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.
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A Few Thoughts on Changes (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Changes (Audiobook)Changes

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #12

Unabridged Audiobook, 15 hrs., 28 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2010
Read: October 4 – October 10, 2018

Spoilers to follow. This isn’t one of my typical posts, so my typical rules don’t apply.

After starting a few months back, I’ve pretty much stopped posting about listening to the Dresden Files audiobooks — there are only so many ways to say, “I’d forgotten how much I like this story” and “Wow! James Marsters did a fantastic job!” Not only does it get dull to read, it gets pretty dull to write. (okay, there is a challenge on finding a new way to say it, but . . . I’m too lazy to find that enticing).

But I listened to Changes this week and how can I not talk about that?This is one of my favorite novels ever — Top 10, Deserted Island Must-Have kind of thing — highs, lows (and things lower than lows), laughs, tears, anger, shock, joy. Changes has it all (at least for those who’ve been with Harry for a few books — preferably 11).

Listening to the book was a great way for me to experience it again — if for no other reason, I couldn’t race through it and accidentally skim over things in my haste to get to X or Y plot point.

It’s silly as I’ve read everything that comes after this a couple of times, but seeing all the compromises and deals Harry made as his life is dismantled piece by piece really hit me hard. Yet, Harry makes his choices freely and for the best reason imaginable. All for Maggie. The ramifications of his choices and agreements are wide, huge and so-far we don’t know all of them — and Harry’d do it all again, and there’s not a fan in the world that would blame him.

And Marsters? He gets better and better with every book — and this was fantastic. I loved where Mouse got to “talk” — it was the next best thing to reading it for the first time. And, when he got to those lines? You know the ones I’m talking about:

And I . . .I used the knife.

I saved a child.

I won a war.

God forgive me.

I had to hit pause for a couple of minutes before I could keep going.

Sometimes as a book blogger, you get wrapped up in numbers, ratings, book tours, promotion, and all the other stuff — but every now and then it’s great to remember what it is about fiction that gets you into it in the first place. This treat by Butcher and Marsters did just that for me — I was entertained, I was moved, I was a little inspired.

—–

5 Stars5 Stars

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher: ‘Scuse me while I unleash my inner fanboy

If you’re a Dresden fan still working their way through the series and haven’t gotten to the end of Skin Game yet, DO NOT READ this post. Go catch up first.

Brief CasesBrief Cases

by Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files, #15.1

Hard Cover, 448 pg.
Ace Books, 2018
Read: June 13 – 16, 2018

Being a wizard is all about being prepared. Well, that and magic, obviously.

Generally, when I start a book, my question is: how much am I going to like this? (Occasionally, the question is: I’m not going to hate this, am I?) But there are a few authors that I ask a different question with: How much am I going to love this book? Jim Butcher is probably at the top of the latter list, and the answers are typically: a lot, a considerable amount, and WOW, SO, SO, SO MUCH. I make no bones about it, I don’t pretend to be anything like objective. I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not looking to convince anyone to give him another shot (but I’m willing to give it a shot if someone wants me to), but for many, many reasons, I’m an unabashed and unashamed Jim Butcher fan and Brief Cases gives several reasons why I continue to be one.

Incidentally, I started this collection assuming the answer would be “a lot.” It ended up being on the other end of the spectrum of love. I’ll explain that shortly.

This is not a novel (alas!), it’s another collection of short stories and novellas, like Side Jobs. It’s been awhile since I’ve read or thought about that collection much, but I believe that this is a stronger batch on the whole. I’ve only read “Cold Case” from Shadowed Souls before, so this was a lot of new material for me — and I enjoyed it immensely. It was great spending a few days in the pages and world of probably my favorite ongoing series.

Five of the twelve stories here were told from the point of view of a supporting character in the series. Anastasia Luccio told “A Fistful of Warlocks” about a little adventure she had in Dodge City, which opened the collection on a fun note; we got to know “Gentleman” John Marcone a little better than we wanted to in “Even Hand,” (which doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story). Molly got to shine in “Bombshells” and the aforementioned “Cold Case.” And Waldo Butters’ opening lines to “Day One” — the tale of his first adventure as a Knight — will go down as one of my favorite opening lines of 2018. I really got a kick out of all of these — “Bombshells” and “Day One” were probably the most effective for me, but I’m not going to complain about any of the rest. Actually, after reading “Day One,” I figured I got most of my money’s worth just for that one.

Which leaves us with seven others from Harry’s perspective — there are the three Bigfoot stories that were published in various collections and then in Working for Bigfoot. I’ve been kicking myself for a while for being too budget-conscious to get that collection when it came out, yet unable to bring myself to get the e-book. Thankfully, I have them now — and they were great. Not worth the $80 that used copies seem to go for now, but still pretty good. I really liked the characters in these stories and would gladly see them again. “Curses,” was a lot of fun; “AAAA Wizardry,” was a good story that I’m glad I read, but I can’t say it was great; and “Jury Duty” was okay, but had its moments.

Which leaves us with “Zoo Day” — the only original piece in this anthology, a novella about Harry taking Maggie and Mouse to the Zoo. And it was great. Just great. I know I’ve got a healthy dose of recency bias working here, but I think in 5 years if you ask me for my favorite pieces of Butcher writing that it will be in the Top 10 — maybe Top 5. Watching Harry try to figure out how to be a good dad, while watching Maggie try to not drive him away, while Mouse just wants the two of them to understand each other . . . it just melts your heart. Yes, there’s still supernatural and dark things afoot — many of which we’ve never encountered before that could really mess things up for all three of these characters (and the rest of the Dresden Files cast, come to think of it) — and there’s at least one scene that creeped me out in a serious way. But mostly? I just loved the characters interacting with each other. My “Day One” affection and excitement remain intact, but they pale compared to what I thought about this novella. My notes (again, recency bias may play a role here) read, “A little slice of perfection. I didn’t know a 50 page story could make me so misty-eyed and so happy all on its own.” But it did, and I feel the heart-strings being tugged again as I write this.

Simply, this was a joy for me, and I imagine most Dresden Files fans would feel the same way. If you haven’t read Jim Butcher’s books about a Wizard P.I. yet, and have somehow read this far into the blog post, you really, really should. This collection isn’t the place to start — but it’s a great place to hurry up and get to.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

—–

5 Stars

Summer Knight (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Summer Knight (Audiobook)Summer Knight

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #4
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs and 12 mins
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: August 23 – 25, 2017


So, we get more information on the White Council (not just the vague references in the first couple of books and our buddy Morgan the Warden), as well as our introduction to the Fae Courts. Throw in everything we learned about Marcone in book 2, vampires in book 3, and what we’re about to learn in book 5 and we’ll have fully established the world of Harry Dresden. And wow, what a world.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We start off with dealing with the war Harry was tricked into instigating in the last book, he’s got assassins after him — but thankfully, Billy’s got his back. A friendship has developed between Harry, Billy and the rest of Billy’s pack since Fool Moon which is pretty cool to see. Even if Harry’s too blinded by his obsessive need to cure Susan’s vampirism to see things like friendship, self-destructive lifestyle, and whatnot. Billy’s also minding the store for Harry and has made an appointment for him to meet with a new client.

Harry doesn’t want a new client — but he’s about run out of money and is looking at the business end of evictions soon, so he’d better. He doesn’t want this new client either, for reasons you can read/listen to for yourself, but she doesn’t leave him much of a choice.

Before he can get too carried away with dealing with this, he has to attend a meeting of the White Council — where he will be a major topic of conversation, thanks to the vampire war. Which isn’t going too well for the Wizards. We meet some great characters at this meeting, including Harry’s [spoiler] and mentor, Ebenezar McCoy. McCoy is a hoot — Marsters (no surprise) nails his character, by the way — he’s just one of those guys you like from the moment you meet him on the page and your appreciation for him only increases. In the end, the Council basically puts Harry to a test — if he doesn’t pass, they hand him over to the vampires; if he does, things continue on the way they are now — and if he dies in the process, well, that’ll be inconvenient. The test, naturally, involves him taking the above client he doesn’t want.

In a nutshell, a member of one of the Fae Courts has been killed and Harry has a couple of days until the Summer Solstice to find out who did it. Otherwise, the balance of power between the Courts will shift and war break out. A war that’ll pretty much decimate the planet’s climate in ways that Al Gore couldn’t imagine. Which is a bad thing for us humans. So pretty much, Harry has to solve a murder, stop a war/save the earth, while dodging assassins, skeptical wizards, and who knows what else or he’ll be tortured and killed by vampires after being abandoned by his people. In just a couple of days.

Oh, and a long-lost (and assumed dead) person from Harry’s past shows up in the middle of all this, too.

No big deal, right? Poor, poor Harry. It’s a fun adventure (for the reader), the mystery story is decent, the adversaries are fantastic — and the new characters (even those we never see again, sniff) are great additions to what’s just a great cast.

I mentioned the friendship of Billy and Harry earlier — we get a lot of it in this book, Billy’s along for most of the adventure, and he’s really turning into someone Harry can count on. Karrin Murphy gets some great action, too — and Harry finally clues her into what’s going on re: Fae, Vampires, White Council, etc. You know, keeping the promise he made to himself at the end of book 2. Well done, Dresden. I can’t fail to mention Toot Toot — he’s come a long way since we met him in Storm Front, in no small way thanks to Harry.

I’m talking about an audiobook now, so I really should say something about James Marsters’ work. I’m just going to sound like a broken record, though, if I do. I’m trying to think if I wasn’t that impressed with anything, or if there was something in particular that I thought he did well, and I can’t come up with anything. I really enjoyed his Bob in Summer Night — nothing different in the characterization, I don’t think, but it just came to life in a particular way. Also, he captured the very strong sense of fatigue, of being at the end of his rope that so defined Harry in these pages.

This wasn’t my favorite book — although I really enjoyed it on the whole — and really relished reliving the establishment of the Council and Courts in the series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the stuff in Wal-Mart (for example), it went on too long and wasn’t worth it to the story. There were a few too many moments like that in this book for my taste — fun in and of themselves, but ultimately, time wasted, so I’ll knock this down a star. Also, it proves that as much of a mindless fan-boy I can tend to be about this series, I’m a little discerning. A little.

—–

4 Stars

Grave Peril (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Grave Peril (Audiobook)Grave Peril

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs and 59 mins
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: July 6 – 8, 2017


Wow. There’s just so much going on in this book — so much that sets things in motion that are still shaping the series. Once a series goes on as long as this one, it’s easy to mix up your internal timeline about what happens when — this reread really exposed how much I’ve done for The Dresden Files. I don’t know how many times I asked, “Wait, what? That happens now? I thought it was ____”

Anyway, we start this one with Harry and Michael on their way to rescue a Maternity Ward full of newborns from a ghost. It takes practically no time at all for Butcher to establish Michael, his relationship with Harry, and place in this world. I gotta say, I was shocked at how easy Butcher made that look — a sure sign that it wasn’t effortless for him. Michael is one of my first examples to use when people tell me that paladins are dull characters. I could go on about this particular Knight of the Cross, but no one has that kind of thing.

It’s not just the witch in the hospital, there are angry ghosts all over town — and much more powerful than they normally are. Something’s afoot, and Harry’s having some trouble figuring out what. It does seem to be targeting Harry, Murphy and some others that were with them when they took down a criminal a few months earlier.

Meanwhile, Bianca is up to something, and Harry’s too distracted by the ghosts to figure it out, which will prove to be very bad. On the other hand, he meets Thomas Raith because of this — and that’s good for us readers, as much as the rest of the night his horrible for Harry.

There is just so much that goes wrong here, you have to feel sorry for Harry. Which is not to say that everything goes wrong, Harry unleashes quite a bit of magic in this one — more than we’ve seen so far (because of reasons), but there are consequences for this — consequences that it’ll take years for Dresden to clean up.

Marsters . . . pick your superlative and apply it to his work here.

A lot of fun, a lot of heart, a lot of evil, a lot of pain. If this isn’t where this series comes together and fulfills the promise of the premise, it’s darn close.

—–

5 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

Storm Front (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Storm FrontStorm Front

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 1 min.
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: May 18 – 19, 2017


Okay, I know myself well enough that I’m pretty incapable of critical thought when it comes to The Dresden Files — which is not to say I think the books (especially this one) are perfect, but I can overlook all the flaws — and those I can’t I can shrug off. It’s been years — almost a decade — since I re-read this, and I’d forgotten some details, but the core is pure Dresden. And the best of all is that I know they get better from here.

So I’m not going to talk about the book, really. For the 2 of you who don’t know, Harry Dresden is a Marlowe/Spenser-type of P.I. (but not really) who happens to be a wizard. He consults with the police on the supernatural front and does a little business helping private citizens. That’s all the setup you need.

What I want to talk about here is the audiobook portion of it — I’ve heard for years that the James Marsters narrated audiobooks in this series are fantastic. I was prepared to be thoroughly entertained. But not as much as I was. Marsters was just incredible, almost unbelievably good. This was, as the best audiobooks are, a performance, not just a reading. And this was one of the best performances I’ve witnessed from Marsters. Had I the means, I’d have bought the rest of the series Friday night after I finished this one.

Butcher fans, if you’ve only read the book, you need to listen to them, too. Marsters brought our man to life.

—–

5 Stars