Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: The Somnambulist's Dreams

The Somnambulist's Dreams The Somnambulist's Dreams by Lars Boye Jerlach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lighthouse keeper finds the deranged writings of his predecessor, of dreams spanning time and space...

I never would have picked this up if my wife hadn't commandeered the kindle to read Anne of Green Gables. On that fateful day, Lars Boye Jerlach happened to email me, asking if I was interested in reading print copies of his books. Needless to say, I took the plunge.

The Somnabulist's Dreams is a tough animal to pin down. It reminded me of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a bit, even before Toru was mentioned. Enoch Soule's tales feel like fever dreams, strange vignettes featuring talking ravens, Edgar Allan Poe, Sigourney Weaver, David Bowie, and probably a lot of historical figures I didn't recognize.

One minor quibble: David Bowie does not have eyes that are different colors. One has a pupil that is permanently dilated due to an injury he suffered in a brawl.

The Somnambulist's Dreams could be interpreted as the fracturing reality of a man suffering from loss and loneliness. It could also be about the nature of reality and existence. I was pretty sure who the narrator would wind up being when I started but that didn't impede my enjoyment of the tale one iota. I wolfed it down in a quiet afternoon.

The Somnabulist's Dreams is an odd, quirky, enjoyable little book with no clear cut answers, one that can't be shoved into any particular genre. I'm looking forward to cracking Lars' other book, When all the days have gone, once I've had a little more time to digest this one. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Review: Beyond Barlow

Beyond Barlow Beyond Barlow by Jason R. Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After an unfortunate accident, young Ford Barlow goes on the lam and joins a group of young bandits, the Wayward Boys. Will Ford ever leave his new life behind and go home to Barlow to meet his fate?

I have to say I didn't go in it without a bias. J-to-the-K and I are so tight we're partners in a fictional detective agency ("Book Bros Unite!"). The year was 2016 when Jason Koivu first told me about this book at the Goodreads Summit. The mighty Bill Kerwin was also there. "Huckberry Finn meets Lord of the Rings" was how he described it. He eventually sent me a copy and then I lost it during a remodel. I unearthed it last week and here we are.

The prose was denser than I expected, possibly because it's been a LONG time since I read any straight up fantasy. I got used to it, though, and was soon drawn into Ford's plight. Stuck with an angry stepmother, Ford returns from his first battle only to find tragedy has struck. Then tragedy strikes a second time and Ford's off in the wind. People who follow Jason on social media will be happy to know the Koivu wit is present, although not so much that it detracts from the more serious moments.

The Wayward Boys reminded me of Peter Pan's Lost Boys with some Lord of the Flies thrown in. It's all fun and games, robbing people and sleeping rough, until it isn't. Big Jay said it was a prequel to the tale he really wanted to write and I'm guessing Ford will factor heavily into that one. This story is part fantasy, part coming-of-age tale.

That's about all I have to say. Beyond Barlow shows that good fantasy doesn't have to be all dragons, elves, and doorstop-sized volumes that don't go anywhere. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review: The Infinite Blacktop

The Infinite Blacktop The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who tried to kill Claire DeWitt in a hit and run? That's what Claire wants to find out but will there be anything left of her when she finds her would-be killer?

A funny thing happened a few days ago. I was driving to work, pondering when/if a new Claire DeWitt book would be coming out, only to find there was a Goodreads giveaway for the newest one AND it was up on Netgalley. Naturally, I was all over it.

Fresh from the events of Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Claire DeWitt goes through the meat grinder yet again, subsisting on stolen drugs, grit, and shear stubbornness to find the man who tried to kill her. Claire is still Claire, the drug-doing, alcohol-drinking, ass-kicking, lying, detecting machine she's always been. She's a glorious melding of old-school locked room cozy detective heroines with the damaged goods detectives of noir fiction. The Infinite Blacktop is another one of her grand, quirky, funny, broken cases.

The book is told in three threads: one with Claire and her two teenage detective friends, Kelly and Tracy, one with Claire trying to earn her PI license while piecing together the events surrounding an artist's death, and the final one, Claire's search for the man who tried to run her down. Each thread is pretty bad ass and does a great job illustrating the journey of Claire DeWitt.

The artist thread was narrowly my favorite, showing how Claire got her IP license but also showing some vulnerability from her that she doesn't show anymore. The present day thread, with Claire barely hanging on, was nearly as interesting as the artist thread but I just wanted someone to tell Claire to slow down and maybe sleep for ten hours. Although, the world's greatest detective never slows down when she's on a case...

This book answers a lot of lingering questions from the two previous books, namely what happened to Tracy, why hasn't anyone else ever read the Cynthia Silverton books, and who left the copy of Detection, Silette's book, in the unused wing of the DeWitt home all those years ago. It was pretty satisfying conclusion to the previous two books, although I hope it isn't the last we've seen of Claire DeWitt.

I don't really know what else to say without spoiling things. Claire's Dirk Gently approach to detection is as great as it ever was. Much like the previous two books, this one was a darkly humorous, quirky, gritty train wreck.

As per the last two books, Claire just barely holds everything together while searching for her quarry, going on an odyssey of substance abuse and self-discovery while proving why she is the best detective in the world. I fucking loved it. If this is the last Claire DeWitt book, it's a hell of a high note to go out on. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: The Whole World

The Whole World The Whole World by Emily Winslow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Polly and Liv are Americans studying abroad in Cambridge. When Nick, a friend of theirs, goes missing, The Whole World turns upside down. Is Nick still alive? And does his disappearance have to do with what happened between him and the girls? That's what Morris Keene and Chloe Frohmann mean to find out!

Yeah, I fudged the teaser a little bit. That's the book I was imagining when I picked this up. Look For Her was part of one of my Pagehabit boxes and I liked it quite a bit. While I liked this one, it was not the same kind of book.

The Whole World is a character study in four parts that happens to feature a mysterious disappearance. Polly, Liv, and Nick are all working on a project, sorting a blind woman's photos, when Nick disappears after some romantic misunderstandings with Polly and Liv. The story is told in four points of view: first Polly's, then Nick's, then Morris', and finally Liv's. Each tale reveals more of Nick's disappearance and the events surrounding it.

Now that I write it out, I liked the structure of the book quite a bit. Instead of being linear, the narrative curves back in on itself quite a bit. Honestly, there's not a lot of sleuthing to be done. Nick's fate is revealed early and the shit doesn't really hit the fan until late in the book.

I understand now why Emily Winslow doesn't call this a series, precisely. While Morris and Chloe are characters in this book, they are secondary to Liv, Polly, and Nick. While the story wasn't what I expected, the book was very well written. I'm a little on the fence about reading the second and third book, although I'm interested in what happens to Morris' marriage and daughter and Chloe's future.

The Whole World wasn't what I expected but I still enjoyed it. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: The Upper Hand

The Upper Hand The Upper Hand by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When their mother dies and leaves everything to a televangelist, Axel, Kurt, and Gretchen Ucker are left out in the cold. A long lost aunt, Mother Ucker, shows up and introduces them to their long dead father's family, a family of con artists and thieves. The Uckers soon set their sights on Reverend Floom, the man their mother left everything to...

Even though I'm getting to the point where I refuse almost every ARC, I got this from Netgalley after Johnny Shaw hit me up. Totally worth it.

The Upper Hand is a hilarious tale about what it means to be a family, even if that family is entirely criminals. When the story begins, the Ucker kids aren't really talking to each other. Kurt still lives at home and wants to be a rock star. Axel just broke up with his girlfriend and lives in a house he can't afford, one that she talked him into buying. Gretchen is a burglar specializing in rare comics. When their mother dies, they are forced together out of necessity.

There's a lot going on in this. The dialogue is trademark Johnny Shaw: hilarious, Joe Lansdale by way of southern California. Much like Lansdale, I would have highlighted half of the book if I was keeping track of all the funny lines.

I really liked how the Uckers were brought into the fold and taught the family business by Mother Ucker and Fritzy, although we all knew how things would eventually go down. The Uckers run a few cons, both as a group and individually, crime bringing them together and eventually break them apart. And together again. It's like The Sting, only hilarious.

While I didn't like it as much as the Jimmy Veeder fiascos, The Upper Hand was hilarious and at least as good as Big Maria. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Review: What You Want To See

What You Want To See What You Want To See by Kristen Lepionka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Roxane Weary takes on a case, trailing a woman to see if she's cheating on her much older fiance, things take a turn when the woman she's following gets murdered. Who killed Marin Strasser? Was it the fiance, like everyone things? That's what Roxane wants to know...

I loved the first Roxane Weary book, The Last Place You Look, so this one was a no brainer.

What You Want to See is a murder mystery with a lot of other stuff muddying the waters. It sure as hell looks like the fiance did it. But what the hell is going on at that print shop? And what's with the former employee, Leila? And Marin's son, Nate?

Roxane has her shit together a little more than in the last book but still makes a dog's breakfast of the case, running afoul of the cops and other bad elements. She's still conflicted over her feelings for Tom and her feeling for Catherine but not disastrously so like in the last book.

Kristen Lepionka wove another great tale here. I thought I knew who killed Marin a couple different times but she pulled the rug out from under me, a great feature in a mystery. It would have been easy for Roxane to coast into this book relatively unscathed after the last book but she's clearly changed. I loved that she's become sort of a mother figure to Shelby and is trying to stay out of Tom's life while still having feelings for him. The way she handled Catherine in this book was a step in the right direction after the way she handled things in the last one.

What You Want to See was a great sophomore effort from Kristen Lepionka. Her Ohio setting is almost a character unto itself and Roxane is well on her way to being one of my favorite sleuths. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review: The Dry

The Dry The Dry by Jane Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty years ago, Aaron Falk and his father left town after a girl was found dead and Aaron was a suspect. Now, Aaron returns to his old home for his best friend's funeral, an apparent murder-suicide. When the deceased's parents ask him to look into it, Aaron opens a lot of old wounds...

This is one of those hyped books I ignored until I was able to pick it up on the cheap. In this case, I should have believed the hype.

The Dry takes place in an Australian town during a never-ending drought. Aaron, now an accounts investigator, returns home to find some things never change. Did his best friend really murder his family and then himself? Did he murder Aaron's would-be girlfriend decades before? The two mysteries curl around one another like a couple amorous pythons.

The setting, a small isolated town where everyone is balls deep in everyone else's business, is one of the things that sets this apart from a lot of other thrillers. It's hard to investigate a crime when everyone already thinks they know who the murderer is.

The supporting cast also did a lot for me. Raco, the small town cop, proved to have a lot more depth than I thought, as did Gretchen. Old man Deacon and his nephew were total douche canoes but you could see where they were coming from, even if they weren't in the least bit sympathetic.

Aaron chewing on the two cases at once, delving into his own past as he tried to discover the truth behind Luke's murder, was like putting together two puzzles at the same time.

All that being said, I probably would have given it a 4 until the "Oh Fuck" moment when the killer was revealed. I've read hundreds of thrillers and detective novels and I consider myself a pretty good armchair sleuth. The killer was revealed and I felt like Jane Harper lured me onto a stage to give me some kind of award and then depantsed me in front of hundreds of people. That's how hoodwinked I felt at that very moment.

The Dry is a fantastic debut novel from an author I can't wait to read more from. Five out of five stars.

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