Monday, July 28, 2014

A Great New Protagonist from the Creator of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of Five Stars

MWD Maggie T415 is an eighty-five pound black and tan German shepherd; she's also a Marine halfway through her second deployment in Afghanistan. With her handler, Pete Gibbs, she works as part of a patrol and explosives detection team. The two are devoted to each other and then one morning, while out on patrol, Maggie is sniffing out IEDs, when the unit comes under enemy fire. Pete is killed; Maggie is badly wounded and when they are choppered out together, Maggie is left with no one.

Scott James is a patrolman on the LAPD. Late one night out of nowhere, he and his partner, Stephanie Anders, suddenly find themselves in the middle of a shooting war when a gang of masked men attacks a Bentley rolling down the street in front of them. Two victims in the Bentley are killed as is Stephanie Anders. Scott James is very badly wounded and the killers get away clean.

Ten months later, Scott is back on the job, if only barely. He's in therapy, attempting to deal with the trauma that still haunts him and hoping to recover memories of that night, no matter how small, that might somehow jumpstart the investigation and lead to the men who killed his partner.

Scott's goal in the LAPD had always been to join the elite SWAT team, but there's no chance of that now. Instead, he's assigned to the K-9 unit. After an initial training period, he'll be paired with a dog. His new "partner" is still to be determined, but while in training he bonds with Maggie who has now mostly recovered from her physical wounds and is being retrained to work as a police dog.

Both Scott and Maggie still bear the scars, physical and mental, of their traumatic experiences. The sergeant who leads the training unit doesn't have much faith either man or beast, but reluctantly agrees to give them a couple of weeks to prove themselves.

In the meantime, Scott has managed to insert himself into the ongoing investigation of the crime that took his first partner's life. In therapy, he remembers a small but vital clue that reinvigorates the investigation and from that point the story progresses as we watch the progress of the investigation and the developing relationship between Maggie and Scott.

It's a terrific story, which will come as no surprise to people who have read earlier books by Robert Crais. But what is astounding is the development of Maggie, who becomes perhaps the book's central character. Certainly, she's the most intriguing character and at several points, the story unfolds from her point of view. It sounds sappy, but Crais makes it work brilliantly.

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one of those dopey books where dogs and cats think like human beings and are almost always smarter than most of the humans in the book. Maggie thinks like a dog, and she's totally believable; her role in the story requires not the slightest suspension of disbelief. She's one of the most unique and interesting characters to come along in crime fiction in a long time, and we can only hope that this won't be the last time we see her.

Rough Country For Anyone

No Country for Old MenNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wanting to give up...
Refusing to give up...
Not knowing the meaning of giving up.

When drugs and money come to a small Texas town, sheriff-about-to-retire trope Ed Tom Bell is tasked with solving a deal gone murderously wrong. This is indeed No Country for Old Men.

A psychopath of a hitman, Anton Chigurh (that last name being pronounced cheekily similar to "sugar,") is making Bell's last days as sheriff a living hell. Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss isn't making things any easier. Moss happened upon the drug deal aftermath, grabbed the loot and dashed. Chigurh's been on his heels ever since. That leaves Bell trailing along behind them, picking up clues and wondering what in the heck they all mean.

I found myself actually pulling for all three men, yes, even the psycho killer and that scared the crap out of me. He was such a good "bad guy" that I didn't want to see him die. There are a multitude of colorful and carefully crafted characters herein, some as thorny as the landscape. How do I know the landscape is thorny? Cormac McCarthy made me feel it.

The book is set in 1980. Thankfully, McCarthy doesn't overplay it with product placement...Oh look at me in my Lee jeans and pornstar mustache drinking from a glass bottle of Coke while sitting on the hood of my '76 Camaro....He uses period-appropriate props only when they are necessary.

The plot is tight when it needs to be and breathes when it can. The action fluctuates from relaxed to tense and back again. Not-completely-necessary-but-still-enjoyable story asides (that you won't find in the movie) often contain pearls of homespun wisdom like "Every step you take is forever. You can't make it go away. None of it."

