Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

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

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

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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.

—–

4 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. 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.

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 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)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
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. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

Rise the Dark
Rise the Dark

by Michael Koryta
Series: Mark Novak, #2

Hardcover, 400 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Read: September 13 – 14, 2016

“If you gave Charles Mason the mind of Nikola Tesla,” she said, “you would find yourself with Eli Pate. Or so he thinks.”

I’m really kind of annoyed that Eli Pate was described this way, because I’d pretty much came up with that comparison a page or two earlier, and thought it’d be a clever thing to say.

But first . . .

Markus Novak is continuing the hunt for his wife’s killer — and he’s starting to make progress, real progress for the first time. Far more than anyone else has in years. Markus’ prime suspect has just been released from prison, so the detective now has full access to him. I think it’s safe to say that the methods he uses aren’t endorsed by anyone. Not only that, but he’s utilizing sources that there’s no way he would’ve trusted before his experiences in the cave in the last book. Still, there’s no way he’s prepared for where the investigation takes him.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Sabrina Garland is kidnapped in an effort to force her husband to do the unthinkable. The way these men come together — with plenty of ghosts from Markus’ past, results in a taught, tense thrill ride. To say more about the plot would be to ruin the thing, if you ask me, so we’ll just leave it here.

I really don’t like most of the plot devices used here — in any of the interweaving storylines. At least, I typically don’t like them — but Koryta pulled them all off. I bought them in the moment, and will still defend Koryta’s use of them (even if I feel like a hypocrite as I’ve thought about the book over the last couple of months or even as I write this). I wish I could be more specific here, but I just can’t.

The one exception to my plot problems is everything relating to Markus’ uncle.

Where plotwise this infuriated me (while entertaining me, I need to stress), on the character front, I really enjoyed this. Most of the criminals involved were interesting and well-drawn. Markus, his new allies and his uncle were so well done. I really liked where Markus went emotionally and psychologically here. Kortya has created a great character here, and I hope we see more of him.

I’m not going to rate this one as highly as I did the previous novel, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think people should read this. Everything that has Koryta’s name on it should be given a chance. In almost anyone else’s hands, this novel wouldn’t work and you’d see me trying to complain about it without giving things away. But Koryta pulled it all off, it works and leaves you wanting to return to this world.

—–

3.5 Stars

Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook) by Seanan McGuire, Cynthia Hopkins

Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook) Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire, Cynthia Hopkins (Narrator)
Series: Wayward Children, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 44 min.
2016, Macmillan Audio

Read: November 17 – 18, 2016


When I get to considering my favorites of 2016, there’s no way that Every Heart a Doorway doesn’t make the Top 10 (see my initial post), so when I saw it available on the library’s audiobook site when I needed something to end the week with, I grabbed it, certain I was going to have a lot of fun.

Wow, was that a mistake. The story was just as good, the characters as rich, the world(s) just as fascinating — the writing, the wordplay, the language . . . it was just as good as I remembered. But man, the narration just didn’t work for me at all. The book is creepy, funny, spooky, beautiful — and remains so despite the narration. The jokes don’t land, most of the characters seem to lack affect. Actually, I have a list of problems, but I don’t want to get nasty, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I did pick up a bit of a William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”-vibe towards the end this time that I hadn’t picked up the first time — but I still like it, regardless. I noticed more details, and appreciated the examination of the ideas of what’s home and what’s real maybe a little more this time, so it wasn’t a wasted effort. But it was a disappointing one.

I do want to make it clear that I don’t think Hopkins couldn’t turn in a good performance — I don’t have enough information to say that. I do think that she was wrong for this project, didn’t understand it, or had an off day. I’m not sure. But a novella as exceptionally good as Every Heart a Doorway deserves the best, and this wasn’t it. So for this audiobook (not the text version), I’ve gotta go with 4 stars (and even that feels a little generous).

—–

4 Stars

Full of Briars by Seanan McGuire

Full of BriarsFull of Briars

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #9.3 (but it takes place before The Winter Long)

Kindle Edition, 44 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: August 8, 2016


I’m pretty torn about this one, to tell you the truth. Toby’s squire, Quentin, is our narrator this time out — and it’s worth reading just to see Toby, May, and Tybalt from his perspective. His parents have come to make everything official with the new Queen of the Mists — and while they’re around, they might as well check in on him and maybe bring him home.

There’s no action, no violence, Toby doesn’t come close to dying — it was so weird. There was a lot of talking — which was fun. Toby was Toby, being irreverent and nigh-disrespectful to Quentin’s parents, as she argued for them to leave him where he is. Tybalt was more Tybalt-y than usual, making sure that Quentin’s folks knew how little he cared about their status. Quentin’s growth as a character, as a person — his maturation, thanks to age and his service to Toby — is what’s on display here.

It was fun to read, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from it — but I’m not sure it added a lot to my understanding of Toby or anyone else (including the central character). This is the first non-full length story I’ve read in this universe, and it doesn’t really make me think about trying another one. Still, it was entertaining enough — and had one killer line (and a few that were really good) — so I might.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Asset by Shane Kuhn

The AssetThe Asset

by Shane Kuhn
ARC, 258 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2016
Read: June 16 – 19, 2016

Like most of his business trips, the only sights he’d be taking in were those of Duty Free, Wok n’ Roll, Dunkin’ Donuts, and all the other apostrophic, postapocalyptic airport landmarks he vagabonded past countless times a year.

People often made envious remarks about his business travel, not realizing that the homogeneous scenery endemic to virtually every airport in the United States made on susceptible to what Kennedy half-jokingly called “Terminal Illness”–a chronic frequent traveler disease brought on by extreme isolation, fatigue-induced delirium, fast-food malnutrition, excessive consumption of bottom-shelf booze, and diminished social equilibrium. He likened it to extended space travel, but with inferior cuisine.

Unlike, say, Ryan Bingham, Kenney has a noble reason for spending so much time in airports. He flies all over the world — particularly the U.S. — training airport security officers (namely, the TSA). Sure, the TSA has their own training program, but airports will bring him in as a consultant to help beef things up. Thanks to a tragic loss years ago, Kennedy is one of the most invested security experts in the world — he’s more committed to airplane safety than most governments. To say he’s driven is quite the understatement.

At the moment, there’s a security bulletin going around with a warning of an immanent terrorist threat. A few people in the CIA, FBI, NSA, TSA are taking it seriously, but most figure it’s just another in a long line of boys who cried, “wolf.” Kennedy, of course, takes it more seriously than anyone, and is pretty frustrated that he’s so alone in this.

So when he’s approached by representatives of the intelligence community and given the opportunity to do something to stop this threat — not just consult, but act — he jumps in with both feet. And immediately finds himself in way above his head.

Kennedy and the team he joins are racing against the clock — not sure when someone might strike, and really only pretty sure that they will. But if the threats reported are anything close to reality, if this attack goes off, it’ll be worse than anything in history.

Kuhn’s an experienced thriller writer and he knows how to keep things tense and the plot moving. From the outset we know that the attack will take place 64 days from the time we first meet Kennedy. Each time you get to a new chapter and read, “Day X,” you feel the tension ratcheting up (like Lee Child’s 61 Hours in reverse). Kuhn keeps you turning pages as quickly as you can while ignoring the clock and the alarm that’s sure to go off in a couple of hours.

Because of the kind of book it is you that know that certain characters are going to turn out to be something they don’t seem to be, or that events aren’t going to be what they seem to be. But Kuhn pulls most of them off so that it’s unexpected — for example, a plot development that I spent 100 pages for took my by surprise when it actually happened. There is some violence here, but for the genre, it’s pretty tame — it’s not sanitized, it’s not toned-down — it’s just utilized when needed, nothing to excess.

Most of the characters were pretty much what you expect in a book like this — but that’s fine, those are why we read books like this. I don’t need every character to break the mold, I like certain types to be good examples of those types, and Kuhn has many of those running throughout these pages. If Nuri isn’t one of the best/most entertaining examples of she-nerd that you’ve come across lately, I’ll eat my hat. There are a couple of characters that aren’t from the typical thriller cast lists (see the musician, Love) are even better.

I don’t want to compare this too often to Kuhn’s John Lago books, but I have to a little. Those books are marked for their voice, their satire, their off-kilter protagonists. This protagonist is exactly what you expect he is, and is pretty typical for the genre, and the voice is pretty straight. But every now and then you get a little of Kuhn’s voice (always appropriate to character and the work, don’t get me wrong). Like when Kennedy and his team are trying to guess when and where the terrorists will attack, and we get the line, “Terrorists are basically psychotic public relations whores.” Followed by “The choice of 9/11 was basically branding, a tongue-in-cheek play on our emergency number, which makes the date more memorable.” A little snarky and astute, the kind of talk you get around a conference table while brainstorming. The analysis of holidays during this exchange made me laugh.

Basically, he knocked it out of the park. Even some of the twists I guess that we’re shocked when they were revealed nail-biting right up to the end. The Asset is a heck of a stand-alone thriller. If the publisher decides for more adventures of Kennedy, I’m in. I think I like Kuhn’s series better than this kind of thing, but man, this one hit the sweet spot. I hope it brings him a lot of success.

I received this book from a drawing on the author’s website. Mega-Thanks to Shane Kuhn and Simon & Schuster for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can in a couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars