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

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

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

The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood

The Data DisruptionThe Data Disruption

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #0

Kindle Edition, 68 pg.
2017

Read: May 27, 2017


It’ll come to no surprise to any of my longer-term readers that I liked this — it’s pretty established that I’m a Genrenauts fan. I dig the characters, the world(s), the type of stories Underwood’s telling — the whole kit and caboodle. This story is no exception — I liked it. This takes place just before Leah is recruited, so the team is functioning very smoothly — no growing pains needed — just King, Shireen and Roman doing their thing like seasoned pros.

It’s a pretty straight-forward, classic cyberpunk story (yeah, I’m old enough that cyberpunk can be called “classic”) — notorious hacker, D-Source, has gone missing. Which is causing all sorts of problems for the rest of his crew, and (by extension) all of Cyberpunk world as well as ours. So King and his team (minus Mallery, off in Western world) head out to save the day. They’ve worked with D-Source in the past and therefore have an easier time getting an “in” to the story in-progress. What results is a solid heist story with all the cyberpunk bells and whistles.

Underwood has been modeling this series after TV shows, and wrote this as a “lost pilot” to “serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts.” Here’s my problem with that — no one watches a lost pilot until the show’s been around for a while, and usually only fans see it. No one sits down to watch “The Cage” (or the two-part version, “The Menagerie”) as an introduction to Star Trek, and for good reason. Similarly, Leah Tang is our point-of-entry character, and to remove her from the equation takes something away from the overall story. Also, there’s something that’s slowly revealed over the course of the first few books that’s just blatantly stated. I just think that works better the way that Underwood originally wrote it.

Still, Underwood knows what he’s doing, and if he thinks this will work to bring in new readers, I hope he’s right.

Putting that aside, I’m supposed to be talking about the story, not Underwood’s plans. The story worked really well. It was a little too short for me — but it’s supposed to be short, so I shouldn’t complain. Besides, I almost always complain about short story length — even I’m tired of that. While the story was told in its fullness, I just would’ve liked to see everything fleshed out a little more — also, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with my friends. Fast, fun, with good action — celebrating what makes a cyberpunk story work — and winking at the genre at the same time.

Still, any time with the ‘Nauts works for me. Good story, decent intro to this series that I can’t stop recommending — and a great price (free). Still, reading this after the sixth book would be my recommendation after starting with The Shootout Solution.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Cold Dish (Audiobook) by Craig Johnson, George Guidall

The Cold DishThe Cold Dish

by Craig Johnson, George Guidall
Series: Walt Longmire, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs. and 18 mins
Recorded Books, 2007

Read: June 7- 12, 2017


This is by and large what I had to say about the book a couple of years ago — but I’ve expanded it a touch.

It’s hard to believe this is a first novel. I love it when that happens. Johnson is assured in his writing, he knows his characters and their world, there’s no mistaking that. The world and the characters are very well-developed, it’s hard to believe that Johnson worked in as much backstory as he did for these characters in such a short space. Walt, Vic, Henry Standing Bear, Lucien — they’re all fully fleshed out and ready to go.

As always, the mixture of Cheyenne Mysticism (for lack of a better word) and Longmire’s realism (and Vic’s cynicism) is great — even at this point, Johnson’s ready to present things that could be Cheyenne ghosts, or it could be Longmire’s mind playing tricks on him as a result of injury and exposure without taking a clear narrative stance. It’s not a fast-paced tale by any means–Johnson saunters through his prose like Longmire would through the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not gripping, though. It’s lush with detail, as scenic and expansive as the Wyoming country it takes place in.

It took awhile for Guidall’s narration to work for me, I did eventually come around, and I expect I’ll enjoy him more fully in the next book.

I figured out whodunit pretty quickly, but it took a while to get the why. The journey to the why was compelling, interesting and well worth the time. Looking forward to the next installment.

—–

4 Stars

Fool Moon (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Fool MoonFool Moon

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 6 min.
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: May 30 – 31, 2017


Let’s keep this short:

I didn’t love this one as much as Storm Front, and I remember things as a whole being better. Still, we get the introduction of the Alphas, we get to see a little bit of every type of Werewolf in this world (I’d forgotten 1 of them), Dresden makes some smart choices re: Karrin Murphy (but man, most of what happened between the two of them in this book was annoying to a fan, and poorly constructed I think), and a (in retrospect) dumb one about Susan.

The main story was pretty good — I’d have liked to see Harry be a little quicker to figure things out, but he’s not perfect. Nor is he the investigator he’ll become eventually. I need to remind myself these are early days. As I recall, book 3 is a little less-good than this, which doesn’t make me look forward to it. But I know I like where things go pretty quickly, so I’ll keep going.

Marsters was fantastic — this would’ve been a 3 in just about any other narrator’s hands, er, vocal cords. I can’t say enough good things about him.

—–

4 Stars