Paul’s Book Reviews

fourth wingFourth Wing (The Empyrean #1)
by Rebecca Yarros

I picked up a copy of Fourth Wing at the local library. I’m not much for fantasy and dragons, but the book’s popularity argued strongly in its favor … and after all, I did read and enjoy the Game of Thrones books, so it’s not as if dragons and I are enemies.

One of the things I love about good young adult literature is the near absence of squalid vices and existential despair in leading characters. YA protagonists aren’t junkies or alcoholics; while some may be on the spectrum, none are sociopathic or evil. They don’t drag us through broken marriages and prison and thuggishness; the teenaged heroes of these stories are so far free of the sad adult shit they’ll experience later on.

Fourth Wing is a slightly more mature version of YA, often called “new adult.” Which means sex, presented in a positive manner. Which Fourth Wing delivers in the setting of a co-ed military academy. It’s easy to understand the book’s enormous popularity.

Violet, somewhat to my annoyance, is a white hero and savior. She’s the only blonde in a sea of darker-haired and -skinned classmates, and one of her dragons is golden. Is this an unconscious thing on Yarros’ part, or is it deliberate? I get that Violet’s petite stature and fragility are important to the plot … but she doesn’t have to be a Targaryen, does she?

I wish the dragons had been less human and more alien, Dain and other supporting characters less one-sided, the incidental bullshit magic (mage lights & such) absent altogether … but that’s fantasy. Luckily, I was in the right mood for it and found the book entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the final chapters, where Violet is forcibly exposed to shocking revelations about her nation and her world.

wrong place wrong timeWrong Place Wrong Time
by Gillian McAllister

Some reviewers say it’s a mom book. I try not to see books this way, but I’m lying if I say I don’t know what they mean.

A mother witnesses a murder that’ll doom her son, her husband, herself, and the up-to-now happy life they’ve had together. She begins waking up on preceding days, her present self in a progressively younger body, eventually going back years, hoping she’ll be able to undo the chain of deceptions and lies that lead to the murder.

The reader can choose to believe an unnamed supernatural force puts her on this backward time track, or that she herself initiates it in some superhuman manner. Each day she lives over turns out to be a node or junction in the series of events and decisions leading to the murder. Each day contains a hint or bit of knowledge she didn’t see at the time but now does. Each such event or decision is a “a-ha” moment for readers, pulling them along.

Oh, yeah, almost forgot: on each revisited day she manages to do something differently, hoping it’ll put the future on a different track. Can changing the past change the present? Can you go back to kill Hitler in the crib, and will the Holocaust never have happened?

It’s a murder mystery unraveled in a different and novel manner. It’s refreshing and well written, with characters who become more complex as revelation after revelation reveal themselves.

Gotta say, the science fiction-slash-time travel elements quite appealed to me. This dad very much enjoyed Gillian McAlister’s mom book.

london rulesLondon Rules (Slough House #5)
by Mick Herron

Always brilliant, these Slough House espionage thrillers, and many say they get better with every book. I won’t go that far, but having read the first five in order (and having watched the three seasons aired to date on Apple TV), I will say they’re consistently excellent and engaging.

The enigmatic J.K. Coe gets a lot of character development in this story, as do Catherine and Shirley. The OB takes a backseat and River, on his own, keeps his head above water while navigating M.I.5’s tricky London Rules, and makes an important career decision. Jackson Lamb is particularly insulting to one and all, and is it just me or is he more vicious to his team members in this novel than in the previous four? The references to the buffoonish Trump are already dated, thank god, but otherwise the political and social backdrop to the story feels up to the moment.

The conceit of a non-corporeal visitor to Slough House that opens and closes every Slow Horses novel is expanded in London Rules, with said visitor appearing throughout and in other locations as well, and I quite like it. Herron is onto something with this story-telling technique, and I can’t wait to see where he takes it in the next novel. Nor (this may be a spoiler) can I wait to see if a character missing since the end of the first book rejoins the Slow Horses.

These are enthralling reads, and I have to force myself to read other authors in between installments so as not to devour them all at once.

three inch teethThree-Inch Teeth (Joe Pickett #24)
by C.J. Box

Seriously considered three stars. The latest Joe Pickett tale is below average, and the average has been taking a downturn. I’m happy to note, however, the return of a less intolerant Joe Pickett, no longer a mouthpiece for C.J. Box’s MAGA worldview.

Spoilerish stuff follows:

I find it hard to forgive inexplicable lapses on the part of Joe and the predator attack team. You wouldn’t think four top-of-their-game Wyoming game wardens would be slow on the uptake, at least when it comes to grizzly bear attacks, their area of expertise. The bad guys, as in previous novels, are simply unbelievable (I’ll note that two of them are repeat offenders). Trad wife Mary Beth, at a critical juncture, connects the dots easily … too easily. The ending is far too rushed, the only upside being Nate’s return to a feral state, something to look forward to in future novels. But Nate’s mystical connection with the grizzly? Not buying it.

Two of Joe’s daughters are MIA in this novel (which is fine since we know from previous novels that one is in Montana working for Cassie Dewell and the other’s at the U of W in Laramie). Still, you’d think the author would at least include a line or two to bring us up to speed on them. Harridan Missy doesn’t make an appearance in this installment, although an entirely new & unexpected one briefly joins the cast.

iron lakeIron Lake (Cork O’Connor #1)
by William Kent Krueger

I saw comments lauding Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series in an online discussion of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels. Thought I’d give him a go, chosing the first installment to start.

While Harry Bosch brought me to Cork O’Connor, when I recommend the series to others I’m more likely to mention similarities with Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, or Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache. Iron Lake is less a police procedural than the Bosch novels I’ve read and more of an atmospheric story bound up with flawed characters (two of whom happen to be policemen), a strong sense of place (an exotic one, at least to this desert dweller), and Native American/north woods lore.

The crimes at the heart of the story are somewhat slow to unfold, but the strong writing … really flawless throughout … kept me going. I didn’t have a single “no way” moment … it’s all quite believable. Corruption runs as deep in backwoods towns as it does in the big city, and human nature is human nature … even on the reservation.

A great read and a nice contrast to the other series I mentioned. I’ve already put a library hold on the second Cork O’Connor novel, Boundary Water.

last coyoteThe Last Coyote (Harry Bosch #4)
by Michael Connelly

When I reviewed The Wrong Side of Goodbye, the 19th Harry Bosch novel, I assumed this applied to all of them:

“As always, Connelly’s refusal to include contractions in his characters’ speech makes the dialog somewhat wooden, but at least that dialog is crystal clear. As many have observed, when it comes to police procedurals Connelly is the best explainer in the business, laying everything out in A to B to C to D fashion. His novels are always satisfying — and dare I say educational? — reads.”

Well. I was wrong about contractions and dialog, and maybe the A to B to C to D thing too, because the dialog in this novel, both Harry’s and others, is far more realistic, and the case — the most personal to Bosch of the by-now 13 Bosch novels I’ve read (plus one Mickey Haller) — unfolds in anything but a linear fashion.

This is a tense and struggling Bosch, barely in control, frequently an asshole to colleagues and friends, never mind enemies. And not just an asshole — he commits a horrific wrong against another cop in this story, adding a dark layer to his character I’m not certain he’ll ever overcome through penance. The differences between Bosch’s character here and in other stories are stark. The differences between what you’ll read here and the coverage of the same case in the Amazon streaming TV series are equally stark.

I regret initially reading Bosch novels out of order. His character development over time is clearly important, and I’m frequently confused by the younger Bosch’s behavior and actions, having first met him as an older man. I’m reading the unread ones in order now, and may have to re-read the already-read ones when I get to them. No problem … Harry Bosch, younger or older, in print or on TV, holds up.

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