review: close contact

Close Contact by Lori Foster (2017)

When it comes to romance novels, I like mine sexy hot and with a heavy dollop of suspense. It’s no surprise, then, that I settled on Close Contact by Lori Foster while searching for my next read. I’ve read Foster’s work before, but it’s been awhile. Still, I thought I knew what I’d be getting with one of her books—steamy romance, independent female protagonist and a male protagonist with a protector streak two miles wide. Close Contact is the third book in Foster’s Body Armor series, featuring MMA fighters-turned-bodyguards. In the genre of romantic suspense, how could this go wrong, right?

This is the story of Maxi Nevar and Miles Dartman. I’m not a proponent of spoilers, so I’ll just say here that one night, something scary happens to Maxi, who is currently living on a 25-acre farm left to her by her late grandmother. Not sure what to do, she reaches out to her former lover, Miles for help. Miles has recently retired from his career as an MMA fighter (for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery for some time, and when the reveal does happen, it’s a bit disappointing in the sense that Foster could have done so much more with it) and now works for Sahara Silver, owner of Body Armor Security. After a somewhat tense reunion, Miles agrees to play bodyguard, and the pair return to Maxi’s farmhouse. Once there we learn that there are various potential suspects—Maxi’s ex-fiance, Gary, her brother and her sister who want her to sell the farm, and a township cop who seems more than a little shady. Aside from the general threat whose source remains elusive, the farmhouse and barn need lots of repairs, and Miles and his friends offer to do the work while also trying to pinpoint the source of the threat against Maxi. Continue reading

review: odd thomas

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (2003)

Though I have liked both of the books I have read by Dean Koontz in the past (Fear Nothing and Phantoms) he isn’t one of my go-to authors.  My perception of his work and the fact that his name is frequently spoken in the same breath as Stephen King’s (and as it happens, the books of these two writers are often found on the same shelves, almost back to back with each other), I tend to think of his novels as residing more in the horror genre than anything else.  Horror isn’t a genre I seek out all that often because I don’t like to be scared.  Life in the 21st century is plenty scary enough.  But then every time I read a book by Koontz I remember that it isn’t that his books are really horror.  Instead they are suspenseful and you don’t always know what awaits the characters around the next corner.  If you haven’t ever picked up a book by Dean Koontz because you’re also not a fan of the horror genre, but you do like suspenseful stories that will keep you turning the pages, give Odd Thomas a try. Continue reading

review: cursed city

Cursed City by William Massa (2016)

Do you ever get into reading slumps?  You know, those periods when you search and search for something to read (even though you have tons of books already on your bookshelf just waiting for your attention) but nothing ever really sparks your interest? When you read sample after sample and give up before you get to the end? When you force yourself to finish the book you took a chance on even though it doesn’t fully capture you and demand you keep turning the pages? Well, this is where I have been for the last few weeks.  I have started several books but haven’t finished one, and I’ve spent way more hours scrolling through my options on Amazon than is good for me.  At last, I opted for Cursed City and I read it from start to finish in one day. While I feel terribly accomplished in that I actually met my reading goal for the week (to read just one book), I’m not enthusing about the book itself. Continue reading

review: hard to let go

Hard to Let Go by Laura Kaye (2015)

And then we came to the end. Hard to Let Go is the final (full-length) installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, which follows a group of five men who were discharged from Army Special Forces in disgrace and are trying to unravel the truth behind the event that ended their military careers. If you haven’t read all of the books before this one, then here’s your spoiler alert warning. Stop reading because there are spoilers dead ahead. If you’re interested in checking out the series, I do recommend the first book, Hard As It Gets.

Is it part of a series?
Yes. This is book six in the Hard Ink series and I would advise reading them in order. Hard to Let Go wraps up the larger mystery threaded through the series and ties off all the loose ends.

What is it about?
If you look at the book in terms of its placement in a series, then you can guess that Hard to Let Go is the climax of the series as a whole. The book begins where the previous book in the series, Hard to Be Good, leaves off. There’s been an attack on Hard Ink and in terms of the series’ story structure, the team’s investigation into the events surrounding their discharge from the military and the coverup of what actually happened has reached its moment of crisis. The attack brought death and loss straight to the team’s door, and the beginning of Hard to Let Go is basically the aftermath. The team is reeling but still intent upon pursuing their investigation to the end, particularly in light of all of the sacrifices they’ve made up to this point. In this book, Kaye gives us the revelation of the mastermind as well as answers the questions of what the initials GW and WCE mean, sets up the final confrontation and showdown between the team and the villain, and delivers closure and realization for the team. Oh, and of course there’s the romance plot between Beckett and Kat.

Tell me more about the main characters.
Beckett Murda is the fifth and final member of the team to find love. For most of the series, Beckett has been the one on the fringes of the group. He feels guilty and responsible for the injury his best friend, Derek “Marz” DiMarzio (whose story is told in Hard to Come By) suffered during the firefight that ended their military careers. He is also struggling with his past, which has led him to be emotionally numb and caused him to believe that he doesn’t deserve love and that no one wants him in their lives, as either friend or family. Katherine “Kat” Rixey is Nick Rixey’s sister (whose story is told in the first book, Hard As It Gets). She’s come to Baltimore to visit her brother and also put distance between her and a threatening ex-boyfriend. Kat is an attorney at the Department of Justice, and she reveals that her office has been investigating some of the same people that the team has identified as being part of the plot to discredit them. She agrees to provide the team with documents that could be helpful to them, risking her career in the process. Although Beckett and Kat’s relationship begins with the familiar “I can’t stand you” trope, they work well together as the leads of the story. Both of them are likable characters, and if you’ve been invested in Beckett’s character throughout the series and waiting for his story, you won’t be disappointed. Another highlight of Kat’s introduction into the story is that there is additional emphasis on the aspect of family. Nick, Jeremy, and Kat are their only family unit, as are Becca and Charlie, but Kat’s inclusion into the story reinforces a running thread throughout the series, which is the idea that family isn’t just about blood relations. Sometimes family ties are forged in blood. With Kat’s appearance, there’s also the sense that the Rixey family has once again been made whole, and that the ties between brothers and sister are stronger than ever. Indeed, the same can be said of Becca and Charlie in light of the revelations of their father’s actions before his death.

What is the narrative style?
Like many romance novels, the narrative is told in third person point-of-view, alternating between Beckett and Kat’s POV. The narrative style works and I liked being able to see the story, at last, from Beckett’s point of view.

Should I invest my time?
If you’ve come this far into the series, then yes, you should definitely read this book. Again, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in how the overarching story ends or in the romance plot between Beckett and Kat. I actually gave this book five stars when rating it, which isn’t something I do often. In my opinion, the book earned that rating from me because it not only rewarded my investment in the series as a whole, but it also drew me into Beckett and Kat as characters and convinced me to become invested in their story. I see this series as falling into the subgenre of romantic suspense, and since that is what I write myself, I appreciated the way this story (and the series as a whole) was structured and how the romance plot and suspense plot were intertwined. Though I am sad to see this series come to a conclusion (yes, there’s one more novella after this one that I’m guessing is actually an epilogue to the series as whole), I was more than satisfied by the conclusion. I’m also comforted by the fact that there is Kaye’s new series, Raven Riders, to look forward to. The Hard Ink series is definitely one that I recommend to anyone who likes their romance and suspense to walk hand in hand.

review: dead things

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore (2013)

I stumbled upon Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore when I was trying to find new authors to read.  I decided to give this one a try and it’s been on my e-reader for a couple of months.  Dead Things exists within the urban fantasy genre, and if you don’t know what that means you’re not alone.  In basic terms, urban fantasy gives you a world and setting that looks very much like our own but that setting is occupied by all the things that go bump in the night–vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and lots of other supernatural creatures.  The setting for Dead Things is Los Angeles, and in some ways it has the feel of fantasy noir.  Blackmoore doesn’t create a dark paranormal underbelly beneath the sun-drenched glitter of Los Angeles, but there is the potential to see his vision of Los Angeles evolve into that kind of world that you might expect from fantasy noir.  Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the book in a different format I’m experimenting with for my reviews.

Is it part of a series?  Yes.  Dead Things is the first book in Blackmoore’s Eric Carter series.  The next book in the series is Broken Souls and the third book, Hungry Ghosts was just released last week (February 2017).  One note that might help in case you are interested in starting the series–there is a fourth book called City of Souls that takes place within the world of Eric Carter, but from everything I can find, it does not feature Eric Carter.

What is it about?  Eric Carter is a mage and necromancer who receives news that his sister, Lucy, who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, has been brutally murdered.  He returns to Los Angeles to find the person responsible for her death and exact vengeance.  Complicating his return to Los Angeles is the fact that he is a man going home again after fifteen years of being on his own and out of contact with everyone who had been in his life before.  As the hunt for his sister’s murderer unfolds, Eric is also trying to decide if coming back home (and staying home) is a good idea, if it’s possible to reconnect with the people he left behind, and reconciling the man he is now with the person he was when he left everything behind.

Tell me more about the main character.  Eric Carter is the kind of protagonist you would expect to find in a noir-ish urban fantasy novel.  He is the isolated loner who has lived a nomadic life since he left Los Angeles, never settling down in one place and never thinking of any one place as home.  He’s mad, bad and dangerous to know, street-smart, quick-thinking and smart-talking.  He is a powerful necromancer, which means he can see and speak to the Dead, and though it takes a while for him to reveal this aspect of his character, it is the Dead that he helps and to some extent, saves.  He considers himself to be one of the speakers for the dead, and he gets vengeance and retribution for them (and yes, some would call it justice).  He is their champion and he understands them, a lot more than he understands the living.  He also feels incredible guilt for leaving his sister and his friends behind when he left Los Angeles fifteen years ago.  Dealing with that guilt and finding a way to make things right are two of the primary motivators for his character.  In some ways, he’s like a lot of other male protagonists you find in this genre, but like the world of Los Angeles that Blackmoore presents, he has the potential to be more than average.  In truth, he is only at the beginning of his journey, and though he has developed and undergone important changes by the time the story ends, there is lots of room for more growth and change.

What about the supporting cast?  Tough question.  In this novel, the supporting cast is comprised of Alex, the man who was his best friend and who looked after Eric’s sister after he left home.  Vivian is Eric’s ex-girlfriend, who has become a doctor in the time that he’s been away and moved on to someone else.  There is Tabitha, a waitress who works in the bar Alex owns and is a potential love interest.  The two non-human characters are Darius–who seems to be some kind of genie or djinn perhaps–who owns a bar whose doors move and within which time moves at a different rate than that of the outside world, and Santa Muerte, a goddess who wants Eric to be her right hand assassin.  I don’t want to spoil how the story ends but there will definitely be changes to this supporting cast in the next book.  Eric’s interactions with the supporting characters say just as much about him as they do about the secondary characters themselves, particularly Alex and Vivian, the latter of which is drawn realistically, I think, but at the same time she grated on my goodwill as a reader.

What is the narrative style?  I think this is an important aspect of the book to highlight because before reading Dead Things I started a different book that I put down after fifty pages because it was told in the narrative style I dislike the most–that being multiple point-of-view (and when I say multiple I mean from the perspective of three or more characters).  Blackmoore takes the more traditional route in terms of narrative style and it will be familiar and comfortable to readers of the genre, choosing to tell the story solely from Eric’s first-person point of view.  Another notable aspect of the narrative style is that it is told in the present tense which may feel different to readers who haven’t encountered this before, though I will say it is a style that seems to be growing in popularity.

Should I invest my time?  Another tough question.  One of the things that instantly came to mind while reading this book is that it has the same feel as the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey (also set in Los Angeles, also noir-ish, also told in that present tense, first person narrative style).  The Sandman Slim series is one of my favorites, and though I think the Eric Carter series could be as good, it’s not there yet. I don’t know what the next book in this series will bring.  For me, the first book in a series should make me want to read the next book, if not right away then at least inspire me to immediately add it to my to-be-read list.  I didn’t have that feeling at the end of Dead Things, and admittedly part of this may be due to the way the book ends, which is clearly setting up for the next installment.  I think that if you like this genre, you should at least give the first book in this series a try and decide if you want more.  Personally, there are so many books on my to-read list for the year that I don’t see myself adding Broken Souls to my reading list any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book. I’m just not convinced I want to go back for more.

review: accidentally on purpose

Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis (2017)

Do you have “dependable” and “reliable” authors on your bookshelf?  You know, those authors who you can depend on for a good read, no matter what book by them you might pick up? I do, and Jill Shalvis is one of those authors for me.  She is reliable in that whichever book of hers I happen to choose to read, I know I’m going to get a good book with characters I like and a charming supporting cast of characters that deepen the story. All I wanted from my day was to sit on the couch and read a book, and Accidentally on Purpose, the third full-length novel in Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series did not disappoint.

What is it about? It’s the story of a woman who is strong and independent, needs no one, and is accustomed to being in control of every aspect of her world and a man who is used to be in control of every aspect of his world and who is the protector–he protects his friends, the people who work for him and his clients.  Because of the way she grew up and a shared experience in the past that was mutually defining for both of them,, she has trouble letting people in and letting down her guard, and he is dedicated to making sure she is always safe and protected. They are two strong personalities who clash repeatedly until they learn to work as team and transform from you and me to ‘we’.

Who is in it?  Elle is the female protagonist and she is like many of Shalvis’ strong female characters who can and do take care of themselves and find it difficult to build trust and emotional intimacy.  Archer is the male protagonist and he is a successful business owner who has until now been emotionally unavailable.  Elle and Archer met when she was sixteen and he was a rookie cop.  After that, Archer kept tabs on how she was doing, and then eleven years later she takes a job managing the building in which he has his office.  She’s been a presence in his life for a year when the story begins, and though all of their friends can clearly see the attraction between them, Elle and Archer have been ignoring it, but that changes when Archer asks Elle to assist him with one of his operations.  She agrees, something she has done several times in the past, but this time, neither of them can easily walk away from the other.  When trouble arrives in the form of Elle’s sister, Morgan (could she possibly star in her own book in this series at some point in the future?), Archer’s commitment to convincing Elle to take a chance on him solidifies.

The supporting cast of characters will be familiar to you if you have read any of the other books in this series, but it is not necessary to read these books in order.  For those who have, Finn, Willa, and Spence make appearances in this book, with Spence’s presence being the strongest of all (I would love to know if his story will be the focus of the next book in the series).  In fact, I learned a lot about Spence in this book.  He is not as fully drawn, of course, as Elle and Spence, but I felt like there was a good introduction to who he is and sets readers up nicely to anticipate his story.

The story is told in third-person point of view and switches back and forth between Elle and Archer, though I would say a greater proportion of the story is told from Elle’s point of view.  I mentioned above that Archer character fits into the protector archetype.  That being said, I don’t think he’s a flat character, and neither is Elle.  Though they will both feel familiar to readers of romance, they aren’t colorless or cardboard copies of a character type.  There really are several moments during the story where I felt the emotion in a particular scene that Shalvis intended to evoke in readers.  Another thing that made this book satisfying to me?  Most readers of the genre are more than familiar with the typical plot pattern for a romance–girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back (or vice-versa, depending on who the main character is).  It’s the second part of that plot pattern-girl loses boy–that is quite often the most tiresome and disappointing aspect of most romances I read.  I understand why this moment always happen–it’s the crisis moment, the all-is-lost moment, that every book needs.  And yet for me it’s often the least enjoyable part because so frequently it’s just unbelievable.  But the good news is that the way that Accidentally on Purpose handles this moment wasn’t one that wanted me to throw the book (read: my e-reader) across the room and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Final analysis? If you enjoy contemporary romance with engaging characters, give Accidentally on Purpose a try.  I have also read the first book in this series, Sweet Little Lies, and recommend it as well.  Jill Shalvis is a dependable author who will deliver a satisfying read, and if you are interested in reading more by her, I would also recommend her Lucky Harbor series.

review: come a little bit closer

Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre (2013)

Come a Little Bit Closer is the seventh book in Bella Andre’s featuring the Sullivans (specifically, the San Francisco Sullivans) and tells the story of Smith Sullivan, mega-movie star and the woman he falls in love with Valentina Landon.  The Sullivan books don’t have to be read in order, but they are certainly more enjoyable when you do.  Case in point: one of the supporting characters in this book and Valentina’s sister, Tatiana Sullivan, will return in the tenth book of the series, Just to Be With You.  That book makes several mentions to the movie that Smith is producing, directing and starring in during this book, Gravity.  Another kind of easter egg is that at the close of this book, there’s a reference to the Maverick Group, which is a nod to another of Andre’s series that she co-authors with Jennifer Skully.  To recap then, you can completely read these books in any order and you can skip books if you don’t they will appeal to you.  On a personal note, I’ve skipped books three and eight, but read all of the others in the San Francisco and Seattle Sullivans series.

There are three watchwords around which much of the thematic content of the book revolves–close, closer, and gravity.  Not going to spoil that for you, but if you do pick the book up, make sure to pay attention to Andre’s use of those words in particular.  It gives a lot of insight into Smith and Valentina’s needs and their relationships with each other and their families.  As alluded to above, the story finds Smith starting the first day of production on a film where he wrote the screenplay himself and is producing, directing and acting in the film.  It is a major turning point in his career, and he is intent upon not losing his focus at such a crucial moment.  And yet, he can’t help but be distracted by his co-star’s sister, Valentina Landon.  As Tatiana’s business manager, she will be on the set everyday, and finding a way to ignore his attraction is part of his internal struggle.  The love story between Smith and Valentina takes place against the backdrop of a film in production, and it’s no coincidence that the film is also a love story, where the male protagonist bares many similarities to Smith, his creator.  One aspect of the novel that makes this book stand out among the other books in this series is that Andre plays with the narrative structure, showing the scenes that are being filmed by narrating the events so that readers can follow the parallel story.  She does this by showing it through Valentina’s point-of-view, though it’s not necessarily true to how we would absorb it if we were watching the actors play out the scene.  All we would see is the dialogue, the characters’ body language, the background; we wouldn’t have privy to the characters’ inner thoughts or the back story, but because Valentina has read the script, in a way she is our interpreter, our narrator, filling in the gaps between the dialogue..

Throughout the series, Smith Sullivan makes brief appearances, and there are times when his absence makes him a presence in the other books.  Consequently, it really is a delight to finally read his story, and as is sometimes the case in a series where one character’s story is long-awaited, I’m glad to report that I wasn’t at all disappointed with him or his story.  Smith’s character is a fully developed and realized character at the end of the story, and though perhaps he doesn’t go through as much of a change as other protagonists, there are bits and pieces that demonstrate that falling in love with Valentina has pushed him into unfamiliar territory and into behavior that is wholly uncharacteristic of him.  In some ways, he is your cliche character who is in some way famous (here an actor, but Andre has already given us this trope with in Marcus and Nicola’s story, Ryan and Vicki’s story and will use it again in Mia and Ford’s story). He doesn’t ever think he will be loved for who he really is beneath the fame and celebrity.  He has millions of adoring fans but none of them really knows who he is.  While that is the case, Smith is unique enough to hold your attention.

Valentina is also a likeable, believable character and she is strong enough to stand up to Smith and say exactly what is on her mind but she also conventional in that beneath the strength there is vulnerability and a fragile need for love.  She is also conventional in her insistence that she will not date an actor, providing Andre with a built-in way of increasing the unresolved sexual tension.  Another concern in a series like this where Smith’s story was long-awaited is that the mate chosen by the beloved character isn’t close to who you would imagine him finding a happily ever after with.  Again, this is something that doesn’t happen and Valentina is definitely not a disappointment.  She easily becomes a character readers can fall in love with and who easily fits effortlessly into the Sullivan clan.

I’ve had this book on my to-read shelf for a long time, and honestly, I hadn’t started reading it for the very reasons listed above–I was worried I would be disappointed.  Instead, this was the perfect book for a Saturday when all I wanted was to spend the day on the couch getting lost in a good book.  Come a Little Bit Closer is actually my second-favorite book in the series, and the thing that makes that statement interesting to me is that Just to Be With You (the book featuring Tatiana Landon and Ian Sullivan) is by far my favorite book in the series.  Somehow, Bella Andre got it right with these two Sullivans and the sisters they fall for.  It didn’t all five stars when I rated it after reading it (the end seems to drag a bit) but it is definitely one of my recommended reads and gets a star next to it on my list of books read for the year, reminding me it was a favorite.  Give it a try.  If you like contemporary romance, I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

review: hard to come by

Hard to Come By by Laura Kaye (2014)

Hard to Come By is the fourth installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series.  These books should be read in order but I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

This book picks up what feels like only hours after the conclusion of Hard to Hold on To, the third book in the series.  This one tells Derek “Marz” DiMarzio’s story, and though he is as intense as the other men in his team, he is also lighter and a bit more fun (he sings aloud and apparently does so terribly).  Marz is the computer genius of the team of former Special Forces men.  In this book, he has two primary goals to achieve: one, unlock the microchip drive that they discovered in the previous book and two, get close to Emilie Garza with the hope that she will in turn provide the team with the intel they need to find and capture Manny Garza, a man they suspect is working with Seneka Worldwide Security, a defense contractor that is well-known for its allegations of corruption, and is also somehow connected to the Church gang–the team’s primary adversary thus far as they try to unravel the secrets and lies that led to their team being ambushed in Afghanistan, seven of their brothers-in-arms being killed, and their less than honorable discharge from the service and their honor and reputations ruined.  One of the main characteristics of Marz that also drives a lot of who he is as a character when we first meet him and his development as the story progresses is that during the ambush he suffered a leg injury that led to his leg being amputated just beneath his knee.  Marz, Nick (their team’s leader) and Beckett (Marz’s best friend and fellow team member) all came back with varying levels of scars that are visible on the outside, and how he deals with the loss of part of his leg is inspiring and humanizes him as a character.  He is definitely a good guy, but that comes into conflict with the fact that for the first third of the book, the relationship he’s building with the Emilie is built on lies.

Emilie, on the other hand, wears her battle scars on the inside.  She is recently divorced from a man who shook her ability to trust, and she’s been dealing with her brother’s increasing erratic behavior.  Emilie is a trained clinical psychologist and believes that Manny is struggling with a form of PTSD, and she has been contemplating taking steps to have him involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation because he refuses to seek help or even talk about what’s going on with him.  She isn’t the strongest female character you’ll find in a romance, but she’s also not portrayed as being weak and docile.  I liked her character, and her story arc is also one of healing in terms of learning how to trust again.  I would also say that part of her character development is coming to terms with the consequences of making an impossible choice that, even if it’s the right choice, it’s still not easy to live with.  If you have read the first books in this series, I think you’ll find that Emilie is a lot more like Becca (as opposed to Crystal/Sara or Jenna) and what you have in the romance plot between her and Marz is that two nice people end up falling in love with each other.

Yes, the books are romances, but there is a heavy element of suspense/action to the series as well.  In a way, the main thread that has carried through the series as a whole thus far is that at it’s heart, it’s a quest story.  This team of disgraced soldiers are looking for truth and redemption, and they are only going to be able to get it if they can find out exactly what happened in Afghanistan, why the military covered it up and hung the whole thing around their necks, and who is pulling the strings.  Hard to Come By takes another step in the quest by unlocking the microchip, which leads to a revelation that changes everything.  It also brings the threat of the Church gang to a conclusion, much in the same way a hardboiled detective novel resolves the mystery that you see on the surface but in doing so only leaves you with more question and a far more complex mystery to unravel.  Also, the mystery of the bracelet that the team’s former commander, Merritt, sent to his daughter, Becca is solved.  This is all to say that some questions and puzzles that have lingered since the first novel get paid off in the fourth book, but at the same time, the quest is not over.  I hope that what will follow in the last two books is a showdown that is both surprising but also brings closure and success to the team of men Kaye has convinced us to become invested in and care about.  Indeed, when the first book begins, the team–Nick, Shane, Easy, Marz, and Beckett–don’t look anything like a close-knit group and the bonds that had held them together as brothers-in-arms were in shambles.  As the series has progressed, those bonds are being rebuilt–and this book features the rebuilding of the friendship between Beckett and Marz, which has been strained since their return from Afghanistan–and on top of that, their family is growing.  Becca, Sara, Jenna and now Emilie are part of the family, Jeremy (Nick’s brother) has had his relationship with Nick strengthened, and Charlie, Becca’s brother, has also been brought into the family bosom.  There is a definite sense that until they met each other and came together to fight for a common goal, they were all adrift and isolated.  There’s even a moment in the book that alludes to this very idea.  Now, though, they have each other, and all that’s left is to finish what they’ve begun.

One more thing. Each of these books takes place over the span of a week at most, and that works in this series because it gives a sense of immediacy and urgency, but it also gives each book a sense of purpose.  Each book lays out a challenge, and like I said, each challenge brings them closer to their goal.  The fact that these stories don’t take place over a longer period of time for me makes them more believable, because no way could this kind of intensity be sustained over a period of several months.

I really do like these books and recommend them to readers who enjoy romantic suspense.  There’s a nice balance between the romance plot and the suspense plot, and the books themselves are well-written.   If you want to give the series a try, start with the first book, Hard As It Gets.

 

Special Note: The Raven Riders series by Laura Kaye is an offshoot of the Hard Ink series.  I happened to have read Ride Hard before reading Hard to Come By, and it is in the latter that Kaye introduces the characters of Haven and Cora.  They are only in the book for a minute and it’s not necessary to read this series first; however, I will say that if you like the Hard Ink series and are interested in the Raven Riders series, finish this series first and then start with Ride Hard.  I wish I had.

review: the lazarus gate

The Lazarus Gate by Mark A. Latham (2015)

While haunting the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore a couple of weekends ago, I picked up the second book in this series–The Iscariot Sanction–and was intrigued enough to seek out the first book, The Lazarus Gate.  This year has been about completing and catching up on some book series I have been reading, but now that the year is almost over and I’m starting to build my reading list for 2017, I’m looking for new authors and new series to sample.  Enter The Lazarus Gate by Mark A. Latham.  I call this a series because each one appears to be part of a greater whole–The Apollonian Casefiles.  One thing that is still to be determined is if these books necessarily have to be read in order of publication.  Based upon the blurb on the back cover of the second book and after completing the first book, my initial thought is that they can be read in any order.

The story is set in London, 1890.  The main protagonist of The Lazarus Gate is Captain John Hardwick.  He has recently returned to London after serving for six years in the Far East in Her Majesty’s Army.  At the start of the book, John has been released from his captivity as a prisoner of war. During his captivity, he was subjected to torture and turned into an opium addict.  Upon his return to London, he is certainly not the man he was when he left, and with no family or real home to return to, he is adrift and uncertain what the future holds after being honorably discharged from the Army.  He has only been home a week when he receives a letter from Sir Toby Fitzwilliam to join him at the Apollonian Club.  John accepts the invitation and after listening to Sir Toby’s pitch, becomes initiated into the inner sanctum of the club that operates as a secret service that identifies and eliminates threats to the Crown and the British Empire.  John’s first assignment is to uncover the perpetrators of dynamite explosions that have shaken the city in recent weeks.  As the story unfolds, John learns that those responsible for the attacks are from an alternate universe, that his version of London is only one in a multiverse.  Though there are some elements of the supernatural–psychic visions and apparitions, primarily–the story leans more toward science fiction than the paranormal/supernatural.  Indeed, one of the characters in the novel is philosopher William James (yes, brother to Henry James).  James’ character endeavors to explain the existence of alternative universes and the idea of a multiverse, using science and the scientific method to support his theories and conclusions. Latham is careful to include a conflict between science and religion during James’ explanation, as would be appropriate to the late Victorian era, and it is one of only many details that give the novel the feeling of authenticity in terms of portraying the time period.  One of the other details is the emphasis upon the Apollonian Club’s mandate to protect the Empire against all enemies, foreign and domestic, if you will.  In this story, the Empire is under attack, and the attack is carried out at the very heart of the Empire–the capital of the metropole and, in the eyes of the British at least, the center of the world. The way that Latham characterizes the fear of an invasion of London by outsiders illustrates the fears that Londoners and Britons had during the late Victorian era that enemies of the Empire would strike against them in the very place where they felt the safest and least threatened by the strife and unrest that existed on the farther reaches of the Empire. The fear of reverse colonization radiates through the narrative, as well as all of the questions attendant to empire-building and colonization.  Because my academic research interests lie so closely to this time period and the implications of Empire, I love this particular aspect of the novel and it alone will bring me back for additional installments of this series.

John is a character that engaged my interest from the beginning.  The narrative is told from his first-person point of view, and it is framed as a journal account that he is writing from the distance of time.  He is likable and fallible and goes through what would be expected of a man who is taking on the role of covert spy for the first time.  As he moves through his character arc, he questions who he can trust, faces temptation and struggles with his addiction, and eventually, for Queen and Country, evolves into the man who can defeat the Empire’s enemy and prevent the invasion from succeeding.  Without spoiling the end, at the close of the novel John is certainly not the man he was when we first meet him.  Though he does not seem to lose his loyalty to his country and its protection, things are not nearly as black and white as they were at the start of his journey, and there are greater shades of moral ambiguity visible in him.

I would comment on the world-building of the novel, and yet it appears that the world that Latham builds in The Lazarus Gate will be slightly different from but slightly the same as the one that we will discover in The Iscariot Sanction.  Again, not to spoil anything, we are sure to definitely find at least one character we met in The Lazarus Gate in The Iscariot Sanction, and yet it will clearly be a different version of the individual.  For me, this is one of the things that can keep the series fresh and make it fun–seeing characters you have met before but at the same time knowing that these are not the same characters.  They will, I presume, feel familiar but also wildly different.  In this sense, the series has the opportunity to explore paths not taken, how lives could truly be different had not one choice been made or one event not occurred, even as it offers the opportunity to consider how who we are, at our core, influences us to the extent that even if there are infinite possibilities, we are in a sense hardwired to make the same choices regardless of which universe we inhabit.

