Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter, Khristine Hvam: Hunter tries SF with Predictably Entertaining Results

Junkyard Cats

Junkyard Cats

by Faith Hunter, Khristine Hvam (Narrator)

Audiobook, 5 hrs., 2 min.
Audible Original, 2020

Read: January 3-6, 2020


Faith Hunter dips her toe into SF with this Audible Original, and leaves quite an impression. The distinctive Hutner-flair is there, with science-y stuff replacing the magic stuff. It works pretty well.

Shining Smith is a veteran, of a handful of things, really. This takes place in the near-future, following a World War and another one (called the Final War in an act of aspirational nomenclature, I assume). She lives in/runs a scrapyard left to her by her father with a few cats and another vet recovering from trauma.

Shining deals on both sides of the law through intermediaries—no one knows her or who she is beyond those. It’s a perfectly safe environment.

Not a nice one, not a fulfilling one, but a safe one. And in her world, that’s asking a lot.

Until one day, one of her intermediaries shows up at her scrapyard dead. And then a very strong suspect for killing him shows up. And things get worse from there.

The action scenes are cool—filled with all the kinds of things that the best SF action scenes are filled with. The future-tech is cool, completely foreign to reality, yet it seems like the kind of thing that would emerge from our current tech.

I liked Shining, we don’t get to know her much. She’s such the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, that it’s hard to get a real handle on her—but we get enough to root for her and want to know her better. Her compatriots are intriguing—as well-rounded as characters can get in this limited space where everyone is lying to each other about who and what they are.

There were a couple of SF-brand/tech names (like The Tyrell Corporation or tricorder) that I really couldn’t understand what Hvam was saying. Against the spirit of an “Audible Original,” but I’d like to read this so I could get a handle on those things. Which isn’t saying that Hvam didn’t do a great job—as per usual, her narration is top-notch.

My only complaint (outside of the tech words I couldn’t decipher), is the brevity, we get the good story, but we don’t get any depth—it’s like it’s designed to make you want more. Hey, wait a second . . .

A fun action-packed story that’ll whet your appetite for more. This is a glimpse into a cool world and I love what Hunter has created here. Yeah, I’m only going with 3 Stars for this. There’s a lot of potential in this world and with these characters—if Hunter returns to this? I can easily see this becoming a favorite series. It’s fine as a stand-alone, and it doesn’t demand a series/sequel but I think to really appreciate everything she set-up here, we need a little more. I’m not sure that makes sense, but…it’s what I can do.


3 Stars

Not Dressed by Matthew Hanover: If this book doesn’t bring a smile to your face, something’s broken

Not Dressed

Not Dressed

by Matthew Hanover

eARC
2020

Read: January 3-6, 2019

“Hey there, Jake. This should be fun, right?”…

“I guess,” I say.

“You don’t sound too excited,” she says as she takes a hair tie off her wrist and pulls her disheveled hair back into a ponytail.

“Yeah, well. I’m not good at dancing.”

“Obviously! That’s why you’re here. Same as me. I’m probably just as bad as you. But we’ll learn together, okay?”

“Okay.”

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” she says.

“I…have no idea what that means.”

“It’s from Star Trek…Actually, Star Trek: The Next Generation. It means we’ll work together to solve a common problem. In this case, the problem is learning how to dance.”

“I gotcha. So, you’re like…a Trekkie?”

“Was my sweatshirt not a big enough clue?”

“No, I just—”

“You’re not a Star Wars fan, are you? If you are, you’ll have to find a different partner.”

Jake Evans is our protagonist—he’s a decent enough guy, who could probably use some maturing (which means he’s like 90% of guys in their twenties). He’s got a great girlfriend (although the relationship seems a bit rocky when we meet him) and is second-guessing his chosen career (partially because he has a horrid employer, and partially because architecture isn’t the career he thought it would be). There are signs that he’d be a pretty fun guy to hang out with, but when the book opens he’s got a pretty good-sized cloud over his head between the girl and the gig.

