Catch Up Quick Takes: Shattered Illusions by J. C. Jackson; The Queen Con by Meghan Scott Molin, A Plague of GIants by Kevin Hearne

It’s been a while since I’ve done something like this, but it’s pretty overdue (and only way I’m going to catch up). I’ve started (and re-started) posts on all three of these, but for some reason, I just can’t get something I’m satisfied with, and I don’t think I’ll get to it, and I really want to say something about them (if for no other reason, I won’t let myself read the next installment until I do). So here’s a few nutshell versions of what I wanted to say.

Shattered Illusions

Shattered Illusions

by J.C. Jackson
Series: Terra Chronicles, #2

Paperback, 252pg.
Shadow Phoenix Publishing LLC, 2017

Read: January 31, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.
I love this world, this take on fantasy in a modern setting—I think I might keep reading these just to spend time in this world even if Jackson’s stories weren’t that great. Thankfully, I don’t have to make that call, because Jackson can tell a compelling story.

I don’t appreciate the way that many (most?) of the characters treat our protagonist, Katayl. They treat her with the kind of care usually reserved for glass on the verge of shattering, they only tell her as much of the truth as they want—all the while, wanting the benefit of her intelligence, abilities, and magic. It feels condescending and manipulative. And for that to be the way those closest to her to treat her? I can’t stomach it. There’s a decent contingent of characters that do treat her with respect, will tell her as much of the truth about things as they can, and allow her the agency anyone else would enjoy, and I trust those numbers will grow. I’m sure there’s a decent reason the others treat her like an unstable suitcase bomb, but it rankles me to see it.

The blossoming friendship/partnership between Katayl and Silver is great, and I’m really enjoying it. I found this look into her past quite intriguing. And the end of the book? There’s really a lot to unpack there, and I can’t wait to see what the fallout from it all.
3 Stars

The Queen Con

The Queen Con

by Meghan Scott Molin
Series: The Golden Arrow Mysteries, #2

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
47North, 2019

Read: July 11 – 12, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.
I was really looking forward to this follow-up to The Frame Up, and even listened to the audiobook to prep myself for the release. And while I really liked it, I did think it was a little bit of a let-down. It felt a little rushed, and not fully cooked.

There were some strange continuity problems (wondered about some continuity when listening to The Frame Up, too) that niggled the back of my mind throughout. MG’s narration felt too much like it was trying to rehash the previous book rather than allowing MG to move on a little bit. And Molin seemed to be hinting at one of the reveals of this book so hard that I thought it had to be a red herring, because she seemed more subtle than this.

Nevertheless, these books have so much charm, that I can’t help but smile while reading them. MG is one of my favorite protagonists of the last couple of years. Matteo is a great character, too and I can’t get enough of MG’s friends and/or colleagues (including the new ones). The story itself is a lot of fun, and that covers a multitude of problems.

I do think Volume 3 can—and likely will—win me back, and I did like this one, just not as much as I expected to.
3.5 Stars

A Plague of Giants

A Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne
Series: Seven Kennings, #1

Hardcover, 624 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2017

Read: October 19 – December 30, 2017

Read the Official Synopsis here.
There’s just so much about this book that I loved, and so little that I had issues with, I couldn’t piece together anything coherent. I think the idea of the kennings is brilliant (yes, common to other fantasy series, but Hearne’s approach sells it). Most of the point-of-view characters are so well-drawn and developed that I can’t find fault with any of them.

This has all the strengths of The Iron Druid Chronicles (and maybe a couple of the minor weaknesses), which is enough to get me solidly on board for the series, but there’s more to it than just that.

The best thing, the most inspired idea is the way the bard tells the story, how we get each different POV. It’s a brilliant stroke.

The whole book is great—the magic system, the characters, the stakes, the big mystery about the source of invading giants, and the very human responses to the invasion. A great start to a fantasy trilogy that’s surely going to be one of my favorite trilogies. I just wish I could be a bit more articulate about it.

It does move maddeningly slow. But it has to—you can’t establish this fantastic world at a fast pace. You can’t take the time for all the tiny character moments that are just pure gold if you’re driving towards big action moments. But when the pace does pick up occasionally, you get a hint at how dynamic parts of book 2 and most of book 3 are going to have to be.
5 Stars

My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.

The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin: Likeable Characters, Strong Mystery, & Geeky Fun Combine for a Winning Debut

The Frame-UpThe Frame-Up

by Meghan Scott Molin
Series: The Golden Arrow Mysteries, #1

eARC, 304 pg.
47North, 2018
Read: November 28 – 29, 2018

There are some posts I’m not sure how to start. Introductions are probably the hardest part for me (I say this today, tomorrow I’ll be struggling with a conclusion). I thought about starting this post this way:

    If you liked . . .

  • the Dahlia Moss books, but want something less sit-com and more dramedy
  • the Kirby Baxter books, but wish that Molly was the star?
  • Seanan McGuire’s Antimony Price, but wish you didn’t have to put up with the cryptozoology?
    and/or
  • the Castle pilot episode
  • …then this is the book for you!

But that just seemed frivolous. So I abandoned it.

A chance encounter in a slow-moving coffee shop line and an overheard offhand remark leads to LAPD Narcotics Detective Matteo Kildaire consulting comic book writer Michael-Grace (call her “MG”) Martin about an unusual crime. A couple of drug dealers had been tied together and left for the police, a photo printed in the newspaper (or at least an online version of it) reminded MG of one of her favorite comic book panels when she saw it — a panel from a comic in the Eighties. It turns out that there are additional reasons to tie the crime scene to that particular comic, and the detective could use some help. He’s clueless about this kind of thing and is desperate to get any kind of line on the vigilante responsible.

Matteo is concerned for various and sundry reasons that MG and her coworkers at Genius Comics might be a target for trouble (and/or responsible for it). MG is intrigued by the entire thing (and the fact that an incredibly hunky detective is talking to her about it doesn’t hurt, even if he is the Muggle-ist Muggle around) — actual crimes being committed around town by someone very inspired by the comics that shaped her early geekness?

Now, Matteo doesn’t want word to get out about a. MG consulting for him; b. the close eye Genius Comics employees are being watched with; c. really anything about the vigilante. So he poses as someone MG’s dating, without really consulting her on it. Spending time with her in social settings allows him to investigate her coworkers and friends — although he really seems interested in getting to know her better.

MG’s dealing with several things in her own life — she’s up for a big promotion at work; her side project of designing costumes (for cosplay, and her friend Lawrence’s drag queen act) is dangerously close to turning into something more than a hobby; and somehow she has to work in a fake relationship (without tipping off the true nature of things to her roommate or Lawrence).

The chemistry between the two main characters is fantastic — Matteo comes across as a very nice guy, the kind of person you’d like to think every detective is — driven, honest, kind. MG’s the kind of person I’d like to hang out with — creative, funny, geeky (although her LOTR views means we won’t be best friends). When you put the two of them together they work really well — on a detective/consultant basis, or as a couple. It’s obvious from at least Chapter 2 that the sparks are there, so I don’t feel too bad talking about this — but they do keep it pretty professional. Mostly. Whether they’re being professional, or they’re in one of their more personal moments, these two are a great pair.

Now while the pair are getting to know each other, the crimes associated with the comics continue to pile up, get more serious and start to involve significant damage and danger to human life. Other than Matteo, the police and the FBI aren’t that convinced that MG can really help them. And at least one of her friends becomes a person of interest in the investigation. These two things spur MG to do some independent investigating in addition to her consulting. Which goes about as well as you might think for a comic book writer/would-be fashion designer starring in a comedic novel.

And it is funny. MG is a great narrator — honest about herself and her foibles; snarky about the foibles (and strengths) of those around her; clever, witty and her narration is chock-full of geek-culture references. Molin tends to over-explain some of MG’s references. You don’t need to tell me that “Winter is coming,” is a Jon Snow line. You can just say it and everyone will know you’re talking about Game of Thrones (or Death and Boobies, as MG prefers). I don’t remember noticing that later on, I either got used to it or Molin course-corrected. Either way, it’s not a major problem.

The story is strong, the culture around Genius Comics is interesting (and rings true), the secondary and tertiary characters are fun — it’s a very satisfying debut novel. I do think that MG’s roommate and coworkers could’ve been developed a bit more. At least we could’ve spent more time with them, not much, just a little (except the roommate, we could’ve had more time with him — but that seemed intentional). But that’s about my strongest criticism, come to think of it. There are some scenes that are just fantastic — Matteo watching the original Star Wars trilogy with MG and her coworkers for the first time is magic. There’s a moment in the last chapter that’s a little better, too (but I won’t spoil anything). Molin can tell a good story and capture small elements well.

I started this by joking around about the kind of people that’ll like this book — but seriously, there’s something about this that’ll appeal to most. Just thinking of friends/family/workplace proximity associates who read novels — I can’t think of one who wouldn’t find something in this to enjoy. My mother would like the interplay between the characters (particularly between MG and Lawrence) and the story, even if she didn’t get most of the fandom references; my buddy Paul would like MG’s spirit, the mystery, and Matteo; Nicole would dig the mystery, MG, and the fandoms (even if she doesn’t share them, she’ll get it), MG’s design work, too; I’ve got another friend who’d like the mystery but would roll his eyes at some of the relationship stuff; Rosie would get a kick out of it all, especially MG’s voice — and so on. Okay, to be honest, I can think of one reader I know who wouldn’t like it — between the subject matter, the voice, the crime story — it’d be beneath her (unless Molin gets interviewed by NPR, then she’d be a big fan). My point is — there’s at least a little something here for everyone to get into, if you don’t let any of the particulars of the setting or character get in the way.

Sure, I liked Dahlia Moss/Kirby Baxter/Antimony Price/Castle without any of the conditions that I started things off with — so this was definitely in my wheelhouse. But more importantly, it was a fun story well told, with charming characters that you want to spend time with. If I’m reading Molin’s tweets correctly, we’re looking at at least a trilogy with these people — I’m all in for that, I’m very interested to see where she takes the story and the characters. I fully expect that I’m not going to be alone in my appreciation for The Frame Up.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from 47North via Little Bird Publicity and NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to all for this great read.

—–

4 Stars