Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #5

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2017
Read: Jay 29 – 30, 2017

Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Black Box by Ian Rankin

I thought I’d scheduled this for yesterday, well, I’d intended to, but I typo’ed the date. So, hey, enjoy a bonus post to make up for the recent bits of silence.

The Black BookThe Black Book

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
O. Penzler Books, 1994

Read: June 2 – 5, 2017


As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it — the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame — there’s a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn’t get enough of it. A famous — and infamous — local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn’t die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it — and the people Rebus talked to about this case.

So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It’s suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he’d been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes’ black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes’ recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS’ work.

We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here — Rebus’ other junior detective. She’s driven, she’s tough, she’s English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn’t. She’s got a good sense of humor and duty — both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).

The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty – we’d brushed up against him in Tooth & Nail. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He’s both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) — for both the cold case and current operations. He’s dangerous, and yet not at all — I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.

Lastly, Rebus’ brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he’s crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I’m not sure he’s someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.

A solid mystery novel — with a conclusion I didn’t see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ — with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one’s a keeper.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and BonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2

Hardcover, 187 pg.
Tor, 2017

Read: June 14, 2017

Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

This is the story about how Jack and Jill, the twins in the middle of the events in Every Heart a Doorway, got to The Moors, the dark world they had their adventures in before being returned to ours.

They were born to people that never should have had kids, had miserable childhoods (not that they realized it) — with two bright spots. The lesser, but more constant, bright spot was each other — they always had their twin. Just before this relationship was torn apart by the ways their parents were dividing them, the find themselves in a magic kingdom. They’re split up again, but this time the lifestyles they are immersed in better fit their personalities than what had been imposed on them by the World’s Worst Parents. Jack is trained by a mad scientist, learning to deliver medical care, reanimate the dead and more. Jill is pampered by a vampire that rules The Moors — being coached and guided into becoming one herself. We see them grow into strong individuals in this dark and deadly place before being returned to Earth.

The story is one we know already (assuming we read the first book), and even without that, it’s pretty clear how things are going to go. But that doesn’t make this any less gripping — the character work, the development of these two girls is fantastic. And the world created in The Moors is fantastic, you can see it — practically smell, feel and taste it. Best of all is the way that McGuire tells the story, the way she describes things (emotions, internal actions, external actions). It’s almost as magical as the first book.

It’s not a perfect novella, however. I’d have been tempted to call the previous one perfect, but this doesn’t quite make it. It seemed like half-story, half-manifesto against the kind of parenting McGuire hates.

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

It’s McGuire’s book, I’m not saying she shouldn’t feel free to use the space the way she wants — but it detracted from the story. Their parents have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, McGuire’s usually better than that. I think you could make the case that their shallowness, their utter horribleness fits the fairy-tale-ish story she’s telling. Honestly, I think that was the case — but it just doesn’t feel right. I would’ve like a little more time with the vampire himself — although maybe not getting more time with him, and learning about him primarily from the way that others react to him and his actions does make him creepier.

I was hoping (but didn’t expect) to see a little about what happened to the pair after Every Heart, oh well — hopefully soon.

I thought it a little heavy-handed in some places, but overall, I was just so happy to return to this series that I can get past it and recommend this one almost as highly as the last one.

—–

4 Stars

Fool Moon (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Fool MoonFool Moon

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 6 min.
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: May 30 – 31, 2017


Let’s keep this short:

I didn’t love this one as much as Storm Front, and I remember things as a whole being better. Still, we get the introduction of the Alphas, we get to see a little bit of every type of Werewolf in this world (I’d forgotten 1 of them), Dresden makes some smart choices re: Karrin Murphy (but man, most of what happened between the two of them in this book was annoying to a fan, and poorly constructed I think), and a (in retrospect) dumb one about Susan.

The main story was pretty good — I’d have liked to see Harry be a little quicker to figure things out, but he’s not perfect. Nor is he the investigator he’ll become eventually. I need to remind myself these are early days. As I recall, book 3 is a little less-good than this, which doesn’t make me look forward to it. But I know I like where things go pretty quickly, so I’ll keep going.

Marsters was fantastic — this would’ve been a 3 in just about any other narrator’s hands, er, vocal cords. I can’t say enough good things about him.

—–

4 Stars

No Middle Name by Lee Child

No Middle Name No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher

Hardcover, 418 pg.
Random House Publishing Group, 2017

Read: May 31, 2017


Over the years, Lee Child has published a number of short stories/novellas featuring Jack Reacher, and finally they’re all published in one handy collection. Some are available in non-ebook format for the first time, too. Also, we have a brand-new novella to kick things off. For many, this is the first they’ve been able to access them — I haven’t read any of them before, but I’ve listened to most of them in audiobook format.

Now, as I’ve said before, short stories aren’t normally my bag — and that’s very true for the Reacher stories. He just works better in novel-length stories, generally speaking anyway. For those stories I’ve listened to already, my opinion of them didn’t really change as I read them — the couple I liked, I still liked. The others . . . well, I remained unimpressed — it’s good to know that it wasn’t the format or Dick Hill (the narrator) — it really was the length or story.

But enough about that — there are three stories that I want to talk about — the first two are short stories that I really enjoyed. They’re just the right length, which is nice, you don’t feel short-changed. They also don’t feature Reacher that prominently. The first is “James Penney’s New Identity” (which apparently was published in a shorter form originally), it’s a story about a man who’s the victim of changing economic times who has had enough — at a pivotal point for him, he meets Jack Reacher (still in the Army). By his words and actions, Reacher changes the rest of James Penny’s life — and Reacher doesn’t have to fight anyone to do it. This story leaves the reader with more questions than answers — but in a good way.

“Guy Walks into a Bar” is written from the POV of a new police detective who has the good(?) fortune to run into Reacher in a professional capacity on her first day. I really liked this one — Reacher was pretty ingenious here dealing with the problem he sticks his nose into in a way that shows more brains than brawn. I think I actually laughed out loud as soon as I realized what he was up to. Pretty clever.

Oddly. there are two Christmas-y stories — I don’t know why I find that so odd, but Reacher doesn’t feel like a Christmas character. I liked, but wasn’t wowed by, both of them.

Obviously, the big thing here is the new novella, Too Much Time. Reacher’s wandering through a town and gets peripherally involved in stopping a petty crime. He allows himself to be cajoled by the police into helping them out for a few minutes afterwards. Things go wrong just a few minutes later. This is as good a novella-length story that I can imagine for Reacher — there’s a pretty good fight, Reacher solving a puzzle while helping the authorities — and keeping himself out of trouble. A little bit cerebral, a little bit thug. The perfect Reacher recipe. If Andy Martin’s book has taught me anything, it’s that there’s some significance to the law enforcement officials having names that start with A, B, C and D. If I was more clever, I’d know why. Still, I liked it a lot.

A nice, solid collection — with some strong stand-outs. Reacher fans need to grab it.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Fox Hunter by Zoë Sharp

Fox HunterFox Hunter

by Zoë Sharp
Series: Charlie Fox, #11

eARC, 400 pg.
Pegasus Books, 2017

Read: May 22 -24, 2017


I honestly had given up on seeing another Charlie Fox novel — which was a cryin’ shame, but I get that authors have to move on sometimes. But then a couple of weeks ago, when I logged onto NetGalley to take care of something, there it was on the front page — and I jumped to request it (despite promising myself I was taking a NetGalley break to catch up on other things).

“You were a soldier, Miss Fox , and you are now a bodyguard. There is an old saying that is true in both cases : To survive—to protect a life— you have to be lucky every day. But your enemies, they have to be lucky only once.”

Following his near-miraculous recovery from the injuries no one expected him to survive, Charlie Fox’s love/boss, Sean, hasn’t been the same. Now, it looks like he’s settling old debts — not necessarily his own. The fact that he’s doing that is bad enough — it’s not quite de rigueur for someone in his position to go around exacting vengeance. But the way these debts are being settled (if that’s what’s happening) speaks to someone not in full control. Charlie fights for the opportunity to do the boots-on-the-ground investigation to prove that it’s not Sean’s handiwork.

This ground is Kuwait and Iraq, and before she knows it, Charlie is dealing with soldiers/mercs that she’s annoyed in the past, Russians with a grudge, Iraqis trying to defend cultural artifacts and certain three-letter agencies mucking around in it all — and every sign is that Sean’s up to exactly what Charlie is convinced he’s not doing. Before the book ends, she’ll come face to face with multiple faces from her past (none of which she ever wanted to encounter again) and will be forced to reassess some of the most formative events of her past and career.

For those new to Charlie Fox — this would make a pretty good entry point, by the way — she’s former British Army, who received some special forces training, before her career was derailed. Since then she’s done plenty of work as a bodyguard and worked other types of security. She’s stubborn, loyal, inventive and tenacious. And deadly — it eats away at her, but when push comes to shove, Charlie’s as lethal as you can find.

Killing because your life—or that of another—is in immediate danger is one thing. I’d been trained to accept that possibility right from the start of my army career. But appointing yourself judge, jury, and executioner is quite another. As is doing it anyway, only to discover that it doesn’t trouble your conscience nearly as much as it should.

Sharp has given Charlie a strong voice — one you can believe can accomplish all she needs to, yet one that’s entirely human.

The new characters are well developed — and we see plenty of old faces, too. One unexpected antagonist is almost too evil to be believable (but, sadly, I imagine that plenty of Armed Forces have people just like him). There’s one death that was a real gut-punch for the reader (or at least this one) — that’s a testimony to Sharp’s skill that she can create someone like that in a brief period.

I don’t remember any of the previous novels being all that tied to current events, but Fox Hunter clearly took place post-Brexit and during the Trump administration. I’m not saying that’s bad, but oddly specific — and changes when the rest of the books happened as well, because this didn’t take place long after Die Easy despite the 5 years between the novels — I’d have had an easier time swallowing the book without that specificity, but not much — I note it because I found it strange.

That aside, this is exactly what Charlie Fox readers have come to expect from her — she takes the proverbial licking and keeps on ticking, and kicking, swinging and everything else. Best of all, she thinks — she plots, she improvises, she keeps on trying. Not to sound cliché, but this damsel finds herself in plenty of distress — and gets herself out of it (occasionally with help — but not in a Nell Fenwick sort of way; more like Lt. Templeton Peck way). Plenty of action, plenty of violence, plenty of suspense — all with some character development, moving ongoing story arcs forward (while re-evaluating everything before).

Not much else to ask for — except another volume soon.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company 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.

—–

4 Stars

On the Line by SJ Rozan

On the LineOn the Line

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #10

Hardcover, 309 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: May 25 – 26, 2017


Okay, it’s Bill Smith’s turn as the POV character — and that’s a good thing, because this would be a very short book if it wasn’t. A figure from Bill’s past is back, looking for revenge. The electronically altered voice on the phone belongs to someone that was sent to prison, in part due to Bill’s work, and now he’s out and is ready for Bill to pay what he’s due. He’s demanding that Bill play this game he’s devised in order to keep his hostage alive for the next 12 hours (or so).

The hostage, of course, is Lydia Chin. This is what makes this book different from all the other books where the hero is racing against the clock to play the twisted game of the psychopath in order to save the hostage. The hostage isn’t someone created just to be in peril, this is someone we’ve become attached to over the last 9 books (half the time being in her brain, I should add) — and Bill’s got a lot more history with and affection for her than any of us readers do. Again, this is stuff we know, not something manufactured for the purposes of this plot. So the stakes are higher for Bill than most heroes in this plot, and we believe it, too.

Without Lydia to work with, Bill has to get help from others — there’s just no way that he can do this on his own. Enter Lydia’s friend Mary, the NYPD detective; and her cousin Linus, the hacker/computer guru. Even with these two replacing Lydia, Bill spends a lot of the time seemingly over-matched. Now that I think about it, he’s so distracted by worry that a lot of the thinking is left to others, Bill mostly reacts to things in anger and fear. All believably, I should add.

The kidnapper/tormentor isn’t some psychopathic genius, some criminal mastermind — he’s a smart, committed criminal who has spent a lot of time planning. This means that the reader can see why he’d go off the bend like he does, why Bill can defeat him — and yet spend so many pages clueless. He is clever, I shouldn’t downplay that — the game he’s set up, the clues (and what he does with them) show that this is no slouch that Bill’s up against. Thankfully, neither are Bill’s allies — for 2010, one of the solutions involves a ingenious use of social media (actually, it’d be a pretty sly use in 2017, too).

The conversations between Lydia and Bill are what I’m always saying are the highlight of these books — in this book, their chats are brief proof of life kind of things. This means that every word, every nuance counts — and it’s primarily in what these two don’t have to say to communicate that is the winning element.

I enjoyed this one so much — even if Bill wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been, even if Lydia is practically a non-factor throughout (but when she gets involved, it counts). Rozan knows these two, their world, so well that this story seems effortless (which it just couldn’t be).

It seems effortless for her, I should say, the reader is left hanging on every development, every twist, every detail, just hoping that Bill can save the day. One of Rozan’s best.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge