Short story collections with a single author can be a bit of a crapshoot. They may not put the same amount of effort into every story in the book. Or, in an effort to reach the promised number of stories or words, the author may include stories that just don’t work. These problems are magnified when you’re dealing with a collection by different authors. Putting aside, the differences in style and skill level among authors trying to get twelve of them who can each come up with a story that fits into a specified genre and length while keeping the quality high becomes, in my opinion, an impossibility. Even two of my favorite collections, Otto Penzler’s Best American Mystery Stories and Noir Stories, and The Mystery Writers of America series of thriller short story compendiums, are a hit or miss proposition. (If you haven’t checked these out, they’re a great way to discover authors you don’t know without buying a whole book.)
Approaching a short story compendium where I was familiar with only two of the authors was done with no small amount of reservation on my part. Although the collection was offered free as a way of getting the word out about some of these authors, the time it takes to read is an investment. I only managed to read all the way through six out of the twelve stories which is actually not bad. Of the collections I mentioned above, I only read sixty to seventy percent of the offerings to the end.
The stories I finished in Twelve Shots were well done. “Truth and Lies”, by Zoe Sharp was the best of the bunch, and features one of my favorite crime fiction characters, Charlie Fox. This was a complete story with suspense and action that allowed Charlie to show her skills, and a twist I didn’t see coming.
RA McGee’s “Broken Trust” was an excellent introduction to the protagonist of his Porter series of novels and felt just like one of the full length stories, although, with most of the middle removed. “The Coroner and the Body In The Bath” by Paul Austin Ardoin introduced his reluctant coroner, Fenway Stevenson, who was an intriguing and likeable enough character for me to subscribe to the author’s mailing list and go looking for a full length book by this author. Although I felt the story was a little predictable, it was a complete and an enjoyable read. Finally, “No Good Deed” By David Beckler and “Operation Caterpillar” by Mike Clayton were decent reads, although they felt more like deleted chapters, or introductions to the author’s characters, the writing was good and I was intrigued enough by the characters to check out more work by their creators.
As for the rest of the stories, save yourself some time you won’t get back and skip them. My biggest problem with the rest is their lack of even minimal editing. Each was rife with logical errors, unclear imagery and dialogue, and generally sloppy writing. So, it’s well worth the investment in time,to read only half of this book, it will keep you entertained for a couple hours. Maybe you’ll discover a new author or two in the bargain, I did. Pretty good for a free book.
Forceful Intent is the third installment in RA McGee’s entertaining series about a former Federal agent who makes his living tracking down missing people Porter is pulled into the search for a missing child when her face is plastered on the billboard outside the office of his friend and accountant “Ross” who becomes obsessed with the case. He begs Porter to take the case. Porter equivocates, although we know he’s just messing with his friend, but finally takes the case and joins forces with a local cold-case cop who initially gives him the cold shoulder but ends up helping him in hopes of rescuing her floundering career.
Porter and “Ross” engage in entertaining, if somewhat juvenile (not that this is a bad thing) ribbing while on the trail of the kidnapped girl and tangle with some local gang bangers along the way. The banter between Porter and Ross is a big part of what makes this main character and this series work and make Porter feel like a real person. The same thing happens with his visits with his mother, who was also a federal agent before her retirement, at three in the morning. They have coffee and talk about the case and her observations help to give him depth and show a little more of what makes him tick.
Porter’s humanity is what makes this story, as well as the series, work. Although Porter is a badass with no reservations about hurting the bad guys in order to right the wrongs they’ve done--he’ll even take the law into his own hands if necessary--in the end, he’s all about what’s right and he won't stop until the job is done. The action is brutal at times, and sometimes it feels like he doesn’t take enough damage on the way to the ending, but the ride is entertaining and exactly what the book says it is. No more No less.
I’m still on board for the rest of the series and even bought a book of short stories partially because it had one by RA Mcgee in it. Check out my review of Twelve Shots when you get a chance.
Moving Target is the story of a former federal agent, Porter, who’s brought in by his former boss at the FBI to look for a missing girl in Appalachia. The cops and the feds are at an impasse, and Porter's mentor thinks someone with no constraints on his actions might be able to get the job done. Porter matches wits and violence with the local police, a biker gang, and a vicious Mexican cartel’s assassins while searching for the kidnapped girl. The author does a very good job of developing Porter’s personality at the beginning of the book without slowing things down too much. The action kicks into high gear at the beginning of the story and it’s pretty much a sprint, or at least a fast run, all the way through. I read the book in three sittings, and enjoyed every minute of it. Porter is a likeable character although not everyone agrees: “Go help those people. Find the runaway, make a nice payday. What else are you doing?” “When you’re right, you’re right.” “Glad you admitted it. And Porter?” “Yeah?” “Try not to be an asshole, okay?” McGee, R.A. . Moving Target : A Porter Novel (The Porter Series Book 2) (p. 34). Darewood Press. Kindle Edition. Porter’s rough exterior conceals a man who wants to do what’s right even if he has to break a few rules to do so. He's also a regular guy. He drives around eating pizza and listening to Jimi Hendrix and even manages to call his mom to check on her, while beating up bikers, looking for the missing girl and defending himself from assassins. He makes enough mistakes to make him human, even cracks a few jokes, but keeps going and manages to stay alive. This book is no more or less than exactly what it says in the description: unflinching action, gritty heroes, and white-knuckle suspense. Which is pretty awesome in my book. Frankly, exactly what I’m looking for in a story like this. Porter is cut from the same mold as Spenser, Archer and Sam Spade. The quintessential rugged idealist updated for the twenty-first century. A no nonsense bad ass with plenty of skills and determination. The fight scenes and the violence are realistic without being gratuitous, the action is believable and the plot keeps you guessing till pretty close to the very end. I give this one five stars and I’m glad the author has already written six books. I’ll be reading every one of them in the coming weeks.