In short, The Lazarus Gate does many of the things that we expect from our science fiction.  It questions the universe in which we live, it uses science to help us understand the nature of our world, and it looks at the capacity individuals have to be good, evil, or somewhere in between.  It makes us question what would we risk, what consequences and actions would we accept, if our very survival were on the line? The book does have its flaws–it starts a little slowly, and for this reader the pace is also a little slow, and there is a section of the novel, primarily in Part 2, that is a kind of pastoral interlude that takes a bit too long in revealing why it’s important and relevant to the story as a whole and John’s character arc–but it was a good read, and I’m interested in seeing where it goes.  If you are a fan of Fringe, alternate realities/alternate universes, and/or the late Victorian era, I would recommend giving The Lazarus Gate a try.

 

 

 

review: destined for an early grave

Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2009)

Destined for an Early Grave is the fourth book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series featuring Cat and Bones as the protagonists.  I’m going to do my best not to spoil too much of what happens in this book, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series, beware.  I strongly recommend reading the books in this series in order; if urban fantasy is one of your preferred genres, then start with the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave.  Everyone else, read on.

To begin, a lot happens in this book.  I’m going to try to avoid revealing too much because I really don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t read the book.  Frost does an excellent job of building the tension throughout the book until it reaches its moment of crisis and the action heads into the final showdown.  Oh, and there are really two moments of crisis–one for the plot that is the continuing love story between Cat and Bones, and the other for action/suspense plot that involves Cat and her new enemy, Gregor, the novel’s antagonist.  Frost’s ability to manage both plot lines, get me invested in both and keep me caring about both, is refreshing because I find that the more I read and try to review here on my blog, the more books I find that can barely manage one plot, much less multiples.  I say this because if you are looking for books that are well-written, this series has a lot to offer and I have not yet been disappointed by one of Frost’s books.

Destined for an Early Grave pushes the world-building Frost has been developing in a new direction, making sure that it doesn’t stagnate or get boring.  It’s one of the things that makes it important to read the books in order (more on that later).  At the end of the previous book in this series, At Grave’s End, Cat has quit her job with the secret department within Homeland Security that is headed by her uncle, Don.  There’s a sense that Cat and Bones’ relationship is moving into a new phase, and Cat herself is starting a new chapter in her life.  The change means that the framework of the last two books–with Cat commanding a team of secret government operatives to save innocent lives from vampire predators–has given way to the Cat becoming more entrenched in Bones’ world, the world of vampires and the rules and customs of vampire society.  The change of framework works, especially in the way that it allows the vampire characters that have been introduced in earlier books to be further developed.  We get more information about Spade, Mencheres, and Vlad, and no doubt this is done as a way of setting up those characters for to be featured in their own stories (and I’ll admit right now that I read the first two books in the Night Prince series featuring Vlad before starting the Night Huntress.  That was a mistake in that I think readers will better enjoy the Night Prince series if you’ve read the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World books first.).  While Cat understands the rules and ways of the human world and protecting humans, it becomes clear as the story unfolds that Cat has been straddling the two worlds, not fully in one and not fully in the other.  By the end of the novel, she is firmly in the vampire world, and having to learn the rules of that society is a painful process that impacts many of her relationships.  The change in the framework was needed in order for the series and the characters to continue to grow and evolve and gives a new momentum to what I’m sure will follow in the next books in the series.

One of the things I really enjoy about the way Frost’s structures the love plot is that she finds ways to continue to build tension and conflict between Cat and Bones without it feeling forced or manipulative or conventional.  While it’s clear at the end of book three that they are solidly a couple, they still have things in their relationship to figure out.  Evolving their relationship so that they are an “us” by the end of the novel is something that drives the love plot and “the path to true love never runs smooth” convention is at work here but it’s done in a way that only makes me care about the characters even more, and it also functions to further develop Cat and Bones as characters.  They both have to give and compromise and recognize the other’s flaws and accept them.  Although the story is told completely through Cat’s first person perspective, Frost does a really good job in delivering Bones’ emotions and thoughts through the dialogue.  I am not as close to him as a reader as I am to Cat because of the narrative structure, but he’s not distant either.  I get a deep sense of his struggles right along with Cat’s so that it doesn’t just feel like Cat’s story and Cat’s journey.  In my opinion, so much of what makes a series success is the characters and character development.  Cat and Bones are not the same characters they were at the start of the series, and I expect they will continue to develop and grow.  Thus far, Frost hasn’t caused them to do anything that feels out of character for either of them, and the more I read, the more I want to read and see what happens to them next.

Like I said above, I would definitely recommend reading these books in order, particularly if you are interested in reading the books that feature Vlad (Once Burned, Twice Tempted, Bound By Flames, Into the Fire).  He is definitely a supporting character in this book, but Frost does a lot of work in terms of developing his character.  I can remember Cat and Bones making appearances in the first two books of the Night Prince series and I would have appreciated those appearances more if I’d read in chronological order in terms of publication.  Take the recommendation for whatever it’s worth.

Ultimately, I find this series to be highly satisfying and I always get what I came for and then some. I read them typically in one day and once I start I can’t stop.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, First Drop of Crimson, which features Spade, one of Bones’ best friends.  If you’re a reader who enjoys strong, well-developed characters, a well-crafted plot and subplots, and watching an imaginary world come to life, these books deliver in every way.  Definitely one of my recommended reads of 2016.

review: playback

Playback by Raymond Chandler (1958)

Playback is the final novel in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series that was completed before his death in 1959.  Although this book is the last in a series, each of the books mostly stands alone so there’s no reason to warn you about spoilers.  One thing that happens at the very end of the previous novel in the series, The Long Goodbye, does pop up a couple of times in the book so beware if you are or intend to read the books out of order (and by the way, the first book in the series is The Big Sleep, which I highly recommend).  Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, onto the book itself.

The setting for Playback isn’t Los Angeles, but instead a small town south of the city, seemingly somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego.  One of the reasons the setting is important is because the law enforcement in Esmeralda bear little to no similarity to the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department that Marlowe has battled and contended with throughout the series.  The first time we encounter the police, Marlowe obviously comes to the meeting with his jaded and negative prior experiences to inform his words and responses.  And yet, Captain Alessandro is not like other police captains, and in fact there is a moment where a wealthy man attempts to use his wealth to demand that the captain do what he wants and accuses him of corruption; Captain Alessandro basically tells him that neither he nor his department is corrupt and sends the wealthy man away angry that his money did not buy him the influence he is used to receiving.  In his interactions with Marlowe, while he doesn’t necessarily trust him completely, he does allow Marlowe to pursue his current investigation without the usual threats we have become accustomed to the LAPD issuing him in previous novels.  As a result, one of the conventions of hardboiled detective fiction–rampant and unchecked corruption with law enforcement–is notably absent in Playback.

The case that sets the story in motion is an attorney, Clyde Umney, who hires Marlowe to follow a woman who is arriving in Los Angeles by train.  Umney provides no other details, particularly the reason that he wants Marlowe to follow her and report her location back to him, and so at the beginning of the book, the woman herself is the mystery. Eventually Marlowe learns that her name is Betty Mayfield, and not long after she arrives in Los Angeles, she is approached by a man named Larry Mitchell.  Through observation, Marlowe guesses that Mitchell is blackmailing Mayfield, but what exactly he has on her takes a while for Marlowe to learn, and although he approaches Betty many times and offers his help, she remains unwilling to tell him why she left the East or reveal her secrets.  But as is the case with the genre, the mystery of Betty Mayfield only leads to a deeper mystery when he learns of a murder.  Because it’s Marlowe, he feels compelled to investigate and get to the truth, even as Betty continues to refuse becoming his client while continuing to try to throw money at him.  His actions and his pursuit of a murderer highlight Marlowe’s “knight complex” that has driven him throughout the series.  He has no idea what Betty has done, but he believes she’s a woman who needs help and he intends to help, whether she’s willing to accept that help or not.

Like other books in this series (and The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye come immediately to mind) the murder victim is someone shown to be morally deficient and a person who preys upon others.  Thus, there is no outrage on the victim’s behalf, and although Marlowe is motivated by a sense of right and wrong to solve the murder, he isn’t equally motivated to reveal the identity of the murder to the police.  This is in contrast to a suicide that Marlowe discovers–he feels obligated, on a moral and legal level but also as a man trying to be decent human being in a world that so often seems to lack common decency, to inform the police of the man’s death, even though it may get him into trouble with the police.  On the one hand, Marlowe continues to search for the murderer because he feels that in doing so he will protect his unwilling client, Betty, but because he will not allow him to stop until the case is closed.  But, Marlowe moves further into that grey area between right and wrong when, after confronting the murderer, he returns to Los Angeles without telling Captain Alessandro his suspicions.  In doing nothing, it is left to us as readers to determine if he walks away because he believes that perhaps justice has already been done, with one less predator in the world. Is it out of a sense of powerless? Or is he tired of the fight that never seems to be won? I don’t know the answer to the question, and perhaps neither does Marlowe.

The novel ends on what feels like a much more hopeful note than The Long Goodbye. After Marlowe returns from Esmeralda, he looks around at his house and expresses the sentiment that no matter where goes or what he does, these are the same walls he will always return to.  In a way it’s comforting, but in another it has an edge of nihilism, suggesting that nothing he does matters.  And yet early in the novel there’s a strong indication that those walls matter to him, or at least memories made within those walls.  The way the novel ends leaves the impression that there’s a possibility for more memories to be made there.  It also challenges the idea of Marlowe as an isolated loner, an aspect of the prototypical hardboiled detective.  Don’t get me wrong–Marlowe is a long way from being assimilated back into society or even close to being surrounded by family and friends.  There’s not even the hint that that kind of life awaits him, but there is hope that he’s not entirely alone.  Again, a divergence from the traditional conventions of the hardboiled detective fiction novel, but given the fact that this is the final novel in the series–though not by design–leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction that the series on a note where Marlowe has something more to look forward to than the next case.

If I were reading this book through my literary lens, I would question how the novel was impacted by the events happening in Chandler’s life.  There is the character of an old man in the book who contemplates verbally on several ideas, particularly that death will come for him soon and what his last days will be like, and a kind of relief that death is the one thing a person only has to experience once.  I don’t know if he is a fictional reflection of Chandler’s mindset or offered as a looking glass into a possible version of Marlowe in the future.

Now that I have completed the series and can think of it as a whole, it is one that I would recommend to any reader who enjoys hardboiled detective fiction.  Although Marlowe is a product of his time in that he views his world through the eyes of a mid-20th century white male (there is no getting around his misogynistic or racial stereotyping) his journey through the series and the development of character still fascinates this 21st century reader and makes me think.

review: one with you

Note: One With You is the fifth and final book in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series.  If you have not read the first four books in this series, there will be spoilers below.

One With You by Sylvia Day (2016)

One of the reading goals I set for myself for 2016 was to finish some series I had been in the middle of for a long while and catch up on others that have not yet ended.  The Crossfire series by Sylvia Day was on that list of series to be completed, and so here we are. The story of Gideon Cross and Eva Tramell has now reached its end.  I’m not going to lie–I was not happy with the way book four in this series, Captivated By You, ended, and also I haven’t been Eva Tramell’s greatest fan.  Looking at the series as a whole, my first conclusions is that I have liked the series, but maybe I haven’t loved it–at least, not since the end of book three. One of the first things you’ll read about this series is that it’s in the same category of Fifty Shades of Grey and well, I guess there’s no getting around that comparison though it’s one thousand times better than that series.  But, if I’m being honest, it’s also in the same category as the Hacker series by Meredith Wild and the Stark Trilogy by J. Kenner.  Of these four series, the Stark books by J. Kenner are the best, and though I don’t think it really matters, I still ask myself which is second best, the Crossfire series or the Hacker series.  I don’t yet know the answer to the question or if I ever will, but maybe I’ll work it out as I write about One With You.

Because this the last book in a series, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and perhaps that explains the length of the novel itself (and perhaps the length of the novel is one of the strikes against it rather than an aspect in its favor).  There are some loose ends to tie up in this series, and perhaps the best place to start with that without giving away too many spoilers is the resolution of the thread of the storyline that has explored Gideon’s relationship to his own family.  Throughout, he’s had strained relationships with his mother and his stepbrother, Christopher; his relationship with his stepsister, Ireland, has evolved; his relationship with his stepfather, Chris, got a lot more complicated at the end of book four but resolves itself in One With You.  Day doesn’t do the thing that you might expect–she doesn’t give an epilogue that tells you what the characters’ lives look like years into the future.  Instead, she leaves you with a chapter at the end of the book that gives you a sense that Gideon’s relationships with his family aren’t fully healed, but for the most part there’s hope for the future.  Along those same lines, now that Gideon and Eva are settling into married life and trying to figure out what it means to be a team facing whatever challenges come their way, it also means that Gideon has to handle becoming part of Eva’s family.  This aspect of the story plays into bringing the development of Gideon’s character to its finish.

Speaking of character development.  Gideon’s arc at the end of One With You feels like it ends with him being assimilated back into a familial structure that he appears to have existed outside of since his father committed suicide when he was a child.  He is still a flawed character prone to making mistakes, but at least now those mistakes don’t threaten to take away everything he holds dear.  On the opposite side is Eva’s character arc.  I said above that I wasn’t thrilled with how book four ended.  Probably because I felt like she resorted to a temper tantrum and an ultimatum to get her way and it just felt manipulative and selfish.  For me, one of the things she has had to learn throughout her journey is forgiveness as well as the fact that it’s unreasonable to expect that someone will always react and behave exactly as you want them to.  I don’t want to be critical, but I think that’s always been one of the aspects of her character that have turned me off from the very start.  No one can be exactly as we want them to be, even if they are trying their hardest to fit our ideal.  I think this is one of the realizations that was necessary for her character to show growth, and she does finally achieve it, though it happens after a horrible event takes place that I was not expecting at all.  One of the most important things about serial fiction that distinguishes the good from the bad is how invested I am in the characters and watching them develop over the course of several books.  In that aspect, the Crossfire series doesn’t disappoint.  Though I’m probably more partial to Gideon than Eva, I have to admit that once I started I couldn’t put a single one of the books in this series down.

Something else about the book that puzzles me and makes me want to write about it is one of the mysteries that surfaces in this book that has never been alluded to in any of the other books.  I don’t think it’s revealing too much to say that it is a mystery that involves Eva’s mother, Monica.  What I don’t really get is why this was even in the book to begin with.  Theoretically, it would be something that drives the action, but it’s a plotline that really just exists on the edges of the story and for me doesn’t really add much overall.  Also, One With You follows the same narrative structure as Captivated By You–the narration switches with each chapter from Eva’s first person point of view to Gideon’s (Eva has the odd chapters and Gideon has the evens).  This is worth noting because for the first three books in the series, the books are told entirely from Eva’s first person point of view.  The change was a welcome one in book four and I’m glad Day carried the narrative style into the final book.  It made the final conclusion much more satisfying than if I’d only gotten it from Eva’s perspective.

Ultimately, it wasn’t an epic ending.  Yes, some surprising revelations are made and Gideon and Eva are finally on the same page at the close of the novel.  Their love story has a happy and hopeful ending.  There is also a tragic event that turns up the emotion.  It was a satisfying conclusion and my investment in the characters was rewarded.  Perhaps it tried to do too much, but I would rather that be the problem than not doing enough.  In the final analysis, this series has been a good read and I would recommend it to fans of the genre.  I started this series almost two years ago, and though I have enjoyed checking in with the characters over that span of time, I’m also okay with bidding them farewell.

review: hunted

Hunted by Kevin Hearne (2013)

Hunted is the sixth book in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series, which features Atticus O’Sullivan, a two-thousand year old Druid.  If you haven’t yet discovered this series, I highly recommend it.  The first book in the series is Hounded.  There are spoilers below for readers who have not completed book five, Trapped.  You have been forewarned.

Hunted picks up right where Trapped left off.  If you need a reminder, goddesses Diana and Artemis are intent upon killing Atticus for ripping five Dryads from their trees in order to flee the wrath of Bacchus.  All of the Old Ways that would grant Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon to flee to the alternate plane of Tír na nÓg have been blocked, and the trio are left to run–yes, run–across Europe as they are hunted by the goddesses.  Oh, and don’t forget that Loki has arisen and Ragnarok is on the eve of beginning. There is also still the matter of Theophilus, a Roman vampire who is directly responsible for the near extinction of Druids and wants Atticus and Granuaile dead.  There is also an enemy within the Tuatha Dé Danann who is intent upon ending Atticus.  Which is all to say there are a lot of enemies to run from and there is a lot going on in this book.  There are also two major deaths in Hunted, and though I have no intention of naming names, those events add an extra punch to the book and only raises the stakes even higher.  If you hadn’t felt it by the time Trapped ended, Hunted definitely leaves you with a sense that war is looming and worrying about whether all of our favorite characters will make it out alive.

From the first book in this series, one of its strengths have been Atticus’ voice as a first-person narrator.  He is two-thousand years old and yet up on all the current lingo and pop culture references of the day, while at the same time he can quote passages from Shakespeare and Dante at will and make them applicable to his current situation in a way that makes those writers accessible to the typical reader.  His view on life and the human condition, particularly during the more philosophical passages of his narrative, are what give the series depth and have made it resonate with me as a reader; they are also likely some of the reasons why I’m so invested in Atticus, his adventures, and how all of this is going to play out.  The internal by-play between him and Oberon, his Irish wolfhound, adds another rich layer to the narrative, and I laughed out loud when Oberon made a direct reference to one of my favorite films (and books, for that matter) of all time, The Princess Bride.  All of this makes it even more notable when Hearne elects to diverge from Atticus’ first person narrative and allow us to see some of the action through Granuaile’s first person point-of-view.  Granuaile’s voice is significantly different from Atticus’.  More serious in tone, I think, and though she communicates her rapturous joy with being a new Druid connected to the Gaia and the earth, there’s a certain gravity in her narrative tone that is missing from Atticus’.  I have not yet figured out the meaning of this–or if there is a reason at all–other than that Hearne wants to show how becoming a Druid and being in all of these life and death situations with Atticus on top of standing on the brink of war right beside has changed her.  Atticus himself makes note of this change at one point in the book, just in case we missed its importance, and this is an aspect of Granuaile’s character development that also bears keeping on our eyes on as we enter the final three books of this series.  Of course, I really wanted to read this through my literary gaze, the emergence of Granuaile’s voice in the narrative is quite possible connected to her transformation into a Druid as well as her importance to the events unfolding and a signal that she, too, has a role to play in what is to come.

The book’s title is a strong theme that carries throughout the novel, and it is not only Atticus who reflects on the feeling of being hunted, but so does Granuaile.  Although the Olympians are hardly friends by the end of the book (more like frenemies), there appears to be no end to the number of people who want to help Atticus into the hereafter.  Even in the book’s climactic showdown, Atticus is in the position of being the hunted.  Though I must admit that I didn’t recognize the showdown for what it was. When I got to the Epilogue, I thought to myself, wait, that was the end?  It felt anticlimactic, especially when compared to the previous novels in the series, but again I attribute this to the fact that it is the end of the second movement of the series.  The showdown scene provides plenty of information but nothing that truly illuminates one of the challenges looming on the horizon–that being who among the Tuatha Dé Danann is plotting against Atticus? I can’t help wondering if I’m the only reader who anticipates a really surprising ugly betrayal in Atticus’ near future?

As is always the case when I finish a book in this series, I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.  From everything I’ve read, this is going to be a nine-book series, and I will be sad when it is finished but plan to enjoy what is left and all that is to come.  I can only say that I’m expecting an epic conclusion and sincerely hope Hearne doesn’t let me down (yes, I’m looking at you Dead Ever After).  The next book in the series, Shattered, is already on my bookshelf and given what happens at the very end of the book–the surprise introduction of a character I never would have imagined popping up–I am positive it will be quite entertaining.

review: the long goodbye

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1953)

The Long Goodbye is the sixth novel in Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled detective fiction series featuring the iconic Philip Marlowe.  This book has been on my to-read list for a long time.  It’s been nearly three years since I read the previous book in this series, The Little Sister, and this has been one of those books that I started, got about 100 pages into, and put down for a long while before starting again and finishing it.  I previously wrote in a review that I thought The Little Sister was the “odd” one in the series; The Long Goodbye doesn’t deserve that description, but it has a different feel to it than the others.

Although Marlowe is recognizable as the character we’ve come to know up to this point in the series, he’s also different.  Older, yes.  He is thirty-three in the first book, The Big Sleep, and now it is nine years later. He is still the man who wants to do the right thing, but doing the right thing doesn’t mean being the knight (as was the metaphor in The Big Sleep).  Like in The Big Sleep, doing the right thing comes at a personal cost to Marlowe, but even more than that, by the end of the novel, that gray space between black and white in which he operates is an even darker shade of gray.  It took me a while to understand how the title came about and what was its significance.  Near the end, Marlowe makes a reference to a French saying–each time you say goodbye you die a little.  Marlowe’s actions in the novel represent his way of saying goodbye to a man he considered to be a friend.  It is, indeed, a long goodbye, and yet in the last pages of the book I got the sense that it wasn’t just his friend Marlowe was saying goodbye to, but an actual piece of himself, a part of him that has died in the effort to do what he felt was right.  Marlowe isn’t lost, he just isn’t the same and never will be.

Like the best examples of the genre, the storyline of The Long Goodbye is complex and layered.  On the top layer is Marlowe’s initial meeting of Terry Lennox.  Lennox is married to Sylvia Potter,, the daughter of a wealthy newspaperman, and her murder is the catalyst that sets everything in motion.  Lennox, of course, is suspected of the murder, and for reasons entirely his own Marlowe makes a choice that bring him to the attention of the police, who want to charge him as an accessory after the fact.  The world that Chandler has created in this series stays true to form, presenting the police force as being rife with corruption and more concerned with closing cases and building careers than pursuing justice and capturing the person actually responsible for the crime.  The police in this book are depicted as being even more brutal (and inept) than previous novels, as Marlowe himself is the target for their brutality and and what he has always seen as a systemic coercion of suspects to implicate themselves in order to stop further abuse and forced into making false confessions and statements.  Marlowe does not comply, and though it would be easy to say that this is the reason for my sense that we have a “colder” Marlowe in this book, that’s not the reason.  He brushes off the time he spends in jail and the police brutality as part of the normal, the everyday.  Others have been treated this way and now it is simply his turn for the same treatment. Eventually, though, this part of the storyline ends–or seems to–and Marlowe moves on and we get a second, deeper layer to the story.  Marlowe takes on a case that involves a popular writer, Roger Wade, who has gone on a drunken binge and disappeared.  Marlowe takes the case from Roger’s wife, Eileen Wade, who is the book’s femme fatale and whose beauty draws Marlowe’s attention instantly.  She is temptation throughout the story.  Like Marlowe’s endeavor to say goodbye to a man he called a friend, his struggle to resist the temptation of Eileen Wade as well as the part he plays in the lives of the Wades wears on him and claims another piece of him.  His methods for bringing justice to those who have committed a crime are merciless and without sympathy.  One character says to Marlowe that he isn’t very sympathetic.  His response is “Why should I be?”.   Marlowe has always been drawn as a man who gives sympathy where it is deserved.  The character is right, he isn’t sympathetic in that particular moment, but he doesn’t lack sympathy.  I also don’t think he is incapable of mercy.  I think this is important because it would be easy for Marlowe to lose those two qualities in the world in which he lives and works, and in so doing he would be no better than the law enforcement he despises.  He doesn’t cross the line in this book, but there is the sense that he has been pushed closer and closer to it, using methods at this point in his life that maybe he wouldn’t have resorted to when we first met him in The Big Sleep.

