My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

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 my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). 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-Star 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.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

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My Favorite 2017 New (to me) Characters

A few weeks ago, I started to describe someone as one of the best characters I met this year. Which got me to thinking about and honing this list. I’m limiting myself to characters I met this year, otherwise I don’t think there’s be much room for anyone — Spenser, Hawk, Scout, Harry Dresden, Toby Daye, Ford Prefect etc. wouldn’t really allow anyone else to be talked about. These might not be my favorite people in their respective books (although most are), but they’re the best characters in terms of complexity, depth and story potential I doubt I’d like most of them in real life (and can’t imagine that any of them would enjoy me), but in novels? I can’t get enough of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Aimee de Laurent from Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my post about the book)– she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s compassionate, she’s powerful, she’s fallible. She also flies around in a spaceship and does magic.
  • Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my post about the book)– She’s more than Stephanie Plum without the Lucy Ricardo DNA. She’s a tough lady, a dedicated mom, and more. This bounty hunter will impress you with her guts, get your sympathy with her plight, and make you cheer as she bests her opponents (I should probably add “make you wince as she takes some brutal beatings).
  • Ali Dalglish from In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick (my post about the book)– Ali is a certified (and possibly certifiable) genius. She’s a criminal profiler working in Vancouver, BC after nearly a couple of decades away to raise her kids. But when a serial killer’s victim is found near her home, she’s drug back into the professional world she left with the investigation. She has the most creative swearing this side of Malcom Tucker, a fantastic and fast mind, a jaded look at life, and a sense of humor that’s sure to please. Early in In the Still, she asks questions of a police officer in a public forum and pretty much ruins the poor guy — it’s one of the best scenes I read all year. If you can read that far in the book and not become a Ali fan at that point, there’s something wrong with you. If I was ranking these, I’m pretty sure she’d be #1.
  • Nick Mason from The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (https://wp.me/p3z9AH-2NI)– A convicted non-violent criminal gets released early from an Illinois prison only to find himself in a different type of prison to work off his debt for being released, making him lose the “non-” in front of violent. He’s a great character, on the verge (always on the verge) of redemption and falling further.
  • Dervan du Alöbar from A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book is forthcoming) — I could’ve named about half of the point-of-view characters from this book, but Dervan eked out a win. He’s a widower in mourning. A former soldier, wounded in duty, turned scholar, turned . . . well — that’s a long story. There’s something about his coming to grips with the new reality, his new vocation, his self-awareness and growth in his personal life just really clicked with me. He’s basically an unqualified fantasy hero, forced to step up and play a role in saving civilization (which actually describes many people in this book, but that’s for another day).
  • Isaiah Quintabe from IQ by Joe Ide (my post about the book)– South-Central LA’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. We meet IQ early in his career and, via flashbacks, see him begin to develop the gifts that will make him the super-detective he’s destined to become. He’s such a great take on this character, I can’t believe no one beat Ide to the punch.
  • Anci from Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (my post about the book) — yeah, her dad, Slim, is the series start and protagonist. He’s the one that goes trough all the hardship, the beatings, the investigative moves, not his 12-year-old daughter (who isn’t a young Veronica Mars clone, or Rae Spellman). But Anci is the heart and soul of the books — she’s why Slim goes to work in this field, and why he comes back. She’s smarter and wittier than any 12-year-old has any right to be (but believably so), she’s Slim’s conscience, and his reason for doing what he does.
  • LeAnne Hogan from The Right Side by Spencer Quinn (my post about the book)– comes back from Afghanistan after near-fatal injuries, and isn’t fit for the civilian life she’s thrown back into. She begins to deal with her grief and anger while hunting for the child of a dead friend with the help of a stray dog. She’ll break your heart.
  • John Rebus from Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (my post about the book)– Wow. How do I sum up Rebus? 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ creation and the first year I read him. He’s a wonderful, complex character. He smokes too much, he drinks too much, he ignores the rules and regulations (and maybe even the laws) in his ongoing effort to forget about himself and his life by pouring himself into his work. Tenacious with a capital “T”, he may not be the smartest police detective you ever read, but he makes up for it through not giving up (although he’s pretty smart — especially when not drinking).
  • Hob Ravani from Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells (my post about the book)– Tough does not begin to describe this biker. She’s all about surviving on this planet that’s not at all conducive to survival — from the environment, to the economics, to the politics — there’s just nothing on the planet that wants her or her fellow Ghost Wolves to survive. But somehow she does.

Pub Day Repost: Flame in the Dark by Faith Hunter


Flame in the DarkFlame in the Dark

by Faith Hunter
Series: Soulwood, #3eARC, 352 pg.
Ace/Roc, 2017
Read: September 22 – 27

Rookie Agent Nell Ingram and her PsyLED team start this novel in a multi-agency investigation into an attack on a political fundraiser — with a focus on one family in particular. There’s no obvious paranormal aspect to the attack, so PsyLED isn’t in the lead, but there’s enough to keep them hanging around the investigation. If for no other reason than the local vampires are interested in what’s going on. Soon, other attacks occur, making it even clearer that one family is the target. As the team starts to investigate that family, more questions are raised and secrets are revealed. But it’s a long while before the secrets and questions lead to anything useful for preventing further loss of life.

The presence of the vampires is a nice bonus — they were present a little in Blood of the Earth, but not really in Curse on the Land. Nell’s still struggling to make up for a faux pas in her initial exposure to the vampires — and a couple of them seem to be enjoying her discomfort. I enjoy seeing Hunter’s particular brand of vampires running around without Jane and her stakes, as long as she doesn’t return to this particular well too much in this series, the Vamps’ presence will be a plus.

The PsyLED case itself is a little on the tepid side — it’s far easier for readers to figure out what’s going on than it is for the characters, and that always hurts the stories somewhat. But — wow. What’s actually going on when the team finally puts all the pieces together? Wow — just wow. It makes putting up with their earlier slowness utterly worth it (also, the reader won’t be as correct as they thought they were for a long time). Basically, if you find yourself getting annoyed with this story, your patience will be rewarded. Probably more than rewarded.

Speaking of patience, Nell needs to exercise a good deal of it with her family, who are still struggling with understanding just what’s going on with her (and they don’t know it all!) and her move for independence from the cult she’s left. It’s clearly, and understandably, difficult to continue to distance herself from the ways and practices she was raised in, while trying to strengthen the ties with the family members still in the church. Meanwhile, the church does seem to be trying to change their practice — moving to orthopraxy, without much of a move towards orthodoxy. That kind of thing isn’t really going to work in the long run — but then again, Hunter’s not writing a realistic account of a movement in a religious group — so it’s not anything to get worked up over. Anyway, Nell puts her foot down on a couple of fronts and draws on some of what she’s learned in working with others, to be able handle her family in a way that hopefully gets through to them. She’s also making some smart moves regarding her sister, Mud/Mindy, who seems to share a lot of abilities and inclinations with Nell. I can’t wait to see what Hunter’s got up her sleeve with this.

While this is really Nell’s book (and series), there’s a great ensemble of characters here. Particularly in the PsyLED team. I’d have preferred a better use of the team, and for the second book in a row, I wondered why Hunter didn’t use some of the characters as well as she did in the first book. Maybe this is just me asking for more for Tandy to do.

There’s some satisfying development on the Brother Ephriam/foreign entity in Soulwood front (that’ll make sense to readers of the series), and regarding the “Vampire Tree.” Which just might be the creepiest floral entity I’ve ever read about — and it’s creepier than a lot of fauna, too. I’m particularly glad about the Brother Ephriam development, I was afraid that things were going to go on too long with that without any real shift in the status quo.

There’s also a stronger look at Nell’s romantic life here — her taking the first steps in exploring a real romantic relationship (in contrast to that marriage she was in), and maybe even getting her first “Improperly Proper Kiss.” There’s just enough romance story allow the reader to see her grow in this way (in addition to all the others she’s growing in), just one more step towards her fulfillment — but not so much that it’s the novel’s focus.

One of the pluses (and minuses) about this series all along has been how hard it is to simply say what Nell Ingram is. With most UF you can summarize things briefly: She can see dead people, he’s a wizard PI, she’s a skinwalker vampire hunter, he’s the world’s oldest living druid, she’s a changeling PI, she’s a ridiculously named werewolf who has a radio talk show, and so on . . . Nell’s a, um. Well. There’s magic, and powers over growing things, but no real spells, per se. See what I mean? This is a pain when trying to describe it to others, or even in knowing what to expect from her stories. And Hunter takes full advantage of this, she’ll have Nell do whatever at any point in time, and as long as it sort of relates to what she started off doing in Book 1, you buy it. By the same token, I can imagine that might be too much of a blank slate for Hunter — there are no well-established strengths/weaknesses/tropes to play with. There are things that Nell does here that just blows me away — and that has a lot to do with Hunter creating this magic creature/race on her own.

When I say that Hunter takes full advantage of this — I should say I thought she had been for the past two books — she really lets loose with it this time.

Let me try to sum up this rambling post: this is a slow burn of a novel — it puts down roots and grows like Nell’s plants, and eventually blossoms into something that’s great to look at. Be patient with it, watch the growth, and you’ll be rewarded. Because when things get going — they really get going, and it’s almost too much to take in. I vacillated a lot about what to rate this — I argued myself into 4-Stars and then into 5 and back into 4 and so on a few times. but because I really don’t place too much weight on the stars, really, I just stopped and split the difference. For those who’ve been around for the previous two books this is a must read — if this was going to be the last in the series, it’d be a decent way to leave (thankfully, Soulwood isn’t a trilogy); for Yellowrock fans who haven’t tried this series yet, you’ll appreciate it; and if you’ve never tried either — take a dip into this world, but I’ll warn you: you’ll end up reading all the others.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. Thanks also to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the opportunity to take part in this book tour. My opinions about the book remain my own.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) The Purloined Poodle (Audiobook)

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs, 54 min.
Kevin Hearne, 2017
Read: December 2, 2016


I posted about the text version about a month ago (and reposted last week), but wanted to say a little more about the audiobook — so for the sake of those who just clicked on the Audiobook post, I’ll just repeat everything I said before, but tag on something at the end about Luke Daniels’ work. Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

No surprise to anyone who’s heard the audiobook for any of Oberon’s other appearances in short stories/novellas/novels, but Luke Daniels killed it here. From the overall characterization and narration he does as Oberon on down to the little details, like Oberon’s particular pronunciation of “Port-LAND,” I just love it. Frankly, how anyone can listen to his rendition of Starbuck’s first steps with words like, “Yes food!” and not giggle like Ron Swanson is beyond me. He gets the serious moments, the anger, the awe, the silliness just right. I just can’t say enough good things about this audio presentation.

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

—–

4.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne

The Squirrel on the TrainThe Squirrel on the Train

by Kevin Hearne
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2eARC, 120 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017
Read: November 2, 2017

Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Flame in the Dark by Faith Hunter


Flame in the DarkFlame in the Dark

by Faith Hunter
Series: Soulwood, #3

eARC, 352 pg.
Ace/Roc, 2017

Read: September 22 – 27


Rookie Agent Nell Ingram and her PsyLED team start this novel in a multi-agency investigation into an attack on a political fundraiser — with a focus on one family in particular. There’s no obvious paranormal aspect to the attack, so PsyLED isn’t in the lead, but there’s enough to keep them hanging around the investigation. If for no other reason than the local vampires are interested in what’s going on. Soon, other attacks occur, making it even clearer that one family is the target. As the team starts to investigate that family, more questions are raised and secrets are revealed. But it’s a long while before the secrets and questions lead to anything useful for preventing further loss of life.

The presence of the vampires is a nice bonus — they were present a little in Blood of the Earth, but not really in Curse on the Land. Nell’s still struggling to make up for a faux pas in her initial exposure to the vampires — and a couple of them seem to be enjoying her discomfort. I enjoy seeing Hunter’s particular brand of vampires running around without Jane and her stakes, as long as she doesn’t return to this particular well too much in this series, the Vamps’ presence will be a plus.

The PsyLED case itself is a little on the tepid side — it’s far easier for readers to figure out what’s going on than it is for the characters, and that always hurts the stories somewhat. But — wow. What’s actually going on when the team finally puts all the pieces together? Wow — just wow. It makes putting up with their earlier slowness utterly worth it (also, the reader won’t be as correct as they thought they were for a long time). Basically, if you find yourself getting annoyed with this story, your patience will be rewarded. Probably more than rewarded.

Speaking of patience, Nell needs to exercise a good deal of it with her family, who are still struggling with understanding just what’s going on with her (and they don’t know it all!) and her move for independence from the cult she’s left. It’s clearly, and understandably, difficult to continue to distance herself from the ways and practices she was raised in, while trying to strengthen the ties with the family members still in the church. Meanwhile, the church does seem to be trying to change their practice — moving to orthopraxy, without much of a move towards orthodoxy. That kind of thing isn’t really going to work in the long run — but then again, Hunter’s not writing a realistic account of a movement in a religious group — so it’s not anything to get worked up over. Anyway, Nell puts her foot down on a couple of fronts and draws on some of what she’s learned in working with others, to be able handle her family in a way that hopefully gets through to them. She’s also making some smart moves regarding her sister, Mud/Mindy, who seems to share a lot of abilities and inclinations with Nell. I can’t wait to see what Hunter’s got up her sleeve with this.

While this is really Nell’s book (and series), there’s a great ensemble of characters here. Particularly in the PsyLED team. I’d have preferred a better use of the team, and for the second book in a row, I wondered why Hunter didn’t use some of the characters as well as she did in the first book. Maybe this is just me asking for more for Tandy to do.

There’s some satisfying development on the Brother Ephriam/foreign entity in Soulwood front (that’ll make sense to readers of the series), and regarding the “Vampire Tree.” Which just might be the creepiest floral entity I’ve ever read about — and it’s creepier than a lot of fauna, too. I’m particularly glad about the Brother Ephriam development, I was afraid that things were going to go on too long with that without any real shift in the status quo.

There’s also a stronger look at Nell’s romantic life here — her taking the first steps in exploring a real romantic relationship (in contrast to that marriage she was in), and maybe even getting her first “Improperly Proper Kiss.” There’s just enough romance story allow the reader to see her grow in this way (in addition to all the others she’s growing in), just one more step towards her fulfillment — but not so much that it’s the novel’s focus.

One of the pluses (and minuses) about this series all along has been how hard it is to simply say what Nell Ingram is. With most UF you can summarize things briefly: She can see dead people, he’s a wizard PI, she’s a skinwalker vampire hunter, he’s the world’s oldest living druid, she’s a changeling PI, she’s a ridiculously named werewolf who has a radio talk show, and so on . . . Nell’s a, um. Well. There’s magic, and powers over growing things, but no real spells, per se. See what I mean? This is a pain when trying to describe it to others, or even in knowing what to expect from her stories. And Hunter takes full advantage of this, she’ll have Nell do whatever at any point in time, and as long as it sort of relates to what she started off doing in Book 1, you buy it. By the same token, I can imagine that might be too much of a blank slate for Hunter — there are no well-established strengths/weaknesses/tropes to play with. There are things that Nell does here that just blows me away — and that has a lot to do with Hunter creating this magic creature/race on her own.

When I say that Hunter takes full advantage of this — I should say I thought she had been for the past two books — she really lets loose with it this time.

Let me try to sum up this rambling post: this is a slow burn of a novel — it puts down roots and grows like Nell’s plants, and eventually blossoms into something that’s great to look at. Be patient with it, watch the growth, and you’ll be rewarded. Because when things get going — they really get going, and it’s almost too much to take in. I vacillated a lot about what to rate this — I argued myself into 4-Stars and then into 5 and back into 4 and so on a few times. but because I really don’t place too much weight on the stars, really, I just stopped and split the difference. For those who’ve been around for the previous two books this is a must read — if this was going to be the last in the series, it’d be a decent way to leave (thankfully, Soulwood isn’t a trilogy); for Yellowrock fans who haven’t tried this series yet, you’ll appreciate it; and if you’ve never tried either — take a dip into this world, but I’ll warn you: you’ll end up reading all the others.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. Thanks also to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the opportunity to take part in this book tour. My opinions about the book remain my own.

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4 1/2 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Faith Hunter


I’ve gotta say, I was pretty intimidated when I got the word that Faith Hunter was going to participate in this, but it ended up being a lot easier to come up with questions to ask her than it was for many other writers. The main problem was cutting them down to five! Anyway, I enjoyed this — hope you do, too.

Ms. Hunter, before we begin, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to provide some A’s to the Q’s here. I’ve been reading the Yellowrock series since 2011 and have been become a big fan of your work. I want to ask about a dozen questions about the last two or three chapters of Flame in the Dark, but I don’t think you’d want to answer them — and if you did, you wouldn’t let me post your answers. Here are their replacements, which should be spoiler-free, and hopefully you haven’t been asked too many times.
Thank you for that. And I am glad to be here!
First off, what’s been the reaction from your fans toward this spin-off? Anything surprising about the reaction (hopefully positive surprises, but I’ve been online long enough to not know to assume that).
I was not expecting the fans to love Nell or the Soulwood series in any great numbers, but the sales figures for the most recent books are nearly the same — Soulwood #2 (Curse on the Land) and Jane Yellowrock #11, (Cold Reign). And they really adore Nell. They root for her and they pull for her and they want her to get that all important Improperly Proper Kiss!
Each book comes with its own particular set of challenges. What were the particular challenges of Flame in the Dark?
Mostly keeping Nell heading in the right direction. She came from a very restrictive background, so while I want her to experience life in all its sensory and emotional delights, I also want to keep her on the straight and narrow in terms of being true to herself. I want to make sure that she doesn’t lose sight of who she is, and what made her strong. She is a multi-faceted character with a lot of depth and I want to make sure she is never a Milquetoast.
For me, one of the highlights of the Soulwood books is Nell’s reaction to the food (mostly of the “junk” variety) her colleagues are introducing her to. It’s such a subtle and effective way to remind/demonstrate just how far away her life was from the world we all know before she joined up with PsyLED (and so fun to watch this farm-to-table type woman revel in processed foods). Assuming I’m not reading too much into that — why food? Why not . . . the Internet or music? Was it a conscious choice, or just something that started that you ran with? Is the research for it just dreadful? How many Krispy Kremes do you have to eat to make sure you get it right? 🙂 [sorry I babbled a bit there . . . ]
(laughing) The Internet was something she had already learned about through the library system in her town of Knoxville. So while her knowledge of the databases has expanded dramatically, the concept wasn’t brand new to her. As to music, Nell grew up listening to mostly old-fashioned acapella church music. I’m honestly not certain what kind of music she would like, so I haven’t gone there yet. I feel that music will need a deft hand for Nell, and I don’t have that yet. But FOOD! Part of the reason why food, is that I can’t eat many kinds of processed foods anymore. I’m allergic to all corn products and so that means I no longer get pizza or commercially made doughnuts. I miss all that great stuff!!! I am living through Nell’s taste buds, while becoming much more the farm-to-table eater myself now.
The religious lives of Jane and Nell play a more significant role in the novels than any other Urban Fantasy series I can think of, where does that come from? How do you approach bringing their faith (understanding that Nell’s is in flux given her past) into the stories in a way that seems authentic?
My dad taught me to look at EVERY subject from EVERY side, and to work to understand why people think and believe as they do. He also made me look at the ways those thought systems and belief systems contributed to their strengths and weakness as individuals and as members of society. He was a wily man, my daddy was. And what I’ve discovered is ALL people are people of faith, whether that faith is a religious one or a rational one, a spiritual one or a physical one, a churchy one or a scientific one. Therefore, addressing faith (for me, as a writer), becomes a part of each story and character on some level. Nell is struggling with faith, because for her, faith is all messed up with sex and abuse and cruelty. For Occam, faith is all tied up with betrayal. For Nell’s mother, faith is all about surviving and growing through life’s difficulties into strength and forgiveness. For Rick, faith is all about forgiving himself for stupidity that led to pain and lost relationships.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Robin McKinley’s Sunshine was a masterpiece.
Devon Monk makes me intensely jealous. She is SUCH a talent!
Chloe Neill’s Devil’s Isle series is spectacular!
/td>
Again, thanks for your time and participation. I hope Flame in the Dark is as successful as it deserves to be, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for either Jane or Nell.