Bound by Benedict Jacka

BoundBound

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #8

Mass Market Paperback, PAGE pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: April 10 – 11, 2017


I expected this book to start with the equivalent of Voldemort bending Wormtail to his will while Nagini snacks on a Muggle. I couldn’t have been more wrong — Richard (lamest name ever for an arch-enemy, which is why it’s so good) simply lays out his plan and tells Alex and Anne what they are supposed to do. No threats, no maniacal laughter, no giant snakes eating anyone.

“I was expecting . . .” Anne said.
“Expecting what?”
“I don’t know. Something worse.”

Me, too, Anne. Me, too.

Basically, Alex has to act as the personal aide to Morden (the first Dark Mage on the Council) when he’s not being the most ignored Keeper in history. He’s been working on earning the position of full Keeper — now he’s given it, and is resented by the rest. Even when things go well for him, it’s a disaster. Similarly, Anne is the least utilized person in the Healer corps.

Right now I’m fighting Levistus and Richard, and I’m losing. Part of it’s because they’ve got better cards than me, but that’s not all of it. It’s that they’ve got a plan. They‘re always playing the long game, looking to next month, next year. Meanwhile I just wait around until some sort of crisis happens, then I scramble to fix it. It’s like they‘re shooting holes in a boat, and I’m running up and down trying to plug the leaks. Sooner or later there’ll be too many holes, or one of the bullets will hit me, and that’ll be it.

Which is a pretty good summary of how things are going for Alex. He goes to great lengths — some might even say extraordinary — to be proactive. I won’t say how well it works, but if you’ve read any of these books before, you’ll have a pretty good idea.

This book probably has the best use of Luna we’ve seen — I really liked everything Jacka did with her here.

We’ve had Richard looming as a threat since the beginning. Richard in the shadows, a danger that few believed was real. But Alex knew all along he would be back. And now that he is, he’s great. There’s no destroy the world plans, just evil planning and machinations and a calm exterior. You will do what I say, or I will end you — and I couldn’t really care either way. He’s worse than we ever could’ve expected. Love it.

Ultimately, this is pretty much what every Alex Verus book is — Alex struggling to earn and/or gain the trust of the Establishment — particularly those he likes and respects, and any gains he may make towards those ends are jeopardized by his efforts to help others.

Now that I look back on the whole thing, I can see the clues I missed, but that’s how it works with hindsight. When you know what’s relevant and what you can ignore, then everything is obvious, but it’s not so obvious when you’re caught up in surviving from day to day. At least until life reaches out and smacks you over the head.

(not just a commentary on Alex’s methods and life, but on everyone’s).

It was nowhere near as dramatic as the ending to Burned, but poor Alex is actually in a far worse state now than he was at the beginning of the book, which was no mean feat — but I should’ve known that Jacka wasn’t finished beating up his creation. I really don’t know what else to say without indulging in spoilers — so I’ll leave it at this. Bound is another great installment in this series, one of the best and most reliable around.

—–

4 1/2 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

The End of Magic by Amber Benson

The End of MagicThe End of Magic

by Amber Benson
Series: The Witches of Echo Park, #3

Paperback, 310 pg.
Ace Books, 2017

Read: May 18 – 19, 2017


I don’t know how to talk about this book without discussing the series as a whole or getting into plot details that no one wants me to, really. But I’ll try.

The Last Dream Keeper left things in a very dark place — even for the middle installment in a trilogy. So it was with a little trepidation that I started this — just how much darker were things going to get? Thankfully, not much. Which is not to say that the book took on a euphoric or optimistic feel, but there were glimmers of hope within the darkness. Some small moments of victory in the face of loss before the main action of this particular novel took off.

The Flood is gaining momentum — the anti-magic movement is getting governments around the world to turn on witches, to start interring them (at best). While running for their lives and liberty, someone they have to unite to take a final stand. Lyse MacAllister, herself still new to magic, takes up the challenge to lead her sisters against the Flood.

When talking about book 2, I said: “And when I say that the plot takes this book in dramatically different directions than you expect, it is almost impossible to believe that the closing pages of this book and the closing pages of The Witches of Echo Park belong to the same series — much less are separated by only one novel. Somehow, however, Benson pulls it off — I really have no idea how. When I think about it, it doesn’t make any sense — but in the moment, it absolutely worked.” That’s even truer for the difference between Book 1 and 3. It’s impossible to guess your way through this plot — but it’s all real, it all flows organically.

I (and many others, I realize, I don’t claim to be original) have often said it’s all about execution. There are plots that when described, I’d say I wouldn’t like that I have — and vice versa. If you gave me either the series outline or the book outline — I’d have said, “Nope, not for me.” But Benson pulls it off in a way that I: 1. enjoyed reading and 2. appreciate. I don’t know how to talk about the plot anymore than that.

These characters all seemed real — all of them (even the pair that really didn’t exist in our world) felt like people you could go meet in real life. Well, maybe not the people in The Flood, let’s be honest. But everyone else absolutely did. Which is a real strength in a book that got as outlandish as this one.

I’ve read all of Benson’s books (at least her solo books) now — and it’s great to see her develop into the writer of this book. Nothing against Death’s Daughter or the rest of that series, but the depth of character and craft in this series is beyond that. Yeah, I maybe didn’t like everything she did with these characters or the books, but I liked the way she went about it.

I’m throwing in the towel here, I just don’t know how to talk about this book — strong characters (in every sense of the phrase), honest emotions, a bananas plot, and an ending you won’t see coming until it’s too late jump out of the way. Heroism, (not just romantic) love, magic, family — this series has it all. Give it a try.

—–

3.5 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

Chalk by Paul Cornell

ChalkChalk

by Paul Cornell

Kindle Edition, 206 pg.
Tor.com, 2017

Read: May 5 – 8, 2017

There are kids who went through school experiences like mine who will never watch football, and there are those who end up playing for Arsenal. Okay, who will end up with season tickets. Stockholm syndrome will only take you so far.

Enough about what I am now. That comes later.

Everyone keeps talking about this as a story about bullying — sure, there’s a little bullying here. But mostly, that’s like saying that Hannibal Lecter enjoys an unconventional diet. What happens to Andrew Waggoner is so far beyond bullying — it’s flat out assault (but with a psychological component that matches bullying). After a Halloween dance, Waggoner is forced into the woods by the school bullies and is assaulted. Somehow, his trauma links him to some long-dormant forces who take the opportunity to reassert themselves. One manifestation of the mystical/magical works with (compels? coerces? convinces?) Waggoner to take his revenge against those who permanently scarred him mentally and physically.

And over the next 12 months, that’s just what happens — Waggoner and/or his mystical companion (it’s never clear exactly how much is done by each) exact their revenge — Waggoner vacillates in his commitment to this project, and comes close to stopping on many occasions. In the midst of this, he becomes a writer and makes a friend based on shared interest, rather than just being social pariahs. In short, he starts growing up.

Meanwhile, the ancient forces tied to Waggoner are in open conflict with the dominant, more modern/contemporary, forces/beliefs. The school — and the students’ lives — become the major battleground for them, the final conflict coming on the anniversary of the attack that changed Waggoner’s life forever.

I kept seeing the school as the school from Sing Street (except, in the West Country, not Dublin — but roughly the same era), which I know is inaccurate, but I couldn’t stop myself. Pop music plays a large role in the story, and as it’s set in the early 80’s I didn’t have to google most of the songs (there were a couple of tunes that didn’t make it to Idaho that long ago) — which was a plus for me, and probably most readers.

You can tell (well, you can guess) that Cornell and Waggoner had similar experiences in their early lives — the language he uses to describe the bullying speaks to that. But more than that, the way he describes how the bullying shaped him, both then and when Waggoner reflects on those events from the vantage point of adulthood, resonated with me, and will with many readers.

The characters — bullies, victims, other children, or adults — were all wonderfully constructed. I’m not sure that I liked any of them (including Waggoner), but I was drawn into this world, and was very invested in what happened to each of them.

This was intense, gripping, strangely something (I want to say beautiful, but that doesn’t seem right) — there’s a je ne sais quoi about Chalk that inspires and repulses at the same time. I know I haven’t done a good job describing this book — I’m trying hard not to ruin anything for future readers. It was one of the more affecting, compelling books I’ve read this year. Cornell does a masterful job of mixing our reality with his fantasy — as he’s shown in the Shadow Police and Lychford books — this time you add in a layer of childhood horror and wonder to that combination.

This is something special, you won’t read much like it.

—–

4 Stars

A Shift Toward Prey by Natalie Allison Book Tour

A Shift Toward Prey by Natalie Allison Book Tour Banner

A Shift Toward Prey by Natalie Allison Book Cover

  • Publication Date: May 15, 2017
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • ASIN: B06XKJMNND

ABOUT THE BOOK:

There’s a war brewing in the shadowed lands of the Fringe, a conflict that will match Shifter claws against Vampire fangs for the first time in two centuries. And it seems as if those with the power to stop it are only making things worse.

For too long, a young, ambitious Jaguar-Shifter named Chiari Jhahn has been forced to watch her elder sister’s savage regime destroy the very heart of the Shifter Realm. And now it seems as if that regime is hell-bent on starting a war with their long-time enemies, the Vampires of the Everdark.

After witnessing her sister let her pride stand in the way of a peace agreement that would have stopped the coming bloodshed, Chiari feels she has no choice but to start a revolution—it’s either that, or watch her people become nothing more than prey for a much-stronger predator. But her sister’s reach is long, and Chiari doesn’t know who she can trust.

Forced to seek allies in the most unlikely places, Chiari must use every ounce of her intellect and cunning to build a rebellion that will topple her sister from power and hopefully mitigate the Vampire threat. But Vampires aren’t the only monsters hiding in the dark—and they’re not the only predators out for blood. Chiari’s friends may prove to be worse than her enemies. When political ambition is matched against predatory instinct, the phrase “coming back to bite you” takes on a whole new meaning.

PURCHASE A SHIFT TOWARD PREY ON AMAZON.COM

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORNatalie Allison Author Photo

Natalie Allison grew up in a house full of books. Her world—and her imagination—became infused with the wonder and mystery of places like Middle Earth, Narnia, Valdemar, and Pern. An early love of reading led to an early love of writing, and she wrote her very first novel at the tender age of eight.

Natalie has been building worlds with words ever since, and her stories have entertained readers from all over the globe. Now she lives with her adoring husband, a son who’s a genius, and a dog who’s determined to save the world from mushrooms, kittens, frogs, and other nefarious creatures.

Readers can connect with Natalie via:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Pub Day Repost: Cold Reign by Faith Hunter

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #11

eARC, 384 pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: March 6 – 9, 2017


Lee Child (and others, I’m sure) has said something along the lines of the key to writing a long-running series is that in each book you give the readers exactly the same thing, only different. Here in book 11 of the Jane Yellowrock series, that’s exactly what Faith Hunter has delivered — Jane Yellowrock up to her neck in revenant vampires, schemes within schemes within schemes, and dealing with the Big Cat that shares her body — but in a new way, with different (yet the same) schemers, a different kind of revenant, and new challenges and revelations about her Beast.

The tricky part of this is coming up with something to say . . . I mean really, the fact that I’m still reading the series 11 books in pretty much demonstrates that I’m a fan and that I’m predisposed to like this — both in its sameness and differentness. I like spending time with Jane and the rest (particularly Eli, Alex and Bruiser), seeing her navigate through this wold, and beating people up/taking out vampires. The “same” stuff is as good as always (maybe even a little better), so what about the “different” stuff?

There’s a lot to cover on that front, actually — I can’t cover it all, that’s Hunter’s job (and she’s so much better at it). But I can do a little. This book takes place sometime after Curse on the Land (yay, multi-series continuity!), and long enough after Shadow Rites that Jane’s started to come to terms with her expanded household and all that it entails (please note the use of the word, “started” — I’m not sure she’s quite finished even at the end of this one). But that’s just the beginning. There are a handful of revenants popping up — but they’re not the kind that Jane is used to dealing with. And their presence might be signalling something significant.

The Youngers have evolved somewhat — Alex is maturing, and even getting out of the house a little — but he’s still the same dude. Eli — wow, we see so many sides of him here that we hadn’t before (maybe saw hints of, but not like this), I loved every bit of the Eli material here — and man, did he make me laugh. He also made me get a little bleary eyed at one point — something I couldn’t ever imagine that I’d say.

Beast does something that I don’t think we’ve seen before — she has something going on that she’s keeping from Jane. There’s something she knows, maybe something she did, that she’s blocked Jane’s knowledge of . That’s scary — kinda cool — but mostly scary. The repercussions of Beast doing things without the human part of her knowing, there’s a couple of books right thee.

Naturally, the biggest differences come from growth and changes to Jane herself — at one point, she says

My life was so weird I scarcely recognized it.

The only reason readers can recognize it is that we’ve followed the series — if someone made the strange decision to read Skinwalker and then jump to Cold Reign, I bet they’d barely recognize the protagonist. The changes in her abilities, her shifting (but not totally shifted) feelings towards vampires and their practices, her love life, her friends, her understanding of her past, etc., etc. — she’s come a long way, mostly for the good, I think. There’s even a sentence I identified in my notes as “possibly the sweetest, sappiest thing to come out of Jane’s narration.” I decided not to include it here, but fans will gush over it. I just know it.

None of that means that when it comes time for bringing the pain that Jane’s not up to it — in fact, thanks to recent events, she’s better at it than ever. Her use of the Gray Between (which is bordering on being over-used), is improved here — she’s able to handle it better and uses it to her great advantage. Yeah, she might be not be that recognizable, but she’s a better character for it.

The core of this book — plotwise, anyway — comes back to the looming summit with the European Vampires, while Leo continues preparing for it, some things start happening that make he and his Enforcers begin to think that maybe the EVs are already in New Orleans and doing what they can to undermine him before anything official happens. Hunter, like many authors, has really taken advantage of the long-lived nature of vampires and how they’ll use that for long-range planning. In Cold Reign we see that used very well — as I mentioned before, there’s a new kind of revenant running around New Orleans — and there’s no good explanation for how that’s happening (there’s a pretty diabolical explanation, however). This brings us back to the first time Jane stuck her toe in the water of Leo Pellisier’s plans, and the early defenses against insurgents that Jane mounted on his behalf. Plots and schemes that we thought we were done with (if only because the plotters and schemers were no more), are brought back up and put into a new light in a very convincing manner. If Hunter said that she’d been planning these moves since book 2 or so, I’d believe her — I’d also believe her if she said that she needed something for this book and took advantage of some of material from her early books. Either way, she does a very clever job of it.

There’s a little bit of Soulwood in Cold Reign. We get a mention or two of Nell Ingram. Rick LaFleur is around doing PsyLED stuff — without the rest of his team, sadly. Soul is seen a few times, but doesn’t do much (but what she does is pretty cool).

I’ve long enjoyed Jane’s calorie-rich dietary needs and the abandon with which she dives into her food — and I think I’ve noted with both books, how fun it is to watch Nell Ingram sample junk food. But I think in Cold Reign, Best trumps them both — she eats her first taco. And I found it delightful, really, literally laughing out loud. I’ve decided that what Hunter’s fans need is a Food Network-style show featuring Jane, Nell and Beast trying various foods — I’d just love it.

The ending came a little quicker than I expected (possibly was confused thanks to the Soulwood preview at the end tweaking the percentage — but even without that, it seemed sudden). Which isn’t a bad thing, and probably says more about me than anything about the book — maybe I just wasn’t ready to say “see ya later” to Clan Yellowrock yet. Without spoiling much, there wasn’t a lot of resolution here — there was enough — but not as much as you might expect. The threat to Leo is still out there, and Jane et al. have their work cut out for them to prevent a European Vampire takeover.

Another winning tale of Vampire Politics, New Orleans weather, Magic, Big Cats and blood — lots and lots of blood. At this point, I’m not sure Hunter can do anything wrong with this series — and I hope she doesn’t prove me wrong anytime soon. Get your orders in now folks so you can dive on it on May 2.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars