Review – Proven Guilty (The Dresden Files #8) by Jim Butcher

91474Harry Dresden, now a reluctant warden for the White Council, has to find out who is practicing black magic in his town of Chicago.  At the same time the Council wants him to talk to the Sidhe regarding their lack of action against the Red vamps.

Jim Butcher knows what works.  He keeps the stories interesting in each installment and the characters fresh.  Harry is a constant throughout as the MC but his supporting cast is switched up a little each time.  In Proven Guilty Harry is joined by his brother, the White Vamp, Thomas (who has his own problems managing his hunger and keeping a job to pay the bills.)  Karrin Murphy is back as the head of SI for Chicago PD.  Her conversation with Harry about their sexual tension is one of the best scenes in the book.  Charity, Michael’s wife, plays her largest role yet.  She still gets on my last nerve with her treatment of Harry but we do at least learn more about her reasoning.  Michael makes a couple of important appearances (with some foreshadowing that stopped my heart for a second.)  Ebenezer continues to show his loyalty to Harry and there is hope that they will finally make peace with each other.  And, lastly, Molly – Michael’s daughter.  Remember her?  She is part of the primary storyline here and I imagine an important character going forward.  I typically don’t enjoy stories that include teenage girls (I was one.  I know how horrible we can be.)  But, Butcher did a good job of showing a rebellious teenager who is someone you want to pull for.  The Fae, both winter and summer, are here in all their crazy glory.  And, yes, I do mean crazy.  The whole lot of them.

What I’ve realized is that Harry has more friends than he even realizes.  With all of those listed above, PG didn’t give us any updates on Butters, the wolves and so many more.  Butcher has built a world full of interesting characters that we want to know more about.  I can see why 15 books (and countless short stories) have been published and there is no end in sight.

One thing that I love about the Dresden stories is that Butcher does a great job of showing the gray in life.  Very few of the characters are purely good or bad.  They all are driven by something they feel strongly about.  The black magic storyline was a perfect example.  You can have the best of intentions yet do something that has unexpectedly horrible repercussions.  That’s why our world has rules and consequences for those that don’t follow them.

Each book continues to be a little bit darker than the one before it.  We can feel the story building to something big.  I cannot wait.

It’s not perfect but I am addicted at this point.  5/5 stars.

Review – The Redbreast (Harry Hole #3) – by Jo Nesbo

7113816Harry Hole, an unfortunate name for an increasingly interesting character.

The third installment of this series is the strongest so far.  Harry investigates when a rifle is smuggled into the country.  The type of rifle is primarily used for assassinations and time is running out to find the gunman before he can complete his task.

What works in The Redbreast?  Many of the issues I saw in prior installments were thankfully absent here.  Harry stays in Norway and actually investigates a case for his department.  Plus, while he is still a very flawed character, he doesn’t make such bad decisions as he has in the past.  The story itself is intricate (more on that later) and keeps you guessing.  Chapters alternate between present day (2000) and World War II.  We follow the lives of several Norwegian soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany.  Slowly, Nesbo allows us to see what really happened on those snowy battlefields and where these men are today.

There is a lot going on within the pages and there were times when it was confusing.  Most of this was intentional and added to the tension that is so enjoyable in a thriller.  But, it probably could have been tightened up a little to reduce some of the headaches for the reader.  Harry also goes through something early on that may or may not have been necessary.  I felt that it didn’t add to the main storyline and the purpose it served could have been accomplished in other ways.

I was glad to see Harry’s relationship with his female partner.  It’s completely platonic and showed another side to his personality.  Plus he has the potential for a somewhat (?) healthy and appropriate romantic relationship with a new character. I’m sure we will learn more about this in the next book.

Nesbo really won me over by not wrapping everything up in a bow at the end.  There was a major storyline that wasn’t resolved.  It’s gutsy to do that and makes me want to read the next one even sooner.

4/5 stars.  Good stuff.

Review – The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

17251093What defines a good book?  Is it the writing?  Putting sentences together in the standard pattern but with words different enough to be interesting?  Or is it the sheer enjoyment that the reader finds between the pages?

For me, it has to be a bit of both.

The Casual Vacancy is a story about a small town and what happens when a member of the town council dies unexpectedly and has to be replaced.  It isn’t action packed, sexy or funny.  It is simply about people.  Really annoying, not so nice people.

JK Rowling is an exceptional writer.  No doubt about it.  And, while I understand why some readers didn’t like this because it was such a departure from Harry Potter, I think that is unfair.  It was clear when the blurb came out for TCV that is was going to be a departure and readers should go in expecting something different.

And, listen, it’s good book.  Great writing, character development, etc.  But I just didn’t enjoy it very much.  I grew up in a small town so I know that people play dirty when it comes to local politics.  Most towns have a divide between rich and poor, teens and parents, etc.  So from that perspective it is well done.  Boy did she show that divide.  For me, though, it was hard to pick it up each night when there was no one to pull for.

At about the 90% mark, I realized that I was being tough on the characters.  While some were bad people and deserved my disgust, others were just being human.  A teenage boy who rebels.  A promiscuous teenage girl with a druggie mother.  A wife who is bored with her life.  Are they horrible?  Probably not.  Just making horrible decisions and that’s the real world.

4/5 stars.  I saw recently that this will be a BBC series.  It will work.  There is so much juiciness here and television viewers will eat it up.

Review – Ashes in the Night (In Darkness We Must Abide #14) by Rhiannon Frater

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“To be concluded in Episode 15.” Six of the most exciting but sad words I’ve read.  We are only one episode from the conclusion of this serial.

Vanora is preparing herself to face Aeron.  Her friends and family continue to be attacked by his minions and she isn’t sure who she can really trust.  Is Leto, the top werewolf, truly working to bring Aeron down or does she have an ulterior motive?  Are the other vampires willing to risk themselves for the fight?

And, what is the end game?  There is always the chance that Vanora will decide to stand at Aeron’s side.  (Don’t roll your eyes, it could happen.)  If she does kill him and her allies survive, who fills the void in vamp leadership?

So many questions and we only have one more episode to get our answers.  This installment was full of action, heartbreak and tough decisions.  Vanora isn’t the same person that she was in Episode One.  She is coming into her power and making her own choices.  It’s fun to take this ride with her.  I hope that one way or another she gets some sort of happy ending.

Thank you to the author for providing an e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review – Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris: Book Two)

15824178I feel like I’ve been in a reading slump.  The books haven’t been bad and I’m not depressed or anything like that.  But, I just haven’t been super motivated to finish anything on my “currently reading” shelf.  Everything just feels kind of meh.  When this happens, I try to pull out a new read that I can get through in a day or less.  It can’t be anything too serious as my goal is to just lose myself in something fun – maybe romantic but it doesn’t have to be.

This weekend I chose the second book in the Libriomancer series.  If you remember, Isaac Vainio has the ability to use books to create magic.  His girlfriend, Lena, is a dryad who is also attached to Nidhi Singh.  It’s a complicated relationship and not your typical love triangle.  When a wendigo is murdered, they investigate and are drawn into a fight between the Porters (the magical group Isaac is a member of), an Asian group of libriomancers who have been around even longer than Gutenberg and a father who is using his deceased son’s inventions to gain his own power.

I am really enjoying this series so far.  Hines does a good job of world building and explaining the magic that Isaac and the others use.  It allows him a lot of freedom.  Most of the books he references are from the real world but he also makes up a few of his own (I would like to read these by the way!)  When Isaac references Alice in Wonderland or The Fellowship of the Ring, the nerd in me is so excited.

The storyline here was a bit stronger than in book one and Hines opened up some interesting doors that will allow further exploration of this magic.  The discussion of physical books versus e-readers and how that affects libriomancers will speak to all readers.  Is the power in the actual physical pages or can it be held in this electronic device?

Another thing that’s special about Codex Born is the love story between Isaac and Lena / Nidhi and Lena.  It makes you think about love, attraction and what constitutes a successful relationship.  Reading Lena’s thoughts on attraction was thought-provoking.  (By the way, I loved the addition of her “journal” as part of the story.  It helped us get to know and understand her so much better.) I wish I could quote the entire start of Chapter 17 but I will leave you with this —

“Humans are so obsessed with true love, the perfect relationship.  They imagine that one elusive person who fits their quirks and foibles and desires like a puzzle piece.  And of course, when a potential mate falls short of that perfection, they reject them.  They were too old, too young, too silly, too serious, too fat, too thin.  They liked the wrong TV shows.  They hated chocolate.  They voted for the other guy.  They didn’t put the toilet seat down.

They invent a million excuses for rejection, a million ways to find others unattractive.  Their skill at seeing ugliness in others is matched only by their ability to see it in the mirror, to punish themselves for every imagined flaw.  ….

I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t beautiful.  People have simply forgotten how to see.  …

The more we narrow the definition of beauty, the more beauty we shut out of our lives.”

4/5 stars and highly recommended.

Review – The Gathering Storm (In Darkness We Must Abide #13) by Rhiannon Frater

Beautiful lonely girl  in long dressSurvivors of the purge are trying to regroup and find a way to stop Aeron before he destroys everything and everyone to get to Vanora.

Now that Vanora knows more about Aeron’s past and what has driven him to this point, she does feel conflicted.  She was literally made for him.  But while her blood may yearn to be his, her heart still belongs to Armando.  And, if we know anything about Vanora at this point, it’s that she is stubborn and won’t let a little thing like fate get in the way of what she wants.

One of the reasons IDWMA works is the serial format.  I’m not sure why more authors don’t do this.  The episodes are a great length for a quick afternoon read and it keeps you hooked until you get your hands on the next one.  I knew I had Episode 14 on my kindle and it was all I could do to hold off on reading it until I wrote the review of this one.  My fingers were itching to hit the buttons and find out more.

We get plenty of vampy and witchy goodness in this installment.  Vanora has grown so much since we first met her.  Physically, emotionally and with her powers.  Aeron wasn’t in the forefront in The Gathering Storm but his presence was still looming over Armando through the edict.  Poor Armando – the woman you love is meant for someone else, basically your vamp father.  Seeing Vanora and Armando try to work through this was painful but it was a page-turner.  Vanora isn’t going to let a little edict stand between her and the man she loves.

So good.  5/5 stars.  (Yes!  Review is written so now I am going to read Episode 14.  See you later!)

Thank you to the author for providing an e-copy through the read-along in exchange for an honest review.

Review – Walking Dead (Walker Papers #4)

6350486Joanne Walker has settled in as a detective partnering with her friend, Billy.  She finally has a romantic life and is dating “Thor” aka Edward from the motor pool.  She is even coming to terms with her shamanic power and what it means for her long-term.  Everything seems to be going well.  So, of course, it all goes to hell during a Halloween party.

These books are still kind of all over the place.  There is too much going on with Shamans, Ghosts, Zombies, the Wild Hunt, etc.  But, because Joanne is such a relatable character, you still want to follow her on this journey.  She makes bad decisions but has the best of intentions.  It’s hard not to pull for her.

What I love most is Joanne’s relationships.  Gary was out of the picture for part of this installment but when he  came on the scene, he showed why he is one of the first people she calls when it’s about to go down.  He may be older but I’d pick him for my dodgeball team anytime.  Billy is a loyal work partner and continues to be one of the most supportive people in her life.  (I also love the fact that the author didn’t allow Mel, Billy’s wife, to hate Joanne.  She supports Joanne and is a strong female influence in her life.  Too often in urban fantasy we are given these great female main characters who are hated by all the women around them.  It’s a sad statement and, thank goodness, CE Murphy didn’t go down that path.)

I’m not going to talk about Thor.  You’ll have to read Walking Dead to determine your own feelings about him.  But, Morrison…I know Joanne made the decision to take the detective’s position and he is her boss.  Still there is so much brewing on the pages between them.  And she deserves to be with someone who will be her partner in life, ride with the Wild Hunt when he needs to get to her and blow away zombies without flinching.  It would be nice to see further movement in their relationship.  We’ll see.  (Now, I admit that I am pro-Morrison and Joanne.  But, my goodness, when Cernunnos comes on the scene a small part of me really wants her to explore that possibility.  There, I said it.)

4/5 stars.