Bound by Benedict Jacka

BoundBound

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #8

Mass Market Paperback, PAGE pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: April 10 – 11, 2017


I expected this book to start with the equivalent of Voldemort bending Wormtail to his will while Nagini snacks on a Muggle. I couldn’t have been more wrong — Richard (lamest name ever for an arch-enemy, which is why it’s so good) simply lays out his plan and tells Alex and Anne what they are supposed to do. No threats, no maniacal laughter, no giant snakes eating anyone.

“I was expecting . . .” Anne said.
“Expecting what?”
“I don’t know. Something worse.”

Me, too, Anne. Me, too.

Basically, Alex has to act as the personal aide to Morden (the first Dark Mage on the Council) when he’s not being the most ignored Keeper in history. He’s been working on earning the position of full Keeper — now he’s given it, and is resented by the rest. Even when things go well for him, it’s a disaster. Similarly, Anne is the least utilized person in the Healer corps.

Right now I’m fighting Levistus and Richard, and I’m losing. Part of it’s because they’ve got better cards than me, but that’s not all of it. It’s that they’ve got a plan. They‘re always playing the long game, looking to next month, next year. Meanwhile I just wait around until some sort of crisis happens, then I scramble to fix it. It’s like they‘re shooting holes in a boat, and I’m running up and down trying to plug the leaks. Sooner or later there’ll be too many holes, or one of the bullets will hit me, and that’ll be it.

Which is a pretty good summary of how things are going for Alex. He goes to great lengths — some might even say extraordinary — to be proactive. I won’t say how well it works, but if you’ve read any of these books before, you’ll have a pretty good idea.

This book probably has the best use of Luna we’ve seen — I really liked everything Jacka did with her here.

We’ve had Richard looming as a threat since the beginning. Richard in the shadows, a danger that few believed was real. But Alex knew all along he would be back. And now that he is, he’s great. There’s no destroy the world plans, just evil planning and machinations and a calm exterior. You will do what I say, or I will end you — and I couldn’t really care either way. He’s worse than we ever could’ve expected. Love it.

Ultimately, this is pretty much what every Alex Verus book is — Alex struggling to earn and/or gain the trust of the Establishment — particularly those he likes and respects, and any gains he may make towards those ends are jeopardized by his efforts to help others.

Now that I look back on the whole thing, I can see the clues I missed, but that’s how it works with hindsight. When you know what’s relevant and what you can ignore, then everything is obvious, but it’s not so obvious when you’re caught up in surviving from day to day. At least until life reaches out and smacks you over the head.

(not just a commentary on Alex’s methods and life, but on everyone’s).

It was nowhere near as dramatic as the ending to Burned, but poor Alex is actually in a far worse state now than he was at the beginning of the book, which was no mean feat — but I should’ve known that Jacka wasn’t finished beating up his creation. I really don’t know what else to say without indulging in spoilers — so I’ll leave it at this. Bound is another great installment in this series, one of the best and most reliable around.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Love, Murder & Mayhem by Russ Colchamiro, ed.

Love, Murder & MayhemLove, Murder & Mayhem

by Russ Colchamiro, editor

eARC, 385 pg.
Crazy 8 Press, 2017

Read: June 20 – 21, 2017


This is the strongest collection of stories that I can remember reading in the last few years — 15 stories and only 1 that didn’t work for me (it was fine, I just didn’t think it took advantage of the SF setting). I really would like to post a few paragraphs about each story — but wow, that’s too much to write and/or read. Especially when you can just go buy the book and read them instead. Each of these stories, all some sort of Science Fiction — some space opera-ish, some hard SF, some goofy, some super-hero based — involve the three things mentioned in the title: love, murder and mayhem (all of which can be interestingly defined, but they’re there). Despite knowing this about them, I wasn’t expecting some of the stories to take the turns they did — especially the murder part, which frequently showed up when I wasn’t expecting it (or at the hands of someone I didn’t expect). Check out the Spotlight post I did earlier today for more details.

So let’s focus on a couple of the standouts.

  • A Goon’s Tale by Kelly Meding
    It was clear from the early pages of her MetaWars series that Meding knows how to write super-heroes. This story about the insurance agents that have to clean up after them, as well as Super Villains (and their goons). Nice twists and development of the characters.
  • The Responders by Michael Jan Friedman
    So, what happens when a super-hero team breaks up? What if there’s a Yoko figure who may be at the root of it? I don’t know how many Star Trek novels by Friedman I read back in the 90’s (apparently, it was 2 — he only has 2 listed on his website, I thought the number was higher), it was nice to see that he still has that touch.
  • The Note on the Blue Screen by Mary Fan
    I think it was this story that really clued me into the fact that this book was going to be good all the way through — a story about an android that solves mysteries, has a close connection to a human and pays tribute to A. Conan Doyle’s most famous creation worked better than I thought it would as I started it (or than it sounds as I describe it). I would absolutely read more stories about Sherlock.
  • As Time Goes By by Patrick Thomas This Mortal Coil by Peter David , Kathleen David , and Sean O’Shea
    Simply put, there’s nothing that Peter David can’t write, and his co-authors here do a good job honing that. The super-rich and super-responsible are able to get people to sleep and dream for them to maintains high levels of productivity. Great concept and then building on that by asking, what happens when the person you dream for dreams about a murder?
  • DuckBob: Killer Service by Aaron Rosenberg
    What happens when a souped-up version of Alexa gets absolute power. It’s funny, as well as fun and thought-provoking.
  • I left off my favorite from this list, because I don’t think I could keep things to just a couple of sentences. But all of these stories (well, 14 of 15) have a great hook, some great characterizations and an ending you wouldn’t be able to guess right away. Not a stinker in the batch — I expect that many readers wouldn’t agree with my disappointment with one of the stories, so I’ll go ahead and make that bold claim.

    I frequently lament the length of short stories — not any of these, they are full stories, with well=established characters and worlds — I don’t need any more of them. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of these characters in similar stories or full novels, but I didn’t object once to the length or depth. Just a really strong anthology.

    Go read this.

    Disclaimer – I received a copy of this book as part of my participation in the Book Tour.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    Love, Murder & Mayhem by Russ Colchamiro, ed. Book Tour

    Welcome to our Book Tour stop for Eating Robots. Along with this blurb about the book, my take on it will be along in an hour or so (the link’ll work when the post goes live).

    Book Details:

    Book Title:  Love, Murder & Mayhem
    Editor: Russ Colchamiro
    Category: Science Fiction, 385 pages
    Publisher: Crazy 8 Press
    Release date: June 18, 2017

    About the Book:

    Love science fiction stories that all include elements of Love, Murder & Mayhem?

    Then welcome to the latest anthology from Crazy 8 Press! This amazing collection from 15 all-star authors will delight you with superheros and supervillains. AIs, off-worlders, and space cruisers. We’ve also got private eyes, sleep surrogates, time travelers, aliens and monsters—and one DuckBob!

    With tales ranging from wild and wacky to dark and gritty to heartbreaking and fun, take the deadly leap with authors Meriah Crawford, Paige Daniels, Peter David, Mary Fan, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman Paul Kupperberg, Karissa Laurel, Kelly Meding, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Lois Spangler, Patrick Thomas, and editor Russ Colchamiro.

    You’ll never look at Love, Murder & Mayhem the same way again—and that’s just the way we like it.

    About the Editor:

    Russ Colchamiro is the author of the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the hilarious sci-fi backpacking comedy series, Stephen OramFinders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor of the new anthology, Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.

    Russ lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and crazy dog, Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself. Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the Crimson Keep, Pangaea, and Altered States of the Union, and TV Gods 2. He is now at work on a top-secret project, and a Finders Keepers spin-off.

    As a matter of full disclosure, readers should not be surprised if Russ spontaneously teleports in a blast of white light followed by screaming fluorescent color and the feeling of being sucked through a tornado. It’s just how he gets around — windier than the bus, for sure, but much quicker.

    Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

    Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

    Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

    by Alex Bledsoe
    Series: Tufa, #5

    Hardcover, 315 pg.
    Tor Books, 2017
    Read: Jay 29 – 30, 2017

    Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

    So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

    The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

    Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

    The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

    While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

    The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

    Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

    There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

    —–

    4 Stars
    2017 Library Love Challenge

    The Black Box by Ian Rankin

    I thought I’d scheduled this for yesterday, well, I’d intended to, but I typo’ed the date. So, hey, enjoy a bonus post to make up for the recent bits of silence.

    The Black BookThe Black Book

    by Ian Rankin
    Series: John Rebus, #5

    Hardcover, 278 pg.
    O. Penzler Books, 1994

    Read: June 2 – 5, 2017


    As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it — the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame — there’s a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn’t get enough of it. A famous — and infamous — local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn’t die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it — and the people Rebus talked to about this case.

    So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It’s suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he’d been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes’ black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes’ recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS’ work.

    We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here — Rebus’ other junior detective. She’s driven, she’s tough, she’s English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn’t. She’s got a good sense of humor and duty — both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).

    The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty – we’d brushed up against him in Tooth & Nail. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He’s both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) — for both the cold case and current operations. He’s dangerous, and yet not at all — I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.

    Lastly, Rebus’ brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he’s crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I’m not sure he’s someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.

    A solid mystery novel — with a conclusion I didn’t see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ — with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one’s a keeper.

    —–

    4 Stars
    2017 Library Love Challenge

    The Bucket List by Emily Ruben

    The Bucket ListThe Bucket List

    by Emily Ruben

    eARC, 383 pg.
    Inkitt, 2017

    Read: June 14 – 19, 2017


    I am absolutely not amongst the audience for this book. I knew that from the title alone, much less the description. Still, I’d read Ruben’s first book and enjoyed it and was curious about her take on this idea.

    This is basically a take on the dying teen romance, with a splash of the Rob Reiner movie. I’m tempted to go on a rant about the whole dying teen romance idea — The Space Between Us, The Fault in our Stars, and the like — but I just don’t have the energy. I don’t get it, it seems like a highly artificial way to inflate drama. But whatever — just because it’s an overplayed idea, that doesn’t mean the book can’t be good.

    Besides, the central characters in this book are 20 and 21, so by definition this is different.

    Leah is surprised one day to find the new guy moving in next door is her old best friend that she hasn’t seen for 5 years. Damon (think Ian Somerhalder) is glad to see her, but before they renew their friendship, has to warn her that he’ll be dead within a year and a half. He has some sort of brain tumor (Ruben intentionally gives few details about this) that cannot be treated. Leah decides that she’ll do what she can to renew their friendship in the time remaining.

    Soon after this, the two decide that he’ll write up a Bucket List and that each day, they’ll cross an item off of it until it’s too late. This will lead to all sorts of travel, adventure, changing of existing and/or new romantic relationships and (this isn’t much of a spoiler, you can tell it’ll happen from the get-go) their eventually falling in love.

    The worst part about this book is how everything that happens to them is the best, the greatest, the ____est (or the worst). Leah and Damon live in the extremes — they never have a normal day, a blah experience. It’s just too much to handle — a few things that are okay, a few things that aren’t bad mixed in with all this would make this easier to read. Yes, you could say that given the heightened situation, everything they do is given a hint of the extreme, but still . . .

    The tricky thing with Damon having an unnamed disease — it’s hard to have any idea how realistic this is. But a brain tumor that causes organs to decay before death, necessitating an ethically/legally-questionable euthanasia method is stretching things beyond the breaking point. Beyond that, the amount of money that these people spend is utterly unbelievable — talk all you want about plundering no-longer-necessary college savings, it’s just not something I could buy.

    There’s an element of charm to the writing — but I don’t think that this is as charming as Ruben’s first book — there’s something appealing about the earnestness of her writing. But this just wasn’t for me. Although he probably didn’t say it, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as reviewing a lecture by saying something like, ” People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” I feel like that about this book — if you can find a grain of salt big enough to help you swallow the unbelievable, if you can tolerate the excess of superlatives, and like a love story in the face of certain doom, this is probably a pretty entertaining book. Was it for me? Nope. But I didn’t hate it and can understand why many would.

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the publisher in exchange for this post — I do appreciate the opportunity, even if it doesn’t come across that way.

    —–

    3 Stars

    Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

    Down Among the Sticks and BonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones

    by Seanan McGuire
    Series: Wayward Children, #2

    Hardcover, 187 pg.
    Tor, 2017

    Read: June 14, 2017

    Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

    This is the story about how Jack and Jill, the twins in the middle of the events in Every Heart a Doorway, got to The Moors, the dark world they had their adventures in before being returned to ours.

    They were born to people that never should have had kids, had miserable childhoods (not that they realized it) — with two bright spots. The lesser, but more constant, bright spot was each other — they always had their twin. Just before this relationship was torn apart by the ways their parents were dividing them, the find themselves in a magic kingdom. They’re split up again, but this time the lifestyles they are immersed in better fit their personalities than what had been imposed on them by the World’s Worst Parents. Jack is trained by a mad scientist, learning to deliver medical care, reanimate the dead and more. Jill is pampered by a vampire that rules The Moors — being coached and guided into becoming one herself. We see them grow into strong individuals in this dark and deadly place before being returned to Earth.

    The story is one we know already (assuming we read the first book), and even without that, it’s pretty clear how things are going to go. But that doesn’t make this any less gripping — the character work, the development of these two girls is fantastic. And the world created in The Moors is fantastic, you can see it — practically smell, feel and taste it. Best of all is the way that McGuire tells the story, the way she describes things (emotions, internal actions, external actions). It’s almost as magical as the first book.

    It’s not a perfect novella, however. I’d have been tempted to call the previous one perfect, but this doesn’t quite make it. It seemed like half-story, half-manifesto against the kind of parenting McGuire hates.

    This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

    It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

    It’s McGuire’s book, I’m not saying she shouldn’t feel free to use the space the way she wants — but it detracted from the story. Their parents have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, McGuire’s usually better than that. I think you could make the case that their shallowness, their utter horribleness fits the fairy-tale-ish story she’s telling. Honestly, I think that was the case — but it just doesn’t feel right. I would’ve like a little more time with the vampire himself — although maybe not getting more time with him, and learning about him primarily from the way that others react to him and his actions does make him creepier.

    I was hoping (but didn’t expect) to see a little about what happened to the pair after Every Heart, oh well — hopefully soon.

    I thought it a little heavy-handed in some places, but overall, I was just so happy to return to this series that I can get past it and recommend this one almost as highly as the last one.

    —–

    4 Stars