Tag Archives: urban

Spartan Gold (Fargo Adventure #1)

Title: Spartan Gold

Author: Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood

Series: Fargo Adventure #1

A lost mystery discovered by Napoleon Bonaparte leads to a treasure hunt two hundred years later. Sam and Remi Fargo were tracking down a different mystery when a glass bottle and an old German U-Boat give them their first lead to something much bigger than they anticipated. Because Napoleon’s secrets have also captured the attention of a much more dangerous man, who will stop at nothing to get there first.

This isn’t typically my genre, but I read this for a book club.

The book as a whole made for a somewhat frustrating read because most of the strong parts are balanced out by weaker parts. The history, the clues, the treasure, and the various links to locations around the world were well thought-out, and the various exotic locales helped with the sense of adventure. The plot never flags, and the occasional switch to the villain’s point of view helps to heighten the tension. It’s easy to visualize the whole thing as a movie.

On the other hand, I found the characters only believable about half the time. I usually like competence, but this is the first book I can remember where I kept thinking they pushed it too far. In the first half of the book especially, it felt like every time they came up against another situation, either Sam or Remi had a degree/hobby in exactly that area, and of course they were experts in various wildly diverging fields. Their extreme abilities took a lot of the fun out of most of the situations they got into, as I didn’t really feel the tension until the scope got much further out of their control.

The beginning also felt like it pushed very hard to make them “good guys” which to my mind the story as a whole doesn’t support. Technically, Sam and Remi go a step farther than the actual villain in several areas, particularly in how they acquired one bottle’s riddle and what they ultimately did in the caves at the end. I fully support that kind of ending for most bad guys, but the way it happened left me wondering why I was supposed to cheer for this. In a way it was almost amusing to compare the way both sides were breaking a lot of the same laws. For more amoral characters this would be less problematic, but again, it felt like the story was setting them up as complete contrasts to the villain, when in reality they’re not all that different.

I also didn’t buy the fact that the home base was secure enough to make even a man with those kinds of connections back off. Unless they’ve physically fortified the structure, all an alarm system is going to do is ensure the police arrive in time to take people to the hospital. If they did fortify the structure, why not just bomb it? A quick and dirty bomb is ridiculously easy to rig together (as events like the Boston Marathon unfortunately proved). Even just as a warning, perhaps with the aim of taking out a bodyguard or two, if he really needs them to keep hunting down the treasure he can’t quite get to himself.

I did like the fact that the lead couple being married meant a complete lack of romantic shenanigans to distract from the action. This left the focus on the action and not on some flimsy relationship likely to be completely discarded by a sequel. Having other people back home to help with the research also eased a lot of the logistical problems.

All in all, I suppose it was a good choice for a book club since there will be a lot to talk about, but I’m not convinced I want to read another one. As a historical mystery it works just fine, but I had a lot more problems with the present-day side of things. I rate this book Neutral.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)

Title: Storm Front

Author: Jim Butcher

Series: Dresden Files #1

Harry Dresden is a wizard and PI in Chicago. When a pair of people are found dead—and the method looks like magic—he’s pulled into the case. But even figuring out that kind of black magic is going to get him on the bad side of the White Council, if not outright pegged for the murder himself. Still, he’s the only one who could help. Except now everyone seems to want him dead too . . .

I generally like urban fantasy like this, but Dresden Files never clicked for me. Frankly, I found Harry’s bits of backstory more compelling than the present-day story. The magic and creatures tends to only get introduced as they comes up, which makes for a better story, perhaps, but a rather haphazard magic system. I would’ve much rather read a book about Harry’s younger days, when he was first introduced to real magic, and the sequence of events that led to him having all the baggage he starts this story with.

The murder mystery isn’t the strongest. It was fairly easy to guess early on who would be involved, and Harry burns a lot of bridges with people he should be respectful of as contacts (or employers). I also wasn’t a fan of the sheer volume of nasty stuff that worked its way into this. Blowing up hearts, fine. Demons, fine. But I’d rather skip the people blown up in the middle of sex, and the orgies, and all the naked bodies (including, actually, Harry, who has a shower scene that goes bad). It just felt like mystery by shock factor rather than actual puzzle.

Overall, even though I’ve been told the series gets stronger, this book confirmed my disinterest in reading the rest of it. (Sorry, friends-who-recommended; I gave it a shot but I’m not going to keep going.) I rate this book Neutral.

Black Dog Short Stories II (Black Dog #2.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories II

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2.5

This collection of short stories expands on a few more pieces of the Black Dog universe. The book contains four short stories and a short essay on how witches, vampires, and black dogs all fit into the universe.

The first story, Mothers and Daughters (although the interior text had it titled Mothers and Sisters) is Keziah’s backstory. As might be expected, it explains where she grew up and how her sister got her scar, and how and why they went to Dimilioc. This is the only story set before both Black Dog and Pure Magic.

Unlikely Allies follows Ezekiel as he’s out on a mission to clear up some strays. Bank Job is an amusing story about Ethan and Thaddeus as they’re out on a routine cleanup that ends up rather sideways. And the last story, A Family Visit, has Justin finally heading out to visit his grandmother.

I like all these little glimpses into the various characters, particularly Ethan and Justin. Ethan’s been in a bad place for a while, but as this story shows, he’s got a lot of skills that the strength-worshipping black dog society may not find noticeable. I particularly liked his interactions with Thaddeus, who is not at all what Ethan expects him to be.

Justin, of course, is trying to get more answers about himself and his family. And he finds them. Sort of. But I suspect the conversation that’s hinted at the end is going to be the start of the next novel, and I wish that story had run longer to cover it, as this seems the sort of event that could be the first chapter of a novel.

All in all, if you’ve been following the Black Dog universe this is a good addition. If you haven’t, it might be better to start with one of the novels, as some of the short stories will otherwise spoil a few revelations. I rate this book Recommended.

Audiobook Roundup

Vacation means lots of time to read, and lots of hours for audiobooks in the car.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – At first impression, it’s odd to hear a male narrator, but before very long I was sold. Tim Curry has a range of voices for Abhorsen, Kerrigor, and especially Mogget. And unlike some male narrators, he doesn’t get whiny when reading female dialog. He’s got great expression. All in all, a great narrator paired with a great book. Highly Recommended.

I also made it through Lirael, which is the sequel, and the same comments apply.

Riders by Veronica Rossi – Another great book with a good narrator. I was particularly fond of the various voices used for Bastian, Marcus, and Jode, so that you could tell who was talking before even hitting the dialog tag (if any existed). Bastian in particular was perfect—eager, a bit goofy, easygoing. Also Highly Recommended.

The Shadow Thieves (Chronus Chronicles #1)

Title: The Shadow Thieves

Author: Anne Ursu

Series: The Chronus Chronicles #1

Charlotte Mielswetzski wants to get out of her ordinary life. When her cousin comes over from England, when the kids at her school start getting sick, when the Greek legends she’s been studying suddenly become uncomfortably real . . . now she’s on an adventure.

I’m a little burned out by the many stories that retell Greek myths, but this one isn’t so bad. It focuses mostly on the Underworld, where one half-demon is plotting to overthrow Hades, and how his machinations draw both Charlotte and her cousin Zee into that scheme.

The storytelling voice talks directly to the reader, which makes me think it might be better as an audiobook, because it has the feel of someone reading a story to someone else. That made it hard for me to get lost in, because the voice kept reminding me I was reading.

I liked Charlotte, who is smart enough to see through a lot of the usual drama of her classmates, but who inadvertently sidelines herself from fitting in or making friends. Zee has some of that same perspective, though his willingness to go out and play soccer/football and to be friendly to people means he’s not quite as much of an outcast.

This was an okay read. I didn’t have any problems with it, though it isn’t going to be a favorite. I did have to roll my eyes at Hades’s decision at the end, because clearly he left a lot of room for future trouble. I rate this book Recommended.

Swarm (Zeroes #2)

Title: Swarm

Author: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #2

Ethan and the rest of the Zeros have started testing how far their powers will stretch—in the guise of a nightclub (illegal, of course). But when the unexpected addition of MORE people with powers sends it crashing around their ears, they realize they’re not alone, and not everyone is interested in keeping quiet . . .

I tried, but ended up picking up the book for a chapter or two, putting it down again, and eventually quit when I realized I was actively reading other books to avoid going back to this one. It’s not bad, but the whole “nobody is really all that great, just different shades of horrible” started to grate on me worse and worse, and when people I would’ve really liked to see killed off weren’t (or at least, not by the time I quit), I figured it wasn’t worth pushing through what was becoming a slog. I put it down around halfway.

If you liked the first book, you may not be as put off by that as I was. The writing is fairly solid, and everyone’s trying to advance their powers (or in Ethan’s case, using what he’s been given . . . putting him as a recruiter did make me laugh).

Again, I dislike this for tone and the fact that nobody’s really anyone I want to root for rather than for poor writing. Your mileage may vary, but I’m done with this series. I rate this book Neutral.

Pure Magic (Black Dog #2)

Title: Pure Magic

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2

Justin is wandering on a road trip while mourning the recent death of his mother. But an unexpected encounter with stray black dogs propels him into a terrifying world he never envisioned. Dimilioc offers him shelter, but they also aren’t very willing to let him refuse.

Natividad is growing used to life at Dimilioc, but she’s still stubbornly independent. And when she’s told to stay at home for her own safety, the order doesn’t go over well at all. She knows they need her help. Dimilioc’s enemies are multiplying. But when she takes matters into her own hands, everything falls apart . . .

I liked the first book a great deal, but I think I like this one even better. The beginning with Justin had me intrigued where this might be going, and when I found out, I had to laugh. The Pure are always, always girls . . . but he’s Pure and very definitely male. Even Ezekiel is thrown off-balance. And Justin, of course, who never, ever suspected he might be anything but ordinary, is finding the extremely violent black dogs a very hard sell.

I like how similar Justin is to Natividad, and yet how different. I like how NICE the two of them are, which is unfortunately not a trait I see often in characters. They’re both strong-willed, independent, but still gentle, compassionate, encouraging. And they might not be the ones ripping off heads or tearing out spines, but they’ve still got a lot of fight in them (and Natividad, at least, is pushing her gift into territories Dimilioc has never seen—although there are also hints it may not all be good).

This book picks up some of the troubles from the first book and widens the world yet again, as we finally meet some of those other black dog houses. It helps give the sense of how Dimilioc is rather different even from its own. And since not everything wrapped up by the end of this story, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of certain characters in the future.

All in all, this is an excellent sequel that doesn’t lose any steam. If you haven’t read the first book, this one is probably still readable, but you’ll spoil yourself on a ton of things, so go back and read Black Dog first. I rate this book Recommended.