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, 252 pg.
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

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.

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4 Stars