Storm Front (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Storm FrontStorm Front

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 1 min.
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: May 18 – 19, 2017


Okay, I know myself well enough that I’m pretty incapable of critical thought when it comes to The Dresden Files — which is not to say I think the books (especially this one) are perfect, but I can overlook all the flaws — and those I can’t I can shrug off. It’s been years — almost a decade — since I re-read this, and I’d forgotten some details, but the core is pure Dresden. And the best of all is that I know they get better from here.

So I’m not going to talk about the book, really. For the 2 of you who don’t know, Harry Dresden is a Marlowe/Spenser-type of P.I. (but not really) who happens to be a wizard. He consults with the police on the supernatural front and does a little business helping private citizens. That’s all the setup you need.

What I want to talk about here is the audiobook portion of it — I’ve heard for years that the James Marsters narrated audiobooks in this series are fantastic. I was prepared to be thoroughly entertained. But not as much as I was. Marsters was just incredible, almost unbelievably good. This was, as the best audiobooks are, a performance, not just a reading. And this was one of the best performances I’ve witnessed from Marsters. Had I the means, I’d have bought the rest of the series Friday night after I finished this one.

Butcher fans, if you’ve only read the book, you need to listen to them, too. Marsters brought our man to life.

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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.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany – 2/7/15

Grawlix! If I didn’t know better, I’d say that The Universe, The Matrix, Loki, Coyote, Murphy’s Law or the Greek ghost Thespis was messing with me and keeping me from getting anything written or posted here. I’m a little stunned that I got this compiled, really. Hopefully, next week will be better.

Here are some 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:

  • Funny Girl by Nick Hornby — Hornby continues to explore celebrity, this time in the 1960’s with an up and coming actress. Not really what I’d have expected from him next, but I’m not sure what I did expect.
  • The Way Into Darkness by Harry Connolly — the Third and final installment in The Great Way saga. Hearing so many good things about this one already!
  • Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell — bittersweet — a new Widdershins Adventure, but sadly, it’s the last.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to abhinavmajumder for following the blog this week. Thanks to Theinexorablenerd for the interaction.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I should’ve had this up no later than May 29, but I wanted to get it juuuust right. And I failed. But I’m always going to fail when it comes to this series. Amongst series currently being written, this is my favorite (yeah, I’m taking the coward’s way out and not choosing between Dresden and Wolfe), which means that I’m just never going to be able to properly express how great I think the books are.

—–

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher

Hardcover, 454 pg.
Roc Hardcover, 2014
Read: May 28, 2014

Quick review for people who haven’t read up through Cold Days:
Why are you reading this? Go and catch up. You’re missing out on one of the best series being published today. You’ve got about a year ’til Peace Talks comes out, so you have plenty of time to read up through Skin Game (which you really should read, because it was great).

Longer take for those who have read Cold Days (still, spoiler-free):

Okay, this is book 15, which means it’s time for The Denarians to return. But this time, Harry’s not opposing them (directly, anyway), but thanks to his service to Mab, he’s working alongside (for?) Nicodemus. Nicodemus has assembled a team of magical types to go rob a vault belonging to Hades. Harry, of course, is itching for a fight, but he doesn’t get the chance for one. If he doesn’t do what Mab & Nicodemus require, those closest to Harry will pay the price. Skin Game takes the basic plot structure of a heist film, and it works really well as such. A great, gripping story, doing things with the supporting characters involved (new and old) that you wouldn’t have guessed were possible with Harry’s past and attitude.

Beyond the plot — there’s something going on with Harry. Small, incremental changes are creeping in to our wizard’s character, as part of the aftermath of Changes. He’s dimly aware of them, but thinks he’s in control. Those close to him see them, too and make the same judgment call — it’s Harry, he’s got it taken care of. But there are those, like Butters, who aren’t as willing to believe that Harry can do it all. He sees trouble on the horizon and is willing to speak truth to Harry about it.

There’s other character development to take note of as well: Michael, Charity, and Murphy all continue to grow in positive ways — slowly, organically, and in ways you really only notice when you take a long look at them. Molly’s changing a lot, too — and not that slowly or organically, but after the end of Cold Days, what do you expect? Butters continues to grow and develop in ways that feel right, but are undeniable. When you think of who he was back in Death Masks and what he’s grown into by the end of Cold Days, it’s truly impressive. And he takes some major steps forward this time around, that I really want to talk about, but won’t. I have no shame in admitting that he choked me up. He could’ve easily been Butcher’s version of John Chen from the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike/etc. books — around for a little comic relief, some science help (some medical help, too), but nothing major. Instead, Butcher’s turned this polka-loving nerd into his Neville Longbottom.

In between the banter, the quips, the forzare-ing and fuego-ing, the action, you get things like this…it’s what separates guys like Butcher from the pack

There’s power in the touch of another person’s hand. We acknowledge it in little ways, all the time. There’s a reason human beings shake hands, hold hands, slap hands, bump hands.
It comes from our very earliest memories, when we all come into the world blinded by light and color, deafened by riotous sound, flailing in a suddenly cavernous space without any way of orienting ourselves, shuddering with cold, emptied with hunger, and justifiably frightened and confused. And what changes that first horror, that original state of terror?
The touch of another person’s hands.
Hands that wrapt us in warmth, that hold us close. Hands that guide us to shelter, to comfort, to food. Hands that hold and touch and reassure us through our very first crisis, and guide us into our very first shelter from pain. The first thing we ever learn is that the touch of someone else’s hand can ease pain and make things better.
That’s power. That’s power so fundamental that most people never even realize it exists.

I don’t normally read reviews of books I’ve already decided to read, but I made an exception in this case when Patrick Rothfuss posted his (pretty sure I linked it in one of my Saturday posts). One of the things he said was, “that Jim made me cry, like, four goddamn times in this book.” I went into this thinking Rothfuss was exaggerating about the crying. And then later I started to worry that he’s manlier and more in control of his emotions than I am. It’s not news to anyone who’s read Butcher — especially the more recent volumes — the guy can hit you right in heart. He’s like a long distance phone commercial from the late 80’s or the producers of the Friday Night Lights TV show — when he wants you to feel something, by gum, you will.

I do think that Butcher’s done better, but I’m still giving this 5 stars because while I was reading it, I was totally immersed in it. The rest of the world really didn’t exist — I was on the edge of my seat, leaning forward as if that’d help me get through it quicker — hanging on every word, chuckling, cackling, cheering, gasping as appropriate — totally engrossed, and that impact lasted for a couple of days following. If that doesn’t say 5 stars, I don’t know what does. And while I think other books were technically better — I can’t think of a problem with this one.

How long ’til #16, Peace Talks?

—–

5 Stars

Saturday Miscellany — 5/10/14

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

    I’m sure there were plenty of good books released this week, but I didn’t notice any of them, because for me, there’s only one:

  • Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins — Atkins’ 3rd outing at the helm of this series, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Sadly, couldn’t find time this week. Another week will not pass without that being fixed. Read a little Q&A about the book.

Non-Fictional Feelings for Fictional Characters

A slightly different post this morning, I’ve been trying some behind-the-scenes work here on the blog this morning — composition, infrastructure, design, etc. The books that I’m overdue to review are hard to write about, I’m plugging away at 4 different reviews right now that I absolutely want to get right , and that’s time-consuming. Also, Grossman’s YOU: A Novel took 2 or 3 days longer to read than I’d expected — worth the time, but it did sort of mess up my schedule. So, like I said. Something different.

—–

I saw that picture on Grammarly.com‘s facebook page*, and as one does, shared it, which prompted a friend to ask what some of my favorite fictional characters were. I decided to limit the list to fictional characters from books (a. see the picture and b. see this blog), and to characters I had “non-fictional feelings” for — Hannibal Lecter was a favorite (for 2 books, anyway), but I had no emotional attachment to him, or Evanovich‘s Ranger — fun character, but don’t really care about the guy. Here, with added commentary, is my list.

  • Archie Goodwin — this is the name that jumped immediately to mind. Archie’s the big brother I never had — the quick, agile wit; the athleticism; the way with the ladies — and the rest of the things that older brothers so often exemplify to those of us who never had one (on the other hand, we didn’t have to share a bedroom). ‘Course he makes the list.
  • Spenser — it’s almost impossible to spend as much time in a guy’s head as I have Spenser’s (or Archie’s) and not have some sort of emotional bond there. Everything I said about Archie applies here too, actually.
  • Harry Dresden — Chicago’s resident Wizard P. I. He feels like a friend. Hanging with Harry for a night of RPGs, Double Whoppers, and McAnally’s beer sounds ideal.
  • Scout Finch — she’s plucky, honest, a born-reader, and loves her pa (even when she doesn’t understand him). She’s had a soft spot in my heart longer than most of the people on this list.
  • Hermione Granger — sure, her famous buddy still gets all the press. But it’s this brave, clever, stubborn and resourceful gal who’s the most consistent hero in the series — and the one you can count on for genuine emotional moments. (this isn’t to take away anything from Ron, Luna, Albus, Neville, Sirius, Dobby, etc. — but Hermione alone manages to do it in every book in the series)
  • Chet Little / Oberon — it felt like a cheat listing these separately, and it just looked wrong to leave one of them off the list. So…I cheated. Both of these charming gentlemen will win you over within a few pages (in Dog On It and Hounded, respectively), and after you spend a few books with them, they’ll have stolen your heart. They make you laugh, they make you worry — and in Hunted, Oberon commits himself to one of the bravest acts I’ve seen, and choked me up a bit. The humans these guys live with almost make the list just on their testimony.
  • Angela Gennaro — if you hadn’t grown attached to Angie already, especially after Darkness, Take my Hand‘s events, there’s just no way you can’t fall apart with her at the end of Gone, Baby, Gone

Let me hear from you, reader/follower/happener-upon-this-post — who do you have non-fictional feelings for?

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* I looked but couldn’t find the source for this, otherwise I’d have cited it. If you know who should get the credit, please let me know.

Dusted Off: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11)Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the whole, Turn Coat is about the problems in the wizarding world that Butcher’s been giving hints about and glimpses at for a while now–and they come into focus in the most surprising of ways–Morgan asking Harry for help.

There’s just so much good stuff to be mined from Harry helping Morgan hide from the Wardens, deal with the Merlin (and others at HQ), investigate a murder/frame-job–it’s almost a shame to see Butcher wrap it up in 400 pages, because I’d love to get more of it. Great stuff.

In addition to all that, we see three important relationships forever altered in important ways (well, maybe one’s only temporarily altered, time will tell)–some good long-term character development for our pal Harry and his gang.

So, so good–Butcher had the ol’ brain firing on all cylinders for this one.

Dusted Off: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Small Favor (The Dresden Files, #10)Small Favor by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this book the first time I read it, and it’s better the second time around (if for no other reason than I could slow down and enjoy it more rather than have to race to find out what happens). Like he’s been doing for awhile now, the stakes get bigger–as do the foes–in this book, as does the cast.

At the same time–for most of the book anyway–this is a lighter read than the last couple have been, it’s a bit more “fun” in the midst of the darkness and destruction, I guess you could say.

And then the fun goes away and you get only darkness and destruction for awhile–and an emotional punch in the gut that fans really didn’t want (but love anyway).

I’m not sure how well this’d work as a jumping on point for someone new to the Dresden Files, but I think it’d stand on it’s own, and show readers why they’d want to go back and read all of the best Urban Fantasy series going.

Dusted Off: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

I’m not big on the short story form. Outside the Nero Wolfe short story collections, I could count on one hand the number of short stories I’ve read in the past 5-10 years. Lately, there’s been a decent number of my favorite Urban Fantasy writers contributing to short story collections–usually on a theme, and usually using characters I really want to read about. But being short fiction, and being surrounded by stories about characters I don’t care about/don’t know/don’t have time to get to know even if I wanted to, I don’t get around to getting my hands on them.

From what I can tell, that’s resulted in me missing some interesting stuff–even the start of a series I’m invested in (maybe more than one, come to think of it, but I’m not going to double check now).

Which is a whole lotta rambling set up to saying why I was very happy to hear that Jim Butcher was going to release a collection of previously published and new Harry Dresden stories. And even happier to get my hands on it last week.

Being short works of fiction, basically every story was this–some sort of problem, Harry investigating rather quickly and then moving right on to the fireworks, usually dazzlingly so. Wham, blam-o, thank you, sir. Each of them also tended to focus on at least one member of the supporting cast in a way we don’t get enough of in the novels. I really appreciated getting to spend a little time with each of these people in this setting.

It was, admittedly, a mixed-bag. The first story, “Restoration of Faith,” was the first Dresden story, and it’s clearly that. There’s a lot to our favorite wizard PI that is recognizable here, and a lot that get’s tossed before Storm Front. A fun read, but I’m glad Butcher tweaked things the way he did.

The rest were better executed–mostly because Butcher’s grown a lot as a writer since then, all were good reads, some better than others.

A couple of other stand-outs for me were the lighter, “Day Off” about Harry’s fruitless quest for a quiet, relaxing day; “The Warrior” in which we get to see post-Small Favor Michael in action–even if it was a tad preachy, Butcher pulled it off, and I was so, so glad to see Michael like this; and “Love Hurts,” which is the kind of story we’ve seen/read countless times about what happens when two will-they/won’t-they friends fall under a spell/temporary delusion/whatever and fall madly, temporarily in love–it’s been done a lot, frequently poorly, but not here.

“Love Hurts” was also a perfect set-up to the novelette Aftermath, which starts up hours after the jaw-dropping/rage-inducing last page of Changes and was, for me, worth the purchase price. If I’d remembered that this was going to be at the end of this collection, I’d have finished the thing in one setting, rather than over a period of days. Great, great story, both for the plot/characters itself, and for what Butcher shows us about how these characters will act without the man in the duster around. Loved it.

Now, this hasn’t convinced me to get these other collections I mentioned earlier–but I just now have hope that some of my other favorite authors will get in gear and publish collections like this one.

Dusted Off: An Open Letter to Jim Butcher

Dear Mr. Butcher,

I just finished reading your latest Dresden Files novel, Changes and would like to thank you for one of the best reads I’ve had in months. And by thanks I mean to say that I hope you die a slow, agonizing death. Not anytime soon, mind you, it needs to be after you’ve completed the next novel (if not the whole series). Still, I hope it happens, and I hope you dread its coming.

I actually am just kidding, sir. If nothing else, the intensity of my initial reaction speaks to the connection that exists between the great characters you’ve created and your readers. Honestly, you seem like a pretty cool guy, I’d love to buy you a Whopper some time and just chat–‘course what I’d really love is to take that Whopper and shove it so far down your throat that…

maybe I should finish this some other time.

Sincerely,