberian, and my first thought is, “Hey, that’s Siobhan’s team.” That’s a sign that I’m probably reading too many Rebus novels, right? Anyway, on with this post…

           “No sign of any abandoned cars in the multistory?”

“Good point, Shiv, I’ll have someone check. Talk to you later.” The phone went dead, and she managed a little smile, hadn’t heard Rebus so fired up in several months. Not for the first time, she wondered what the hell he would do with himself when the work was done.

Answer: bug her, most likely–phone calls daily, wanting to know everything about her caseload.

I think many readers, like DS Clarke, have wondered just what Rebus will do after retirement — which is looming as this book begins. Actually, it’s more than looming — it’s 10 days away. Ten days of Rebus trying to squeeze in any last-second mentoring he can, ten days of him trying to get Clarke invested in cold cases he can’t let go of, ten days of Rebus trying to stay relevant, active . . . ten days of John Rebus trying to remain John Rebus.

John Rebus has no family left, few friends, only a handful of colleagues that trust him, no plans for retirement at all. He’s going to have to come up with something, he knows, but he can’t really contemplate that reality, much less plan for it.

But first, there’s a murder — a man without any identification on him has been found by a few pedestrians out for a late-night walk, apparently beaten to death. A literately-inclined morgue worker recognized him as a Russian exile and poet of note. Plunging Rebus and Clarke (named to lead the investigation, only because of Rebus’ impending retirement *wink*) into an investigation with international implications.

Funnily enough, a contingent of Russian businessmen is in Edinburgh looking for investment opportunities, all of which are welcomed and encouraged by members of Scottish Parliament — especially by those MSPs seeking independence. None of the MSPs have any interest in their Russian friends being hassled by detectives over a pesky little thing by murder. Even if the victim was drinking in the hotel they were staying at shortly before the murder.

But once Di Rebus finds not only a link between the victim and their hotel bar, but a link between the poet and Gerald Cafferty, and links between Cafferty and the Russian delegation? All bets are off. The clock is ticking on his career — and the ticking is getting really loud — but here’s Cafferty with some sort of connection to a murder victim? There’s no way that John Rebus can let this go (not that Siobhan Clarke is that interested in letting this opportunity pass by, either).

The investigation isn’t making too much progress, but maybe is getting far enough, when someone else connected to the case is killed. And the investigation looks like it’s dealing with a web of drugs, prostitution, blackmail, international interests, politics, a large national bank a poet, and Cafferty. Which would be a lot to deal with even without Rebus’ deadline.

While preparing for Rebus’ departure, Clarke takes a uniformed PC under her wing — he has talent and ambition — he was one of the two initial officers at the site of the original murder and wants to be a detective soon. Clarke brings him along with her to many interviews and visits to various places in the investigation, as him run errands and even do some of the grunt work (scouring through hours of audio recordings that may or may not hold relevant information). He’s an interesting character — he adds some emotional weight to some scenes, and comic relief in others.

It’s possible that Rebus is at his most introspective in these pages — he knows his career is finished and that in no time at all he’ll be forgotten by just about everyone. What’s been the point of it all?

           Outside in the car park he unlocked his Saab, but then stood there, hand on the door handle, staring into space. For a while now, he’d known the truth–that it wasn’t so much the underworld you had to fear as the overworld. Maybe that explained why Cafferty had, to all purposes and appearances, gone legit. A few friends in the right places and deals got done, fates decided. Never in his life had Rebus felt like an insider. From time to time he’d tried–during his years in the army and his first few months as a cop. But the less he felt he belonged, the more he came to mistrust the others around him with their games of golf and their “quiet words,” their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm greasing and scratching of backs.

Still, he perseveres, he gets into hot water with his superiors, with Clarke, with government officials, and — of course — Cafferty. In the end, despite the large number of detectives eventually working on the murders, Rebus is the only one to focus on the important facts (it helps that he’s not worried about what happens after the arrest, like everyone else is) and makes the important conclusions so that the cases can be closed in time for him to leave the force. It’s really a nice bit of storytelling by Rankin here, and I’d be very happy reading it even without all the hubbub around Rebus’ retirement. And then Rankin ends it with a jaw-dropping final chapter and a last line that just about floored me.

I’m so glad that I’m discovering these books now — when I know that there’s a future for Rebus (even if I’m not really sure what it is, but there are 5 books to come, at least). It can’t have been easy for Rebus fans to close this book not knowing what Rankin was going to do next.

At the same time, this remains a decent entry-book — like every other book in this series. Sure, you get more of the emotional weight if you’ve been reading about the DI for several books, but Rankin writes them in a way that the weight can be seen regardless.

I think if this were any other Rebus book, I’d rate it 4 stars for the case work, the internal squabbles with the hierarchy and the politics — but when you add in Rebus counting down the last ten days of his career, the hope of this case leading him to one more shot at Cafferty, the reflections on what he’s done and why he’s done it and what it cost . . . essentially, all the intangible things, the parts of a novel that are hard to pin down, much less describe. All that combined with a strong story, some excellent non-Rebus/Clarke/Cafferty character development (not that theirs isn’t strong as usual, but this is a new characters) — and it’s easy. Rebus retires with a 5.

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge