Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb (In Death #4)

268610They died with smiles on their faces. Three apparent suicides: a brilliant engineer, an infamous lawyer, and a controversial politician. Three strangers with nothing in common–and no obvious reasons for killing themselves. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the deaths suspicious. And her instincts paid off when autopsies revealed small burns on the brains of the victims. Was it a genetic abnormality or a high-tech method of murder?

Review:

As always I have the jacket copy above but I had to take out part not for space, but for spoilers.  The last couple of lines point directly to something that takes Eve a couple hundred pages to figure out, gah.  It dented my enjoyment of this otherwise fine entry in the In Death series.

Rapture in DeathYou can see in the elements chart that plot is a big part of the appeal but I’m going to leave out a discussion here.  Four books in we have a feel for life and crime in 2058 New York, so if you’re already a fan of the series you’ll be fine. I do want to mention, though, that mind control becomes a kind of thing.  I didn’t think it would squick me out but I had a hard time reading through a couple of scenes because of it.

The best part of this series, I’m finding out, is the character development. Partner Peabody is blossoming into herself, best friend Mavis is nothing but herself, and Eve is figuring out who she is and what past events mean for her future.  Pretty much all of the major characters from past books make an appearance and it doesn’t feel crowded or forced.  Add in some levity…

For the next few days, Eve beat her head against the wall of every dead end. When she needed a change of pace to clear her mind, she beat Peabody’s head against the wall.

…and, despite the mind control squick, I’m excited to read the rest of the series. Yes, all 40+ books of it. 🙂

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

35068432“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind.

Review:

My Serial Killer Summer™ (ha) continues!  There is no way I would skip this book, especially with the alleged killer being found, not to mention the hype!

McNamara deserves that praise for her writing – it’s engaging, chilling and fascinating.  She spent years hunting down the Golden State Killer and details that search while describing many of the murders and rapes he committed.  I’ve seen people on BookTube who had a hard time getting through the creepiest parts – understandably, the crimes are heinous.  While I shivered a few times I never felt compelled to put the book down… not sure what that says about me.

What McNamara does better than so many ~cough male cough~ writers is that she respects and honors the victims.  We hear their stories, how their life was changed – they are their own people and I greatly appreciate having their perspective.

On top of the tragedy of the crimes is the tragedy of the author’s unexpected death in 2016, before she finished the book.  As a result some chapters were cobbled together from her notes and research.  These sections are rough compared to McNamara’s amazing prose, but I’m not sure what else they could have done.  It did make for a jarring experience, though, and lessened my… enjoyment?… of the entire book.

I listened on audiobook and got on well with the narrator, ending up at 1.8x speed.  A pdf with maps and timelines is included with the audio files.  I wasn’t sure I’d use it but it’s handy near the end as the detectives go hunting for patterns in the crimes.

I’m so sad that McNamara wasn’t able to finish her book and see the Golden State Killer brought to justice.  Despite the choppiness it’s a great read and an easy recommendation for any true crime fan.

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale (Tour Dates #1)

34824809Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

Review:

If you like romance be sure to check out Cats and Paperbacks, where Natasha writes reviews highlighting lgbtqia+ books.  She posted a list of her favorite books with lesbian main characters and I jumped on this one – rock band! Touring! Queer romance meets stardom!

In my ‘must read NAO’ haste, however, I missed that while the book covers a diverse rock band, they are not rock stars.  The group crams into a van, drives all night between gigs, and at times plays to half-empty houses.  There is nothing wrong with this – in fact, it makes for lovely romance – but it pushes the book out of Kazen catnip territory.

Moving on, the book!  Sawyer is a Julliard violinist but she loathes going back to school.  Instead of touring with a prestigious chamber orchestra she tries out with a rock band and gets the part.  Over the course of touring she sparks fly between her and the lead singer Victoria, they fall in love, and things happen.

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell is one of those books that’s very good at what it does while simultaneously not being quite my thing.  If you’re looking for a realistic contemporary f/f romance you won’t go wrong.

Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #2)

6319978Joe Public isn’t exactly thrilled to be living side-by-side with the undead, but at least they haven’t stormed the castle yet.

But all that will change once they learn about the Raves—mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle and drink themselves silly. Most civilized vampires frown on this behavior, putting mere mortals at ease with their policy of asking a person’s consent before taking a big gulp of the red stuff.

So now my “master,” the centuries old, yet gorgeously well-preserved Ethan Sullivan, wants me to reconnect with my own upper class family and act as liaison between humans and vampires—and keep the more unsavory aspects of our existence out of the media. But someone doesn’t want people and vamps to play nicey-nice—someone with an ancient grudge.

Review:

A strong followup to Some Girls Bite. For every bit I like, though, something else bothers me.  Shall we?

Yea – the villain is developing over several books, making for a more nuanced Big Bad.
Meh – as a result there’s no huge Big Bad fight.

Yea – good guy relationships are becoming more nuanced and minor characters are getting fleshed out.
Meh – every guy is still hot and drooling over Merit.

Yea – some hanging but forgotten threads are pulled back in and put to use.
Meh – the book ends on a cliffhanger.

All in all I’m glad I’m started the Chicagoland Vampire series and look forward to Merit’s further adventures.

Doctor Butabuta by Arimi Yazaki (Butabuta #23)

39681913Time for another review courtesy of my neighborhood used book store!  Inhae at Inside That Japanese Book got me interested in the Butabuta series (her review here) so when I saw this volume I just had to pick it up.

The main character in all the books is Butabuta Yamazaki, whose first name literally translates as “Pigpig”.  That’s him on the cover – a stuffed animal that is, well, alive.  He’s about the size of a volleyball and has the voice of a middle aged man, and almost everyone he meets is first overcome with shock.  How does he move?  Is he really drinking that coffee?  Am I the only one that sees he’s a stuffed animal?

Yazaki started writing about Butabuta in 1998 and has continued at a steady clip, with 27 books in the series as I write this.  Others include Butabuta Cafe, Butabuta Library, and Butabuta on a Summer’s Day.  The Japanese level is less taxing than more literary novels, making them easy reads.  (For those more interested in the Japanese side of things check out Inhae’s review above.)

So, what kind of doctor can a stuffed pig be, anyway?  It turns out he’s an endoscopic and laparoscopic surgeon specialized in gastroenterology. Basically he uses remote controls to move robots and cameras to operate on stomach cancer or diagnose ulcers.  Yazaki put a lot of thought into the limitations of a small (if strong) doctor and forged an interesting path for him.

The book is four linked short stories as well as a “short-short”.  Each shows us a different facet of Butabuta’s practice as we watch him interact with operative patients in the hospital, coworkers, and elderly home-bound patients in the countryside.

I like Butabuta as a character.  He has a sense of mystery about him – why is he alive?  Why don’t we meet anyone else like him?  He’s pretty much perfect personality and work-wise but it doesn’t get grating or weird, as it’s balanced out with the whole, “but he’s a stuffed pig” thing.

The scenes can be touching and charming.  He knows the right thing to say to reassure patients, and when he pats their hand the softness of the fabric on his hoof comforts them.  He goes to a batting cage with a coworker, holding a bat twice his size and jumping high in the air to swing at the ball.  He volunteers in a rural area on the weekend where he makes balloon animals for children and adults alike.

Each story can be read on its own which is good in a way, but leads to more repetition than I would like.  Every person is shocked when they first meet Butabuta and wonder the same things.  He’s described as being the size of a volleyball without fail.  Maybe as I read more books these will be endearing details but it annoyed me a little bit here.

It doesn’t look like any of these books have been translated into English but if you’re JLPT N2 level or better or in Japanese I think you’ll enjoy the adventures of a certain Butabuta-san.  I’ll be continuing the series for sure, with Butabuta’s Bookstore already in  my possession and ready to go. Huzzah for finding a new series to love!

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

35180951In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.

From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about Dead Girls – it starts amazing but sadly I had trouble getting all the way to the end.

I do want to be clear – the first part, about the titular women American culture obsesses over, is incredible.  Bolin talks about “Dead Girl Shows” that use the memory of women-who-were to tell stories about the men who killed them or seek to revenge their deaths.  Instead of looking at the impulse some men have to prey on young women the narrative of these shows concentrates on the killer’s psychology and methods, making the practice seem inevitable and beyond the man’s control.  I highlighted many, many passages from this section and will be revisiting the essays so I can chew over them more.

That’s only part one of four, though.  The second section takes a step away and examines women who are living but have been used to sell a story in a related way.  I like Lonely Heart, about the contradictions and tragedy in Britney Spears’ fame, but otherwise my interest started to wane.

If the book were a tire that’s where the slow leak started, with a more steady whooosh becoming apparent over the last two parts.  Bolin gets deep into her experience of being lonely after moving to the West coast and I couldn’t get on board.  It’s an amalgamation of things I have a hard time caring about or connecting with (LA, Joan Didion, accounts of roommates and boyfriends) with books that we are assumed to know but oftentimes I did not.  If you love so-called “Hello to All That/Goodbye to All That” essays, worship Didion, and don’t mind a jumble of thought, you’ll do better here than I.

It’s hard for me to rate Dead Girls because it went from a compulsively readable, fascinating ride to a flat tire I had trouble rolling over the finish line.  I thought it would be a great fit for my Serial Killer Summer but sadly only the first quarter or so fit the bill.

Thanks to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman

25561483FBI veteran and ex-Army CID colonel Robert Ressler learned how to identify the unknown monsters who walk among us–and put them behind bars. Now the man who coined the phrase “serial killer” shows how he is able to track down some of today’s most brutal murderers.

From the victims they choose, to the way they kill, to the often grotesque souvenirs they take with them–Ressler unlocks the identities of these vicious killers. With his discovery that serial killers share certain violent behaviors, Ressler’s gone behind prison walls to hear the bizarre first-hand stories countless convicted murderers. Join Ressler as he takes you on the hunt for toady’s most dangerous psychopaths. It is a terrifying journey you will not forget.

Review:

Here’s what I wanted when I read Incendiary – a look into the mind of a repeat criminal. Ressler is a pioneer in the field of profiling and uses cases, both famous and not, to explore the minds of serial killers.  I learned a lot – organized vs. disorganized killers, what may push someone to their first murder, and what drives them to repeat the crime again and again.

While informative and interesting several things put me off, though.  First, the victims are minimized, often reduced to clues to analyze the mind of the killer.  The criminals’ thought process, and the men who work to understand it, are prioritized above all else.  The upcoming book Dead Girls address this point really well – watch this space for a review on release day.

Also, Ressler is full of himself and it grates.  What’s the line… ‘may the lord grant me the confidence of a straight white man’?  That’s Ressler.  He quotes letters of commendation while he humble brags about every little thing.  He tells stories about bending the rules for the sake of the investigation and always comes out squeaky clean.  It’s goddamn annoying but also maybe expected from a G-man of his era. (Note: expected does not equal excused.)

I listened on audio and have no complaints about the narrator or production. While nowhere near perfect, Whoever Fights Monsters provides a foundation to build my Serial Killer Summer on.

…yeah, I’m making it a thing. Heaven help me.

To Have and to Hold by Tamryn Eradani (Enchanting Encounters #2)

 

40236108Following the success of Project: Notice Me, Kyle and Aidan are now in a three-month extension of their play. If three months wasn’t so short, then it would be everything Kyle wants.

They’ve been together long enough to meet each other’s friends and to try new things. Kyle only hopes that at the end of the three months, he isn’t the only one who wants more.

Review:

I love the first book of this series, To Seek and to Find, because it’s BDSM erotica that is grounded in reality.  Members of the club Enchanting Encounters form a loving community of kinksters and I was so happy to rejoin them.

Just as in book one we follow Kyle and Aidan, who have decided that their two week-old relationship deserves a three month extension.  They’re still figuring out what they like, visiting each other’s apartments for the first time, and passing muster with best friends and neighbors.

I really like the BDSM itself.  The meaning Kyle’s cuffs take on, conversations in the club, a rope bondage scene with Kyle’s neighbor – I’m here for all of it.  Some are carryovers from and callbacks to the first book and I like how the narrative thread isn’t being dropped.  People at the club, in particular, are being fleshed out and I hope they’ll get their own stories going forward.

The sex is sweet and scenes varied, but there’s precious little plot holding them together.  I’m glad there’s no Big Misunderstanding, but I wanted a bit more there there.  New chapters often start with a jump in time and change of place that left me at sea. And some things just didn’t make sense – Aidan lives in a duplex supplied by his employer but the neighbors have free run of his kitchen for reasons I can’t discern.

If you don’t like the third person present you may be put off but it doesn’t bother me.  Despite the more objective standpoint, though, we never get deep into Aidan’s head.  I didn’t mind it for the first book – a touch of mystery! room to grow! – but I’m having a hard time connecting to our Dom hero without it.

All in all a decent if slightly slumpy second book in the series.  That being said there’s a teaser for book three and I like the direction Eradani is headed.

Thanks to NineStar Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher

htlgiHow The Light Gets In is the first collection from award winning short story writer and novelist, Clare Fisher. A book of very short stories that explores the spaces between light and dark and how we find our way from one to the other.

From buffering Skype chats and the truth about beards, to fried chicken shops and the things smartphones make you less likely to do when alone in a public place, Fisher paints a complex, funny and moving portrait of contemporary British life.

Review:

I love fiction that does interesting things and this collection of super short stories does just that.  Often finishing up in a page or two, the pieces explore our modern life through the eyes of 20 and 30-somethings.  Realistic with flights of fancy, at her best Fisher gets at truths we may have felt but haven’t said aloud.

Despite having spent a greater proportion of her life in a relationship than not in a relationship, she feels that a greater proportion of her ‘self’ is unknown than known.

Some of my favorites spill an entire tale in three sentences.

The length makes the stories perfect for reading on the train or in stolen moments. In fact, I found myself saving them for my commute because they fit so well.  Light and dark are covered at length as themes, as you would expect, as well as finding yourself and belonging.  I get the feeling Fisher is around my age because some stories can only told by someone who has straddled the digital divide, who has both lived the “before” and is fully immersed in the “after”.  Someone who has been told since they were small that they can do anything, and who is just realizing that anything does not equal everything.

Yes, you will die without doing or being many things; you will die as you are – and perhaps that is alright.

As with any collection there’s some range – when the stories are good they take your breath away, but when they’re off they’re just meh.  There are so many short pieces, though, that the mehs (or the ones that don’t get through my head) fall away, leaving gorgeous prose behind.

Great if you’re looking for something a little different and beautifully written that embraces the now.

Thanks to Influx Press for providing a review copy.

Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell

31451258Grand Central, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall―for almost two decades, no place was safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters “FP” and left his lethal devices in phone booths, storage lockers, even tucked into the plush seats of movie theaters. His victims were left cruelly maimed. Tabloids called him “the greatest individual menace New York City ever faced.”

In desperation, Police Captain Howard Finney sought the help of a little known psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose expertise was the criminal mind. Examining crime scene evidence and the strange wording in the bomber’s letters, he compiled a portrait of the suspect down to the cut of his jacket. But how to put a name to the description? Seymour Berkson―publisher of the tabloid The Journal-American―joined in pursuit of the Mad Bomber. The three men hatched a brilliant scheme to catch him at his own game. Together, they would capture a monster and change the face of American law enforcement.

Review:

I feel a true crime binge coming on and I started with this book because hey, “the invention of criminal profiling”.  It makes you think the how of profiling would be discussed.

But no.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a good account about the “Mad Bomber of New York” who set off pipe bombs in the city for the better part of two decades.  He started small, putting bombs in out of the way places, and got more adventurous as time went on.  The NYPD was getting criticized for allowing him to continue unfettered for years.  Desperate, they asked a psychiatrist for help.

This is the part I was waiting for – how did Dr. Brussel come up with a profile?  What medical knowledge did he draw on to arrive at the picture of a killer?

Sadly we don’t know.  Cannell sticks close to the police so we see Brussel make a prophecy (a Slavic guy in a double breasted suit, probably living with female relatives) and that’s about it.

I desperately wanted more info on the invention and process of profiling (see title) so I was disappointed.  If you’re a fan of true crime there’s a good story here, just expect more ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ than ‘hows’.