Tag Archives: urban

The White Widow’s Revenge (Ferals #3)

Title: The White Widow’s Revenge

Author: Jacob Grey

Series: Ferals #3

Caw’s problems have only multiplied. Selina is still hospitalized in a coma, the escaped convicts-turned-ferals have sparked off a crime wave, and Caw’s possession of the Midnight Stone continues to attract trouble. Can Caw save himself, much less his friends?

I really liked the first two books, so I went into this one hopeful for a strong cap to the series, but wound up not liking most of what happens here. The conflict between Caw and the well-meaning adult ferals isn’t unexpected, but it is disappointing even those like Pip who would probably side with him get pushed offstage. The humor with the crows isn’t really there anymore, and the whole thing with the crows deciding someone is worthy really needed to be brought up well before now, as that’s not the impression the entire series has given for how these powers work. Come to that, I didn’t get why certain actions would offend all of crowdom, and not just those involved. And why would this caveat apply solely to crows? Given the usage the convicts have been putting their animals through, I would expect those animals to have a few opinions.

So the humor wasn’t really there, the plot takes several bizarre twists that don’t feel all that well set up, and the conflict between the past and the present just happened so fast it was hard to feel any weight behind it.

That said, I did still enjoy some of the weirder sequences, like how a bison is set to robbing a bank. And the story does tie up some loose threads (pun intended) dangling from the first and second book. And although the end cleans up most of it, the world remains an inviting place that I hope will host more stories later on.

Overall, if you read and enjoyed the first two books, you might as well finish the series. I just don’t find this one up to the same level as the earlier books. I rate this book Neutral.

 

Stray (Touchstone #1)

Title: Stray

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #1

Cassandra Devlin isn’t doing anything spectacular when she simply walks into another world. But wishing won’t get her back home. Now she’s got to survive in an alien world. Surviving in the wild is a lot harder than she’s thought, but nothing can prepare her for what she discovers.

I don’t want to spoil too much in the summary, as I didn’t read a whole lot about this going in (other than knowing multiple people who were crazy about the book), and I found a lot of the plot surprising in good ways. So I’d like to leave the opportunity open for others to be surprised too.

I really liked how detailed and character-oriented this is. It isn’t a survival/adventure story like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, where the main character is at least moderately prepared to face raw Nature. Cassandra has a backpack, a few school supplies, clothes that are in no way suited to wandering around forests, and no hope of return/rescue. And as she eventually realizes, no hope of counting on what she does know to be true, either, as she encounters creatures and things that cause her to accept she’s no longer on Earth.

I’m not terribly fond of the diary format, but I do like how raw and honest Cassandra is through it. Due to the format her reactions to events always feel a bit delayed, since we’re reading about them after the event is over.

The various “spaces” was also hugely interesting to me. I’ve always liked alternate dimensions (and various powers), and other worlds, near-space, real-space, and various abilities to manipulate things was a lot of fun. The technology levels also make an intriguing contrast to most of the lost-in-another-world stories I’ve read, and there are some interesting conflicts as Cassandra works through its implications for her personally.

MINOR SPOILERS:

Also: psychic space ninjas. Which is funny in all sorts of ways.  I liked the military feel, and the organization, and how Cassandra both fits into their daily routines and completely interrupts them. And I’m impressed that the book doesn’t cheat and try to ignore most of the squad members, even though it will probably take me a dozen readings before I can truly recognize them all. The major ones have enough personality to recognize right away. I really like Maze, or how Zan’s friendship comes out in all these understated ways.

END SPOILERS.

Overall this was a very good read. I am fond of stories about humans transported to another world, and this one really nailed a lot of the practical issues. At the same time, it’s a fascinating new world, and I’m interested to see where it goes next. I rate this book Recommended.

A Mortal Song

Title: A Mortal Song

Author: Megan Crewe

Sora has lived on Mount Fuji with the kami for her entire life, until a demon and his army invade. Then she learns she’s not kami herself, but only a substitute—a human traded for the real kami princess, a hedge against a prophecy of darkness that her parents hoped wouldn’t happen until the kami girl had grown strong enough to handle it. With the only home she’s ever known in danger, Sora is determined to save it . . . even if she is destined to be nothing more than support for the real princess.

This was fascinating on a number of levels. Sora wants desperately to be the hero. It’s her mother and father, her friends, her people that are suffering under the brutal tyranny of the invaders. Nor is the wider world immune, for without the kami’s guiding influences, various natural forces will get more and more unbalanced. But wish as she might, she continues to stumble across her own weaknesses and inadequacies. The need for food. The need to rest. The terrible truth that her inner self is changeable, not an incarnation of strength like Takeo’s nature is to loyalty. And the humiliation that another girl exists, a kami that is everything she thought she was.

The people around her are fascinating, too. Takeo’s loyalty is to the princess—but which one? Sora can’t figure out if their friendship since childhood will put her above the true princess . . . or if it’s for the best if he doesn’t. I liked the difficulty Chiyo has in accepting her own role, which is even more poignant because this struggle comes through Sora’s point of view, who is dealing with the same thing herself but is less able to admit it. Keiji is also a good foil to Sora, as his own humanity and weakness helps her to come to grips with her own. I do wish Haru had gotten more time, though. He felt barely developed, and once I realized his character wasn’t going where I expected, I was a bit disappointed not to know him better.

The setting is also wonderful. The story takes place in Japan, but since this is the world everyone knows, the story doesn’t waste time over-describing things that may not be familiar to a Western audience. In fact, the various kami, ogres, and other creatures justly get more attention. And what a nice variety! I knew a fair number of them and still found a couple I hadn’t seen before. Also some of the ones I had given up on seeing made a surprise appearance right before the end.

And the ending! I kept wondering if the prophecy would play out straight or get subverted, like the whole plot has subverted the typical tropes. I think it’s a testament to how well told the story is that it kept me guessing right up until the last. It felt like a very fitting way to finish things.

I was less fond of the romance, more because I dislike love triangles in general, and I felt that Sora’s new attraction happened really fast. But it never got pushed hard enough to overwhelm the rest of the plot, and I did like that it ended relatively positively for everyone involved.

The plot does wrap up well enough that a sequel doesn’t seem likely. Still, this was a very good read, and one I’m likely to come back to again and again. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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.