Lindsay’s his long-time girlfriend. She works in radio and is very passionate about her job. She’s enjoying a little bit of success, and has a hard time relating to Jake’s struggles. She’s the producer and in-all-but-name on-air sidekick to a Boston-area conservative talk show host, who calls her “Lefty Lindsay.” (don’t worry, politics are absent from the book!) At least when the book opens, I really didn’t see why the two of them were a couple. There’s a good chance that neither of them rembered at that point, either, it had been so long.

Two things about their relationship provide most of the initial conflict for the plot. First, due to some financial hits they’ve taken recently, Lindsay has taken some modeling gigs to make some extra money. She did it back in college, which was recent enough that she still had connections. Why didn’t Jake do something to make extra money? He’s having a hard enough time finding a replacement full-time job that it didn’t seem like a good idea to try to add another job search to his plate. Besides, Lindsay’s moonlighting is profitable enough. What she neglects to mention to Jake is that this modeling is for art classes at a local college. And, well, none of these artists-in-training are working on fashion degrees—clothing gets in the way of what they’re learning to draw/paint/sculpt. Jake’s an open-minded kind of guy, except when it comes to this, it’s not pretty when he finds out (although it’s a pretty amusing scene for readers when he does).

Meanwhile, Jake’s sister’s wedding is coming up and Lindsay has decided the two of them need to learn to dance before it. Besides, it’s a fun activity for the two of them—they never go out mid-week anymore, and their relationship could use a boost. So she signs them up for a dance class, and then tells Jake about it after she paid for it, so he pretty much has to agree to it, but isn’t really that interested. So she basically promises him sex if he goes. Which pretty much seals the deal. But then Lindsay’s show gets moved to a new (and better) time slot. So, in addition to not being able to make the class, the couple will hardly see each other during the week. Her plan is that Jake will go, and then on the weekend, teach her the moves (he insists on getting his payment in advance for this).

Jake hates this new plan, and is convinced that he’s going to be stuck dancing with the instructor (after he and the reader meets this instructor, no one thinks this is going to be fun for him). Thankfully, just before class starts, Kaylee walks in. You read her opening dialogue up above. She’s a few years younger than Jake, taking some time out from college to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and is a major geek. She’s almost a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but doesn’t fit the category in a few ways (I’m only using that term because I’m afraid this post is getting too long and I want to pick up the pace). She’s also my favorite character of 2020 so far (granted, that would mean more if it wasn’t January 13th).

Kaylee and Jake strike up a nice little friendship during the class, and pretty soon, he’s going so he has an excuse to hang out with her. The two of them are fun together—she’s socially awkward and embarrassed to be herself, Jake tries to shake her out of that, and even encourages her to let her Geek-Flag fly (even if he doesn’t get any of it). Meanwhile, she’s encouraging about his job hunt (as opposed to Lindsay, who mostly nags or wants him to find a way to succeed where he is), and gets him to be a little less angst-y about his life. I like Jake more when he’s in friend with Kaylee-mode over guy with Lindsay-mode. But what do I know? I have a tendency to pick people the protagonists don’t in these situations (I won’t provide examples because I’d expose myself to too much ridicule).

The one last bit of Jake’s life we need to talk about is his job. It’s horrible. He has a nice group of work-friends who band together for mutual support (and complaints), but the atmosphere at work is toxic, and their superiors would be enough to turn anyone against their chosen field. For example, in the first chapter, Jake’s two-year anniversary with the company happens and he asks his boss about scheduling his annual review (which will hopefully involve a raise, which he could really use). His boss stammers and suggests an alternate date, nine months away. Yeah, Jake’s bad attitude toward work makes a little sense, doesn’t it?

