Pub Day Repost: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford: The Title Says Almost Everything You Need to Know About this Rollicking Adventure

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her MindThe Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind

by Jackson Ford
Series: Teagan Frost, #1

eARC, 496 pg.
Obit Books, 2019
Read: May 28 – 29, 2019

Not unlike James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault from 2017, the title, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind tells you all the important things about this book that you need to know before picking it up — although I think this book does a better job of following through with the tone of the title throughout the book. The voice, the attitude and the defining characteristic of the protagonist (at least as most people are concerned) is all right there. If the title turns you off, don’t bother buying/borrowing this novel, you’re going to hate the experience. The same goes for the first few pages — if you’re not amused and/or intrigued by Teagan’s personality and narration within the first chapter, just stop and go find something else. If you’re amused and/or intrigued? You’ll be in for a good time. If you’re amused and intrigued? Well, my friend, settle back and enjoy.

Teagan Frost is our titular girl, and she…well can move sh…aving cream with her mind. She has psychokinetic abilities (not telekinetic, she’s touchy about that distinction) — or pk, as she calls is. Teagan will slowly describe her abilities to us as she has opportunity — and eventually will spell out to someone where those abilities came from (surprisingly far from the beginning — which I appreciated). But for the initial plot all you need to know is what the title said.

She’s part of a pseudo-governmental espionage team that acts a lot like judge and jury without bothering with the formalities. No one, or almost none of her team wants to be on it, but the shadow-y figure that calls the shots is forcing them all to be part of it (including Teagan — don’t get the idea that she wants to be some pk wielding super-hero/secret agent — she wants to work in a kitchen somewhere until she’s good enough to start her own restaurant). The rest of the team have various skills that prove handy in their tasks, but she’s the only one has any kind of extra-ordinary abilities. Actually, as far as anyone knows, Teagan is the only person alive who can do what she does.

That is, until a dead body is discovered — and the victim could not have been killed by anyone but a psychokinetic. Naturally, there’s a tie to both Teagan’s teams recent activities and the location they were in the night before. The police are looking for them (not that they have an explanation for how the victim died, but they expect someone can), and some of the higher ups in the government want to take care of Teagan without worrying about due process (those who live by the sword and all) — and if that “take care” involves dissection or vivisection so they can figure out how her pk was given to her . . . well, who’s to complain? Teagan doesn’t have a lot of time to clear her name, but she’s going to try. As are most of her associates — if she does down for this, they will to.

Time prevents me from talking about all the things I want to, but that should be enough to whet the ol’ appetite. It’s a fun book and not one you need to know much about first. There’s a lot of action, plenty of snark, some violence, some banter, some mystery, some heartbreak. There’s a very Cas Russel/Peri Reed feel to this book and this world. But something that feels entirely fresh at the same time. I’m not sure that’s technically possible, but it seems it. So it can appeal both to fans of Cas and Peri, as well as those who didn’t care for them/don’t know who they are.

There’s a lot of depth to the characters, a lot more than you’d expect — which is one of the great parts about this book. As you learn more and more about what’s really going on around the murder victims the more you learn about Teagan and her team/found family (ditto for Teagan, actually). There are plots revolving around romance and friendship plots that are legitimately surprising — in a pleasant way, nice to see someone going the way Ford does, making the choices he makes for his characters. While I’m on the subject, it wasn’t just in characterizations/relationships that Ford surprised me — he did it throughout. Even when I was saying “Well of course, ____ was really doing ___, there’s no other explanation” to myself, that was a heartbeat after I said, “What??!?! No, that can’t be right!” I’m not saying I couldn’t see anything coming, but the ratio of surprises to telegraphed moves comes out in Ford’s favor.

There are a number of X-Men parallels, going on here — all of which would appeal to Teagan (some of which she mentions). Which is a nice touch. It’s probably also something that deserves more space than I’m giving it — I’m stopping myself, because I think I could go a long way down this particular rabbit hole. I’d love to ask Ford about it.

Now, there’s one character that I think Ford messed up — he’s part of a government clean-up crew that comes to take Teagan into custody. For some reason, he hates Teagan with some sadistic vengeance, and isn’t afraid to tell anyone that. It’s senseless and motionlessness (yeah, I know sometimes people hate others for no reason — I can accept that in real life, I can’t accept it in fiction. There has to be a reason). Which is strange, as little as we understand this jerk, we know the murderer and the individual prompting them to act. Technically, we know more about the killer than we do about Teagan for most of the book. Which just makes the clean-up guy even stranger.

I expect in future installments, we’ll get an explanation for the hatred and I’ll shut up. But not until then. Ford may be playing a long game here, but this is a short game world. Ford’s set up a lot for future installments, really (you won’t figure out just how much until the end — unless you’re smarter than me, then maybe you’ll see some of it coming) — but that doesn’t stop this from being a wholly satisfying experience.

So much of the time when I’ve been reading lately I get wrapped up in evaluating a book (for good or ill), wondering why an author did this or that, and what that might mean for the book as a whole, what that might say about the writer, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that — at all. But every now and then, it’s nice to stop the critical thinking and just enjoy a book. I’m not saying I did that wholly (and my lengthy notes can testify to that) — but in a real sense I did. I got lost in Teagan’s voice, the action, and wondering just how far the killer (and the individual pushing him to be one) would go, and who’d be lost in the process. I didn’t worry about what I was going to write, but about what Jackson Ford had written. I appreciate that.

I think this is one that could be better on a second (and then maybe on the third) read, once you can take your time and not race to find out what happened, or be dazzled by Teagan’s personality. If I’m wrong, and Ford’s just razzle dazzle — well, you’re left with a fun read with snappy prose and an more-entertaining-than-most protagonist/narrator. Either way, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind is a book I recommend without a hint of hesitation (if you pass the simple tests from my first paragraph).

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

—–

4 Stars

✔ A book with a curse word in the title.

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Firefly: Big Damn Hero by Nancy Holder, James Lovegrove: Take me back out to the black

Firefly: Big Damn HeroFirefly: Big Damn Hero

by Nancy Holder, James Lovegrove
Series: Firefly, #1

Hardcover, 334 pg.
Titan Books, 2018

Read: May 13, 2019

           Inara gets these faraway looks — don’t know what t means, but I know not to ask. Still got the Tams on board, and Jayne hasn’t tried to sell ’em out since we got those medical supplies on Osiris, so that’s a plus. Shepherd’s sill reading his book of fairytales. Zoë’s still my first officer, and I wouldn’t have any other. Kaylee keeps us running, and Wash keeps us flying.

Is it a good life or a bad one? The answer doesn’t matter.

It’s the only life we have.

I was a fan of Firefly from the first episode that FOX aired — and was crushed by the cancellation. Serenity was a great send-off for the characters, but like for so many, I wanted more. However, for reasons I don’t understand, I haven’t read any of the comics that came out after (which bothers me). Maybe I was just trying to move on — aside from the bi-annual (or so) rewatch of the series and movie. But when I saw that Titan Books was going to be doing a series of novels, I had to give them a shot. And then let it sit on my shelf for months.

Whoops. That was a mistake that I’m glad I rectified.

Before I talk about the novel, I’ve got to say that this is probably the nicest tie-in novel I own. It’s just a high-quality production, from cover to printing, to ribbon bookmark.

Sometime between “Heart of Gold” and “Objects in Space,” the crew finds themselves on Persephone picking up some cargo to make a run for Badger. In the chaos that ensues during a bar fight, Mal is kidnapped and Zoë and Jayne can’t find a trace of him anywhere. With a clock ticking on the delivery, the crew decides they have no choice but to deliver Badger’s goods, even with Mal in danger. Book stays behind to see what he can discover.

What he finds is evidence that Mal’s been taken by a group of Browncoat vets still embittered by their loss to the Alliance. They’ve got a little track record of finding “traitors” to the cause, trying them in a kangaroo court and executing them. The ringleader of this group seems to have a particular hatred for Malcolm Reynolds and it doesn’t seem that Mal’s got long before he’s convicted and executed.

Meanwhile, Mal’s trying to make sense of what’s happening to him and takes a trip down memory lane, going back to his childhood/early adolescence and reliving the days at home leading up to signing up with the army for the Independent cause. What we see is an immature Mal, with very little to tie him to the man he is — the same mouth, certainly, and a little bit of the same style. But it’s the war that turn him into the man that we all know and love.

Shepherd Book gets a nice little adventure on his own, able to use an old contact of his to extract information about what might have happened to Mal that Zoe and the rest can’t get. Inara gets a moment or two to shine, as does just about everyone else. Zoë gets the spotlight thoughout (as she never quite got in the show, sadly), which was great. River’s . . . River-ness(?) was on full display and was great. A lot of care was show in getting the characters — all of them, either the crew or otherwise — just right. And they did a great job of that.

It was a lot of fun exploring Mal’s roots. I’m not sure what kind of background I’d imagine him having, but it wasn’t this one. I could’ve bought another childhood/adolescence for Captain Tightpants, but this works just as well. Watching it come back to bite him seems fitting, really.

I wasn’t crazy about the end — the way that the crew left things with the kidnappers seemed a bit harsh. But the ‘Verse they fly in is a harsh one, and sometimes you have to let things be rough. So I’m not going to complain too much, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Will this work for people who didn’t like the show? No — well, probably not. But why would they be picking up the book? Will it convince anyone not familiar with the show that this is a universe they want to spend more time in? Mayyyyybe. Will those people enjoy the novel? Same answer. Will this help fill the void that the premature cancellation left in the hearts of so many fans? Yes. It’ll also get them asking for more — this is a fanbase that doesn’t seem to understand the concept of satiation. I know when it comes to these stories, I don’t.

It’s a very satisfying story, exciting, capturing the feel of the show and the characters. I loved getting to spend more time with these people and I hope Titan gives us several more books.

—–

4 Stars

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford: The Title Says Almost Everything You Need to Know About this Rollicking Adventure

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her MindThe Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind

by Jackson Ford
Series: Teagan Frost, #1


eARC, 496 pg.
Obit Books, 2019

Read: May 28 – 29, 2019

Not unlike James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault from 2017, the title, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind tells you all the important things about this book that you need to know before picking it up — although I think this book does a better job of following through with the tone of the title throughout the book. The voice, the attitude and the defining characteristic of the protagonist (at least as most people are concerned) is all right there. If the title turns you off, don’t bother buying/borrowing this novel, you’re going to hate the experience. The same goes for the first few pages — if you’re not amused and/or intrigued by Teagan’s personality and narration within the first chapter, just stop and go find something else. If you’re amused and/or intrigued? You’ll be in for a good time. If you’re amused and intrigued? Well, my friend, settle back and enjoy.

Teagan Frost is our titular girl, and she…well can move sh…aving cream with her mind. She has psychokinetic abilities (not telekinetic, she’s touchy about that distinction) — or pk, as she calls is. Teagan will slowly describe her abilities to us as she has opportunity — and eventually will spell out to someone where those abilities came from (surprisingly far from the beginning — which I appreciated). But for the initial plot all you need to know is what the title said.

She’s part of a pseudo-governmental espionage team that acts a lot like judge and jury without bothering with the formalities. No one, or almost none of her team wants to be on it, but the shadow-y figure that calls the shots is forcing them all to be part of it (including Teagan — don’t get the idea that she wants to be some pk wielding super-hero/secret agent — she wants to work in a kitchen somewhere until she’s good enough to start her own restaurant). The rest of the team have various skills that prove handy in their tasks, but she’s the only one has any kind of extra-ordinary abilities. Actually, as far as anyone knows, Teagan is the only person alive who can do what she does.

That is, until a dead body is discovered — and the victim could not have been killed by anyone but a psychokinetic. Naturally, there’s a tie to both Teagan’s teams recent activities and the location they were in the night before. The police are looking for them (not that they have an explanation for how the victim died, but they expect someone can), and some of the higher ups in the government want to take care of Teagan without worrying about due process (those who live by the sword and all) — and if that “take care” involves dissection or vivisection so they can figure out how her pk was given to her . . . well, who’s to complain? Teagan doesn’t have a lot of time to clear her name, but she’s going to try. As are most of her associates — if she does down for this, they will to.

Time prevents me from talking about all the things I want to, but that should be enough to whet the ol’ appetite. It’s a fun book and not one you need to know much about first. There’s a lot of action, plenty of snark, some violence, some banter, some mystery, some heartbreak. There’s a very Cas Russel/Peri Reed feel to this book and this world. But something that feels entirely fresh at the same time. I’m not sure that’s technically possible, but it seems it. So it can appeal both to fans of Cas and Peri, as well as those who didn’t care for them/don’t know who they are.

There’s a lot of depth to the characters, a lot more than you’d expect — which is one of the great parts about this book. As you learn more and more about what’s really going on around the murder victims the more you learn about Teagan and her team/found family (ditto for Teagan, actually). There are plots revolving around romance and friendship plots that are legitimately surprising — in a pleasant way, nice to see someone going the way Ford does, making the choices he makes for his characters. While I’m on the subject, it wasn’t just in characterizations/relationships that Ford surprised me — he did it throughout. Even when I was saying “Well of course, ____ was really doing ___, there’s no other explanation” to myself, that was a heartbeat after I said, “What??!?! No, that can’t be right!” I’m not saying I couldn’t see anything coming, but the ratio of surprises to telegraphed moves comes out in Ford’s favor.

There are a number of X-Men parallels, going on here — all of which would appeal to Teagan (some of which she mentions). Which is a nice touch. It’s probably also something that deserves more space than I’m giving it — I’m stopping myself, because I think I could go a long way down this particular rabbit hole. I’d love to ask Ford about it.

Now, there’s one character that I think Ford messed up — he’s part of a government clean-up crew that comes to take Teagan into custody. For some reason, he hates Teagan with some sadistic vengeance, and isn’t afraid to tell anyone that. It’s senseless and motionlessness (yeah, I know sometimes people hate others for no reason — I can accept that in real life, I can’t accept it in fiction. There has to be a reason). Which is strange, as little as we understand this jerk, we know the murderer and the individual prompting them to act. Technically, we know more about the killer than we do about Teagan for most of the book. Which just makes the clean-up guy even stranger.

I expect in future installments, we’ll get an explanation for the hatred and I’ll shut up. But not until then. Ford may be playing a long game here, but this is a short game world. Ford’s set up a lot for future installments, really (you won’t figure out just how much until the end — unless you’re smarter than me, then maybe you’ll see some of it coming) — but that doesn’t stop this from being a wholly satisfying experience.

So much of the time when I’ve been reading lately I get wrapped up in evaluating a book (for good or ill), wondering why an author did this or that, and what that might mean for the book as a whole, what that might say about the writer, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that — at all. But every now and then, it’s nice to stop the critical thinking and just enjoy a book. I’m not saying I did that wholly (and my lengthy notes can testify to that) — but in a real sense I did. I got lost in Teagan’s voice, the action, and wondering just how far the killer (and the individual pushing him to be one) would go, and who’d be lost in the process. I didn’t worry about what I was going to write, but about what Jackson Ford had written. I appreciate that.

I think this is one that could be better on a second (and then maybe on the third) read, once you can take your time and not race to find out what happened, or be dazzled by Teagan’s personality. If I’m wrong, and Ford’s just razzle dazzle — well, you’re left with a fun read with snappy prose and an more-entertaining-than-most protagonist/narrator. Either way, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind is a book I recommend without a hint of hesitation (if you pass the simple tests from my first paragraph).

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

—–

4 Stars

✔ A book with a curse word in the title.

Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work

I’d intended to get this up and ready for Towel Day last week — but, obviously, I failed. Schemes once again, Gang aft a-gley. It’s pretty fitting, really that this is late.

Don't PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Third Edition)

by Neil Gaiman; Additional Material by David K. Dickson & MJ Simpson
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (related)

Hardcover, 207 pg.
Titan Books, 2003
Read: May 22 – 23, 2019

          
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it’s the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it’s the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.

It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered ‘borrowing’ a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn’t have that kind of money).

He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. “Somebody,” he thought, “somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.

Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don’t Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 — I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams’ work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote — and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but “that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker’s book.” The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.

This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it “has been updated and expanded twice.” The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when “MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text.” If you ask me, Gaiman’s name should be in the smaller print and Simpson’s should be the tall letters on the cover — but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it — there’s little of the original book that I recognize (I’m going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson’s version of the book is just as good as the original, it’s just not the original.

This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but it’s certainly not a biography of Adams — maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man’s lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.

Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion — talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we’re talking about — books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects — Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.

It’s told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark — some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It’s not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) — there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it’s never not told with affection for the man or his work.

Don’t Panic is a must for die-hard fans — and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it’ll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do — but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, “I improved on Gaiman’s final draft.”

I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

—–

5 Stars

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Always Grey in Winter by Mark J. Engels: That’s a hard no from me.

Always Grey in WinterAlways Grey in Winter

by Mark J. Engels
Kindle Edition, 184 pg.
A Thurston Howl Publications, 2017

Read: April 22 – 25, 2019

Let’s get this over and done with in a hurry, I’m in no mood to belabor things here. Let’s just rip off the bandage and just hope I don’t lose too much hair in the process.

Here’s the blurb from the author’s site:

The modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats is torn apart by militaries on three continents vying to exploit their deadly talents. Born in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood following her family’s escape from Cold War-era Poland, were-lynx Pawly flees underground to protect her loved ones after genetically-enhanced soldiers led by rogue scientist and rival werecat Mawro overrun her Navy unit in the Gulf of Oman. Pawly’s family seeks her out in a desperate gambit to return their ancestral homeland and reconcile with their estranged kinsmen. But when her human lover arrives to thwart Mawro’s plan to weaponize their feral bloodlust, Pawly must face a daunting choice: preserve her family secrets and risk her lover’s life or chance her true nature driving him away forever.

I honestly couldn’t have told you all of that on my own after reading the novel. I just re-read the pitch the author sent me a few months ago, and I learned more from that than I did the whole novel, too. Things make more sense now.

This is a problem. A huge problem. I’m a pretty good reader, I like to think. I’m even a pretty forgiving reader, willing to make connections that I think the author intended when they don’t do a good job on doing the job themselves. But, I just couldn’t with this book. I’m pretty sure I recognized the tricks of the trade Engels was trying to employ, the techniques he was using to keep this from being over-expository, or too info-dumpy. I applaud the tricks and techniques. When used correctly.

Those last three words are the key. Exposition is your friend. Yes, it can be overdone. Yes, it can be abused. It can be relied on too heavily. But it can’t be ignored if you actually want to communicate to your audience.

I’m just going to give bullet points for the rest of this:

  • If you have to resort to all caps to express your character’s emotions, you need to write better dialogue.
  • If you have to use that many exclamation points to express your character’s emotions, you need to rewrite your dialogue. Nobody yells/screams all the time in conversations.
  • I spent so much time reading scenes trying to figure out where and when they took place that I eventually just gave up, assuming I’d figure it out eventually.
  • A related note: there was a flashback sequence that I couldn’t tell when it ended and returned to the present.
  • The characters weren’t characters, they were names attached to pronouns and occasionally to family relations. I honestly couldn’t tell you what separated some of them from each other. Everyone had the same personality, as far as I could tell (okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic here…but not much)
  • Did I mention that exposition can be your friend?
  • There was no conclusion, no point. Things just ended. It was, as someone said, much ado about nothing.
  • This is a 184 page book. It took me 4 days to read. I just wasn’t interested past the first chapter when it stopped making sense, it didn’t hold my attention, my mind kept wandering and I had to force myself to read it.

It seems to me that Engels had a very clear idea of what he was trying to accomplish, he knew his story and his characters. I don’t think he communicated any of it on the page. I’m seeing a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews out there, so clearly there’s a lot of people who’ll think I’m out to lunch. But, I just don’t see anything redeeming about this at all — and I like to think I go out of my way to find positives in every book I talk about. I’ve got nothing here.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, and I really wish I didn’t have to give it.

—–

1 Star

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

A Few Quick Questions With…Melissa Simonson

Okay, I’ve already raved about Lingering this morning (I haven’t written it yet, but it’ll be a rave, I know that much). And now we get to follow it up with a Q&A with Melissa Simonson, the author of Lingering and a handful of other things.

I really appreciate her taking the time — particularly because she doesn’t seem to like doing these. I understand that, but enjoyed her answers — I hope you do, too. I tried something new here, I gave her a thumbnail version of one of my working theories and let her respond. That was kind of fun, I think I’ll try that again sometime. I’ll shut up now and get to the good stuff so you can go buy some of her books after reading this.

Do I want to know how close to possible this book is? Actually, never mind, don’t answer this.
I’m probably the wrong person to ask about that. I can barely work Microsoft Word or smartphones so I’m a bit of a Luddite. Every technical thing I’ve so much as touched has broken, so I try to stay away for the most part. Though I don’t think the talk/text part of the Lingering business is too outlandish…
You’ve written a good number of books prior to that, and seem to bounce from genre to genre — is there a common thread to your work? Is there a genre you want to tackle, but haven’t yet?
Yes, I don’t restrict myself to certain genres….I mainly write in the “whatever the hell I want” genre. As for common threads, I really don’t know. I suppose I wander into the dark very easily, and they’ve all got that in common.
Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
I’m such a bad interviewee, I never know how to answer this question. Of course there are authors and books I love, but I’m not sure whether they’ve got anything to do with my own. As far as Lingering influences go–have you ever seen Ex-Machina? Go watch it if you haven’t, but the second I saw that movie I was obsessed, and it was pretty much the source of my inspiration.
I’ve shared with you my half-baked theory — did you plant seeds for people to think that way, or was I just really out to lunch? (I expect the latter) Did you try to wave red herrings in the reader’s face to keep them off their feet? Or another way of asking this is — how do you go about keeping the audience guessing while being honest with them about what’s going on?
Well, if you’re out to lunch with that theory, you’ll be in good company. I’ve heard that from many people, and I can understand why you’d have thought something along those lines, though that idea never struck me when I was writing the book. RE: keeping people guessing, well, I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for that, either. Half the time I don’t know what’s going to happen until about five minutes before I write it. I rarely outline and tend to go in with a foggy general idea, but that’s it.
I love the Kylie-Ben dynamic. Was Ben’s niece part of the novel from the get-go, or did you find a need for her later on? What on earth possessed you to have the two of them read The Art of War together? (I love it, don’t get me wrong, but that’s an odd choice)
Yes, Kylie was always around. I don’t know why I had them reading The Art of War, it just popped into my head and I ran with it. Is it an odd choice? Maybe. I’d considered striking the whole Kylie/Ben relationship because some people had asked me what the point of them is, but. I’m stubborn.
In my not-so-humble opinion, you need to stop listening to those people. But I digress. . .

What’s next for Melissa Simonson?

I have another work-in-progress on my hard drive, so I’ll be working on that just as soon as I get over the recent deaths on The Walking Dead and in between episodes of Game of Thrones. I lead a very exciting life, I’m sure you can tell.
Thanks for your time — and thanks for Lingering. I hope you find a lot of success with it.

Lingering by Melissa Simonson: A Touching and Creepy Tale about a Couple that will Always be together in Electric Dreams

This was just published — go grab your copy now and give Melissa Simonson a strong release week!

LingeringLingering

by Melissa Simonson


Kindle Edition, 326 pg.
2019
Read: March 21 – 22, 2019

Typically, when I just quote the official blurb, it’s because I’m feeling lazy — or I don’t like the book and don’t want to spend energy coming up with my own synopsis. But this time, it’s because I just like this so much:

           Death doesn’t have to be the end.

With Lingering, your departed loved ones are only ever a phone call or text message away.*
Say all those things you should have said. Get their advice, hear their comforting words. Let them celebrate your achievements and soothe your fears like they used to.
Everyone is welcome, and consultations are always free.

*Some conditions may apply. Please call our office for details.

That’s all Simonson said when she pitched me the book. And it absolutely worked. Now, maybe it’s because of what people typically try to get me to read, maybe it’s because of what I was reading at the time — I don’t know why, but I took this to be a supernatural/urban fantasy/beyond the grave thing. It’s not there in what she said about the book, but that’s the impression that I walked away with.

It couldn’t be further from the case, actually. In this case, the grieving client gives Lingering access to the dead person’s social media, texts, emails, etc. and then using the kind of social engineering that Identity Thieves dream about, come up with an approximation of the dearly departed. Obviously, the more data given them, the better the approximation will be.

When Ben is approached by a strange woman while he’s visiting his fiance’s grave about five months after she was murdered, he obviously has no idea what he’s in for. This stranger wants him to be a beta user for Lingering’s services. Not only was his fiancé a prolific texter, she was a fashion blogger and vlogger — so there was a lot of data to use as a source. After weeks of texting back and forth — in which the software was able to imitate Carissa pretty well, they move on to voice calls, and so on.

Lingering is made up of one engineer/developer and his girlfriend who’s in charge of recruitment and the business side of operations. We don’t get to meet other clients, but they do exist (or at least did — maybe they only have one beta at a time — it doesn’t matter). The engineer is a creep, and is clearly invested wholeheartedly (and maybe unhealthily) in this project. The recruiter, on the other hand, isn’t as invested, but does believe in the project (or at least her boyfriend). Their involvement in this story keeps it from being your typical “Boy meets AI/Computer Simulation of a Girl” story.

Because in many ways this is that kind of story — with the added twist of Carissa being the victim of an unsolved murder. But for anyone who’s watched Her, Ex Machina, or even Electric Dreams most of this story goes just like you anticipate. The Lingering duo add in some interesting complications, as does the murder investigation looming over portions of it. Simonson tells this familiar(ish) story in a compelling way, with a hint of menace mixed into star-crossed love. It’s tense, taut and heartfelt.

As the reader knows — and Ben does, too — he’s not talking to Carissa. In his own words, it’s “a machine pretending to be Carissa.” But that doesn’t stop him from sort of falling for her, and for the reader to wonder if there’s a way for it to work out for them. Even as the reader and Ben both feel the wrongness inherent in it all. A feeling that’s compounded as more about Lingering is shown to Ben.

Just with this, I’d recommend the novel. But that’s not what makes this book a keeper.

Simonson gives us a protagonist that you can’t help but feel for. The woman of his dreams, a woman out of his league that somehow truly loved him, his friends and family (well, maybe not his mother — but she wanted to), the woman he would die for was stolen from him in the worst possible way. They have a big fight, he storms out and hits a bar for a couple hours only to come back to discover her body.

Ben plunges into depression and grief — the only good thing to come out of things immediately is that Carissa’s cat suddenly decides she doesn’t hate him. His work suffers, his friendships and family relationships do, too (we’ll come back to that in a minute). He eventually finds a friend in his grief — Joe’s wife died from cancer around the same time as the murder and the graves are near each other. As the two men visit the graves they eventually visit each other and establish a mutual support system (that involves a lot of alcohol).

While we get to know Ben, we get to know the (real) Carissa and those in his life. We can see the devastation that Carissa’s murder has left in everyone’s life. His grief is real, and his efforts to move on aren’t that successful (they are half-hearted at best, too). Yes, Ben has a secret crutch helping him — but this really could be diving into work, substance abuse or something else — in a sense Simonson could’ve used anything here to give Ben a reason to keep going, she simply chose a machine pretending to be a person.

Joe doesn’t have Lingering, and he doesn’t seem to have much of a support network, either. He has Ben and alcohol. And memories. Many, many memories. As wrong as Ben’s “relationship” with cyber-Carissa is, he does seem to be functioning better than Joe, and the reader has many opportunities to see that. But man, Joe’s experiences are genuine, his pain is real. Ben’s got something keeping him from those experiences, and you can’t help but think how bad this is for him.

One of the many people almost as devastated by Carissa’s death was his young cousin, Kylie. I’m sure we’re told her age, but I don’t remember — I’m going to guess 8. Young enough that Goosebumps and Baby Sitters Club books are age-appropriate, but maybe a little advanced. She’s a good enough reader that they aren’t really her speed anymore, though. She calls Ben her uncle (he’s too old to be a cousin in her view). The two of them have a very close relationship, and Kylie will spend time at Ben’s house after school and the two of them make regular runs ot the library and read together frequently. While there’s almost nothing in this book that I didn’t like — my favorite parts involve Kylie.

Early on, they find themselves at a Library book sale and Kylie talks him into buying her The Art of War as well as Little Women (they only tell mom about one of the purchases). Throughout the book the two will read Sun Tzu together, Ben helping Kylie understand (and apply!) the classic. He picks up a handy tip or two from the old warrior/philosopher, too. Those scenes are priceless — warm, cute and insightful. Kylie’s a great addition to the book and humanizes Ben in ways that nothing else can. If Simonson needs a side project, an edition of The Art of War annotated with commentary by Ben and Kylie would be an insta-buy from me.

Thanks to watching Ben with Dexter (Carissa’s cat), Joe, his friends and, most importantly, Kylie you learn to care about him and his loss. You understand what he’s missing in his life and the degree it’s affecting him. So when things happen with Lingering and cyber-Carissa, you care about that. It’s not just some dopey guy being taken in by a computer generated fraud (that he signed up for, don’t get me wrong) — it’s this character you care about risking everything for some clever software.

The writing was excellent — I don’t think I had a negative note anywhere. The closest came when Ben was trying to box up Carissa’s clothes and I said something about how hard it was to read. The grief is real and palpable throughout the book, and really strong in others. All the characters are well drawn and developed — even those we spend only a few paragraphs with. The merging of the SF-ish elements with the story of Ben trying to recover from the death is really well done and adds shades and nuances to both, making the novel stronger.

Simonson took a lot of care about the appearance of the book, too. Which is important (maybe more so for a self-published book than one put out by one of the bigger houses). That’s an eye-catching and fitting cover — but even the graphic elements dividing up the text aren’t run of the mill and are attractive (I read a book a couple of weeks ago that went for an atypical graphic element, but I couldn’t tell what it was — nor could other readers that I talked to). I really appreciate it when people go to the extra trouble that someone clearly did here.

I’m not sure if this is really Science Fiction, but it has some SF elements. There’s a touch of a thriller about it, too. But I wouldn’t categorize it there. Maybe just General Fiction? But it feels too genre-adjacent for that. Eh, just categorize it as a read for people who like good things.

I can’t think of anything else to say here, really. This is an excellent read that totally sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. I spent a lot of time thinking about it between reading sessions, and have mused about it frequently since I finished, too. I guess you could say it’s lingering on in my mind. But you shouldn’t, because that’s just lazy word play, and we’re all better than that here. Just go read the book, okay?

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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4 1/2 Stars

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