Never Go Back by Lee Child

Never Go Back (Jack Reacher, #18)Never Go Back

by Lee Child

Hardcover, 400 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2013
Read: July 23 – 24, 2014

The journey that Reacher started following 61 Hours is at an end — he’s back at the 110th MP, his old unit to meet the person the goes with the voice at the other end of the phone line — the new CO, Maj. Susan Turner. He’s planning on asking her to dinner, and to see what happens from there. Sure, walking from South Dakota to get a date seems extreme — but other than bringing justice to various locations between South Dakota and Virginia, what else does Reacher have in his day planner?

Sure, since this is Jack Reacher — it won’t go all that easily for him. He arrives at the gate, hoping to get a date — instead he gets a global conspiracy, a cross-country trip, a chance to visit life-changing mistakes he may have made over a decade ago, and a return to active duty. On the whole, this is a lot less violent than most Reacher novels — with a comparatively very small body count (but it is violent, and there is a body count — never fear).

This story alone is fun — Reacher being Reacher. This time he’s got a version of himself along for the ride. Turner has the job he used to have, has a lot of the same opinions, skills, background — but Turner’s made some different choices in her life, has different attitudes, making her a mirror image in many ways (not just being small and female). She’s willing to do a lot to take down the criminals behind the conspiracy, but not as far as Reacher will. She’s far more interested in the courts and the Army having a crack at the conspirators, while Reacher’s just focused on stopping them and breaking as many eggs as he has to go get his omelet made.

Turner’s own appraisal of Reacher and the reader’s own look at her in contrast to Reacher tells us a lot more about the ex-MP than what we’ve seen before (at least adding depth and color to our impression of him, if not actual new information). In many ways Susan Turner is the most objective look we’ve ever gotten of Reacher (our typical omniscient third-person narrator isn’t terribly objective when it comes to Jack Reacher). She likes him — a lot — but is very critical. I like her and think there’s probably a lot her appraisal.

This was a very satisfying read — Lee Child and his hero, firing on all cylinders, doing what they do best. Told in a pretty fresh way, with added insight into the character. Just what the doctor ordered.


4 1/2 Stars

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

The Sound and the Furry (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6)The Sound and the Furry

by Spencer Quinn

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Atria Books, 2013
Read: July 23, 2014

I cannot think of another narrator in contemporary fiction as charming, as relateable, as endearing Chet — unreliable as all get out, but utterly trustworthy. I’m sure there are readers out there who are not susceptible to Chet’s canine charms, but I’m not one of them. I chuckle, I laugh, I am drawn in instantly — and as long as the stories are passable, that combination is a winner.

Thankfully, usually the stories are more than passable, which is just frosting on the cake. This time out, the Little Detective Agency finds itself on the road to New Orleans, of all places — a far cry from their normal stomping grounds. It’s good to see Quinn shake things up a little, he can’t be as dependent on things like Bernie chasing down a former C.I. or a familiar source of information. They also don’t know the lay of the land at all, and Bernie has to acclimate himself quickly.

Sure, some of Quinn’s tropes are here — Bernie not making sound financial choices, Chet causing a little trouble (tho mostly charming people), Chet getting separated for a time from Bernie (although this time it felt more organic than in any other of these books — I was a little bit into the separation before it dawned on me that, “yup, it’s about time for this”). But that doesn’t detract from the change in setting — or make it seem like less of a change. Instead, the presence of Quinn’s usual moves just underlines their universality.

It’s not uncommon for the sidekick of a detective to notice something missed by their associate — and it’s not uncommon for the sidekick to be unable to get the detective to see what they want them to/understand what they’re excited about, etc. And in almost any other detective novel where the detective is so clueless about so much of what the sidekick notices would be full of griping and complaining from the sidekick (justified griping, but griping, nonetheless). Not these books , however – except for his questionable financial decisions, Chet can’t even think of Bernie negatively, and he forgets anything that approaches negative almost instantly. This leaves the reader to chew on all the clues that Bernie’s missing while Chet’s focused on other things. I Love that. Typically, it’s the detective that has access to clues before the reader/independent of the reader (and that’s true here to an extent) but these books turn the tables on that, giving us readers the advantage.

Don’t know of its because Chet’s a dog, or if Quinn’s just that good at what he does (or some other thing), but when Chet’s in danger I get tenser than I do reading just about anything else — even if the danger’s not that great ultimately. But when Chet tussles with a certain critter in this book, I know my adrenaline levels jumped up and I read a lot faster just so I could get to the resolution of the fight.

My main (only?) problem with the book is its treatment of Suzie Sanchez. She seemed more like a refugee from Three’s Company than the reporter we’ve come to know and like. Quinn’s bounced between from treating her as a strong, capable character and this disappointment — she deserves better (as do Bernie & Chet, and the readers). If I’m drawing the right inferences from the cover image on the seventh Chet & Bernie book, it looks like he’ll give it a shot. If I’m wrong, Quinn should just write the character out of the series and start over with a new love interest.

We’ll never see it — I don’t imagine — but Chet kept hinting at this deeper, darker story, this side of Bernie we haven’t really seen (I think we’ve gotten glimpses before, but nothing like in this book). The kind of thing that belongs in a far more hard-boiled novel than this one. And unless we get someone else’s point of view, we’ll never see this side of Bernie in full because Chet can’t really admit it to be true. But we got a few hints this time — I sure wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Bernie.

Until then, we get these light, joy-filled mysteries equal parts puzzle and entertainment. Who’d ask for more?


4 Stars

From the Archives: Year Zero by Rob Reid

Year ZeroYear Zero

by Rob Reid

Hardcover, 364 pg.
Del Rey, 2012
Read: October 27 – 29, 2012

Aren’t we at the point yet where just because something involves aliens, spaceships and more than a few laughs, we don’t have to invoke Douglas Adams? (not that I have anything against the man or his work) But this book owes more to Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars than to anything about Arthur, Ford or Zaphod (or even Dirk). Yet that doesn’t stop 70% or so of the reviews from mentioning Adams. Time to move on folks — or at least realize there are others out there doing funny SF.

I’d give this 4.75 stars, really. Rounded up. But whatever, the important thing is that this book is a hoot. There’s nothing about this that isn’t funny–the plot, the characters, the commentary on the music industry, congressional shenanigans, trendy restaurants, Microsoft…whatever Reid touched on, he hit squarely and hilariously. I laughed out loud a whole lot. And then some more.

I think towards the end, plot lines and plot points got a bit out of control. But honestly, he just reminded me of most of Christopher Buckley‘s work in that regard (and several other ways now that I think of it)–though I think Reid did a better job of pulling it all together at the end than Buckley usually does.

And the coda? Perfect. And more than made up for any flaws.


5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 7/26/14

Thin week overall, but what I have to offer, I really liked.

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

  • Things I Understand Now that I’ve Finally Read the Harry Potter Series — It’s nice to see an adult who didn’t read these back then tackle the series and respond. I found it a good reminder of what I liked about the series — good incentive, also, for adults who haven’t taken the time to read these books.
  • Favorite Crime-Fighting Duos — Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, noted for their new Fox & O’Hare series list their favorite duo’s — I don’t know 1 off each list, and other than Evanovich’s last item, I’d second every word of those I do.
  • The 20 Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Last Decade — I’ve read a lot of these, and while I might quibble with the placement of a couple items on the list, this is a pretty good line-up. I do not understand, nor share, Allen’s estimation of Harrison’s Hollows series — that aside, good list, good place to start if your interested in the genre.
    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Hounded by David Rosenfeldt — The newest Andy Carpenter book will feature dogs, banter, legal tension, humor, and more dogs. Just a hunch, really, all I know is that there’s a new Andy Carpenter book, the rest is just a guess.
  • The Forsaken by soandso — Book 4 of the Quinn Colson series. Atkins is becoming a real favorite of mine, and the only thing he does better than aping Robert B. Parker is write these Colson books. Can’t wait to get my hands on this.

Categories: Books, News/Misc.

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Dad Is Fat<a href=””>Dad Is Fat

by Jim Gaffigan

Published May 7th 2013 by Crown Archetype
Read: July 19 – 22, 2014

It’s been years — almost decades since I last read a book by a stand-up comedian. I used to love them — you get their act, usually expanded — if not, at least more of it then you got to see on TV in Idaho. If you were familiar enough with the comedian, it was almost automatic to hear their voice in your head as you read. Always liked them, just ran out of time/money.

But I’ve been feeling the pull towards Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat for awhile now, so when Blogging for Books offered me a copy, I jumped on it. Which was a good move on my part — this is a funny book.

Not a a surprise, I realize. Still, it is good to see that he can transfer his humor to the page (you can never be sure). A good deal of the material — but not all — is adapted from his stand-up, and that’s funny enough. But the rest is just as good — if not better, because it’s fresher and in a different medium, so he can do other kinds of humor. I laughed out loud more than a few times, and had to resist reading the entire thing to whoever happened to be near-by.

But frequently, Gaffigan sets the jokes aside to talk about being a parent, the choices that women and men make to do that — how so many don’t understand why people do that. He defends the choices his family made to have kids, to have as many as they have, and to have home births. He doesn’t stop joking as he does this, but they do take a back seat to what he’s talking about though (while serving as the proverbial spoonful of sugar to help). These points are where the book is the strongest, he doesn’t attack those who disagree, rather he says this is what they’ve decided to do, let them follow their own convictions and stay out of their way. Which doesn’t seem so much to ask, but we all know better. He takes a simple, commonsense approach to this stuff — he doesn’t get too esoteric or philosophical, just a simple, pragmatic “this is what we did, and it works for us.” My esteem for he and his wife/writing partner increased after reading this book.

They’re short essays, and I wouldn’t recommended reading too many of them in one sitting — just a few at a time to keep it fresh and funny.

If anyone in the world actually remembered the book, I’d compare this to Paul Reiser’s Babyhood but from a different angle. It has a similar mix of humor and sentiment on the same topic. Dad is Fat has a lot of laughs, some warming of the heart, and so many lines that I want to quote, I’d cross into copyright infringement if I tried. Give it a whirl, even if you don’t have kids, you’ll probably enjoy this.

Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book.


4 Stars

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead

by Michael Koryta

Hardcover, 388 pg.
Little Brown, 2014
Read: June 21, 2014

Once Koryta left Lincoln Perry behind and started writing stand-alones, I read one and never got around to the rest — but something about this one drew me in (and it doesn’t look like my typical suspense preference) — and now I’ve got to find time to go back and pick up the three or four I’ve missed. It was just so good.

The elements are all here: characters, plot, pacing, setting. As cliché as some of the characters may be in theory, they really aren’t that in Koryta’s hands — the 13 year-old murder witness, the scarred (emotionally and physically) hero firefighter, the survival expert being pushed beyond his limits, the hapless federal Marshall, the troubled teens on the wilderness survival course, the pair of killers who are possibly creepier and deadlier than Breaking Bad‘s Salamanca Cousins. All of these are drawn sensitively and realistically.

The first couple of chapters were enough to keep you reading, but that’s about it — set up the story, establish the main characters, typical stuff. But it takes almost no time at all to go from that to shut-off-the-phone/ignore-the-wife-and-kids exciting. Gritty, fast-paced, visceral, with a strong sense of character and realism. Exactly what you want in this kind of book.

I don’t know if this particular bit of Montana actually exists — but Koryta gives you a strong enough sense of place that it might as well. From the Serbins’ home, to the trail the teens travel, to Hannah’s look out tower, to the mountain the bulk of the action takes place on, I feel like I could hop in the car, drive a few hours and be right there in the midst of them. Not now, during fire season, obviously — don’t need that level of realism.

Koryta has so many opportunities to drown us in details about the backstory of the characters — which is not to say that he doesn’t give us enough to get to know these people. But most authors would’ve given us a lot more about the history of everyone — particularly Ethan and Allison. He hints at things, the characters are still acting in response to what’s gone on before these events, but we’re only told a bit more than we need to know. His restraint is commendable, and only adds to the immediacy of the action and the pace.

From the point where Koryta kicks things into high gear to the gut-wrenching climax, this is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that delivers exactly what it promises — action, suspense, and as much entertainment as you can squeeze into just under 400 pages. How good was it? Just writing this up has whet my appetite for a re-read.


4 Stars

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

The Rise & Fall of Great PowersThe Rise & Fall of Great Powers

by Tom Rachman

Hardcover, 384 pg.
The Dial Press, 2014
Read: July 15 – 19, 2014

He raised his menu.
She consulted hers. “You don’t like sweet-and-sour, do you.”
“No,” he confirmed. “I want food that can make up its mind.”

I had a real difficult time connecting to the people, the story, this book — but early on, I came upon this exchange between a man and a young girl — Tooly, the protagonist. That was enough to keep me going — that, and Rachman’s previous work, The Imperfectionists.

There are three storylines running through most of this book — Tooly in 1988, Tooly in 1999, and Tooly in 2011. We see her as a child, still growing up; we see her all grown, but still figuring out her place in the world; and then as an established adult who’s made a place in the world — but she’s still expecting/looking for the same one she tried to find in ’99.

I spent most of the novel not really sure where any of these stories were going — maybe 2/3 of it. It didn’t take me too terribly long to come to the conclusion I wouldn’t be sure for awhile, so I decided to just enjoy the ride. Which was so easy to do — Tooly spent her life surrounded by a great menagerie of people — Paul, a traveling computer technician working for various U.S. embassies in the 80s; Venn, a very charming con man; Humphrey, a Russian ex-pat and armchair intellectual; Fogg, a small-town bookseller; Sarah, a — I don’t know how to describe her, a histrionic woman with a short attention span (I guess, you eventually learn a lot more); a lout of a lawyer (whose name escapes me at the moment), who really isn’t that much of a lout; and others. It doesn’t matter what they’re talking about, you want to hear them talk, you want to see the interactions between these people and each other, or these people and Tooly. The actual plot seems secondary as long as you get bits of conversation like this (like the above quotation, this is from 1988’s story):

“I know exactly what you’re like,” Sarah affirmed.
After a long pause, Tooly responded, “What are you like?”
“Me? Well, I like bread with strawberry jam and believe raspberry jam ruins everything. I think those who joke around with such matters are barbarians. And I’m right about everything. Except in the morning, when I’m wrong.”

Each chapter moves the various stories along, bit by bit — and you get one or two strange encounters between Tooly and the other characters, you hear some strange theory about the way the world works, or how someone decides to do something, or some scheme to make sense of it all — and I can’t describe it for you better than that — just give it a read.

Eventually, Rachman decides to let you see the pattern he’s stitching — and then it all comes together, each piece falling into place and while there was no way to see all of it coming, it all feels like it fits. Not a “ohh, sure, I should’ve guessed that;” but “well, naturally — there was really no other way for that to work, was there?”

For Fogg, Humphrey, and Tooly (and most of the other characters to some extent) books are a vital part of their existence — or at least their way of thinking. They’re how they connect to the world, to people, to their experience. The various ways the characters interact with, describe, and use books are just fascinating and are right up my alley. Just for exposure to the various things this novel says about books, it’s worth slogging through all the “what’s going on?” of this read.

For example — shortly after young Tooly first meets Humphrey, she asks to see his books (he always has stacks by him, but they keep changing, so she knows he has a stash somewhere). He takes her to a closet bursting with books.

“Books,” he said, “are like mushrooms. They grow when you are not looking. Books increase by rule of compound interest: one interest leads to another interest, and this compounds into third. Next, you have so much interest there is no space in closet.”
“At my house, we put clothes in the closets.”
He sneered at this misapplication of furniture. “But where you keep literature?”

That compound interest line is a great one, isn’t it?

The Rise & Fall of Great Power is a lovely little book I can’t really talk about without over explaining. Filled with great characters; plausible, yet implausible events: an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quotable lines; interesting philosophies; stacks of books; and a dash of hope mixed a hint of existential despair. More than worth your time.


4 1/2 Stars