Book Review – Skin Game (Dresden Files #15) by Jim Butcher

Bloggos,

Excuse me for a moment.

 

STARS AND STONES, THANK GOODNESS FOR THIS BOOK!

 

Ahem.

Right. Now that’s out of the way, on to the actual review. Beware some spoilers ahead, but let’s be real, this book has been out for almost four years. If you’re like me and arriving late to the party, you’ve probably come across worse spoilers on the internet than these.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

skin game.jpg

After two full books of Dresden moping over the events at Chichen Itza and the decisions that led him to be Mab’s Winter Knight, we finally see the Harry Dresden we know and love back in action!

Harry’s spent the last year-ish on Demonreach, keeping himself busy with homemade obstacle courses and shouting “parkour” at the top of his lungs. Let me tell you, hearing James Marsters yell that over the course of this book never got old. I laughed every single time.

Mab shows up and whisks Dresden off to a meeting with Nicodemus Archleone. Now, anytime Harry and good ol’ Nick are in scene together is damn good reading. Tension galore, and usually even more of sassy pants Harry than usual. You know how Dresden gets when faced with a “big bad”; snark-a-palooza.

So, turns out, Mab owed Nicodemus a favor? And as payment she’s loaning her Knight to him as he attempts to rob a supernatural vault filled to the brim with occult artifacts. Previous experience tells us that anything Nicodemus wants cannot possible be good, and Dresden does NOT want to help the Knight of the Blackened Denarius.

But we also know that Mab never reveals all her cards at once. And she’s always stacked the deck in her favor. So, off Harry goes to join a preternatural heist and he brings Murphy with him. Some old characters and new ones come in and out, including Michael, Uriel, Butters, Mouse, and Bob.

dresden-thomas
Who wouldn’t want more time with this guy?

This book felt like an old school Dresden book. There was adventure, forces of good and evil, sneaky faeries, and insane stakes and odds. Lots of sharp, humorous dialogue too. The only thing missing was some quality Thomas time, which I usually think is lacking because there’s always room for more time with Thomas Raith.

If you read my review of Cold Days, you’ll remember that I had a lot of doubts about Dresden and this series moving forward. Changes, Ghost Story, and Cold Days were all decent stories, but they were trying for me. I didn’t agree with Harry’s actions or motivations for most of those books and found my enjoyment of the series really depended on the side characters.

Skin Game does not suffer from that. This is the book where Harry gets his groove back, if you will. And I have to say, I am so glad he’s back! Of course, it remains to be seen what happens in the next book, since it still doesn’t have a release date, but for the first time in a few books, I have high hopes! This book really saved the series for me, I think, or at least revived it enough that I’ll be sure to come back for the next one.

I hesitate to say that this was my favorite of all the Dresden books, mainly because I loved Blood Rites and Dead Beat so much. But, I would lump it into a top three with those two in a heartbeat.

Here’s hoping that Peace Talks can keep that momentum going.

Yet again, James Marsters gave a stellar performance as Harry and company. I can’t even begin to imagine how much time and effort it must take to read and record these novels and keep the characters consistent across all of them. It really blows my mind if I think about it too much.

I’m moving on to the first Dresden short story collection, Side Jobs, just in time for the release of the second one on June 5th. Brief Cases appears to only be available in digital audio, which I am not okay with. I’ve got a hold on the hard copy book and suggested my digital library service purchase a copy of the audio, but have yet to hear back about it. either way, I’ll review it and share my thoughts with you all here.

You know, as per usual.

Honestly, I’m getting a little anxious about being all caught up on this series. I’ve had The Dresden Files as my back up read for so long that it became a sort of security blanket. If I ever found myself without a shiny new book, I could fall back on Dresden. Harry would always be there, waiting in the wings to whisk me off to Chicago for supernatural high jinks.

And now… now I’m done? I mean, yeah, there are a couple short story collections left, but that’s it! I’ve read all the books, I’ve read all the graphic novels. After these two collections, I’m stuck waiting for the next book like every body else!

Oh, God. That’s sounds terrible!

Quick! Someone give me a series recommendation!

 

BZ

 

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Book Review – Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Bloggos!

After a brutal migraine derailed my plans last weekend, I am finally here to talk about Blackfish City!

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

blackfish city
I absolutely love this cover, and it glows in the dark!

Blackfish City is Miller’s first adult novel, and it sets the bar quite high for his subsequent works. There is so much to love in this book. An extremely diverse cast in a wildly imaginative setting face horribly realistic challenges in world ravished by climate change.

Qaanaaq is a floating city anchored to a geothermal vent in the arctic circle. All its heat and energy are siphoned from the vent below the city’s eight arms. I pictured it like a giant floating, eight-pointed, star-shaped steel dock. Each arm is a neighborhood, distinct from the others in wealth, culture, and populace. The city is very vibrant and alive, very much its own character in the story, as shown in the City without a Map segments of the narrative.

Technology plays a very vital role in the city, and Miller’s leaps in tech uses and ability are at once incredibly original and wonderfully plausible. Implants that act as smartphones, podcasts delivered direct to your ear via vibrations from the implant, etc. I’d love to get my hands on some of that!

I was extremely impressed by how much I loved Qaanaaq. And how quickly. It’s a gritty, visceral place full of despair and hope, and that’s established within the first few pages of this book.

Blackfish City Alternate
Alternate cover

Some ratings and reviews I’ve read complain about the early pages of the book, citing that it was too slow and the learning curve too steep. I, personally, disagree. The pace is purposefully meandering, showing the full breadth of Qaanaaq as the reader follows the characters through their ever day lives. The book is very atmospheric in tone early on, and then shifts to a more plot-driven pace once all the pieces are set in place.

Speaking of characters, there are several. The first we meet is Fill, a young, wealthy gay man who has just been diagnosed with the breaks, a sexually transmitted psychological disease. More on that in a minute. He’s also the only point of view character who is white. Everyone else is Inuit or part-Inuit.

Then there’s Ankit, an assistant to Arm Six’s political representative. She hates her job, but she worked hard to get it, and it gives her a slim opportunity to actually help the people around her.

Kaev is a journeyman fighter, owned by the a crime syndicate and paid to convincingly throw fights in the syndicate’s favor. Fighting is all he knows, all he lives for, and all he’s good for. Kaev shows us what the breaks can do to a person, shattering their consciousness with interruptions of memories that aren’t theirs until eventually they “break free from their body”. Their minds snap and their bodies die. And there is no cure.

And then there’s my personal favorite, Soq. Soq’s a messenger who uses magnetic boots to basically skate around the city at breakneck speeds to deliver anything and everything, legal and… not so much. They are genderfluid, use they/them pronouns, and are beyond pissed off at Qaanaaq. They can’t decide if they want to watch it burn or bring it to heel, but all they know is that someday, they’ll have the power to make that choice.

Masaaraq
Sketch by the author

And of course, there’s the Orcamancer, the woman whose arrival sets the story of Blackfish City into motion. Masaaraq, the woman who came to the city on a skiff pulled by a killer whale, accompanied by a polar bear.

Miller does a wonderful job of weaving the various character narratives into one another, in subtle and very interesting ways. My only complaint, and I hesitate to even call it such, is that the ending did feel a bit abrupt.

I wanted more. I want to spend so much more time in Qaanaaq. I’m satisfied, mostly, with the ending as far as the characters are concerned, but the world? Nah. I don’t want to leave Blackfish City just yet.

Sam J. Miller tackles a lot of themes in this book. Capitalism, deregulation, climate change, revenge, regret, what it means to be a family, and the lengths people will go to in order to save the ones they love. All of these come up and are explored within the relatively short span of 336 pages. And they are handled well.

Honestly, I loved this book. I’m going to buy a copy, and I sincerely hope that Sam J. Miller will find his way back to Qaanaaq eventually, so that I can too. I’m going to find his short story Calved, his first adventure in this setting, simply because I can’t get enough.

Oh! It’s also worth mentioning that Miller’s first novel The Art of Starving (which I’ve yet to read) is nominated for a Hugo Award, the first year for the Best Young Adult Book category!

So hurry up and read his stuff already!

 

BZ

 

Book Review – Cold Days (Dresden Files #14) by Jim Butcher

Blogland,

Sorry this book review is so late. It’s been a while since I finished the audiobook, so there are only minor spoilers below. Beware that I am a bit Dresden critical in this review

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

cold days cover

Harry’s back in Chicago for less than six hours and he almost dies at least twice. The stakes are high in this book, as they always are whenever Mab is involved. There’s a lot of tension and fallout between Harry and his friends/family over what he did in the last couple books. It’s been a long year, and everyone in Chicago has felt Dresden’s absence.

So what’s he up to? Oh, you know, the usual stuff. Preventing a horde of spiritual inmates from escaping into the world and rending it asunder. All while coping with a power grab from Maeve and dodging the Summer Lady and her Knight. Oh, and it’s Halloween, so all kinds of weirdness is afoot.

Blessedly, this book is full of characters I want to spend time with. Thomas, Murphy, Butters, Molly, Mouse, and Bob all play major roles. Which is for the best, because Harry is on a slippery slope and it won’t take much for him to be on the fast track to unlikable.

I think that’s good tension, story-wise, but as a reader it is exhausting to read book after book of Harry internalizing all this supposed temptation. Dude. Molly has been your apprentice for years. You’ve known her for more than a decade. We get it, she’s hot. But you shouldn’t still be distracted by the fact. Move on.

The sexualization of every single female character is a big part of why I’ve stepped away from this series for a moment. I get that the White Court Vampires are inhumanly gorgeous. They are succubi, they are literally supposed to preternaturally sexy and tempting. And I have zero beef with Dresden spending a paragraph or two describing and coping with the Raith sisters’ insane sex appeal.

molly stupid stance
She’s looking at something slightly to her left. So of course she angles her body toward the right…

But Molly? Dresden has known her since she “was in a training bra” (which is his super cringe-y way to say he’s known her since she was a kid, btw), she’s the daughter of his BEST FRIEND, and yet every single book we get a paragraph or more to see just how incredibly hot she is and how Harry constantly has impure thoughts about her that he has to beat back with a mental baseball bat.

There’s a word for that…. Oh. Right. Gross.

And it’s not just Molly. Murphy is starting to get this treatment too. Now, she gets a lot more respect from Dresden’s narration, mainly because Karrin would kick his ass if it was ever otherwise, but now that they’re addressing the sexual tension between them and talking through the idea of the two of them dating, suddenly Murph is reduced to physical descriptions and lips that “taste like strawberries”.

Yep. Strawberries. After a crazy midnight ride through Chicago with the Wild Hunt and an even longer day coordinating movement against bad guys and helping Dresden, Murphy’s mouth tasted like strawberries.

I call bullshit. What did she do, pop an altoid right beforehand? Does she have a secret strawberry stash in her Harley’s saddlebags for just this exact reason? Please.

molly_wildcard
The most modestly dressed Molly is ever portrayed, but it’s all skintight. Because sitting criss-cross applesauce in jeans that tight is even possible.

This is a little bit of a tirade on my part, and I apologize, but this really took me out of the story. I was walking through a parking lot, listening to the audiobook in my headphones, and I went from cheering that they kissed to screeching at how preposterous that was. It made me so mad. It was a stupid little superfluous line and it ripped me from the book completely.

But, there are some really good elements in this book. Thomas is in peak form, giving Harry the patience, care, and good sense of humor he probably doesn’t fully deserve. Murphy is realistic and a total badass when it comes to standing up to Harry when he’s wrong and holding her own once she’s made a decision.  Molly has truly come into her own, and seems to have coped well from her time as the Rag Lady. And even Butters has grown into a character with some semblance of spine.

Queen Mab
She changes her appearance at will, but pale and icy blonde tend to be the favorite interpretations.

And, surprisingly, Mab was fantastic. I have never once liked Mab, in all fourteen books. I still can’t really say that I like her, even now. But by the end of this book I saw Mab as more than a force of cold devastating power, as more than just a mad, tyrannical queen. For the very first time, I saw Mab for what else she is; a mother, a woman, a person.

And man, that was a powerful moment.

Mab
Mab concept

I’ll be frank, this was my least favorite Dresden book. It dragged. It was fifteen discs, and only the last six were actually fun or enjoyable. Everything before that felt like needless preamble. Another big problem is that Harry isn’t as likable to me as he used to be. I struggle with him. He says, thinks, and does things that make me sigh and roll my eyes.

Increasingly, my enjoyment of this series is reliant on the side characters. And that is a dangerous thing for a series. I shouldn’t like the secondary characters more than I like the main character, especially in a first person narrative. I guess I just have very little patience for Harry right now.

Which is why I’ve taken a bit of a break from the series. I keep meaning to start Side Jobs, but I can’t seem to muster the will to do so. With Brief Cases coming out in less than a month, I really need to finish Skin Game so I can read the book when it comes in at the library. So, I’ll be changing my reading page once more to reflect my decision to listen to the fifteenth book in the series, and then the first short story collection.

I’ll be back this weekend with the review for Blackfish City. I’m excited to talk about it with you all!

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ

 

P.S. It should be noted that, once again, James Marsters narration was fantastic! I absolutely love his voice and his efforts to give each character something unique in their tone or cadence. I always know who’s speaking, even before the narration explains it to me. It’s the main reason I keep coming back to this books. So thanks for that, James.

 

 

Book Review – Binti: Home

Bloggos,

I’m back, as promised, to discuss the second novella in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Warning: Mild spoilers below

binti home

Binti: Home is exactly as it sounds; a year after the events of the first novella, Binti is desperate to get home and go on her Pilgrimage. She’s suffering from PTSD from the Meduse attack on the Third Fish and trying to cope with the otherness of being both Himba and Meduse. She thinks that, if she can go home, be with her people and breathe the desert air, things will get back to something like normal.

But, home is full of even more problems. Her family is mad at her for leaving the way she did, her friends have shunned her for being so “selfish” as to leave in the middle of the night and abandon her family, her duty, and her home. Add that she brought Okwu, and tensions are ratcheted about as high as they can go.

So instead of peace, Binti finds strife. Then she sees the Night Masquerade, a mythical being that supposedly only men can see, an omen of heroic achievements and struggle. And then the Desert People arrive to take her into the desert and learn her true heritage.

All the while tension builds between the Khoush and Okwu…

I loved Binti, but it wasn’t until I read this novella that I realized how thin it was. I wanted more. And Okorafor delivered in this installment. There’s more world-building, more character development, more intrigue as multiple plots begin to weave together to culminate in the final novella, Binti: The Night Masquerade.

This series is fantastic so far, and with installments under 200 pages, there’s really no excuse not to pick them up if you think it’d be even the least bit interesting to you. I highly recommend them!

Binti-Trilogy-nnedi-okorafor-e1511508509714

I’ll be off the blog for the rest of the week while I’m at the Writers Conference this weekend. Expect to see a bit of activity next week, however, as I update goals, gush about my experiences at the coast, and review the final Binti novella.

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ

 

Book Review – Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Hey Blogland!

As promised, I’m back to discuss the Tor novella, Binti.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Binti

I’m a little late to the Afro-Futurism party, but I feel like this novella was a really good place to start. It’s sparse, giving the reader only the details they need to understand the characters and the story, which is different from a lot of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy I’ve read. I’m used to long narratives with lush world building and drawn out histories. Okorafor’s novella doesn’t waste time painting the picture in broad strokes. Instead her novella is like pointillism, her prose is riddled with small details that build the world and characters just enough. The reader is expected to fill in the gaps.

Binti is a 16 year old Himba girl who is doing something none of her people have ever done: she’s leaving home. She’s been accepted to the prestigious Oomza Uni, a university that takes up an entire planet! But, her whole family is against the idea of her leaving their homeland. So, like any intelligent and headstrong 16 year old is wont to do, Binti leaves home in the wee hours to catch her transport off of Earth.

All goes well until a species of sentient jellyfish, known as the Meduse, attack the ship, leaving only Binti alive. If she wants to survive the long journey through space and prevent a slaughter once the ship arrives on Oomza Uni, Binti must do the impossible.

She must make peace with the Meduse.

Binti and OKwu

At only 90 pages, I was extremely impressed with Binti. On the surface, it is a story I cannot readily relate to. I am almost painfully white, I have no sense of tribal duty, my family is not rooted in one spot by any means. I have never been the minority in any setting. Also, I’ve never been any good at math, let alone the veritable genius Binti is.

By all reasoning, it should not be easy for me to identify with Binti. But I do. I understand her, even as her experience and her perceptions are so foreign to me. When she speaks of the desert near her home, I think of the Sonoran desert and I understand her immediately. She is young and uncertain, but also so incredibly gifted with the certainty of youth.

Binti-Trilogy-nnedi-okorafor-e1511508509714

This story is worth the afternoon you will spend reading it. And the hours you’ll spend mulling it over afterward. I’ve already started on the sequel, Binti: Home, and will start on Binti: The Night Masquerade after that. This world and the characters are simply too good not to spend my time with.

Next week will be a short one, posts-wise, since I’ll be at the Writing Conference next weekend. But, I should be back on Monday or Tuesday with the usual Goals Summary, and hopefully on Thursday or Friday morning with the review for the next Binti novella.

Until then, Bloggos.

 

BZ

Book Review – Gunpowder Moon by David Pedreira

Blogland,

This book took me much longer to read than I anticipated. It’s only 289 pages, and I expected a political drama set in space to move much quicker than it did. Ultimately, though the characters and stories were interesting enough, I found the book to be a bit… predictable.

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars

Gunpowder moon

This is another instance where, perhaps, I am not the intended audience for this book. There are roughly about 15 named characters, and only two of them are female. Fine. We’re in the super hardened world of Lunar mining, it’s lonely, dangerous, and thankless work. I suppose there may be fewer women interested in the career than men.

Even in 2072.

Dechert, the commander of the Serenity-1 Helium-3 mining station, is the main character. He’s a former soldier trying to escape his war-torn past by living out the rest of his days as far from Earth as he can.  He has a small, but extremely skilled team of 5 people, only one of which is female.

Okay. Fine.

Initially, I was willing to overlook this because it seemed that Lane was a badass. She’s the security officer for the station, and takes no bullshit, even when confronted with their young communications officer’s shameless and cringey flirtations.

Side note: despite the cringe factor, Qaurles was my favorite character.

But, what really killed it for me was Dechert’s description of her. She is immediately described in terms of her femininity (even though she’s definitely not girly) in comparison with all the men on the station. Subtle curves, soft skin, et cetera, et cetera. Like, I get it. She’s a woman and no one else there is. Also, Dechert describes her as if he as some sort of romantic interest in her, and yet that is never once hinted at nor suggested. He never treats her with anything but respect, despite the tone of his internal monologue.

It’s perplexing. Meanwhile, everyone but the token Person of Color hardly gets described at all beyond basic body type.

As a woman reading Speculative Fiction, I’m pretty accustomed to a male dominated view in narratives, even from female characters. I initially overlooked this in hopes that Gunpowder Moon would wow me in some other regard.

Unfortunately, though it was an okay read, nothing really surprised nor impressed me. I liked the premise: The first murder on the moon leads to impending war between rival nations, and the mining commander has to stop the powers that be before he and his team are caught in the crossfire.

Awesome! Sign me up.

Except it was a lot of talking interrupted by jarring flashbacks that were meant to develop Dechert and kind of did? But mostly just confused me because they didn’t seem super relevant to what was happening in the current timeline.

It’s not that I disliked the flashbacks necessarily. They were well written enough, but it was just more talking. A lot of talking about who died during what part of the war and how messed up Dechert is over it, despite never showing any emotion.

Lane acted as Dechert’s sounding board, his second in command. He shared everything with her, and yet the only thing he really asked of her beyond the expectations of her job was to contact her ex-boyfriend back on Earth to get the dirt on the political situation.

So, literally, the only impact she had in the first half of the book was because of who she slept with before coming to the moon. Really?

Anyway, one of Dechert’s miners is killed, shit gets crazy and out of control quickly. And basically, he fails. The only reason anyone gets out alive?

You guessed it: Lane.

She rallies the mining station and pulls some crazy MacGyver thinking to save them all. And it all happens OFF SCREEN!

macgyver
Basically Lane in this book.

What? How? Why?

I mean, Dechert did use prototypical jump jets to launch a dude out into space, which was pretty cool, and the tension of those last ten pages or so before he finds out if anyone lives is intense. Hands down they were the best parts of the book.

Unfortunately there’s another ten-fifteen pages of wrap up. Which I didn’t dislike, but it slowed everything back down to the same plodding pace of the rest of the book.

Okay. I feel bad. I make this book sound bad. I don’t think that’s the case. I just think it’s not for me. It’s a perfectly all right book. The setting was fleshed out and very interesting, I liked all the characters, especially Quarles, Lane, and Vernon. It was just a bit predictable, in both plot and narrative.

If you’ve read my reviews for very long you’ll know I hate giving out 3 stars or less. It pains me. As a writer, seeing a negative review of an author’s work is heartbreaking. But, I also have to be honest. David Pedreira is a good writer. His prose is crisp, clear, and unaffected. I like that. He communicated the hard science and military lingo in a way I could understand, which I greatly appreciated. Despite my commentary above, I did not dislike this book nor did I find it unpleasant to read.

I just had a few problems with it.

However, if you enjoy Military Science Fiction with strong male leads, this would probably be a good book for you.

I’m slowly making my way through Quietus by Tristan Palmgren. It’s a big book so it may be awhile before I finish it. Hopefully I can get it or Cold Days done sometime next week so I can post another book review.

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ

Book Review – Semiosis by Sue Burke

Blogland,

I’ve let this story percolate a bit in my mind before I decided to start this review. I’m pretty sure that anything I have to say about it won’t really do Semiosis justice. But, I’m going to try.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Semiosis
Seriously, the cover design is phenomenal.

This book is a wonderful example of how ideas don’t necessarily matter when it comes to writing. You could give five authors the same prompt and you’d get five different stories. I don’t think anyone could have told this story quite the way Sue Burke did.

Earth has become a war zone as humanity battles for dwindling resources. In a last ditch effort a collection of human volunteers ship off to find a new home, one they will call Pax as a promise to avoid the violent follies of life on Earth.

Life on Pax is hard, but the humans were prepared for that. What they weren’t prepared for were sentient plants.

You read that right, but by all means, go back and double check. Yep. Sentient plants.

How freaking cool is that???

Another really cool thing about this book is how Burke tells the story. It’s spread across multiple generations of the human settlers, showing their obstacles and their triumphs in weaving first person narratives that sometimes even include the plants!

And that’s what makes the book so brilliant. By including the plants, Burke gives herself the perfect outlet to explore themes like inter-species communication, what makes us human, and what it means to be part of a community.

Rainbow Bamboo
‘Rainbow’ bamboo. For reasons.

And what happens to a peaceful community when they’re forced to fight.

I also must note that this book does a wonderful job of introducing and developing multiple characters and making the reader invested in all of them, even if they’re only ‘on screen’ for a few moments. Also, she made me root (wink, wink) for a plant. So, there’s that.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here (eh, eh??) and say that Semiosis is my favorite book I’ve read this year so far. It’s incredibly original, the prose is crisp and can lean toward the scientific without being alienating, and the characters and dynamics of the Commonwealth of Pax are fascinating.

All plant jokes aside, I’d suggest you give Semiosis a shot, and take your time with it. Let this story soak in, like water and sunshine.

Sorry this review is so short, but I really don’t want to give anything away, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you all the reasons to read it even if I tried. You’ve got to try it for yourself. I finished reading The Scorpio Races and am still working through Cold Days and Gunpowder Moon. Which means I should have two reviews for you all next week.

Until then,

 

BZ