I worked as a draftsman at an architecture firm some years ago, and while the atmosphere there wasn’t at all what Jake experienced, Hanover did do a great job of capturing the kind of work and personalities that I saw—which doesn’t really match the typical depiction of architects in fiction. I liked that bit of realism. (I asked Hanover about that in an upcoming Q&A, but I haven’t read his responses yet, looking forward to seeing where that authenticity came from).

Getting back to Jake’s life—what we have here is a stagnant (at best) relationship that’s got a couple of pretty big things to work through; a job situation that needs addressing; and a new friend that is really the only positive thing in his life. Jake’s life is basically begging to be shaken up, is Kaylee going to help instigate that?

There’s something about Hanover’s style that I can’t express, but I wish I could. This book (like last year’s Not Famous) is effortless to read. When I started this book, it was late in the day and I thought I’d just stick a toe in the water, maybe read about 10% of it. Before I knew it, I was about a third into the book (and were it not for the time of day, I’d have probably finished it in one sitting!). It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s infectious, it’s engaging as anything I can remember. I cared about these characters and got invested in their lives faster than I typically do.

Jonathan Tropper tends to have certain character types that show up in every novel—particularly the wise sister/friend-who-might-as-well-be-sister* (many authors do this kind of thing, I know, but Tropper is who I thought of when I was reading this book). Hanover shows signs of the same thing—sisters play a big role in both of his novels to date. He doesn’t use them the same way that Tropper does, don’t get me wrong, but his male protagonists are more honest and open about their emotional lives because of sisters. This is neither good or bad, it’s just a trait that he may have—it’s something I’ll be looking for next time. (again, see the Q&A for more on this topic). I like that there’s someone who can draw this out of a character without the need for alcohol, drugs or trauma—also, that he bares his soul first to someone who isn’t a love interest.

* There are other types that Tropper utilizes constantly, too, if I ever get around to my big re-read of his corpus, I’ll end up compiling a chart.

There’s a bit of conventional wisdom discussed here that I didn’t know before reading this book.

“You realize that dancing is basically foreplay, right?”

“So I’ve heard.” [Jake replies]

Four chapters later:

“Because dancing is, like, totally foreplay, you know.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” [Jake asks]

I counted someone telling that to Jake four times (with at least one more allusion). Is this really a thing that everyone thinks/says? I may need to cancel some of my daughter’s plans for the next 20 years…

I’d forgotten that Hanover had said there’d be a link between Not Famous and this book. It’s small, and if you haven’t read his other novel, you won’t miss anything. But if you have, you’ll enjoy the brief catch-up you get about the lives of the protagonists of that novel. It brought a big grin to my face.

There was a slight flavor of Nick Hornby wanna-be-ness to Not Famous that’s not present here. Instead, what Hanover has done is take that same voice and put it to use telling a story that’s all him (while being the kind of thing that Hornby readers will appreciate). I do think that Hanover could go a bit deeper in his characterizations (I have very little sense about Jake apart from work/Lindsay) and his plots could add a little more complexity. I’m looking for a few degrees of depth/complexity, not much. But that doesn’t stop me from loving this world and characters, and it doesn’t keep me from encouraging you all to grab this book when it releases next month.

This heart-warming tale about being who you are and finding acceptance for it is a real winner. Adorkable, irresistible, and just fun—Not Dressed is sure to please (if you are so led, book is available for pre-order). I don’t know what Not Description is next for Hanover, but I’m already eager to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post. I appreciate the book, but it didn’t sway what I had to say.


4 Stars

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2019

Like last year, while trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels made up approximately half of the novels I read this year and therefore dominated the candidates. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists—one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t—not necessarily the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). But these ten entertained me or grabbed me emotionally unlike the rest.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to books that I’ve loved for 2 decades that I happened to have read this year.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)

My original post
I’ve been telling myself every year since 2016 that I was going to read all of Backman’s novels after falling in love with his My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The closest I got was last year when I read his first novel, A Man Called Ove (and nothing else). It’s enough to make me resolve to read more of them, and soon. The story of an old, grumpy widower befriending (against his will, I should stress) a pretty diverse group of his neighbors. It’s more than that thumbnail, but I’m trying to be brief. The story was fairly predictable, but there’s something about the way that Backman put it together that makes it perfect. And even the things you see coming will get you misty (if not elicit actual tears).