Against The Grain
Phil M Williams
The novel is about a young man, Matt Moyer, who’s raised and homeschooled from the age of five by his uncle on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. As a result of this upbringing, Matt develops a somewhat eccentric and philosophical worldview based on discussions with his uncle and his own reading. After losing the farm to a squatters rights forfeiture, set up by the local High school principal and the police chief, the uncle dies of a heart attack and sixteen year old Matt has to attend the local high school. He soon runs afoul of the small-minded and tyrannical powers-that-be due to his refusal to parrot the drivel they’re shoveling at him and he decides to get even after he’s unfairly targeted for his nonconformity.
This book was a surprise on a number of fronts. First, although it is independently published, It’s free of typos and gaps in plot and logic that plague so many offerings from authors so anxious to publish they don’t bother to hire an editor. Second, the plot, storyline and characters were all well developed and complete. Third, the book addresses societal paradigms from the novel perspective of a teenager in high school and includes discussions of permaculture farming, taxation as state-sanctioned theft, and public schooling as institutionalized brainwashing without appearing to be on a soapbox. Not too much, anyway.
Unfortunately for the early part of the story, the main character comes across as a vehicle for the author's views rather than a fully formed human. While likeable and earnest, Matt struck me as much more curmudgeonly than a thirteen year old, even a homeschooled one, should be and seems himself to be as much a product of his uncle’s brainwashing as of his own study and independent thought. We don’t get to see enough in book's opening of what led Matt to hold the beliefs he does. A few sentences about the books he’s read, or a discussion with his uncle about said books (as in the movie Good Will Hunting) would go a long way to making him a more fully formed character. Having said that, Matt is a likeable character and you do want to see him succeed. He fights against adversity and learns a little about life and how to get along in our world along the way. His feelings on farming methods and his connection to the land seem much more organically arrived at and make him more sympathetic in my mind.
If you can overlook the small shortcoming of Matt’s minimally developed worldview, examining the mindless manner society goes about the business of educating its children is an interesting exercise, especially from this perspective. I would give the book three stars but the thought provoking nature of the story adds another one for its philosophical perspective and provides food for thought to readers who like to venture a little outside their comfort zone to view life from a different perspective.
Girls Like Us
Rachel Lloyd tells the story of her life in the commercial sex industry: how she was recruited, who the pimps and traffickers are (hint: they’re not the people you see on TV), the types of places she ‘worked’ and heartwrenching true stories of the girls who are struggling to escape and those still caught up in it.
Lloyd’s sometimes difficult to look at, but honest memoir shines a light on the abuse and exploitation happening right here, under our collective noses and shows how it persists despite the efforts of many dedicated people like herself. It also highlights the pathological way our society undervalues women and children of lower socioeconomic status, especially people of color, and how the resulting broken families and psychological trauma leaves kids with no choices vulnerable to the commercial sex industry. The story of Rachel Lloyd’s eventual escape from “the life” and how she went on to found GEMS, Girls Education and Mentoring Service in New York City, to help other young girls escape is however, a beacon of hope in this dark tale.
The writing is excellent and the narrative bounces back and forth between the author’s own life and vignettes of ‘the girls’ and their struggles. It draws you in with it’s raw humanity, and compassion, making this difficult subject relatable in a way that was unexpected. The quote at the beginning of chapter two made a big impact on me.
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul Than the way in which it treats its children. --Nelson Mandela
This story resonated with me more than I thought it would. In my twelve years working in EMS I came into contact with a small part of this world, through encounters with a few anti-trafficking task force members, and trafficking victims, But on a daily basis in this job, I saw how the system I was a part of was failing the children we were supposedly ‘helping.’ This book showed me how those failures can make children vulnerable to trafficking, and how to appreciate the special people making a real difference in tackling this horrific problem and the societal failures that perpetuate it. Without sugar coating or sparing her legacy, or the reader’s sensitivities the author maintained a sense of hope and positivity throughout the book and maintains this positivity in a way that is truly inspiring. We need to do a better job of taking care of all of our society’s children and Rachel Lloyd shows us where to begin.
Tokyo Black follows Thomas Cain, a former government operative, hiding out in Thailand after a blown mission where he was framed for the failure and is presumed dead. He winds up in jail, just in time to pop up on the radar, when his former girlfriend goes looking for an operative to retrieve a kidnapped girl. Once they do the dance of “I’m not coming back, yes you are” he gives in and sets out to find the girl.
The action, and there is a lot of it ;-D takes place mostly inTokyo. Cain uses contacts in the Yakuza, developed in his old undercover life, to help him track down the girl. Along the way, he discovers a more nefarious plot to destabilize the United States-China relationship that’s been cooked up by Cain’s old boss and using one the organized crime factions warring for control of Tokyo’s underworld to carry it off. Cain’s boss is plotting something big and Cain, aided by a bad-ass fed from Japan’s version of the FBI, races around town leaving mangled cars and dead gangsters in his wake, while his ex girlfriend has her own problems. Which I was happy to see she didn’t need his help to solve.
One of the nice things about reading thrillers is their pure escapism. The world of the thriller looks a lot like our own, but pesky things like food, sleep, laundry and full recycling bins do not exist (unless they serve to illuminate some part of a character’s personality). Stepping into the world of Andrew Warren’s Thomas Cain novels is very much like putting on a well broken-in pair of shoes. It wraps you in such comfort you’re able to ignore the hole in the toe and the frayed heel stitching, and the non-existent tread, because they feel sooo good.
Pure fun from start to finish. Cain is the perfect mix of tragic hero and bad ass operative needed to pull this off. He takes on the thugs and works his way through the problem, getting into car chases, fistfights and gun battles with the gangsters throughout Tokyo until the final excellent conclusion.
If you’re a fan of realistic action and adventure that restrains itself from becoming cartoonish, without too much politics and geopolitical maneuvering and you like writers Barry Eisler, Steve Barry, and Mark Greeney, check this one out. I’m looking forward to reading the whole series.
Death’s Door combines time travel with historical fiction, to tell the story of an immortal named Alexandra Renolds, Ren, who exists in April White’s Immortal Descendents universe, and the problems she faces when Edgar Allen Poe turns up in her contemporary Boston bar. The book also addresses race by exploring how Poe, from the mid-1800’s and Ren interact while she works to send him back to his time.
The strength of this short book lies in the excellent period details and the very well constructed characters. Ren is a fierce-woman who has existed since the time of slavery and prospered while developing some psychological scar tissue.The flashbacks to Ren’s early life are well done and provide excellent context for the Encounter with Poe. April White does a great job of appropriating real life events to produce an engaging story that educates while it entertains.
One area that fell a little flat for me was the inconsistency of Ren’s behavior. Minor spoiler alert. During a critical encounter with an armed man, rather than acting in keeping with her strong personality, she becomes inexplicably tired and lets herself be abducted and sleeps until she’s rescued. Although, I expected more from this character, it was a minor sour note in an otherwise enjoyable story. I look forward to reading a full length work where Ren may have the time and space to fulfil the promise of her personality.
The Enigma Cube
Douglas E Richards
Science fiction can be a great way to explore current topics, using the lens of a world so far removed from this one, we aren’t distracted by the contradictions or the belief systems of the day. Books like the Forever War, Starship Troopers and Old Man’s War did it in a military genre where the tech could be anything. Faster than light travel, worm-holes and alien societies who were insects. Near future sci-fi like The Enigma Cube imagines a world where all the articles in TechCrunch, or Popular Science actually come true. In the past, sci-fi tech was fairly simple, flying cars and Dick Tracy’s ‘radio watch.’ Today the realm of the possible has become wider and more interesting than ever. There are so many areas where science is exploring and making progress: cloning, nano-particles, quantum physics. Each one ripe for a book in it’s own right.
Douglas E. Richards manages to take the current state of tech and extrapolate it just a few years into the future, so the world of the story looks like ours but with a few important tweaks. What if the soldier of the future had engineered red blood cells that could prolong his ability to hold his breath? Or he had the ability to access the internet, or a super-small computer mounted on--and powered by--his skin. The interface is mental, and the output to a contact lens? These are just a few of the enhancements available to the hero of The Enigma Cube. And then there’s an alien artifact of incredible power, and a Nazi scientistl.
Much science fiction goes wrong when the author concentrates so much on the tech, they seem to forget there’s supposed to be a story about someone (they don’t even have to be human) who does something interesting and interacts with other characters in some meaningful way. Unfortunately, Richards fails to pay as much attention to the characters and their relationships as he does to the cool tech. The relationship between the two main characters feels a little like something from the eighties, and the dialogue is at times, painful to read. Although the issues and tech presented and explored are fun, it could have used a little more fine tuning.
The Enigma Cube will take you places you don’t expect (a very good thing) and makes you care about what happens while making you wait to the very end to see what exactly that is going to be. A plot that moves quickly, and exploration of interesting and relevant topics along the way are the things I look for in a book, The Enigma Cube checks enough boxes to keep me reading. If you’re a fan of the author, or near future sci-fi books, you should give this one a try.
The Broken Earth Trilogy
Good books hold a mirror to the world and comment on it at the same time. Some do it directly and obviously while others do it in more subtle ways. Some aren’t trying to do it at all, yet every story is at least in part a means of coming to grips with the world we live in. NK Jemisin understands this well when she writes:
"This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine. But this is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. For the last time."
People talk about symbolism, allegories, underlying meanings, and messages in books and art from Shakespere to Stephen King. I never really got it. I’ve tried. I took a Shakespere class in college that only reinforced my belief that you shouldn’t go looking for hidden meaning in art. Unless it speaks to you, or your situation, it just doesn’t exist. I’m still firmly convinced most of the academic work on that particular playwright is wishful thinking. Sure you can make a statement in art but it is usually more subtle than people think and you would have to be a world class genius to know all the stuff Shakespere had to know to put everything people attribute to him in his plays.
Having said that, The Broken Earth Trilogy has a lot of symbolism, allegory, and cultural commentary, and that the entire thing is a comment on race, prejudice, dysfunctional power structures, and relationships. But it doesn’t require an advanced degree to dig this stuff out. It’s all right there on the surface, but subtle enough to not take over the story. Which is the best way to do this sort of thing in my opinion. The story is constructed around the message, which leads to everything in this world feeling at the same time purposeful and inevitable. Every decision the characters make and their every reaction is completely in keeping with their personalities. Everything that’s happened to everything and everyone is exactly as it would have evolved given the constraints of that world.
The author also does something successfully that can be irritating when done poorly. She keeps us almost completely in the dark from the start. The world and the relationships between the characters appears so gradually that reading about them is almost like being an archeologist, digging through layers of time and constructing a theory of how the civilization you’re studying came to be. There are clues along the way that reveal themselves later, but they also build the suspense. Even the decision to tell part of the story in second person makes a statement that I didn’t understand until much later, probably at some point in book three. The entire picture resolves itself slowly, giving us a glimpse every now and then, but enhancing our curiosity to know more. We are pulled along. The story transcends genre with lyrical prose that had me hitting the back button so I could listen to a part like this again:
"But what strikes Damaya most are the child-buyer’s eyes. They’re white, or nearly so. She can see the whites of his eyes, and then a silvery-gray disc of color that she can barely distinguish from the white, even up close. The pupils of his eyes are wide in the barn’s dimness, and startling amid the desert of colorlessness. She’s heard of eyes like these, which are called icewhite in stories and stonelore. They’re rare, and always an ill omen."
The series and the story was enjoyable to read because it could be about anything. The truths told are universal and apply no matter what the subject matter. That it takes place in an imaginary land makes no difference to the story, a story that I found myself not wanting to end, even as I was impatient to find out how everything worked out. This may be one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. The story of a world where a subset of the population can control the force of gravity and manipulate anything it affects. Plus, a post-apocalyptic world that regularly experiences apocalyptic events? Amazing. The scope of this thing is huge. So huge that in the hands of a less skillful writer, one would be completely lost as to what’s happening and how all the parts fit together. N.K Jemisin handles it all with dexterity and a clever use of point of view. Shifting between characters and timelines while giving such a rich portrayal of the world and the cataclysms affecting it, that it felt like a real place.
The world feels absolutely real and the many characters have such a broad range of traits, physical characteristics, biases based on those characteristics, personalities, and weaknesses, they feel like real people. The way the books unfold is so clever and the author does a fantastic job of keeping secret the overall situation until the end,. My wife and I were mesmerized throughout the hours we listened to this audiobook in the car. Seriously, we took the long way around more times than I want to admit so we could have more time to listen.
Some books draw you in from the very first line or the first chapter, but at some point they catch hold of your imagination and you are transported. For me that point was the beginning of the second chapter where the quote above comes from. At that point I knew this would be a book that would not let go, even after I finished reading
This book is billed on Amazon as an action thriller, with a blurb on the cover saying “For fans of I Am Pilgrim and Nomad. I found it to be comparable to The Odessa File from Fredrick Forsyth, where action is only a part of the book. The main story is Harry Holt’s journey of recovery, both physical and psychological after being wounded in Iraq, where he lost comrades and his ability to continue soldiering.
This story had a relentless sense of forward motion and Holt’s personality comes out as we go from the opening battle scene to the final confrontation. Holt is the picture of an exceptional soldier who throws himself completely into whatever job he has. His warrior spirit carries him through because he keeps fighting.
Holt is addicted to painkillers and trying desperately to recover the physical strength the doctors have told him is gone forever. Rather than descending to rock bottom, Holt exercises his will and keeps the addiction more or less under control, it becomes a faucet of his personality but not what drives him. Holt's friends who keep an eye on him even though he feels unworthy and tries to distance himself from them are a major driver for Holt. ,There’s an excellent scene where he meets his medic friend CJ and they talk about the incident. Holt lets slip that he blames himself but CJ slaps him and says:
“If you say it’s your fault, then it’s our fault too. All of us. We were all with you. We were all just professionals doing the best we could.”
To me, this was one of the more powerful scenes in the book and highlights an important aspect of life as well as what made this book enjoyable. Friendship and personal connection. Hearing the truth from a fellow soldier helps Holt start to move on, and his friends also help him find a new job. Holt also connects with the people at this new job and ultimately, his efforts are about protecting them.
This is a fun read. The pacing drew me along throughout the story and there were only one or two times where I found myself impatient with the speed of events. The villain is well done and the murky situation surrounding an international corporation operating in a failed state is shown well. I liked the way the author built the animosity between the terrorist trying to rid his country of the outsiders and Holt. The author is a former soldier who flew helicopters in Iraq and his knowledge of battle and fighting show up to great effect in the battle scenes where. The personal stakes helped the suspense build relentlessly toward the end. I was pulled along, wondering what would happen next with each twist in the plot, and cared for the other characters, as well as Harry Holt.
Operation Dawn Wolf: A Redacted Transcript - Agent Carrie Harris
This book is written as a series of documents describing agent Carrie Harris’ progress through a secret agency’s Special Operations selection process. The majority of the story is told through transcribed recordings between Agent Carrie Harris and the program psychologist and the psychologist’s private journal entries.
I have to say, I was intrigued by the idea of a look behind the curtain of a special operations training course, especially one with a strong female lead. The format was different,and I was willing to give it a try because I’ve loved spy and special ops stuff in books since I read Eye of The Needle as a teenager. Also, the author seems to have taken a similar writing path to mine, writing a Zombie apocalypse novel first, then a thriller with a kick ass female lead, which makes me like them already.
I have to say that once I got into it, I really liked the format and I think the author made the most of it, but in the early pages I almost quit reading. There was a lot of “Personnel Department” type information that probably reflects what one would find in a real file of this sort, but it didn’t draw me in or make me want to keep reading. None of it was critical information, and most gets passed on in one way or another later. Fortunately, this section was fairly short and, once we got into the meat of the story, I was completely hooked. Carrie’s strength and personality come through well as she describes her training to the doctor supposedly evaluating her fitness for the special operations unit. She’s smart, tough and a little introverted, but likeable. The pair spar for several rounds, each side feeling the other out, not wanting to reveal anything the other can use to gain an advantage, but eventually both let slip details they would rather not, and learn more than the other wants them to. Carrie relates the events of several training exercises and some of her past along the way. The reader and the psychologist know she’s holding some things back but she manages to remain mostly opaque as the doctor probes ever deeper into her psyche.
I can’t go into much detail because of the inevitable spoilers, and who really wants that? We can discuss it later over drinks, or email, which I would love to do, so please contact me. I’m dying to talk about this one! But I will say I can’t wait to see what’s next for Agent Carrie Harris.
Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online
As you may have already guessed from reading my book and my blog, I read a lot about a lot of things. I have so much random knowledge in my head, my wife regularly rolls her eyes when I come out with some non-sequitur like the origin of the word bannock (a Scottish skillet bread. See? ;-). One thing I’m particularly passionate about is language learning. I have “taught myself” to speak both French and Spanish at a fairly advanced conversational level and continue to study Spanish after ten plus years. I thought I had this free-online-learning thing pretty much dialed in. That illusion was shattered when I opened this book. What a great resource.
This book should be the first thing any student buys when setting out to study a language. Any language.The sample beginner’s lesson alone is worth the cover price many times over. I cringe at the thought of how much time I wasted wading through the morass of “free” stuff, the author has very effectively and comprehensively reviewed, and filtered for her readers. The author’s knowledge of learning methods blueprint for study is a worthwhile resource for all language learners. The Author is both a dedicated student and an excellent teacher/researcher who has done an amazing job of cataloguing the vast amount of information available and made it accessible in a fraction of the time it would take to research on one’s own. Do yourself a favor and buy this book!
A Man With One of Those Faces (Dublin Trilogy #1)
One day, while searching for podcasts about books, I discovered Caimh McDonnell’s site and a chapter from A man With One Of Those Faces. This one involved Bridget, a nurse and a wanna be PI, trying to break into a house. The humor and the great observation of people and their idiosyncrasies as viewed through Bridget’s eyes, hooked me immediately. After I finished the whole book, I bought the audio book to share with my wife.
Caimh McDonnell has the ability to take an unlikable person and make them totally relatable by showing the absurdity of their misconceptions about the world and their inherent humanity. He combines Humor and suspense with a little mystery and makes a book that’s almost impossible to put down.
I loved this one so much I bought the rest of the series.
The Day That Never Comes (Dublin Trilogy #2)
Caimh McDonnell is my new go-to guy for humorous and engaging stories with a mystery bent. He reminds me a little of P.G. Woodhouse, the creator of the butler Jeeves. His portrayal of some seriously comic and wacky stuff seems actually possible and reasonable under his nimble fingers. Add to this, the creative cursing--not sure if all Irishmen curse like this but it’s funny as hell--and it’s a book well worth reading. This book starts with the three main characters, Paul, Brigite, and Bunny, who are trying to start a detective agency together, all going in different directions. There’s been a falling out between Paul and Brigite while Bunny has disappeared entirely. Paul and Brigitte--estranged due to ‘the incident’ which took place before the start of the book--search for their missing partner with a backdrop that includes big-city politics, shady protesters, murders and the cops trying to solve them, and a trio of crooked developers. As with the vast majority of books that stay with me--and have me reading passages to my wife in the wee hours of the night--the characters are the stars of this book. They, and the dog are so well crafted they could do just about anything and I would love reading about it. Two people and a dog spending a huge amount of time on a stakeout in a bar parking lot doesn’t seem like a gripping scenario, but this was one of my favorite parts of the book. I came close to wetting my pants several times. Also Brigitte’s reaction when she meets the woman who caused ‘the incident’ is priceless. Another thing I love--and McDonnell does this so well--is when plotlines that seem to have nothing to do with each other come together in an entirely unexpected way. Can’t say more than that or I’d ruin the surprise. I can’t recommend this book or this series enough.
Last Orders (Dublin Trilogy #3)
This is book 3 in “The Dublin Trilogy” by Caimh McDonnell. If you don’t read author introductions, do yourself a favor and read all of his McDonnell is a former standup comedian and it shows here as well as in his books. Better yet, sign up for his email list. His humorous musings about life in general and his life specifically are well worth the few minutes a month it takes to read them. Not to mention info about future releases.
Now, for the review. There’s not much I can add to the things I’ve said about the previous books in this series. As always, the blend of humor which is sometimes quite dark, but always funny. The characters are engaging and make me like them more in every installment, and intricate plotting produced a book that I will definitely read again and again.
Angels in the Moonlight (The Dublin Trilogy Book #0)
This book went in a direction I didn’t expect, and this is something I really like about the series. This one starts off with a scene where the main character Bunny McGarry acts in an outrageous manner and curses up a storm while coaxing a jumper off a ledge by insulting him. There’s a bit of foreshadowing here too but I’ll say no more because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. The rest of the book is a sort of flashback. The book is a “prequel to the Dublin trilogy which shows the events that led Bunny to meet the incomparable Simone I love the way we get to see the young-ish Bunny find love and the way he wins Simone’s heart while pursuing Dublin’s criminals and dealing with his partner’s problems.
One thing I thoroughly enjoy about McDonnell’s writing is the way books are a little like episodes of Law and Order, with more colorful and engaging characters, and a more fleshed out and intricate plot. This was an excellent addition to the series and I highly recommend it to anyone who liked the other books or if you’re a fan of wisecracking PIs like Elvis Cole, Spenser, or Harry Bosch (BTW If you haven’t seen this series on Netflix, turn your computer off NOW and go check it out).
Contenders starts with a simple premise. A girl named Nina makes her living getting into fights and stealing her opponents’ money. When her brother dies she finds herself the guardian of his eight year old Daughter. The addition of the child highlights all the things that are wrong with Nina’s lifestyle and the choices she’s made along the way. I loved this book. It crept up on me and grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go until I’d finished it in just three days. The descriptions and the dialogue are so well done. I think I highlighted half the book to go back and read again later. Erika Krause has a succinct style that is so easy to read. I was pulled through the story, constantly making new discoveries and anxious for the next chapter. Her observations (through the Nina’s eyes) about life and witty social commentary were spot on and often laugh out loud funny. The rest of the book’s characters fit perfectly into the narrative of Nina’s life. They have their own problems and, like Nina, they go through life mindlessly, without actually thinking about what would really make them happy or how they could be living a better version of their own story. Like all humans, the characters are exquisitely flawed. They make bad decisions because of past trauma and their twisted view of themselves and who they are. Their humanity is what makes this such a good story. I cared deeply about each of them and wanted them to find their way to a better life. I’m going to be reading this one again very soon.
All Necessary Force
Brad Taylor has picked up his game with this second book. Solid writing, nicely done plot development, and action that kept moving made this one a joy to read. Taylor weaves together the threads of his plot and ties every thing up with skill and even a decent amount of humor. Especially liked how he managed to slip in lines from one of my all time favorite movies, #theprincessbride. Character development is another important plus. Jennifer us coming into her own and becoming even more of a bad ass woman. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series.
The Short Drop
Just finished this one for the second time (this onein audiobook). I can't say enough about Matthew Fitzsimmons writing. As a writer myself I love the way he can inhabit each character's thoughts for so long without it becoming boring. The plot is intricate and devious and he keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. The characters are all so well drawn, you care about each of them deeply. I've read all his books and each one is better than the last.
This book was really a surprise for me. I found it because @bookwnoname recommended Jay Kristoff's Nevernight Chronicle. While shopping on Amazon, I was intrigued by the cover (just because they say you can't judge a book by the cover, does not mean we don't do it all the time) This is a dystopian mash up of: a little bit transformer, a dash of bladerunner, some spacehunter :Adventures in the forbidden zone (which would have been so much better in 2D) and some madmax for good measure. It all works brilliantly because of the excellent characters and world building. Not to mention excellent villains and fun chase sequences. Looking forward to reading much more from this author
Stumbled upon this graphic novel from Greg Rucka. I loved his Atticus Kodiac novels, so I thought I'd try this. I used to devour comics as a kid until I decided they weren't serious enough.
Found out when I visited the amazing Gryphon Games And Comics I Fort Collins, that they can be serious af. Plus, great artwork (I've always wished novels had accompanying illustrations). If you're near by check them out. Games, comics, and very good coffee.
The Ties That Bind
Rob J Hayes
It's been a while since my last review because I was wallowing in a sea of mediocrity (four, or five, DNFs) before I came upon this absolute gem of a series. Then I had to read all three because they were so good. And satisfyingly long. I'm ecstatic at being able to recommend "The Ties That Bind" Omnibus edition by indie author Rob J Hayes. It's dark and stabby, with too many excellent characters to go into here, and really reminded me of The First Law trilogy. If you like Abercrombie, give this a try. The author weaves a complicated pile of story elements, revenge, betrayal, piracy, magic, religion and demons into a coherent whole with enviable control and quite a few surprises.
One caveat. This is really more like one large, wonderful book in three parts than three books with distinct conclusions. So just get all three from the get-go and be done with it.
Imagine Hogwarts as a Church where the teachers are assassins and the students' entrance exam is to bring the teeth from their first kill. Poisons are taught by exposure and the blades in fencing class are razor sharp. Amazing world building that mixes ancient Roman and Renaissance Venetian cultures, a transporter network that runs on sorcery and something else that I'm not going to mention, a #badasswoman hero, and great storytelling! Loving Jay Kristoff's work. Thanks to @bookwnoname for the recommendation. Check out her, much better, review of this excellent book.
Star Kingdom Shockwave
This was so refreshing. An indy author who's good at writing as well as marketing. I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in a series the author characterized as Big Bang Theory meets Star Wars. It had action, well rounded villains, good world building, and a very well done cast of characters who were interesting as well as sympathetic. I honestly cared about each and every player. Although this is the first in a series, and there needs to be some holding back of information and character backstory, the author has done it so well that the book still has a satisfying resolution while setting the stage for the next book and not irritating the crap out of me.
Locke & Key
Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
"Locke & Key is a graphic novel of the richest kind, presenting a story and characters concieved with all the deapth of a full-blown novel, yet perfectly rendered by both writer and artist to take advantage of the graphic medium. " --Robert Crais
I dont think I can do a better job than one of my favorite writers in reviewing this amazing book. It really does read like a book with the pictures from your mind as accompanying material. So many nice twists and plotlines just in this first volume. The storyline and the artwork are top notch. If you're a fan of horror, and Joe Hill, check this out. You won't regret it.
It was so scary it sent Jackson under the camper to hide.
This is the second book I've read from Chuck Wendig and I wasn't disappointed. The man can write and observe humanity with the best of them. The reviews and accolades for this book are well deserved, as are the comparisons to Stephen King's "The Stand." Overall, I really liked the book and recommended it, with the warning that, just like King, the author can be a bit long winded for my taste. I found myself skimming long sections that, to me, didn't seem to add much to the story. It's a fairly minor thing, but the main reason I couldn't rate it 5 stars. This book has some great characters and some really imaginative storytelling but I would have liked more of the best characters in place of all the rambling.
This was one of the best books I've read in a while. A couple of good protagonists, a pair of quality villains, and a plot that started off strong and kept moving right up to the clever end.
One caveat. Skip the prologue. It's so stilted and full of awkward dialogue that I almost didn't make it through. I'm not sure why it's even there. It doesn't do anything that couldn't have been done later with a couple of sentences, and it feels like it was written by someone else. Not enough to take away from the rest of this excellent story, but enough to stop you if you're an impatient reader.
Ham is a kick ass MC that does what it takes to get the job done. She's got a lot of skills and she's tough as hell but not a cartoon super hero. She takes some lumps and makes mistakes. She's real. Dustin Steven's writing style is clean and easy to read. Not trying to be anything fancy, just good solid stuff.
Another good one from Chuck Wendig. A well done continuation of the Atlanta Burns story that picks up shortly after the first book's ending. Good job of further developing Atlanta's character as well as her relationships while still letting her be a bad ass. I really liked the way we were inside her head and feeling her pain.
I was so excited for this continuation of the James Reece story it made me worry I was building it up too much. Fortunately #jackcarr has the skills to pull it off. #truebeliever is just as good as his first one, and had me turning pages way past my bedtime
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
This book was a huge surprise. And a pleasant one. I had heard nothing about it and didn't bother reading any reviews because; the apocalypse AND a dog? I'm in. Two of my favorite things right off the bat. Not to mention the other great stuff that I'll get to in a minute.
After finishing this wonderful book, I did look at some reviews that compared this to STATION ELEVEN. I can see the similarities, and the reviewers are not wrong. Both are well written and wax poetic about the landscape of the world far removed from the actual apocalypse. Both have lots of interesting characters and a MC you want to root for. But A BOY AND HIS DOG, for me, was everything Station Eleven wasn't. There was LOTS of tension and action. I stayed up way too late reading and finished in three days. It took me a couple weeks to finish STATION ELEVEN, and I might not have pushed through if it wasn't for a class (plus I skimmed quite a bit ). The villain is very well done and the dialogue is excellent. And there's a twist at the end which I can't even hint at, but it's so good.
One negative was the foreshadowing comments by the narrator, which didn't seem to add to the story but that was minor.
Definitely check this one out
Hunt Them Down
Do you like action? Lots of very well written, realistic action? Me too!!!
Then this book is for you/me. Us!. It's filled with so much high stakes conflict, great characters, and gunfights, and fistfights, and gritty awesomeness, and a little ear biting (Jackson's favorite) that I couldn't put it down. I read it in two days.
The dog was a bit put out. Look at him. He's thinking 'Laying in the grass is boring. Put that dumb square-thing-that-doesn't-taste-good down and take me for another hour-long walk by the river.' He's a little spoiled. It starts off fast and just keeps going. It's so much fun. The kind of fun I hope people will have with my book someday. Seriously, I started writing so I could write a story like this. Hats off to #simongervais for a great read.
Also, the next book, Trained to Hunt, comes out on Sept 29 so you can read them back to back.
Chuck Wendig is a genius. This book was really fun. Super dark fun. His voice and creativity are on full display here with a protagonist who, to quote the author, "Is about as mentally stable as a garage full of cats on fire" To cut her some slack, Miriam Black can see how someone is going to die if she touches them but doesn't seem to be able to affect the situation.That will definitely mess with your head.
Great story and really well done fight scenes. I can't wait to read more.
If you haven't read the author's blog #terribleminds I highly recommend it.
A Little Hatred
I couldn't put this book down. Joe Abercrombie has done it again. This book is set in #thefirstlaw universe, but it's far more than that. Dark, and observant, engrossing and a little bit stabby. Not as much fighting as The First Law Trilogy but what's there is excellent! A new cast of characters that are so well done and an intricate plot that moves always forward. Made me want to go back to the series. Starting tonight.
I'm not sure why I didn't already know about #reecehirsch His writing is tight and polished with excellent characters, pacing and plot. Black Nowhere has an "out of the box" main character who I look forward to seeing in subsequent books.
What Happened to Lori
This book was a surprise in so many ways. The plot kept me guessing throughout the entire two volume set and I was so invested in all the characters, I stayed up past my bedtime several times to find out what happened next.
The unconventional nature of this story was challenging at times, and I can't say to much without ruining the surprise, but it was worth it in the end.
Mr Konrath is an excellent writer and, unlike so many who achieve a similar level of success, he is still working hard to put out quality writing rather than maximizing his income by rushing to publish half finished work.
All the Devils
You know how when you read a really good book and you wish you could be the main character? Livia Lone is one such character. An unmitigated badass, who's not afraid to do what's right, even if it puts her in danger of losing her job, and her life. She has one goal. Make the bad guys pay. To top it off, she's got the smarts and skills to get the job done. I'm going to have to go back and read this series again.
This is Barry Eısler's best so far. The action happens at a fast clip, but he still takes the time to make you really care about the characters, and really hate the bad guys. The suspense builds until the very end and makes you wish this was your life.
This was a pleasant surprise. The cover style and the title caught my attention Our eyes can't resist tasty beverages and firearms. I think it has to do with our hunter gatherer heritage.
I will be reading more from Caimh McDonnell who is restoring my faith in Indy authors. The collection of characters in this book was fantastic. I was also drawn in by the great descriptions and humor.
After reading this, I liked it so much I talked Beth in to listening to the audiobook even though she doesn't read sci-fi. The story and the characters were so well done they sucked her in and we just finished the whole series.
Really good writing without getting bogged down in the science. Just a great story. The unconventional nature of this story was challenging at times, and I can't say to much without ruining the surprise, but it was worth it in the end.
Mr Konrath is an excellent writer and, unlike so many who achieve a similar level of success, he is still working hard to put out quality writing rather than maximizing his income by rushing to publish half finished work.