The Book of Three (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The Book of ThreeThe Book of Three

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs, 56 min.
Listening Library, 2004
Read: March 6 – 9, 2017


I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned once or twice before here that The Chronicles of Prydain were the books that got me into fantasy. The Chronicles of Narnia made me a fan of Narnia, but really didn’t carry over to anything outside of Narnia (at least until I got older and tried Mere Christianity). But Prydain got me appreciating the tropes, conventions and characters that’d get me into Brooks, Weis & Hickman, Eddings, etc., etc. Listening to the audiobooks seemed like a nice way to revisit the series.

Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper to Hen Wen (an oracular pig), dreams of glory to be found with a sword on the battlefield. His charge is frightened by something and escapes from her pen — Taran chases after her, leaving the only part of Prydain he’s ever known behind in the process. This hunt for the pig takes him to the far reaches of Prydain, where he encounters the son of the High King, Gwydion; Princess Eilonwy — about his age, and a fantastic foil and friend for Taran; Fflewddurr Fflam, an unofficial bard; Gurgi — some sort of simple-minded Sasquatch-like being; and others. Taran also encounters the forces of evil — the Horned King; Archen the enchantress; and other minions of the Dark Lord Arawn.

The themes of true nobility, heroism and what it means to be a man are prevalent (and Alexander maybe gets a little didactic here) — nothing I object to, just it seems a little thick by contemporary standards. Taran learns (for the first time) that there’s as much honor to be found in doing your everyday work well as there is on the battlefield. It probably feels a little old-fashioned to many, but there’s value here. Taran begins to mature here, but it takes (as I recall) all but the last 30 pages of the fifth book for it all to come together for him.

There’s a little audio recording of Alexander before the book kicks off as an introduction — that was pretty cool. Langton’s narration was okay — the narration was okay, maybe a little slow. His interpretation of Taran and Gwydion didn’t do much for me (and actually made me realize how clunkily Alexander wrote their dialogue), but they slowly grew on me. I really couldn’t find anything to like about Gurgi (one of my favorite characters ever). But I really liked everything else — his Eilonwy and Fflewddurr were perfect and a lot of fun. He deserves kudos for his Hen Wen alone, really.

This isn’t the greatest writing you’ll encounter — for the age group or genre. But it’s effective, there’s so much to appreciate here (and not just for nostalgia’s sake). I remain a big fan of the series, and do appreciate the audiobook.

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4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 3/18/17

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

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

  • Hack by Duncan MacMaster — very excited about this Mystery novel about a Ghost Writer who watched as his client was murdered and found himself a target as well. I blogged about this yesterday, and the author was nice enough to A a few of my Qs.
  • The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone — I was excited when I saw this on the release list this week — the first book in this series was so fun, I hope this is almost as good.
  • Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull — Really, the last thing the world needed was a sequel to the Fablehaven series. But something tells me that if Mull’s returned to the series after this long, it’s going to be worth it. My kids who read Fablehaven are too old for this, I’m going to have a hard time justifying this, but curiosity is a strong thing . . .
  • Got Hope by Michael Darling — Goethe “Got” Luck is back for Round 2 in the Urban Fantasy series. The debut rocked, I have high hopes for this.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Genre Book Reviews and gencyazarlarklubu for following the blog this week.

A Few Quick Questions With…Duncan MacMaster

Not only did the good people at Fahrenheit Press provide me with Duncan MacMaster’s Hack (which I just posted about), I got an interview with Mr. MacMaster as well! As usual, this is short and sweet, he’s got better things to do than come up with clever answers for me, y’know? Seriously, loved his answers. Give this a read and then scurry out to buy his book.

Would you like to give the elevator pitch for Hack? (for that matter, if you want to throw one in for A Mint Condition Corpse, that’d be fine, too)
The elevator pitch for Hack would be: A desperate man is hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of a washed up TV star with scandal in his past and murder in his future.

The pitch for A Mint Condition Corpse would be: A semi-retired artist’s trip to his favourite comic book convention is spoiled by murder, and only he can solve it.

Do you have experience as a Ghost Writer? Is Hack your way working out some demons? Or does it have a much more benign genesis?
I never specifically worked as a ghostwriter. I did do things like selling jokes to comedians (no one you ever heard of) so I know a bit about doing something that someone else gets credit for.

There is a certain amount of exorcism in the genesis of Hack. By the time I got to writing it I had spent a very long time getting metaphorically kicked in the head by the writing business. The joke market had dried up, and I spent years enduring rejections that ranged from the incoherent to the callous, and some career setbacks that were downright ridiculous.

As you could guess, those experiences left some demons that needed to be exorcised, and Jake Mooney, the hack writer of the title, did it for me. Jake’s had a life defined by setbacks and it’s made him bitter, cynical, and lonely. He sees being a credited author as a step towards some redemption as a writer, and solving the crimes as an attempt at redeeming himself as a human being.

Of course none of this was conscious while I was writing it. While putting down that first draft all I could think about was the plot, the characters and making sure everything made sense. I didn’t discover what I had done with Jake’s and my own hunger for redemption and validation until working on later drafts.

It was different with my first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse. That started with a conscious decision to make Kirby Baxter, card-carrying comics geek, the Sherlockian hero instead of the comedy relief sidekick, and to use him as a vehicle to combine mystery with a satire of pop culture and the people who run it. Hack, has a lot more of my id running amok in it.

You’ve done a little in other genres, but your publications seem to be predominately in the Crime/Mystery genre. What is it about the genre that brings you back? Is there a genre you particularly enjoy, but don’t think you could write?
I’ve dabbled in science fiction, fantasy, and even horror, and I do plan to do more in those genres in the future, but mystery/crime does seem to have a grip on me. Probably because it deals with people who are at the extremes of their emotions, and also because it’s a genre that’s is still a wide open field when it comes to narrative possibilities.

I always credit my narrative style to SCTV. It was a sketch comedy show I watched as a child that parodied television and movies, and it taught me that popular culture is loaded with tropes and cliches that create expectations in the audience. If you know them and understand them, then you can use them to manipulate expectations to misdirect, surprise, amuse, and hopefully amaze the audience.

When I started reading crime fiction in my teens I began to see the patterns inherent in the genre, and started seeing how they could be manipulated to create something new and entertaining.

As for a genre I enjoy, but don’t think I could write….well, I’m not sure. I’m sure readers would tell me if I really screwed up. My bet would be on straight up horror without any sort of mystery to solve inside it.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog, a relatively slim volume that contains an epic inside. It sets a high standard that I hope to come close to some day. For the most part I tend to avoid reading fiction while I’m writing. I have a bad habit of inadvertently imitating whoever I’m reading. I wrote some truly dreadful pastiches while I was on a Lovecraft reading binge in my early twenties. All sorts of gooey overwrought eldritch nonsense.
This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
There’s no contractual obligation for camaraderie at Fahrenheit Press, or the House of Love, as our fearless leader likes to call it.

I can sum it up this way: Joining Fahrenheit is like joining a punk band in the mid-70s.

We don’t know what the future holds, or what we will achieve in the end. All we do know is that we are a band of misfits who are all doing what we love, we’re breaking rules and conventions that some thought were inviolate, and that we are all in this wild ride together.

Fahrenheit has been the best experience I’ve ever had in publishing, and I’m sure my fellow authors will agree with me on that.

What’s next for Duncan MacMaster?
I just finished the first draft of a sequel to A Mint Condition Corpse, called Video Killed The Radio Star, and the brutal editing/rewrite process awaits me. I’m also developing a more experimental project examining male archetypes in crime fiction and the concept of the unreliable narrator. I am even outlining a potential sequel to Hack called Hacked, where Jake goes Hollywood. I’m hoping to complete all these projects and make them worthy of publication as soon as possible.

What happens after that, is anyone’s guess.

Thank you for having me on your blog.

Thanks for your time — I really appreciate it, and hope that the Hack‘s release is successful (as it deserves).

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin

Hide and SeekHide and Seek

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #2

Hardcover, 272 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1991

Read: March 4, 2017


Now, this is more like it. You’ve got a seasoned detective who sees something that just doesn’t jibe — a routine O. D. that just doesn’t look right. At least to him — everyone else (including the detective who’d normally be assigned to the case) is good with the obvious answer. Not at all shockingly, there is more than meets the eye to this death.

Rebus’ ex and daughter have moved away, his brother is in jail, Gill is now seeing a DJ (who seems to be pretty popular), and Rebus has a new boss (and a promotion) — so outside of Rebus himself, there’s not a whole lot to tie the two novels together. It’s not just his coply intuition (to borrow Jesse Stone’s phrase), it’s some occult symbolism, a stolen camera, and the testimony of a near-witness that make Rebus continue to investigate. He spends time with druggies, students, male prostitutes, artists, academics, and the upper crust of local society in an effort to explain the death.

There’s something to Rankin’s prose that elevates it above most of what you find in Police Procedurals — I can’t put my finger on it, but you can feel it. The description of the corpse was fantastic, filled with those little details that will stick with me longer than your typical macabre tableau à la Thomas Harris or Val McDermid. The closing image was just as strong — ambiguous, but striking. I can’t wait to see what he does as he becomes a better writer.

Rebus isn’t good with people — family, friends, co-workers, lovers — he drinks and smokes too much, and cares more about police work than anything else. Even when he makes an effort with people (not part of a case), it just doesn’t go well at all — we’ve seen this character before, but it still works — readers just like this kind of cop.

So much of this feels (when you think back on it — or when you start to realize what he’s doing in a scene/with a character) like something you’ve seen before — maybe several times. Even by 1991 standards. But when you’re reading it, somehow , Rankin makes it feel fresh. I should note, incidentally, that a lot of what you think you’ve seen before, you maybe haven’t, if you give him enough time. He didn’t cheat with the solution, or how it was reached — but it felt like it came out of nowhere (it didn’t). That’s good enough for me.

That’s 2 down, 19 to go. Knots & Crosses felt like a character study, a good crime novel. Hide and Seek, on the other hand, feels like someone is building/introducing a series. It’s a subtle difference, but important. I’m reminded of the difference between Parker’s The Godwulf Manuscript and God Save the Child. It’s only going to get better from here. I really like this character, even if I’m not doing a good job talking about him — I think that’ll change in forthcoming books. Once Rankin stops establishing the character/building the series’ foundation and starts building.Also, I look forward to getting a better understanding of Rankin’s use of the term “Calvinist.” This one was good, solid writing with a satisfying story — not dazzling, but everything you want in a procedural.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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3 Stars

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate (Art)
Series: Wires and Nerve, #1

Hardcover, 238 pg.
Feiwel & Friends, 2017

Read: March 1, 2017


So, in the months following Winter, life has progressed as one would expect — Cinder has strengthened her position on the Moon, Scarlet’s returned to the farm with Ze’ev Kesley, and Cress and the Captain are touring Earth. One of the loose strings that Meyer left hanging was the fate of the Lunar military troops all over Earth. They’re still out there, causing trouble.

Cinder can’t send any troops down — in the aftermath of a failed invasion, the optics alone would be bad. But . . . she can send a single operative, and Iko nominates herself for that. She spends weeks taking out pack after pack, helping local authorities take them into custody.

But they’re not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

The art was . . . oh, I don’t know — cartoonish? Not in a bad way, but I see why some people I know weren’t impressed. Once I got used to it (after about 30-40 pages), I even kind of liked it.

Basically, I’m saying that the book was okay — I enjoyed it, but man, I wanted more. At the same time, I think it delivered everything that Meyer and Holgate were looking for, so I can’t complain. Fans of the series may enjoy it, but it’s not a must read. People who haven’t read the books had best avoid it — but should probably go back and read the novels.

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3 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Mercy Thompson Audiobooks 1-3: Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King

Rather than try to talk about these individually, I thought I’d save time and tackle them in one post. Let’s hope it works…

Moon CalledMoon Called

by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King (Narrator)
Series: Mercy Thompson, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 14 min.
Penguin Audio, 2009
Read: December 23 – 38, 2016

Blood BoundBlood Bound

by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King (Narrator)
Series: Mercy Thompson, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 2 min.
Penguin Audio, 2009
Read: December 28 – 30, 2016

Iron KissedIron Kissed

by Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King (Narrator)
Series: Mercy Thompson, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 11 min.
Penguin Audio, 2009
Read: December 30, 2016 – January 4, 2017


I’ve only posted about a couple of the books in this series, since I read most of the series before starting this blog, it feels strange not to have old posts to go back and steal from. How do I do this concisely, now? I mean this should be one of the longest posts I’ve written, if I was going to do it right.

But I’m not going to do it right, I’m going to do it quick. Simply: Mercy Thompson is a skinwalker of sorts, who was raised by a pack of werewolves (a pack led by the Alpha of North America, it should be noted), who has an English degree and works as a VW mechanic. When we meet her in Moon Called, she’s living near the Alpha of the Tri-Cities of Oregon, is friends with a vampire, knows a couple of the Fae who live on the (Fae) reservation nearby. Almost no one knows about her ability to shift into a coyote (other than these supernatural folks), and she has no intention of changing that. However, she finds herself in the middle of a few goings-on in the supernatural community and becomes a prominent player in the area.

In Moon Called Mercy discovers a group experimenting on werewolves — even creating some for the sole purpose of being guinea pigs. In Blood Bound, Mercy is called upon by the local vampires to pay a debt by helping them track and destroy a rogue über-vampire/serial killer. Then in Iron Kissed Mercy begins helping local Fae investigate a series of murders on the reservation, using her special abilities — in the end, she has to dance around Fae politics while trying to prove that a dear friend wasn’t behind the killings. Throughout this, she has a love life, some friends, helps the local pack with some internal issues, and finds herself in mortal danger frequently. All while maintaining her shop, sense of humor, and independence.

I love these characters — all of them, I can’t think of a single one of them I wouldn’t want to spend more time with. Mercy has an attitude, perspective and humor that I enjoy, and good taste in friends/acquaintances, too. Briggs’ approach to werewolves, vampires, etc. is fantastic and I frequently judge other UF writers by how they match up to Briggs’ approach.

There is a richness to Briggs’ writing and to the world she’s created that’s truly impressive. It takes me less than a chapter to feel absolutely at home in the books (this happened when I first tried Moon Called and has happened with every successive volume — not just in my going through them again on audio). What blew me away going through these books is how much of this series (and the spin-off series, Alpha and Omega) is established in Moon Called — she’s what, 14 books or so in and 98% of those books can be traced to this first one. Whether that’s because she’s good at going back and picking up details to flesh out or because she plotted things out so well, it really doesn’t matter — the material was there and she’s using it well. The world she established is so well-formed that she can keep playing in it without having to invent new things, change the rules she established, or anything else. I can’t think of another UF universe that was so well-built from book one.

King gives a really strong performance here — her characters are spot-on, the narrative stays engaging. Really, a bang up job, with one big flaw: she can’t pronounce local geographic names. Granted, most people who don’t live in Washington/Idaho/Montana(ish) aren’t going to notice, but man, it’s hard to listen to. If I have to hear her butcher “Coeur d’Alene” one more time . . . On the other hand, there’s this scene in Iron Kissed between Adam (local Alpha) and Ben (British werewolf who joined the pack because he had to leave England under suspicious circumstances) where Ben has to explain to Adam the psychological trauma Mercy’s suffered and how she’s reacting. When I first read the book, I was in shock a. because of the traumatic scene (really well written) and b. Ben’s more than capable and empathetic understanding/explanation. This time through, King’s performance just stunned me — it was so good. She nailed the whole thing and almost had me in tears in my cubicle.

I loved the books, I think the audiobooks are among the best I’ve heard — the only reason that I haven’t gone further in this series of audiobooks is that the library system here doesn’t have #4 (they do have the rest of the series, oddly enough), and I haven’t justified the expense for myself yet. For old fans of the books, or people looking for something new to listen to — these are well worth your time. Great material presented in a pretty compelling way.

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4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 3/4/17

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

    Didn’t see any New Releases this week that caught my eye — which gives us all a chance to get ready for next week that has at least 5 doozies.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Reading is My Escapte and Portable Magic for following the Booklikes version of the blog this week.