The Long Goodbye isn’t an easy, simple read.  I’ve lived in the world of academia and heard a lot of dismissals of hardboiled detective fiction as a “popular” genre with little to no “literary” value.  I’m not saying that The Long Goodbye is an “important” book, but it is thought-provoking and presents a protagonist who is not only at odds with the world in which he lives but is also at odds within himself.  It definitely has the feel of a book that is trying to hold up a mirror to society and critique what it sees reflected back.  There are times when the critique is heavy-handed and for a 21st century reader it is at times misogynistic.  It is also at times a little fatalist and maybe even a little nihilistic.  It is a good read, however, a good read and it gives further depth to Marlowe, making him just a little bit more complex, a little bit more isolated, a little bit farther from the traditional image of the knight but accepting that the modern version of a knight–his version at least–is simply just doing the best he can.

review: white night

Note: This is the ninth book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  Spoilers will inevitably follow.  You may want to look away now if you haven’t read the first eight books in this series.

White Night by Jim Butcher (2007)

Well hello, Harry Dresden! It’s been a long time but I have not forgotten how much I love your adventures and shenanigans.  A lot happens in White Night, book nine (of fifteen) in the Dresden Files.  Reading this book has really made me feel like it is the start of the second movement, to borrow a musical term, of the Dresden Files and Harry’s journey. Although the previous book, Proven Guilty, does a lot to further entrench Harry within the world of the White Council–the group of wizards that police users of magic to ensure that they do not break the Laws of Magic–and establish a new direction for the series, specifically that the White Council is at war with the Red Court of vampires, that book felt like it was the warm-up act, the prologue to set the table and help you get to know all of the characters on the board of this new game that will (or at least seem to) dictate the course of the books that will follow.  Enter White Night and all of the events that take place in the book.

On the surface, the basic plot revolves around a group of magical users who are part of the broader supernatural community but don’t possess as much power as others.  In other words, they are the weaker class of individuals in this world, and they are being preyed upon.  Murphy brings the case of an apparent suicide to Harry, who investigates and discovers it’s not really a suicide, and there’s a larger plot at work.  Because the series straddles the line between urban fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction (and there’s a moment where Harry refers to himself and another character as being ‘hardboiled’ and it’s great), the basic plot–discovering who is behind the murders of these magical users–is solved about two-thirds of the way into the book.  The last third of the book, then, involves chasing down the culprits but also revealing how their nefarious deeds are part of an even bigger story arc that is directly related to the White Council’s war with the Red Court of vampires, a power struggle within the White Court of vampires, and the internal threat to the White Council that Harry is sure exists but hasn’t yet figured out who the traitor is.  Beyond the plot, the supporting cast once again rallies to Harry’s aid, and like I mentioned in my review of Dead Beat, shows just how far Harry has traveled from being the loner that he was at the start of this series.  It’s been a few books but we do get treated to an appearance by Gentleman Johnnie Marcone in this book, and a mystery that had surrounded him earlier gets revealed.  The story is fast-paced and I had a really hard time putting the book down.

One striking aspect of the book is the depth of Harry’s thoughts and ruminations.  His ex-girlfriend, Elaine, reappears in his life, and he has an extended meditation on pain–why it exists, why it’s vital to the human existence, how it shapes us into who we are.  He also has similar meditations upon the nature of anger, how it can be constructive and turn into passion, as well as the nature of existence, and if a person can or cannot change.  Before our eyes, Harry is going through a kind of metamorphosis in this book.  He has been teaching his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, about magic and demanding that she think about if she should or should not use magic, why she should or should not take a certain action.  In doing so, Harry himself is becoming more of a thinker but also more thoughtful about his own actions, what motivates him, and the consequences of his actions.  Make no mistake, there is a lot of action in this book, but there’s also quite a bit of internal monologue, and it is also complicated by the presence of Lasciel–the representation of the demon within the coin that Harry touched and then buried in his basement at the end of Dead Beat. It isn’t that she is part of Harry’s conscience, and yet, she is a part of him, and her presence has impacted him and the way he views himself.

Butcher also does something different (and clever) within this book that he hasn’t done before.  At the start of this book Harry mentions to Murphy that he had been in New Mexico not long ago, helping to train new wizards to become Wardens for the White Council.  During that trip, two teenagers are kidnapped, and it has obviously left a mark on Harry.  It’s not until almost the exact middle of the story (a la The Great Gatsby) that we get to see what happened during that time in New Mexico and why it haunts Harry.  As a result of action happening in the present time of the story, Harry’s mind goes back to that moment in the past, and he narrates the events of that day over several pages before we are returned to the present.  It explains a lot about Harry’s feelings toward his adversaries, the anger that he feels, and what drives him.  It underscores the anger that he feels when women and children are harmed and his determination to mete out punishment to those who commit such crimes and atrocities. It’s a brilliant addition to the book and done really well.

The crisis and showdown of the book are also done well, bringing the unexpected even while reminding us that although Harry may be changing, he’s also still the same.  Still a badass and a smartass and still the man who will fight to the very end, where there’s no more magic to draw upon and his physical strength is exhausted.  The revelation portion of the book is a bit more extended than usual, but then I think it has to be.  We get glimpses of what Thomas, Harry’s half brother has been up to since he moved out of Harry’s basement apartment, we get some closure to part of Marcone’s story even as he is being established as a new player within the supernatural world, we find that Ramirez, one of the Wardens, is going to be a solid ally for Harry in the future, and the presence of Lasciel is dealt with, though one cannot be sure if it has been completely resolved.  Throughout the denouement, the interior monologues that Harry has been having through the book come to some sort of conclusion.  Or perhaps what I’m trying to say is that he achieves a kind of acceptance and maybe even peace, as though something in him is settling and yet maybe at the same time hardening his resolve.  His journey is definitely not over, but there’s a sense that somehow it’s going to be different going forward. Different, how, remains to be determined.

This is a great series and this was a great addition to it.  One thing I noticed that I wonder about is that so many of Harry’s allies have names starting with the letter “m”–Murphy, Mouse, Mister, Molly, Michael, Mac, even Marcone to an extent.  I wonder if that is purposeful.  Also, the women in Harry’s life that he should definitely be wary of have names starting with an “l”–Leanna (his godmother), Lasciel, Lara Raith of the White Court.  I don’t know if this is intentional or not but it’s just one more thing to make me think as I’m reading.  I typically read one of these books a year because they are so dense, full of action and emotion and depth, but this is one of the series I’m trying to catch up on in 2016 so look for a review of the next book in the series, Small Favor, in the coming weeks.