Book Log #40: The Dream Thief, by Shana Abe

Shana Abe’s second Drakon book, The Dream Thief, didn’t seize me quite as nicely as The Smoke Thief did. This one picks up some years after the first one left off, with Lia, one of the children of the first book’s protagonists, impulsively joining Zane, the human thief who’d adored her mother when he was a boy working with her in thievery, on a quest to recover a fabled diamond said to possess the power to control her people. Lia is, of course, quite in love with Zane–and against his better judgement, for her people will doubtless never accept him as a mate for one of the Alpha’s daughters–he reciprocates her feelings.

All a fine core concept for the story. But in its execution, it fell down a little bit for me. There’s much made of Lia’s ability to foretell the future, and she has quite a few rather dark-themed visions about her future with Zane that ultimately and unsurprisingly do not bear fruit. Accordingly, they lose quite a bit of their impact and don’t really add much to the story for me as a reader.

Still, though, this was enjoyable enough, and the stage is clearly set for Book Three, Queen of Dragons. For this one, three stars.

Book Log #39: Nightkeepers, by Jessica Andersen

Y’all may recall that I was fortunate enough to win a copy of the ARC of Dawnkeepers, Book 2 of Jessica Andersen’s “Final Prophecy” series, earlier this year. And I liked it well enough that I decided it was necessary to go back and pick up Book 1 to see what I missed. Survey says, I’m very glad I did!

As with Book 2, so with Book 1: we have ourselves a decent ensemble cast here, and although sure yeah fine the plot is set up to faciliate the pairings of various interesting couples, the driving force of what’s going on is the Nightkeepers having to rise from the ashes of their own destruction in order to combat the likely end of the world in 2012. Things get underway with the focus on Striking-Jaguar, a.k.a. Strike, the son of the last Nightkeeper king. Strike thinks he and his sister are the only survivors of the massacre of their people. He is, as none of you should be surprised, wrong.

Complicating matters is Miami detective Leah Daniels, who’s busily investigating the cult that brought about the death of her brother, a cult based on Mayan beliefs, and whose leader seems dead set on acquiring power he thinks Leah has. Strike must not only bring together the other survivors of the Nightkeeper massacre and forge them into a team, he also needs to rescue Leah–and figure out fast why a woman with no Nightkeeper heritage whatsoever is showing every sign of being a Godkeeper. And his own destined mate.

All in all good strong fun. The sex scenes are kept down to a minimum, and there’s plenty of action and tension as Strike, Leah, and the Nightkeepers get their magic on. Four stars.

Book Log #38: Deader Still, by Anton Strout

The second Simon Canderous book, Deader Still, picks up fairly soon after the first installment left off–and this time around, on top of dealing with the challenges of what may be his first long-term steady relationship and suddenly outranking his own mentor, Simon’s got to deal with what may well be a vampire outbreak, a psychotic ex coming back to ask him to commit one last crime, and a hapless archivist who is a lot more effective out in the field than he thinks he is (and who under pain of death cannot be told exactly what he has going on!).

So yeah, there’s a lot of lighthearted fun here. The story didn’t quite click as well with me as with Book 1, mostly because the relationship drama between Simon and Jane wasn’t my cup of tea. But to balance that out, I really like the whole plot arc with Godfrey the archivist, and I’m looking forward to seeing what might happen with him later. Plus, there’s interesting developments in the partner relationship between Simon and Connor, and of course, a lead-in to the next adventure at the very end.

For this one, three stars.

Book Log #37: In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming

It was a bit of a challenge for me to read In the Bleak Midwinter–in no small part because I didn’t much expect to go for a plot involving a female Episcopalian priest who falls in love with a married man. And yet, although I had additional challenges coming in from reading this thing in ebook form (and therefore in scattered bits and pieces on my computer since I have no reading device), I found that I did in fact rather like the story.

Clare is certainly not the stereotypical image one might bring to mind for a priest, even a female one. I quite liked that she was very down-to-earth, and that her faith was not particularly in-your-face; it was important to her, clearly, and that was subtly and nicely portrayed to the reader. It was also quite cool that she had military background, and that was she was a former pilot before feeling called to join the church. The beginnings of her relationship to Russ, the sheriff of the small town where she’s come to live, is the driving force of this novel, and I found it less angstful than I was fearing. Rather, it seemed a natural depiction of two people who initially get along very well together under crisis circumstances, and who only realize later on that attraction is beginning to sneak up on them.

The crime that Russ must investigate, and on which Clare joins him, is the abandonment of a baby and the later murder of the baby’s mother. It’s fairly low-key stuff for a murder mystery, yet entirely appropriate for the small town setting. Spencer-Fleming does a decent job portraying the impact of the abandonment and murder on the lives of the connected parties–and, I was pleased to note that the ultimate culprit was neither immediately obvious nor brought totally out of left field.

This story was interesting enough that I’ll probably be checking out book 2, since I acquired a free ebook copy of that as well. Four stars.

Book Log #36: Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

Man, what can I say about Angels & Demons that hasn’t probably already been said by thousands of other people before me?

I can at least say that as with The Da Vinci Code, there’s a bone structure to this story that I halfway like; it was at least interesting enough to keep me reading. That bone structure, however, is sadly bogged down by writing that for the most part just doesn’t work for me as a reader. There’s an argument to be made for Brown’s short, choppy style being what you want for a thriller–after all, the emphasis here is supposed to be on the action and the clues that Langdon uncovers, not the elegance of the wording. Problem is, that style isn’t generally snappy enough to deliver the tension that it should.

Sometimes it does work, I’ll grant. The bit I actually like the best is a sequence where Langdon’s trapped in a sarcophagus, which triggers his claustrophobia: a scenario that felt a lot more personal and scary than the later, over-the-top climax where our hero pulls the most ludicrous escape from an aircraft since James Bond. And I’ll also allow that the camerlengo is an effective character–usually. I’ve got issues with his big God Good Science Bad diatribe that he delivers not long before the climax, as well as with some of the assumptions behind his entire set of motivations.

All in all, A&D as well as its sequel strike me in a very odd place for books. Which is to say, bad enough that I’m definitely not impressed, and yet, decent enough light amusement and the printed equivalent of MST3K fodder. Two stars.

Book Log #36: Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

Man, what can I say about Angels & Demons that hasn’t probably already been said by thousands of other people before me?

I can at least say that as with The Da Vinci Code, there’s a bone structure to this story that I halfway like; it was at least interesting enough to keep me reading. That bone structure, however, is sadly bogged down by writing that for the most part just doesn’t work for me as a reader. There’s an argument to be made for Brown’s short, choppy style being what you want for a thriller–after all, the emphasis here is supposed to be on the action and the clues that Langdon uncovers, not the elegance of the wording. Problem is, that style isn’t generally snappy enough to deliver the tension that it should.

Sometimes it does work, I’ll grant. The bit I actually like the best is a sequence where Langdon’s trapped in a sarcophagus, which triggers his claustrophobia: a scenario that felt a lot more personal and scary than the later, over-the-top climax where our hero pulls the most ludicrous escape from an aircraft since James Bond. And I’ll also allow that the camerlengo is an effective character–usually. I’ve got issues with his big God Good Science Bad diatribe that he delivers not long before the climax, as well as with some of the assumptions behind his entire set of motivations.

All in all, A&D as well as its sequel strike me in a very odd place for books. Which is to say, bad enough that I’m definitely not impressed, and yet, decent enough light amusement and the printed equivalent of MST3K fodder. Two stars.

Book Log #35: Tribute, by Nora Roberts

Every time I go into a Nora Roberts book, I expect to not be very surprised. And this isn’t exactly fair of me, because while yes, we’re talking romance novels here and the romance genre certainly has a huge list of common tropes, this does not mean Ms. Roberts is necessarily going to use them.

Let me give you an example with Tribute. The instant the heroine’s ex-husband showed up, I expected him to be a bastard and/or to get a rivalry going for her affections with the guy she was obviously interested in. I also expected there to be Angst and Grief Oh Noez(TM) involved in why she was no longer married to said ex-husband. None of these things were the case, and this was delightfully refreshing. The ex-husband is in fact a fairly admirable guy and it’s a bit of a shame that he’s on camera for the comparatively small amount of time he is.

And that’s just one thing I liked about this book overall. Okay, yeah, fine, we’re also dealing with the common trope here of Heroine Moves into Small Town and Takes Over Abandoned Family Home, and Then Falls In Love With Next-Door Neighbor. We’ve all been there done that. But this time around, I gotta say, the next door neighbor was so very much right up my alley that I adored practically every sentence that came out of his mouth. The man is a graphic novelist, and very, very clearly a geek. I don’t know if Ms. Roberts is herself geekily inclined, but if she isn’t, she’s got access to people who are, because she did a fabulous job portraying her geek hero. I actually squeed when the heroine tried to throw him a line about love being like kryptonite to Superman, and he started trying to debate what kind of kryptonite. AND! He owned both classic and new Battlestar Galactica on DVD.

I liked as well that our heroine Cilla, a former child star, is taking on the new career of redesigning houses–and that she does a lot of the physical labor herself. This makes her a very cool contrast to Ford, who, while not scrawny, does not have any particular skill at construction. It’s very cool to see her be the dominant one in a skill one would consider traditionally “masculine”, and to see him not be threatened by that in the slightest.

Someone is, of course, out to get Cilla–someone who apparently takes very unkindly to her efforts to restore her grandmother’s house and to dig up old family history. So there’s some good suspense here too, playing off against the developing love story between Cilla and Ford. It’s a lesser degree of suspenseful tension than you typically get in a JD Robb novel, but that’s okay; this is a less violent scenario, at least up until the very end.

All in all a fun read. Four stars.

Book Log #34: Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher

It’s official: Jim Butcher is still awesome. There’s very little that I can say about this book quality-wise that I haven’t said about just about all of the previous Dresden Files novels. Which is to say, Turn Coat quite heavily engaged me, and delivered in spades on all of the things I have come to expect in this series.

Plot-wise, I can say that if Jim’s stated plans for the series are holding up, we’re now at about the halfway plot of the overall plot arc–and things happen herein that very much set the stage for the second half of the series. We have some fabulous followup on Harry’s older interactions with a former foil. We have (agonizingly slow and yet absolutely correct) advancement in the relationship between Harry and Murphy. We get a look for the first time at the home base of the wizards of the world, in Edinburgh. A decently scary primary monster sets the bar very high for some creepy forefront action, while behind the scenes players maneuver events into the exact proper way to make life very, very, very difficult for Harry for several more books. The ending in particular is wrenching, and definitely takes things in a darker direction, which seems appropriate given how the stakes of the overall plot arc have now been raised.

All in all a mighty fine read, and I’ll knock off a star only because one of the bad guys was a little too obvious. Four stars.

Book Log #33: Mean Streets, by Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson, Simon Green, and Thomas Sniegoski

If you’re an urban fantasy fan, you’ll want to put serious consideration into checking out the anthology Mean Streets, which brings four stories to the table, two of which are heavy hitters long familiar to my recent book buying habits.

Harry Dresden fans will first and foremost want to check out Jim Butcher’s contribution, “Warrior”–as long as you’re up to date on the series. This story is set between the novels Small Favor and Turn Coat, and there are definite spoilers for the former. Still, it’s a solid, compact Dresden adventure, distilled down to the essence of awesome that is Jim Butcher. All the involved characters are note-perfect, and in fact, the only complaint I have about the story is the lack of Murphy.

Kat Richardson’s story “The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog” is also excellent. No real spoilers for the Greywalker series, since Richardon’s heroine Harper Blaine is taken out of her usual locale and goes all the way down to Mexico to carry out the last wishes of a client. There’s a lot of nifty, spooky Day of the Dead mileage in this, so if that particular holiday is your thing, you’ll go for this.

Simon Green’s “The Difference a Day Makes” was harder for me to get into. I’m not familiar with the Nightside novels, so I didn’t have the advantage of familiarity to ground me with the protagonist, and that lack of context kept bumping up against said protagonist’s penchant for telling the reader in great detail about how Weird and Badassed the Nightside is. He’s even called on it by another character, and yet, he keeps doing it. Sorry, Mr. Green; I have to agree with your other character. ;) Plus, the OHNOEZ Big Reveal at the end of the story fell kind of flat for me. I’ll admit though that Mr. Green does have a vivid way with a description, so other readers may find this story works better for them.

Thomas Sniegoski’s “Noah’s Orphans” intrigued me, though. Again, I’m not familiar with the novels this story comes out of, but the concept of an angel who’s been masquerading as a private detective caught my interest, and Sniegoski does good things with utilizing Biblical mythos in setting up this story. Remy Chandler, a.k.a. the angel Remiel, is a poignant character as well in his struggle to cling to humanity he’s learned from a loved one he’s lost. I may have to go check out the Remiel books just to learn more about him–which, I daresay, makes this story a win.

All in all this is a solid volume and worth checking out. Four stars.

Book Log #32: Unquiet Dreams, by Mark Del Franco

Unquiet Dreams, Book 2 of Mark Del Franco’s Connor Grey series, is a decent enough followup to the first one. In this episode, Connor’s called upon to investigate the death of a human boy who has connections to local non-human gangs–a case which he fears is related to the gruesome murder of a high-profile elven community leader. Working through both these cases gives Connor a good hard look at the upper echelons of the Guild that turned him out after the accident that crippled his powers, brings him across the path of his brother, and may, just may, be handing him a further clue about what exactly has happened to his magic.

In terms of overall quality this series isn’t standing head and shoulders above its urban fantasy compatriots, but that’s fine; Connor’s character development arc as a previously arrogant man humbled by his magic’s loss is the interesting thing here for me. And I’ll also admit to liking the angle of dwarf and elf gangs in this novel, as well as the added data about the backstory of how denizens of Faerie came to live in “our” world. I could do with a little bit less of Connor trying too hard to convince himself he’s not an asshole anymore HONEST, but one hopes that as the series progresses and he becomes more comfortable with his maturity, he’ll stop that.

Still interested and will check out the third book when I can. For this one, three stars.