Review Catch-Up: Hidden by Benedict Jacka; The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

These have been nagging at me for eleven months now. No, I have no explanation for why it took me so long, but I’m glad I took a lot of notes on both. I’m going to get this posted before I start the next Jacka novel (which should be happening today). While I’m at it, the next Toby Day is a couple of weeks away.

Anyway, overdue mini-looks at a couple of the best Urban Fantasies I read in 2014:

HiddenHidden

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #5


Mass Market Paperback, 293 pg.
Ace, 2014
Read: September 26 – 30, 2014
. . . man, I have really missed Alex. Everyone’s favorite diviner has really come a long way, lately — shedding the near lone-wolf thing, and is now looking after a passel of magic rookies. Whether they want him to or not.

Anne Walker is definitely in the “or not” category. She’s done all she can to stay away from Alex — but she probably didn’t mean to include being kidnapped as one of those ways. Alex goes to some pretty dark places to help someone who doesn’t want it.

At the same time, Alex (via the Council) is feeling some pressure for the events of the last book. They’re also pressuring him to do some official work for them. Plus the rumors are getting more and more intense that his mentor, Richard, is back. If that’s true, no one is going to be happy. Naturally, everyone thinks that Alex knows what Richard is up to. And every time he says he doesn’t, he convinces them that he does.

So yeah, Alex has his hands full.

I think it was Chekhov who said that if a magic user grabs a focus in the opening chapters, that by the end of the book . . . Anyway, that was a nice use of it.

Not that Alex has had an easy life over the last couple books (or we wouldn’t be reading them) but the one big take away from Hidden is that it’s going to get a lot worse for our friend (I swear I hadn’t read that note when I wrote about Veiled over the weekend). There are other take aways, mostly happier, but I’ll leave that to you to find.

A wholly satisfying read. Get to know Alex Verus.

4 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #8


Mass Market Paperback, 358 pg.
DAW, 2014
Read: September 13 – 16, 2014

I don’t like parties. Someone always tries to assassinate someone I actually like, and there are never enough of those little stuffed mushroom caps.

A book starts off with a line like that? You’re going to have fun.

Thankfully, one’s appreciation of a book doesn’t depend on how the protagonist acts. When I was on page 46, I wrote , “Granted, this is early, but Toby’s being stupid, foolishly so. She’s not paying attention to anything said during the fight she just had — actually, technically didn’t really have. Instead, she’s reacting to something that happened to a friend, and acting out of fear, prejudice and alarm. That disappoints me. Her saying, ‘that smile, brief as it had been, was all I could have asked for. A smiling Tybalt was a Tybalt who was still capable of stepping back and looking at the situation rationally. I loved him, but even I could find him frightening when he was fixated on vengeance.’ Man, choke me on the irony, McGuire.”

There’s just go much about this novel that I can’t describe without spoiling it. Let me limit myself to a couple of more notes: Toby lost a lot of blood on this one — I mean like The Bride in the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves kind of a lot. It’s a good thing she has a healing factor to make Logan jealous. While she’s bleeding she’s having her world rocked.

McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — in one fell swoop, she re-wrote previous 7 books — which is just so cool. It’s not that we’ve (we= readers and Toby) been wrong, our understanding is just . . . askew. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

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The Best Novels I Read in 2014

I somehow failed at this exercise last year, but I managed to pull it off for 2014. Phew, starting the year off with one in the Win column! Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2014.

While compiling the best, I started with what I’d rated 5 stars — just 11 novels. I could take just the best 10 of those — piece of cake, right? Wrong. There were titles I expected to see there that weren’t, and a couple that I was surprised to see listed. So I looked at the 4 and 4½ books — and had a similar reaction.

Now, I stand by my initial ratings — for honesty’s sake as much as laziness. But I did put some of my lower rated books in the best, knocking some 5-star books out. They might have been impressive workds, doing everything I wanted — but some of these others stuck with me in ways the 5’s didn’t — emotional impact, remembering details/stories in more vivid detail, that sort of thing.

Eh, it’s all subjective anyway, so why not? I did try to account for recency bias in this — and pretty sure I succeeded, but I may owe an apology or two.

Later today, I’ll post the Honorable Mentions list and the Worst of List — as well as what I’m looking forward to most in 2015. The Day of Lists, apparently. With one exception, I limited these lists to things I hadn’t read before (it shows up in the Honorable Mention post). Enough jibber-jabber, on to the Best Novels I read in 2014:

(in alphabetical order)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising

by Pierce Brown
My Review
This was exciting, compelling, devastating, thrilling, and occasionally revolting. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve recommended this one to this year.
5 Stars

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher
My Review
It almost feels like a cheat to put this on the list, but I don’t know if any of the books since Changes would’ve made a year end list, so it’s not like Butcher/Dresden owns a spot here. I laughed, I got pretty darn misty a time or two, I’m pretty sure I audibly reacted to a victory also. Best of this series in awhile.
5 Stars

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts

by M.R. Carey
My Review
This probably would’ve gotten 5-star rating from me if it hadn’t had to overcome genre/subject prejudice. Still, freakishly good.
4 1/2 Stars

Robert B. Parker's Blind SpotRobert B. Parker’s Blind Spot

by Reed Farrel Coleman
My Review
Coleman knocked this one out of the park, erasing the bad taste that his predecessor had left, and making me look forward to reading this series in a way I hadn’t for years. As good as (better in some ways, worse in others) Parker at his best.
5 Stars

Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead

by Michael Koryta

My Review
Not the best Koryta book I’ve ever read, but something about this one has stuck with me since I finished it. Solid suspense, exciting stuff.
4 Stars

Endsinger (The Lotus War, #3)Endsinger

by Jay Kristoff
My Review
I knew going in that this was going to be a. well-written, b. brutal and c. a good conclusion to the series (well, I expected that last one, expected tinged with hope.). It didn’t let me down. I admit, I shed a tear or two, felt like I got punched in the gut a couple of times and didn’t breathe as often as I should’ve while reading. Such a great series.
5 Stars

The Republic of ThievesThe Republic of Thieves

by Scott Lynch
My Review is forthcoming
Can’t believe I haven’t finished this review yet — it’s 80% done, I just can’t figure out how to tie the paragraphs together in a way to make it coherent and (I hope) interesting. A lot of this book is a prequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora and yet there was genuine suspense about those parts. Lynch had a big challenge introducing us to a character here that had achieved near-mythic status, and she ended up living up to expectations. Just a gem of a book.
5 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
My Review is forthcoming
Again, I’m not sure how I haven’t finished this review yet. McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — which is just so cool. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

WonderWonder

by R. J. Palacio
My Review
Heart-breaking, inspiring, saved from being clichĂ© by the interesting narrative choices Palacio made. Yeah, it’s After School Special-y. So what? Really well done. I have no shame saying this kids’ book made me tear up (even thinking about it know, I’m getting bit misty-eyed).
5 Stars

The MartianThe Martian

by Andy Weir

My Review
Very science-y (but you don’t have to understand it to enjoy the book); very exciting; very, very funny. Only book I’ve recommended to more people than Red Rising — I think I’ve made everyone over 12 in my house read it (to universal acclaim). Not sure why I haven’t made my 12-year old, yet.
5 Stars