Quotation of the Day

“A man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial proportion of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason.”

–Nero Wolfe
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Scourged by Kevin Hearne: The Iron Druid Chronicles conclude with a bang.

This took me longer to write than I intended. Maybe I should’ve talked about it right after finishing it after all.

ScourgedScourged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9

Hardcover, 265 pg.
Del Rey, 2018
Read: April 4, 2018

So, in a fast 265 pages Kevin Hearne gives us: Ragnarok; a lot of dead vampires; environmental crises; a friendly sloth; puppies; send-offs to many, many characters; shocking deaths; less-than-shocking deaths; surprise non-deaths; and more discussion of poots (elven and jaguar) than one’d expect in this kind of book. The amount that he accomplishes here is really staggering. Some of it, alas, could’ve been deeper — explored more thoroughly — if he hadn’t set out to do so much or if he’d taken more time with some things (and less time with others). Still, this was a heckuva way to end the series.

This is not the book to start this series with, go back and read Hounded if you’re curious (one of the best series kick-offs around), and I’m not going to get into the plot much. It’s Ragnarok. We’ve all known it was coming and now it’s here — ’nuff said. Along those lines, however, Hearne also gets bonus points for including a “where we are in the series” introduction, summarizing the first 8 novels and the short stories/novellas that got us to this point. Again, this should be a requirement for long-running series.

There’s no easy way to say it: there was just too much of Granuaile and Owen. Yes, it’s the best use of Owen since his introduction, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the Iron Druid Chronicles — fine, use the others if you want, but they shouldn’t get equal time to the Iron Druid here in the last book. Especially given the number of things — and scope of action — that had to be accomplished in Atticus’ story, it really should’ve had more room to breathe. That said — for End-of-the-World Showdowns featuring deities from multiple pantheons? This rocked. He wrapped up the story he kicked off in Hammered and Two Ravens and One Crow in a fantastic fashion, full of death, blood and tension. At the same time, he maintained the very idiosyncratic characterizations he’d created for the various gods and goddesses.

Speaking of Two Ravens and One Crow, a small, but fun, point from that comes back in these pages in a way that no one could have expected and added just the right level of fun to the battle.

Hearne did a great job integrating the short stories from Besieged into this book — I didn’t expect to see so much from them carry over to this. It all worked well and set the stage for Hearne to get in to the action of Scourged right away and he took full advantage of that.

There were more than a few things that seemed like they needed better explanations — doesn’t the convenient dog sitter find the way that Atticus spoils his dogs more than a little strange? Given that they’ve known the clock was ticking on Ragnarok, why did Atticus wait until the last second to give Granuaile and Owen their assignments? I mean, it works out well for dramatic purposes, and allows certain plot points to be triggered, but that’s not a good reason for the characters to work that way. At the very least, why weren’t his former apprentice and his former teacher pestering Atticus to lay out his plans long before this? While I eventually saw what Atticus and Hearne were up to, in the moment, a lot of the plan just didn’t make sense. When the world is falling apart, why set someone up for an extended training session (for one example)?

I’m not giving away anything about anyone dying — or living — but we know this is the finale, so we’re seeing the end of stories for these characters. Some good, some shocking, some disappointing, some sad. In no particular order: Laksha got a nice send-off, I really didn’t expect to see her here — and I really appreciated what Hearne did with her. It’s not honestly the ending I’ve had wanted for Atticus — but it’s the kind of ending that Hearne’s been building to for a while now, so it’s fitting. I can appreciate the way that Hearne accomplished his goals, even if I think Atticus deserved better. Owen’s ending was everything you could’ve hoped for. Granuaile’s story was fitting for her — and a good reminder that I stopped liking her a few books ago (seriously, why couldn’t she adopt an attitude similar to Owen or Flidias when it comes to their assignments during the battle?). I would’ve liked to have seen Perun one more time, but he got a good send off in Besieged.

Oberon was sidelined for most of the book — I understand why: Atticus wanted to keep his buddy safe, and Hearne needed to keep things ominous, dramatic and threatening, which is hard to do with everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound putting his two cents in (it’s hard enough with Coyote around). Still, we got some good Oberonisms, and he elicited more than one smile from me — and you could argue he saved the day ultimately. If I didn’t know that Hearne was writing one more of Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, I’d be despondent over not seeing him again.

Scourged wasn’t perfect, but it was very satisfying. If I have to say good-bye to these characters, this is a pretty good way to do it. There was enough excitement, drama, and happenings to fill a couple of books and Hearne got it all into one — no mean feat — and it was a great read. It’s not easy letting go of most of these characters and this world (I mean, apart from re-reads), but I’m glad Hearne got out when he did and the way he wanted to. I’m looking forward to his future projects.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 4/14/18

Worked over 50 hours this week (including today), there were only a few hours of that where I wasn’t going full steam ahead. Which meant I came home and pretty much collapsed. Leaving drafts for posts on multiple books in mid-stream. Next week will likely be the same, but I’m trying to get things done. Did manage to read a bit — some very strong stuff, which helps tremendously.

Anyhow, here are the 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:

  • The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe — Apparently, April is a month of good-byes. First, the Iron Druid. Now, the Tufa. This is one of the best series I’ve read the last few years — now, you can read them all. Do so.
  • Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance by David Ahern — Madam Tulip makes a movie in Scotland and, shockingly enough, becomes embroiled in murder and mayhem. I thought it was plenty of fun, as you can read here.
  • Skyjack by K. J. Howe — Kidnap and Ransom specialist, Thea Paris, is back in this tale of secret armies, skyjacking, divided loyalties and impending doom. Here’s my post about it.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to savageddt for following the blog this week.

Pub Day Repost: Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance by David Ahern

Madam Tulip and the Bones of ChanceMadam Tulip and the Bones of Chance

by David Ahern
Series: Madam Tulip, #3Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Malin Press, 2018
Read: March 5 – 6, 2018

Many people doubt psychic powers exist, but the doubters do not include actors. Everyone in showbusiness knows that as soon as one actor learns of a casting, actors of all ages, ethnicities, creeds and genders are instantly aware of every detail. Einstein claimed that faster-than-light communication is impossible. Einstein was not an actor.

But not even the actors that Derry, Bruce and Bella knew had an inkling of the dash of good fortune heading toward Derry and Bruce — they were given roles in a movie without the need to audition, if they could get themselves to Northern Scotland and Derry might have to give a reading or two. For readers new to this, Derry played the role of Madam Tulip on occasion — giving psychic readings at parties and the like. Derry was initially reluctant to take the role, but she needed the work — and Bruce only got his job if she took hers.

So they find themselves in Scotland — a land not necessarily ready for or welcoming toward people making a film. Which almost describes the director, too. He’s clearly nuts — and not in the genius filmmaker kind of way. Many of the other professionals on set did seem to know what they’re doing, which went a long way to keeping the production running. But mostly, the antics on the set made for good comedy. Derry is given a set of bones on set to add to her gypsy character’s fortune telling routine in the historical drama.

While practicing with the bones, Derry starts to have visions, we’ll get into that later, but it’s clear that she’s gotten herself into more than meets the eye (again).

The most striking and interesting people in the book aren’t on the film set — believe it or not. As the blurb on the back says,

A millionaire banker, a film producer with a mysterious past, a gun-loving wife, a PA with her eyes on Hollywood, a handsome and charming estate manager—each has a secret to share and a request for Madam Tulip.

As usual, Derry’s desire to help people and natural nosiness gets her involved in these people’s lives (okay, she might have less altruistic motives about the estate manager). And that’s before someone tries to kill her and/or one of her new friends. Once that happens, Derry can’t help but dive into finding out what’s going on. Madam Tulip may be able to guide the direction she goes, but it’s Derry’s on cleverness that will carry the day.

In Madam Tulip, her father seems to actually believe that she had some psychic ability, otherwise it seems like a lark, something she does for giggles. But in book 2, it seemed possible that she might actually have some abilities, but there wasn’t much in the novel that was more than a hint or suggestion that she did. But here? That hint, that suggestion is gone — she sees things when she rolls the bones, her Tarot readings do say a lot that’s true (and future) about the person she’s reading the cards for. I think I liked it better when the reader wasn’t sure if she had gifts or not, honestly — but only a little bit.

I’ve been a fan of this series since chapter two or three of the first book, so you’re not getting anything really objective here (not that you ever do). But this is the best that Ahern’s done yet — there’s plenty of good comedic writing (there are lines I tried to shoehorn into this, but couldn’t, that made me laugh out loud), a mystery you can’t really guess the solution to, a little peril, a dash of romance and some fun characters. That’s not even counting Derry and Bruce. Bones of Chance is a strong entry in the series that will please fans, but it’s also a decent jumping on point for new readers. Basically anyone who enjoys light mysteries with a touch of something extra should have fun with this book.

There are times that I fear my enthusiasm towards a book doesn’t come through, and I usually don’t know how to achieve that better — this is one such time. I found myself grinning frequently while reading this — I chuckled, I even laughed out loud. I had a few theories about the trouble that Derry was getting herself into, and failed with almost all of them (a sign of a good mystery/thriller, if you ask me). If you’re not picking up my enthusiasm, that’s on me, just trust me that it’s there.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for my honest opinion..

—–

4 Stars

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People by Walter Kerr

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big PeopleSir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People

by William Kerr

Kindle Edition, 268 pg.
2017
Read: April 9 – 10, 2018

Where to start . . . where to start . . .

Let’s start with all the disclaimers and warnings on this book — just because something says it’s a fairy tale, that doesn’t mean it’s for kids. I don’t know why people don’t know this. See also: animation, comic books, and Not Your Father’s Root Beer. Throw in Hans Christian Andersen’s writing and the original Grimm’s Tales, while we’re at it. But, I’ve gotta say, on the whole, this novel doesn’t need all the warnings. Anyone old enough for Suzanne Collins is quite old enough for this.

So, you’ve got your basics: a couple cursed by evil magic, doomed to appear as other than they are until the curse is broken; an evil dragon; a kind and wise princess; stupid and evil royalty (okay, that’s more Shrek than Cinderella); a poor, orphan destined for greatness; noble warriors; corrupt churchmen; wicked/incredibly selfish stepmothers, and so on. Throw in a strange sense of humor, some probably satiric elements, an author who is clearly trying very hard to be whimsical and amusing — maybe trying too hard — and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an amusing read.

Kerr clearly wants to be S. Morgenstern (or maybe William Goldman), and doesn’t quite make it. But he’s not the first to try, nor the first to fail. But he’s good enough to justify reading this, and many people would have a good time doing so.

That’s what I was going to say for the first 60% of the book. But at that point, the curse is broken (minor spoiler…but c’mon, it had to happen), people are happy, the kingdoms are prosperous . . . and I figured we had just a couple of chapters of epilogue and resolution. But, no. From there Kerr goes on to fill this with some sort of pseudo-Christian nonsense (very strange morality, no redemption). I honestly have no clue what he was trying to do in the last chapters — it was a mess.

Remember that scene in Tommy Boy where Tommy tells the waitress, Helen, “why I suck as a salesperson”? He goes on to stroke and pet a roll like a pet and then gets excited and destroys the roll? That’s pretty much what Kerr did here — he has a nice little book and then kills it, reducing it to mangled crumbs.

Save yourself some time and avoid this one. Or, read the first 60% and stop, adding a mental “…and they lived happily ever after.”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

2 Stars

Bodacious Creed and the Frisco Syndicate Kickstarter

A few months ago, I blogged about Jonathan Fesmire’s Steampunk Zombie Western, Bodacious Creed, a very fun adventure in the middle of a genre mashup. Like so many books, Bodacious Creed came into the world via Kickstarter.

The sequel, Bodacious Creed and the Frisco Syndicate is looking to come into the world in the same way.

           James “Bodacious” Creed is a former U.S. Marshal in an alternate 1876, now a sort of intelligent zombie resurrected with steam and ether technology.

After his harrowing adventures in Santa Cruz, California, recounted in Bodacious Creed: a Steampunk Zombie Western, he goes after a crime boss who has fled to San Francisco, in Bodacious Creed and the Frisco Syndicate.

Just like backers of the first Kickstarter, you can help shape Creed’s story. Check out the new Kickstarter now. Watch the two-minute video and check out the description and rewards.

Check it out, kick that start.

Pub Day Repost: Skyjack by K. J. Howe

SkyjackSkyjack

by K. J. Howe
Series: Thea Paris, #2
eARC, 400 pg.
Quercus Books, 2018
Read: March 26 – 28, 2018

Waiting for the call to be patched through, Thea stared at the black and yellow symbol on the canisters. It wasn’t every day she was in the same room with enough nuclear material to start World War Three.

When it comes to imminent threats in this book, believe it or not, that’s not the worst.

So Thea is escorting a couple of former child-soldiers from their orphanage in Africa to their new parents when the jet they’re on is taken over by the pilot and lands near an out-of-the-way and nearly deserted hanger. Thea is separated from the other passengers — including the boys — who are taken to another site. She soon discovers that this was, in part, orchestrated by an Italian mob boss she’d tangled with before in a roundabout way of hiring Quantum International Security and getting them to adhere to a very strict deadline (I’m oversimplifying, obviously, but that’s the essence).

Both the hijacking and the task set before them put Thea, Rif and the rest of the company right in the middle of overlapping schemes involving secret armies that have been active since the end of World War II. These were originally set up to be the core of the resistance against Communist invasion, but in the intervening decades may have evolved into something else. Something scary.

Howe nails the interweaving storylines — there’s the hijacking story, and the plight of the passengers who aren’t Thea; there’s the tasks that the hijackers impose on Thea for their safe return; there’s whatever else the Italian mob is up to; there’s an Austrian secret army set out to attack a threat they perceive as more dire than the Communists they were set up to fight; and there’s one person who is out to stop the Austrians. These are all grounded by some good interpersonal stories and moments. The plotting and pacing are tight and believable. Howe will suck you in and keep you turning the pages.

Howe can write action scenes that stack up with the best. The events on the plane were dynamite — I knew Thea would make it, but I could’ve believed just about anything else would happen. Also, it’s going to be awhile before I think of those locked cabin doors in the same positive way we’re supposed to. There’s some great combat scenes, a few action scenes that might as well be on a movie screen.

My complaints are pretty minor, really. I thought a lot of the emotional motivations for behaviors were a tad shallow or rushed, all of them were valid and honest to the characters — I just think they could’ve been written better. It’s tough to pick out examples without entering spoiler territory. So let me vaguely mention that the level of hate spouted by the head of the Austrian group, and the way he expressed it, sounds more like a guy spouting off on Twitter than a very successful businessman who is charismatic enough to get many to commit to a cause. The growing/evolving relationship between Thea and Rif continues the path begun in The Freedom Broker. and Howe could’ve been more subtle and less repetitive showing that. I do enjoy watching this — and figure I will over a few books.

I enjoyed this ride — it had the requisite twists and turns, exciting, tense, well-paced — everything you want in a thriller. It ticked off just about every box you want in a thriller. Yes, it was lacking that certain je ne sais quoi that kicks it up into the “I’m excited to read” level, but I’m pleased I did and will keep my eyes peeled for Thea Paris #3.

—–

3 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Quercus Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for 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.