Wild Country (The World of the Others #2) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 5 to 9, 2019

Initial reaction:

Not good and yet I’m looking forward to the next book. It’s complicated… not this series, but the reason I’m drawn to it and keep on returning to it even though it just isn’t good.

More on this later, when I sort it out.

* * * * *

Now that I’ve had a few days to sort it out, I’ve come to the conclusion that my attachment to these books is quite simple, really. I only like one thing and that one thing is karmic retribution, and this series has it in strides. By the end of each book, you are guaranteed a bloody, satisfying ending in which decency comes out on top and evil doers get what they deserve–eaten, as nature and the universe intended. Many of them die in horrific ways and all of them are satisfying on a very basic level.

There are no complexities here. You never have to worry about nuance or depth or lack of depth or shades of gray or moral ambiguity or finding yourself in a tough spot when you’re reading. You’re relieved of the burden of having to figure out where you stand on questionable things because “good” and “evil” are clear cut and defined in ways that leave no room for discussion. If one happens to get eaten by nature, then one definitely had it coming because nature is never wrong. Simple as that.

That’s too basic for what I normally like in my fiction, but I put up with it here because the ways in which the revenge-by-nature or nature-with-a-vengeance arc is played out is so satisfying. It fills a void that other, better written, more dubious fiction don’t or can’t.

I mean, where in fiction do violent, openly racist (specie-ist?) characters consistently get what they deserve (eaten)?

The moment a shady character shows up on the page causing trouble, you know that character will suffer and die by the end of the book. It’s only a matter of how and how bloody it will be. Mauled by wolves? Mauled by bears? Mauled by panthers? Drained by vampires, pecked by crows, harvested by a harvestor or–everyone’s personal favorite–torn to pieces by an elder and left for scavengers?

However they die, they die for good. It’s kind of ghoulish, but in a fun way.

I made the mistake of calling this series “cozy” and a friend read Written in Red (#1) on my recommendation thinking it’s an actual cozy like a cozy mystery. She came back, just kind of stared at me, and then said, “I don’t think you know what ‘cozy’ means.”

Me: *scoffing* “Of course I do.” [I didn’t, apparently.]

Bewildered friend: “People get ripped apart and eaten in this book. In just the first few chapters!”

Me: “And they deserved it.” *failing to see what the issue was here*

BF: “That’s not cozy. That’s not what cozy is.”

Me: *narrowing eyes* “But it should be, yeah?”

BF: “NO.”

And then the discussion veered off into what was and wasn’t cozy and how I should read actual cozies to see what they’re like.

Me: “Do bad people get devoured in cozy books?”

BF: “Nope.”

Me: “Then they’re not very cozy, are they?”

BF: *showing signs of mental hair pulling*

I did end up trying a few categorically cozy mysteries to see what they’re like as the friend requested. And? They’re fine, just not for me. Too tamed and not enough wholesale devouring for my taste (puns maybe intended).

This series is kind of difficult to sum up using existing paranormal books and series as examples or descriptions because it’s in a class of its own. However, if you’ve read one book, you’ve pretty much read them all.

* * * * *

Okay, now onto this book.

It takes place in the town of Bennett, where a wolf pack was massacred in by humans in an attempted land grab and where the apocalypse officially “kicked off.” The story opens after the apocalyptic events of Marked in Flesh (#4) and the timeline runs parallel to Etched in Bone (#5). It runs up to Meg’s kidnapping and recovery and then breaks off to deal with trouble brewing within the town.

Bennett is right in the middle of the wild county. There’s a small farming village close by, but the land is extremely isolated from the rest of the human population and the elders live just on the other side of the invisible border. A group of sanguinati led by Tolya and two wolves, Virgil and Kane who are the only survivors of the slain pack, take on the difficult task of resettling the town by gradually letting select humans come in to work for them.

Most of the people they let in are skilled, hardworking people who really need the jobs and a fresh start. But then there’s the Blackstone clan who are a family of intuit swindlers and grifters; they’re looking for a fresh start as well, but they’re not inclined to share the town. They head to Bennett thinking they could case the area and then push out the Others for control of the town, with the idea of turning it into a paradise for more people like them.

Things… don’t go as planned. Lots of people and Others are killed. The ending is a bloodbath, literally, though not as intense as the ones in previous books. The plotting could have been tighter to ratchet up the tension, about 200 pages could have been cut to quicken the pace, and a couple of the minor character-centric subplots could have been discarded to keep the focus on the action leading up to the showdown between the Blackstones and the Others.

Some familiar characters are back: Jesse Walker and her son Tobias, both intuits from the farming village; Barbara Ellen, assistant vet and Micheal Debaney’s sister; John Wolfgard from the Lakeside bookstore.

Lots of new characters are introduced: Jana, the first and only female cop in this whole world (no joke); Abigail, another intuit who can “read” gemstones and a former Blackstone; Joshua Painter, an orphan raised by panthers; Saul Panthergard, one of Joshua’s adoptive relatives; the Gott family; the Hua-Stone family; Scythe, a harvestor (like Tess).

This is the first book in which we get a sex scene between a human and an Other (sanguinati). The pairing is an interesting one. The characters have a working relationship prior to getting together, and much to my surprise, there’s no awkwardness between them afterward.

This is also the first book in which we get to see a same-sex relationship. It’s never been mentioned before, not even briefly, so I just thought it was the author’s choice to not take on subject matter she wasn’t comfortable writing. But here in this book, we see a gay couple who have adopted 4 children, 3 Others and a blood prophet (unbeknownst to them), and are looking to start a new life together in the wild country, far away from judgmental humans. (Yes… even in the post-apocalypse… *long suffering sigh*)

What’s interesting about this development is it’s some of the humans, not the Others, who take issue with same-sex relationships, although they don’t voice their objection as Bennett is an Other-controlled town. The Others are actually fine with the 2 dads and their 4 kids. They only make a fuss at first because one of the kids is a young, untrained blood prophet and they thought the couple stole the kids.

Another first for the series is having a minor character with Down Syndrome, but since she’s not a POV character (yet?), we only get to read about what the main characters think and say about her. Once they make the connection between her and Skippy (back at Meg’s office in Lakeside), the Wolves look after her as one of their own.

One last first for the series: first female cop. Jana is the first woman to graduate from the police academy and become the first female police officer ever, but she can’t get hired in any human-controlled areas because, you know, sexism and misogyny. She has to go all the way out to the wild country if she wants a job. This is a world that’s vaguely technologically advanced–there are cell phones and internet–and yet Jana is the first woman to become a cop in the history of humanity. (*long suffering sigh to the power of infinity*)

And that pretty much wraps up this book.

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Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacy #3.5) by Ilona Andrews

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: February 15 to 17, 2019

This one surprised me with how good it was, and I enjoyed the read quite a bit. Didn’t like or finish the trilogy (Hidden Legacy) it spun off from though. So I went in not expecting much.

The premise is, in the days leading up to Kate and Curran’s wedding… *ahem*… Not-Kate and Not-Curran’s wedding, chaos ensues when a bunch of wedding-related things go awry. An heirloom tiara goes missing, the caterer’s shop is sabotaged, the cake is poisoned, and someone or maybe multiple someones on the groom’s side is / are behind it.

There’s a new protagonist and she’s Not-Kate’s younger sister, Catalina, who is a quiet, wall-flower kind of gal. She’s tasked with the tiara job by Not-Curran’s mother at the beginning of the book, but then during the investigation, she uncovers a bunch of things about that side of the family, and it’s an interesting read. And much to my surprise, I found myself liking Catalina’s voice and POV a lot more than her sister’s. IMO she’s the better investigator.

So now I’m thinking maybe I don’t actually hate this series; I just didn’t care for the former leads. Will have to read the next book of Catalina’s to be sure.

Combined review of Burn for Me and White Hot.

DNF the third book, Wildfire, in the DNF, Vol. 2 blog post.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2) by Max Gladstone

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 8 to 13, 2019

I tried reading this book twice before with no luck, only getting as far as 10% before setting it aside. This time would have been my final attempt if I couldn’t get any further than that. Good thing I was in the right mood and frame of mind to appreciate it for what it is: a composite of magical legalities involving water distribution and municipality, and a short meditation on sustainable living and reconciling tradition and modernity in an uneasy post-revolutionary world where the gods are dead (because they’ve been killed off).

Whew. When spelled out like that, the reason I couldn’t get into this book in the past is crystal clear. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy the satire or the weirdness.

Dresediel Lex sprawled below: fifteen thousand miles of roads gleaming with ghostlight and gas lamps. Between boulevards crouched the houses and shops and apartment buildings, bars and banks, theaters and factories and restaurants, where seventeen million people drank and loved and danced and worked and died.

The interesting thing about the world of the Craft Sequence is that it’s very much like our own reality, except almost everything about it, from laws to institutions to money to mundane everyday things like public transportation, has a weird magical bent. People there live like we do. The over-populated, desert city of Dresediel Lex is also run by corporations; it used to be run by gods, priests, and ceremonial human sacrifices. The legal system is a tangled mess. The water system is like that as well. There’s nightlife, there’s an art scene, and soul-sucking corporate jobs. Their police force is made up of cloaked, ghoul-like figures that ride barely-tamed flying serpentine creatures.

But since the story is told from the perspective of a young professional, the sights and scenes and thoughts permeating the prose are rather prosaic and pedestrian, which takes the joy and wonder out of the conglomerate, magical, world-building efforts on display.

We put a fence around history and hang a plaque and assume it’s over. Try to forget.

The post-revolution atmosphere in this Aztec-inspired city, on the other hand, is well portrayed in the book. I particularly like how everyday life is shown as normal and mundane with the general masses going about their daily business, and no one seems to be aware of the undercurrents of the side that lost the God Wars simmering beneath the surface. Just because the fight part of the revolution is over doesn’t mean the revolution is actually over.

Sixty years ago, the King in Red had shattered the sky over Dresediel Lex, and impaled gods on thorns of starlight. The last of his flesh had melted away decades past, leaving smooth bone and a constant grin. He was a good boss. But who could forget what he had been, and what remained?

[…]

“You live in a grim universe.”
“That’s risk management for you. Anything that can go wrong, will—with a set probability given certain assumptions. We tell you how to fix it, and what you should have done to keep it from happening in the first place. At times like these, I become a hindsight professional.”

The book opens up with the main character, Caleb, a risk management manager for the King in Red who currently runs the city, at a poker game. Then he is called to investigate a death at a water reserve, which kicks off the central mystery. For about 40% of the book, we follow him around the city while not much is happening. We do get to see the city up close and hear about all the things that make it tick though.

“Should I be worried that it takes demons to break you out of your funk?”
“Everyone likes to be needed,” he said.

It seems someone has poisoned the city’s water with demons, and Caleb is tasked with fixing this problem before the city runs out of water, the demons escape, and people take to the streets. During the investigation, Caleb runs into an attractive but elusive cliff runner, Mal. His instinct tells him she is somehow tied up in this thing, but his hormones persuade him to look the other way and not to dwell on the details.

Then the backup water source located outside the city is also sabotaged. The plot gets a lot more complicated, layered, and circular from here with the introduction of Caleb’s estranged father, a former priest of the old world who led multiple insurrections since the God Wars to overthrow the King in Red, and his role in this whole business. The King in Red is in the middle of acquiring a new water-related asset, Heartstone, and the deal is settled but still shaky. Curiously, Heartstone is run by another former priest of the old world order, not unlike Caleb’s father, and the old man just wants to watch the world burn. The titular two serpents do rise at the end of the book before being put back to rest. Then, in the middle of it all, there’s Mal the cliff runner who is also an associate at Heartstone.

Everything is tied up in a tangled web. By the time Caleb unravels this mystery piece by piece, it’s almost too late to save the city from itself.

Caleb almost refused on principle, but principle had no place on company time.

I realize now the reason I couldn’t get into this book in the past was because Caleb reminded me too much of myself back when I used to work for a similar soul-sucking corp. Didn’t know the meaning of “soul-sucking” until I left that job. So Caleb’s narration, the monotony of the work, the gradual grinding down of one’s self, sounds awfully familiar. The moment he chased after Mal, I got it and the book started making sense for me. He wasn’t chasing after her per se, but after a spark that made him feel something again.

For Caleb, it was Mal. For me, it was an elusive foreign account that was flirting with a possible merger. No one in my department could land it, but I thought I could because I’d needed it more than everyone else. And it was during this chase that I realized I hated the job. Hated the office culture, hated the environment that bred that kind of culture, hated the people I saw every day, hated the people I had to answer to. And I hated helping a Big 5 corp become even bigger. So I left and found a home-grown, grass-root startup that was just starting out. (Later on, it got too big too fast and had to sell out to a Big 5, but that’s another story for another day.)

Anyhow. I’d like to take a moment here to thank Max Gladstone for not killing off Teo, Caleb’s queer best friend who stuck with him through thick and thin, even when she was tied on the sacrificial alter moments before almost having her heart cut out. It’s the “little things” like this that make me have faith in an author, their writing, and where they’re taking their series. It’s what makes me want to stick around for another book, even though this one wasn’t quite an enjoyable read. I appreciate the work and creativity that went into making it entertaining though.

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1) by Fonda Lee

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: June 3 to 18, 2018

An excellent start to what will no doubt be an excellent series. I admit to not really feeling this book at the beginning, but it grew on me and gradually sunk its jaded hooks into me, and by the end, I was way deep in it. And this was the most fun I’ve had in awhile.

Readers familiar with The Godfather will recognize similarities between these two books–family, honor, tradition, revenge, war. Where this book diverges from crime family sagas that came before it is the inclusion of urban magic into the mix and setting the story during what looks to me like post-colonial Singapore, but the setting is ambiguous enough that any major city on an Island in Southeast Asia would fit. While still rooted in reality, with all the trappings of politics and urban warfare, the magic (of jade) adds an interesting brutality to an already brutal world, and Fonda Lee has done a great job bringing this vibrant world to life.

There’s just something about a bloody tale of vengeance that calls to me. But the thing is, I’m not normally a fan of blood and gore. It works for this story though. Fonda Lee has found the right mix of compelling storytelling and violence that takes this story to the next level. I found myself glued to the second half of the book and was deeply invested in the characters before I knew what was happening. I couldn’t NOT look away and had to stop my myself from flipping ahead to see if a certain character lived or died.

This was another great buddy read with Beth (her review), and what a ride it was.

Did Not Finish, Vol. 2

The urban fantasy edition. My favorite genre, which is probably why I take so many chances and try so many books, even ones that I doubt I would like in the off chance that it would be a hit. It’s usually not, and that’s why I DNF so many in this genre. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s not, it’s… please see below.

A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark #2)
by Kresley Cole
(“review“)
This is the second book in the Immortals After Dark series and the only time I will ever read anything by Kresley Cole. Not only is this bad, but it’s bad in a “how did this get published???” kind of way.

Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1)
by J. R. Ward
(“review“)
This is the first book in the popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series and most likely the only book I’ll ever try by J.R. Ward. Not any better than Kresley Cole, but sort of more interesting? Maybe. Sort of.

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles #2)
by Kevin Hearne
Nothing wrong with this book or series; the writing is just not for me–too much “jaded” snark crammed in. The first book was meh with a dash of try-hard, as in it tried too hard to appear “cool” or “cooler” than its urban fantasy counterparts. Case in point? The main character is a 2,000-something years old wizard, yet speaks and thinks as though he’s a hipster millennial, but he’s neither a believable hipster or a believable millennial. He reads like what he is–a young character written by an author who mirrors his characters after what he thinks is “cool.” Being from hipster central myself, I just don’t find that part of the characterization believable, so that’s a deal-breaker.

A Local Habitation (October Daye #2)
by Seanan McGuire
After finishing and not liking the first book, I kept this series on my radar because so many friends kept recommending and saying it gets better, but what little I read of the sample chapter failed to capture my interest. Even the title bores me.

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2)
by Patricia Briggs
After finishing the first book and was on the fence about it, I gave the second one a try because the world building was pretty good tbh and I didn’t wanna miss out on a series that could very well turn out to be good. First books in urban fantasies are dicey, and long series don’t really take shape until the second or third book (or fourth or fifth). What stopped me from continuing this series was the main character. Simply put, Mercy bores me and I have no interest in following her around for twenty more books.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2)
by Max Gladstone
While I liked the first book just fine and enjoy Max Gladstone’s writing in general (A Kiss with Teeth, The Angelus Guns), I had a hard time getting into this one because the main character was a bit boring and there was too much going on at the beginning. Plus, I think at the time I was impatient for a story that I could sink my teeth into without having to work so hard or wade through so much text to get to the good stuff. Temporary DNF for now with promises to return soon… ish.

***Finished!*** (review)

Firefight (Reckoners #2)
by Brandon Sanderson
Too young for me, just like the first book, but this time I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about the characters to keep reading past the sample chapter. I think this was around the time I was fed up with Brandon Sanderson in general, and reading any more of his particular, repetitive style of fantasy was just too much.

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)
by Jim Butcher
This one bored me right out of the gate because… well, Harry Dresden. I pushed through the first book to prove a point and put an end to doubts. Turned out I was right: this series is not for me. But again, friends kept on recommending it, saying it would get better, so I gave the second one a try and it’s further proof that this series is not for me.

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2)
by Laini Taylor
Another one that’s too young for me. The first book had all the irksome quirks of young adult, but the world building was good, so I stuck with it to the end. The second book was more of the same, but I was looking for something with more depth and less YA. I think all the “beautiful” descriptions of all the pretty things just got on my nerves. Why the obsession with beautiful things? What’s wrong with plain fugly things? They need love too… as all things need love…

Cast In Courtlight (Chronicles of Elantra #2)
by Michelle Sagara
I read the first book with Beth as a buddy read. She liked it a lot more than I did (her thoughtful and concise review here). I expected to like it, because 1) long series, 2) the description was interesting and 3) several Goodreads friends gave it high ratings, but I found the writing too messy and meandering. Plus I’m not a fan of the stream of consciousness style. Also, the main character, who is a detective, is bad at her job and entirely unbelievable. While I believe she is bad at her job, I don’t believe her as a detective, but the thing is, this whole series revolves around her being a detective and it’s told from her first-person POV… which really sucks.

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1)
by Kim Harrison
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book and wondered “have I read this before?” I’m usually pretty good at recalling beginnings, especially beginnings of books I end up abandoning, but with this book, there was a moment in which I couldn’t be sure whether or not I had read it or abandoned it because the writing style was not only familiar, but it’s so familiar that I was sure I’d read this book before. I hadn’t though. It was PNR deja vu. Rachel Morgan is full of sass and snark and has very little substance, and her antics get old very quickly, like around page 10. I think I pushed myself to the 30% mark before call it quits due to recurring boredom.

Pacific Fire (Daniel Blackland #2)
by Greg Van Eekhout
I tried reading this one right after the first one, hoping it would get me more into the series. Didn’t work. Only made me more annoyed with the main characters which were too young and teenager-y for my liking. The world building is still fantastic though. I just couldn’t get into the characters or gave a damn about their life-or-death situations or cared about how they’ll save the world. It really is too bad because I really liked the setting, world building, and magic.

Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre #1)
by Mike Shevdon
Couldn’t get into this one. Don’t know why. There was something about the writing in the first 10% that didn’t capture my interest, and so reading on felt more like a chore than an escape. Didn’t help that the whole series is about the fae and their courtly politics. Kudos for the middle-aged main character though… perhaps I will give this one another go.

London Falling (Shadow Police #1)
by Paul Cornell
I wanted to like this book. Other than Two Serpents Rise, this is the only other book on this list that I regret not finishing. It’s got all the makings of a nice, chewy cop drama with some paranormal thrown in. Also, it’s set in London. But the book opened with too much going on. The writing moved too quickly from scene to scene and very little info is given about what’s going on and the characters involved. I couldn’t follow what was being said, let alone catch all the subtle implications. So I got bored not being able to follow the story or, rather, not being in on the take. Stopped at around 30% with plans to return, but I don’t know at the point. Maybe I’ll audiobook it.

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye #1) by Seanan McGuire

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: September 2 to October 5, 2015

Never thought I’d say this, but I sort of hate this book and it’s all because of the main character, October (Toby) Daye. She is just so damn infuriating. But the thing is, not liking the MC has never stopped me from reading a book, continuing a series, or even enjoying the writing. But I just can’t do it with this book.

Credit where credit is due, this is not nearly as bad as some of the urban fantasies I’ve read, because there is a lot of potential in the world building and all the mythology woven into the writing is very interesting. However, the book itself is not as well put together as it could have been. It started out okay though, but then half-way through it started to unravel, with each chapter making less sense than the previous. By the end, not much about it made sense to me anymore, least of all the main character herself–the reason for the series, the reason we supposed to care about these books.

There are too many things wrong here–pacing’s too slow, tone too depressing, main character too apathetic and infuriating. Personally I don’t find the fae that interesting; they’re pretty obnoxious tbh. However, in spite of that, Seanan McGuire’s got a good thing going here, such as the interesting modern-day San Francisco setting, an alternate world filled with otherworldly creatures, and a long-term story arc that’s fitting for a long series. I especially like the setting(s), magic, courtly politics, depths and complexity of the world building. I’d like to be optimistic and say maybe this was a fluke. Maybe the next book is better. Maybe I’ll pick up it some time in the distant future when I no longer recall why I hated this book, but let’s be honest, that’s probably not gonna happen because Toby is still the main character and that makes it too difficult for me to care

Also, the first half of this book was too much of an uphill slog and the second half was too weirdly repetitive, especially the action sequences. It felt like the same couple of scenes kept happening over and over again. Toby kept getting almost killed too many times that by the the Nth time, I was like, OK maybe you’re better off dead…? She’s a professional private detective, yet she is no good at detecting, but I’m gonna cut her some slack here since she did spend a good number of years as a goldfish.

Another thing I couldn’t get into was the mystery. Didn’t care about the victim; didn’t care about Toby’s connection to her either.

Last but not least, this book feels like it’s the middle book of an ongoing series, not the first book. It feels like we’re being dumped in the middle of on-going cold war between two huge factions and we’re given very little background to work with. We’re supposed to figure things out as we go along. Too many things crucial to plot and character development are summed up quickly, rather than shown. The relationships between the characters are already well established, and so there’s a ton of history that we’re not privy to and we just have to accept that. Like I said, infuriating.

I can’t imagine how the next book is any different, and based on some of my friends’ reviews, it’s not. And that’s why I’m quitting this series.

Don’t know why I can’t seem to get into Seanan McGuire’s writing though. Feed was meh and a DNF at the sample chapter. Her short stories were also meh. I see so many people on my feed enjoying this series, reading all the way up to book #10, and I just wanna know… how? How do they do it? How did they get through books 2 to 9???

A group I’m in on Goodreads is reading Every Heart a Doorway this month, and I’m tempted to join in because I have the book (thanks, TOR!), but I’m dragging my feet because… Seanan McGuire.

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 9 to 21, 2015
Recommended for: fans of sea monsters and snarky prose

Harrison Squared is perfectly autumn and perfectly Halloween, which is why I’m now putting up a short write-up that I wrote awhile ago. Out of season. In spring. Over 2 years after having first read it.

Anyhow, this is another fun read by Daryl Gregory. I’m convinced he can write anything and I hope he does–write everything, I mean–because he’s got a great way with words, well-timed humor, and a way of turning familiar, tired, old tropes into something new and exciting. They’re still tropes, but he makes them fun to read.

This is my 4th Daryl Gregory book (Afterparty, We Are All Completely Fine, Raising Stony Mayhall), and I still find him exciting. It’s still exciting to see his name on the new release list, and I’m still trying to make room in my reading schedule for his latest, Spoonbenders.

Every autumn, I try to plan a vaguely Halloween-themed reading list, but rarely follow through because I’m a mood reader, forever destined to follow whatever the mood calls for. So I pick up whatever that “feels right.” Some years I get lucky and end up with vaguely autumnal books, and other years I get typical YA paranormals (because people keep recommending them). This year, though, I’ve been lucky in my picks. Almost every book picked up from the beginning of October to now goes quite well with Halloween. They all have that quintessential chilling undertone that I always associate with this time of the year, and this book is among the best of them.

In short, I was thinking about this book today and so just wanted to briefly recommend this book to anyone queuing up their autumn reading list. There’s a good blend of creepiness and humor, and the characters and setting are a lot of fun. If fishy dodgy small towns, open water, Lovecraftian sea creatures, and urban legends are any interest to you, I would highly recommend this book.

She looked up at us. “Who are you?”

“I’m Rosa Harrison,” Mom said.

“This is my son, Harrison.”

“And his first name?” She stared at me with tiny black eyes under fanlike eyelashes.

“Harrison,” I said. Sometimes—like now, for example—I regretted that my father’s family had decided that generations of boys would have that double name. Technically, I was Harrison Harrison the Fifth. H2x5 . But that was more information than I ever wanted to explain.

[…]

Dr. Herbert waved. This gesture was made a bit threatening due to the fact that he was holding a scalpel, and the sleeve of his coat was streaked with blood up to the elbow. His uncovered eye blinked wetly at me. “Have you taken biology?” the doctor asked.

“Freshman year,” I said.

“Oh,” the doctor said. He sounded disappointed. Suddenly he brightened. “Have you taken cryptobiology?”

I grinned. “In my family, cryptobiology isn’t a course, it’s dinner conversation.”

“I like this boy!” Dr. Herbert said.

[…]

This was the problem with a small school in a small town. Not only did the students all look like each other, they’d all developed the same nervous tics. It made me wonder about inbreeding. Take off their shoes, and did they have webbed feet? Was the weird-looking fish boy who’d stolen my book just a relative on the more damaged branch of the family tree?

[…]

Oh no, I thought. Physical Education.

And then I realized it was even more horrible than that. The boys began to pull on swim trunks. This wasn’t just PE; it was swimming.

Some of the boys glanced at me. I stood there, holding my backpack, not moving. I was not about to get naked in front of these ignorami. I waited until one by one they made their way out the far exit. When there were just a handful of boys left in the changing room, I went out to the pool.

[…]

I stood up and stifled a yelp. The pale shape coursed toward the edge of the pool at tremendous speed. At the last moment, the water broke, and the creature threw itself onto the deck. It slid a few feet, then threw out its arms and rose up on its belly like a walrus.

It was a man. A bald man, fat and white as a beluga. He smiled. “Who’s ready for laps?”

[…]

“When the supernatural turns out to be real, it’s not super natural anymore—it’s just nature. Yes, it may be strange, uncanny, or frightening. It’s always scary to find out that the world is bigger and more complex than you thought.”

[…]

They were all sure they’d fulfilled their holy duty and that the destruction of the human world was nigh.

Cults. They always thought the glass was half-doomed.

California Bones (Daniel Blackland #1) by Greg Van Eekhout

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 2 to 5, 2017

Great ideas

  • osteomancy: magic derived from ingesting bones of ancient and mythology creatures (the powers these creatures give off are pretty amazing)
  • post-succession California: CA left the Union some years ago and then split into North and South, and now they’re constantly at war with each other and the Union
  • post-succession Los Angeles is an urban dystopic landscape that isn’t void of life or color
  • LA is still LA after all
  • Southern CA is under the reign of a megalomaniac who’s hoarding power and killing off other magic users
  • these killings are state sanctioned and done in waves
  • cannibalism
  • golems
  • travel by water: the Venice Canals play an important role in the story (I had no idea what these were, so had to look them up–very interesting water system)

So all great ideas, but the execution is just… all right.

I found the writing overall to be decent, but there were a few places where it was tedious and repetitive and oddly YA. Add to that some thin characters and a heist plot that’s wrapped up too quickly, and the whole thing felt incomplete. But this is the first of a trilogy, so that’s okay, I guess…

The heist was fun while it played out. Up to that point–more than half way through–I wasn’t really feeling the story or characters much, and the read was kind of a drag. Once the heist was put in motion though, things got interesting. Too bad they didn’t last long and were rushed toward a quick ending, in which several new elements were added to the story to be played out in the second book. So no satisfactory ending here.

When it comes down to the basics, my biggest issue with this book are the characters, individually and as a group. There’s a weird naivety to them that I found at odds with their experience and hardened criminal exteriors, and I never really got past that. There was always something about them that kept me from getting into the story

It’s very likely I will read the next book, but I’m gonna take a long break and come back to this series once all my residual annoyances clear.

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2) by Daniel O’Malley

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: November 21 to December 1, 2017

A rollicking good read. Not a 5-star book, but definitely one I’ll return to for a good laugh. While I didn’t like the first book as much, I found this one hard to put down from the very first moment.

Sometimes when you come across a book that fits your current mood, everything about it makes sense. I was desperately in need of a laugh when I picked up this one up and went into it not expecting much, but as soon as I started reading, the humor and alt-history got to me. More on that below.

This series–well, just the 2 books so far–is hard to write about without giving to much away, but I’ve found that comparing it to the X-men makes it easier to explain.

So imagine the X-men:
– as a secret government network
– set in London
– protecting queen and country
– while dealing with cases from the X-files
– and paperwork (lots and lots of paperwork)
– oh and there are monsters of both the supernatural and natural persuasion trying to destroy the UK practically every other day

So imagine all of that not as a superhero drama but a comedy with a strong slapstick air, and you get these books. They’re a much-needed break from my daily grind. Their fictional diplomatic and bureaucratic difficulties are hilarious, yet believable, and for a few moments, I get to not think about… current events. And that’s all I’m looking for these days.

Some quotes and highlights:

Felicity preparing for a mission

“It’s my urine?” Felicity said incredulously.
“Don’t think of it as urine,” Pawn Odgers advised her. “Try to think of it as an olfactory disguise.”
Felicity tried and was not measurably comforted. “But where did you get my urine?” she asked.
“The Checquy has samples of everyone’s everything,” said Odgers cheerfully. “Remember, during your time at the Estate, they kept taking specimens of your every fluid and solid?”
“That was for scientific research!” exclaimed Felicity. “And it was years ago!”
“Would someone else’s fresh urine be better?”

the Checquy being the Checquy

If you gave birth to a child whose breath baked bread, it too belonged to the monarch.
Of course, the monarchy didn’t want these people (and creatures) hanging around the palace, being all unnatural and touching the furniture. Thus, the throne delegated this authority of guardianship to the Checquy, so, by royal writ, the Court of the Checquy held the right and the obligation to take into its custody any person on the British Isles who was possessed of supernatural abilities.

[…]

Naturally, he broke all the Estate records for the throwing sports (except for the javelin, because one girl in his class managed to fold space so that her javelin landed in China).

[…]

She had nine confirmed kills of people and two confirmed kills of creatures who, although they wore trousers, were not counted as people by the Checquy.

[…]

There is no way this conversation is not going to get horrible, thought Odette. No situation is improved by the presence of a gigantic anus.
At that moment, the gigantic anus in question trembled and, before anyone could react, unclenched.

[…]

“They sounded English,” remarked Bishop Alrich. “Tasted English too.” (Bishop Alrich is a vampire.)

[…]

“Louis can draw wasps to him.”
“Very cool,” said Odette. “Wait, so you can both do things with wasps? Are you two related?”
“Oh, no,” said Louis. “Sorry, she does the thing with insects. I can attract white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

Ernst being Ernst

“So, you clone things?”
“We can,” said Marcel. “We don’t, though, not usually. Of course, we grow bits of people, but we don’t make whole people.”
“Why not?” asked Eckhart.
“We prefer to have sex,” said Ernst, causing Pawn Clements to choke on her orange juice. “Plus, anyone who wants to clone himself is usually an asshole. You don’t want any more of those running around than absolutely necessary.”

“My fanny”

“So, darling,” he said to Odette, “are you my fanny?”
“I beg your pardon?” she said, completely at a loss.
“Not ‘my fanny,’ you tosser,” said one of the black guys. “Myfanwy.”
“Oh, whatever,” said the first guy. “Like that’s even a name.”

* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

Continue reading

The Furthest Station (Peter Grant, #5.7) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 21 to 24, 2017

At the end of my write-up for The Hanging Tree, I said something along the line of wanting a break from the faceless man arc and more adventures of Peter doing some magical policing around London. Lo and behold, my request was granted in the form of this novella, or so I like to think. In truth, Ben Aaronovitch must have had this novella planned long before The Hanging Tree finished downloading in my inbox. The announcement just took me by surprise and the brief summary was basically what I asked for, so naturally I thought it was for me. Naturally.

This book was basically a solid 4-star most of the way through. And then that twist at the end happened that turned the investigation. 5 stars, easily, in the end.

Many spoilers scattered below, so that I don’t forget them.

Sargent Kumar (from Whispers Underground) called Peter and Nightingale in to help investigate what appeared at first to be a ghost infestation in a subway tunnel. Multiple people were reporting brief sightings in which figures clearly not of this world tried to harass or accost them, and what’s weird was it wasn’t the same ghost, but it appeared to be a different ghost each time. What’s weirder still were these people not being able to recall much of the incidents after reporting them; some even forgot they had spoken to the police at all, and the ones who did remember all said, before vanishing, the ghosts had a message to deliver and it had to be delivered to the police.

After following some leads and dead ends, Peter brought Abigail in to help with splicing and deconstructing hours and hours of CCTV footage. So it appears Nightingale has decided to take on another student, when she comes of age, of course. Right now though, she’s showing a great deal of talent for magic and will probably turn out to be a faster learner than Peter. And she has a friend in the foxes, which doesn’t really mean anything at this point. Interesting development; looking forward to seeing more.

On Peter’s end of the case, it was all very standard Falcon procedure, and all of it was hilariously described in his usual dry sardonic voice.

“Preliminary Falcon assessment,” said Jaget.

“We at the Folly have embraced the potentialities of modern policing,” I said

[…]

He would have liked blood samples as well, but we’ve found that people are strangely reluctant to give up their bodily fluids to the police for science.

[…]

From a policing perspective, motive is always going to be less important than means and opportunity. Who knows why anybody does anything, right?

[…]

The woman who answered the door gave a familiar little start when she saw us and hesitated before saying–“Ah, yes.”

We know that reaction well–it is the cry of the guilty middle-class homeowner.

This sort of thing always create a dilemma since the scale of guilt you’re dealing with ranges from using a hosepipe during a ban to having just finished cementing your abusive husband into the patio.

[…]

They started with a bell ring, a police knock, then a fist bang accompanied by shouts of “we’re the police” which was then bellowed through the letterbox.

Peter, being Peter, had quite a few hilarious turns in the investigation. He even managed to lure a ghost to him, using Toby as bait, to get her “statement,” which was the big lead he needed that turned this case from a weird ghost problem to a missing persons investigation, which then lead to a kidnapped woman trapped behind a solid brick wall in a cellar full of empty jars that used to hold ghosts.

Now I feel bad for previously saying Peter was bad at his job. So I wanna go on record and apologize. He may not be as advanced in his career as I’d like him to be, being a slower to catch on to magic than Leslie, but I must give credit where credit is due: he is quick on his feet and always manages to find a workaround for magic he isn’t yet capable of handling. Remembering those glow bats from Foxglove Summer and using Toby as a vestigia detector always make me laugh.

Anyhow. This case did not turn out to be what I expected. It was so much better and a huge surprise at that. I definitely did not see how a paranormal investigation could lead to missing persons during the read, but it was superbly done. What’s more is we’re introduced to a new kind of magic–trapping ghosts. Those ghost jars are no doubt a major development for the Folly, and,hopefully, they will feature in later books because I can’t see Nightingale not tinkering with them until he figures out a way to recreate the ghost traps and then using them for Falcon cases.

Overall, an excellent installment. I wouldn’t mind if there’s more like it in the works. *wink, wink*

Oh, and those little footnotes at the end for Agent Reynolds? Hilarious and very cute. Please add more. As usual, I had to look up a few things during the read like “mispers,” “pret,” “fried chicken stroke,” “waitrose bag,” “Nando’s,” “POLSA,” to name a few. And “refs” are apparently not short for referees, but refreshments.

The only thing I couldn’t find a definitive answer to was “tuck.” There’s a scene in which Nightingale tells Peter about how he used to snuck out to the woods with other boarding school boys to “swap comics and tucks.” What is a tuck?