Traveller – Inceptio by Rob Shackleford

Traveller – InceptioTraveller – Inceptio

by Rob Shackleford

Kindle Edition, 822
BookBaby, 2017

Read: April 19 – 22, 2017


There’s part of me that wants to go off on this novel describing all the problems I had with it — the uninspired writing, the bland characters, the unnecessary plotlines, the preposterous nature of so much of the story — after all, I did spend days stuck in this mire. But I just don’t care enough — and it’d just be mean.

So let me keep this brief, something Shackleford could try. There are few sentences that couldn’t be at least 1/3 shorter — the novel as a whole could be 1/3 shorter and would be much more effective. On any number of episodes of The Once and Future Podcast host Anton Strout has talked about young writers over-sharing their world building — this is a perfect example of it. I can’t tell you how many pages are devoted to the accidental invention of this time machine — how much drama surrounds it, how questionably the term “research” is tossed around, etc. — and beyond the fact that a time machine that can only transfer people 1000 years to the past and back is accidentally created, we don’t need any of it. Nothing else in the first part of the book (I’m guessing 200+ pages) devoted to that matters. At all.

The worldbuilding is the best part of the book, and it’s overdone. That’s all I’m going to bother with on this one — it’s just not worth it. This was clearly a labor of love, but sadly, not an affection that I can share at all.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post.

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1 1/2 Stars

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Furthest StationThe Furthest Station

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #5.7

eARC, 144 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017

Read: April 24, 2017

He asked if we were really ghost hunting, and I said we were.

“What, like officially?”

“Officially secret,” I said because discretion is supposed to be, if not our middle name, at least a nickname we occasionally answer to when we remember.

This novella hit the spot — a short, but fully developed, adventure with our friends from the Rivers of London series — full of action, a bit of snark, and seeing Peter in his element (and far out of it, too). Would I have preferred a full novel? Sure — but if I can’t have one, this is more than adequate.

Peter Grant, apprentice wizard and Police Constable, is investigating several reports of a ghost terrorizing people on the Underground during the morning commute. Naturally, even when interviewed immediately following a sighting the witness would only be able to remember details for a few moments before they forgot and/or rationalized them away. Which makes it pretty difficult to ask follow-up questions. As Peter continues to investigate, he ends up finding a very non-supernatural crime that he needs to deal with, even if he goes about it in a pretty supernatural way. While there’s little in this series that I don’t like, but Peter doing regular policework is one of my favorite parts.

Along for the ride (and looking for trouble) is his cousin, Abigail Jumara, acting as a summer intern for the Folly. Honestly, I barely remembered her when she shows up here — but I eventually remembered her, and I was glad to see her back. I’m not necessarily sure that I need to see her all the time, but seeing more of her would definitely be pleasant.

In addition to the subplot about Abigail’s future, there’s a subplot revolving around another personification of a river — not one of Mama Thames’, either. I enjoyed it, and thought it fit in nicely with the rest of the novella, while giving us the requisite dose of a body of water.

There’s not a lot to sink your teeth into here — but the novella length doesn’t leave you wanting more (like a short story would). It’s good to see the Folly involved in smaller cases. Not just the serial killing, major magical threat, etc. kind of thing — but the “smaller” stuff, too.

For any fan of the Folly/Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, this is one to get. It’d even make a pretty good introduction to the series for someone who hasn’t yet discovered this fun UF series.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both, I needed something like this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

The High King (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

The High KingThe High King

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #5
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs, 24 min.
Listening Library, 2005

Read: March 29 – 30, 2017


Arawn-Death-Lord has managed to get his hands on Dyrnwyn, Gwydion’s sword, which has emboldened him to move his forces to launch an all-out assault on the Kingdom of Prydain. Gwydion and his allies move quickly to assemble the forces necessary to stand against him — basically, it’s an Armageddon-type situation, and all hands are needed.

Taran is sent to the Free Commots, where he spent so much time recently to gather their support — and he does so, almost without trying to, becomes the leader of the assembled forces (such as they are) of the rather libertarian people. Before you know it, Taran’s leading his band into battle at the side of Gwydion and the other warleaders. It’s a stretch to believe, but at this point, you go with it. The forces marshaled against the High King are strong enough to make this an uphill battle, but when treason rears its ugly head and the forces of Prydain are divided against themselves, it really seems that all hope is lost. Eventually, Gwydion and his forces head off on a last-ditch effort to stop the Death Lord, while Taran, his companions, allies, followers and Glew take on a vital, but smaller task that will allow Gwydion’s hail Mary to work.

