Category Archives: Book Banter

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.

Book Banter: Miranda and Caliban

mirandaTitle: Miranda and Caliban

Author: Jacqueline Carey

Genre: fantasy

Length: 348 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Miranda knows only life on the island with her Papa, though she has fragments of memory from before. When Papa binds the wild boy — Caliban — to serve him, Caliban and Miranda become good friends. But their friendship stands in the way of Papa’s magical plans and it could threaten to destroy them.

Banter Points: If you haven’t guessed, “Miranda and Caliban” is a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” I think I saw a live production of the Tempest when I was in high school, but my memory is foggy at best.

I think not knowing the play actually increased my enjoyment of Carey’s retelling because I didn’t know what was coming. My recollection is that Carey’s book spends a ton of time before the Shakespeare story actually starts and the part that’s the play takes up just a fraction of the book.

Carey’s story is a beautiful picture of the innocence of early friendship and how the world can taint it. Miranda is lovely, Caliban is loyal, Prospero is deceiving, Ariel is tricksy — just as expected, but the way she tells the story, it’s all rich. I just sank into this book and wish I could go back.

Bummer Points: I don’t have much here, other than I wish it could have ended differently for the characters.

Word Nerd Recommendation: This is a strong, strong contender for a top 10 book of the year.

Bonus: Also, my May Reading Challenge Book! While I didn’t quite find it on the new book shelf, I had it on hold from Wowbrary from before it was released.

Book Banter: Henry and the Chalk Dragon

chalk dragonTitle: Henry and the Chalk Dragon

Author: Jennifer Trafton

Genre: juvenile fiction

Length: 229 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Henry drew the best chalk dragon on his door… but it escapes. With his creativity running wild, Henry and his school friends Oscar and Jade. are going to have to learn bravery and how to let their imaginations run free to recapture the creature.

Banter Points: At Hutchmoot 2016, I got to hear Trafton read a chapter aloud and she had the audience of grown-ups laughing along. I promptly told my coworker who is the juvenile book selector about it and she ordered a few copies for our Library for when the book released in April.

This book is delightful. I’ve already told several people about it and I highly suspect it will make my top 10 for the year. Yes, it’s a kids books, but it powerfully talks about the differences of creativity and conformity and how to stand up for both people in trouble and your work. It’s just as poignant for adults… maybe even more so.

Bummer Points: I wish this book had existed when I was a 3rd-grader like Henry. It would have been good for me in those years.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Read it for yourself or get it for the kids in your life, especially if they are artsy types who might be inclined to give that up in the face of conforming to popularity.

Book Banter: Moon over Soho

sohoTitle: Moon over Soho (Peter Grant #2)

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Length: 375 pages

Genre: urban fantasy/police procedural

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL digital collection

Plot Basics: When a jazz musician suddenly drops dead, Peter Grant doesn’t seem to think it’s case that falls into his specialized (aka, magical) territory. But when the coroner realizes it’s the latest in a string of jazz musicians falling dead, Peter is on the case, while still trying to learn both policing and magic.

Banter Points: Sometimes, series suffer from the sophomore slump, but “Moon over Soho” is maybe even better than “Midnight Riot.” Peter is still learning what it means to be a magical wizard cop and dealing with the aftermath of what happened to Leslie and Nightingale in the first outing.

Because of the links to jazz, Peter turns to his dad, the famous “Lord Grant” and former jazzman to understand the players — and how they are being played — and it gives a nice insight into Peter’s background. The books is peppered with brilliant one-liners from Peter that are soaked in British thought. They might some of the best parts of the book.

Also — Aaronovitch clearly has a sense of how magic works in the book and while the reader gets small lessons it’s not overwhelming. The lack of long explanations helps to make it, well, magical.

Bummer Points: Because I’m discovering him for the first time, Peter is still possibly edging Harry Dresden off his perch.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Loving this series. If you are looking for a great read, this is it. The magic is subtle enough that if you’re mostly a mystery book reader, you can still like these. If you’re more of an urban fantasy person, these are great crime books with a solid police procedural core.

Book Banter: Generation V

generation vTitle: Generation V

Author: M. L. Brennan

Length: 312 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s copy came from: IndyPL Downloadable collection

Plot Basics: Fortitude Scott is a baby vampire, meaning he’s still mostly human, and trying to make a human go of it, barely making ends meet with a coffee shop job and a deadbeat roommate. When his mother accepts a vampire guest into their territory, Fort is stunned at the way that vampire behaves and is determined to do something about it. With his new bodyguard, the shape-shifting fox Suzume, Fort goes up against a menace and has to figure out how to use his family legacy to get the job done.

Banter Points: If I hadn’t already found Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, this might be in the running for Best Discovered Author. I haven’t picked up an urban fantasy in a while that entertained as much as Generation V.

While Brennan plays with the vampire mythos, her changes were good ones. She kept familiar items — such as their weakness with sunlight — but gave it a nice twist so that it’s an affectation that gets worse as the vampire gets older.

Fort and Suzume have a fun banter between the two of them, but it works both as sidekick material and ways to move the story forward and propel characters to action. Also, at least so far, the vampires are not sex symbols. More like Rachel Caine’s Morganville vampires, they are bad guys but trying to stay under the radar of humans.

Bummer Points: I got nuthin’.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I’m definitely going to keep going in this series of fun reads.

Book Banter: The Invasion of Tearling

Title: The Invasion of Tearling41MT-Ny8w6L._SX294_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
Author:  Erika Johansen
Genre:  Fantasy
Length:  544 pages
Where Stacie’s Copy Came From:  Oshkosh Public Library
Plot Basics:  The kingdom of Tearling is facing invasion from the Red Queen after her shipment of slaves does not arrive. The treaty between the two countries is void and only one thing will satisfy her. At the same time, Kelsea is learning more about the founders of Tearling as the Tear Sapphires reveal it to her through the memories of Lily.
Banter Points:  The questions I had after reading Book 1 — The Queen of Tearling — were answered. The founders of Tearling fled the U.S. for a New America, one where they could create A Better World, which also serves as their rally cry. One of the founders, Lily, a house wife who stumbles into the rebellion, serves as Kelsea guide. It is through Lily’s memories that Kelsea sees what the founders envisioned for the world she now rules.

Like all good trilogies, the protagonists are in peril at the end of the book, leaving the reader wondering how on earth they are going to get out of the mess that they are in. Added to that, I now have questions about what happened between the founding of Tearling, specifically the nobel ideals that were to guide them. The vision painted of Tearling’s ideals and the reality facing Kelsea are polarizing opposites. I don’t yet understand how this happened, but the author has gained my trust so far of answering my questions.
Bummer Points:  No bummer points. I’m eager for book 3.
Stacie’s Recommendation: This is a solid read. I think Book 3 — The Fate of Tearling — will make or break this one for inclusion on the top ten list this year.

Book Banter: Faithful Place

faithfulTitle: Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3)

Author: Tana French

Genre: mystery

Length: 400 pages

Where Bethany’s copy came from: Personal collection via IndyPL used book sale

Plot Basics: Frank Mackey is a specialist at running undercover operations, but he’s determined to keep his family at arm’s length, or farther. When he gets a call that a suitcase is found that likely belonged to his first love — the girl who never showed on the day they were to run away together — Frank is forced back into his family’s broken dynamics. While he’s not officially allowed to work on the investigation, Frank knows that if anyone can uncover the truth, it’s him.

Banter Points: Tana French won my 2017 Best Discovered Author award… but I only managed to read two of her books last year. I was dawdling because I didn’t like Frank from his secondary character appearance in The Likeness. He was a manipulative jerk. On the whole, reading books about manipulative jerks isn’t something I prefer to do.

But WOW — French made me care about this manipulative jerk. A lot. Which is pretty amazing as I was sure I wasn’t going to like him going in. I was probably more hooked by wondering how Frank would fare through the events than the actual mystery itself.

Bummer Points: The case isn’t as compelling as the first two. It’s a good, seemingly unsolvable mystery, but this one is the least police-procedural-y of the bunch so far. Frank was involved in the case, but it’s much more of a character books than a crime book. Her first two involved more of cops being cops. The story has reasons for it, but as a police procedural fan it was a change.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I’ve got book 4 on hold already after wondering why I was waiting so long.

Book Banter: Midnight Riot

midnightTitle: Midnight Riot

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: urban fantasy

Length: 298 pages

Where Bethany’s copy came from: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Rookie constable Peter Grant is hoping to be a detective, but it seems like he’s doomed to a life of paperwork. Lucky (or unluckily) for him, a gristly murder case brings him face to face with the crimes only witness, who just happens to be a ghost. Peter is reassigned to DCI Thomas Nightingale, the Metropolitan police’s only wizard/detective. As the crimes spread over the city, Peter and Nightingale must take on feuding river gods and the ghosts of London long-past to bring order back to the city.

Banter Points: If anyone has the power to even jostle Harry Dresden in his number one spot for favorite crime-fighting-wizard, Peter Grant may be that contender. “Midnight Riot” is a mash-up of Dresden, Harry Potter and Endeavour, with a less-mopey Brit detective. It’s straight-up English police procedural, with all the slang (like nick, copper, guv’nor, etc.) and sorting out the crime over a pint at the local that you’d expect.

Aaronovitch has given Grant just enough of a cheeky first-person narrative voice to make him entirely endearing. Likewise, Nightingale, is so stingy with details about the relationship between magic and the police and how long he’s been a part of both that it makes him enigmatically endearing.

Bummer Points: I can’t really say much without giving anything away, but I will say the ending felt very abrupt for all the build up through the book.

Word Nerd Recommendation: It’s only March, but it’s highly likely I’ve already found my 2017 winner for “Best Discovered Author” for the Word Nerd awards this year. There are five or six more of these and you can bet they are going in my TBR pile!