A Canadian Werewolf in New York

Cannonball Read 9 - review 1

A Canadian mystery writer lives in New York city and gets involved in some supernatural/criminal hijinx. Also, he’s a werewolf (which is kind of obvious right from the cover, so, like, not a spoiler).

This book started life as a stand-alone short story called “This Time Around”. I read that and totally loved it. The author has a nice touch and a good sense of humor so I was interested to see how the whole story played out.  The short story serves as the start of the book, rolling into the continued action.

Michael Andrews (the werewolf) wakes up naked in a park with a bullet in his leg. Apparently something unusual happened during his wolf out the night before. A few little misadventures and he gets home, to find his old girlfriend waiting for him. She needs him to snoop around and find out what her fiance is up to. He agrees to do it, despite the fact that he has a deadline from his agent and an appointment to be on Letterman that night.

You’re going to need a little suspension of belief to get through it. Not because of the werewolf thing but because of all the events Andrews has to go through in the space of a few hours.  There is a LOT of action crammed in there and a few times when it’s a miracle he manages to disappear from places before the cops show up.

There’s a few things that bugged me.  I’m not sure why it had to be Letterman specifically he was appearing on. Not only does that date the story, but the scenes that take place during the taping don’t really match with how Letterman runs.  A generic late-night talk show might have been a better idea. I suspect the only reason it was Letterman was for the whole “all Canadians know each other” joke with Paul Shaffer. And maybe Mark Leslie is just a huge Letterman fan.

The other thing that bothered me was a pretty huge typo that made me laugh.  At one point there’s a newspaper headline about a “vicious wolf attack” only… it says “viscous” instead. Wince.

Also, for me, it was a little hard not to picture Nathan Fillion as Michael Andrews.

This isn’t a stellar book, but it’s short and fun and sometimes funny, and I would happily read anything else Mark Leslie decided to write in this series.

I've linked both the book and the original short story below.

You Know You Don't Update Enough When You Can't Remember Your Password

Over on my Patreon page I'm doing a series of posts for patrons-only. For as little as a dollar a month you can get 30 short stories or scenes. It was supposed to be one a day for 30 days, but this week the non-writing life got a little stressful and while sitting down to write would have been a great stress reliever, sleep was also a pretty tempting stress-reliever. Also on Wednesdays the channel ION has a Law & Order (mothership) Marathon.  I'm still going to do the 30-topic challenge, but it's obvious that it's not going to be a daily thing.

I do a lot of writing longhand when I have some downtime at work: waiting for SQL queries to execute, while processes are running, and during lunch. So when work is busy I don't always get those chances.  When it's busy at work I don't really have the attention span or the energy to spend more time at a computer typing things. 

This means I'm also way behind on my Cannonball Read reviews. I'm only seven books behind in my reviews because I'm not reading a lot either. So I'm actually fourteen books behind, because I have seven to review and I have seven to read to catch up with where I should be in order to read 52 books this year.

The year is just about half over. Time to finally start all those New Year's resolutions and keep moving forward.

Cannonball Read 8: Review 5

Disclosure: I was given this novel by the author through a CBR8 giveaway in exchange for a fair review. 

I received the book Friday, March 18, read half of it on the 19th, and the other half today, the 22nd. Life interfered on Sunday and Monday and I couldn't sit down to read it, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about it.

I don't really like using terms like "page-turner" because they're cliche, but this one ... this one really did fly by quickly. The chapters are short - each focusing on a different primary character - and I kept going "Oh, I should do (whatever). One more chapter. Wait, this one's short. I'll just do one more." And that's how I got through half the book in about an hour and a half. 

The book starts in 1995 when fifteen-year-old Amy goes off with some guy. He's older and handsome and she knows her stepfather wouldn't approve but he's so nice to her and he seems to really like her, so she trusts him. 

Of course, she shouldn't  have trusted him. He assaults her and leaves her for dead.  She ends up in a persistent vegetative state. And that brings us to 2010 and journalist Alex Dale. Alex is doing a story on persistent vegetative state and sees Amy in the ward. Alex remembers Amy's story - they're the same age and Alex is aware that she could have just as easily been where Amy is now. Alex (whose personal and professional lives are a mess) decides that her redemption could come from writing about Amy and hopefully closing the case. 

