Book Review – Dead Beat (Dresden Files #7) by Jim Butcher

Well. Here I am. Writing a book review for the first time in months. Huh.

Gotta say, this is weird. But it feels damn good. If you’re keeping up on my Goodreads page, then you know that I’ve been reading up a storm the last few days. I don’t plan on slowing down, either.

Also, I had a bit of a breakthrough on the fanfic while I was in the shower today (of course), so I should make some serious progress on it over the next week or so.

My aunts have been staying with us this whole week, camped out in my writing room, so things have been a bit out of sorts for me. Even now  I’m typing this from the kitchen table, listening to Incubus in my headphones while Trevor plays his video games in his office. I didn’t realize how used to my routine I’d become, but man, this week has put it into perspective.

I started a new short story, and it’s really rough right now. I’m not sure if it’ll ever turn into more than some weird little tale, but I had a really great time writing it, so that seems good enough for now. I’ve also been doing a bit of research on the requirements for membership with the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association) which then spiraled out into all kinds of interesting searches about publishers, agents, and magazines with open submissions.

So, long story short, my brain is kicking back into writing mode, and I couldn’t be happier.

Now that you’ve got the short version of my thoughts these last few days, have a book review! This is the part where I tell you that there are spoilers below…

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This book took me entirely too long to read. I started it as a digital audiobook on loan from the library back at the beginning of April. I was in the height of my Mass Effect playing then, so the poor recording was left neglected except for when I had a migraine. The digital loans aren’t renewable, and of course there were a bunch of holds on it, so I couldn’t get the audiobook again. I told myself that, since I owned the paperback, I’d just commit to finishing it the old-fashioned way.

Four months later I finally cracked it open and finished it in a couple of days. Because it was good! I know there’s no point in being upset with myself or trying to feel guilty about my sabbatical, but damn. I could have been so much farther in the series by now!

In this installment, Dresden is tasked with fighting off the Disciples of Kemmler, a notoriously evil necromancer whose acolytes are all vying for Godhood on a particularly stormy  Halloween. To make matters worse, Mavra, of the Black Court Vampires, also wants the “Word of Kemmler”, the necromancer’s book that all the Disciples are after. Within the book lies a ritual for calling forth the Erlking, lord of the Wild Hunt, and unlocks power that would bequeath enough power to make one a God.

So, a typical Thursday night for Harry.

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Cover art for Wizard at Large, an omnibus of Blood Rites and Dead Beat, by Dan dos Santos.

 

But, shit gets pretty intense, pretty freaking fast. There’s necromancy galore, with zombies and spirits and ghouls running rampant. Butters, the coroner, tags along with Harry the whole time, and Thomas and Mouse are large players as well; a full cast of my favorite people.

Murphy is conveniently elsewhere for the duration of the novel, and I’m excited to see how her Hawaiian vacation with Kincaid went. It was obvious in the beginning of the novel that she wanted Harry to be jealous or to try and stop her, but he’s Dresden. He didn’t do any of that even though he really wanted to. He respects Murph way too much to audibly question her romantic entanglements.

Which… come on! Just kiss already!

Anyway, nothing is ever easy for Harry, and this book in particular put the wizard through the wringer. The Red Court did some dirty fighting to deliver a crippling blow to the White Council, almost completely decimating the Wardens. It was really cool to see the Wardens in action, and one in particular, Ramirez, was a new favorite character. Of course, that means his life is in immediate danger, because I like him way more than I should. Sorry, Ramirez.

Also, Butters gets ragged on by Thomas the whole book for being a coward, and then does some insanely badass shit in order to save Harry, including riding on the back of a resurrected Tyrannosaurus Rex whilst using his one-man polka suit to keep a drum beat.

 

Because Polka will never die.

And behind all of this is the longer arc of the war between the White Council and the Red Court, and the even longer arc of Dresden and Lasciel, the fallen angel he thought he’d locked away beneath two feet of cement in his basement. Yeah, she makes an appearance or three, and it’s some weird shit.

Anyway, I feel really rusty at this whole book review thing, but I needed to do this before  I got too deep into the next  Dresden book and couldn’t keep the details separate. Despite how long it took for me to finish this book, I really loved it. If you’ve made it this far through Dresden, are you really gonna give up on it now?

A sincere thanks to all of you that continued to visit the blog, even though I was gone for so long. I knew it’d be a while,but I didn’t think it’d be almost five months… But, I’m back now, and looking forward to balancing projects and getting back into my more productive routines.

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Me, twirling through my TBR list.

I’m reading about five things right now, so I have no idea what the next book review will be. Probably The Atlantis Complex (Artemis Fowl #7) by Eoin Colfer, because I just finished it. I’m also listening to Alan Cumming’s autobiography, Not My Father’s Son, which is phenomenal so far. I’m also listening to Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Patton Oswalt’s first book, and enjoying myself. And I’m reading Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman #1) by Neil Gaiman.

Good gravy. I really am trying to make up for lost time. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. So, stick around for more blog posts as my reading and writing reestablishes a working rhythm.

Until then, Blogland!

 

BZ

Book Review – The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Good evening Blogland!

Sorry this is so late, but I procrastinated by talking with out of town family for hours today. Then I helped walk Trevor through some stretches before he got into his workout today. So, here I am ready to talk all about our book club meeting and The Paper Magician.

Last night the book club congregated at Taproot, our favorite local bar with healthy eats and a very laid-back atmosphere. Towards the back of thetaproot building there’s a nook I refer to as the Book  Nook, where the owner (who also was the Officiant at my wedding) put up a ton of shelves with old hardback books from library rummage sales. Coupled with the worn, comfortable couches and custom wood coffee and end tables, it’s the perfect spot to meet.

And everyone showed up! Those of you following along these last couple years know that it’s a rare meeting when everyone’s in attendance and everyone read the book. I was really excited last night.

But, I’m even more excited because everyone was really thrilled with The Paper Magician.

This is the part where  I tell you that there are spoilers ahead. You were warned.

The book is set in the late 1800s, just outside of London. Ceony Twill has just graduated from The Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, in half the time, only to have her hopes crushed. She wanted to be a Smelter, a magician who deals in metal, but instead will be a Folder- a magician bonded to Paper. Print

It’s important to note that once a magician has bonded with their element, all other forms of magic are unavailable to them

While Ceony never really reveals why she wanted to desperately to be a Smelter, she is crushed when she’s delivered to the home of Mg. Emery Thane, who is to be her mentor for the next 2-6 years.

And though he’s younger than she imagined, and attractive in a thin, nerdy way, she’s an absolute brat her first day with him. He knew that Folding was not what she wanted, and he did his damnedest to show her the wonders of Folding, all prepared before her arrival. Paper snowflakes, cut and painstakingly Folded, and then imbued with a chill all of their own. An entire garden of paper tulips, blooming in the wind. Paper birds flitting about the house, and Jonto, a paper skeleton capable of simple butler-esque tasks.

Oh! And, on the second day, after seeing her stroking a small dog collar mournfully, Thane stayed up all night to fold her a small paper dog, who she names Fennel. He’s the size of a terrier, and has all the anatomy of a dog, Folded in complicated patterns and links. That gesture made me cry pretty good.

And so Ceony starts her studies. But, just as she’s coming around to her lot in life, prepping meals and memorizing her Folds, Emery’s ex-wife shows up and rips his heart of his chest. Literally. She’s what’s known as an Excisioner, a magician who manipulates human flesh. It’s a forbidden practice, and one Ceony knows nothing pretty much nothing about.

Ceony’s quick thinking saves the Magician, but only temporarily. A paper heart, no matter how well Folded (her’s wasn’t) can only last so long. So she sets out, against the Magician Councils orders, to retrieve Emery’s heart and save his life.

Using some advanced magic left behind by Thane, Ceony is able to track Lira (the ex-wife) to a secluded cave on the coast, and there she has the  Magician’s heart in a ceremonial bowl of his own blood.

Unsure of how else to get the heart back, Ceony uses her small pistol on the woman, only to find that the Excisioner was able to manipulate her flesh into spitting the bullet out.

This woman means business. But so does Ceony, because she was starting to fall for Emery. And she refused to go home without his heart.

Lira worked some dark magic that sends Ceony into Emery Thane’s heart, and there she’s on the run, fleeing through the chambers of his still beating heart to try and escape the evil woman, as well as find a way out.

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Fanart entered in a competition, Pages of Adventure by Jynette Tigner

Ceony learns a lot about Thane as she travels through his heart. Each chamber has a different theme to the memories. Good memories, bad memories, hopes, and fears are all presented, and Ceony must maneuver through them to find a way out.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I really liked this portion of the book. What a crazy cool way to develop a character, by literally taking a stroll through his heart!

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book so much, especially since it’s so short, only 213 pages. The world building is thin, and the clubbers had some questions in that regard, same as I did. Are Magicians a public fact? How much do magicians earn? How many are there? These kinds of things. We wanted more!

But, ultimately, this story is about Ceony and Emery, and establishing the magic, which is all done very well. The book club agreed, all of them eager to read on to the next books. I already have the rest of the trilogy on the Library Book table, waiting for me to finish up with The Six-Gun Tarot.

So, I very much recommend this book. It’s whimsical, romantic, and cute, but also has some darkness to it that keeps it from being too sappy. You can tell it’s Holmberg’s first novel, but I have every confidence that things get ironed out as she continues to tell Ceony’s story. As it is, I did enjoy the dialogue and the prose very much, and I will admit that I would read aloud to myself in British accents, because I’m a nerd like that.

Don’t worry, only my dog was subjected to it. I was otherwise very much alone.

Anyway, I hope you all give The Paper Magician a shot. It was a ton of fun, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Until next time, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review – Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Hello, Blogland.

I’ve been a busy little reader these last few days, and have completed both Jackaby novels, as well as a few installments of Locke & Key. Pop over to the “What I’m Reading” page to get a full update.

Today we’re here to discuss the second novel in the Jackaby series, Beastly Bones. If you’ve not read my review of Jackaby, now would be the time.

beastly-bonesIn this installment, Abigail and Jackaby find themselves on a case in Gad’s Valley, which is lovely since that’s where Charlie Barker, formerly Charlie Cane, now resides. There’s been a string of murders, seemingly unrelated save for a peculiar wound to the neck: a single puncture surrounded by bruising.

Along the way they catch up with an old friend of Jackaby’s, Hank Hudson. He’s a hunter and trapper, with a focus on unusual creatures. He’s also huge. I pictured him like a frontiersman Hagrid, but less approachable.

On this adventure, Abigail is torn. The official reason they’re sent to Gad’s Valley is to track down a stolen fossil, and her paleontology roots call to her. It was really great to see Abigail in her element, and she had several occasions to one up the male experts who were quick to disregard her. Jackaby was proud of her, but her interest and aptitude meant that he spent a bit of his time on his own, hunting the unseen forces behind the theft.

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I’m still waiting for a moment like this…

As the story goes on, things remain relatively light. The two paleontologists bicker and argue over all sorts of minutia, there’s a femme fatale reporter who befriends Abigail, and Abigail has a few delightfully awkward encounters with Charlie, who is even more endearing in this book.

 

But, when it appears that an actual dragon, thought extinct for a few thousand years, is terrorizing the valley, things get dark quick. Houses are razed, a nearby couple are killed, and in the final battle the reporter, Nellie Fuller, sacrifices herself to give Jackaby and Abigail time to figure something out.

And, Abigail does. That was my favorite part of this story. Abigail saves the day, and Jackaby’s life. She’s the hero, finally the strong female character, even if she refuses to see herself that way. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Abigail even kisses Charlie by the very end! Very bold indeed.

But, the events of Gad’s Valley also trouble her immensely, giving Jackaby the opportunity to wax philosophical, as he often does, and it’s always a treat. But, the events also set the stage for the next book, and help establish a larger arc for the series.

I would say that this book is very much Abigail’s. Though she’s the main character of the series, the first book had to introduce us to Jackaby and his unique place and function in the world. Now, with all that established, Abigail had the opportunity to really grow and shine.

Ritter did a good job of making his likeable narrator even more so, and keeping things fun while he did.

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William Ritter

That would be my number one selling point of these books. They’re fun. The characters are endearing and well-developed, and the city of New Fiddleham feels like home. I want to spend time in this world, with these people. I’m happy to report that the third book is probably the best of them all, and the next book is due out this summer!

There’s no shortage of time with Abigail and Co., just yet.

Unrelated to the actual plot or books, I found out that William Ritter is a local author. He lives in Springfield, Oregon, about an hour south of Salem, near Eugene. He’s an educator, and I look forward to catching him during his promotion of the next book, The Dire King.

Aaaand, I just read that it’s the conclusion of the series. I am not OK with that. Not in the least. How can that be the end? There’s too many possibilities! You can’t just wrapghostly-echoes everything up in one book, right?

Now I’m sad. Damn it. Well, I’ll see you all tomorrow when I return with the book review for Ghostly Echoes.

Until then, Blogland…

 

BZ

Book Review – The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

For once, I can barely hear the clack of the keyboard as I write this. Instead, my office is overwhelmed by the jilted crash of my $30 printer doing its damnedest to give me a refined physical copy of The Steel Armada.

It’s mostly working. It can only print about 20 pages at a time, so I have to keep stopping to refill the paper, and the contraption is housed in a less than convenient place, so I have to get out of my seat, grab a sheaf of papers, and then kneel under my desk to actually feed the beast.

But, having a physical representation of all the hard work that went into making draft #2 look as good as it does feels amazing. Now that it’s sitting here, all pristine and shiny, I almost feel bad about tearing to pieces over the next few months.

Almost.

But, we’re here to discuss The Last Unicorn.

This was the flast-unicornirst book of Book Club session #3. We were all pretty excited for it, and it was a quick read. I was thankful for that because I cut it pretty close trying to read a million other things. But, it only took about two days to read Beagle’s fantasy classic. Only myself and one other person showed, the rest being ill. So it was a quick meeting too!

I would say that this story is a modern fairy tale. It doesn’t follow any of the writing conventions I’ve been taught, which made it a little difficult to read. Sentence structures are often awkward, and character perspective shifts all over the place. These are things that would be a death sentence for a book seeking publication today, but Beagle’s novel managed to get away with.

Probably by the virtue of its romantic whimsy.

Like most fairy tales I’ve read, there are a lot of consistent themes in this book, and when they raise their head they take the form of lines so startling in their beauty and truth that they stand out from the rest of the clunky prose.

The Last Unicorn is a book about beauty, love, and time. The Unicorn, for she has no other name, is a creature whose beauty is unmatched, and her immortality leaves her immune to love and time. She wants nothing, needs nothing, and likes it that way.

But, when she hears two hunters say that all the unicorns have vanished from the world, she is driven to leave her secluded wood to seek them out. An unwilling adventurer, the Unicorn soon realizes that men cannot see her true form, because they no longer believe that unicorns even exist.

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Schmendrick meets the Unicorn, artwork by Mel Grant

But, not everyone is so convinced, especially not those who have any hint of magic in them. Schmendrick is one such man. A magician of the bumbling variety, he is plagued with doubt and ineptitude to the point that his rescue of the Unicorn from an evil circus owner turns into the Unicorn rescuing him from a furious Harpy.

He’s also my favorite character.

Ever hopeful and bumbling, Schmendrick accompanies the Unicorn on her quest, and they soon meet up with Molly Grue who is a bitter and cynical woman who lived with a would-be Robin Hood. But, the glory days of their robberies were far behind them, if there ever were such days, and upon seeing the Unicorn Molly Grue leaves the band of thieves behind.

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King Haggard’s Castle, artwork by Mel Grant

And so the story goes on, and it follows a very fairy tale formula, while at once mocking the fairy tale formula. I think that tongue and cheek element also redeems the story from its choppy delivery.

In order to save the Unicorn from certain death, Schmendrick turns her (quite accidentally) into a startlingly gorgeous human woman. The three of them then visit the castle and gain employment with the bitter and cursed King Haggard. Ah, but the cursed king has a noble son, Prince Lír, who promptly falls in love with the Unicorn, now known as Lady Amalthea. And the longer she’s human the less she remembers of herself and the more she falls for the Prince.

But, in the end, Molly Grue and Schmendrick figure out how to release the unicorns, and help Amalthea return to her true form. But, her love for Lír has changed her forever. She tells Schmendrick that some small part of her will always be mortal, will always long for something, though she wants nothing, and that time suddenly matters to her, though she is immortal again.

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Molly Grue meets Schmendrick, artwork by Mel Grant

And that’s all sad and whatnot. But what I think was the more powerful element in the story is the love that blossoms between Schmendrick and Molly Grue. They started out as bitter opponents, literally keeping to their own sides of the Unicorn, and by the end they were an unspoken team. After the Unicorn leaves their presence, Schemndrick watches Molly laugh and shake her head until her hair fell loose around her shoulders, “and she was more beautiful than the Lady Amalthea”.

They came together naturally, and their normalcy is only enhanced by the presence of the Unicorn. Her undeniable otherness shows just how beautiful normal love can be. Another line that struck me was when Schmendrick lifted he and Molly Grue up the cliff face. “The magic lifted her as if she were a note of music and it were singing her.” It’s such a delicate and pretty line, made all the more meaningful because it’s Schmendrick’s newfound magic it refers to.

I should add that I’ve never seen the film, though I hear it’s currently on Netflix. I’ll have to add it to the queue. And, I’ll have to add this book to my shelf. It deserves a place with my other favorite fairy tales, Howl’s Moving Castle and Stardust.

I really wish I’d seen the movie and read the book as a child. I think it would have been more powerful and influencing to me then. Now, as an adult, I read everything a little too critically to fully appreciate the magic in it. At least, I feel that way sometimes. The clunky passages wouldn’t have mattered to 12 year old me; I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. But 27 year old me got stuck on each one.

But, 12 year old me would have had a completely unhealthy crush on Schmendrick, so at least I avoided that. Who am I kidding? I loved the guy! I just get to move on a bit quicker. On to Jackaby!

Anyway, this is mandatory reading for fantasy fans. It’s an essential of the genre, that knows its tropes and uses them purposefully to show how silly they are. It’s clever, and poignant, and fun to read.

Now, I just have to watch the movie!

 

BZ

Book Review – The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Hello Blogland!

Today has been a wonderful day so far, though I admit I wish I’d got an earlier start on this part of it. But, my best friend’s dad (basically my second dad) is arriving in town today, so I prepped a big dinner and did some house chores. The next three hours or so will be dedicated to blogging and fiction, and it will have to be good enough.

Last night was the first meeting of Book Club session #3, and it didn’t go that well. Three of the five people didn’t show, though they all contacted me ahead of time. So, I’ll get into the meeting, and the book more tomorrow.

Today we’re here to discuss The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. wildeeps

I learned about this book from my friend and co-worker, Matt. He’s a well read mofo, and can be damn cerebral when it suits him. He can also spend hours figuring out Cookie Monster’s extended family based on geographical location (i.e. Curry Monster for India, Kimchi Monster for Korea, Sushi Monster for Japan, and Gravy Monster for Canada, etc.). His versatility never ceases to astound and amuse me.

Anyway, he read this book a few months back and raved about it to me. I added it to the Goodreads TBR list, and promptly forgot about it. Then, while perusing the library’s catalog for new Sci-Fi and Fantasy, it popped up. I put a hold on it, the only one to do so, and waited.

When I finally checked it out I was surprised at how thin it was. A whopping 212 pages. Immediately I had doubts. Fantasy this short meant that world building would be minimal, or character development would suffer to accommodate it. I wasn’t wrong…

But I wasn’t right, either.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is such a strange, fantastical story that I find it difficult to write this review. There are so many conflicting elements in this story, things that threw me off and alienated me as a writer, but enthralled me as a reader. And educated me immensely as both.

Part luxurious prose that stands out in the genre, part Hip-Hop dialogue that definitely stands out in the genre, and part mythological ballad that brings it all together in this blur of whimsical and visceral language that finds its own rhythm and song.

It was really hard to get into at first, and my own insecurities didn’t help. All the characters in this book are black, as it takes place in what I believe to be (a possibly VERY distant future) Africa, and the main character, Demane, is gay to boot.

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The only picture I could find of Kai Ashante Wilson

As Matt and I agreed, we are not the target audience of Wilson’s novel. And I worried that my distance from Demane’s experience might make it impossible to enjoy or even really understand what the book was trying to tell me.

What a silly notion. For sharing experience and encouraging empathy is the true magic and purpose of fiction.

Yes, at first, it was difficult to follow the exposition. And just when I’d found the rhythm, suddenly harsh and unexpected dialogue would throw me off all over again. Until, completely beyond my awareness, it all seamed together into one voice. By the end the telling of Demane’s story was as natural to me as listening to my stepmother speak. This book lilts in a similar way as her thick Brazilian accent does and it required as much willingness to listen as her voice does when I’ve been away for a long time.

I don’t want to go into actual details of the plot, because the way it all unfolds in the book is really important. Telling you a rough explanation of events would just ruin it, and do it absolutely no justice.

That being said, I fully expect to purchase a copy and reread it after I’ve had some distance from it. It’s a book whose ending will directly affect how you read the preceding passages.

The world building is thin. It’s not a focus of this book, but it is there. It also seems to be set on Earth, because there are enough familiar places to suggest it, but no real proof. But, the story doesn’t suffer from it. The character’s are even subtly built, with sparse and purposeful language.

This is a book that uses your whole brain, long after you’ve finished it. I’m glad it wasn’t longer, because it would have lost a lot of its impact by shedding more light on places and people. The bits that we get are given to us for a reason. This is writing that truly embodies the idea that every word must serve multiple functions, and it is beautifully done.

It’s this that has put Kai Ashante Wilson firmly on my list of authors to watch. I look forward to reading more of him. And you should too.

Until tomorrow Blogland,

 

BZ

 

Book Review – Jackaby by William Ritter

Welcome, Blogland, to late 19th Century America. Here, women are expected to dress and behave like a lady, and if they’ve got any class, they definitely don’t work, but stay at home and dote on their husbands.

Less a reflection on America specifically, and more the general tone of the era. At least in Ritter’s fictional New England town of New Fiddleham. Which is a great name for a town. Very fun to say, especially if you do so with a posh British accent. jackaby

Anyway, this is the town the narrator/protagonist Abigail Rook finds herself in at the opening of the book. She’s more or less run away from home, in rural England, since she stole her University tuition money to see the world. Young Abigail, in her late teens, potentially early twenties, has had a busy year or two avoiding her parents’ ire. Time spent in Eastern Europe on an archeological dig, where she quickly learned that digging up dinosaurs was far less interesting than her father had made it seem.

From there, she went to Germany, and thanks to a giant miscommunication, her passage back to the UK became a voyage across the Atlantic. When she docks in New Fiddleham she knows no one and has just enough coin to rent a room for the evening. All her best dresses need laundering, which she can’t afford, and a girl has got to eat.

Basically, the girl needs to find a job, stat.

The next day, a day she intended to spend applying to local shops, turned into a whirlwind supernatural adventure and even landed her a job!

Enter R.F. Jackaby, New Fiddleham’s only paranormal private detective. He’s viewed less than favorably by the town’s “normals” and just being in his presence earns Abigail many disapproving looks. But, I love him! He’s part Sherlock Holmes, part Newt Scamander (I admit I pictured Eddie Redmayne the entire novel), and just a tiny hint of Buffy Summers. And one hundred percent a goober.

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Perhaps I should have pictured Matt Smith instead…

He’s distracted, brilliant, and completely lacking in social skills. His unbeknownst awkwardness made him immediately likeable, and irritating at times. But, this is exactly what Abigail has been searching for. Not necessarily the paranormal; she thinks Jackaby is more than a little unstable in that regard, but adventure! Intrigue! Puzzles that require solving!

Over an intense few days, Jackaby and his new Investigative Assistant solve a string of murders and both almost die a few times. It’s incredibly fun, and though a bit predictable, it is a YA novel.

That’s not meant to be a ding on YA, just an admission that books written for a younger audience are often a little less complex than those for an adult audience.

That being said, I was glad that the events I predicted came true. It was exactly what I wanted for the story and its characters. Well, almost. I still feel bad for Charlie Cane, but we’ll see how he fairs in the next couple books.

And that’s exciting too! More books! By the end of the book, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Abigail, Jackaby, and their strange little world within New Fiddleham. And now I don’t have to! The next two books are already added to my pile, waiting patiently in queue behind the next four books.

If I can be that patient. We’ll see if things stay in their current projected order.

Beyond the actual plot of this book, I think it has a bit to recommend it. An interesting and growing female lead. I wouldn’t necessarily call her “strong”, but she’s working on it. An extremely intriguing and funny Jackaby, and a complex world within our accepted normal. The world building is quick, but well done because it’s anchored in what we already know and understand.

And ultimately, I just had a really great time reading this book. And that’s something I want more of in my reading list. FUN! Jackaby delivered, and I hope the sequels will as well.

I’m hoping to finish The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps tomorrow. We have DnD tonight and tomorrow night, so I’m not sure if another book review will happen this week, and the writing has been a bit thin as well. So, not off to a great start for this week, but I’m not giving up!

Until then Blogland,

 

BZ

Book Review – Dark Run by Mike Brooks

All right, all right. I lied. But it wasn’t on purpose! All that upbeat energy transformed into restless homeowner real quick, and I spent the rest of yesterday measuring and planning out furniture and accessories.

But, I’m here and focused today.

So, Dark Run is the first in the Keiko series. Though the premise is familiar (I’m looking at you Firefly), who doesn’t want to read about space pirates?!dark-run

The Keiko is a private freighter (which looks like a cube), owned and operated by Captain Ichabod Drift. The first thing that stood out to me was that Captain Drift is Hispanic. He often slips into Spanish when under stress, and I understand just enough to find it hilarious. The second thing is that, despite bravado and confidence, he fucks up a bit. He reminded me of Locke Lamora if he were a futuristic space punk.

That’s probably why I loved him so much.

Accompanying Drift on his ship is a small crew of ex-cons and smugglers. Attracted to the jobs, the crew stay on because of the first rule of the Keiko: no questions about the past. Whoever you were before doesn’t matter, as long as you’re on the Keiko and performing your duties, you have a home.

Tamara Rourke has been with Drift the longest, just over eight years. Described as a tiny, dark skinned woman with a boyish figure, she’s easily underestimated. Which is unfortunate for anyone on the opposite end of her rifle. She’s a hard woman, with little sense of humor, and no expression of emotions. But Drift considers her his closest friend. It happens when you’ve saved each others’ asses for over eight years.

Next longest crew mate is Apirana Wahawaha, a hulking giant of a Maori. He used to be a member of the top Maori gang back on Earth, and it landed him in prison for… seven years or something. When he got out, he landed a job with Drift and never looked back. But his ritual tattoos often cause him trouble thanks to their association with the gang, which is the direct rival of the Yakuza. Anyway, he’s supposed to be intimidating and all that, but he’s a teddy bear (with a temper) underneath. And the whole time I just pictured this guy:

mauimoana

Thanks a lot Disney…

After that, it’s the Chang siblings. Drift helped Kuai, the Keiko’s engineer, break his sister out of jail, and now Jia pilots the Keiko. Now, I don’t know any Chinese, and the twins often break out in bitter arguments. Drift’s Mandarin is far from passable, but he offers interpretations as often as he can. And it’s also hilarious. Also, Jia has a bad case of Top Gun, and she thinks she’s the shit when it comes to being a helmsman. She gets the crew almost killed about a dozen times just in this book, but she also saves them all at least that many times. She’s incredibly insubordinate, but always gets Drift’s orders done along the way. And Kuai is just grumpy and passive aggressive.

And then there’s  the Dutch mercenary, Micah van Schaken. A former soldier for the Europan Commonwealth, Micah abandoned his post due to moral differences in order to pursue a life of a hired gun. He reminded me of Zaeed from Mass Effect 2, to the point where that’s exactly how I pictured him. Grizzled and grumpy, Micah is happiest when he’s shooting things and getting paid. Drift likes him because Micah’s loyalty lies with the money, so he can count on the man to do as expected.

The newest recruit is Jenna McIlroy, a young woman with incredible skill in technology. She’s what’s known as a slicer. She can hack ship systems and security protocols to fabricate licensing and ship documents, effectively getting the Keiko in and out of potentially hostile areas with no issue. But, she’s young and untried, and Drift has taken an almost fatherly view of her. I laughed pretty hard at a line where he acknowledges that he must be getting old because he doesn’t want to sleep with Jenna, and instead wants to protect her.

This is the merry band of misfits that call the Keiko home. And they’re a huge part of what makes this book work. The other part is the plot and pacing.

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Original UK Cover

Drift’s past has caught up with him, and a former employer has called upon him for one last job. But, it’s not a request. He blackmails Drift into a dark run. The Keiko and crew will take cargo to Old Earth, drop it off at a specific time and location, and then vanish. They must be unseen and above all they must not open the cargo.

Every instinct Drift has tells him it’s a bad job. Leave it and get as far away from Nicolas Kelsier as possible. But, there’s no escaping the man and his hired assassin. The Laughing Man is a space-wide terror, a veritable bogeyman. And during Drift’s meeting with Kelsier, the assassin has his sights on the Captain.

Side note: the fact that the villain is referred to as Kelsier really messed with me. There’s one Kelsier in my life, and though the Mistborn is a little insane, he’s not a villain. I struggled throughout the book not to picture my beloved, crazy Kelsier every time Nicholas Kelsier was mentioned. It was pretty frustrating.

So, in order to preserve his life and avoid his past, Drift accepts the job. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t go as planned. In order to stave off imminent death from Kelsier and his entourage, the crew of the Keiko take the fight to him.

But not before secrets and pasts are exposed.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s not mind-blowing. It doesn’t play with morals and themes. It’s pure fun. Time well spent with characters who immediately feel like old friends, in a world that is at once familiar and alien.

The world building was a really nice touch to the book. Earth governments fractured as colonization spread through the system, leaving four main powers. The United States of North America, The Europan Commonwealth, The Red Star Confederacy, and The Federation of African States are the remaining powers in the galaxy, Drift is a friend of none of them, and the political tensions and power struggles have direct influence on the characters and the world(s) they live in.

The pacing is unforgiving and the stakes are always high, which means this book flies by. Yes, there are a lot of clichés, and yes Mike Brooks’ prose is straightforward and fairly simplistic. But, if you’re just looking for some fun reading, something to entertain and make you laugh, then this should do the trick. I plan on coming back for the sequels, that’s for sure. Because there’s no reason not to read a book this fun.

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Keiko #2, still awaiting US release

Stay tuned this weekend for the Jackaby book review!

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