Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

I had this pretty much ready to go yesterday and the day before that, but I didn’t like what I’d written — it’s not like I disagreed with myself (I’m funny that way), but I just had gone off on a tangent and ended up writing about things I didn’t care that much about, and ignored the things I’d been thinking about since I read the book. This isn’t exactly what I meant to talk about, nor is it as clear as I wanted things to be — but it’s close enough. Hope someone gets something out of it.

Burn BrightBurn Bright

by Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha and Omega, #5

Hardcover, 308 pg.
Ace, 2018

Read: March 7 – 8, 2018

Anna was her father’s daughter, and her father believed in science and rational thinking. She’d been a werewolf for years now, and she still tended to think about it from a scientific viewpoint, as though lycanthropy were a virus.

Faced with a wall of briar-thorned vines straight out of a Grimms’ fairy tale, she’d never had it brought home so clearly that what she was and what she did was magic. Not Arthur C. Clarke magic, where sufficient understanding could turn it into a new science that could be labeled and understood. But a “there’s another form of power in the universe” magic. Something alien, almost sentient, that ran by its own rules-or none. Real magic, something that could be studied, maybe, but would never rest in neatly explainable categories.

I appreciated this look into Anna’s thinking. It matches up with what we’ve seen of Mercy’s take on magic, but not completely, underscoring the differences in t heir personalities and way of looking at the world.

Burn Bright takes place on the heels of Silence Fallen — Bran’s not back yet and Charles is handling things. At least as much as Leah will let him. We’ve known for quite some time that Bran’s pack is full of misfits, wolves that need extra care and attention that they probably couldn’t get elsewhere — particularly older werewolves, the type who are nearing the point where they can’t keep control. Asil is a prime example of this — but now we learn that Asil actually is an example of an older wolf who’s doing just fine and that there are a half-dozen or so living near the Marrock, but that don’t come into town or have much at all to do with anyone not Bran, Charles or a small number of specific individuals.

Now, while the Marrock is gone, someone is targeting these wolves — and all signs point to someone within the pack. Can Charles, Anna and others protect these pack members from this new threat? Can they identify the traitor in their midst, and will Charles have to kill someone he trusted to preserve the safety of all the wolves?

One thing I noticed last year doing my re-read of the Mercy and Alpha & Omega books was just how comfortable I felt in these books — that holds true here, too. It doesn’t matter about the peril being faced by Charles and Anna (or any of the rest of the pack), reading this book was a nice, relaxing time with old friends. Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, she’s not, but Briggs sure writes a cozy novel. I cannot put my finger on why — if it’s something in Briggs’ style, her voice, the stories, a combination of the three — but it doesn’t matter. As long as she does that, she’ll have loyal readers.

This was a very talk-y story (and maybe all the Charles and Anna stories skew this way, but this seemed a bit more pronounced). More than once I asked “Do we need to tell this story now? Can’t we come back and chat about this later, you know, after everyone is safe?” Of course, the answer is now, and we need all the talk-y bits to get the understanding and information necessary to defeat the bad guys. Still, the author and readers know this, but Charles, Anna and the rest don’t know that and I wish they displayed a greater sense of urgency.

Most of the talk-y portions were discussing the wildlings being targeted by the mysterious (and well-armed) forces at work here. Which at least pays off in the readers getting to know them — which I greatly appreciate. The other person we get to know better is Leah, Bran’s wife and his wolf’s mate. Between these books and the Mercy novels we’ve gotten to know here a bit, but this novel fills that knowledge out. Between Leah and Chrissy (Adam’s ex- in the Mercy books) Briggs displays a real talent in writing women that you cannot stand or trust, but have enough sympathy for that you can’t just hate. They’re manipulative, conniving, and self-promoting in ways that are clearly meant to set your teeth on edge — but there’s something very vulnerable about them, too.

There’s a reveal or two later in the book that seem inevitable — only because that’s how stories work, even when (especially when?) everything is pointing in one direction, but there’s no way an author of any experience would go with something so obvious. It’s hard to get more specific while not giving away the details — but those reveals ended up leaving me dissatisfied only because I called them so early. It feels like when you’re watching a police procedural and identify the killer when the guest star makes their appearance in the first 10 minutes — sure Castle might be charming, Bones’ intern might be delightfully quirky, or Rizzoli might have some sort of compelling side-story, but the mystery part of the story is a disappointment because how is Morgan Fairchild not going to be the killer?

But the focus of the book is on the relationship between Charles and Anna, their mutual trust, the way they help each other in ways no one else can. That part of the novel is rock solid, and as long as Briggs delivers that, who’s going to complain?