I saw the movie version of this awhile back and, although the book and movie are very similar, this was still an exciting read for me. McCarthy's austere style may not set well with all readers - he doesn't fuck around with flowery words much - however, the spartan prose marches soldierly ahead, pressing the story on, delivering to the reader a tale victoriously told.

Is Ain't My Little Pony

The Red PonyThe Red Pony by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story about a pretty, pretty precious pony? Hurray! This is going to be giggly joyous laughy-good pony time!...What? It's written by John Steinbeck? Fuck. Sorry, pony, either you and/or everyone you love is going to end up dead.

Yes, these are tales of living on a ranch in the early days (well, early-ish) of California. But underneath, they are more of the same Steinbeck: the vignettes of the hardscrabble life of immigrant farmers.

Specifically it's 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, such as seen in Tortilla Flat. The people are established. This is their land. It feels as if it's always been theirs, but there were others before them...ghosts now.

The Red Pony follows a boy, Jody, who is coming of age and given the responsibility of raising his own horse. Steinbeck captures well the emotions and perspective of a child feeling his way in a world that is changing for him, new understandings that come at young folks daily like minor revelations. Will he cope?

Thought I'd give this a read, what with my interest in animals being piqued by Goodreads' recent ads for All Creatures Great and Small. The Red Pony reads like a collection of related short stories. It definitely doesn't feel like a complete novel with a plot, climax and satisfying finish. There's just theme, like viewing a photo album. That can be enjoyable too, after all, every picture tells a story, don't it?

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Martian

Andy Weir
Crown 2014

Reviewed by Carol

★    ★    ★    ★    

Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but I’m not dead, so it’s a win.

 Mark Watney’s wry evaluation is essentially the summation of his attempts to survive on Mars. After a devastating and unexpected Martian hurricane-force storm wrecks havoc on the Martian crew, NASA calls for an ‘abort mission.’ As Mark is heading to the vehicle that will provide escape from Mars and return the crew to earth, he’s impaled by flying debris, loses consciousness and is presumed dead as the object impaled his suit bio-computer. Ironically, his injury was caused by a piece of antenna that would have enabled him to let his team–or Earth–know he was still alive. What follows is Mark’s log entry of his strategies to survive on Mars and signal Earth that he is still alive. 

I tend to avoid most ‘serious’ Hollywood movies because the emotional manipulation is so overt. For similar reasons, I was hesitant to pick up The Martian. A man abandoned on Mars? Cue scenes of astronaut training, sobbing family, distance camera shots of the Earth marble from Mars. But Weir did something interesting, and instead of heading for the maudlin center of a man’s isolation, he focused on the technical problem-solving by an intelligent, clever engineer with a juvenile sense of humor.
I was pleased to find that The Martian worked for me, despite a few story-telling bumps. The overall structure has a couple of rocky (get it?) moments, with jumps in time and place.  Although the primary story is taken from Mark’s mission logs, there are scenes centered on NASA as well as Mark’s crew members. One flashback of the crew felt particularly misplaced, but will undoubtedly fit right into the movie version. In terms of language, Mark’s voice is colloquial, and even when he’s talking science and engineering, his problem-solving relatively understandable for the reader. Mark’s skills and necessary solutions draw upon experience in botany, Morse code, computers, plumbing, chemistry, balancing loads, ramp-building–there’s likely something here most people can relate to:

Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated), if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside anymore.

There’s even some science humor sprinkled in among the poop jokes:

All my brilliant plans foiled by thermodynamics. Damn you, Entropy.

What really sold me was Mark’s humor, as well as the focus on survival in an unusual environment. There’s a running joke regarding his attempts to entertain himself, only somewhat relieved after rooting through his crewmates’ possessions and discovering data discs filled with 70s memorabilia. Another ongoing gag centers on being the only human on Mars. Instead of despairing, Mark cracks jokes. It felt believable, an almost required personality trait for one of those daredevils we call ‘astronauts,’ and a very adaptive way of coping in small group situations. For some, the lack of overt emotional exploration might disappoint, but it worked well both to off-set the technical aspects, and to avoid the trope-ridden isolation angst. He does let a couple of moments of isolation and frustration shine through, more moving because of how rare they are.

It’s a solid four stars, and clearly headed towards movie status. An enjoyable, quick read instead of the emotional existential tear-jerker I was expecting, with a positive message about humanity.  However, when the movie version is finally made, I won’t need to see it–I’ve already seen Castaway and The Terminal. Adding Apollo 13 is unnecessary.

cross posted at carol's blog at

Friday, July 25, 2014

One Last Lie

Rob Kaufman
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Her name is Angela – beautiful and charismatic, she’s every man’s dream and every woman’s envy. But she wasn’t always like this and the secrets of her scarred past cling to her like a poisonous leech. Her beguilement has become the perfect disguise, hiding her silent rage and compulsive determination to get whatever she wants no matter who gets hurt, or killed, along the way.

And now she’s about to wreak havoc in the lives of her old college friend Philip and his life partner Jonathan, a loving couple whose most fervent dream of having a child has consistently eluded them. With a masterful performance, she convinces them that she’s not the person she once was and the three should have a child together through artificial insemination.

The agreement is made and from that moment on, Philip and Jonathan’s idyllic life begins to unravel. Like Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction and Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) in Basic Instinct, Angela’s mask of deceit gradually disintegrates as her psychological demons claw to the surface, leaving Philip and Jonathan regretting the day they ever allowed her into their lives.

Filled with psychological suspense and pervasive foreboding, this page-turning thriller brings readers on a relentless rollercoaster ride, evoking emotional upheaval that remains long after this novel’s final word. Told from an elderly Jonathan’s hospital bed, the story quickly unfolds into a tale of legal, medical and psychological twists that turn into heartbreak, deception and ultimately murder.

One Last Lie is a timely and tension-filled novel with an ending that shocks even the most observant of readers.

My Review

Shortly after my 23rd birthday, a gay male friend asked me to marry him. We worked closely together for two years, our cubes separated by one flimsy wall. Our friendship started tentatively, gradually progressing from occasional lunches to spending quite a bit of time together outside of work. I learned he was deeply closeted and only out to me and one other gay man at work. Not even his parents knew. I also learned that despite being gay, his politics were very conservative. A few times he asked me to attend various Republican events with him as he was eventually planning to run for local office and didn’t want to be seen without a companion. So I put on my nice dress, smiled and shook hands, and tried to be a supportive friend.

Right after one of those events, he popped the question. I thought he was joking, but the intense gaze and firm set of his jaw said otherwise. I dared not laugh or tell him no, and instead asked for a few days to think about it. After thinking about it, getting married didn’t sound like such a bad idea. My friend made decent money and lived in a small house in a good neighborhood. I lived in a dumpy third-floor apartment in a bad neighborhood and my car was always in the repair shop. If we lived together, my quality of life would improve dramatically. The only thing required of me would be to attend more of those foolish Republican events and occasionally entertain other fledgling politicians. Of course, we could both date whomever we wanted, as long as we didn’t bring them home. He also promised that I could bank my salary since his was sufficient to take care of our necessities.

Lavender marriages have happened all throughout history. Could we make it work and live our independent lives? We were good friends, despite our political differences. What could possibly go wrong?

After thinking about it, I decided against marriage. Friends are not always forever. Over time, people’s needs and desires change. Good intentions could go horribly wrong. Promises are made that could easily be broken. Suddenly, that good friend becomes an enemy.

Reading One Last Lie reminds me that there are certain things you should never do with a close friend. Getting married is one. Having a baby is another.

If only Phil had listened to Jonathan…

I loved the chapters with old Jonathan. The decline of his advancing age, his lack of control and independence, and the sorrow permeating his entire being were heartrendingly authentic and his tale told masterfully.

“The old man was dying, and the worst part was, he knew it.
He could feel it in his brittle bones, popping and cracking with every move. He tasted it in his mouth – the bitter phlegm sitting on his tongue. He could even see it through the viscous film caught between his quivering eyelids.
But the telltale sign of approaching death was the feeling of surrender that had crept into his aching body – complete resignation to his current existence and to the life he’d led. The fight was just about gone.”

