Random Review: Wonderland by Ace Atkins

This review contains mild spoilers.

Book Name: Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland
Author: Ace Atkins
Series: #42 in an ongoing series
Publisher(s): Berkley
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: May 7th, 2013

Rating: 5/10

Wonderland is Ace Atkins’ second go around with Robert B. Parker’s legendary character Spenser, and just like his first attempt in Lullaby Atkins comes up short against the high bar set by Parker. Atkins attempts to mimic Parker’s style, and while he has the action sequences figured out pretty well the dialogue and “down time” portions of the book generally miss the mark. Also, Atkins virtually ignores many of Parker’s supporting characters which leaves large holes in the story. Hawk is completely missing from the story, and while Susan does make an appearance it seems like it’s almost an afterthought.

Spenser’s sidekick in Wonderland is Zebulon Sixkill, a character introduced in Parker’s last Spenser book before he died, Sixkill. My guess is Parker intended “Zee” to be a tertiary character, but Atkins throws him and gym owner Henry Cimoli into the limelight in a plot that could have easily come from Parker. I feel Parker would have told the story better, and certainly would have included more of the supporting cast.

I know that Atkins will never be able to truly replace Parker, but in my opinion he does need to better capture the feel of a “Spenser” novel. Parker always had some little tidbits in his story to make the characters seem real, and that’s missing in Atkins’ books. Atkins is giving Spenser more of an edge than Parker did and in that regard I like where he’s taking the character, but he really does need to work more on the little things in this series. He also needs to keep the smart-assed comments by Spenser. Atkins plays those comments as sarcasm, but they’re not supposed to be.

Would I have rated the book higher were it not a Spenser book, but instead told of random characters with no history? I may have, but on the cover is says it’s a Spenser novel. And, unfortunately, it’s not a very good one. I will, however, keep buying them. I’ve read them all so far, no reason to stop now.

One thing I wish to add, and I want to make it clear this did not play any role at all in my liking the book: putting the author’s name in the title is dumb. Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland makes no sense because Parker played no role in the book other than creating the characters. The plot, dialogue, etcetera is Atkins’. I know the estate wants to keep Parker’s name on the book, but they should have gone with the format of “Robert B. Parker’s Spenser in…”. That makes tons more sense.

Some random book thoughts for May 2013

Despite having more than a handful of half finished postings, many that will probably never see the light of day, it looks like I’ve wasted enough time once again for a new month to roll around. So as we rumble into May here’s my random book thoughts since the last time. You should grab a beverage before starting, this is a pretty long posting.

While I don’t get a ton of comments on the blog about my book posts there are quite a few made on a couple forums I visit and from my friends, and apparently I made a joke last month when I posted “I have no idea which book I’m starting next”. After mentioning I had grabbed the latest “Spenser” novel anyone that knew me knew that Lullaby was jumping right to the top of the list. I buy very few authors in hardcover, and for some reason Robert Parker never made it on to that short list. Parker probably should have been considering that every single time a new “Spenser” novel comes out in paperback it becomes the next book up to read. So while I honestly was unsure if Ace Atkins’ first “Spenser” book was going to be next it seems everyone else knew it would be. And, as you have guessed by the picture above, it was.

For the record, the official name of the book is Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby. That is the first and last time I will ever refer to the continuing “Spenser” series using Parker’s name in the title. I get that the estate wants to keep Parker’s name on the books (obviously it will sell better), but find a better way. Seriously, it’s a dumb idea to include his name in the title.

Now, allow me to state the obvious: Ace Atkins isn’t Robert Parker. I’ve never read anything by Atkins before, so I really had no idea what I was about to see. I was pretty sure it would be an attempt to emulate Parker’s style, which is really what the whole “Spenser” series is. In the first part of Lullaby Atkins writes a decent story but really misses the mark in the “flavor” of Spenser. It was almost like in the beginning Atkins tried too hard to be Parker. If I had been Atkins’ editor I would have suggested the first third or so of the book needed a complete rewrite. It was decent mystery, but poor “Spenser”.

The middle portion of the book, which Parker generally used to get into Spenser’s private life as the detective spun his wheels on the current case, was significantly more in Parker’s style than the first part. The ending was classic Parker, with everything tied up neatly–or as neatly as Parker wanted it tied up–very quickly at the end. All in all it was a decent “Spenser” novel, and I won’t hesitate to get the next one (called Wonderland).

Up next was the two books of “The Fisherman’s Children” series by Karen Miller, The Prodigal Mage and The Reluctant Mage. The series is the continuation of the “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” series, set a few years after The Awakened Mage ended. I’ve had both the “Fisherman’s Children” books on my shelf for a long while now and I have no idea why it’s taken me this long to finally read them. Miller, who also writes under the name K.E. Mills, is an outstanding writer that doesn’t get near enough credit in the fantasy genre. Born in Canada but raised in Australia, you can add Miller’s name to the ever growing number of fantasy writers from Down Under that should be your “must read” list. You won’t be disappointed.

Over this past weekend I started The Black Echo, the first of many books by Michael Connelly. More on that next month.

Before I get into what I’ve picked up since the last update I want to mention that the fourth book one of the better series currently going and one of my personal favorites, “The Psalms of Isaak” written by Ken Scholes, is being released on June 18, 2013. The book is entitled Requiem, and picks up where the series left off in Antiphon. The publisher has put the e-book for the first installment, Lamentation, on sale for $2.99 until June 18th. Details can be found right here on Tor’s blog. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

So for new stuff, my two trips to Barnes & Noble netted three books. In my first trip I grabbed The Wise Man’s Fear, the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Kingkiller Chronicle”. It’s the first $9.99 mass market paperback I’ve ever bought, but at 1100+ pages and the first book, The Name of the Wind, getting so many positive reviews from friends I unhesitatingly picked up a copy. My second trip was last Friday, and seeing Crucible of Gold was out in paperback I quickly snagged one off the shelf. It’s book seven in Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire series”, set in the Napoleonic era with each side having dragons. An odd concept, but it works. A couple years ago Peter Jackson optioned the series, but there hasn’t been any real news that I can find on that front lately.

While scanning the new releases rack for science fiction/fantasy I saw an odd looking cover (and we all know that I have bought books just because the cover intrigued me). The Lives of Tao was the name of the book, and reading the back cover it’s a goofy concept that made me chuckle. So into my stack it goes. Just now I wandered over to author Wesley Chu’s website and found his post about the book’s release. It contains a little foul language, but you can feel his excitement in in the post. After my trek to the bookstore I had to go to Target for a couple things and saw they had The Last Refuge, the third book by Ben Coes, on the shelf at 25% off so that made three new books for the day.

Late in April I was doing a Google search looking for something related to “Tatnuck”, which is the section of Worcester, MA that I grew up in and have recently moved back in to. While doing that search I ran into the website for the Tatnuck Bookseller, which when I was a kid was near my house and was the first bookstore I regularly went into alone without one of my parents being with me. It was funny that despite being just a kid the folks that ran the store treated me like any other person that read books and really gave me an appreciation for good books. Stuff they talked about back then I still reference today some 30+ years later.

When I was in my late teens the bookstore outgrew its building and moved into a refurbished factory building on the same street but much farther down the road. I didn’t get there as often, but it was still a “family” type store and many of the great relationships I had at the old location continued. After a while they opened a second location in Westborough, MA, but soon after the economy took a downturn and when faced with closing one of their stores for me the unthinkable happened–they closed the one here in Worcester. With no way to get out to Westborough they soon fell off my radar as there were still lots of options to buy books.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago and those memories were refired by my search, so my wife and I made the trek out to Westborough (not that far, actually) to take a look at the store. Still called “The Tatnuck Bookseller”, most of the store isn’t books anymore. They had lots of cool stuff, but the front two-thirds was what I would call “gift” type merchandise. I don’t mean that in a negative way because my wife and I bought some stuff from that part of the store. (Folks will not be shocked I bought a sign that reads “Life is a game, HOCKEY is serious”. I’ll take a picture once I finally hang it). The books are in the back, and the racks were a mix of hardcovers and paperbacks. I was shocked to see 13 Million Dollar Pop by David Levien on the shelf as it was a mass market paperback that came out some time ago. I read the first two of Levien’s stories featuring detective Frank Behr, so that was an easy grab. It was then that I noticed paperbacks were 10% off, so when I finally hit the science fiction/fantasy rack I grabbed The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. They were books I had passed on earlier because I’m stubborn and don’t like to spend $8.99 on a paperback. Like $8.09 is that much different…

Checking out the new releases list for May all I saw that interested me was The Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon, which is good because after adding seven books to my stack, including two tomes of greater than a thousand pages, I could use a break to catch up a little. Because someone asked a few days ago I counted my “to read” books: 201. Some people might think that’s a problem. I certainly don’t.

Until next time…

Some random book thoughts for April 2013

I was figuring with my March post being so late in the month I wouldn’t have much for an April post and wasn’t certain I’d even bother with one, but as I have a few minutes and did actually buy some books there’s no reason to not put up a quick post.

I just finished (and I mean just finished) the fifth of Dan Brown’s books, The Lost Symbol, and all five were pretty decent reads. Deception Point, which I mentioned last month I was in the middle of, is one of two books Brown has written that don’t feature Robert Langdon but contain Brown’s plot styling of having the events of the book take place over a very short time, usually 24 hours or less. The base story is a little far fetched, as is the plot wrap up at the end, but as with all of Brown’s books it was entertaining. That’s pretty much all I ask for in a book.

After that was The Da Vinci Code, which just about everyone has either read or seen the movie. It was an OK story and I was entertained, but to be honest Angels & Demons was a far superior book. The Lost Symbol was also entertaining, but compared to the others missed the mark a little. Two of the major plot points I guessed very quickly, which really turned the book into a “look for clues that I’m right” quest as opposed to being about the story. Not to spoil the ending, but I also guessed the building Langdon was taken to near the end of the book. It was way too obvious, especially for anyone that had read the other two Langdon stories.

A couple weeks ago I had an afternoon off from work and headed to Barnes & Noble, mostly to grab The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby and to see what else was out. Lullaby, Ace Atkins’ first installment in Robert Parker’s “Spenser” series, was out in paperback so I grabbed that. I also saw Power Down, Ben Coes’ first book, was reprinted in a special $5.99 edition. I grabbed that and then found his second, Coup d’Etat, on the remaindered hard cover table.

I have no idea which book I’m starting next, so you’ll need to turn un next month to see what it is. Yeah, not much of a cliff hanger, but we make due with what we have. The April list for new science fiction didn’t have anything that popped out at me so I’m not thinking there will be anything new in that genre for me this month, and I’m still looking for a site that lists new releases on other genres. If anyone knows of one let me know in the comments section. Until next time…