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

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Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch: Things get Intense in the Ongoing Conflict between The Faceless Man and The Folly.

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #7

eARC, 304 pg.
Daw Books, 2018
Read: October 3 – 5, 2018

I’ve got to say, I’d much rather be talking about this book in detail with someone else who had read the series than talking about it in spoiler-free form, so much of what I feel strongest about with this book cannot be discussed. Aaronovitch has outdone himself this time — it’s the best book of the series thus far, and that’s no mean feat.

It’s easy — far too easy — when thinking about this series to think of the lighter aspects — the humor, the heart, Peter’s growing pains, the snark, the pop culture references, and whatnot. That’s typically where my mind goes, anyway. But time after time, when picking up the latest novel, or even rereading one, I’m struck by how carefully written, how detailed everything is, how layered the text is — and I feel bad for underestimating Aaronovitch. Not that I have anything against breezy, jokey prose — but there are differences. Nor am I saying these books are drudgery — at all — the stories are fun, the voice is strong, and the narration will make you grin (at the very least, probably laugh a few times, too). In Lies Sleeping part of that care, part of the thoroughness of this novel is how there is a tie — character, event, call-back, allusion — to every novel, novella, comic arc involved in the Rivers of London up to this point — if you haven’t read everything, it won’t detract from your understanding of the novel — but if you have read them all, if you catch the references — it makes it just that much richer.

So what is this novel about? Well, after years of chasing The Faceless Man (and The Faceless Man II), Peter Grant (now a Detective Constable) and Nightengale have his identity, have several leads to follow to track him down — or at least his supporters and accessories (willingly or not). Better yet — the Metropolitan Police Force have given them the manpower they need to truly track him down and interfere with his funding and activities.

During this operation, Peter, Guleed and Nightengale become convinced that Martin Chorley (and, of course, former PC Lesley May) are preparing for something major. They’re not sure what it is, but the kind of magic involved suggests that the results would be calamitous. How do you prepare for that? How do you counter the unexpected, but dangerous? There are two paths you follow: thorough, careful, borderline-tedious policework; and bold, creative, innovative thinking. The two of those employed together lead to some great results — and if Peter Grant isn’t the embodiment of both, he’s . . . okay, he’s not perfect at the former, but he can pretend frequently (and has colleagues who can pick up the slack).

Not only do we get time with all our old friends and foes — we meet some new characters — including a River unlike anyone that Father or Mama Thames as yet introduced to. Mr. Punch is more involved in this story than he has been since Midnight Riot, but in a way we haven’t seen before. Most of the character things I want to talk about fit under the “spoiler” category, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed and/or loved the character development and growth demonstrated in every returning character.

There’s more action/combat kind of scenes in this book than we’re used to. I couldn’t be happier — Peter’s grown enough in his abilities and control to not need Nightengale to bail him out of everything. Nightengale and Peter working together in a fast-paced battle scene is something I’ve been waiting to read for 7 years. It was worth the wait.

As I said before, Lies Sleeping is the best and most ambitious of the series — the richness of the writing, the audacity of the action, the widening scope of the novel, the Phineas and Ferb reference, the epic battle scenes, the growth in Peter, Bev, and Guleed (and maybe even Lesley), the ending rivals Broken Homes‘ — all add up to a fantastic read. Yeah, I’m a fanboy when it comes to this series, and Lies Sleeping made me a happy fanboy. I have no idea how Aaronovitch moves on from this point with these books, but I cannot wait to find out.

—–

5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

Marked by Benedict Jacka: Alex Verus takes some of the biggest risks of his life

MarkedMarked

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 310 pg.
Ace Books, 2018
Read: July 5 – 9, 2018

“So who was it this time?” Anne asked as I walked over to inspect the device.

“I can see the future not the past.” The bomb was a stack of plastique packed into the gym bag, the wires ending in contacts stuck into the blocks. It was crude but powerful, enough to blow apart the house, the victim, and anyone else unlucky enough to be within thirty feet or so of the front door. “I suppose I could get Sonder or someone to track down whoever it was, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

“It feels a little bit strange that you don’t even bother identifying the people trying to kill you anymore.”