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, don’t misunderstand me. And the more I learn about Bran’s pack in Montana, the more I like it and the more I want to know. Asil, as always, was a joy. But . . . the more I think about Burn Bright the less satisfying it seems, the slighter it feels. I’m glad I read it, I’ll likely gladly read it again — and I look forward to the next adventure with these two. But I think Briggs could’ve — and should’ve — done better.

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3.5 Stars

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A Blogger’s Manifesto: A Modern Day Guide to Blogging by Aman Mittal

A Blogger's ManifestoA Blogger’s Manifesto: A Modern Day Guide to Blogging

by Aman Mittal

Kindle Edition, 91 pg.
2018

Read: February 2, 2018


This is a short “how-to” book for people who want to/have recently started a blog — Mittal covers the basics from getting started, some basic writing advice, how to grow an audience — and even a little about monetizing (for those who want to).

Mittal himself is a book blogger, so he writes from experience. He also spends some time focusing on how to not just to run a blog but a book blog. Discussing review policies, author interviews, book tours and more. But a lot of his advice even here is easily transferred to other types of blogs.

There’s a lot in here I responded to just because of the book blogging aspect — his plans for shelving, talking about ordering that one extra book to get free shipping, etc. I am jealous of the fact that he has a month’s worth of content prepared in advance — I think it’s pretty clear here that if I have something to publish, it’s up — I’ve tried to get a few days to a week in advance, but a month? That’s insane (and I’m so jealous). Mittal’s such a book blogger that not only does he make frequent references to books to read, he includes three lists to help bloggers with their writing, thinking and marketing.

Yeah, there were a few too many typos/editing mistakes for my liking. Oh well, it took almost no effort to guess what Mittal was going for, and didn’t detract all that much from the book.

Brief, but comprehensive; helpful; all in all useful — this is a good book for the asprirtional blogger, or the experienced blogger needed a quick refresher on some basics to reinvigorate their blogs. Well worth the time.

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3.5 Stars

The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

The Bomb MakerThe Bomb Maker

by Thomas Perry

Hardcover, 372 pg.
Mysterious Press, 2018

Read: January 29 – 31, 2018


Oh man . . . this brings me back to the conflict I felt trying to discuss Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. This is a heckuva read until it’s not — but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I know precious little about Bomb Squads, and have read precious little about them. I think Crais’ Demolition Angel is the only other book with a Bomb Tech in it for more than a few pages that I’ve read. So I was pretty excited to give this one a shot — incidentally, I do think there are areas of overlap between this book and Crais’ that’d make for interesting reading. Sadly, it’s been about 15 years since I read Demolition Angel, so I won’t be writing that. Still, my main point is that there’s not a lot written about Bomb Techs, and that seems pretty strange, because this kind of thing makes for some great tense moments — the kind of thing that thriller readers love.

(feel free to fill up the comments telling me how wrong I am and that there are dozens of great examples of Bomb Tech/Bomb Squad literature out there)

What we have here is a guy, never given a name, or dubbed with one by the media that we’ll call “the bomb maker.” We know nothing about him at the beginning, and learn only a little about him later on — for some reason, he’s decided to kill off every bomb tech in LA. And he does so by making bombs designed to sucker the Bomb Techs into doing X or Y, which will both set off the bomb itself. In his first attempt, he kills half the division — 14 of 28, including the commanding Captain.

What’s the LAPD to do? Thankfully, one of the Deputy Chief’s knows a guy — the last guy to command the Squad still lives in town, running a high-priced security firm. So the Chief recruits Dick Stahl to come back and help the LAPD through this time. Stahl knew most of the people that died, trained many of them himself and would like to help get some justice for them and prevent others from joining them.

So begins a great cat-and-mouse game. The bomb maker is pretty smart and knows how Bomb Techs think, so he fools them into setting bombs off. Stahl doesn’t know much about the guy beyond that, so he goes out of his way to overthink the bombs and finds the tricks that were included and thinks around them. Some of the squad start to think like him, and others don’t. You can guess how that works out for all involved. The bomb maker sees how Stahl is figuring him out, and steps up his game, making bombs that are more clever and more devastating.

This aspect of the book — which really is the bulk of it, thankfully — is just great. Perry could’ve given us another 100 pages or so of it and I wouldn’t have complained.

There’s a little bit romance between Stahl and someone, which complicates things and could’ve bery easily annoyed me because it seems so extraneous. I think the way Perry dealt with it and used in to tell his story ended up working, but I’m not going to argue with anyone who was bothered by it (I easily could’ve been). But for me, when you add these complications into the cat-and-mouse thing, it just makes for a better read.

Which is not to say that this book doesn’t have its share of problems. We get a lot of backstory on a couple of incredibly minor characters. There’s one character whose sole purpose is to find a bomb and call the police, yet we get a lot of detail on the career she gave up, why she did so, and what that costs her to this day, just to have her find a bomb. I liked the character (what we got of her anyway), her part of the book was well-written, but it seems silly to get that much detail on someone who disappears almost immediately. It’s like on award shows when they introduce a minor celebrity just so they can come on stage to introduce the award presenters. It’s just pointless. Perry does this kind of thing more than once here, meanwhile we don’t get a lot of information about most of the Bomb Squad members we do get to see do things. It makes little sense, adds little, and ultimately detracts from the suspense he’s building. I don’t get it.

One thing for sure, I add mostly as an aside, between the mysterious bad guy in Silence and the bomb maker here, I’m sure that Thomas Perry can write a great creep. Not just a bad guy with no respect for life or property or whatever, but a real cad who should never be allowed near a female. I’m not suggesting that describes all of his characters, just some of them — just the fact that the paid assassin is a step-up for Sylvie Turner (also from Silence) compared to the previous guys she was serious about says something about the kind of creep Perry can write.

I’m going to get close to a spoiler or two here, so feel free to skip this paragraph. If you’re still here, in the last 40 pages (less than that, actually, but let’s keep it vague), this becomes a different kind of book. It feels like Perry realized what his page count was and wanted to keep it below 375 so he had to bring the cat-and-mouse thing to an end. The action kicks into high gear, and the very intelligent thriller throws out the intelligence and becomes a couple of action sequences. Well-done and compelling action sequences, but a very different feel from the rest of the book. He also switches from giving us too much detail (like the life story of the lady who found a bomb) to giving us almost no information to help wrap up the closing events of the novel. I won’t even begin to talk about the last four pages, the final chapter almost doesn’t belong in the book — it does give us a teeny bit of resolution, but again, feels like a different book than what had come before. My kids can testify to this, I was yelling at the book during the final few pages, because I just didn’t get what Perry was up to.

This was a solid, smart, compelling thriller about the kind of characters you want to read about — smart professionals, acting for the public good and for the sake of their teammates up against smart professionals out to do wrong. I had a blast with most of this, and could forgive the tangents he went off on, up until the end. I did, generally, still like the end, even so. I still recommend this and think you’ll like it — I just wish Perry’d landed it better. It was almost a 4-star book, possibly more, but that ending . . .

If you have — or eventually do — read this, let me know what you thought of it. I’m really curious to see what others thought.

2018 Library Love Challenge
3.5 Stars

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Orphan XOrphan X

by Gregg Hurwitz
Series: Orphan X, #1

Hardcover, 354 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2016

Read: January 17 – 18, 2017


Wow. Just wow.

I firmly believe, and have said so repeatedly here, that it’s not the novelty of an idea that makes a book worth reading, it’s the execution. But for some reason, because I’ve seen/read this story (at least what one can tell from the blurb) so many times, I put off reading it. That was stupid. There’s a reason some stories, some ideas are told so many times: when done well, they are great.

That’s what we’ve got here. Evan Smoak is an Orphan (he’s also an orphan, but that’s not all that important). From a pretty young age, he’s been trained as an off-the-books special operative for the US government, with a tie to only his handler. No other connection whatsoever to any covert agency, budget, oversight. Nothing can possibly go wrong with that, right? At some point he runs into another Orphan and is struck by the differences between the two — clearly, Evan’s training involved the cultivation of a conscience and a modicum of ethics. This splash of humanity gets this human weapon into trouble and he leaves the program.

But it’s not like he’s got a backup plan for his life, he’s trained for only one thing, so he becomes The Nowhere Man. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him…maybe you can hire, well, the A-Team. Because The Nowhere Man can’t be hired. If he helps you, all he asks is that you find someone else in trouble and give them his phone number. Evan goes on for some time like this, helping people who can’t help themselves, getting some justice for those who are let down by the system, etc.

Until one day, things go pear-shaped when meeting a new client, and suddenly Evan finds himself (for the first time in his life) the hunted.

About the same time that his professional career is blowing up (almost literally), he finds himself having a personal life. Until now, Evan’s lived a pretty monkish life — free from personal ties, anyway. A lonely existence to be sure. and he starts to have friends? Not surprisingly, at all, this adds some complications to his already pretty complicated week.

This is an exciting read, fast-paced, energetic, incredibly violent — the fight scenes are great. This is essentially a Jason Statham movie in text form (although Statham always looks like someone who could star in an action flick and Evan doesn’t). It’s fun, it’s impossible to take seriously, (but I can’t imagine that Hurwitz expects anyone to). Evan’s The Punisher without the anger, The Equalizer without the age, Jason Bourne without the memory issues, James Bond without the government backing/British accent, John Wick without the dog or criminal record.

Okay, it’s clear I don’t know what to say about Orphan X at this point . . . this is a fun read, I’m glad I finally got around to it, and I’m looking forward to the sequels. If you like action flicks, give it a shot.

—–

3.5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Blackhouse by Peter May

The BlackhouseThe Blackhouse

by Peter May
Series: The Lewis Trilogy, #1

Hardcover, 357 pg.
SilverOak Books, 2012

Read: December 18 – 19, 2017


Endinburgh’s DS Fin Macleod returns to work after a month’s bereavement leave and is immediately sent to the Isle of Lewis to aid in a murder investigation. The murder shares some commonalities with a murder he’d been investigating before his leave and Fin grew up in the same town as the murder — in fact, he knew the victim as a child and was bullied by him. Fin has returned to the island once since he left, and that was almost two decades ago — nevertheless he is surrounded by memories and ghosts.

As is so often the case with this kind of story — the returning detective/writer/lawyer/etc. — the narrative is divided between the present and the past. In the present we get Fin and his local contact looking into aspects of the murder, drawing on Fin’s knowledge of the suspects and other persons of interest. The other portion traces Fin’s friendships and lost loves on the island, his problematic relationship to the island’s culture, and some of the trauma of his life. In the end, as every reader knows, the past illuminates the present and Fin’s able to solve the mystery — at great cost to himself.

May structured this wonderfully, the prose is gripping, the characters well-developed and believable — you can feel the harsh environment, the cold, the isolation.

But . . . I just didn’t like it. I can’t point to anything in particular that put me off, I just didn’t click with it. I didn’t dislike it either, I should say.

Strong writing, a great sense of setting, a story well told — I can see why so many readers appreciated it, and figure many of my readers will, too. But it just didn’t do enough for me. I’ll give it 3 1/2 stars on the strength of May’s skill alone.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Cult of Unicorns by Chrys Cymri

The Cult of UnicornsThe Cult of Unicorns

by Chrys Cymri
Series: Penny White, #2

Kindle Edition, 234 pg.
2016

Read: December 4 – 5, 2017


Sure, all I know about the life of an Anglican priest comes from this series and Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas, (oh, and one series of Grantchester) and maybe Fantasy fiction isn’t the best source, but man, being a priest in a small village/town in England seems to be lonely and horrible — especially around Advent. Which is where we find Penny White — running on fumes, bouncing from obligation to obligation — with barely enough time for her grieving brother, her gryphon partner and her snail shark (never mind the duties in the parallel world of Daear) — not to mention casually dating a police inspector and a dragon. Throw in a murder mystery and . . . wow. How does she sleep?

Before we get to much of that Penny and her brother, James, go to Lloegyr for the trial in the death of James’ girlfriend. It is quick, decisive, decidedly alien (as it should be) and adjudicated by a panel of 3 unicorns. Apparently, Unicorns are impossibly fair, honest and just so they make the perfect judges. No one, not even the dragons would dare protest what the unicorns decide. Penny can’t help but note how almost everyone she sees reacts strangely to unicorns — she’d probably do the same, however, if she weren’t so dragon-obsessed. When bodies start showing up on Earth with what seem to be unicorn-caused injuries, Penny seems to be the only one who is willing to follow the evidence. At the same time, maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t seem that Penny was too bothered by the murders — and certainly didn’t seem to spend too much energy investigating them. (although, that might have more to do with the obviousness of the culprits and the difficulty getting anyone else on board with it).

James is not handling the grieving process too well — not that anyone does — and I was less-than-impressed with the way Penny was dealing with him.. It really seemed out of character for her. I think it points to a slow-build of a problem for Penny and her dual callings. In the first book, we got hit over the head with the concern that she’d be too focused on the other world too much to do a decent job on Earth, and while it was only brought up once or twice here, I think it’s easy to see that the danger was real. I like how it seems that Cymri is moving this problem to the back burner, just so it can keep growing as a problem while being subtle about it. Professionally/vocationally, things are not going well for Penny, and I think this will continue for awhile.

While writing about book 1, I was worried about an impending romantic triangle — and I like the way that Cymri dealt with it here, much more than I assumed I would when we left it off. I’m not sure I’m ready to breathe easily about it yet, but I have hope (I also haven’t read as many romantic triangles this year as I have in years past, maybe my tolerance for them will increase). Actually, I liked just about everything about the romance angle in this book. Especially Morey’s.

The Murder plotline (and the aftermath) serves as the narrative hook for the book, but doesn’t seem to occupy as much of the time as you’d think. Where The Temptation of Dragons introduced us to this reality (or dual-realities, I guess), this one explores it — with a greater emphasis on Earth. We really spend very little time on the “other side.” Which was okay, really. I imagine that won’t always be the case (glancing ahead at the blurb for the next volume, it looks as if I’m right).

I’m not sure what else to say at this point, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been less thorough than I intended. I enjoyed The Temptation of Dragons and The Cult of Unicorns kept all the charm and wit about that, but grounded the characters and their actions better (or at least more firmly). And really, that’s about all you can hope for from a series — you keep everything you liked in the previous installment and build on it. Cymri nailed that, which serves to make me plan on getting to book #3 faster than I did this one.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — thanks so much for this book.

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3.5 Stars

The Freedom Broker by K. J. Howe

The Freedom BrokerThe Freedom Broker

by K. J. Howe
Series: Thea Paris, #1

Hardcover, 361 pg.
Quercus, 2017

Read: November 6 – 7, 2017


Thea Paris is such a cool character — she’s like a combination of Charlie Fox and Vanessa Michael Munroe — but with a very different load of emotional baggage. When she was a child, her brother was sleeping in her room to help her make it through a hard night when he was kidnapped. She’s spent the following decades convinced that the only reason he was kidnapped is that the abductors thought he was Thea. Yes, he eventually made it back safely, but he was (obviously) never the same, and Thea used that to fuel her mission in life. Her father is the tycooniest of American Oil Tycoons, and she could’ve easily rested on his laurels, or followed in the family business.

But no, Thea is in private security, with an emphasis on K&R (Kidnapping and Ransom). She’s the one negotiating with kidnappers/their representatives to get a ransom paid and the victim returned to his home/family/nation/company. When that doesn’t work, Thea will lead the extraction team doing what they can to bring te victim home. She’s one of the best around. She is not perfect, and we see that right off, but she gets the job done well.

Which is good, because on the verge of one of the biggest deals of his life, Thea’s father, Christos, is kidnapped. It’s up to her, some allies and friends to bring him home. There are several candidates for the kidnapper’s identity — there’s the Chinese oil corporations competing with her father, there are representatives of the African nation that kidnapped her brother all those years ago, there’s an arms dealer that has rumors flying, too. In the midst of this hunt, secrets will be revealed (many Thea will regret learning), and virtually everyone in her life will end up divulging something dark and hidden.

One more thing about Thea — she’s diabetic. Which is an interesting character trait — I can’t think of another action hero with something like that: a real physical condition that requires maintenance, but is manageable and will not ordinarily cause anything more than inconvenience. Sure, it does give us what I’m calling Chekhov’s glucose monitor (not a spoiler, that’s what I put in my notes when it was first mentioned).

I liked the other characters, too — but it’s hard to talk about most of them without getting too heavily into the plot. So let’s just say there are a few people I’m really looking forward to seeing again, and a few that I enjoyed enough this time out, but am very glad they’re in no position to show up again. Just about everyone has a believable motivation — no matter what side of the law and/or morality they fall on — which is just great.

Howe’s prose is tight and the pacing is great. There’s a few times that Thea has the same thought over and over — which is probably realistic, but it seems repetitive (and possibly not trusting the reader enough) to read her conclude “X may have done Y” in a chapter, and then “Y may have been done by X” in the next. But it’s nothing to get too worked up over, I didn’t think. Howe does seem to have a “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to story telling — the number of things that go wrong during Thea’s search for her father, and the number of opponents and obstacles in her way is seemingly endless. I love it, every time you think she’s on a roll and things are going to start going her way, a problem that the reader should’ve seen coming (but almost never does) shows up to derail things again. Sure, eventually, that comes to an end — the book doesn’t go on forever — but not until Howe’s good and ready for it to end. She’s probably getting a new kitchen constructed to hurl at Thea in the next book.

There’s a great mix of action and intrigue, putting clues together and smacking heads, emotional growth and uncovering the past. Like it’s protagonist, The Freedom Broker isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done well. Sign me up for the upcoming sequel, too.

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3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge