The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Furthest StationThe Furthest Station

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

eARC, 144 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017

Read: April 24, 2017

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

“What, like officially?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

4 Stars

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

The High KingThe High King

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

Read: March 29 – 30, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

4 Stars

Taran Wanderer (Audiobook) by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton

Taran WandererTaran Wanderer

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

Read: March 28, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

4 Stars

Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

Deep Down DeadDeep Down Dead

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #1

eARC, 350 pg.
Orenda Books, 2017

Read: April 4 – 5, 2017


Crime Fiction blogger turned novelist, Steph Broadribb’s debut novel, Deep Down Dead is the story of a bail enforcement agent (bounty hunter) making a pickup that will change her life in a fairly dramatic way. Lori Anderson couldn’t be in worse financial straits — her daughter’s medical bills from Leukemia (currently in remission) treatment are so far past due that future treatment is in jeopardy, and they’re about to get evicted from their home. So when the bondsman she works for offers her the largest amount she’s ever been offered for a job, she has to jump at it.

It’s supposed to be a simple midnight run, go pick up the fugitive from another agent not licensed in Florida (or he’d drop off the fugitive himself) and deliver him to the police herself. Almost immediately, problems start (none that deter Lori from the cash reward waiting) — her sitter has plans, so she has to take her daughter, Dakota, with her. Secondly, the fugitive in question is her former mentor, JT — the one who taught her everything she knows, who’s inexplicably got a criminal record now. Then when she arrives at the pickup, the agent she expects isn’t there — instead three very aggressive ruffians (best word I can think of) are there and decide to rough her up a little.

Things really go downhill from there — before Lori knows it, she’s got bigger problems than getting her money. She has to deal with a criminal enterprise running from one of the state’s largest amusement parks; a mob with a long-standing grudge; corrupt law enforcement officials; and being a suspect in violent crimes. This is intertwined with the story of Lori and JT’s past association, how he saved her life and set her on the path that she’s on now.

By the time I got to a whopping 12% my notes started using the word “brutal.” This was like if Pierce Brown took a crack at writing Stephanie Plum. Most of the time the violence (gun play or hand-to-hand) was brtual, but not overwhelming — just heightened enough to fit a crime novel.

You like Laurie almost instantly, Dakota will charm you and grab your heart, and you’ll even appreciate JT (maybe more . . . ) and his crusade — at the very least, you’ll get the connection between he and Laurie. The villains are evil, no two ways about it — but not in the mustache-twirling way, just in the kind of evil that we like to pretend doesn’t exist in this world.

It’s not just in her characterization, but it’s in her plotting, pacing and interweaving the stories of present and past that Broadribb displays more skill than your typical debut novelist. This lived up to every expectation I had from the interviews, reviews, etc. that I’ve heard and read, which was a relief. I sorta feel like I’ve been giving too many 4 Stars lately, like I’ve been overly generous, so I tried to rate this lower. But I just can’t — this is a 4 Star book, easy — and with a little more experience under her belt, Broadribb (and Anderson) will be knocking out 5 Star reads regularly. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Trafalgar Square Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this entertaining and almost traumatic experience.

—–

4 Stars

Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman

Nearly NeroNearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe

by Loren D. Estleman

eARC, 192 pg.
Tyrus Books, 2017

Read: March 24 – 30, 2017


I’ve heard about the stories in this volume for years, but have never tracked one down before — and then a whole collection of them show up on NetGalley! How could I not request it? I’m so glad this book exists so that those of us who don’t get the magazines, etc. that publish short mystery fiction can have them (and even those who do have access to those magazines, etc. can have them in one handy volume).

Anyway, here’s the setup: Claudius Lyon is a huge fan of Nero Wolfe — he reads every one of the reports that Archie Goodwin’s literary agent Rex Stout publishes. He’s such a fan that he wants to be Wolfe (like the guys dressing up in Batsuits in The Dark Knight Rises) — he’s fat, fairly clever, and wealthy enough not to need to work and still indulge himself. He renovates his townhouse to include a greenhouse, an elevator, and a first floor floorplan that pretty much matches Wolfe’s. He hires a private chef — a kosher chef of dubious quality (not that Lyon needs to eat kosher, it’s just what Gus can cook), changes his name to something that approximates his hero’s and hires a “man of action,” Arnie Woodbine. Arnie’s an ex-con, small-time crook who doesn’t mind (too much) putting up with his looney boss for a steady paycheck and meals.

The number of ways that Lyon isn’t Wolfe is pretty large and I won’t spoil your fun in discovering them. Now, Lyon’s unlicensed as a PI, so he can’t take on paying clients — but he occasionally gets people who will take him up on his free services. He’s decent at solving puzzles and low-priority mysteries (not that he doesn’t find his way into something bigger on occasion). Once he gets a client (non-paying, Arnie’d have me stress), he goes through whatever steps he needs to figure it out (including his own version of Wolfe’s lip movement and sending Arnie on fact-finding missions), and goes to some lengths to assemble some sort of audience for his reveal. I can’t help smiling as I think about it, really.

The whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout — recognizing the brilliance of the Stout’s work (how can you not?), while poking fun at it. Lyon’s really a goofy character and Woodbine is great at pointing that out — while begrudgingly admitting that he gets things right every now and then. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the story telling — the mysteries aren’t all that much to get excited about, it’s in watching Lyon stumble through his cases that the entertainment is found. Well, that and Woodbine’s commentary.

Not unlike many of the Wolfe stories (particularly the short stories).

I wouldn’t recommend reading more than two of these stories in a sitting, I think they work best as solo shots. It’s a difficult call, because I typically wanted to go on for one more. Also, I’m not sure how enjoyable these’d be for non-Wolfe readers — but then again, I think a lot of the humor would hold up and it might entice a reader to learn more about Lyon’s idol. And anything that gets people to read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels is a good thing.

But for readers of Stout’s Wolfe novels? This is a must read. He’s not trying and failing to recapture Stout’s magic (see Goldsborough post-The Bloodied Ivy), he’s intentionally missing and yet somehow getting a little of it. I really enjoyed this book and can easily see me re-reading it a handful of times.

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

Pub Day Repost: The Essential Trinity by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman, eds.

Slightly different Pub Day Repost than I usually do — I usually post something I read an advanced copy of, but this time it’s being published by a different publisher. Still, content is the same, just a new cover, etc. Hopefully, this helps it find a larger audience.

The Essential Trinity The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance

by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman, eds.

Paperback, 320 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2017

Read: July 31 – August 14, 2016

As far as consistency of quality amongst edited volumes goes, Crowe and Trueman have assembled one of the stronger line-ups I’ve read in a while — men from a spectrum of persuasions of Evangelical-ish thought have given the Church fourteen articles (approximately 20 pages each) to deepen our thinking about the Trinity. The aim was for a volume that “eschews overly technical discussion and focuses attention on the importance of the doctrine for every Christian.”

In Part 1, the articles look at the “trinitarian contours of every corpus of the New Testament, along with a chapter reflecting on the Old Testament roots of trinitarian doctrine.” If there are weak chapters in the volume, they’re in this part — but they aren’t that weak, either. Crowe’s chapter on Matthew is excellent, but the chapters on the Mark, Luke-Acts and John aren’t far off that Mark. Brian S. Rosner’s chapter on “Paul and the Trinity” is worth the price of the book. The chapters on the rest of the epistles are very helpful (particularity Hebrews). Mark S. Gignilliat’s article, “The Trinity and the Old Testament: real presence or imposition?” is very helpful and insightful — and as an added bonus, it’s the most stylistically entertaining and engaging piece in the book.

Benjamin Gladd’s chapter exploring Daniel’s influence on Revelation’s view of the Trinity is the biggest mental workout you’ll get in the book. I appreciated the material covered and the argument Gladd makes, but I’m going to have to read it a few more times before I think I have a good handle on it.

Part 2 addresses the importance of the Trinity for everyday living — many would say the doctrine is impractical and only belongs in Statements of Faith and academia. The authors here show the fallacy of that. It begins with a brief, but excellent, description of the doctrine by Scott R. Swain. Carl Trueman has the next chapter, “The Trinity and prayer,” which is probably as valuable as Rosner’s — it’s actually about more than prayer, but the material specifically on prayer is great — hugely indebted to John Owen (but not uncritically so). Robert Letham’s chapter on “The Trinity and worship” also draws deeply from Owen; if he doesn’t move you to worship as you understand the work of the Trinity in it, you aren’t paying attention (I probably have more problems with some of what he says than anything else in the book). Michael Reeves, typically, made me chuckle in his chapter on preaching — but he did more than that, too.

Timely, convicting, thoughtful and inspiring, this examination of the Trinity in Scripture and Life should be a great benefit to any believer ho reads it. It may not be the easiest thing read all year (but really, it’s not that difficult), but it’ll be one of the most rewarding.

—–

4 Stars

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing EmpireThe Collapsing Empire

by John Scalzi
Series: The Collapsing Empire, #1

Hardcover, 329 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: March 28 – 29, 2017

I can’t think of a SF release more highly anticipated this year than The Collapsing Empire, the first in a new series (there’s a really good chance that I’ll be saying the same thing in 3 months about something else that I’m spacing at the moment). Thankfully, it surpassed my expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low — this just didn’t sound that interesting) — I can’t speak for the rest of his fanbase who were anticipating it so highly, but I can’t imagine that most weren’t wholly satisfied, and predict he picks up a few fans from this.

The Interdependency is the empire that is made up of the descendants of the people of Earth, it’s been in place for centuries — and, as the title of the book (and series) states, it’s on the verge of collapse. Not from political pressures or outside threats, or anything of that nature. Instead, it’s the Flow. The Flow is the way that humanity travels between the stars — a extra-dimensional field that can be accessed to facilitate travel between planets. And it’s on the verge of changing — not disappearing, just connecting different planets and leaving millions of people without access to the rest of the Empire.

Tricky to explain briefly — but that’s okay, the characters in the book are (with 3 exceptions) learning this about the same time as the reader is and those who explain it do a much better job. Basically, the Empire as they know it is facing the End. There to help the Interdependency through this trying time (not that citizens know about it) is a brand-new, untried Emperox. She and her allies (intentional or otherwise) are going to have to deal with political, business and religious groups to try to help some of humanity survive.

I’ve gotta say that Emperox Grayland II (Cardenia to her friends) is a delightful character — you cannot help but root for her. She’s brave, smart, relatable and an underdog (how someone who rules several planetary systems can be thought of as an underdog is a neat trick). The scientist who travels the length of the Empire to help her understand what’s going on, Marce, is clever, overwhelmed, and the only one who really knows what’s happening (shades of Jor-El?). There’s another character, Lady Kiva, a junior member of a ruling family of one of the largest guilds who is just too much fun — she swears enough to make Marshall Mathers take a step back; has no tact, no diplomacy, and shows no mercy to her enemies (especially if they stand between her and a profit). Really, she’s a horrible person (at least in this book),but a fun, fun character.

These three are our focus, they’re who we cheer for and pin our hopes on. If they can survive the political, scientific, religious, and humanitarian turmoil that’s beginning to bubble — there’s a shot for humanity. Not much of one, honestly, but a shot.

Somehow, Scalzi’s able to take societal collapse and tell it in an entertaining, suspenseful and frequently funny way. He’s able to give a thinly disguised commentary on environmental catastrophe and keep it from getting preachy. Basically, he threads the needle just right to keep people enjoying themselves as they read what would be a heavy, off-putting book in many author’s hands.

Is it perfect? No. Am I crazy about everything he does/tries to do in this book? Nope. But man, such a fun, quick ride that I can’t help but like it and recommend it to everyone I can think of. I was so wrong not to be interested in this book — I’m more than interested in the sequel.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge