Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Best Novels I Read in 2015

Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2015.

This list was harder to put together than last year’s — you think this’d be easy, look at the 5-star ratings, pick 10. But while I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

Last year, I did a Runners-Up list, too. There are too many to bother with this year. Which is a good thing — a lotta good books last year. I also did a worst of 2014, which I didn’t do to be mean last year — but for some reason feels mean this year, so I’ll skip that, too.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Thank You, GoodnightThank You, Goodnight

by Andy Abramowitz

My Review
Rock ‘n Roll, Love, Inevitable Maturing, and that certain feeling you get while doing something with your friends.
4 1/2 Stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
My Review
Part tribute to J. K. Rowling, part coming-of-age (even if that age is early teen), part love letter to the Ideal of Grandmothers. This’ll get ya in the cockles of the heart.
4 Stars

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
Bledsoe took his perfect little world, and shined a spotlight on its dark underbelly, somehow making the community even more appealing. Stronger, although more fragile than before.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
My Review
Assuming the next volumes are as good, if not better, this is the beginning of Butcher’s best series to date. It could also be the a promise that he can’t deliver on. I’m betting on the former.
4 1/2 Stars

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

by Harry Connolly
My Review
One of the few really unique Urban Fantasies out there. Every other new UF can sort-of be compared to another/several others — but not this one.
4 1/2 Stars

The Way Into DarknessThe Way Into Darkness

by Harry Connolly
I set this one (and the two earlier novels in the trilogy) aside to give myself time to think about them before blogging about them. I never got back to it. A working title for this series was “Epic Fantasy with No Dull Parts” (or something like that) — he pulled it off, staying true to the conventions of the genre while turning them on their head. A great conclusion to a great trilogy.
5 Stars

The DrafterThe Drafter

by Kim Harrison
My Review
Harrison did everything she needed to do here after bringing her 13 novel series to a close. She wrote something that should appeal to her long time fans, but didn’t try to reduplicate her success. A brand-new hero, a brand-new world, with brand-new powers (and problems!). This one rattled me, kept me guessing, and kept me on the edge of my seat.
5 Stars

Last WordsLast Words

by Michael Koryta
My Review
Thoughtful, suspenseful, claustrophobic. A great introduction to a character I hope to see featured in several novels in the future.
4 1/2 Stars

A Red-Rose ChainA Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire
My Review
McGuire — much like Toby Daye — doesn’t rest on her laurels, but keeps pushing the series forward in directions no one would’ve guessed.
4 1/2 Stars

UprootedUprooted

by Naomi Novik
My Review
This take on a traditional tale just blew my mind — the perfect bit of storytelling.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
Series: The Cinder Spires, #1

Hardcover, 630 pg.
Roc, 2015

Read: September 30 – October 7, 2015

Frequently, it’s really hard for me to talk about a new Jim Butcher book without it just being, Aaaaaah! Fanboy! Gush, gush, squee! Drool! Squee! and More Squee!, and I really wanted to do more with this book, so I wanted a little distance. Alas, I’m still not going to be able to do much more than that — I think it’ll take another entry or two in this series for me to start to evaluate it well. But, I’d best get something up, so I’ll try to rein in the fanboy.

Let’s start off with the genre — it’s marketed as Steampunk. What a dreadful idea. This is only sort of Steampunk. It’s more of a Fantasy with elements inspired by Steampunk. I’ve seen some fans — and perhaps Butcher himself — say that it should be considered “Steam Opera.” That’s not bad. (I saw one online advertisement calling it “Urban Fantasy,” I trust whoever wrote/approved that advertisement was chastised soundly).

I don’t know how to describe the world or the plot without taking a few large paragraphs, and probably not doing a good job of it. Butcher’s website says:

It’s jam-packed with airships, crazy sorcerers, privateers, warrior monks, and intelligent cats. An ancient evil has reawakened, and the entire world is plunged into a sinister mist, filled with terrible creatures.

Which is pretty close, but there are more details given, too. If you’re curious, go check it out. For me? I didn’t really care — the words “New”, “Butcher” and “Series” were enough to get me to click “Buy.”

Okay, so plot and world are out. What about characters? I liked Grimm — a.k.a. the guy on the cover — (and maybe a couple of others in his crew) from the get-go. They just clicked for me — they’re the heroic type, misunderstood, but classic heroes, and I’m a sucker for them. The Spirearch, too — his type is another gimme. But the others, Gwen, Briget, etc. took a while for me to warm to — but when I did, I fell hard for them. I could actually sense it happening — even with the stupid cat, for crying out loud! (not that the cat is stupid, but that’s petty much my opinion of the species)

One character in particular that I’d want to talk about (I think in future books, I might have to just devote a post to character studies) is Folly. I’ve seen plenty of comparisons of Folly to Rothfuss’ Auri — all of which are valid, but she should also be seen as a take on Luna Lovegood, some sort of combination of the two. Still, whoever you want to compare her to, she’s a fun character that I can’t wait to see grow and develop. And when she does that thing with the Predator? Wow, I tell you what…

Of course there is the hook at the end of every chapter, Butcher’s skilled at using them to propel you on to the next chapter. But, at the same time, I had a compulsion to put down the book at the end of each chapter. I’m not sure why, maybe to think about it, to take it all in — oddly, it was really easy to put the book down at the end of each chapter. Until the last 150 pages or so, and then I couldn’t move fast enough.

As interesting as the novel was once things got moving, he shifted into another gear when he got to the climactic battle scene — or several battle scenes that you can’t imagine keep going on. Yet they do keep going on and they keep getting more and more interesting and heroic. You see heroics from everyone, not just the central characters. Then he followed that up with an epilogue of sorts, full of so many warm moments, followed by some grim realities, and then truly chilling closing paragraph or two. Butcher at his best.

I want to give this 5 stars, but something’s holding me back…so 4.5 it is. Gush, gush, gush. Squee, squee, squee. Bring on the next!!

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 2/7/15

Grawlix! If I didn’t know better, I’d say that The Universe, The Matrix, Loki, Coyote, Murphy’s Law or the Greek ghost Thespis was messing with me and keeping me from getting anything written or posted here. I’m a little stunned that I got this compiled, really. Hopefully, next week will be better.

Here are some odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Funny Girl by Nick Hornby — Hornby continues to explore celebrity, this time in the 1960’s with an up and coming actress. Not really what I’d have expected from him next, but I’m not sure what I did expect.
  • The Way Into Darkness by Harry Connolly — the Third and final installment in The Great Way saga. Hearing so many good things about this one already!
  • Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell — bittersweet — a new Widdershins Adventure, but sadly, it’s the last.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to abhinavmajumder for following the blog this week. Thanks to Theinexorablenerd for the interaction.

The Best Novels I Read in 2014

I somehow failed at this exercise last year, but I managed to pull it off for 2014. Phew, starting the year off with one in the Win column! Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2014.

While compiling the best, I started with what I’d rated 5 stars — just 11 novels. I could take just the best 10 of those — piece of cake, right? Wrong. There were titles I expected to see there that weren’t, and a couple that I was surprised to see listed. So I looked at the 4 and 4½ books — and had a similar reaction.

Now, I stand by my initial ratings — for honesty’s sake as much as laziness. But I did put some of my lower rated books in the best, knocking some 5-star books out. They might have been impressive workds, doing everything I wanted — but some of these others stuck with me in ways the 5’s didn’t — emotional impact, remembering details/stories in more vivid detail, that sort of thing.

Eh, it’s all subjective anyway, so why not? I did try to account for recency bias in this — and pretty sure I succeeded, but I may owe an apology or two.

Later today, I’ll post the Honorable Mentions list and the Worst of List — as well as what I’m looking forward to most in 2015. The Day of Lists, apparently. With one exception, I limited these lists to things I hadn’t read before (it shows up in the Honorable Mention post). Enough jibber-jabber, on to the Best Novels I read in 2014:

(in alphabetical order)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising

by Pierce Brown
My Review
This was exciting, compelling, devastating, thrilling, and occasionally revolting. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve recommended this one to this year.
5 Stars

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher
My Review
It almost feels like a cheat to put this on the list, but I don’t know if any of the books since Changes would’ve made a year end list, so it’s not like Butcher/Dresden owns a spot here. I laughed, I got pretty darn misty a time or two, I’m pretty sure I audibly reacted to a victory also. Best of this series in awhile.
5 Stars

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts

by M.R. Carey
My Review
This probably would’ve gotten 5-star rating from me if it hadn’t had to overcome genre/subject prejudice. Still, freakishly good.
4 1/2 Stars

Robert B. Parker's Blind SpotRobert B. Parker’s Blind Spot

by Reed Farrel Coleman
My Review
Coleman knocked this one out of the park, erasing the bad taste that his predecessor had left, and making me look forward to reading this series in a way I hadn’t for years. As good as (better in some ways, worse in others) Parker at his best.
5 Stars

Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead

by Michael Koryta

My Review
Not the best Koryta book I’ve ever read, but something about this one has stuck with me since I finished it. Solid suspense, exciting stuff.
4 Stars

Endsinger (The Lotus War, #3)Endsinger

by Jay Kristoff
My Review
I knew going in that this was going to be a. well-written, b. brutal and c. a good conclusion to the series (well, I expected that last one, expected tinged with hope.). It didn’t let me down. I admit, I shed a tear or two, felt like I got punched in the gut a couple of times and didn’t breathe as often as I should’ve while reading. Such a great series.
5 Stars

The Republic of ThievesThe Republic of Thieves

by Scott Lynch
My Review is forthcoming
Can’t believe I haven’t finished this review yet — it’s 80% done, I just can’t figure out how to tie the paragraphs together in a way to make it coherent and (I hope) interesting. A lot of this book is a prequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora and yet there was genuine suspense about those parts. Lynch had a big challenge introducing us to a character here that had achieved near-mythic status, and she ended up living up to expectations. Just a gem of a book.
5 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
My Review is forthcoming
Again, I’m not sure how I haven’t finished this review yet. McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — which is just so cool. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

WonderWonder

by R. J. Palacio
My Review
Heart-breaking, inspiring, saved from being cliché by the interesting narrative choices Palacio made. Yeah, it’s After School Special-y. So what? Really well done. I have no shame saying this kids’ book made me tear up (even thinking about it know, I’m getting bit misty-eyed).
5 Stars

The MartianThe Martian

by Andy Weir

My Review
Very science-y (but you don’t have to understand it to enjoy the book); very exciting; very, very funny. Only book I’ve recommended to more people than Red Rising — I think I’ve made everyone over 12 in my house read it (to universal acclaim). Not sure why I haven’t made my 12-year old, yet.
5 Stars

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I should’ve had this up no later than May 29, but I wanted to get it juuuust right. And I failed. But I’m always going to fail when it comes to this series. Amongst series currently being written, this is my favorite (yeah, I’m taking the coward’s way out and not choosing between Dresden and Wolfe), which means that I’m just never going to be able to properly express how great I think the books are.

—–

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher

Hardcover, 454 pg.
Roc Hardcover, 2014
Read: May 28, 2014

Quick review for people who haven’t read up through Cold Days:
Why are you reading this? Go and catch up. You’re missing out on one of the best series being published today. You’ve got about a year ’til Peace Talks comes out, so you have plenty of time to read up through Skin Game (which you really should read, because it was great).

Longer take for those who have read Cold Days (still, spoiler-free):

Okay, this is book 15, which means it’s time for The Denarians to return. But this time, Harry’s not opposing them (directly, anyway), but thanks to his service to Mab, he’s working alongside (for?) Nicodemus. Nicodemus has assembled a team of magical types to go rob a vault belonging to Hades. Harry, of course, is itching for a fight, but he doesn’t get the chance for one. If he doesn’t do what Mab & Nicodemus require, those closest to Harry will pay the price. Skin Game takes the basic plot structure of a heist film, and it works really well as such. A great, gripping story, doing things with the supporting characters involved (new and old) that you wouldn’t have guessed were possible with Harry’s past and attitude.

Beyond the plot — there’s something going on with Harry. Small, incremental changes are creeping in to our wizard’s character, as part of the aftermath of Changes. He’s dimly aware of them, but thinks he’s in control. Those close to him see them, too and make the same judgment call — it’s Harry, he’s got it taken care of. But there are those, like Butters, who aren’t as willing to believe that Harry can do it all. He sees trouble on the horizon and is willing to speak truth to Harry about it.

There’s other character development to take note of as well: Michael, Charity, and Murphy all continue to grow in positive ways — slowly, organically, and in ways you really only notice when you take a long look at them. Molly’s changing a lot, too — and not that slowly or organically, but after the end of Cold Days, what do you expect? Butters continues to grow and develop in ways that feel right, but are undeniable. When you think of who he was back in Death Masks and what he’s grown into by the end of Cold Days, it’s truly impressive. And he takes some major steps forward this time around, that I really want to talk about, but won’t. I have no shame in admitting that he choked me up. He could’ve easily been Butcher’s version of John Chen from the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike/etc. books — around for a little comic relief, some science help (some medical help, too), but nothing major. Instead, Butcher’s turned this polka-loving nerd into his Neville Longbottom.

In between the banter, the quips, the forzare-ing and fuego-ing, the action, you get things like this…it’s what separates guys like Butcher from the pack

There’s power in the touch of another person’s hand. We acknowledge it in little ways, all the time. There’s a reason human beings shake hands, hold hands, slap hands, bump hands.
It comes from our very earliest memories, when we all come into the world blinded by light and color, deafened by riotous sound, flailing in a suddenly cavernous space without any way of orienting ourselves, shuddering with cold, emptied with hunger, and justifiably frightened and confused. And what changes that first horror, that original state of terror?
The touch of another person’s hands.
Hands that wrapt us in warmth, that hold us close. Hands that guide us to shelter, to comfort, to food. Hands that hold and touch and reassure us through our very first crisis, and guide us into our very first shelter from pain. The first thing we ever learn is that the touch of someone else’s hand can ease pain and make things better.
That’s power. That’s power so fundamental that most people never even realize it exists.

I don’t normally read reviews of books I’ve already decided to read, but I made an exception in this case when Patrick Rothfuss posted his (pretty sure I linked it in one of my Saturday posts). One of the things he said was, “that Jim made me cry, like, four goddamn times in this book.” I went into this thinking Rothfuss was exaggerating about the crying. And then later I started to worry that he’s manlier and more in control of his emotions than I am. It’s not news to anyone who’s read Butcher — especially the more recent volumes — the guy can hit you right in heart. He’s like a long distance phone commercial from the late 80’s or the producers of the Friday Night Lights TV show — when he wants you to feel something, by gum, you will.

I do think that Butcher’s done better, but I’m still giving this 5 stars because while I was reading it, I was totally immersed in it. The rest of the world really didn’t exist — I was on the edge of my seat, leaning forward as if that’d help me get through it quicker — hanging on every word, chuckling, cackling, cheering, gasping as appropriate — totally engrossed, and that impact lasted for a couple of days following. If that doesn’t say 5 stars, I don’t know what does. And while I think other books were technically better — I can’t think of a problem with this one.

How long ’til #16, Peace Talks?

—–

5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 5/17/14

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    Only saw one new release this week that I expect you’ll be seeing here:

  • Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell — Prohibition-era Urban Fantasy. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

4 Stars