Where Night Stops by Douglas Light

Where Night StopsWhere Night Stops

by Douglas Light

eARC, 252 pg.
Rare Bird/Vireo, 2018

Read: January 12 – 13, 2018

She smells of lemons and warm cinnamon and isn’t very pretty. Sliding onto the barstool next to me, she says, “Can I sit here?”

The bartender, the woman, and me — we’re the only people in the bar. She can sit anywhere. It’s not just a seat she wants.

I study her a moment then catch the bartender’s eye, the order is placed without a word. Whatever the woman wants. Alcohol, like long marriages, has a language of its own, one not composed of speech.

Now, that’s how you start a novel.

So, our narrator is orphaned the night after his high school graduation — however odd it may feel to call someone on the cusp of adulthood an orphan, he is one (and the back of the book says so). Suddenly his college dreams, plans for the future are gone, as is his past (other than memories). He finds his way from Iowa to Seattle and takes up residence in a homeless shelter. The closest thing he has to a friend there sets him up with a way to make some money — more than he’d been able to scrape together from an under-the-table gig at a gas station.

It’s obviously not above-board, but it’s good money. What else is a kid with no ties to society, no dreams, no means and nothing better to do? We bounce back and forth between the opening scene (and what follows) in the bar and his burgeoning criminal career. He bounces all of the globe playing small roles in what are likely significant crimes. The resulting story is a combination of tragedy, comedy of errors and Bildungsroman. All of which leads up to a concluding scene that is at once unexpected and the only appropriate thing that could’ve happened.

As a reader. you’re never impressed with our narrator’s choices. You may understand them, but it’s hard to be behind them. Especially because after a certain point, our young man makes a giant mistake. The reader knows this — and has to hope that whatever he does, he figures out his mistake or gets out of this life soon.

The plot’s decent and will carry you along well enough. But it’s not why you will stick with this book (at least not primarily), it’s Light’s writing. In the middle of all this, there are sentences like, “Walking the empty night street, my kidneys rattled with anxiety.” I’m pretty sure this is biologically nonsensical (I haven’t bothered to check with my son’s nephrologist, but I was tempted to), but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly effective — you know precisely what Light’s going for there, and in the moment, your kidneys felts a little weird. There’s something to his writing that made me stop every so often to re-read a sentence or paragraph or passage — not because I missed something or didn’t understand what was happening, but because Light captured a moment, an idea, or phrase in such an engaging way that I didn’t want to move on.

I’m not sure if this is a very literary thriller, or a literary novel playing with thriller tropes. Nor am I sure that I care, but this is the kind of book that can appeal to both target audiences. It’s a good example of either genre, and a better example of why the distinctions are specious. There’s an interesting crime story here; a character study; a look at what happens to someone who has no connection to his future, society, or his past — oh, and it’s a good read, too.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion about the novel, I appreciate the opportunity, but it didn’t influence the above.

—–

4 Stars

Advertisements

My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

My Favorite 2017 New (to me) Characters

A few weeks ago, I started to describe someone as one of the best characters I met this year. Which got me to thinking about and honing this list. I’m limiting myself to characters I met this year, otherwise I don’t think there’s be much room for anyone — Spenser, Hawk, Scout, Harry Dresden, Toby Daye, Ford Prefect etc. wouldn’t really allow anyone else to be talked about. These might not be my favorite people in their respective books (although most are), but they’re the best characters in terms of complexity, depth and story potential I doubt I’d like most of them in real life (and can’t imagine that any of them would enjoy me), but in novels? I can’t get enough of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Aimee de Laurent from Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my post about the book)– she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s compassionate, she’s powerful, she’s fallible. She also flies around in a spaceship and does magic.
  • Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my post about the book)– She’s more than Stephanie Plum without the Lucy Ricardo DNA. She’s a tough lady, a dedicated mom, and more. This bounty hunter will impress you with her guts, get your sympathy with her plight, and make you cheer as she bests her opponents (I should probably add “make you wince as she takes some brutal beatings).
  • Ali Dalglish from In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick (my post about the book)– Ali is a certified (and possibly certifiable) genius. She’s a criminal profiler working in Vancouver, BC after nearly a couple of decades away to raise her kids. But when a serial killer’s victim is found near her home, she’s drug back into the professional world she left with the investigation. She has the most creative swearing this side of Malcom Tucker, a fantastic and fast mind, a jaded look at life, and a sense of humor that’s sure to please. Early in In the Still, she asks questions of a police officer in a public forum and pretty much ruins the poor guy — it’s one of the best scenes I read all year. If you can read that far in the book and not become a Ali fan at that point, there’s something wrong with you. If I was ranking these, I’m pretty sure she’d be #1.
  • Nick Mason from The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (https://wp.me/p3z9AH-2NI)– A convicted non-violent criminal gets released early from an Illinois prison only to find himself in a different type of prison to work off his debt for being released, making him lose the “non-” in front of violent. He’s a great character, on the verge (always on the verge) of redemption and falling further.
  • Dervan du Alöbar from A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book is forthcoming) — I could’ve named about half of the point-of-view characters from this book, but Dervan eked out a win. He’s a widower in mourning. A former soldier, wounded in duty, turned scholar, turned . . . well — that’s a long story. There’s something about his coming to grips with the new reality, his new vocation, his self-awareness and growth in his personal life just really clicked with me. He’s basically an unqualified fantasy hero, forced to step up and play a role in saving civilization (which actually describes many people in this book, but that’s for another day).
  • Isaiah Quintabe from IQ by Joe Ide (my post about the book)– South-Central LA’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. We meet IQ early in his career and, via flashbacks, see him begin to develop the gifts that will make him the super-detective he’s destined to become. He’s such a great take on this character, I can’t believe no one beat Ide to the punch.
  • Anci from Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (my post about the book) — yeah, her dad, Slim, is the series start and protagonist. He’s the one that goes trough all the hardship, the beatings, the investigative moves, not his 12-year-old daughter (who isn’t a young Veronica Mars clone, or Rae Spellman). But Anci is the heart and soul of the books — she’s why Slim goes to work in this field, and why he comes back. She’s smarter and wittier than any 12-year-old has any right to be (but believably so), she’s Slim’s conscience, and his reason for doing what he does.
  • LeAnne Hogan from The Right Side by Spencer Quinn (my post about the book)– comes back from Afghanistan after near-fatal injuries, and isn’t fit for the civilian life she’s thrown back into. She begins to deal with her grief and anger while hunting for the child of a dead friend with the help of a stray dog. She’ll break your heart.
  • John Rebus from Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (my post about the book)– Wow. How do I sum up Rebus? 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ creation and the first year I read him. He’s a wonderful, complex character. He smokes too much, he drinks too much, he ignores the rules and regulations (and maybe even the laws) in his ongoing effort to forget about himself and his life by pouring himself into his work. Tenacious with a capital “T”, he may not be the smartest police detective you ever read, but he makes up for it through not giving up (although he’s pretty smart — especially when not drinking).
  • Hob Ravani from Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells (my post about the book)– Tough does not begin to describe this biker. She’s all about surviving on this planet that’s not at all conducive to survival — from the environment, to the economics, to the politics — there’s just nothing on the planet that wants her or her fellow Ghost Wolves to survive. But somehow she does.

Didn’t Get Frazzled by David Z. Hirsch, MD

Didn’t Get FrazzledDidn’t Get Frazzled

by David Z. Hirsch, MD

Kindle Edition, 284 pg.
2016

Read: December 26 – 30, 2017


This book follows Seth Levine through his 4 years of medical school: from Gross Anatomy to the verge of residency. Not just about his training, but the toll it takes on his relationship, and the way it impacts the rest of his life (and the lives of his classmates).

Overall, it’s told with a light touch — it’s by no means a laugh out loud, slapstick-y comedy — it’s comedic. There’s some drama, there’s some tragedy, but overall, it’s comedic.

The pacing could’ve been better — the first two years take the first 16% of the book, making them pretty much just an extended prologue to the real action in the Third (56 percent of the book) and Fourth Year. The Third Year needs the bulk of the book given everything that goes on, but it just felt odd. I didn’t need much more, just a little more from those first two years.

The book didn’t seem to know what it thought about Seth — was he an everyman? was he a superstar? a sad-sack? Were we supposed to be rooting for him and his relationship? His medical career? If the book didn’t seem to know what to think of him, how is the reader supposed to have an opinion? Eventually, the book decided (sometime after the 1/3 mark), but far later than I’d like.

Misgivings and criticisms aside, this was an entertaining read — it did everything it needed to: we got the gross med school moments, some medical triumphs, a failure, a couple of brushes with death, a couple of lessons about what a good doctor is, and a few chuckles. If med school/young doctor antics are your thing, or just 20-something bildungsromans, give this one a shot, your time will be well-spent.

Disclaimer: I received this from the author in exchange for this post — thanks to him for this, and I apologize for losing track of the emails regarding it so that I’m 8-9 months late with this.

—–

3 Stars

Curse of the Coloring Book by Howard L. Hibbard

Curse of the Coloring BookCurse of the Coloring Book: A Novel Inspired by a True Story

by Howard L. Hibbard

Kindle Edition, 335 pg.
Ghost Dog Enterprises, Inc., 2017

Read: November 21 – 24, 2017


Herald Lloyd is an attorney whose life is falling apart — he’s drinking to excess regularly, his wife/business partner is continually threatening to leave, and he’s committed a pretty obvious bit of malpractice while being uninsured — which will pretty much ruin his practice and family. All of this can be traced back to his drinking, he’s self-medicating to deal with recurring nightmares, flashbacks and stress related to his time serving in Vietnam (all of which are probably exacerbated by the drinking in a wonderful loop). We know that because he tells everyone that he’s dealing with his symptoms just fine on his own in just about every conversation he has. Because what says “dealing with” better than constantly talking about how you’re dealing with it?

The novel focuses on the actions that take place in 1988, where Lloyd deals with crisis around his malpractice and his efforts to dodge the repercussions of it. The characterization of everyone is shallow, the writing is stiff, the dialogue is cringe-worthy, the plot is predictable (yeah, it’s based to some degree on actual events, but the presentation of the plot is predictable).

The book’s saving grace (and, at times, the only thing that kept me reading) were the flashbacks to Lloyd’s time in Vietnam. They (by my entirely unscientific reckoning) make up about sixty percentage of the book They were still too-frequently sloppy and self-indulgent with cringe-worthy dialogue. However, there was a life to them, something you could build a novel on (thankfully, because that’s just what Hibbard was trying to do). Seriously, give me a novel based on this material alone, and my take will be much more encouraging. There’s a great mix of types of material — comic, dark comic, horror, slice of life, friendship, loyalty — just about everything you could ask for when Lloyd thinks about (willingly or not) his friends, subordinates, commanders, antagonists from his years in Asia.

There’s quite a lot of material featuring flashbacks to a week of R&R Lloyd spent with a prostitute. His wife, Thea, didn’t enjoy him reliving that so often — and who can blame her? — and I didn’t either. Calling them “gratuitous” feels like a tautology, honestly. I’m going to stop there because this threatens to take over this post, and no one wants that.

I’m going to give this a 3 Star rating because the Vietnam material was so strong (minus the stuff with the prostitute), the 1988 material on its own wouldn’t even get 2 from me. A good editorial pass or two would’ve helped things tremendously — I appreciate what it seems that Hibbard was going for here, but good intentions don’t make good books. Good writing does, and there just wasn’t much of that here.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

3 Stars

Planet Grim by Alex Behr

Planet GrimPlanet Grim

by Alex Behr

eARC, 222 pg.
7.13 Books, 2017

I’ve been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now — I just don’t know that I’m up to it. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I’d do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who’s read the stories rather than in the abstract.

In a few sentences — at most a couple of paragraphs — Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations — many of which you’ve never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.

I want to stress the “dark,” — Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There’s not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I’m not suggesting that you’ll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won’t be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It’s hard to slap a genre tag on these — there’s the barest hint of SF (but not really, you’ll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in “Women’s Fiction” (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the “General Fiction” section, but hopefully that doesn’t mean you overlook it.

A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I’d probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed — there’s just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll probably say it again, I”m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There’s not a dud in the batch — there are a couple that I think I didn’t fully appreciate (or even “get”) for one reason or another — but there’s not one that’s not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she’ll convince you of that. I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I’m glad that I got to read it, and I know it’s some of the best writing I’ve come across this year.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Appointment with Yesterday by Christopher Stratakis

Book Giveaway:
Prize: One winner will receive a print copy of Appointment with Yesterday and a $25 Amazon gift card (Open to USA only)

Ends Oct 28

If the handy-dandy Rafflecopter doesn’t show up below, just click this link.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js