Random Review: Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton

This review does not contain spoilers.

Book Name: Kinsey and Me: Stories
Author: Sue Grafton
Publisher(s): A Marian Wood Book/Putnam
Format(s): Hardcover/Trade and mass market paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Short stories/mysteries
Release Date: January 8, 2013

Rating: 5/10

Kinsey and Me: Stories is really two books in one with the first half or so being previously released short stories starring Sue Grafton’s best selling heroine Kinsey Milhone, and the second portion including several autobiographical short stories featuring Kit Blue at the main character. The Milhone stories are for the most part fantastic. The rest? Not so much.

Composing short story mystery is not an easy thing because following the “rules” of writing mysteries you really need to introduce the killer at some point, and in a 20 page story it doesn’t take much to figure everything out. So the key is often not the “who”, but the “why” and “how”. Grafton really handles those very well and does the reveal at the end in such a manner that you’re happy with the story despite figuring out the “who” early on. Because of the publications these stories were originally released in some have a theme where others are just straight short story mystery, and the editor has done a masterful job of making sure they all fit together in a nice mix. The last Milhone story is really a logic problem and not a mystery, but a nice twist at the end makes it a nice fit (this actually a pun, but to tell you why would spoil it).

The second portion of Kinsey and Me: Stories is Grafton writing as if Kit Blue was her, and were composed after Grafton’s mother passed away and are a mostly fictionalized account of the relationship Grafton had with her parents. They are, unfortunately, in my opinion not very good. I get the personal nature of the stories and I’m sure it took a lot emotionally to write them, but I could just never connect with the stories despite reading many of them a couple of times. Grafton would have done much better simply writing the section as a straight autobiography, although I can certainly understand if she was unable to do so.

If you’ve read Grafton’s “Alphabet series” Kinsey and Me: Stories is certainly worth checking out just for the fantastic opening stories, if not you’re better off making another selection.

Some random book thoughts for October 2013

Looks like this is going to turn out to be a very long post, so let’s get right to it…

As I mentioned in last month’s posting 13 Million Dollar Pop by David Levien was the next up from the “to-read” shelf. Just like two of his earlier detective books books, City of the Sun and Where The Dead Lay, 13 Million Dollar Pop is a pulp-style story featuring detective Frank Behr. This novel is a little different in that Behr is no longer working on his own but is instead working for a top level detective/investigation agency. With plot points reminiscent of John Grisham’s The Firm Levien weaves and interesting story centering around a failed attempt on the life of someone Behr was assigned to protect. While the book probably won’t win too many awards it was an enjoyable read.

Next came The Keepers of the Library by Glenn Cooper, which is the third book in an (at least as far as I can figure out) unnamed trilogy centering on an ancient hidden library. It is a very good series that is unlike anything I’ve read before. The first two books, Secret of the Seventh Son (AKA Library of the Dead) and Book of Souls are pretty much “must reads” to understand what is going on in The Keepers of the Library because they whole theme of the trilogy is set up in the first half of the first book. Cooper tells a great tale here, and I’m hoping his other novels get released in the US soon.

Third up was Dan Brown’s Inferno, a book I wasn’t planning on reading for some time as I don’t buy Brown’s books in hardcover. I was lucky enough to arrange a “trade” of sorts with a friend who had purchased it. He took several of the paperbacks I’d already read and lent me his copy of Inferno. A “win” for both of us.

Like all of Brown’s books Inferno is about as improbable a story as you can get, but he still hooks readers in with his great high-paced storytelling style. Despite a glaring math error (saying what it is will spoil the book) Inferno still delivers on multiple fronts. His plot twist that sets up the finale might not hold up well on a second reading when one can read the story knowing the outcome, but it doesn’t detract from the book so much that it fails. Fans of Brown will not be disappointed with Inferno.

One of my much anticipated September purchases, W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, interrupted the book I had started and the 23rd book in the “Alphabet series” featuring Kinsey Millhone was the best one yet. Grafton has really hit her stride the last few novels and despite writing for the same main characters for so long is still able to keep it fresh and manages to add so much more information about each of them without contradicting herself and her previous books. What’s really amazing is there has been no real duplication of major plot points in the 23 books except for the ones that were intentional. That in itself is an incredible feat. I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

The book I was briefly reading after Inferno that was interrupted by W is for Wasted was A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller. It’s the prequel to the four released books in Miller’s “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” universe, and despite knowing where the book had to end up it was a great story told by Miller. Looking at many of the reviews afterward I think people really missed the key component of the story: that someone treated as a god in the later books actually lead a significantly “less than a god-like” life while they were alive. The only negative about the novel was brought up on a blog post I forgot to bookmark so I can’t reference it (sorry to whomever it was) that said like the other four books in the series A Blight of Mages could have (and maybe should have) been broken into two books. There was a lot more story to tell that Miller glossed over, and a second book would have been great for those things.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu was a book I picked off the shelf when it was released just because the cover caught my eye, and the details on the back sounded interesting and amusing so I bought it. The Lives of Tao is a very good story, but I can tell you for certain the blurb on the front by Myke Cole “…laugh-out-loud funny…” is absolutely untrue. There is nothing in the book that is laugh-out-loud funny, and I’m hoping that people looking for something like that and not getting it don’t overlook how good The Lives of Tao really is. It’s nothing new by any stretch of the imagination and has a well used plot device, but it’s a very good start to what could be a decent series.

After finishing The Lives of Tao I was in a little bit of a quandary. I didn’t want to start a long book because a couple days later a book I really wanted to read, King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniels, was being released and I didn’t feel like doing what I did with A Blight of Mages and putting down one book for another so I was reluctant to start anything. As luck would have it while looking for something in some boxes still left unpacked from our move a year ago I stumbled into Casca: The Mongel that somehow ended up in a box with some other odds and ends. The book, like many of the others in the series before it, was credited to Barry Sadler (yes, that Barry Sadler) but was ghost written by others. It’s a very short book and I figured it was perfect for the time I had.

While I remember the other “Casca” books as being pretty good this one was downright terrible. Perhaps they were all this bad and in my youth I just thought they were good, but for whatever reason Casca: The Mongel is one of the worst books I’ve read in a long while. I gave it two stars, mostly because I did recall liking the earlier books. It should have been one star, but I can’t see anyone purposely going out to get the book over that one extra star so I’ll just leave it as it is and move on.

To make matters even worse, when I went out a week ago last Tuesday to get King Breaker my local Barnes & Nobel didn’t have it on the shelf yet and no one there could answer to me if they even had copies in the store (more on that later). So after ordering King Breaker I again was faced with what to grab next. I had recently picked up a few remaindered “Star Trek” paperback to have in the car in case I needed an “emergency book”, so I grabbed one of those. Weight of the Worlds by Greg Cox is an incredibly average book. It’s a stereotypical Star Trek original series story that brings nothing new to the table. After finishing it I could see why it was remaindered. Unless you’re a die-hard Star Trek fan don’t bother with this one. Of course if you are you likely already have it. I just hope you didn’t pay full price.

For books I picked up last month there was the previously mentioned W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton. Because I was unable to get neither King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniels nor Swords of Exodus by Larry Correia & Mike Kupari on the day they were released I ordered both from Amazon. The real winner there is N.K. Jemisin, as for me to get to the $25 level for free shipping I went off my “get from Amazon when you need to” list and picked up A Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. As soon as I mash the “publish” button I’ll be starting King Breaker.

The list of stuff I’m looking forward to this month is pretty short, so far just being Chu’s sequel to The Lives of Tao called The Deaths of Tao. Last month Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows by Tony Venables was on my “look at” list, and as I didn’t get a chance to I’ll likely look for it on Friday.

Until next time…

Some random book thoughts for September 2013

With the unofficial end of summer just behind us we’ll jump right into this month’s random look at all of the books I’ve read since my last update. I guess by definition looking at something specific isn’t random, but that’s the motif I use here so we’ll just have to go with it.

As I ended last month’s post I had just started Crucible of Gold, the seventh book in Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series. The first five books of the series were really, really good and I gave each of them a four out of five rating on Goodreads. Unfortunately, just as her sixth book Tongues of Serpents missed the mark so did Crucible of Gold.

All fiction is contrived, that’s sort of the whole concept of “fiction”. But while Novik was able to have a rational basis for the actions of the characters in the first five books the last two were really about placing Captain Will Laurence and Temeraire in situations that didn’t really match what had come before. It was as if Novik had a bunch of cool ideas for stories but had no way to logically place either of them in the locations she wanted the action to take place. And for me that really detracted from the story.

Based on the ending of Crucible of Gold it appears Novik has done it again in the next installment, Blood of Tyrants. That won’t be out in paperback for a long while, but as I’ve hung on with the series this long I will undoubtedly be buying it. Who knows how long it will sit on the to-read shelf though.

I then moved on to the second book on the “Wayfarer Redemption” series, Enchanter. Just like the first book in the series I gave Enchanter five out of five on Goodreads because that’s the maximum it can be given. I’m kicking myself for not having read this series earlier. I bought both The Wayfarer Redemption and Enchanter years ago, an educated guess says it was in the fall of 2002. I got them at BJ’s Wholesale Club, along with the first two books in Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s Legacy” series, Kushiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen, off a paperback remainders table.

I started Carey’s books within a couple weeks (my to-read shelf was very small back then, just about always under 15 books) and my wife started reading Douglass’ series. I picked up the next two books in the series soon after and my wife raved about them, but for some reason despite seeing them sitting on the shelf all this time I never got around to reading them.

After reading Enchanter my plan was to read Power Down by Ben Coes and then jump right back to the third “Wayfarer Redemption” novel, but I was absolutely sucked in by Coes and his protagonist Dewey Andreas. Without a doubt Coes is not yet in the class of Brad Thor or Vince Flynn, but in Andreas Coes has created a superhero–literally missing only the cape–whose actions are so over the top and implausible that it reads more like a science fiction novel than thriller/action-adventure. And I loved every single minute of it.

Coes keeps the action up in Coup d’Etat, where Andreas–who technically isn’t even in the employ of the US or its agencies–is sent into Pakistan to topple their government. Oh yeah, and he has less than 48 hours to accomplish this. The story continues in The Last Refuge as Andreas is once again thrust into an unbelievable situation involving Iran, a kidnapped Israeli commando, and a nuclear weapon. That almost sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, but what it turns out to be is a page turner.

A fourth novel by Coes is out in hardcover, Eye For An Eye. It will be a long time before it hits a paperback release, but if Coes keeps the pace up like he did in the first three it will be worth the wait.

With the Coes three out of the way it was back to Douglass’ “Wayfarer Redemption” series and the final book in the first trilogy, Starman. This book is a little different from the first two as all the plot lines begin their convergence into a single story where eventually the Starman takes on his evil half-brother Gorgrael. What’s surprising about the novel is many things that seem like fantasy to the characters turn out to be reality, and vice-versa. Like the other two books it’s incredibly well written and once again I gave it five out of five. Starman is a great ending to a great story, a story that took nearly 2,000 pages to tell. And even down to the last page Douglass holds her readers’ attention.

It’s a shame that Douglass left us far too early because I suspect she had lots more great stories to share. And if I’d only started those books sooner I could have let her know how great they were.

And just before post time I finished The Last Man by Vince Flynn, another great author that was taken from us at a far too young age by cancer. From the press releases it sounds like this may be his last book as The Survivor, which was supposed to be released this fall, is incomplete. Presuming Flynn left notes about the ending of the book the number of thriller/action-adventure writers of his caliber is very, very small and I can’t see any of them taking the time to finish his book. It appears that the bad guys may have finally found a way to kill Mitch Rapp.

Sitting on my desk waiting to be cracked open is 13 Million Dollar Drop by David Levien. The first two by Levien, City of the Sun and Where The Dead Lay, were well done pulp-style crime novels featuring detective Frank Behr. Levien’s main character is a stereotypical detective working through his own flaws while solving crimes. We’ll see how 13 Million Dollar Drop works out next month.

After not buying a book for two consecutive months I more than made up for it in August by adding 13 books to the collection. I just about never order books from Amazon, but because I couldn’t find copes of some stuff elsewhere I decided to just bite the bullet and buy them online. I got the last two of Douglass’ second trilogy under the “Wayfarer Redemption” banner, Pilgrim and Crusader. Last month I mentioned my twitter conversation with Rachel Aaron about the last two books of the “Eli Monpress” series not coming out in mass market editions because they were so long, so The Spirit War and Spirit’s End both arrived from Amazon in the trade paperback format. Aaron wasn’t kidding, these books are HUGE.

A stop at BJ’s yielded four books; the previously mentioned The Last Man, Neil Young’s autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, and two by Simon Toyne, Sanctus and The Key. At Barnes and Noble I bought the first two in Mark Lawrence’s “Broken Empire” series, Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns. In another stop I saw a large amount of remainder paperbacks and grabbed three of the recent “Star Trek: The Original Series” novels, which I may leave in the car for when I need to kill some time waiting somewhere.

September sees four books being released that I’m looking for. King Rolen’s Kin: King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniels hits the shelves later this month and that will be a “must buy” for me. The rest of the series has been outstanding and I have little doubt this one will be great too. Once again Larry Correia hooks up with Mike Kupari for the second book in the “Dead Six” series Swords of Exodus. If you’re into the kind of books I read and are not reading Correia’s “Monster Hunter” and “Grimnoir Chronicles” series, you should be. It’s some of the best stuff out there.

In the mystery genre Sue Grafton has W is for Wasted coming out in hardcover next week. Grafton is one of the few writers that I buy in hardcover, so that will likely never hit the to-read shelf and will be next up after whatever I’m reading when it comes out. One other new fantasy book looks cool, Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows by Tony Venables. It’s not a guarantee I’ll be buying it, but I most certainly will be lifting it off the shelf for a closer look.

Until next time…

P.D. Martin shining brightly in crowded crime fiction field

A couple of years ago I wandered over to Sue Grafton’s forum looking for more information about the background story for “Q” is for Quarry, and latched on to the forum there. It doesn’t have a ton of regular posters, but the tight knit community has lots of folks that talk about other authors in the crime fiction field along with mentions of authors in other various genres. It was on that forum I’d first heard of P.D. Martin

As luck would have it on the same day her name was mentioned I saw her first book, Body Count, at a local store that sells remaindered hard covers. I bought it and added it to my stack of stuff to read. Unfortunately because I buy a lot more books than I can possible read occasionally stuff gets buried, and that’s what happened to Body Count. It was several months later while looking for something else that I stumbled on to it again, but this time instead of putting it back into the stack I brought into my living room and began reading it.

I was hooked immediately.

Martin’s main character is FBI profiler Sophie Anderson, who has the gift of visions to help her find the killers she seeks. Martin makes use of Anderson’s fuzzy visions as an addition to the story line and not as a crutch to base entire books around. And she does it well, with a good mix of well developed side characters to help (or hinder) Anderson in pursuit of the perpetrators.

A quick check of the internet saw Martin had a few books out, and luckily one of the independent booksellers I used to frequent (and still would if they were still in business) had a copy of her second book, The Murderers’ Club. For the rest that were out I was forced to use Amazon (perhaps they’re why my local stores are gone) to get them. Each one was better then the previous one.

Now I’m on to Martin’s latest book, Kiss of Death and while I’m just a handful of chapters into the book it’s already shaping to be her best so far. Unfortunately after this book is the novella Coming Home, which apparently ends the Sophie Anderson stories for now.

I can always hope she changes her mind…