“Who has that kind of time?”

This is one of those books that I wait so long for (not that it was delayed, I simply couldn’t wait to read it) and then after reading it, the draft has spent too many days open with out words filling the space. I don’t know why — I had and have many opinions about what transpired here, but can’t seem to get them out. So, let’s start with the publisher’s blurb and see if that helps:

           Mage Alex Verus is hanging on by a thread in the ninth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

When Mage Alex Verus ends up with a position on the Light Council, no one is happy, least of all him. But Alex is starting to realize that if he wants to protect his friends, he’ll need to become a power player himself. His first order of business is to track down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages.

But when the Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex will have to use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal–and stop the rising tension between the Council, the Dark Mages, and the adept community from turning into a bloodbath.

This is not a book for someone to jump into this series with; I guess, technically it could work — but man . . . there’s just so much you wouldn’t get. But for those who’ve dipped their toes in the water — or have fully submerged themselves in the deep end — this is going to scratch that itch.

Typically, there are more balls in the air than you can easily track — there’s all the new political moves and movers that Alex has to contend with, his continuing efforts to prove to former friends and allies that he’s trustworthy (well, that he shouldn’t be intensely distrusted anyway), there’s a rising sense among the adepts that they need to organize — and Alex is dumbfounded that none of the Light mages seem to see this as something worth paying attention to — and then there’s Richard’s continuing efforts to disrupt Alex’s life. And then there’s all the stuff that Alex hasn’t figured out that’s going on around him yet.

Due to the political office (however temporary) that he finds himself in, and the nature of the threats he’s facing down — this is one of the least personal stories in the series. At the same time, Alex is driven to risk more of himself to save his friends and maybe even save a foe.

I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling much. I can tell you that as nice as it is for Arachne not to have all the answers — I wanted more of her and that the rest of Alex’s friends get to shine in ways they normally don’t. Also, given where things end, I’m already impatient to get my hands on the next one.

So, I don’t have much to say, but it’s good. Alex Verus fans should grab it, and people who aren’t yet, should check into the series and catch up.

—–

4 Stars

Hostile Takeover by Cristelle Comby: Death’s PI is on the Case in this Strong and Original UF Debut

Hostile TakeoverHostile Takeover

by Cristelle Comby
Series: Vale Investigation, #1

Kindle Edition, 355 pg.
2018
Read: August 23 – 24, 2018

On the one hand, I’m annoyed that something about Bellamy Vale, our P. I. protagonist, is revealed in the book blurb for Hostile Takeover. On the other hand, I don’t know how I could’ve written much without slipping myself (but I appreciated the reveal when I got to it, having forgotten everything I read about the book before starting it). Bell works for Lady McDeath, the daughter of Hades. We’re not given many details of the arrangement (which I honestly enjoy — something I’ll get back to in a minute), but it involves her saying “Jump” and him leaping.

Being her emissary on Earth comes with some real benefits — namely, he survives things, events, situations that he shouldn’t. Which is a real plus for a P. I. who annoys mobsters and supernatural beings on a regular basis.

In this particular case, Lady McDeath wants Bell to investigate a couple of deaths that have been officially attributed to a wolf, but it takes Bell a few seconds to realize weren’t caused by anything from this world. The detective in charge of the investigation (naturally) isn’t wild about P. I.s in general, but has a special kind of distaste for Bell. This makes anything Bell does near the scenes, bodies, or anything else a sticky situation. Stickier yet, things that could do what was done to those bodies aren’t supposed to be in our world. While dying is off the table for Bell, he’s not impervious to pain or injury, and the state of those bodies suggests that there’s a lot of pain and injury waiting for anyone who gets between the creature and his/her/its next victim.

To help him along the way, Bell calls upon a hacker friend, Zian, who is not entirely human; a nosy, ambitious, and fierce reporter; a police detective that he’s in an on-again/off-again relationship with (currently, it’s an off); and a few other local contacts/friends who are aware that not everything is as mundane as most people think it is. Overall, this was an entertaining cast of characters — I think we need a little more to the police detective that can’t stand Bell, because right now, he’s too one-dimensional. But otherwise, this is a good group to start a series with, there’s not one of them I don’t want to see again.

Bell himself is pretty much your typical P. I. character — a loner with a tragic past, dedicated to the work he does, willing to take risks for himself (particularly since he knows no mistake is fatal) — but not willing to put others in the line of fire, he has a hero complex for sure. He’s got a decent sense of humor, a good moral code, and a loyal strike obvious to everyone. The added abilities that come from his supernatural patron are pretty neat and I don’t think I’ve seen much like it before.

You can tell that Comby has worked out a lot of behind the scenes stuff she hasn’t shared with us — exactly what drove Bell to make a deal with Lady McDeath (we get hints, and they aren’t pleasant), what he had to do in order to seal the deal, exactly what deities are active in the world (or what pantheons are), what’s the source of the rules governing interaction between the worlds, etc. Comby had to feel a lot of pressure to spill those beans and she resisted — giving us just enough to ground ourselves in this world, but not boring the reader by drowning him in world-building (also giving her time and room to work out some details to make later books easier to pull off). Recently, I’ve complained about fantasy novels withholding too much world-building so that it’s too confusing for the reader to understand what they’re reading. Comby avoided both extremes and therefore succeeded in giving us a world that intrigues, and makes you want to know more about, without feeling utterly stranded.

I had a quibble or two with the book, nothing major. I do think that the motivation for the Big Bad was too sketchy, and the reveal of their identity was tipped far too soon. Bell was just handed a lot of information without having to pound the pavement too much, which isn’t something that really commends a P. I. to me. But only guessing the identity of the Big Bad far too early bugged me while I was reading it — it’s only when I stopped to reflect on the book as a whole that the rest occurred to me. In the moment, the momentum of the storytelling and the strong voice kept me going. Also, I liked the characters enough that I was (and am) more than willing to overlook a few hiccups.

This is a solidly built and solidly entertaining entry to this series — there’s a lot she can do with Bell and the others (depending which others come along), and it’s a world that would be easy to drop new/different deities/monsters/creatures into. The characters are well-developed and the kind that you want to spend more time with so you can see them develop more — I could just watch Zian (and his dad) talk to Bell for a bit and have a good ol’ time, too. I’m definitely interested in more from this series, and I bet most UF readers who give this a chance will be waiting for book two with me.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion, the only impact that transaction had on my opinion was providing me something upon which to opine.

—–

3.5 Stars

Jade City by Fonda Lee: Immerse yourself in this world of Magic, Crime and Family

Jade CityJade City

by Fonda Lee
Series: The Green Bone Saga, #1

ARC, 444 pg.
Orbit, 2017

Read: August 15 – 16, 2018

So Fonda Lee has a great idea — others have employed it as well, don’t get me wrong, but the way she does it is great — instead of setting an Urban Fantasy in this world, just a version of it with some magic; you set it in a world a whole lot like this one — but you infuse the world with some sort of magic. A world where technology/science and magic co-exist. It’s enough like this world that you can get your hands around cultural mores and norms.

There’s this stone, a mineral, called jade. It looks a lot like our jade (from what I can tell, Hank Schrader, I’m not). Certain people are sensitive to it, and it enables them to channel magic, some become addicted to the mineral and what it does to them — others (“stone eyes”) are completely insensitive to it and are therefore the ideal candidates to shape it, transport it, and mine it. Only people from Kekon have this relationship with jade (not that unexpectedly, they’re also the world’s source for it).

There are other countries that want jade and what it can do to a person — military uses, primarily. But their people aren’t natively sensitive, so they’re working on ways to engineer the sensitivity. There’s a lot of money to be made controlling the Jade. Years ago — a generation or so — a group of “Green Bone” warriors drove foreign powers from Kekon and assumed control of the Jade trade. Working with the legitimate government, these Green Bones rule Kekon.

They are, for all intents and purposes, a criminal organization — or would’ve been were it not for a divergence of vision — they’re now two rival criminal organizations — with their own rules, laws, rituals, educational systems and cultures. There’s a Cold War between them — a perilous truce, with the citizens of Kekon stuck in the middle (paying tribute, currying favor, and occasionally serving as cannon fodder).

But then something shifts the balance of power — plans that have been brewing for years start to come to fruition and conflict erupts.

We focus on the Kaul family, their soldiers, their leadership, their friends and fortunes. There’s the aged warrior struggling with the weight of glory and past success in the face of the end of their life, there’s the new generation of leadership, trying to live up to the glories of the past and finding it more difficult than they expected. Some have tried to forge new paths in a new world, others are trying to recreate the past.

This is one of those that I can’t think how to describe without ruining everything — so that’s about as much as I’m going to say. The back cover blurb describes this as “The Godfather with Magic.” It’s easy to see why. It’s also incredibly easy to start casting various characters ___ is Michael (clearly), ___ is Tom, and if ____ isn’t Sonny, I’ll eat my hat. I do have real answers for those blanks, but I thought I’d better not give everything away. It is more than just The Godfather with Magic — but you can’t get away from that (unless you’re not that familiar with that particular work — and then you’re not missing a thing).

There’s magic, there’s a mob story, there’s family, love, loyalty . . . you name it, this book has it. Better yet, at the helm of this world you have Fonda Lee who does a great job building this world and populating it with people that the reader can relate to.

This is a rich world full of intrigue, danger, family and magic. It’s a fantastic piece of worldbuilding and you can tell that Lee has great plans in store for these characters, and I can tell that they have no clue what’s coming — and frankly, the readers have less of a clue. I’m looking forward to seeing just what it is.

Note that’s close to a disclaimer, yeah, I said ARC for a book that was published last year. How’d I manage that? Time travel? Well, no. I won the ARC at Indie Bookstore Day (or something like that). So, there be a couple of changes between what I read and the final product, but probably nothing major.

—–

3 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

The Assassin of Oz by Nicky Peacock: A Fast, Strange and Violent Sequel that Tops its Predecessor

The Assassin of OzThe Assassin of Oz

by Nicky Peacock
Series: The Twisted and The Brave, #1

PDF, 180 pg.
Evernight Teen, 2018
Read: May 14 – 15, 2018
I’m not sure what it says about me/the books I read/the world in general, that given the strangeness of the world depicted in this series — the serial killer, vigilante organization, imaginary friend that’s not that imaginary, Native American legendary creature that’s going around killing people — and the even stranger stuff on the horizon of this book, that the hardest thing for me to swallow came in these opening pages. The Prime Minister imposes mandatory capital punishment for murder? That’s just so hard to believe. All the outlandish supernatural stuff just around the corner of that moment seems routine and blasé in comparison.

It takes awhile for this novel to show how it’s related to Lost in Wonderland, although it shares a sensibility and style from the get-go. Because of a couple of references and a news story, you know that this happens in the same world, but the characters are all new for the first two-thirds or so of this book. So when some of the characters from Lost in show up, it almost feels like they’re guest stars.

A 17-year old orphan named Halo is living with her horrible step-father who uses her for a punching bag and a cover for him as he sells drugs, she’s just not sure how to get out of this life when someone calling himself the Wizard shows up to recruit her for his club — Oz. The members of this little club are all murderers, many are technically serial killers at least partially responsible for the re-imposition of capital punishment.

Gavin is a police detective from the States, working with the British police to stop some of these serial killers — apparently Britain is recruiting police officers from around the globe to help slow their slide into dystopia. Gavin and his partner are on the hunt for a killer they call Valentine — who takes the hearts of his victims. A reporter is also trying to get him on board his personal crusade to help exonerate a convicted murder before he’s the first execution in decades.

These actually have more in common than you’d expect — a whole lot more than they’d ever expect or guess. Both end up immersed in the activities of Oz. Which is really about all I can say without ruining everything.

The prose is sharp and sparse — there’s hardly a wasted word. I mean this as a description, not a criticism, but frequently this reads more like an extended outline than a completed draft. It’s a gamble to try it — but Peacock makes that kind of writing work for her.

Fast-paced, focused, imaginative, action-packed and strange. This is an entertaining read — The Assassin of Oz novel delivers what it promises, a genre-mashup full of excitement. This is a solid sequel and does a nice job of setting up the next installment which seems like it’ll be another fun one.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinions.

—–

3.5 Stars