5 Stars

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown

My original post
When I started reading this, I was figuring that Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga was on the downward trend. Boy, was I wrong. Dark Age showed me that time after time after time after time . . . Entertaining, occasionally amusing, stress-inducing, heart-wrenching, flat-out captivating. It was brutal and beautiful and I can’t believe I doubted Brown for a minute.

5 Stars

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen

My original post
One of the best Time Travel stories I’ve ever read, but it’s so much more—it’s about fatherhood, it’s about love, it’s about friendship. Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak—I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline.

4 1/2 Stars

Seraphina's LamentSeraphina’s Lament

by Sarah Chorn

My original post
Chorn’s prose is as beautiful as her world is dark and disturbing. This Fantasy depicts a culture’s collapse and promises the rebirth of a world, but getting there is rough. Time and time again while reading this book, I was struck by how unique, how unusual this experience was. As different as fantasy novels tend to be from each other, by and large, most of them feel the same as you read it (I guess that’s true of all genres). But I kept coming back to how unusual this feels compared to other fantasies I’ve read. The experience of reading Seraphina’s Lament isn’t something I’ll forget any time soon.

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?” These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy—but they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss—and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

(but mostly you laugh)

4 1/2 Stars

Twenty-one Truths About LoveTwenty-one Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks

My original post
It’s an unconventionally told story about a man figuring out how to be a businessman, husband, and father in some extreme circumstances. The lists are the star of the show, but it’s the heart behind them that made this novel a winner.

5 Stars

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby

My original post
This series of brief conversations held between a married couple just before their marriage counseling sessions. At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length—I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

4 1/2 Stars

The SwallowsThe Swallows

by Lisa Lutz

My original post
This is not my favorite Lutz novel, but I think it’s her best. It has a very different kind of humor than we got in The Spellman Files, but it’s probably as funny as Lutz has been since the third book in that series—but deadly serious, nonetheless. Lutz puts on a clinic for naturally shifting tone and using that to highlight the important stories she’s telling. From the funny and dark beginning to the perfect and bitingly ominous last three paragraphs The Swallows is a winner. Timely and appropriate, but using tropes and themes that are familiar to readers everywhere, Lutz has given us a thrilling novel for our day—provocative, entertaining, and haunting. This is one of those books that probably hews really close to things that could or have happened and you’re better off hoping are fictional.

5 Stars

PostgraduatePostgraduate

by Ian Shane

My original post
This has the general feel of Hornby, Tropper, Norman, Weiner, Russo (in his lighter moments), Perrotta, etc. The writing is engaging, catchy, welcoming. Shane writes in a way that you like reading his prose—no matter what’s happening. It’s pleasant and charming with moments of not-quite-brilliance, but close enough. Shane’s style doesn’t draw attention to itself, if anything, it deflects it. It’s not flashy, but it’s good. The protagonist feels like an old friend, the world is comfortable and relaxing to be in (I should stress about 87.3 percent of what I know about radio comes from this book, so it’s not that). This belongs in the same discussion with the best of Hornby and Tropper—it’s exactly the kind of thing I hope to read when I’m not reading a “genre” novel (I hate that phrase, but I don’t know what else to put there).

4 1/2 Stars

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

My original post
This is a novel filled with readers, book nerds and the people who like (and love) them. There’s a nice story of a woman learning to overcome her anxieties to embrace new people in her life and heart with a sweet love story tagged on to it. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. This is the only book on this particular list that I know would’ve found a place on a top ten that included Crime Novels as well, few things made me as happy in 2019 as this book did for a few hours (and in fleeting moments since then as I reflect on it).

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Not Famous by Matthew Hanover, Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion, and Lingering by Melissa Simonson

Fallen by Benedict Jacka: Alex finds power and incredible loss as Jacka ramps up the seriousness of the series.

Fallen

Fallen

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #10

Mass Market Paperback, 296 pg.
Ace, 2019

Read: November 7-8, 2019

Wars between mages are very different from wars between countries. When countries fight, if they want to attack into enemy territory, they have to go through the other army to do it. Mages don’t. Gate magic let’s strike teams appear anywhere at anytime, attacking and then disappearing back to the other side of the world. You never see mages fighting to take control of a bridge or a mountain pass, because holding those kinds of places doesn’t accomplish anything. When mages engage in combat, it’s for one of two reasons: either they’re fighting over something valuable, or one side is attacking the others base of operations. Otherwise, if one side doesn’t want to fight, they can just leave.

That really sets the tone for this novel—we’re talking all-out war here—the Council vs. Richard Drakh et al. Naturally, because no one really trusts Alex, there are many who still aren’t sure what side of this conflict Alex comes down on.

For the last few books, I’ve been (mistakenly) thinking, “Ah, he’s hit rock bottom now, it’s time for things to get better.” Fallen is, at the very least, Exhibit A for how little I understood things. I was joking the other day with a friend about a theory that Jacka really doesn’t like Alex Verus and is enjoying destroying him bit by bit.

You could make the case that he’s chipping away at Alex’s shell so that he can access who he is at his core. Below how Alex thinks he should act, below how he wants to act—to get to the actual Alex Verus.

That’s probably closer to the truth, but I like my theory a little better.

Early on, Alex tells his readers:

You know things are bad when waking up feels worse than the nightmares.

And that works pretty well as a thesis statement for Fallen. Jacka finds new ways to ruin Verus’ life—up to and including one of the freakiest, strangest and most disturbing magic-induced injuries I can think of.

We’re at the point in this saga where I can’t really say anything about the plot without ruining most of it. So let me summarize it with this: we’re watching that prophecy the Dragon gave Alex work out in his life, he’s figuring out how it’s going to be fulfilled and is working to that end.

Which involves some of the riskiest moves he’s made. Some of which pay off in ways even he couldn’t foresee (some of them don’t work out so well). It’s hard to point to a book when things go as well for our favorite diviner. But as I said before, things go really, really, bad for him, too.

There are two scenes specifically (but, they’re not the only two) that will devastate readers as much as they did Alex. One of which gave us a result I’ve figured was coming (but I figured it would be in book 12, no earlier than 11—again, Jacka shows me how little I know).

While Jacka’s systematically destroying Alex, he weaves in plotlines and characters that you won’t expect, including at least one major magic artifact that you probably assumed we’d never see again. Seeing how Jacka’s using Alex’s past in the way he is was a real plus for me.

You know this was going to be a bad novel for our friends—you don’t call a novel Fallen to fill it with ponies, rainbows and slapstick moments. But man, this was just rough. Hard to read—but totally worth it.

I cannot state this strongly enough—this should not be the first book in the series you read. Horribly entry point, but such a wonderful ride for those who know Alex and his world and struggles. But if you’re a long-time reader, and haven’t had the chance to read this yet—fix that. Pronto.


4 1/2 Stars

✔ A book with a one word title

Finally Fall Book Tag


While reading these posts on Bookidote, beforewegoblog, and The Witty & Sarcastic Bookclub, I noticed myself mentally composing this list—so I figure I had to join in the fun. I’d have posted this last week, but my free laborer realized how little he was getting paid and decided to play video games instead of generating my graphic.

Naturally, I only paid half of his fee.

Enough of that, bring on the Autumn! (even if it feels like Winter here in Idaho):

In Fall, the air is crisp and clear. Name a book with a vivid setting.

The Last of the Really Great WhangdoodlesThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards

I had a hard time coming up with something for this one, honestly. But Whangdoodleland was so vivid that I can still picture parts of it, despite having read it only once in the last 30+ years.


Nature is beautiful…but also dying. Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic, like loss or grief.

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

When I posted about it, I said, “I’m not convinced that this is really all that well-written, technically speaking. But it packs such an emotional wallop, it grabs you, reaches down your throat and seizes your heart and does whatever it wants to with it—so who cares how technically well it’s written? (and, yeah, I do think the two don’t necessarily go together). A couple of weeks from now, I may not look back on this as fondly—but tonight, in the afterglow? Loved this.” I still look back on it as fondly, for the record.


Fall is Back to School Season. Name a Nonfiction Book that Taught You Something.

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time by Simon Garfield

If I’m going to read a non-fiction book, it had better teach me something or I’ll end up ranting about it for days/weeks/months! This one popped to mind, though. In my post about the book, I said: “Did I learn something from the book? Much more than I expected to. The chapter on the French experiments alone probably taught me enough to justify the whole book. I didn’t/couldn’t stick with the details of watch-making (I have a hard time visualizing that kind of detail), but even that was fascinating and informative on the surface. Most topics broadened my understanding and taught me something. Also, the sheer amount of trivia that I picked up was great (the amount of time spent recording the first Beatles LP, why pop music tends to be about 3 minutes long, etc., etc.).”


In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love. Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d love to be a part of.

Nero Wolfe trioThe Household of Nero Wolfe from the books by Rex Stout

(yeah, that picture is from the A&E TV show, not exactly the books—but in that image in particular, they look just about perfect)

There were many families/groups/households that I could’ve picked for this, but that Brownstone on West 35th Street is near the Platonic ideal for a place to live—I’d love to spend time with Mr. Wolfe, Archie and Fritz (not to mention Saul, Fred, Orrie, Lily, Lon . . .)


The colorful leaves are piling up on the ground. Show us a pile of Autumn-colored spines.


(I thought this was going to be hard, but in the end, I had to not make the pile bigger!)

Also…wow, clearly, I’m not a photographer. It’s a shame I don’t live closer to my pal, Micah Burke, things around here would look much spiffier.


Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside. Share a book wherein somebody is telling a story.

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

That’s really 90% of the book—a bard telling stories. How he pulls this off, really impressed me.

(Hammered by Kevin Hearne would also qualify, but I liked the storytelling in this one better)


The nights are getting darker. Share a dark, creepy read.

Darkness Take My HandDarkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

This one disturbs me every time I read it (4-6 I think), I still remember having to sleep with the lights on after I stayed up reading it until 2-3 in the morning the first time—I doubt I was a very good employee the next day. (Sacred maybe is creepier, but this is the better book by Lehane)


The days are getting colder. Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

WonderWonder by R. J. Palacio

The “short” in the category is the sticky wicket. But this is a quick read (even if the page number is higher than I’d count as “short.” Formulaic? Yup. Predictable? You betcha. Effective? Abso-smurfly. Textbook example of heartwarming.


Fall returns every year. Name an old favorite that you’d like to return to soon.

Magic Kingdom for Sale — SOLD!Magic Kingdom for Sale — SOLD! by Terry Brooks

Ive been thinking about this book a lot since Bookstooge’s Quick Fire Fantasy post. Gotta work this into the 2020 reading schedule.

I’m tagging any blogger who reads this. Play along.

Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter: Jane Yellowrock’s latest just might leave you shattered, too


I’m going to have to spoil a little about Dark Queen, and a little bit of earlier books, too. Read at your own risk.

Shattered Bonds

Shattered Bonds

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #13

eARC, 400 pg.
Ace, 2019

Read: October 24-28, 2019


It didn’t take me too long after starting to read this thirteenth installment in the Jane Yellowrock series to start asking myself: How am I going to possibly write anything about this? I kept asking myself that right up until I finished it this afternoon. Now, an hour past my self-imposed deadline for finishing this post, I’m still no closer to coming up with an answer.

There is simply no substitute for reading Shattered Bonds—no summary, no recap, no review can adequately hint at what the reader will experience. That’s almost always true of any book, but it’s sometimes more true than usual.

Remember Joseph Santana—also known as Joses Bar-Judas, or Yosace Bar-Ioudas. One of Judas Iscariot’s two sons, one of the original vampires? We never saw him at his full-strength, just weak, hungry, and chained up—that is, until he became Brute-chow. He was dangerous and frightening then. It turns out that Sabina was right when she said that Joses was the least-dangerous member of this family. What his brother, Shimon Bar-Judas, does to Jane’s allies and friends before she’s aware that he’s a factor in her life is devastating. What he does once he’s on her radar? Well, it’d take a novel to describe—and hey, that’s what we have here.

Last we saw Jane, she’d basically given up between the grief after the Sangre Duello and cancer caused by using her timeshifting magic and headed off to die. Intervention by Eli, Alex, and Bruiser have brought her back from the edge, but they’re only helping her manage the symptoms (and arguably not doing that much for them). But seeing what Shimon has done, is doing, and what it looks like he will do to her people galvanizes her into action. Sure, she might be dying, but she’s not going to stop fighting—especially if it comes down to protecting those that are near and dear to her, or those that she owes something to.

It occurs to me as I wrote that last sentence—this might be the most I’ve ever admired Jane.

Not only is Jane newly-inspired to keep on living after dealing with Shimon, some of the things she does so she can be/appear strong enough to challenge him gets her thinking of new (and hopefully more effective) ways to fight her cancer. Jane learns new and more ways to use her magic all the time, which has put her in this situation. Now it’s time to see if she can do something to get her out of it.

An unhinged, power-mad, brilliant and cruel predator on the one hand, and seemingly incurable cancer on the other. Yeah, Jane’s got her work cut out for her.

I was musing on things somewhere around the 60% mark, and I started wondering about the title—yeah, sure there were a couple of things early on that you could apply the title to. But I didn’t think Hunter was going to let us get away with anything so simple. So what could she be referring to? And then when I thought about who and what could get shattered? What ties, bonds, or connections could be irreparably damaged in the last 35-40% of the book?

Suddenly, I strongly considered following Joey Tribbiani’s lead and storing this in my freezer. Unlike Joey’s paperback, that would’ve ruined my Kindle, so I really had no choice but to keep reading. I started to compose a list of characters who I’d worried about surviving this novel (up to and including Jane)—and then I abandoned that. Instead, I composed a list of characters in this book (including some who don’t see, just get a second-hand report about), and I came up with one name. Just one. That’s a lot to worry about. I worried less about people making it through Dark Queen—which featured a series of literal duels with some of the most dangerous characters Hunter has created.

Spoiler: Rest easy, Alex Younger fans, nothing to worry about. If your favorite is anyone else? Sorry.

This is actually one of Hunter’s richer titles—you can mine a lot from this one. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, because Eli does a more effective job than I will (so does Alex, come to think of it), but there’s something striking about the idea that Jane has bonds to shatter. Back in Skinwalker when we met her, she was a lone wolf (sorry, Brute) type of figure—yeah, she liked/loved others (see: Molly) and enjoyed the company of people. But she didn’t need anyone but our favorite witch. She only sought allies when the numbers against her were overwhelming, and even then, she didn’t rely on them much for the important matters. She’s still learning how to. Slowly but surely, Jane has been expanding her social, professional and familial circles—she cares for people, feels responsible for them, and is aided by them.