Flashback to when Jonathan and Phil were younger and ready to start a family. When Phil’s bout with testicular cancer and subsequent radiation treatments rendered him sterile, they looked to Phil’s old friend Angie who drops in their lives out of the blue after 15 years. Angie has successfully battled obesity, but her depression, rage and unpredictable moods are troublesome to everyone she comes in contact with.

It seems Jonathan has some problems of his own, an “irritated state of being”, according to his therapist. Things like a messy kitchen or nagging doubts and suspicion about Phil’s old friend disturb Jonathan’s neurotic sense of order.

Then there was Angie’s boyfriend, who also had trouble controlling his temper even with Zoloft and Clozapine.

My feelings about this story were all over the place. I couldn’t wait to get back to the old Jonathan, to feel his pain and share his grief. I was so close to having a good cry, when there were more flashbacks and eye-rolling moments with an over-the-top villainess, an idiot of a boyfriend who failed to see the most obvious warning signs, who dismissed Jonathan’s legitimate fears and concerns, and who disregarded the seriousness of mental illness by making ignorant and misogynistic comments like, “…first of all, she’s pregnant. We already know women are crazy before they get pregnant, and now the hormones are going haywire."

I liked the pace of the story, but found the clues heavy-handed, making the story very predictable. It would have been a lot better had the serious issues been explored more sensitively and the secondary characters were not so one-dimensional.

This is Rob Kaufman’s second novel, and he promises “this is only the beginning”. He is an extremely talented writer adept at twisty, psychological suspense. I know his next book will be even better and I’m looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

That Which Does Not Break Us

The Wake of Forgiveness
by Bruce Machart
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Reviewed by Amanda
4 Out of 5 Stars

This was an impulse buy at Barnes and Noble. I ignored the book at first in favor of looking at the books around it, but then I caught the words “Tim O’Brien” during a cursory glance at a book blurb on the cover. One of my rules in life is to pick up anything with Tim O’Brien’s name on it and buy it immediately, no questions asked. To date, this rule has served me well and The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart is no exception.

Set in Texas at the dawn of the 20th century, the novel focuses on the Skala family, which consists of an immigrant father and his four motherless sons. Vaclav’s wife, Klara, dies while giving birth to their fourth son, Karel, and the book focuses on the physical and emotional marks these men carry as a result of her death. Despite her early death, the shadow of Klara haunts every page. In a cruel and unforgiving landscape, Klara would have served as the buffer between the physical and emotional demands of pioneer life, between the immigrant and his new homeland, between father and son, and between the sons themselves. Without her, these men throw themselves against each other, against the landscape, and against life itself with a brutal tenacity that can only be born of intense pain and loss.

After the loss of his wife, Vaclav Skala, an ascetic man by nature, becomes even harder and more unforgiving in his dealings with the world. To spare his fine racing horses the detrimental effects of fieldwork, he instead hitches his four sons to the plow. Their time in the harness has left the boys with a peculiar deformity: they all have twisted necks that symbolize their skewed view of the world inflicted upon them by their father. Of all the boys, none are as warped as Karel. Having never known his mother and carrying the burden of guilt for her death, Karel is nonetheless Vaclav’s pride as Karel is a gifted horseback rider whose skills have won his father many a high-stakes gamble. As the novel goes on, the narrative moves back and forth between the story of Karel as a young boy and Karel as a grown man, now alienated from his brothers. The circumstances leading to the severing of the connection with his siblings are revealed as the book goes on and heighten the suspense as the novel moves toward its satisfying resolution.

Machart has created a tragedy that is epic in scope and is often reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s best work (in particular, All the Pretty Horses comes to mind). The language is poetic and so frequently captures the heart of the moment or the quality of the landscape with such a perfect turn of phrase that I often went back and re-read certain lines just to savor them. Another point in Machart’s favor is that his characters are complex and never watered-down; these are hard, often cruel men, but that doesn’t mean they are completely devoid of kindness, poeticism, or intelligence. They are victims of a lifestyle and a landscape that naturally cripples the finest points of humanity to ensure survival in a merciless environment. That any of the characters retain even a shred of their capacity for forgiveness is the ultimate triumph.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Coal Black HorseCoal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”He let float in the dark air his free hand and then raised it up and reached to the sky where his fingers enfolded a flickering red star. The star was warm in his hand and beat with the pulse of a frog or a songbird held in your palm. He caressed the star and let it ride in his palm and then he carried the star to his mouth where it tasted liked sugar before he swallowed it.”

Robey Childs’s mother had a dream that Stonewall Jackson had died. In her mind, if Jackson was dead, then the war was over. It was time for her husband to come home. She decides that the only course of action is for her fourteen year old son to go find his father and bring him back to the farm. It is a herculean task for a grown man, but for a fourteen year old boy it has the makings of a suicide mission. Like Joseph, she makes him a coat of many colors...well...two colors. One side is butternut gray and the other is Union blue. Her intentions were the best and there is a natural logic that she has made her son safer with the ability to blend with one side or the other.

Or they could think he was a spy.

Old Man Morphew runs the local mercantile establishment and when Robey wandered into town barely beginning his quest and already exhausted and hungry he offers him food, advice, a pair of pistols, and most importantly the use of...the Coal Black Horse.

It is the type of horse, standing 16 hands, with a fire in his eye and quivering raw energy that makes a man out of a mouse...if he can stay on him. A horse like that might increase a boy’s chances from none to slim.

Robey has to learn fast and lessons are handed out with hard falls and pride knuckling helplessness. He meets a man dressed as a woman, a preacher with the devil riding both his shoulders, and two scavengers that snip dead soldiers fingers for their rings and pry gold teeth from their mouths. He experiences the kindness of a pregnant woman burying soldiers as best she can, a Union Major who has the wherewithal to understand he isn’t a spy, and most importantly he meets a waif of a girl named Rachel.

Every time he has something go wrong he has just enough go right to keep himself afloat.

He has more than a passing acquaintance with hunger.

”When the coffee was boiled he poured half a cup into the drippings and could not wait, but was so hungry he burned his fingers and mouth. He slid the cake off the hoe into the gravy and ate the slurry with his fingers. He scraped the sides and the rapidly cooling bottom of the pan with the backs of his fingers and licked them clean and wiped at his mouth and then licked the back of his hand and then it was over. He knew enough to know he’d eaten like a ravenous dog and how disapproving his mother would be if she had witnessed such and how nice it would be to someday again not eat like that.”

The war finds him and etches scenes into the fabric of his memories that will scar and harden a young boy into an old man.

”War had even been made upon the cemetery and in places the ground looked as if plowed. The tombstones were broken into fragments and graves had been turned up by plunging shells. The monuments had been toppled to provide cover for a time and so they were pocked and scarred by the scrape of bullets. The bodies slumped behind the stones had absorbed the bullets made of pure, hollow, soft lead, arriving to kill at a thousand yards, fracturing and shattering bones, blasting tissue, and causing large gaping wounds that draped like cut mouths in the sun.”

Violence is a live thing like a virus that infects all who come near it. It leaves maggots in the hearts of the pure, crushes the weak, and makes the strong feeble.

”How to explain the way violence needs violence? Is that the explanation itself? Violence demands violence. This was not the pagan retribution: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This was the law before there was law. This was vengeance and a rebellion to law. How to explain the failure to understand this and the failure to not understand there are things that cannot be understood?”

He does find his father.

”Their lives were in balance and asking and considering this question they were stepping back from fear and hopelessness and emerging into prospect. They were a teaching father and a learning son, timeless in their existence, the father born into the son as is the grandfather and the father before him and all the way back to the first. The father’s life is foreclosed and the son’s life is continuing and as always, only the unknown privileging one state of being over the other.”

I read somewhere a long time ago that there are theories that all the experiences of all our ancestors are coded into our DNA. We carry not only their genes, but their lives in our bodies. When we reproduce we are not only preserving our own existence, but the existence of all our ancestors going back to the very beginning.

I believe this to be true.

This is a story of courage, of a boy who goes on a quest not because he wants to or that he expects to find glory or fame, but because his mamma asks him to. When we weigh and measure Robey, stacking up his assets and his deficits, he comes up short of even that $4.50 that supposedly the elements of the human bodies are worth. His character, though, is worth a million dollars and change. I’d ride the river with him whenever he needed me. Highly Recommended!!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Born in the U.S.S.R.

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I. Loved. This. Book.

I loved this book so much that I finished it more than a week ago and I am still mulling it over. How can I write a review of a memoir so funny and brilliant and insightful and emotional and just plain good? My review will never be able to explain everything I admired in Shteyngart's writing. I used more than 50 Post-it flags to mark great passages. How can I share all of that?

I loved this book so much that I have already begged several friends to read it. I pleaded and cajoled them. I emailed them quotes. I shared anecdotes. I even requested a library copy for one friend, and am sharing my personal copy with another. 

I loved this book so much that I have described it as the first legitimate 5-star book I've read this year. Sure, I've reread a few favorites that I gave five stars, and another one I marked up for personal reasons, but "Little Failure" is genuine. The Real Deal. The kind of book that I consider to be truly great, and one that will still be considered great years from now. 

I loved this book so much that I developed kind of a crush on the author. Poor, sweet little Gary. Gary, whose original name was Igor, was born in Russia and immigrated to America in 1979, the year he turned 7. Igor changed his name to Gary to cut down on beatings from other kids. Poor Gary had tough parents: his dad called him "snotty" because of his asthma and his mother nicknamed him "little failure." Give that boy a hug already!

I loved this book so much that I want to read all of Shteyngart's previous novels. Throughout the memoir, he mentions characters and plots in his stories that were based on his real-life experiences, and I'm excited to see the fictional versions. I also like it when good writers talk about their writing process, and I got to see little Gary grow from being a boy who wrote science fiction stories while his grandmother fed him a piece of cheese for every page he wrote, to a young man whose first novel, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook," so upset a middle-aged relative that he threw it on the floor and spit on it.

I loved this book so much that it me laugh, it made me teary-eyed, and it made me marvel at the beauty of his storytelling. Now I'm going to stop trying to convince you that it's great and just start sharing favorite quotes. In conclusion, GO READ THIS BOOK ALREADY.

"Coming to America after a childhood spent in the Soviet Union is equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor."

"The first momentous thing that happens to me in Kew Gardens, Queens, is that I fall in love with cereal boxes. We are too poor to afford toys at this point, but we do have to eat. Cereal is food, sort of. It tastes grainy, easy and light, with a hint of false fruitiness. It tastes the way America feels."

"In 1982, I decide that I can no longer be me. The name 'Gary' is a fig leaf, and what I really am is a fucking Red Gerbil, a Commie ... One day after one Commie comment too many, I tell my fellow pupils that I wasn't born in Russia at all. Yes, I just remembered it! It had all been a big misunderstanding! I was actually born in Berlin ... So here I am, trying to convince Jewish children in aHebrew school that I am actually a German. And can't these little bastards see that I love America more than anyone loves America? I am a ten-year-old Republican. I believe that taxes should only be levied on the poor, and the rest of Americans should be left alone. But how do I bridge that gap between being a Russian and being loved? I start to write."

"I write because there is nothing as joyful as writing, even when the writing is twisted and full of hate, the self-hate that makes writing not only possible but necessary. I hate myself, I hate the people around me, but what I crave is the fulfillment of some ideal."

"When I turn fourteen, I lose my Russian accent. I can, in theory, walk up to a girl and the words 'Oh, hi there" would not sound like Okht Hyzer, possibly the name of a Turkish politician. There are three things I want to do in my new incarnation: go to Florida, where I understand that our nation's best and brightest had built themselves a sandy, vice-filled paradise; have a girl tell me that she likes me in some way; and eat all my meals at McDonald's."

"The terrible thing about the major belief systems (Leninism, Christianity) is that too often they are constructed along the premise that a difficult past can be traded in for a better future, that all adversity leads to triumph, either through the installation of telegraph poles (Leninism) or at Jesus' knee after physical death (Christianity). But the past is not simply redeemable for a better future. Every moment I have ever experienced as a child is as important as every moment I am experiencing now, or will experience ever. I guess what I'm saying is that not everybody should have children."

"I think of my mother and father. Of their constant anxiety. But their anxiety means they still want to live. A year shy of forty, I feel my life entering its second half. I feel my life folding up. I sense the start of that great long leave-taking. I think of myself on the subway platform at Union Square. I am invisible, just a short obstacle others have to get around. Sometimes I wonder: Am I already gone? And then I think of my wife and I feel the whoosh of the number 6 train, the presence of others, the life still within me."


SpiderstalkSpiderstalk by D. Nathan Hilliard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his brother's family vanishes, leaving behind only a frantic phone message and a blurry photo of an immense spider, Adam Sellar hires a private detective to find them. He soon finds himself ensnared in a centuries old web of hate between two secret factions...

The cover and prologue made me think this was going to be a book about dog-sized spiders running people down and devouring them. It didn't turn out to be that kind of book at all but I still enjoyed it.

Spiderstalk is the story of two warring native American tribes, The Dog People and The Spider People, who both derive their power from neurotoxin in a particular species of spider's venom. The Dog People merely use the venom but the Spider People live in symbiosis with the giant spiders. Adam Sellars gets caught in the middle when his family takes a wrong turn and falls victim to one of the spiders.

The book this most reminded me of was The Furies, which I read earlier in 2014, although I liked this approach to the "secret beings fighting a secret war among us" much better.

The worldbuilding was top notch, as were the various factions within the Dog People and the Spider People. For a book that I originally thought was going to be a bunch of people killed by giant spiders, things were very intricately plotted regarding the spiders and the history surrounding them. Carbon nanotubes, bitch! Actually, the reason I thought prevented spiders from becoming super huge monsters, namely their book lungs, wasn't mentioned but I really liked that they had webbing and exoskeletons made of naturally occuring carbon nanotubes.

That being said, I thought some of the characters were a little thing and a lot of thriller cliches were present. There wasn't any gun porn, though, so that was a plus.

Spiderstalk was an entertaining thriller not without a lot of creepy bits. And free on the Kindle as well. If you're into spiders, you'll enjoy it quite a bit. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Dead Skip

Dead SkipDead Skip by Joe Gores
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When repo man Bart Heslip is found in a coma in a wrecked, repossessed Jaguar, his college, former cop Larry Ballard, can't shake the idea that someone staged the accident to cover something up. Armed with only his wits and Heslip's last two days worth of cases, Ballard goes up against a three day deadline to find a would-be killer.

I initially bought this because I knew it was a crossver with Richard Stark's The Plunder Squad. It proved to be a pretty read all on its own.

Dead Skip reads like an episode of The Wire if The Wire was about a bunch of private detectives working for Dan Kearny and Associates, a repo agency. Ballard runs all over San Fransciso and surrounding areas, running down any lead he can find, looking for the man who put Bart Heslip in a coma. Needless to say, it boils down to legwork and talking to people, not booze and broads.

The case was serpentine in its complexity and not easily solveable. The dead leads outnumbered the useful ones by 12 to 1. By the time Ballard finally got on the trail, I was as worn out as he was.

Kearny and Ballard were both fairly well drawn characters for a book of this type from the era when it was written. Kearny doggedly looking for his man reminded me of Matthew Scudder a bit. Kearny could have easily been a world-weary police chief in another life.

The crossover with Parker made me want to reread all the Richard Stark novels. Speaking of Stark, the writing reminded me of Ed McBain collaborating with Richard Stark, despite both of them being pseudonyms and not actual people.

Dead Skip was a fun read and not just because of the Parker crossover. I'll be looking for the subsequent DKA books. Four out of five stars.

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