Each chapter does focus on a different character, but the primary characters are few and each one does move the story along. There aren't any characters where I thought "Oh I can skip these".  At about the halfway point I thought I'd figured out who attacked Amy.  A little past that point I thought "Oh, wait. No. I think maybe X attacked her, but it was Y that lured her away." A little later than that I thought "It couldn't possibly have been Z, could it? That would've come out of nowhere."

At the end, I was wrong. The red herrings were carefully placed.  They were small ones. Red guppies, maybe. Carefully worded sentences that could be interpreted a few ways and in a few cases I interpreted wrong (but then thinking back, I could see what Holly Seddon had done and how easily it could have been misunderstood).  So much more satisfying than getting it right early on. I don't doubt that other people will figure it out well before the end, but these people will still keep reading to see how we get there and how the storylines are resolved for the two main characters.

Try Not to Breathe: A Novel
By Holly Seddon

Cannonball Read 8: Review 4

The blurb says this:

An elderly woman is found poisoned in the upstairs bedroom of her home whose front door stands 52 steps above the street in an old-fashioned whodunit that blends clues, red herrings, suspects, and humor.

It has a solid 4 stars. I wanted something fast to read and this promised me funny.  It was free.  I got what I paid for.

Two homicide detectives get a call to investigate a suspicious death in a historic neighborhood. All the houses are built on a hill with a steep set of stairs leading to them.  The cops are both fat. HERE'S THE JOKE, GUYS. TWO FAT GUYS HAVE TO GO UP 52 STEPS.

In print this would be 221 pages. About 200 of those pages are dedicated to how fat these guys are, how hard it is for them to get up these steps, how much they eat, how they mindlessly eat candy while interviewing the granddaughter of the recently deceased, and break for lunch. At one point, going back down to the street, they decide to ROLL DOWN THE HILL.  HA HA HA FUNNY, RIGHT? TWO FAT COPS ROLLING DOWN A HILL.

They end up in the hospital.  These two are a class act, guys.

The "hero" is a guy named Dekker. He claims to be Christian and talks constantly about how he reads his daily devotional and takes the time to reflect on it, but he's downright cruel and offensive to his neighbor, a woman who's clearly interested in him. He lies to her, insults her, and has fantasies about harming her dog.  What a sweetheart! He's a widower who's still in love with his wife who's been dead for decades, and he spends his nights sitting in his living room watching "Make Room for Daddy" and "I Love Lucy". He considers the 50s to be the epitome of comedy, and at one point is disappointed to find out that a DVD of classic commercials is mostly from the 70s. Unsurprisingly, he's also pretty sexist. He'd probably be racist if there were anyone other than middle-class white people in the book.

Dekker also spends a lot of time thinking about his partner.  Dekker will wonder what Lou is doing at night. How he spends his time. What he reads. It's a little weird.

There are a lot of characters introduced. Most of them don't serve any purpose except to be "quirky" for a page or two, and add to the list of suspects. They're all broadly drawn and mostly stereotypes: the nosy neighbor, the single mom with her PTSD son, the elderly woman. The mailman. They're all so generic it's hard to keep them straight.

There are hidden tunnels connecting all of the houses in the neighborhood. Tunnels that are apparently big enough that five or six grown men can spread out to search them. Seriously, they've got cavernous rooms and wide tunnels and I think they even go so far down that they connect to the houses on the other side of the street and ... I got tired of trying to work out the whole thing. This is important to the plot because it's how the murderer was able to kill people without being seen. It's very Scooby-doo, right down to the ending, where it turns out that the murderer was a lawyer who wanted to buy all the real estate! Jinkies!

The writing itself is painful at times.  There's a lot of "'Blah blah blah, Lou.' I said. 'Well Cy, blah blah blah.' He joked. I laughed and then he laughed. And then we laughed until we were huffing and puffing for air." Because the author can't go a page without mentioning that the cops are so fat that they get breathless just talking.  Because that's funny, right?!  There are also pages and pages of wall-of-text pondering from our main character "If X was with Y, then it couldn't have been X. Or was it X and Y?  Did they have a motive? Z had a motive, but an airtight alibi. But what if that alibi wasn't so airtight? What if Q was lying for Z? Except wasn't Z supposed to be out of town? Then how would Q know that Z said that thing about W? Did W have a motive? Was Q covering for W? And... what about Naomi!?"

Seriously. Do yourself a favor. Don't get this book. Not even for charity. Not even for free. Not even for a hate read. Just don't.

Cannonball Read 8: Review 3

Sometimes I want a quick read. A comfortable read where nothing too gross happens. It's what they call a "cozy" mystery. If you're not familiar with the term, think of it as a book that's like an episode of Castle. There's a mystery - usually a death - but it's not described in lurid detail. The main character (almost always a woman) may even say something like "I didn't need a close look to know that <victim> was dead."  There are quirky characters, quirky settings, and an attractive person who's involved in the case in some way (usually a cop).

Sweet and Salty Treachery was just that sort of book. The main character (Ali) is part-owner in a shop that specializes in pastries and smoothies in the morning, lunches paired with desserts in the afternoon. Most of their business comes from providing catered lunches to the offices around the storefront.  When HoneyBuns Sweets and Sandwiches get a last-minute invitation to attend a taste testing to win a spot catering a charity event,  Ali is elated.  She packs up some samples and heads to the hall.

Where, of course, the event planner drops dead immediately after sampling Ali's wares.

And, of course, Ali and her best (journalist) friend end up "investigating" and figuring out who was really behind the murder. The attractive cop saves her at just the right time. 

It was a quick read, and a satisfying one. 

Cannonball Read 8: Review 2

The Magicians

AKA: Holden Caulfield goes to Hogwarts

Did you ever wonder about those white-haired, cynical wizards in fantasy stories? The ones that show up at strange times and disappear right when their magic would be most beneficial? Did you ever wonder what their backstory was?

Me neither, but apparently Lev Grossman did.

I wish I could take credit for the "Holden Caulfield goes to Hogwarts" thing, but I stole that from a friend of a friend. It's fitting.  The main character, Quentin Coldwater, is about seventeen at the start of the book.  He's in love with his best female friend who is - of course - dating Quentin's best male friend. He feels like the third wheel all of the time.  His parents are flakey and largely disinterested. He's in classes for the smartest of the smart kids and his life is a constant competition to be the best. He hates his friends for how easy everything comes to them - Quentin studies for hours and doesn't have fun because he absolutely cannot be less than perfect.

Quentin's only escape is into a series of young adult novels about a land called Fillory, populated with talking animals and simple quests and two kings and two queens, all of whom are siblings who can enter this magical land.  Quentin reads and rereads these novels and wishes such a place existed.

Poor Quentin and his best friend James have an interview with some Yale alumni person. They're the super besty best in their class and the interview is vital to them getting into the school. But instead of an interview, they find the guy dead on the floor.  One of the paramedics who responds to their 911 call hands Quentin and James envelopes with their name on it, saying it was probably something the dead guy was going to give them. James refuses the envelope and wanders off to meet up with Julia, the girl best friend. Quentin looks in the envelope on his walk home and discovers... the manuscript for the legendary sixth Fillory book!  He takes out the first page, but before he can read it, the wind whips it away and down a long, dark community garden that gets longer and darker than any community garden in Brooklyn could be.  And then suddenly he's in Upstate New York and it's no longer November.  It's August and it's hot and he's stumbled onto the grounds of Brakebills, the elite magic college. The college is always about two months behind the real world, which totally messes with Christmas vacation.

Quentin takes a test. Passes it. Becomes a student in the magical school. He hates it because he has to work hard and he is convinced that everything is easy for everyone else and he's the only one who has to work hard and he'll never be good enough and everyone else is getting drunk and having sex and whine whine WHINE, Quentin!  You're at a goddamned magical school. You're learning magic. When you graduate you can be set up for life in a fake job that keeps you legitimate and pays you incredibly well.

The book suffers (much like this post does) from long, drawn out descriptions of things that are only mildly interesting (many pages about how the class gets turned into geese and their long flight and geese pooping and eating bugs and flapping their wings) and then glosses over other things (It's the first day of class and suddenly they're 3rd year students).  Threads are started and not so much dropped but forgotten about until it's convenient. (Julia was invited to take the test but failed. She's been teaching herself magic and getting weird and twitchy and demands that Quentin talk to the school about taking her. He does, the dean says he's going to wipe her memory of the school again, but somehow he never does, but Julia still doesn't get in, but goes to Fillory in the end and she's got magic, but she's crazy?)

I hated about 78% of the book.  I liked the very start of it, then almost immediately started to find every single person in the book irritating. They're all self-absorbed, spoiled, "tragic" people. They all secretly (and not-so-secretly) hate each other, but still insist on sleeping with each other.  And of course they go to Fillory and it's not the cute happy-bunny-land of the books.  People die. One guy gets his hands bitten off.

There was a point around the 86% mark where I was interested again (about the point where the hands get bitten off) and honestly it's where the book should have ended.  But there was more after that - about Quentin sulking and getting mad at talking badgers or something, and then returning to New York and getting a boring desk job and making large amounts of money and then suddenly his "friends" show up and they decide they're going to go back to Fillory, even though several of their friends died horrible deaths there, and Quentin is royally fucked up in the head because of it.  The End.

The worst part?  It's written like a young adult novel. Or a young-young adult novel.  There's a scene with foxes and later  it's explained to us that one girl gets the nickname "Vix" because of the fox thing, and female foxes are called vixens. I am not nine.  You can't tell me on one page that this group of  20-something magicians just got really drunk and had an orgy, and then on the next page explain foxes to me.  Decide on your audience!  Also, that nickname gets used exactly once and then is never used again.

Cannonball Read 8: Review 1

The Moon's Dirty Light: Werewolves of Baltimore (book 1)

I love me some werewolves. I love me some Baltimore. I love me some gay romance.  You'd think I'd love me this book.

Sadly, I did not.  This book unfortunately pushes a lot of my "nope" buttons, but I do understand that there are a lot of people out there for whom this book will be catnip. Erm. Whatever the werewolf version of catnip is.

It starts with a sex scene. Two cops, partners Logan and Dylan, are getting hot and heavy in their off-hours. One of the cops is a werewolf and during the sex the werewolf gets a little out of control and his partner is marked. The werewolfism is transferred, and ... surprise! They're now a bonded, mated-for-life pair.  

And then the "real" world intervenes. A body has been discovered.  The victim was mauled to death by a dog. Except, you know, we know that it was a werewolf.  The lieutenant knows that Logan (the werewolf cop) is a werewolf cop. Dylan doesn't know. The lieutenant knows this is wasn't a dog attack. So he sends Logan and Dylan to investigate.

The second victim is a vampire. This threatens to destroy the truce between the vampire and werewolf communities.  The vampires are angry so the werewolves have to solve this fast.  Because the vampires are so angry they're going to get their lawyers involved.

There's more sex. There's an attack on another werewolf, but he survives because he's a werewolf. There's more sex. Some non-cop werewolves catch the rogue werewolf that's been behind the killings. The werewolf is executed. Dylan accepts the magical bond, there's more sex. They live happily for now.

The things that turned me off:

  • The whole "magically bonded/mated for life thing". 
  • "Screaming" during sex. This is set in Baltimore City, in an area I know, and if you were actually screaming during sex, the neighbors would be calling the cops because the neighbors share common walls. Twice the sex happens in a greenhouse Dylan has built in his back yard. A greenhouse isn't known for its soundproof properties.
  • Logan's over-the-top jealousy if anyone so much as looks at Dylan.
  • While Logan and Dylan are screwing, two werewolves we've never been introduced to capture the bad guy off-screen. They find out with a phone call. 
  • Some of the phrasing that's so common in m/m romance ("hot liquid showered his insides" and "coating the wall in strips of jizz")
  • Apparently all werewolves are Alphas, Betas, or Omegas, and "knotting" happens during sex.
  • Male pregnancy is mentioned as being a thing that can happen.
  • Editing problem: One minute they're screwing in the greenhouse. Next, they're waking up in bed.
  • And the big one: the McCormick Spice Factory hasn't been located anywhere near the Inner Harbor since the 1980s. 

One thing I almost liked: Dylan is rightfully pissed off when he finds out that not only is Logan a werewolf, but he's mated for life with Dylan and turned Dylan into a werewolf without consulting him. Unfortunately the anger doesn't last long because Logan is apparently so damn sexy and the bond is too strong.