Ten books ago, there weren’t bonds to be shattered. But now, there’s a wide net of connections branching out from Jane. This makes her more vulnerable, but—when she remembers this—it’s also a source of strength and security. This character development/growth is one of my favorites in ongoing series. Not just because I like seeing Jane grow, but primarily because Hunter’s doing such a good job in depicting it.

I could do a few paragraphs on other bonds, too—think of imprisonment, slavery, history (cultural or personal). But you get the idea.

On a lighter note—only in the Carolinas do you get vamps talking this much about barbecue. It made me smile. Still does.

Last thought—Nell Ingram’s dealing with a lot of changes already, but some of Shattered Bonds is going to spill over into her world and I’m eager to see how that works itself out.

I’ve apparently found some things to talk about—hopefully this whets your appetite enough to grab this (although, I can’t imagine anyone reading this series who needs convincing). A fantastic entry in this fantastic series—action, danger, love, loss, highs, lows, barbecue, and the best hunter—Shattered Bonds has it all.


4 1/2 Stars
My thanks to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.

EXCERPT from Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter: “My Eddie is in trouble!”

SHATTERED BONDS by Faith Hunter, copyright Faith Hunter.

My cell chimed. Beast and I followed Eli to my gobag in the mud room, the small bag hanging on the rack with other winter gear. He swiped the screen, tapped in my security code, and started back to the office, saying, “Molly, it’s Eli—”

Angie Baby screamed, “My Eddie is in trouble! My Eddie! No! No!”

Beast growled, showing killing teeth. My/our heart did a fearful, arrhythmic bump-and-pause, and then raced too fast. Again, I searched for the connection to Edmund. Gone. Severed. As if it had been cut out with a knife. It was a strange sensation, as if a part of my own body had been instantly amputated and I kept searching for it, feeling something but … not the missing part. Ed was mine. Ed was gone.

Molly’s voice came over the phone and my attention swept to the cell. “Sorry, Jane. Angie woke up screaming from a bad dream. We’ve been trying to calm her down, but she grabbed my cell and called.” In the background, we heard the sound of Angie Baby’s screams diminish in volume and the crooning of her father’s flute magic, calming her.

“Eli here. Jane’s big-cat at the moment. Angie may not be having a dream.”

“What’s happening with Ed?” Molly asked, a trace of fear in her tone.

“We don’t know, except that Jane heard Ed through the vamp-binding. Alex is searching for him.”

In the background Angie’s screams crescendoed, the pitch so high it hurt Beast’s ears. She turned her ear tabs down against the noise and thought, Kits… Kits in trouble. Ed in trouble.

“Eli, I—. This is … Has Ed been killed? He and Angle have a blood bond. I don’t know what to do if… ?” Molly’s voice trailed away, uncertainly.

I/we nodded Beast’s head up and down, then back and forth, an uncertain yes / no gesture. We stared at Eli, snarling and licking our jaw, hoping he would understand that this was really not right.

“Jane and Beast are upset too,” he said.

“I think we’ll come visit,” Molly said.

“We have the room,” Eli said.

“Yeah. I’ve seen the sales brochures,” she said wryly.

In the background, the screaming stopped. Evan said, “She’s asleep. Pack fast. More snow is coming.”

Into the cell, Molly said, “We’ll probably have to keep her in magically induced sleep but expect us after nine tonight.”

“The county brined the street but the drive is frozen,” Eli said. “Call if you get stuck.”

“Will do.” The call ended.

From the office, I heard the Kid’s voice in quiet conversation with Grégoire, Blondie’s and Alex’s voices barely loud enough to pick out, even with Beast’s ears. Grégoire was in France with Edmund. Good. That meant up-to-date info. I / we trotted to him.

“Send me everything you have,” Alex said.

“Oui. My people do so now. Dieu vous garde en sécurité.”

“You too, dude.”

I heard a connection end and felt a smile tug at my Puma lips. Only Alex would call a royal-born, centuries old, powerful vamp dude.

 

 


Read the rest in Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter—how can you not?.


My thanks to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.