Category Archives: Book Banter

Book Banter: Vallista

Vallista-FinalCover-740x1106Title: Vallista (Vlad Taltos #15)

Author: Steven Brust

Length: 334 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Jhereg assassin Vlad Taltos once again meets the strange little girl, Devera, who says she needs his help. Vlad finds himself in an impossible house that he can’t leave. The rooms loop back to nowhere and is mysteriously empty. When he does encounter another person, they have a tendency to disappear. If he can pin them down, he might have an opportunity to escape.

Banter Points: I’ve missed Vlad and Loiosh and their banter. There’s plenty of banter in this one, particularly as they deal with the looping house. Vlad’s got all his panache back as he talks with unhelpful suspects and tries to unravel the mystery. He’s got some great one-liners, particularly quotable bits he wants to make sure are attributed to him. He’s not missing his ego, for sure.

Bummer Points: The fault here isn’t Brust’s but mine since it’s been since 2015 that there was a new Vlad Taltos book and I don’t really remember all of what’s been going on. Once he’s done with this series, I really need to reread them all. Or maybe before then.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I think I liked the early parts of the series better, but I am still intrigued enough to want to see how Brust will tie it all together.

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Book Banter: Two Kinds of Truth

truthTitle: Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch #22)

Author: Michael Connelly

Length: 402 pages

Genre: mystery

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Harry Bosch is still working as a part-time detective for the San Fernando Police Department after LAPD forced him into retirement. But when two detectives — including his old partner Lucia Soto — come visit him, they bring bad news. A 30 year old case that sent a man to death row is being reopened for new DNA evidence that may show Bosch put the wrong man away. A Bosch works to prove his had the right guy, a double homicide in San Fernando sends him into the opioid crisis.

Banter Points: The plot is great. Connelly takes on current criminal problems like the opioid epidemic with Bosch’s usual care for the underdog. There are some appearances by other characters Bosch readers will know and that was kind of fun.

Bummer Points: I feel like Connelly is on auto-pilot for Bosch’s actual character. He didn’t really change during this story. Also, the books seem driven mostly by the procedural elements and not the people anymore. Maybe it’s the fault of all the CSI shows on TV, but sometimes the story gets bogged down in technical stuff.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Way better than his new series with Renee Ballard and probably still enjoyable for a long-time Bosch reader, but if you’re looking to jump in, go back to the beginning!

Book Banter: The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson

revieTitle: The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson

Author: Bryan Furuness

Length: 312 pages

Genre: fiction

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Revie Bryson’s mother has told him stories about Christ’s lost childhood episode, so much that he thinks he’s going to be the second coming of Christ himself. When divinity fails to appear, and Revie’s quirky family starts to fall apart, he finds himself caught up in his own episodes.

Banter and Bummer Points: So, depending on what day you ask me, I like this book or not. Furuness was an Emerging Author Finalist for the Indiana Authors Award this year. Without that, it’s probably unlikely that I would have ever picked this book up.

He draws compelling characters; I truly did want to know what happened to him. However, Revie often felt far older than he was in the story. In fact, one of the traumatic things in the plot (no spoilers), is because he’s about 12 and yet I kept reading him more like 16 or 17. His voice was more mature.

Also, the second coming of Jesus stuff if hilarious at the beginning but it kind of fails to follow through satisfactorily for me. Yes, it has consequences, but the back of the book makes it sound like that’s the only plot and the truth is, it’s really all about Revie and his family.

But the weird stuff that happens to this kid…it’s not abuse, but it would be hard for me to pick this book up and read it a second time.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like strange coming-of-age stories, then this one is a doozy. If you’d rather have a story where kids get to remain innocent a while longer, skip it.

Book Banter: An Unkindness of Magicians

magiciansTitle: An Unkindness of Magicians

Author: Kat Howard

Length: 354 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came from: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Among the Houses of the Unseen World, the Turning comes seven years too early, seeking to re-balance power among the Houses and give outsiders an opportunity to win a place. The great Houses have their own feuds (such as Ian Merlin hiring himself out to the be the champions for rival House Prospero). But bursting on to the scene is unknown magician Sydney, representing newcomer Laurent Beauchamps who hopes to secure a House. Her magic is powerful, but set on revenge.

Banter Points:  When I saw this book was blurbed by Neil Gaiman, I was fairly certain that meant I should read it, and right away. Everything about the concept — secret, dueling magicians in NYC — sounded like my kind of book.

And, Kat Howard delivered. Not only did she build a compelling world in the space of 350 pages, she brought to life great characters to boot. It’s a complex cast of a lot of people and she deftly handles them all and their foibles in her compact, smart, near-perfect work.

I’m not sure if Howard was going for “unkindness” as the name for a group (such as a herd of cows, galaxy of starfish or murder of crows), but if that’s what a group of magicians is called, she proved why.

Banter Points: Some of the plot becomes a bit predictable.

Word Nerd Recommendation: This is a great book. I wish there would be a sequel but it seems like this is going to be a standalone book. I suspect that “An Unkindness of Magicians” will make my top 10 for this year.

Book Banter: Bitter Blood

bitter bloodTitle: Bitter Blood (Morganville Vampires #13)

Author: Rachel Caine

Length: 404 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: After defeating the draug, the vampires of Morganville are taking the top spot again, despite promises to give humans more equality. When the humans are asked to carry identification, Claire and her friends take issue. As usual, Claire and co. get in way over their heads as they try to figure out what might be behind the vampires’ behavior.

Banter Points: I’ve been trying to finish this series for ever and I’m down to the last two after this one. The first six books are still the best, but of the recent ones, this one was really good, probably because it felt like a return to the beginning of the series. The humans v. the vampires was the main plot — no weird drugs, no strange enemies in the water-monster draug. Forcing the characters to figure out who they could trust, again, was a nice echo of the first few books.

This one also had interesting ideas about political resistance which felt a little too on point for today.

With two more books to go, I’ll be interested to see how Caine puts an end on the series.

Bummer Points: I started reading these books when the series launched in 2006. In the ensuing 11 years, I don’t have quite as much as patience for the YA side of these books, especially the romantic drama.

Also, there was a strange subplot with ghosts that was never fully explained and just bogged down the interesting part.

Word Nerd Recommendation: For an older teen reader, these are still a good choice.

Book Banter: The Late Show

lateshow The Late Show

Author: Michael Connelly

Genre: Mystery

Length: 405 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Detective Renee Ballard is stuck on the “late show,” the overnight shift for the Hollywood division of LAPD. She rarely gets to see cases through, just doing the initial legwork. But when terrible beating is followed by a mass shooting at a nightclub, Renee finds herself uniquely positioned on both cases.

Banter Points: This is Connelly’s first foray with a new detective that’s not Harry Bosch. The crimes are interesting and the twist is a nice one.

Bummer Points: Connelly should stick to Bosch, or maybe Mickey Halley. Renee Ballard isn’t a compelling character. While I have no problem with authors writing main characters that are the opposite gender from them, Connelly falls terribly short on writing a female cop. Yes, Renee has to be tough to fit in with the “guys” in the department. But in private moments, she’s just wooden and terrible. She should have emotions, or worries and she has none of them.

Also, without being too much of a spoiler, something happens to Renee that just feels cliched for a cop novel.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Unless you’re a die-hard Connelly fan, skip it.

Book Banter: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

who killedTitle: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (Shadow Police #3)

Author: Paul Cornell

Length: 358 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: The Shadow Police team are back and this time their victim is none other than London’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Or maybe just the idea of him. “Holmesmania” is stirred up in town because of three film project all featuring the famed detective. But after Holmes’ death, subsequent murders start mimicking his great cases. But the Shadow Police themselves are struggling after their last case and not functioning well as they try to get ahead of the Master Detective and make sense of the clues.

Banter Points: If you like convoluted mysteries, this one has a doozy. I can’t say much without spoilers, but keep your thinking cap on as you read because the twists are pretty mind-bending.

My friends and I have been playing a number of games based on the Lovecraftian Cthulthu mythos and in such our game characters are regularly going mad. Because of that, I think I appreciated more what Cornell was doing in this one of letting the toll of the supernatural horrors the team has seen really affect them, particularly their DI, James Quill. Still the series is building nicely on itself, ratcheting up the action and tension with each installment.

Bummer Points: Because it’s been a while since I’d read Shadow Police and had read the Pete Grant magical London books, I was getting the two systems mixed up. I think I was expecting Shadow Police to be like Peter Grant and that’s never going to be the case.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you want some dark urban fantasy, then the Shadow Police series is for you. Bordering on horror

Book Banter: Finding My Badass Self

findingTitle: Finding my Badass Self (ARC)

Author: Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

Length: 225 pages

Genre: humor/memoir

Plot Basics: Writer Sherry Stanfa-Stanley takes her readers through a year-long humorous journey of 52 new experiences — from a Brazillian wax to going ghost-hunting — as she decides that her 52nd year will be one of testing herself and saying “yes” to new opportunities.

Banter Points: Memoirs typically aren’t my thing, but Sherry’s book is laugh-out-loud funny and manages to also be insightful, a feat that I think is probably easier said than done. I met Sherry several years ago at the Midwest Writers Fellowship and since we weren’t in the same small workshop group, I didn’t really see her writing at that time. But when she announced her 52/52 Project on Facebook, I happily followed along.

I’d read many of her adventures in the book as she blogged about them on Facebook, but in the book, they were refined and even better. I made the mistake of reading about her bug-eating adventure as I was microwaving my lunch, felt my hands get sweaty too as she described the high-ropes course and decided from her adventures in a float tank, that that is an experience I can safely say is not from me because I learned from her.

If you need some inspiration to get out of the ruts in your life and try something, this is your guidebook.

Bummer Points: My TBR pile has been so stacked up lately, that I had to read Sherry’s book in big gulps, more like a novel. I think the wisdom would seep out more if a reader could read one of two of her adventures, put it down, and come back the next time they needed a laugh.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If your reading soul needs some chicken soup without the schmaltz, this is the book for you. Sherry really is funny and her willingness to be honestly self-deprecating is refreshing… because she finds the places she learns. Sure, she might get lost on a Segway in Italy, but she also triumphs and successfully figures out how to navigate herself back to safety. It’s the fact that she wins (mostly) that makes the book so rewarding to read.

 

Book Banter: Broken Harbor

Broken-HarborTitle: Broken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad #4)

Author: Tana French

Genre: mystery

Length: 450 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy has a brilliant solve-rate, always playing by the book (save for the fracas in “Faithful Place.”) He and his new young partner, Richie Curran, get the call about a brutal, apparent murder-suicide of two children and their parents in the town of Broken Harbor, a place that’s burned into Scorcher’s memory for past reasons. The case should have been open-and-shut, but as Scorcher and Richie look into it the case gets strange — a deleted computer records, weird holes in the walls of the victims’ house and Scorcher and Richie soon find the case isn’t what they thought.

Banter Points: Tana French delivers again. Each one of these books keeps delivering a great story, even though the formula is set now. I was telling a friend about these — how you know that the lead detective will do something career-ending through the investigation — but how compelling it is anyway.

Bummer Points: As much as I love these books, they are kind of emotionally exhausting. After I finished this one, I turned to my husband and said, “let’s watch something nice now” because I needed a palate-cleanser. Watching people make humungo mistakes (especially when that is one of my great fears in life) is hard. Cathartic because it was them and not me, but hard.

Word Nerd Recommendation: This series is great, but you might need some space in between each. Past books are reference, but you don’t have to read them in order to know what’s happening.

Book Banter — Afterlife

afterlifeTitle: Afterlife

Author: Marcus Sakey

Genre: suspense/sci-fi

Length: 320 pages

Where Bethany’s copy came from: ARC from NetGalley; releases on July 18.

Plot Basics: FBI agent Will Brody has found the woman of his dream, his boss, Claire McCoy. But they are caught up in a manhunt for a sniper who’s terrorizing Chicago. But when Will gets caught in a bomb blast, he wakes up, in an alternate Chicago, utterly alone. Or so he thinks, until he finds others in the echo. The manhunt spans life and death and not even that will stop Will from reuniting with Claire.

Banter Points: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While I tagged it as suspense/sci-fi, it’s really a love story (sort of like Passengers, in that regard). Yes, it’s set in a cop-plot with crazy, big worlds and elder gods, but ultimately, the story is about how far Will and Claire will go to be with each other.

Sakey mentioned in his afterward that he kicked this idea around for years. I’m glad he did. This plot in the hands of a younger writer — even a younger Sakey — would probably have come off as corny as heck. Sakey’s always had suspense chops, but in the last few years as evidenced in his Brilliance trilogy, he’s developed a finer emotional edge that makes a story like this work.

Bummer Points: Certain readers will not be able to handle the theology of this book. For me, it was still an enjoyable read even if it didn’t align at all with what I believe happens after death. For potential readers with strong views about Heaven/Hell, this isn’t the book for them.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you haven’t read any of Sakey’s work, this is a fine place to start. Afterlife is going to be a movie, but like with most adaptations, it’s probably best to do the book first.