And frankly, that whole treason storyline bugs me — not just because it’s evil, but because it’s futile, stupid, and pointless. I think this was Alexander’s biggest error in the series. It serves no real purpose but to stack the odds against the armies of Prydain.

Finally, we get final battles — The Death Lord and his forces are defeated (spoiler, children’s fantasy written in the 60’s features good guys winning); the future of Prydain is settled; other Tolkien-esque things take place as is fitting in the conclusion to a fantasy series (actually, Tolkien was probably following the same older rules and tropes as Alexander, but we now associate them with Tolkien, not his predecessors).

Taran finally grows up into what Alexander’s been holdig out for him all along — it takes the whole novel, but it happens. Gwydion is probably the least interesting he’s ever been here, which is a shame. Eilonwy? Oh, Eilonwy — she’s just so perfect (as a character, probably annoying in real life — still, someone you want in your corner). I loved everything about her in this book. I wish Gurgi had a little more to do, and that Glew had far, far less. Fflewddur Fflam remains the unsung hero of this series — the sacrifices he makes, the efforts he makes, his wisdom, etc., are all overshadowed by his comedic use. What he goes through moved me more this time through than any of the deaths. As an aside, the first time I saw a picture of Lloyd Alexander, I shouted — Fflewddur! I don’t know if it was intentional, or if I just had a strange imagination, but he looks exactly like a Fflam.

Oh, and there are many, many deaths — mostly nameless soldiers on both sides, but there are quite a few named people, too. Some get great heroic moments, others are just named in a list of the fallen. I remember the first time I read this book being very upset by just one of them — it was quite possibly the first time in my young life that anyone other than a dog, an ailing elderly person or a villain had died in a book I read. I still get sad when I read that particular one, but it doesn’t get to me as much.

James Langton’s performance here is consistent with what he’s done for the last few books. If you liked him before, you’ll like him now. If not . . .

I remember liking this more than I did, even just a few years ago when I read this with my kids. Still, a great way to wrap up this series — Alexander ties up everything that needs tiring up, he rewards all the surviving characters in a fitting way and sends our heroes off on new adventures. There’s still a bit of fun, a little adventure, and character growth throughout, with all things ending up just where they need to satisfy readers. It’s really easy for adult-me to see where kid-me fell in love with the genre thanks to this series. Still, a fitting conclusion to this series — which I still recommend for young and old (primarily the young).

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4 Stars

High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

High HeatHigh Heat

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

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3.5 Stars

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

Tooth and Nail Tooth and Nail

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #3

Paperback, 293 pg.
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996 (first published 1992)

Read: April 14 – 15, 2017

She drives home the knife.

The moment, she knows from past experience, is a very intimate one. Her hand is gripped around the knife’s
cool handle and the thrust takes the blade into the throat up to the hilt until her hand meets the throat itself. Flesh upon flesh. Jacket first, or woollen jersey, cotton shirt or T-shirt, then flesh. Now rent. The knife is writhing, like an animal sniffing. Warm blood covering hilt and hand. (The other hand covers the mouth, stifling screams.) The moment is complete. A meeting. Touching. The body is hot, gaping, warm with blood. Seething inside, as insides become outsides. Boiling. The moment is coming to an end all too soon.

And still she feels hungry. It isn’t right, isn’t usual but she does. She removes some of the clothing; in fact, removes quite a lot of it, removes more, perhaps, than is necessary. And she does what she must do, the knife squirming again. She keeps her eyes screwed tightly shut. She does not like this part. She has never liked this part, not then, not now. But especially not then.

Clearly, this is someone who needs to be stopped. And The Powers That Be have brought John Rebus from Edinburgh to London to help the hunt for the Wolfman (yeah, those who tagged the killer with that moniker may have made some assumptions). Thanks to the events in Knots & Crosses, many (who don’t know all the details) believe that Rebus is somewhat of an expert in Serial Killers. He knows he’s not, but no one asked him — he was just told to show up. It’s not long before this case gets under Rebus’ skin and he’s no longer in London to kill a couple of days as a show of support for the local police, but he’s off to catch a killer.

George Flight is the detective who’s serving as Rebus’ contact — and is leading the investigation. Rebus notes that he’s a better policeman than he is — meticulous, detailed, going through things step by step. Which isn’t doing him a lot of good at the moment, he needs something more. Enter Rebus. By and large, Flight’s the only one that wants Rebus’ help — his superior, another detective on the case, and the press liaison are pretty united in their lack of interest in bringing in someone from “Jockland” to meddle in the crimes of the big city.

As Rebus arrives in London, another body is discovered, so he shows up at the crime scene with his luggage, from there, they head to an autopsy — rushed, no doubt given the likelihood that this is another Wolfman victim. The autopsy scene — the sights, sounds and smells — is one of the best (possibly the best) that I’ve seen along these lines. It felt real, it felt disgusting, it felt sad. Between this and the opening paragraphs (quoted above), I’m again reminded that Rankin knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing. He nails this stuff.

While he’s in town, Rebus visits his ex-wife and daughter — things go poorly there, as one would expect. Things go worse when his daughter’s boyfriend comes around. When Rebus is able to connect said boyfriend to a career criminal . . .

I’m no expert on this, but I’ve read more than a few serial killer novels, it strikes me that 1992 was still pretty early in serial killer fiction-terms, and it shows. Both in Rebus’ attempts to draw the killer out, as well as Flight’s attempts to catch him. We also get to see both detectives trying to understand the serial killer — or at least how to apprehend one. Flight’s more old-school in his approach and is pretty disdainful of Rebus’ efforts to get inside the head of a serial killer. Which is not to say that this particular killer isn’t destructive, sick and really creepy.

Rebus is spurred on to this track because of who he is — but the attractive psychologist, Lisa Frazer, who wants to help him out certainly doesn’t hurt. It could be argued by some (including some characters in the book) that Rebus is far more interested in pursuing her than the Wolfman.

Rebus mostly stumbles around, indulging his infatuation with Frazer, looking for his daughter’s boyfriend, and occasionally chatting with Flight about the case. Now eventually, enough things happened that allow Rebus to put things together and figure out the identity of the Wolfman (sorta like when Wilson made a stray comment to Dr. House that got him to make the right diagnosis). Sure, it was clever, but hard to believe.

Early on, I thought this might be the book that turned me into a Rankin fan, not just some guy reading these. It came close, but I just couldn’t totally buy the ending and the way Rebus solved the case. But man, Rankin can write. I’m not totally sold on what he’s writing, but I’m really enjoying the craft. I was hooked throughout, but that ending just didn’t work.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Black Fall by D. J. Bodden

Honestly? I really wasn’t that interested in this book — Bodden followed me on Twitter, and I followed back — I saw that he had a link to NetGalley for this book, so I clicked and checked it out. It seemed like a perfectly nice book and one that probably had an interesting take on teenaged vampires, but I really wasn’t in the mood for that, so I closed the window. Or so I remember it. The next day, I got an email saying that I’d been approved for the book. Not wanting my NetGalley percentage to take a hit, I threw it on to the Kindle and made room on the schedule. So, let the fact that I wasn’t all that interested in this book in the first place put a certain spin on what I’m going to say here.

Black FallBlack Fall

by D. J. Bodden
Series: The Black Year, #1

eARC, 294 pg.
2015

Read: April 12 – 13, 2017


Jonas Black is a typical sixteen year-old, with a very driven girlfriend (who’s pretty much mapped out the next few years of their lives), a decent home life, a couple of invested parents, and so on in NYC. Which makes him not that typical, I guess — but he’s the kind of kid people think of as “typical.” When we meet him, however, he’s reeling from the unexpected death of his father, and his mother doesn’t seem to be acting all that normal at the funeral.

Not long after that, strange things start happening to Jonas — he blacks out unexpectedly, his mother’s behavior gets even stranger, lastly he and his mother are attacked at home, and rescued by someone unlikely (leading to 2 very large men escorting him to school). He’s able to pin his mother down and she explains to him that she’s a vampire, as was his father — and he is, too. There was a problem with my download and so the conversation where his mother describes the experiment that made him into the vampire he is (born, not made) and whatnot. Thankfully, I don’t want to get into details anyway, because I’d probably get it wrong. I really appreciate that Jonas isn’t a Chosen One kind of character — more of an Engineered One. But even at that, I don’t think anyone planned on him tackling things that he did at this stage of his life (I’m semi-prepared to be proven wrong in future books).

So, while juggling school and his girlfriend, Jonas is basically enrolled in a self-defense course for vampires (there’s more to it than that, but . . . ) where he meets some other vampires and a reticent werewolf. He befriends/is befriended by a vampire, Eve, about the same age — but who knows what she’s doing — and wants to get to know the werewolf, Kieran. While I’m largely on the fence about the older vampires Jonas meets — I really like Eve. Kieran and the other werewolves are cool — and not just because I prefer lycanthropes to vamps. Before long the three of them — and a small army of others — find themselves in the middle of an effort to put a stop to a demon’s schemes.

Bodden’s vampires are pretty interesting — I like some of the tweaks he makes to the standard profile. Ditto for his werewolves. His entire supernatural taxonomy and how it relates to the world is pretty well-realized and elaborate. I was pretty impressed by it, and am curious about it as well. I’m not saying they’re drastically different (vampires don’t glow or anything), but Bodden’s vamps aren’t the same as Hunters’s, Butcher’s, Briggs’, etc.

A word of warning: There’s. Just. So. Much. Exposition. I get it, really — Jonas needed to be introduced to this world, and acclimatized really soon for his own safety. Which was mighty convenient, because it helped the reader learn about The Black Year’s take on vampires, werewolves, lichs (is that the proper plural form? lichen doesn’t seem right), specters, hunters, etc. On the whole, Bodden did a decent job blending character moments and infodumps, merging what we need to learn with keeping things moving. Still, it frequently felt like this was a guide to the supernatural world more than a novel — he might as well have named a couple of characters Ryan and Esposito.

I was engaged enough to keep going, but at a certain point, I’d just about given up hope of really enjoying the book, and just put my head down to plow though and get it over with so I could move on. I was surprised a little later to find out that I was invested in the fate of these characters, and was really getting a kick out of Bodden’s work. I can’t point to what it was that got me there, but it probably had something to do with Kieran. I do want to stress that it was after the 50% mark, so stick with it if your experience is like mine. By the time I was finished, I was ready for book #2 (…and probably 3….and most likely 4).

I will not say that this is the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s a fresh take on many UF staples from a YA point-of-view, with compelling characters, a well-built world, and a solid plot (especially when it gets around to moving).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via NetGalley in exchange for this post — I appreciate the read.

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3.5 Stars

Taran Wanderer (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

Taran WandererTaran Wanderer

by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #4
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 22 min.
Listening Library, 2005

Read: March 28, 2017


The one question that’s plagued Taran all his life is just who is he? Who is his family? Is there any chance at all that his family is some sort of nobility? This last question has taken on a new level of importance to him as he has realized that he’s in love with a princess and can’t do anything about it without that nobility.

Dallben can’t answer the question for him — but he allows Taran leave to go try to find the answer himself. I’ve never understood just how Taran can pull this off — there’s practically no birth records in Prydain (I can’t imagine), it’s not like he can get blood tests done — and he doesn’t really interview anyone, just meanders around.

Still, he visits various corners of the kingdom — visiting friends old and new, dipping his toe in all sorts of trades and vocations. He renders aid, and gets aid. Fflewddur Fflam shows up and spends a good portion of the novel traveling with him (Gurgi remains a constant companion). There’s a confrontation with a wizard, a regional armed conflict to try to settle, a mercenary band to deal with — as well as other woes.

He learns a lot, he matures a lot, and maybe even gets a dose of wisdom. It’s not your traditional fantasy novel by any sense, but it’s a good one.

As for the audiobook? Everything I’ve said about the other books in the series — Alexander’s introduction and Langton’s performance — holds true for this one.

The most emotionally rich of the books, the most thoughtful — particularly for those of the target age. Good, good stuff.

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4 Stars