In Medias Res: Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.

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Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick

Ali Dalglish, the best criminal profiler this side of Will Graham or Tony Hill, with a Tarantino twist is back. She’s not an amateur like she was in In the Still, and has a couple of more cases under her belt.

Then she’s called in to help with what seems like a lay-up of a case. Which is the biggest signal to a reader that this will be horrible — and boy howdy, this is. I’m at 49% and this is already one of the darkest, most twisted books I’ve ever read. And somehow, don’t ask me how, Chadwick has me loving this — I’m not getting a kick out of the depravity, mind you — but Ali and her interaction with her team and everyone else, I just can’t get enough of. But man . . . this book will eradicate any lingering suspicions you might have had about the reality and force of human depravity.

Actually, that reminds me: I could use a lot more of Marlene (Ali’s friend/assistant/Watson-y figure).

At this point, I’m sort of rooting for the killer — at least who Chadwick is making us think is the killer. The victims/intended victims thus far could be the primary antagonists in a book from just about every other crime series. I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out one of the mysteries — I’m fully prepared to be proven wrong, though.

Anyway, I’ll finish this tomorrow, so you can expect to see a full post early next week. But you should really read this book — and its predecessor, if you haven’t yet. I practically guarantee that you’ll love it.

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The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

The Brightest FellThe Brightest Fell

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #11

Hardcover, 289 pg.
DAW, 2017

Read: September 6 – 7, 2017

I still couldn’t see anything, which was unusual. Fae have excellent night vision. We’re like cats, able to see in the slightest trace of light. For it to be this dark, there had to be no light at all-that, or something had been done to my eyes. The thought caused a brief spike of panic, until I blinked several times and confirmed that I could still feel my eyes. No one had removed them or sealed my eyelids shut.

It says something about my life that this was a concern.

Surely, at some point, Toby will stop being lulled into a sense that everything is okay with the world — she starts this book by enjoying life, and a night out with her friends. Which is one of the surest signs that things are going to go horribly awry for her. And they do, before she can finish unwinding after the night out, there’s a knock on her door. Amandine, her mother, has stopped by for a visit.

Well, not really a visit. She wants to hire Toby to go find her older daughter, August. Toby’s never met her sister and really doesn’t want to get mixed up with anything involving August (who’s been missing for over a century) or her mother. Amandine has never been one to take no for an answer, instead, she takes hostages.

So, Toby’s off to find her sister August — which makes preventing war (like she’s been doing lately) look positively run-of-the-mill. I’m going to leave the plot summary at that. Because, like others, I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling things that shouldn’t be. There are a couple of quotations (one from Toby, one from someone else) that illustrate what’s going on beyond this missing person hunt:

All my chickens were coming home to roost, and while I didn’t want them, I had earned them. I had earned them, every one.

“We are the sum of our actions . . . When desperation sets our course, those actions can blacken with remarkable speed.”

If that doesn’t describe the last couple of Iron Druid Chronicles, Dresden Files, and pretty much every Alex Verus book, I don’t know what does. The best of Urban Fantasy ultimately puts their protagonists in this situation — Toby’s been close to it before, but she’s dancing closer to the line here, sacrificing (or at least being prepared to sacrifice) so much to find her sister — and the number of things she won’t sacrifice is pretty small.

There’s not a whole lot of character growth and development here, there’s no time. We do see many of our old friends and acquaintances being themselves — maybe turned up to 11. One character, who will remain nameless, displays a degree of depth that we haven’t seen before. Toby grows a bit through this experience, if only to find out what extremes she’ll go to. She finds herself capable of changing her mind about someone –not easy for her to do (like most of us).

People are complicated. That’s the problem with people. lt would be so much easier if they could all be put into easy little boxes and left there, never changing, never challenging the things I decided about them.

This was a great read — in more than just the story, or characters — there are just some books where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is one of them (though the sum of its parts was pretty good) — everything just clicked. McGuire drew me in and kept me there between the voice, the fact that we have 10 books of history with these characters, and the drama (and little bit of comedy). There was one point, where Toby does something brave, reckless and potentially stupid (especially if it came back to bite her), where I found myself muttering, “Oh, oak and ash! No!” I figure any book that has you under its spell enough that you end up borrowing oaths and curses from the protagonist is a pretty engrossing read. She didn’t listen to me, and she sure should have.

From the fun as all get out opening scene, to the ominous final sentence that should fill every Toby fan with dread (although it promises some great books), McGuire was firing on all cylinders here. Yeah, plenty came home to roost in The Brightest Fell, and it meant that those closest to Toby suffered, but she found a way to be Toby throughout — she didn’t surrender who she was, and she got things done the best she could. All the while bringing the reader along through her highs and lows with her. Can’t ask for more than that. (well..I guess you could, but why?)

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5 Stars

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and BonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2

Hardcover, 187 pg.
Tor, 2017

Read: June 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4 Stars

Lowering Expectations

When I get home from work today, my copy of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire should be waiting for me, I’ve been eagerly waiting for this book for about a year now.

I know (well, I fear) that it won’t be as good as Every Heart a Doorway — it can’t be.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be good, just not as good. As long as I remember that, I won’t be disappointed. Which is my biggest fear.

Am I the only one who plays mind-games like this?

Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, 10

Mass Market Paperback, 350 pg.
Daw, 2016

Read: January 14 – 17, 2017

My name is October Daye. My father was a human; my mother was, and is, a Firstborn daughter of Oberon, making her one of the more powerful people among the fae, and a definite pain in my still-mortal changeling ass. I was born and raised in San Francisco, which explains my willingness to stay in a city that’s historically been full of people who insist on trying to kill me at the slightest provocation. Faeries are real. Magic is real. My tendency to greet dangerous situations by plunging headfirst and seeing how long it takes to get myself covered head to toe in blood is also real.

I live an interesting life.

It drove me crazy to not be able to get to this for four months — and now having read it, I think I’m even more mad that I put it off. But the important thing is that I got to read it. Now I have to try to do something more than sound like raving, mindless fanboy here. Which will be difficult, because when it comes to Toby Day, that’s what I’ve been since book 3 (and was pretty close to it since halfway through book 1).

It’s been a few weeks since Toby overthrew the King in the Mists and things are pretty calm — she, her Fetch, her Squire, her fiancée and the rest of her friends are happy and comfortable. Which we all know can’t last for long.

What ruins this state this time is a giant conclave of North American Fae royalty being held in Queen Arden Windermere’s knowe — overseen by the High King and Queen. Kings, Queens and other nobles that we’ve met and/or heard of already — and many others — are meeting to discuss and decide what to do with the cure for elf-shot. The political and legal ramifications of the new cure are far bigger than anyone — including readers — thought. The discussion will prove to be a clash of traditionalists, reform-minded people, class-conscious rulers, those in favor of helping Changelings, and those who can’t be bothered to care about Changelings.

As this is a Toby Daye book, it doesn’t take too long for dead bodies to start to show up — and the blood (much of it Toby’s) starts to flow. As the hero of the realm, it’s Toby’s job to find out who’s responsible and stop them from shedding any more blood.

So there’s political intrigue, a closed room (well, knowe) murder mystery — but that’s not where the heart of the book is. It’s in Toby and her family. Toby and her liege are still on the outs, Arden’s brother and closest friend were elf-shot, Quentin’s parents are in town and watching him closely, Tybalt has to keep her at arm’s length to preserve his independence as King of the Cats in this setting, and so many other things. There’s plenty of drama in each area of the book, enough to satisfy any reader, but when you add them all together — it’s that special blend of magic that only someone as good as Seanan McGuire can conjure.

This one ticked every emotional check box for me — including the ones that made me very aware of all the dust in my immediate vicinity. I can’t think of a problem with this one — I’m not so much of a fanboy that I can’t see problems with McGuire’s work, but the last few in this series have been so great. There are few books this year that I’m looking forward to as much as/more than the next Toby Daye, and books like Once Broken Faith are the reason way. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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5 Stars

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.

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3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez

I’ve been trying to finish this since September — thankfully, today being A. Lee Martinez Appreciation Day gave me the motivation.

The Last Adventure of Constance VerityThe Last Adventure of Constance Verity

by A. Lee Martinez
Series: Constance Verity, #1

Hardcover, 384 pg.
Saga Press, 2016

Read: September 8 -12, 2016

“I didn’t think you believed in jinxes,” said Tia.

Connie didn’t.

But she wasn’t so sure that jinxes didn’t believe in her, and they’d had a long, long time to build a grudge.

I go in to a Martinez book assuming I’ll like it, this one took less time than usual for me to know I liked it. Lines like that are just part of why.

Thanks to a gift from a fairy godmother, since she was 7, Constance Verity has been saving the world as she goes on unbelievable adventure after unbelievable adventure — she travels the galaxy, time, alternate realities and all over (and under) the Earth. She’s run into demons, aliens, wizards, killer robots, mad scientists and many more threats — and overcome them all. A couple of decades later, she’s starting to think that she’s missing out on something despite all the excitement. She’s missing out on being ordinary.

Haven’t you saved the world on multiple occasions?”

“That’s what people tell me, but I’m beginning to think that the world isn’t as fragile as all that. The universe got along just fine for billions of years without me. I don’t think it needs me to save it. I think it all works out about the same in the end. Sometimes, I like to think of myself with a dead-end job that I dislike, a husband who is letting himself go, and some ungrateful kids I take to soccer practice. It sounds dreary, but at least it would be my life.”

Connie doesn’t stop to consider if she’s really cut out for ordinary, but if anyone can rise to the challenge of normality, it’s Constance Verity.

So she and her sidekick best-friend, Tia, head out to get that normal life for her. Step 1: Kill her fairly godmother.

I really don’t know what to say about the book beyond this without getting into more details than I ought. I guess I could say a few things about character. Connie is a great character, for someone who’s lived a superhuman life, she’s really human. Tia is incredible — wise, funny, caring, a real good friend. The relationship between the two is almost perfect.

This is a typical Martinez — a strange combination of loony and thoughtful. You can laugh and then be struck by a profound thought within a couple of pages. This is a fun adventure (a handful, really), and a bit of a commentary on heroes, villains, tropes and themes in SF stories (particularly the pulp-ier variety).

This is the first installment in a series — which is something Martinez hasn’t done before — I have no clue how he’ll pull this off, the book ends like I’d expect a Martinez stand-alone to end, so I have no idea how he’s going to follow this up. But I cannot wait to see.

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4 Stars